Author: Anthony Butler
“I’m glad you came to me,” Counselor Peterman said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs. “Just admitting you have a problem is a huge first step.”
“She’s evil,” Lt. Howard Sefelt said, drawing up his knees to his chin and wrapping his arms around himself, rocking on the fainting couch in Peterman’s office. “She wants to kill me.”
“We are talking about the same person, right?” Peterman asked, studying her padd as she sat in the chair opposite the couch. “Little Nat Sparks? She hardly talks.”
“Yes, but it’s in her looks. She’s always looking at me.”
“Maybe she likes you,” Peterman said.
“I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s a wise thing to pursue. Officer and cadet relationships are not exactly recommended by Starfleet. Especially for, you know…unstable folks.”
“Maybe she likes me,” Sefelt said, putting his feet back down on the floor and standing up. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Is that it?” Peterman said. “You’re not afraid anymore?”
“Other than a slight fear of commitment, nah. Thanks, Counselor!”
“You’re, um, welcome,” Peterman said, shaking her head. Just when she thought she had that guy figured out…
Sefelt screamed as he stood in the doorway to Peterman’s office, then quickly dashed out.
Peterman turned, and watched Chaka’kan lumber in, looking over his shoulder.
“He is strange,” Chaka said. “Do you have a moment, counselor?”
“Actually, my previous appointment went a lot shorter than I thought it would,” Peterman said. “I usually block out three hours for Howie.”
“I appreciate your consideration,” Chaka said, moving over to the couch opposite Peterman and sitting down stiffly. “I have…a problem.”
Peterman nodded as she started a new page on her padd. “Yes. Andy mentioned something about that to me yesterday. Said you might be coming by.”
“Yes,” Chaka said.
“So what seems to be the problem?” Peterman asked, holding her padd in her lap.
“I’m thinking of killing people,” Chaka said matter-of-factly and sat back. “Is there something I should do about it?”
Peterman’s eyes widened and she nearly dropped her padd. “Yes! Don’t!”
Chaka cocked his head. “Even if they’re bad people?”
“Well, I suppose there are times…” Peterman shook her head. “No! Don’t kill anyone!”
Chaka nodded, taking this in. “I came to you because I was curious as to why I’m suddenly having these feelings.”
Peterman nodded, fighting to retain her composure. “Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first get this…impulse?”
“Well, I guess it started a few months ago, when I helped defend the ship from the Orions. I took…a surprising amount of satisfaction in putting down the invaders. Then there were the two I killed the other day…again, that was quite liberating.”
“That’s not surprising. You took pride in helping to save the ship from attackers. That’s positive.”
“I found I somewhat enjoyed the killing.”
Peterman rubbed the bridge of her nose, thinking of J’hana. She could NOT stand to have two of those on board. “More than baking?”
Chaka looked pensive. “Somewhat more than baking.”
Peterman sighed, shifting in her seat. “This is not good…”
“However, if I killed someone by baking them…” His eyes rolled momentarily and his knee trembled. “That would be sheer ecstasy.”
“You know what?” Peterman said, hugging her padd protectively in front of her chest. “I think we need to take a break. Come back this afternoon, after I’ve had a chance to recover…I mean research…and help you come up with some ways to deal with this.”
“If you feel that’s necessary,” Chaka said, and stood. “Will you be requiring a sitter for Steffie this afternoon? I understand you have shopping plans with Doctor Browning.”
“NO!” Peterman shrieked, then ran her hands through her hair. “I mean, that really won’t be necessary. I’ve got it covered.”
“As you wish.” Chaka stood, and bowed slightly. “Three hours, then?”
“Yeah,” Peterman said distantly. “And, um, try to limit your contact with, you know, other people on the ship. As a matter of fact, don’t go anywhere or do anything. Just, um, stay put…”
“That is just as well,” Chaka said. “People have been rubbing me the wrong way lately.”
“Anyone in particular?” Peterman asked with a nervous giggle.
Chaka pursed his lips thoughtfully. “No. Pretty much everyone.”
Again, Peterman thought of another Explorer crewmember, but luckily that particular ray of sunshine wasn’t on board any more, and hadn’t been for years. Peterman silently thanked the Great Bird for small miracles, that she didn’t have Dave Conway to deal with on top of everything else.
“Contact bearing zero-one-seven mark two-two-four,” J’hana said, looking up from tactical. “It’s a Starfleet runabout.”
Captain Baxter looked up from the report on his padd and glanced at the screen. “Can you identify it?”
“Yes, sir. It’s the Kissimmee.”
Baxter giggled at the name. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
J’hana bristled. “Because it always makes you giggle.”
“No. There’s something else.”
“She is assigned to the Aerostar.”
Baxter turned in his chair. “J’hana, silly, the Aerostar blew…oh! THAT Aerostar! The new one!”
“Yes. The one that hasn’t exploded. Yet.”
Baxter turned back to face the screen. “Are we in hailing range?”
“What could they want?” Baxter asked. “Did I forget somebody’s birthday? Again?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Baxter leaned back. “That’s comforting. Maybe they just want to say ‘hi.’ Maybe it’s Larkin! That would be nice.”
“Maybe it’s not,” J’hana said. “We are being hailed.”
Baxter leaned forward. “On screen.”
The viewscreen shimmered to life, and on it appeared Captain David Conway.
“Dave?” Baxter said blankly.
“Baxter!” Conway said, forcing a smile. “How the heck are you?”
“I’m…fine…” Baxter said. “What do you want, Dave?”
“Permission to come aboard, Captain. I was in the neighborhood and just wanted to, you know, chat.”
“Chat?” Baxter blinked. “Conway, what the hell are you doing out here?”
“Vacation. Can we chat?”
“Fantastic. Shuttlebay Two? Is it right where I left it?”
“Um…yeah. Go ahead. Explorer out.” Baxter turned to J’hana. “What the hell is HE doing here?”
J’hana stared at Baxter. “Apparently, he wants to chat.”
“Don’t be cute. Just for that, you can go down there and greet him.”
“Can I bring a phaser?”
“Would you leave it here if I said no?”
“Of course not.”
“That’s what I thought. Just go down there and bring him back.”
“One trip down memory lane, yes, sir,” J’hana said, and headed for the turbolift.
“She has a spring in her step,” Madera said from the helm as J’hana left.
“She’s always been all over the spectrum mood-wise,” Baxter said. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Just then, Peterman emerged from the foreward turbolift, holding Steffie’s hand as she waddled onto the bridge.
“Surprise, Andy! Look who I brought to see Daddy!”
“Um…I’m guessing Steffie?” Baxter asked, grinning as the toddler leapt into his arms and sat in his lap.
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “I thought it’d be fun if she spent some time on the bridge today while you guys map the Bahd Sector.”
“It’s going to be boring,” Baxter said. “Not that I’m not happy to spend time with her, but I thought she was going to spend time with Chaka today?”
“Nah!” Peterman said quickly. “I think she needs time to bond with her Daddy, here on the nice, safe…secure…bridge.”
“Can’t argue with that, I guess,” Baxter said. “Actually, might give me just the excuse I need…”
“Excuse for what?”
“Well, you’re not going to like this, but Dave Conway is coming aboard.”
Peterman cocked her head. “What?”
