Author: Anthony Butler
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story takes place in Year One of Star Traks: The Vexed Generation, just prior to “Leader of the Flock.”
Also, Happy Holidays! I know you were expecting socks, but I got you this instead.
USS AEROSTAR-A STARDATE 51436.4
“Christmas Eve!” Captain Andy Baxter announced, stepping out of the turbolift and onto the bridge of the U.S.S. Aerostar with unusual enthusiasm. “Is anyone else excited besides me?”
“No,” Commander David Conway said flatly from the command chair. “Go back to your cabin and hibernate for six weeks, then come out again to see if the outlook is any brighter.”
“I despise celebrations not involving ritual sacrifice,” J’hana said from the tactical console behind Conway. “I do, however, appreciate gifts.”
“That’s odd, isn’t it?” Lt. Commander Ariel Tilleran pointed out from her adjacent spot at sciences.
“I am an enigma,” J’hana affirmed.
“Well, like it or not, we’re going to celebrate the holidays like the family we are,” Baxter said, as he made his way down to the center seat to face Conway.
The first officer looked up at Baxter. “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” Baxter said, looking down at him. “This is the part where you get up and move to the side so I can sit down in my seat.”
“Oh, right. Because you’re the ‘captain,’” Conway said, twitching his fingers.
“Do you really have to make air quotes every time you say that?”
“I don’t have to, but I sure like to,” Conway said, and with a sigh, slowly stood and moved to the chair to Baxter’s right, taking his tall mug of steaming coffee with him.
“What’s our status?” Baxter asked, looking out at the viewscreen.
“Sleighbells, carolers, and wasselers a wasseling, sir; just another Christmas in the Delta Quadrant,” Ensign Zack Ford said from the helm console.
“Really,” Baxter muttered, staring at the streaking stars on the viewscreen. “Do you have to be so damn sarcastic?”
“Do you have to completely ignore the fact that we’re in the middle of nowhere, and have been plowing our way through bleak, desolate space for weeks now thanks to your harebrained idea to explore the Delta Quadrant in search of alliances instead of just heading toward Earth?” Ford shot back.
“Ech,” Baxter muttered, shaking his head. “Just because we’re stuck on the other side of the universe…”
“Galaxy,” Conway corrected.
“Galaxy,” Baxter said, glaring at Conway. “Doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the holiday spirit around here.”
“In fact it does,” Lt. Larkin spoke up from the ops station. “According to recent polls, ninety-nine percent of the crew classify themselves as ‘depressed’ with our current situation.”
“So who are the one percent of the crew in a good mood? Me and…”
“Happy holidays, everyone!” Counselor Peterman exclaimed, stepping out of the aft turbolift with Charlie in tow. She had on a pair of fake, pointy ears and her hair was in pigtails, stuffed under a floppy green hat with a bell on top. Sadly, Charlie sported a similar hat, and looked displeased about it. Or maybe he was displeased with the bell that was attached to his tail.
Peterman skipped down to the front of the bridge with Charlie, a plate of bright green and red Christmas cookies balanced in her free hand. “So, as you guys have probably guessed, I’ve been baking all day.”
“I haven’t guessed at all, because I don’t care,” Conway said dully, looking up from a padd. “What are you supposed to be? A Christmas demon?”
“Perhaps the pointed ears denote she is costumed as a Vulcan,” Larkin suggested.
“Wrong, and wronger!” Peterman said, merrily waving her finger. “I’m an elf, sillies.”
“Of course you are,” Baxter said with a cheery smile. “Have a seat, Counselor. Tell the rest of these sad sacks that they should raise their spirits for the holidays!”
“Oh yes,” Peterman said, coming down to sit next to Baxter. “It’s proven that a good mood must be maintained throughout the holidays. People need that emotional high to get them through post-holiday depression. Oooh, yeah, that can be a sticky time, for sure. I’ve cleared out my calendar for the three days after Christmas. If we survive through that without any suicides or maimings, let’s just count ourselves as lucky.”
“Yeah,” Conway said. “Lucky we’re stuck in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Let’s look on the bright side,” Peterman said. “We have our lives, our health, and a wonderful starship to call home.”
“A f***ing starship not fast enough to get us home before we’re eligible for retirement,” Conway muttered and went back to his padd.
“Oh, Commander,” Peterman said. “I can tell you’re going to need my help most of all. Want a cookie?”
Conway’s eyes shifted away from the padd, and focused on the tray of cookies. “No.”
“They’re really good with coffee…”
“Okay. Just one.” He reached over and snatched a handful of cookies. “Or five.”
“There’s a boy. Eat ‘em up,” Peterman said cheerily. “Anybody else?”
“Oh, me, please,” Ford said, rising from the helm and walking over. “I’d love to eat your little cookie, Counselor.”
“Enjoy!” Peterman said, offering up her plate to Ford as Baxter stared at him.
“Go back to your station, Ensign,” Baxter muttered.
