Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 57525.4. We’re currently on silent running, in a last- ditch effort to evade the Orion Syndicate and buy us some time to stop Captain Kimmel from attaining godhood.
So far, Lieutenant Commander Tilleran and Doctor Drake have been no help in finding a way to prevent the Orions from tapping into Kimmel’s power. Until we can prove to them, and Starfleet, that Kimmel doesn’t hold the power to control the universe, or destroy it (depending on how you look at it), we’re pretty much screwed.
One wonders why I keep making these logs, when I know damn good and well I’ll just delete the whole lot of them once this whole sordid affair is over.
That being the case, I have one last word:
Lt. Commander Tilleran turned around to find the solidly-built shape of J’hana filling the door to Stellar Cartography.
“Studying up on your star charts?” J’hana asked, as Tilleran turned back to the control console and tapped a few controls. A spiderweb of coordinates and labels for stellar bodies of all sorts appeared and disappeared from the massive, ever-moving star chart at the front of the room. “Trying to guess at the Orions’ next move,” Tilleran said, and sighed as she leaned against the console. “I thought maybe if I looked at our sensor records from the last twenty-four hours, and the information we got from the muon sweep, I might be able to come up with a way to evade them.”
“Isn’t that more my line of work?”
“I figured you had your hands full with all those security drills. Anyway, I’m on a break. Drake and I have been hitting our heads against the wall about this Kimmel thing for what seems like days.”
“Indeed. Well, I left Ensign Keefler in charge of today’s drills. Which is a big concession, as I relish drills of all kinds,” J’hana said, then wriggled her antennae in Tilleran’s direction. “If you know what I mean.”
Tilleran sighed. “Yes, unfortunately.” She glanced back at the star charts. “Aren’t you the least bit worried, J’hana? How can you be so cavalier, when there are four big ships out there bent on plowing through us to get at one possibly-omnipotent person.”
“Of course I am worried,” J’hana said. “I’m worried we’ll be destroyed before I can achieve a record number of combat casualties.”
“How’d I know you would say something like that?”
“Because our minds are one.”
“Yes,” Tilleran said, and looked at the ground. “Hey, about that…”
“Keefler to J’hana.”
“We’re having a little problem with the latest security drill. Lieutenant Unlathi is stuck in a Jefferies tube.”
“Zharnt! I thought I told you not to let Unlathi into the tubes!”
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I only took my eye of it for a minute.”
“That’s all the Velvattian needs. Unlathi is…precocious.”
“I’ll be down there in a few minutes. Meanwhile, tell the lieutenant to start excreting more slime. That should help grease it up.”
“I should get down there,” J’hana said, walking toward the door. “Dinner tonight?”
“Yeah,” Tilleran said.
“Is there something else?” J’hana asked.
“Can’t you tell what I’m thinking?”
J’hana shrugged. “Oddly, no.”
“Then I’ll just talk to you tonight.”
J’hana nodded. “You are perfection incarnate.”
“Yeah,” Tilleran replied as the door closed. “You too.”
“Wake up, champ. Time to get on the field. It’s first and ten,” Captain Baxter said, patting Anna Kimmel’s face as she lay on the biobed in the center of Sickbay.
Kimmel’s eyes fluttered open, as Dr. Wilcox hovered behind her, worriedly glancing at her tricorder.
“Andy?” she asked. “What the heck hit me?”
“A rush of power,” Baxter said. “Near as we can tell, you hauled off and threw the Outlander a few thousand light years away.”
Kimmel nodded. “Cool.” Then her lip trembled. “Those poor Outlander people!”
“It’s okay,” Baxter said, squeezing Kimmel’s hand. “I’m sure they’re all fine. The point is, you’re all right.”
“She needs bed rest,” Holly said, closing her tricorder. “Her adrenaline levels are through the roof. Brain synapses are all firing irregularly.”
“Can’t you just shoot her up with something and fix that?” Baxter asked, looking up.
“No,” Holly said. “Hyposprays don’t cure everything. But wouldn’t it be nice if they did?”
“Modern medicine my butt.”
“What she needs is rest,” Holly said, stepping up and patting Baxter on the shoulder. “And quiet.”
Kimmel gave Baxter a small grin. “She means you need to go, Andy.”
“Oh,” Baxter said, smiling sheepishly. “Right.” He glanced at Kimmel. “You take care, okay? Don’t drive Doctor Wilcox crazy.”
“Wouldn’t…” Kimmel said, and trailed off, falling asleep.
“Doctor?” Baxter asked, looking at Holly, his brow furrowed.
“She passed out again,” Holly said. “Exhaustion. This time, it would be better if we didn’t wake her up.”
“Fine,” Baxter said, and turned for the door. “But let me know if there’s any change in her condition.”
He walked out into the corridor, and immediately faced Harlan Baxter and Counselor Peterman.
“Rt’s danews, boy?” Harlan asked, chewing on his cigar.
“She’ll be fine. She needs rest,” Baxter said, looking to Peterman. “Matter of fact, I think we all do.”
Harlan pulled out his cigar. “I’m not sleeping till this damned mission is over and done.”
“You can expect some restless nights, then,” Baxter said, as he and Peterman walked off toward the turbolift.
Harlan stared at them a moment, then turned toward the door to Sickbay. He looked at that a moment, then turned in the other direction and walked off.
“You seem distracted, Ariel,” Dr. Drake said, leaning over the lab table as Lt. Commander Tilleran stared through the subneural microscope and the readouts of Captain Kimmel’s DNA sample that sped across the screen.
“Just concentrating hard,” Tilleran said. “Something about these neuropeptide sequences bothers me.”
“Oh?” Drake asked, stepping closer to Tilleran. “What would that be?”
“Is there a reason they shouldn’t be?”
“Just that, if you used any kind of DNA resequencing when you ‘created’ Kimmel, we’d be able to see it in the neuropeptide sequences.”
“Good point,” Drake said. “You are clever, aren’t you?”
“I like to think so,” Tilleran said. “At any rate, we need to tell the Captain immediately. Because whatever’s inside Anna Kimmel, it’s not biological…” She moved to stand up, and Drake put her hands on the Betazoid’s shoulders, pushing her gently into her seat.
“We don’t need to bother the captain,” Drake said. “I think we can settle this between us.”
“What do you mean?” Tilleran asked, wrinkling her nose.
“I mean, this conversation never happened,” Drake said, and snapped her fingers. “As a matter of fact, you won’t remember anything that’s said to you until after I walk out of the room. And…” She pointed at the microscope and snapped her fingers again. “If you look again, you’ll see Kimmel’s DNA does show signs of genetic alterations, but you aren’t able to decode the sequences.”
Tilleran gazed past Drake, her eyes glassy. “Cool. Whatever you say.”
“Glad we’re on the same page,” Drake said, and headed toward the door. “You prying Betazoid bitch.”
“Yeah, thanks! You too!” Tilleran said as Drake left. Once the doors closed, Tilleran turned back to the microscope. “Now then,” she said, pushing up her shirtsleeves. “Let’s see what’s going on with these sequences!”
Captain Baxter found Mirk polishing the bar in the Constellation Club when he stepped in, dressed in a Dallas Cowboys t-shirt and sweatpants.
“Captain?” Mirk asked, looking up from the bar. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Baxter said.
“You’ve got a lot on your mind.”
“I’ve got you on my mind.”
Mirk blinked. “Thanks, sir, but I…uh…”
“No, no, no,” Baxter said, waving dismissively. “I don’t mean….well that’s just silly.”
“Not helping your case any, sir.”
Baxter glared at Mirk. “Why I’m here, MIRK, is because I need your help.”
“I was hesitant to come to you, because I know you don’t like the idea of being used for your powers.”
“And yet that’s exactly what you’d propose, isn’t it?”
Baxter shrugged. “Desperate times…”
Mirk put his polishing rag down and put his hands on the bar. “Captain, I’d love to help you…”
“But you’re busy this week?”
“But I can’t control my powers. At least not in the way you’re asking.”
Baxter narrowed his eyes at Mirk. “And what exactly do you think I’m asking?”
“For me to just blink my eyes and make everything okay again.”
“Well, I figured it would take a little more than that,” Baxter said. “At least a good…uh… three blinks.”
