Author: Anthony Butler
“Bridge to Baxter,” came the voice of Captain Nell Vansen, over the ship’s comm, waking Baxter with a start.
Baxter shot up in bed, tangled in the covers. “Kelly?” he asked absently.
“Not even close.”
“I see you’ve played this game before.”
“What the hell do you want?”
“Your presence. On the bridge. Ten minutes ago.”
Baxter swung his legs out of bed and quickly grabbed for a pair of pants off the nearby chair, yanking them on one leg at a time. “What’s the situation?”
“You were supposed to assemble an away team and survey Sedaris Four today.”
“Oh. Yeah. Must have overslept.”
“Well, that may have cut it while you were Captain…actually, no. That didn’t cut it then, either. But the difference is, you can’t make excuses to Starfleet Command anymore. Now you have to make your excuses to me. And I’m not interested in hearing any excuses. Get your ass to the transporter room. J’hana and Tilleran will meet you there.”
“Don’t I at least get to pick my own away team?” Baxter asked as he zipped up his tunic.
“No,” Vansen said, and the channel went dead.
“Bitch,” Baxter said to himslf, shuffling out of his quarters. He’d been back on the Explorer for two weeks now, and Vansen’s attitude toward him hadn’t improved. Consequently, his approach to his work had significantly worsened, to the point where he barely cared whether he got up in the morning.
Case in point.
“Baxter to Chaka’kan,” Baxter said, poking his head into Steffie’s room to make sure she was still asleep.
“Chaka’kan here,” came the Jem’Hadar’s ever-alert reply.
“I think I forgot to arrange for you to babysit this morning. I have an away team thing I have to get to.”
“I am on my way.”
“Great. I’ll have some muffins waiting for you.”
“That is as it should be. Chaka out.”
Baxter grinned. He wasn’t sure if having Chaka’kan aboard the Explorer was a boon to Federation-Dominion relations. He didn’t know if the “nice” Jem’Hadar was learning anything more about Alpha Quadrant customs. But one thing was for damn sure. He was a great babysitter.
Ten minutes later, after Chaka’s timely arrival, and after discussing the events of the day with the Jem’Hadar over a quick muffin and coffee, Baxter headed to the transporter room, where J’hana and Tilleran waited, arms folded, leaning against the transporter console.
“You are late,” J’hana said flatly.
“Not you too,” Baxter said, heading to the supply closet to grab a phaser and tricorder.
“The first officer IS supposed to set a good example for other crewmembers,” Tilleran said, as she and J’hana went up to stand on the platform.
Baxter holstered his phaser and tricorder, shutting the supply closet door and taking his place on the transporter pad. “Need I remind you two how many times I looked the other way when you were both…conspicuously late for your shifts?”
“Point taken,” J’hana said, and nodded at the console operator. “Energize.”
“Y’all have a great time,” Transporter Chief Lindsay Morgan said, tapping in the coordinates. “And you be good to Captain Baxter. He’s had a hard time of it.”
“Did I tell you how much I missed you, Chief?” Baxter asked.
“The feeling is mutual, lambchop,” Morgan said, and energized the transporter beam, as J’hana made a pronounced gagging noise.
“All right, people, let’s get it done,” Baxter said, as his transporter signal resolved on the bleak, flat, orange surface of Sedaris Four.
J’hana harrumphed. “The planet is deserted. There is not even anyone to shoot.”
Tilleran was studying her tricorder readings. “I am, however, detecting an awful lot of solenium isotopes.”
“That’s nice,” Baxter said. “But let’s stick to the reason we came here.”
“We came here to collect solenium isotopes,” Tilleran said, kneeling and opening up her satchel, pulling out a small gray canister.
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Sure. I knew that.”
“How did you even make Captain?” J’hana asked as Tilleran calibrated the canister.
“Paperwork error,” Baxter admitted. “Well? Do we have isotopes?”
Tilleran looked at the readout on the canister. “Collecting now. Fifteen percent full.”
“Good,” Baxter said. “The sooner we can get out of here, the better. Are solenium isotopes dangerous?”
“Only in large doses, over an extended period of time,” Tilleran said.
“Good thing we’ll only be here for like five, six…”
“Hours,” J’hana said. “This is the first of twenty collection sites.”
“HOURS?” Baxter demanded. “Shouldn’t we at least get to wear an isolation suit or something?”
“Captain Vansen didn’t seem to think it was a problem. Betazoids and Andorians are immune to Solenium isotopes,” Tilleran said as she worked.
“What about humans?”
J’hana and Tilleran looked at each other.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Tilleran said.
Seven hours later, and one trip to Sickbay later, to have Doctor Wilcox attend to a severe case of solenium isotope poisoning, Captain Baxter walked into the Constellation Club, realizing not for the first time that he’d been spending a lot more time here than he had prior to being transported back in time.
“What can I get for you?” Mirk.asked as he polished the bar.
“Something that’s good for a solenium isotope-induced headache.”
“One chocolate milk coming up,” Mirk said.
“Chocolate milk. Great for solenium isotope-induced headaches.”
“How the hell do you know that?”
“You think I’m kidding? A bartender is only as good as his research.” Mirk smiled as he slid the frothy glass of chocolate milk in front of Captain Baxter.
“Now, then,” Mirk said, leaning forward as Baxter sipped. “What brings you here?”
“Well, a need for something a little stronger than chocolate milk,” Baxter said.
“Haven’t you been hitting the synthesauce a little much lately, Captain?”
“Maybe,” Baxter said. “What do you care?”
“I am your bartender,” Mirk said. “And…heck…I’m your friend too.”
Baxter smiled. “Really? You mean it?”
Mirk shrugged. “Sure. If it weren’t for this crew, I might still be stuck on Lobstrax. Still running fright back and forth from the Alpha Quadrant to the Delta Quadrant. You helped me realize my potential.”
“Your potential,” Baxter said, and sipped his chocolate milk again. Mirk was right. His headache was nearly gone. “That reminds me of something.”
“Just wondering….if you’d heard anything new from the Directors?”
“They don’t exactly transmit to me on a daily basis,” Mirk said. “But if you’re wondering if I’ve been in contact with them since Irma tried to rewrite the timeline two years ago, then no. No I haven’t.”
“I think Starfleet is worried about what happened with Irma back in the twenty-first century. They’re wondering if there isn’t some kind of power shift up there in the ethereal plane. They’ve sent a couple communique’s asking about you.”
“Nice to know they care,” Mirk said. “They should be worried. We all should be worried. If the Critics somehow gain control of the universe, it really will be the end of life as we know it.”
