Author: Anthony Butler
“Enjoying your crossword puzzle?” Counselor Peterman asked, sipping her Bajoran mint tea and looking over the breakfast table at Baxter, who was intent on his padd.
“I’m studying ship movements in the Teryallan Cluster,” Baxter said. “It’s a major thoroughfare for freighter traffic and it’s possible a cloaked ship could hide in their for weeks without being found.”
“So you’re still thinking about Ficker.”
“I’ve got to. He’s out there somewhere, and I’ve got to find him before he snatches any other wayward Starfleet officers and tries to recruit them into his insane little group.”
“Starfleet Intelligence has been notified about Ficker,” Peterman said. “They have ships out looking for him as we speak. Just let them do their job.”
“Taking Ficker out is my job, Kelly,” Baxter said, glancing up at Peterman. “Nobody else’s. He’s my responsibility.”
Peterman cocked her head. “How do you figure?”
Baxter glanced at the empty bread basket in the middle of the table. “Do you want any more muffins? I was about to go to the replicator…”
“…that was a fun mission,” Counselor Peterman said, following Baxter as he left the transporter room. “It’s not every day you get to witness the admission of a planet into the Federation.”
“The Felkazoans are very special,” Baxter muttered. “They’ll make a fine addition to the…whatever.” Baxter stepped into a waiting turbolift car and turned around. “You coming?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Peterman said, stepping into the turbolift with Baxter.
“Bridge,” Baxter said.
“Where to next?” Peterman asked.
“Some contract negotiation with a gas processing company in the Braded Belt. It’s a few days away at warp six.”
“Contract negotiations. Gas processing. Sounds boring.”
“Richards is going to be handling most of it,” Baxter said. “He actually likes that stuff. Says it reminds him of when he was in the holovision business. Lots of posturing and bluster.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Sit on the bridge and stare at the screen, I guess.”
“Andy, do you want to talk…?”
“Ya know, Kelly, I have a lot going on today, so….if you need me, just comm, okay?”
Peterman watched Baxter as he stepped off the lift onto the bridge and went right into the readyroom.
“Problem, Counselor?” Lt. Commander Tilleran asked from the command chair.
“No,” Peterman said. “Nothing I won’t solve eventually.”
Baxter leaned against the bar in the Constellation Club. “Mirk, could I get a glass of your…”
“Hey baby!” Peterman replied, rising up from behind the bar. “What’s your pleasure?”
“What the hell are you doing back there?” Baxter asked, startled.
“Just dolling out victuals and advice, dearest.” She leaned forward on her elbows. “Now then, tell the barkeep your tales of woe…”
“What did you do with Mirk?” Baxter asked. “Honey, I swear if this is like the time you guys competed with the holdeck shows…”
“Oh, relax,” Peterman said, blowing out an exasperated breath. “I bribed him to take a walk with Megan in the arboretum…and walk my dogs.”
“Huh,” Baxter said. “In that case, I’ll have a rum ‘n grapefruit.”
“That’s the spirit,” Peterman said, and turned to the replicator, punching up the order. She grabbed the glass as it appeared and handed it to Baxter.
“Thanks hon,” Baxter said, then headed to a table at the far corner of the club.
“You’re…welcome…” Peterman said, pursing her lips.
“So the radiation spike just popped up,” Lt. Commander Hartley said, sliding down the Jefferies tube ladder with Baxter. “Regs say that any spike in this range needs to be reported directly to the Captain, so I’m reporting. Live with it.”
“Are we standing in the radiation right now?” Baxter asked. “Is this one of those ‘stay longer than five minutes and you die’ situations?”
“Actually, it’s more like five seconds, but don’t worry. It’s one more level down,” Hartley said, pulling out her maintenance tricorder. “Don’t be such a scaredy cat.”
“Yeah because a fear of deadly radiation is REALLY irrational,” Baxter muttered.
“Hold on a sec,” Hartley said, looking at her readings.
“Couldn’t you have brought Richards down instead? He DID used to be an engineer.”
“Don’t remind me. Hey…” She looked again. “There isn’t any radiation down there!”
“So why did the sensors in engineering go crazy?”
The hatch at their feet suddenly popped up and Peterman stuck her head out. “Hi Dear! Can we talk?”
Baxter stared at her. “Kelly?”
“I screwed with the sensors so you’d get called down here. Can we talk?”
“Permission to step on her head, Captain?” Hartley asked, raising her boot.
“Granted,” Baxter said, and walked off as Hartley laughed maniaically.
“I’m just trying to help you, sweetie!” Peterman called out as Hartley’s boot came down toward her forehead. “But don’t worry! I’m not giving up on you! I swear…”
Hartley stood their with her foot a few inches away from Peterman’s face for a moment, then thought better of it and put her foot down. “You know, I just can’t bring myself to do it.”
“That’s a relief,” Peterman said, squirming in the Jefferies tube. “Could you give me a hand out of here?”
“I can’t bring myself to do that, either. Later!” Hartley said and headed up the ladder.
“Ahhhh…an afternoon on the Dallas Cowboys sidelines,” Captain Baxter said, as the crowd boomed around him in Texas Stadium, and coaches shouted instructions at their players. “Everything seems so much more serene here.” He walked up to a burly, white-haired man and clapped him hard on the back. “Hey, Bill! How goes it?”
The man, wearing a headset and carrying a clip board, stared at him. “Are you f****ing kidding me? We’re getting pounded by the Redskins!”
Baxter looked out on the field. “Yeah. It’s because your offensive line is terrible. You need a new right tackle. Want me to adjust the program?”
“What the hell are you talking about, kid?”
“Your right tackle.” Baxter pointed out on the field. “He’s getting beaten by the left defensive end. It’s all about his stance and footwork. He’s got good strength, but he’s ridiculously vulnerable to Strahan’s spin move.”
Bill nodded. “That does make sense.”
“You gonna do something about it?”
“Yeah. Security! Get this fool off my sideline!”
