Author: Anthony Butler
Lt. Commander Richards rolled over in bed.
“What time is it?” he moaned.
“Not time to wake up,” Janice Browning mumbled into her pillow.
“Then explain why we’re awake.”
“Synapses misfiring in our brains,” Browning muttered. “It’ll go away eventually. Or we’ll become vegetables. Mmm…vegetables.”
Richards shot up in bed. “Did you hear that? Someone’s in your quarters.”
Browning leaned up. “I thought we were starting to think of it as our quarters.”
“Stay in here,” Richards said, silently slipping a hand phaser out of a drawer in the night stand by the bed. He walked up to the door to the bedroom, hit a control, and took a fighting stance, his feet set apart, the phaser aimed ahead of him. “Computer. Lights!”
Plato looked up from the middle of the floor, where he was trying to gather the remnants of Browning’s Circassian vase, a three-pronged, prickly affair.
“Uncle Chris!” Plato said, blanching. “What are you doing up?”
Richards stepped forward, putting the phaser down. “Don’t ‘Uncle Chris’ me. What are YOU doing up?”
“I was just making a snack.”
Just then, the doors to Browning’s bathroom slid open, and a slim, brunettish Ensign stepped out. She obviously hadn’t seen Richards, because she walked right up to Plato and slid her arms around him. “Sure we shouldn’t go back to my quarters? My roomate’s a Benzite. They sleep like bricks.”
“Nice snack,” Richards muttered. “Hello, Ensign Navies.”
Navies snapped to her feet, ramrod straight. “Commander Richards!”
Plato stood, glancing about sheepishly. “She was going to show me how to make fondue.”
“PLATO!” Browning called from the door to her bedroom, shrugging on and tying off her robe with furious speed. “What the hell are you doing up this late…with an Ensign!”
“Because there weren’t any lieutenants on duty in Astrometrics?” Plato asked with a shrug.
“Hey, I’m doing the best I can,” Ensign Navies said softly, folding her hands behind her back. “Permission to leave quickly, Commander?”
Richards nodded. “Granted.”
Navies turned around and walked toward the door.
“Oh, and Ensign?”
She stopped in her tracks.
“Get your sleep tonight. You’ll need it, because you’re working a triple shift tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir,” she said in a small voice, and walked out.
“As for you, young man,” Browning said, and pointed at the door on the opposite side of her quarters. “Into your room, and to bed. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
Richards turned to Browning. “Don’t you think we should talk about it tonight?”
“I need time to gather my thoughts. And he needs his sleep! And regeneration!”
“I’m regenerating just fine, thanks,” Plato mumbled.
“And enough of your wise comments, Mister,” Browning said, and took Plato by the arm, ushering him toward his room.
Richards turned back to the bedroom, yawning, when suddenly he heard Browning shriek.
“AHHH! How many times have I told you, stop detaching your limbs! That freaks me out!”
Richards just groaned and went back into the bedroom, determined to fall asleep.
“This is vitally important, Andy,” Counselor Peterman said, quite seriously, to Captain Andy Baxter, as she stood facing his ready room desk.
“You’re making a crucial error in judgment. One that will come back to haunt you, and that you’ll live to regret!”
Baxter raised a finger. “Don’t you think…”
“This is SERIOUS!”
Baxter blinked. “Okay, fine. I give. I agree with you.”
Peterman folded her arms. “About what?”
Baxter sighed. “Um…could you lift up your shirt again?”
“Of course.” Peterman lifted up the front of her tunic, then slapped her flat, bare stomach. “Look at that! No more pooch! I’m pooch-free for the first time in two years! I can’t even pinch a micrometer!”
“You lost your pregnancy weight about three weeks after Steffie was born,” Baxter said. “You’ve looked great ever since.”
Peterman stared down at her abdomen. “Shows how much you’ve been paying attention. There was a little section I just couldn’t seem to firm up. It haunted me. Eluded me…”
“Much like good sense?”
“Stop!” Peterman said, slapping Baxter’s desk. “These are dark times. Congratulate me on my lack of pooch!”
“Congratulations,” Baxter muttered.
“You can thank Yeoman Briggs’s pilates class.”
“Now can we please move on to a topic other than your belly or lack thereof?”
“Sure,” Peterman said, tugging her tunic down and sitting in the seat opposite Baxter’s desk. “Janice’s proposing to Chris today.”
“Good for her,” Baxter said, and picked up a padd, glancing it over.
Peterman leaned forward. “And your reaction is…what?”
“I think it’s great. They’ll be very happy.”
Baxter slapped the padd down. “She’s making a crucial mistake. Chris’s not ready.”
“I told her that too. She disagrees.”
“Has she even TRIED to feel him out on this? Have they even talked about getting married?”
Peterman shrugged. “In her words, they don’t need to talk about it. They just ‘know.’” She made air quotes. “Isn’t that ridiculous?”
Baxter rubbed his chin. “Haven’t we said the same thing before about ourselves?”
“You are missing the point!”
“Which is what?”
“That if we don’t intervene, Janice’s going to do something she’ll live to regret.”
“Like me with the pooch thing?”
“Like the way the pooch thing is serious?”
“No. Actually be serious.”
Baxter took a deep breath. “I think we need to let Chris and Janice make their own mistakes. Just like we do, time and time again.”
Peterman sighed. “I see there’s no getting through to you.”
“These things have a way of sorting themselves out,” Baxter said. “We may not like the outcome, but we only have so much control over it.”
“Are we still talking about Chris and Janice?”
“Who else could we be talking about?”
“Your sister. And your father. And all the unresolved issues surrounding their arrival on this ship.”
“Damn, you’re perceptive,” Baxter said.
“So your answer is to deal with things by not dealing with them.”
“This time. Yes.”
“No matter how much we don’t like it?”
Peterman folded her arms. “Some idea.”
Baxter grinned at her. “Aren’t you late for pilates?”
“You’re quiet this morning,” Dr. Browning said, glancing across the patio table on the upper mall level where Space Tastes was located.
Plato was busy, or not so busy, poking at his pile of scrambled eggs.
“Maybe this whole restaurant is quiet this morning,” Plato mumbled.
“Yeah,” Browning said. “That’s because nonessential crew aren’t aboard. We offloaded more than a third of our population. Plus, everyone’s too darned on edge for a leisurely breakfast. Or lunch, or dinner for that matter. It’s like the whole ship decided to go back on replicators.”
“Then why are we here?”
“To keep the home fires burning, until such time as our customers return,” Browning said, then jumped up. “Darn, that just reminded me. My home fries are burning!”
Plato glanced over his shoulder at Browning as she dashed back into the kitchen.
“Morning,” Commander Richards said, approaching the patio table. “This seat taken?”
Plato shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Cheerful boy,” Richards said, taking a seat across from Plato and setting down the padd he’d been looking at. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m grounded for three weeks,” Plato muttered.
