Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 57706.4. After nearly two months of plugging along at Warp Four, thanks to a pair of damaged warp nacelles, we’re finally on the verge of arriving at Earth. Our contact with Starfleet Command has been minimal, mostly because I don’t feel like being yelled at after me and my crew saved the Universe. That being said, I think it’s safe to say they’ll be wanting to take a meeting. I completely understand that; however, I find myself wishing we were going even slower than we are.
“Feel better?” Counselor Kelly Peterman asked, as Baxter crawled back into bed with her and jerked the covers up over his head.
“Immensely. Now I can say I did something today.”
“Yes. Recording your log must’ve been strenuous.”
“Shush. You were the one who suggested I take the day off, anyway.”
“True,” Peterman said. “You’ve spent the last two months working long shifts trying to coordinate repair crews, and meeting with your father to prepare for your debriefing at Starfleet. You deserve a break.”
“I think all the ‘breaking’ will happen when we get to Starfleet Command,” Baxter said, rolling over and staring up at the ceiling.
“Oh, you’ve been scolded before.”
“Yes, and last time I was scolded, I was put in a penal colony for a month.”
“I’m sure they won’t do that again. This being a second offense and all,” Peterman said, and laughed, draping an arm over Baxter as she rolled over.
“I’m glad you find this so funny.”
“I’m just trying to lighten the moment,” Peterman said. “I realize you have a lot on your mind.”
“Yeah, and my daily chats with dear old Dad aren’t helping to lighten the load.”
“Not getting through to him, eh?” Peterman said, leaning up on her side.
“Oh, we’ve got a very good working relationship,” Baxter said. “But he refuses to talk about Kimmel, or his relationship with Doctor Drake. He sounds more like an admiral than my dad.”
“Well he is an Admiral.”
“AND my dad. I’m just wondering what it’ll take for me to have one straightforward conversation with the man.”
“Maybe he’s just dealing with this in his own way,” Peterman suggested.
“But aren’t you the one who told me that I need confrontation and closure with him?”
“That’s what you need, but it may not be what he needs.”
“Whose wife are you?” Baxter demanded.
“Yours, of course,” Peterman said, leaning over and kissing Baxter on the cheek. “But as Ship’s Counselor, I need to think of the feelings of everyone on the ship.”
“You have a lot of feelings to choose from then,” Baxter said, and rolled over. “I’m going back to sleep. You?”
“I’m getting up. Unlike you, I have to go to work today.”
“Something tells me you’ll have your hands full.”
“Mind if I join you, Commander?” Lt. Commander Tilleran said, as Commander Christopher Richards looked up from his Deltan Omellete.
“Nope. Have a seat,” Richards said, nodding toward the chair across from him. Space Tastes was actually somewhat crowded this morning, which was a nice change of pace from the months previous, when the ship had been at General Quarters for much of the time.
“I’m not really in a ‘table for one’ kind of mood,” Tilleran said.
“You’ve been doing that a lot lately?” Richards said, sipping coffee as he thumbed through his padd, Hartley’s latest repair reports.
“Oh, a fair amount,” Tilleran replied. “Since J’hana won’t talk to me.”
Richards nodded. “The break-up.”
“I’m not sure you can call it a break-up. I don’t know what to call it.”
“That makes two of us,” Richards said, and winced as he heard J’hana’s booming chortle coming from a table across the room, packed with security officers.
“She seems to be having a good time,” Tilleran said, glancing over at the table.
“Doctor Browning! Another Refined Uranium and Cranberry Sauce for my Velvattian friend!” the Andorian called out, pointing at the hulking, purple, tentacled thing that sat by her.
“It’s strange…” Richards began.
“Several alien species feed on unstable isotopes,” Tilleran said. “It’s not as uncommon as you might think…”
“No,” Richards said. “I mean J’hana. Being so happy.”
“She’s dealt with her feelings. Remember the two hundred and seven Orion invaders she killed?”
Richards raised an eyebrow. “Two hundred and seven? Really?”
The Betazoid nodded. “She kept count.”
“That woman amazes me.”
Tilleran sighed. “Me too.”
“Why don’t you go over there and talk to her?”
“Because, we’re…we’re in an awkward stage right now. The best thing would be just to ride it out.”
Just then, Janice Browning breezed by with a tray of food for J’hana’s table.
“Hi Janice,” Richards said, motioning with his fork.
“Yeah, uh, hi, Christopher,” Browning said, and hurried by.
“I know all about awkward stages,” Richards said.
“Still not getting anywhere with Doctor Browning?”
“We’re stalled. Which we should be. It obviously wasn’t the right time to get married.”
“Will there ever be a right time?” Tilleran posed.
“I’m not sure,” Richards said. “But we can’t be together while we figure it out. It just gets to…to complicated.”
“Providence knows we’ve both had our share of complications,” Tilleran said.
“Can I get you anything?” Browning said, stepping up behind Tilleran. “The Yridian omellete with nineteen kinds of cheese is the special.”
“Sounds good. With a glass of papaya juice.”
“Coming right up,” Browning said, and exchanged a quick glance with Richards, then bolted.
“Eye contact. That’s progress,” Richards sighed, and sipped his coffee again.
“…and then last night was karaoke night at Mirk’s. It was fun,” Captain Anna Kimmel said, pacing back and forth in front of the crackling security field that held Maura Drake captive. She sat there, on her bunk, knees drawn up, a cold stare on Kimmel.
“Why do you insist on coming down here every day, Anna?” Drake said in a passionless monotone.
“Because I know that, save for Counselor Peterman, nobody really talks to you, and I figured it gets awful lonely down here.”
“Not at all,” Drake said. “I have Mister Potsran to keep me company.”
Across the room, inside the other brig cell, Noyo Potsran stretched and yawned. “The Syndicate will free me, then I’ll slice and dice you all,” he grumbled groggily, then rolled over and fell back asleep.
“Nice,” Kimmel said, turning back to Drake. “Look, I figure, you’re my mother, the least we should do is talk.”
“You don’t quite get it, do you?” Drake said. “I used you. I funneled my growing powers through you to keep the Orions off my back long enough to hop on this ship and extract a final strand of DNA from you, to make myself omnipotent and destroy everything in the Universe but myself and your father.”
Kimmel nodded. “Yup.”
“And it doesn’t bother you in the least?”
Kimmel shrugged. “It bothers me a whole lot. But you’re still my Mom.”
“You’re nothing like me,” Drake said. “I suppose that’s as good an argument for nature versus nurture as you’ll find.”
“Would you rather I be more like you?” Kimmel said. “Because I can certainly work on being an insane genius scientist, but being accident- prone, I’m not sure I can be trusted around beakers.”
“Know what’s strange?” Drake asked, blinking at Kimmel. “You weren’t trying to be hurtful just now. You were just being…honest.”
“Yeah,” Kimmel said. “And maybe a little funny.”
“Nothing like me,” Drake moaned, and leaned her head between her knees. She waved Kimmel away. “Go. Go on. Get out of here.”
“See you tomorrow?”
“God, I hope not,” Drake moaned.
“Okay, tomorrow it is!” Kimmel said cheerfully, and walked out of the brig.
She found Ashley Donovan waiting outside.
“Done with mommy-daughter time?” Donovan asked.
“Yup,” Kimmel said. “She’s all yours.”
“I doubt my conversation with her will be as pleasant as yours. Section Thirty-One will be wanting a complete report.”
“I’m not sure how much you’ll get out of her.”
“She’ll come around,” Ashley said, and stepped toward the door. “Although I have to wonder why you even care, considering all that’s happened.”
“She’s still my mom.”
“Genetically, maybe. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I talked to my mom.”
“Then maybe that explains why you’re such an unhappy person,” Kimmel said, and walked off.
“Thanks for the chat!” Ashley called after her, and ducked into the brig.
“I want Chaka!” Steffie replied as Baxter sat, exasperated, across the dinner table from his nearly-two-year old child.
“Chaka’kan is teaching Plato Aikido right now, and since it’s something I can barely pronounce, much less do myself, I can only assume it’ll take some time. So eat!”
Steffie folded her arms, shaking her head. “Nope. Nuh-uh.”
Baxter sighed. “It’s really good.. Breakfast burrito! Your favorite!”
Just then, Baxter’s door chimed.
“Come,” Baxter sighed, and the door slid open, to reveal Admiral Harlan Baxter framing the doorway.
“Boy,” Harlan said, stepping in. “Just talked to yer mother.”
“Oh, good,” Baxter said. “And how’s mom?”
“Ready to meet up with us. Pathfinder’s on schedule, after picking up all our non-essential crew at Starbase 227.”
“Nice of her to do that,” Baxter said.
“And damned unnecessary for her to break off her mission to the Gamma Quadrant.”
