Author: Brendan Chris
Act One: Admission
“It’s OK honey, really,” Counselor Peterman said, rubbing Captain Andy Baxter’s shoulders as he slouched, discouraged, in his chair.
“No it isn’t,” Baxter groaned, “You liked it, you thought it was pretty, and I ruined it. Destroyed it. Vaporized it!”
“Er, yeah,” Peterman admitted, “But it made a really pretty explosion,”
‘It’ had been a small, nearly irrelevant lump of space debris. ‘It’ had also just happened to consist primarily of quartz, and ‘it’ had been shaped just like the head of a large dog. Peterman, excited, had begged Baxter to bring it aboard, saying it would make a great fixture in the Explorer’s arboretum. Sadly, Baxter had misaligned the tractor beam, shattering the rock into million’s of quartz-coloured fragments. The fragments had refracted the beam’s energy into a truly beautiful display.
“Do you really think so?” Baxter asked, lifting his head.
“For sure,” Peterman smile, “In fact, I’d rather have the fireworks than a big dumb rock anyway,”
“Really?” Baxter asked, giving Peterman his own puppy-dog look.
“Really,” Peterman lied.
A few star systems over, Captain David Conway was finishing his day on an equally unpleasant note.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE ‘OUT’??” he demanded.
Crewman Brown cowered behind the counter in The Starlight Lounge-A, the Aerostar-A’s lounge.
“I-I mean you drank the last cup this morning,” she stuttered, falling back against the counter behind the bar, “T-there’s no more!”
It was no secrete that Captain Conway had a minor coffee problem. ‘Minor’ in the same way that the Titanic had suffered a ‘minor’ leak one chilly night and caused a ‘minor’ loss of life. Conway was a man who enjoyed his coffee. He was also a man who responded very badly when the love of his life vanished. Were you thinking of his ex-wife? That’s not what I meant. The one item that Conway could always count on to bring warmth to his day, the one thing that gave him pleasure through Gorn attacks and Dominion plots was his beloved java.
“Oh this is just f**king great!” Conway screamed, “A highly advanced, Prometheus-class starship and you can’t even brew me a cup of coffee!”
“T-the replicator-“ Brown started.
At a nearby table, Lieutenants Gellar and Kamtezen were eating a meal of cold rations. As Gellar noticed Conway’s rising blood pressure, he nudged Kamtezen and nodded in Conway’s direction.
“What a great idea!” Conway was shouting, “Use the replicator!”
“Never mind!” Conway stepped around the bar, Brown darting back to avoid him, “I’ll do it myself, as you’re clearly incapable!”
“Computer!” Conway snapped, “Jamaican-blend, double strong and extra large!”
The replicator hummed and a very large mug of coffee began to materialize on the tray. Before it could fully form, there was a series of strange sounds from deep inside the replicator. Conway didn’t even have time to scream as the half-form mug exploded, coating him with a thick, slimy goop.
“The replicators are broken,” Crewman Brown said softly.
Conway, only his eyes visible beneath the foul smelling slime, only growled as he stormed out of the lounge. Gellar and Kamtezen laughed hysterically.
The morning after, still in a bad mood, Conway stormed onto the bridge of the USS Aerostar-A, his ship, stalked right past the command chair and disappeared into his ready room.
“Captain on the Bridge,” Ensign Saral called, somewhat belatedly, from the Ops panel.
Commander Larkin, first officer, turned to Saral and raised an eyebrow.
“Captain OFF the Bridge,” Larkin added.
“Indeed,” Saral replied dryly.
“Y’know,” Lieutenant Commander Zachary Ford broke in from the helm console, “If you ladies are going to disagree, I think you need to settle things with a mud-wrestling match,” he grinned in a way that he thought was charming, but in reality was straddling the borderline between creepy and pathetic.
“You are a pig,” Larkin said, turning back to her padd.
“Commander,” Saral broke in, “We are receiving a transmission from Starfleet Command,”
“On screen,” Larkin said.
“Um, shouldn’t we route that to the Captain?” Gellar asked from Tactical.
“While it would be amusing for Captain Conway to be berated by an Admiral for his poor manners and attitude this morning, it would not be in the best interest of the ship,” Larkin said coolly.
