Star Traks: The Vexed Generation is based on Alan Decker's Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, who is turning in his grave. Viacom owns Paramount and Paramount owns Star Trek. And maybe, just maybe, there's a little power in every geek out there. Copyright 2003. All rights, and wrongs, are reserved. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, better hit the "Back" button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Anthony Butler
Copyright: 2003

EARLIER. . .


“Shields still fluctuating!”

Lt. Commander Megan Hartley glanced up from the flickering Master Systems Display in Engineering, blowing hair out of her face. “What? We just reestablished them!”

“And they’re falling again,” Ensign Ryan Stuart called out from the upper-level shield junction near the warp core. “I’ve got three people on it now, but it’ll be at least half an hour before we can get the fluctuation under control.”

Hartley clenched her fists. “Well keep on it. Once we put down the Orions that beamed over, we’re going to want to stop that ship out there from blowing us to crap, and we’ll need shields for that.”

“We’ll need weapons too,” Stuart said as he worked.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Hartley said. “One thing at a time.”

“Can I help with anything?” a voice asked, as Hartley felt a pair of hands on her shoulders.

“Oooh…Ensign Stuart?” Hartley asked with a grin.

“No. Your other lover,” Mirk said. “Can I help?”

“I thought I told you to stay in my office.”

“I got bored.”

“What? With the ship shaking to and fro, or with the constant screaming red alert sirens?”

“A little of both,” Mirk said, glancing around at the crewmen that ran left and right, patching one failing mechanism after another. “You know, I did run my own cargo ship a long time ago. I know some basic engineering.”

“We’re way past basic,” Hartley said, tapping at the console as she glanced sidelong at Mirk. “But it’s sweet of you to offer. You really need to be out of the way, though.”

Mirk’s grin faded. “What about the Orions? They anywhere near here?”

“They seem to be confined to the upper decks for now,” Hartley said. “Although the contingent heading toward the cargo bay will pass within a couple decks of here.”

“Do we have forcefields up?” Mirk asked.

“For what good they’ll do. Most of the forcefield power is focused on the cargo bays, where the rest of the crew’s holed up.” Hartley narrowed her eyes at Mirk. “Which is where you should be.”

“And miss you barking orders at your staff?”

“I am quite good at that, aren’t I?”

“Commander! We’ve just sprung a coolant leak!” Stuart called out.

“Again?” Hartley asked. “I’m coming!” And she ran over to the warp core as steam erupted from a blown coolant hose.

Mirk looked around, feeling useless, as Hartley tackled the newest crisis. As Hartley yelled at the other engineers, Mirk glanced down at the internal sensors. The blips that represented the Orion intruders were moving toward the cargo bays, just a couple decks up from engineering.

Then he saw some blips heading across one of the Jefferies junctions.

“Megan…” Mirk called out.

“I’m a little busy, sweetie!” Hartley called out, wedged in a coolant access chamber off the main core.

“I think we’ve got…” Mirk’s eyes went wide as a nearby access door popped open, and four huskily built Orions, green and angry looking, slid out, weapons at the ready.

“Divert to conduit three!” Hartley called out. “Cut off the pressure or you’ll blow the whole system!”

“Megan!” Mirk called out, as the Orions advanced on him. “Orions!”

“Is this all you’ve got protecting your engines?” one of the Orions snarled, stepping close to Mirk. “You’re kidding me.”

“Nope,” Mirk said, shrugging. “I’m it for now.”

“Out of my way,” the thick Orion bellowed, swiping at Mirk. But he never touched him. Somehow, impossibly, Mirk was now standing two meters away, his hands out, eyes burning.

“The bar’s closed, fellas,” Mirk said. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” He waved a hand at the trio of Orions, and they slammed back against the opposite wall.

Hartley ducked out of the access hatch. “Mirk?”

“Keep working, honey,” Mirk said, a little suprised at how easily his powers had come back to him. “I’ll hold these guys off.”

“Wh-what guys?” Stuart asked fearfully, hunched over Hartley’s shoulder.

“Orions,” Hartley growled, and shoved a spanner back inside the access hatch. “Just a few more minutes, Mirk. Help is on the way!”

“I’m good,” Mirk said, stepping toward the Orions, hands held out, keeping the invaders plastered against the wall. “And my friends here aren’t going anywhere.”

Just then, more Orions poured out of the nearby hatch, and ducked behind Mirk, dashing for the warp core.

“No you don’t!” Mirk called out, spinning on a heel and chasing them. He threw himself airborne, and flew over them. As he passed over their heads, hugging the ceiling, he twisted mid-air and pointed at each Orion, as if conducting different sections of an Orchestra.

The surprised Orions toppled into each other, fell backwards, hit the deck.

Mirk soft landed on his feet, and glanced back at Hartley, who was still working on the coolant leak.

“Take your time. I could hold them off for days!”

“Ever think about switching over to ship’s security?” Stuart asked, a little uncomfortable, as the Orions dizzily rose to their feet.

“Not really. I have a feeling you meet a lot of unsavory people that way,” Mirk said, and flicked his palms out at the Orions, sending them flying back against the far wall of engineering, just as more intruders poured out of the far access tube.

“Somebody close that hatch!” Hartley cried out, as Mirk ran toward them, flicking his hands out, batting one Orion after another away, left, then right.

She ducked back into the coolant conduit, just as a hand gripped her neck and jerked her backwards. “I’d worry about the hatch in this room, if I were you, sweetie.”

“Urk!” Hartley croaked as the Orion hoisted her. She glanced to Stuart, who’d been flattened against the ground, unconscious. “What have we here? Assistant Engineer, perhaps?” the Orion bellowed.

“CHIEF!” Hartley spat at the Orion, as Mirk turned around.

“LET HER GO!” he cried out as the Orions he’d been fighting jumped on his back. He threw them off effortlessly and crossed the Engineering section in an instant. “LET HER GO NOW!”

The Orion reached his arm out, dangling Hartley over the opening in the warp core. “I’d love to. But, you see, my grip is really slippery and I just might drop her.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Or, I may twist her at just the wrong angle and, well, you know…humans are so fragile.” The Orion shrugged. “What are you gonna do?”

“Kill you,” Mirk said, clenching up his fists.

“Do that, and your friend dies too.”

“Not my friend,” Mirk said. “My wife.”

“Don’t do a thing he says, Mirk,” Hartley croaked.

“Disable this ship’s power supply. Everything but life support. Drop the internal forcefields,” the Orion said. “Then I let your woman go.”

“I’ve got another idea,” Mirk said, his eyes glowing bright, bright blue. “Let her go now!”

“If you insist!” the Orion laughed, and released Hartley.

She caught on the edge of the railing, then flipped end over end and fell, toward the bottom of the warp core.

Mirk reached a hand out, and she froze mid-air. He turned to the shocked Orion. “You were saying?”

“What are you?” the Orion bellowed. “Man? God?”

“A little of both,” Mirk said, and waved his other hand, slamming the Orion back against a busted power conduit. He shook violently as energy flooded him, cried out, then fell limp.

Mirk levitated Hartley over the warp core railing and set her down in front of him.

“Mirk…” she said, putting a hand on his chest. “Are you okay?”

“I’m just fine,” Mirk said. “Although I think our Orion friend will never play the violin again.”

“You don’t seem….normal,” Hartley said, looking into Mirk’s eyes, which still glowed a bit.

“That’s a relative term, don’t you think?” Mirk asked, as Ensign Stuart crawled to his feet, shaking his head dizzily. The ensign turned to see the horde of Orion invaders outside engineering, screaming to get in, but getting tossed backwards at every attempt, like they were hitting an invisible wall. A quick glance at a systems console told Stuart that internal forcefields were down in this area.

“Now more than ever,” Hartley said, wrapping her arms around Mirk’s neck and kissing him, as he effortlessly held off the Orions.