“I think she wanted to see us, after all that’s happened. We did kind of fall off the map for a while there.”
“She’s going to want explanations. Best we get on the same page, just like with Starfleet.”
Baxter nodded as he wiped some dribbled cheese off Steffie’s mouth. To her credit, she tried to eat some of the burrito, but ended up smearing most of it on her face. “I couldn’t agree more, Dad.”
“So you know what we’ve got to tell her.”
“I haven’t the faintest. I figured that would be your department, since this was all your doing after all.”
“Well, technically, was the Directors…” Harlan mumbled, turning away.
“It was NOT the Directors,” Baxter said, a little louder than he’d wanted to. “At least, not in all the ways that matter. Sure, they pulled some strings here and there to get events to unfold the way they wanted them too, but events are still events. Maura Drake did go crazy…all over you…and you two did create Anna Kimmel as a vessel for her research. And that plan, along with Maura Drake, blew up right in your face. And it’s time you fessed up to that.”
Harlan sat back, staring at Baxter. “I hope this isn’t the speech you’re planning to make to Starfleet.”
“I’ve edited it down somewhat for them.”
“Good,” Harlan grumbled.
“But Mom deserves to know everything. She hasn’t had the pleasure of going along for the ride on this whole stupid journey like I have, so she should at least get the benefit of a full play-by-play.”
“Do you realize who the hell you’re talking to?” Harlan said, shoving out of his chair. Your father, and your commanding officer!”
“Funny, but you haven’t acted like either lately, have you?” Baxter shouted at Harlan’s back as he left.
Steffie cocked her head, staring at Baxter with wide eyes.
“You didn’t just see that, sweetie,” Baxter said, brushing a finger down her cheek. “Now eat up.”
The next day, feeling at least a little more rested, Captain Baxter paced the bridge as the Explorer decelerated and approached Starbase One.
“Starfleet Command acknowledges our greeting, and instructs us to dock at McKinley station,” J’hana said, looking up from tactical.
“Do it, Madera,” Baxter said, patting the back of the helm chair. “Richards, get the crew ready to disembark. Have Megan submit a workplan to the dockmaster so we can get any repairs we need. I want us back out on duty as soon as possible.”
“Do those repairs include cleaning up the mess from the bonfire in Deck Twelve?”
“No, I’d say anyone who was at the party should have a hand in cleaning that up,” Baxter said.
“You missed a good time, Andy,” Richards said.
“I’ll read about it in the Security Report, I’m sure,” Baxter said, and headed over to his chair.
“Are you all right?” Richards asked, sitting down beside Baxter.
“I’m just ready to be home. This whole trip has left me desperate for a little of the familiar.”
“A few days in Maryland, then?” Richards said.
“If you don’t mind handling repairs and whatnot up here,” Baxter said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Richards said. “Clear your mind.”
“Yeah. That’s the idea.”
“And spend some time with Captain Kimmel.”
“Yes, no doubt.”
“And spend some time with your parents, too.”
“Whether I want to or not,” Baxter muttered. “What about you? Any plans for your visit back to Earth?”
“Not really,” Richards said. “All my family’s on Nimbus Three. So there’s not really much for me down there. Besides, the last time I was on Earth was kind of unpleasant.”
“Oh. Yes. The matter with all of us being sent back in time…”
Richards smiled, patting Baxter’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Andy. All that, it’s…it’s in the past.”
“Yeah,” Baxter nodded. “Well put.”
Supplemental. With the Explorer safely tucked in at McKinley station, my father and I have beamed down to Starfleet Command to face the music, as it were. Although, realistically, I somehow doubt that anything resembling music will actually be involved.
“Something to drink?” Admiral Alynna Nechayev, Commander-in- Chief of Starfleet said, as both Captain and Admiral Baxter stood in front of her desk. Behind her broad desk, flanked by Starfleet and Federation flags, was the famous San Francisco presidio. Not that Baxter felt much like taking in the sights at the moment.
“Do you have grapefruit juice?” Baxter asked, glancing around.
“I’m sure it can be replicated…”
“Boy,” Harlan said, nudging him.
“Maybe later. I’m fine for now,” Baxter said.
“Good,” Nechayev said. “Have a seat, you two.”
Baxter and Harlan exchanged a quick glance, then sat down in the chairs opposite Nechayev’s desk.
“Now you realize this is just an informal sit-down before the briefing tomorrow.”
“Yes, Admiral,” Harlan said, crossing his legs. “How long until I’m reinstated as director of the Explorer Project?”
“You don’t waste any time, do you, Harlan?” Nechayev asked with raised eyebrow. “Of course, that matter is still being evaluated.” Her eyes darted to Baxter. “Along with your…situation, Captain.”
“What situation is that?” Baxter asked, tugging at his collar.
Nechayev picked up a padd from her desk. “Everything’s here. All of your reports, all the details. I swear, I thought it was impossible to fill up the memory on one of these.”
“I suppose it was a somewhat complicated scenario.”
Nechayev piovted her chair around to face the windows. “That’s putting it mildly. And yet, I find it hard deciding whether to count-martial you two or give you the Pike Medal.”
“Already got a Pike Medal, Admiral,” Harlan rumbled.
“Of course,” Nechayev said, and turned back toward the Baxters. “You all must be very tired from your trip. I understand the Explorer’s engines were badly damaged?”
“Repair crews are already working on it, Admiral,” Baxter said.
“That’s good.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “All right, then. On to the next portion of our sit-down.”
“Portion?” Baxter asked.’
She tapped a button on her desk. “Send him in, Robin.”
“Yes, Admiral,” a voice replied.
The doors to Nechayev’s sizable office parted, and Commodore Jack Woodall stepped in.
“Admiral,” he said, nodding at Nechayev.
Baxter sunk a little lower in his chair as Woodall stepped up behind him and Harlan.
Nechayev touched the button on her desk. “Robin, a chair for Commodore Woodall.”
“No thanks,” Woodall said in a clipped tone. “I’ll stand.”
The C&C nodded. “Robin, cancel the chair.”
Baxter felt Woodall’s look on the back of his neck. He slunk down a little more. Woodall just hovered over him and his father, staring down at them.
“You’ll be at the briefing tomorrow, Commodore?” Nechayev asked.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Woodall said.
“Jack,” Harlan said, turning. “No hard feelings, there.”
“Not at all,” Woodall said. “Although, you might like to know that your ‘daughter’ did a sizable amount of damage to the Orleans.”
“Actually, it was his ex-girlfriend’s fault,” Baxter interjected.
“We never dated!” Harlan snapped.
Nechayev steepled her fingers. “This will be an interesting debriefing tomorrow, won’t it, gentlemen?”
“Fascinating,” Woodall said. “I’m working on a long list of questions.”
“Sir,” Harlan asked Nechayev. “May I ask why Commodore Woodall was brought in here?”
“So you two could apologize to him like civilized men. Before the sparks start flying tomorrow, I thought there might be an opportunity to cut the tension with this informal meeting.”
“Yeah, and it’s doing wonders,” Baxter said, refusing to glance back at Woodall.
“Shut up, boy,” Harlan rumbled under his breath, then stood up and turned to face the Commodore. “Jack, what can I say. I’m sorry we couldn’t keep you in the loop on this thing.”
“You should be saying that to Admiral Nechayev,” Woodall said. “She is your commanding officer, after all.”
Harlan glanced back at Nechayev. “Admiral, of course, I admit that this was far from an ideal situation.”
“One of our high-ranking Admirals working with Section Thirty- One to reign in a potential god and save the Universe behind everyone else’s backs? Breaking radio contact and crippling one Starfleet ship, while sending another halfway across the galaxy? ‘Far from ideal’ is something of an understatement, isn’t it?”
“What ever happened to breaking the tension?” Baxter asked, leaning forward. “Why are you browbeating us?”
“Watch your tone, mister,” Woodall chided.
“Boy….” Harlan growled low.
“Please, feel free to expound on that, Captain,” Nechayev said, spreading her hands invitingly.
Baxter stood up. “All due respect, Admiral, but you sure glossed over that saving the Universe part pretty quick.”
“It’s duly noted,” Nechayev said, tapping the padd on her desk. “Still, there’s a lot here that remains unexplained. And not much to suggest that anything was done even remotely the Starfleet way.”
“If we’d done anything the Starfleet way, we’d all be gone now!” Baxter said, and marched toward the door. “Try and remember that!”
“Watch yourself, Captain,” Nechayev said. “Insubordination at this level could cost you your command.”
“This whole thing is a joke,” Baxter said, and ducked out of the office, leaving Harlan, Woodall, and Nechayev staring at each other.
“Takes after his mother,” Harlan said in a low voice.
Captain Baxter peered into the front door of his house in Salisbury, Maryland. “Anybody home?”
