Star Traks: The Vexed Generation is based on Alan Decker's Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, who is turning in his grave. Take a number, and throw your money on the table, folks. I'm going to Vegas. Wish me luck. Goddess knows, I'll need it. Copyright 2003. All rights, and wrongs, are reserved. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, better hit the "Back" button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Anthony Butler
Copyright: 2003



Captain Emily Sullivan leaned up in bed, rubbing her eyes as the large viewscreen opposite her bed illuminated the room.

“Sorry to bother you sir,” Lieutenant Samantha Mulumbwa said, bridge consoles bleeping behind her. “We have a priority communication from Starfleet Command. Commodore Woodall wishes to speak with you immediately.”

“Put him on,” Sullivan said, swinging her legs over and leaning forward on the bed.

“I’ve had it!” Woodall snapped, his griseled features immediately filling the screen. Sun was just setting in San Francisco, if the windows overlooking the bay behind him were any indication.

“Had it with what, Commodore?”

“Three weeks. Three weeks, and no word from the Explorer. And Starfleet Intelligence is no help.”

Sullivan nodded. She’d figured that was what Woodall was calling about. In the weeks since the Explorer had mysteriously broken off contact with Starfleet, on the heels of some kind of dust-up with the Orions, Woodall had called Sullivan repeatedly to vent about his frustration with the lack of communication at Starfleet Command. Woodall was not brass. He was not the type of officer to rise to the rank of flag officer. He was a starship commander, one of the better ones in Starfleet history, Sullivan thought, and that’s where he belonged. Where he could make impulse decisions and carry them through.

“Have you spoken with Admiral Nechayev?”

“I have an appointment to meet with the Commander-in-Chief,” Woodall growled. “In two months.”

“Your pull at Command is impressive, sir.”

“This is no time for your sarcasm, Sullivan.”

“What about the other ships in the Explorer Project?”

Woodall ticked each off on his finger. “The Outlander is in the midst of shake-down. The Pathfinder is on maneuvers in the Gamma Quadrant and even if I called them, Baxter’s mother is the skipper, and I can’t see how she’d be all that eager to help track down her son. The Tracker has disappeared as well. Her crew, except for her captain, was delivered a few weeks ago to Starbase 227, along with the non-essential personnel from the Explorer. Nobody’s saying anything, but I don’t believe they know anything. Just that the Tracker experienced what appeared to be a warp core breach, yet nobody saw it explode. And the Explorer people are saying even less. But I expect that’s because they’re all mute idiots.”

“Sounds like you’re at wits end, Commodore,” Sullivan said.

“I am, Emily,” Woodall said, and his eye twinkled almost imperceptibly. “I need you.”

“You want me to chase down Baxter.”

“Yes,” Woodall said, leaning forward, clasping his hands on front of him. “I know this is irregular. You don’t have the sanction of Starfleet behind you. You just have my orders. And I’m not even your direct C.O. But damn the chain of command, the Explorer must be found and reigned in. Of course, I understand if you declined. You have your career to think–”

“I’ll do it,” Sullivan said, and hopped out of bed, grabbing for the nearest crisp uniform.

“Sullivan, need I remind you this is a very delicate situation? The risks…”

“Someone once said that risk is our business, Commodore. Besides that, I’m used to operating somewhat…irregularly. I’ll bring the Explorer in. Count on it.”

“I knew I could rely on you, Emily.”

Sullivan was already zipping up her uniform tunic. “Send me all the information you have. I’ll have Mister Fontaine set up a search grid. We’ll contact you as soon as we know more.”

“The sooner the better,” Woodall said. “Who knows what Captain Baxter’s plotting?”

“I’m glad you came,” Counselor Kelly Peterman said, crossing her legs and folding her hands on top of her knees as she sat beside the fainting couch in her office. “I know the last few weeks have been stressful for you. This is a really good time to look back, take stock, and examine your feelings.”

Captain Andy Baxter leaned up on the couch. “Kelly, this feels silly.”

“It’s not silly to seek mental help, Andy.”

“It is when the mental help is your wife, and you just saw her for breakfast this morning. Speaking of, did you eat the last bagel?”

“Shush about breakfast, Andy,” Peterman said, leaning forward. “If this is going to work, you’ve got to separate Kelly the wife from Counselor Peterman, your therapist. Think of me as a different person.”

“Fine,” Baxter said, and leaned back. He glanced back over at her. “But can I talk to my wife for just a minute?”

“No. She’s busy.”

“It’s important.”

Peterman sighed. “Fine! What?”

“Are you taking Stephanie for her annual check-up this afternoon, or am I?”

“I’ll do it,” Peterman said, and grabbed her padd, ready to take notes. “Now then, are you ready?”

“Yeah,” Baxter said, and leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. “But I still don’t understand what I’m here for. I feel fine.”

“How can you feel fine?” Peterman asked. “You’re under tremendous emotional stress. The Explorer has been on silent running for three weeks now. We’ve been ignoring Starfleet comms. We’re on the run from the Orion Syndicate AND Section Thirty-One, not to mention Starfleet themselves. Your sister, whose existence you’re only now beginning to acknowledge, is potentially an omnipotent being, who could destroy the universe if her power is unleashed. Your father is aboard, and we all know that being around your parents makes you extremely uncomfortable. Not to mention that all of this has happened not long after getting command of your ship back and getting your marriage in order.”

Baxter nodded, taking it all in. “Yeah. Funny, huh? I guess I should be a mess of nerves right now, but I’m just not.”

Peterman let out an exasperated sigh. “Maybe you’re not thinking about it hard enough.”

“Oh, here we go,” Baxter muttered. “Belittle me and make me feel stupid.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel stupid. I’m just trying to get at the core of your feelings.”

“The core of my feelings is great. I’m great.” Baxter leaned up. “Maybe the fact that I DO have command back, and my marriage IS back in order, on top of the fact that I can finally acknowledge that I DO have a sister, and that I have an opportunity now to really communicate with my father….maybe those are all good things, and the fact that they all happened has relieved stress in my life, not caused more.”

Peterman blinked. “It’s possible, I guess.”

“So are we done?” Baxter asked plainly.

“I…suppose.” Peterman stared at her padd, with nothing written on it.

“Good. I’ve got lots of work to do. Lunch?”

“I’m stacked up with appointments all day. But I’ll let you know if I can slip away.”

Baxter pushed off the couch and leaned forward to kiss Peterman on the cheek. “Good. Keep me posted.” He turned and walked out as Peterman stared at the closing door, then at her pomeranians, Boomer and Starbuck, who nudged at her legs.

“Walkies?” she asked. She glanced up at her chronometer. “Okay. I have a few minutes before the next appointment. Let’s go, babies!”

“Report,” Baxter said, walking out onto the bridge.

“Somebody spilled french onion soup in front of the command chairs,” J’hana said with a resonating grunt.

“Richards,” Baxter muttered. “Again! After all that time with Vansen, I’d forgotten what a slob he was.”

“She did keep a tidy bridge,” Tilleran admitted.

“Anyway,” Baxter said, as he walked around to the front of the bridge. “I was referring to a report on our current assignment.”