“Wait…” Baxter stammered as a pair of hands reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go. You were supposed to put me in the game! I was gonna be your new right tackle!”
“Another time, sweetie,” a voice whispered in his ear. He turned to see Peterman dressed in a form fitting police uniform, complete with gun and handcuffs. Her ponytail swung cutely behind her official police hat.
“Are you kidding?”
“Let’s get you down to the holding cell,” Peterman said. “The handcuffs are your option.”
“Are you looking for sex here, or are you still trying to counsel me?”
Peterman shrugged. “A little of both?”
Baxter sighed. “Computer, end program!”
Texas Stadium faded to orange lines on black walls, and Peterman watched Baxter walk toward the holodeck arch. “But honey! I want to help you!”
“Then leave me alone for a while!” Baxter called over his shoulder and ducked out into the corridor.
“Center yourselves,” Chaka’kan said, standing opposite Plato, Howard Sefelt, Nat Sparks and Colby Mathers. “Envision your minds on a higher plane.”
They all stood their in their white robes, hands pressed together, eyes closed.
“Picture yourselves floating through the ether. You have command over all that you touch. You are one with the Universe, and eternity.”
“Hey, anybody using this medicine ball?” Lt. Madera called from the other side of the gym.
Chaka twitched imperceptibly and turned. “No. Take it. It was in the workout room, but somebody moved it in here. Please, take it back.”
“It wasn’t me,” Madera said, and stuck the ball under her arm. “These things are great for my abs.”
“Take it and go,” Chaka said.
“Fine, whatever. See you on alpha shift, Howie!”
“Bye-bye!” Sefelt waved.
Chaka turned back to his group. “Be silent, Lieutenant Sefelt!”
Sefelt shrunk back. “Ummm….okay. You remember your promise, Chaka. No sudden movements. No loud noises…”
“Yes. Your panic problem. I apologize.” Chaka shook his head. “Everyone, let’s return to our places of solitude. Concentrate, be at peace. Center yourselves.”
“Chaka,” Plato asked. “Why are your hands shaking?”
“No reason!” Chaka snapped. “Just concentrate! Be at peace!”
“It’ll be an easy deal. In and out,” Richards said to Baxter as they walked down the corridor toward the transporter room. “Once you meet with the Supervisor, you can come back to the ship. It’s just a meet and greet, before we start formal negotiations.”
Baxter nodded. “And you’re sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Yeah. The producers of Days of Honor used to have to negotiate with the actors about their compensation, and such. Same thing.”
“Except we’re dealing with a gas processing contract that could satisfy the Federation’s gaseous needs in this sector for the foreseeable future.”
“Gaseous needs. That just sounds bad,” Richards mused, as he stepped into the transporter room. “Anyway, It’s all just a matter of making everyone at the table happy. As long as there are no distractions, everything should be fi—AHHHHHHH!”
“What?” Baxter asked, as J’hana looked on, amused. “I asked J’hana to accompany us, just in case we need a little muscle.”
“I had requested Ensign Keefler,” Richards said, composing himself and stepping back onto the transporter pad.
“Well, J’hana was available, and she told me she was feeling antsy. Isn’t that right, Lieutenant?”
“Yes,” J’hana said, cracking her knuckles as she stepped up onto the pad next to Richards. She gestured for a pair of ensigns who stood behind her to join her on the pad. “I am eager to break something. Or someone. And Ensigns Albright and Taft can use the extra training.”
Richards sighed. “Great. Now I’m off my game. Energize, Ensign Yang.”
“I’m borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrred!” Baxter said, washing his hands in the dingy bathroom at a particularly nasty bar called “Thorellos,” at the gas processing outpost on Glortimus Four. Everything on this planet looked rusty, old and metallic. It also had this “grandpa” smell that Baxter just couldn’t get out of his nostrils.
“Well, you could try covering your boredom just a bit,” Richards said. “Twice now the representatives from the gas processing consortium saw you nodding off.”
“You’re the one who said I had to be here to make nice,” Baxter said. “I’d just as soon be back on the ship.”
“Well, it would be rude for you to back out now. Just stay until we take a lunch break, then make up some reason you have to head back to the ship.”
“Why can’t I just make up a reason now?”
“Because…” Richards said. “Well, I dunno. I guess you could.”
“Good,” Baxter said, rubbing his hands together. “One potential warp core breach coming right up…”
“Glad you’re taking this thing so seriously,” Richards mumbled, following Baxter out of the bathroom.
“I have something on my mind,” Baxter said.
“Well, I’m not Peterman,” Richards said. “I’m not going to bug you about your problems until you talk about them. If you don’t want to talk about them, then we won’t talk about them. Meanwhile, we’ve got a mission to accomplish.”
“She doesn’t bug me,” Baxter said defensively. “Well, not until recently…and even then, she’s my wife. She’s supposed to bug me.”
“Then sit down and talk to her, because if I have to sit through another interrogation session between you and her on the bridge, I think I’ll pull my hair out,” Richards said. “Now let’s get back to these negotiations.”
“Are you all right, Chris?” Baxter asked as they threaded through the crowded bar, to the table in the back where negotiations with the gas processing consortium were taking place.
“I’m just…on edge.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“No more than you do,” Richards said, and sat back down at the table. “Now then, gentlemen, where were we?”
Baxter looked around the table, smiling politely at the pasty-faced Glortimans. “Folks, I’m sorry. I just got a call from my ship, and they desperately need me back aboard to handle a matter of some urgency…”
“Here. Drink,” the green man said, setting the cup down on the table with a thud and plopping into a chair opposite his drinking companion.
“I don’t feel like drinking,” the other green man said, pushing the cup away. “I’m planning.”
“Well, stop. It’s counterproductive, Sav.”
Thorello’s stunk more than normal tonight. Maybe it was because the outpost on Glortimus Four was built on swamps. Maybe it was because the clientele on Glortimus Four seldom showered.
