Author: Anthony Butler
“Man, there’s something depressing about an empty mall,” Counselor Kelly Peterman said, eying Steffie as she walked back and forth between her and Captain Baxter. They were seated on Peterman’s favorite lower-level bench, in front of the latinum fountain and Gratzbub’s Stuffed Animal Farm (which was a favorite of both Steffie and Peterman).
“It won’t be empty forever,” Baxter said, leaning back and slipping an arm over Peterman’s shoulder. “Soon, this whole blasted affair with my father will be over, and we’ll be back to normal around here.”
“You’re looking forward to that, aren’t you?”
“Any reason I shouldn’t be?” Baxter asked. “Let’s look back at the last six months. We were tossed back in time, our marriage nearly fell apart, Vansen took the Explorer from me, the Gorn almost killed us, the Orions attacked us, we crashed into a planet…”
Peterman held up her hands. “I get it. It’s been a bad year!”
“So I’m about ready for a change,” Baxter said.
“You and me both,” Counselor Peterman said. “Then again, some things won’t go back to normal. You have a sister now, Andy.”
Baxter nodded. “I’ve known about her for a long time.”
“But now you can acknowledge her existence.”
“Yeah. At least one of us can,” Baxter said, and looked overhead as Admiral Harlan Baxter stepped into the mall, followed by Ashley Donovan, who was taking notes on a padd. Harlan glanced around idly, leaning against the railing and smoking his cigar.
“He’s brooding,” Peterman observed.
“That’s all he’s done since he got here. More so than usual.”
“Funny. It must run in the family.”
Baxter harrumphed. “I don’t brood.”
“Oh, you do so. Even more as you’ve gotten older.”
“You’re brooding right now.”
Peterman lost her train of thought as she saw Anna Kimmel and Maura Drake walk into the mall from the entrance at the other end of the upper level. “Andy, look…”
“I see,” Baxter said. “They’re talking. That’s good.”
“I’d love to know what about.”
“Anna has questions. About her origins. Drake’s reasons for doing what she did. I’m sure they have a lot to talk about.”
“More than what she gave in her official report when she came aboard three weeks ago,” Peterman conceded.
“I don’t think you can call a confidential report that’s going to be deleted when this mission is over ‘official,’” Baxter muttered, folding his arms.
Peterman wasn’t listening. She was watching Kimmel and Drake approach Harlan and Ashley. This would be interesting.
Drake gave Harlan a cursory nod. Ashley seemed intent on her padd. Kimmel was looking at a dress in the window of Briggs’ Bridal Shoppe.
“Not good,” Peterman said. “Your father and Anna didn’t have any kind of meaningful exchange. They didn’t even look at each other!”
“Stop psychoanalyzing. The thing’ll sort itself out,” Baxter said.
“I’m a psychoanalyst. What do you expect me to do?”
Peterman sighed. “That reminds me. I have an appointment with Hartley.”
Baxter nodded. “Still upset about Mirk, eh?”
“Yes! Wouldn’t you be upset if you lost me for three weeks?”
Baxter stared at Peterman.
“Oh. Right. Well, I’m sure he’ll turn up…eventually.”
“I’d feel a lot better if I knew what the Critics were doing with him,” Baxter said, leaning forward and running his hands through his hair. Did it feel thinner? An instant of panic sailed through him, just as his combadge bleeped.
“Richards to Baxter. You’d better get up to the bridge. I think we’ve been spotted.”
“AGAIN?” Baxter demanded, staring up at the ceiling.
“Either that or Starfleet patrols have gotten very erratic.”
“Damn it. I’ll be right up.” Baxter kissed Peterman on the forehead, then leaned down and kissed Steffie. “See you back at our cabin. Or in Captain Sullivan’s brig. Whichever!”
“It’s not the Orleans,” Richards said, as Baxter stepped down to the front of the bridge.
“How do you know?”
“It’s bigger,” J’hana said, leaning on her station. “But we can’t tell the exact configuration it because it’s beyond our sensor perimeter.”
“We can’t even be sure it’s Starfleet,” Tilleran said from her console. “All we know for sure is that it’s shadowing us.”
“Well, we’re not about to let it get any closer,” Baxter said. “Evasive. Maximum warp.”
“We’ve been pushing the warp engines as it is,” Richards said. “And with our chief engineer not really operating at a hundred percent…”
“You used to be Chief Engineer,” Baxter said tightly. “Get down there. Make sure we aren’t about to fly apart. We need every ounce of speed we can get to ensure that whoever’s after us can’t close the gap.”
“Yeah,” Richards said. “Okay.”
“And study their profile. Try to find out who they are.” Baxter glanced at Tilleran. “And while you’re at it, try to find out what’s taking Dr. Drake so long. It’s been three weeks. Between her and Donovan, they should have found a way to detect and shut down Anna’s pending godhood by now.”