“Yeah, he was apparently in the area and wanted to stop by.”
“When it rains it pours,” Peterman muttered, and headed for the turoblift.
“What do you mean?”
“I just met with Chaka.”
“Yeah. That ‘little problem’ you were telling me about?” she said, stepping into the opening doors.
“Massive. I need to work out a game plan. Meanwhile, don’t let our girl out of your sight.”
Baxter bounced Steffie in his lap. “Hmmmm.”
“Hey there,” Peterman said, ducking into Space Tastes as Dr. Browning emerged from the kitchen, undoing her smock.
“Hi, Kelly!” Browning exclaimed, running forward and throwing her arms around Peterman. “It’s good to see you!”
Peterman gasped. “Oof! Okay, Janice. Enough with the hugs. You and Plato have been back for a week now.”
“But we were gone almost three months!” Browning said. “I missed everything about this place.”
“Well it certainly is good to have you back,” Peterman said. “Say, where’s Plato?”
“Gym class,” Browning said. “He likes the uneven bars.”
“That’s super,” Peterman said. “Does he have any plans with Chaka today?”
“Not that I know of. They have Aikido tomorrow, but other than that…”
“Okay,” Peterman said. “Good. That should give me time to figure out…”
Browning stared at her. “Figure out what?”
“What to buy today!” Peterman said, throwing an arm around Browning. “Are you ready to go shopping?”
“Sure…” Browning said, cocking her head quizzically. “Are you okay, Kelly?”
“Suuuuure,” Peterman said. “Nothing a little shopping won’t fix. And maybe, while we shop, we can chat a bit about your trip to the Gamma Quadrant.”
“Um, okay…anything in particular?”
“Oh, this and that,” Peterman said. “You know, it’s fun to remember the good old times.”
“You mean last week?”
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s shop!”
“What are you doing here?” J’hana asked matter-of-factly, as Captain Conway descended the stairs leading off the Kissimmee’s side hatch.
“Nice to see you too, J’hana,” Conway said, putting out his hand to shake. The Andorian stared at him for a few moments, and Conway withdrew the hand. He looked around. “Wow, the old place still looks the same.”
“We don’t repaint the shuttle bay often,” J’hana said, as the pair walked out into the corridor. “So, off to the bridge?”
“Yeah,” Conway said. “Like I said, I was in the area, and just wanted to chat with Captain Baxter and the rest of you guys.”
“What have you been up to?”
“I killed two hundred and seven Orion invaders three months ago.” She pondered. “It may have been two hundred and nine, depending on whether or not the two whose heads I crushed together survived. Other than that, it’s been fairly uneventful around here.”
“I guess that’s what returning to the civilized world will do,” Conway said. “Rather than running from…whatever it is you guys were running from.”
“That’s classified,” J’hana said. “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” She thought about that. “So do you want to know?”
“No!” Conway said, holding up his hands. “That’s okay. I’ll just assume it was for the betterment of the Federation.”
“If you must,” J’hana said. “Regardless, it’s over.”
“That’s a relief, I’m sure,” he said, trying not to wilt under J’hana’s unflinching gaze. “Although I know you’ll get more chances to kill people soon.”
“Of that I have no question,” J’hana said, leading Conway into a turbolift. “Bridge.”
“So how’s everyone else? How are things with Tilleran?”
J’hana growled low, palming the handle of her phaser.
“Ah,” Conway said. “I see. Well, I can sympathize with relationship troubles.”
“Change. The. Subject,” J’hana said slowly, lifting the phaser out of its holster.
“Right. How about everyone else? How about Chris? How’s Richards doing?”
J’hana gave a small laugh. “He is surprisingly resilient and flexible.”
“I knew he’d fit into the XO role eventually,” Conway said.
“He fits into many things,” J’hana said, as the doors opened onto the bridge. “Ah, we’re here. Thank Flarnax. Go. Speak with Captain Baxter. Be gone.”
“Nice talking to you too!” Conway said, and headed down to the front of the bridge, looking around. “Well, hasn’t it been a while?”
Captain Baxter stood up, letting Steffie slip down to the deck and stand next to him. He stepped up to shake Conway’s hand. “Yeah, it has. Want to go to the readyroom?”
Conway glanced around. He was about to say something to Madera, but she turned away, busying herself with the helm panel. Guess she still felt weird about the fact that they had sex on an alien ship a few years back. He looked at Baxter. “Yeah. Good idea.”
Baxter led the way back into his readyroom, Steffie at his side, and glanced at Conway as he stepped in. “Can I get you something to drink? Let me guess. Hot chocolate?”
“Coffee will be fine.”
“Shocker,” Baxter said with a small laugh, and punched up one hot coffee (Conway blend #317), a hot Orange Pekoe, and a cranberry juice for Stef. He handed the coffee to Conway, and took his and Steffie’s drinks to his desk. Steffie jumped into his lap as he sat down.
“Sollyare?” she asked.
“No, you can’t play with Daddy’s desk terminal.”
“Did she say solitaire?” Conway asked, sipping his coffee.
“No, I don’t know what she said,” Baxter said quickly. “But I certainly don’t use my terminal to play solitaire.”
“Sure,” Conway said, leaning back on the couch. “You know, I can never quite get my blends to taste the same way on the Aerostar as they do on the Explorer.”
Baxter shrugged. “Different style of replicator, I guess. Yours are newer. Plus, the people on your ship are bound to defecate differently than the people on the Explorer, and as we all know, everything that comes out of the replicators is generated from our reconstituted feces, so…”
The two men stared at their drinks a moment, sighing.
“Anyway,” Conway said, looking around. “This place looks different. Didn’t you have more sports memorabilia?”
Baxter bristled. “Yes. Vansen threw a lot of it away while she was in command.”
“Oh,” Conway said, suppressing a laugh. “That’s too bad.”
“A game ball signed by Willis Xavier!” Baxter said. “You think that’s funny too?”
“No,” Conway said, and covered his mouth as he chuckled some more.
“So glad you could come,” Baxter muttered as Steffie sat in his lap drinking her juice. Conway shook his head as he drank his coffee. “It still looks weird with you sitting there with a kid in your lap. I keep
having to remind myself that you don’t have a miniaturized officer at your side.”
“Miniature officers,” Baxter chuckled. “What a ridiculous notion.”
“But yeah, she’s all mine,” Baxter said, giving Steffie a squeeze. “Hey, have you and Alexa talked about having kids?”
“Not…exactly,” Conway said, and leaned back. Baxter didn’t know about the fact that he had to neuter himself to save the time stream. That was a little nugget he didn’t often share. Of course, that wasn’t the reason he was on the Explorer. “Alexa and I are actually…kind of having problems.”
“Really?” Baxter asked. “I had no idea.”
“Well…we’re kind of…divorced.”
“Divorced!” Baxter’s eyes widened. “When did this happen?”
“A few weeks ago. After we stopped a bunch of Privateers led by a crazy British woman from destroying Bajor.”
“Crazy British woman?”
“Not the point,” Conway said. “What is the point, is that Alexa and I were on our honeymoon when all the stuff with the Privateers went down, and during the honeymoon we accidentally had our minds fused together.”
“Man, I hate when that happens.”
