Star Traks: The Vexed Generation is based on Alan Decker's Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, who is turning in his grave. Viacom owns Paramount, Paramount owns Star Trek, and I used to love getting to clap chalkboard erasers together after class. I don't think they use chalkboards anymore. Copyright 2006. All rights, and wrongs, are reserved. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, better hit the "Back" button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Anthony Butler
Copyright: 2006

Lt. Commander Megan Hartley spun her tennis racket on her index finger as she strolled down the Explorer corridor toward the holodeck.

“Busy?” a voice called out, causing Hartley to nearly drop her racket.

She let the racket fall into her hands and spun, to find Plato standing right behind her.

“Plato!” she exclaimed. “Where’d you come from…I mean…hi, how are you?”

“Fine,” Plato said, picking up step next to the Engineer. “Just heading toward the gym. You?”

“Holodeck.”

“You don’t like the tennis courts in the gym?”

“They’re not real tennis courts. They have antigrav sensors.”

“Well, a holographic tennis court is also not real.”

“But it feels real.” Hartley sighed. “There’s something about the smell of grass, the warmth of the sun, the scrape of your shins as you fall down on asphalt.”

“That’s…nice…” Plato said, and glanced down at Hartley’s white tennis skirt. “You have… nice shins.”

“Thanks…” Hartley said, squirming a bit as she picked up her step toward the holodeck.

“I’m heading to Aikido.”

“That’s nice. Who’d they get to replace Chaka as the instructor, anyway?”

“Well, Zordock the Bold from Mirk’s bar was doing it for a while. But the multiple arms were screwing everyone up.”

“Zordock the Bold means well,” Hartley said.

“Not to worry, though. Chaka’s back today!”

Hartley blinked. “Already?”

“Yup. I guess Counselor Peterman feels like he’s not murderous anymore.”

“Hmm. And teaching fighting styles should really help him control those killer instincts,” Hartley muttered. “Couldn’t we get him a job knitting or something?”

“He teaches knitting on Wednesdays,” Plato said. “Anyways, I’m off to class. It should be fun. We’re having an exhibition next week if you, you know, want to come…”

Hartley nodded briskly. “I’ll try.”

“Great,” Plato said with a grin, and leaned toward Hartley, giving her a tight hug.

“Yes, well…have fun…” Hartley said, stiffly patting Plato’s back, and waving weakly as he jogged off. “Well, that was…”

“Commander Hartley! Just who I was looking for!” a voice called out from the other end of the corridor, and Hartley winced. Was she ever going to get to play tennis?

She turned, cocking her head as a squat, roundish, late-middle-aged woman with a hive of jet-black hair scurried down the hallway toward her.

“Do I know you?” she asked quizzically.

The woman made an expansive gesture. “Please! We sat next to each other at the anger management workshop last week. Remember me? I’m the woman who punches books!”

“Oh. Right,” Hartley said, letting her racket droop to the ground. “Ms. Abernathy! How are your fourth graders?”

Abernathy threw up her hands. “Please, Commander, call me Jean! Let me tell you something, they’re a challenge. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they do something…” she laughed a high- pitched, nervous laugh. “Something that makes you just want to…” Her gaze moved off to the distance, and her eyes dilated a little. She shook her head. “Whoops, guess I had a little daydream!”

“That’s great,” Hartley said. “Wish I could stay and talk, but I’m heading off to play tennis…”

“That sounds like great fun. I’m off to run my Yoga program. The anger management counselor told me that it helps prevent excessive mood swings.”

“Well, you’re on the wrong deck. There’s only one holodeck here, I’ve got it reserved for tennis.”

“Oooh,” Abernathy said. “But I’m certain I reserved Holodeck Two.”

Hartley grimaced. “I’m in Holodeck Two.”

“Computer,” Abernathy said. “Who has Holodeck Two reserved this afternoon?”

“Abernathy, Jean,” the computer replied.

“But I had Mirk make the…” Hartley thought a moment. “Hartley to Mirk…”

“Yes, dear?” came the Maloxian’s voice.

“Did you reserve Holodeck Two for me like I asked?”

“Not yet. Why?”

“Because I’m going to play tennis there right now.”

“Oh,” Mirk said. “So by today you meant…”

Hartley felt her cheeks flush. “This day. To-day.”

“Whoops. Sorry. I guess I got distracted. We’re having a wet pants contest tonight.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be wet t-shirt?” Hartley asked.

“What’s the fun in wearing a wet t-shirt?” Mirk asked.

Hartley shook her head. “Nevermind. Thanks for nothing. Hartley out.” She glanced at Abernathy. “Dammit. And I was really looking forward to playing today. I put on my little skirt and everything…”

Abernathy looked thoughtful, then her eyes brightened. “Oooh, I have a great idea!”

“What,” Hartley said skeptically.

“I’ll give you the holodeck today, if you do me a teensy favor tomorrow…”

Hartley narrowed her eyes at the woman. “How…teensy?”


“Look at them,” Hartley said, peering out the observation window in her office as the parade of fourth graders marched into Main Engineering, passing the master systems display and heading toward the warp core. “They’re just itching to push the wrong button. Pull out the dilithium chamber and misalign it, yank an ODN cable…”

“Relax,” Mirk said, slipping an arm around his wife’s waist. “They’re just kids. They’re not going to hurt anything.”

Hartley folded her arms. “Humph. “

“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?”

“One million,” Hartley said. “Better get started. Omnipotent or not, that’ll take you a while.”

Mirk gave Hartley a little squeeze. “You’re so cute when your hateful.”

Hartley glared over her shoulder. “This is not funny. I’m feeling violated. All those little hands and feet all over my engine room. Marching in here like they own the place.”

“Feet?”

“You never know!”

“You’re doing a nice thing,” Mirk said. “You’re giving the kids on the ship a genuine experience they’ll never forget.”

“Actually, I think they’d prefer the wet pants contest,” Hartley said with a smirk.

“That may be difficult to arrange,” Mirk said thoughtfully.

“It was worth it though. I blew off a lot of steam on that tennis court yesterday.”

“You blew off even more steam last night,” Mirk said wistfully.

“Don’t remind me. I’ve still got a pulled hamstring…” Hartley winced, shifting on her feet.

