Author: Anthony Butler
“I’m just saying it’s weird,” Lt. Commander Hartley said, pushing her fork through her scrambled eggs as she sat in Space Tastes with Mirk. “Richards looks like he’s been through hell lately. I think he’s still agonizing over Janice.”
Mirk munched on his toast thoughtfully. “Strange.”
“What? That Richards still has issues over Janice after all these years?”
“No. That you care. You’re not the gossipy type.”
Hartley glared at Mirk. “Gossipy?”
“Well, you know, talking about what’s going on with other people. People usually just go to you, and you listen. Sometimes you give them brief advice; more often than not, you make obscene gestures at them and kick them out of your engine room.”
“Well, I don’t accept your premise, but let’s hold onto that argument for a later date,” Hartley said icily, and put her fork down. She folded her arms. “I don’t care that much, really. I just don’t want Richards to flake out and run away again.”
“He has played that card a few too many times,” Mirk said thoughtfully.
“And it’s annoying! Whenever he runs off, I seem to get a promotion, and I’m happy where I am.”
“I was never attracted to the ambitious types.”
“You don’t understand…I hate having the ‘conn.’ I hate putting together shift schedules. I hate listening to department heads whine about not getting enough resources. I don’t want to be First Officer, and I just know that Baxter would promote me if Chris left again.”
“The insensitive bastard,” Mirk said with a chuckle.
“It’s not funny. You know I’m right, and you know I’d be miserable as second in command.”
“How about captain?”
Hartley fought it off for a moment, then allowed a mischievous grin. “Planning a mutiny, sweetie? In that case, I’m on board.”
“No,” Mirk said. “I just thought you might like to be Captain one day. A lot fewer mundane details. A lot more grand thinking.”
“Dammit, boys! I told you not to poop in the restaurant!” Captain Andy Baxter muttered, stooping to spray poo dematerializer on the tiny piles left by Peterman’s pomeranians, Boomer and Starbuck, who were tugging on their leashes as the captain bent awkwardly to clean up the poo..
“Yeah,” Hartley said. “Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.” She glanced over. “Hey, Captain. Need some help?”
“No,” Baxter grunted, pocketing the spray and ushering Boomer and Starbuck into the restaurant. “I’m fine. Just a little bit of a doodie problem.”
“Duty?” Mirk asked. “I’ve always felt you had a strong sense of duty. Misplaced sometimes, but…”
“No. DOO-TIE!” Baxter said, collapsing into the chair between Hartley and Mirk with a huff. “Feces. Caca. Poo-poo!”
“Check please,” Hartley muttered, pushing away from the table.
“Enjoying breakfast, you two?” Baxter asked, as Mirk and Hartley both rose from their chairs.
“Yeah,” Mirk said. “Just catching up on some shipwide gossip. You know…getting the, um…scoop.”
“Oh yeah?” Baxter grinned, missing the pun entirely. “What’s the news today?”
“I just heard my captain say the word ‘caca,’ for starters,” Hartley said, laughing. “That should keep me going the rest of the day. C’mon, Mirk. Walk me to Engineering.”
“Glad I could be of help!” Baxter called after Hartley and Mirk as they walked out.
The doors from the kitchen opened and Dr. Browning whisked out two silver trays, setting them on a round table in the middle of the restaurant.
“Sorry I’m running late, Andy,” she said. “I was helping Plato finish an xenobotany project this morning and time got away from me.”
“That’s okay,” Baxter said. “I was stuck on the bridge watching a star go nova.”
“Hope it wasn’t an important one,” Browning said, and disappeared back into the kitchen.
Just then, Commander Richards walked, or rather, limped into the restaurant, looking around. “Where is everyone?” he asked.
“You didn’t see the announcement?” Baxter said, tying the pomeranians’ leashes to a nearby chair. “I reserved the restaurant for a couple hours this morning.”
“It’s Kelly’s birthday,” Baxter said. “I’m, uh, doing a brunch thing for her.”
“How special,” Richards said, shifting, antsy. “So when can I come back?”
“Twelve hundred’ll be fine,” Baxter said, rising to head back to the kitchen as Browning emerged with two more trays and a candleabra. “Actually, the whole thing was Janice’s idea.”
“I’m a romantic,” Browning giggled.
“I know,” Richards said, as J’hana walked in behind him.
“Oh, look at that,” she said, glancing, startled, at Richards. “Commander, I did not know you would be here.”
“Yes. Me neither,” Richards said.
“Would you like to dine together? As professionals?” J’hana asked with an exaggerated bow.
“We’ll have to do it at the Gilded Tribble,” Richards said. “This place is reserved for some birthday thing.”
“Sorry!” Baxter said, as Browning put the trays down and he lifted one of their lids. “Mmmm! ‘Breakfast bake.’”
“Full of steamy hot…breakfast,” Browning said, glancing down into the deep tray.
“The best kind,” Baxter said.
“Ick,” Richards muttered, and turned. “C’mon, J’hana.”
“If you like, we can share a meal outside the workplace environment, “ J’hana said stiffly, following Richards out of the restaurant.
“What the heck was that?” Browning asked, wrinkling up her nose as Baxter rummaged in the kitchen.
He emerged moments later weighed down with candles. “Who knows. They’re both coping with heartache, and I suppose they find comfort in each other’s company.”
“Not that they have a whole lot in common,” Browning observed.
“Quick, help me light these candles.”
“Please don’t set a tablecloth on fire like you did last time!” Browning asked as Baxter handed her a small ignition torch.
“I’m cleared on all six major workstations on a Galaxy-class starship,” Baxter said. “I can light candles…”
“Sorry I doubted you,” Browning said, leaning over to light two candles and placing them on tables at strategic corners of the restaurant. “Computer, dim lights!”
“Ahhh, my hand!” Baxter shrieked, as hot wax dripped off one of the candles and onto his hand.
“I’ll get my medkit,” Browning said, darting back to the kitchen.
Counselor Peterman stepped in, glancing around. “Hey, where is every…?”
“Surprise!” Baxter said weakly, clutching his burning palm as he looked around the candlelit restaurant. “Happy birthday, sweetie.”
“Did you cover your hand in hot wax?” she asked, walking up to him.
“Just a little bit.”
“I can’t believe Janice let you light candles,” she muttered, and pulled Baxter gently into a kiss. “Hunh. I thought it was odd when you offered to walk my dogs.”
“Well, you know…I didn’t want you to be late after taking Stef to toddlercise. I know how you usually loiter in the arboretum.”
Peterman leaned down and rubbed her pomeranians on the head. “Good boys! Did you two go number twos?”
“Yes,” Baxter said. “Very recently. They both went. So if you add it up, I guess…they did, um, number four.”
“Hold on, the doctor’s in the house!” Browning called, scurrying over with a medkit. “Happy birthday, Kelly!”
Peterman sunk into a chair at the center table and looked out over the breakfast spread. “I’m just another year older. Let’s not overanalyze it, okay?”