“It’s not that simple, Captain. My powers, at least the really cool ones, the ones that have the ability to control the Universe, only show up when they want to. Sure, I can levitate you if you want, but I can’t turn back time, turn it forward, or erase a psycho ex-girlfriend from your past.” Mirk glanced to the side thoughtfully. “Man, if I could, though, I’d probably be a great big giant eyeball by now.”
“And you’d probably be on vacation with the rest of the Directors,” Baxter muttered.
“They’re not on vacation,” Mirk said quickly. “I don’t know where they are, but they’ve gone away for a reason. Ours is not to question the Directors…”
“It’s to find a way to win without them,” Baxter said. “Or you. I get that.”
“I wish I could be more helpful,” Mirk said. “But, under the circumstances, all I can do is serve you a stiff drink.”
“Rum and grapefruit,” Baxter said, hopping on a barstool. “And why don’t you go ahead and levitate it to me.”
“Can do!” Mirk said, ducking behind the bar.
Supplemental. Computer…I’m buzzed. Don’t tell my wife I’ve been drinking, and I’m up and about, walking around the ship in the middle of the night, even though we’re on the verge of a Universe-wide apocalypse. But I thought it would be cool if I did that thing where the captain walks around and tours the ship on the verge of a big battle. You know? Sure, you know.
“And this is the…this is the…what’s this again?” Baxter asked, pointing.
“The warp core,” Ensign Ryan Stuart said, yawning as he leaned against the Master Systems Display in Engineering.
“Good job, Ensign,” Baxter said, patting Stuart on the back. “You’ll go far with ideas like that.”
“Sir?” Stuart asked in a small voice as Baxter headed toward the warp core. “Would this be a good time to ask about my promotion?”
“Sure would be. Right after I take a look at the….at the…what is this thing again?”
“The warp core!”
“Yeah, right,” Baxter said, and leaned over the railing that surrounded the warp core. “Hey…it’s really….deep.”
“Sir, be careful…” Stuart said, stepping toward Baxter.
“Why? I’m just gonna…” Baxter leaned farther over, and then fell forward, arms pinwheeling.
“Damn,” Stuart said, bolting toward Baxter as he tipped over the railing. “Now I’m never getting that promotion!”
The last thing Stuart saw was Baxter’s boots as he fell, headfirst, down into the pit at the bottom of the warp core.
“Captain?” Holly Wilcox asked, shining a mini-beacon in Baxter’s eyes. “Are you with us?”
Baxter shook his head groggily and leaned up, looking around Sickbay. “I’ve been here before.”
“Yes, like a few hours ago, sir.”
“I released her.”
“And you didn’t tell me!” Baxter swung his legs over the edge of the biobed.
“You were unconscious at the time. You fell down the warp core, remember?”
Holly nodded. “Yes. Lucky for you, Ensign Tucker was there to break your fall. Not so lucky for Ensign Tucker, of course…”
“Oh,” Baxter said, and grabbed Holly’s shoulder as he nearly pitched forward dizzily. “Wow, I’m still, uh…”
“It’s synthehol, sir. You can be sober. All you have to do is…” She rolled her eyes. “Think.”
“Think,” Baxter said. “Yes.” And he walked out of Sickbay.
“Gods help us all,” Holly muttered, and went back to her office.
Commander Richards lay awake in his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His quarters felt a little unfamiliar, after spending quite a bit of time living in Janice Browning’s cabin.
The quiet was deafening. No sounds of Plato disolocating his shoulder absently in his sleep. None of Browning’s somnombilistic lip- smacking.
Just his quiet quarters.
He shot up. “What?”
The door opened, and Dr. Browning stepped in, still wearing her wedding dress. “Wanna talk?”
“Now?” Richards asked, rubbing his eyes. “Computer: Lights up to full.” He squinted as the lights went all the way up. “Lights up to half. Half!”
“Just…trying to sleep. Unsuccessfully.”
Browning looked down. “Sorry about that.”
“No, not because of you. Well, partially because of you, but partially because Vansen just showed up and threatened to shut down the whole mission.”
“Yeah, but then Captain Kimmel’s powers cropped up again briefly, and she threw the Outlander a few thousand lightyears away.”
“That was nice of her.”
“So, because the Outlander communicated with us…and, incidentally, fired phasers at us, we’re bigger targets than ever for the Orions. It won’t take long for them to use that to triangulate our exact position.”
“In which time we’ll be long gone.”
“They’ll be able to figure out our course,” Richards said, standing up and stretching. “It’s not that hard. And they have four ships, so they’ll be able to look a lot more quickly than we could.”
“But you’re forgetting the unerring human ability to get out of trouble.”
“No. I remember the unerring human ability to get out of trouble. We’re still screwed.”
“Speaking of us…”
Richards turned away. “Can we not right now?”
“Gotta do it sometime.”
“Yeah, but could you do it in the lull between mega-disasters?”
“Oh, you pessimistic boy,” Browning said, stepping up behind Richards. “You just have to have faith that everything will turn out okay.”
“Between us, or with the Universe?”
“Both,” Browning said. “And, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“About the wedding, not the Universe thing, right?”
Browning nodded. “Yeah. It was stupid. I never should have let Andy talk me into that wedding.”
Richards shrugged. “I warmed up to the idea.”
“And I got scared senseless,” Browning said, and this time she turned away. “You see, I think the idea of getting married appealed a lot more than the reality.”
“I have no idea what you mean,” Richards said. “Okay, that’s a blatant lie. I know exactly what you mean.”
“You were scared too,” Browning said. “And don’t deny it. I saw your foot tapping as Andy read the vows.”
“But you didn’t think marriage was worth a shot?” Richards asked.
“I think you’ll be an excellent husband, Christopher,” Browning said, turning and taking Richards’s hand. “But not for me. Not now, at any rate. And, for me, marriage can’t be a shot. It has to be a direct hit. And I have to know it’s right. And I wasn’t sure. I’m still not.”
Richards nodded dumbly. “So what now?”
Browning stuck out her hand. “Friends?”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Richards said, staring at Browning’s hand.
“Well, it seems like it would be a little difficult to go back to having a relationship, knowing what we know now,” Browning said honestly.
Richards nodded. “Yeah.”
“So…you want to agree to be awkward around each other for a while, then become great friends again?”
Richards thought about it. “I think I can do that.”
“Deal.” Browning put her hand out again, and this time Richards shook it.
Peterman woke up as Baxter stumbled into bed.
“I banged my arm on the dresser,” he said, flopping against Peterman, still in uniform.
“What time is it?” Peterman asked groggily.
“Way too late to be awake,” Baxter said, and rolled away from Peterman.
“Did you do that thing where the captain tours the ship before a big battle?”
“Yeah, and I fell down the warp core.”
“This time it sorta snuck up on me.”
“There is a railing around it, you know.”
“Yeah,” Baxter mumbled, and fell asleep.
“We really are screwed, aren’t we?” Peterman asked nobody in particular, then rolled up against Baxter, hoping it wouldn’t take long to fall asleep.
“And when in holy hell did that happen?” Captain Baxter asked, sipping coffee gingerly as he stared at the viewscreen. Steffie, meanwhile, sat in the command chair, punching buttons on the armrests, her legs barely dangling over the edge of the seat.
“During the night,” J’hana said, looking up from her console at the readout on the viewscreen. “Apparently Ensign Dunmore thought the erratic ship movement was a fly on the viewscreen.”
“Fantastic,” Baxter said, and turned to Richards, who wasn’t looking so great himself. “So two of the four Orion ships have cut us off in the middle of the night.” Richards said nothing, just looked blank.
“Two ahead, and two behind, yes,” Tilleran said, leaning against her panel.
“Thoughts?” Baxter asked Richards.
He put his head in his hands. “My relationship is over.”
“About THIS!” Baxter said, pointing at the viewscreen with his cup of coffee, a Red Alert, one of the formulas Captain Conway had left behind. It came with a stern warning from the Federation Surgeon General.
“Oh,” Richards said. “They’ve got us surrounded. I’d say they’ll be in weapons range in a few hours.”
“Two point five,” J’hana said.