“Seems generous considering that you snuck out, fraternized with an Ensign, and then broke a vase,” Richards said.
“I didn’t fraternize with her,” Plato said. “We just…you know…hung out.”
Richards leaned back and stretched. “Ahh, I remember a time when I just…hung out… with a girl. Those were great times.”
“Here’s your breakfast,” Browning said, setting a plate down in front of Richards. She then sat back down between he and Plato.
“Great times,” Richards said again, to himself, as he looked down at his plate. “Um, Janice…my home fries are burnt.”
“They’re still good. Nutritious. Eat them.” She turned back to Plato. “Now then… care to tell me why you and Ensign Navies were in the arboretum at oh-one hundred?”
“We weren’t in the arboretum!”
“J’hana’s security files don’t lie. That woman has cameras everywhere.”
“Damn!” Plato muttered, setting down his fork. “Damn, damn, damn!”
“That’s enough of the language, buddy,” Richards said, pointing at Plato with his fork.
“Christopher,” Browning said in a warning tone.
“I’ll just be…eating my delicious home fries.”
“Good,” Browning said, and turned back to Plato. “So you still think three weeks is harsh?”
Plato looked at Richards, then at Browning. “I guess it…sounds about right.”
Browning nodded. “And look at it this way: Things are bound to get a little hairy over the next couple weeks. I imagine we’ll be at general quarters most of that time anyway. So you won’t be missing much.”
“Doctor, Commander. Young man,” a deep voice said, causing Browning to sit up with a start. A Jem’Hadar had deshrouded right in front of her.
“Chaka!” Browning said, clutching her chest. “Don’t do that!”
“I was just testing out my shroud. I haven’t used it in many weeks and…”
“That was awesome!” Plato said. “Can you teach me to do that!”
“Certainly. Although it will require genetic engineering…”
“Mom, can I…?”
“NO! You can’t get genetic engineering!” Browning fairly shouted.
“Fine. Then Chaka’kan and I will be in the holodeck if anyone needs us. We’re building a tree house in the woods of Rondak Four.”
“No you don’t!” Browning said. “What did I just tell you about being grounded?”
“That it was a bad idea?”
“This is obviously a bad time,” Chaka said, surveying the group at the table.
“You can say that again,” Richards mumbled through a mouthful of home fries.
“Why? Did you not hear me?”
Browning covered her eyes. “Our quarters, Plato. Now.”
Plato glared at Browning. “Sometimes I wish you were a changeling!”
“Sometimes I wish you were a nice boy!” Browning retorted as Plato stormed off.
“I’ll just be shrouding now,” Chaka said, and promptly vanished.
Richards stared at his plate, then looked up at Browning. “That went well.”
“No it didn’t,” Browning said, and wiped her mouth, throwing her napkin over her plate. “It didn’t go well at all. And on this of all days…”
“What’s so special about today?”
Browning looked at Richards. “Oh. Nothing. Nevermind.”
Richards nodded, then pointed at Browning’s plate. “You’ve still got some papaya…”
“Thanks, but I don’t have much of an appetite right now,” Browning said, and got up.
“You’re kidding, right?”
Richards watched Browning walk away. He knew he had to do something. He’d never seen Browning leave food on a plate, much less her own. That the situation with Plato was affecting her appetite meant that drastic measures were in order.
A slow smile spread across Richards’s face. A plan was forming!
“Permission to speak freely?” Counselor Peterman asked, looking over her cup of coffee, as Browning stared at her hot chocolate, in a back corner of the Constellation Club.
Browning thought about it a moment. “Hmmm.”
Peterman leaned forward. “Janice…”
“Okay, okay. Permission…what is it you people say? Granted?”
“Heck if I know,” Peterman said, sipping. “Okay, so speaking freely…is it just me or are you looking unusually unhappy for a girl with a cup of chocolate in front of her?”
“I’ve got problems,” Browning admitted.
Peterman snapped her fingers. “Richards. I knew it!”
“No!” Browning snapped. “It’s not Christopher. Him and I are fine, actually.” She smiled. “More than fine. He’s been dependable, helpful. His intentions are all in the right places. But I guess it just comes down to the fact that I haven’t been able to get through to him since we got back from the twenty-first century.”
Peterman blinked. “Plato?”
Browning nodded. “Yeah. Well, you know, after his…puberty…he’s like a totally different person.”
“Puberty will do that to you. I can remember the summer when I first noticed my breasts. At first I was like ‘eww,” but then, after Tommy Scanlon asked me out…”
“Kelly…” Browning said patiently.
“Oh. Sorry.” Peterman gave a sheepish smile. “Do continue. Your problems with Plato…”
“We’re not talking like we used to. Which is funny, because his vocabulary has seemingly tripled.”
“Teenage boys rarely have an easy time communicating with their parents.”
“Wait till you have a teenage girl,” Browning said with a small smile.
“Thankfully that’s a long time off. And right now, my toddler is playing hopscotch on the holodeck with a Jem’Hadar.”
“If only things were that simple with Plato,” Browning sighed. “We used to play together too.”
“Actually, Steffie probably plays with Chaka’kan more than she does with me,” Peterman said, growing distant. “Do you think Andy and I are scarring her by not spending enough time with her?”
“Lots of working parents use daycare, Kelly. That’s normal. The point is to make the time you do have with her count.”
“You didn’t send Plato to daycare.”
“I cared a lot less about my job than you and Andy do.”
“Point taken.” Peterman thunked her head. “We were talking about your problem, weren’t we?”
Browning shrugged. “There’s nothing more to say, really. I guess I just need to be patient and wait for Plato to outgrow this phase.”
“Advice any Ship’s Counselor worth her salt would give.”
“I need to get back to work,” Browning said, standing and stretching. “Ensign Reagor should be coming out of anesthesia by now, and I’ve got to explain that I misplaced her spleen.”
Peterman followed Browning out of the Club. “You are kidding, aren’t you?”
“Sure,” Browning said. “I have no idea what it was I misplaced. It just seems like there was more…stuff…in her before the surgery…”
“You know, maybe you should think about refocusing your efforts back on the restaurant,” Peterman said neutrally, as the pair stepped out into the corridor.
Browning was about to reply, when two columns of well-muscled officers in mustard-collared uniforms jogged by.
“Jog like you mean it!” J’hana shouted, fairly chasing the group down the corridor. “Jog like your lives depend on it, which they will, eventually. Jog like your miserable souls are worth a damn. Make me not want to kill you all. Because I do!” She stopped in the corridor to wave at Browning and Peterman . “Hello, ladies.”
“You’re not even winded?”
“The Andorian cardiovascular system is unparalleled,” J’hana said, wiping the bluish sweat from her forehead with the back of her sleeve. “Doctor…about your son…”
Browning grimaced. “Plato. God, what did he do now?”