“Well, bad hamstring notwithstanding, you should go out there,” Mirk said. “Talk to them. Show them around.”

“Stuart’s doing a good enough job.”

“But you’re the Chief! You’re the boss. They’d get a kick out of seeing you, and getting to ask you questions and whatnot.”

“And what would I get out of it?”

“The satisfaction that you made their day.”

Hartley thought about it. “Hmmm. Nahhhh…”

“C’mon,” Mirk said. “You’ll enjoy it once you start talking to them.”

“No.”

“Megan…”

“No!”

Mirk smiled, then glanced at the door to Hartley’s office. It suddenly slid open, and Hartley found herself floating outside of it.

She dangled midair for a few moments, glaring daggers at Mirk. “Mirk Hartley, you f***ing…”

She turned and looked at the gaggle of fourth graders, huddled around the Master Systems Display, staring at her.

“…f***ing friend of mine!” Hartley said, her expression softening, as she touched gently down to the ground. She leaned against the Master Systems Display and surveyed the group. “Well…kids. What do you want to know?”

“What’s plasma?” a voice asked from the back.

Hartley tiptoed to see who the youngster was.

Jean Abernathy stood at the back of the group, and nudged the little boy toward the front. “He’s Percy Felker,” Abernathy explained. “Age four. He’s in the accelerated program.”

“Really accelerated,” Hartley mumbled. “Well, Percy…you see…plasma is…”

“Can I sit on that?” Percy asked, scuttling up toward Hartley and pointing toward the Master Display.

“No. That’s the Master Display. It’s not a place to sit.”

“Please?” Percy asked again, his lip trembling.

Mirk stood behind the window in Hartley’s office and waved her on. “C’mon…” he mouthed.

“I’m going to disembowel you,” Hartley mouthed back, and lifted Percy up onto the Master Display.

“Oooh…high!” Percy said. “So what’s the ratio of plasma transference to deuterium expenditure?”

“Well, now Percy, that’s a difficult calculation that requires many…” Hartley glanced down at the display. That was funny. There was an energy buildup in the aft power conduit. She pushed Percy aside and began tapping at the panel. “Ensign Stuart! Go to the aft power conduit and see if you can…”

The energy readings suddenly spiked, and Hartley looked across engineering to see one of the conduits leading into the warp core glow bright white. A pulse of energy traveled out along the conduit, up along the junction in the ceiling, and down into a bank of panels near Hartley and the class.

“Kids! Move behind me!” Hartley shouted, waving the kids behind her. “Get back!”

The kids moved fast, huddling behind Hartley.

Ms. Abernathy, however, didn’t move as fast. She had barely begun to trundle across the room when the bulkhead next to her exploded, sending off a shower of sparks and licking plasma flames and tossing her across the compartment and into the opposite bulkhead.

Hartley slapped her combadge, even as Mirk rushed out. “Hartley to Bridge. Damage control teams and medical team to engineering. On the double!” She glanced back at the crying children as Mirk emerged from her office and knelt by them, checking them over. “Well, tour’s over, I guess…”


Hartley paced outside the operating room in Sickbay, glancing again at the chronometer on the wall.

“Holly’s only been in there for an hour,” Mirk said. “I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Yeah. Well she called two more people in a few minutes ago. It’s never good when they call more people in,” Hartley said, blowing out an exasperated breath.

“Maybe she wants the extra people to…congratulate her on a job well done?”

“You’re not helping.” Hartley spun on a heel. “As a matter of fact, why is it that you were somehow able to conjure up your powers to force me to speak to a bunch of fourth graders, but you weren’t able to save the fourth grade teacher from a life-threatening explosion!”

“My powers are…selective. What can I say?”

Hartley sighed, and finally sat down in a nearby chair, slapping her hands on her knees. “I don’t know.”

The doors to Sickbay opened and Hartley glanced up, to see Captain Andy Baxter and Commander Chris Richards walk briskly in.

“What’s the verdict?” Baxter asked.

“We don’t know anything yet,” Hartley said. “Holly’s been in there over an hour.”

“That’s not good,” Richards said.

“Don’t say that,” Baxter said. “I’m not losing another teacher.”

“The last one wasn’t our fault,” Richards said in a low voice. “The airlock was malfunctioning.”

“Yeah, well, Starfleet Internal Affairs will be sniffing around this one, you can bet on that,” Baxter said, staring at the door to the O.R. “What on Earth happened, anyway?”

“An overload in the aft ODN junction,” Hartley said. “I still don’t understand. We tested it yesterday, and it was fine.”

“Things sometimes go wrong on a Starship,” Richards said, putting a comforting hand on Baxter’s shoulder. “It happens, even if we can’t explain it with technology, or, you know, words….”

“How did you become a chief engineer again, Chris?” Baxter asked.

“If you’re going to take that attitude, I won’t even bother trying to console you,” Richards harrumphed, turning away from Baxter.

“Chris, don’t be like that!”

Just then, the doors to the O.R. opened, and Holly walked out, looking exhausted in her red smock and matching headdress. She looked at Richards, Baxter, Mirk, and Hartley. “Well, ladies and gentleman, we have a coma.”

“Coma!” Hartley snapped. “How’s she going to teach fourth grade like that?”

Holly shrugged. “She’s not. At least not until she wakes up.”

“Well that’s just great,” Baxter said. “Do we know anyone else around here who can teach fourth grade?”

“I’ll start asking around,” Richards said. “Maybe I’ll form a search committee!”

“Well do something quick,” Baxter said. “My wife’s down there with them right now, and we can’t leave her with them for long.”

“Why not?” Richards asked.

“Children have a way of kinda…hating her.”

Hartley watched the exchange between Baxter and Richards for a moment, then turned and headed out of Sickbay.

“Where are you going?” Mirk asked.

“Somebody ought to tell the kids what’s going on,” Hartley said. “And it might as well be me. This is all my fault anyway.”

“No it’s not,” Richards called after her.

“It kind of is!” Baxter called after her


“Stop pulling my hair,” Peterman said with a grimace, as V’xxnvar, the uncontested terror of the fourth grade, grabbed a handful of her hair and dragged her head back, digging into the back of the chair with both feet. “I said stop it!” she snapped, whirling and smacking at the Andorian’s hands.