Tilleran blinked at Baxter as he headed toward his readyroom. “Anything else?”
“Nope, that should do it.”
“Stress much?” she asked nobody in particular as the doors to his readyroom closed.
“Just do it,” Richards sighed, and made his way down to the command chair.
“I love when he uses that tone,” J’hana said in a low, husky voice as she went back to her panel.
“This is stupid. Why the f*** am I here? I need to be in Engineering,” Lt. Commander Hartley said, leaning back and propping a foot up on Peterman’s coffee table.
Peterman shifted a bit in her chair. “Please, put you foot down, Megan.”
Hartley sighed and sat up, putting her foot on the ground. “Yes, ma’am. Want me to use a coaster for my drink, too?”
“You don’t have a drink,” Peterman said softly. “But if you did….yes.”
“I’ll file that away,” Hartley said, and leaned forward on her elbows. “Now what do you want?”
“To talk to you. Civilly. You know, like people.”
“I don’t have time for that. I need to keep this ship running so we don’t get pounced on by the Orleans, or the Orions, or any other O-word.”
“You can’t do everything yourself,” Peterman said. “You’re only one person. And you have a lot on your mind.”
Peterman leaned forward, taking Hartley’s hands in hers. “Like Mirk.”
Hartley pulled her hands out of Peterman’s. “Ha! Tell me something I don’t know.”
“You need to deal with this.”
“I’m sure you tell all your patients that.”
“The difficult ones, yes.”
“I think I have a right to be difficult.” She stared at the ceiling. “F***ing Critics stole my husband!”
“Yes. I can understand why you’re mad.”
“Damn right I’m mad.” Hartley leapt to her feet. “And you know why?”
Peterman shrank back. “Um…why?”
“Because I can’t do anything about it. This isn’t something I can take apart with my hands. Or bash apart with my hands. It’s…”
“Ethereal,” Peterman said softly.
“Mumbo-jumbo crap. And I haven’t believed in it for a second. Even when I was Maloxitarian. Really! What good have the Directors done us, huh?”
“I think your show of faith made Mirk feel good.”
“Fat lot of good that’s doing him now.”
“And if the Directors were so great, wouldn’t they save Mirk from the Critics? Wouldn’t they bring him back? Where are they, if they’re so powerful and all-knowing?”
“Perhaps they did save Mirk from the Critics,” Peterman said, and immediately wished she hadn’t.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Hartley asked, pacing around Peterman.
“Well…maybe they did save him, but they’ve taken him somewhere else, where he could be…more useful to them.”
“Oh. Yeah. I see where you’re going with this now. You think this might be Mirk’s time to go back and live with the other mermaids.”
“Oh, you know the old ‘fish out of water’ story. Fish leaves water. Fish marries human. Fish has to go back to the water and breaks human’s heart.”
“No…but it sounds like a nice story.”
“Well it’s not happening. Mirk wouldn’t stand for it. He loves me more than all the omnipotent powers in the universe. The Critics have him against his will, and I’m going to get him back, if I have to reach through space and time and clobber the hell out of them myself!”
“I’m glad you’re voicing your feelings, Megan. This is good. I think…”
Hartley turned around, kicked her chair over, and stormed out of the office.
Peterman sat there a few moments. “Thanks for coming,” she said quietly.
“Admiral Baxter is an interesting man,” Dr. Drake said, smiling wistfully as she walked into Science Lab Two, Kimmel at her side.
“That’s one way of putting it,” Kimmel said thoughtfully.
“I had something of a crush on him when we served together,” Drake said. “I never acted on it, of course.”
“Except when you two combined your DNA to make a baby.”
“Oh, that was purely professional,” Drake said, gesturing for Kimmel to sit on the examination table. She put a hand on Kimmel’s knee. “But don’t think for a moment that means it wasn’t an act of love. It most certainly was.”
“I have my doubts,” Kimmel said.
“And you should. Of course you should. But you must know your father and I love you.”
“And why wouldn’t you? I’m a scientific wonder,” she said flatly.
“Yes,” Drake said, not catching the sarcasm. “I heard you stopped a starship from crashing into a planet!”
Kimmel shrugged. “Ah, it was nothing.”
“You’re immensely powerful, my dear. More so than you know.”
Kimmel looked up at Drake, pushing her hair behind her ears. “More?”
Drake nodded. “I can free you. Unlock your true potential.”
“I-isn’t that what we’re trying to stop?”
Just then, the doors opened, and Lt. Commander Ariel Tilleran walked in, clapping her hands. “Okay, people. Let’s get to work. The captain wants results and we’re not about to let him down…no matter how much of a shlarinx he’s been lately.”