“Nothing. I was just going to say…”
“I’m coming, J’hana!” Plato huffed, stumbling down the corridor, passing Browning and Peterman with a bit of a limp. “Just…got to get… my second wind.”
“Plato?” Browning asked, then did a double take as she noticed he was wearing the grey standard-issue Wesley Crusher trainee outfit, complete with combadge. “WHY are you in that getup?”
“Can’t talk now, Mom! Got to jog! Gotta be fit if I’m gonna make the Alpha Security Team!”
“His chances are marginal at best,” J’hana muttered, watching the boy jog slowly away. “But he will fit in well in Omicron.”
“What the heck is this, J’hana?” Browning asked. “Who authorized you to…draft Plato into your security squad?”
“Commander Richards, of course.”
J’hana looked from Peterman to Browning. “He didn’t tell you?”
“Hm. This is awkward. Good luck gutting him! I’ll let you know if your boy needs medical attention after morning exercises!”
“J’hana!” Browning shouted as the Andorian jogged off, but she acted as if she didn’t hear her. “Oh, I just know those antennae heard me.”
“Actually, the antennae pick up on electromagnetic…” Peterman began.
“I don’t need a science lesson!” Browning snapped.
“Seems like you and Chris need to have a talk.”
“Yeah. And to think, I was going to propose to him today.”
“She’s going to love it,” Richards said, sitting in the command area, in his chair next to Baxter’s center seat. “Structure, discipline, teamwork. The security squad has everything…”
“Including the chance at death in combat,” Baxter said. “Yeah, real bright idea, Chris.”
“Oh, Plato won’t actually go on any dangerous missions. This is all just to build character. My Dad made me go chop wood with him out in the forest of Carstairs Six. It’ll be good for the boy to have some direction. And, the best part is, I don’t have to do any of it! J’hana’s doing all the grunt work!”
“You ever think that maybe parenting isn’t your specialty?” Baxter asked delicately.
“I did fine with Kristen,” Richards said, folding his arms.
“Larkin is an android. For the first few years, she was incapable of having emotions. So she was physically and psychologically perfect.”
Baxter leaned over. “Look…this may be hard to hear, but maybe you need to let Janice deal with Plato. This is a hard time for them. Maybe you should let them sort all this out on their own.”
“That’s funny coming from you.”
“And what does THAT mean?”
“You’re all for Janice handling her own affairs with Plato, at least until Uncle Andy decides to swoop in with presents and a visit to the wildlife refuge on Dentallis.”
“That was years ago. And he begged to go to that refuge!”
“And it seems to me that, last year, you didn’t have a hard time sticking your nose in on Janice’s affairs. Or…was it your lips?”
“Now that’s just a low blow!”
“So is accusing me of being a bad parent!”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Could you boys keep it down?” Lt. Madera said from the helm. “Some of us are trying to pilot here.”
“Mind your business,” Baxter said to Madera.
“Words to live by,” Richards countered.
“Yes, they are!” Baxter said, pointing a finger at Richards.
“Take your finger out of my face!” Richards snapped, pointing at Baxter.
“You take your finger out of my face!”
“You take your finger out of my face first!”
Just then, the turbolift doors swung open. “Christopher! Ready room!”
Baxter glanced back at Dr. Browning. “Oh, Chris. You’re in trouble.”
“Quiet,” Richards muttered, and stepped back to the ready room, where Browning was already waiting by the door.
“Sure, you guys can use the room,” Baxter said quietly.
“What did you think you were doing?” Browning asked, as soon as the doors to the ready room slid shut.
“Plato! How could you just assign him to J’hana’s security detail without telling me!”
“I thought you’d like the idea. I was going to surprise you.”
Browning folded her arms and leaned back on Baxter’s desk. “You surprised me all right. What possessed you to do something like that?”
“I thought Plato might appreciate a sense of structure.”
“You have witnessed J’hana’s calisthenics routine, haven’t you?”
“I’m jogging down to Deck Forty to pick him up in a few minutes,” Browning said. “He should be able to last at least that long.”
“I thought maybe some discipline would be good for him.”
“Shouldn’t I be the one to decide that?”
Richards shrugged. “I just thought I should take a more active role in his parenting. You know, be more a part of you guys’ lives.”
Browning stared at Richards a long moment. “You did?”
“Well…you seemed to need the help.”
“I kind of did. As misguided as that help was.”
“And I guess, right or wrong, I was starting to think of us as a family.”
Browning leaned forward, crossed the room, and threw her arms around Richards, squeezing him tight. “I was too!”
“Oof. Good!” Richards said, a little surprised, as Browning held him.
“I was starting to wonder if I was the only one, if…” Browning leaned against his chest. “Well, I was thinking…”
Richards looked down at her. “What?”
“I was starting to doubt myself. Like maybe I shouldn’t do this. But what you said…maybe I underestimated your willingness to commit?”
He gulped. “Commit?”
“Christopher,” Browning said softly, dropping to one knee, and taking Richards’s hand in hers. “Will you marry me?”
Instantly, Richards’s uniform was soaked through with sweat.
“Marry?” he said, his voice creaking a little.
“Yeah. Like, in a few days. You know, a before-the-universe-ends kind of deal. Nothing fancy.”
“I…” Richards said, and looked in Browning’s eyes. So trusting. So eager. So willing to be all that he wanted her to be, and more. He smiled. “Heck. Sure!”
“YES!” Browning leapt up, and kissed Richards hard on the mouth. “I”ll go see Yeoman Briggs about the decorations, then I’ll go talk to Mirk about the catering.”
“Aren’t you on duty?”
“Well, yeah,” Browning said, and ducked out of the room. “See ya!”
“What about Plato?”
“You talk to him. You’re going to be his father, after all!”
“Father,” Richards said, and fell onto Baxter’s couch. He stared up at the ceiling. “I’m going to be a father. Again!”
“Chris?” Captain Baxter asked, stepping gingerly into the ready room. “Can you tell me why Janice was skipping as she left? Did you guys…”
“We’re going to get married,” Richards said, feeling numb. “Like, in a few days.”
Baxter stared at him.
“I know, I know,” Richards said, rubbing his hands over his face. “You don’t have to tell me. You don’t think I’m ready.”
Baxter walked over to one of the chairs opposite his desk and sat down. “I don’t know that I’m ready.”
“Well, ready or not, this wedding is happening, and there’s nothing any of us can do to stop it,” Richards said, and leaned off the couch. “I’ve got to go talk to my son.”
“Just like that?” Peterman asked, sitting on the edge of the stylish, art-deco pink chair in the “pretty room,” which was what Yeoman Briggs liked to call the mirror-filled room in which his customers tried on their various clothing picks.
Browning turned left and right, studying her curves in the mirror at the simple white dress that clung to her hips, then grew wider and fell to her feet in a pile of ruffles. “What do you think?”