“You’ve touched me!” V’xxnvar exclaimed, recoiling. “When my parents find out, you’ll be flayed alive, just like my babysitter!”

If anyone ever needed a Jem’Hadar babysitter, Peterman thought with a grimace. “I’ll be happy to have a parent-teacher conference, at a mutually convenient time. Until then, let’s get back to story time!”

“I hate story time,” Jermaine Babcock said, pounding on his desk. “Story time sucks!”

“Story time does not suck!” Peterman snapped. “‘The Adventures of Slovok the Mischievous’ is one of the all-time best young adult stories on the market!”

“How old are you?” Kaitlynn Ridley said, twisting her red ponytails as she sat at her desk.

“Old enough to know better, but young enough to…darn, I forget how the rest of that goes…” Peterman said thoughtfully, as she felt a lump of clay collide with the back of her head. “V’xxnvar!!” she shouted, turning.

“Bring back Miss Abernathy! She let us do whatever we wanted to do!”

“Miss Abernathy is…sleeping right now…” Peterman stammered, turning and chasing V’xnnvar across the room. “Come back here! Give me back that lump of clay!”

“Dean wanna ham sandwich!” Dean Wilcox announced proudly to everyone.

“Why are you teaching us?” Percy Felker asked.

“Because I’m all you’ve got right now,” Peterman said, and paused, putting her hands on her knees and trying to catch her breath. “Kids, I’m sorry. This isn’t your fault. You’ve all been through a terrible trauma. You’ve lost one teacher after another, due to…accidents, mishaps, job offers, and…an unfortunate encounter with a black hole. You’ve been unlucky. And, of course, you don’t understand now, but you’re imprinting your anger at losing your teachers so often onto the nearest convenient person, which just happens to be me. I’m not angry at you, kids. As Ship’s Counselor, I understand the reasons why you’re acting out the way you are. I want to help you to…”

THWAP!

A padd slammed into the side of Peterman’s head and she grabbed it. “GRRRR! This is the book I was supposed to read to you!” She waved it around. “V’xxnvar! You little whippet! Get back here and take your seat before I call J’hana down here to show you a thing or two about Andorian discipline!”

“Andorians don’t discipline their kids. We celebrate chaos! Just ask my twin sister, V’xxnvar, who went on a killing spree on your pathetic ship just last year!” V’xxnvar replied, climbing on top of his desk and flinging his little canisters of finger paint at Peterman. One of the canisters hit her shoulder and busted, coating her arm in red paint.

“Lovely,” Peterman muttered, as the door opened and Megan Hartley wandered in. “Next time you talk to you twin sister, tell her I hope she’s enjoying the penal colony.”

“Is this…” Hartley looked around, taking in the damages. “Ah, yep. Guess I’m in the right place.”

“Megan…” Peterman said, straightening her hair and trying to appear casual. “What are you doing here?”

“I came down to talk to the students. To tell them about what’s going on with their teacher.”

“I don’t know that you want to do that right now,” Peterman said. “They’re in a very vulnerable place. I’m not sure what that kind of news would do to their little psyches.”

“They can handle it,” Hartley said. “They deserve to know the truth, anyway.”

Peterman stripped off her uniform jacket and balled it up, glaring at V’xxnvar. “I’m not sure you’re qualified to handle these particular students, Commander.”

“Yeah,” Hartley said, putting her hands on her hips. “It looks like you’ve got things well in hand here.”

“They’re a…difficult group,” Peterman said. “Trust me, be glad that it’s not your job to reach out to these kids in their time of need.”

“You’re saying I couldn’t teach these kids if I wanted to?” Hartley asked.

“Well, dealing with people isn’t really your strong suit.”

“I happen to be GREAT with people,” Hartley said in a low voice. “Young and old. I grew up in a family of five. How hard can it be?”

Peterman looked at Hartley a moment. “You’re serious. You want to teach these kids?”

Hartley took a look back at the chaotic classroom. V’xxnvar was pouring paste into Kaitlynn’s hair. Jermaine and Percy were having a slap fight. Brea was hiding under her desk. Dean was covering his face with modeling clay.

“Yeah,” Hartley said. “I want to do it.”

“Fine,” Peterman said, backing warily toward the door. “But come to me when things get out of hand, okay?”

“You mean IF things get out of hand?”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Peterman said, and turned, heading out of the classroom.

“Okay, then,” Hartley said, slapping her hands together, looking around the classroom. “Let’s start learning, people. Why don’t we start by talking about concussions. Can anyone tell me what a severe concussion is?”

“Yes!” Dean said, rubbing the clay all over his face.

“Your breath?” V’xxnvar asked, standing on top of his desk.

Hartley glanced at the Andorian child, cocking her head quizzically, studying the boy as she walked toward him. “Were you talking to me?”

“Yeah,” V’xxnvar said, folding his arms. “What of it, human?”

“Just curious,” Hartley said. “I wanted to make sure I heard you right.”

“You can’t hurt me. My parents will kill you if you do!”

“Oh, I know S’veth and Shivar well,” Hartley said. “Shivar works the night shift in the engine room, and does a fine job. She makes your daddy very proud, I’m sure. Your daddy who stays home and does nothing all day. Why is that, V’xxnvar?”

“He was injured in battle.”

“Four years ago. Yet he seems fine now.”

“It’s a slow recovery process. He had multiple…knee injuries.”

“He raced in the starship marathon last month.”

“His back was…somewhat injured.”

“Your dad’s a dishonor to the hive, and so are you,” Hartley said. “Just look at your antennae…woefully stubby.”

“Dad says they’ll grow out…” V’xxnvar said, cupping his hands over the antennae and slipping down behind his desk.

“Sounds like wishful thinking to me.” Hartley leaned forward and put her palms on the desk. “How about this, shorty. You sit there and be quiet, and learn, or I’ll drag you home to your mother in disgrace, so she can have TWO dishonored family members. How do you think she’d handle that?”

“Not well,” V’xxnvar gulped.

“I didn’t think so. You got anything else to say to me?”

“Not right now,” he said quickly.