“In here!” Captain Kimmel’s voice called from the kitchen, and Baxter stepped in, lugging his Starfleet duffle behind him.
He walked back to the kitchen to find Anna Kimmel, Peterman, and his mother, Captain Lucille Baxter, seated around the kitchen table, sipping coffee.
“We were just having the nicest chat,” Counselor Peterman said. “Catching up on, you know, times.”
“Nice to see you, Mom,” Baxter said, stepping toward Lucille. “Did you have a nice trip?” Lucille didn’t answer, just rose quickly from her seat and threw her arms around him, squeezing him tight.
“My little booty butt! You were in trouble and I was powerless to help you!”
“Urk!” Baxter croaked. “Well, uh, mom…that was kind of by design.”
Lucille reared back suddenly and slapped Baxter across the face. “And THAT was for keeping things from me.”
Baxter rubbed his face. “Save some for Dad, will you.”
“Oh, his is coming, fear not,” Lucille said, gritting her teeth.
“I fear plenty,” Baxter said.
“No reason you should,” Kimmel said. “Starfleet should be giving you a medal, not dressing you down.”
“I think they’ll be doing some of both tomorrow, actually,” Baxter said, sitting down at the table and putting his head in his hands.
“Did you notice the paint in the kitchen?” Peterman asked. “It’s finished…”
“And it only took the crew two and a half years to get around to it after the Ferengi demolished my original house and then rebuilt it,” Baxter moaned, then stared around between his fingers. “But it does actually look quite nice. The blue goes well with the cream floor tiles.”
“So glad I pulled the Pathfinder out of the Gamma Quadrant,” Lucille said. “So we can talk about floor tiles.”
“I think they’re nice…” Peterman said.
“No doubt,” Lucille said. “But I want to know why you didn’t get word out to me as soon as you found out what it was your father was trying to do. I could have helped!”
“Dad didn’t want you involved. He wanted to keep you safe. Remember that before you go beating him up.”
“Safe and completely in the dark!” Lucille said, and turned to Peterman. “What would you do if you found out your husband was hiding something major like this from you?”
Peterman shifted in her seat a bit and looked to Baxter. “I wouldn’t know, because he never has.”
Baxter gave her a small smile and mouthed “I love you,” to her, then turned to Lucille. “The point is, we’re all here together now, and everybody’s safe, right?”
Kimmel put her hand on Baxter’s. “I agree. Any mission you can walk away from, right?”
“I understand you have the crazy woman on your ship,” Lucille said.
“She’s going to be moved soon,” Baxter said. “But yes. And I think it’s a monumentally bad idea for you to see her.”
“I wasn’t thinking anything of the sort. I was just asking,” Lucille said. “You know,” she added, quickly shifting gears. “You have a lovely sister here, Andy.”
Kimmel grinned. “I’d like to think so,” Baxter said. “She’s not a demented genius, so I’m assuming she takes after her father.”
“Well, she’s not a liar, either,” Lucille said. “So there must be a third gene sequence in there.”
“Nope,” Kimmel said. “Just the two.”
“And yet you’ve become such a sweet girl,” Lucille said. “Well, I want you to know that we consider you part of this family now, and that means you might as well be my own daughter. The circumstances that brought you here were rather strange, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all come together like a normal family, right?”
Baxter blinked at her. “So you and Dad…everything’s okay with you two?”
“I’m sure he told you our ‘separation’ was all for appearances,” Lucille said. “But let’s just say your father has a lot of explaining to do and leave it at that.”
“If it makes you feel any better, he didn’t seem attracted to Doctor Drake at all,” Kimmel said.
“It doesn’t make me feel any better, Anna,” Lucille said, as the door swung open and shut, and Harlan swaggered in, a cigar stuck in his mouth.
“Smells like burning targ fur. Must be your father,” Lucille said, throwing up her hands.
“Hrrrrrl dooin?” he asked, chewing on the cigar and looking around.
“I’ve…got some unpacking to do,” Peterman said. “And I have to go wake Steffie from her afternoon nap.”
“Honey, please don’t leave…” Baxter said in a soft voice, grabbing for Peterman’s hand.
“You’ll be fine, Andy,” Peterman said, patting Baxter on the shoulder. “And I’ll… be somewhere other than here.”
Baxter sighed as Peterman dashed up the stairs, his shoulders sinking, while Harlan and Lucille stared at each other.
“Well,” Kimmel said, clapping her hands together. “The gang’s all here.”
Harlan and Lucille, for their part, looked like they were staring each other down, each waiting for the other to blink.
“You know what?” Baxter said. “I left some important data padds on the ship. Anna, you want to go back with me?”
“Please!” Kimmel said, scooting out of her chair.
“Boyah, needtatalk to you,” Harlan said, grabbing Baxter’s arm.
“Later,” Baxter said, pulling away. “Right now you have other responsibilities to see to.”
“Whyrrtafrknsht…” Harlan grumbled, turning to Baxter.
“Let him go,” Lucille said. “And sit down. And for the Great Bird’s sake, take that stupid cigar out of your mouth, darling. We’ve got a lot to sift through…”
“We need to get you off this ship!” Lt. Commander Hartley said to Tilleran, leaning over the Master Systems Display in engineering as she barked orders at her staff. “And make sure they stay away from the aft power conduit. They’ll try to replace it with a neolithium composite and I won’t have it. Don’t let them try to order you around. Stuart’s in charge for the duration of our stay at the station. Got it, people?”
There were mumbles of assent from the crew behind Hartley, and Hartley looked up at Tilleran. “Well?”
“I guess there’s nothing to keep me here.”
“And you have to stop moping about J’hana. This was your choice, remember? And, if I may say so, it was the right choice.”
“Then why doesn’t it feel right?”
Hartley rounded the console and draped an arm around Tilleran’s shoulders. “Because it never does at first. But you made a valid point. J’hana can’t and won’t give you a stable family, and that’s something you want, right?”
Tilleran nodded. “I…guess so. I think I talked myself out of wanting a family for a long time simply because I didn’t want to obey my mother’s wishes.”
“Yeah, that would do it. But you’ve got your head on straight now. Good job. Now all you have to do is coexist with J’hana.” Hartley sighed. “And that’ll get easier too, eventually.”
“You don’t know J’hana,” Tilleran said. “There’s going to be a lot of awkwardness for a long time.”
“Hmmm,” Hartley said. “Why don’t we fix her up with someone? Distract her?”
“J’hana’s too smart to fall for that one.”
“What’s there to fall for? It’s a date.”
“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea…”
“I’ll do it!” Ensign Ryan Stuart said, popping up as if from out of nowhere behind Hartley.
“Who said we offered?” Hartley asked. “And why were you listening in on us anyway?”
“I was just, um, adjusting this power converter over here, and, uh…”
“Yeah, right,” Hartley said. She turned to Tilleran. “Well, what do you think?”
“I think you wouldn’t make it through the soup course, Stuart,” Tilleran said, not unkindly.
“Yeah, but if I do, I’ll have stories to tell my children, and my children’s children…”
“If you’re still capable of having children…” Hartley said. “But don’t let that stop you, Ensign. Go get her!”
“Yes sir!” Stuart said, saluting, and turned to leave. Hartley grabbed him by the back of his uniform tunic.
“AFTER you finish briefing the McKinley station engineering people. Let’s keep a little perspective here, shall we?”
Stuart’s shoulders sunk. “Yes, Commander.”
“Meanwhile, Tilleran and I are going down to Louisiana to go antiquing and get drunk.” With that, she spun on a heel and headed out of Engineering. Tilleran remained, still staring at Stuart, thoughtfully. “C’MON!” Hartley called after her, and she finally turned to leave.
“Thanks for coming back with me,” Baxter said, as he sifted through a pile of padds on the desk in his readyroom. “I couldn’t sit in there one more minute.”
“What do you think they’re talking about?”
“Knowing my mom? Payback. She will get very creative coming up with a way for my dad to make up for leaving her in the dark about you and Doctor Drake.”
“Your mom does seem nice, though. She invited me to the house for Christmas.”
“That’s MY house,” Baxter said, shaking his head. “That’s nice, though.” He smiled, looking up at Kimmel. “To think, Christmas with my sister. Birthdays with my sister. It’s hard to imagine.”
“You don’t have to imagine it anymore,” Kimmel said. “And thankfully, we don’t have to pretend not to be related anymore.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Well…guess we’d better get back down there. If Kelly comes downstairs and finds I’ve left her alone with them, she’ll have me on diaper detail for a month.”
“In that case…” Kimmel said with a smile, as she and Baxter left the readyroom.
“Sir,” Ensign Keefler said, looking up from tactical.
“Yeah,” Baxter said, glancing at Keefler.
“Ortiz just called up from the brig. Apparently, Mister Potsran is asking to speak with you.”