“Oh, Andy, I don’t envy you,” Peterman said, as Ford returned to his station and Baxter continued glaring. “Keeping this crew happy through the holidays can’t be an easy task. Do you have any ideas on how to do that?”
“Well,” Baxter said, taking a deep breath. “Not really. I was kind of hoping you’d take that on.”
“Well, you are our Counselor, right? You’re in charge of morale.”
Peterman thought about that. “I could organize a holiday party tonight…it’s a little last minute, but it’s not like I’ll be competing with other holiday parties!”
“Excellent idea!” Baxter said, patting Peterman on the shoulder. “A little get-together for the crew.”
“I hate celebrations,” J’hana repeated from behind them.
“Yes, you’ve made that clear,” Baxter said, and continued to smile at Peterman. “So, what are you thinking? A board game night? Or maybe a karaoke contest?”
Peterman wrinkled her nose a bit at that. “No. I mean…those are all good ideas, Captain, but I was thinking more along the lines of a…”
“Dance! A dance!” Baxter exclaimed, pacing sickbay, wringing his hands.
“I think that sounds nice,” Dr. Janice Browning said. “Now hold on one second, Ensign Yang. This’ll take just a…”
Baxter turned around just as Browning popped Yang’s knee back into place with a sickening crunch.
“There you go!” she said, and with the other hand shoved a handful of peanut brittle into her mouth.
Yang stared down at her knee for a moment and then began to shriek. “I think you forgot something, Doctor!” she said, wailing in pain.
“Hmm….oh, yes!” Browning reached over to a table beside Yang and grabbed a hypospray, quickly injecting it into her arm. “I was supposed to give you something for the pain. That should keep you nice and glossy for at least two days. Come back if you want some more! We’re open twenty-four seven!”
Yang’s eyes dilated and she shifted off the biobed woozily. “Thanks, Doc. I will!”
“Another happy customer,” Browning said thoughtfully as Yang limped out.
“Doctor!” Baxter said from behind Browning. “Can we please focus on what’s important here?”
“Ensign Valdez’ infected gallbladder?”
“The Holiday Dance!” Baxter said, hopping onto a biobed and putting his head into his hands. “Kelly’s scheduling a dance, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Browning nodded thoughtfully, then jumped up onto the biobed next to Baxter. “How about you get drunk and dance your butt off? That’s probably what everyone else will be doing.”
“But…I don’t know how to dance,” Baxter said softly.
“Oh,” Browning said. “Wish I could help you there. I don’t know how to dance either. I spent most of my time around the food table at those sorts of functions.”
“There’s another problem,” Baxter said. “I want to ask Kelly to the dance, you know, as my…date.”
“So ask her.”
“Argh! It’s not that easy!” Baxter pounded the biobed with his fist. “I can’t just walk up and be like ‘Hey, go to the dance with me.’”
“And why not?”
“Because I just can’t to that. I’m not that kind of guy.”
Just then, the doors to Sickbay opened and Lt. Commander Christopher Richards stuck his head in. “Hey, Janice. There’s a holiday dance tonight . Want to go with me?”
“Sure!” Browning exclaimed.
“Great. Pick you up at eighteen-hundred,” Richards said, and nodded at Baxter. “Hey, Andy.”
“Hey, Chris,” Baxter said, as Richards ducked out.
Browning smiled at Baxter. “See how easy it is?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Easy when you’re good-looking like Chris is.”
“Well, now, there’s your problem,” Browning said. “You’re plenty good-looking. And if you don’t stop waffling about it, and get some confidence about yourself, no woman is going to want to go out with you.”
“Sure,” Browning said. “Heck, I would have dated you, if we hadn’t become friends when I first came on board.”
“Uh-huh.” Baxter shifted off the biobed and headed for the door. “Well, thanks for your help.”
“No problem,” Browning said. “Good luck with your dancing problem.”
“And hey, just get a little confidence! You’ve got to believe you can do anything you set your mind to!”
As Baxter ducked out, Browning’s communicator chirped.
“Bailey to Browning. Valdez’ gallbladder is getting worse. Are we going to operate or what?”
“Oh, right! I almost forgot!” Browning exclaimed, and hopped off the biobed.
“A what?” Commander Conway asked, leaning over the ops panel.
“Quantum slipstream,” Larkin said, looking up from her readouts. “And a powerful one, at that. Slipstreams can interfere with warp fields, and in fact can knock starships out of warp, even destroy them. We’re fortunate that we didn’t collide with it.”
“I’ll say,” Conway said. “Mister Ford: Plot a course that will put as much distance as possible between us and the slipstream.”
“I would like to take this sensor information down to the science lab and confer with Lieutenant Tilleran and her staff, to determine the course of the slipstream and ensure that it does not change course suddenly and collide with us later on in our exploratory mission.”
“Very well,” Conway said, and Larkin rose from her station.