“Wow,” Baxter said. “You really put things in perspective. Suddenly, my problems don’t seem so bad anymore. Maybe I can work things out with Vansen after all.”
“Yeah,” Mirk said, leaning against the bar. “Anytime.”
“Well, I’d better get back to Steffie. Chaka’kan has probably given her way too much tapioca again. Take care, Mirk.”
“Yeah,” Mirk said distantly.
Late that night, Captain Baxter was sitting in his office–the first officer’s office, on Deck Seven. Many of Richards’s belongings– paintings, sculptures, and sketches, had been boxed up in crates that lay strewn about the otherwise spartan room. There was no window. It was boxy, had no character, but it was Baxter’s office now. At least for the moment.
And the damn place still smelled like coffee beans.
He leaned over a pile of padds, sighing, sipping occasionally from a cold glass of grapefruit juice.
Then the door chimed.
“Come,” he said distractedly.
“Sir,” Lt. Jeremy Gage said from the doorway.
Baxter glanced at him. “Yes?”
“I was wondering if I could speak with you for a moment, Captain.”
Baxter nodded. “What are you, a vampire? Can’t enter unless I invite you?”
“Just following protocol, sir.”
“There’s a change,” Baxter muttered, waving Gage in. “Have a seat.”
Gage sat down opposite Baxter. “Personnel reviews?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Because I filed them with you over a week ago.”
“Oh, did you?” Baxter said idly, looking again at one of the padds. “So you did. Sorry. I’ve been…busy.”
“You know, I never realized how time-consuming these damn things were,” Baxter said. “It’s a lot easier to read them than to write them, I’ve discovered. Then again, I didn’t always read them…” He gazed off a moment. “Did you want something?”
“Just to let you know, that despite whatever Captain Vansen–who I respect very much–says, I don’t want there to be any animosity between us.”
“That’s nice of you,” Baxter said flatly.
“I realize the Captain can be somewhat…brusque, sometimes.”
“Is brusque another word for evil bitch-thing?”
“But I just wanted you to know, I know my role here. I’m here to help you maintain order among the crew. And to provide command presence, and a second sounding board for the Captain.”
“I think you’re her only sounding board,” Baxter said. “I’m just here for show.” He screwed up his mouth angrily. “Just for her amusement.”
“You’re to be commended, Captain. For sticking around. I’m not sure I would in your place.”
“I have a lot…” Baxter looked around. “I have a lot here, Gage.”
“I can see that. This is a fine ship and crew. Better than it’s given credit for.”
“You can say that again.” Baxter stood up. “I’m going to go grab a late bite. Thanks for stopping by.”
Baxter wanted to like Gage, he really did. But the man was someone Vansen had brought aboard, and as such, was not to be immediately trusted. He certainly didn’t seem like a bad sort. Like any good, young Starfleet officer, Gage just wanted to get ahead. Just wanted to please his commanding officer.
Baxter remembered being like that. Okay, that was a lie. He was never like that.
He stared at Gage as he sat by Vansen at the morning staff meeting, wondering what made an otherwise logical human being respect a woman like Vansen. Loyalty was one thing, but didn’t her grating temper get the best of even Gage at times?
“…of the situation on Tanquar Three, Baxter?”
“Hmm?” Baxter said, stirring from his reverie.
Vansen leaned forward. “I’m sorry. Did I interrupt nap time?”
“Yes, you did,” Baxter said defiantly. “Was there a reason for it?”
“We were just talking about the upcoming First Contact mission,” Vansen said, folding her hands on top of the conference room table, as the stars blazed by through the nearby slatted viewports. “You know, the mission we’ve been discussing for the last hour.”
“Sure. First Contact.” Baxter looked to his left, at Tilleran. “We’re doing a First Contact?”
“Cool. We don’t usually get to do those.”
Vansen rubbed the bridge of her nose. “There’s a shocker. Now, to review, for the… challenged…portion of the audience, we’re sending Gage down in disguise to finalize the reconnaissance. We already have detailed reports from the anthropological survey and the duckblind, but I’m not going in without a first-hand perspective.” She swivelled her chair toward the viewscreen behind her, which displayed a schematic of the planet. “Now then, we’re operating on a tight schedule. The science team on the planet believes that they’ll have a successful warp test any time within the next few weeks. It’s imperative that we make contact with the Tanquarans now and identify ourselves, and the members of the neighboring star systems.”
J’hana snorted. “Especially considering that the Gorn are so nearby.”
“That is one of Starfleet’s many concerns,” Vansen said. “We don’t want their first foray into galactic exploration to end by being vaporized by a Gorn Predator.”
“I could go,” Baxter said idly, flipping a padd back and forth on the conference room table.
“What’s that?” Vansen asked, leaning forward.
“I said…I could go.”
Vansen laughed. “I’m afraid the mission isn’t quite right for you. It requires subtlety. Intellect. The ability to distinguish right from left. All characteristics that you lack. In abundance.”
“I’ve been studying the Tanquarans, sir,” Gage said, shifting in his seat at Vansen’s side a bit. “I think I have a good feel for them. It should be a successful mission.”
“How long have you been in Starfleet?” Baxter asked.
“Out of the Academy four years this May.”
“He’s a pup,” Baxter said, looking to J’hana, Tilleran, and Hartley.
“A cute pup at that,” J’hana grinned, and Tilleran elbowed her.
Gage smiled sheepishly. “I’ll try not to disappoint.”
“I know you won’t,” Vansen said, and stood. “That’s all, folks. Meeting dismissed. Go about your business.”
Everyone stood and milled toward the exit, except Baxter who sat staring out the viewport.
Vansen hung by the doorway. “Transfixed by the stars again, Captain? I know the twinkly lights can be sooo pretty.”
Baxter glared at her. “You know, you could at least make an effort, Vansen. This could go a lot more smoothly for both of us if you’d stop tearing me down at every possible opportunity.”
“Smooth perhaps,” Vansen said. “But not as much fun.”
“What’s happened to you?” Baxter asked, standing. “You used to be strict, by-the-book, efficient, cool, and profesisonal.”
“I’m still all those things,” Vansen said hotly as Baxter brushed past her.
“Perhaps, but you never used to be so…evil.”
“Only around you.”
Baxter turned to face Vansen, stared hard into her eyes. “This isn’t about me, and you know it.”
Vansen folded her arms. “Then what, pray tell, is it about?”
“I’d like to know. Because maybe, just maybe, then there’d be a chance of pulling that warp coil out of your ass.”
“Back to your post, Mister,” Vansen growled.
“I’m free to chat any time you like,” Baxter tossed over his shoulder as he walked back out to the bridge.