“Yeah, well, during the course of things, we figured out we didn’t want the same things.” Conway gestured at Steffie with his coffee mug.
“Like what?” Baxter asked. “She didn’t like coffee?”
“No, you idiot. I didn’t want kids!”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “That’s a shame.”
“Yeah, you think I’d have made a good father?”
Baxter looked at Conway and thought a moment. In what was obviously a fragile time for the captain, was brutal honesty really the way to go? “I, uh, think you would’ve grown into the role.”
“True enough,” Conway said. “You seem to have adjusted to it, and I’d have thought you’d make a piss poor parent.”
“Well, um, thanks,” Baxter said. “So how long are you here for?”
“I don’t know. Day or two I guess. Just wanted to hang around a bit, see the old place.”
“Are you on a mission of some kind?” Baxter asked. “I mean, why were you in the area?”
“Vacation,” Conway said. “I was watching a simulated NASCAR competition on Sharlot Six.”
“Ahhh,” Baxter said. “Well, we’re certainly…glad to have you. I mean, we do owe you for the two or three times you bailed us out of things last year.”
“I was wondering if I’d have to remind you of that stuff, Baxter.”
“No reminders necessary,” Baxter said. “I’m quite aware we owe you a favor.”
“Three favors,” Conway said.
Baxter sighed. “Can I show you to some quarters?”
“I know where the guest quarters are. Don’t worry about it.” Conway stood, and Baxter turned to his terminal to catch up on some work. A few moments later, he realized Conway was still standing there.
“Captain…did you need something else?”
“Nah,” Conway said, and sighed. He turned and headed out of the readyroom.
Baxter shook his head as he bounced Steffie on his knee and stared at his terminal screen. He’d never seen Conway so…emotionally needy.
Just when you think you know a person…
“What do you think about this hat?” Peterman asked, trying on the floppy-eared Tellarite fur-hat and gesturing left and right for Browning to get a good look.
The afternoon crowd was thin in Old Starfleet, the kitschy retail outlet that was added to the Explorer’s mall six weeks ago, in the space once occupied by the Ferengi dental office/nail cuttery/metalgrinder.
“I think you’re allergic to Tellarite fur. Remember how we had to put the plastic cover on Andy’s couch?”
Peterman winced. “Ooh, yeah, you’re right.” She popped the hat off and dropped it on the pile of hats. “Hey, how about this one?” She put on the tall, conical, white Vulcan “cap of knowledge” and gave a little twirl. “Do I look any smarter?”
“Yeah, but you won’t be able to go in and out of doors,” Browning said.
“Yeah,” Peterman said, throwing the cap off and grabbing another, this one a hard, bulb-shaped Cardassian battle helmet. “Wow, this thing is really retro. So do you think Chaka’kan is capable of a murderous rampage?”
Browning blinked as she stared at Peterman.
“What?” Peterman asked quietly. “Does it make my head look big?”
“Oh, just something I was thinking about. This morning. In the shower.”
“You were thinking about Chaka’kan going on a murderous rampage this morning in the shower?”
Peterman scoffed. “What, that never happens to you?”
“Well.” Peterman folded her arms. “Look, I’d love to discuss this with you, but I’d be violating patient confidentiality.”
“Chaka’kan is your patient and he confided in you that he wants to kill people?”
Peterman took the hat off and set it down. “Whoa, whoa there. You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“But you just said…”
“I was just…testing you. Yes. This has all been a psychological test. And I’m proud to say you’ve passed with flying colors.” She glanced through the store window and saw Chaka walking by, glaring at the crowd around him, and ran to the door.
Browning gaped as she watched Peterman run out of the store, dashing past a Pakled clerk carrying a pile of sweaters, knocking them over. She just shook her head. “Why do I feel like I’d be better off pretending that conversation never happened?”
“I don’t know,” the Pakled said, stooping and picking up the fallen sweaters, an array of pastels, perfect for the Explorer’s nonexistent seasons. “But would you like a sweater? Sweater pretty.”
“Yes, sweater pretty,” Browning said distantly. “But no thanks.”
Baxter sat in the command chair and sighed.
“Please stop making that sound,” J’hana said.
“Oh. Am I bothering you?”
The Andorian growled as she leaned against her panel. “You sound like someone stabbed you in the chest, and the air is slowly seeping out of your lungs.”
“I wish you didn’t know that from experience,” Baxter muttered.
“You sound as if something is on your mind.”
“I’m just feeling guilty,” Baxter said as the aft turbolift doors opened and Commander Richards walked onto the bridge. Or, rather, limped.
“You okay, Chris?” Baxter asked as Richards made his way to the chair next to Baxter’s.
“Fine. Just pulled…a quad…playing tennis.” He glanced back nervously at J’hana, who simply shook her head “no.”
“You sure have been active lately,” Baxter said. “And you’ve been coming on-shift later and later.”
“I’ve been working from home.”
“The ship IS your home! You’re a one-minute turbolift ride from here!”
“It’s easier to concentrate without all these distractions,” Richards explained, and looked uneasily at J’hana, who reached into her vest pocket, withdrew a long, serrated blade just long enough for it to gleam in the ceiling lights, and then tucked it back in.
“What distractions?” Baxter asked, looking around the quiet bridge.
“Trust me, there are distractions.”
“Well, cut it out. We need to be professionals. Or do you remember I just narrowly escaped retaking a class at Starfleet Academy because of our supposed unprofessionalism?”
“Sorry,” Richards said. “I forgot professionals bring their daughters to the bridge.”
“Shh,” Baxter said. “Steffie’s napping.”
Sure enough, in the chair to Baxter’s left, normally occupied by Peterman, Steffie was curled up, sleeping soundly, hugging one of Baxter’s prize footballs.
“Sorry. Hey, did I hear Dave Conway’s on board?”
“Don’t try to change the subject. I’m disciplining you!”
“You’re not too good at it,” Richards said.
Baxter’s shoulders sank. “Shut up.”
“So, what’s Conway doing here?”
Baxter turned to face the viewscreen. “Hell if I know. Says he wants to catch up with all of us.”
“It’s kind of…unsettling…to have him here. Brings back memories that aren’t necessarily fond.”
“You were saying something as I came out of the turbolift,” Richards said. “Something about feeling guilty?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “I suppose I feel guilty that I haven’t been more welcoming with Dave here. Especially after all he did for us last year.”
“Didn’t he gripe and moan about all of it along the way, though?”
Baxter shrugged. “That’s just his way.”
“So do something about it,” Richards said. “Show him you really care.”
Baxter leaned forward and rested his chin on his hand. “I don’t.”
“Then fake it.”
“But he wouldn’t bother to fake it if I came aboard his ship,” Baxter said. “He’d let me know just what he thought of me, which probably wouldn’t be much.”
“Yeah, but since when do you act like Dave Conway?”
“You’ve got a point,” Baxter said. “I guess I’ve got to be mature about this.”
“Try it,” Richards said, and laughed. “Who knows, maybe you’ll like it.”
“Just for that, you have the bridge,” Baxter said, and pushed out of his chair. He gently lifted Steffie into his arms. “And I’m taking Steffie to her toddlercise class.”
“See something you like?” the holographic Bradley Dillon asked as Dave Conway perused the camping gear spread on the shelf at Dillon’s Pioneer Depot.