As Larkin headed to the turbolift, it opened to reveal Captain Baxter. “Ah, Lieutenant! Just the person I was looking for. Come with me!”
“Actually, Captain, I was just about to…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Baxter said, wrapping an arm around Larkin’s shoulder and leading her into the turbolift. “I need you for a very important assignment.”
“I believe we are facing a very important assign…”
“Oh, it can wait,” Baxter said, waving a dismissive hand. “This is top priority.”
Larkin nodded. “And what exactly is the assignment, sir?”
“I need you to teach me how to dance.”
Larkin paused, allowing her protocol program to process the potential causes and effects of her next action. Having just been promoted, and cultivating a modest ambition program, she decided to do nothing that would provoke ire in her new captain. So she would shelve the problem of the slipstream for now and focus on the captain’s needs.
“I am, of course, at your disposal, sir.”
“That means you know how to dance?”
“In a manner of speaking. My databanks possess any number of dance moves, from baccata to meringue, to box step and Charleston.”
“Well, we’re a long way from…Charleston,” Baxter said, as the lift doors opened and they stepped out onto the deck. “Holodeck Two will be sufficient.”
“Is there a particular style of dance you’re interested in?”
“You could say that,” Baxter said as they approached the holodeck doors. He pushed a control. “Computer: Activate program Baxter-Astaire Twenty-Three.”
The computer chirped, and the holodeck doors opened to reveal a large, resplendant dance hall.
“I want to dance my way right into Counselor Peterman’s heart…not literally of course, hehe.”
“This should be fascinating,” Larkin said, following Baxter into the holodeck.
Lt. Megan Hartley grimaced as she walked into the Starlight Lounge. “Oh, Mirk. Not you too.”
“What?” Mirk asked innocently from behind the bar, flopping a towel over his shoulder. “Can you blame me for putting up a few decorations?”
“A few?” Hartley asked, shuffling over to the bar and scooting into a chair. She looked around at the assortment of wreaths, ribbons, and colorful blinking lights all around the room. “It looks like Santa Claus threw up all over this place.”
“Sandra who?” Mirk asked blankly.
“Santa…never mind,” Hartley said. “Just give me an intergalactic fwarz-sharsher and be done with it.”
“I don’t understand,” Mirk said. “The holidays are part of your human heritage. Being so far from home, wouldn’t you want to hang on to those things?”
“Maybe some people do,” Hartley said, as Mirk handed her the drink she ordered. “But did you ever consider that some of us feel even more homesick when we’re reminded of what we’re missing at home?”
“Your family liked to celebrate the holidays?”
“Oh, yeah,” Hartley said. “Mom would cook a big meal…we’d sit around a fire and open presents all day. We’d go around the neighborhood singing…”
“Well, not me,” Hartley said. “But I’d watch everyone else do that.”
“Are you really as crabby as you make yourself out to be?”
“Damn right I am, and don’t forget it,” Hartley said, leaning forward and grabbing Mirk’s gold lame’ suit coat. “You got that?”
“Sure, sure,” Mirk said, and gently pulled away.
“What about you? Why are you celebrating? Maloxians don’t have Christmas, right?”
“No, not exactly,” Mirk said. “But we do believe it’s important to commemorate our togetherness with rituals and occasions. It’s how you build a community. It’s how you get to know the people around you.”
“There’s some wisdom in that, I suppose,” Hartley said, sipping her drink. “But I don’t have to like it.”
“True,” Mirk said. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Hartley stared at him through narrowed eyes. Why was it that Mirk seemed to know what she was thinking all the time? Did he have telepathy like Tilleran…or was it something else?
She rolled her eyes and shifted off her chair. “I’ll see you later, Mirk. I’m going to go see if I can find any other gloomy folks to associate with.”
“Suit yourself,” Mirk said. “I’m going to go get more eggnog out of the store room.”
Hartley walked up to the back of the lounge, where Lt. J’hana was seated alone at a table, staring into her frothy, bubbling v’haspant.
“Lieutenant,” Hartley said with a nod.
“Lieutenant,” J’hana said.
“Mind if I sit down?”
“Yes,” J’hana said flatly.
“Cool,” Hartley said, and sat opposite J’hana. “This is more like it.”
“More like what?” J’hana asked, looking up.
“Somebody who hates the world. It’s refreshing, especially around the holidays.”
J’hana looked around the festively-decorated lounge. “This…unbridled enthusiasm… is somewhat annoying.”
“Why do people feel the need to create artificial happiness, anyway?” Hartley asked. “If we want to be miserable, just let us be miserable, right?”
The two sat in silence for several minutes.
“Are you going to the dance tonight?” Hartley asked, off-hand.
“Yes,” J’hana said.
“Me too,” Hartley said.
“I am going…stag,” J’hana said.
“Me too,” Hartley said. “There certainly seems to be a lack of acceptable mates among the men on this ship.”
“Indeed,” J’hana said, surveying the room.