“Yellow Alert,” Baxter said. “J’hana, ready weapons. Coordinate with engineering on power allocation. And have Mister Keefler outfit every active officer with a sidearm.” He tapped his combadge. “Baxter to Peterman. I need you to move everyone that isn’t manning a weapons or engineering station to the cargo bays. J’hana will fortify them with forcefields. I want everybody to stay put there until this thing blows over.”
“I haven’t even had my coffee yet,” Peterman pouted over the channel.
“Get it in a to-go cup. And go! I’ll send Steffie along shortly.”
Baxter looked around the bridge. “The rest of you, I’m counting on each and every one of you to give your best. This ship is very quickly going to be embroiled in very nasty conflict. If we have any hope of getting out, I’ll need you all to behave like top of the line Starfleet officers. It’s not a matter of whether or not we can do it. It’s just a matter of whether or not we will. We’re not incompetent. We’re eccentric. Now let’s prove it, as if someone important’s watching. End of speech. Move!”
<Dear Baxter. Someone important IS watching,> the giant hand said from its perch just outside the Universe. <Don’t you see? Your Universe is ripe for the taking. All I need to do is flex. And I’m feeling about ready to do some serious flexing. Then we’ll see who has the upper hand!> The hand thought about that a moment. <Okay, okay. That was horrible. I admit it.>
“So that’s the Picard Maneuver,” Baxter said. “Cool!” He flipped through the information on the desktop terminal in his ready room, wondering idly if he’d read this particular passage before as he bounced Steffie on his knee.
“Red alert! Red alert! Boom-boom!” Steffie called out.
“Almost, honey, not quite,” Baxter said. “But sound tactical strategy. You’ll make quite the Starfleet officer someday…if Mommy doesn’t threaten me with bodily harm for suggesting it.”
Just then, the door to the ready room bleeped.
“Come,” Baxter said, shifting Steffie to his other knee.
Chaka’kan stepped into the room, hands draped behind his back, followed by Plato, who also had his hands draped behind his back.
“Captain,” Chaka said. “I am here to discharge my duty and take Stephanie to the cargo bay.”
“Good,” Baxter said, lifting Steffie to the ground and walking up to Chaka. “Here she is.” He glanced down at Steffie. “Be a good girl and do just what Uncle Chaka and Uncle Plato say.”
“Hey,” Plato said, averting his eyes from Baxter.
“Hey, man,” Baxter said, trying his best to sound cool. How did young people talk these days? It all confused Baxter very much, because just last year he was playing cascarat with the boy. Now he barely looked at him.
“Uncle Plato!” Steffie cried gleefully, leaping up into Plato’s arms.
Plato hugged her a little awkwardly. “Uh, yeah. Hey there, kid.”
“We go boom-boom!”
“Probably so,” Plato said, glancing at Baxter as he turned for the door. “Good luck and stuff, Andy.”
Baxter watched Plato walk out with Steffie as Chaka remained, observing Baxter with a calculating gaze.
“Sir?” he asked.
“I’m not sure if I’d prefer he called me ‘Captain,’ or ‘uncle.’ But ‘Andy’ definitely didn’t sound right.”
“The boy is going through many changes, sir. Adolescence is difficult to understand. For me, adolescence was two or three weeks of absolute chaos.”
“Must’ve been rough,” Baxter muttered.
“I was incompetent. Until I realized my calling was not the call of battle, but the call of babysitting.”
“And you’ve done your job well, Chaka. You’re very important to me and my family, you know.”
Chaka nodded. “Babysitting is life.”
Baxter stood up, circled around to the Jem’Hadar, putting his hands on the bigger man’s shoulders. “Yes, yes it is. But I’m going to ask for a lot more from you than babysitting.”
Baxter shook his head. “No. You realize we’re going into a pretty big fight, right, Chaka?”
Chaka’kan nodded. “According to Lieutenant J’hana, we are going to have our zhargaz handed to us on a plate.”
“That’s the spirit, J’hana,” Baxter muttered to himself. “Well, that’s not the point. The point is, security is going to be spread pretty thin. Should we get boarded, the cargo bays are going to be protected by forcefields. But I don’t know how many people we’ll be able to send down there…”
“That presents a tactical problem.”
“Exactly!” Baxter snapped his fingers. “A tactical problem that you can help with.”
“I don’t follow.”
“I need you to be bad, Chaka. Scratch that, I need you to be an absolute terror.”
Baxter turned around, then turned back to face Chaka. “I need you to be a member of the speices that struck fear into the Alpha Quadrant. I need you to be a fearsome warrior. A bloodthirsty savage who believes in only one thing…that victory is life.”
“I’d love to accomodate you, Captain, but as you’re well aware, I was bred without battle instincts. I do not have the fighting capabilities of the standard Jem’Hadar. I do, however, make a terrific omelette.”
Baxter considered that, then pushed aside the fact that he was kind of feeling hungry. “That’s all well and good. But right now what we need most…what I need most… is someone to protect my family. Kelly, Steffie…Janice and Plato, too. I need someone down there I can trust to protect them.”
“I don’t believe I’m the person for that job,” Chaka’kan said.
“You’ve got to be,” Baxter said, slapping Chaka on the shoulder and pointing him out of the room. “Don’t worry. I was never supposed to be a captain, and look where I am now!”
“That is precisely why I am concerned, Captain,” Chaka said, stepping out of the ready room and leading Plato and Steffie into the aft turbolift. “Still, I won’t let you down.”
“Good man,” Baxter said, taking a deep breath. He turned to face J’hana. “So…what’s a zhargaz, Lieutenant?”
The Andorian sneered. “You don’t want to know.”
Aboard the Orion Frigate Salazar, Boss Potsran steepled his fingers and stared at the viewscreen. “Time to intercept?”
“Less than three hours,” Viilso, his most trusted lieutenant, said, hunched over his panel, his lip curled into its usual gangsterlike sneer.
“Everyone in position?”
“They’re ready. They just wait for your word.”
“And the Predator-in-Chief?”
“Sharpening his teeth as we speak.”
Potsran sighed. “Does everything have to be so…over the top with him?”
“He is Gorn, sir. They don’t do anything small.”
Potsran nodded. “I guess all green people can’t be as smooth as us, eh?”
“Guess not, Boss.”
“Double-check those injectors. I don’t want them freezing up if we have to go to warp at a moment’s notice!” Lt. Commander Hartley ordered, pointing to Ensigns Stuart and Reyes, who were working up on the catwalk around the warp core. She turned to a passing crewman. “Lockhart, secure the shield generators surrounding the core. I don’t want any surprises there.”
“Surprise!” a voice called from behind Hartley, and her heart nearly jumped in her throat.
She spun angrily. “And just who…!” Her face softened. “Mirk…”
Mirk stood, platter in hand. “You haven’t eaten yet today.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Mirk removed the top of the platter. “I brought steamed khaliflat root in chocolate sauce!”
“Oooh!” Hartley grinned, grabbing one of the roots off the platter and tossing it in her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “Is that really why you came down here? To feed me?”
He touched her arm, then placed the cover back on the tray and set it down on the master systems console. “Of course not. And you know it.”
“You’re worried about me.”
“I’m worried about the Universe,” Mirk said, and stepped closer to Hartley. “But I’m worried about you in particular.”
“That’s sweet, Mirk. But you know I can’t have you underfoot distracting me while the ship’s coming apart at the seams.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to be underfoot. I’m going to be in your office, taking a nice nap, just in case you might need me.”
“You’re crazy,” Hartley said. “You know I’ve never needed anyone looking out for me.”
“Who said I was looking out for you?” Mirk said, stepping toward Hartley’s office. “Maybe I’m hoping you’ll look out for me.”
Hartley reached out, touched his hand, then leaned forward and kissed him softly. “I think I can manage that, in between coolant leaks.” Then she whirled, grabbing a phase wrench off the nearby table and hurling it. “Maginty! Stop chatting and go prime the phaser relays NOW!”
Mirk grinned at her as he stepped into the office. “Keep up the good work, sweetie!”
“I hate all this waiting,” Baxter said, pacing the bridge as his staff moved about, checking weapons and shield configurations, conferring on weapons dispersal and crew allocation. The bridge was unusually abuzz with activity, but none of it made Baxter feel any better about what was to come.