“Nice. Understated, but graceful,” Peterman said. “Now tell me. How did it happen?”
“Heat of the moment. Isn’t that the best time for a proposal? No time to regret your decision!”
“No time to really think about it, either.”
“Oh, this has been in the making for a long time,” Browning said. “Christopher even said he wanted to take a more active role in Plato’s life. Isn’t that great?”
“It sure doesn’t sound like him.”
“Which is the first sign that he’s really changed.”
“Do you think a person ever really changes?”
“They do when I’m through with them,” Browning said, grabbing her hair and lifting it. “Now do I wear my hair up or down?”
“Don’t touch that!” Yeoman Briggs shrieked, running into the room. “Leave it just like that. You’ll damage your roots. You let me worry about the hair. And the planning. You just look beautiful, okay, darling?”
Browning smiled. “Well, I suppose that’s easy enough.”
Briggs sighed as he looked from Browning to Peterman . “Oh, she’ll be such a beautiful bride, won’t she, Kelly?”
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “Lovely.”
“We’re really lucky to have you, James,” Browning said, touching Briggs’s shoulder. “You’re so kind, and gentle. And have such an eye for fashion. It’s a wonder some woman hasn’t already snapped you up.”
“Yeah,” Briggs said quickly. “Now strip out of that thing so I can make the alterations!”
“I’ll be going,” Peterman said, standing up. “You coming with, James?”
“Oh, no. I’ve seen a hundred naked women. Doesn’t bother me a bit.”
“Such a professional,” Browning said, leaning over and kissing Briggs on the cheek.
“Well…what’s she look like?” Baxter asked, as he and Peterman walked down the corridor to their quarters.
“Gorgeous,” Peterman said. “And I think the dress is prettier than mine was.”
“Well, our wedding was even more spur of the moment than this.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So, what do you think about this?”
“I think you’re right. We need to let them sort this out themselves.”
“You agree? But what about Chris’s fear of commitment?”
“I think he’s over it. At least he sure seems to be.”
“Hm,” Baxter said, and keyed open the door to his quarters.
Chaka’kan was standing there, Steffie hanging from his arm, her shoulder-length brown hair flopping as she dangled.
“Swing! Swing! Swing on Chaka!” she cried.
“You realize she’s not said either of our names yet,” Peterman muttered, lifting Steffie up off the Jem’Hadar.
“Fear not. We’ve had lengthy discussions about you and your husband,” Chaka said. “The child’s vocabulary grows each day.”
Chaka nodded. “She’ll be intelligent, for certain. I know not what occupation she’ll choose, but it will be something in the sciences. Or perhaps the arts. Something intellectual.”
“We’ll see,” Baxter said, stepping up to the replicator and ordering a rum ‘n grapefruit.
“I’ll see you each tomorrow,” Chaka said, giving Peterman a nod, petting Steffie on the head, then heading for the door. “Babysitting is life!”
“I forgot his dose of white,” Peterman said softly, once he was gone.
“We’ll give him two tomorrow,” Baxter said, unzipping his tunic. “Man, what a weird day.”
Peterman walked with Steffie over to the couch. “What do you mean?”
“The proposal. It just…came out of nowhere.”
“No it didn’t. We’ve known it’s been coming for a long time.”
“But…it still feels strange. Final. The idea that they’ll actually really get married.”
Peterman narrowed her eyes at Baxter as he sipped his drink, and as she sat Steffie up on her needs. “Please tell me you feel like you’re losing a friend.”
“I feel like I’m losing a friend. Two, actually.”
“Why, what did you think I was going to say?
Peterman gently covered Steffie’s ears. “I don’t know. Missed opportunities, maybe.”
“Please!” Baxter said, downing his drink. “I don’t have those feelings for Janice anymore, and you know it. I worked through that.”
“Well, for both our sakes, let’s hope Chris’s worked through his feelings too.”
“What does that mean?” Baxter said, tossing his tunic over a chair and walking over to the couch to sit next to Peterman and Steffie.
“Just that I hope he knows what he’s getting himself into.”
“I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Plato said, still catching his breath as he sat opposite Richards on the bench in the security squad’s locker room.
“That’s something to say, coming from you. She’s your mom.”
“Yeah,” Plato said, rubbing a towel over his face, then leaning back against his locker. “But she’s going to be YOUR wife.”
“Yeah,” Richards said, nodding at Lt. Unlathi as they slithered by, their massive body barely fitting through the door into the sonic shower room. “Lieutenant. Nice work out there.”
“Nice footwork in the boxing ring!” Plato called out to it. “I’ll work on that right hook, just like you told me.”
“Seems like your first day of security training took pretty well,” Richards said. “You enjoyed it?”
“No. It almost killed me,” Plato said. “I’m going to keep working out with some of the guys. But as far as the weapons training, and the tactical stuff…no, don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“That’s a mature attitude.”
Plato shrugged. “Not really. J’hana just told me my mother would gut me if I didn’t quit the security detail.”
Richards chuckled. “In her own way, I guess she would. Just not…literally.”
“Yeah, I figured.”
“So, let me get this straight…you’re actually going to do what your mother wants you to do?”
“Yeah,” Plato said. “Just don’t tell her, okay? It’ll set back everything I’ve tried to do.”
“Which is what?”
“I dunno. Be my own person. Kinda hard with your mom looking over your shoulder all the time.”
“I can see that. Ever think about sitting down and talking to her about that?”
“Not really. I don’t think she’d understand. She’d just give me some speech about wanting what’s best for me and whatever.”
“Well, she does.”
“Oh, not you too,” Plato muttered, standing up opening up his locker, yanking out his civilian clothes. “You’re starting to sound all parental, just like Mom.”
“I am a parent.”
“Yeah, but you always managed to be cool anyway. Not like mom at all.”
Richards stared at Plato. “You…you think I’m cool?”
“You talk to me like a person. Not like a kid.”
“Well, I always tried to.”
“Not even Uncle Andy really talks to me like I’m a grown-up. And Aunt Kelly even talks to people her age like kids.”
“True,” Richards said with a laugh. “So you really think I’m cool?”
“Don’t let it go to your head, man,” Plato said. “Want to play some hover ball or something, while we’re down in the rec area?
“Sure,” Richards said. “Let me just grab my racquet…”
That evening, Richards and Plato walked through the doors to Browning’s quarters, laughing and exhausted.
“What’s for dinner, hon?” Richards called out, punching Plato playfully in the arm as he leapt onto the couch.
Browning ducked out of the bedroom. “Five pans of veal Parmesan,” she said. “Overstock from the restaurant. Where have you guys been?”
“Hoverball!” Plato said, leaning up and tossing his racquet to Richards. “And I beat this old guy’s butt all over the court.”
“Yes,” Richards said, snatching the racquet and setting it down on the coffee table with his own as he sat down in Browning’s easy chair. “He, uh, did pretty good. Guess that martial arts stuff with Chaka’kan is really helping with his reflexes.”