“You mean let’s not talk about it,” Browning said as she ran a dermal regenerator over Baxter’s hand, then tucked it back in her kit. “I keep forgetting, you’re funny about the whole getting old thing.”
“I’m not getting old!” Peterman snapped, squeezing her eyes shut, her hair flailing as she shook her head.
“Let me know if you guys need anything else,” Browning said with a wry smile. “I put out three kinds of juice. And some…aged grapes.”
“Thanks, Janice,” Baxter said, sitting opposite Peterman as Browning walked to the back, activating the blast doors that closed the restaurant off from mall traffic.
“This is very nice, Andy,” Peterman said, reaching across the table to take Baxter’s hand. “You really shouldn’t have.”
“I had the time,” Baxter said, wincing and pulling back, exchanging his charred hand for the other, less burned, hand. “All this sector mapping has left me with a surprising amount of free time.”
“After all these years, you’d really think we’d mapped everything.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Makes me wonder when we’ll get an interesting assignment again. You know, I’m just itching to assassinate the leader of an enemy planet or something.”
“When have we ever been given an assignment like that?” Peterman laughed as Baxter poured her some orange juice.
“Never,” Baxter said. “At least, not that you’re supposed to know about.”
“Very funny.” She watched Baxter pour himself a glass of grapefruit juice. “But really, Andy. I appreciate this.”
“You deserve it. You’ve been working extra hard lately. What with trying to keep people from being bloodthirsty killers.”
“You mean Chaka and…?”
“Me,” Baxter said. “The whole wanting to kill Ficker thing. I know I got a little out of hand.”
“It’s understandable. He’s your nemesis.”
“I have a nemesis?” Baxter asked as he spooned some of Browning’s breakfast casserole onto Peterman’s plate. It was yellow and jiggly with lots of lumps, but beyond that Peterman couldn’t quite figure what it was. “A nemesis. That’s pretty cool.”
“Well, just as long as you keep things in perspective, I think you’ll be ok.”
“Yes,” Baxter said, his hand shaking a bit as he dumped some casserole in his plate. “Perspective is key.”
“Yup!” Baxter sipped his juice and grinned at her. “Cheers!”
“Cheers,” Peterman said, clinking her juice glass with his.
“To turning thirty…”
“…something,” Baxter said, blanching. “Thirty-something.”
“Let’s not bother trying to calculate the years,” Peterman muttered. “Let’s eat.”
“But wait, there’s more!” Baxter said.
“More?” Peterman asked, chewing a mouthful of the casserole, which was surprisingly good given its unidentifiable appearance. “Andy, you really didn’t have to make a big fuss…”
Baxter leaned forward conspiratorially. “We’re on our way to another charting mission, this time in the Buute Sector, and I scheduled a little detour.”
“You know Deanna Troi’s latest book?”
“Yes! I finished it last night. Klingon love songs and love taps…it was very romantic.” Peterman thought about it as she chewed. “Better than the last book, even.”
“Well, honey, you’ll get to tell Troi what you think of her book in person. She’s holding a book signing on Tragus Six, and we’re going to be there!”
Peterman’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “I just thought it’d be fun…”
Peterman leaned forward excitedly, kissing Baxter deep on the mouth. “Sweetie! You know me so well. Only you would figure out that I want to cover my jealousy of Troi by gushing to her about her book in a public setting.”
“Well…sure that’s what I thought. Plus, you know, after she snubbed you at that other book signing, I figured she’d want to make good.”
“Oh, that was five years ago,” Peterman said with a dismissive wave. “We were both different people then. Dee and I talked it all out when she and those other officers from the Enterprise came aboard the Explorer.”
“Yes. The Grease thing.”
“We settled our differences through music and dance.”
“That’s nice,” Baxter said, scooping eggs in his mouth.
“A wop bobba loo bop,” Peterman affirmed.
“I still don’t know what that means.”
Stardate 58059.4. We’ve arrived at the Tragus system, after an odd malfunction in our warp core sequencers required us to stop for repairs. My Chief Engineer tells me we will be back on track in about eight hours, after a thorough diagnostic and repair.
Chief Engineer’s Addendum: There’s nothing wrong with the stupid engines. I just wanted to clear that up.
“Wow, it’s beautiful, Andy,” Counselor Peterman said, taking Baxter’s arm and skipping down the stairs from the transport site, a copy of Troi’s book, “Tripping the Light Masochistic: Klingon Mating Rituals” tucked under her arm.
The transport site was impressive: a tower elevated high over the ancient and beautiful Tragan city. The place had a vibrant, colorful, historic feel…almost like the Mayan or Aztec ruins, back on Earth, but even more shiny and resilient.
“Yeah,” Baxter said, glancing around. “Lots of bricks.”
“Colorful bricks!” Peterman said. “The foundation of any strong society. Hmm…there’s a book idea…”
“Sounds a bit boring,” Baxter said, and Peterman immediately let go of her hand as they walked across the bustling plaza.
“Boring! Is that what you really think?”
“I was just being honest,” Baxter shrugged.
“Well, I have another little chestnut tucked away. I could go back to that…”
“What, the one about our marriage falling apart?”
“Yeah. I’m thinking of calling it ‘Captain and I-Can’t-Deal.’”
“The brick thing actually doesn’t sound half bad,” Baxter said.
“Maybe I’ll get some inspiration at the book store.”
“I’ve heard this Flargus and Noble store is the biggest one in six sectors,” Baxter said. “It’s huge. They have three floors dedicated solely to rust. Plus they have really good scones.”
“Hm. Maybe they have a floor or two on bricks.”
“One can only hope.” Baxter shuddered, as they approached the grand skyscraper that towered on the other side of the plaza. The Tragans treasured their local landmarks, but had wisely found ways to build commerce around them. No sense wasting good shopping opportunities. Onward and upward, and all.
The pair walked up to the doors to the huge Flargus and Noble store, and Baxter opened the door for Peterman, gesturing her in.
They walked right into an enormous line, that trailed up into the store, and off into the foreseeable distance.
Baxter stooped, squinting. “Wow. That’s…I wonder what this is for?”
“It’s for Troi’s book. It’s got to be. She wouldn’t have let them book anything else on the day of her signing.” Peterman twitched a bit. “Looks like the book’s doing well.”
“You okay, sweetie?”
“I’m just fine,” Peterman said, and waved her padd at him. On the back was a picture of Troi, strewn casually on a couch, arms wrapped tight around her husband, Will Riker, smiling the easy smile of success. “I’m happy for Dee. I really am. See, I’ve got my book all ready to be autographed!”
“This’ll be fun,” Baxter said, trying desperately to convince himself as the line moved.
TWO HOURS LATER
“Explorer to Captain Baxter,” came the voice of Richards.
“Richards, thank God,” Baxter said, leaning against a nearby wall and stretching out his back as Peterman held his place in line. “Please tell me there’s a huge emergency somewhere.”
“No. I was just wondering what was taking so long.”
“There’s…something of a line.”
“Want me to send down a security team?”