“She was kinda perfect, wasn’t she,” Richards said distantly as he sat in his chair by the center seat.
“It’s over, Chris,” Baxter said. “Get past it and focus on the now. You know, the Universe ending and such? That’s what’ll happen if the Orions capture Anna.”
“Oh, you’re just enjoying the heck out of this, aren’t you?” Richards mumbled as Baxter sat down next to him.
“On the contrary. I was hoping you two would get married and be happy. Recall that it was my idea to set up the surprise wedding.”
Richards put his hand on Baxter’s. “That’s right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t take this out on you.”
“Are you drugged?”
“Just…out of sorts, Captain.”
“Well get back in sorts. We need you, Chris.”
Richards’s face spread into a smile. “You mean that?”
“Damned right I do,” Baxter said, and pulled his hand away. “But please, stop with the…weird touching.”
“I’m sorry, Andy,” Richards said. “I’m just feeling…”
“Yes. Out of sorts. I know.” Baxter pushed out of his chair. “Tilleran, you have a bead on the Orions?”
“They’re jamming our longrange sensors, so I’m only getting intermediate contact. They’re gaining though. The first ship will be within weapons range in under an hour.”
Baxter looked back at J’hana. “Weapons status?”
“Hot and spicy, just like you like them, sir.”
“Be ready to lay down more pain than you ever have, J’hana,” Baxter said. “As for you, Tilleran….get down to the science lab and see how Doctor Drake is doing with Anna. We haven’t heard from them in a while. Maybe if we have something definitive to show the Orions, they’ll finally leave us alone and give up this stupid chase.”
Tilleran nodded and stepped out from behind her console. “On my way, Captain.”
“You need an escort?” J’hana asked as she walked by.
“No, I’ll be fine,” Tilleran said.
“We need you on the bridge, anyway,” Baxter said.
“I’m touched,” J’hana said.
Richards stared after Tilleran. “Does it seem like she’s been acting strange?”
Baxter harrumphed, then looked at Richards. “It would be weird if any of us weren’t acting strange.”
Counselor Peterman dragged her two pomeranians behind her, Fritz in her arms, as she made her way down to Cargo Bay Three. Chaka’kan was meeting her there with Plato and Steffie.
She nearly bumped into Admiral Baxter in the corridor.
“Counselor,” he nodded. “Getting to higher ground?”
“Lower decks, but same idea,” Peterman said. “You?”
“I’m needed on the bridge.”
“Oh, did Andy call you up there?” Peterman asked, thinking there must have been some new development.
“No,” Harlan said. “But I’m still needed up there. Nobody on this ship knows more about the Orions, or Anna Kimmel, than I do.”
“Doctor Drake might disagree.”
“Are you…are you all right, Admiral?”
Harlan stuffed his cigar in his mouth. “Call m’dad.”
Peterman stared at him. “Take the damn cigar out, ‘Dad.’”
Harlan locked eyes with Peterman a moment, then took out the cigar and gave her a look that said “Yeah? Well?”
“You and Andy need to talk.”
“We do? About what?”
“What’s happening between you and Anna. Or what’s not happening.”
Harlan looked grim. “Anna will be kept safe at all costs.”
“But shouldn’t a father do more than that? Just keep his children safe?”
“She may be life or death for this Universe, but she’s not my child.”
Peterman cocked her head. “Isn’t she?”
“You’re wading way out of your depth, Counselor,” Harlan glowered, turning away.
“She needs you, Admiral!” Peterman called after Harlan. “And so does he, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.”
Harlan didn’t turn around.
“I’m still groggy,” Baxter said, rubbing his eyes as he stared at the viewscreen. “Anybody else groggy? Maybe the Orions poisoned our water supply.”
“If they poisoned anything, it’s the liquor supply,” J’hana muttered from tactical.
“Nicely put, J’hana,” Baxter said. “But kindly keep your little opinions to yourself.”
“Do you really want me to gut you?”
“How about you take that anger and redirect it, J’hana?” Richards asked, not turning around. “Be a useful part of this crew for once!”
“I object to that,” J’hana said, folding her arms.
“And I object to your insinuations that I got drunk last night,” Baxter said. “I had just a few drinks. And they’re synthehol.”
“Synthehol isn’t an exact science,” Richards said. “Believe me, I speak from experience. God my head hurts!”
“We’re in no shape to face an attack from two fronts,” Baxter mumbled, staring at his boots.
“Much less four,” Baxter said. “There are four Orion ships coming at us.”
“Thank you, Count Countula,” Richards mumbled.
“Inspiring retort!” Baxter shot back.
“Orions!” J’hana shouted.
Baxter turned around. “Eh?”
The Explorer shook.
“Incoming!” J’hana called out again, and her hands scrambled at her panel.
Baxter stared at the viewscreen, and the two Orion ships bearing down on it. “Oh, sh**!”
“Did I miss anything?” Dr. Browning said, stepping into Cargo Bay Three, as the fifty or so nonessential crewmembers left on the Explorer milled about the room, muttering amongst themselves.
Peterman cradled Steffie as Chaka’kan stood behind her, surveying the room as if identifying weaknesses in its structure. “Not really. Although we had a nice game of twister. Yeoman Briggs won. And now a few of the guys who were in the contest are all over in the corner, talking about something. Who knows what their problem is.”
“Any news on the Orions?”
Peterman shrugged. “Not a peep yet.”
Browning adjusted her uniform tunic. “It took a lot of time squirming out of that wedding dress. I think it was a few sizes to small.”
“Better to know that now than…well, when you have a real wedding.”
“Yeah,” Browning said, looking around. “So where’s Plato?”
“Oh. Him and Ensign Navies were going to check on the shield…” Peterman thought about that a moment. “Oh. Damn. C’mon and help me override the locks on the storage compartment!”
Browning grimaced. “We haven’t been attacked yet, and already we’re doomed.”
That’s when the ship shook from the first Orion volley.
“Return fire!” Baxter called out.
Admiral Baxter, Ashley Donovan, and Lieutenant Commander Tilleran stepped onto the bridge from opposite ends, converging on Baxter and Richards in their seats.
“Report!” Harlan barked.
“You should have informed us as soon as the Orions approached!” Ashley growled, hurrying up to the auxiliary engineering station.
“They approached just now!”
“They must have been doing something to fool our sensors,” Tilleran said, looking over her console. “They found a way to make us think they were farther away from us than they were.”
“There’s two of them on the viewscreen,” Baxter said. “Where are the other two?”
“Approaching fast from behind,” J’hana said.
“Show them all our flanks. Don’t let them surround us!” Richards said.
“Red Alert. All hands to battle stations!” Baxter called out.
“Richards to Peterman. Once everyone’s accounted for in the bay, shut the door and lock it. We’re reinforcing internal forcefields in that area, so make sure everybody’s in.”
Baxter looked around the bridge as it shook again. “Where the hell is Kimmel?”
“She’s still with Doctor Drake,” Tilleran said. “So she’s safe.”
“Put a security squad in front of that lab,” Baxter said. “And double the shields around it.”
“What about the other two Orion ships?” J’hana asked. “You know, the ones that are coming into firing range like…now?”
“At which one?”
“One of the first two! Destroy one of those ships!”
“Oh, all right. And here I was trying to prolong the battle,” J’hana muttered, and tapped at her controls, sending two blue tri-cobalt devices twinkling out at one of the Orion ships. They hit, and the ship exploded in a brilliant fireworks show.
“YES!” Baxter shouted, clenching his fist. “Now do that again, to the other one!”
“Love to,” J’hana said. “But those were our last two tri-cobalts.”
“I knew we shouldn’t have tried to dig a hole in that planetoid last month,” Baxter mused, as the Explroer rattled again.
“Anyone trying to contact us?” Richards asked.
J’hana shook her head, tapping at controls. Then she slammed her hands on her panel, hissing an Andorian curse. “In fact, communications are completely jammed!”
“They know what they want. We know what they want. No need to negotiate,” Baxter said.
“They could have at least taunted us first!” Richards said defensively.
“I’ll remember to bring that up with them when I’m back in their brig,” Baxter muttered.
“The two other ships are closing from behind,” Lt. Madera said, looking up from the helm. “Weapons range in four minutes.”