“I kind of wondered where you two were,” Browning said, setting the trays out on the dinner table. “Not enough to ask the computer, or anything. Just wondered.”
“Well, it was time well spent,” Richards said, then nodded at Plato, mouthing “Tell her.”
“Oh,” Plato said, leaning up on the couch. “I’m not going into Starfleet Security after all.”
“You weren’t going to be anyway,” Browning said. “But glad we’re in agreement.” She stepped up to the couch and put a hand on Plato’s shoulder. “What changed your mind?”
Plato looked thoughtful, then pointed at Richards. “He did. He…talked some sense into me.”
“Really?” Browning asked, turning to Richards.
“He’s a smart guy, Mom,” Plato said. “Despite what Commander Hartley says about him.”
“Yeah,” Browning said, sitting on the edge of the chair and wrapping an arm around Richards. “He’s okay.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Oh. I’ve got to get some designs Yeoman Briggs wanted us to look at in the bedroom. I’ll be right back!”
Richards stared at Plato as Browning left the room. “What was all that about? I didn’t change your mind….you’re the one who decided not to stay with the security detail.”
“You really have a lot to learn about women,” Plato grinned. “Now you’ve gotten in real good with Mom, even though we almost missed dinner AND you put me on the Security Detail.”
“You really want this thing to work, eh?” Richards asked.
“I know she wants to marry you. And I had my doubts. But now I’m seeing, maybe, you’ll be a pretty good da…” Plato looked away a moment. “A pretty good guy for Mom.” With that, he leapt up off the couch and dashed into his room.
Richards sat in silence a moment, looking around Browning’s quarters. What would become his quarters, officially and otherwise. Was this really going to be his life? Everything was happening so fast.
Browning stepped back into the kitchenette, tossing a padd on the table. “Dinner’s on, Christopher. Go get Plato for me, would ya?”
“Yeah,” Richards said, but didn’t budge.
“Christopher? You ready?”
“Are you ready? Commander Richards?” Tilleran leaned over her console, glaring at Richards, who sat silently in the command chair. “Commander, are you ready to begin the muon sweep?”
“The what?” Richards asked, turning to Tilleran.
“That scan, you know, for the sensor contact that’s been tailing us since Sector 36640?”
“Oh. Right. That scan. Yeah. Let’s do it.”
Tilleran nodded, tapping controls at her station. “Muon generators activating. At sixty percent dispersal and rising.”
“Great. Whatever that means.”
“It means it’s working. We’re able to extend the distance of our sensors by about for parsecs, for short bursts.”
“Then that’s good,” Richards said.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes!” Richards snapped, turning to Tilleran, suddenly alert. “I’m fine. No need to probe me!”
“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Tilleran said with a grin. Her grin faded as the sensor information began to scroll across her screen. “Sir…sensor contacts three sectors away. Four starships. Big ones.”
Richards stood up, turned to Tilleran. “Who?”
Tilleran looked up from her scans. “Orions.”
“Get the captain.”
“Guess the wedding’s off, huh?”
“Yeah,” Richards said. “I guess it is.”
“How far away?” Captain Baxter asked, pacing the bridge as Admiral Baxter, Ashley Donovan, Anna Kimmel, Maura Drake, Doctor Browning and Counselor Peterman crowded the command area. Richards, meanwhile, stood at the back of the bridge, leaning over the railing that surrounded the command chairs.
“Four point three parsecs,” Tilleran said. “If they changed course for direct intercept, they could head us off in four or five days..”
“So they may not see us,” Ashley said.
“They’re sniffin’ around,” Harlan said.
“So we change nothing,” Baxter said. “As a matter of fact, we slow down. Cut power to all non-essential systems. Do nothing that will cause the slightest power spike. And we hope and pray they don’t spot us.”
“Wonder how long they’ve been looking for us,” Browning said distantly.
“Ever since Zendab,” Harlan muttered, turning around, obviously too irritated to even look at the viewscreen. “They were there. They tracked the Orleans to us, and now they’re tracking us.”
“But with reduced power emissions and reduced speed, with the sensor-reflective shielding, we’ll be very hard to detect, right?” Peterman asked.
Baxter smiled. “That’s certainly the idea.”
“Then everything’s good,” Kimmel said. “For now, at least.”
“Yeah,” Baxter nodded. “Everything’s just dandy.”
“I hope you’re taking this whole enterprise a bit more seriously now,” Ashley said offhand.
“I’ve been taking it seriously the entire time.”
“She’s right,” Richards said. “We’re being hunted down like dogs and here I was, busy planning a wedding.”
“Actually, I was the one doing most of the planning,” Browning said.
“No more distractions,” Harlan said. “Full steam ahead. All business. We elude the Orions until we find a way to shut Anna Kimmel’s powers off, or we go to blazes trying.”
“J’hana,” Baxter said, ignoring his father. “Monitor the Orions. They so much as twitch in our direction, I want to know about it. Tilleran: You, Drake and Donovan take Anna below decks, and you don’t leave that lab until you have a lead on how to control this power of hers.”
Maura Drake silently followed Donovan, Kimmel, and Tilleran toward the turbolift, then turned around. “We may need this power of hers to put an end to the Orions before they capture Anna.”
“No we won’t,” Baxter said. “We’ll stop the Orions some other way, if and when we have to. Your orders are to put an end to her powers, any which way you can. Understood?”
“Of course,” Drake said, and backed into the turbolift.
Harlan crossed by Baxter, glowering, and stepped up to the foreward turbolift, pressing the call button. “You keep me in the loop, boy.”
“Yeah, look who’s talking,” Baxter mumbled as Harlan stepped in and the doors closed. He glanced up at Richards, who leaned against the railing, still looking at the stars on the viewscreen. “Any ideas, Chris? Cause I could use a few right now.”
“No,” Richards said. “I’ll…” He glanced at Browning. “I’ll be in my quarters.”
“Shouldn’t we talk about this wedding thing?” Browning asked as Richards stepped back to the aft turbolift.
“I don’t think now’s the time, Janice,” Richards said, and stepped in.
Browning stared at the closing doors, then stomped her foot. “Oh, damn him!”
Peterman wrapped a protective arm around Browning. “Relax, Janice. Everything will turn out okay.”
She glanced at Baxter, who looked very thoughtful. “I’ll just take her belowdecks and get her something high in fat…”
“No,” Baxter said, and pointed at Browning. “I need you in my ready room, Doctor.”
“Trying SO hard not to make a comment,” Peterman muttered, taking her arm off Browning as she stepped up to the quarterdeck.
“Don’t worry, Kelly,” Baxter said, ushering Browning into the ready room. “I think I’ve got a plan that will work for everybody.”
“So, you got your powers back, huh?” Richards asked, leaning against the bar in the constellation club and sipping from his Tom Cochrane.