“They’re here, Krem! That has to mean something.”
“It means we lay low, and wait for further instructions from the chapter headquarters. We don’t do anything to reveal our position or embarrass the Syndicate.”
“The Syndicate has embarrassed us. They’re the reason we’re in this position right now.”
Krem wrinkled his forehead. “I’d be careful who I said that to.”
“Are you suggesting you’re going to rat me out to the chapter chief?”
“Sometimes you just have to let go,” Krem said. “Noyo Potsran had a good run. He was a good boss. He just got tripped up, and Starfleet caught him. There’s nothing else we can do.”
“There’s one thing we can do,” Sav said, sipping his drink slow, as he watched the Captain talking to the gentlemen seated at the table in the far corner of the room. It was made up of a combination of gas processing administrators and officers from the Explorer.
“I suggest you stop your line of thinking,” Krem said. “What are we going to do? Walk up and shoot them? Just look at that Andorian. Do you really want to mess with her?”
“It’s not the Andorian I want,” Sav sneered. “Look at the bulbous one, the one standing. That’s their leader. Baxter. He’s the reason Noyo Potsran is off on a penal colony and not lining our pockets with latinum kickbacks.”
“Frelking Starfleet,” Krem muttered. “They keep showing up out here, this place is going to lose its bad reputation.” Older, more wizened, he often wondered why he even kept Sav around, save for the fact that he was younger, more agile. When a deal fell through, he could be depended upon to knock heads together. But when it came to what was within his own head…well, there wasn’t much.
“I don’t even know why they bother with colonies like Glortiumus,” Sav said as he sipped his drink, a boiling Bolian fizz. “What can this blasted planet have to offer the mighty Federation?”
“Besides being rich in rare fusion-producing gasses?” Krem replied. “Precious little. Then again, without any major wars going on, the Federation has to do something with its starships.” He stared at the Starfleet officers, fuming. The more he watched them, the angrier he got.
“Poor, bored Starfleeters,” Sav growled, kneading his napkin. “We should do something to help them pass the time…”
“Or we could just kill them,” Krem said thoughtfully.
“Huh?” Sav asked. “I thought you said it was too risky…”
“Shut up. A plan is forming. Do you still know someone at the concubine agency on this planet?”
“Well, yes, but it hardly seems the time for that sort of…”
“I don’t need her for that, you stupid geedub!” Krem snapped. “I just need some of her makeup…”
“How long has it been?” Ensign Len Albright asked, staring into the bathroom mirror and rubbing his eyes. “It feels like they’ve been out there talking for eight days.”
Ensign Gordon Taft checked his hair in the mirror. “It’s been more like eight hours. Why are you complaining? At least the food’s good.”
“You ate the food?”
“Don’t judge a restaurant by its appearance,” Taft said. “The sea serpent lung was particularly good.”
Albright cringed. “I…don’t eat lungs.”
“Don’t know what you’re missing.” Taft turned to Albright. “Look, man. Friendly advice from one ensign to another. Loosen up. J’hana can smell fear. And believe me, if she senses you’re at all uncomfortable, she’ll exploit that.”
“H-how?” Albright asked.
Taft leaned in. “Well, you didn’t hear it from me, but apparently she once pulled an ensign’s pants down in front of a delegation of Gorn power brokers, because he asked her to be assigned to a less risky detail.”
“T…that doesn’t sound so bad,” Albright said. “Heh…even kind of funny.”
“Yeah, well it’s all in the way she pulled them off,” Taft said.
“What do you mean?”
Taft put his hands at his waist, and then made a motion as if he were jerking his pants upward.
“Right over his head, until they ripped altogether.”
“I never knew she was such a trickster…”
“And then used him for target practice with her phaser.”
“S-Stop! Just stop!” Albright insisted. “You’re just making things worse.”
Taft chuckled. “Well, buddy. Worse things could happen than the wrath of J’hana. I can’t think of many, but believe me, they’re out there!”
Suddenly the door pumped open and two Orions came roaring in. Each took and ensign, then dragged him into the nearest toilet stall and banged his head against the wall until he fell limp in the stall.
“This one didn’t flush,” Sav observed as he looked at Albright’s still body.
“Well, don’t be a brute. Flush for him,” Krem said, and started undressing Ensign Taft. “We’ll tie and gag them, and put them in the janitor’s closet. That should buy us all the time we need.”
“Why don’t we just kill them?”
“Because Orions can be merciful when we need to be. That’s what differentiates us from the Klingons and Andorians, you misbred idiot.”
“Yeah. I guess I understand.”
“Quickly, now. Let’s get these boys stripped and then get to work.”
“Something I thought you’d never say,” Sav muttered, and unzipped Albright’s tunic.
“…which is why you never mix Xordofron gas with Mechonen gas,” Zobel, the chief Glortiman negotiator said, pounding on the table as the other gas processors laughed.
Richards exchanged a nervous glance with J’hana, who seemed impervious to jokes altogether, and then chuckled politely. “That’s…funny, Mister Zobel. A real…gas!”
And then the whole table erupted into laughter.
“You are quite good at puns, Commander Richards,” Zobel said, and sipped his drink. “Has anyone ever told you that?”
“You did just now!” Richards said, clapping Zobel on the shoulder.
“Get me out of here,” J’hana muttered, nudging Richards’s leg under the table.
Richards leaned toward her. “It was your idea to come, J’hana.”
“So that I could harass you. I had no intention of being here this long, or being this excruciatingly bored.”
“Chat with your ensigns or something.”
J’hana looked around. “That provokes an interesting question. Where are my ensigns?”
“They went to the bathroom,” Richards said, turning back to Zobel. “Now then, about these excise taxes…”
J’hana stood. “They’ve been gone for some time. Something is not right.”
“You’re excused,” Richards said tightly. “At any rate, as I was saying…”
J’hana headed back to the bathrooms, dodging all manner of unscrupulous cellar dwellers–the exact type that were attracted to an outpost on a useless, disgusting gas-processing world. She liked this environment. She’d get to beat up criminals all the time on a planet like Glortiumus.