“Evasive!” Richards called.
Baxter stepped up to the ops console, putting a hand on Lt. Sefelt’s shoulder. “Lieutenant, I know this is a trying time, but I need you to…” That’s when he realized the ops chief was out cold. He glanced around. “Did anyone notice Howie pass out?”
Madera shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I’ve been busy piloting!”
“He must’ve gotten overstimulated,” Richards said. “Poor guy.”
“I knew we should’ve transferred him to waste extraction for this mission,” Baxter said, pointing to the female ensign at the environmental station. “Ridley, take ops. Make sure Cargo Bay Three is secure and make sure power dispersal to all shield generators is even.”
“The lead Orion ship is coming around for another pass,” J’hana called out. “Hold on!”
Baxter stumbled back as the Explorer shook. “Return fire! All weapons!”
“More incoming!” Tilleran called out, and the ship rattled again, this time sending Baxter lurching back into his chair, as Harlan stumbled against him, grabbing his shoulder.
“We need to leave!” Harlan called. “Now!”
Baxter nodded. “Tell me something I don’t know. Escape course, Madera. Warp Nine!”
The Explorer pivoted, just as it was blindsided by torpedoes from one of the other two approaching Orion ships.
Panels exploded along the back of the bridge, sending sparks and a shower of delinium circuitry flying. Baxter watched the stars in the viewscreen shrink from streaks to dots, and a wave of vertigo pass over him as the Explorer slowed down quicker than inertial dampers could account for.
“Bridge, this is Hartley! Engines just took a big hit!”
Baxter looked at Richards, who turned to Madera. “Best speed, Lieutenant. Try to put all three ships behind us!”
“The lead ship is trying to outflank us!” Madera replied as she leaned hard against her panel, pulling the Explorer into a tight turn.
“Additional power to port engines. Push that turn as hard as you can, Lieutenant!” Baxter called out. “Hartley, how bad is it?”
“I can give you warp six in ten minutes, but I won’t be able to hold it long. That last volley knocked out a slew of relays in the starboard nacelle!”
“The other two ships are bearing down,” J’hana said. “Returning fire with fury, sir!”
“Blast them to hell, J’hana!” Baxter called out, holding on to his chair. He looked up at Harlan, who was gripping the railing around the command chairs next to him. “Dad, you want to sit down?”
Harlan glared at him. “Hell, no, boy.”
Ashley approached from the other side. “We’re getting whipped, Andy. You need to get us out of here.”
Baxter stood to face her, as the ship shook again. “Any bright ideas?”
She looked from Baxter to Harlan. “Put me and your father in command.”
Richards stepped up behind Baxter. “What?”
“Let’s be honest, Andy,” Ashley said. “You’re not cut out for this. You’ve had your share of firefights. You’ve even won them…amazingly. But the Orions are dirty. They’ll bite, they’ll claw. They’ll abuse you for all they’re worth until they get what they want. Your father and I know the Orions. We can stop them.”
Baxter glanced back at his father.
Harlan just nodded at Ashley. “Do it, boy.”
All eyes were on Baxter once again as the deck clanged beneath his feet.
“More heavy fire. Shields down to thirty percent!” Tilleran called out, as a rafter smashed to the floor in front of her.
“No way,” Baxter said, pushing past Ashley to the front of the bridge. “I won’t be second guessed. Not now, not anymore.” He turned around to face Ashley. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Your best chance of survival,” Ashley said.
“If that’s the case, then get up to weapons and help J’hana. But I’m not giving command of this ship to anyone else. Anna’s my responsibility, and so’s every life on this ship. And I’m damned well going to see it through” Baxter turned to face the viewscreen. “Divert power to port shields and focus firepower on the nearest Orion ship. All quantums and phaser banks. Now!”
“Big mistake, leaving our starboard shields vulnerable…” Ashley mumbled, as she walked up to join J’hana, just as the ship jolted again.
Richards walked up behind Baxter, steadying himself on Madera’s chair. “She’s right about one thing, Andy…we can’t hope to win at close-range combat with our shields weakened!”
“We’ll see about that. Madera, head us toward the portside Orion ship. Full impulse! J’hana, when we close to fifty thousand meters, fire a full spread of quantums!”
“They’ll just about blow up in our face!” Ashley said incredulously. “Lieutenant, you’ll do no such thing.”
J’hana glanced at Ashley a moment, cocking her head. “You’re sweating. I like it.”
“Don’t you dare fire those quantums!”
Baxter watched the viewscreen, not J’hana. Richards stood behind him, looking uncomfortable, shifting feet. “Steady, J’hana. Steady…”
The Orion ship veered, trying to get out of the way. Madera veered too.
“NOW!” Baxter cried out.
J’hana slammed the firing controls, and five twinkling blue orbs sped out of their launhers, right at the Orion ship.
“Z-axis ninety plus degrees, Madera!” Baxter called out. “Full impulse!”
The Explorer, just prior to slamming into the Orion ship, veered straight up, just as the quantums made contact, exploding on the vessel’s hull.
Baxter felt the deck fly out from under him as the Orion ship exploded violently, pitching the Explorer backward end-over-end.
For a moment, all was blackness.
Baxter rolled over, to find Richards helping him up, and Ashley mumbling from up on the quarterdeck.
“Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said.
“Damn,” Harlan said softly, having fallen into the command chair.
“Damage!” Baxter called out, not missing a beat.
“Shields are gone. But so is the other Orion ship. Just two more!” Tilleran reported.
“‘Just’?” J’hana mocked.
“Hartley to bridge. Somehow, someway, engines are back up. You can…”
“Madera! Warp six now!” Baxter called out, and Madera hit the control, just as a pair of torpedoes came blazing by the spot the Explorer once occupied.
“Orion vessels in pursuit!”
“Let them eat warp wake,” Baxter said. “At least for the moment, they can’t beam over.”
“Not while we’re at warp,” Richards said. “Unless they’re very clever.”
“Don’t put anything past them,” Baxter said. “At least this gives us time to…”
The Explorer shook hard again. This time, spinning out of warp dizzyingly.
Baxter clutched at ops, as Ensign Ridley tried to maintain power to vital systems.
“Hartley to bridge! Major damage to the port nacelle! Forget about warp drive!”
“Keep on it,” Richards ordered, stepping up next to Baxter. “So much for evasive action.”
“They’ve slowed us down to much,” Baxter said. “Full about, Madera. Time for another pass.”
“Orions approaching from two vectors!” J’hana called out. “Weapons hot! Our weapons meanwhile are distinctly not hot!”
“They’ll blow us to hell,” Harlan called out.
“No they won’t,” Baxter said, staring at the viewscreen. “They know what we have aboard. Who we have. They won’t risk it.”
“What now, Captain?” Ashley asked, leaning on J’hana’s station. “The Orions are coming at us fast, and we have no shields left, and weapons nearly exhausted. The only thing we can possibly do is surrender.”
“The hell you say,” Baxter said. “We’re going to defend this fucking ship.” He pulled out his phaser. “Sound the all-call. All hands, this is the Captain. Prepare to be boarded. I report, prepare to be boarded. If you can find a rock, hide under it!”
Tilleran gaped as she watched the Orion vessels on the viewscreen slow their approach. “Orion vessels coming to.”
Baxter and Richards exchanged a glance. “Tilleran, we need some false signals fast. Show our phaser banks depleted and no more quantums in the launchers.”
“Won’t be far from the truth,” J’hana said. “Phasers down to ten percent; six quantum torpedoes left.”
“That’s all we’ll need,” Baxter said.
“When they drop shields to beam aboard…” Harlan began, standing.
“We blow them out of space,” Baxter replied.
“Like father like son,” Richards said, shaking his head.
“Then whoever’s left,” Ashley said. “We make a fight of it.” She stood looking around the bridge for a few beats. “Am I right?”
“Damn right,” Baxter said.
Noyo Potsran stood and stared at the drifting Explorer on the viewscreen. “Confirm that scan?”
Viilso looked up from his console. “Confirmed. The Explorer’s weapons status is negligible. Engines badly damaged.”
“Did we just get an incredible run of luck, or is this a trap?” Potsran said, rubbing his chin.