“Tusks!” Doctor Browning said, walking with Baxter toward Sickbay. “They’re putting tusks on him!”
“Wow,” Baxter said. “This I’ve got to see.”
“The Tanquarans are an interesting species,” Browning said. “In addition to tusks, they have double-jointed knees and elbows.”
“How are we going to simulate that?” Baxter asked, horrified at the concept.
“We’re not. We’re hoping he won’t have to show off that particular talent.”
“Then sex is definitely out of the question,” Baxter said, rubbing his chin.
“I appreciate you coming down with me. Coming to Sickbay doesn’t have the same…draw anymore, now that I’m just doing shift work as a staff physician.”
“Why, because you’re not in charge?”
“No,” Browning said, punching Baxter in the arm playfully. “I’m not as power-hungry as you are. I just…I don’t know. I used to have breakfast with Kelly every morning before work.”
“And sometimes into the afternoon,” Baxter said wistfully. “Yes, I remember.”
Browning looked at Baxter woefully. “I’m sorry to bring it up, Andy.”
“That’s okay. She’s not dead. She’s just…away.”
“Yes. That’s a good way to think of it,” Browning said, arriving at the doors to Sickbay. When she stepped through, she was immediately greeted by Jeremy Gage, complete with two large, swirly tusks jutting out of either side of his face, and a constricting leather-banded outfit, accented with cris-crossing swaths of grey fabric.
“Good Lord, man!” Baxter exclaimed. “Put some more clothes on.”
“This is what Tanquarans wear,” Gage said. “They believe excessive clothing limits ones communion with higher beings.”
“Still,” Browning said. “Aren’t…those…cold?” She pointed.
Gage nodded. “A little bit. But I hear the planet’s quite warm.
“Good,” Baxter said, staring straight ahead, trying his best not to look down at…those. “Well, be on your way, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir,” Gage said. “Wish me luck.”
Baxter shook Gage’s hand. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“You can count on it,” Gage said, and walked out of Sickbay.
“What a nice guy,” Doctor Holly Wilcox said, as Browning took her labcoat off the hook at the back of the room and slipped it off. “Oh, Janice…I wanted to let you know I switched shifts with you tomorrow. Dean and I are visiting the arboretum with the fourth grade class.”
“Boy,” Baxter said. “They’re fourth graders already?”
“Kids grow up fast,” Browning said distantly.
“Want to see if Plato wants to go with us?” Holly asked, leaning against one of the biobeds.
“No,” Browning said. “It’s safe to say he doesn’t. He’s got target practice with J’hana.”
“That should be fun.”
“I don’t think so, but he does,” Browning shrugged. “And as long as he’s not hitting living things, I don’t guess it’s a problem.”
“It’s just a phase he’s going through,” Baxter said. “The boy’s just trying to find his identity.”
Browning stared at her labcoat as she walked over to a nearby chair and sat down. “Funny, I’m going through a similar phase. Aren’t there any patients today?”
“It’s a slow day. The number of bizarre accidents dropped precipitously when Vansen took…” Holly looked at Baxter. “Well, recently.”
Baxter nodded. “It’s okay, Holly. Speak your mind. Vansen’s a better Captain.”
“I didn’t say that, sir, it’s just that…”
“I’ll be on the bridge if anybody needs me,” Baxter muttered, and headed out of Sickbay. “Maybe I can find a new and interesting way to screw things up.”
“Boy, am I stupid,” Holly said. “Why did I have to go and open my big mouth.”
Browning stared at the closed door to Sickbay after Baxter left. “Happens to the best of us.”
“I can’t talk long. I’ve befriended an Orator, who is, at best guess, a cross between an arbitrator and a senator,” Gage said on the viewscreen, in full Tanquaran regalia, crouched in a small closet. “He’s giving me some inside information on the new planetary leader, Prelate Kralsanja.”
“Good,” Vansen said, as Baxter sat by her, chin propped on his hand. “Try to get a feel for the Prelate’s sensibilities. Find out if he’s open-minded, or more xenophobic.”
Gage nodded. “I think this Orator’s a good guy. I’m fairly confident he’ll help us.”
“Keep working on it,” Vansen said. “Let me know when you get an audience with the Prelate.”
“Will do. Gage out.”
Vansen clasped her hands together. “I love when a mission comes together.” She glanced at Baxter. “Isn’t it nice to get a taste of success?”
“I stopped the Borg from obliterating the Delta Quadrant,” Baxter mumbled.
“Oh, yes. Your achievements. Not too shabby. But it’s not like you did it single-handed, is it?”
“Prevented the Federation of Fun from invading.”
“Wasn’t that a combination of your efforts and the political machinations in the alternate universe?”
“I killed Jelo.”
“Doctor Browning killed him and you know it.”
“I stopped Irma from overpowering Leximas and unleashing the Critics on a vulnerable galaxy.”
Vansen didn’t have a quick comeback for that one. “Jury’s still out on that one.”
Baxter narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re not going to give me an inch, are you, Vansen?”
She looked around aimlessly. “An inch…hmm…no, can’t say there’s one to be found. How would you like a nanometer instead? I’m fairly certain I can part with one of those.”
“You’re a piece of work, Vansen,” Baxter said, standing up and heading for the turbolift. “I hope you appreciate the fact that I’m actually trying to make this relationship work.”
“Don’t do that,” Vansen said. “Considering your track record, I’d think that would be a bad idea.”
Baxter stopped on his way to the turbolift. He didn’t turn around. Merely smouldered.
“I’ll be in my office,” he said, and stepped into the turbolift.
“That was low, Captain,” Tilleran said. “You know he’s having marital troubles.”
“Hmm. Does it surprise you that I could care less?”
“Give the guy a break,” Tilleran said.
Vansen’s forehead wrinkled. “Or what?”
J’hana, who’d been silently watching the exchange up until now, stepped out from behind her console and walked down to the command area. She leaned toward Vansen, ever so slightly cracking her knuckles. “Or we will have a difference of opinion.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Captain Baxter may not be the most respected man on this ship, but he is liked. He is part of this family. You would do well to consider that.”
“Or you’ll mutiny?”
“Not at all,” J’hana said. She gently patted Vansen on the shoulder. “Mutiny implies some sort or prior planning. What I’m suggesting would be a good deal…messier. “
“I’m not afraid of you,” Vansen called after J’hana as she walked back to her station.
“You are, just a little bit,” Tilleran said cooly.
“Stay out of my mind, Betazoid!”
Baxter sat staring at Steffie as she rolled on her rainbow-colored playmat in his living room, batting her toy Tribble back and forth.