“You mean disregarding Starfleet orders and risking our necks on an impossible mission to stop an omnipotent being from destroying the universe?” J’hana asked wryly.

“Thanks for summing it up so nicely,” Baxter muttered. “Yes, that one. What other mission could I possibly be talking about?”

“Lieutenant Commander Hartley reports she and Commander Donovan are finished installing the sensor reflective forcefield emitters throughout the ship. Once the new system is brought online, the Explorer won’t appear on sensors, just like the Escort.”

“But it’ll be much easier to look out a viewport and see us out there, as opposed to the Escort.”

“If anyone even tries,” J’hana said. “The point is, we’ll be invisible to our enemy. Which is Starfleet.”

“Starfleet isn’t our enemy,” Baxter said. “How many times do I have to tell you? We just have a slight difference of opinion.”

“Involving your father’s illicit research and a possibly omnipotent being.”

“Enough commentary,” Baxter said. “Let me know as soon as we’re ready to test the forcefields.”

“Probably within the hour,” Tilleran said.

“Good. Anything else?”

J’hana shifted from foot to foot, cleared her throat. “I must leave my post this afternoon for…personal reasons…”

“Not the dentist again,” Baxter said. “You know Doctor Higgles left the ship with the other nonessential crew. I told you, if you’d stop filing the incisors, they wouldn’t keep getting infected.”

“It’s not the dentist!” J’hana snapped. “I just need some time off. Hive mother!”

“Fine!” Baxter said, throwing up his hands. “Take as much time as you need. Just don’t leave when Tilleran’s leaving for her ‘personal business.’”

J’hana glared at Tilleran. “You have personal business?”

“Yes. At thirteen hundred.”

“My personal business is at fourteen hundred.”

“Good,” Baxter said. “That settles that. I guess you guys do have legitimate errands to take of. I figured you and Tilleran were going to take off at the same time for some…you know…afternoon delight.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth, Captain,” Tilleran said. “And frankly, I resent the implication.”

“Sorry!” Baxter said. “Jeeze…forgive a captain for being interested in the lives of his crew.”

“Must I forgive you?” J’hana muttered. “Because I’m honestly not in the mood.”

“You both need to relax a little,” Baxter said.

“That’s the idea,” Tilleran said in a low voice, and went back to her scans.

Shortly after “walkies,” Peterman returned to find Commander Richards already waiting at the door to her office.

She grinned politely and let him in, leading Boomer and Starbuck to their massive pillow, where they quickly “nested.”

“Have a seat,” she said, and gestured for the couch, while she sat down in her chair.

They sat a few minutes in silence, as Peterman studied her notes.

Richards sat down, but didn’t lie down. He just braced his hands on his knees and sat there, letting out a breath. “Busy day?” he finally said.

“Yes,” Peterman nodded. “So…”


“You wanted to see me?”

Richards nodded. “Man. This is awkward, huh?”

“You think so?”

“Well, yeah. We, um, have had our differences lately.”

“I’m still your therapist, Matt. Whatever else is going on is strictly secondary to that. If you are having emotional problems, I want to hear about them. I’m here to help you.”

Richards nodded. “Good. That’s good.”

“So…what’s on your mind?”

Richards flopped back on the couch, staring at the ceiling. “This Janice thing. I’m scared!”

“WHAT?” Peterman exploded.

“You asked!”

Peterman stared at Richards a long moment. She just knew it. He was going to back out again. Break Janice’s heart again. Destroy what little self confidence Dr. Browning had worked so hard to build up. Probably drive her right back…Peterman shivered…right back into Andy’s arms. Her marriage did NOT need that right now. She gulped. This was exactly why Richards felt awkward talking to her. Time to put on a professional face.

“Sorry…” she said slowly. “I just couldn’t hear you very well. You said you’re scared?”

“Uh, yeah. Like, of not really being there for her. As much as I should be.”

“I’m taking it you mean emotionally?”

“Oh, yeah. Physically, no problem. That was never a problem with me and her. As a matter of fact, Janice’s really good at…”

“I don’t think that’s really relevant to our discussion!” Peterman snapped, feeling her face get hot.

“Right, of course not. But yes, emotionally. I’m afraid of letting her down.”

“Then don’t,” Peterman said flatly.

“Easier said than done. My track record isn’t exactly stellar.”

“Which is why I warned you to…” Peterman stopped herself. “Please, continue. Tell me how you really feel.”

“Okay. I feel like…well, like when Janice and I aren’t together…you know, when we’ve split up…I feel alone. Kinda sad, like I don’t know what to do with myself. And no matter who else I get together with, there’s still that feeling of emptiness, you know?”

Peterman thought back to her recent sojourn on Waystation. “I can imagine. Continue.”

“But when we’re together, man. At first it’s amazing. Long nights up talking. And, you know, whatever else. But then, there’s also this…this feeling of…well, kind of like I’m suffocating.”

Peterman tapped that into her padd. “Interesting. Anything else?”

“I feel like maybe this is moving to fast. Like she has bigger plans for us than I do. I like things just how they are now.”

“Except the feelings of being suffocated.”

“Well, yeah, that.”

“Isn’t that telling you something? That maybe you shouldn’t be with her?”

“But I love her. There’s no doubting that. I think this suffocation thing is just immaturity on my part.”

“That’s a very mature revelation to come to,” Peterman said. “But if that’s true, what are you going to do about it?”

“Grow up?”

“Easier said than done. Growth doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s not fair to expect Janice to wait for you.”

“That’s just the thing. I know her. She has a good heart. A better heart than anyone I’ve known. If I wanted her to wait, she would.”

“Then maybe you should ask her. When all else fails, Matt, be honest.”

“You know, that’s a great idea.”

“I’m here to help!” Peterman said. Just then, her cabin doors bleeped. “Who is it?” she called.

“It’s Janice! You said you wanted to get some coffee this morning?”

“Damn,” Peterman muttered. “I did. I forgot I had all these appointments. Ummmmm…hold on, Janice!”

Richards shot up. “She can’t know I’m here! She’ll think it’s about her!”

“It is!”

“But I don’t want her to know that!”

“You’ve got to be honest with her!”

“I’ll tell her everything,” Richards said, the words coming out fast. “In my own time and my own way.” He pointed at Peterman. “And you can’t tell her anything. It’s that counselor-client privilege thing!”

“Ohhhhhh!” Peterman stomped her foot. “Why do people keep bringing that up?”

“Kelly? Do you have an appointment? I hear voices…”

“No, Janice. Just dictating some notes. I’ll be out in a minute.”

“What are we going to do?” Richards panicked.

“Damn it, Matt, who’s the engineer here?” Peterman mumbled. She tapped her combadge. “Ensign Yang. Lock onto Commander Richards and beam him to the transporter room.”


“Just do it.”

“Actually,” Richards spoke up. “If you could beam me to my quarters…I need a shower before I go on duty. So, on second thought, beam me to the shower.”

“Ummm….aye, sir.”

Richards smiled gratefully as the transporter took hold, and just Peterman rolled her eyes as he disappeared. She walked to her door and punched a control. It slid open to reveal Janice Browning.

