Author: Anthony Butler
On the viewscreen, the grand, grinning visage of Travis Dillon appeared, maniacal, bearded, and scarred. Behind his command chair, a huge smiley face logo loomed. “Hey there, it’s the Explorer folks! Am I happy to see you!”
“Fuck me,” Baxter muttered, gaping at the viewscreen.
“Pardon?” Dillon asked, his head cocked quizzically. “I’m not sure I follow.”
“Happy,” Baxter said, shaking his head. “H….Happy.”
“Well I’m glad you’re happy. I am too.” Dillon narrowed his eyes at Baxter, then glanced at someone off-screen. “What’s wrong with him. Why’s he acting so…loopy?”
Counselor Peterman stepped up beside Baxter, took his hand. “Sweetie…don’t panic.”
Baxter stared at the viewscreen. “Don’t panic? Don’t you know what we’re looking at?” He looked at Peterman, eyes wide. “HAPPIES!”
“He’s insane,” J’hana said. “Kill him and be done with it, Peterman. Take command. I know you want to.”
“You shut up!” Baxter snapped, pointing at J’hana.
“Just a suggestion,” J’hana said, folding her arms. “Oh, by the way, the Ebullient-class ship is arming weapons.”
“Secondprize-A,” Dillon said on the viewscreen. “Though I shouldn’t have to tell you people that.”
Baxter stared at the viewscreen. “WHAT THE F***?”
“What’s your problem?” Dillon asked. “We go through this every few weeks. We meet up, insult each other a few times, then I fire my happy beam and you fire your unhappy beam. Then we have a few drinks and call it a day. I don’t know about you, but I was FINE with that arrangement!”
Peterman tugged Baxter’s arm. “He thinks we’re our happy counterparts.”
“No,” Baxter said. “Our counterparts aren’t happy. They were dehappied…unhappied. Whatever. They’re not happy anymore.”
“Since years ago. I saw it in Pips ‘N Trinkets. A couple people from the Secondprize visited the happy universe, and apparently there was a big uprising. Not everyone wants to be happy, ya know.”
“I know,” J’hana muttered.
“You people should really read the Starfleet Newsletter,” Baxter said. “It’s informative!”
“Great, we’ll do that,” Hartley said. “After we stop the twisted maniac from killing us.” She pointed at the viewscreen.
“Oh,” Baxter said. “That.” He stared at the viewscreen. “Hey there, Happymaster.”
“Ah, you remembered,” Happymaster Dillon said with a girlish giggle, clapping his hands. “I’m ecstatic. Wait, hold on, my science people have something to say…”
Suddenly, a tiny bearded man waddled up to Dillon, who knelt and let him whisper in his ear. “Ah. Yes. Well, that makes sense, little guy.” He patted the tiny man’s rear gently and shooed him back to his station. “Back you go, Craiggers. Up in your chair. That’s a good boy! Yessums!”
“That small man looks familiar,” Tilleran said.
“We’re not from your universe,” Baxter told Dillon.
“Yes,” the Happymaster said. “Little Craiggers Porties told me that. I’ve been there before. Sort of a drab place. A universe where my beloved Counselor Webby never cured the Federation of its depressing woes!”
“Mind alteration is not a valid therapeutic solution!” Peterman railed, marching toward the viewscreen.
“Who’s this tamale?” Happymaster Dillon asked. “Have we met?”
“Maybe,” Peterman said, folding her arms and pouting. “I want out of here. Now.”
“Tilleran, start finding a way to reopen that rip in space-time,” Baxter said, trying to look away as what looked like a tiny Emily Sullivan skittered in front of the Happymaster and tickled his knees. “And try to raise the Cardassian ship. We need to exchange officers, get Chris and Janice back here before the Happymaster and his team of dwarves…”
“We’d really rather you came with us,” the Happymaster said. “If you’re not going to fight us today and try to unhappy us, then maybe you can be of…some…other…use.”
“Oh, no!” Baxter said, raising a finger. “You are NOT going to happy us.”
“Why not? It’s not like it hurts!” Dillon pouted.
“I don’t care if it hurts or not,” Baxter said. “It’s just wrong, and we’re not even having this conversation anymore. J’hana, cut channel.”
J’hana did as she was told. “He’s still out there, Captain.”
“Let him eat static,” Baxter muttered, turning to Tilleran. “How about our way back? All ready to go?”
“We opened a gash in space-time,” Tilleran said. “We’re lucky it didn’t destroy the universe. We can’t just pop one open again like a can of Sluggo cola!”
“Well, we’d better do something,” Hartley said, pointing at the viewscreen. “The Happymaster is out there, and I sure as hell am not going to let him screw with my mind… again!”
“People, people…let’s not lose our heads here,” Baxter said. “Let’s put a plan together before the Happymaster starts happily shooting us to pieces.”
“What was up with the tiny people?” Lt. Sefelt said in a small voice.
“I don’t know,” Madera said, leaning toward Sefelt. “But it creeps me out.”
“The Secondprize-A is coming about,” J’hana said. “Weapons range in twenty seconds.”
“Evasive maneuvers. Try to raise the Cardassian ship.”
“They’re not responding,” J’hana said. “They’re heading out of the system.”
“Follow them!” Baxter said. “Increase speed to intercept.”
“Do we really want a piece of them, dear?” Peterman asked.
“More so than we want a piece of the Happymaster. Besides, Chris and Janice are still over there.”
“Yeah, good point. Besides, they might be able to help us…”
“The Cardassian ship is firing aft torpedoes at us!” J’hana announced.
“Bank to port and return fire!” Baxter said as the Explorer rocked. “More power to shields. Yeah, they’re doing a world of good.”
“Clowns to the left, jokers to the right,” Hartley muttered.
“You get to work on the universe thing!” Baxter replied. “Fix it!”
“Fix the universe. Sure. Should I consult my omnipotent husband?” Hartley blinked. “Wait! I should consult my omnipotent husband!”
“Yes!” Baxter shouted. “Go!” He glanced at J’hana. “And you, get me an open channel to that Cardassian ship. They’ve got to be reasoned with.”
“Channel open. Happymaster closing on pursuit course.”
“Fine, fine,” Baxter said, as a chime sounded the open channel. “Cardassian vessel: This is Captain Andy Baxter of the USS Explorer. We mean you no harm. I understand you’re confused as to what this universe is…and believe me, we are too. But we’ve actually been here a couple times. Look, help me fight off the insanely happy bastard chasing us down, and then let’s talk this out like civilized people, okay?”
There was silence. Then the viewscreen came to life, filled with the oddly-arrogant, oddly-confident, oddly-snide, visage of Howard Sefelt.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! ME!” Lt. Sefelt shrieked, hiding behind his console.
“What is this farce?” the evil-looking Sefelt said, surveying the bridge. “Baxter! I knew you were behind this! How did you escape our last attack alive, and where’d you get that ship? And why does that cowardly man look like me?”
“I’m not the Baxter you think I am. I’m from another universe. And, to put it succinctly, we’re now in a universe that’s alien to both of us…really, really alien. We need to find a way out, together.”
“Alternate universe. Right. Let me consult with my girlfriend…who is also my first officer.” He turned , waving someone over.
Janice Browning stepped into the frame, and waved at Baxter. “Hiya, Andy!”
“She’s not your Janice,” Sefelt said boredly. “She’s a duplicate.” He sighed. “You see, in our universe, there’s an equivalent person for each person in your universe…and…God, this is taking a long time!”
“Actually, I am his Janice…” Browning spoke up.
“HIS Janice?” Peterman demanded, balling her hands into fists.
“THEIR Janice,” Browning corrected. “I’m from that universe.”
Sefelt stared at Browning, stroking his goatee. “You were surprisingly submissive during sex.”
“SEX!” Baxter blurted.
“Shush!” Browning snapped. “And don’t tell Christopher.”
“Where IS Christopher?” Baxter asked.
“Belowdecks in the brig. Get me out of here, Andy!”
Sefelt drew the disruptor off his belt. “Traitor! Minx! You tricked me, and for what? To get military secrets?”
“Not really,” Browning said. “I just wanted to find a way out.”
“Well, you’ve got a way out now. Mister Keefler, take her to the sauna.”
“Nice…my shoulders are kind of achy…” Browning said, as a duplicate Keefler walked up and grabbed her by the arm, dragging her away. “Send help soon, Andy! But not too soon! I might get a mudbath out of this.”
Baxter scrubbed a hand over his face. “I need hard drugs.”
“To the sauna, people!” a voice cried, and both Richards and the Other-J’hana glanced toward the door of the brig.
“Oh, it’s that bitch,” J’hana muttered.
Ariel Tilleran strode into the brig, yanking on her black leather cloves and steepling her fingers. “Did you really think I’d stay unconscious forever?”
“I kind of hoped,” Richards said.
“Well, as soon as your little girlfriend blew your cover, Captain Sefelt came and…aroused me.” Evil-Tilleran cackled. “And boy, by the Chalace of Rixx, did he arouse me!”
“I’m going to throw up,” Richards said, leaning on his knees.
“Time for that later,” Evil-Tilleran said. “Right now, the two of you have a date with the sauna. Now that Captain Sefelt is in charge, and JB is obviously not who she says she is, I’m the new first officer. And since you shot me, and since I LOATHE the Andorian, my first order of business is that both of you get to die!”
“Actually, Janice shot you, not me…and she’s not my girlfriend…”
“Not the point!” Evil-Tilleran said, pointing to a couple guards, and then at J’hana and Richards. The guards did as they were instructed and deactivated the security fields, motioning them out with their disruptors.
“What IS the sauna?”
Tilleran put her hands on Richards’s shoulders. “Oh, just a place where you go to warm up…until you MELT! Ooooooooooooh I can’t wait to hear your mind screams!”