“You’re the boss, sir,” Viilso said, then added, in a low breath. “Rmrurmm…trap.”
“What’s that?” Potsran asked, turning.
“Call the transporter rooms. Have our teams in position to beam over immediately. We’ll use the transporters on all three ships. That should overwhelm whatever security forces they have in place.”
Viilso nodded. “I’m putting out the orders now.”
“Helm: Move us into position.” Potsran stepped forward as he watched the other Orion vessel close on the Explorer. “On my command, lower shields and begin transport from both ships.”
Viilso looked reluctant for a moment, then pressed a few controls.
Moments later, Potsran saw the torpedo tubes on the Explorer glow blue. He made a half-turn toward Viilso, but was too late.
Quantum torpedoes pounded into the Salazar, and Potsran’s last thought was that he should probably listen to his subordinates more.
“Intruder Alert!” the computer called out. “Unauthorized personnel are beaming aboard!”
“Fan out, people,” Baxter said, moving down the corridor phaser rifle at the ready, toward the one place he absolutely had to fortify, where he knew the Orions would be focusing their efforts.
“Are you sure you did it?” J’hana asked, glaring back at Tilleran as the group from the bridge, flanked by a number of other security officers, moved toward the Science Lab 2.
“Of course I’m sure,” Tilleran said.
“Because you forgot to do it the last time we were boarded.”
“I didn’t forget to!” Tilleran snapped back. “I just…was in a hurry.”
“Care to share, you two?” Baxter asked, slinging his phaser rifle back over his shoulder.
“Tilleran forgot to lock out the bridge command functions,” J’hana called back through the crowd in the corridor.
Ashley covered her face with a hand. Harlan growled.
“I did not!” Tilleran said. “I locked them just before I left the bridge.”
“You don’t sound certain.”
“Computer!” Tilleran said. “Verify all command functions are locked out.”
“All command functions are locked out,” the computer droned in response.
“See!” Tilleran snapped.
“Okay, glad we got that straightened out,” Richards said, shaking his head.
“Can I talk to you?” J’hana asked, taking Tilleran’s arm.
“Is it to berate me some more?” Tilleran asked as the pair fell behind the group.
“Yes,” J’hana said flatly. “I know you have a lot on your mind.”
“The computer verified it!”
“I’m not talking about that. I mean about us.”
“Oh,” Tilleran said.
“You forget. We’re Imzadi.” J’hana took her hand. “We are linked.”
“Well, to some extent, yes…”
“I know you want to end this.”
Tilleran whipped away, throwing her back against the wall. “No! This is no time to stab me! We’re about to be boarded and…”
J’hana chuckled dryly. “I’m not going to stab you, silly.”
“No,” J’hana said. “But I did just find out a crucial piece of information. You do want to end our relationship.”
“I…well I thought you just said you knew?”
“I had suspicions. But now you’ve confirmed them. Worry not, I will not stand in your way.”
“This is a lot more complicated than you make it out,” Tilleran said. “Let’s wait till this crisis is over, then we’ll sort out everything.”
“We don’t need to do that. You are eager to find someone with whom you can start a family. And, apparently, injecting your DNA into my zhargaz is not enough.”
“It’s…it’s nice of you to offer your zhargaz, J’hana, but…”
“Do not try to soften the blow!” J’hana fairly shouted, causing the group down the corridor to stop and turn toward them. “And stop staring at us!” she yelled back at the other officers. “This is none of your concern!”
“Stop,” J’hana said, holding up a hand. “You’ve done me, and the whole ship, quite a favor. You’ve given me motivation. And I’m a dangerous woman when motivated.”
Tilleran watched J’hana walk off.
“I know,” Tilleran said softly.
“Status?” Baxter asked, quickly ducking into Science Lab Two.
Drake and Kimmel looked up at Baxter, as if caught in deep conversation. Kimmel was, as usual, sitting up on the examination table.
“We’re fine,” Dr. Drake said quickly. “Why?”
“You have been listening to my helpful updates, haven’t you?” Baxter asked, glancing around. “There are over a hundred Orions on this ship, looking for you two, and you don’t think that’s a problem?”
“We have faith in you,” Drake said.
“What about you?” Baxter asked, softening, and glancing at Kimmel. “You okay, Anna?”
Kimmel looked from Drake to Baxter, then nodded, glassy. “Yeah, yeah I’m okay.”
“You seem strange…” Baxter said.
“She’s fine,” Drake snapped. “Now defend this ship.”
“Right,” Baxter said. “Well, I’ll just be out here, shooting people, if you need anything,” Baxter said, and backed out of the room.
“Good riddance,” Drake said, turning to Kimmel as the doors closed. “I find him irksome.”
“He’s nice,” Kimmel said distantly.
“Yes, well, just forget about him for the moment,” Drake said, and patted Kimmel’s face. “While I get to work.” She glanced up at the ceiling. “Producers, Mighty Producers! In all your wisdom, I’ve come to you, a humble servant, calling on your magnificent power!”
“You’re talking funny,” Kimmel said, and leaned back on her examination table, arms behind her head.
“Multiple lifesigns approaching from either side,” Tilleran said, glancing down at her tricorder. “The Jefferies tubes are packed with ‘em.”
“Turning off the turbolifts was a pretty good idea, Chris,” Baxter said, turning to Richards as he turned to one side, dropping to a knee and aiming with his phaser rifle.
Richards turned to the opposite side. “I’ve been known to have them from time to time.”
Madera dropped next to Richards. “Like it or not, guess we’re fighting side by side.”
“Yeah,” Richards said. “If we’d ever gotten married, this would have been awkward.”
Madera sighed. “Everything is awkward with you, Chris.”
“Can we please focus on the fighting!” Richards snapped.
“Here they come,” Tilleran said, bracing herself against the bulkhead as she tucked away her tricorder and grabbed her phaser. She glanced over at J’hana, who was standing in the front of the group. “Psst…J’hana! Don’t you want a weapon?” she called.
“I don’t need one,” J’hana said. “Although, if it’s all the same to you, Captain, I believe I should remove some of my restrictive garments.”
Baxter shuddered. “Whatever you think’s appropriate, Lieutenant!”
J’hana quickly whipped off her outer uniform tunic, and the turtleneck under it. She sunk to a three-point stance and bared her teeth, antennae twitching.
Then the door to the far Jefferies tube hatch, and the first Orions climbed out, big, green, and leather-clad, with very nasty looks on their faces.. “RARHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHZHHHHHHHHHHARRRR!” J’hana roared, and lept at them, a blue blur of fists and teeth.
In a way, Baxter felt sorry for the Orions.
“Anything yet?” Peterman asked, cradling Steffie behind a crate, as the nervous group in Cargo Bay Three milled about.
Browning stepped toward the door. “I’ll ask the security officer on watch.” She punched a few controls, keying the door open.
A massive, purple creature with a gaping mouth of sharp teeth whirled toward her, tentacles waving, slime dripping from its bumpy skin.
Browning smiled. “Hey, Lieutenant Unlathi. Any Orions coming yet?”
They didn’t reply, just slapped a control, causing the doors to swing back shut.
“Guess Unlathi didn’t like me poking my head out,” Browning said, then winced as she heard weapons fire blasting outside. “Although I’d say it’s a good bet the Orions just arrived.”
“In a way, I feel sorry for the Orions,” Peterman said, as the sounds of Unlathi’s angry roar overpowerd the weapons sounds.
“Force them back!” Baxter called out, slamming his phaser rifle into the gut of an oncoming Orion, then shooting another with it.
“Sure we shouldn’t invite them in?” Richards asked wryly, shooting an Orion who was draped on Madera’s back.
“There is a time and place for sarcasm!” Baxter shouted, firing in a wide arc as more Orions advanced on his location.
Ashley looked up from her tricorder. “More Orions are approaching from a hatch about twenty meters from here, in section K. Me, your father, and Ensigns Keefler and Sontag will head them off.”
“You mean you’re working with me rather than against me?” Baxter asked . “I’m touched.”
“Shut up and fight, boy,” Harlan growled, shoving his smouldering cigar in his mouth, hoisting his phaser rifle and charging off down the corridor, slamming two Orions out of his path.