“Whatever you said,” Gellar shrugged. Saral piped in the transmission.
“Arstr”, Admiral Harlem Baxter grunted from the main screen, shifting a thick cigar from one side of his mouth to another, “Wrs Cnway?”
“The Captain is not available at this time, sir,” Larkin said politely, “However, I am more than ready to-“
“Whatever,” Admiral Baxter cut her off, his speech clearing as he pulled out the cigar and tapped it in an ashtray, “You’re being ordered to sector 172-A. We’ve had a request for Federation representatives from one of the planets there. You’re going to be one of them,”
“Of course, Admiral,” Larkin replied, he android programming answering with perfect politeness, “May I inquire as to the nature of-“
“The Grand Perkulon of the planet Beanus 6 has requested a-“
“BEANUS 6??” Conway exclaimed, running out of his ready room and landing in his command chair, “Yes SIR!” he said happily, throwing Baxter a salute, “We’re on our way!”
“As I was saying,” Admiral Baxter growled, “The Grand Perkulon of Beanus-6 is requesting Federation assistance in locating a historical artifact that has gone missing; the Golden Bean. Whoever finds it will be invited to the planet to tour some fancy thing they have there. Most importantly, if you find this Golden Bean, the Beanians will agree to open negotiations for Federation membership,”
“Uh-huh,” Conway nodded hurriedly, “Find Golden Bean, open negotiations. You can count on us 100 percent, sir!”
“Of course I can,” Admiral Baxter signed, cutting the channel.
“I can’t count on Conway to pull this off,” Admiral Baxter said to his son, Captain Andy Baxter, “There’s no way that moron is going to go into this with an open mind,”
“So you need us to pull his, er, beans out of the fire?” Andy asked with a chuckle.
“Don’t try to be funny, boy!” Admiral Baxter snapped, “It doesn’t work. Truth is this mission is too important for either of you to screw it up. Work together and get the Beanians into the Federation! I don’t care who does it, just get it done!”
Admiral Baxter cut the channel to the USS Explorer and leaned back in his chair, taking another long pull on his cigar.
“The Beanians are going to hate us,” he said quietly.
“Oh, this is just PERFECT!” Andy Baxter exclaimed happily, sitting in his command chair on the Galaxy-class USS Explorer. His first officer, Commander Chris Richards, was seated next to him, drawing a doodle of Matrian scout ship.
“Why’s that?” Richards asked, not really paying attention.
“It’s perfect,” Baxter explained, “because it means that Dad doesn’t trust Conway enough to complete this mission, so he’s got us here ready to cover for him! Conway’s gonna go nuts when he finds out! It’s perfect!”
“Andy,” Counselor Peterman broke in from the seat on Baxter’s other side, “rubbing something like this into his face would be cruel. Who knows what kind of damage you might do to his ego!”
Baxter looked at Peterman blankly for a moment.
“Honey,” he finally said, “it’s CONWAY!”
“Oh, right,” Peterman giggled, “Let’s humiliate him!” She suddenly shook her head, “No! No! I am a professional Starfleet counselor, and it would be wrong of me to do that to a fellow officer,” her face fell into a pout, “no matter how much I may want to,” she finished.
“But,” Baxter started, “Kelley!”
“My mind’s made up!” Peterman said firmly, “We’re going to help Conway, just like the Admiral said. And we’re going to do it with a little dignity for once!”
Crossing his arms, Baxter likewise pouted.
“What the hell are you drawing, anyway?” he snapped at Richards, snatching his doodle-padd away. The ship Richards was drawing was roughly cylindrical, with a triangular point at the bow and 4 warp nacelles at the rear. The aft section was studded with antennas pointing off in every possible direction, giving the ship a broom-like look.
“Some starship tangled with a bunch of these things a year ago,” Richards said, snatching his padd back.
“And you’re drawing them WHY?” Baxter demanded.
“I’ve never seen a race that used so much pink in their ship designs,” Richards shrugged.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58210.4, USS Aerostar,
“We’ve set course for the legendary planet of Beanus 6 where we will be assisting with the recovery of a sacred artifact known as the Golden Bean. Since for no apparent reason most of my staff hasn’t ever heard of the place, I’ve taken it upon myself to have them properly educated,”
“Oh yeah. Our replicators are still offline. Somebody at Starfleet Command really should talk to the company that makes these emergency ration packs two days eating these things and it feels like I’m passing rocks!”