“She’s like this all the time,” Other-J’hana muttered from beside Richards as the pair moved out into the corridor. “Isn’t it obnoxious?”
Captain Baxter paced the bridge. “We have to do something.”
“To get out of this universe, to get away from the Happymaster, or to rescue our friends from the Cardassian ship filled with our evil duplicates?” Peterman asked from her seat.
“ALL THAT STUFF!” Baxter said.
“Well, raising your voice won’t help,” Peterman said. “Let’s just be rational about this.”
“We should send an armed strike team over there,” J’hana said.
“You WOULD say that,” Baxter said.
“Yeah, and I just did. Got a better idea, Captain?”
“No,” Baxter said mildly. He glanced at the viewscreen. “Time until the Ebullient intercepts us?”
“They’ll overtake us in fourteen minutes,” J’hana said.
“What about the…Eradicator?”
“We’ll overtake them in six minutes.”
“How hard would we have to hit them to take out their shields without blowing them up?”
“Hmm,” J’hana said. “Without blowing them up, you say?”
“Just figure it out!”
“Three quantum torpedoes, rapid fire, ought to do it.”
“Do it, then. Program the firing sequence in, then let Ensign Keefler take over.”
“PARDON?” J’hana growled.
“So that you can get to the Escort. Bring as many security officers as you need. Get on board that ship. Get our people back. We’ll fight off the Ebullient.”
“Secondprize-A, dear,” Peterman said.
“I am NOT calling it that!”
“Uh, J’hana…” Tilleran called out. “Will you need a science officer?”
“No,” J’hana said flatly, tapped at her panel, then dashed into the turbolift.
“Ouch,” Baxter said. “She sure told you.”
Tilleran glared at Baxter. “Counselor Peterman, the Captain fantasized about the Borg Queen again today.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Andy!”
“I like the tubule things!” Baxter said. “Stay out of my mind, Tilleran!”
“Stay out of my business!”
“I’m the captain!”
“Everyone stop fighting!” Peterman shrieked. “Let’s keep it together and behave like we’ve been here before. Because we have!”
Baxter let out a deep breath. “She’s right, of course. Sorry, Tilleran.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Tilleran said, as Keefler took over at tactical.
“Okay, Mister Keefler,” Baxter said. “Be prepared to launch the Escort, then bring us around for an attack run on the Secondprize-A. We’ll give those happy bastards something to smile about.”
Chaka’kan had just set his newly-fashioned clay pot in the kiln when the door chime to the ceramics lab sounded.
“Come,” he said, slapping his hands together.
J’hana appeared in the doorway, glowering, a security team behind her.
Chaka blinked at her. “Lieutenant. Did I try to kill again?”
“Not yet,” J’hana said, then hurled a phaser rifle at Chaka. “But the day is not yet over.”
Chaka easily snatched the rifle from the air and stared at it. “I do not understand.”
J’hana stepped closer to the Jem’Hadar, peering into his eyes. “Chaka, you are a skilled combatant. I also understand that Counselor Peterman has cleared you for active duty. Meaning you’re not so…insane…anymore.”
Chaka nodded. “That’s correct. But I think active duty meant…you know, babysitting. And ceramics. Do you want a mug?”
“Perhaps, but not right now. Chaka, I need you to come over to a ship from an evil mirror universe with me. We have to infiltrate the ship and retrieve Commander Richards and Doctor Browning, before they’re tortured or…saunaed.”
“You need me to…fight?”
“That’s correct. Interested?”
“More than I care to admit,” Chaka said. “Let me just turn my kiln off!”
“Be on the Escort in two minutes,” J’hana said, turning on a heel and heading out of the room.
“Escort’s ready to launch,” Keefler called out, looking up from tactical. “Quantum torpedo salvo ready.”
“Helm, increase speed to overtake,” Baxter told Madera, resting his hands on her chair. “Keefler, stand by. Fire on my command…”
“Actually, a backrub would be more than fine,” Browning told the evil Keefler as he escorted her down the corridor toward the sauna. “I don’t want to get all sweaty, you know. Since I already did, once…with your captain. Not that it wasn’t fun but…hey Christopher!” Browning blanched as the Nasty-Tilleran brought Richards and what she assumed was the alternate J’hana up from the other side of the corridor.
“I was not told about any other customers for the sauna,” Keefler said, looking at his padd.
“I am the new first officer, MISTER Keefler,” Tilleran said, boring her eyes into Keefler’s. “And I say that these two will also be going into the sauna.”
Keefler’s eyes went glassy and his knees buckled a little. “Of course…Commander. As you…wish…”
Tilleran keyed open the door to the “sauna” and shoved Richards and J’hana in. “Enjoy, you two. I’ll be outside waiting to enjoy your useless cries for help.”
“Yeah, Chris’s never liked the heat,” Browning chuckled, as Tilleran unceremoniously shoved her in.
“You just shut up!” Tilleran snapped. “You and this Richards are just as disgusting as our Richards and JB. Such a cute couple, but so bad at relationships.”
“Actually, things were going great, but we just mutually decided…” Richards piped up.
“DIE!” Tilleran shouted, and keyed the door shut.
“Jeeze,” Browning said, glancing around the small, bare room, dark except for the orange heating coils embedded in the walls.
J’hana looked around at their enclosings. “‘Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight/Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’”
“Is she evil?” Browning asked, thumbing in her direction.
Richards shook his head. “No. Just…a little off.”
“She actually seems kind of nice.”
Richards nodded. “Yeah, she is. When she’s not quoting villanelles.”
“Well, nobody’s perfect.” Browning looked around. “So these guys must not be all bad. A trip to a sauna….”
“Christ sakes, Janice! Have you not yet grasped that they put us in this room to kill us?”
Browning thought about that. “Is that what Tilleran meant by ‘die’?”
“Yes! ‘Sauna’ is a euphemism for…I don’t know…fiery death room!”
“Oh,” Browning said. “Oh! God that’s horrible!”
“Yeah,” Richards said. “But I guess it’s only fitting that we’d die together.”
“How so?” Browning asked.
“Well you were the one complaining we don’t talk enough. Now here we are, together again, and we’re about to be killed. We make such an awful couple, we don’t even deserve to live!”
“I actually think you make a nice couple,” J’hana observed. “You two must see the better parts of each/Both silent, each striving to see the goodness/Try, try to open up the doors to your hearts!”
“That was nice,” Browning said encouragingly.
“I just made it up! Want to hear more?”
“Hey out there!” Richards called. “Start the killing now, please!”
Browning took Richards’s hand. “Christopher…I’m sorry about everything.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Me too.” He chuckled. “Nice to know our relationship at least works in the screwed up, evil universe, though, eh?”
The room suddenly buzzed as the heating coils glowed brighter. Tilleran’s cackling visage could be seen through the window in the door.
“Oh, about that,” Browning said. “I think I broke us up in this universe.”
“Well, since we’re both going to die, I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell you. I slept with the evil Howie Sefelt…”
Richards’s eyes went wide and he let go of Browning’s hand. “WHAT?”
“But it didn’t mean anything!”
Suddenly the ship shook. Richards, Browning, and J’hana bumped against each other in the small room as the deck rattled beneath them.
The red coils surged, then died down, and Tilleran’s face disappeared from the window in the door as she walked off, presumably to find out what happened.
Browning ran to the window, glancing out. “Something’s happening. I hear screaming out there!”
Other-J’hana’s antennae twitched. “Something wicked this way comes…”
That’s when the other J’hana, the one Richards knew from his own universe, smashed through the door, phaser blasting.
“RARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR WHO WANTS TO DIE?” she roared.
“Wow, this is awkward,” Richards said, looking around at the others.
“Fire all weapons!” Baxter said, stepping toward the front of the bridge as the Explorer turned on the Secondprize-A, weapons blasting. “Yeah, it’s not as funny when you’re the ones being chased, is it! Run away, you happy little freaks!”
“They are, in fact, retreating, sir,” Keefler said. “Should we return to the Eradicator?”
“No. Let’s finish the job,” Baxter said. “It would be nice to know we left this universe a little better than it was when we got here.”
“It would be a first,” Peterman said.
“Increase our speed. Fire torpedoes, multiple vectors!”
Everyone watched as the Explorer bore down on the retreating Ebullient-class ship, which banked to port suddenly.
“Stay on her, Madera!”
“I am, sir, it’s just…”
“We’re entering an adjacent sector,” Tilleran said. “But I’m getting odd readings…”
“I’ll need more than that,” Baxter said.
Tilleran looked up at the viewscreen. “There’s just one planet in the system. And no sun I can find…”
“Rogue planet?” Peterman asked.
“Either that or a very large moon,” Tilleran said. “In either case, the Secondprize is heading straight for it.”
“That seems convenient,” Baxter said.
“Fifteen million kilometers and closing,” Tilleran said. “It’s massive. Easily over a thousand times our size.”
“Something’s wrong, Andy,” Peterman said.
“Ya think?” Baxter glanced at Tilleran. “What are your scans telling you?”
“My scans can’t penetrate the object’s surface. I…”
Suddenly, on the screen, a huge, dark orb loomed into view. It turned, slowly, illuminated only by the glinting of light from a far off star.
But as it turned, Baxter realized, it wasn’t dark-colored at all. It was yellow.
And as it continued to turn, Baxter saw to his horror…
“That’s no moon! That’s a happy face!” he cried.
Peterman leapt to her feet, as the giant yellow happy face revealed itself fully on the screen. “Andy, get us out of here!”
“Come about, all engines full reverse!” Baxter called out as he stumbled back to his chair.
“Sir, the mouth…is opening,” Tilleran said. “It’s firing multiple tractor beams at us. Pulling us in!”
“More power to the engines. Mister Keefler, lock phasers on those emitters. Fire!”