Mirk nodded. “Well, apparently I had them all the time.”
“Just a question of putting them to use. They’re kind of like a pair of really nice socks you only pull out on special occasions.”
Richards stared into his drink. “I don’t have any nice socks.”
“You’d be surprised how much they come in handy.”
“Should I get married, Mirk?”
Mirk backed up a bit. “Whoa. I’m the wrong person to ask about that.”
Richards looked up at him. “You’re married.”
“Yeah, true. But…I’m the wrong person for YOU to ask about that. There’s only one person who can help you with that question.”
“You’re helpful, as always.”
“I call it like I see it. And now that I’m semi-potent again, I figure you should listen a lot more closely to my advice.”
“She wants to get married. I love her. I want to be a good influence in Plato’s life. I think we can form a family.”
“Isn’t that the basis of marriage? Forming a family?”
Richards shrugged. “It sure as hell should be.”
“This seat taken?” a voice asked behind Richards.
“Beats me,” Richards said, then glanced over as he watched Lt. Susan Madera pull up a seat next to him.
“I’ll take this one, Mirk. And another Tarkalian Ale, please.”
“Whatever the lady wants,” Mirk said, and stepped down the bar to get Madera her drink.
Richards glared at her. “What do you mean you’ll ‘take’ this one.”
“You’re thinking about marrying Janice.”
“Did this make it into the ship’s newsletter?”
“Back page, with an awful picture of you,” Madera said, as she sipped her drink
“I only have one piece of advice, Chris, and I think you know what it is.”
“Follow my heart?” Richards asked.
“No, hell with that. Your heart only gets you in trouble. What I was going to say was that you’d better be certain. You better be sure you want to marry Janice Browning. Because there is no worse moment than when you stand on that altar and you realize there’s nobody there to join you.”
“I…” Richards said, opening and closing his mouth. “I’m sorry, Susan.”
Madera shrugged. “It’s in the past.”
“Literally,” Richards said. “I was in the twenty-first century!”
“And you didn’t bother to even say hello when you got back.”
“I had a lot on my mind.”
“You always seem to, don’t you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just what it sounds like. You can’t get bogged down in all the particulars. Either you really want to spend the rest of your life with Janice Browning or you don’t. It’s not that hard a question. Go with your gut instinct.”
“So you are telling me to follow my heart.”
“Gut,” Madera said with a small belch. “I said gut.” She downed her second drink, slid off the stool, then headed for the doors. “I’m heading back to the conn station, sir,” she said, with a dizzy little mock- salute.
“Didn’t you just have two drinks?”
“I’m right as rain,” Madera said, and stepped out into the corridor. Moments later, she ducked her head back in. “Don’t look now, Chris, but here comes trouble. Better make up your mind fast.”
Richards slid off the stool as the doors parted, and Captain Baxter walked in, wearing his dress uniform, followed by Janice Browning, who was still trying to get her white, flowy wedding dress to lay right.
“Commander, I believe you have a wedding to get to,” Baxter said, pointing at Richardson with a padd he’d held in the crook of his arm.
“Right here. Right now. Mister Mirk…lights on center stage.”
“Right away, Captain,” Mirk said, stifling his surprise as he turned the house lights down and brought a spot light up on the stage.
Baxter took Browning by the arm and led her up to the stage, as Peterman hung back, with a gathering crowd of crewmembers, quickly pointing out where they could take seats, and explaining the situation to them.
It was a situation that Richards couldn’t begin to fathom. “What’s going on here, Janice?”
“It’s now or never, Christopher,” Browning said, taking her place to Baxter’s left on the stage. “You in or out?”
Richards watched more crewmembers file into the lounge, then glanced back up at Browning.
Suddenly he felt a brisk slap on his back. “Good luck, Uncle Chris!” Plato said, a blushing Ensign Navies clinging to his arm.
“Navies!” Richards snapped.
“Sorry, Commander,” she said, glancing away as Plato took her to a pair of seats facing the stage.
Richards walked toward the stage, as Baxter approached the deejay stand, where Zordock the Bold was reprogamming the musical selections to be a little more wedding-like.
“Stop the presses!” a high voice called out from the entrance to the Club, as Yeoman James Briggs, clad in only a pink terrycloth robe, came trotting in, brushes in hand. “I understand we have a hair emergency on our hands!”
“Her hair is fine,” Baxter said, looking at Browning.
“It’s a disaster,” Briggs replied.
“Oh yeah,” Browning said, as Briggs busied himself behind her, poofing, spraying, and brushing for all he was worth.
Richards stood at the foot of the stage, locking eyes with Browning, as the room slowly filled to capacity, and the milling crewpeople could be heard murmuring cheerfully and expectantly. “Janice!” he whispered. “Are you sure about this?”
“Are you?” she asked, as Peterman tossed her a bouquet.
“Well, isn’t this backwards? Doesn’t the groom stand up there, and then you come up after?”
“We’ve done everything else backwards, Christopher. Our wedding might as well be backwards too.”
Baxter sped through the text on his padd. “…since the sailing ships…blah blah blah…greatest privilege of a captain…yadda yadda….can skip over the honor part…oh, okay, here we go.”
Richards felt dizzy, his head spinning. And then Baxter pointed at the deejay.
“Now, Zordock the Bold!”
And as the music started up, everything started to make sense for Richards:
Hey little sister what have you done Hey little sister who’s the only one Hey little sister who’s your superman Hey little sister who’s the one you want Hey little sister shot gun!
It’s a nice day to start again It’s a nice day for a white wedding…
“Damn it all, let’s do it!” Richards said, suddenly energized, and he bounded up on the stage. “I’m going to do this, I really am!”
Browning took his hands. “Glad to hear it.”
“Do it, Andy,” Richards said, his heart beating a million times a minute. “Go straight to the end.”
Baxter looked from Richards to Browning, then down at his padd. “Okeydoke. Let’s get this matrimony moving.” He glanced over the padd. “Hold on. I lost my place. There’s a lot of crap that we can just skip over…”
In the audience, J’hana dragged Lt. Sefelt out of the seat next to Peterman, and then sat down. Sefelt ran screaming out of the room.
“It’s a nice day to start again, eh, Counselor?” she whispered.
“So the man says,” Peterman said, nibbling her fingernails.
“You have reservations?”
“No, we didn’t book the Club. We just kind of took it over.”
“I mean about the two of them being married.”
“It’s their life. Ultimately, they’re responsible for their decisions.”
“An enlightened view.”
“Yeah. I just hope it’s the right one.”
“Lieutenant Commander Tilleran sends her regrets, by the way. She’s busy working with the others on a way to ‘deactivate’ Captain Kimmel and stop the universe from imploding.”
“I think that’s a reasonable excuse.”
Back up on the stage, Baxter had finally found the right spot on the padd. “Okay. Here goes. Do you, Christopher, take this woman, Janice Browning, to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and health…and all that other stuff, until death separates you?”