“Oh, nevermind,” Drake said, touching Kimmel’s face. “Just the musings of an old, nostalgic scientist.”
“Uh…yeah,” Kimmel said, looking to Tilleran. “So what’s on tap for today?”
“Phasic scanning?” Tilleran said, glancing to Drake.
“Sounds good to me,” Drake said, turning to Kimmel. “Don’t worry, dear. It won’t hurt a bit.”
“It might tickle a bit,” Tilleran said with a smile. “I’ll go set up the scanner.”
Kimmel nodded thoughtfully. “Alrighty.”
“Damn Critics…give them a fat lip if I could,” Hartley growled low, as she turned the corner into Engineering, and nearly slammed into Commander Richards.
“Megan!” Richards gasped. “I didn’t think you’d be here. I mean…”
“Trying to horn in on my territory again, eh, Chris?” Hartley sneered. “Well, forget about it. Get back up to the bridge and push papers. Leave the real work to me.”
“I just wanted to help.”
“You just wanted to get in the way. Go back to work.”
Richards straightened his tunic. “Now, look here. I know you’re going through a difficult time.”
Hartley turned a stone glare on Richards. “Go. Back. To. The. Bridge. Now.”
Richards nodded quickly. “Okay. As you were!”
“I’ll be in my office!” Hartley shouted to her crew, and stepped through the opening doors of her office…
…and out onto the deck of an ancient sailing ship, rocking peacefully in a dark-water harbor.
“Well it’s about goddamned time!” she shouted at nobody in particular. “Show yourselves, you stupid Critics, so I can kick your omnipotent asses!”
A lithe hand gently touched her shoulder. “Be calm, child.”
Hartley whirled. “And who the hell are you?” She blinked. “Leximas?”
The pale, lean woman, clothed in glistening gossamer, nodded sagely. “One and the same.” She looked out at the twinkling city lights that lined the harbor. “The inner harbor. Baltimore, Maryland. I do so love it at night.”
“Is this on Earth?” Hartley said, shrugging. “I don’t go there much.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a quaint planet.”
“I grew up on Rigel Four.” Hartley glanced at her surroundings, momentarily forgetting she was furious. “But I do know my way around a boat.”
“They call this the Constellation. It’s an antique, even in this time period.”
“And what time period is that?” Hartley asked, then slapped her face. “Oh, crap. The Twenty-First century? Again? Haven’t we been to this well enough?”
“Fear not,” Leximas said, raising a hand. “You aren’t stranded here. This is just a meeting place. I felt I had to take you somewhere calm, somewhere neutral, so we could discuss the task ahead.”
“And what task is that?”
“The only task you care about, of course.”
Hartley nodded. “Where’s Mirk? What have the Critics done with him?”
Lexi’s eyes clouded. “Mirk’s in a blad place right now. But it’s not the Critics you have to worry about…”
Mirk awoke, leaning up, screaming.
Gentle hands touched his cheek, leaned him back down into a warm, inviting lap, covered in sequined silk..
“Shhh. Sleep, my sweet beauty. Sleep.”
“Lips!” Mirk cried out. “I was being attacked by flaming… flaming lips!”
“Funny!” the Goddess squealed. “You are so funny.”
“Wh-what…” Mirk stammered. “What was that?”
“A nightmare, you silly. It was all a nightmare.”
“Where are we?”
“A grassy meadow.”
“Does it matter? My, you ask so many questions. Did I mention I find that adorable?”
Mirk rolled over, looked up, at the meadow which seemed to extend forever in every direction. “This is Earth.”
“A version of it, yes.”
He turned and stared at his companion. The perfect skin. The glistening blonde hair that billowed down around her shoulders. The body-hugging dress, slit up one leg.
“I remember you.”
The blonde giggled. “I can’t see how. We’ve only just met, silly boy.”
“You’re sure about that?” Mirk asked, crawling to his feet so he could better inspect his surroundings.
“Quite.” She shielded her eyes from the sunlight with one hand and regarded Mirk. “My, you’re inquisitive. And bright.”
“I want to go home,” Mirk said, and turned on the blonde. “Take me home.”
“You are home, dear boy. And thank the Goddess that you are, because if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t exist at all.”
“The Entity,” Hartley roiled, pacing the deck of the U.S.S. Constellation. “Why did I have an idea that Goddess woman would be mixed up in this.”
“Because like evils often seek each other out,” Leximas said. “The Goddess rescued Mirk from the Critics, but only so she could use him for her own purposes. The Goddess, the Critics–they are merely different flavors of the same evil.” She gazed off at the lights on the horizon. “Flavors. How I miss…flavors.”
Hartley turned toward Leximas. “Focus! How do we get Mirk back?”
“There’s only one way. We must go to the Entity.”
“Then let’s do it! Now!”