“Oh, fantastic,” Baxter said. “You want to sit this one out, Anna? I know Drake’s in there…”
“Nope. I’m fine with it,” Kimmel said, as the pair stepped into the turbolift.
“Good to know. This won’t take long. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is spend shore leave talking to an Orion despot in the brig.”
Janice Browning sat, boredly, drumming her fingers on a biobed, in Sickbay.
“You can go if you want to,” Doctor Holly Wilcox called out of her office. “We’re docked, so there won’t be many medical cases.”
“But then you’ll be alone…”
“I’m fine with that, actually. Dean’s coming over later, so…”
Browning shrugged. “Same difference to me. If you really don’t mind. Maybe Plato and I will go to North Dakota.”
Holly popped her head out of the office. “Any reason why North Dakota?”
“We’ve never been. And they are supposed to have great potatoes.”
“I think that’s Iowa.”
“Hmmm. Or maybe Indiana?”
Just then, the doors to Sickbay opened, and Ensign Howie Sefelt limped in. “Doctor! Somebody get me a doctor!”
“I’ve got this one, Holly,” Browning said, taking Sefelt by the arm and leading him over to a biobed, helping him up. “What happened?”
“I was on the holodeck, practicing the relaxing exercises Counselor Peterman taught me…”
“Oh…the cliffs of El-Razul?”
“Those are the ones. Anyway, I must have started falling asleep, because I tipped over and fell down the cliff.”
“And into the relaxing Sea of Fharkendar?”
“It’s not so relaxing when you’re drowning in it, Doc.”
“Yes, I suppose not,” Browning said, running a tricorder over Sefelt’s ankle. “Yup, you twisted it pretty bad.”
“Am I going to die?”
“No, Howie. Don’t be silly,” Browning said. “The only way you could die from an injury like this is if you left it untreated for a long time and developed an infection in the wound. Even then…”
Sefelt’s eyes widened. “Please, Doctor! Patch me up before I die!”
“I can take over, if you want!” Holly called from her office. “We really don’t need you if you want to leave.”
“Don’t…need…” Browning said thoughtfully, then leaned back on her haunches.
“Doctor?” Sefelt asked expectantly.
“Yes, Howie, just a moment,” Browning said. She rubbed her chin. “Why am I here anyway?”
“To fix my horribly twisted ankle?”
“No, I mean in a grander sense. What am I still doing here?”
“Preventing me from dying?”
Browning patted Sefelt’s knee. “You’re not going to die, Howie. Just relax.”
“I’m anything but relaxed,” Sefelt said, half to himself.
Browning smiled. “You know, Ensign Sefelt, I think you just became my very last patient.”
“Aww,” Sefelt said.
“Yeah.” She slapped his thigh affectionately. “Thanks.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Hey, Holly! We need to chat…” And she jogged off.
Sefelt sat there for a few minutes. “Hey! What about my ankle?!”
“Keep this short,” Baxter said, stepping into the brig, followed by Kimmel.
“Ahh, Captain. I’m surprised it’s taken you so long to come and see me,” Potsran said, leaning forward on his bunk. “After all, I’ve been your guest here for nearly eight weeks.”
“I prefer to think of you as our prisoner, but whatever suits you.”
“You know I’ll be leaving soon,” Potsran said. “Transferred to a maximum security facility on Beta Zandar Eight.”
“I hear it’s very scenic this time of year. Now what do you want?”
“To offer you something very precious,” Potsran said, leaning forward.
“This should be good,” Baxter murmurred, as Kimmel stepped just behind him, trying not to look over her shoulder at Drake.
“I’m offering you your life.”
“Let me out. Arrange for a ‘mishap.’ Leave the cell unguarded for ten minutes. That’s all I need. And I promise I won’t have you killed.”
“People have tried to kill me before,” Baxter said. “It has a way of not working.”
“Yes, but you haven’t been on the Orion Syndicate’s radar. You’ve no idea…”
“Don’t I?” Baxter asked. He chuckled and looked at the padd he’d brought with him. “Let me just go back into our communication logs. Yes! Here it is! A message from the Orion Syndicate to the Federation, authorizing us to put you to death for actions contrary to the mission of the Syndicate.”
Potsran blanched. “What…you’re making that up!”
“Signed by the Chairman himself. Seems you’ve fallen out of favor with the Syndicate since the Drake incident.” Baxter glared over his shoulder at Drake. “I can sympathize. I’ve got a very uncomfortable meeting with my bosses tomorrow. Though I’m fairly confident they don’t want me put to death.”
“I suppose you want to gloat…” Potsran began, simmering.
“You’d think,” Baxter said. “But all I want to do is leave, and never see you again.”
“I still have friends. Powerful ones. Friends that can make life very uncomfortable for you.”
“Yeah. Well it’s already uncomfortable. Have a nice life,” Baxter said, and cast one more irritated glance at Drake. “You know, I think he’s single if you’re interested.”
Drake smiled at Potsran a little coyly as Baxter walked out, and Kimmel slowly followed, sparing one more glance at Drake.
“Single? Really?” Drake grinned. “You know, I’m a powerful woman. And I like powerful men…”
“Baxter! Come back!” Potsran shouted. “Put me to death! Please!”
“The boy is adept,” Chaka’kan said, standing next to Richards in the Explorer’s gym, as he mopped his brow from a two-hour soak in the steam room.
“Plato? Yeah I hear you’ve been teaching him some self-defense.”
“He will be a strong warrior one day,” Chaka said. “Although I may not.”
“Don’t you want to be a strong babysitter instead?” Richards asked. “I thought that was, you know, your thing.”
“Perhaps it once was,” Chaka said. “But after recent events, I’m not sure. I…experienced a great deal of satisfaction in the bloodshed I caused defending the ship. I’m curious as to what else may be out there. What other things about my Jem’Hadar nature have I yet to learn?”
“Maybe you should look into that,” Richards said. “You know, take some leave, go to the Gamma Quadrant and meet up with some real Jem’Hadar. I’m sure they’ll be happy… or the Jem’Hadar equivalent of happy…to talk to you about it.”
“I am an outcast there,” Chaka said, his shoulders sinking.
“I’m sure there are some Jem’Hadar who’d speak with you.”
“I’m afraid not.” Just then, Plato emerged from the gym, having switched back into his Wesley Crusher-model jumpsuit. “Of course, if I accompanied Plato on a trip to visit with the Founders…surely they’d be agreeable to speaking with me. And putting me in touch with some Jem’Hadar.”
“You mean like we talked about?” Plato asked, his face brightening. “You mean it?”
“We must simply speak with your mother and clear it with her. But I believe she’d see the wisdom in allowing you to visit with your people”
Richards held up his hands. “Hey, hey, hey! Wait just a sec. You want to take Plato to the Gamma Quadrant? And you think Janice will agree to this?”
“I think she will understand,” Chaka said, taking Plato’s hand. “Come, young one. We will speak to your mother. Then we will have tea and muffins.”
“YES!” Plato said, following Chaka’kan.
“Your advice was most appreciated,” Chaka called back to Richards. “I shall tell Janice you were instrumental in coming up with this plan of action.”
“Please don’t!” Richards called after them. “Damn it.”
“Everybody friends again?” Baxter asked as he stepped into the kitchen.
“Your father is moving his headquarters back aboard the Pathfinder,” Lucille said, wrapping an arm around Harlan as he sat at the kitchen table. “So, yes. Now I can keep a much better eye on him.”
“Frkin gdddmnnn sht,” Harlan muttered as he puffed on his cigar.
Baxter waved the smoke out of his face and coughed. “That’s…uh…great. Glad you guys were able to come to some agreement.”
“As long as your father doesn’t lose his commission,” Lucille said. “In which case I suppose it’s a moot point. He’ll be forced out of Starfleet in dishonor. Won’t have much left to do but live on the Pathfinder anyway.”
Harlan said nothing, just sat there and smouldered.
“Glad we got that settled,” Baxter said, glancing about. “Um…where’s Kelly?”
“She came down briefly,” Lucille said. “She asked where you were. I told her you went back to your ship. Then she left to draw up a diaper schedule or somesuch thing.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Great. Just great. Like my day could get any worse.”
“Sleeping in the middle of the afternoon, Donovan? Was your mission that strenuous, or do you just enjoy keeping bizarre hours?”
Ashley Donovan leaned up in bed, instantly awake, and stared at the black-clad man sitting in the chair opposite her bed. “Actually, I was up all night interrogating Maura Drake…for you, I might add.”
“And we’re immensely grateful.”
Ashley shook her head. “God, why do we always have to pop in on people like this.”
“You expected a love letter? Affectionate telegram, perhaps?”
“What do you want, Roddick?”