“Good.” Hartley glanced around at the other children. “Now then, kiddos, let’s learn!”


THREE DAYS LATER


Commander Richards leaned back in the chair opposite Baxter’s desk and sighed. “And although Trielis says it’s Geiger’s fault, you can’t help but think that it’s actually Jim from Xenobotonay that started….”

“Is there another Jim?” Baxter asked. “Or did Jim from Astrometrics move to Xenobotany?”

“He moved. But another Jim came aboard at the last starbase, and he works in Astrometrics now.”

“But we can’t call him Jim from Astrometrics, because Jim from Astrometrics now works in…”

“Xenobotany.”

“So what do we call him?”

“By his last name, I guess.”

“Ah,” Baxter said. “Any idea what that is?”

Richards shifted in his chair. “I’ll get someone on that immediately.”

“Good,” Baxter said. “Anything else?”

“I’ve been putting this off,” Richards said. “But Starfleet Intelligence reports that an unknown, ‘advanced’ Federation Starship was spotted in the Delathea system, delivering supplies to a planet that had just experienced a catastrophic earthquake.”

“Idlewild?” Baxter asked.

“No confirmation, but then again, it’s Starfleet Intel, so we can’t expect them to be forthcoming.” Richards shrugged. “But I’d say yeah, it’s Ficker.”

“Did they blow him up?”

“Did you miss the part about him helping people?”

“I don’t care. He still needs to be blown up,” Baxter said. “He’s a bad example for losers like us everywhere.”

“Speak for yourself.”

Baxter rubbed his eyes. “Please change the subject, before I smash something.”

“Okay…” Richards glanced down at his padd. “The warp field variance is still a tad off. Quantum shear is causing an unusual amount of stress on the hull plating.”

“Have you talked to Commander Hartley about it?”

“She’s not been very responsive to my messages.”

“Well, let’s get her on top of that,” Baxter said. “We don’t want a hull plate…shearing off, or whatever.”

“It would actually be more like a crumbling effect…”

“Baxter to Hartley.”

No response.

“Baxter to Hartley.”

Still nothing.

Captain Baxter leaned forward, folding his hands on top of his desk. “Baxter to Main Engineering.”

“Main Engineering. Stuart here. Yes, I’m finally in charge. How can I help you?”

“Ensign Stuart?” Baxter asked.

“Yes, sir? Am I finally getting that promotion I’ve been asking about?”

Baxter looked up at Richards, who shook his head. “No. But where’s Commander Hartley? I need to speak with her.”

“She’s…otherwise occupied.”

“Doing what?”

“Didn’t you know?”

Baxter sighed. “I asked for a reason, Ensign. Where’s Hartley?”


“And that’s how a warp field works,” Lt. Commander Hartley said, pointing to the rotating graphic on the screen. “Can anyone tell me how many generators it takes to create a warp field on a galaxy class starship?”

In the back row, Dean Wilcox raised his hand.

“Um, yes, Dean?”

“Yellow?”

“No, but…that was a great guess. Good job.”

“Dean go bathroom now?”

Hartley sighed. “Sure.”

As Dean ducked to the back of the room and into the smaller, child-sized bathroom, she wondered whether it was just a formality that Dean was permitted to pass from one grade to the next. She also wondered what he was doing in the classroom to begin with, but Doctor Wilcox seemed to believe he enjoyed the arts and crafts.

The doors to the classroom suddenly beeped, and Hartley glanced at them. “Come.”

The doors opened to reveal Richards and Baxter.

“What’s going on in here?” Baxter asked.

“Just teaching the tykes about warp core physics, Captain,” Hartley said. “Didn’t your wife tell you? I’m taking over Jean Abernathy’s class for a few days until she wakes up.”

“I’ve been hearing it’ll be more like a few months,” Richards blurted, then glanced back at the shocked children. “Oh. Sorry. Don’t worry about it, your teacher will be fine. Really.”

Baxter glared at Richards, then looked back at Hartley. “Well, while you’re trying to teach warp physics, our actual warp engines are acting all…widgety. They need your tender care.”

“That’s nice of you to say, Captain. But I’ve got a job to do here. These kids need me.”

“No we don’t!” V’xxnvar spoke up.

Hartley turned a deadly glare on the Andorian. “What did you say, Mister?”

V’xxnvar recoiled a bit, and scooted backward in his desk chair. “N-nothing, Commander Hartley.”

“Good. Are you ready to proceed with our lesson?”

The faces around the classroom all looked back appreciatively at Hartley. “Yes, ma’am,” they said in unison.

Baxter looked at Richards, then out at the classroom. He shook his head in disbelief. “Are you…sure this is Abernathy’s class?” he asked softly. “Kelly came home the other day with a black eye…”

Hartley nodded. “Yep. They just needed a firm hand, Captain. I know what I’m doing.”

“Well…fine, then,” Baxter said. “Carry on.”

As Baxter walked out of the classroom, Richards followed him. “Is that it? What are we going to do about the warp engines?”

Baxter shrugged. “You used to be an engineer, right? Deal with it. Those kids obviously respect Hartley a great deal, and they’ve been through a lot this week. Let’s just see how things go.”

“But…I had a date this afternoon,” Richards muttered.

“Really?” Baxter asked. “With who?”

“Nobody you’d know.” He grunted. “Well, I guess I’m off to Engineering!”

“Have fun!” Baxter waved.


“Another Bolian fizz, barkeep, and keep them coming,” Plato said sullenly, leaning against the bar as Mirk turned to the replicator and filled his order.

“That’s your fifth non-alcoholic beverage today,” Mirk said, sliding the glass in front of him. “Anything particular troubling you today, Plato?”

Plato shrugged and sipped his drink, savoring the tickle of the fizz as it made its way down his throat. “I don’t know. I guess what happened to Ms. Abernathy made me think back about going to school, and I got a little depressed.”

“I can understand that. Back on Malox, we didn’t have teachers, or classrooms. We had to teach each other. Actually, our parents weren’t much help either. We ended up building fires on the beach and grilling out a lot. It was a lot of fun.”

“That’s great,” Plato said, “but how does that help me?”

Mirk thought about that. “Guess it doesn’t. But wouldn’t you be bored in Fourth Grade? I mean, hasn’t your intelligence progressed more to a high school level?”