“I can’t pinpoint their location. Sensor interference is blocking my scans!”
“The Secondprize just disappeared inside the orb,” Tilleran said.
“Well if they want to go in there, chances are, we don’t…” Baxter said. “Prepare to engage warp engines!”
“Only if we want to be ripped apart,” Tilleran said.
“At this point…” Baxter said, but it was too late, the Explorer was being pulled right inside the happy face’s maniacal jaws.
And like that, she was swallowed. The happy mouth closed, but its smile looked somewhat wider.
J’hana of the Ninth Hive, regular version, looked around at the scene in the “sauna” and grimaced. She glanced at Richards and Browning. “What are you two looking so thoughtful about?”
“Well, we were just about to die…” Browning began.
“She slept with the evil Sefelt!” Richards said.
“Ah, yes. I heard.” J’hana chortled. “I hope you gave him a good ride, Doctor!”
“How did you get aboard?” Richards asked.
“I formed a small boarding party and we took the Escort here. The Explorer blew a hole in the shields, then I had Ensign Taft execute a barrel roll so we could clamp to the underside of…” J’hana’s antennae wiggled, and she turned to see the other J’hana, curled in the corner. “Wait, who’s this simpering, cowardly sharz…” She squinted in the darkness and stepped forward. “What…”
“J’hana, we can explain,” Richards said. “See, in this universe, you…”
“Who are you?” the other J’hana asked, gingerly crawling to her feet.
“Nevermind who I am. I know who I am. Who are YOU?”
“J’hana. Of the Ninth Hive of Andor.”
“You’re a weakling! Look at your biceps! I bet you can barely benchpress your own weight!”
“I in fact cannot.”
“Pacifist?” the other J’hana offered.
J’hana shook her head.
J’hana turned a lighter shade of blue.
“STOP!” the real J’hana said, holding both sides of her head. She pivoted to Richards. “We must get off this cursed ship. NOW!”
“Well, that’ll be a tough one,” a battered-looking Tilleran growled, limping into the doorway from the corridor outside.
J’hana glanced over her shoulder. “I thought I beat you up already.”
Evil-Tilleran wiped the blood from the side of her mouth. “I want seconds.”
“Great Garsnatz,” J’hana said, turning and racing at Tilleran, fingers curled and clawlike.
“J’hana, we don’t have time for this!” Richards snapped.
“She’s insane. She’s a madwoman,” the nice-J’hana said softly.
“Yeah,” Browning said. “But we like her anyway.”
“Chaka to J’hana. I’ve captured the bridge. I had to kill a lot of people who looked like people from the Explorer, but it seemed okay at the time. Please advise.”
“J’hana’s busy at the moment,” Richards called out, as J’hana and Tilleran rolled by, grunting. He tried to get that image out of his head, but it wasn’t going anywhere. “Just hold the fort up there, Chaka. We’ll be there as soon as we can. Don’t kill anybody you don’t have to!”
“Understood. I’m currently crushing evil Howard Sefelt’s throat with my boot. Should I continue?”
Richards thought about that. “Yep.”
Purple curtains billowed apart on either side of the viewscreen. Holograms, Baxter thought.
As the Explorer drifted inside the gigantic open space within the smiley face orb, the bridge crew looked on in horror.
A cartoon sideshow erupted in front of them, featuring an animated sun wearing, of all things, sunglasses.
Little animated squirrels and bunnies, and little flittering birds, danced around the smiling sun. The bunnies had little castanets.
Meanwhile, they all sang, giddily:
Love is like candy on a shelf You want to taste and help yourself The sweetest things are there for you Help yourself, take a few That’s what I want you to do.
“Keefler, lock all phasers on that sun and blow it away,” Baxter said, in mute terror.
“Phasers non-functional, sir. Some kind of jamming field!”
“Try the torpedoes,” Peterman said, reaching out for Baxter’s hand. “Hurry!”
“Dear?” Baxter asked.
“It’s Tom Jones. EVEN I HAVE MY LIMITS, ANDY!”
We’re always told repeatedly The very best in life is free And if you want to prove it’s true Baby I’m telling you This is what you should do
“Computer: This is Captain Andy Baxter. Authorize Self Destruct, code one-two-three Alpha Beta Ceta.”
“There is no such letter as ‘ceta,’” the computer replied.
“God damn it, just blow up the ship!” Baxter cried out. “I don’t need a Greek lesson.”
“Self destruct is non-functional,” the computer countered.
“NO!” Baxter cried out. “Somebody cause a warp core breach. Just do what we did by accident all those times, only this time, do it on purpose!”
Just help yourself to my lips To my arms just say the word, and they are yours Just help yourself to the love, In my heart your smile has opened up the door The greatest wealth that exists in the world, Could never buy what I can give Just help yourself to my lips To my arms, and then lets really start to live…
Allllllllll right. Yeah…
Peterman looked out from between her fingers, pushing the fallen hair out of her face. She slapped Baxter on the arm. “A-Andy. I think the music’s over.”
Baxter was curled on the floor in a fetal position. “Are you sure?”
Peterman nodded. “Yeah. Get up, honey. Your…undies are showing.”
“God! This is the worst day ever.” Baxter leapt to his feet and glanced around at the bridge, at the mute faces, and the restrained grins. “Well, people. Stop staring at me and get to work. Find us a way out of here.”
“Captain, we’re being pulled…toward the surface!” Madera reported from helm.
“Oh, freakin’ great!” Baxter said, walking toward the viewscreen. “Can’t you reverse our thrusters?”
“Don’t you think I would have backed us out of here if I could have?” Madera said. “We have no helm or thruster control.”
“Are we going to be made happy now?” Sefelt asked, cowering at ops.
“Not if I have anything to say about it, little buddy,” Baxter said, watching the shiny, colorful, flower-festooned surface of the orb draw closer and closer. As the Explorer neared the surface, he could see buildings and houses. This was much more than just a holding chamber with a psychotic musical hologram show.
This was a community.
“All hands, this is your captain. Presuming the comm system still works, I want everyone to brace for impact and prepare to be boarded. Just to give you a head’s up, it’s altogether possible that a bunch of happy people are going to come on board and try to make us happy too. As good as that sounds, trust me that it’s really not, and resist them to your last breath! That is all.”
Peterman stepped up, circling her arms around Baxter’s waist. “Honey, what about our baby?”
“She’s with Richard Simmons. I think he can pass as one of the happies, if he has to. He pretty much acts like one anyway.”
“That’s comforting,” Peterman sniffed.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find Steffie. We’ll keep this crew safe. I promise.”
“You mean it?”
“Either that, or we’ll all live…well, ever after…” Baxter sighed, as suddenly the Explorer rumbled around him.
“We’re soft-landing on the surface!”
“A six hundred meter vessel doesn’t soft-land anywhere,” Baxter snapped, pitching backward as the Explorer touched down, settling into the sphere’s surface. He held Peterman tight, reaching out to grasp a railing, as the shaking finally settled to a stop.
He looked around worriedly. “Why aren’t we tipping over? We’re more front-heavy than a Pakled stripper!”
“The saucer is propped…” Tilleran rolled her eyes. “On a lovely, mossy hill. On the bright side, I think we may have squished a few people when we landed.”
“More good news,” Keefler said, looking at his panel. “There’s a small crowd forming near the aft airlock. They appear to be…yes, they’ve broken in.”
“Oh hell,” Baxter said. “The welcoming party. Break out the phasers. Let’s see what kind of demented freaks they throw at us…”
“Booty butt! We’re so glad to see you!” Harley Baxter grinned, jogging down the corridor toward Baxter, resplendent in his neon green spandex body suit. “We thought the Happymaster would never capture you!”
Lucy-Goosey Baxter twirled up next to her husband, pirouetting and jetee-ing in a similarly tight spandex suit. Their names were obvious, as they wore rainbow-colored “Hello, my name is…” nametags.
“No…” Baxter said softly, backing down the corridor, raising his phaser rifle as he felt his stomach sink.
“Do we fire?” Keefler asked.
“Yes, oh yes,” Baxter said.
Keefler waved at Tilleran and the other security officers, who raised their weapons at Harley and Lucy-Goosey, and the half-dozen others who perused the corridors.
The phasers clicked, but nothing happened.
“Damn!” Baxter said, lowering his rifle and shooting right at his “mother.” Again, nothing happened. “No!” he yelled at the ceiling. “I always wanted to do this!”
“Sweet pea,” Lucy-Goosey Baxter said, doing a ballet twirl up to Baxter, her green spandex gleaming. “Don’t overreact.”
“Yer weapons won’t work here anyway,” Harley Baxter said, patting Baxter’s rear. “Why don’t you relax and have a Turbo Juice Three Thousand?” He produced a collapsible cup from his waistband, and filled it from a tubule that extended from the sleeve of his shirt. “Fifty essential fruits and vegetables. And energy, energy, energy!”
“You know, I’m really not thirsty,” Baxter said, dropping his phaser rifle.
“Try shooting them again,” Peterman whispered from behind Baxter.
“Oh, sweetie, you have so much anger in you,” Lucy-Goosey said, reaching out to pinch Peterman’s cheek. “And you’re so cute. Just think, if you smiled more, you wouldn’t have those laugh lines…”
“Y-you don’t hate me?”
“Naw, we love you.” Lucy-Goosey grinned at Harley. “We love everybody here on the Happy Fun Ball!”
“I…I can understand you,” Baxter said to Harley. “I mean, I understand the words that are coming out of your mouth.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” Harley asked kindly.
“Well, you’re usually smoking a cigar.”
“Ewwww had to quit those long ago, silly boy,” Harley said, again patting Baxter’s behind. That got more disturbing each time. “Smoking is SO not happy. The juice is much better for you!”