LATER. . .


“We’ve got a man working on the door. It’s opening! We’re moving in!”

Noyo Potsran’s communicator rang loud and clear in the cargo bay, one of his thugs, by the name of Troyan, had managed to break into the lab that held Captain Kimmel, Doctor Drake–everything the Explorer crew had been trying so hard to protect.

Captain Baxter pointed at his chief of security. “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.”

“Didn’t see that one coming,” Counselor Peterman deadpanned.

“You didn’t?” Browning asked softly, holding Plato close.

“I called it three days ago,” Plato spoke up.

“I was being sarcastic!” Peterman snapped.

“Silence!” Drake called out, holding up a glowing hand.

“What do you want?” Baxter asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Drake asked, stepping toe to toe with Baxter.

“I’m afraid not. We’re not, you know, brilliant people,” Baxter admitted.

“All will be revealed,” Drake said, turning from Baxter, glancing around at the Explorer crew who sat huddled in the bay. “I assure you, all of you are quite safe for the moment.”

“For the moment,” Richards said. “What’s that mean?”

“It was you!” Potsran snapped, leaning up. Chaka’kan quickly shoved him back down onto the cargo pod he was sitting on, shoving a phaser in his back.

“What was me?” Drake asked, her eyes twinkling innocently. “The omnipotent one? The future god? Oh, yes, that was me.”

“But, Captain Kimmel…” Baxter trailed off.

“Kimmel was a puppet. A ruse. A red herring,” Drake said, pacing the cargo bay. “But she did serve one other, very important purpose. She held onto the DNA I needed to complete my transcendence.”

“Into what?” Peterman asked. “A crazy person?”

“Tut-tut,” Drake said, spinning toward Peterman. “Do people in your profession really use that term?”

“We do when the person’s really crazy.”

“I don’t think you’ll see it that way when I’ve explained myself,” Drake said, stepping once again toward Baxter and looking in his eyes. “I think you’ll find my reasons quite logical.”

“If you’re so logical,” Potsran said, “you’ll sit down with me and talk numbers. Don’t give your little gift to the Federation. Make a load of latinum selling it to the Orions. We can make it well worth your while.”

“Are you still here?” Drake asked boredly. “And do you really think a god has use for currency?”

“What’s next?” Baxter asked. “What’s your next trick? Because I think my people and I at least deserve an intermission before the final act.”

“I did tell you all would be revealed,” Drake said, clasping her hands. “But it will be on my time and my terms.”

Suddenly, the Explorer rumbled, shook hard.

“There now!” Drake said, almost giddy, clapping her hands. “That wasn’t such a long wait now, was it?”

“Bridge to Baxter,” came the voice of the lone officer on the bridge, Ensign Jerrica Ridley.

“Go ahead, Ensign,” Baxter said, staring at Drake.

“You’d better get up here, sir. There’s a….something…forming off our starboard bow!”

“On my way,” Baxter said, headed for the door. He glanced at Drake. “If you care to join me?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Drake said, and glided behind Baxter.

“This is just too weird,” Peterman said, walking out with Browning and Plato.

“Chaka, keep an eye on Potsran. Don’t let him out of your sight. I’ll send additional security down here to start putting whatever Orions are still alive into the brig,” Richards ordered as he headed out.

Chaka nodded. “No problem, Commander. I’ve got this well in hand.” He sneered down at Potsran. “A little too well.”


“Still want to take over the ship?” Lt. J’hana demanded, her foot pressed firmly against Troyan’s head as she looked up at Lt. Commander Tilleran. “You sure you’re okay, Ariel?”

“Fine,” Tilleran said, with her tricorder out, scanning Anna Kimmel. “Are you sure you’re okay, Captain?”

“I am,” Kimmel said, looking around, dazed. “What just happened?”

“Other than me kicking shargatz?” J’hana asked, her boot pressed firmly against the Orion invader’s cheek. The rest of Troyan’s infiltration team lay unconscious all over the lab floor, more of J’hana’s handiwork.

“Doctor Drake is more than she appears, for one thing,” Tilleran said. “And, Captain Kimmel, I can safely say you’re less.”

Kimmel cocked her head. “What do you mean?”

“According to these readings,” Tilleran said. “The DNA strings that governed your potential omnipotence are recessive. There’s no chance you could suddenly develop godlike powers.”

“But what about earlier? When I tossed the Outlander across the galaxy, and prevented the Tracker from crashing?”

“Drake,” J’hana growled. “She’s been playing us all along.”

“And it’s a familiar tune,” Tilleran said. “What I don’t understand is why I didn’t see this earlier. A simple scan was all I’d need to…”

“Drake,” J’hana said again. “If she does possess omnipotent capabilities, don’t you think it would be a small feat to mess with your mind?

“Then she was here to…”

“Pick up a little something she left behind in me,” Kimmel muttered angrily, and pushed past Tilleran toward the door to the lab. “We’ve got to find Andy and tell him before it’s too late.”

“Something tells me it already is,” J’hana said, and took her foot off Troyan’s head, then followed Kimmel and Tilleran out of the lab.

“What about me?” Troyan demanded indignantly, leaning up.

“Oh, right,” J’hana said, turning and firing her phaser at Troyan, hitting him square in the chest. “Silly of me to forget.”

“Computer, locate Captain Baxter,” Kimmel said.

“Captain Baxter is on the bridge,” the computer replied.

“Let’s get to a turbolift,” Kimmel said.

Tilleran pointed ahead. “There’s a turbolift down the corridor and to your left.” She turned to J’hana. “We have to talk,” she said in a low voice.”

“It’s not a good time,” J’hana said. “Isn’t that what you said?”

“I want you to know that I didn’t mean for things to happen this way,” Tilleran said softly. “I didn’t want to abruptly end our relationship. I’m just…”

“You want a marriage. A family. Something traditional, no?” J’hana asked, her voice flat.

“Yes, I want that. Eventually.”

“And I’m preventing you from finding that.”

“Look, J’hana, our relationship is a lot of….fun. But what it isn’t is stable. Or adult. Are you really saying you’d like to spend the rest of your life cavorting around with me? Don’t you want more?”

“No,” J’hana said quickly. “But that is your choice, and I respect that.”

“And you’re not going to stab me?” Tilleran asked hopefully as the pair of them, with Anna Kimmel keeping a discreet distance, stepped into the turbolift.

“Not as yet,” J’hana said. “At any rate, that is how Andorians end real relationships. And, by your own admission, this isn’t a real relationship. It’s just…fun.”

“Are your feelings hurt?” Tilleran asked, her brow furrowing.

“You tell me,” J’hana said, then barked. “Bridge!”

Kimmel shifted from foot to foot awkwardly. “So….armageddon, eh?”

“Yeah,” Tilleran said, staring sidelong at J’hana. “Yeah.”


Baxter and the others filed onto the bridge, which was dimly bathed with the lights of red alert klaxons.

Ensign Ridley shoved out of the command chair and headed toward ops, as Madera took over from the crewman at the helm.

“The last remaining Orion ship just took off at warp,” Ridley said, tapping at her console.

“The Orions didn’t want to stay around and chat?” Richards asked, just as Tilleran, J’hana, and Kimmel stepped out of the foreward turbolift.

Tilleran quickly took her station and ran a scan.

“They probably wanted to get away from the big white thing,” she said, and then brought up the starboard sensor image on the viewscreen.

The dim bridge was suddenly filled with a white glow as Baxter stepped toward the screen, Peterman behind him with Steffie on her hip.

It looked like someone had “unzipped” space, leaving a big, white, gaping tear.

“What is it?” Richards asked, stepping up next to Baxter.

“Nothing,” Tilleran said.

“That’s a relief,” Browning said.

“No, I mean nothing…the absence of anything. It’s a big white gaping nothing.”

“That can’t be good,” Baxter said. “Let’s close it up.”