“She is beautiful, Captain,” Chaka’kan said from behind Baxter. “I do so enjoy the time I spend with her.”
“You’re too kind,” Baxter said idly, running his hand along Steffie’s curly brown mop of hair. “But really, she’s just a little more than a year old. She hasn’t developed much personality yet.”
“I disagree. She is showing the signs already of being a proud warrior, and a good person. Something Jem’Hadar…well, some of the new Jem’Hadar, anyway, are taught in abundance.”
“Some people aren’t even good people,” Baxter said.
“You know, Jem’Hadar have fully developed personalities after less than a week of life,” Chaka said. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Give her time. She may do things that will…surprise you.”
“I hope so,” Baxter said. “I just hope she realizes that not everybody in this world is…” He glanced back at Chaka and gave him a polite smile. “Nice.”
“On this vessel, I believe she’ll learn that lesson quite soon.”
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” Baxter said.
“If that is all, sir, I’m teaching palates in ten minutes.”
“You’re a fascinating man, Chaka.”
“Jem’Hadar are considered gender-neutral.”
“Great. See you tomorrow.”
Chaka’kan bowed and left, leaving Baxter alone with Steffie. That was about right, he figured.
The Explorer had never seemed so lonely a place.
Things were slowly returning to normal with Browning, but there was still a measure of strain there. Other than her, there was really no other safe haven. The Constellation Club was nice. He could go there and escape a bit, but only for a while. And while Mirk was a great bartender, and even a good friend, he wasn’t a best friend. Not the trio of best friends he once had, before life went out of whack.
Before Bradley Dillon showed up and dragged him and the others back through time…
Baxter shook his head. He’d been through worse situations than this. And he didn’t make a practice of feeling sorry for himself.
He stood up. “You know what, Stef? It’s dinner time. How about that banana mush you like so much? And I think I’ll make me a steak…”
Yes, it was time for comfort food.
Baxter passed his desk, on the way toward the replicator, when he saw that the message light on his desktop terminal was blinking.
He stumbled over his own feet trying to get to the desk, slamming his hand down on the control.
It was Peterman. It just had to be. If the world was right, if all was as it should be, it would be Peterman.
The terminal’s screen came to life, and on the screen sat Captain Anna Kimmel.
“Captain!” she said with an impish grin. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
“Sorry,” Baxter said to the recording.
“You’re a hard man to get ahold of, but I guess that’s understandable.” Kimmel shifted side to side. “I’m worried about you. I know time travel can take a lot out of you. You should have seen what happened when we accidentally fell into a wormhole a few weeks back…well, no need to tell you, it was touch and go there for a few…
“Anyway, I really just commed to see how you were adjusting to life back aboard the Explorer. I understand Vansen’s still the Captain. She’s not very nice, Andy. But I guess you already knew that. Look, I thought…well I thought maybe we could get together sometime, and talk. When you and I are in the same neighborhood. If you’re not busy. No biggie. Until then…”
Kimmel smiled and closed the channel. Baxter couldn’t help but smile back. Memories, unbidden, came rising to the surface. Old feelings he thought he’d forgotten.
He reached over to tap the desktop terminal, but at the same time his communicator bleeped.
“Bridge to Baxter,” came the voice of J’hana. “You’d better get up here.”
“Vansen have more insults to throw at me?” J’hana asked.
“No. There’s trouble down on the planet.”
“Trouble?” Baxter asked, his eyebrows raising. And he bolted out the door. “I’ll be right there.”
Finally, something to do!
“What do you mean…gone?” Baxter demanded, looking over Vansen’s shoulder at J’hana’s telemetry readouts.
“I mean his signal trace disappeared,” Vansen said. “How much simpler can I put it? You want hand puppets?”
“I just mean that we have tracking devices for a reason,” Baxter said flatly. “Gage can’t have just disappeared.’
“He could be dead,” J’hana offered helpfully.
“Thanks,” Vansen said. “You’re right on top of things, as usual.”
“Die,” J’hana said simply, and went back to her scans.
Vansen turned around. “This is not good.”
“You shouldn’t have sent him down alone,” Baxter said, following Vansen down to the command area. “He’s still green about the gills. He’s got no idea what it takes to infiltrate a pre-warp species.”
“And you do?”
“I’ve done a number of penetrations in my time,” Baxter said, eliciting giggles from J’hana and Tilleran. He glared at them, then looked back at Vansen. “I think it’s obvious Gage got in over his head. Something happened down there. He got into trouble. His transponder and other equipment were probably destroyed.”
“Or he was killed,” J’hana said again.
Vansen ignored her. “I have no problem sending you down there, Captain. But the problem is, I’m afraid there’s a slim chance you’ll be successful and you might actually return.”
“Could you possibly be more hateful to me?” Baxter asked.
“I’ll do my best,” Vansen said, standing, and heading up to the back of the bridge. “Tilleran, you’re with me. Vansen to Sickbay: ready two pairs of your best tusks. Baxter, due to process of elimination, you have the bridge.”
Baxter growled under his breath as he watched Vansen and Tilleran slip into the aft turbolift.
“You know what the bitch of it is, Captain?” J’hana asked, leaning on her console. “The woman really knows what she’s doing.”
“Well, how she does it is equally important,” Baxter said, settling into the command chair, feeling briefly at peace. “For the moment, though, it doesn’t look like we have much choice. Keep a lock on Vansen and Tilleran. I want to know the moment they get to the surface, and I want to know where they are at all times.”
“That’s my Imzadi down there,” J’hana said. “I would do nothing less.”
“Glad to hear it.”
The next morning, Baxter joined Browning in her quarters, where his customary lumberjack’s breakfast was waiting, steaming, as he sat down. Under normal circumstances, he’d be having this meal in Space Tastes. But, during the time Baxter and company had been back in the 21st century, Guinanco took over Space Tastes and turned it into a trendy frozen yogurt shop. Baxter thought that having Browning make him breakfast seemed kind of…weird. But if it made her feel like she still had a restaurant, and if he could help her out, he was more than happy to do that.
“Morning, Andy,” Browning said, sitting at her dining room table, holding her cup of hot chocolate in two hands and sipping as Baxter sat down.
Baxter nodded distractedly. “Go ahead, J’hana.”
“They are moving from the inn to the restaurant.”
“What could be happening,” Baxter mused.
“I expect they are going to eat,” J’hana replied.
“Keep on top of that, J’hana. I want to know as soon as they finish dinner, and where they go next. Baxter out.”
“Problem down on the planet?” Browning asked.
“We lost Gage,” Baxter said. “He disappeared off sensors late last night and Tilleran and Vansen went down to try and find him.”