“Dashing through the snow, on a one horse open sleigh…merrily we go, laughing all the way…ha ha ha! Bells on something ring, what a something something thing! Something something, sommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmme thing! Merrily all the way!”
Peterman sang off-key as she danced about Cargo Bay Four, tossing up tinsel by the armload, hanging it off the bulkhead rafters as she danced.
“If I ordered you to stop singing, would you?” a voice called from the doorway.
Peterman turned, shocked to see Conway standing there. “Commander! I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I was just heading off-shift. I wanted to see if you were really going through with this.”
“I sure am! Nineteen hundred on the dot. Don’t be late.”
“I’m not coming,” Conway said, sipping his coffee. “Lots of crew reports to file tonight.”
“What? Don’t be silly, commander. The reports can wait. Is somebody at Starfleet going to punish you if they’re not submitted on time?”
“Some of us are still interested in operating this ship like something resembling a professional Federation starship.”
“Huh,” Peterman said, continuing to hang tinsel. “Well, I assure you, you’re in the minority.”
“All the more reason to work hard at it,” Conway said. “Try not to make too much noise. There are science labs on either side of you and they’re doing subspace scans tonight to monitor the quantum slipstream we discovered today.”
“No they’re not. Andy gave them the night off.”
“I mean, Captain Baxter, that is.”
“Right. Well, isn’t that just like him. Hell with it. Who cares? I’m off-shift, anyway.” Conway turned and headed out of the cargo bay. “Happy frigging holidays, Counselor.”
“You too,” Peterman muttered, shaking her head. Some people just didn’t have the holiday spirit.
“Now, gently, twirl me,” Larkin instructed stiffly, as Baxter moved her in tune to the music.
“Twirling in five, four, three, two…and twirl!” Baxter announced, giving Larkin a gentle spin, holding her hand as she whirled away from him. He closed his eyes, tapping his foot to the music, enjoying this feeling of expressing himself through movement. He’d never done that before, never felt so free, so…wow Larkin’s arm felt a lot lighter all of a sudden.
He opened his eyes to see he was now holding just Larkin’s arm, and that the rest of the android was laying on the ground, looking rather put out.
“That happens to me from time to time,” Larkin said. “Hopefully the same will not happen to Counselor Peterman.”
“Yeah, hopefully,” Baxter said, helping Larkin to her feet. “Maybe we should stop here. I feel like I know a few moves, and you’re obviously…” He looked at her arm that still dangled in his hand. “Shorthanded….”
“I do not understand puns,” Larkin said, and took the arm from Baxter. “If you will excuse me, I must report to engineering to be…”
“I will see you at the dance, sir. Good luck.”
“You too, Lieutenant! Oh, I forgot to ask…do you have a date?”
“I do not understand dating. So, no.”
“Huh. Pity,” Baxter said as he watched Larkin go. “Computer…something with a funkier beat. I want to practice shaking my butt like it owes me money.”
“Warning…holodeck safeties must be engaged for this sequence,” the computer intoned.
“They’d better be!” Baxter said, as a rousing techno-hop song came blasting over the speakers.
“Come,” Richards said, looking up from his desk in engineering.
Larkin stood in the doorway to Richards’s cramped office. “Commander. I hate to trouble you; however…” She held up her detached arm.
“Oh, man,” Richards said, waving Larkin in. “Again?”
“Affirmative. It happened while I was trying to teach Captain Baxter to dance.”
“You were trying to teach Captain Baxter to dance?”
“It was an order.”
“Poor thing,” Richards said, moving to his desk drawer to get a phase coupler. “How’d it go?”
“It is difficult to predict how he will fare just based on today’s lesson. However, were I given to wagers, I would say that the results will be nothing short of catastrophic.”
“Perhaps the captain will do something to endear himself to Counselor Peterman that does not require agility, coordination, stamina, or grace.”
“He’ll be fine, once he gets his head out of his ass,” Richards said, examining Larkin’s arm and its socket.
“I’ve known Andy since our early days on the Aquarius, when we were still fresh from the academy.”
“And he’s got his head up his ass, more times than not. But he always seems to pull it out just in time.”
“That seems impossible.”
Richards sighed as he pressed Larkin’s arm back onto her shoulder and began welding it back on with the phase coupler. “Not literally, Larkin. I mean, he just doesn’t notice what’s going on around him. And he operates that way…pretty much all the time. But just when you’re ready to write him off, he does something that makes you think, maybe he knows what he’s doing, after all.”
“That supposition would run contrary to our empirical data.”
“Well, that supposition is why I’m friends with the guy. Despite the given circumstances, I believe in him.”
“Those with emotions might consider that sweet,” Larkin observed.
“Maybe. But then again, humans are all unpredictable. That’s what makes us all so damn fascinating. You don’t know what we’ll do next.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Well,” Richards said, patting Larkin on the arm. “You’re good as new. See you at the dance tonight?”