“I hardly think that would help.”
“Hey, the Titan’s in orbit!” Richards blurted.
“Of course it is,” Peterman called over. “That’s Troi’s ship.”
“Should we send a friendly hail or something?”
“Don’t bother them,” Baxter said. “The less suspicion we arouse, the better. I’m not going back to Starfleet Academy again.”
“Right,” Richards said. “Well do you at least want me to beam down a book for you to read to pass the time?”
“We’re in a freaking book store!” Baxter snapped.
“Fine. Well, enjoy the wait,” Richards said, and closed the channel.
“Good to know you two boys are all patched up,” Peterman chided, as Baxter walked back over.
“We’re fine,” Baxter said.
“Then why don’t you guys hang out like you used to? I used to have to drag you away from the pool table…even though you always lost.”
“I remain a respectable six and thirty-six. But all thirty-six losses were close.” Baxter sighed. “Anyway, he’s always busy.”
“Maybe he’s seeing someone?”
“Nah. Everybody knows everybody’s business on the Explorer. If he was seeing someone, I’d know it.”
“Maybe he’s just going through a self-centered phase.”
“Now that’s very likely.”
“Yeah. And you turned out fine after you came out of yours, so…”
“My what? When did I have a self-centered phase?”
“I dunno. When you made out with my best friend?”
Baxter glared at Peterman. “Are you STILL talking about that?”
“It’s a big deal!”
“Janice and I have forgotten all about it.”
“Well, maybe there are others who haven’t. Would you like it if Chris and I made out?”
Baxter considered that. “Not especially. But if you’re really itching to, go ahead and try. Happy Birthday.”
Peterman patted Baxter’s chest. “Relax. I’m okay, really. But my point is, maybe Chris isn’t.”
“Should I talk to him?”
“That usually helps.”
“Yeah, helps him maybe, but I don’t wanna.”
“Real mature, Andy.”
“Oooh, the line’s moving!” Baxter said, making his way up the steps to the second level. “I can see the top of her hair!”
“Is it mussed? Are there bad bangs?”
Baxter stood on tip-toe. “No…actually her hair looks pretty great.”
“Feel free to lie to me,” Peterman muttered, hugging her padd. “Nevermind. I’m happy for her. I really am. Her book’s great, her hair’s great, her husband’s great…”
“Your husband’s not too shabby either.”
“Yeah,” Peterman said distantly, craning her neck to see Troi. She caught a glance of the Betazoid and waved. Troi looked at her, or rather, through her. “Hey! Dee! It’s me, Kelly!”
Troi just looked away, and signed another book.
“Odd,” Peterman said. “She must not have seen me.”
“Doesn’t she have telepathic powers?” Baxter asked.
“Empathic,” Peterman said. “It’s not the same.”
“What does it mean?”
Peterman let out an exasperated sigh. “It means she doesn’t always see her friends at book signings, even when she’s looking at them!”
“Right. Say, mind if I go find a book?”
TWO HOURS LATER
“Wow, I didn’t realize Texas Stadium had that many seats,” Baxter said, cradling a large blue padd plastered with the words “From Dallas to Dubuque: The Cowboys Rise and Fall.”
“Sir,” a thin Bajoran man with a nametag that read “Polu” said, glancing over Baxter’s shoulder as he stood in line. “This is not a lending library.”
“Are you sure?” Baxter asked. “I mean, have you really checked? Maybe it is and you just don’t realize it.”
“Dear, don’t antagonize the management.”
“Are you planning on purchasing that book, sir?”
“Maybe I am,” Baxter said. “I haven’t decided.”
“Could it be that you took it just so you would have something to read in line?”
“Pffft. Now why would I do that?”
“Good question, as it’s tantamount to stealing.”
“Oh, please,” Peterman said. “Now you’re being ridiculous.”
“Yes, you am,” Baxter said. “Er, are. Anyway, if you and your people did a better job managing this insanely long line, maybe we wouldn’t have to resort to reading in line!”
“Sir, if you’re not going to purchase that book, I’ll have to ask for you to give it to me.”
“I’ll do no such thing, Mister Polu.”
“Polu’s my first name.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Baxter said, shoving the padd into the man’s hand. “Why don’t you just…”
“Is there a problem here?” a gruff but friendly voice asked from behind Polu.
Baxter glanced up at a Starfleet officer, bearded, roughly as tall as he was, with piercing blue eyes. “Will!” Baxter said. “Will Riker!”
Riker cocked his head, glancing at Baxter’s pips. “Do I know you, Captain?”
“Well, not directly, maybe, but by reputation I’m sure,” Baxter said.
“We’re sorry for the wait, friend,” Riker said, patting Baxter’s shoulder. “Polu, go easy on them. They’re Starfleet.”
“Whatever you say, Captain Riker! Can I get you more blintzes?”
“No. I’m fine. Actually, I’ve got to get back to the Titan. Conference call with the Romulans.” He tossed a wave at Baxter and Peterman. “Enjoy the signing Captain, Commander.”
“Commander?” Peterman asked, startled. “I’m a Counselor, damn it!” she called after Riker, but he’d already disappeared into the crowd.
Polu sighed and stuffed the padd of Cowboys history back into Baxter’s hand. “Enjoy the read.”
“Thanks,” Baxter said, cradling the padd protectively and watching im walk off. “Riker sure was acting weird.”
“Well, truth be told, we really didn’t have much interaction with him,” Peterman said.
“Yeah, but…he’s a prominent Starfleet captain, and I’m a…nother Starfleet captain.”
“There are lots of captains out there, sweetie,” Peterman said. “They’re not all going to recognize you on sight.”
“Don’t fret about it. We’ll talk to Dee about it when we see her. Maybe we’ll set up a dinner on the Titan.”
“That would be nice,” Baxter said.
Peterman glanced at the front of the line. Troi was now in plain sight, and could be heard chatting amicably with the patrons in line. She really was good at that…mixing with the little people. She smiled, was polite, not dismissive, not self-important. Peterman would have to remember that, if and when she ever had a book-signing of her own.
FORTY MINUTES LATER
“Finally!” Peterman said with a comical sigh, setting her padd in front of Troi and smiling. “You have quite the following, Dee.”
Troi glanced at her, smiling politely, and cocked her head, seeming a little thrown off at being referred to in the familiar. “Yes, well, I’m glad people are responding to the book. It’s an important topic.”
“I’ll say,” Peterman said, as Baxter stood behind her, patiently waiting to be reintroduced. “I’m actually working on a book of my own. Well, it’s an unfinished work…but I’m about ready to get back to it. It’s about relationships and…”
“Who should I make this out to?” Troi asked, readying her stylus and poising it over the front of the padd.
“It’s for me,” Peterman said. “Sorry, I didn’t bring extra copies for my friends. But that would’ve been a good idea.”
“That’s fine. But who should I make it out to? What’s your name?”
“My…name…” Peterman stared blankly at Troi.