“Why isn’t the Captain giving this briefing anyway?” Lt. Cmdr. Ford asked, lounging in his seat at the conference table with his hands behind his head, “isn’t he the expert on this place?’
“The Captain no doubt feels I would be better suited to the task of briefing you on our destination,” Commander Larkin replied, her android features revealing no trace of the irritation she was feeling.
“Or he’s too busy looking for a fix,” Dr. Lanham, Conway’s ex- wife muttered.
Larkin, Gellar, Ford, Bezra and Lanham had convened for the briefing. Lt. Cmdr. Kamtezen, Chief Engineer, had opted to continue to repair the replicators. The problem wasn’t major; an EPS overload had misaligned the emitter arrays on every replicator on the ship. But until the arrays were realigned, the replicators functioned better as explosive devices than they did as meal service units.
“He won’t have long to wait,” Larkin said, tapping a console. On the far wall, an image of a lush, green planet appeared, ‘This is the planet Beanus 6,”
“Why’d Conway say it was legendary?” Gellar wondered, “I’ve never heard of it,”
“To most, Beanus 6 is a standard M-class planet,” explained Larkin, “It was colonized during the so-called ‘Corporate Expansion’,”
“Sssss?” Bezra hissed, then clacked her mandibles. Larkin chose to interpret the insectiod’s sound as confusion.
“A period in Earth history where large corporations expended substantial resources to locate colony planets suitable to their corporate goals,” Larkin explained, “Primarily as a means of resource exploitation. Also, as they were free to govern these worlds as they saw fit, it was easier for them to impose their slave-like corporate working conditions on the inhabitants,”
“Fun,” Ford commented.
“This, of course, was ended with the formation of the Federation,” Lanham added, sounding bored, “It took decades to sort out the human rights violations committed in some of those places!”
“Beanus 6 was settled by a corporation specializing in the creation of ‘designer coffees’,” Larkin said, “They rejected Federation membership. After the Federation Supreme Court ruled that they, unlike most corporate worlds, were governing in a responsible fashion they were allowed to retain their independence,”
“And?” Bezra asked, “Thisss isss important why?”
“It is important to fully understand a planet prior to arrival,” Larkin reminded her, “It is helpful in avoiding unpleasant misunderstandings,”
“OK, so the Beanians,” Gellar shot Ford a dark look at the latter burst out laughing, “are an independent Earth colony?”
“I doubt they would agree,” Larkin said, “They have been independent for centuries. They are Beanians. However, nobody really knows for sure,”
An image of a ship appeared on the screen. It was obviously a freighter. The complete lack of windows suggested that it was an unmanned freighter.
“The Beanians cut all ties to outside worlds over a century ago,” Larkin said, “Nobody who has attempted to visit the planet has ever returned. All we do know is that they export large quantities of coffee,”
“Coffee?” Ford resumed laughing.
“Indeed,” Larkin raised an eyebrow, “And not just any coffee, but the highest quality coffee found in the entire Federation,” she shrugged, “Or so the database says. Being an android, I have no need for stimulants nor do I have any appreciation of beverages. But by all accounts, Beanian coffee is the best there is,”
She tapped the panel again and a bio-scanner display appeared. Lists of enzymes, proteins and other bio-stuff appeared next to an image of a coffee bean.
Dr. Lanham immediately leaned closer.
“It’s remarkably complex,” she said after a moment, “I don’t even recognize some of those enzyme strings,” she shrugged, “I bet matter replicators have a field day with this one,”
“Indeed,” Larkin said, “It is possible to replicate Beanian coffee, but the quality is generally quite poor,”
“At least now we know why Dave, I mean, Captain Conway was so interested in the place,” Lanham said coolly,”
“Indeed,” Larkin said, “We may be the first outsiders to set foot on the planet in centuries. To enjoy fresh Beanian roast right from the source is the Holy Grail of coffee enthusiasts,”
On the Explorer, a very similar meeting was just wrapping up.
“Who cares?” Baxter asked, swiveling left and right in his chair, “So it’s coffee. I’m more of a tea man, myself-“
“Orange pekoe,” Peterman sighed.