A quick glance told J’hana they were not in the hallway, nor were her ensigns anywhere else in the bar. So they must have gone into the bathroom.
She sighed heavily and knocked on the men’s room door. “Pardon me. Is an Ensign Taft or an Ensign Albright within?”
There was no response.
“That’s it. Nothing I haven’t seen before in there,” J’hana muttered and kicked the door open, charging in and withdrawing her phaser.
Other than a vicious stench, J’hana found nothing in the filthy green bathroom but nasty words written in Glortimese on the wall.
She tapped her combadge. “J’hana to Taft. J’hana to Albright.” Neither responded. “J’hana to Explorer.”
“Tilleran here. Are you having fun, Imzadi?”
“Do not call me that.”
“I’m…sorry. Must have slipped out. What can I…?”
“Ensign Taft and Ensign Albright. Are they aboard?”
There was a momentary pause as Tilleran checked the transporter records. “Looks like they beamed aboard a few minutes ago.”
“Did they. How rude of them.”
“Would you like me to…?”
“No,” J’hana growled. “I will handle it.”
“The likeness is good, Krem,” Sav said, staring at himself in the mirror in the crew quarters on Deck Eight, which apparently belonged to Ensign Albright.
“Yes,” Krem said, patting his face. “Your concubine friend is well versed in the art of skin tone.”
Truth be told, save for the green skin, Orions looked pretty much like humans. Well, the female Orions tended to look like extra-leggy, extra-gorgeous humans. The males, though, were basically green, lumbering, lumpy-shaped versions of humans..
But with a simple change in skin tone from green to a pale, pinkish tan, they looked human enough to pass muster. The uniforms helped, too, although Sav looked like he’d been poured into the thinner Albright’s uniform.
“What now?” Sav asked, admiring his new, pink face.
“What now is we lose the combadges. These officers seemed to report to the Andorian. She’ll no doubt come looking for them.”
“Well as long as we ditch the combadges we’ll be okay, right?”
Krem shrugged. “Who knows how long we’ll evade the Explorer’s biological detection mechanisms. Soon enough, a computer in some science lab will register that there are Orions aboard. But I plan for our task to be long done by the time that happens.”
“Then we should move swiftly.”
“Yes,” Krem said, leading Sav to the door, tossing his combadge on the nearby coffee table. “We’re agreed. Captain Baxter dies, as soon as possible.”
“Could we grab some lunch first, though?”
Chaka’kan stepped into the Explorer’s gymnasium, and immediately turned, yanking his blade out of its holster on his thigh and raising it high into the air. “DIE, INTRUDER!” he screamed.
“Hey, careful!” Peterman cried, backing against the wall and putting her hands up.
Chaka stared at her a moment, then his look softened. “Counselor, why were you hiding there by the door?”
Peterman shrugged. “I thought you were Andy.”
“As you can see, I am not.”
“He’s been going to the gym this time every day, the last few days. Of course, I was guessing that he actually just hid in the locker room and ate lunch, so people would think he was in here working out. But anyway, I was hoping I could surprise him into talking to me.”
“Do you really think that will work, if he does not in fact want to talk to you?”
“I’d usually say no,” Peterman said. “But at this point, I’m desperate.” She stepped toward the Jem’hadar. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Of course,” Chaka said earnestly.
“Andy has been acting strange, ever since Alivn Ficker kidnaped those Starfleet cadets who were with him on his field trip.”
“Yes,” Chaka said. “I have heard of this.”
“What do you think?”
“One cannot easily gauge human emotion. Your job is a complex and difficult one. It requires a deep, unwavering commitment.”
“Are you talking about counseling, or being married?”
“Both, to be sure,” Chaka said. “To be honest, I haven’t been feeling all that…”
“I just realized, I’ve been going about this the wrong way. A frontal assault will never work with him. He knows me too well. He’ll see it coming. Thanks for the help, Chaka!”
“You are welcome,” Chaka said thoughtfully, then headed into the gym. It was time to vent his frustrations on the tackling dummy. He’d faced it in battle several days in a row, but this time, the thing had to die. Just had to.
“Why does this ship have a mall on it?” Sav asked, as Krem surveyed the menu, sitting on the patio of Space Tastes, which appeared to be the ship’s most popular restaurant.
“Because the Federation is full of idiots,” Krem said, flipping the menu over. “They long for pretty things to buy and wear. It’s why they’re so easy to take advantage of, and manipulate. Because they’re so attached to their material things.”
“And as long as the Orions exist to steal them…”
“It’s nature’s perfect circle,” Krem acknowledged. “They horde the materials, we steal them.”
“And occasionally kill people…”
“Well, yeah,” Krem said, setting his menu down. “That’s the best part.” He called to the back of the room. “Woman! We require our lunches now.”
“Um…okay…” the woman who’d introduced herself as Janice Browning said, walking out from the kitchen in back of the restaurant and tying her apron on. “What can I get you guys?”
“We will have the waffles,” Krem said.
“Actually, I’d like to try the spaghetti.”
Krem narrowed his eyes at Sav. “Spaghetti?”
“Yeah,” Sav said. “Who knows when I’ll get back to a place like this?”
Browning looked from one to the other, quizzically. “I assure you guys, Space Tastes isn’t going anywhere.”
“That’s not what my friend meant,” Krem said. “Two orders of waffles.”
“And a side of spaghetti,” Sav said confidently, handing Browning both his and Krem’s menus.
“Sure…thing…” Browning said, and walked off, shaking her head.
“Are you hells-bent on getting us captured before we do the job we came here for?”
“I just want to soak up some of the local flavor,” Sav said. “It’s interesting, human idiocy.”
“Well, you can ruminate on it just as easily from afar. Let’s get our lunch and then get the job done.”