“Collegiate, but yeah,” Plato said. “Still, I feel bad about Ms. Abernathy.”

“Did you actually have her as a teacher? I thought she started like five months after you stopped attending class.”

“I heard good things about her!” Plato said. “And now I want to help.”

“Well, Megan is teaching the class right now. Maybe she could use a teacher’s aide.”

“Yes!” Plato said. “That’s a thought. Glad you suggested it!” Plato looked askance at Mirk. “I mean…um, Megan’s teaching that class? I had no idea. How, er, surprising…”

“Really? I thought it was all over the ship by now. She’s got them whipped right into shape. Well, I don’t think she’s actually whipping them. But I wouldn’t put anything past her…”

“Beer, Mirk, and now!” Hartley called out, stepping into the Constellation Club with a herd of Fourth Graders behind her. “And all the Gorn Ade these kids can stand!”

Plato watched the small children move up to a nearby table. Two of them pulled out a chair for Hartley, another grabbed a napkin and dusted it off, regally gesturing for her to sit.

“Thank you, Schynopticus. You’re a lovely boy for doing that.”

The Corvarian snarffed in response, waving his trunk and moving to sit down.

V’xxnvar and Jermaine flanked her. “Can we get you anything to eat, Mrs. Hartley?”

“Not right now. Just take a seat. Look at a menu. Relax, you’ve done well today, you’ve earned some down time.”

Mirk ducked out from behind the bar and headed over, while Plato watched plaintively from his bar stool.

“Megan, what…what are you doing here with a bunch of fourth graders?”

“Giving them a much-deserved afternoon off,” Hartley said. “They need to get out of that stuffy classroom and enjoy life. Did you know they got in the high-nineties on their WAT?”

“What’s a WAT?”

“Weekly Aptitude Test,” Hartley said, as Kaitlynn stooped to rub her shoulders. “Ouch. Just a little lower. Great, Katilynn. Good stuff. Anyway, Mirkles, the WAT is the best measurement of a child’s performance, and their performance right now is through the roof. Do you know what they were scoring under Abernathy’s watch? Like ten percent LESS than what they’re scoring now.”

“That’s…wonderful. But don’t you think this…” Mirk looked around the club. “Is sort of wrong? I mean…this is a drinking establishment.”

“Don’t mind me, Mirk, I’ll just get my refill!” Plato called out, hopping behind the bar.

Hartley shifted her gaze to him. “You were saying?”

“That’s different! Plato’s like a teenager. These kids are…whatever age fourth graders are!”

“Settle down,” Hartley cooed. “I’m just applying the same management style to these kids that I do to my engineering staff. I ride them hard, then I reward them.”

“That’s your management style? I thought you were only like that with me,” Mirk said, rubbing his chin.

“Stop worrying. I’m in full control of what’s going on here.” Hartley glanced around. “Isn’t that right, Percy. Percy? Wait a minute, where’d that little scamp go?”

“Lost one?” Mirk asked.

“Shush,” Hartley said. “V’xxnvar, Shynopticus, fan out and use your fancy alien senses. Find me my fourth grader!”

“All under control,” Mirk muttered, and headed back to the bar. “Now then, Plato, why don’t we…” He looked around. “Plato?”


Lt. Commander J’hana sat rigidly at her desk, tapping her latest security report into a padd. “Slapped. Yes. Bruised twice. Mangled while attempting escape. Due force, my fhlarz.”

The door to her office beeped, and she looked up in annoyance. “What?”

The doors opened, and Hartley stepped in. “Hi, J’hana,” she said neutrally. “Mind if we chat a bit?”

“I’m very busy,” J’hana growled, and glanced back down at her padd.

“It won’t take long. Just wanted to catch up. You know, on stuff.”

“Yes. Well, I had dinner with Shivar and S’veth last night. They were quite impressed with the way you’re handling their child. V’xxnvar lives in constant fear of you. They didn’t realize a human could be so ruthless.”

“I get that a lot.”

“We’d have discussed the matter more, but then Mishtak began and I had to best them both in battle.” J’hana glanced off in space and thought about that a moment. “It was glorious,” she said flatly, and went back to her padd.

“Glad to hear it,” Hartley said, and sat opposite J’hana. “So…hypothetically speaking…I was wondering what your thoughts were on…well, how would you go about tracking down a small child if they got loose on the ship?”

J’hana glanced up. “Hypothetically?”

“Yes. Totally hypothetically.”

“I suppose I would go to Counselor Peterman and admit to her that I’m the inferior teacher, and return to my post in Engineering immediately.”

“I said it was hypothetical!”

J’hana shifted her padd aside and stared at Hartley. “It’s been my experience that when humans say that, they are always lying.”

Hartley gulped. “Well, I am. I lost one of the kids today. Percy Felker.”

“I see. Have you alerted his parents?”

“No. I was sort of hoping I could find him before I did that.”

“Children of that age don’t wear combadges,” J’hana said, picking up her padd and starting a new report. “Although I’ve suggested to the Captain on more than one occasion that we change that practice. He feels it’s an invasion of privacy.”

“We’ll see if he feels that way when Steffie starts school.”

“Be that as it may, a small child is somewhat difficult to track on a ship this size without some kind of tracking device.”

“Can you do something? Anything?”

“Certainly,” J’hana said. “I will locate your missing child.” She turned in her chair to face Hartley. “If you promise me you’ll go back to Engineering as soon as possible.”

“Why do you care?”

“Commander Richards had to pull a double shift today to cover for you in Engineering, since you were otherwise occupied overseeing the Fourth Grade class.”

“So?”

“So, it required him to cancel his afternoon activities.”

“So?”

J’hana stiffened. “So nothing. Nevermind. I’ll find the child. Just leave me now.”

“Right. Sure thing, J’hana. And thanks!”

“Do not mention it,” J’hana growled.


“She’s a lady…whoa whoa she’s a laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaady…” Plato muttered drunkenly, bringing the whiskey bottle once again to his lips and nursing it as he laid in a bed of azaleas in the rear of the ship’s arboretum.

“Is somebody back there?” a voice called out.

“No!” Plato called back. “Go ‘way!”