At the back of the bridge, Drake threw her head back and laughed. “It’s not quite that simple, Captain. Besides, why close that up? It’s the entire reason we’re here.”

“What is?”

“The end of the Universe, of course,” Drake said quite calmly. “You follow?”

“No,” Baxter admitted.

“Whatever it is, it’s growing,” Tilleran said. “At a rate of four hundred cubic kilometers per minute.”

“I think I follow,” a voice said from the aft turbolift. Harlan stood there, leaning against the bulkhead, then stepped forward with a limp. “And I don’t f***ing like it.”

“Oh, don’t be that way, Harlan,” Drake said. “You know everything will turn out just fine.”

“And just how is that?” Harlan asked.

“It’s nearly twice the size of the Explorer, and still growing, Captain,” Tilleran called out.

“Because we’ll be together,” Drake said, her eyes big and hopeful. “Then everything will be fine. We’ll recreate the Universe in our image. And it’ll be beautiful!”

“WHAT?” Baxter demanded, turning. “Dad, please tell me you’re not caught up in this.”

“I would have to kill you,” Ashley said ruefully from one of the aft stations.

“I’m NOT caught up in this,” Harlan said to Baxter and Ashley. “But I’ve got suspicions.”

“That I want us to be together?” Drake asked, reaching to touch Harlan’s face. He turned away. “I’ve never hidden that fact.”

“This is pretty f***ed up,” Richards muttered.

“It’s gross,” Baxter said.

“Andy, be sensitive,” Peterman warned.

“I’m not going to be sensitive!” Baxter fairly shouted. “Not when a godlike being is trying to destroy the Universe just so she can mack with my dad!”

“We don’t know that she’s trying to destroy the Universe,” Browning said encouragingly.

“Yeah, I am,” Drake said, still staring at Harlan longingly.

“Stop it,” Harlan growled.

“And the disturbance is getting bigger,” Tilleran said.

“I want options,” Baxter said. “Baxter to Engineering. You see that thing out there?”

“Yes, sir,” Hartley said over the comm. “It’s quite pretty.”

“We need a way to destroy it.”

“Deflector!” Tilleran, along with Hartley’s comm voice, said.

“Well, don’t just sit there, people,” Richards said. “Fire up the deflector!”

“One problem,” Tilleran said. “In order to seal the disturbance, we’ll have to close it from within.”

“THAT doesn’t sound good,” Baxter said.

“We could probably escape in time, as the thing’s closing,” Tilleran said, checking her panel. “No. Hmm, probably not.”

“The thing’s getting bigger!” Hartley warned over the comm.

“Stop doing this, Mother!” Kimmel shouted, stalking toward Drake.

“It’s already done, my dear,” Drake said, stroking a hand through Kimmel’s hair. “Now all that’s left to do is sit and watch. But I do have one parting gift for your afflicted Universe.” She bowed, closed her eyes, and then threw her arms out wide. “Perfection for all those freaks out there!”

Baxter looked on as the gaping hole in space swelled, then spat out dozens of glowing white orbs, which shot in a variety of directions, all streaking away at faster-than-warp speeds.

“And I didn’t get her anything,” Richards muttered.


SECONDPRIZE


Lt. Commander Andrea Carr sat at her desk, thumping a stylus against her chin as she thought of poetry. Writer’s block had stricken her for weeks, and she hadn’t been able to come up with a single catchy rhyme.

Then a white orb crashed in through the ceiling and enveloped her.

“Rhyme!” she said excitedly, ignoring the glow completely as she tapped eagerly at her padd. “Time! Sublime! Crime! Mime! Lime! Dime!”

She quickly scribbled down poem after poem. “Rhyme rhyme rhyme! It’s always a good time to rhyme!”


WAYSTATION


Lt. Commander Sean Russell stepped up to the bar at Victoria’s Pub and looked at the gorgeous blonde woman who sat on the nearby stool. “Good evening, beautiful!”

The blonde turned, stared at Sean with narrowed eyes. “What do YOU want?”

Russell opened his mouth to speak, but was suddenly hit by a glowing white orb.

He blinked for a moment, then his expression softened. “Just to talk. I think I heard you work on the engineering team in the reactor. Didn’t you guys have a rough day down there?”

“There was a small explosion,” the blonde said, a little suspiciously.

“Those can be the worst,” Russell said, and pointed at the empty seat beside the blonde. “May I have a seat? I’d love to hear all about it. You know, just talk.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. My intentions are perfectly honorable,” Russell said, and actually meant it.

“Maybe you’re not so bad after all,” the blonde said, and started talking.


DENERIA DRY-DOCK


Scott Baird could not wait until his wife, Captain Sullvan, returned from her deep space assignment. It bothered him that she wasn’t able to discuss it over subspace. He knew Sullivan could more than take care of herself, so he wasn’t really worried about her. But he would have felt a lot better if he knew what she was up to.

Meanwhile, he was venting steam the only way he knew how: Riding his bike around the drydock’s corridors.

There weren’t many crew aboard the dry dock during this cycle, so it was no problem to take a few spins through the corridors, and it was great exercise. And, try as he might, Baird could never quite duplicate the feel of biking on the holodeck.

Baird pedaled harder as he came up to the always tricky jump: A spot where the corridor ended and overlooked the Deck Nineteen reactor core. He’d had the barricades lowered so he could jump the core and land his bike on the opposite deck, speeding along the connecting stretch of corridor and right into the mess hall.

What Baird didn’t realize was that Ensign Mueller had eaten a banana earlier, while doing some perfunctory maintenance on the reactor core.

And, the careless ensign had left the peal right smack in the middle of the corridor.

Scott didn’t know any of this, though, only that the bike suddenly hit something slippery and popped out from under him, sending him sailing out into the open space above the thrumming reactor core, and leaving the bike crashed in the maintenance deck below.

Before Baird could open his mouth to curse his luck, a white glow slammed into him, and he suddenly executed the most beautiful tuck and roll ever performed by a Starfleet engineer, spinning mid-air, and landing perfectly on his feet on the deck facing the other side of the core.

“Wow,” Baird said. “Who needs a bike with moves like that?”


AEROSTAR-A


Dr. Alexa Lanham rolled over in bed, panting, as Captain Conway, bathed in a white glow, sat back and folded his hands behind his head.

“Damn…” Lanham moaned, still catching her breath. “David, you were….you were incredible.”

“Eh,” Conway said, shrugging.

“What got into you?”

“I don’t know,” Conway admitted. “But I’d love it if you’d comm some of my ex-girlfriends and let them know.”

“Later,” Lanham said, and lept back onto Conway. “I want to take advantage of this glowing thing while it lasts.”

“Maybe someone should investigate…” Conway began, before Lanham smothered him with kisses and dragged the sheets over them.


EXPLORER


Mirk brushed his hands together, stepping back into Engineering. “Megan? All the Orions on this deck are safely locked in a storage…”

“Great,” Hartley said, leaning against the Master Systems Console as Ensign Stuart looked on. “Now could you fix the giant freaking tear in space outside us?”

“There’s a tear in space?” Mirk asked, staring over Hartley’s shoulder.

“Yeah. The destroy-the-Universe sort.”

“Oh,” Mirk said. “Hmm.”

Just then, Ensign Robert Reyes ran by, glowing white, calling out: “I finally remember where I left my special blanket!”

“That’s strange,” Mirk said, watching Reyes run by.

“Perfectly strange,” Hartley said.

“So, the Universe…” Mirk began.


“…will be destroyed in a few hours if we don’t fly in and seal that thing NOW!” Tilleran called out, as stunned bridge crew sat silent at their stations, all eyes on Baxter.

“Kelly: Grab every crewperson you can get your hands on and get to the escape pods, now.”

“We’re not leaving without you,” Peterman said.