She peeked in. “Busy morning?”

“You could say that. Replimat?”

“Not many other places we can go, since the civilian personnel are all gone. And going back to Space Tastes doesn’t really seem like a break to me.”

“Okeydoke. I think there’s one down the corridor. I couldn’t really tell you, since I always go to Space Tastes.”

“A loyal customer to the very end,” Browning said, hooking an arm around Peterman’s.

“Yes,” Peterman said, gulping. “Loyal.”

“Tell me something good, Mister Fontaine,” Captain Sullivan said, stepping up to the tactical console, where Lieutenant Brett “Too Good- Looking to be True” Fontaine (as the ladies on the bridge had nicknamed him) was looking at a spectrographic map of a nearby sector.

“We’ve got a possible contact, Captain. We were able to trace the Explorer’s course from their original heading, toward the Bersallis belt, when they last spoke with Commodore Woodall, to a star system near Orion space called ‘Falkath.’”

“And now?”

“Well, it took some doing, Captain, but it seems like they’re heading on a circular course through some of the outer worlds of the Federation.”

“They’re searching for something,” Sullivan said, rubbing her chin. “I wonder what?”

“I’m not sure, sir. But unlike the Explorer crew, I think we’ve found what we’re looking for.” He pointed at a blinking circle on the viewscreen. “Galaxy-class power readings. Same emissions as the Explorer. Same warp signature. I’m betting it’s her, Captain. And if it is, she’s headed toward this spot. A sector called Elrod Two-Twenty.”

“I trust your instincts,” Sullivan said. And those beautiful eyes, she added silently as she walked down to the command chair. “Fontaine, route your information to Mister Flagg’s console. Ensign Flagg, lay in a course at warp nine as soon as you receive the coordinates.” She took a breath. “Enga–”

“Sir!” Fontaine exclaimed. “The contact just….it just disappeared!”

Sullivan sighed. “Can you get it back?

“I’m working.”

“In that case, Flagg, set a course for the last known location of that blip. At least it’s a starting place. Engage when ready.”

Inwardly, Sullivan wondered just what the hell was going on aboard the Explorer.

“Cool!” Baxter exclaimed, glancing around the dimmed bridge. “It’s like we’re cloaked.”

“Not cloaked,” Ashley Donovan said from beside Baxter, as Lt. Commander Hartley looked on, observing her handiwork. “Just sensor- reflective. Like the Escort.”

“Well, it’s an improvement, nevertheless.”

Just then, the aft turbolift opened up, allowing Richards onto the bridge. “Did I miss anything?”

“Just a massive alteration to our shield systems, Matt,” Baxter said. “How about no more long lunches until the intergalactic crisis is over?”

“Sorry,” Richards muttered. “So we’re invisible?”

“Sensor-reflective,” Ashley snapped.

“Hopefully,” Hartley said, “this will prevent every half-wit, crime boss, and freighter captain with a grudge against us from swooping down and trying to blow us up every hour on the hour.”

“You’re exhausted,” Baxter said, glancing at Hartley with concern. As usual, she was stripped down to the tank-top and stunk of warp-core lubricants. “When was the last time you slept?

“Roughly…last year.”

“Why don’t you take a couple days off. Get some sleep?”

“While we’re under constant threat of attack? I think not.”

“At least go down and speak to Kelly. She might make you feel a little better.”

“She’s booked,” Hartley mumbled, walking back to the turbolift. “Not like I checked or anything,” she added quickly.

“I’m going belowdecks to look at the weapons,” Ashley said.

“Not without an escort from my staff,” Hartley said as Ashley joined her in the turbolift.

“Of course,” Ashley said with a nod.

“Me too!” J’hana said eagerly, jogging into the turbolift.

“You’re already taking off later today!” Tilleran exclaimed.

“This is business!” J’hana shot back as the turbolift doors closed.

“Trouble?” Baxter asked, as he took his seat in the command chair, and Richards sat down next to him.

“She’s been acting strange.”

“More so than normal?”

“Not more so…but strange in a different way. She has something on her mind.”

“She’s an enigma,” Richards said. “A fascinating enigma.”

“Matt?” Baxter asked, looking at Richards.

“What? Hmm?” He straightened. “Nothing. So has anybody tried to kill us yet today?”

“Not yet. But the day is young.”

“You’re glowing,” Peterman said, peering over her steaming Bajoran Blend lattee at Browning, who sipped tentatively at her hot chocolate. “You’re not going to become omnipotent, too, are you?”

“I’m happy,” Browning said. “Is that so surprising?”

“I have a feeling that Chris Richards has something to do with this,” Peterman said with a small grin.

“He has a lot to do with this. I felt so…adrift without him.”

“It’s not healthy to rely so much on one person,” Peterman said thoughtfully. “You may want to consider that.”

“Don’t you rely greatly on Andy?”

Peterman shifted. “That’s different.”



Browning looked at her patiently.

“We’re married.”

Browning grinned.

“Janice. No…”

She grinned a little wider.

“You’re kidding me…”

Her grin widened even more, until she bursted out laughing. “I can’t keep it to myself any more, Kelly. I’m going to do it. I’m popping the question. I’m going to ask Christopher to marry me!”

Peterman nearly choked on her coffee. She set it down. “WHAT?”

“Yeah. I’m not waiting around for him to do it this time. I’m taking the galaxy by the reins.”

“Do you think this is wise?”

“You told me a few days ago when we met that I should work harder on achieving my main goals.”

“This is one of your goals?”

“This is THE main goal, Kelly. I want to be with him. End of story.”

Peterman nodded, professional obligation nagging at the back of her mind. “Do you think this is wise, in light of your past…problems with Richards?”

“He’s a different man now, Kelly. He had time to think. We both did. All the ordeals of this year…being thrown back in time, being separated…”

“Having his back broken…”

“And everything else…it’s given us both time to grow apart, so we can be together. That sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”

Peterman had to admit there was an element of logic to it. “I…” She reached out and put a hand over Browning’s. “I’m just happy for you, Janice.”

“Good,” Browning said. “Because I guess it’s no surprise that I want you as the maid of honor. Hmm…I wonder if the files from our previous wedding plan are still in the computer.”

“I’m sure Yeoman Briggs can look them up for you,” Peterman said distantly.

“Good idea. I’ll talk to him this afternoon after work. It’s a good thing he stayed aboard, eh? That in the midst of all this chaos, we can have something nice like a wedding.”

“Yeah, good thing.” Peterman blinked. “Wait a minute. When are you thinking of having this thing?”

“A month, more or less, I guess,” she shrugged.

Peterman gritted her teeth. “Have you decided when you’re going to tell Richards?”

Browning rolled her eyes around thoughtfully. “Guess I’d better do that, eh?” She stood up and headed toward the replimat’s exit. “Thanks, Kelly!”

“Don’t mention it!” Peterman called after her, feeling suddenly very uneasy.

“Sefelt to Peterman!” the shaky voice of Lt. Howard Sefelt broke in over the comm system.

Oh, no. She forgot all about her appointment with Sefelt. That was three hours every day. How could she have forgotten?