Richards smiled, pulling Browning closer, and nodded. He didn’t even hesitate.
“Yes. Yes I do.”
Browning blinked. That was a quick answer. How’d he make up his mind so darned fast?
Baxter turned to Browning. “And do you, Janice, take Christopher Richards to be your lawfully wedded husband, and whatnot, until death separates you?
Browning looked in Richards’s big, expectant eyes, and suddenly he was the sure one. He was the one that believed so much in them, after all his doubts, and all the ups and downs of their roller coaster relationship. How’d he get so sure, so quickly?
“I…” she said, and felt her voice catch in her throat. It was an emotional moment. That was natural. She cleared her throat. “That is, I…”
Richards squeezed her hands.
She cocked her head. “You know…I’m not really sure.”
Peterman shot out of her chair. “WHAT?!”
Beside her, and just off-stage, Yeoman Briggs fainted into the four arms of Zordock the Bold.
Baxter leaned toward her as the crowd began to mutter. “Uh, Janice. That’s not what you’re supposed to say.”
Richards stared at Browning, slowly letting go of her hands. “Janice…?”
Browning backed away. “You know, Christopher, I think I’m gonna need some time.”
“Yeah. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I’m…I’m just not sure. And I need to be. Hope you understand!” And she yanked her dress up to her knees and bolted off the stage, and out the door, faster than Richards had ever seen her move before.
Baxter and Richards stood on the stage a few moments, glancing awkwardly at each other.
“There’s…there’s mini hotdogs and puff pastries on the way, folks,” Baxter said meekly.
That didn’t seem to quiet the crowd.
“WHAT THE HELL?” Peterman called out again.
Richards glanced at Baxter. “What the hell indeed.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, and looked over Richards’s shoulder, at Zordock the Bold, who was fanning Yeoman Briggs. “Zordock the Bold! Music! Now! Something appropriate!”
“As you command, Captain!” Zordock the Bold called out, and punched a control, causing the speakers around the Constellation Club to boom:
What you yellin’ for?
It’s all been done before
And if you could only let it be
You will see
I like you the way you are
When we’re drivin’ in your car
And you’re talkin’ to me one-on-one
But you become
Round everyone else
Watchin’ your back
Like you can’t relax
You tryin’ to be cool
You look like a fool to me
Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
Richards stared at Baxter, wondering who the heck was singing. “Andy, did that really just happen? Did Janice leave ME?”
“Guess so,” Baxter said.
Back behind the bar, Lt. Commander Hartley, who’d snuck in during the set-up of this event-gone-wrong, slung an arm tightly around Mirk.
“Did I mention how lucky we are to have each other, Mirkles?”
“Not specifically, but I think it was always implied,” Mirk said.
“Good. Because all we have to deal with is your possible omnipotence. We have it soooo easy.”
Down in the audience, Plato looked dumbfounded.
“So your mom isn’t marrying Commander Richards?” Navies asked him.
“Does this mean we can go somewhere and make out?”
“Sure,” Plato said, and grabbed Navies by the hand, dragging her out of the club.
Peterman stared blankly at Baxter and Richards as they stepped down off the stage. “What now?” she asked.
Richards shoved up his shirtsleeves. “What now is I go talk to her. Find out what the heck is going on.”
“Good idea,’ Baxter said. “Maybe it’s just a question of bad time–”
“Red alert!” Ensign Adam Keefler suddenly broke in over the all- call, as alarm klaxons sounded, drowning out the music in the club. “Senior staff to the bridge immediately!”
Baxter skidded out of the turbolift, Richards, Peterman, and J’hana at his back. Harlan and Maura Drake came out of the opposite one, accompanied by Ashley Donovan and Anna Kimmel. Donovan, seeing the middle of the bridge was getting crowded, headed up to the vacant engineering station.
“Give me the bad news,” Baxter said, walking toward the middle of the bridge as J’hana took over at tactical and Keefler moved quickly out of the command chair.
“Incoming signal, weapons hot, and ordering us on all channels to stand down,” Keefler said, moving to one of the auxiliary stations.
“Orion?” Baxter asked, glancing over his shoulder at J’hana.
The Andorian looked up from her panel, shaking her head. “No, sir. She’s Starfleet.”
“Orleans?” Richards asked.
J’hana shook her head. “Wrong again. Try thinking of the worst thing that could happen now. Then double that by infinity.”
Baxter glowered at the viewscreen as a huge shadow loomed over the Explorer, bearing down fast. His forehead wrinkled angrily. His fists clenched.
“Vansen,” he said bitterly.
And, as if on cue, the gigantic U.S.S. Outlander swung into view over the Explorer, a multi-nacelled, whale-sized juggernaut with a long saucer and broad engineering hull.
“We’re being hailed,” J’hana said. “Unless there’s anyone else in the sector who answers to ‘hey, loser!’”
“Get her on screen,” Baxter said, gritting his teeth. “Let’s get this overwith.”
The viewscreen shimmered to reveal Captain Nell Vansen, standing in the middle of her wide bridge, with her staff working calmly and competently at their stations. Her hands were clasped behind her back. She regarded Baxter with raised eyebrow, like he was some insignificant insect.
Behind her, Baxter recognized those two strange people who’d been on Sullivan’s ship. A brunette and a fish. Baxter grimaced. Why did bad things always come in threes?
“I knew we’d find them!” Agent Samantha Dallas grinned from beside Vansen. “See, Captain Baxter, I told you I’d get to the bottom of this, eventually! What are you trying to hide?”
“I’m really two inches bigger in the waist than I tell everyone,” Baxter said flatly.
“There will be time for a formal interrogation later,” Vansen said, not even glancing at Dallas. “That WAS the deal we agreed to when I picked you up off the Orleans.”
Dallas shrugged. “It’s your ship.”
“Better believe it,” Vansen said, and returned her attention to Baxter. She straightened, taking on a much more officious posture. “Captain Baxter, by order of Commodore Jack Woodall, I hearby order you to stand down and report to my brig. A temporary captain will be placed aboard your ship, and we will return to Starfleet Command on Earth so you can explain yourself.” She gave that a moment to sink in, then raised an eyebrow. “Questions?”
“No,” Baxter said. “Statements. You cannot possibly fathom the situation we’re in right now. To put it briefly, Vansen, the Universe is at stake. If you take us off this mission, if you draw unnecessary attention to us, you’re not only jeopardizing my ship and yours, you’re jeopardizing existence itself. Just one damn time I need you to trust me and let me go about my business. You’ve got to believe I know what I’m doing here.”
“No,” Vansen said, without seeming to give it much thought. She smiled. “You didn’t really think that would work, did you?”
“I thought it was worth a try,” Baxter said honestly. He could feel Ashley Donovan’s glare on him, and knew she felt he was wasting his time.