“I guess,” Sav said, and watched crewmen walk by in the mall. “Don’t these people have jobs?”
“They work in shifts,” Krem explained. “In a rotation. It’s no different than on an Orion vessel.”
“Ah,” Sav said, nodding.
A few minutes later, Browning emerged from the kitchen with two plates of waffles and a bowl of spaghetti.
“Here you go, boys. Hope you’re hungry! I believe in large, debilitating portions!”
“Thank you,” Krem said dismissively, lifting his fork as Browning put the plate in front of him.
“This looks great,” Sav said. “Thank you, woman.”
“You can, uh, call me Janice, you know…”
“My friend is a little slow,” Krem said. “I apologize.”
“That’s okay,” Browning said, pulling up a seat next to the two Orions. “Are you guys new on board?”
They exchanged glances. Krem said, “Yes. We transferred with the last group of new officers.”
“That’s great,” Browning said. “We can always use new blood on board. You know, since our people have a way of dying on a pretty regular basis…”
“How unfortunate,” Sav said, and Krem kicked him hard under the table.
“What are your specialties?” Browning asked.
“Warp engines,” Krem said.
“Science!” Sav called out.
“Warp engine science,” Krem said.
“Oh,” Browning said, nodding. “That sounds fascinating.”
“It’s good work if you can get it,” Krem said. “Look, we’ve got to go on duty soon, so…”
“Oh,” Browning said, scooting back. “I understand. You guys enjoy your lunch. Stay as long as you like. And holler if you want dessert!”
“I already know what dessert I want,” Sav said, and leered at Browning as she walked away.
“Silence,” Krem said, and stuffed a forkful of waffles into his mouth. “Now let’s go over our game plan…”
“Are you gonna eat that?” Baxter asked, glancing across the dinner table. Well, right now it was more a lunch table, in his and Peterman’s cabin.
Peterman glanced at the extra french fries on her plate and shrugged, engrossed in a padd. “Nah, you can have them.”
“…thanks,” Baxter said cautiously, reaching across and grabbing a handful of fries off the plate. He popped them in his mouth one by one and chewed thoughtfully. “Did you have a nice morning?”
“It was fine. A few appointments.”
“That’s nice,” Baxter said, munching. “What’re you reading?”
“Deanna Troi’s new book.”
“Is that the one about Worf?”
Peterman nodded absently. “Tripping the Light Masochistic: The Klingon Mating Ritual.”
“Scintillating,” Baxter said.
“It’s pretty good. Some say she’ll win the Poindexter prize for this one.”
“Er, is that a good thing?”
Peterman sighed and slapped the padd down. “Only the most sought-after prize for psychological non-fiction!”
“Was there more than one entry in the contest?”
“It’s not a contest! It’s a prestigious, fulfilling, life-changing award! I respect Troi, I guess, but I’m jealous as hell.”
“Oh.” Baxter popped the last fry into his mouth. “So you’re still not trying to pry into me about the Ficker thing?”
“You’ll talk when you’re ready,” Peterman said, and picked the padd back up.
“It’s nothing personal, you know.”
“Lots of men don’t want to talk to their wives. You’re not the only one.”
“Heh,” Baxter said. “Maybe you should write a book about that.”
Peterman glared at him over her padd.
“Oh. Right. You kind of did a couple years ago.”
“It’s not finished,” Peterman said. “It probably never will be.”
“Cause not everyone’s going to become fabulously successful in this life!” Peterman snapped, throwing the padd back down. “Because what would the world be without middle-of-the road shlubs like me and you?”
“We’re shlubs?” Baxter said, cocking his head. “I mean, I always kind of thought I was. But you…I’ve never sensed shlubbiness coming from you.”
Peterman blew hair out of her eyes. “I hide it well.”
“Heh,” Baxter chuckled, picking up his plate and carrying it back over to the replicator.
“And what in the galaxy could you possibly find funny right now?”
“My wife’s not perfect,” he said. “That’s priceless.”
“You’re actually enjoying my feelings of inferiority?”
“Not at all.” Baxter chuckled and sat back down at the table. “Okay, maybe a little.”
“Glad I could help.”
“You always help,” Baxter said, reaching across the table and taking Peterman’s hand. “You just don’t always realize you’re doing it.”
“Aw, honey, that’s sweet,” Peterman said softly, and went back to her padd. Andy might have been acting like he was A-OK again, but she knew better.
This wasn’t over by a long shot.
“Gentlemen!” a festive-looking man in puffy genie pants and a blousy silk shirt called out, waving at Sav and Krem as they walked by on Ship’s Shoppes’ upper level.
“What?” Krem asked, staring at the odd man who stood in front of what appeared to be some kind of medical center
“You two are in desperate need of a makeover,” he said. “You need something done to your hair. Something to de-emphasize your cheek bones…and your chins…my god, your chins…”
Krem and Sav stared at each other.
“Get away from us,” Sav said.
“But I can help you. I know how hard it is meeting people on a new ship. Believe me, if you look better, you’ll feel better about yourselves!”
“If you don’t leave us alone, we’ll be forced to kill you,” Krem said, and walked away.
“Well, if you change your mind, just come on back. Tell my hairdressers that Yeoman Briggs sent ya!”
“Do people threaten to kill other people on Federation ships?” Sav asked him quietly as they headed toward the mall exit.
“I have no idea, but that felt good,” Krem said, and the pair ducked out into the bustling corridor.
“It’s fwarking odd, is what it is,” J’hana piped up from behind the tactical console.
“What’s fwarking odd?” Baxter asked, turning in the command chair.
“Albright and Taft. Sensors say they returned to the ship, but I can’t find them. I tracked their combadges back to Albright’s quarters, but neither of them were there. The computer can’t find any trace of them.”
“Did you check the flight recorder?”
J’hana rolled her eyes plaintively. “Captain, the flight recorder only intermittently scans the quarters of minor characters.”
“You mean junior officers?”