One thing was for sure, Peterman’s day was starting to look like it would be a long one.

“How could they just disappear off the starmap?” Sullivan asked, steepling her fingers as she sat in the command chair aboard the Orleans, staring at the spectrographic map of the area of space known as Elrod 220 on the viewscreen as the stars rushed forward.

“Maybe they got a cloaking device,” Fontaine said. “It’s hard to say. But I’ve lost all readings. Thermal, emissions, shields, warp, power readings…everything.”

“They don’t have a cloaking device,” Sullivan said. “Where would they find one, so suddenly?”

“Respectfully, Captain, who knows what that crew is into?”

True, the Explorer crew did have a reputation for doing the unexpected. But Sullivan wasn’t about to let that stop her from carrying out her mission. Captain Rydell ran a somewhat atypical operation on the Secondprize, but he never just abandoned Starfleet and his superior officers like this. There was a limit to what one captain could do–there was a line of demarcation–and Baxter had crossed the line in a big way.

“Sir,” Lt. Malumbwa said from sciences. “Picking up a contact bearing one-one-three mark zero-zero-seven.”


“Yes. Danube class…the U.S.S. Pee Dee.”

“A runabout? What are they doing this far out without a mothership?” Sullivan stared at the viewscreen

Fontaine looked up from his screens. “We’re being hailed.”

“This should be interesting,” Sullivan said. “On screen.”

The viewscreen lit up with an earnest-looking woman in a Starfleet jumpsuit, and long, dark brown hair. “Captain Sullivan? Agent Dallas. Starfleet Intelligence. We need to talk.”

Sullivan froze. She’d always joked that Starfleet Intelligence was an oxymoron, but here they were. They’d found her. Though she wondered why Intel had sent only a little runabout after her and not a starship.

“I’m not sure what brings you out here, Agent Dallas, but I assure you I’m in the middle of a highly sensitive mission. Perhaps we can schedule a meeting for a later…”

“We need to meet now,” Dallas said. “I know all about your mission. And I want to help you bring in the Explorer.”

“To break this information down succinctly, we’re out of places to look,” Baxter said, staring frankly at Richards, Tilleran, Dr. Wilcox, Captain Anna Kimmel, and Admiral Harlan Baxter, who sat gathered around the conference table.

The doors slipped open and Ashley Donovan, Lt. Commander Hartley, and J’hana stepped in.

“Sorry we’re late,” Ashley said, and pulled up a seat next to Harlan. Hartley and J’hana sat down on the other side of the table. “We were just finishing up our eval of the weapons upgrades.”

Kimmel put up an eyebrow. “Upgrades?”

“Yes,” Baxter said. “Ashley has volunteered to use some of her Section Thirty-One knowledge to upgrade our weapons.”

“Plasma flow adjustments, targeting refinements, quantum torpedo yield enhancements, nothing fancy,” Ashley said.

“Nothing fancy,” Hartley chuckled. “You nearly doubled our phaser recharge rate.”

“And dramatically increased the effectiveness and range of our torpedoes,” J’hana said. “She is formidable, Captain. I can see why you and her copulated.”

“Let’s keep this professional, for a change, shall we?” Baxter asked. “What about the sensor-reflective shields. How are they holding up?”

“Still five-by-five,” Hartley said. “No fluctuations to speak of.”

“Good,” Baxter said. “Then back to the original topic of this meeting. We’re at a dead end.”

“I’m out of sources,” Ashley said. “We’ve spoken to more degenerates on more far-flung colonies this last three weeks than I have in my whole career. Nobody knows where Maura Drake is.”

“How about higher-ups in the science community?”

“Those who acknowledge her existence have no idea where she is either,” Tilleran said. “I’ve had contact with Starfleet Science…under an assumed name…as well as the Vulcan Ministry of Science and at least a dozen intergalactic science guilds. Some think of Drake as a myth. A trail blazing eugenic pathologist who doesn’t even exist.”

“She exists,” Kimmel said in a small voice. “Or else I wouldn’t be here today.”

“None of us would,” Harlan said. “She’s out there. We just have to have the temerity and good sense to find her.”

“Well, since I’m sure you guys already ransacked her old lab on Zendab Five for clues, I guess the next step is to…”

Harlan cut Baxter off. “We never looked at her old lab.”

“You didn’t?” Baxter looked at Ashley.

“We figured that was too obvious. We’ve looked every place but…”

“Then by process of elimination, wouldn’t it figure that our clues, and possibly Drake herself, might be there?”

“Damn it, boy, I knew there was a reason I bothered to pay attention to you growing up,” Harlan rumbled.

“Don’t go getting mushy on me now, Dad,” Baxter said. “Richards, plot a course to Zendab Five. Maximum warp.”

“Where are you going?” Richards asked.

“For a walk,” Baxter said, and ducked out of the conference room.

The room was silent for a few moments.

“Dessert anyone?” Richards asked quietly.

“Andy, wait up,” Captain Kimmel said, jogging up to catch Baxter as he strode down the corridor of Deck Nine.

“I’m a little busy, Anna,” Baxter said gently, sliding an arm around Kimmel’s shoulders and squeezing her briefly. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t go telling my wife that. She’ll want to grill you with about a dozen more questions.”

“Kelly’s worried about you, huh?”

“She thinks I’m suppressing my emotions about all this,” Baxter said. “But I’ve told her again and again, I feel fine. And why would I lie to her?”

“Maybe you’re not lying to her.”


“Maybe you’re lying to yourself.”

Baxter stopped, looking hard at Kimmel. “What would give you that idea?”

“Because I think I’ve done the same thing before. It’s been hard trying to keep up the lie that we’re not related….trying to deny where I came from.”

“Yeah, it’s been hard all right.”

“And sometimes, just sometimes, I resent your father for keeping it all from us for so long.”

“That’s understandable,” Baxter said, his face tensing a bit. “But he did what he had to do. He had his reasons.”

“Yeah,” Kimmel said. “But that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, does it?”

“I don’t know,” Baxter said.

“All I’m saying is that I’m here. You know, if you want someone…else to talk to.”

“Thanks,” Baxter said. “But really, I’m fine.”

“That’s good. So where are you off to?”

“A briefing in Engineering,” Baxter said. “Kelly and I will see you for dinner tonight?”

“Count on it,” Kimmel said as Baxter stepped into the turbolift.

“Have a seat,” Captain Sullivan said, stepping behind her desk in the captain’s readyroom, as Agent Dallas and her hulking, scaly blue- skinned sidekick walked in. Sullivan tried to avoid staring at Agent Batyn, but it wasn’t often one encountered an Antedian, and even at that, Sullivan wasn’t aware of any in Starfleet. Something about the flapping gills and dead-eyed stare made her uneasy.

“I’ll stand. Seats are a dicey proposition for me,” Batyn muttered, glancing around the readyroom. “Nice office you have here, by the by.”

“Uh, thanks,” Sullivan said, and turned her attention to Batyn, who was virtually bouncing in her seat as she slapped a padd on Sullivan’s desk. “What can I do for you, Agent Dallas?”