“It’s Kelly,” Baxter said quickly, stepping up beside Peterman. “Kelly Peterman. You know, from the Explorer?”
“Great,” Troi said, scrawling on the front of the padd and handing it to Peterman. “Thanks for coming, Katie. Good luck with your book.”
“Kelly!” Peterman snapped, leaning forward on the table. “THE NAME IS KELLY!”
Troi leaned back a bit. “I’m…sorry…”
“You can’t remember her name? Use that sympathy thing of yours!” Baxter suggested, as he felt a pair of strong hands wrap around his arms. A hulking Therrian security guard grabbed Baxter in two hands, and Peterman in the other two hands.
“You’ve seen the counselor,” the Therrian, whose nametag read “Grabo the Mercurial” rumbled. “Now it’s time to go.”
“B-but…” Peterman stammered as she was dragged away. “BUT YOU KNOW ME!”
“And it’s her birthday!” Baxter added.
“Happy Birthday, Kelsey,” Troi said flatly, and gestured to the next person in line.
“So yeah, she’s ticked,” Baxter said, chalking up his cue and crouching, surveying the green carpet of the pool table, as the small, early evening crowd in the Constellation Club murmured around them. “She turned three shades of red as we walked back to the transport site.”
“Embarrassment red?” Richards asked, sipping his Rigellian lager and watching Baxter line up his shot.
“Oh, no. Anger red,” Baxter said.
“What are you going to do?”
“Do?” Baxter asked, aiming his cue at the cue ball and squinting one eye, taking aim. “What is there to do? We’re off to our next assignment. It’s over.”
“Happy birthday, eh?” Richards asked, as Baxter shot, and missed the cue ball entirely.
Baxter glared up at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I just mean, it’s a shame that’s what Kelly will remember about her birthday.” Richards paused momentarily to study his shot, then fired, knocking the solid red, then the solid green into the back corner pocket.
“It’s not my fault Troi didn’t remember her,” Baxter said. “You’d think she would. I mean, the whole thing with the Grease musical was pretty disturbing.”
“Maybe she blocked it out,” Richards suggested.
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Maybe.”
“Or maybe she’s just being mean.”
“Huh?” Baxter watched, dumbfounded, as Richards sunk another ball, solid orange. “When did you get so good at this?”
“Playing you gives me plenty of time for practice, since you miss so many of your shots.”
“Take your next shot, Richards,” Baxter muttered.
“Wow, Captain Testy,” Richards said, and aimed again, firing, sinking the solid blue ball.
“You know, Chris, I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately.”
“I feel pretty much myself,” Richards said. “I’m kicking your butt, as usual.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Baxter said. “I mean…I can tell you’re hurting.”
Richards blanched visibly as he lined up to take his next shot. “You…you can?”
“Yeah. I know…relationships are hell.”
“How did you…?”
“Because I can see the signs.”
Richards winced. Was his limp that noticeable?
“Janice’s a great girl, buddy. Of course, it must be hard on you, letting someone like her slip away. But in time, you’ll see it was all for the best for both of you. And I’m not just saying that because I made out with her once.”
“Janice?” Richards asked.
“Yeah. Who’d you think I was talking about?”
“Nobody,” Richards said with a small smile, and leaned down, aiming his cue.
“Andy!” Peterman called from the doors to the Constellation Club. “Guess what?”
Richards, startled by Peterman’s voice, shot his cue into the cue ball a little too hard, and off-angle, hitting the 8-ball instead of the solid purple ball he’d intended.
Baxter watched it roll into the back corner pocket, and a slow smile spread across his face. “Ha! That means I win, right?”
“Um…no?” Richards attempted.
“You can’t fool me. I’ve lost that way several times myself,” Baxter said, walking over to wrap an arm around Peterman’s waist. “No harm in it. Now what’s up, sweetie?”
“She threw off my concentration!” Richards protested.
“She has a way of doing that,” Baxter said, kissing Peterman’s cheek.
“I have great news!” Peterman said, putting her hands on Baxter’s shoulders.
“You’re going to be his new pool partner?” Richards suggested.
“No,” Peterman snapped, not looking at Richards. “I found out where Troi’s doing her next book signing.”
“Don’t you get it? We can go there. I can confront her…nicely… and remind her…you know, gently, about who I am. Then I’m sure she’ll apologize and we can put this whole thing to bed.”
“Isn’t it in bed already?” Baxter asked, as Richards inched backward, taking careful steps away from the conversation.
“No,” Peterman said darkly, narrowing her eyes. “It’s far from over. I need satisfaction. Closure.”
“I know how you feel,” Baxter said. “But we can’t just change course anytime one of us gets a thirst for vengeance.”
Peterman pounded the pool table, causing the remaining balls to shake. “How COME? Everyone else gets to.”
“Yeah, and you always lecture us when we do,” Baxter said. “Counselor Troi doesn’t remember you. She’s a snob, far too big for her custom made non-Starfleet-issue britches. But the fact remains, you have to move on.”
Peterman ran a finger down Baxter’s nose. “But the fact remains, I’m the counselor here, and I know what’s emotionally healthy for me. I need closure.”
“Could it be you’re not thinking clearly? That you’re, you know….”
“Clouded by my anger?” Peterman laughed stiffly. “Don’t be stupid.” She thrust a padd into Baxter’s hand. “Now, then. The signing is in the Cassius system. It’s just a couple systems over. Small detour from our mapping mission. Have the helm change course, and we can settle this whole thing like the mature, successful Starfleet officers we all are.”
Baxter looked into Peterman’s eyes, not liking what he was seeing, and trembling at the sight. “You know…some might argue that I outrank you. You know, in Starfleet terms.”
Peterman took a step closer to Baxter, eyes locked on his. “Some might.”
“Yes,” Baxter said, looking at his feet, fumbling with his padd. “Well…”
“Thanks, dear. I love you for it.” Peterman pecked his cheek and turned, heading to the bar. “Glenlivet, rocks, Mirk, and keep ‘em coming!”
“Aren’t we supposed to be…you know, doing our jobs?” Lt. Commander Hartley asked as she followed Baxter down to the transporter room.
“That’s one way of looking at things,” Baxter said.
“Andy, you have to put a stop to this,” Hartley said. “Richards doesn’t have the guts to say it, but the crew sees you as weak. Everyone knows you’re diverting our course just because your wife wants you to.”
“Would Mirk do any differently?”
Hartley considered that, then patted Baxter on the back. “Good luck, Captain. Go get ‘em.”
“Thanks…” Baxter called weakly after Hartley as she walked down the corridor, and he ducked into the transporter room, where Peterman was already waiting on the pad.
“I had to explain to the Pranians why we’re going to be late for our mapping mission.”
“The Prania system is completely devoid of life, Andy,” Peterman said impatiently. “There are no Pranians. Now get up here.”
Baxter stepped up onto the padd and glanced at Ensign Yang. “Energize, ensign.” He glanced uneasily at Peterman, who just looked determined.
He wondered if he should have brought his sidearm.