“He’s having fun,” Richards observed.
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Good for him.”
J’hana, meanwhile, had descended into the Jefferies tube, and all anyone could hear coming from the tube was terrified screams.
“Peterman to Baxter!
“Uh-huh!” Baxter said, ducking a leaping Orion and shoulder- checking another particularly big one. Was it him, or were all these guys built like Defiant-class starships?”
“Are you okay?”
Phaser fire from two advancing Orions seared past Baxter’s face. “Do they sound okay?” he panted, firing back.
“Steffie’s worried about you! Be careful!”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Did you want anything? Or was this just a call of support?”
“Call of support,” Peterman said. “Kick their butts, Andy!”
“Love you too, baby, now stop interrupting me while I deal out fistfuls of justice!”
“Stop being corny, Andy! The Orions will see right through that stuff!”
“Thanks. Baxter out!” Baxter tapped his combadge to close the channel, then shrieked as two Orions dropped from the hatch above him, right on top of him.
Before he could squirm out, he felt the two attackers lifted off him, and turned to see J’hana hoisting one in each fist. They looked defiant, at first, then quickly fearful as J’hana slammed them both to the ground and dove on them, biting and scratching.
Baxter backpedaled away, shielding himself with his arm as J’hana made a bloody mess of the two Orions.
“What’s where problem?” Richards asked, kneeling as Baxter crawled toward him.
“You’ve got me, but I’m sure as hell glad she’s on our side,” Baxter said breathlessly, rising and bringing his phaser rifle to bear, blasting an oncoming Orion that had a blade aimed at Richards. “Watch your back, man!”
But Baxter didn’t have much time to gloat, as another Orion set upon him, and it was Richards’s turned to fire, blasting the Orion back.
“Tilleran,” Baxter called out, slogging through a tangle of unconcious Orions and Explorer security officers. “Any idea on how many of these we got left?”
“A lot,” Tilleran said, firing back at several Orions holed up inside the Jefferies hatch as she talked. “According to internal sensors, there are at least forty on this level, and another group of thirty or so closing on the cargo bays.”
“Just what I was afraid of,” Baxter said. “They’re trying to get to the crew.”
“Hostages,” Richards said.
“Not if I can help it,” Baxter said. “Can we divert any security down there?”
“The ones up here have all they can handle, I think,” Tilleran said, then pointed at the carnage going on down the corridor. “But you can always ask J’hana if you’d like.”
Baxter grimaced. “Ewwww…I think she’s too busy ripping out that guy’s spleen.” He cupped his hands to his face. “Careful, J’hana! Mind the carpet!”
“Fwark the carpet!” J’hana shouted, and charged another oncoming group of Orions.
“Sheesh,” Richards said, staring in awe. “We could have taken the day off and just sent J’hana after these guys.”
“And miss out on all this fun?” Baxter replied, turning around as more Orions emptied out of the Jefferies hatch, driving toward him.
Peterman and Browning watched the double doors that led into the cargo bay as they shook.
“What’s going on?” Plato asked, walking up next to them.
“Nothing, Plato,” Peterman said. “Everything is just fine. Why don’t you go back to playing ‘I spy’ with Chaka and Steffie?”
“Because one of them’s a Jem’Hadar, and the other isn’t even two years old yet,” Plato said. He glanced at the vibrating doors. “So are they trying to shoot through the forcefields?”
“That’s silly. Unlathi’s out there,” Browning said. “We’ll be fine.”
“Yes,” Peterman said, her eyes on the door. “Fine.”
“Sounds like they’re modulating their beam wavelengths,” Plato said, eliciting a surprised glance from Browning. He shrugged. “Fourth grade science class.”
“ROARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” came the distinctive voice of Unlathi from outside in the corridor.
“And Unlathi is NOT happy about it!”
“I don’t think any of us are going to be happy about it very soon,” Peterman said.
Richards slid back against the bulkhead. “And that’s….the last of them….”
“On this deck,” Baxter said, glancing around at the fallen Orions and Explorer crew. “Baxter to Sickbay. Holly, take a security team and get up here. Scramble as many medical personnel as you can. You shouldn’t meet any resistance. The rest of the Orion boarders seem to be contained on the lower decks.”
“Understood. Wilcox out.”
“Have you seen my father?” Baxter asked. “Or Ashley Donovan?” He looked around. Everyone shook their heads.
He slapped his combadge. “Baxter to Baxter.”
“Yeah, boy, whaddaya want?”
“I want to know where you are?”
“I’m shot! That’s where I am!”
“Ashley?” Baxter asked urgently.
“He’s fine. It’s just a leg wound.”
“Baxter to Wilcox. Get to my father, first, Holly. He’s on Deck Nine, section J.” He slapped his combadge again to close the channel. “Hold tight, Dad.” Baxter glanced at Tilleran. “Commander, you, Keefler, Sontag, and Belmont stay up here and guard the lab in case any of the Orions double back. I’m taking the others with me down to secure the cargo bay.”
“Any other orders?”
“Don’t let anyone get to Kimmel,” Baxter said. “Those are the only orders that matter.”
“Is it just me or did everyone get quiet out there?” Peterman asked, scratching her head.
Browning walked up to the cargo bay door, leaned against it. “Sounds like something’s being attached to the wall.” She backed up, then turned around and raced back toward Peterman. “And I’m guessing it’s not an ornamental picture frame!”
“Everyone, behind the cargo crates!” Peterman ordered, gesturing the eighty or so crewmembers who occupied Cargo Bay Three to move back.
Plato glanced up from behind one of the containers, huddled with Steffie as Browning and Peterman stood near them. Suddenly, the cargo bay doors exploded inward, and a column of Orions poured in from the corridor outside.
“Chaka! Grab Steffie and Plato and run!” Peterman called out, then looked around. “Chaka?”
Browning glanced about, as the Orions advanced. “W-where’d he go?”
“He freaked out!” Plato said. “He freaked out and left us!”
One of the Orions, the head of this particular group, Peterman guessed, stepped forward, his weapon trained on Peterman and the others. “Let’s not make this any more messy than it has been. We’ve incapacitated your Velvattian and the other security people outside. You all aren’t well armed, and if I’m guessing correctly, you don’t represent the most tactically well-trained of the ship’s population. Stand down, surrender, and this will all soon be over.”
“I…” Peterman began, but was cut off as the space in front of the Orion rippled.
A black shape coalesced, the dark tunic of the Explorer’s resident Jem’Hadar.
“The Dominion!” the Orion gaped, stepping back. “I didn’t know they were here!”
“We’re everywhere!” Chaka hissed, and spin-kicked the surprised Orion. Then he disappeared again, and moments later reappeared, in the midst of the Orion troop formation. One, after another, went flying, upturned, knocked back, knocked out. He bit, slashed, pulled, shot, slammed, and kicked, making mincemeat of the Orion group in minutes.
Finally, he stood in the midst of it all, looking around at the fallen Orions and folding his arms. “Victory IS life,” he said.
Peterman stepped forward. “Chaka…you….”
“He did well,” a voice said from the doors to the bay. “But, unfortunately, all that’s over.”
Chaka whirled, and stood face to face with a fat, well-dressed Orion, who held a slim, curved phaser, aimed right at him. “Noyo Potsran. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Peterman stepped forward, hand reaching for her own phaser.
“Bad idea!” Potsran said, and glanced to the side, where another stocky, but smaller, Orion stood, with yet another phaser aimed right at Peterman and Browning. “Make a move, and Viilso here will cut you down. That’d be such a shame, too.”
“What do you want?” Browning asked.
“Your pasta primavera recipe. I hear it’s quite good,” Potsran said. “Something you excel at moreso than medicine.”
Plato stepped protectively in front of Browning, Steffie behind him, gripping his hand tight. “You shut up about my mother!”
“Feisty fellow. Half-changeling, am I right?” Potsran asked, stepping forward, his weapon still trained on Chaka. “That explains somewhat why you have this sturdy fellow guarding him.”
“I guard them all. And you shall not harm them,” Chaka said, boring his eyes into Potsran’s.
“I don’t want to harm them. I really don’t. But what I do is largely dependent on all of you.”
“And Captain Baxter,” Peterman said confidently. “He’ll have a say in this, I’d imagine.”