“Isn’t that kind of like a…human in a hay stack?”
“We know his last location. I guess they’re going to ask around. If he’s anywhere nearby, Tilleran will sense him. And if the Tanquarans are being in any way disingenuous, she’ll figure that out immediately.”
“So there’s nothing to worry about,” Browning said. “You can enjoy your breakfast.”
“Yep,” Baxter said, spooning a bite of homemade grits into his mouth. “No,” he said quickly, putting the spoon down. “I can’t enjoy my breakfast.”
“Morning acid reflux again? Want me to get you some Karium- Six?”
“No,” Baxter said. “It’s not my stomach. It’s my mind. I can’t stop thinking about Vansen.”
“You’re really working your way through the female crew, aren’t you?”
Baxter narrowed his eyes at Browning. “That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it. She keeps telling me I’m worthless, and I’m starting to believe it.”
“Consider the source, Andy. Vansen dislikes you. She’s not going to make life easy for you. You knew all that going in.”
“But she seems worse than ever. I really feel like something else is going on with her.”
“And you think maybe you can get her to open up to you?”
Baxter laughed. “No. I may be distracted by issues in my personal life. But I’m not insane. I know she’ll never open up to me.”
“Glad you’re thinking clearly about that, at least.”
Baxter smiled. “But you’re a different story…”
Browning slid back in her chair. “No way. The last meaningful discussion I had with Vansen was when I dumped coffee in her lap two years ago. Why don’t you refer her to the couns…to the therapist person.”
“You can say counselor around me, Janice,” Baxter said. “It’s not a dirty word.”
“I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I? People like Vansen never change. I just need to accept it.”
“Yes,” Browning said. “Get on with your life. Eat your ham and eggs.”
“Good idea,” Baxter said, and returned to his meal.
“J’hana to Baxter! We lost Vansen and Tilleran!”
Baxter stared up at the ceiling. “What do you mean WE? I’ve been down here eating breakfast. How could you lose them?”
“I…had to go to the bathroom.”
“If I had not, we would have had to clear the bridge.”
“And now they’re gone,” Baxter said, rubbing his face, as Browning looked on with concern. “We had ever single sensor trained on them. Can you figure out what happened?”
There was a momentary pause. “They were leaving the restaurant. They stopped on the street outside. A vehicle stopped near them. They appeared to get into the vehicle.”
“And the vehicle went where?”
“I’m not sure. There was a momentary sensor malfunction, and then all traces of the away team vanished.”
“Something stinks around here,” Baxter said, throwing his napkin down and standing up. “And I’m sure as hell going to figure out what it is.”
“Shall I have the tusks ready?”
“Two pair,” Baxter said. “You’re coming with me.”
“Vengeance is mine. Tilleran’s murderer will be brought to justice!”
“We don’t even know that anybody’s dead yet!” Baxter called out as he dashed toward the door. “Now get your ass down to Sickbay!”
“Andy!” Browning called after him.
Baxter stopped outside the door. “I know, I know. I’ll be careful.”
“No,” Browning said. “Take this. You’ll need your strength!” And she hurled a grapefruit at Baxter.
He grabbed it out of the air. “Thanks!”
“I always thought he’d look good in a tusk,” Browning said thoughtfully.
“Tell me this is reversible,” J’hana said tightly, staring at herself in the mirror. She turned to face Dr. Holly Wilcox. “Tell me this is reversible, and I’ll spare your life.”
Holly smiled nervously and nodded. “Yes, J’hana. It’s no big deal. Just a bit of skin pigmentation.”
“I think you look cute,” Baxter offered, touching the tip of his tusk thoughtfully. “Mine itches.”
J’hana stood there, fuming, staring at the humanlike skin tone of her face, her bald, flat, antennaless head, and of course those two large tusks popping out of either side of her skull.
“Another word, and I will gut you,” J’hana said flatly, and headed for the door, pulling at her clingy leather Tanquaran outfit. “Having tusks is the only positive part of this whole thing. Well, in addition to the revealing leather.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Baxter said, following her, his leather pants likewise riding up. “Me, I think I’m showing a little too much…cheek.”
“You are,” Holly called after him from behind, as the sickbay doors closed.
Baxter and J’hana materialized in an alley, off a sunlit street, in what was supposed to be the capital city of Tanquar, Mirimar.
“Tricorder,” Baxter whispered, and crept down the alley. “According to our sensors, Vansen and Tilleran were near here when they disappeared.”
“There are several vehicles moving down the street at the end of this alley,” J’hana said as she looked at her tricorder. “In all likelihood, the street is a primary artery through the city.”
“Vansen and Tilleran were whisked away on that very street.”
“Indeed,” J’hana said, and continued scanning. “I’m not picking up any transponders. Not Gage’s, not Vansen’s, or Tilleran’s.”
“Even if they were destroyed, we should be picking up something.”
“Correct,” J’hana said. “I could triangulate their location based on the particulate elements of the transponders. But I can’t even locate those.”
“A bit odd, don’t you think?”
“Suspicious,” J’hana growled, as the pair approached the street.
Baxter put up his hand to block the bright, orange, binary Trescan suns. “It’s a bit warmer than I thought it would be.”
“You’ve been on a cold starship far too long.”
“Actually, I was almost getting used to the lack of a good climate control system when I was stuck in the past.”
“Uh-huh,” J’hana said, as she reviewed her scans.
“There were some nice things about the twenty-first century.” Baxter sighed. “Our little apartment….if you creaked the window open during the night, a little breeze would come in. Kelly…hehe…she’d snuggle up close, you know, for warmth. That is, of course, until she left…”
J’hana turned to face Baxter. “I see. Is this where you share your pain with me, and I help you come to terms with some grand meaning to your faltering relationship with Counselor Peterman?”
“Well, I guess. I mean, I thought…”
“My Imzadi is missing. All else is trivial. Let’s carry on.”
“Right,” Baxter said. “Back to business.” He stepped out into the street, and suddenly felt a steely hand grip his shoulder, drag him backwards so that he slammed against the nearby stone building.
He rubbed his shoulder. “What the hell did you do that f–” Then Baxter felt gale force winds belt him as a huge hovertruck thundered by him, inches away, right where he’d just been standing.
“Perhaps I should lead the way, sir,” J’hana said, and stepped out in front of him.
Lt. Commander Hartley stepped out onto the bridge of the Explorer and looked around. “Okay, what’s the freaking emergency? Whoever pulled me away from a rewiring of the IDN nodes has a lot of explaining to do!”