J’hana waved Baxter off. “Whatever.” She turned around and headed for the turbolift. “I’m going to go search for my men.”
“Hey, by the way, have you heard from Richards?”
J’hana whirled. “What does one have to do with the other, Captain?”
“What do you mean?”
“I told you I was going to look for my men. You mentioned Richards, as if somehow he is also one of my men.”
“Well, that’s not what I meant, I…”
“Commander Richards is a stronger man than you give him credit for, sir. I suggest you let him do his job on the planet. I’ll send down additional security when and if I see fit.”
“Um, okay,” Baxter said meekly as J’hana stepped into the turbolift. “You’re, um, dismissed, then.”
“Richard Simmons to Captain Baxter,” the comm system chirped.
Baxter sighed. “Richard, how goes it?”
“Oh, you know, we’re Sweatin’ with the Babies down here in toddlercise class.”
“Don’t sweat too much,” Baxter said with a little laugh.
“Yeah, well, Captain, the thing is, the class ended like ten minutes ago…and I have a pilates class coming in so…”
“Oh!” Baxter said, rising from his chair. “I’m sorry, Richard. I totally lost track of the time.”
“Huh. Well, you might want to look at your life goals…”
“Yeah, thanks, I’ll do that. I’ll be right down!”
As Baxter headed to the turbolift, Lt. Commander Tilleran tsked tsked from the science console. “Sir, absentee parenting at this stage of a child’s life can be devastating.”
Baxter grumbled something under his breath as he headed to the foreward turbolift. “And where’d you get that little nugget of wisdom? Another one of Troi’s books?”
“Um…an article your wife published in the Federation Journal of Psychology, actually…” Tilleran said, as she made her way down to the command chair.
“Oh. Well. Then she’s right. You have the conn!” Baxter said quickly, mopping his forehead as the lift doors mercifully closed. That was dumb. Devastating? It wasn’t as if the lived on a planet and he’d left her at someone else’s house. The Explorer was her home, and its crew were Steffie’s extended family.
Besides that, Explorer was a spacefaring fortress. A Galaxy-class starship. There was really no place safer!
“Do we stab him or do we shoot him, that’s the question,” Sav said, as he and Krem rode a different turbolift.
“Well, we do have the phasers from the two guys we beat up,” Krem said, palming the holster of the phaser at his hip. “We could dematerialize him. Very little mess that way.”
“It also doesn’t sound very fun.”
“Vengeance isn’t always about fun!” Krem snapped. “You have to realize there’s a code to these things. The Syndicate just doesn’t go around killing people willy nilly.”
“Maybe we could push him out an airlock.”
Krem’s eyes widened. “Now I do like that. Certain sense of poetic justice.”
“I just hope you’re right about our destination.”
“Where else would a Captain be?” Sav asked, just as the doors opened out onto the bridge.
Lt. Commander Tilleran was just sitting down in the command chair as they stepped out. She pivoted back toward them. “Can I help you gentlemen?”
Krem saw Tilleran’s dark eyes and immediately backed into the turbolift, grabbing Sav by the arm. “We’ll check for him belowdecks, then.”
Tilleran nodded absently, blinking. “That’s strange.” She glanced at the helm. “Lieutenant Madera, did you recognize those men?”
“Nope,” Madera said.
“They seemed human,” Tilleran said. “However…” She thought about it. “Hmm. Tilleran to J’hana…”
“That was close!” Krem said, leaning against the wall of the turbolift. “Did you know what she was?”
“The woman in the command chair? She was cute.”
“She was a Betazoid! The jig is up!”
“Did you just say ‘the jig is up’?” Sav asked. “Who says that?”
“I picked it up somewhere,” Krem growled. “We need to find Captain Baxter and kill him already before our trail gets too hot.”
“Trail gets too hot….are you reading those human books?”
“Shut up. No. Of course not. Now how can we find Captain Baxter?”
Sav shrugged. “Ask the computer?”
Baxter hoisted a giggly, hyperactive Steffie on his shoulder as he walked down the corridor. “Who had a good toddlercise, eh sweetie? Did you? Did you?” He shook her legs as he walked. “Who had a good time?”
“Daddy silly!” Steffie laughed, patting Baxter’s head.
“Yes, and don’t you forget it,” Baxter said. He glimpsed Chaka’kan walking down the corridor with a deep, purposeful stride.
“Hey, Chaka!” Baxter called out.
“Chaka! Chaka! Chaka!” Steffie called merrily. “Chaka play!”
“Not now,” Chaka said, and continued walking.
“What’s his problem?” Baxter asked absently, as he came to the doors to Peterman’s office. He punched a control and the doors slid open.
“…which is why we can’t go setting fire to our couches, no matter what our homeworld customs dictate. Understand, Ensign Shmor?”
The Ularian nodded, rubbing his tusks apologetically, snarfing with his great walrus nose. “So sorry, Counselor…so very very sorry. Shmor sorry! Shmor very very sorry!”
“Okay, then, Ensign. Head back down to what’s left of your quarters and think about what you did. Then tomorrow we’ll pick out some new furniture and some nice drapes.”
“Thanks, Counselor!” Shmor called over his shoulder. “Captain,” he said, nodding as Baxter stepped in.
“Hope I’m not interrupting,” Baxter said, stooping down so Peterman could lift Steffie off his shoulders and pull her into her lap.
“Just finishing up.”
“Anything I should know about?”
“Oh, just spending the afternoon, um, putting out fires. You know, regular stuff,” Peterman said, positioning Steffie on her knee. “Did you have fun with Unckie Richard today?”
Baxter grinned, kissing Steffie on the head. “Okeydoke, I’ve got to get back to the bridge. You need anything?”
Peterman smiled at him. “Like what?”
“Well, if you wanted to talk…” Baxter said. “I guess I’ve been kinda stubborn…”
“I’d love to,” Peterman said. “But if you can believe it, my afternoon is packed with appointments.”
Baxter smiled. “How about tonight. Over dinner?”