“Either way, not a good idea,” Tilleran said. “If we don’t go in there right now, the tear will be too big for us to seal.”

“There you go, Captain,” Ashley Donovan said, leaning against the auxiliary engineering console. “Do you have the brass ones to make the hard choices?”

“I wish you’d stop saying preachy sh** like that to me,” Baxter said, patting the back Madera’s seat. “Madera, take us in. Full impulse.”

“Good thing Howie’s out cold,” Madera muttered, and brought the Explorer around, sending it surging into the white expanse.

“Wish we all were,” Browning said softly.

“Maura, stop this madness before it’s too late,” Harlan rumbled, advancing on Drake.

“Doesn’t work that way, sweetheart,” Drake said. “You’ll understand everything, once the Universe gets wiped out and we’re all that’s left.”

“You’ve flipped!” Kimmel said angrily, stepping up behind Harlan. “All that power’s gone straight to your head.”

“Yes, I’d say it has,” Drake said. “And thank you, Anna, for those last few gene sequences I needed to complete the process. And who said children don’t take care of their elders anymore?”

Peterman reached out and grabbed Baxter’s hand as the Explorer sailed into the white tear, the deck rumbling all around them. “Andy….” she said, hugging Steffie close.

“I know. Just hold on,” Baxter said. “Hold on…”

“Is the deflector ready, Tilleran?” Richards asked, exchanging a worried glance with Browning as Plato gripped her arm.

“Four seconds.”

“C’mon, c’mon…” Baxter said, as the Explorer shook.

“Stabilization gyros taking a hell of a hit!” Hartley called in over the comm. “Shields getting shredded! We’ve got to fire that thing now!”

“Now, Captain!” Tilleran said.

Baxter clenched his fist. “J’hana…FIRE!”

J’hana stabbed a control on her console, the Explorer’s navigational deflector dish surged with power, and all was quite suddenly bathed in white….


Baxter felt dizzy. He shook the cobwebs out, rubbing his eyes, and turned to find Peterman still holding his hand, Steffie still in her grasp.

They stood in a white abyss. No walls, no floor. Just white on every corner.

And a sound.

THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP.

“What’s that?” Baxter asked.

“Heartbeats,” Peterman said. “Three of them.”

“Where are they coming from?”

“Us,” Peterman said.

Then another sound: GRBBBBBBBBBL.

“My stomach,” Baxter said. “The jalapeno bagel at the coffee place.”

“I told you not to eat that,” Peterman muttered.

“They are linear,” a voice suddenly said, and Baxter turned. It was his Richards.

He was back on the bridge. But the bridge was hazy. The lines were blurred, like he was looking through fog.

J’hana stepped out from behind her panel and stepped toward Baxter. “They intrude.”

Peterman turned, and suddenly they were in the cargo bay, where Chaka gripped Noyo Potsran.

“They are combative,” Chaka’kan said.

“They should be destroyed,” Potsran said.

“What’s going on here?” Baxter demanded.

Browning stepped up next to Baxter. “They should not be here,” she said distantly, the voice not sounding at all like hers.

Another dizzying scene change and they were in an Explorer corridor. Captain Harth, Baxter’s Gorn adversary, had Baxter by the neck.

“This one is chubby.”

“It’s been a rough year!” Baxter protested. “I’ve been eating a lot of comfort food!”

And they were back on the bridge, surrounded by the senior staff.

“They must go,” Tilleran said.

“This seems familiar,” Peterman said.

“You are you, aren’t you,” Baxter said, looking suspiciously at Peterman. “And not one of these body-snatcher types?”

“Yes, I’m me!” Peterman replied indignantly. “Are you you?”

“YES!” Baxter snapped, then they both looked at Steffie.

“What are they waiting for?” J’hana asked Tilleran.

Baxter looked up. “Waiting for Steffie to say something weird like the rest of you.”

“They are confusing,” Ashley Donovan said. “They must go.”

“Wait!” Baxter said. “At least give us a chance to talk!”

“Talking is linear. Discussion. Yes, we’ve heard of this.”

“What a relief,” Baxter muttered.

“The Sisko has told us of this…discussion,” Lt. Madera said, turning in her seat at helm.

“Wait!” Peterman said. “The Sisko! That’s it! We’re with the…whatchacllit…the Prophets!”

“We are of Bajor,” Richards affirmed.

“Oh, the Prophets!” Baxter said. “Well, then. That settles that.”

“Yeah,” Peterman said.

“BUT WHY!!?!?” Baxter demanded.


Harlan, Kimmel, and Ashley Donovan looked around the massive white expanse.

“This is just great,” Kimmel said. “My mom goes nuts, gets all mega-powerful, then blows up the Universe, and I have to spend eternity with you two.”

“It’s not my first choice,” Ashley said. “Although, at this point, Admiral Baxter, I’d say we start populating a new race.”

Kimmel glared at her, then back at Harlan. “What is it with you? Why are women so attracted to you?”

“Imma man’s man,” Harlan rumbled, looking around. “Now where the hell are we?”

“Maybe the person in the couch knows…” Ashley said, stepping toward the patterened couch, in front of an old, box-style TV.

“Oh, so it’s one of those things,” Kimmel muttered. “One of those ‘the Universe gets all whacked out and weird’ things.”

“It’s all your fault, you know,” Ashley said, glaring over her shoulder at Harlan.

“How was I supposed to know Drake’s feelings for me would drive her to destroy the Universe?” Harlan snapped.

“It just figures,” Ashley said.

“You have questions,” a voice said, and a bald, dark-skinned man wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses stood up from the couch. “You have come to the right place.”

“Who are you?”

“That is unimportant.” The man took off his sunglasses. “The only thing you should ask yourself is, are you ready for the truth?”

“The truth of what?” Kimmel asked indignantly.

“The truth of the Matrix.”

“For the love of…” Ashley moaned. “We’re stuck in a bad movie.”


“Hmmm,” Richards said thoughtfully, as Browning and Plato looked on.

“Is that all you’ve got to say?” Browning demanded. “Hmmm?”

“I’m trying to form a plan,” Richards said, and glanced around. They stood on a white, endless plain.

“Well, if you’ve noticed, whether or not you have a plan, there’s not exactly a lot you can do in a big room of white nothing,” Browning said. “This is as close to hopeless as you can get. Without actually being hopeless.”

“I think it’s hopeless,” Plato offered helpfully.

“We didn’t ask, sweetie,” Browning said, and looked at Richards. “So…do you have a plan?”

“I thought you said it didn’t matter whether or not I had a plan,” Richards said defensively.

“I’m grasping at straws here, Christopher.”

“Well, it just so happens I…” Richards said, then his shoulders fell. “Don’t.”

Browning threw up her hands. “Great!”

“Hi there,” a voice said, and Richards turned.

“Hello,” Richards said, studying the newcomer up and down. He appeared to be a human male, in his thirties, dressed in twenty-first century attire: Khaki pants and a plaid, button-down shirt. “Are you stuck here too?”

“I need a car,” the man announced, though it was a half question.

“I’d love to help you,” Richards said. “But we’re in enough trouble as it….”

Suddenly a great wind whipped by them, and a fleet of cars raced by, nearly clipping Plato, who leaned in as thousands of cars passed at dizzying speeds.

“A red one!” the man announced, and the cars whizzed upward, vertical, as if the guy was flipping through a virtual card catalog. “A convertible! And I want it to be certified pre-owned!”

More cars whizzed by. This time it was Richards who was almost run over by the sacds of flying cars.

“STOP DOING THAT!” Browning said, slapping the man hard across the face.

“Ow. I need a lawyer!” The man said.

Browning covered her eyes. “Oh, no.”


“Hello?” Tilleran asked tentatively, stepping across the broad plateau of white nothing.

“Save your voice,” J’hana said. “We are dead. We’ve gone to that place my people have a word for, but cannot pronounce.”