Leximas shook her head. “It’s not that simple. The Goddess is fully omnipotent. She goes where she pleases, exists as she pleases, and does as she pleases. We cannot simply storm her battlements.”
“Want to make a bet?”
Leximas chuckled. “The human will to persevere. I give you credit, Commander. You’re brave.”
“I want my husband back.”
“She loves him…in her way. She won’t give him up easily.”
“I won’t take him back easily. I plan on hurting her on the way.”
“You’re talking about someone who can end you with a thought. You must understand that this is a matter of some…delicacy.”
Hartley nodded, grinding her fingers together. “So how do we delicately rip a hole in that Entity thing and pull Mirk out?”
“Actually, that’s exactly what we do,” Leximas said, and closed her eyes. “But it will take time to accumulate the power necessary. Without the help of the Directors, it’s nearly impossible.”
“And where are the Directors in all this, huh?” Hartley asked.
Leximas opened her eyes. “The Directors have a plan. We may not understand it, but it’s a plan all the same.” She closed her eyes again.
“Well that’s not good enough!” Hartley said. “Just because they’re omnipotent doesn’t give them the right to “
Leximas opened her eyes again. “This would be much easier if I could have a little quiet,” she said patiently.
“Oh. Right. Please, continue.”
“Do you like this?” The Goddess asked, as Mirk sat on a bench in Forsyth Park, regarding the beautiful woman as she twirled in her newly purchased red cocktail dress, twirling a matching umbrella above her head.
Mirk stared passively at the Goddess as she moved in front of him, studying the curvature of the familiar body. Why did she seem like someone he once knew?
“Beautiful,” he said distantly. “Just beautiful.”
“I thought you’d say that,” the Goddess said, and plopped beside Mirk, taking his hand. “I think you should take me to see The Jazz Band. They’re playing in Lucas Theatre tonight!”
“Sure,” Mirk said blankly. “Whatever you say.”
“Oh, those words are music to my ears, Mirk,” the Goddess said, leaning her head on Mirk’s shoulder. “I just knew you’d adjust. Isn’t this a far sight better than battling godlike entities over the destruction of the Universe? That’s just so…done!”
“I’m happy,” Mirk said numbly. “Are you happy?”
“Ecstatic!” the Goddess squealed, grabbing Mirk’s hand and pulling him off the bench. “Let’s get ice cream! I LOVE ice cream!”
“Sure,” Mirk said. “Whatever you say.”
Kevin Spacey was bored. And why wouldn’t he be bored? Here he was, revered celebrity, multiple nominee and winner of academy awards, Hollywood auteur of the first order, and some BLONDE took it all away from him.
One day, he was in the tub, minding his own business, washing…wherever…and then *BLINK* he was on this godforsaken…he couldn’t even call it a ship.
Entity. That was what she liked to call it. An amorphous space blob. Huge, cloudy, all-encompassing. It and her power were connected, but Kevin Spacey was damned if he understood how. He also didn’t know why it was so important that this omnipotent woman have him aboard, other than that she was a fan of his movies–especially “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Could he blame her? He was fabulous.
Still, he was bored. There were other celebrities, relics of Earth’s past, and environs from every exotic and luxurious corner of Earth. But when you lived forever, you grew tired of even the limitless comforts of a place that was ultimately empty and fake.
Spacey yawned, leaning against the velvet console on the living- room like “bridge” of the Entity. It was only a bridge in the loosest sense of the word. Sure, there were consoles here and there, providing readouts on supposed “engine” status, but the truth was, the thing ran on her will, and she was in intimate control of it at all times. This thing was, much like everything with the Goddess, all for show. Which made Spacey wonder, often, why he had to have a duty shift on the “bridge.”
In the midst of his ponderings, Spacey caught sight of a blip heading toward the Entity’s position. It was moving rather fast, and didn’t register as Starfleet or any other modern design. It was decidedly…not modern. Spacey’s eyes went wide as the scans of the ship came up on his monitor. As a matter of fact, it was wooden. Wooden, and pointy.
A clipper ship was headed right toward the Entity at high speed, its sails billowing despite the fact that it was actually sailing through space.
Kevin Spacey reached to hit an alert control, but was tossed off his feet before he could do that by the frenetic rumbling of the Entity.
Now this was interesting. The Entity was all-powerful. It was indestructible. Overseen by a woman of limitless power.
But it had just been run through by an antique wooden sailing vessel.
Spacey considered, as he lay there, his back a little tweaked by the awkward fall, that this would be a pretty interesting day after all.
The Goddess dropped her ice cream cone, her face going ashen.
Mirk eagerly spooned butter becan in his mouth, then looked at her innocently as they sat on the patio in front of the old-style red-brick Ice Cream parlor in downtown Savannah.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” he asked.