“Dad…you…you’re still with Mom, right. You’re not, like…um…”
“Oh, we REALLY swing!” Baxter’s “mom” replied. “How’d you think I got the nickname Lucy-Goosey?”
Baxter fell back into Peterman’s arms, his eyes fluttering.
“Andy, stay with me…”
“Please, no more…” Baxter moaned.
“Listen, guy,” Harley said, kneeling by Baxter and squeezing his knee. “You’ve been through a lot. You fought hard to destroy our happy way of life, and that’s admirable. You gave ‘er the old college try. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s over now. So why don’t you just give in and let us fire up the ol’ happy beam. Then we can grill out! It’s a nice day for it. The cartoon sun is coming by in a couple hours…”
“That’s not your son,” a voice said from down the corridor.
Happymaster Dillon swept into the corridor, his cape billowing behind him. Tiny officers in tie-dyed uniforms flanked him as he looked around the Explorer corridor, taking it all in.
“Oh no, more little people,” Tilleran gasped.
“This ship will make a fine addition to our collection,” the Happymaster surmised.
“What do you mean he’s not our son?” Lucy-Goosey asked.
“These people, I’m afraid, are from the…other universe. The sad one.”
“Oh,” Harley said, standing up. “Sorry, guy.”
“Still, there’s around seven hundred souls on board who could stand a little mood improvement!” the Happymaster said, turning to Harley. “Know what I mean?”
Harley nodded, cracking his knuckles. “That can be arranged.”
“Good. And we can put Gorgeous La Forge and Be-laughin’ Torres on the task of refitting this so-called Explorer, and turning it against the Federation of Fuddy Duddies.”
“I don’t even know where to start,” Baxter said woozily. “Could you do me a huge favor and just tell me…you know, where everyone is as far as happy and not happy? In eight seconds or less?”
The Happymaster bit his lip thoughtfully. “Yes. Happy versus not happy. Easily done. Everyone you see here, all ninety thousand souls on the Happy Fun Ball, are happy. The rest of the galaxy…not so much. There are pockets of resistance, of course…but the battle does not go well for the happies.”
“So I…” Baxter beagn. “I mean the other me…succeeded!”
“Depends on your point of view,” the Happymaster said, pushing his bottom lip out. “I’d say he failed us all. They all did. They united with others, and beat us back, pushed us back to this system, where we found this Dyson sphere.”
“And you just HAD to paint a smiley face on it,” Peterman muttered.
“Well, it is our registered trademark,” the Happymaster said haughtily. “Anyway, it’s been our home for the better part of a year now. We’ve colonized wherever we could. Adapted the systems for our own use, thanks to the incomparable Gorgeous La Forge.”
A little man walked up to the Happymaster and waved for him to bend down, which he did. The man then whispered something in the Happymaster’s ear.
“Ah, yes. L’il Scottie Baird helped too.”
“L’il Scottie…” Baxter began. “Okay, what’s with the midgets?”
“They’re LITTLE PEOPLE,” the Happymaster spat, covering Scottie’s ears. The little guy seemed to take umbrage at being called a midget.
“Oh, sorry, man,” Baxter said slowly.
Scottie just gave Baxter the finger, then turned away, muttering in a slightly high-pitched voice. “Little doody-brain. Poo-poo head. Buncha bullhockey!”
“So…” Baxter said. “The, um, little people…”
“Yes!” the Happymaster said, clapping giddily. “One of my own ideas! You see, you may recall the original Secondprize crew perished when your ship crossed over into our universe six years ago. So, when we commissioned the Secondprize-A, I was able to clone them all back to life, so they could be with me for all time!”
“Only, now they’re small…”
“Petite!” little Emily Sulli-fun said, shaking her fist at Peterman.
“Whatever,” Peterman growled.
“They’re my bestest friends,” the Happymaster said, hugging himself and sighing contentedly. “You’ll all become my bestest friends too.” He grimaced at Baxter. “Though some of you will NEVER become tiny.”
“Er, Happymaster,” Harley said, clearing his throat. “What are you going to do about the real Andy-Wandy? Our actual boy?”
“Oh, he’s out there somewhere. We’ll get ‘im.”
“He should be here with us. Happy, shiny…all that good stuff!” Loosey-Goosey said.
“All in good time!” the Happymaster seethed. “Now I have to get back out there and find the other ship that came over with the Explorer. If we bring them back here, we’ll have them, the Explorer, the Secondprize, AND the recently-captured Catherine Zeta-Jones. We’ll nearly have a fleet at our disposal! We can rebuild our Empire of Enjoyment!”
“It’s too good to be true,” Lucy-Goosey said flatly.
“So it is!” the Happymaster clapped. “Now then, I’m off to spread the love! Come with me, my tiny little friends! You guys know what to do…make Captain Baxter and his crew feel more at home!”
Baxter glowered at his alternate parents. “Don’t bother. My parents want me to be something I’m not. I feel more at home already.”
“Let’s keep this evil…I mean civil,” Evil-Sefelt croaked, rubbing his throat and looking askance at Chaka’kan. “I’m sure we can all discuss this like reasonable beings.”
“You were about to burn us alive,” Richards pointed out.
“So? That’s how we solve problems where I come from. We kill them. What do you do?” He screwed up his face in an annoyed scowl. “Talk out your problems?”
“Sometimes,” Browning said.
“But sometimes we just blow people up,” J’hana said, cradling her phaser rifle. “Like we did to many of your buddies on this ship. Now how about you make this easier on all of us and give us your command codes so we can go get the Explorer and get the fwark out of here?”
“Never!” Evil-Sefelt rasped. “I’d rather die.”
“Oh, silly man,” J’hana said, setting her rifle down and walking over. “I’m not going to kill you.” She knelt in front of him, and patted him on the head. “No. No. I’m going to make you wish you were dead.” And with that she jabbed her index finger into his ribcage and jiggled it madly.
“Nobody can resist the Andorian torture-tickle!” J’hana roared.
“Enough!” Richards said, covering his eyes. “Stop the insanity.”
“Fine, fine! Ralphie Epsilon Paula Two!” Evil-Sefelt screeched, squirming in his chair.
“And they are?” J’hana asked with a sneer.
“My parents,” Evil-Sefelt mumbled, rubbing his side. “Estranged.”
“Pity about that,” J’hana said, and hopped behind the tactical console, poking at the controls. “The code works! We’ve got maneuvering controls. I’ll work on restoring the shields.”
Browning surveyed the bridge of the Eradicator, and the six unconscious officers laying on the deck. “Was all this violence really…necessary, Chaka?”
“It was imperative,” Chaka glowered. “By the way, your mug is ready. You can pick it up tomorrow morning. Say eightish?”
“Um, thanks,” Browning said, and looked to Richards. “What now?”
Richards walked to the center of the bridge. “We find the Explorer. Taft, you take helm. Albright, you monitor the engines.”
“What should I do?” Browning asked.
“Stand in the back of the bridge and don’t have sex with anything,” Richards said.
“Oh, you can’t possibly still be ticked about that!”
Richards didn’t glance over his shoulder. “Yeah, I can.”
“Fazzzhat,” J’hana mumbled. “Shields are back up at fifty percent. Forward disruptor banks standing by.”
“Good,” Richards said. “Try to pick up on the Explorer’s ion trail. There should still be traces…”
“Christopher, we are not together anymore. You’ve got to be okay with me seeing other people!”
“Other people maybe,” Richards said. “But I would think that you’d have better judgment than to sleep with insane mirror people.”
“I was just trying to get information from him!”
“And I’m not insane,” Evil-Sefelt said. “I just had a bad upbringing!”
“Well, our Sefelt had a great upbringing, by all accounts, and believe me, he didn’t turn out so great either,” Richards muttered, staring at the stars on the viewscreen.
“You really have no right to be standoffish with me, Christopher,” Browning said. “I was incredibly understanding during your relationship with Lieutenant Madera!”
“Madera…Madera…” Evil-Sefelt said thoughtfully. “Oh, yeah. I killed her last month.”
Richards glared at him.
“What? She beat me at basketball. That’s unacceptable!”
“Let’s just forget about it,” Richards said. “We’ve got more important things to deal with than your need to get over me.”
“Oh, don’t flatter yourself. I’ve been over you for a while.”
“Is that why you’re contacting Pogo twice a week?”
“How dare you look at my communication logs!” Browning snapped, stepping up to Richards.
“First Officer’s prerogative,” Richards said, folding his arms. “Please, Janice. Of all people, my friend…oh, wait a minute, you do tend to like my friends…”
“And here we go with the Andy thing…for the love of GOD, could you please get over that?”
“Andy and I are fine,” Richards said.
“Ah, so it’s all my fault. Well isn’t that classic.”
“If the shoe fits…”
“Ahem,” J’hana said stiffly, looking up from her panel. “I’m picking up an Ebullient-class starship approaching us on an intercept vector.” She glanced at Browning. “Oh, and Richards and I have been fwarking like wild sehlats for months now.”
Browning gaped. “Huh…?”
“Battlestations?” J’hana said pointedly.
“What the…” Richards stammered. “Yes! Battlestations!”
Browning looked from Richards to J’hana. “But…why…I mean how?”
“He’s trying to get you out of his head,” J’hana said. “And, considering the blunt force trauma I’ve applied to his head, you’d think he’d have forgotten you by now. Worry not, though. I’m persistent.”
“Let’s stay on task here…” Richards said.
“You hypocrite! You’re doing the same thing!”
“It’s not the same thing at all,” Richards said.
“The sex is better, for one,” J’hana said.
“Hey. I was fantastic!” Evil-Sefelt piped up.
“Be quiet, or I will finish crushing your throat,” Chaka said, lifting his boot.
“Attacking ship!” Richards exclaimed, pointing at the viewscreen.