A shaded figure emerged from the underbrush, and then another. It was Cadet Natheena Sparks, accompanied by Lt. Howard Sefelt.

Plato quickly scrambled under the bush, turning himself green and forcing several leaves buds to pop out along his back and arms. In all the confusion, and do to the fact that he’d consumed a large amount of alcohol, one of the blooms on his back produced a shiny red high-heeled shoe.

“You just sprouted a shoe, Plato,” Sparks giggled.

Plato sighed and stumbled to his feet, shaking off the transformation and changing his skin back to its normal tone. “Cadet Sparks,” he said, bowing. “How nice to see you here. Mister Sheffield….Slept…Shelf…ooh, I could turn into a shelf!”

“Sefelt,” the Lieutenant said skeptically, backing toward the underbrush.

Sparks looked back at him. “Let me guess. You’re afraid of shapeshifters.”

“We prefer to be called chaingangs,” Plato slurred, and fell to the ground in a fit of laughter. “Chainmail!”

“I’m deathly afraid of Changelings,” Sefelt said. “And public drunkenness. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just wait on the other side of the arboretum.”

“Fine,” Sparks sighed, and watched as Sefelt scuttled off. “Odd fellow.”

“Go ‘way,” Plato said, curling into a ball amid the leaves.

Sparks turned to him and eyed him quizzically. “Do you mind me asking what’s going on with you?”

“No, I don’t mind you asking, and no, I won’t tell!” Plato said, shifting upward and bracing himself, shaking his head dizzily. “Who are you again?”

Sparks shook her head. “What are you doing drinking? Your mom would kill you if she knew!”

“And you’ll never tell!” Plato said, shaking his fist at Sparks. “Right?”

Sparks backed off, holding up her hands. “Hey, this is your business, not mine. Sorry to intrude. Go back to…impersonating a bush, or whatever you’re doing.”

“Wait!” Plato said, standing up uneasily, waving his arms so as not to fall. “Don’t go away so quick. You’re blurring.”

Sparks turned back to face him. “What’s going on, Plato?”

“Oh, you know, Fourth Grade.”

Sparks cocked her head. “What about Fourth Grade?”

“I’m not there anymore. And SHE is.” He rolled his eyes. “Oh how I love her.”

“You’re in love with a Fourth Grader?”

“Not the graders! The teacher!”

“Ms. Abernathy?”

“No. The teacher now!” Plato said, leaning against a tree. “Commander Hartley!”

“Hartley?” Sparks shivered. “Plato, isn’t she sort of…abrasive?”

“I love it.”

“And married?”

“Well, yes. Naturally.”

“And like thirty years older than you?”

“Numbers are just…numbers. Anyway, tomorrow I’m gonna be her teacher’s aide. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m gonna help her teach her class. And then she’ll LOVE me!” Plato fell back to the ground in a fit of giggles.

“C’mon, Plato. You need to sober up. Howie and I were just going for coffee. Why don’t you come with us?”

“I’d just be a sixth wheel. I don’t want to get in the way…”

“Well, suit yours…”

“Could I get hot chocolate?” Plato’s eyes widened.

Sparks smiled. “Sure.” She took Plato’s hand. “Let’s go. Leave the bottle…”

Several minutes later, Counselor Peterman walked through the clearing, tugged by her pomeranians, Boomer and Starbuck, on their evening “walkies.” She nearly tripped on a half-empty bottle of Frenalian whiskey. She stooped and picked it up, studying the label. “Hmm.” She tucked it under her arm. “Waste not, want not, right boys? Now let’s shake loose some poopies!”


“Which is why, Mister and Mrs. Felker, I have asked Percy to stay the night with me. To observe him in his natural habitat.”

“Aren’t his quarters his natural habitat?” Bernice Felker asked, staring uncomfortably at her husband, Hank.

“Yes, well that may be,” Hartley said, shifting positions on the Felker’s unusually comfortable couch. “But I’m really taken by the little lad. And he’s struggling. Which means I think he needs some extra time with teacher. Know what I mean?”

“Aren’t you the ship’s mechanic?” Bernice asked.

“Chief Engineer,” Hartley said, bristling. “Regardless, I”m taking over for Ms. Abernathy while she’s…comatose.”

“I suppose…if you believe it’s best…” Hank said, eying Hartley skeptically.

“Can we at least talk to our boy?” Bernice asked. “Bring him some necessities?”

“Not such a good idea,” Hartley said, standing. “For this to work, we need it to be a clean break. I’m sure you understand.”

“We really don’t,” Bernice said.

“Well, that’s to be expected.” Hartley backed toward the door. “I’ll update you as soon as I feel it’s….appropriate.”

“This is only for one night, right?” Hank asked.

“I hope to God that it is,” Hartley said, and ducked out of the Felkers’ cabin.

“Whew. Glad that’s done. Hartley to J’hana. Tell me you have good news.”

“I do, in fact,” J’hana’s voice came over the comm. “I found Counselor Peterman’s missing marmoset.”

“I MEAN ABOUT THE BOY!” Hartley snapped. A few crewmembers passing in the corridor glared at her, and she glared right back. “Mind your own business, people!”

“Oh,” J’hana said. “No. I haven’t found the child. But I have some promising leads.”

“You’re not interrogating people, are you?”

“Not yet. But I have a list…do you remember if the Captain is susceptible to close contact with open flames?”

“You can’t interrogate people! Nobody can know about this besides you and me!”

“Oh. Well, that makes things a hair more difficult. I’ll get back to you soon.”

“Fine,” Hartley said, and tapped the channel closed. She shook her head in annoyance as she walked down the corridor to return to her quarters and strategize. She stopped momentarily as she passed the window to the Deck Six coffee shop. Within, Cadet Sparks and Lt. Sefelt were having coffee, and Plato was passed out on the table across from them. Not surprisingly, Sefelt was hiding behind an upraised food tray, trembling as he sipped from his cup and cautiously watching the semi- conscious semi-changeling.

When Hartley walked by, Plato glanced up, grinned toothily ,then slammed his head back down on the table.

Sparks waved innocently, forcing a smile. Sefelt dove under the table.

Hartley shrugged and headed back to her cabin.