“Read that,” Dallas said, pointing at the padd.

“Ooooookay,” Sullivan said, and picked up the padd. “Let’s see. Transcript of an interview with a Mister Mirk?”

“And Lieutenant Commander Hartley. Both of the U.S.S. Explorer. The ship you’re currently trying to track down.”

“All due respect, Agent Dallas, but how do you know about that?”

“We’re Starfleet Intelligence. We’re paid to know these things.”

“Paid,” Batyn snorted. “Huh.”

“Well, however you’ve come to know this information, you should know that I have no plans to involve Starfleet Intelligence on this.”

“This doesn’t need to involve Starfleet Intelligence. This is personal.”

“It’s always personal with her,” Batyn muttered.

Sullivan leaned back in her chair, vaguely amused by the dynamics of the pair. They reminded her a little of herself and Scott Baird, in their own way. “And why is it personal?”

“Because I’m the one that interviewed them. I’m the one who they escaped from, and who chased them through Waystation and lost them.”

Poor Lisa Beck, Sullivan thought to herself. It was always something on Waystation. “Please tell me this is about more than just your petty vengeance.”

“It’s also about her petty need to find the truth,” Batyn muttered.

“Hush,” Dallas said without looking at him. “But he’s right. It is about my need to find the truth. Luckily, that need is compatible with your need to find the Explorer. I need to know why Admiral Baxter wanted to study Mirk’s aptitude for omnipotence. Why he was hiding this investigation from his own son, the captain of the Explorer, and why the Explorer is running silent now, after the apparent disappearance of the Tracker.”

Sullivan shook her head in disbelief. This woman had done an excellent job of connecting all the dots. She idly wondered why she hadn’t advanced further in Starfleet Intelligence. Probably had something to do with the “petty” part.

“So you want to come with us, then?” Sullivan said, rolling her tongue against her cheek thoughtfully. “Okay. You can come along as observers, but observers only. If you have information, I want to know it, but other than that, it’s as if you’re not even here. Are we clear?”

Dallas smiled. “Perfectly.”

Three grueling hours after she’d arrived at her office, Counselor Peterman finally said those six long-awaited words to Lt. Sefelt.

“Looks like our time is up,” she breathed, and leapt from her chair.

“But I hadn’t gotten to my fear of flounder!” Sefelt stammered, as Peterman took him by the arm and led him to the door.

“We’ll…tackle that next week,” Peterman said, suppressing a chuckle.

“But they only have eyes on one side of their body! That’s unnatural!”

“Howie, it’ll be okay. You do realize the Explorer has a vital and important mission right now, don’t you?”

Sefelt looked around uneasily. “Sort of.”

“Well, it’s crucial that you put your fear of flounder aside for a while and focus on your job. Lives could be at stake!”

“My life?”

“No. No,” Peterman said quickly. “You’ll be fine. Remember your personal invincibility shield. As long as you’ve got that, nobody can hurt you.”

“That’s right,” Sefelt said, as he headed off down the corridor. “I’d forgotten all about that.”

“Go get ‘em, Howie!” Peterman said encouragingly. Her colleagues would deride the whole personal-invincibility thing, but to Peterman, it was a desperate move. Every day was a struggle just to keep Sefelt from cracking up entirely. Then again, as counselor, she could pretty much say that for the rest of the crew too, especially on the Explorer.

Then, as if to make her point for her, the door chime rang.

“Come,” Peterman said, sagging into her chair and grabbing her padd.

Her doors parted, and Lt. J’hana stepped in. “Counselor,” she said with a growl, and bowed gently.

“Have a seat, J’hana,” Peterman said, gesturing for the couch. “It’s been a while since we’ve…talked like this.”

“I have not had need of your services for a while,” J’hana said. “In general, this has been a pretty good year.”

“I’m glad to hear that. But I sense something’s changed?”

“Lieutenant Commander Tilleran has changed. Since we visited Betazed. She’s seemed distant.”

“That’s normal. Relationships are cyclical, like a planet’s orbit. They have apogees and perigees.”

“That is profound, Counselor. But I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You’ve attended some type of classes at Starfleet Academy, haven’t you?”

“I attended on a sports scholarship. Rugby. I’d prefer not to discuss it. People…got hurt.”

“Of course,” Peterman said, always happy to steer clear of a topic at J’hana’s request. If she didn’t want to go into it, odds were that Peterman didn’t want to touch it either. “Now what about Tilleran? Have you spoken to her about this feeling of distance?”

“There is no need to speak with her. Our feelings are known, mutually, through the Imzadi bond.”

“You’re in telepathic communication?”

“Of a sort. Suffice it to say, we each know what the other is thinking, most times.”

“That can be helpful in a relationship. It can also be hurtful. You can over-examine things. Sometimes people have feelings…just because.”

“There is also the matter of the Orions.”

“What do they have to do with Tilleran?”

“Nothing, except that she doesn’t understand my hatred of them. I’ve explained that they’ve killed nineteen of my cousins. But that doesn’t speak to the depth and breadth of my need to destroy them.”

Peterman gasped. “They killed…nineteen of your cousins?”

“That’s not the point,” J’hana said, waving a hand dismissively. “They died honorably. It’s fine, really. But vengeance must be mine.”

“Vengeance is a powerful emotion.”

“Bah! It’s the only emotion worth having,” J’hana said, and leaned back, resting an arm on the back of the couch. “Still, I’m afraid that Commander Tilleran doesn’t understand the brutal part of my nature.”

“Are there…um, any other parts to your nature?”

“Of course. I can be tender, loving, attentive. Just because you have not witnessed these traits personally doesn’t mean I don’t have them.”

“I don’t mean any offense. It’s just…”

“Should I break up with Commander Tilleran?’

“Aren’t you being a bit rash?”

“My medical history has nothing to do with this.”

Peterman took a deep breath, then folded her hands and leaned forward. “Do you still want to be with Tilleran?”

“Are you kidding? She is my Imzadi. She is the afterlife to my ritual slaying.”

“That’s…that’s important in a relationship.”

“But if she does not want to be with me any longer, I do not wish to burden her with my further presence.”

“And you suspect this, why, just because she’s being distant?”

“Pink-skins,” J’hana spat. “None of you know what you want. And none of you come out and say what you want, either. It’s monumentally frustrating.”

“I can see that.”

“Still, I love her deeply. If her wish is to explore life without me, I will honor that wish without hesitation.”

“Don’t your feelings in this matter at all?”

“Of course not. That’s what holodecks are for.”

“You’re a fascinating woman, J’hana.”

“You do not know the half of it, I’m afraid.” J’hana glanced at the chronometer. “I know I have you for the whole hour, but I believe you’ve addressed all my questions. I’d like to get a smoothie before going back to work.”

“If you insist. But I don’t feel like we really accomplished anything yet.”

“Don’t be silly,” J’hana said, and slapped Peterman hard on the shoulder. “You are immensely helpful. When you die, your soul will be rendered to shreds by the thousand Andorian gods of destruction. But for one brief moment, you will know that all this…” She waved her hand, as if to encompass the whole Explorer. “…was worth it.”