“Oh, don’t be a baby,” J’hana said, and tapped at the tactical console. The Eradicator’s weapons flared out at the approaching Ebullient-class ship..
“Evasive maneuvers. Get us out of here!” Richards called out to Ensign Taft, who brought the Eradicator around and sent it surging forward.
“The Secondprize-A is firing,” J’hana said.
“Secondprize-A?” Browning asked, confused.
“It would take too long to explain,” J’hana said. “Less explaining, more shooting!”
Richards braced himself as the Secondprize’s salvo connected, shaking the Eradicator. Browning stumbled against him briefly, then glared at him, stepping away and grabbing a bulkhead railing.
“They’re turning. Trying to cut us off!” Taft called out.
“Bank to port, try to shake them,” Richards said.
“We’re entering a star system,” J’hana said. “At least, I think it is…”
“What do you mean?” Browning asked.
“No discernable sun. No planets. Just one, big…”
Richards glanced up at the viewscreen as the approached the odd space body. J’hana was right, it wasn’t a planet. It was more like a big, round…
“Smiley face?” Richards asked, his eyes widening. “All engines, full reverse!”
“Too late,” J’hana said. “The twisted thing has its tractor beams on us.”
“Shoot them!” Richards snapped.
“Trying,” J’hana said.
“What…is that thing?” Evil-Sefelt said, squirming in his chair.
“It’s everywhere we don’t want to be,” Browning said softly. She glanced at Evil-Sefelt. “You okay?”
“I’m…I’m not sure. I’ve never felt this way before. I think…yes. I think I’m terrified!”
“Don’t worry,” Browning muttered. “You’ll get used to it.”
“Shields and weapons experiencing some sort of interference,” J’hana said, pounding her panel. “We’re getting dragged inside!”
Richards stared at the gaping maw of the happy face and shivered. “Yeah, but what’s inside…”
“This is infuriating,” Captain Baxter said, drumming his fingers on his usual table in the Constellation Club. Outside the massive ten-forward windows, the sun shown brightly, little cartoon butterflies flitted about, and all was happy inside the Happy Fun Ball. Meanwhile, Baxter and Petersren, along with Steffie, sat down to ruminate about their situation. Tilleran, Keefler, Madera, and Sefelt were likewise huddled in the club, along with some other bridge staff, trying to piece together a plan to escape.
“Yeah, I know,” Peterman said, reaching out to take Baxter’s hand, as Steffie sat in her high chair at the table. “The whole idea that our minds are going to be warped and we’re going to be forced to spend every waking hour in a state of tweaked-out euphoria…”
“Well, yeah,” Baxter said. “But I meant the wait. My parents are taking forever to come back and ‘happy us.’ What’s the holdup? Is there a more important ship full of unhappy people to brainwash?”
“You’re…offended…because they’re keeping us waiting?”
“It’s just…it’s maddening!” Baxter said, throwing his hands up.
Peterman shook her head. “Honey, just when I think I know you…”
Suddenly a ceiling tile busted open above them, and Mirk rolled out, falling to the floor with a thud.
Baxter glanced over at the prone Maloxian. “You okay, Mirk?”
Peterman looked up at the ceiling, just as Lt. Commander Hartley hopped out of the hatch, landing sprightly on her feet.
“The calvary has arrived!” she exclaimed. “Ooh, Mirkles. Poor baby…” She reached down and helped him up.
“Yes, the calvary is here!” Mirk looked around. “You know, if I knew you all would end up back here, I’d have just stayed put.”
“What have you got for us?” Baxter asked, standing. “A little teleportation? Maybe some telekinesis?”
“About that…” Mirk said. He stepped closer to Baxter. “Captain, you know I’m always hap…er, pleased to help you, wherever I can.”
“You’re not glowing yet,” Baxter pointed out.
“Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. I think you sort of…overestimated my abilities.”
“I’ve seen you transcend time and space. And mix a hell of a daiquiri!”
“Right. Well, see, I can transcend time and space. I can teleport, levitate things, no problem. But as far as moving the entire ship…and fighting off whatever security devices this…planet-thing…possesses…well, that’s beyond me.”
“How about erecting a massive forcefield around the ship to keep people out?” Tilleran suggested, walking over from a nearby table.
“Not gonna happen,” Mirk said.
“How about reversing the happy beams, so they de-happy everyone who fires one?” Baxter suggested.
“Nope. Way too complicated.”
“What’s the use of a godlike bartender if he can’t help spring you from a smiley dyson’s sphere?” Baxter snapped.
“Well, what can you do?” Peterman asked Mirk as gently as possible.
“I can fix everyone some drinks, and maybe some snacks…”
“Mirk and I did come up with a plan while we were crawling around the Jefferies tubes hiding from the happies…” Hartley said. “It involves all of us, working together and..”
“Ah yes!” Baxter said. “If we all hold hands, and focus on Mirk, we can increase his powers and it’ll be enough to levitate us out of here!”
“No,” Hartley said flatly. “We all have to rewire the ship’s shield emitters. See, they’re still powered up, even if we can’t control them. If we can manually reconfigure each one at the emitter output node, it’ll create a sympathetic vibration that’ll break us free. It should also temporarily paralyze the security fields that are jamming our weapons. With a quick, well-aimed shot, we can take out those fields and bust our way out of here.”
“Sounds kind of pedestrian,” Baxter observed.
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “Not magical at all.”
Hartley glared. “Well, it’s this or nothing.”
“Fine,” Baxter clapped his hands. “People, let’s form up. Lieutenant Commander Hartley has a…non-omnipotent idea. Let’s get moving…”
“I can’t believe how long we’ve been waiting,” Richards said, pacing the bridge of the Eradicator. “Who do they think we are?”
“Fodder for their happy war, according to the brochure the Happymaster gave us,” J’hana said, tossing the colorful PR piece at Richards and leaning on the tactical console.
“He said he’d be right back,” Browning said. “You’d think that we’d be a priority. You know, it’s not every day you get a ship full of new recruits.”
“I for one would rather die than…become happy,” Evil-Sefelt muttered.
“That can be arranged,” Chaka said. He looked at the others. “I for one could not care less. My emotional state has been manipulated from the moment I emerged from the genetic bath at the time of my creation. The Founders dictated my every thought and feeling, and coded it into my genes.”
“Yeah, they did a fine job of it, too,” Richards muttered.
“Christopher!” Browning snapped.
J’hana glanced at her panel. “Well, looks like the aft hatch has been opened. A squad of…ugh…happy people…just filed in. Anybody want to be killed before they get here?”
“I’ll consider it,” Evil-Sefelt said.
“I wonder how the other J’hana is doing,” Richards said thoughtfully.
“Maybe you should check,” Browning said. “Then you could have sex with her too.”
“Not his type,” J’hana growled low. “Then again, you aren’t either.”
“You don’t look so nasty,” Other-J’hana observed, glancing through the porthole window in the door of the sauna, as the evil Tilleran lay prone and unconscious on the floor. “I’m half-tempted to turn this thing on and roast you alive. It would serve you right, for all the shart you put me through.” Other-J’hana paced in front of the door to the sauna, shaking her head. “No. No, musn’t think such awful thoughts. They’re impure, unsavory. I cannot become that which I hate.”
Suddenly, J’hana heard a knock on the sauna door. She turned and saw Tilleran’s shiny black eyes staring back at her.
“Bah…buh…uhm…” J’hana stammered, when a thought burrowed into her mind, like a dagger into a pumpkin.
<Open the door, Andorian.>
“N-no,” J’hana protested. “I’m not supposed to. You stay in there, or…or I’ll sauna you!”
<You wouldn’t do that. Would you? No, you’ll open the door now.>
“No, I won’t!”
<Open the door.>
“Okay.” J’hana, as if possessed, reached out and thumbed the door control. The door slid open and Tilleran emerged, smiling broadly. She grabbed J’hana by the throat and shoved her against the bulkhead. The Andorian collapsed in a heap on the floor, from a mixture of fear and concussion.
“I’ll finish the job later,” Evil-Tilleran said, turning on a heel. “For now, I have some intruders to deal with…”
She hadn’t yet reached the adjoining pressure door when suddenly it buzzed open, and Tilleran came face-to-face with a giant…fish-thing.
“Don’t worry!” the fish thing announced, waving its flippers at Evil-Tilleran. “Be happy!”
A raven-haired woman stood next to him, waving pleasantly. “Hi. I’m Sammy! This is my partner, Batty! We have some questions for you. Do you want to be happy? Tell the truth!”
“Gods, no,” Tilleran replied, and glanced behind Sammy and Batty at the squadron of tie-dyed wackos behind them. She pried into their minds and recoiled at the happy horrors within. The smarminess…the cuddlyness…the friendliness. It cut her right to the core. So she did the only thing a maniacal, homicidal, antisocial, power-crazy Betazoid gal could do. She lashed out with her telepathy, slamming her thoughts into Batty, then Sammy.
They clutched their heads, falling to their knees.
“Nooooooooooooooooooo!” they cried. “Not happy! NOT HAPPY!”
Tilleran drifted through the crowd, glaring at each one, even as they reached for their sidearms, sending each one falling to the deck in a crying, blubbering heap.
“Depression!” one Happy cried.
“Ennui!” cried another.
“Deep hurting!” moaned another.
Once everyone was incapacitated, Evil-Tilleran slapped her hands together, proud of a job well done. “To the bridge!” she announced eagerly, stopping to pluck a couple sidearms from the suddenly-depressed happies.
“This is nice. Working together like this. It’s a rare opportunity.” Captain Baxter leaned back against the bulkhead, in the tiny compartment known as Shield Node 27, as Counselor Peterman grunted and yanked at the circuitry inside the large gray box that was the processor manifold.
“Yeah. It’s fabulous,” Peterman muttered, mopping her brow with the back of her hand. “Could you glance at the padd and tell me what I’m supposed to do next?”