Vansen paced the bridge, studying Baxter with a caustic frown. She stepped in front of an uncomfortable-looking Lt. Commander Jeremy Gage, who sat with his hands folded in his lap, making an effort not to squirm. Baxter could tell this was hard on him, unlike Vansen, who was obviously getting considerable relish from taking the Explorer to task.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time, Baxter,” she said. “To succeed where Captain Sullivan failed only makes it sweeter. You don’t know how happy I was to get the comm from Woodall. I’d say this kind of mission is well worth cutting my shakedown cruise short, wouldn’t you?”
“Vansen,” Richards said. “You’ve got to–”
“Was anyone talking to you?” Vansen snapped. “No, I didn’t think so.” She looked at Baxter. “You have two minutes to surrender, Captain.”
“Or what?” Baxter asked.
“Outlander is targeting us with their phasers,” J’hana reported.
“Shields!” Donovan called out, and slammed her hand down on the shield controls.
“She wouldn’t–” Peterman said, then stumbled as the Explorer shook.
“Direct hits on our port nacelle!” Tilleran called out.
“Shields in that quadrant are down to seventy percent,” Ashley said. “And you’re welcome for raising the shields.”
“You were saying?” Vansen said. “Make no mistake, Captain, I’ve got no problem with dragging the Explorer back to port by tractor beam. And believe me when I tell you that this ship has the power to do it.”
Baxter looked around his bridge. Everyone had their eyes on him.
“I’m not afraid to fight you, Vansen,” he said.
“I wouldn’t do that, Captain. Mine’s bigger than yours.” She chuckled. “Wow, that was fun to say.”
“Charge weapons. Phasers and quantums,” Baxter said, returning to his command chair and sitting down. “If it’s a fight you want, Vansen, you’ll damned well get it.”
Peterman hurried to Baxter’s side, leaning toward him. “Andy, maybe you should think this through. Let me talk to her…”
“Yeah, cause she likes you,” Baxter muttered.
“Listen to your wife, Captain,” Vansen said. “This isn’t a fight you can win. It never has been. After all these years, your life comes down to one irrefutable fact: You’re just not good enough. Now give up and turn yourself in so you can salvage what little dignity you have left and get back to port.”
“No,” a small voice said, and it wasn’t Baxter’s. Anna Kimmel stepped out from between Drake and Harlan Baxter and stood in front of Baxter, staring at Vansen. “You’ll turn around and go back to whatever dark hole you crawled out of.”
“Ha!” Vansen exclaimed. “The little girl who would be captain speaks. Glad to see you’re finally sitting at the big kids’ table, Kimmel. Unfortunately, this is a really bad time for you to grow brass ones. I’m not sure what shape your career is in currently, but I’ve got a feeling it won’t take a hit like the one I’m about to lay on your friend Baxter.”
Kimmel stepped forward. “He’s my brother. And you can’t talk to him like that anymore.”
“You seem woefully ignorant of who’s got the power here,” Vansen said boredly. “Now, why don’t you be a good girl and step aside so I can finish dressing down Capt–” She blinked. “Did you say brother?” Dallas started to say something in the background, but Batyn put a flippered hand over her mouth.
Kimmel nodded. “Yes. And I’m pretty sure I know who’s got the power here.” She balled her fists. Her eyes glowed, and Tilleran looked up at her from sciences, her eyes going wide.
Peterman stepped toward her, reaching out. “Anna….”
Baxter leapt out of his chair.
“Deep space mission, eh?” Kimmel asked, her eyes boring into Vansen’s. “Well, allow me to help you on your way!”
Vansen cocked her head, genuinely confused. “What–?”
Kimmel reared back, like a pitcher getting ready to strike out someone leading off third base. And she threw her empty hand forward at Vansen.
The Outlander captain’s shocked face was replaced with an exterior view of the Outlander, flipping end over end, skipping away like a speeding stone on a lake, disappearing from sight. “They just left sensor range!” Tilleran called out, as Kimmel sagged to the ground, limp.
Drake and Harlan ran to Kimmel’s side, helping her up, but she remained limp in their arms.
“She’s got a pulse, but she’s unconscious,” Drake said, running a tricorder over Kimmel. “We can move her.”
“Sickbay,” Baxter said distantly. “Medical emergency on the bridge.”
Everyone was quiet for a moment.
“Tilleran,” Richards finally said. “Extrapolate the Outlander’s course.”
“Three-one-one mark oh-five six.” Tilleran tapped into the Explorer’s databanks. “The heading of their assigned deep space mission.”
“Get her down to Sickbay, Dad,” Baxter said, pointing at Harlan.
“And what are you going to do, boy?” Harlan asked, as Ensign Keefler helped Drake lift Kimmel into the foreward turbolift.
“Batten down the hatches,” Baxter said. “Because, if that exchange didn’t lead the Orions to us, nothing will.”
ORION FRIGATE SALAZAR
“Weapons fire and communication detected, Boss,” Viilso said, looking up from the sensor console on the Salazar’s bridge. “We’ve identified both vessels involved. The U.S.S. Outlander and the…sir, it’s the Explorer!”
Noyo Potsran, major underboss of the Orion Syndicate, sat back in his broad leather chair and folded his hands over his wide, but solid, belly. “Good. It’s about time this chase came to an end.”
“Orders, sir?” Viilso asked.
“What do you think?” Potsran replied with a big smile. “Intercept, best possible speed. Get a bead on them before they can get those reflective shields working again. And get our boarding parties ready. We’re going to rip their ship from stem to stern to get to Kimmel, and make Captain Baxter pay for putting such a big crimp in our plans.”
“Correction,” a voice said from behind Potsran. Captain Harth stepped up next to the command chair, still bearing a large pressure-bandage across his broad Gorn chest from where Ashley Donovan ran him through with a sword. “You’ll get Kimmel, but by the undulating Crishnar waves of the Gornaran Sea, I will reap revenge from Baxter. I will have him, will cut his heart out with my very–”
“For the love of latinum, man!” Potsran bellowed, shaking his head as Harth caught his breath. “You’d think that you’d never taken a blood oath of revenge before. Act like a professional!”
Harth glared around the bridge, then folded his arms. “Fine.” He turned around. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be down in my quarters, plotting my glorious victory over the cowardly–”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
Just when you thought Year Seven would never end…
Time has run out for Baxter and company, as the Orions bear down on them and the crew prepares to defend the Explorer and prevent Kimmel from falling into the Orions greedy green hands. Will they be able to fight off Potsran and Harth? Meanwhile, what’s going on with Dr. Browning? What news does Tilleran have for J’hana and how will she take it? Why does Chaka’kan feel like he’s not going to like what Baxter asks of him? Answers to all these questions and more as we begin the beginning of the…uh…end of Year Seven. At least that’s what I hear, according to the “Powers that Be,” (Part One).