The classroom doors opened to reveal Jean Abernathy, poring over the padds on her desk. “AHHH!” Hartley shrieked, standing in the doorway.

“Oh, hello!” Abernathy waved, her eyes looking a bit unfocused. “Would you believe it? A coma of all things!”

“I’m…sorry…” Hartley said, although she could have sworn that she told Holly to notify her if there was any change in Abernathy’s condition.

Abernathy stood and embraced Hartley. “Thank you! Thank you so much for looking after my children while I was…away. You’ve done such a great job. Test scores are up, they’re really responding to discipline. I think you have a new career path, young lady. I really mean it!”

“Th…thanks?” Hartley said.

“Now what’s this about Percy Felker being missing? Nope, that won’t go over too well with the parents.”

“I…” Hartley said.

“No matter,” Abernathy said. “You lose some, you lose some. Right?”

“Right?”

“It’s the law of averages. In each class, you can expect to misplace one or two kids. It’s what’s called an ‘acceptable loss.’”

“It is?”

“Sure it is. It’s all part of the ‘A Few Children Left Behind Act’ of twenty-three oh-nine.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Just don’t let the parents find out it was you. Find someone else to blame it on. The Captain. Or that Andorian security chief, or someone. It’s all about liability.”

Hartley shook her head. “No…no, I won’t do that. I need to take responsibility. For… for everything!”

“Can’t help you,” Abernathy said. “Unless…would you be interested in…” She produced a tennis racquet in her hand. “A stern beating?”

Hartley turned and ran, and Abernathy gave chase, smacking her rear incessantly with the racket.


“NO MORE SPANKINGS!” Hartley screamed, waking with a start, at her desk, in her darkened quarters, sending padds clattering to the floor.

She stared at the terminal in front of her, bathed in its glow. She’d been poring over ship’s schematics all evening and must have dozed off.

“I thought you enjoyed the occasional horseplay,” Mirk said, leaning against the door to their bedroom.

“Did I wake you?” Hartley asked, stretching and yawning.

“No. I slept right through the shrieking,” Mirk said with a smile.

“Sorry,” Hartley said weakly, and stood, ambling toward Mirk and leaning her head on his shoulder. “I’ve realized that I need…I need to come clean with the Felkers.”

“I can see how that problem could be wearing on you.” Mirk glanced at the blinking terminal. “Have you had any luck finding the boy?”

Hartley shook her head. “No, but I found Jean Abernathy in my dreams.”

“Did she scold you for losing one of her children?”

“Shut up,” Hartley said. “I saw Plato in the Deck Six coffee shop and he looked drunk off his malleable ass, so don’t try to guilt me!”

“Really? Drunk?” Mirk rubbed his chin. “Oops.”

“Yeah, oops,” Hartley said, running her fingers through her hair and pulling it back into a ponytail. “That’s your problem. My problem is Percy Felker, and I’m about to face it head on.”

“J’hana to Hartley.”

“Wow, what odd timing,” Mirk said to himself.

“Hartley here,” the engineer said warily. “What’s the news?”

“I’ve found your missing child. You’d better get down here.”

“I’m on my way. Where are you?”

“Engineering.”

“Damn it!”


Hartley ran into the engine room, and gasped.

“Pretty buttons,” Percy Felker said, dancing all over the Master Systems Display, tapping out a staccato rhythm on the controls with his feet. “Deuterium controls, plasma levels…antimatter runoff! All fun controls!”

J’hana was waving at the boy with her phaser. “Easy does it now, boy. Don’t make me shoot you.”

“Don’t shoot him!” Hartley snapped, rushing to grab J’hana’s arm.

The Andorian whirled and twisted out of Hartley’s grip. “Do not touch me unless you intend to initiate lovemaking, Commander!”

“Pete’s sake,” Hartley said, scrubbing a hand over her face.

She gestured at the dancing boy with her phaser. “I have no intention of shooting the child, unless he forces me to. Do you not see what he’s doing?”

“He’s just dancing. Harmless, childlike…” Hartley glanced at the readouts that Percy was tapping on. “Wait a sec. He’s trying to overload the warp core!”

“He’s going to blow up the ship,” J’hana said. “Of course, kids will be kids, so…if you like, I can head back to my quarters, get some sleep while you figure out how to stop the tyke from blowing us all to the sixty-nine hells…”

“No!” Hartley said. “I’m sorry, J’hana. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Your engine room, meanwhile, is totally unguarded. Commander Richards told the night crew that they could have the evening off.”

“Ass,” Hartley muttered, and looked to Percy Felker. “Hi there, Perce! Remember me, your teacher?”

“You’re not my teacher! Ms. Abernathy is!”

Hartley bit her lip. “Well, be that as it may, don’t you think you should hop down from there?”

“I’m having fun!”

“Yes. But you’re tapping in a sequence that will blow up the ship. That won’t be fun, will it?”

“Maybe! Explosions are cool.”

“Not if you’re in the middle of them!”

“I know what I’m doing,” Percy said, and Hartley heard the telltale whine of the warpcore powering up. “I tried it once before, dancing on the happy buttons, but you stopped me before I could finish!”

“That…that was you? Abernathy got blown up because of you?” Hartley asked. “All this time, I thought it was my fault…”

“Pathological behavior,” J’hana said. “He should be killed now and save us all a lot of trouble.”

“Shut up, J’hana!” Hartley railed, balling up her fists. She took a breath. “Now, Percy… I know you think that playing around with the pretty buttons is fun, but if you keep up the way you’re going, you’re going to hurt more people. Lots more people. And that’s not fun, is it?”

Percy stopped dancing for a moment, even as electricity crackled around the dilithium chamber and the warp core thrummed louder. “I don’t know. I just thought maybe my parents might come down, you know, and talk with me…if I tried to blow up the ship.”

“Sound logic,” J’hana muttered.

“I see,” Hartley said. “But your parents aren’t here right now. I am.”

“Because you lied to his parents,” J’hana said.

“SHUT UP!” Hartley snapped, and looked back at Percy. “It’s hard when you want someone else’s approval. Because, no matter how hard you work, you may never get it.”

“Really?” Percy asked, looking down at the beeping controls. Green lights were turning yellow, then from yellow to orange, and orange to red.