“Why does the Federation care so much about these people?” Baxter went on.
“Lots of people really like coffee,” Janice Browning said thoughtfully, “Or coffee cake, Coffee Crisp, coffee liquor-“
“Sounds like Conway’s kind of place,”
“We’re dropping out of warp,” Ford reported from the helm.
“Take us into standard orbit,” Conway snapped, “Put it on screen! Let’s see it!”
An ordinary looking M-class planet appeared on the screen.
“It does not look legendary to me,” Saral said calmly from Operations, “Sensors show a population of 2 billion, primarily in the equatorial zones. I am picking up extensive agricultural zones,”
“Space facilities?” Larkin inquired.
“A type-4 space station, 4 bulk freighters, 12 light freighters, 36 vessels of runabout size or less-“
“Yeah, whatever,” Conway said, cutting off Saral.
“But sir,” Saral started.
“But nothing,” Conway said firmly, “We’re here to establish relations with these people, not inventory their star fleet!”
“We’re being hailed by a Romulan warbird,” Larkin said calmly.
“WHAT?” Conway straightened, nearly falling out of his chair. Clutching the armrests, he glared at Saral who only raised one eyebrow in an ‘I-tried-to-tell-you’ gesture.
“On screen,” Conway growled.
A female Romulan appeared on the screen, her dark hair cut severely around her pointed ears, a look of calm confidence on her delicate features.
“I’d like to establish ‘diplomatic relations’ with her,” Ford grinned.
“Federations starship,” the Romulan stated, “I am Sub- Commander Zelars of the warbird Sharmin. Your officer is a pig,”
“The universal translater sure hit that one on the mark,” Lanham muttered from the science station.
“Captain Conway of the Federation starship-“ Conway started. Before he could go any further, the screen switched to a split view as a snarling Klingon visage appeared.
“I am Kitan of the Klingon warship K’Ti and I am why are you laughing?” he demanded.
Conway, Ford and even Lanham were trying really hard to get their chuckles under control.
“My apologies Captain Kitten, um, Kitan,” Conway chocked, “I am Captain Conway of the-“
This time the screen broke into a 3 way view as a Cardassian male appeared on the screen.
“Gul Duropens of the Cardassian Guard, 5th Order,” he said.
“Hey Dave,” Baxter smiled cheerfully from the screen as it switched to a 4-way view, “How’s it going?”
“BAXTER!” Conway snapped, “What are you doing here?”
“I was speaking first,” Sub-Commander Zelars said frostily.
“I will not abide your insult to my honour,” snapped Captain Kitan.
“Cardassian interests will be-“
“EVERY BODY SHUT UP!” Conway screamed, “Now listen, I’m Captain Conway of the-“
“Welcome to Beanus 6,” chirped yet another voice as the viewscreen switched to 5-way mode.
“I haven’t been this confused since I went home with members of a 3 gendered species,” Ford commented from the helm.
“Captain, we have more ships dropping out of warp,” Saral reported, “I’m picking up Talarian, Andorian, Tellarite, Benzite, Bolian, Bajoran and Breen vessels,”
“Open a channel to all ships,” Conway seethed, “This is Captain Conway of the Federation Starship Aerostar and by God I am going to finish ONE introduction today!”
“And I am Timothy Sundollar the 2nd, Grand Perkulon of Beanus 6,” announced the chipper looking man in the central section of the screen, “Welcome to our world, may the hunt for the Golden Beans begin!”
“Beans?” Conway asked, “I thought there was only one-“
“Don’t think, it will give you a headache, dear boy,” Timothy said dismissively, “Now, there are 5 Golden Beans hidden somewhere in the surrounding star systems, each one packed in an ordinary bag of house roast Beanian coffee beans. The 5 ships that find the beans will be invited to our Grand Beanery where I shall show you myself what Beanus has to offer. At the end of our tour, one of you will get a special prize: Beanian allegiance to the organization you represent. Now go!”
The screen went blank.
“Huh?” Baxter stuttered, staring at the blank viewscreen.
“We better get going,” Richards said, “the other ships are taking off. If we want some good hunting ground we better pick a course!”
“I dunno!” Baxter whined, “I can’t even beat Steffie at hide and seek!”