“Indeed. I look forward to it.”
“No. I have no emotions. I was just saying that to be nice.”
“So, Counselor, I was thinking, if you weren’t too busy tonight…what am I saying, you will be busy, you’re planning the dance. I mean…but still, you need a date, right? Everybody needs a date. Well, maybe not needs. But wants. You want a date right? You date men, don’t you? Not that it would be a problem if you didn’t. It would just be a problem for me. Not a big problem, but, well…shit.”
Baxter shook his head. No, for certain, that wasn’t the right tack. He looked at himself in the mirror in his quarters. “Look, Kelly, you’re good looking, and I’m good looking. Let’s make babies together.”
No, not right either.
He stared at himself again. “You are good looking, Andy Baxter. You’re a tiger. Rawr. The ladies adore you. The men want to be just like you. They…” His shoulders fell and he deflated a bit. “Oh, who the hell am I kidding?”
He walked over to his couch and flopped down. “I’ll never pull it off. I wouldn’t even be able to ask Kelly out if she stepped right in and…”
His door chime suddenly beeped.
“Come?” Baxter asked meekly.
The doors to his cabin slid open and Counselor Peterman stepped in, hair tousled and face damp with perspiration. “I’m done! It took three ensigns from ship’s services and me, but we did it up right. The cargo bay looks beautiful!”
“Yes, and now I’m exhausted,” Peterman said, and flopped down in the chair adjacent to Baxter. “I need a nice, long, hot shower. You know?”
Baxter tugged a bit at his collar. “Yeah, I know.”
“Well,” she slapped her thighs. “No sense dawdling. I still have to pick out a great outfit.”
“Yes. Great outfit.”
“Do you have your dress uniform?”
“It’s in there somewhere…” Baxter said, glancing back at the crate he still hadn’t fully unpacked.
“Good. I bet you’ll look handsome in it.”
“Well, everyone does. It’s a sharp uniform.” She sighed. “Okay, off to the clothes replicator.” She headed for the door, then stopped and looked back. “Oh, Captain. Are you bringing anyone tonight?”
“Bringing? To the dance? Uh, me? No!”
“Good. I thought it would be nice if we went together, showing solidarity, you know…as the only two people who are actually excited about the holidays, and all.”
Peterman nodded. “I believe it would be good for morale, if we showed a united front, Captain.”
“I couldn’t agree more, Counselor,” Baxter said with a gaping smile.
“Great. Pick me up in an hour?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Pick you up,” Baxter said, and stared as Peterman left and his doors closed. “Pick her up! I’m picking her up! She’s going with me! I’ve got a date! Kelly Peterman is my date!”
Baxter smiled to himself and dashed over to his crate, rifling through its contents to find the dress uniform he knew was buried somewhere deep inside.
He’d look great tonight. He’d feel great tonight. Tonight, he’d sweep Kelly Peterman off her feet.
Nothing could get in his way.
“That’s odd,” Ensign Fresca said, looking up from the helm as the Aerostar sailed through space at warp.
“What’s odd?” Lt. Gellar asked from the command chair.
“Oh, nothing. Just a strange subspace reading. I’m sure if it was something important, Lieutenant Larkin or the science labs would have picked it up by now.”
“You’re probably right,” Gellar agreed.
“You pissed about having to work the night of the party?” Fresca asked.
“Yeah,” Gellar said, staring around the empty bridge.
“Want to put the ship on auto-pilot and head down there?”
“Can we really do that?”
“Sure, for an hour or so. Can’t hurt, right?”
“It itches,” Baxter said, fiddling with his dress uniform.
“It’ll be fine,” Peterman said. “Just stop thinking about it. We’re almost there!”
“I’m giddy,” Baxter said, feeling a tad sweaty and uncomfortable.
They soon reached the double doors to Cargo Bay four, and Peterman patted Baxter on the back. “You’re going to be so proud of me, Captain!”
“Please, uh, call me Andy,” Baxter said, pulling at his collar, as the door hushed open, revealing a veritable winter wonderland.
Baxter stepped in, looking about, as “All I Want for Christmas,” played in the background. “Where’d you get all this snow?”
“It’s fake snow. The replicators have been churning it out all afternoon.
Baxter reached down and felt it. “It’s cold and wet. Are you sure we don’t have any components in here that could be damaged?”
“I don’t know,” Peterman said, taking Baxter’s hand and dragging him further into the bay. “C’mon, enjoy the party!”
There were only a few officers there at present, standing off to one corner. Baxter could sense everyone was still bummed about being stuck in the Delta Quadrant, and he couldn’t really blame them. He hoped this small gesture would lighten their mood, but by the looks of it, the returns weren’t so great, so far.
“This is gorgeous!” Doctor Browning called from the other side of the bay, coming in with Richards fast on her heels. She wore a long sequined, white dress and Richards, too, was in his dress uniform. “Where’s the food table?”