The command chair turned, and seated there was a trembling Lt. Howard Sefelt. “I’m…I think I broke the ship!”
Hartley walked down to the command area and sighed. “What are you doing in command?”
“Just….sitting here…” Sefelt said, fumbling with his fingers.
“Where’s Captain Baxter? Captain Vansen? Gage?”
Sefelt pointed at the viewscreen, and the taupe planet spinning there.
“Ahh,” Hartley said. “Everybody left you to go have fun on the planet, eh? Well, I guess there’d be no harm if I sat here for a while, at least until the beta shift people show up.” Sefelt hurriedly vacated the command chair and scooted back into his seat at ops, as Hartley sat back in the center seat. “So what’s going on down there?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Bad things.”
“Uh-huh. I don’t doubt it.”
“What’s going on up here?” she asked.
Sefelt just shivered a bit. “I saw a man.”
“Great,” Hartley said, clapping her thighs. “That’s great.” She looked around the bridge. “Where’s everybody else?”
Sefelt sunk a little lower in his seat. “I saw a man upon the chair. I saw a man who was not there.”
“Is it just me, Howie, or are you getting wierder and wierder?”
“He is not there again tonight,” Sefelt said. “Gee whiz I wish he’d go away.” And then he fainted against his console.
“Hartley to Sickbay,” she sighed, and stood, just as she felt something hard and flat clobber her in the back of the head, knocking her to the deck.
“Do your tusks hurt?” Baxter whispered as he and J’hana navigated a particularly bustly Tanquaran streat.
“Not as much as my crunched antenna.”
“That’s what I said. Antennae.”
Baxter nodded absently as he looked around at the mid-level stone buildings. “Not so advanced. Reminds me of Twenty-first century Earth. So they have hovercars. Does that really put them in a position to join the Federation?”
“They are supposed to be on the verge of acquiring warp drive,” J’hana said.
“Right,” Baxter said. “Warp drive. That’s the key, isn’t it?”
“As I’m told.”
“We need to meet with someone in authority,” Baxter said. “Maybe try to find that Orator guy that Gage said he’d been talking to.”
“That would be where we are heading,” J’hana said. “I have a map of the city in my tricorder.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “So you have a plan.”
“From the beginning.”
“And you were planning on telling me…when?”
“I told you. On the way to the transporter room.”
“Ahh. Right.” Baxter scratched his head. “Something about shooting people?”
J’hana emitted a low rumble. An Andorian sigh? Possibly. “You were not listening to me. If you were not my superior officer, I’d…”
“Kill me, I know.”
“Actually, a simple bowel dissection, using a rusty blade, would suffice.”
“Super,” Baxter said. “Look, I’m sorry I wasn’t listening.”
“We are near the Orator’s office building. Be alert.” J’hana looked around. “I believe, when we were discussing this mission, you were busy whining to me about Counselor Peterman.”
“Yes. I’ve been distracted lately.”
“That is not good.”
“I know. But I think Kelly and I have a real chance of working things out, if she’d just–”
J’hana stopped, turned, and faced Baxter. He had a hard time seeing her as J’hana, what with the pinkish skin and pointy tusks–and no antennae. “That is not what I’m talking about. I was referring to your position as First Officer. You can ill afford distractions. Captains can be distracted. That’s because they have First Officers looking out for them. If you fail in this respect, people die.” She glanced about. “People may have died already.”
“Fantastic,” Baxter said. “So I need to be less mopey. I’ve got it.”
“We’ve arrived,” J’hana announced.
“Yes, I think we’ve arrived at an excellent solution to my problems,” Baxter said firmly.
J’hana stared at Baxter. “At the Orator’s office.”
“Right. I knew that.”
The Andorian reached out and touched a button next to the heavy iron door.
“State your business,” a voice said from within.
“We are here to see the Orator.” J’hana checked her tricorder, then shoved it in her vest pocket. “A Mister Gralsna.”
“Orator Gralsna is not expecting any visitors today,” a voice said.
“We’re great fans of his,” Baxter interjected. “We really enjoy his…orations.” J’hana stomped on his foot and glared at him. “What? I’m trying…”
“Hold on a moment,” the feminine voice replied. After a long pause, she said: “I apologize for the mixup. You may enter.”
The iron door slid mechanically aside.
“I do not feel good about this,” J’hana said, peering inside the dimly lit office.
“We’ve lost three crew to this blasted planet already,” Baxter said. “There’s no reason to feel good about this. Still, if it’s a trap, I’d like to meet it head…” He walked about four feet into the building, and an iron skillet came crashing down onto his head.
“That was predictable,” J’hana said, and yanked her phaser out of her vest, leaping into the darkness, determined to maim or kill whatever foul thing was hiding there.
Fifteen minutes later, she was unconscious.
“I hope you’re happy. You put my mother-in-law in a coma. And she may never walk again!”
The lecture came from Orator Gralsna, or at least that’s who Baxter assumed it was. He was fat, older, with mottled tan skin and long, twirly tusks much more ornate than his own.
Gralsna sat against his large desk as J’hana and Baxter sat before him, tied to chairs, having just recently awaken after being knocked unconscious.
“Your mother-in-law fought well,” J’hana said with a sneer. “And if she had not jabbed those pudgy fingers into my eyes, I would have finished her off…”
“A debate for another time,” Gralsna said, clasping his fingers.
“Mother-in-laws,” Baxter said with a forced chuckle. “Who needs them? Am I right? I know my wife hates my mother.”
“Shut up,” Gralsna said dryly.
“I mean, look at us,” Baxter said, inclining his chin toward Gralsna. “From two totally different species, who’ve never met, never interracted. Our customs are as different as…well, the tusks on your face. But the point is, we share so many things in common. Like mother-in- laws.”
“I love my mother-in-law,” Gralsna growled.
“Bad example,” Baxter said.
“Please,” J’hana said. “Do not help anymore.”
“Orator,” a voice buzzed from the other room. “The other prisoners have been moved here, per your orders.”
Gralsna smiled. “Bring them in.”
Before the door even opened, J’hana knew who it was. “IMZADI!” she called, craning her neck around.
“Hi,” Tilleran said in a small voice, as her and Vansen were ushered in by two hulking Tanquaran guards, in full Tanquaran costume. They were both bound at the wrists.
“Great!” Vansen deadpanned. “The cavalry. Good work getting captured, guys!”
“We could say the same to you,” Baxter said. “Where’s Gage?”
“Your Lieutenant Gage eluded us,” Gralsna said, leaning forward and pacing around Baxter, indicating to the guards that Vansen and Tilleran could be put on the couch. “He was smart. Cagey. He was on to our plan from the very beginning.”