“Something’s….” she backed out of her chair. “Wrong.”
“You dropped your ice cream,” Mirk said, pointing.
The Goddess’ concentration returned, and she stared down at Mirk. “Sit a spell. I’ll be back in just a bit. You don’t worry your pretty little head about one thing.”
In an instant, the Goddess was on her bridge, having made a scene change from her red cocktail dress to a black leather one-piece with billowy cape. On the brige, a disheveled-looking Kevin Spacey surveyed the damages, holding a cold compress to his forehead.
“Report,” the Goddess rumbled, her eyeshadow growing dark and ominous, as Spacey stooped over a panel.
“It’s…it’s impossible, Goddess,” Spacey said, waving at the panel uselessly. “Sensors are saying we were run through by an ancient Earth ship. A Clipper.”
“A…BALTIMORE clipper?” the Goddess seethed, leaning over the panel, digging her long, black fingernails into the screen.
“The Constellation, or at least that’s the name on the side of it.”
She pounded the panel, cracking it right through. “How the hell did she get on board?”
“The only ethereal being with a taste for Baltimore.”
“Charm city, my butt,” Spacey muttered. “Who are you talking about, anyway?”
“You wouldn’t know her.” The Goddess turned away, her cape flapping, and she cracked her knuckles. “But if Leximas wants to play hardball, we’ll play hardball. Contact N’SYNC. I want immediate intercept and lockdown.”
Spacey stepped back a bit, looking sheepsh. “About N’SYNC, Goddess…”
The Goddess whirled. “WHAT about N’SYNC?”
“They sort of…er…disappeared.”
“‘Gone, gone, gone…’” Spacey said, carrying a little tune with his voice.
The Goddess’ lower lip trembled. “L-Lance?”
Spacey shrugged. “He went ‘Bye Bye Bye.’”
“RARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” The Goddess shrieked, knocking Spacey off his feet. “Get out of my sight, you useless, bumbling THESPIAN!”
“That was never proven!” Spacey said, raising a finger.
“Oh, that’s it,” the Goddess said, pushing her cape back off her shoulders and marching toward the door to the bridge. “She called down the thunder, well she’ll get it. Bring me Billy Zane!”
Birds chirped, a little jazz band played a swanky tune out on the veranda of a funky restaurant bar up on the avenue, and all seemed well to Mirk in Forsyth Park.
Until he heard a man scream.
Mirk glanced up from the squirrel he’d been watching to see a dashing man in a tuxedo. That is, a man in a tuxedo, dashing by him, screaming.
“Helllllllllllllllllllllp! That chick’s crazy, man. Crazy!”
Mirk blinked. “Harry Connick?”
“Junior!” the man called over his shoulder as he ran down the walk past Mirk. “Harry Connick, Junior!”
“I loved your rendition of You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile!” Mirk called after him.
“Thanks, man!” Connick said, stopping to turn around and bow gratefully in Mirk’s direction. “That was a personal fave.”
That’s when he was pegged in the head by a microphone stand and collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
“I HATED that version!” Lt. Commander Megan Hartley shouted, jogging up, Leximas at her side.
Mirk turned to her, impassive. “Why did you hurt that nice man?”
Hartley raced to Mirk, kneeling in front of him and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Mirk! It’s you. Thank God you’re okay. Or whatever omnipotent being you prefer…”
“Where’s the Goddess?” Mirk asked, cocking his head.
Hartley turned back to Leximas. “What the f*** is wrong with him?”
Leximas regarded Mirk with a raised eyebrow. “She’s controlling him somehow.”
Hartley rubbed her hands together. “Oooh, wait till I get a hold of her.”
“You won’t have to wait, darling,” a voice cooed, and Hartley turned to see the Goddess, once again in tight, form-fitting leather, but now sans cape. Her 60’s era spygirl jumpsuit gleamed with unnecessary buckles, and her hands were gloved, and shaking.
Hartley eyed the rather thickly-built bald may standing next to her. “You have a young Captain Picard on this thing?”
“Nooooo,” the Goddess said, stepping forward. “This gorgeous hunk of man is Billy Zane. Maybe you saw one of his movies?”
Zane grinned hopefully as Hartley mulled that thought.
Hartley shrugged. “Nope. Can’t say that I have.”
“The Phantom? Sniper? Critters?” the Goddess asked, as Zane looked hopeful.
“Nope. Nope. Nope. We live in the 24th century. We don’t really watch movies.”
Zane leaned over and whispered something in the Goddess’ ear.
“Oh, of course. Titanic!”
Hartley brightened. “Of course! Nineteen fifty-three! Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck!”
The Goddess’ gazed darkened as Billy Zane grunted angrily next to her. She stomped her foot. “No, no, no! Is your whole ship populated by cro-magnon neophytes!”