“What Section Thirty-One wants,” the smooth-featured young man with plastered-down blond hair said. “Anna Kimmel.”
“Have you guys completely fallen asleep at the helm?” Donovan asked, sliding forward in bed, toward Roddick, covering up her silk shorts and tank top with her sheets.
“That’s close enough,” Roddick said, gently patting the phaser laying on the arm of his chair. “I’d hoped to keep our conversation civilized.”
Ashley narrowed her eyes. “I have a phaser stored in a place where it’ll be very easy to shoot you. All I have to do is flex a muscle…”
Roddick raised an eyebrow. “Now that does sound…fun. But it doesn’t get us Kimmel. And you should know that we’re not going to stop until we have her.”
“What’s the point!” Ashley snapped back. “She’s useless! She only had one scrap of so-called omnipotent DNA in her, and Doctor Drake used that to make herself omnipotent. Kimmel never actually had any powers of her own.”
“That will be for us to determine.”
Ashley rubbed a tired hand over her face. “Do us a favor, take Doctor Drake instead.”
“There doesn’t seem to be any advantages to interrogating someone who’s insane. And we know everything she knows . We’ll leave her in the tender care of the Tantalus facility.”
“But why don’t you just use her DNA? She’s the one that actually turned frigging omnipotent!”
“Please, try to keep a modicum of professionalism,” Roddick said. “Let’s not let this get crass.”
“It already is crass. You’re sitting in my bedroom while I’m in my pajamas.”
“Shorts and a tanktop that doesn’t match hardly qualify as pajamas. And, to answer your question, we’d love to extract the DNA from Doctor Drake, but there’s none left.”
“We’ve scanned her thoroughly, as I’m sure you have. And I’m sure you’ll agree that whatever was in Doctor Drake that made her omnipotent is gone now. Thanks, no doubt, to the intervention of the Directors.”
“Who saved this universe, along with the Explorer and her crew.”
“True,” Roddick said. “And we’re ever so thankful for that. But now that the Universe is out of danger, we have business to conduct. And that business involves Anna Kimmel.”
“You’ll find nothing. I examined her, as did the Explorer’s science officer.”
“Would you believe we have slightly better scientists than yourself and Commander Tilleran? They’ll be better able to make that determination. And, if we determine in all certainty that Captain Kimmel is of no further danger to this Quadrant, or this Universe for that matter, she’ll be free to go.”
Ashley grimaced. “And if not?”
“Then we’ll kill her.” Roddick cocked his head as Ashley gritted her teeth. “Surely you haven’t gone so soft working on the Explorer that you can’t stomach killing a person to serve a better cause.”
“I can’t stomach this conversation. Trust me when I tell you Kimmel is no danger to anyone. She’s a harmless, decent person who deserves to live her life in peace! Why can’t you trust me on this?”
“Why should we trust you at all? You turned against us. Withheld information, disobeyed orders…”
“You guys really can hold a grudge.”
“We didn’t get where we are today by being benevolent, Commander. Don’t be so naive. What we’re doing is for the best and you know it.”
Roddick stood. “Be that as it may. Look, I came here as a professional courtesy. I didn’t need to inform you about our plans for Kimmel. I was actually authorized to come here and kill you.”
“Make one move and I’ll flex that muscle, and you’ll be a spot on my rug, Roddick.”
“As pleasant a thought as that is, I’ve actually got to be going. Be warned, though. If you interfere with us, we’ll kill you. And your friend Captain Baxter, too, and whoever else stands in our way.” Roddick turned and walked out of her bedroom.
“The hell you…” Ashley began, chasing after him. But he was already gone. “Damn it!” She hopped out of bed, jerked her pants on and pulled her tunic on over her head. She slapped her combadge. “Donovan to Baxter!”
There was no response. “Damn it again,” she mumbled, and dashed out of her room.
“This is nice,” Counselor Peterman said, sitting in the high-backed chair in her living room, looking about at the faces that surrounded her. Baxter, Kimmel, Harlan, and Lucille. Steffie was sitting on Baxter’s lap, clapping as he tickled her.
“Yes,” Lucille said flatly. “We should do this more often. I love what you’ve done with the place. Can we go?”
“Not yet,” Peterman said. “We’ve all been through a lot lately. This family has been put through an undeniable strain. Marriages have been put in jeopardy, relationships have been strained, and new relationships have been formed….”
Lucille arched an eyebrow. “Did you say marriages? As in plural?”
“No!” Peterman said quickly. “What I was getting at is that we need to spend some time together, reforming those family bonds that have been strained, and…” she glanced at Kimmel with a smile. “Forming new ones.”
“Sounds good to me,” Kimmel said. “And, later tonight, Andy and I are going to a championship hoverball game at Federation Center in New York, if you all want to join us. Don’t we have a whole box?”
“Yes, reserved especially for captains who disobey orders,” Baxter said ruefully. “Actually, they’re Dad’s seats.”
“Sounds like a great idea,” Peterman said, clasping her hands in her lap. “One I’m sure I’d have loved to hear about before now.”
“I was, um, going to tell you…” Baxter said, shifting on the couch beside Kimmel.
“We’ll need a babysitter,” Peterman said. “Or did you plan on me staying behind to take care of Steffie?”
Baxter smiled at Steffie and tickled her chin. “Not at all. I can call Chaka.”
“If he’s not busy!”
“Chaka is never busy. He’ll be fine with it.”
“Okay,” Peterman said, taking a deep breath. “That’s settled.”
“I feel more bonded already,” Lucille said, glaring at Peterman cattily.
“Good,” Peterman shot back.
“I gotta get to the office,” Harlan said, shoving out of his chair.
Suddenly, the sound of transporters filled the living room, and the group was surrounded by black-clad officers, all pointing phasers at them.
Baxter glanced about uneasily. “Uh, hello guys. The mortician convention is the next town over.”
A smooth-featured blond man stepped forward. “Captain Baxter, as always, your sense of humor is without equal.”
“Thanks,” Baxter said, shifting. “So you guys wouldn’t by any chance be Section Thirty-Two? The mailmen?”
“I think you know who we are, and why we’re here,” the man said, his eyes immediately going to Kimmel. “Give her to us, and I promise you,
we’ll leave the rest of you alone.”
“That’s a familiar tune,” Peterman muttered.
Harlan just nodded. “Mhmmm.”
“Follow your father’s lead, Captain,” the man said, stepping toward Kimmel. “Offer no resistence. Because, really, resistance will do you no good whatsoever.”
Baxter handed Steffie over to Peterman, then shot out of his seat, marching toward the man. “Resistence is what got us this far, and I worked too damn hard to get this far, to save Kimmel and civilization as we know it just to have a pissant like you walk in here with a few armed guards and take away my sister! No f***ing deal!”
“Boy!” Harlan snapped.
“Stop calling me boy!” Baxter said, turning on Harlan. “Damn you, Dad! I’m not your boy! I’m your son! I’m the same son you barely spoke to for half my adolescence. The same son you kept in the dark about Anna, until your hand was forced and you had to. I’m the same son you’ve been ordering around since you came aboard the Explorer, second guessing me on every single step I made, when your misstep is what got us in this mess in the first place!”
“This is touching,” the Section Thirty-One operative said. “But really, irrelevant.”
“Andy!” Peterman said between clenched teeth, wrapping her arms protectively around a whimpering Steffie. “I know I said you need to confront your father, but this is SO not the time!”
“No time like the f***ing present,” Baxter said, marching up next to Harlan. “I’ve kept this stuff under wraps for far too long. It’s about damn time you knew exactly how I feel.”
Harlan stared at Baxter, his shoulders rising and falling as he breathed hard, his cigar smouldering and spewing smoke.
“Well?” Baxter said. “What have you got to say? You want to tell me I’m full of sh**? You want to discipline me? Disagree? What? Because if you show even one shred of emotion, that’ll get us somewhere. That’s all I ask for. Show me some damned emotion!”
“You want emotion, boy?” Harlan seethed.
“I’ll show you emotion!” Harlan yanked his cigar out of his mouth, and in a smooth motion swung back. Baxter flinched, sure he’d get knocked silly, but that wasn’t Harlan’s aim. He slammed his cigar right into the eye of the nearest Section Thirty-One operative, causing him to shriek in pain and drop his phaser.
It never hit the ground. It landed in Harlan’s hand, and he shoved it up against the neck of the operative who’d spoken earlier. “You think I don’t know who you are, Roddick?” Harlan said between clenched teeth. “I know you put Donovan on this case. And you did it for only one reason. So you could get your hands on my daughter!”
Roddick didn’t flinch as the nose of the phaser was pressed to his jugular. The five other Thirty-One operatives stood tensed, ready, weapons all aimed on Harlan, as Baxter and the others looked on. “I assure you, sir, my motives were completely above-board.”