“Plan?” Baxter asked. “Since when was there a plan?”
“Some things never change,” Vansen sighed as she was shoved onto the plush, brown couch next to the chairs Baxter and J’hana were tied to.
“There has always been a plan,” Gralsna said with a broad smile, circling around to the windows that overlooked the twin suns of Tanquar. “Ever since your so-called ‘duckblind’ was discovered three years ago, and your people were interrogated.”
“That’s impossible!” Vansen said. “We’ve been receiving regular reports–”
“From us,” Gralsna said.
“And they said you had discovered warp drive,” Vansen said, then sighed. She probably would have smacked herself in the forehead, if she’d had a hand free. “Which, of course, you haven’t.”
“No,” Gralsna said. “I’m afraid not. But, you know what…” He glanced back at the ornately spinning, basketball-sized brass rings that were perched on one corner of his desk. “If we’re on-schedule, we should be discovering warp drive any minute now…”
“How?” Baxter asked.
“It’s YOUR warp drive,” Gralsna said with a giggle. “Thanks for that, by the way.”
Vansen gritted her teeth. “See how important it is to plan, Baxter?”
“Yeah, it sure did you a hell of a lot of good!”
“We’re doomed,” J’hana moaned.
When Lt. Commander Hartley regained consciousness, she found herself sitting in the command chair once again, but this time, she and Lt. Sefelt were not alone.
Two tusked individuals, inhabitants of the planet the Explorer was currently orbiting, no doubt, were standing on the bridge. One of them had a phaser–a Starfleet phaser!–trained on Sefelt, who sat at ops, still apparently unconscious.
The other one had his phaser trained on her.
“Show us how this ship works, Starfleetian,” the one that was facing her ordered.
Hartley shrugged, and made a talky gesture with her hand.
The Tanquaran rushed forward, shoving the phaser against her neck. “We know you have a universal translator, Starfleetian. We know you can understand us, and we can understand you. And we know your vessel has warp capabilities, and can go to any solar system it wants to. Within mere months!”
“Yes,” Hartley said. “We’re advanced all right.”
The other Tanquaran produced a large, gray square, twice the size of his palm, from a pouch on his skimpy leather outfit. “You will load all of the information from your computer banks on to this.”
“I hardly think that will be compatible.”
The more aggressive Tanquaran pressed the phaser harder against her neck. “Then you will just have to make it work.”
“Yeah, well, that’s going to be a problem,” Hartley said. “I’m the ship’s…chef. I don’t know how to work the equipment.”
“Liar!” the other Tanquaran said. “You were giving commands before we came back out onto the bridge. You told the frightened one to do things. You’re a leader on this ship.”
Oh, I so wish I wasn’t, Hartley thought to herself.
“You should know the entire crew has been paralyzed, using your own ship’s gas production facilities,” the Tanquaran with the phaser on her neck told her. “We know your ship has the ability to make them all dead as well.”
“You will load as much information as you can onto this memory module, then you’ll show us how to use your transmission device to move all these people off the ship and onto a deserted continent on our planet,” one Tanquaran said.
“But before that last part, you’ll show us how to fly this ship,” the other Tanquaran said.
“Yes, that too,” the one with the phaser said. “Now.”
Hartley smiled weakly. “Well, I’ll say one thing for the Federation. They sure do know how to pick their first contacts.”
“We are all going to die,” J’hana said in a low voice, as she, Baxter, Vansen, and Tilleran all sat in a small room off the Orator’s office, all bound to chairs, in a circle, facing away from each other, as the planet’s twin suns went down through a small square window that faced Baxter.
The captain squinted in the waning sunlight. “We’re not going to die. This is really nothing. We’ve been through worse.”
“And you lead the way to victory,” Vansen said. “Spare us.”
“You know, you don’t have to be jealous. You can be a good captain too, in time.”
“I’m ten times the captain you’ll ever be, Baxter.”
“It’s not like you to be emotional,” Baxter snapped back.
“I’m not being emotional.. Those are just the facts. Look them up, I believe they’re even stated clearly in the Federation Omnipedia. Yes, Captain Vansen is better than Captain Baxter in all areas.”
“Both of you shut up,” Tilleran said. “We’re in enough trouble as it is, without you two making it worse with your petty arguing…sirs.”
“I wonder where Gage is,” Vansen mused. “If he did get out, has he gone back to the ship? Or is he still down here?”
“Maybe he was captured,” Baxter said.
“Maybe we can contact the ship,” Baxter suggested. “Do you know where they took the combadges?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Tilleran said. “They used them to beam two of their people up to the Explorer to take it over.”
“It will take more than two people to take over that ship,” Baxter said confidently.
“Wanna bet?” Vansen murmurred.
“Ingenious,” J’hana said. “They knocked you unconscious, then used your own hands to tap your combadges and request beam-up. Then they affixed the combadges to themselves and were beamed up.”
“That about sums it up,” Tilleran said. “Now that they have your two combadges, they could have beamed two more people up.”
“No,” Vansen said. “It could get much worse. If they do succeed in somehow taking over the ship, they can beam up whoever they want.”
“Only if they somehow manage to capture a transporter expert to show them how to work the damn thing,” Baxter said. “C’mon…do any of you know how to do it?”
The other three nodded.
“Oh. Well….me too.”
“Fruit cup? Why is everyone on the ship unconscious?”
The voice startled Hartley, as she leaned over the engineering console, painstakingly instructing the two fairly dense Tanquarans in the operation of the warp drive systems and the transporters.
They immediately turned their weapons toward the turbolift, and trained them on the person who’d just stepped out onto the bridge.
“Hello,” Mirk said. “Mirk Hartley. Bartender extraordinaire. And you are?”
“About to shoot you,” the nastier of the Tanquarans said.
“Good one, Slojas,” his partner said.
“How did you not lose consciousness?” Slojas demanded, stepping toward Mirk.
“Anesthezine doesn’t work on me,” Mirk said. “Didn’t you know that?”
“I must have missed the memo,” Slojas said, and aimed his phaser, upping its setting. “But I think I have a way of correcting that.”
“Uh, Slojas…” The other Tanquaran tapped him on the shoulder.
“Lensl, I’m busy right now.”
“But, um…” Lensl pointed at the rippling air behind Slojas, which quickly materialized into a large, spiny, gray-skinned creature who lofted a potted plant high above his head.
“I kill this plant in the name of shipboard security!” Chaka’kan cried out, slamming the plant down on Slojas’ head, knocking him unconscious.
“Guess he saw a man who wasn’t there, too,” Hartley said with a grin, glancing down at Slojas’ immobile form.