J’hana nodded and walked out the door, leaving a very confused Peterman behind.

Half an hour later, Peterman found herself seated across from Lt. Commander Tilleran, feeling an awkward sense of deja vu. She looked at Tilleran blankly a moment, trying to gather her thoughts.

“You all right, Counselor?” Tilleran asked, her lips pursed with concern as she leaned back on the fainting couch.

“Me? Fine!” Peterman said, and started tapping her foot quickly.

“You seem…a little spacey.”

“I’m just…I’ve had a lot of caffeine today. Double Bajoran Lattee at the replimat.”

“I see. I’ve been there,” Tilleran said. “Well, I’ll try not to take too much of your time.”

“Take all the time you want,” Peterman said. “That is, until my next appointment in fifty-five minutes.”

“You’re really booked today, huh?”

“You could say that. But don’t worry about that.” Peterman straightened, laying her padd in her lap. “Let’s talk about you.”

“Okay,” Tilleran said, with a deep breath. “Me. Well, I guess I just wanted to know what you would think about the idea of me…you know, uh….having some kids and a family and everything.”

Peterman’s eyes went wide. “Kids?”

Tilleran shrugged, looking away. “Yeah, maybe.”

“Ariel…” Peterman sat forward and took Tilleran’s hand. “You want kids?”

“I’ve thought about it. About the future. About what I’ll do after I leave the Explorer.”

“You’re leaving!?”

Tilleran laughed. “Not this minute. But eventually. Nobody does this kind of work forever.”

Peterman blinked. She’d never really thought about that.

“I guess not. But…”

“I just think it’s time to start planning. To lay the groundwork. I’m not getting any younger. Betazoid women are fertile until they’re a hundred. Still…why put off until tomorrow…”

“Have you discussed these plans with J’hana?”

“Are you kidding? She’d probably stab herself. Or me. Or the couch. A big knife would be involved, one way or the other, for sure.”

“Do you think you’re in danger?”

“Nah!” Tilleran scoffed. “They’re never mortal wounds. It’s just for show. Anyways, I haven’t gotten the guts to talk to J’hana about it, because I don’t think she’d handle it very well. It’s better for right now if she continues on not knowing what I’m thinking. Luckily, I don’t think she has a clue.”

Peterman thought a while about that Imzadi bond, and that it must not be all it was cracked up to be. Then she hoped like hell that Tilleran wasn’t snooping on her thoughts. “Don’t you think you need to tell her eventually? Especially if you’re going to be actively searching for a…mate?”

“I don’t know,” Tilleran shrugged. “It all depends on when I want to do this. It may be in ten years. It may be next year. I just don’t know.”

“But shouldn’t you involve J’hana in these plans?”

“You mean, like, a threesome?” Tilleran rubbed her chin. “I hadn’t considered that.”

“No,” Peterman said, scrubbing a hand down her face. “I wasn’t…I mean…no not that. I meant, don’t you have an obligation to talk to her about this?”

“Of course. When the time is right.”

“And when is that?”

“I think I’ll know. It’ll feel right.”

“You may find, once you tell her, you feel better about the whole thing. Or J’hana may even be able to help you work through these decisions.”

“You have met J’hana, haven’t you?” Tilleran asked, wrinkling her nose.

“I think you aren’t giving her enough credit. She loves you, Aria. She wants you to be happy.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Tilleran said, and leaned up. “Maybe we should talk about this.”

“I’m glad you see it my way!” Peterman said.

“Thanks for the help,” Tilleran said. “I forgot how helpful it could be coming here!”

“Any time!” Peterman said as she walked Tilleran to the door. “Just make an appointment.”

“I’ll do that. See you later!”

The Betazoid smiled as she trotted off to the turbolift.

Meanwhile, the doors to Peterman’s office closed and she sagged against them. She glanced at the time. “God…is this day over YET?”

Then the door chime rang.

A chime rang at Fontaine’s station and he glanced down. “I think we’ve got something, Captain!”

Sullivan pivoted in her chair toward Fontaine. “This better not be another Pakled garbage dump like the one you picked up a couple hours ago.”

“Subspace ripples. Phase variances. Minute, barely recognizable as anything but subspace noise, but could be a large vessel increasing warp speed.”

“A vessel as large as the Explorer?”

“It’s our best lead so far, Captain.”

Sullivan turned back toward the front of the bridge. “Intercept at best speed, Mister Flagg. Best speed and then some. I want this wrapped up. And now.”

Dallas and Batyn sat on either side of Sullivan; Dallas at her left, looking at her wonderingly.

“You’re really taking this seriously, aren’t you?”

“What other way is there to take it? One of our ships has gone off the reservation and it’s up to me to get it back.”

“I like you,” Dallas said.

“She doesn’t say that much,” Batyn said.

“I’m…honored,” Sullivan said with a shake of her head. “Fontaine, I want constant updates. Let me know as soon as you see something resembling a Federation Starship.”

“How can she be that hard to find?” Dallas wondered.

“We’ve been asking the same question. It’s highly unlikely they have a cloak, so…”

Dallas turned to Sullivan, her eyes wide. “You know, if I recall, the scout ship assigned to the Explorer, the Escort, is equipped with a special type of shielding that makes her almost undetectable. It’s possible the Explorer has been equipped with the same kind of shields.”

“You’re good,” Sullivan admitted. “But how does that help us track her?”

Dallas thought a moment. “Actually, I’ve got an idea…”

The doors to Peterman’s office opened to reveal a glowering Jem’Hadar warrior. She struggled not to yelp. She’d been around Chaka’kan for a year and a half now, and most of her initial fear of him had subsided. She knew him to be a gentle, kind, and warm person…as polar opposite of any Jem’Hadar as one could possibly get. Still, Chaka was an imposing presence, and Peterman was on edge.

Steffie clung to Chaka’s hip, digging in with her heels.

“Wheeeeeeeeeee!” she giggled.

“I have come to deliver your daughter,” Chaka said, straightfaced, as the tiny toddler clung to him.

“Fun fun Chaka!” Steffie cooed, hugging the Jem’Hadar’s leg. Even more amazing than the fact that she’d finally adjusted to having a formerly bitter enemy of the Federation watch her child was the fact that Steffie never needed any time to adjust. She seemed to take to the spiny man right from the start.

“Yes, but you must go with your mother now. Good health is crucial,” Chaka said, gently lifting Steffie off his leg and setting her down on the floor. “You must go now.”

Steffie wobbled over to Peterman, clenching her leg now. “Chaka go, Chaka go!”

Peterman grinned as she lifted Steffie onto her hip. “I think she wants you to go with us to the doctor.”

“Unfortunately, I cannot. I have self-defense lessons with Plato in ten.”

“Oh,” Peterman said. “That’ll be fun. How’s he doing anyway? I haven’t seen him around.”

Chaka shook his head. “He is within himself, Counselor. He breathes, he exists. But he does not live. Something weighs heavily on the boy.”

“Good analysis,” Peterman said thoughtfully. “Ever think about going into counseling?”

“I do not have the mettle for it,” Chaka said, and bowed. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go teach the boy.”