“This line’s even longer than the last one,” Baxter muttered, teetering from foot to foot as the line through Borderlands bookstore wound toward a table in the distance where Troi was signing yet more copies of her bestseller.
“Relax,” Peterman said. “We’ll get there soon enough.”
“Listen,” Baxter said. “When we get there, let’s try and be civil about this.”
Peterman glanced at Baxter. “What are you implying, Andy?”
“Nothing, I…just, that you seem kind of…”
“I’m just trying to clear the air, Andy,” Peterman said. “My thesis project at Starfleet Academy was about conflict negotiation among the Naausicans. I know a lot about mediation. I’m one of the more level- headed people on your crew. I can handle myself.”
“Yeah, but…you can’t compare yourself to people on the crew. I mean, they’re all nuts.”
“Regardless,” Peterman said. “I’m well in control of my emotions. You don’t have to worry.”
“Who said I was worried?”
“There’s a sweat stain spreading across your back, baby.”
“Ew, how embarrassing,” Baxter said, glancing over his shoulder.
Peterman reached onto a nearby shelf and grabbed a padd, putting it in Baxter’s hand. “Here. Read this.”
“The life cycle of the butterfly?”
“It’s a great book. But you don’t have to take my word for it.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, glancing at the padd.
FOUR HOURS LATER
“So we meet again!” Peterman said with a plaster smile, setting
her padd down in front of Troi.
Troi glanced at Peterman, smiling politely. “It appears that I’ve already signed this for you…” She glanced down at it. “Katie.”
“The name…is Kelly,” Peterman said, planting her hands on the table. “And I was just wondering if you could correct the inscription.”
“Is that with an ‘I’ or an ‘IE’’?”
“It’s with an ‘Y,’ you condescending…”
Baxter touched Peterman’s shoulder. “Sweetie…”
“No,” Peterman said, shoving Baxter’s hand off her shoulder. “I can see through this. You’re hiding something, aren’t you, Troi?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Troi said, her eyelashes batting. “If you’ll please move aside, there’s a long line behind you, as you can see…”
Two Circassian security guards appeared as if from nowhere and pulled Baxter and Peterman away.
“This is not over!” Peterman snapped. “Believe me, this is nowhere near over!”
“Read my book. It’ll help!” Troi called sweetly after her.
“And do not return,” one of the Circassians said, shoving Baxter and Peterman out the front door of Borderlands and onto the steps. The Cassian sun shone down on them.
“Yeesh,” Baxter said. “Why are bookstores so…touchy?”
“Captain,” Will Riker said, breezing past Baxter and walking briskly.
“Will!” Baxter called after him.
Riker turned. “Yes?”
Baxter stepped up to join him as Peterman stood on the lower step, fuming. “Will…how are things on the Titan?”
“Busy,” Riker said noncommitally.
“Yes…well…look…” Baxter leaned in and whispered. “We’ve got a situation between our two wives.”
“Oh. Do Deanna and your wife know each other?”
“Yes,” Baxter said. “They met on my ship, the Explorer…briefly… during a subspace filament disaster.”
Riker nodded vacantly. “You’ll have to be more specific. We’ve been through several subspace filament disasters.”
“Be that as it may,” Baxter said. “If you could find it within yourself to speak to your wife. Have her meet with my wife, maybe over coffee or something. Sort out this whole misunderstanding. I think, when you look at it, it’s really just a case of mistaken identity!”
“I’m sorry. Can’t do it,” Riker said, and turned back to the doors to Borderlands.
“But, Captain Riker…” Baxter said.
“My wife and I have a lot of demands on our time,” Riker said brusquely, and pulled the door open.
“Fine!” Baxter called after Riker. “If you’ll excuse me, MY wife and I will just return to OUR hectic schedules, back aboard the Explorer. Have you seen her? She’s a Galaxy-class. Didn’t you use to serve on a Galaxy-class, Riker?”
At that, Riker paused, but did not turn around.
“Yeah. What was the ship called? Exeter? No! Enterprise! That’s right. Whatever happened to the Enterprise, anyway? Ah, yes! That’s right! Your wife CRASHED IT!”
Riker said nothing, merely ducked into the bookstore.
“I hope she crashes your new ship too, Riker!” Baxter shouted after him, and then stepped down to join Peterman. “You okay, hon?”
“Fine,” Peterman said. “Let’s get back to the ship.”
“Glad to see you’re ready to put this behind you,” Baxter said, and tapped his combadge. “I know I’ve said my piece.”
“Yeah,” Peterman muttered.
“We’re going to Obraxi Six,” Peterman said, throwing a padd down on the desk in Baxter’s readyroom.
“Huh?” Baxter glanced up from a security report on his desktop terminal. Oddly, J’hana’s usually vivid security reports were brief and to the point. Usually she loved to describe the way she wrestled people to the ground when they’d had one too many to drink at the Constellation Club. What was with her lately?
“You heard me,” Peterman said. “That’s the next place she’s signing.”
“Man, Troi really is shilling for this thing, isn’t she?”
“Know how long I slept last night?” Peterman asked, pacing in front of Baxter’s desk.
“Seven healthy hours?”
“Seventeen minutes!” Peterman snapped. “All I could think of was her supercilious face, and her big hair, and her acting like she’d never met me!”
“The hairdo’s not so bad,” Baxter said thoughtfully.
“You’re not helping!” Peterman said.
“I think all I’ve done is help,” Baxter said. “And it might be time for some tough…”
“Thank you for understanding, baby,” Peterman said, and leaned forward to kiss Baxter on the forehead. She turned around and headed out onto the bridge. “Lieutenant Madera: Change course to Obraxi Six. Maximum Warp.”
“But how am I going to explain this to Starfleet?” Baxter called after Peterman.
“You’ll think of something.”
“Well, booty butt, this is an unexpected surprise,” Captain Lucille Baxter said from the desktop terminal in Baxter’s readyroom.
Baxter swivelled uneasily in his chair. “What can I say. I miss you.”
“That’s sweet, baby. How’s little Steffie?”
“She’s wonderful. Smarter, and more beautiful every day.”
“And the woman who gave birth to her?”
Baxter bristled. “My wife is doing great.”
“Tell her I said hello.”
“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to hear that.”
“So what do you want, honey? I’m sort of busy preventing an environmental crisis on Corcon Aroli Five.”
“Glad you’re keeping active,” Baxter said. “So…say…do you have anything planned after you avert the…disaster?”
“Not especially,” Lucille said. “Your father likes a big meal after we save a planet from destruction. Other than that…”
“Great. Well would you mind taking my mapping mission to the Vralon system?”
“Your mission?” Lucille asked, cocking her head. “Why would I take your mission?”
“I’m…” Baxter winced, knowing there was no turning back from this. “Well, I’m sort of afraid of binary star systems.”
Lucille’s lip trembled. “Oh…baby…I had no idea.”
“Well, it’s not something I advertise. But yeah…something about the two stars…ick.”