“Eden?” Tilleran asked over her shoulder. “Or the other place?”

“Wherever it is, it’s boring,” Lt. Madera said.

“Would you prefer non-boring hellfire and brimstone?” Tilleran asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Good point,” Madera said.

“Hello there,” a soft voice said. Tilleran whirled to find a middle- aged man with black, curly hair, wearing a Starfleet uniform and captain’s pips, standing behind an older, bald man, also in a Starfleet uniform with captain’s pips. The bald man was sitting in a chair, his head leaned forward, apparently asleep. The man who’d spoken was gently massaging the other man’s shoulders. “Please, keep your voices down. Jean-Luc’s sleeping.”

“Jean-Luc?” Tilleran asked, stepping toward him. “Do you mean Picard?”

The other man nodded. “Yes. Isn’t he beautiful when he sleeps?”

J’hana shrugged. “He’s okay. Not my type.”

“Who asked you?” the dark-haired man hissed. “Besides, I’m just having fun with him.”

“Who are you?” Madera demaned.

The bald man stirred. “Hmmm…?”

“Shhh….Jean-Luc,” the dark-haired man said in a surprisingly female-sounding voice. “Keep your eyes closed. Sleep sweetly, my lover. Just think of bon-bons and petit fors.”

“Sing to me, Beverly…” Jean-Luc droned.

“Of course, Jean-Luc,” the man said, stifling a giggle. “Frere- Jaques, Frere-Jaques! Dormez vous? Dormez vous?”

“What the hell is this?” J’hana asked.

Jean-Luc’s head snapped to attention, his eyes wide open. He turned, shocked. “Q!” he shouted.

“Oh, now look what you’ve done,” Q said, clicking his tongue. “You’ve gone and spoiled my fun.” He snapped his fingers, and the irritated Picard, and his chair, disappeared.

“Tell us what’s going on here,” Tilleran said.

“You silly people, don’t you recognize armageddon when you see it?” Q threw back his head and laughed. “I’ve got to give it to you, brave folk of the Explorer! You’ve done what I’ve never managed to do. Obliterated humanity!”

“Zharnt,” J’hana muttered.


“He asks a question,” the person who wasn’t really Noyo Potsran said.

“He is interrogative,” Browning said, pacing behind Baxter.

“Damned right I’m interrogative,” Baxter said. “Why am I with you…prophet people?”

“He is too linear,” Chaka said. “He will not understand.”

“Try me,” Baxter said.

“He is demanding,” Richards said.

“This is getting really irritating,” Peterman muttered, cradling Steffie. “Just be nice to them, Andy. You’ll get more flies with honey, you know.”

“These are wormhole aliens,” Baxter mumbled. “They don’t know about flies or honey.”

Suddenly they were back on the bridge. “Tell us more about these flies and honey,” J’hana said from her station.

Baxter smacked his forehead. “Now look what you’ve done!”


“The machines destroyed our world. Enslaved us…” the bald man in the trenchcoat continued, as Ashley leaned forward, thunking her forehead with her fist.

“Make him stop,” she moaned.

“I think it’s kind of interesting,” Kimmel said.

Harlan paced behind the couch. “It’s useless. We’re wasting time.”

“Humanity wasted its time,” trenchoat man said. “Which is why the machines took over.”

“Oh, who cares!” Harlan muttered.


“I was just trying to find a car, and these people attacked me!” the guy who Browning had slapped said, as one of the thousand lawyers who’d rushed to the scene took down notes.

“This is ridiculous,” Browning said.

“Yeah,” Richards said.

“You’ll get your turn to be deposed,” the lawyer said calmly as he scribbled notes.

“Do I have a good chance of winning?” the guy who’d been slapped asked.

“Excellent,” the lawyer said, shaking his briefcase for emphasis. “You just leave that all up to us.”

Richards gritted his teeth, angrily, then finally called out: “I need a baseball bat!”


“The Universe is made of many intersecting plains,” Q said, pacing the white void. “Only one of them is the one in which you and your quaint little ship exist. The others are much as you see here….playing fields for omnipotent beings of all sorts. And now you’re loose on these intersecting plains, as even now the Universe collapses in on itself.”

“Can’t you stop it?” Tilleran asked.

“Why would I wish to?” Q asked. “I never liked this Universe anyway. It’s…dirty.”

“Yes,” J’hana said. “But aren’t there people in this Universe you’ve grown attached to?” She glared at Tilleran. “Not that I would know anything about growing attached to someone.”

Tilleran rolled her eyes. “Please! Not now, J’hana!”

Q shrugged. “There are other Universes. Other people to bother. Don’t worry. It’s almost over. Then you can all go on to oblivion and I can return to the book I was writing.”

“You’re writing a book?” Tilleran asked.

“Well, I’ve got to do something with my time, don’t I?”


“It’s going well!” Maura Drake said, clapping her hands as she stood in the palm of a massive hand.

“Yes,” the palm said from beneath her. “Once the last two people on the Explorer leave and join their colleagues in the abyss.”

“When will that be?” Drake demanded.

“All things must end of their own volition,” the hand said. “We must let this latest thread resolve itself of its own volition.”

“That doesn’t sound like an all-powerful being to me,” Drake pouted.

“Neither of us are all-powerful yet. The Directors may have been driven off, but we still have the Critics to contend with.”

“Bah,” Drake said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “The Critics are no threat. Without a being in this Universe to represent their interests, they’re useless. Much like you were before I came along.”

“As you’ve so often pointed out,” the hand muttered. “Do you have to keep standing on me?”

“I’ve told you it’s comfortable. And it’s not like it bothers you, right?”

“I guess,” the hand said.

“Anyway…like I said, the Critics are a thing of the past. And once the Explorer crew is eliminated, we can finish wiping out the Universe and me and my Harlan can be together once and for all.”

“Just remember that the new Universe we create will be a joint effort. I’m just the Producer. I just put up the capital. You’ll have to run the thing.”

Drake grinned big. “My pleasure…”

“Still, I’d feel better if Mirk wasn’t one of the last two people on the Explorer.”

“Why? Do you fear him?”

“I do. And so should you.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s the only one with any chance of stopping us.”


“Well, this is going to be bad for business,” Mirk said, walking the empty corridors of the Explorer, as the deck thundered around them, red lights streaking the hallways.

“It’s going to be bad for a lot more than business,” Hartley said, checking her security tricorder. “According to this, everyone’s gone.”

“Why are we still here then?” he asked.

“It’s got to have something to do with you, Mirk,” Hartley said. “What other reason could there be? Something came along and wiped everyone off this ship, but you once again proved you’re the exception to every rule. You kept us here.”

“Maybe. But if I did, I’ll be darned if I know how.”

“We need to get to the bridge,” Hartley said.

“If you really think that’ll help,” Mirk said.

“Got any other ideas?”

“Not really.”

The pair stepped into the nearest turbolift, and Hartley called for the bridge.

“So,” Mirk said as the lift thrummed. “Good day?”

“Not especially,” Hartley admitted.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

The turbolift reached the bridge, then opened. Mirk and Hartley raced out to find the bridge unsurprisingly empty.

Hartley ran up to the tactical display, as Mirk stared out at the white expanse on the viewscreen. Not a star, or anything else for that matter, to be found.

“Looks like we didn’t get the beam off in time. That big blob of…nothing….enveloped us. And, somehow, took our crew with it.”

“Is there a way to get them back?” Mirk asked.

Hartley glanced up from the console. “Funny, I was about to ask you the same thing.”


“So…” Captain Baxter began, pacing the cargo bay, looking around at all the Explorer crewpeople who were actually just representations created by the wormhole aliens. “Any of you guys know if that Sisko guy is around? Can we talk to him?”

“The Sisko is of Bajor,” Chaka said.

“We are of Bajor,” Potsran said.