“That felt good,” Chaka said. “Very good.” He turned toward Lensl.
“Don’t bother,” Lensl said. Smiling, he handed the phaser to Chaka. “You can have it.”
Mirk leaned down, peering at the unconscious Slojas. “Did I mention that Jem’Hadar are immune to anesthezine, too? No, guess I didn’t.”
“Mirk!” Hartley exclaimed, tossing her arms around Mirk and hugging him.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“You just averted a shipwide takeover. Nothing big.”
“That was fun,” Chaka said, and walked toward the rear turbolift. “Anyone else going down? I have yoga in ten.”
Mirk smiled. “I’ll take the next one.”
Hartley grinned and rubbed her nose against Mirk’s. “You silly boy. Telling them it was your Maloxian physiology that made you immune to anesthezine. Some of us know better.” She sighed. “Your powers come to the rescue again, eh?”
“Yes,” Mirk said in a small voice. “My powers. Woo….hoo.”
“Wait!” Hartley said, and ran toward the tactical console. “I almost forgot. We’ve got people down there.”
“Can you find them?”
“Eventually,” Hartley said. “But if the people on the planet planned on taking over the ship, odds are they’ve captured the away team. We may not have much time.”
“Guess we have to rely on them to come up with a way to save themselves, huh?”
“Yeah,” Hartley said, and exchanged nervous glances with Mirk.
“Better get to work,” Mirk said.
“Well this is a fine ending to a completely f***ed-up career,” Baxter said, leaning his head back as the sun had now fully gone down.
“It wasn’t that great,” Vansen said.
“And it’s so fitting I have you here till the very end,” Baxter said. “Reminding me how much I suck.”
“What you do in your personal life is hardly my concern.”
“Will you two EVER stop?” Tilleran asked. “You’re giving me a headache. All those emotions…so bitter.” She glared at Baxter. “And you think she’s hot, anyway.”
“I do NOT!” Baxter said. “You shut up. I’m in enough trouble with my wife as it is. Besides…I DO NOT!”
“And you’re afraid you’ll never be liked by the Explorer crew as much as Baxter is,” Tilleran said. “Respect is one thing. You’ve got that. But none of us really like you.”
“It’s true,” J’hana said.
“And, honestly, Captain,” Tilleran said. “Respect was never really on the table.”
“Yeah, I know,” Baxter said with a small grin. “I always preferred being liked to being respected anyway.”
“Funny,” Vansen said distantly. “I always preferred to be respected.”
“Looks like you both get what you want,” Tilleran said.
Baxter and Vansen looked at one another, as if for the first time.
“Wow,” Baxter said. “Never thought of it that way.”
Vansen narrowed her eyes. “It doesn’t mean we have to like each other.”
“And we don’t have to respect each other either,” Baxter added.
“Deal!” Vansen said.
“Glad that’s settled,” J’hana said, as the doornob to the small room began to jiggle. “Now we all die.”
The door suddenly swung open to reveal Lt. Jeremy Gage, in full Tanquaran regalia, holding a makeshift rifle…assumably the indigenous weapon of Tanquar.
“Gage!” Vansen exclaimed.
“Sorry it took me so long to rescue you, Captain,” Gage said, and set about untying Vansen’s bonds. “I had to make some alliances with an underground group of anarchists. Then I uncovered the political plot to steal the Explorer and use it to send the planet’s space program light years ahead…so to speak.”
“You did all that in…” Tilleran said, and looked at J’hana. “A few hours?”
“Yeah,” Gage said, and untied Baxter. “Like I said, sorry I’m late. Why’d you guys come down, anyway? I gave the Captain the secret signal that the mission had gone awry, and I was planning to undermine the Tanquaran’s plans.”
Vansen blinked. “You did?”
Gage nodded earnestly.
Baxter giggled as he rubbed his wrists. “Guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t listen during meetings.” He looked around at the group. “Well…I’m not the one in command here, but what’s say we all beam off this cursed rock?”
Stardate 57184.4. We’re getting ready to depart the planet Tanquar, after a thoroughly unsuccessful First Contact operation. The mission failed for many reason, not the least of which was the fact that the Tanquarans are a bunch of lying, underhanded miscreants who deceived us at every turn. How dare they pretend to have warp capability? Really!
Unfortunately, because there is to be no official record of our existence on Tanquar, we could not arrest Gralsna or his men. We had to be satisfied with performing mindwipes, and hope that we got everyone who was affected.
The last order of business was to dismantle our duckblind, and pick up the pour souls that worked there, who’d been rotting in a Tanquar prison camp.
Now we’re ready to embark on our next mission. Which can’t possibly go as bad as this one. Then again, on this ship…
Vansen leaned back and rubbed her eyes, staring at the ceiling of her readyroom, not for the first time wishing she was the captain of some ship…any other ship…that wasn’t named Explorer.
Then, to make matters worse, her door chimed. Why was it people always wanted to talk to her? This was a distinct disadvantage to the whole captaincy thing.
“Come,” she said tiredly.
Baxter ducked his head in, then fully stepped into the readyroom, still obviously annoyed at her decor. Or perhaps it was just the fact that it wasn’t HIS decor.
Either way, he tried to put on a smile.
“…Captain,” he said slowly, and tossed a padd onto her desk. “This is our closeout report for the mission.”
She arched an eyebrow. “You wrote a report?”
He nodded. “Tilleran showed me how.”
“Interesting,” she said, paging through the padd’s contents. “Wow, the Sickbay chapter is particularly long.”
“Lots of nausea, you know, from the knockout drugs.”
“I’m surprised the Tanquarans had the wherewithal to activate that.”
Baxter nodded. “I guess we should be glad that’s all the wherewithal they had.”
“No kidding.” She leaned forward, pushing the padd aside. “This is fine.”
“Good. Glad you approve.”
“I didn’t say that. I just said it’s fine.”
“Well, that’s good enough for me,” Baxter said, and headed toward the door.
“Captain,” Vansen said, stopping Baxter in his tracks.
He didn’t turn around. “Yeah?”
“I’m swamped here. Why don’t you take command for the rest of the day? Make yourself useful and plant your ass in that chair for a few hours.”
“Thanks,” Baxter said with a small grin. “I’ll do that.”
Something has happened to the Directors, and Mirk is determined to figure out what. With the help of Lt. Commander Hartley, Mirk sets out on a journey to the Bermuda Expanse, to find out once and for all what happened to the elusive all-knowing eyeballs. But what he finds may bring up more questions than there are answers. Then again, you weren’t expecting a neat and tidy resoultion, were you?