“Tell him I said hello, and to come see me if he wants to talk,” Peterman said. Although that offer was not sounding as sincere as she wanted it to today.

“Indeed,” he said, and walked off.

“Jay-jay?” Steffie asked as Peterman set her down to walk with her to the turbolift.

“Yes,” Peterman said, turning to lock her office door. “We’re going to see Aunt Janice.”

“Wheee!” Steffie giggled, and hopped along beside Peterman as she led her by the hand to the turbolift. “Jay-jay fun!”

“Everybody’s fun,” Peterman laughed as she punched the turbolift call button. “Is mommy fun?”

Steffie stared at her blankly for a moment.

“Right. Into the lift,” Peterman muttered.

“New contact, bearing zero one four mark two two three,” Ensign Jerrica Ridley announced from ops.

“J’hana?” Baxter asked, looking back to tactical.

“Federation starship. Steamrunner class. It’s the U.S.S. Orleans.”

“Commander Donovan, Admiral Baxter, report to the bridge,” Baxter said as he walked up to the tactical console.

“Have they spotted us?” Richards asked, following Baxter.

“Hard to say,” J’hana said, tapping at her console. “Commander Tilleran, will you tie in the lateral sensors? I need to confirm their multispectral wavelengths.”

“What?” Tilleran asked, glancing up. “Oh. Wavelengths. Right.”

Baxter looked over his shoulder at Tilleran, then back to J’hana. “What’s her heading?”

“Not quite a parallel course to us, sir. She might not have spotted us.”

“Still, she’s uncomfortably close,” Richards said.

“Yeah,” Baxter said, studying J’hana’s panel. “That range looks like…well…like…the one blinker is a few inches from the other blinker.”

J’hana stared at Baxter. “Really, Captain.”

“Hey, I lived in the twenty-first century for three months!”

“That tired refrain is wearing thin, sir.”

Baxter narrowed his eyes at J’hana. “How far, Lieutenant?”

“Fifteen million kilometers, but closing at moderate speed.”

“Should we alter course?” Richards asked.

“No,” Baxter snapped. “Don’t do anything. No shields, no weapons. We lay low. Bridge to Engineering.”

“Hartley here.”

“Reduce our power to minimum operating level. I don’t want anybody out there to hear a peep.”

“Oh, so we’re playing THAT game now,” Hartley muttered.

“Yes we are. Do it!”

“Fine, fine…”

“Put that telemetry on screen,” Richards said, looking to the viewscreen.

J’hana nodded and tapped a control. “Still closing, but course still roughly parallel to ours. Eleven million kilometers.”

Ashley and Harlan stepped onto the bridge. “Well?” Harlan asked, yanking the cigar out of his mouth.

“We may have company,” Baxter said, pointing up at the viewscreen, and the sensor grid that showed the Orleans closing position.

“Orleans,” Harlan grumbled. “Woodall’s old ship. He’s sent his protege out to find us.”

“You hardly say one intelligible word, then you break out with ‘protoge,’” Baxter said, shaking his head.

“That may be a standard patrol route,” Ashley said. “Let’s not jump the gun here. Commander Tilleran, pull up all starship patrol routes and overlay them with the Orleans’ course.”

Tilleran nodded and went to work on her panel.

“What do we do?” Baxter asked, stepping down to the front of the bridge with Harlan, Ashley, and Richards.

“We ensure the completion of this mission at all costs,” Ashley said.

“Does that include firing on another Starfleet vessel?” Richards asked.

“Disable only,” Harlan rattled, stuffing the cigar back into his mouth.

“This is really going to f*** up my record. Worse than the jail sentence,” Baxter groaned, and fell down into his chair.

“Ensign Forbes to Bridge,” came a voice over the comm system.

Sullivan glanced up, glued to her command chair. “Go ahead, Forbes.”

“I see her! Bearing thirty degrees to starboard.”

“Plot it, Fontaine.”

“I knew this would work!” Dallas exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Sullivan said. “Who knew finding the Explorer would be as easy as posting a few people at the viewports and telling them to keep watch?”

“It’s a crucial design flaw,” Dallas said. “Now then, shouldn’t we intercept?”

“Not yet,” Sullivan said. “First I want to try and get a better idea of what she’s up to.”

“And how do you plan to do that?”

“Extrapolate her course, of course.”

“Cute,” Batyn said. “But what if they know we know they’re there?”

“Then the jig is up. But we’ve got to bet that they’re not that smart.”

“That much is certain,” Dallas said. “Still…”

“Two million klicks and holding,” J’hana said. “Speed and course not quite matching ours.”

“This is all too convenient,” Baxter said, rubbing his chin. “The course and speed don’t quite match. They show up out of nowhere…”

“Confirmed,” Tilleran said, looking up from her star charts. “Orleans course doesn’t match any standard Starfleet patrol route.”

“They’re chasing us,” Richards said. “They just don’t want us to know.”

“Then I’m going to have to force their hand,” Baxter said. “Madera, on my order, all stop!”

Madera nodded. “Standing by all-stop.”


The viewscreen shifted to a view of streaking stars which suddenly shrunk to points. The Explorer shook imperceptibly as it went from mind- boggling warp speeds to completely still.

“It worked. Orleans overshot us!” J’hana announced. “They’re stopping now, but they’re already half a parsec away.”

“Come about,” Baxter said, and stepped up to the helm console. “Madera, lay in a roundabout course to the Zendab system. Then engage at maximum warp as soon as you’re ready.”

“Aye, sir, the scenic route it is,” Madera said, and went to work at her panel.

“They’re not going to be so cavalier next time,” Ashley said as Baxter walked past her. “Next time, they’ll just march right up and demand to know what’s going on.”

“Then next time we’ll have to come up with something else,” Baxter muttered, walked up to the aft turbolift. “Richards, you have the bridge.”

“Boy, you just can’t…” Harlan said, getting up from his chair.

“Yeah, I can,” Baxter said simply, stepping into the lift.

“Damn it!” Sullivan said, leaping from her chair. “Flagg, turn us around. Take us back there, all possible speed!”

“It’s going to be too late,” Dallas said, stepping up beside Sullivan. “They’ll have shot off on a whole new course, and we’ll have to do this whole thing over again.”

“Sometimes you get the brine, sometimes the brine gets you,” Batyn said.

Sullivan stared at the streaking stars on the viewscreen. “Well, next time I see that brine…”

Peterman found Anna Kimmel standing at her door when she got back from the check-up, Steffie having passed with flying colors and been returned to Chaka’kan’s care. The check-up went well, although Peterman would never understand why Browning gave out ravioli rather t han a lollipop to her young patients.

“Hi Anna!” Peterman said. “Looking forward to dinner tonight?”

“Yeah,” Anna said, nodding, pushing her hair behind her ears. “I really am. The family thing…it’s all a little bit new to me.”

“Well, I’ve got some special recipes loaded into the replicator in the Captain’s Mess. It should be nice.”

“Can’t wait.”

“Well,” Peterman said, punching the unlock code on her office. “I’d love to chat, but I have to take the Pomeranians out for walkies.”