“Aww, how romantic. You want to tell me about your thirst for bloody revenge over baked ziti and candles…”
“Actually, I was thinking canneloni, but whatever you want…”
Peterman nodded, setting Steffie in her little high chair next to hers. She immediately leaned against Peterman’s desk and began tapping on a padd, activating the drawing program.
“I’d like that, Andy,” she said.
“Good,” Baxter said. “I’m not saying I’m all better…but I feel decent, more grounded.”
“You should carry a three year old around on your shoulders more often!”
Baxter laughed. “Yeah. Maybe we could loan her out to your patients, even.” Then he thought about Ensign Shmor, and his fires. “Well, maybe not.”
“Later, sweetie,” Peterman said, as Baxter ducked out of his quarters.
J’hana walked up. “Captain,” she said evenly. “I have serious news.”
“You’ve decided to go back to men? That’s great, J’hana. But whatever makes you happy. You know I’m open to all…those….you know…the things. Anyway, good on ya.” He clapped her on the back. “Walk with me to the bridge?”
“No,” J’hana said, shaking her head. “This has nothing to do with my burning loins, sir.”
Baxter sighed. “Well, that’s a relief.”
“I’ve got two missing men, and Lieutenant Commander Tilleran thinks there are intruders on board masquerading as Starfleet officers.”
“You wish we were talking about my loins, now, don’t you?”
“A little bit.”
“I’ve set up a security perimeter, and recommend we go to General Quarters.”
“Can’t you do that yourself?”
“I used to, but then you got bent out of shape every time I did it without consulting you.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Well, in that case…computer! Sound General Quarters! All hands to secure posts. This is not a drill.”
“I’d recommend getting you to a secure location,” J’hana said, now ushering Baxter down the corridor. “It may be some time before we find these intruders, and I’d rather you didn’t get mixed up in the bloodshed. I know how you abhor violence and carnage.”
Baxter smirked. “I think I’ve handled myself rather well, considering all the crap we’ve been through.”
“Even so,” J’hana said, pushing Baxter toward the turbolift. “Like I said, it might be a while…”
Suddenly the lift doors opened.
The Orions stared at Baxter and J’hana.
Baxter and J’hana stared back at them.
The Orions reached out and grabbed Baxter, dragging him into the lift. J’hana’s phaser fire slammed into the doors as they closed.
“ZHARNT! J’hana to Bridge: Captain Baxter has been abducted. Pot Pie is out of the oven. I repeat: Pot Pie is out of the oven!”
“Leaving us so soon, Commander?” one of the bloated Glortimans asked as Richards eased out of his chair and stretched.
“N-no,” Richards said. “Just, um…taking a stretch break. You guys take stretch breaks around here, don’t you?”
“We don’t usually go far, on account of the noxious gas everywhere,” one of the Glortimans said.
“Lovely,” Richards muttered, walking over to a far corner of the bar.
“Shenthel nostrils?” a waitress asked, shoving a tray of fetid meat in Richards’s face.
“Please, God, no,” Richards said, waving the treats away. He tapped his combadge. “Richards to J’hana.”
“Well, nice of you to report back in, Lieutenant!” Richards snapped. “How could you leave me down here?”
“My apologies, sir.”
“You realize it’s been hours.”
“I got somewhat distracted, sir.”
“Well, I’m having a miserable time. The Glortimans are going to sign the stupid contract, but they’re going to complain about every freaking syllable of it in the meantime.”
“Terribly sorry, sir.”
“So what’s so important that’s keeping you from keeping me company down here?”
“I thought you did not want my company.”
“Well, it’s awkward, I guess. But I still…I dunno. I like being around you, J’hana. Despite, you know, the sickening abuse.”
“That’s sweet, Commander.”
“Stop calling me Commander. You can call me Chris.”
“Can I get back to you a bit later, Chris?”
“Sure. What, got somebody more important on the line?”
“Just trying to stop some Orion intruders from taking Captain Baxter off the ship and killing him. Look, I’d beam you up, but we’re at General Quarters. Nobody on or off the ship till the situation’s resolved. Have fun down there. I’ll get back to you in a bit. Thanks!”
Richards blinked. Then looked around the bar.
“J’HANA!” he called over the dead com channel. “What the f****!?!”
“You guys have a right to be mad,” Baxter said calmly, tapping at the controls of the Shuttlecraft Pizarro, as Krem and Sav shoved their phaser barrels in his neck from behind the pilot’s chair. “Really, you do.”
“I’m glad we have an understanding. Now override the launch doors and launch this thing, or we’ll kill you,” Krem snorted.
“Sure, sure,” Baxter said. “Just stay calm.”
“Pizarro, this is Explorer,” Tilleran’s voice came over the comm. “You are not cleared to depart. I repeat! You are NOT cleared to depart!”
“You’re cleared to clear out of our way!” Sav shouted back, and Krem just stared at him, shaking his head with disappointment.
Krem reached out and slammed a hand on the com panel, closing the channel.
“No problem,” Baxter said. “I’ll get this thing open in a jiffy.” In a few moments, the doors to the shuttle bay wheezed open, and Baxter guided the shuttle out of the bay and into open space. “Captain’s Override. Spiffy, eh?”
“Just take us down to the planet. I’ve squared away a hiding place,” Krem said, pointing toward the looming planet on the screen.
“Aye, Cap’n,” Baxter said, steering the Pizarro toward Glortimus.
“What’s your problem, human?” Sav asked, pushing his phaser harder into Baxter’s neck. “Why are you so…relaxed?”
“Because I’ve been a big ball of stress for a couple weeks now,” Baxter said. “Like you, I had my mind on vengeance.”
“You did?” Sav asked.
“Stop talking to him, Sav!” Krem snarled. “Just give him instructions. No talk!”
“You did?” Sav asked again.
“Sure,” Baxter said. “But recently I just came to this slow realization. You know…why let something like that just take over your life? It’s silly.”