“This is getting us nowhere,” Peterman whispered to Baxter.

“No kidding,” Baxter said, then gestured at the cargo bay full of people. “And these wormhole guys aren’t much help.”

“We are not linear,” Browning said.

“Yeah, you mentioned that,” Baxter said. “Sheesh. These guys are like broken records.”

“Maybe you should just be nice to them,” Peterman suggested.

“Oh, don’t get into the whole honey thing again. It took me forever just to explain to them what a bee is.”

“I mean really TALK to them, Andy,” Peterman said, glancing around at the crew in the cargo bay, who suddenly dissolved to become the bridge crew on the bridge. “Ask them about themselves. Show genuine interest.”

“Why?” Baxter asked, scratching his head.

“Because then, just maybe, they’ll help us out of this mess.”

Baxter shrugged. “Worth a shot.” He turned to “Richards.” “So, guy, what’s your story?”

“He is inquisitive about our nature,” Richards replied.

“He wants to save the game,” Browning said, crossing the bridge.

“No, just the Universe,” Baxter muttered.

“Pssst,” Peterman whispered. “I think the Universe IS the game.”

“Oh. Yes! Then yes! I want to save the game!”

“The game cannot be saved.”

Baxter ran a hand over his face. “This is really starting to piss me off.”


“Shut up about your goddamned machines,” Harlan said, wandering around the ratty couch in the white void. “We really don’t care.”

The man in the sunglasses cocked his head. “You don’t wish to understand the nature of the Matrix?”

“Not especially,” Harlan said, plugging a cigar into his mouth and chewing on it.

“Dude,” a voice said, and Harlan turned. “That is soooo wrong.”

“And who the hell are you?” he asked the tall, skinny guy, who also wore a trench coat.

“Neo, dude. I’m, like, you know, the ‘One.’”

“Can you get us out of here?” Kimmel asked hopefully.

“Rock on! No, I can’t!” Neo replied, pantomining a guitar riff. “But isn’t my trench coat cool?”

Sitting on the couch, her legs drawn up, Ashley sighed and put her head on her knees. “I should have been a baker like my mom wanted.”


“He’s awfully sorry, Doug,” Dr. Browning said, taking a look at the big lump on the plaid shirt guy’s forehead. She’d found out his name shortly after Richards knocked him silly with a baseball bat.

“You can sue for that,” the lawyer whispered, leaning over.

“I want the lawyers to go away!” Richards snapped, throwing down his baseball bat.

And the lawyers disappeared, as if vacuumed up by some unseen vacuum.

“Hey, where’d they go?” Doug muttered, leaning up.

“They went bye-bye,” Richards said. “Now how the hell do we get out of here?”

“I dunno,” Doug said, rubbing his head. “All I know is that I need a car.”

“Oh no,” Plato said, pushing Browning out of the way as a line of cars came whizzing by.

Browning grabbed Plato’s arm, steadying herself, as Richards glanced around.

“You know,” Richards said. “Maybe this guy’s on to something…”

“I am?” Doug asked, genuinely surprised.


“You know what’s really fun?” Q whispered, leaning in close to J’hana.

The Andorian huffed, folding her arms. “I don’t much care.”

“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. Take a species near warp capability and…tee hee…move them to a planet that’s pre-stone age! Then take those pre-stone age people and put them on a planet that’s warp capable. Do you have any idea how much that screws things up?”

“I’m sure it’s fascinating,” Tilleran muttered. “Still, that doesn’t get us any closer to getting out of here.”

“Oh, you people are such two-dimensional thinkers!” Q shot back. “Don’t you realize that you’re the ones with the power? Ironic, isn’t it, that weak, breakable, mortal humans hold the whole Universe in the balance? And you’re not even the competent ones. Why, I imagine Jean- Luc and his crew would be out of this mess by now.”

“Well, Jean-Luc isn’t here,” Madera mumbled.

“Pity that,” Q said. “Yes, I will miss him and the Enterprise.”

“Well do something!” Tilleran said, exasperated.

Q folded his arms. “Not when you ask that way.”

“How about this way!” J’hana growled, leaping on Q and throttling him.

“Yes, try to kill the god, J’hana. That’s the way,” Tilleran muttered.


Mirk paced the bridge. “There’s got to be a way out of this.”

“Yes,” Hartley said, leaning on the tactical console. “Think of one. Quickly.”

“Why me?” Mirk asked, stopping and turning to face Hartley. “I mean, all I wanted was to be a bartender. You know, a nice, calm life of serving drinks and giving the occasional nugget of advice. Yeah, maybe I’ll get in an adventure here and there, but I never wanted to have all this responsibility.”

“Tough,” Hartley said. “You have it. Everybody else is gone and you and I are the only ones left on the ship. I’ve got to believe there’s a reason for that, and that reason has got to have something to do with your powers.”

“You think?” a voice asked from the middle of the bridge.

Mirk and Hartley turned at the same time toward the source of the voice.

A pair of big, red, smiling lips sat at the center of the bridge, pulled back into a sneer. <Mirk, how nice to see you again. How’s the wife?>

“She’s fine,” Hartley snapped, stepping up behind Mirk. “What the hell do you want?”

<Don’t be so snippy,> the lips said, floating over to Mirk and Hartley. <I want what the two of you want. For the Universe to continue on as it should.>

“Then fix it,” Mirk ordered.

<Haha. So humerous, Mirk. Don’t you think we would if we could?> The Critic sighed. <Unfortunately for all of us, the balance in the Universe is out of whack. And part of that has to do with your missing friends.>

“Friends?” Hartley asked.

“You mean the Directors?” Mirk asked.

<Yes. You’d think they’d be around to help us put down an uprising like this.>

“Who’s uprising?”

The lips pursed, annoyed. <You’d know if you’d been following the plot at all. The Producers, of course. Bigshots. Thinking they can run the show. But they’re all talk.>

“Leximas told me about the Producers. She said they were here to bring balance…”

The lips laughed. <That’s rich, Mirk. The Producers LIED to Leximas, you silly boy. They’re the threat real threat here, not us.>

“And it’s up to the Directors to stop them,” Mirk said.

<Not the Directors anymore. They fled Hollywood, my boy,> the Critic said, and smiled broad. <It all falls to you.>

“Me,” Mirk said. “But I’m just a….”

<Just a what? Future bigtime godlike person? Better believe it.>

“He is when he’s damned good and ready,” Hartley said defensively, standing in front of Mirk.”

<He should be damned good ready right damned now if he wants to save the Universe,> the lips said. <Oh, honey, are you really so selfish? Would you sacrifice life as we know it just to keep your little hubby?>

“That’s not what I said!” Hartley snapped. “That’s not even the case.” She turned to Mirk. “Is it, Mirk?”

The lips turned to Mirk. <Is it, Mirk?>

The Maloxian gulped. “I…don’t know.”


“Oh really? And then what happened?” Baxter asked, sipping coffee (although he had to wonder if it was really coffee, since he got it from the faux-replicator on the faux-bridge, which were all just constructs of the wormhole aliens).

“We brought the Sisko to learn with us. To become one with us, so that he could face new trials, and take the game to the next level,” Browning droned on.

“Really? Next level?” Peterman asked, bouncing Steffie on her knee. “That sounds fascinating. Tell us more!”

“Are you sure you want to know? This bores most humanoids,” Richards said.

“Please, go on!” Baxter encouraged. “We want to know everything. And, if you think to get around to it, we might like to know how to save the Universe.”

“That reminds us of an interesting story,” Richards said, looking to Browning.

“For the love of Pete,” Baxter muttered, walking over to the replicator. “I’m going to need a stiff drink if we’re going to continue down memory lane.”

“Drink?” asked Browning.

“Yeah. Liquor. Me, I’m a fan of rum ‘n grapefruit, but really you can pick your poison.”

“Humans ingest poison?” Richards asked.