“Sure, baby. Sure I’ll take your mission!” Lucille gushed. “You poor thing. Did your Father force you to do this? Is this some kind of test of manly strength?”
“I don’t…think so,” Baxter said. Then again, if his father suspected he was afraid of binary star systems, then he probably would force him to go to one, just to toughen him up.
“Well, Mom’s on the case. I’ll take your mission. You just relax. Get yourself some dinner, then take a nice bath and go to bed, okay?”
“Mom…stop being weird.”
“Oh, baby. You don’t have to hide your weakness from me. I like your weaknesses! They make me feel helpful.”
“Well, could you keep my weaknesses to yourself?”
“Of course. There’s no reason Dad has to know about this conversation.”
“Thanks,” Baxter said flatly, then reached out and closed the channel. “Ugh,” he muttered to himself. “I feel…unclean.”
Stardate 58066.4. I was so looking forward to our mapping mission to the Vralon system, but unfortunately, Captain Baxter of the USS Pathfinder intervened and demanded that the mission be turned over to her. Because she has seniority, there’s nothing I can do. So…
“I hope you’re happy,” Baxter said, sitting in the command chair with arms folded. “After that conversation I’m gonna need extra therapy.”
“Good thing I don’t charge you by the hour,” Peterman replied.
“You don’t charge anyone by the hour.”
“Fair point,” Peterman said, and then took a deep breath. “Andy, I just wanted to say thank you for this. I realize you’re going out of your way.”
“Not only that, but I totally emasculated myself in front of my mother.”
“Ewww!” Madera remarked from the helm.
“Get a dictionary and look it up!” Baxter snapped. “It’s not dirty. And while you’re at it, mind your own damn business!”
“Sorry,” Madera muttered and sunk a little in her chair. “Hey, in case you care, we’re a few minutes from arrival at Obraxi Six.”
“Good!” Peterman said, clapping and standing. “I’ll head on down to the transporter room.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Baxter asked, swiveling in his chair.
“No,” Peterman said. “I can handle this by myself. Just head down to Space Tastes and check on Steffie when you get a moment. Last time Janice watched her, she gave her beef jerky and she was stinky all night.”
“Janice or the baby?” Baxter asked with a chuckle.
“Want me to come with you?” J’hana asked from behind tactical.
“No. I don’t want Troi killed,” Peterman said, heading to the turbolift. “But thanks for the offer.”
“Can I make a request, Counselor?” Tilleran asked.
“I know what you’re going to say. And don’t worry, I won’t do anything crazy. I’m a sensible, rational woman.”
“That wasn’t what I was going to say,” Tilleran said. “I was just going to say, if it gets physical, punch her in the stomach for me. I can’t stand that woman.”
“Um…I’ll see what I can do,” Peterman said, backing into the lift and ordering it to the transporter room.
Baxter looked back at Tilleran. “The stomach?”
“I really don’t like the woman.”
“Can you see what I saw in my Imzadi?” J’hana asked.
“I guess,” Baxter said, glancing around the bridge. “Hey, where’s Richards? Isn’t he supposed to be here?”
“Shart! I almost forgot!” J’hana cried, and spun on a heel, dashing into the turbolift.
“Where’s she going?” Baxter asked.
“I don’t know,” Tilleran said, working her jaw thoughtfully. “J’hana’s been acting really strange lately.”
“So’s Chris,” Baxter said.
“Huh,” Tilleran said.
“Well, back to work!” Baxter said, heading to the readyroom.
Less than an hour later, Baxter ducked out of the readyroom and jogged to the middle of the bridge. “What’s going on?”
“See for yourself,” Tilleran said, moving away from the command chair and pointing to the viewscreen.
On the screen, Peterman stood, on the bridge of an Obraxian transport ship, flanked by two surly-looking gray-blue Obraxian guards.
“Hi, sweetie!” she said, squirming as one Obraxian held her shoulder.
“Is this your wife, Captain?” one of the guards asked.
“That would be her,” Baxter said. “Loveable minx. What did she do this time?”
“She launched across a table and jabbed a celebrated Betazoid author in the neck with a signing stylus.”
Baxter glanced back at Tilleran, who was struggling to cover a small grin.
“Kelly!” Baxter said. “What did we say about stabbing?”
“It was a jab, not a stab,” the guard corrected. Peterman said nothing, just glared out of the screen at Baxter.
“Well, regardless, it’s indefensible,” Baxter said. “You can go ahead and keep her. What kind of punishment is she looking at?”
“Five years of violent torture.”
Baxter blinked. “You are a Federation world, right?”
“We’re provisional members,” the guard said.
“Which means we don’t get the fancy plates,” the other guard grumbled.
“Andy!” Peterman snapped. “Get me out of here now!”
“Violent torture, eh?” Baxter asked. “Sounds severe.”
“The prisoner does have the choice of community service, instead of the torture.”
“There you go!” Baxter said, snapping his fingers.
“Yes,” the other guard said. “Five years working in the fire pits of our fifth moon, Clago-dwappa.”
“Well, that’s no good,” Baxter said. “Better send her back.”
“You should be aware, Obraxi does not have an extradition treaty with the Federation.”
“Hmm,” Baxter said. He turned around. “Ensign Keefler, tactical analysis on the Obraxi transport ship, please.”
“It’s a type-two cruiser, sir,” Keefler said, looking at his readouts. “Minimal shielding, low-power phasers. We can destroy their shields with one shot. Or we can shoot them twice, and blow ‘em to smithereens.”
“Food for thought,” Baxter said, and turned to the viewscreen. “So, let’s not let this get ugly.”
“Sir, another ship’s approaching,” Tilleran said. “It’s the Titan.”
“F***,” Baxter said. “Look what you’ve done now, darling. You’ve pissed off Will Riker.”
“He can go to hell,” Peterman said. “He accidentally kicked me in the leg when he was trying to wrestle me off his wife.”
“Bastard,” Baxter said.
“He’s hailing us,” Tilleran said, as the Titan loomed on the viewscreen.
“Pretty ship,” Baxter said. “What class is it again?” Tilleran told him, and he smiled. “Ah, yes. That’s right. That’s a good class.”
“How about the hail?” Tilleran asked somewhat testily.
“Tell him we can’t come to the comm right now. We’re ‘busy,’” Baxter said. “Keefler, can we shoot them and make it look like an accident?”
“The Titan or the Obraxi ship?”
“We can’t fire on a Federation starship!”
“We did last year. A couple times.”
“Regardless we can’t….the Obraxi ship, damn it.”
“Yes. All we have to do is hit them with a deflector burst. We can say our deflector overloaded and accidentally hit them with a burst of particle energy.”
“Always with the deflector,” Baxter muttered. “Okay, do it.”
“But…” the Obraxi said, as Baxter watched their bridge shake, and their image on the screen crackle.
“Their shields are gone.”
“Beam Kelly aboard now,” Baxter said. He watched the guards’ stunned faces as Peterman dematerialized. “Now then, folks. I’m sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. But I think I can settle everything. You guys want full membership in the Federation, right?”