“Yes, but that’s hardly the point,” Hartley said. “Give me back my husband, and we won’t trash any more of your nice imaginary world here.”
“This world is NOT imaginary!” the Goddess railed, stepping toe to toe with Hartley, glaring in the other woman’s face. “It’s as real as I want it to be!”
“Sounds like the rantings of a crazy person,” Hartley said with a smirk.
Lexi was sitting beside Mirk, speaking to him, trying to connect with him somehow, but it didn’t seem like she was doing any good. He still looked glassy-eyed and content. “Please, Commander. Don’t antagonize her.”
“Too late for that!” the Goddess snapped, turning on Leximas. “Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on here. The tasteless trollop here may be doing all the talking, but you’re holding the real power.” She sniffed the air. “Although I must confess I can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from. Not from you, that’s for sure.”
“My sources are my own,” Leximas said, rising, stepping up to join Hartley. “But I assure you, they are sufficient to finish the job.”
“And just what ‘job’ is that?”
“Disabling your beloved Entity. Possibly destroying it,” Leximas said, without a hint of anger. “Both of which are possible if you don’t return Mirk to us.”
“TASTELESS?” Hartley said, then glanced down at her Starfleet uniform. “Look, they make me wear this. I have plenty of taste. And I sure as hell wouldn’t be caught dead wearing ornamental buckles!”
The Goddess didn’t seem to notice Hartley talking. She kept her eyes on Leximas. “That’s just the thing, love. He doesn’t WANT to return. And you wouldn’t want me going against his wishes, would you?”
“You’ve altered him. Bent him to your will.”
“His will is now mine,” the Goddess said simply.
“You’re controlling his mind!” Hartley snapped.
“Are you still here?” the Goddess said mildly. “I really could have sworn I’d destroyed you.”
“No,” Billy Zane said from behind the Goddess. “You haven’t yet.”
“Ho hum. Guess I should.”
Leximas stepped between Hartley and the Goddess. “That would be a decidedly bad move.”
“Please,” the Goddess said. “What do you care, really? I saved Mirk from the Critics. You want to know what they wanted to do with him?”
“Not so much.”
“DIGEST HIM! Isn’t that gross? They wanted to subject him to a long, agonizing death. Something about preventing him from rising up and threatening their growing power base.” The Goddess glanced around idly. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
“I thought you didn’t care about events in the outside world?” Lexi asked.
“I don’t like to participate, but I like to stay informed, for Pete’s sake,” the Goddess sighed. “Yes, the whole Critics-Directors mishmash is quite entertaining. But don’t you think it’s gone on long enough?”
Leximas considered that. “There are those who do, yes.”
“You represent a higher power, don’t you?” the Goddess asked. “Higher…higher than us?”
“The Producers seek to bring balance back to the Universe,” Leximas said simply. “And that includes returning Mirk to his rightful place.”
“These Producers, they’re powerful, eh?” the Goddess asked.
“They would rather erase you from history altogether. I suggested a mediation of sorts. Perhaps I was in error…”
“No!” the Goddess said. “Not at all. Good idea. You want to keep balance. Keeping me keeps the balance.”
“Actually, you’re more of an inconvenience than anything else,” Leximas said.
The Goddess’ eyes burned black. “INCONVENIENCE!”
“Now. Please release Mirk. Willingly. And you can return to…” Leximas waved dismissively at the sunny Georgia day. “All of this.”
The Goddess took a step toward Mirk, running a loving hand down along his face. “You’re much more than my pretty little diversion, aren’t you, Mirk-my-boy? You’re my bargaining chip.” She turned toward Leximas. “Tell the Producers I want the Directors and Critics as my personal lapdogs, then maybe we’ll talk.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“It does as long as I have Mirk!”
“I’M STILL HERE, BITCH!” Hartley shouted, grabbing the Goddess by the neck and jerking her back onto the lawn. The two pitched end over end, arms and legs interlocking in a growling, rolling, struggle.
“Good work, Hartley!” Leximas said, kneeling by Mirk. “Distract her so that I can free Mirk!”
“What?” Hartley gurgled as the Goddess lept on her, throttling her.
“My mistake,” Leximas said. “Thought you had a plan.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence!” Hartley called out, flipping the Goddess over on her back and pummeling her.
“Just keep distracting her!”
“Not a…problem!” Hartley winced as the Goddess brought her sharp fingernails across her face. Then Hartley smacked her with a vicious right hook across the face and leapt up, swinging a kick right up into her midsection.
“Mirk!” Leximas shouted, waving a hand in front of the Maloxian. “You’ve got to hear me….reach out with your mind and let me know you’re in there!”
“Your eyes are silver,” Mirk said placidly.