“Sure,” Baxter said, leaning over and glancing at the padd. “You’re supposed to switch off power to this area’s shield sequencers.”
“Won’t that disable shields in this section?” Peterman asked, scrunching her nose. “Wouldn’t that be bad?”
“Bad is a relative term, sweetie,” Baxter said, and put a hand on her shoulder. “I mean, it’s not as if our shields are helping much right now, being that we’re stuck inside a giant smiley face, and this pleasant little wooded glade we landed in is crawling with happy assholes who want to screw with our brain.”
“Yeah, when you put it that way…” Peterman said, and flipped a toggle on the control panel, shutting off shield power in that section.
“Okay. Now you need to unhook all the ODN connections, and reattach them according to this diagram.” Baxter held up the padd for Peterman’s inspection. “Here…want me to hold it up for you?”
“How about I hold up the padd, and you get up to your elbows in crackling shield circuitry?” Peterman suggested.
Meanwhile, two doors down, in the brig, Evil-Richards, and the rabid JB were sitting on the bench in their cell, staring at the crackling security field.
Which suddenly shut off.
Evil-Richards’s eyes went wide. “JB! JB! Did you see that!”
“See that? Yes I saw! Field is down, field is down!” JB jumped up and started skipping around the cell. “Thank all that’s evil, the field is down!”
Evil-Richards sneered and pushed to his feet, adjusting his tight leather vest. “Calm down, my rotten nectarine. It’s time to show these Explorer people just who they’re dealing with.”
“I think they know,” JB said.
“Well, just in case they don’t,” Evil-Richards said, and marched toward the door to the brig. When it wouldn’t open for him, he smashed the panel beside the door and reached in, pumping the manual handle. “JB, I do believe we’ve missed out on the fun.” He glanced at the corridors, and the moody red emergency lighting. “Yeah. They’ve gone and had a party without us.”
“Let’s bite them!” JB suggested.
“Um, maybe later. For now, let’s focus on getting back to our ship, and returning to a level of sanity.”
“Would you like to be covered in whipped cream while we warp your brain?” the perky, kneesocked and tie-dyed Ashy Donovan asked, as she did toe touches in front of Evil-Sefelt, Richards, Browning, J’hana, Chaka, and the others on the Eradicator bridge.
“What are you, some kind of cheerleader?”
“I’m in inspiration leader!” Ashy corrected, standing straight and waving her arms out, wriggling her fingers. “Ta da! Jazz hands!”
“Anyone wishing they took the suicide option?” J’hana said gruffly, as Albright and Taft kept their backs straight against the wall beside her, trying not to glance directly at Ashy, as if she were a solar eclipse of cute, happy energy.
“Yes, actually,” Chaka said thoughtfully. “Suicide sounds nice about now.”
“Oh, you’re such a downer!” Ashy pouted, stepping up to J’hana and pressing a finger to her lips. “Why don’t you get with the program and just…just open up your heart to good times!”
J’hana growled low.
“No bloodshed, J’hana,” Richards said soothingly.
“She touched my mouth.”
Evil-Sefelt glanced at J’hana. “I like this one. Can we keep her in our universe?”
Richards quickly stepped between Ashy and J’hana. “Listen…nobody wants to get hurt here.”
“The happiness beam is in place, Inspirer General,” Kammie Tezen said with a giggle as he looked over the engineering panel, studying the Eradicator’s power system. “At your command, we can flood the ship with happy beams and enlighten the entire crew!”
“Splendiforous!” Ashy clapped, and did a quick split, lowering herself to the floor.
Richards stared down at her as she flexed. “You know, this universe isn’t all bad.”
“Agreed,” J’hana said in a low voice as her antennae pointed toward Ashy.
“Oh, for the love of…” Browning muttered, covering her face.
Suddenly the door to the bridge slid open, and a wild-eyed Tilleran stood there, with the evil of a dozen hells burning in her black eyes.
Ashy immediately screamed, drawing into a fetal position. Kammie Tezen did likewise, dropping to the floor. The pair of superfluous happy guards by the door also collapsed, screaming.
“Owwwwwwwwwwwwieeeeeeee!” Ashy squealed.
“I’m a shell of a man,” Kammie Tezen moaned. “Life is a black hole of doubt and pain. Make it stop…make the eternal sadness stop!”
“Jeeze,” Browning said, staring at the Tilleran, who obviously wasn’t the one she knew.
“Downer,” Richards agreed.
“Delicious,” J’hana said, licking her lips.
Evil-Tilleran strode onto the bridge, looking from Richards, to Browning, to J’hana. “You all aren’t being driven insane by my thoughts?”
“Yes, but only in a good way,” J’hana cooed, drawing a finger along the other Tilleran’s chin. “What are you doing later?”
“Shush!” Richards said, and turned to Evil-Tilleran. “Look, without getting into the whole story, we’re not from here.”
“You’re from the Explorer. The mediocre ship.”
“We prefer to think of ourselves as very average,” Browning said.
Evil-Tilleran rolled her eyes and sighed, then her eyes lit on Evil- Sefelt. “Ah, Howard. You’re okay.”
“Yes, no thanks to you,” he snapped, stepping up to her. “We’re trapped in some obscene Dyson’s Sphere with a bunch of drugged up hippies.”
“Happies,” Browning corrected.
“Whatever,” Evil-Sefelt snapped. “But you’ve obviously found a way to defeat them.”
“Oh yes,” Evil-Tilleran said, and stretched languidly. “And I must say, it was quite pleasurable.”
“Thrilling,” Evil-Sefelt said. “But what to do with these other universe people?”
Evil-Tilleran stared at them thoughtfully. “Kill them. Well, keep the Andorian. I want to…play with her.”
“I was thinking along similar lines.”
“Superb,” J’hana said. She glanced from Richards to Browning. “Doctor, Commander, good luck….”
“What? You’ll just leave us to die?” Richards snapped.
“Not very honorable,” Browning said.
J”hana stared in Evil-Tilleran’s eyes, transfixed. “Well, you know, all good things must….whatever.”
“Come to me, my perverted blue flower,” Evil-Tilleran said, stepping toward J’hana and taking her hands.
“Hold on,” Evil-Sefelt said, glancing at a sensor panel. “There’s movement nearby. It looks like…yes, it’s the Explorer!”
“About time,” said Chaka, looking skeptically at Evil-Tilleran and J’hana.
The Explorer’s deck rumbled as Peterman and Baxter dashed onto the battle bridge, where Hartley was bent over the central tactical console, tapping in commands. Madera and Sefelt were at their familiar places at the forward stations, and Tilleran and Keefler were at theirs, the smaller, more boxy versions of science and tactical.
“Did we do it?” Baxter asked. “Is it happening?”
‘“Yes. The vibration is shaking us of the holding field,” Hartley replied, studying the scans. “We’re moving above the surface. Ninety meters and rising. Thrusters are coming back online.”
“Screw the thrusters,” Peterman snapped. “What about the weapons? We need weapons!”
“Relax,” Hartley said. “I’m working on it.”
“That’s what you said ten minutes ago,” Tilleran snapped from the nearby science station.
“Why did we even decide to meet on the battle bridge?” Baxter asked.
“Because the regular bridge was too far away and we had to make our move as soon as the shield modifications were done.”
“Well what now?” Peterman asked.
“What now is you keep quiet for just a moment and let me work,” Hartley said.
“Where’s Mirk?” Baxter asked.
“Back in the Constellation Club, looking after Steffie, right where we left him,” Hartley said. “Now please…SHUT UP!”
“What about Happymaster Dillon?” a voice piped up from the back of the bridge.
Baxter waved the crewman off. “That’s the least of our problems right now, mister.”
Baxter turned around slowly. “Oh. Hell no.”
The Happymaster clapped his gloved hands and sauntered toward Baxter, red cape flapping, and wrapped him in a giant bear hug. “Oooooooooooooh you silly goose! I can’t believe you’d try to wriggle away from us.”
“And shoot at you,” Baxter croaked as he squeezed. “Don’t forget shoot at you!”
“It just makes me so…well I won’t say sad, because I’m never sad…but I am…hurt that you’d want to leave us! And just think of how your parents must feel!”
“My…parents…” Baxter said, shooting a look to Peterman.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the Happymaster.cooed, smoothing Baxter’s hair and looking in his eyes. “They’re in a safe place. They’re down with that Maloxian boy, saying hello to their grandchild. You know, they’re not grandparents here. So obviously, they’re ecstatic that they have a little one to spoil rotten, just like all good grandparents must do!”
“Don’t you hurt my daughter, you smiling freak!” Peterman shrieked, advancing on the Happymaster.
“And stay away from my husband!” Hartley said as she hunched over her panel. “Yes…yes yes yes…”
The Happymaster glanced over her shoulder. “And just what kind of tomfoolery are you up to?”
“This kind!” she shouted, and stabbed a control.
Phasers lanced out from all the emitters on the Explorer, blasting one, then another, of the shield installations on the inner surface of the Happy Fun Ball. At least, that particular section.
“No!!! Stop hurting my Happy Fun Ball!” the Happymaster shrieked, grabbing Hartley by the shoulders.
“Oh, shut the hell up!” Baxter snapped, clasping his fists together and slamming them upside the Happymaster’s head, sending him flopping to the deck in a heap. He stared at the insensate Happymaster and grinned. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m much happier now.”
“I’ll say one thing for this universe,” Peterman said. “They’re weaklings. Andy just decked their leader with one blow.”
“Thanks,” Baxter said, rubbing his hand. “Now then: Tilleran, Keefler…grab sidearms, move through the ship. Deputize whoever’s nearby and secure this deck, then move on to the others.” He looked to Hartley as Tilleran and Keefler marched off. “Can you and Madera navigate us out of here?”