“That’s correct,” one guard said.
“Yes. We want the plates,” the other said.
“Glad to see your priorities are in order,” Baxter muttered. “If you want, we can skip the Federation membership and just give you guys our set of plates. The rest is just treaties and other boring stuff anyway.”
“He has a point,” one of the Obraxi said.
“You’d be willing to part with your plates?” the other said.
Baxter shrugged. “I get them at a discount because I’m in Starfleet. No big deal.”
“Good,” the guard grinned. “Send them over immediately.”
“I’ll get right on it. Just…if Will Riker contacts you, can you tell him that everything was just a big…cultural misunderstanding…”
“Give us an engraved gravy boat, and we’ll consider it.”
“A gravy…” Baxter said. “Christ, what’s wrong with you people?”
Tilleran leaned forward, whispering. “Andy, take the deal. We never use the gravy boat!”
“Good point,” Baxter said. “Gentlemen, we agree to your terms. One set of engraved China, including gravy boat, on the way.”
“Captain, your comm signal is fading,” the guard said stiffly, putting on an act for Riker’s benefit, should he be listening in. “But I think everything that just happened was a huge misunderstanding. I’m sorry for the confusion. Thank you for the bribe!”
“Whew,” Baxter said, drawing a hand across his forehead as the channel closed. “That was close. Is Riker still hailing?”
“Yelling into the comm system is more like it,” Keefler said.
“Well, tell him we have…a lot of demands on our time. An emergency just came up and we have to leave.”
“Is there a real emergency?” Howard Sefelt asked from ops.
“No,” Baxter said, exasperated. “I’m just…nevermind. Just…there’s no emergency, okay?”
“Fine, you don’t have to get snippy.”
“Riker wants to know what the emergency is,” Keefler said.
“Tell him Vulcan ran out of soup,” Baxter said. “And get us out of here, Susan. Pick a random course and go…maximum warp.”
Madera brought the Explorer around and shot it into warp, just as Peterman emerged from the aft turbolift, hair tousled and uniform wrinkled and torn in spots.
“That escalated quickly,” Peterman said. “I’ll tell you, something is wrong with that woman.”
“She’s not the only one,” Baxter said, turning toward Peterman.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t worry about it. Just…just take the rest of the day off, sweetie. I’m afraid if you hang around much longer, I’ll end up ferrying cargo for the Yridians.”
“Wow. Somebody’s snippy,” Peterman said, limping back into the turbolift.
“That’s what I said,” said Keefler.
“You’re a patient man, Captain,” Tilleran said.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Baxter said.
“It’s not over,” Peterman said, standing in the doorway as Baxter stepped into their quarters. He jumped back, surprised to see her there.
“Ahhh! What are you doing standing right in the doorway?” Baxter asked, side-stepping her.
“I looked at Troi’s schedule. She’s on Vega Three tomorrow.”
“That’s nice. We’re not going.”
“We have to!” Peterman said. “The Obraxi police dragged me away before I finished my rational discussion with Troi.”
“You yanked out a clump of her hair!”
“And let’s just say I did exactly what Tilleran asked,” Peterman said with a smile.
Baxter sighed. “This is ridiculous. It has to end.”
“And it will. Right after our next trip.”
Baxter stared at Peterman long and hard. “If I gave into your every demand, wouldn’t you eventually grow bored with me?”
“It hasn’t happened yet, darling, and we’ve been married more than five years.”
Baxter paced a small circle, glancing back at Peterman. “Honey, if we do this, then that’s it. It’s the last time. You almost plunged us into interstellar war last time, and I think Riker was close to firing on us.”
“I agree. Things got out of hand last time.” Peterman reached out and took Baxter’s hands in hers. “I promise you, this time, cooler heads will prevail.”
Baxter smiled weakly. “And just whose heads might those be?”
Supplemental. The strangest thing. We got a distress call from Vega Three, and pursued it. But now that we’re here, there’s no distress call. It’s like it was never actually sent. Still, as it’s Starfleet policy to investigate all distress calls…both real and…fake…I’m beaming down with an away team to check things out.
“I’m not sure we qualify as an ‘away team,’ sweetie,” Peterman said, looping her arm around Baxter’s as the pair made their way through the crowds outside Wormholebooks and stepped in through the revolving glass door.
“Well, I had to come up with something,” Baxter said.
“You did fine, babe. And when this is all said and done, you’ll be richly rewarded.”
“Tacos for dinner?” Baxter asked.
“Even better. I’ll let you…” Peterman leaned forward and whispered into Baxter’s ear.
“Without putting a tarp down?” Baxter asked.
“Well, now you’ve got a deal.” Baxter felt a little better as the pair made their way through the stacks of books in the oddly uncrowded store, and headed toward the table at the back, where Troi was sitting, looking stiff and uncomfortable.
Peterman glanced around. “That’s odd.”
“Hey honey,” Baxter said, taking in his surroundings. “Where’s all the people?”
“Maybe they lost interest in her book,” Peterman suggested, tugging Baxter toward Troi’s table.
“H-hello,” Troi said. “Can I…help…you?”
“Let’s just drop the charade, Counselor,” Peterman said. “You and I both know what’s going on here. You’re snubbing me, and I want to know why!”
“Please. Help. Me….” Troi said softly.
“Don’t try that wounded, pouty look with me,” Peterman said. “I INVENTED pouting to get what I want, so it won’t work.”
“Kling…on…” Troi mouted quietly.
“Don’t bring them into this,” Baxter said from behind Peterman. “I read your book. It was crap, anyway. The introduction, at least…”
“Andy, I can handle this,” Peterman said, turning back to Troi. “Now then, what do you have to say for yourself, Counselor?”
“KLINGON!” Troi shouted, and Baxter shoved Peterman to the ground just as a disruptor blast sailed over her head.
Baxter glared up at Troi as he held a squirming Peterman down. “So I guess they didn’t like the book?”
“They did not,” a particularly surly looking Klingon male said, stepping out from behind one of the bookshelves. It was then that Baxter noticed scores of other bookstore patrons laying on the floor with him and Peterman, hands clasped behind their heads.
“You’ll find it was accurate, to every detail, in terms of Klingon love rituals,” Troi said.
“Yeah, well you went overboard on the size thing. There’s no way a human could…” Peterman began, and Baxter slipped a hand over her mouth.
“Not now, hon,” Baxter said.
“It’s not the accuracy we have a problem with,” the Klingon said, stepping up behind Troi, pressing his disruptor to the back of her head.
“Did you feel like your honor was impugned?” Troi asked. “I get that a lot.”
“My honor was definitely impugned, but not because of anything you wrote in the book,” the Klingon growled. “I leapt out at you from behind the Bolian toenail poetry section because of something you didn’t write, not something you wrote.”
“I don’t follow,” Troi said.
“Could we just leave?” Baxter asked meekly. “This is obviously none of our business…”
“DO NOT MOVE!” the Klingon roared, turning his disruptor on Baxter.