Baxter grinned. “Now there’s a lesson I can teach you guys. Let’s fire up the replicator and do some shots!”

Peterman sighed. “You’re setting a wonderful example for your daughter, Andy.”

“Shhh! I’m gonna get the Prophets drunk!” Baxter giggled, running over to the replicator.

“Cover your face, sweetie. Your father’s about to make a fool of himself. Again,” Peterman muttered.


Ashley stirred awake on the couch. “Are they still kung fu fighting?”

“Fast as lightening,” Kimmel said, leaning on the arm of the couch as Harlan paced nearby.

“Damned humiliating way to end a fine career,” Harlan muttered as the two trenchcoated persons faced off, dodging and weaving, kicking and punching at each other in a heated sparring match.

“Don’t you have any real weapons?” Ashley asked tiredly.

“Weapons?” Neo asked excitedly. “She wants to see the weapons!”

“Let’s show them weapons!” the man in the trenchcoat said.

And then the weapons came.


“I want a starship…” Richards said.

“DUCK!” Plato cried, pushing Browning and Richards down as a fleet of Starships…Federation, Gorn, Ferengi, Klingon, Romulan…soared overhead.

“A Federation one!” Browning called out.

“Really advanced!” Richards said. “With multi-spatial drive!”

The ships flew by one by one, until just one ship, huge, ovoid and gleaming, hovered above the group.

“What in the world is that?”

“Whatever it is, it hasn’t been built yet. But around here, I guess you can get anything you want.”

“I need a thousand naked Orion slave girls!” Plato cried out excitedly, just as Browning popped him upside the back of his head.

A thousand sexy, moaning shadows loomed up on the white horizon.

“And I want the slave girls to go away!” Browning called in reply, and the shadows receded into nothingness.

“Sheesh,” Plato muttered. “Man, I never get to have any fun.”

Richards glanced up at the ship. “I want us all to be beamed aboard the ship.”

And, per his request, Richards and company were beamed up to the advanced, oblong vessel.

Moments later, Doug beamed back down, looking confused.

“Can I still get my car?” he asked meekly.


“Wait!” Q gasped, as J’hana pummel him. “Stop!”

“Why should I?” J’hana asked.

“Because I’m omnipotent. And it’s improper to assault a god.”

“Then stop me!”

“I don’t feel like it,” Q said.

“Why not?” Tilleran asked, looming over him.

“Because you guys are the first Starfleet officers to pay attention to me in years.”

“Awww,” Madera said, half-mocking. “Then help us!”

Q sighed. “Oh. All right. I can get you back to your ship. Then after that you’re on your own….”


<Time’s up!> the lips said, worriedly backing away from Mirk. <It’s now or never!>

<How about never?> a giant hand said, appearing between the lips and Mirk. It swatted the pair of lips away.

The lips sneered. <Producers. I knew you’d show.>

<Of course we’re showing. It’s OUR show!>

<Not for long,> the lips said. <You counted Mirk out way too soon.>

<That’s where you’re wrong. Mirk’s canceled. He’s not going to be renewed for another season.>

“Hey, don’t I get a say in this?” Mirk asked.

“No!” Maura Drake called out, grabbing Mirk from behind and shoving him up against the wall, her eyes pure fire. “Nobody gets a say in this! The Universe ends and me and Harlan live happily ever after!”

“You’re beyond screwed, lady,” Hartley said, shaking her head. “How could one person get so completely unhinged?”

“POWER!” Drake seethed, whirling and dropping Mirk. “Gobs and gobs of power! All mine! Mine and Harlan’s!”

“Isn’t he already married?” Mirk said. “To that Lucille person?”

“That was just a fling,” Drake snapped.

“Yeah, but they were married like forty years or so,” Hartley said. “Long fling.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Drake cried. “That’s all over now!”

“But we’re still here,” Mirk said, stepping toward Drake.

“Not for long,” Drake said, shoving up her shirtsleeves.

“That’s what you think,” Mirk shot back.

“That’s double what I think!” Drake shot back.

“That doesn’t even make sense!” Hartley interjected.

“SHUT UP!” Drake snapped, turning.

“Don’t you tell my wife to shut up!” Mirk shouted, kicking Drake’s legs out from under her and dropping her to the ground. He landed on her and put his hands at her throat. “Now then, I don’t like to hit women, but when a woman tries to end the Universe, all bets are off!”

“You’re too late!” Drake cackled. “The Universe is mine! Harlan’s all mine!”

“He must have been one good looking guy in his day,” Mirk said.

“He’s still good looking now,” Hartley said, half to herself.

“You can say that again,” Drake said.

“You’re not helping, Megan!” Mirk said as he strangled Drake.

<There they go,> the lips said to the hand. <Aren’t you proud of ‘em?>

<What are you talking about?> the hand said. <I just want my side to win.>

The lips sighed. <That’s the difference between you Producers, and the Critics and the Directors. You’ve got no sense of showmanship.>

<And yet, surprisingly, we’re winning.>

<Not yet!> the lips said.

Then, suddenly, on that stark white viewscreen, another ship, oblong and gleaming, appeared as if from nowhere.

Minutes later, a confused-looking Browning, Plato, and Richards beamed onto the bridge, just as the oblong ship vanished.

“That was weird,” Richards said, looking around. “I don’t even know how to work a multi-spatial drive.”

“And yet, somehow, we made it back,” Browning said.

<No!> the hand shouted. <What’s happening?>

The sounds of machinegun shot echoed around the bridge. Bullets seared space, curving upward in an arc that formed a perfect rectangular doorway, then pinging and ricocheting all over the bridge. The doorway in the middle of the bridge burst open, revealing white behind it, and Harlan, Ashley, and Kimmel stepped through, brandishing heavy, albeit retro, weaponry.

“Thanks, Dude!” Kimmel said, waving back into the white space, as the door vanished, along with everyone’s machineguns. “Man, he was nice.”

Before anyone could comment, Q, J’hana, Tilleran, and Madera appeared with a flash in the middle of the bridge.

“I was never here, okay?” Q asked, looking around.

<Q!> the lips said, moving over toward the omnipotent being. <Hey, how have you been?>

Q shrugged. “The same.”

<Unbelievable. What a coincidence we should meet up here.>

Q nodded. “I know.”

The lips looked around aimlessly. <So, torturing mankind?>

“Whenever I get the chance,” Q said with a soft chuckle.

<Yeah,> the lips said. <I know what you mean.>

<BE GONE!> The hand shouted.

“What’s his problem?” Q asked.

<Oh, you know, power trip or something,> the lips said. <Trying to destroy the Universe.>

“Yeah, I heard about that,” Q said. “Well, good luck. I’ve got a…thing.”

<Understood, buddy,> the lips said. <We’ll have lunch sometime next eon.>

“Sounds good!” Q said, and promptly vanished.

<Do something, Drake!> the hand said, as Mirk strangled the literally mad scientist.

Drake kicked and screamed as Mirk gripped her throat tighter. “I’m TRYING!”

<It’s all coming apart!> the hand shouted.

“Excuse us,” A broadly built dark man with a goatee said, wading into the crowd, dragging Captain Baxter along by the arm. A sheepish Peterman lagged behind, carrying Stephanie. “Do you people know this man?”

“What did you do, boy?” Harlan demanded, stepping toward Baxter. “Did you piss off Sisko?”

Sisko shook his head. “He got the prophets drunk. Then he threw up in the wormhole.”

Baxter shrugged. “I SAID I was sorry.”

“Keep him out of the wormhole, please,” Sisko said to Harlan. “I’ve got enough on my hands trying to explain to the prophets what a hangover is.”

“Dammit, boy,” Harlan growled.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Sisko said, glancing around the bridge with vague disdain. He turned on a heel and walked away.

Mirk and Drake, meanwhile, glowed alternating white and blue, as power surged between them.