Peterman pointed. “Just to starboard, Doctor Browning.” She smiled. “People are coming. They’re actually coming!”
“I had no doubt,” Baxter said, even though he did. He glanced over at Lieutenants J’hana and Tilleran, who stood stiffly beside a large, ornate and glowing Christmas tree. “J’hana, Tilleran,” he said with a nod.
“I am only here because I like nog,” J’hana said flatly.
“I thrive on negative emotions,” Tilleran said.
“Fascinating,” J’hana said, giving a glance to Tilleran.
Baxter smiled wanly at the pair and turned, to find Lt. Larkin stepping up from the other side of him. “Captain, are you ready to initiate mating a human mating ritual with Counselor Peterman?”
“Mating ritual?” Peterman said, turning from behind Baxter.
“Nothing, just a, something about Larkin being a dumb robot who doesn’t understand human emotions and wants to be more like us,” Baxter said, bodily turning Larkin to face the other direction. “Right, Lieutenant?”
“On the contrary, sir, I have no desire whatsoever to become more human. I find the concept of humanity somewhat laughable, if you do not mind me saying so.”
“I really don’t. But how about you go stand over there?”
“As you wish. Enjoy the dance, sir.”
“Right, right,” Baxter said, and turned to face a giddy Peterman. More people were entering the Cargo Bay and, more and more, Baxter felt like this dance might be a success after all.
“Things are going great,” Peterman said.
“Yeah, people really seem to be enjoying themselves.” Baxter glanced over to the bar, where Ensign Ford was casually approaching Ensign Hill.
“Hello, Ensign. Have you driven a Ford lately?”
The ensign smiled casually. “Well, in the spirit of Christmas, I suppose…”
“…that you can kiss my ass!” she swung her heavy mug of nog across Ford’s jaw, knocking him down.
“Thanks,” Ford murmurred, lying on the deck. “Please just leave me lying here till the next cute girl walks up.”
Peterman took that scene in, then turned to Baxter without missing a beat. “Do you want to dance?”
“Um, already?” Baxter said, a little nervous. “Shouldn’t we wait for more people to show up? There’s nobody else on the dance floor.”
“Somebody’s got to get it started.” Peterman dragged Baxter to the wreath and glitter-strewn dance floor in the middle of the room. “Computer, play Holly Jolly Christmas Funk!”
“What is that?”
“Something I mixed from some computer files, in my spare time,” Peterman said idly, grabbing Baxter’s hand and twirling him.
“Ahhhhhh!” Baxter cried as he was spinned across the dance floor. “Stop me!”
“Oh, don’t be such a baby, sir!” Peterman said, and grabbed both Baxter’s hands, tossing him around like a rag doll as a mixed melody of Christmas tunes and fast, synthetic drumbeats boomed in the cargo bay.
Lt. Megan Hartley and Mr. Mirk approached the cargo bay from opposite ends of the corridor.
“Going in?” Hartley asked.
“I thought I’d check it out,” Mirk said. “You know, in the interest of being neighborly.”
“You don’t feel like it’s competing too much with your bar, do you?”
“Directors, no. I wouldn’t dream of competing with Counselor Peterman in any way,” Mirk said. “Maloxians, above all things, really just enjoy a well-planned party.”
“Well, that’s one thing our races have in common,” Hartley said, and stepped toward the cargo bay doors. As they open, she gestured for Mirk to step in front of her. “After you.”
“Why thank you, Lieutenant!”
Browning and Richards soon joined Peterman and Baxter on the dance floor, after the former had loaded up her plate with roast beef and turkey, topped with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
“Gerrgnnn ferrfn!” Browning said through a mouthful of potatoes as Richards whirled her.
“Thanks, I think the food turned out great too!” Peterman said as she continued to dance with Baxter, shaking her arms and legs. “It’s catered by a guy named Briggs who works down in ship’s services. He seems like a nice fellow. And apparently he does hair too! Look at these fabulous fronds he created!” She patted her flowing black locks, and Browning gave her the thumbs up.
Baxter, meanwhle, being spun at the tip of Peterman’s finger, whirled dizzily. “Counselor, you are amazingly dexterous.”
“It’s what happens when you grow up riding horses and chasing down gazelles!” Peterman explained, tipping Baxter.
“Isn’t the man supposed to lead?” Baxter asked, gulping as Peterman dipped him to the floor.
“He can,” Peterman said, pulling Baxter back up and spinning him again. “But nothing’s written in stone, eh?”
“Yeah,” Baxter gulped, wondering if it was his imagination, or was the deck actually tumbling beneath him?
And then the deck actually tumbled beneath him.
Commander Conway walked up to the bay doors, and stared at them. He gave a look down either side of the corridor. All was clear, nobody coming either way. He could still walk away, and be done with it.
Stupid Peterman. Trying to boost crew morale by throwing a party.
It was non-Starfleet. It was typically…fluffy…of her. It was, without a doubt, not Dave Conway’s kind of scene.