“Yeah, I’ve got the combination to the door,” Hartley grinned, and pointed toward the quantum torpedo controls. “As long as we leave right now, before they can repair their shield emitters…”
“I don’t see any reason to linger,” Baxter said.
“Chris and Janice!” Peterman reminded him.
“Well, obviously,” Baxter said. “Can you find the Eradicator?”
“In my spare time,” Hartley said. “Yes. Actually…funny enough, they’re coming toward us. We’re being hailed.”
“Put ‘em on,” Baxter said, waving at the viewscreen.
The viewscreen filled with snarling visages of Tilleran and Sefelt, pressing disruptor pistols against the heads of Richards and Browning, respectively.
“Fancy seeing you guys here!” Evil-Sefelt said. “Let’s make this quick. You need your people back, and we need a way out of here.”
“Don’t you want your people back?” Baxter asked.
“Not especially. I’m actually better off without them. I get to be captain!”
“Good for you,” Baxter deadpanned. “Of course we’ll help you get out of here. I don’t care how evil you are. Nobody deserves to live in this ridiculous ball.”
“We’ll follow your lead out of here, and then make the swap,” Evil-Sefelt said. “If you could just arrange for a nasty transporter accident for our folks, it would be much appreciated.”
“You can do that yourself,” Baxter said.
“Fair enough! Let’s not waste time. Go!”
“You heard him, Madera,” Baxter said, and headed for the door. “Ahead all thrusters!”
“Where are you going?” Hartley asked.
Baxter grabbed Peterman’s hand. “To rescue Stef from her grandparents!”
“I’m sure Mirk’s got things well in hand.”
“Doesn’t hurt to be sure!” Peterman called out. “Don’t get us killed!”
“Or happied!” Baxter asked.
“Yeah,” Hartley said, grimacing at her panel. “Thanks for the support.”
“You let them off easy,” Evil-Tilleran growled. “You realize we have the edge. I have the ability to ward off any of the weirdos from this Universe with a single thought. We can own this sphere within the day.”
“I don’t want to own it,” Evil-Sefelt said, folding his arms. “I just want out.”
“You’re being short-sighted.”
“I’m saving our asses!” Evil-Sefelt replied haughtily.
“We can just wait somewhere else, until this is all over…” Richards suggested, pointing Browning and J’hana toward the door, along with Chaka’kan and J’hana’s security officers..
“Nobody goes anywhere,” Evil-Sefelt said. “I need you people as insurance to make sure we get out of this unscathed. If the Explorer tries anything funny, you’re all as good as dead.”
“Fantastic,” Browning said. “Could we at least have a snack, while we, you know, wait for death?”
“No! No snacks!” Evil-Sefelt cried, pulling at his hair.
“Jeeze, what’s his problem?” Browning muttered.
“Let’s not even analyze it,” Richards said, sighing and leaning against a bulkhead.
Baxter was running so fast to get back to the Constellation Club, he didn’t even see Chris Richards coming around the corner.
He plowed straight into him, knocking him to the deck.
Baxter leaned up. “Sorry, buddy, I…” He stared. “Wait a sec. Chris?”
“You’re…not far off…” Richards said groggily, leaning up.
“Let’s bite people!” JB shouted, hopping up and down, and ran at Peterman.
“Oh, this is great. Evil Janice eats people,” Peterman muttered, and backpedaled as JB grabbed at her, tried to sink her jaws into her shoulder.
Baxter crawled off Evil-Richards and grabbed at JB’s arm.
“You…crushed…me…” Evil-Richards moaned, writhing on the ground. “Or else, you’d be feeling serious pain right now.”
“Get off her, you cannibalistic…!” Baxter shouted, leaping at JB as she rolled on the ground with Peterman. “OWWWWWWW! My pinkie! You bit my pinkie!”
“I need medical attention…” Evil-Richards groaned.
“We don’t have time for this!” Peterman snapped. “Our little girl could be in trouble!”
“Oh, frag it,” Evil-Richards moaned. “I hate people with kids.”
Evil-Tilleran stalked the Eradicator bridge as it moved toward the mouth…er, hangar doors…of the Happy Fun Ball. She turned suddenly and glared at Evil-Sefelt. “NO! It’s tactically wrong. We have to secure this sphere. Once we gain control of it, we can transport it to our universe. Do you have any idea what the Regent would do if we presented a prize as grand as this to him? We’d be set for life!”
“And just HOW do you plan on moving this massive thing to our universe?” Sefelt asked placidly, folding his arms.
“I’m a science specialist. I’ll figure it out.”
“It’s true,” Browning said meekly. “Our Tilleran is super smart. She’ll figure it out.”
“Don’t support her!” Richards snapped.
“Why not? What’s it hurt at this point?”
“Indeed,” J’hana said. “It’s not like we can stop her if we wanted to.” She smiled. “She is Tilleran.”
“That’s true,” Tilleran said, then turned her gaze back on Evil- Sefelt. “Matter of fact, you can’t stop me either.”
“Remember who you’re talking to, Mindwarp! I stole the command of this ship fair and square. I call the shots.”
“Mindwarp?” Richards asked softly. “What is she, a cartoon character?”
“Does everyone in this universe have a stupid nickname?” Browning asked.
“Depends,” Richards replied. “What did you scream out while you were banging Howie Sefelt?”
“She was disturbingly quiet,” Evil-Sefelt interjected.
“WHO ASKED YOU?” Browning shot back.
Chaka’kan scrubbed an exasperated hand over his face and looked at Taft and Albright. “I really thought I was the most disturbed person on the Explorer.”
“Mindwarp,” for her part, stepped toward Evil-Sefelt. “You’ve got one chance to surrender command of this vessel, Falconer. And then I’m going to get nasty.”
“Falconer?” J’hana asked. “For Shran’s sake!”
“You wouldn’t. Not on one of your own!” Evil-Sefelt snapped back.
“You think?” Evil-Tilleran responded, and stared into Evil-Sefelt’s eyes, jaw set in determination.
“No…stop it…n-no! Ants! Ants! Ants all over me! Make them stop! Ooooooh they tickle and HURT!”
Richards, Browning, and J’hana looked on as Evil-Sefelt flailed in agony and sunk to the floor in a sobbing heap.
“It’s so easy to destroy the weak ones,” Evil-Tilleran said, clicking her tongue and turning to face her guests on the bridge. “Now, as for you three…”
“Please don’t kill us…” Browning said.
“Well, since you asked nicely,” Evil-Tilleran said, tapping her chin thoughtfully. “Nah, better kill you anyway.”
Just then, the doors to the bridge opened, and J’hana…the other one…emerged. “No, Mindwarp, you’ve bullied your last unsuspecting crewmember!”
“Please? You think you can stop me?” Evil-Tilleran asked. “With what?”
Other-J’hana withdrew a disruptor and fired it, vaporizing the Evil- Tilleran with a fiery shimmer. “Well, with that, I suppose.”
“NO!” J’hana shouted. “The poor thing!”
“She was going to KILL US!” Browning protested.
“Yes, but…” J’hana said thoughtfully. “That was part of her charm.”
Other-J’hana waved her disruptor at the other bridge officers, who looked on from their stations, still as statues.
“Well, what are you staring at?” she asked.
“Near as I can figure, you’re their boss now,” Richards said. “I think that’s how it works in this particular Universe.”
“Yeah,” Other-J’hana said, cradling her disruptor. “I guess it does.”
“You acted aggressively,” J’hana said. “That, to my knowledge, was not your nature.”
“I’ve been pushed around enough,” Other-J’hana said. “When I awoke from the stupor that bezatch put me in, I had no choice but to end her. Even an Andorian has limits. We’re not the peaceful, weak-willed, softhearted folks the rest of the galaxy takes us for…”
“Please get me out of here,” J’hana growled..
“Could we ask a small favor?” Browning asked. “Could you let us go back to our ship?”
“Do whatever you want. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” Other-J’hana said thoughtfully. “But I’m pretty sure it will involve villanelles.”
“Disgraceful,” J’hana said, shaking her head.
“Look at the time!” Richards said. “We’ve really got to be going. J’hana, take us back to wherever you parked the Escort. It’s time to blow this twisted pop stand.”
“I swear, Andy, I’m always doing the dirty work,” Peterman muttered as she and Baxter raced to the Constellation Club.
“I’m sorry,” Baxter said. “I just couldn’t beat Janice up. Even if she was a rabid, cannibalistic, twisted Janice.”
“You still like her.”
“That’s not it at all!” Baxter snapped. “I don’t hit girls.”
“I bet you would’ve hit a mirror Tilleran. Or a mirror Hartley.”
“I wouldn’t try to fight Hartley in any universe, hon,” Baxter replied.
“Fair point,” Peterman said as they approached the doors to the Constellation Club. Surprisingly to Baxter, the automatic door was working, and it obediently slid open.
“What took you so long?” Mirk asked, leaning back in his chair as Steffie sat in the highchair across the table from him, giggling happily.
“We were kinda busy,” Baxter said, as Peterman raced over to Steffie, pulling her into her arms. “What did you do with…?”
Mirk pointed at the ceiling.
Baxter chuckled. “Glad to see your powers came in handy after all.”
There, Harley and Loosey-Goosey hung uselessly, dangling in a colorful, crackling field, assumably of Mirk’s making.
“Best part is, it’s soundproof,” Mirk said. “Are we almost done here?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Hold onto them a while longer. We’re going to the battle bridge so we can fight our way out of this…ball.”
Baxter and Peterman nearly ran into Richards and Browning again as they ran back to the Battle Bridge.
“I’m holding a toddler this time, Andy, so you have to beat them both up,” Peterman protested, holding Steffie close to her chest.
“You two DO NOT quit!” Baxter snapped, pushing up his shirtsleeves.