“It is?” Sav asked.
“Shut up!” Krem said. “Land us!”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s okay buddy, “ Baxter said. “We’ll sort all this out.”
“We will sort it out, all right,” Krem snapped.
“I thought we weren’t talking to him?” Sav asked.
“Shut up and make sure we have survival packs. They should be in the rear storage.”
Sav nodded and ducked to the rear of the small ship. He spotted the compartment where they probably kept all the supplies, and knelt to open it.
As he knelt, a Jem’Hadar suddenly shimmered into existence in front of him. He yelped, but the Jem’Hadar simply lifted him up by the throat.
Krem looked back. “Look here! If you kill him, I’ll kill your Captain! Don’t do it! Don’t you move a…”
While he talked, Chaka’kan very calmly twisted Sav’s neck until it snapped, then dropped the limp Orion to the deck.
“You think I was kidding?” Krem demanded, moving his fingers to the firing control on the phaser.
Chaka was across the cabin in seconds, a black motion blur that Baxter barely saw, and was suddenly on top of the old Orion.
Baxter watched, gasping, as the Jem’Hadar strangled Krem, then threw the body over his shoulder.
Chaka turned on Baxter, his eyes wide with rage, breathing heavily, snarling.
“Easy, there, big fella…” Baxter said softly. “You did a nice job, there…I can see where that invisibility thing comes in handy.”
The Jem’Hadar reached out and grabbed Baxter by the throat, shaking him. “Victory is life! Victory is life!”
“Urk!” Baxter groaned.
Chaka suddenly dropped Baxter as if he was a toy doll, then walked to the back of the cabin, looking away from Baxter. “I…am sorry, Captain.”
“Don’t be,” Baxter said, rubbing his throat. “Those guys nearly killed me.”
“They would have.”
“You saved my life.”
“I dream of drenching my hands in blood,” Chaka commented.
“Um…well, we all have our bad days, Chaka,” Baxter said, trying his best to be comforting.
“I need help,” the Jem’Hadar said with a deep sigh. “I’m deeply in need of help.”
“Well, just happens that I know somebody…” Baxter said.
Stardate 58027.7. I’m pleased to report that Commander Richards successfully negotiated a twenty-year gas processing contract between the Federation and the Glortiman Gas Processing Authority. We’re all so proud of him.
Meanwhile…well, nothing much else is happening.
“I just don’t have it in me to go over all that crap,” Baxter said, rolling over in bed next to Peterman.
“Well, I’m sure all captains cut bits and pieces out of their logs,” Peterman said. “I mean, you can’t report about…everything.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. He stared at the ceiling. “You know, J’hana was right about one thing…”
“I really don’t care much for bloody carnage.”
“And here I thought you loved it,” Peterman said.
“Well, I mean, that’s what killing is, right?”
“Usually,” Peterman said. “Honey, you don’t have to sweet talk me…if you want to have sex, just say so.”
Baxter turned over, leaning on his elbow. “Hold on a sec, hon. I’m trying to be serious here. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“I don’t have the stomach for it. The vengeance thing.”
“Well, with the Orions, I was pretending like I had come to this grand euphoric conclusion that vengeance wasn’t healthy…”
“In hopes to convince them not to kill you?” Peterman asked. “Nice idea, Andy, but Orions are bloodthirsty killers. I really doubt that would have dissuaded them much.”
“Anyways, it was an act. I was still fuming about Ficker.”
“And still are?”
Baxter nodded. “Yeah, I’m still mad as hell. I still want him to pay for what he’s done. For the angst he’s caused me and my crew. For nabbing Anna last year….and for nabbing all those helpless cadets. But…”
“Well, I don’t really have to kill him.”
A slow smile spread across Peterman’s face. “Honey, I dare say you’re growing up a bit.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, pulling his covers up and curling against Peterman. “I’m a Captain. I can order someone else to kill him for me.”
“Heh,” Peterman said vacantly, her eyes darting around desperately as the Baxter called for the lights to turn off.
“Oh, by the way,” Baxter whispered. “Chaka’kan is going to stop by tomorrow morning.”
“Um, okay…is there a problem?”
“Well, probably better if he explains it himself…night sweetie.”
“You’re hurt,” J’hana said, following Richards down the corridor. “How pathetic!”
“Don’t taunt me, J’hana,” Richards said, marching purposefully. “I’m not in the mood.”
“Look, I’m sorry I left you on the planet. But, it turns out, I came up to the ship for a pretty good reason.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t know that when you beamed up.”
“I know. I’m extra-sensory that way, eh?”
“Funny,” Richards said.
“The good news is, I recovered Ensigns Taft and Albright. I will no doubt reap weeks of joy from ridiculing them about being tied up in a janitor’s closet for the better part of a day.”
“You should talk,” Richards said. “We seem to spend a fair amount of time in janitor’s closets…”
“Speaking of which, I hope this dramatic, girlish stunt of yours will not impact our mating habits.”
Richards glanced uneasily over his shoulder. “D-do I have a choice?”
J’hana chortled. “Sharz, no!”
Just then, Chaka’kan passed them in the corridor.
“Hey, Chaka!” Richards said. “Congratulations on saving the captain. That invisibility thing comes in handy, eh?”
“Excuse me. I’m going to go kill things now,” Chaka said as he brushed by.
“Ah, good old Holodeck Program Twenty-Seven?” J’hana called out.
“The holodeck,” Chaka said thoughtfully. “An even better idea.” And he turned down an adjacent corridor.
J’hana and Richards exchanged glances.
“Weird,” said J’hana.
Why is Captain Conway visiting the Explorer? Could he actually be homesick? Chances are, he’s not, but perhaps it has something to do with his recent divorce. Whatever the case, it’s up to Captain Baxter to figure out why he’s moping around his former ship, and, on his wife’s orders, fix whatever’s wrong with him. Unfortunately, there’s someone else wandering the ship even more messed up than Conway.