Leximas shook her head. She usually wasn’t given to emotional turmoil, but she was terribly troubled that the spell the Goddess had worked on Mirk was so good. He was blank, vacant, like a member of one of those boy bands the Goddess loved so much.
Suddenly, Lexi felt a tap on her shoulder. “Hey. Leave him alone. That’s not cool.”
“This is not your concern, Billy Zane,” Leximas said testily.
“I think it is my concern, because the Goddess told me so.”
Leximas whirled. “If you weren’t a manifestation of the Goddess’ power over space-time, I would actually take the time to explain to you that you have free will, and that the Goddess’ word is by no means the last word on anything.”
Billy Zane glanced over his shoulder at Hartley relentlessly kicking the Goddess as she squirmed on the ground. “Wow. She’s really getting her butt kicked.”
Mirk stood up. “We should help her. Let’s help her.”
“Yes! Great idea!” Billy Zane said, putting up his hand. “High five, brother!”
“High what?” Mirk asked, blinking.
“Her power is weakening,” Leximas surmised. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, Commander Hartley. You’ve given us the way in that we need.”
“I…gave…no…thought…to stopping!” Hartley said through gritted teeth, grabbing the Goddess’ throat and shaking it.
“GET…OFF…BITCH!” the Goddess growled.
“Not cool!” Billy Zane said, rushing to the Goddess’ side.
“I’ve had about enough of you,” Leximas said, waving a hand at Billy Zane, who promptly vanished.
“Bring back my B-level actor!” the Goddess seethed as Hartley strangled her. The Goddess then planted a kick in Hartley’s midsection and sent her sailing backward.
“Down but not out,” Hartley grunted, leaning up and hurling herself back on top of the Goddess.
“Where…where am I?” Mirk asked.
“On board the Entity,” Lexi replied. “The Goddess’ grasp on you is weakening.” She closed her eyes, clasped her hands together, and stared upward. “It’s time we finished this. The Goddess is an obstacle to everything the Producers hope to accomplish. She’s irrelevant. A non- entity, as it were. She plays no significant part in the Falling Action. Her and her creations must be eliminated so that the business of life can move forward.”
Mirk grabbed Leximas’ arm and stepped forward, his glazed look fading. “Wait!”
Leximas glanced back at him. “Do not interrupt me while I’m smiting, Mirk!”
“You can’t destroy her!”
Hartley glanced up as she rolled on the grass with the Goddess, spitting hair out of her face. “Yes you can! Destroy her!”
“I…AM…OMNIPOTENT!” the Goddess screamed.
“You’re insignificant,” Leximas said, true anger crossing her face for the first time. Maybe the first time ever. She stepped toward the patch of grass where Hartley and the Goddess wrangled, and knelt down. “You should know, I have the deepest respect for all life. But your existence stands in the way of everything I’ve worked for. And make no mistake, I gave up a great deal to take this journey. A great deal. And I intend to see it to completion.” She stood up. “Producers, I call on you….I demand… CANCELLATION!”
The earth shook. The ground split. Flames leapt out.
Outside the Entity, if anyone was passing by that particular section of deep space, they’d see a magnificently huge black void, which suddenly shook and became gashed with brilliant beams of multicolored light.
The Goddess shoved Hartley down and stood, surveying the destruction as the beautiful buildings of downtown Savannah came crashing down. “NOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooo!”
“No.” Mirk’s voice was much calmer. He turned Lexi to face him. “You cannot do this.”
“I am doing this. And we should have done it much sooner,” Lexi said.
Mirk’s eyes glowed vibrant blue. “You will not do this.”
Hartley was on her feet, cradling what looked to be a broken arm. “Mirk, your mind is a little fuzzy right now. You don’t know what you’re saying. The Goddess needs to be space dust.”
Mirk turned toward her. “My mind is clearer than it’s ever been. Megan, I love you more than anything. Believe me when I say I’m operating on all cylinders right now.”
“I do,” Hartley said softly. “For whatever reason, I do.”
“Glad you’re on the mend, Mirk,” the Goddess said darkly, stepping toward Mirk as streams of light broke through the cracks in the earth, which were multiplying by the second. “And this is how you repay me for the help I gave you? For saving you from the Critics? You let them destroy me?”
“That didn’t give you the right to take my free will away,” Mirk said in a distant-sounding voice, one that was benevolent, even. “Still, I cannot allow you to be destroyed.”
“You have no choice in this,” Leximas said, turning her silver eyes on the Goddess. “You bring balance to the Universe, Mirk. The Goddess is and always has been a disruption. Nothing compared to the disruption that’s coming, but a disruption nonetheless. She must be dealt with before the Falling Action.”
“No,” Mirk said simply.
“Do I get any say in this?” the Goddess asked, rubbing her bloody nose with the back of her hand.
“No!” Leximas and Hartley shouted at her.