“No. I’m just looking.”
“Very well,” the hologram nodded, clasping his hands behind his back. “Let me know if you need anything. Oh, and I’m an idiot.”
“Thanks,” Conway said. He glanced over his shoulder. “What?”
“I’m an idiot,” the hologram said simply. “And a liar too.”
“That’s…” Conway said, shaking his head.
“The fusing pitons are useful for climbing,” a voice rumbled from behind Conway. “They get jammed into the rock, and can then be used as handholds.”
“Huh?” Conway asked, turning. He stepped back upon seeing the gentleman standing next to him was a Jem’Hadar. “Oh…you’re that guy they brought back from the Gamma Quadrant!”
“You are correct,” Chaka said, and looked back at the camping gear. “The pitons are also useful as implements of killing. If I were to jab one into your chest, for instance, at the correct angle and velocity, I could shred your heart muscle and kill you in a matter of minutes.”
“That’s a helpful hint,” Conway said, taking another step back.
“That would be inefficient, however,” Chaka said, taking one of the pitons and turning toward Conway. “Jamming the piton into your brain stem would provide a much quicker death. It’s amusing to note, however, that it would not be a painless death. Oh, no. Not by far.”
“Um…” Conway said slowly, backing toward the door.
“Thanks for stopping by Dillon’s!” the hologram waved. “I’m a total moron!”
Conway backed right into Peterman, then turned, staring at her. “Kelly!”
They both turned toward Chaka, who grinned toothily. “Hello there,” he said to both of them, holding the pointy piton high.
“Those are one point five bars of latinum, folks. And, speaking of tools…I’m a tool!” the Bradley hologram informed them.
Peterman held up her hand. “Chaka…listen to me very carefully. Put…that…down…”
“But it’s an instrument of death,” Chaka said, staring at the pointy implement. “Killing is good.”
“No, silly, killing is NOT good!” Peterman snapped. Bad Chaka!”
“Your counseling techniques are really finely honed,” Conway said. “Why don’t you call security?”
“Why don’t YOU call security?” Peterman asked.
“It’s not my ship anymore!”
“Thank GOD!” Peterman snapped.
“Hey, this is really not the time…”
“Ahem.” Chaka waved the fusing piton. “Hello! Murderer over here!”
Conway and Peterman turned back toward Chaka. “What’s gotten into him?” Conway asked.
“Don’t ask me. It’s a Jem’Hadar thing.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have one roaming the ship, then. Did you think of that?”
“He’s been fine until now,” Peterman said. “I don’t know why he’d go nutty all of a sudden. For Pete’s sake, he’s been babysitting Steffie and Plato!”
Chaka stepped closer to them, holding the piton high over his head. “Just hold very still. I promise this will not take long. I work with surgical precision. Victory is life.”
“That old chestnut never gets old,” Conway muttered, and bent down, beside an orange tent that was on display nearby. He grabbed one of the tent stakes and yanked it free.
“Chestnut muffins are high in fiber,” Chaka recited, and advanced on Conway and Peterman.
Conway quickly brought the tent pole up and whipped it at Chaka’s hand, knocking the piton out of it, then rammed into him with his shoulder, knocking the Jem’Hadar to the floor.
Peterman grabbed the tarp off the tent and leapt, throwing it over Chaka, joining Conway in what was quickly becoming an all-out wrestling match.
“People, please!” the Bradley hologram said, walking out from behind his counter. “I cannot tolerate violence in a Dillon’s store. I’ve got crap for brains! If you don’t cease and desist immediately, I’ll be forced to call security.”
“Good!” Peterman seethed, driving her elbow into Chaka’s neck, yanking his tube of white out. “Call them!”
Conway grunted as Chaka head-butted his chest. “It’s nice to feel useful!”
“Shut up and keep punching him!”
“Why is he wrapped in an orange tent?” Captain Baxter asked, staring across the security field at Chaka, who sat motionless on the bench in the brig cell, wrapped in an orange tent.
“We covered him with it while we clobbered him,” Conway said.
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Why hasn’t he taken it off?”
“He seems to be using it as a blanket,” Peterman said, on the other side of Baxter.
Baxter nodded. “Okay. Thoughts?”
“Why does the Bradley Dillon hologram in your Pioneer Depot keep insulting himself?” Conway asked.
Baxter and Peterman exchanged a glance. “We, uh, made some alterations to it after we got back from our time travel escapade,” Baxter said. “But I was talking about Chaka.”
“He’s loony,” Conway offered.
“I was actually asking Kelly, but thanks.”
Peterman shrugged. “I’m at a loss. One moment he’s the good old friendly Chaka we knew and loved. Then he sees a little bit of battle, with the Orions, and the Dominion ship that captured Janice and Plato, and suddenly he’s Hannibal the Cannibal.”
“Who?” Conway asked.
“Read a book every now and then,” Peterman snapped.
“Who just helped you wrestle an insane Jem’Hadar to the ground?”
“Knowing you, you probably said something nasty to him to provoke him.”
“I didn’t say anything! He started the conversation!”
“PEOPLE!” Baxter shouted. “We’ve got a Jem’Hadar who’s a few vials of white short of a full supply and I want to know why.”
“It’ll take more psychoanalysis,” Peterman said.
“Well, you are good at that, right?” Baxter asked.
“Of course!” Peterman faltered . “But I’m not sure this is all psychological.”
“What do you mean?” asked Baxter.
“Well, the Jem’Hadar are genetically engineered warriors. They’re bred for combat and annihilation, and have been for millennia. Maybe the ‘nice Jem’Hadar’ experiment just didn’t work, and Chaka’s reverting to his old ways.”
“After two years?”
“Anything’s possible. I need to bring on Lieutenant Commander Tilleran for a consultation, just to be sure. And Janice.”
“Janice’s not the CMO anymore. Why not ask Holly?”
“Because Janice’s got more of a stake in this. He’s her babysitter, too. And if I bring her in on the case, I can explain to her why I was all weird with her at the mall today.”
“Well, as long as you have professional justification,” Baxter muttered, and headed for the door.
“What about me?” Conway asked, jogging to catch up to Baxter. “What do you need me to do?”
Baxter took a deep breath and released it. “Have dinner with me.”
Conway glanced back at the brig. “Are you sure I can’t hang out with your wife and the terrifying murderer?”
“Wow,” Conway said, glancing around the noisy, smoky bar. “What is this place?”
“Something I cooked up for mine and Kelly’s ‘Healthy Marriage Nights.’ Seemed like a good place for us.”
Conway winced. “‘Healthy Marriage Nights’?”
Baxter gestured Conway toward a stool at the bar, and sat down on the one beside him. “I’ll have a rum and grapefruit. Dave?”
“Irish coffee,” Conway said.
“Yeah, ‘Healthy Marriage Nights,’” Baxter said taking a deep breath. “It’s something Kelly cooked up a while back, just after we nearly divorced last year.”
“You nearly got divorced?”
“It was touch and go, after the time travel thing.”
“Why? The stress of close quarters? No sonic showers? Having to watch all those…what do they call them? Commercials?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “And some other things.”
“Like what?” Conway asked, leaning forward, as the bartender delivered their drinks.