“If above-board means killing Kimmel, then yeah, I can believe that,” Harlan said, grinding his teeth.
“Only if she’s found to be a threat….”
Harlan pushed the phaser harder against Roddick’s neck. “The only threat in this room is you and your people. And that’s a threat that’s about to disappear.”
“You fire, and everyone in this room will die. Your wife, your son, your daughter, your granddaughter. And nobody will ever know what happened to them. It’ll all seem to be an accident. Which works out well, since I understand you have a very accident-prone family.”
“Don’t bring me into this!” Lucille said haughtily.
“All that may be true,” Harlan said. “But if you’re dead, you won’t really have a chance to enjoy that little victory, will you?”
“Surely we can come to some kind of compromise,” Roddick said, struggling to maintain his poise.
“Yeah, I’ve got a compromise for you,” Baxter said, stepping up to face Roddick. “You and your people get the hell out of here.”
“This is not like facing down the Orions,” Roddick sneered, looking to Baxter. “Section Thirty-One is everywhere. We will stop at nothing to get what we want. Surely even your pea brain can comprehend that!”
“Seems like we’re at a stalemate,” Harlan said.
“Indeed,” Roddick said, swallowing hard.
“Umm…” Kimmel said, pointing at the bay window.
“My people aren’t easily fooled, Kimmel,” Roddick said. “They won’t be tricked by some obvious misdirection attempt.”
“But…” Kimmel said, inching back against the couch, shielding herself with a pillow.
“Holy…sh**…” Peterman said in a soft voice, leaping to the ground, pulling Steffie down with her. “DUCK!”
At that, everyone turned to the window just in time to see a standard-issue Cochrane-class Starfleet shuttle smash into the bay window, sending glass flying everywhere. Its phasers lanced out, felling Roddick and the others in rapid succession, leaving Harlan and Baxter, and the others, standing in the rubble of the living room, confused, as Steffie wailed.
The shuttle soft-landed, and its hatch opened. Ashley leapt out, stepping over the jagged window frame and ducking into the living room. “Everyone all right?”
“Depends on your definition,” Harlan said, looking at Baxter. “What took you so long?”
“They blocked the Explorer’s transporters, and all ship to shore communication from the Starbase and orbiting satellites. So I had to steal a shuttle and blast my way out of the bay.” She shrugged. “The Explorer’s being repaired anyway, so what’s one more dent?”
“Thank goodness we weren’t docked inside the Starbase,” Baxter said. “You’d never have gotten out.”
“Yeah, I don’t really deal in hypotheticals,” Ashley said dismissively. “Anyway, anybody in here need a doctor?”
“Just some serious counseling,” Anna Kimmel said, dusting herself off and helping Peterman up.
“Don’t look at me,” Peterman said, cradling a softly crying Steffie. “I’m about ready for some counseling myself, especially after I just finished decorating this stupid room.” She glanced at Ashley. “Well, looks like you finally served a useful purpose.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Ashley muttered.
Lucille glanced around at the group. “For Pete’s sake, just be thankful that this lovely blonde woman came along when she did.”
“Yes, you’re quite timely,” Peterman said, glaring at Ashley.
“It’s my job,” Ashley said. She turned to Harlan and Baxter. “Well then, if there are no mortal injuries, the three of us need to talk. Now.”
“Want to talk about it?” Mirk asked, casually wiping the bar as Doctor Browning sat there, staring vacantly at the rear wall of the bar. “I’ve got nothing better to do, since all my regulars are currently enjoying shore leave.”
“Not sure there’s anything to talk about,” Browning said. “I’ve been mulling a very interesting proposition.”
Mirk leaned forward. “Tell me more.”
“Chaka’kan wants me to take Plato to the Gamma Quadrant so that he can get back in touch with his Changeling roots. And, I guess, so Chaka can get in touch with his Jem’Hadar roots.”
“Interesting,” Mirk said. “I can understand the appeal, though. I often wish I could go back to Malox.”
“But I’m not sure what to do. The wormhole isn’t exactly a short trip. And after speaking with the Dominion consulate, I’m told that the Founders would want Plato to stay at least two months, so that they could fully ‘instruct him in the ways of the Link,’ whatever that means.”
“Would that be so bad?” Mirk asked.
“That’s what I’m mulling.”
“It’s a chance for Plato to learn about a huge part of where he came from. And it’s a chance for you to spend some quality time with him away from the Explorer.”
“I did quit my job in Sickbay, so it would be fairly easy to get away,” Browning said. “But it’s a long trip, and Plato’s ties to the Dominion aren’t exactly something I’m comfortable thinking about.”
“Maybe that’s the best reason to go,” Mirk said. “Don’t you think Plato’s not comfortable thinking about it, too?”
“I know he’s not. And I know it’s part of why he’s been so difficult lately, even if he won’t admit as much.”
“Sounds like you already made up your mind.”
Browning smiled at Mirk. “Well, you helped some.”
“Glad to be of service.”
“Speaking of vacations, why aren’t you down spending time with Commander Hartley instead of sitting around this empty bar?”
Mirk thought about that. “That’s a very good question, Doctor.”
“Maybe you need to get back to your roots too,” Browning said, and shoved off the barstool.
“The Delta Quadrant?”
“Your wife,” she grinned.
“Doctor, you’re a wise woman,” Mirk said, putting down the cloth and stepping out from behind the bar.
“So I’m told,” Browning said, looping her arm around Mirk’s as the pair left the club.
“I can’t believe you stuck your cigar in that guy’s eye,” Captain Baxter said, shifting in his chair at the head of the conference table a bit, as he and Harlan sat in the empty, somewhat chilly, conference lounge. As usual, his dress uniform felt tight and itched. Baxter detested formalities.
Beside him, Harlan folded his hands on top of the table. “It seemed the best way to take the man by surprise.”
“I’ll say. The doctors at Starfleet Security say they’ll have to replicate a new eye for him.”
“Unfortunate,” Harlan mumbled. He glanced at Baxter. “Did you mean those things you said? Or were you just trying to rile me?”
“I meant every one of them. But yes, I was also trying to rile you. Whatever that means.”
Harlan nodded. “You’re right.”
Harlan faced the front of the room. “Let’s leave it at that.”
“That you’re right.”
Baxter rubbed his chin. “Did you just apologize to me, Dad?”
“No. I just told you you’re right.”
“I never said that.”
“I’ve got to tell you, Dad. I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.”
“I’ve tried hard to do right by you, son. Sometimes I have, sometimes I haven’t. You’ll find the same damn thing out with Stephanie. But, at the end of the day, if you’re proud of who you’ve raised, and what they’ve done, it makes all those mistakes a hell of a lot more palatable.”
“And…you’re saying…what exactly?”
“F*** sakes, boy, you want me to kiss you and hug you?” Harlan snapped.
“Well, maybe the hug…” Baxter said softly.
“Straighten up and be a man. You’re about to be browbeaten by half a dozen flag officers.”
“I think I’ve been trained well for that,” Baxter said with a grin.
“Yeah, well,” Harlan muttered. “This’ll be harsh. Take it like a man and be done with it.”
Baxter reached out and touched Harlan’s hand, squeezing it. “Thanks, Dad. It means a lot that you’re proud of me.”
“Never said that,” Harlan said, as the doors opened, and Admiral Nechayev, along with Commodore Woodall and four other admirals, filed in.
Feeling rested, though a little hung over, and wearing a khaki shorts and a deep blue blouse, as well as a large pile of shiny beads around her neck, Lt. Commander Tilleran emerged from the transporter room.
She came face to face with Lt. J’hana.
“We need to talk,” J’hana said plainly.
“Can I get settled in first?”
“No. We must talk now.”
“Fine,” Tilleran said. “Walk with me, then.”
“Where is Lieutenant Commander Hartley?”
Tilleran shrugged. “Mirk beamed down to join us, and they stayed behind at one of the hotels in the French Quarter. Something about reliving old times.”
“Fascinating,” J’hana said.
“Yeah. Guess they have the market cornered on what it takes to keep a relationship going,” Tilleran said.
“Was Ensign Stuart your idea?” J’hana blurted.
“Is that why you ambushed me outside the transporter room? Stuart?”
“He is weak. You could have done better.”
“It wasn’t my idea. It was Hartley’s.”
“I hope she enjoys her visit to Earth. It will be her last.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Tilleran said, stepping into the opening turbolift doors. “Deck Nine,” she said. “She was just trying to cheer you up.”
“I don’t need consoling, or a consolation prize.”
“Well, you need something,” Tilleran said. “Even if you seem outwardly happy, I know you’re hurting.”
“That is no longer your concern.”
“And talk like that isn’t helping matters.”
“I don’t have to help matters.”