Mirk stepped up close to the Goddess. “Go away,” he said in a gentle voice. “Go away and never trouble us again.”
“You’re deluded,” the Goddess said, looking from Mirk, to Hartley. “You all are, if you think you have any hope of saving this doomed Universe!”
“Never trouble us again,” Mirk said, and waved a hand.
In an instant, Mirk and Hartley were standing alone in their quarters, on the Explorer, stars streaking by through the viewports outside.
Both were completely unscathed; Mirk in his gold lame’ dinner jacket, Hartley in her uniform, showing no signs of her combat with the Goddess.
“What…what did you do?” Hartley asked.
Mirk stared at his hands. “I…sent her away. I think I can safely say that’s the last we’ll see of the Goddess.”
“Why do I have trouble believing you,” Hartley muttered. She stepped toward him, put her hands on his chest. “You’re…different.”
“You…got your powers back.”
“I think I’ve had them all along,” Mirk said, looking into Hartley’s eyes. “I just needed a good enough reason to use them.”
“What does this mean?” Hartley cleared her throat. “For you and me?”
“For you and me, it means nothing. It changes nothing, Megan. But for the Universe, it might mean everything.” He pulled her into his arms, draped them around her, and kissed her deeply on the mouth.
When she pulled back, she looked at him, head cocked. “So I needn’t worry about you running away with any other goddesses?”
“I have all the goddess I need,” Mirk said, and kissed her again.
“What…about…Leximas?” Hartley asked between kisses.
“She’s done everything that’s been asked of her,” Mirk said, smiling enigmatically. “And now, she’s right where she’s supposed to be.”
EARTH DECEMBER 2003
Bradley Dillon stepped into his apartment, swinging the door closed and shaking the snow off his gloves as he stripped them off and set them on the table by the door, flicking on the lights in the small foyer in the process.
He shifted a stack of mail from one hand to the other as he shrugged off his black trench coat, slinging it over a chair.
“Bill, bill, Dillon Family Newsletter…ugh…” Bradley groaned as he flipped through the letters.
“Bradley…” a voice said, and Bradley nearly jumped.
There she was, standing by the window, in a flowing white gown that seemed to radiate in the glow from the streetlights outside. She looked longingly, filled with wonder, at the snow as it came drifting down toward the Earth.
“L-Lexi?” Bradley asked, crossing the apartment in a beat, standing so close he could hear her gentle breathing.
She turned to him. “The Directive has been completed. I’ve returned. This is where I was meant to arrive…finally.”
Bradley looked blank. “I’ve no idea what that means.”
She put her hands on his shoulders. “You don’t have to. All you need to know is the obligations I had to fulfil—important, vital obligations–are now fulfilled.” She glanced to the side. “At least…my part in them is.” She took a breath and turned to Bradley, a slow smile spreading across her face. “What that means is, if you’ll let me, I would like to explore something just as vital, just as important, with you.”
“Do you “ Bradley stammered. “Lexi, do you mean….”
“Yes,” Leximas said, pulling Bradley’s face toward hers and kissing him deeply. “Yes I do.”
OUTSIDE THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM
“Quite simply, I got bored,” the Goddess said, an ice pack resting on her forehead as she leaned back in the chaise lounge on her velvety bridge, while Billy Zane rubbed her feet and Harry Connick, Junior, played soothing piano music. Why every starship didn’t have a piano on the bridge was anyone’s guess.
“Certainly, Goddess,” Kevin Spacey said, hands draped behind his back. “Time to move on.”
The Goddess glared at him. “Don’t you patronize me, Kevin. I know you far better than the Academy does.”
She leaned her head back. “Still, that old Universe of mine was quaint. Cozy. It felt like home, in a sense. But it was boring me dreadfully. So it’s time to move on.”
“Bigger, better universes,” Spacey said.
“You’re doing it again.”
Spacey nodded. “Sorry.” He glanced around idly for a moment as Justin Timberlake approached with a tray of chilled grapes. “So, where should I plot our next course?”
“Anywhere but there,” the Goddess said ruefully as she popped a grape into her mouth. “Anywhere but there. Those people can go straight to hell.”
OUTSIDE OUTSIDE THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM
The giant hand looked on and chuckled. “They will, dear Goddess. Don’t worry about that. They most definitely will.”
Sure, Universal Armegeddon is staring the Explorer crew right in the face. Powers that they don’t understand and can’t hope to control are conspiring against them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have a wedding if they want! Just when things seem bleakest, it’s time for a good old fashioned hitchin’. It has been a year since the last one, hasn’t it? But when Dr. Browning proposes to Commander Richards, is he ready to commit? And what does Plato have to say about all this? And who shows up to crash the party, (because you just knew SOMEONE would)? Find out, in “Managing Change.”