“Actually, I was hoping we could talk.”

Peterman blinked. “Oh. Talk. Like as in…you and me. Talking?”

“You are the Ship’s Counselor, right?”

“Yeah…yeah,” Peterman said, leaning in and grabbing Boomer and Starbuck’s leashes. “Mind if we walk and talk? The arboretum is usually empty this time of day…and considering there are no civilians on the ship right now…”

“Sure,” Kimmel said, as Peterman buckled the leashes onto the yipping little dogs and tugged them along behind her. “I shouldn’t keep you long. I know you’ve probably got appointments and stuff.”

“Forget about it,” Peterman said, making her way down the corridor with Kimmel matching her stride. “You’re family. Any problem of yours is a problem of ours.”

“Actually, it’s a problem of yours that I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Come again?”

“Well, a problem of ours. It’s Andy. He’s not right.”

Peterman smiled politely. “Not…right?”

“Yeah. I don’t know how I know. Maybe it’s a sister thing. But I just…I know.”

“We actually talked about things this morning. He seems good. As his counselor, and his wife, I can give him a clean bill of mental health.”

“I’m glad to hear that. But still, I think you might want to talk to him.”

Peterman nodded. “I will.”

“I’ll let you get to ‘walkies,’” Kimmel said with a grin, leaning down to pet the Pomeranians. “Cute dogs.”

“Thanks,” Peterman said, and watched Kimmel walk off.

Captain Baxter stared at the viewscreen on the smoke-filled and dim-lit bridge of the Explorer. The bridge was empty, save for him, standing at tactical. On the screen, the U.S.S. Idlewild came about, its weapons blazing.

The Explorer shook again and again, rafters rattling, the deck threatening to flip right out from under Baxter’s feet.

“Ficker!” Baxter called out, frantically firing back. “Show yourself, you son of a bitch!”

On command, the screen was filled with Alvin Ficker’s smiling, bespetacled face. “Oh, Andy. How fitting it is that we can share this moment. Annihilating each other. Somehow fitting, isn’t it?”

“I’m not the one that’s going to be annihilated,” Baxter said, pausing to check the status of the twin tri-cobalt devices that were loading in the launch bay below. He just had to stall for time, drawing Ficker in close enough so that he was within maximum effective range.

“Full of ourself, aren’t we?” Ficker asked.

“Yes. You are,” Baxter said, his finger hovering above the firing control, as Idlewild’s phasers continued to cut away at the Explorer. Panels exploded all around Baxter. The smoke grew thicker.

“Too bad only one of us will make it out of this. But I’ll send your regards to Tantalus Five!”

“Remember me to Harold Square, you piece of sh**,” Baxter said, and slammed his hand down on the firing control

The weapons indicator showed the tri-cobalt’s launching. And he watched Ficker’s panicked face as he saw on his own tactical sensors what was coming.

“Baxter, you….bad bad boy!”

Explosions filled the viewscreen, and the Explorer shook, and was still.

Baxter sagged against tactical, as the charred remains of the Idlewild floated by on the screen.

“Nice shot,” a voice said from behind him.

He glanced over his shoulder. “Kelly?”

“Some program,” she said, and stepped over next to him, slipping an arm around his waist and leaning her head on his shoulder. “But I think you’ll find the Risan spas a little more relaxing.”

“I don’t want to relax,” Baxter said. “I came here to vent. How’d you get in here, anyway?”

“I asked the computer.”

“Stupid computer. But how’d you get in? The holodeck’s privacy protocols…”

“Counselor’s Prerogative.”

“Thank you, Barclay Act of 2367,” Baxter said ruefully. He gently pulled free from Peterman and crossed the bridge. “So now you think I’m nuts.”

“I think you’re justifiably upset.”

“Ficker went so far over the line, he can’t see it anymore. I’ve never wanted to get my hands on someone so bad, Kelly. He betrayed Starfleet, he betrayed everyone. When he snatched Anna away, when he tried to kill us…he went way, way over the line.”

“He’s certainly a threat,” Peterman said, and looked at Baxter, her jaw set. “But he’s been off the map for weeks. He seems to be giving us a very wide berth. There have been no reports of any activity from him since we saw him last at Falkath.”

“That doesn’t mean he won’t show up to terrorize us again.”

“Yeah,” Peterman said. “I can see you’re mad. But you also seem let down. Betrayed.”

“Maybe I am.”

“Funny, since you really never liked Ficker to begin with. Sure, you should hate him a little more, but why do you feel like he’s betrayed your trust?”

“This is not the time for psychoanalysis, Kelly.”

“I think it is,” Peterman said, and stepped back toward Baxter, this time keeping her distance. “And I think I was more of a wife than a therapist this morning. And that was a big mistake on my part. I didn’t see it, and I should have.”

“See what?”

“This anger you’re feeling, it’s not all about Alvin Ficker, is it? You feel betrayed, all right, but not by him.”

“Kelly, I don’t know what the hell you’re getting at.”

Peterman gently took his hand. “Who lied to you all your life? Who never told you about that sister you never had?”

“You counselors,” Baxter muttered. “It always comes back to the parents, doesn’t it? They’re responsible for everything.”

“You can’t deny it, Andy. Your Father kept something vital from you for a long time. And now you have to confront that. Or it’ll affect every decision you make. It’ll jeopardize this entire mission.”

“I can’t talk about this right now, Kelly. Let’s just…let’s just table this for now. Arch!”

“I can relieve you of command,” Peterman said, stopping Baxter in his tracks as the holodeck arch appeared in the middle of the bridge and he walked toward it.

“You wouldn’t,” he said, without turning around.

“I would if I thought the mission was at risk. That the captain wasn’t making rational decisions. That his judgment was impaired.”

“This whole crew is impaired in one way or another. You know that better than anyone.”

“But this is different. We need to talk about this.”

“Fine,” Baxter said. “Fine. But not now.” And he walked out.

Peterman took a long time walking back to her office. She wasn’t eager to face the prospect of gathering her things and taking them back to her quarters. She knew the best thing for Andy was some cool-down time.

Maybe she’d duck out of dinner. Claim she had too much work to do (which wasn’t too far from the truth). Let him and Anna have dinner together, catch up, talk about their time at the Academy or something. Maybe that was what Andy needed, more than anything. There would be time tomorrow for them to talk, and try to sort out the issues he no doubt had with…

“Admiral Baxter!” Peterman exclaimed, as she rounded the corner nearest her office, finding Admiral Baxter pacing in front of her door.

Harlan looked up. “Counselor.”

“Can I help you?”

He looked around. “Stellar cartography near here?”

She looked at him. “Uh, it’s two decks down.”

“My mistake,” he said, and walked off.

“Admiral…” she called after him.

But if Admiral Baxter heard her, he didn’t act like it.



The Orleans is closing on the Explorer. The Explorer is closing on Maura Drake. And, if that weren’t enough, the Directors are back, and have a very important mission for Mirk. But is Mirk strong enough to carry it out, and possibly betray every member of the Explorer crew? Find out, in “Sleight of Hand.”

Tags: vexed