“Really,” Hartley said, and stepped closer to the master display as alarms wailed throughout Engineering and, incidentally, the rest of the ship. “Now c’mon, buddy. Why don’t we have a late-night ice cream at Mirk’s, and you can tell me all about the reasons why you want to blow up the ship?”

“O-okay,” Percy said, and hopped down from the panel. Hartley ran to the panel and quickly tapped controls, glancing at the warp core as it mercifully powered down.

“There,” J’hana said. “Problem solved. And without resorting to violence. Unfortunately.”

“C’mon,” Hartley said, taking Percy’s hand. “Let’s go get that ice cream.”

“Then you’re going to the brig,” J’hana called after them.


Captain’s Log,

Stardate 58171.4. We’re heading out for a mapping mission of the Pekan Cluster, and all systems are, apparently, normal.

There was, though, some kind of disaster-alarm that sounded through the ship last night. Something about the warp core chamber. I thought I was dreaming, so I turned over and fell back asleep.

Turns out there really was an alarm, but since the ship obviously didn’t blow up, and none of us are dead, I assume everything’s great.


“And so, the town squire returned to the lovely princess and admitted to her that she knew nothing about dragon slaying, and that, in fact, the princess was superior in that regard. So the princess returned to the dragon’s lair, slayed the remaining dragons, and the kingdom lived on in peace and prosperity,” Counselor Peterman said, looking up from the padd and grinning. “Any questions?”

An eraser sailed across the room and slammed into the side of her head.

“Thank you, V’xxnvar. Any OTHER questions?” Peterman muttered, rubbing her head.

“When’s Ms. Abernathy coming back?” Kaitlynn asked.

Peterman sighed. “That’s like the tenth time you’ve asked, Kaitlynn. And the answer is the same. I don’t know. The human brain is a funny thing.”

“What about Mrs. Hartley? Where’s she?”

“She’s…otherwise occupied,” Peterman said. “I’m your teacher for now, until Ms. Abernathy gets back.”

“When’s that gonna be?” Jermaine asked.

“I said I don’t know!” Peterman snapped, and stood up. “How about you all quietly read from your advanced calculus texts, while I go and…stretch my legs.”

Peterman headed toward the classroom door and ducked out. She walked to the opposite bulkhead, and leaned against it, letting out an exasperated breath.

“Those kids giving you trouble?” Hartley asked, strolling by.

“What?” Peterman asked, straightening. “No. Why?”

“You just look…tired.”

“I’m fine,” Peterman said. “But teaching isn’t easy.”

“You’re not kidding,” Hartley said, glancing at the door to the classroom. “It takes a certain kind of person to understand what motivates little kids. They’re like little warp cores. If you’re not careful, they’ll blow up and kill you.”

“Yes,” Peterman said warily. “Perceptive. Anyway, I’m sure the engine room benefits from you being back at work there.”

“Yeah,” Hartley said, cracking her knuckles. “After I broke them of all the bad habits they made in the one day that Richards was running things, they’re a well oiled machine again.”

“That’s a relief to hear,” Peterman said. She suddenly heard a loud thud within the room, then a chorus of screaming children. “Well, that’s my cue. Guess I’ve got to get back.”

“Good luck,” Hartley said, patting Peterman on the back.

Suddenly a voice called out from the other end of the hall. “Yoo hoo! Counselor, Commander! Look who’s back!”

Jean Abernathy, bandaged head and all, scuttled down the corridor, clutching her head wound. “I’m sure I look a sight, but Doctor Wilcox gave me the all-clear, so I’m back at work. I’m sure you’re both thrilled that you can get back to your regular jobs.”

Hartley and Peterman exchanged glances.

“Well…” Peterman began.

“Say no more. I know my kids are a handful. But you’d be surprised how rewarding this job can really be.” She pressed a button on the door, and as it opened, she stepped in. “Thanks again, you two. I’ll take it from here.”

“MS. ABERNATHY!” the classroom called out in unison as Abernathy stepped in, greeted by exaltations and laughter.

Hartley and Peterman looked at each other as the doors closed.

“Showoff,” Peterman said.

“Yeah, what’s so great about her?” Hartley said.

“Want to get a drink?” Peterman suggested.

“Sure.”

“Great. I found something in the arboretum yesterday that should do the trick…”


“I’m a doctor. Furthermore, I’m a nutritionist,” Janice Browning said, pacing in front of the table in Space Tastes as Plato leaned his head into his hands, moaning and sipping from his coffee cup. “And believe me, I’ve overindulged in my time, too. I can tell a hangover when I see one. What were you thinking?”

“Please…stop talking…completely…” Plato moaned.

“Who gave you that stuff anyway?”

“One of the little trolls that’s constructing a skyscraper inside my brain,” Plato groaned, and leaned his head on the table. “Please. Sausage…hashbrowns…pancakes…quickly. Something to soak up this pain.”

“Well, you know I can’t resist cooking for you,” Browning muttered. “But this discussion isn’t over. I’m not going to have my little boy sauntering drunkenly around the ship. If you insist on getting warped, then you’re going to do it in the comfort of your own home. Got it?”

“Yeah, Mom. Got it.”

“What got into you, anyway?” Browning asked as she headed to the kitchen.

“Just…girl stuff,” Plato said, glancing out into the mall corridor as morning shoppers strolled by.

“Figures,” Browning said, softening a bit. “Well, at least you had a good reason. Don’t worry…whoever she is will come around, eventually.”

“Nah,” Plato said, as Browning disappeared into the kitchen. “I’m over her. There’s other girls out there.”

He watched as Cadet Nat Sparks walked down the corridor on the other side of the mall. She saw him through the Space Taste windows and waved, grinning.

“I’m so over her,” Plato said, and smiled, feeling suddenly much better.


THE END.


NEXT:


An epic quest brings together the greatest races in the quadrant for a contest of wit and skill. So why on earth are the Explorer and the Aerostar involved? C’mon, with the word ‘coffee’ in the title you knew Conway wouldn’t miss this story. Or maybe that’s because his name is in it. But if Conway’s getting a chance for fame and glory, you can bet Baxter won’t be far behind…


Tags: vexed