“What are you talking about, Andy?” Browning asked. “It’s me, Janice!”
“Wha?” Baxter asked. “You mean you don’t want to eat me?”
“Not particularly,” Browning shrugged.
“We hopped aboard the Escort and flew back here. Thankfully, Hartley didn’t give us the third degree about being the ‘real us’ when we asked permission to come aboard.”
Behind Richards and Browning, J’hana stood with Chaka, Taft, and Albright.
“We’re all going to need serious therapy,” Chaka said.
“We must get out of here,” J’hana said in a low voice.
“Right,” Baxter said. “Let’s go. And tell me how the hell you made it off that ship?”
“Apparently, in the Mirror Universe, there’s a mutiny every three to five minutes.”
“Good to know,” Baxter said, and lead the group to the Battle Bridge. “But don’t get any ideas.”
“Course not,” Richards replied.
Moments later, on the battle bridge, J’hana fired a string of torpedoes, blasting a hole in the massive sphere’s hangar doors. She grinned evilly. “Hivemother, that felt good. I wish I could inflict a little more damage on this ridiculous place.”
“Ahh, don’t look now. Cartoons!” Sefelt called out.
“Permission to delete, Captain?” J’hana asked, as a singing sun swung in in front of the Explorer, glowing brightly on the viewscreen, surrounded by a bevy of forest creatures, singing:
It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone
It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone
but when I see you hanging about with anyone
It’s not unusual to see me cry,
oh I wanna’ die
“With extreme prejudice,” Baxter said. “End this Tom Jones medley.”
“Quick! Before they do ‘Sex Bomb’!” Peterman cried, holding her hands over her ears.
J’hana blasted away with phasers at the nearby holoemitters, causing the sun and others to fizzle out of existence, like an old TV being turned off.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…sweet merciful death!” the sun screamed as it disappeared.
“Nobody speaks of any of this again,” Baxter said. “Madera, get us out of here. Make sure the Eradicator is behind us.” He looked askance at Richards. “Because apparently they’re on our side now.”
“Sir, we’re getting a hail from the Eradicator,” J’hana said. “Me…that is, the other J’hana says they’re going to stay behind. And, to complicate matters, the Secondprize-A is powering up and heading toward us, with orders to pursue. Apparently we’ve angered the dwarves.”
“Fine, we’ll deal with that little problem in a second. Put the other J’hana on screen. Madera, all stop.”
“Please, no…” Madera pleaded.
Baxter stared at her. “Do it. J’hana, on screen.”
The other J’hana stood on the bridge, flanked by Other-Keefler and Other-Jim-from-Astrometrics.
“Hey, it’s Jim from Astrometrics!” Browning called out.
“Who?” Peterman asked.
“We’ve polled the remainder of the crew,” Other-J’hana said resolutely. “We’re going to stay behind. Try to eradicate these imbeciles one at a time.”
“It’s noble, yet stupid. I like it,” J’hana concluded.
“We won’t leave you,” Baxter said. “There’s too many…”
“One person can change things,” Other-J’hana said. “Someone, deep in our past, was told that. And it’s as true now as it was then.”
“You’re talking about Spock, and he got his ass kicked, and was dethroned,” Hartley said. She glanced around at the surprised looks from the bridge crew. “What? I read occasionally.”
“Well, perhaps I can fare better,” Other-J’hana said. “I’ll hold off the Secondprize so you can escape. Good luck to you all. I wish you peace and prosperity.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Okay. Um, thanks. Hartley, why don’t you transport our mirror Chris and Janice from the brig to the Eradicator. Let them deal with them.”
“Good idea,” Hartley said, and tapped at her controls.
Baxter glanced at the helm. “Madera, you know what to do…”
“FINALLY!” Madera growled, sending the Explorer surging through the hole in the doors and out of the Happy Fun Ball once and for all.
“Whew,” Peterman said, still hugging Steffie, and leaned her head on Baxter’s shoulder. “Guess that solves all that.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Except we’re still in the Happy Universe.”
Everyone on the bridge stared at each other mutely.
“F***,” Richards said.
Stardate 58114.6. It took some looking, but we were actually able to track down a friendly ship in the Happy Universe. By friendly, I mean on our side, not friendly as in happy. Ah, computer, what do you care. The point is…any port in a storm, and whatnot. So we’ve met up with said ship to turn over Happymaster Dillon, and my parents, with the hopes that they’ll be dealt with fairly and…no, on second thought, I don’t really care.
So all’s well. Except, well, unfortunately, the ship we met up with is the Explorer.
“You should really think about adding a third nacelle,” Andy- Wandy Baxter said, strolling down the corridor with Captain Baxter. “It did wonders for our engine efficiency.”
“That’s great, um, Andy-Wandy,” Baxter said. “But my engineer tells me it’s a stupid idea. Her words, not mine.”
“Suit yourself,” Andy-Wandy said with a polite shrug. “And thank you for getting my parents back to me. We can get them the help now that they deserve. I can’t tell you how I’ve missed them.”
Baxter cocked his head. “Really? Wow, this really is an alternate universe.”
“Don’t you love your parents?”
“Sure, but…” Baxter shifted uncomfortably, searching to change the subject. “Listen, Andy-Wandy, about the device…is it safe?”
“Sure. We’ve used it many times to…” Andy-Wandy suddenly pursed his lips. “I mean, our scientists are pretty sure it will work.”
“And you promise to destroy it once we’ve gotten back to our universe, to prevent any more incursions from your universe?”
Andy-Wandy bowed stiffly. “Of course.”
Baxter patted him on the shoulder. “You’re the best. And a fine looking man if I don’t say so myself.”
“Um, thanks.” Andy-Wandy gestured down the corridor. “Would you like to duck in on your alternate parents and say goodbye before you head back to your ship and we activate the device to get you back home?”
“Nope!” Baxter said quickly. “Where was the transporter room again?”
The Explorer rocked as it pitched through a cavernous rainbow- colored tunnel, and Baxter looked around the bridge (regular, not battle) at the crew surrounding him.
“Is it working?” he asked plaintively.
“Shields stable,” Hartley said. “Engines reacting normally.”
“Subspace field is narrowing…we’re nearing the opening!” Tilleran said.
“Steady, Madera, we’re almost through!” Baxter encouraged, patting the helm officer on the shoulder.
The Explorer pitched and bucked, as the colors on the screen gave way to pleasingly black space.
Peterman stepped toward the viewscreen, Steffie on her hip. “Well? Are we back?”
Everyone held their collective breaths as Tilleran tapped at her panel.
She finally looked up. “Yep!”
Sighs of relief came from all over the bridge.
Baxter waited for the subspace tunnel to close completely before clapping, looking at his crew. “Congratulations, everyone, on a job…done.”
“We need a shore leave,” Peterman whispered to him. “No. Three shore leaves.”
“Yeah,” Browning said, and glanced at Richards. “At least.”
“Well, the point is, everything’s copacetic again, right?” He glanced at Browning and Richards, then Tilleran and J’hana, and finally Peterman. “Right?”
The bridge was quiet, save for the beeping of panels.
Supplemental. We’re heading back to Seneca Six to place warning buoys around the laboratory site and complete our report on what exactly went wrong down there. I figure Starfleet will be spending lots of time in the coming months trying to puzzle out the answer to that question.
Once we’re done with that, we’ll deliver the revived scientists from the facility to the nearest Starbase so they can…do science things.
Meanwhile, the crew is settling down after a couple trying days. Nothing’s worse than meeting people who look exactly like the people you know so well, but act completely differently.
It’s damn disconcerting.
“Are you open?” Commander Richards asked in a soft voice as he stood in the doorway to Space Tastes.
Browning hopped up from behind the counter. “Chris You scared me!”
“I…was just checking to see if I could get some, uh, breakfast. Before my shift.”
“Sorry. I’m still a little jumpy from, well, everything.” Browning gave a small smile. “But, yeah, I’m open for business. What do you want?”
“Eggs. Lots of ketchup,” he said, and sat at a nearby table, setting his padd down on the table.
“Hah,” Browning chuckled. “I should have guessed. Coffee?”
After banging around in the kitchen a few minutes, Browning returned with a plate of eggs and a steaming cup of coffee, and sat down beside him as he began to eat.
“So what really brought you here?” she asked.
“The staggering sense that I was being an idiot,” Richards said between chews.
“About which part?” Browning asked, wrinkling her nose.
“Well, the parts where I was avoiding you, mostly.”
“No argument there,” Browning said. “I mean, we’re crewmates. We should be able to coexist on the ship.”
“No question there,” Richards said. “You know, I read somewhere that the post-relationship relationship is actually just as tough as the relationship itself.”
“There’s a post-relationship relationship?” Browning asked.
“Apparently, and we’re knee deep in it.”
“I never realized.” Browning straightened. “Well, then, I guess we’ll have to work on that.”
“Yeah, guess we’ll have to.” Richards shook his head. “Not to bring up a sore subject, but what did Kelly and Andy say when you told them about me and J’hana? I can only guess it wasn’t good…”
“I didn’t tell them,” Browning said and stood. “I figured you’d tell them when and if you felt like it, right?”
“Yeah…” Richards said with mild surprise.
“It’s really none of my business. If it makes you happy, then I’m glad.”
“Well, I’ve got to go back to the kitchen and fill up a few more trays of breakfast bake. Enjoy your breakfast, Chris.”
Richards looked at her askance. “Christopher.”
“Christopher,” Browning said with a small grin, and headed back to the kitchen.
When an engineering accident accidentally…incapacitates…the third grade teacher, Lt. Commander Hartley is forced to temporarily take over. Will guilt over the accident force Hartley permanently into a life of teaching, or will the students prove so annoying that she’s forced to give them an accident of their own? With Lt. Commander Hartley, one can never be certain.