Still, he stepped toward the door, hesitantly.
And fell on his ass as the deck pitched out from under him.
The cargo bay shook violently, and all around them, the partygoers heard the sound of sparks and rending metal.
“What’s happening?” Baxter asked as he pitched to the deck, filled with a mix of vertigo and nausea, mostly from the dancing.
“Some kind of warp field inversion is my guess!” Richards called from the other side of the dance floor, cradling Browning, who had a plate of turkey and potatoes smushed against her chest.
Lt. Larkin was hanging on to the nearby docking console and tapping at it quickly. Her fingers moved faster than any human fingers could possibly move. “I believe I have our answer!” she called out. “We were hit amidships by another quantum slipstream!”
“Another one?” Richards called out, through the din as the Aerostar pitched again.
“Affirmative. We have been forcefully knocked out of warp by the slipstream. Shields and structural integrity fields are damaged. The engine core is nearing critical due to a plasma feedback in the inverter coils, and we have several minor breaches forming along the outer hull.”
“I’ve got to get down to engineering,” Richards said, moving toward the cargo bay doors.
“We’ve got to get to the bridge,” Baxter said, motioning to Tilleran and J’hana, who more than happily took off toward the bay doors.
“But what about my party?” Peterman called out above the crew’s collective panic.
“It’ll have to be postponed,” Baxter shrugged, heading for the door.
“But I worked really hard on it!”
Baxter sighed, and turned to face Peterman. “I know, Kelly. But sometimes you just have to…”
“Sir!” Larkin called out. “A hull breach has opened up adjacent to this deck, and it is spreading to the cargo bay hatch assembly. I am attempting to reroute power to the structural integrity field and….”
“Too late!” Richards cried out pointing to the cargo bay hatch, which started to grind and yawn. “Everyone grab on to something!”
Baxter raced back to where Peterman was standing, and unceremoniously slung an arm around her waist, slamming her backwards to the nearest bulkhead and wrapping an arm around a nearby ladder. “Hold tight, Counselor!”
Richards scooped Browning up and raced toward the console where Richards was standing.
Larkin reached a hand out to Richards, and he grabbed it, just as the cargo bay hatch blew open, sucking air out of the bay.
“Betazoid!” J’hana growled, leaping onto Tilleran and slamming her to the floor.
“There’s nothing to hold on to!” Tilleran cried, fingers scrabbling at the floor.
“That is where you are wrong,” J’hana said, and dug her fingers into the metal flooring, peeling at it until it bent and flexed, wrapping her fingers around it. “Hold on to me, Betazoid.”
“I have a name, you know.”
“That’s irrelevant at the moment.”
Lt. Hartley had been by the food table when the door blew, and caught totally off-guard. As the bay decompressed, she flew backwards, arms pinwheeling, right out the door into space.
“This is why I hang out near the bar,” Ford moaned, holding on to the bar console with all his might, hoping against hope that it was somehow attached to the deck. “Ladies, ladies!” he called out, as crewmembers sailed past him toward the door, rolling along the deck. “Grab on to a part of me while you’re flying by, any part!”
“Recompress the bay,” Richards said hoarsely as the air was sucked out of the room, gulping for air and holding onto Browning for dear might.
Larkin’s fingers played across the docking console as she held Richards with her free hand. If this experience unnerved her, she didn’t show it.
Then again, when the hand holding on to Richards, and the arm it was attached to, came out of its socket and broke off, she did register mild surprise.
Richards and Browning tumbled across the deck toward the bay door.
Larkin tapped harder at the controls, trying to get the structural field back up.
Baxter, meanwhile, grunted as the air stopped flying out of the bay, and everyone fell back to the floor.
He turned just in time to see Mirk leap into the air and sail through the cargo bay and out the door.
He tried to call out “Mirk!” but realized he couldn’t, as the room was devoid of air. All he could do was gulp and gasp.
Browning and Richards, meanwhile, had been sucked right to the edge of the bay door, Browning dangling by Richards’s hand, out in space, her legs drifting.
With all his might, Richards dragged Browning back over him and onto the bay floor.
Browning, likewise, pulled Richards up to his knees, and they both collapsed to the deck, breathless.
Larkin’s eyes darted to and fro as she tapped at her console. She looked up to see Mirk fly back in, Hartley in his arms, and touch down on the cargo bay floor, gasping for air.
She pressed a final control, and the SIF crackled back to life. She punched additional controls and oxygen wheezed back into the bay.
Baxter looked up, realizing he had nearly crushed Peterman under him. “Um, are you all right, Counselor?”
“Yes,” Peterman said, pushing her hair back behind her ears. “I’ll…” she coughed. “Be fine. But my party’s ruined.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, watching as the inner doors opened and Commander Conway and a team of medics rushed in.
“Assess everyone and get any criticals to Sickbay immediately,” Conway ordered and walked over to Baxter. “You better be glad I was walking by when I was, Captain.”