“Not important,” Baxter said. “Not the point of this conversation. Anyway, we try to spend one night apart each week, while the other one watches Steffie. Kelly’s theory is it gives one of us a chance to assert our independence, while the other spends quality one-on-one time with Stef.”
“Bunch of psychobabble, if you ask me.”
“Yes. But it’s my wife’s psychobabble,” Baxter said tersely, sipping his drink. “Anyway, it’s fun. I come here, watch a few Cowboys games. Shoot pool every now and then. It’s relaxing.”
“Did you make yourself some holographic friends?”
“No!” Baxter said. “I’m not that pathetic. I’ve brought Chris here once or twice.”
“Just once or twice?”
“Well, it’s been awkward between us since…” He glanced at Conway. “SO not the point. ANYway, this isn’t just a regular bar. It’s called a ‘sporting bar.’”
“Just look,” Baxter said, gesturing with his glass. Behind the bar, and on all the walls, were huge widescreen TVs that showed numerous sporting events at once. Cheers sprang up from the crowd as the showcased game, which appeared to be one of the Cowboys Super Bowl victories of the 1990s, hit a pivotal moment. They always played Cowboys games here. But only the victories, of course.
Conway surved all the screens, and the different sporting events. “Wow. NASCAR!”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “I thought you’d like that. And the best part is…” He trailed off as Conway turned in his seat and sipped his coffee, watching the race on a nearby screen. “We can each watch our favorite sporting events, and we don’t actually have to talk to each other.”
“Uh-huh,” Conway said, sipping and watching.
“Plus, we can get chicken wings!”
Masterful, Baxter thought to himself, and glanced up at the Cowboys game, watching Michael Irvin waltz into the end zone. Maybe this wouldn’t be so painful, after all.
Plus, they could get chicken wings!
Suddenly the holodeck arch appeared and the doors opened onto the Explorer corridor. Counselor Peterman stepped through, carrying Steffie on her hip.
Baxter turned around, gaping. “Hey, Honey, I…”
“Hi Andy. David.”
Conway waved, sipping his drink.
“What are you doing here, Kelly?” Baxter asked. “Should you be bringing our little girl into a bar?”
“You’re right,” Peterman said. “Computer. New program. Activate Richard Simmons Healthy Lifestyles Cabana Cafe.”
“Noooooooooo!” Baxter cried as the bar dissolved around him, and he and Conway were suddenly sitting on stools around a cabana-style bar, with Richard Simmons in a tropical shirt and floppy straw hat, smiling and ready to serve, non-alcoholic, sugar-free margaritas in each hand.
“Sweetie,” Peterman said, walking over and handing Steffie to Baxter. “I need you to watch Steffie. J’hana and her security team are moving a possible psychotic murderer into the genetics lab adjacent to Sickbay and I need to be down there to help.”
“Why not leave her with her sitter?”
Peterman frowned. “Her sitter is the possible psychotic murderer.”
“Oh. Yeah. Right.”
“You should kill him,” J’hana said, pacing the back of the room as Peterman, Tilleran, and Browning observed Chaka in his cell.
“We didn’t ask you, J’hana,” Peterman said. “I’m not even sure why you’re here.”
“Because Chaka’kan now represents a security risk. Even if you’re all too blinded by affection for him to realize it. You should kill him, or better yet, let me do it.”
Tilleran turned and looked at J’hana. “If being a bloodthirsty killer was punishable by death around here…”
J’hana sneered. “Don’t flirt with me unless you mean it, Betazoid.”
“We’re getting off-track,” Peterman said. “The point is, to try to help Chaka. Any ideas?”
Tilleran shrugged as she reviewed her tricorder evidence. “Not much is known about Jem’Hadar genetics. We know the basics, about how they are created, and how they develop, but the technology that went into screening out their malicious intent is somewhat unknown to us.”
“Maybe he just needs a hug,” Browning said softly.
“That’s nice, Janice,” Peterman said. “But I think he’s not so much in the mood for hugging right now.”
Chaka looked up, still holding the tent tight around his shoulders. “Hug? Someone wants a hug? Crush third cervical vertebrate.”
“No! Bad Chaka!” Peterman snapped. “No murderous intentions!”
“Just a little bit?” Chaka asked.
“NO!” Peterman said sharply. “You be a good Jem’Hadar and you stop wanting to kill!”
“He’s not one of your dogs, Counselor,” Tilleran said. “I think this requires a bit more sensitivity then hitting him with a rolled up newspaper every time he tries to kill somebody.”
“Well, I’m open to suggestions,” Peterman said, putting her hands on her hips. “Something’s got to be done.”
“We need to get him into a genetic induction chamber,” Browning said. “Tilleran can only get so much with her tricorder. We need try to reverse the unraveling of his new DNA.”
Peterman turned to Tilleran. “You think?”
The Betazoid nodded. “That would be my suggestion. I think this goes far behind a need for mental health.”
“Can I at least supervise?” Peterman asked.
Browning exchanged glances with Tilleran. “You can watch,” Browning said, as nicely as she could.
Commander Richards sat in the command chair, staring at the viewscreen. “Any more news about Chaka?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at Ensign Keefler, who stood at tactical.
The young officer shook his head. “He was put inside a genetic induction chamber a few minutes ago, but nothing else.”
“Hmph,” Richards said, folding his arms.
Howard Sefelt turned around in his chair at ops. “Commander, you don’t think he’d, you know, go berserk and try to kill us all, do you?”
“Nah,” Richards said. “I’m sure he’s just experiencing a…glitch.”
“Sheesh,” Cadet Nat Sparks said softly from the helm.
“What?” Sefelt asked.
“Are you afraid of everything?” she asked.
“Yes,” Sefelt said. “Why, aren’t you?”
She shrugged. “Most things. But I met Chaka. He baked me a strudel. He’s nice.”
“Strudel…” Sefelt said, looking back at his panel. “Are not to be trusted.”
“You’re strange,” Sparks said.
“I’m just trying to stay alive,” Sefelt whispered. “You’ll see, soon enough, on this ship, that can be a challenge.”
“Can’t be worse than getting beaten up by the mean girls living on the third floor of Uhura Hall.”
Richards considered that image momentarily, then shook his head to clear it. “That’s enough, you all. Concentrate on the task at hand. Aren’t you mapping something?”
“We were just sitting here,” Sefelt said. “Why, were we supposed to be doing something?”
“Um,” Richards said blankly. “Let me check…”
“What is it with your wife and Richard Simmons?” Conway asked, staring at the festive menu at Simmons’ healthy beachfront cabana, while Baxter tucked Steffie into her high chair and adjusted a bib around her neck. Conway recoiled a bit at the fact that Steffie was positioned between him and Baxter. But both Baxters were slobs when they ate, so he figured he’d be getting hit by food either way. Might as well be the smaller of the two.
“She likes him. I don’t know. I suppose it could be worse. If my Mom wasn’t keeping the real Richard Simmons on board as ship’s counselor on the Pathfinder, I imagine we’d be dealing with the real one. At least this one comes with an ‘off’ switch.”
“Does he even have counseling training?”