Baxter looked on, rubbing his arm where Sisko had squeezed a little too hard. “So? What’s up? Power struggle between deities?”

“Yeah,” Richards nodded.

“We winning?”

“Hard to say,” Browning said.

“GET HER MIRK!” Hartley cheered, stomping her foot. “Show her who’s boss!”

“I’m not sure who to root for,” Kimmel said softly. “She is sort of my mom and all.”

“She manipulated you, and us, and tried to destroy the Universe,” Ashley said.

“Okay, good points,” Kimmel said. “GET HER MIRK!”

Mirk and Drake levitated off the deck, glowing alternating blue and white, the glow modulating faster and faster as they twisted and writhed. Faster, faster….

Then they disappeared.

“Huh,” Baxter said. “Now what?”

Browning looked around. “Did anyone else see a big hand and a pair of lips hanging around?”

“Were you drinking too?” Tilleran asked as she walked back to her station.

“Where the hell did they go?” Hartley demanded.


White abyss.

Figures, Mirk thought, as he stared across the gaping void at Maura Drake, who hovered there, shaking with anger.

<You did it, Mirk,> the lips said encouragingly. <You just need to finish her off.>

“What’s that mean?”

<Accept your godhood. Graduate! You’ve earned it, kiddo!>

Mirk turned. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

<Because we know that you’re the one to bring balance back to the Universe. Good, evil all that rot!>

Mirk nodded in the direction of Drake, and the hand that gently petted her, in a vain attempt to be reassuring. “So that…thing…is some kind of anomaly?”

<Exactly. Good and Evil,> the lips said. <That’s the way of things. C’mon, have you ever head of ‘Good, Evil, and that other thing’? No, because there is no other thing. The Producers’ existence is and always has been a threat to the nature of all things. If the Producers are allowed to rise to power, it will throw off everything. It will ruin everything. That sparring we are so fond of doing with your friends the Directors…it’ll all be over. We don’t want that. And neither do you. So just do it. Be a god, Mirk. Have fun with your wrath!>

Mirk stared across the empty white space at Drake. Was he ready to end everything? His life on the Explorer, his relationship with Hartley? Could he give all that just to save the Universe. It seemed, in its own way, too high a price.

But Drake came toward him, fists balled, screaming rage.

“I will have my Harlan!” she screamed, power glowing at her fingertips, her feet kicking as she flew across the white gulf toward Mirk.

So he did it. Mirk focused all tha the was on stopping Drake. He let go of everything; said goodbye to life as he knew it, and gave in to being a Director, if that was what fate had in store for him.

And Drake, the hand, and the lips disappeared.

And white faded to purple clouds.

And when Mirk turned around, he faced a giant eyeball.

If giant eyeballs could grin, this one would.

<You did it, old chap!> the eyeball said excitedly.

“Did what?” Mirk asked, looking around, confused.

<You were willing and able to step in and be the god you know you are. You were willing to graduate.>

“So the Critics were right? That’s what I had to do….’graduate’?”

The eyeball chuckled. <They were right. But you haven’t graduated. Not yet.>

“I’m not a Director?”

<No. But you will be.>

“I don’t understand.”

<It’s all about you, Mirk. In our roundabout way, we were testing you. And we know now that you’re ready.>

“Testing?! But…Drake, the Producers…”

<A cast in a very complicated spec script that will never get made. They were threats, but are threats no longer. We’ve seen to that. What’s important is that you realized your potential. You committed to your future. And a wonderful future it’ll be, Mirk.>

“And the Critics?”

<They’re out there. But that’s as it should be. Without an antagonist, there wouldn’t be much to this plot of ours, would there?>

Mirk scratched his head. “But…what’s the plot?”

<There’s time enough for that. For now, Mirk, you and the others should savor your victory.> The eyeball backed way.

Mirk stepped toward it. “But there are so many questions! You’ve been gone for so long!”

<You’ll have more time with us than you’ll no what to do with. For now, enjoy that life you were willing to give away. Enjoy your friends!>

“But what about becoming a Director!?” Mirk asked, calling after the eyeball as it backed away into the purple, roiling clouds.

<We’ll take a rain check on it!> the Directors called out.


And Mirk was back on the bridge, surrounded by a thoroughly befuddled-looking crew.

On the viewscreen, normal, reassuring, starry space surrounded them.

“Did we all smoke something really heinous?” Baxter said. “Or am I still drunk?”

“No, and no,” Mirk said, stepping toward the captain. “At least I don’t think so.”

“What happened?” Kimmel asked, glancing about the bridge.

Drake was there, collapsing, crying, into Harlan’s arms. “I’m with you, Harlan. You and I, and our little Anna…we’ll be together! Just you wait and see!”

“Oh, I think Drake’s going to need a buttload of therapy,” Peterman said, setting Steffie down. The toddler raced to the command chair and crawled onto it.

“I still don’t get it,” Baxter said, looking at Harlan as he dragged Drake back into the turbolift. “Back then, when you and Drake served together…what could you have possibly done to drive her so totally mental?”

“Your dad’s a substantial man, m’boy,” Harlan muttered as he stepped into the turbolift, Ashley and Peterman jogging behind.

“I have my work cut out for me,” Peterman said, glancing down at the sobbing Drake. “Be a dear and watch Steffie, okay, Andy?”

“No problem,” Baxter said, glancing around his bridge. “Everyone in one piece?”

One by one, J’hana, Tilleran, Richards, and Browning nodded as they moved to take their places on the bridge. Kimmel stood up next to Baxter, taking his arm.

“I guess I can’t say the crazy gene is on your side of the family, eh, Andy?”

“I wouldn’t rule that out,” Baxter said, picking Steffie up and pulling her into his lap as he collapsed, exhausted, into the command chair. “Not by a long shot.”

Richards sat down to his right, Kimmel to his left, giggling and tugging on Steffie’s little fingers.

“Can I sit at a station?” Plato asked Browning, as the doctor headed to

the foreward turbolift. “No,” Browning said, dragging Plato into the lift. “And we’re going to have a nice, long talk about Orion slavegirls…”

“Mommmmmmmmmmmmm…”

Mirk followed Hartley over to the auxiliary engineering station, watching as the engineer took in the extent of the damage to the Explorer.

“What’s the verdict, Commander?” Baxter asked, turning back toward Hartley. “Are we ship shape?”

“Far from it, Captain. But with a little luck, we should be able to hold together long enough to reach a friendly port.”

“Well, luck has served us well so far,” Baxter said, as Madera settled into her seat at helm. “Lieutenant, lay in a course for the closest Starbase. Best speed.”

“So, Mirk,” Hartley said, as she began tapping at the engineering console, assigning damage control teams to areas of the ship damaged in the Orion attack. “Tell me…what really happened in there?”

“We won,” Mirk said, sliding an arm around Hartley’s waist. “Isn’t that all that matters?”

“Not when you say it like that,” Hartley said, glancing sidelong at Mirk.

“Course laid in, Captain,” Madera said, looking ahead to the viewscreen.

Baxter looked around the bridge. “Sound the all-call. Baxter to all hands: I’m going to keep this short and sweet. Today we were on the verge of having our collective butts handed to us. But we pulled it together, and for one brief moment, other than me throwing up, we acted like professionals. Good job, people. Never let it be said that the geeks can’t win when they put their minds to it!”

“Geeks?” Richards asked. “Speak for yourself, Andy.”

Baxter leaned back in his chair, feeling a calm he hadn’t felt in months. “I am, Chris. Believe me, I am.”


THE END.


NEXT:


But wait, there’s more! As this long journey comes to an end, Baxter spends some quality time with his father and sister. But is everything really over? Who’s still after Kimmel? And what ever happened to Alvin Ficker? Look for answers to these questions, and the tying up of many a loose end in “Return to Orbit.”


Tags: vexed