“Yeah, guess you ended up stopping by our party after all,” Baxter said, as Conway helped him to his feet.
“Don’t remind me,” Conway said, looking around disdainfully. “The room isn’t even decorated. What a disappointment.”
“Oh….they were all sucked out of the ship….auughhhhhhg!” Peterman wailed, burying her face in Baxter’s shoulder.
“Nice, Commander, real nice,” Baxter said, then passed out.
Stardate 51437.2. It’s Christmas morning. Ho ho ho.
After an emergency spackling job on the micro breaches, and a big-time paste up of the, um, macro breach near the cargo bay, life is slowly returning to normal on the Aerostar.
I’m pleased to report that there were no casualties from the accident, other than Counselor Peterman’s Christmas party and all her decorations.
“I don’t understand why I had to get up at this ungodly hour just to take another look at the cargo bay, Captain,” Peterman said, stretching and yawning as she zipped her uniform tunic. “I was hoping to sleep in this morning.”
“I understand, Counselor. But the engineers are asking for some eyewitness accounts of the breach. To, uh, prevent further breaches.”
“Richards and Larkin were there. Hartley too. Any of them could give a better account of what happened than I can.”
“Well, we just want to be thorough,” Baxter said, and stepped up to the bay doors. “This will just take a moment. Then you can go back to sleep.”
“Fine,” Peterman said with a sigh, as Baxter pressed a control.
The doors opened up, to reveal a glimmering Christmas tree, jingling music, voluminous strands of twinking lights, mounds of presents, and a horde of Aerostar crewmembers, gathered around the tree, laughing and talking.
“Merry Christmas, Counselor,” Baxter said softly, and gestured Peterman into the bay.
“Jolly Saint Nick, and a few of his elves,” Baxter said mysteriously, and cast Richards a thankful glance as they approached the center of the crowd, where crew were busily unwrapping presents and drinking nog.
“…but I love my current cologne. Why would someone get me a different brand when Grenthalman Water Hopper has been so good to me over the years?” Ford asked, holding up the bottle of Starfleet Red with scrutiny.
“Knives!” J’hana said excitedly, holding up a case of razorsharp, collectible Klingon battle blades. “Who knew?”
“It helps when you’re able to read minds,” Tilleran said with a polite nod.
“Coffee,” Conway said, sitting the big red sack down on the deck next to him. “Great, because I don’t already have a ton of it.”
“Are you always going to be a hard ass, even on Christmas morning?” Dr. Browning asked gently.
Browning smiled. “You know, Commander, those aren’t just any coffee grounds. They’re a rare, ancient blend from Beanus that I’ve been holding on to for a special occasion.”
“You can’t get them anywhere else but Beanus. And, come to think of it, you can’t get them there anymore, either. Cause there they are…” She pointed at the red sack. “All yours.”
“Doctor,” Conway said. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything. That’s the best gift you could give me,” Browning smiled, and turned back to Richards, who’d just opened up a complete billiards set.
“Pool? I’ve never played before…” he said, studying the woodwork on one of the cues.
“Maybe we should start….” Baxter called over to him, sitting down next to Peterman.
On the other side of the group, Hartley was sitting beside Mirk. “You saved my life, you know.”
“I also got you a sweater,” Mirk said, pointing at the gift in Hartley’s lap.
“Nice,” Hartley said, staring skeptically at the gift. “You’re a good kid, you know that?”
“Kid?” Mirk gaped, and reached for a gift of his own.
“Who got me the stuffed panda?” Larkin called out from the other side of the cargo bay, waving a fluffy, stuffed panda. “I clearly wrote ‘penguin’ on my Christmas list. Everyone knows I like penguins, NOT pandas! They are not even in the same genus!”
Conway looked around the crowded cargo bay in consternation. “So did anyone find out how we hit that slipstream again?”
Gellar and Fresca exchanged guilty glances. “I’m sure it doesn’t matter!” Gellar replied.
“Yes. Let’s just have fun and enjoy the holiday!” Fresca said quickly.
Peterman looked around the room, taking a deep breath. “Captain…Andy….this was very thoughtful of you.”
“I had help,” Baxter shrugged, smiling as he watched his crew, at least for the moment, laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
“Do you see it? They’re actually happy,” Peterman whispered to Baxter. “We did it.”
“Yes,” Baxter said. “For the moment, we’ve staved off disaster, and found a reason to be happy.”
“No small miracle,” Peterman said. “We should be thankful.”
“Isn’t that another holiday?”
“You know, Captain, let’s not worry about it. Let’s just enjoy today.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Baxter said, and looked around the room at his gathered crew. “All of you, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may all have to diet!”
“Merry Christmas to all,” Peterman said.
Baxter looked back at Peterman, and smiled. “And to all a good night.”
HAPPY HOLIDAYS, TO ALL! SEE YOU IN 2008…