Baxter shrugged as he drank his non-alcoholic, sugar-free margarita. It actually wasn’t that bad. He wasn’t sure why Conway threw his at Simmons, other than the fact it wasn’t coffee. “Mom doesn’t place a lot of value on counselors, in general. She didn’t even before she met Kelly, although meeting Kelly didn’t help matters. Sometimes I think she just keeps Simmons on board just to spite my wife. And to help big ol’ Ensign Tully with his weight problem, of course.”
“Why are we here, Andy?”
“Hmmm?” Baxter asked, staring at his drink. “Oh, because Chaka’kan is going crazy and my wife’s trying to deal with it, and Steffie can’t eat dinner in a bar.”
“No. I mean why did you insist that we have dinner?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Baxter asked. “To spend some time with me?”
“Hah,” Conway said, as Richard Simmons crept out from the kitchen and sat a steaming black coffee in front of Conway, lowering his head reverently.
“Sorry for the wait. I…hope you like it,” he said skittishly. In his other hand, he had a plate of chicken fingers for Steffie, complete with an array of dipping sauces. “I’ll be back with your chili, and your chicken wings,” Simmons said, looking from Conway to Baxter. “And please, don’t throw anything else at me. I’m not sure why holograms are programmed to feel pain…but until I get that sorted out, please, I beg of you, be merciful…”
“Be quick about that chili, Simmons,” Conway muttered, staring into his coffee.
“Well?” Baxter asked.
“To be honest,” Conway said with a breath. “I’m not sure why I’m here.”
“Maybe you’re soul-searching. A relationship shakeup can lead to that.”
“I’m not you. I don’t mope around all depressed-like when something goes wrong.”
Baxter cocked his head. “Gee, thanks.”
“See, you’re already starting to mope.”
“Here go!” Steffie said, flinging a chicken tender doused in barbecue sauce at Conway. It hit his cheek and rolled down the front of his shirt.
He grabbed it and shook it in Steffie’s face. “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”
Steffie blinked back, smiling. “Yummy!”
“Now Dave, don’t take your problems out on a little girl. She’s not old enough to beat you up yet. It’ll be four, five years before that happens,” Baxter said, sipping his drink with a laugh.
“Funny,” Conway said, flinging the tender back behind the bar. “Is this what dinner time’s like for you every night? Getting food thrown at you?”
“My shirt’s clean so far,” Baxter said. “But then again, the wings haven’t come out, and if they’re Buffalo…well, that’ll be that.”
“Here’s your soup,” Simmons said, sitting a bowl of chili in front of Conway and pushing a plate of steaming chicken wings toward Baxter.
“Yum,” Conway said, and started in on his chili. “I hope this isn’t that lowfat…” He put a spoonful in his mouth and grimaced. “Crap.”
“Richard!” Baxter snapped, holding up a wing. “Where’s the spicy sauce?”
“These aren’t deep fried, silly boy,” Simmons said, patting Baxter’s cheek. “They’re baked, and brushed with a light tomato glaze.”
“Ick,” Baxter said, looking at his wing.
“Now then, I’ll just head to the back and start making your fruit salads. Hope you guys like melons!”
“Not the kind you’re talking about,” Conway muttered.
“Beans!” Steffie said excitedly, and reached into Conway’s chili bowl, grabbing a handful of beans and shoving them in her mouth.
“No! Stop!” Conway said, holding his spoon out protectively in front of him. “What are you doing?”
“Yummy beans!” Steffie grinned, letting most of the beans tumble out of her mouth and onto her pink striped shirt.
“Sorry,” Baxter said, and turned to Steffie. “Sweetie, be careful. That’s hot. You could burn yourself!”
Conway pushed his bowl away. “You know, I’m kind of losing my appetite…”
“There!” Browning said, pointing to the multispectral map of Chaka’s brain on the genetics lab’s viewscreen. “See the imbalance?”
“Yes,” Tilleran said thoughtfully, leaning over the scans, as Chaka lay inert in what looked to Counselor Peterman like a giant cigar tube. She should know…she found enough of them discarded around her house after visits from her father-in-law.
“See it?” Browning asked, looking at Peterman over her shoulder in the dimly lit lab.
“Yeah…” Peterman said. “The pinkish parts?”
“No. The green parts.”
“Oh. Yeah, those.”
“We have to carefully restrand the DNA,” Tilleran said, tapping at controls, as the hues on the map changed. “If we’re too careless with the strands, they’ll come completely unbound, and I don’t have to tell you what’ll happen then.”
“No,” Peterman said. “But it wouldn’t hurt.”
“Genetic decomposition,” Tilleran said.
“He’d turn into oatmeal,” Browning said.
J’hana stepped up from the back of the room. “Did either of you see him move?”
“Impossible,” Browning said, rubbing her chin. “He’s dosed with about 90 milligrams of cetomethacol, which is usually only used on large undomesticated animals. It’s enough to put a human into a coma for eighty years.”
“We used it on J’hana once,” Tilleran said.
“He’s out,” Browning said. “I’d stake my reputation on it.”
Just then, a fist smashed through the glass window on Chaka’s tube. It reached out, then punched a control on the doorpanel of the tube, causing it to wheeze open.
Tilleran and Browning backed away, right into Peterman.
“That’s impossible!” Browning said.
“The Jem’Hadar are bred to resist toxins but even I thought that would work…” Tilleran said.
“Don’t worry,” J’hana said, readying her phaser. “We have forcefields up around the chamber. No way he…”
Chaka climbed out of the chamber, got up, and calmly walked right through the security field.
“Fwarz-sharsh it! Why didn’t anyone tell me he could do that!”
“This is what happens when our crew misses out on the entire Dominion war,” Tilleran said, then grabbed Peterman and Browning by the arm, pulling them to the ground as J’hana ran at Chaka’kan. “Tilleran to all hands. General quarters! Intruder alert! One Jem’Hadar, unarmed but extremely dangerous!”
Chaka looked at J’hana quizzically, then grabbed her by the arm that was holding the phaser, lifted her off the ground and hurled her across the room. She slammed into the opposite wall and fell in a heap.
“Be with you in a minute,” he said, and headed for the door, shrouding himself as he went.
“J’hana!” Tilleran called out, racing to J’hana’s side.
“Finally,” the Andorian sneered, mopping blood off her lip with the back of her hand. “That damn Jem’Hadar robbed me of my first real chance for combat in months when he killed those Orions the other day. Now I can finally face a worthy adversary.” She licked her lips, tasting the blood, as she pushed Tilleran away and leapt to her feet. “Intoxicating. Hold all my calls!” And with that she dashed out the door.
“Everybody okay in here?” Dr. Holly Wilcox asked, running into the genetics lab from Sickbay, which was next door.
“Nothing wounded but our pride,” Tilleran muttered, helping Browning and Peterman to their feet.
“That’s a relief,” Holly said, turning to Browning. “So, uh, does this mean you’re coming back to work here?”
“Heavens no,” Browning sighed, catching her breath.
“Thank…” Holly said, then stop herself. “I mean, thankfully, you all are okay.”
“We are,” Peterman said. “But I’m not sure about everybody else…”
Chaka’kan materialized in the middle of a crowded corridor, to the surprise of pretty much everyone there. He snarled as he stalked down the passageway, knocking over every crewmember in his reach as he made his way to the nearest turbolift.
“You are all easy kills. You are not worth my time.”