Tilleran turned to face J’hana as the doors to the turbolift opened. “For Rixx sake, J’hana! I want things to be normal between us!”
“Then you should not have ended our relationship.”
“Right,” Tilleran said, and walked out of the turbolift. J’hana followed. “Don’t blame all this on me. You’ve got things you need to work out on your own. I’d just be a distraction anyway.”
“You’re correct. Thank you for helping me. But send no more ensigns my way. The next one will die.”
Tilleran stopped and turned. “You didn’t…hurt Stuart, did you?”
“He is recovering in sickbay,” J’hana said, then grinned toothily. “However, he will have a story to tell his children, and his children’s children.”
“Until long after he lost consciousness, yes,” J’hana said. “Not altogether unenjoyable. But he is far too squeamish for my tastes.”
“You’re a one-woman wrecking crew, J’hana,” Tilleran said.
“In so many ways,” J’hana replied as Tilleran walked up to the doors to her cabin.
Tilleran keyed open the door, then turned around. “So…talk to you later?”
“Eventually,” J’hana said enigmatically, and walked off.
Supplemental. After what I can confidently say was the most excruciating six hours of my life, I’m happy to report I’m back home in Maryland, surrounded by wife and family. Admiral Nechayev and the others weren’t exactly forgiving. No big surprise there. But at the very least, I’d have expected a bit more thankfulness for the whole saving the Universe thing. Oh well. Live and learn, eh?
“Starfleet Academy?” Counselor Peterman asked, pacing the living room. “What? They want you to teach a class?”
Baxter sunk in his chair. “Not exactly teach.”
Peterman whirled to face him. “They want you to TAKE a class?”
Baxter nodded, covering his face. “Yeah. Command Decisions 101.”
“Didn’t they read your logs?”
“We deleted all the logs, remember? But I don’t think they would have helped much.”
“This is ridiculous!” Peterman snapped. “Can’t you appeal?”
“To who? Who’s above the Commander in Chief of Starfleet?”
“Bradley Dillon, that’s who!” Peterman said.
“I’ve called in my last favor from Dillon,” Baxter said. “Nope. I’m going to take my punishment like a man.”
“But a semester at Starfleet Academy…you’ll be gone for months!” Peterman brightened. “Unless…you requested to take the course over the Federnet…”
“That particular course isn’t offered over the Federnet.”
“This is beautiful. Just beautiful,” Peterman said. “After months of uncertainty and chaos, we finally get our lives back, and now I have to send you off to school!”
“It’s only a few months…”
Peterman sighed. “I suppose you want me and Steffie to stay with you while you go to class?”
Baxter shrugged. “If you wanna.”
“Given the alternative, I suppose I’ve got no choice.”
“You’re the best, Kelly,” Baxter said, pulling Peterman down into his lap and kissing her deeply on the mouth. “Did I mention I love you?”
“That’s not going to get you out of this one, buddy,” Peterman said, pushing off Baxter’s lap.
“Anyway, we’ve got a couple months before the next semester starts.”
Peterman took a deep breath. “Terrific. What about your father?”
“A slap on the wrist, more or less. And he got reinstated to the Explorer project, which you might also consider a punishment.” Baxter shook his head.
“Is that all?”
“Well, not really. Turns out he had a shot at being Commander-in- Chief once Nechayev’s term was up.”
“But not anymore?”
“Apparently blowing off Starfleet and getting in bed…so to speak…with Section Thirty-One isn’t exactly Commander-in-Chief-type behavior.”
“Your father must be devastated.”
“Can’t tell,” Baxter said. “You know how he is. Not one to express himself.”
Just then, Ashley Donovan came down the steps. “The upstairs is secure. No homing devices or spy probes.”
“That’s a relief,” Peterman said.
“Where’s Kimmel?” Ashley asked.
“She’s…outside,” Baxter said.
“You know I’m on a schedule, right?”
Baxter nodded. “Yeah.”
“What did you tell Starfleet?”
“What we agreed to,” Baxter said, and stood. “I guess I need to go out there and talk to her.”
“Remind her that we’re on a schedule!” Ashley called after him.
“It’s been a joy having you around,” Peterman muttered.
“Oh, while I was up there, I noticed your daughter crapped her pants,” Ashley sneered. “Have fun with that!”
“I really loathe you,” Peterman said, and headed up the stairs.
Baxter stepped out onto the front porch, finding Kimmel sitting on a bench, staring out at the grass and trees, and the long driveway that led out to the rebuilt town of Salisbury.
“Hey,” he said. “Mind if I join you?”
“Might as well,” Kimmel said. “It’s your last chance.”
Baxter sat beside Kimmel, following her gaze out into the woods. “You know, if there was any other way…”
Kimmel nodded. “You risked everything to keep me safe, Andy. I know if there was any way you could have prevented this, you would have.”
“Section Thirty-One won’t give up until they have you. And Ashley is the perfect person to make sure that never happens…even if it does mean going into hiding. Besides, I’m sure you two will have a great time together.”
“Yeah, she seems nice.”
“Only you could make that sound believable,” Baxter said with a chuckle.
“Yeah,” Kimmel said, nodding. “You told Starfleet?”
Baxter nodded. “As far as they know, you’re in Thirty-One’s hands right now. They were actually shocked it took them so long to abduct you.”
“So that’s that.”
“Yes,” Baxter said. “I’d promise to write you all the time, but Ashley told me I can’t.”
“Nothing that can be traced,” Kimmel said. “Yeah. I know.”
“Apparently, the sector she’s taking you to is really nice. I can’t be sure, though, since she won’t tell me where she’s taking you.”
“Probably safer that way, huh?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. Just then, his front door creaked open and Ashley leaned out.
“Schedule!” she said.
“Just a minute!” Baxter said, and she ducked back inside. He turned to Kimmel. “Look, Anna…”
“I know. There’s a lot you want to say, but you don’t have the time.”
“This stinks,” Baxter said, staring at the floorboards of the porch. “This f***ing stinks. After everything we went through…to lose you now…”
Kimmel smiled, her eyes glinting in the falling sunlight. “Yeah, it does stink, Andy. But would you rather not know you had a sister?”
“I know. And it helps to know that you’ll be out there, somewhere, and that you’ll be okay.”
“Ashley would rather you not think about me, either,” Kimmel said with a laugh. “You know, in case your mind gets probed or something.”
“She’s a real piece of work,” Baxter said. “So are you, Anna. But in a good way.”
“Your father wouldn’t want us getting mushy about this,” Kimmel said, reaching up to touch Baxter’s cheek. “So how about we just grunt something unintelligible and say so long?”
Baxter cleared his throat, blinked a little, then leaned forward and kissed Kimmel on her forehead. “So long, Anna.”
“You can get mushy if you wanna, but I won’t condone it,” a voice said, and Kimmel and Baxter looked up to find Harlan looming there over him, still in his dress uniform, but now wearing a pair of silver, reflective sunglasses..
“Dad…?” Baxter asked.
“Beamed in a few seconds ago,” Harlan muttered, sitting on the other side of Kimmel. “Security’s pretty damn lax around here. Yer Mom sends her love. Whatever.”
“Thanks for coming,” Baxter said, a smile crossing his face.
Harlan looked at Kimmel. “You be careful out there. Commander Donovan will see to all your needs. But you’ve gotta be on your toes. Never know when Thirty-One will turn up.”
“I’ll be fine, sir.”
Harlan grunted, straightened, then stood up, then put his hand on Kimmel’s shoulder. “Call me Dad.”
She grinned. “I’ll be fine…Dad.”
“Yeah,” he said hoarsely. “You’ll be fine. Baxter to Pathfinder. One to beam up.”
Baxter watched as his father dematerialized.
“Why was he wearing sunglasses?” Kimmel said, wrinkling her nose curiously. “The sun’s almost down.”
“Some things will forever be a mystery,” Baxter said wryly, standing and taking Kimmel’s hand. He pulled her into a tight, long- lasting hug. “And some things wont,” he added as he squeezed.
“Ahem,” Ashley said from behind them. “Hate to break in on this lovely family moment, but we have a lifetime exile to get to.”
“Doesn’t she paint a lovely picture?” Peterman asked, leaning against the open doorway.
“She’s right,” Kimmel said, stepping up next to Ashley. “Let’s get this overwith.”
Baxter nodded, as Peterman stepped out, putting an arm around his waist. “Beam out, or up, or whatever you need to do, Ashley. And take care of her.” He looked at Kimmel and smiled. She smiled back, and that somehow said everything.
“I’ll miss you too,” Ashley said with a grin, slapping a control on her wrist. The pair quite suddenly dematerialized–to who knew where– and Baxter quite suddenly felt like he was being dragged down by ten ton weights.
He moved over to the bench and sat down heavily. Peterman sat beside him, leaning against his shoulder, interlacing her fingers with his.