“I can’t believe you put your hand over my mouth!” Peterman snapped.
“You destroyed me, Counselor Troi,” the Klingon said, his eyes darting from Baxter to Troi. “Is this your husband? The Great Captain Riker I’ve read so much about?”
“No,” Baxter said. “I’m way better looking than that guy.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you didn’t mention this man in your book either,” the Klingon said. “After all, you didn’t mention me.”
Troi slowly turned to face the Klingon. “D-do I know you?”
“I am Jarel. We met at the diplomatic conference on Altair Three, five years ago.”
“And did we…?”
“All night long, and into the morning,” Jarel said smoothly. “I wrote three operas about it. You…were like a venchar beast. Ravenous, hungry, insatiable!”
“Please!” Peterman muttered.
“Oh, that’s right,” Troi said slowly. “The conference. That was you?”
“You wound me, Counselor,” the Klingon bellowed. “When I heard about your book, I was thrilled that you might have written about our encounter. But what did I find?” He reached into a pouch on his thigh and pulled out a padd. He slammed it down in front of Troi. “Worf. Worf. WORF!”
“I’m sorry! He made an impression on me!”
“I know how you feel,” a small voice said, and Baxter looked down.
“Honey, please don’t make things worse,” Baxter said, as Peterman pushed him off her and climbed to her feet.
“Shush, Andy. I know what I’m doing.” She stepped cautiously toward Jarel. “I know what you’re going through. I have to admit, I felt like throttling Troi myself, when she didn’t remember me.”
“How did you deal with it? Did you throttle her?” Jarel asked.
“Obviously not, because she’s still alive,” Peterman said with a smirk.
“You did knee me in the stomach,” Troi muttered.
“SHUT UP!” Jarel and Peterman snapped in unison.
“At any rate,” Peterman said, taking another step toward Jarel. “You and I both know that killing Troi will not help matters any. She can’t remember you if she’s dead.”
“She has a point,” Jarel said thoughtfully, lowering his disruptor a bit.
“In a way, you’ve already accomplished your goal,” Peterman continued. “Think about it: You’ve disrupted her signing. She’s not the center of attention anymore…”
“It’s not like that!” Troi protested.
“SHUT UP, BITCH!” Peterman snapped, which prompted Jarel to chuckle. “And just think, Jarel. She’ll always remember this day. It’s the day you finally put her in her place. In a way, I’m envious. You accomplished what I couldn’t, after repeated tries. Deanna Troi will always remember you.”
“It’s true,” Troi said. “I’ll never forget this.”
Jarel’s lip quivered a bit. “That’s…wonderful.”
“Do you feel better?” Peterman asked.
“Much,” Jarel said. “You should be a counselor.”
Peterman smiled, her lip now quivering too. “I am.”
“Thank you,” Jarel said, with a bow. “With that, I will leave you all to…” Suddenly a phaser blast slammed into Jarel’s chest, and he slumped to the ground.
Peterman, Troi, and Baxter turned to see Will Riker walking toward them, security officers at his side.
“Is everything all right, Imzadi?” he asked.
“Y-yes,” Troi said, shaken. “I think so.”
“Riker to Titan. Beam the Klingon to the brig. Have someone from sickbay report to the brig to see to his injuries.”
Baxter and Peterman looked at each other as Jarel dematerialized, and the patrons of Wormholebooks slowly stood up.
Riker looked to Baxter and Peterman, almost as an afterthought. “What…oh, you have to be kidding me. You two again?”
“You remember us?” Baxter asked with a weak smile.
“Titan,” Riker began. “Two more for the brig…”
“Wait,” Troi said, holding up her hand. “This woman saved my life.”
“Yeah,” Peterman said with a proud grin. “I kind of did.”
“And they both deserve to know the truth,” Troi said. “We’ve taken this far enough, Will.”
“I told you that when we nearly fired on the Explorer,” Riker said, holstering his phaser. “But you didn’t listen.”
“I didn’t have to. I’m empathic,” Troi said.
“Whatever that means,” Riker said, throwing up his hands and turning away.
“I know exactly who you are, Kelly Peterman,” Troi said, standing and walking over to Peterman. “I was just…so mad at you.”
“Mad at me?” Peterman asked. “Why?”
“Two and a half years ago,” Troi said. “Anything coming to mind?”
“My hair was a little shorter,” Peterman said.
“Well, I had Steffie.”
“Yes, your child,” Troi harrumphed. “I had to read about you giving birth in ‘Pips and Trinkets.’”
“We were in the Gamma Quadrant!” Baxter broke in. “We couldn’t very well have all of Starfleet over for a baby shower!”
“But we had to read about it in the Starfleet newsletter!” Troi snapped. “We waited for a call, a note…SOMETHING! But we were snubbed!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Baxter said, shaking his head. “You both ignored us because…we ignored you first?”
“We were going to give you a ceramic pacifier. A Troi family heirloom,” Troi said. “Second only to the…”
“Don’t start in about the Chalice of Rixx again, I beg you,” Riker said.
“I don’t know what to say,” Peterman said, and reached out her hands to Troi. “Hug?”
Troi looked at Peterman skeptically. “I don’t know.”
Baxter and Riker stared at them, both with furrowed brows.
“Just hug, Goddamit!” Baxter snapped.
And they hugged.
Stardate 58067.7. We’re finally back on track after a small detour to assist the Titan with an attack by a radical Klingon terrorist. Yeah, that’s it.
Anyway, with the Klingon threat disposed of for the moment, Captain Riker has invited Counselor Peterman and myself aboard the Titan for an important meeting. I’m not one to deny a fellow captain, so I gladly accepted the invitation.
“That was fantastic quiche,” Baxter said, patting his stomach with satisfaction as he walked with Peterman down the Titan corridor, toward the transporter room.
“Yeah, but what about…the rest?” Peterman asked, looping her arm around Baxter’s.
“Oh. The Riker-Trois?”
“Oh,” Baxter said, ducking with Peterman into the transporter room. “Boring as hell.”
“We’re not like them, are we?”
“Us?” Baxter asked, and helped Peterman onto the transporter pad. “Nah. We’re cool.”
“Well, Deanna wants us to go skiing with her and Will on Corsica next month.”
“Tell them we’re both having dental work,” Baxter snapped. “I’m NOT listening to another stupid Alaska story!”
“Sir, ma’am?” the ensign at the transporter controls asked, shifting nervously.
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Back to the Explorer, please. And you never heard any of that.”
“Sweetie, thanks for indulging a girl in her petty need for revenge,” Peterman said, as the ensign tapped in the coordinates.
“Don’t mention it,” Baxter said. “You’ll do the same for me someday.”
“Not on your life,” Peterman grinned as the ensign activated the transporter.
A simple away mission becomes anything but when Commander Richards and Dr. Browning are transported to a horrifying alternate universe. Even more horrifying, this universe isn’t the happy universe. But it’s an even more disturbing… ALTERNATE-ive.