“But I am!” J’hana called out, leaping through the air and tackling him into the waiting turbolift, as two confused ensigns scrambled out.
“Residence deck!” Chaka growled, gripping J’hana by the arms and pinning her to the wall of the cramped lift.
“Brig!” Jhana shouted back
With every order, the turbolift bleeped obligingly and shifted direction. It was becoming dizzying, not that it bothered Chaka much.
The two of them tangled, until finally Chaka leapt toward the ceiling, planting his feet so as to secure himself at the top of the car. He twisted at the hatch on top of the lift and popped it open, then climbed through as the moving car descended. He jumped off the car and grabbed the nearby ladder.
J’hana dove after him, scrambling up the ladder.
When he arrived at the nearest doors, Chaka shoved his fingers between them and pried them open, crawling out and dashing down the corridor.
By the time J’hana climbed out, he had shrouded again.
“FWARK IT ALL!” she roared.
“What do you mean he’s LOOSE?” Richards asked, pacing the bridge.
“As in he’s not in our custody,” Peterman said over the com channel as she sat on one of the biobeds in Sickbay. “Don’t be smart with me. Send a security team to Steffie’s location immediately.”
“I think I should send a security team to Chaka’s location immediately,” Richards said. “J’hana could need some help.”
“She’ll be fine,” Tilleran said over the comm channel. “She does this sort of thing all the time.”
“Not this exact sort of thing,” Richards countered. “I’m sending backup.”
“She’ll be mad at you,” Tilleran said.
“I don’t care.” Richards glanced at Keefler. “Ensign, form a team and go down there.”
“J’hana hates it when we break up a good fight, sir.”
“Just do it. And send some people down to the Toddlercise class.”
Sefelt cowered at his station. “What about the bridge? Can’t you send some people to the bridge?”
Richards sighed. “Howie, I personally promise you, if Chaka comes here, I’ll throw myself in front of him.”
“Somehow that’s not all that comforting, sir.”
“What do you mean he’s LOOSE?” Baxter demanded, nearly choking on a small chicken wing bone.
“I’m not doing this again,” Peterman fumed over the com channel. “Dear, go to the nearest weapons closet, grab an armful of phaser rifles and then lock yourself in there with Steffie. Richard Simmons is not equipped for hand to hand combat and you know it!”
“Boy, I wish we were still in a bar,” Conway said. “This would all go much better if I were drunk right now.”
Baxter slammed his chicken wing down. “First of all, honey, how will I fire an armload of rifles? That doesn’t even make sense…”
“Andy! GO! NOW!”
“Right,” Baxter said, and slid off his stool, grabbing Conway by the arm. “C’mon, Dave. I need you.”
Conway brightened. “Really?”
“Seems to me you owe me one since I shot your ex-girlfriend a few years back.”
“So then in reality, you owe me two, because of the three you owed me from last year. Although yours is really only half, because I think you only winged her…I finished her off, remember?”
“Shut up and come on! Computer, arch! Simmons, stay with my daughter and don’t let anyone into the holodeck!”
“Could you get some cool whip while you’re out?” Simmons called from the rear of the cabana.
Plato walked out of the gym, towel around his neck, whistling a tune as he walked. “See, I told you that you’d feel better after a workout, Colby.”
Cadet Colby Mathers shrugged. “I still feel fat.”
“Stick with me. You’ll slim down in no time.”
“Easy for you to say. You can assume any shape you want.”
“Well, not really,” Plato said. “I’m still having trouble with abs of steel. Though I can do alligator skin…”
“Neat!” Mathers said, as sudennly Chaka’kan materialized in front of them.
“Speaking of alligator skin,” Plato said with a chuckle.
Chaka grabbed Plato by the throat and lifted him off his feet.
“Urk! I was just kidding, Chaka!”
“Founder,” Chaka said. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
“Disturbed me? Chaka, what are you talking about?”
“Mustn’t kill the Founder,” Chaka said, and dropped Plato. He then sped off, shrouding again.
“CHAKA!” J’hana shouted from the other end of the corridor.
“He w-went that way,” Mathers said, pointing dumbly.
J’hana pushed past Plato and Mathers. “Find the nearest empty room and lock yourselves in there. I will take care of this!”
“What’s wrong with Chaka, J’hana?”
“Personally, I think he’s great, but others on this ship take a dim view of homicide. Later!” And she turned down the next corridor, her antennae twitching madly.
“Last time we saw him, he was moving through Deck Nine. But he shrouded again, and J’hana’s having trouble locating him,” Tilleran said over Baxter’s communicator as he and Conway moved down the corridor back toward the holodeck, phaser rifles in tow.
“Great, more good news,” Baxter said. “Has he actually killed anyone yet?”
“No, just scared the dickens out of people,” Peterman said. “Including me!”
“Well, then there’s hope,” Baxter said.
“Did I mention it was a brilliant idea keeping a Jem’Hadar on staff?” Conway asked, cradling his rifle.
“He was more harmless than Howie Sefelt until very recently.”
“Just goes to show you can’t trust people. They change without a moment’s notice.”
“You know, you could talk to Alexa. Tell her you want her back.”
“Nah. It’s useless. She wants kids, I don’t.”
“Then stop sulking.”
“I’m not sulking.”
Baxter turned to Conway. “Then why are you here?”
“I told you, I just wanted to catch up!”
Baxter stomped his foot. “Damn it, Conway, you don’t like me any more than I like you, so why are you here?”
They walked up to the holodeck, and Baxter keyed the door open. Steffie peered out. “Daddy?”
“Daddy’s just fine, Stef. Let’s go inside and have dessert while Daddy protects you from the crazy murderer.”
“Fruit salad, everyone!” Richard Simmons called from his beachside cabana.
“That’s why,” Conway whispered. “I wanted to see your life. The one I could have had.”
“Oh. So it’s not about sulking,” Baxter muttered, leaning against the holodeck doors. “It’s about yearning for what could have been. Cripes, Conway, that doesn’t sound like you.”
“Yearning,” Conway snapped. “Not on your life. I just wanted to remind myself what a crapload this family life of yours is. I needed to be sure that I didn’t want kids. Didn’t want the responsibility.”
“You command a Starship!”
“Yeah, but it’s nothing like the responsibility you have with a kid. And I don’t want it!”
Baxter blinked. “So that’s it? You just wanted to be sure you didn’t want kids?”
“Yeah, and trust me, that’s loud and clear. If this was my ship, and I had a killer loose on it, I’d have guns blazing everywhere. But you can’t do that, cause one stray shot may hit your kid, and that can’t happen. It ties your hands, compromises your ability to command. Why on Earth would I want something like that on my shoulders, on top of all the other stuff? Huh?”
Baxter shrugged. “I…guess we have different priorities.”
“Damn right,” Conway said, checking the settings on his rifle. “And it didn’t take mind-fusion for us to figure that out. Now you stay here and watch your kid. I’ll take care of the Jem’Hadar.”
Baxter watched Conway stalk off. “Um….okay. Thanks!”
Chaka’kan materialized in the Constellation Club, amidst pounding music and frantic, carefree dancing. Apparently the General Quarters announcement never made its way down here.