“Yes, but he’ll be dead. That’s the price of enlisting Mister Harth’s help, I’m afraid. I imagine Harth is tracking him down as we speak.”
Before Peterman could reply, Potsran continued. “So let’s not leave little Stephanie without both parents, shall we? I understand she has a birthday coming up, and I’d so hate for her to blow out her two candles alone.”
“You want Kimmel,” Peterman said.
“Thank you for getting to the point,” Potsran said. “Delivered to me. Immediately. And then we’ll take what we need from your ship to repair my remaining vessel, since my flagship was destroyed and I just narrowly escaped. You can thank your captain for that.”
“Sorry,” Browning said unenthusiastically.
“We have people guarding Kimmel. They won’t let you in,” Peterman said.
“They will if they know I’ve got the Captain’s wife, the Captain’s daughter…and the woman he kissed last year,” Postran said, turning to Browning. “Was it good for you?”
Browning gritted her teeth. “How do you know so much about us?”
“The Orion Syndicate knows just about everything. Like any good business, we gather all the available information before we make a transaction.”
“Then that’s all this is to you?” Peterman asked. “A transaction?”
“Little more than that. You have something we want. Now we get it, or you die. Simple, eh?”
“Except for the you getting it part, yes,” Peterman said, determined not to show the Orion the slightest sign of weakness.”
“You have four minutes to make a decision, or we start shooting people,” Potsran said. “Then we’ll go up there and get Kimmel the hard way. But I was so hoping to make this easy.”
“Any ideas?” Browning whispered next to Peterman.
“Not a freaking one,” Peterman said softly.
“How is he?” Baxter asked, as Ashley Donovan picked up step next to him.
“Your father?” she asked with a smile. “He’s in great shape. He’ll outlive us all.”
“Good,” Baxter said. “Just wondering. Not as if I was worried.”
“Sure,” Ashley said, glancing back at Richards, Madera, and the squad of five security officers trailing them. “This is all you brought down to defend the cargo bays?”
“No,” Baxter said. “J’hana will meet us there.”
“Oh, then that’s different,” Ashley said, genuinely relieved. “You sure you’re comfortable with who you’ve got guarding Kimmel?”
“We can’t be in two places at once, even when what we’re trying to protect is,” Baxter said. “My people know what they’re doing.”
“Guess everything I’ve heard about you has been blown out of proportion, then,” Ashley said with a chuckle.
“It really hasn’t,” Richards said.
“Shh!” Baxter said, nearing a bend in the corridor. He held up a hand. “I heard something.”
“Probably the cargo bay being broken into and Janice and Kelly being throttled by Orions,” Richards whispered hoarsely.
Baxter drew a finger to his lips. “Shh!”
Just then, a scaly green hand reached around the corner and grabbed Baxter by the throat, hoisting him mid-air.
“Captain!” Harth, in all his largeness, said, licking his glistening teeth. “Fancy seeing you here!”
“Urk!” Baxter called out, as his group raised their weapons.
“Let him go,” Ashley said calmly, taking aim.
“But killing him would be SOOOOOOO much more fun,” Harth said, staring into Baxter’s eyes. “Especially since he’s been such trouble for me. Crippling my ship, getting my status with the Confederacy stripped. Being there, when YOU nearly killed me.”
Richards glared at Ashley.
“He seemed dead at the time!” she snapped.
“Our people are resilient,” Harth said. “It takes more than being run through once with a blade to kill us.”
“Then how about twice!” a voice called from behind Harth. Then his eyes bugged, and he glanced down to see the tip of a bat’leth sticking out of his chest. He dropped Baxter to the deck, and turned, slashing angrily at his attacker.
“J’hana,” Baxter said, leaping back to his feat.
“Another woman to protect you,” Harth growled, advancing on J’hana. “How nice. And an Andorian at that!”
“You Gorn, you’re all talk and bluster,” J’hana said, rearing up, gripping a pair of blades, one mounted at each thigh, and cocking back with them.
“Let’s find out….” the Gorn said, and leapt at J’hana.
He disintegrated before he reached her.
“Let’s not,” Baxter said.
J’hana coughed at the fine, green powder that filled the air, all that was left of Harth. She blinked her eyes as she stared at Baxter, shaking, holding his phaser rifle. “Nice shot, Captain. But did you really have to deprive me of a kill?”
“That particular one, yes,” Baxter said flatly. “Let’s keep moving.”
“Potsran to Beta Team,” the Syndicate Boss said, not taking his eyes of Peterman. “Are you in position, Troyan?”
“We’re moving in sir.”
“Good,” Potsran said.. “Let me know as soon as you’ve secured Kimmel.” He narrowed his eyes at Peterman. “Ready to give in, yet? Order your people guarding Kimmel to stand down, and we can end this like civilized people. Wouldn’t that be better all around?”
“Not if it means that you take Captain Kimmel,” Peterman said.
“Don’t you see that you don’t have a choice?”
Peterman set her jaw, ignoring the feel of Steffie tugging on her hand.
“Stay behind me, sweetie,” Peterman said in a low voice.
Potsran waited a few beats, then sighed. “I can see I’m going to have to make an example of someone. Viilso, take the Doctor.”
Viilso stepped forward, grabbed at Browning’s wrist, and jerked her toward him.
“Don’t you touch my mother!”
And that’s when Plato’s hands snaked out on lengthening arms, so quick Peterman at first didn’t know what was happening.
The right hand grabbed Viilso and tossed him to the deck as if he weighted nothing. His weapon clattered to the deck, about a meter away from him.
The left hand grabbed Potsran’s weapon and twisted it out of his hand, then tossed it to Chaka, who quickly leveled it at him.
Then Plato pulled his arms back to their normal length, but not without first grabbing Browning and pulling her close to him.
She turned, grabbing him in a hug. “Plato!”
The boy shrugged. “It was nothin.’”
“No,” Potsran said, glaring at Chaka. “It really wasn’t.” The few Orions behind him made a move as if to attack, but he waved them back. “Don’t move. Don’t give this Jem’Hadar scum any excuse to blow me away.”
“I may do it anyway,” Chaka said, and glanced over at the other Orions. “If it’s all the same to the rest of you….”
Before they could answer, they were summarily blasted by phaser beams.
Baxter, Richards, J’hana, Madera, and Ashley Donovan ran up, followed by several security officers.
Baxter looked around, quickly taking in the situation. “You guys okay?”
Browning squeezed an uncomfortable looking Plato. “Yeah, we are now,” she said, ruffling his hair. “Thanks to my boy.”
“And to Chaka,” Peterman said, stepping toward Baxter and throwing her arms around him. “All in all, I’d say we did a pretty damn fine job.”
Baxter glanced at Potsran, who was still staring down the barrel of Chaka’s pilfered weapon. “Yeah, guess so.”
Ashley shook her head. “I don’t know how, but you guys just saved this whole operation.”
“We helped some,” Richards said, leaning, exhausted, on a cargo container.
“Yes, you’re all just so proud of yourselves,” Potsran deadpanned. “I suppose you’ll want to gloat now?”
“Yes,” Baxter said. “I do believe we’ll gloat.”
Just then, Potsran’s communicator bleeped.
“Potsran, this is Troyan. We’ve immobilized the Betazoid and the other security officers.”
J’hana’s eyes went wide.
“We’ve got a man working on the door. It’s opening! We’re moving in!”
Baxter pointed at J’hana. “J’hana. Move. Take people with you. Now! Troyan, whoever you are, this is Captain Baxter. I have your boss hostage and I’m going to blow him into next week if you so much as touch Captain Kimmel. You hear me?”
“What’s…” Troyan began, and then there was a loud clatter of smashing equipment, and the channel buzzed, then went dead.
“What the hell’s going on?” Peterman asked Baxter.
“Hell…” a voice said, as Doctor Maura Drake appeared with a flash next to Baxter, encased in a white glow, and smiling. “…is not a word you should use when you’re talking about a god.”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
The Explorer is safe, for about a split second, when someone goes and turns godlike, threatening the entire Universe with a rip in space- time. What does a rip in space-time look like? And what does it mean for the Explorer crew? And is caulking compound involved? Let’s hope so!