“You handled that well,” she said softly.
“You’ve no idea,” Baxter said tightly.
“You know you can cry now, right?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, and leaned his head on hers.
TWO WEEKS LATER. . .
“Thanks for walking with me,” Doctor Browning said, shifting her satchel on her shoulder as Baxter walked silently beside her toward the transporter room.
“No problem. I didn’t have much else to do today anyway.”
“How are you holding up?”
Baxter shrugged. “Fine.”
“You know, if you want to talk…”
“You’ll be unreachable in the Gamma Quadrant.”
Browning took Baxter’s hand and gripped it. “Just a subspace relay call away.”
“And you’re sure I can’t talk you out of this?”
“Pretty sure,” Browning said. “I told you, Plato and Chaka and I have talked about it extensively. Starfleet even likes the idea, which is why they sent the Orleans to pick me up.”
“They really must hate me,” Baxter said. “I hear it was Woodall’s idea to send the Orleans.”
“You don’t have to talk to Captain Sullivan if you don’t want to. But if you like, I’ll try to make nice with her on the way to the Gamma Quadrant.”
“That’d be great,” Baxter said, stepping into the transporter room, where Plato and Chaka were already standing on the transporter padd. Baxter nodded at Ensign Yang, who stood at the transporter controls. “Ensign, you’re dismissed.” He turned to Chaka as Yang left. “Now, then, mister, I assume you realize you’re under orders to protect these two with your life.”
“I would anyway, Captain.”
Baxter patted him on the shoulder. “That a boy.” He turned to Plato. “Young man, you behave. No swimming in the, uh…deep end…of the Founders.”
“There’s no deep end Uncle Andy,” Plato said with a laugh. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“Well, whatever. Have a good time.”
“I will,” Plato said. “Uh, watch out…”
Baxter suddenly felt Browning’s arms wrap around him tightly. She looked up at him.
“We’ll be back in a couple months, Andy.”
“Right, right,” Baxter said. “Take your time. You don’t work for Starfleet anymore, so it’s not like I can order you to come back.”
Browning smiled. “But I will be back.”
“You’d better. Don’t want me to waste away on replicated food.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Browning said, and stepped up on the transporter pad.
Baxter walked behind the transporter console and keyed up the coordinates of the Orleans, making sure her shields were down, and her transporter room was ready to receive its passengers.
Browning glanced at the doors to the transporter room expectantly.
Baxter looked up. “I, uh, don’t think he’s coming, Janice.”
“Yeah. Yeah, me neither,” Browning said. “I guess you can go ahead and initialize.”
“Energize, Janice,” Baxter said with a small smile, and slid the slidebars up on the transporter panel, beaming Browning, Plato, and Chaka off the ship.
He stepped out of the transporter room, nodding at Ensign Yang, then headed for the turbolift to the bridge. For reasons unknown, he smiled broadly. Despite all the events of the last couple weeks, and the last few months, he actually felt really good.
There was even a little spring in his step as he boarded the turbolift, and ordered it to the bridge.
Commander Richards sat in the vacant Constellation Club, facing its massive, oblong viewports, and staring at the Steamrunner-class starship Orleans outside.
“Have a great trip, Janice,” he said softly, lifting his drink (the fourth one this afternoon) at the Orleans at it pivoted, then shot off into warp.
“You are alone,” a voice said from behind him.
Richards didn’t turn around, but the basso voice, and the blue reflection in the viewport, told him everything he needed to know. “Yeah, J’hana, I am.”
“I just came to say thank you,” J’hana said. “But if you would prefer to remain alone, I understand…”
“No, as a matter of fact, I don’t prefer to remain alone,” Richards said, inclining his head to the seat next to him. “Have a seat, Commander. Now what are you thanking me about?”
“Exactly that, sir,” J’hana said, sitting stiffly beside him. “My reinstatement to Lieutenant Commander.”
“It was long overdue. Andy and I were just looking for an excuse to do it. Saving the ship from a horde of Orions was as good a reason as any.”
“Two hundred and seven Orions,” J’hana said. “I kept count.”
“I know,” Richards said, and sipped his Tom Cochrane. “Good work.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
“You need to relax, J’hana,” Richards said. “You’re so…erect.”
“Speak for yourself, sir.”
“I had that coming,” Richards said, with a nervous laugh. “Can I get you a drink?”
J’hana cocked her head, antennae twitching. “You are making a romantic advance. Humans are so…transparent.”
Richards thought about it. “Heh. I guess we are at that. So, is that a no?”
J’hana shook her head. “It is a warning. Because you’ve already been gravely injured once this year.”
“So I have,” Richards said. “Then again, nothing ventured…” He stood to head over to the bar. “Anyways, what can I get you? Something caustic, I imag–”
He was cut off as J’hana dragged him by the back of his uniform down into his lap and kissed him deeply, then body-slammed him to the floor and leapt on top of him. “You’ve been warned!” she roared.
“Help!” Richards squeaked.
On the bridge, Baxter sat in his command chair, rapping his fingers idly on the chair-arm. “Engineering reports we’re ready to get underway,” Tilleran said. “Should I have Richards and J’hana report to the bridge?”
“Nah,” Baxter said. “Let them have their rest. They deserve it.” He looked up as Peterman stepped down to the command area and sat down in the seat to his left.
“Steffie seems to really be enjoying her Toddlercise class,” she said. “She was giggling like crazy when I left her.”
Baxter raised an eyebrow. “The holographic Richard Simmons is online?”
“And energetic as ever,” Peterman said with a smile. “And quite handsome, if I do say so myself.”
“Glad to see we’re putting technology to a fitting use,” Baxter said, adjusting in his seat.
“I’m just glad Steffie has other toddlers to play with now. I think she got a little despondent during all that time the non-essential crew were gone.”
“Can a two-year-old get despondent?” Baxter asked.
“Interesting question,” Tilleran piped up from sciences. “Research shows…”
“She’s not two yet!” Peterman said quickly.
“Stop worrying,” Baxter said, putting his hand over Peterman’s. “We have plenty of time before she grows up and starts hating us.”
“I’m reasonably sure,” Baxter said with a grin, and leaned over, kissing Peterman on the cheek.
“What was that for?” she whispered.
“For worrying about stuff like that,” Baxter whispered back, and squeezed her hand. He turned back to the front of the bridge. “Now, then, as I understand it, we’ve got a mission to get to.”
Tilleran nodded, pulling up the mission parameters on her screen. “Pretty boring stuff. Mapping mission to the Yevaran Sector.”
“You know, boring doesn’t sound half bad,” Baxter said. “Let’s go. Lieutenant Madera, if you don’t mind…”
“Sir!” Keefler piped up from tactical. “We’re getting a distress call from the Federation Colony on Aldebran. Apparently, the Colony Leader has started ordering everyone to wear their underwear outside their clothes.”
“You’re kidding,” Peterman said.
“Ridiculous,” Tilleran said.
“Sounds like a job for the Explorer,” Baxter said, and couldn’t help but laugh. “Keefler, contact the colony and let them know we’re on our way. And tell them to…hehe…keep their pants on. Madera, lay in a course for Aldebran and engage at maximum warp. It’s about time we got back to our roots…”
After all, if the Explorer didn’t come to the rescue of loonies and rejects, who would?
SECTOR 21992 OUTSKIRTS OF FEDERATION SPACE
The spectacled man sat at the bar, slowly sipping his strawberry daiquiri.
“Y-you Ficker?” a voice asked from behind him.
“Who wants to know?” the man replied.
“I…I spoke to you on subspace, a few days ago. You said you could help me?”
Without looking back, Ficker nodded. “You say you left Starfleet?”
“Yeah,” the guy said. “Well, more like I was pushed out.”
“Let’s not get crazy…”
“Already been there, my friend.” Ficker sipped his drink. “So if not incompetence, then what?”
“I, um, sort of misplaced a warp core.”
“My captain thought so.”
“What does he know?”
“You said you could help me.”
“You’ve got engineering training?”
“I was a solid ‘C’ student in warp dynamics at the Academy.”
“I had some bad breaks, so what?”
“So it sounds like I can help you. Pull up a seat, Lieutenant.”
“I’m not a lieutenant anymore,” the man said, sitting beside Ficker.
“Yes you are. Because, on my ship, rejects aren’t thrown away. They get a second chance.”
Ficker turned to face the man–a boy, really. He was gaunt and freckled, and not at all intimidating. Just the type he was looking for. “At getting back at Starfleet for rejecting you in the first place.”
“But I thought you only had one ship…”
“It’s a hell of a ship. You interested?”
“Yeah,” the lieutenant said, shaking Ficker’s hand. “Yeah I am.”
Ficker smiled broadly. “Then welcome aboard, son. I think you’ll fit right in.”