“Can I get you something to…ahhhhh!” Mirk cried, ducking behind the bar as Chaka hurled a blade at him, and it just barely missed his head.
“This party must come to an end!” Chaka announced suddenly.
At the same time, the door on the other side of the room blew open with a concussive force that knocked Chaka to the deck, and J’hana raced through the smoke and fire and onto the dancefloor.
“We’re at general quarters, Mister Mirk,” she called over to the bar. “Did you not hear the announcement?”
“I think the music was too loud,” he squeaked, still hiding behind the bar.
J’hana turned to Chaka. “You want to dance?” she demanded. “Let’s dance!”
“Just wanted to remind everyone that we’ve got drink specials all night long!” Mirk called from behind the bar. “And to hide behind some furniture until the homicidal maniac is caught!”
“Andorian,” Chaka’kan said. “You will be a pleasurable kill.”
“That’s what my last few boyfriends told me,” J’hana said. She tossed her phaser aside and hurled herself at Chaka, fingers clenched into claws, rolling on the deck with him.
“I do not know what you are doing,” she seethed. “But cease and desist now or I will kill you!”
“Leave me alone and let me kill!” Chaka growled, climbing to his feet and rearing up over J’hana, fists poised for a deathblow.
“Be NORMAL!” J’hana ordered, drawing her feet back to kick at Chaka.
“Be unconscious!” Conway called from the smouldering doorway, blasting his rifle at Chaka, nailing him three times in the back and sending him reeling to the floor.
J’hana leaned up on her knees, staring down at Chaka’s still body. “Shazzit, Conway! He was my kill!”
“Relax,” Conway said, strolling in. “I had the thing on stun”
“I had the situation well in hand, Conway,” J’hana muttered, turning to look at Chaka.
“Sorry,” Conway said flatly, lowering his weapon.
“You had better be,” J’hana said, glancing down at the Jem’Hadar. She tapped her combadge and called for a medical team, just as Keefler and a squadron of security officers ran into the bar. She glared at them. “Oh, for fwark’s sake. Backup? Someone’s going to pay for this…”
“Can I get anyone anything?” Mirk asked, peering from behind the bar.
Stardate 58029.8. With Chaka’kan adequately…subdued…Dr. Browning and Lt. Commander Tilleran were able to resume their reconstruction work on the Jem’Hadar’s unraveling DNA. After some time recovering in a genetic broth of some kind, I’m told he’ll emerge completely normal, which is obviously a source of great relief. Hmmm. Speaking of broth, it’s just about lunchtime…
“Leaving so soon?” Baxter asked, as he caught up with Conway heading toward the shuttlebay.
“Yeah, I chased a lunatic through the corridors and shot him in the back, so I’d say my work here is done,” Conway muttered, shouldering his duffle. “Dinner was good last night, by the way.”
“Yes. Well, tracking temporarily insane genetically engineered predators does cause one to work up an appetite, so…”
“Hey, if I what I said about Steffie offended you…”
Baxter glanced at Conway. “You could give a crap?”
“Yup. Although you did help me out of a tough spot.”
“Deciding whether or not to try and repair your marriage?”
“No, deciding on one more week on Sharlot Six watching NASCAR or a week on Risa getting my feet rubbed by oily women.”
“I take it you’ve decided on the oily women,” Baxter said with a grin.
“But of course,” Conway said.
“Then the other stuff you said…”
Conway shrugged. “Just in the heat of battle.”
“Well, I guess all that matters then is that you’ve enjoyed your vacation.”
“Nope,” Conway said, and ducked into the shuttlebay. “Can’t say that.”
Baxter stood in the doorway. “See you later, then, Dave.”
“Hopefully later than sooner,” Conway said with a chuckle, and stepped on board his runabout. “Try not to get blown up, in the meantime.”
Baxter put his hands on his hips. “Yeah. Love you too, buddy.” He shook his head, turning and heading back to the bridge.
Dr. Browning sat down at the desktop terminal in her quarters and sipped her hot chocolate as the connection completed. The subspace array at DS9 was notoriously slow to connect, especially when there were ion storms in the area.
“This is Pogo,” the voice of the changeling outcast suddenly piped up, surprising Browning.
“Pogo! I didn’t expect you to appear so quickly.”
“Is there an emergency?”
“Well, not anymore…”
“I gave you this signal for emergencies, Doctor…”
“Well, let’s say there could be one. You may want to get your Jem’Hadar checked out at the next outpost, by a geneticist…”
“Yes, well, those are somewhat hard to come by in the outer reaches of the Dominion…”
Browning bit her lip. “Well, find one. You see…there’s something a tad…off…with these nice Jem’Hadar. Just trust me on this one…”
“Mom, who are you talking to?” Plato called from his bedroom, popping his head out and elongating his neck so he could see into the living room.
Browning turned the terminal away from Plato. “Nobody, dear. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be in to tuck you in soon…”
“But it’s the middle of the day!”
“Whatever,” Browning said, and smiled at Pogo on the screen, whispering: “Just remember what I said, Pogo. And be safe. And…call me once in a while if you need someone to talk to, okay?”
“Okay…” a slightly-confused-looking Pogo replied, as Browning cut the channel.
“So it’s safe to say you’re feeling yourself again,” Counselor Peterman said, pouring hot tea for her and Chaka, who sat on the couch opposite her in her office.
Chaka gingerly took the cup of tea and sipped it, looking at her bashfully. “Yes, it’s…safe.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Peterman said.
“In fact,” Chaka said, as he sipped. “You really don’t need that security guard outside your door.”
“Oh, him?” Peterman asked nervously. “He’s just…testing for…um….he’s going to walk the dogs, later, is all…”
“Don’t be ashamed, Counselor,” Chaka said. “You have reason to fear me. You all do.”
“Not anymore. Tilleran fixed your DNA problem. You’re good as new.”
“But isn’t it possible there’s more to it?” Chaka asked. “More than a DNA problem?”
Peterman crinkled her nose. “Like what?”
“Like…a spiritual problem?”
“Gosh, I hope not.”
Chaka nodded. “Me too.”
“But we can talk about that. We can keep talking about, in fact, until you feel yourself again.”
“Even in the best of circumstances, I remain what I always was, and ever will be, Counselor,” Chaka said. “A born and bred killer.”
“Well, that might be true for other Jem’Hadar, but not for you. You were bred specifically to be ‘nice.’ And if you give it time, I think you’ll find that kindness will come through again.”
She reached forward and took Chaka’s hand. “I’m sure of it.”
“Then where, may I ask, is Steffie, Counselor?”
Peterman swallowed, gently pulling back her hand. “She’s…Janice wanted to watch her today…you know, she said business was slow in the restaurant and…”
“I see,” Chaka said, and stood. “Same time tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Peterman said as the Jem’Hadar headed for the door.
“Very good.” He walked to the door and stood there a moment, then turned back toward Peterman. “All things in good time, then?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“We shall see.” And he walked out into the corridor.
Peterman leaned back and sighed. “Yeah, I guess we will…”
Once upon a time, Kelly Peterman and Deanna Troi hated each other. Thankfully, though, that’s all in the past. Or is it? When a confrontation at yet another auspicious book signing rubs Peterman the wrong way, she sets out to show Troi that she doesn’t hold grudges. No matter what the cost.