“Pick a direction!” Peterman insisted, “You don’t want Conway to beat us, do you?”
“No!” Baxter stood and straightened his uniform top, “Thataway!”
On the Aerostar, Conway snapped instantly into motion.
“Set course 214 mark 4, maximum warp,” he snapped without a moment’s hesitation.
“Course set,” Ford replied from the helm.
“GO!” Conway snarled.
Spinning around, the Aerostar’s four nacelles flashes as she jumped into warp.
“You seem to have a plan, Captain,” Larkin observed.
“I do,” Conway said.
“You’ve put us on course for a sector with several charted spatial anomalies,” Lanham reported, “Some of them dangerous,”
“Nothing new,” Conway muttered with a quick look in his ex- wife’s direction. Louder, “If I wanted to hide something, where better to hide it?”
“Point taken,” Larkin conceded.
“I’m not done yet,” Conway said, “Larkin, you have command of the lower stardrive section. I’m taking the upper stardrive section. Saral, you have command of the saucer.
“We’re separating the ship?” Larkin enquired.
“Damn right,” Conway said, heading for the turbolift, “Triple our chances,”
“I never get command,” Ford whined.
“Next time you get laid, you can have command,” Conway called as the turbolift doors closed.
“At least we don’t have to worry about that happening anytime soon,” Larkin said thoughtfully as she boarded another turbolift.
Multi-vector assault mode, the selling point of the Prometheus- class starship, is an expansion on the emergency saucer separation capability that nearly all Starfleet ships are capable off. Basically, the ship breaks into 3 segments: The arrow-head shaped saucer section and two stardrive sections, each with two warp nacelles. A smaller warp impellor allowed the saucer to sustain a warp field, although once it dropped to sublight speeds it could not reach warp speed without the aid of the stardrive sections.
Crew members were sent flailing for handholds as, with a jolt, couplers and umbilical cables detached from their receptacles. With another jolt, the Aerostar broke into 3 sections, each section veering off in a different direction.
Aboard the Explorer, Baxter was frowning at a planet on the main screen.
“Are you sure there’s coffee down there?” he said.
“I’m picking up ion trails consistent with Beanian freighters,” Science Officer Tilleran reported, “Recent ones, too,”
“Can we determine what part of the planet they visited?” Richards asked.
“I have tracked their landing point!” declared J’Hana from Tactical. Her antennae were standing straight up as she focused on her work, “I will locate the precious bean and give my life to do so!”
“Only if you’re allergic to cats,” stated Tilleran from the science station, “I’m picking up feline life signs. Probably non-sentiant,”
“Then there has to be a Golden Bean on this planet,” Baxter said, “Why else would the Beanians be here?”
“Leaving a false trail,” J’Hana replied at once, “Trying to throw us off the scent! It will do them no good, for the mighty J’Hana is on the-“
“Yeah, yeah,” Baxter waved a hand in her direction, “Get down there, see what you can find,”
“Captain, we’re getting a transmission from the Beanians,” reported Kamtezen. Disdaining the usual control center, Conway had setup his command post for the upper stardrive section in main engineering. Probably, Kamtezen mused, to pressure him to fix the damned replicators faster. Replicators were in fact the furthest thing from Conway’s mind as he contemplated a freshly brewed pot of Beanian medium roast.
“Anything we need to know?” Conway asked.
“The Klingons have found the first Golden Bean,”
“Damn them!” Conway snapped. He tapped furiously at his panel, “Here! Alter course to 219 mark 4!”
“There’s nothing but a gas giant in that star system,” objected a junior officer, filling in at Operations,”
“Look closer,” Conway snapped, “Judging from the orbital paths of the 3 moons in sensor range, there’s a 4th moon on the far side of the planet. The gas giant is parked right in the middle of the stars habitable zone so there’s a good chance that moon is M-class,”
Kamtezen and the other officers looked at Conway in shock. Noticing them, Conway shrugged.
“I’m very motivated right now,” he said.
Gul Duropens grunted as he tore open bag after bag of coffee, pulling them off the shelves of the small coffee shop he was in.
“Please, good sir,” whimpered the store proprietor.
“Bill your damages to the Cardassian Union,” Duropens said curtly, tearing open another bag of Beanian dark roast. Not that the Union was in very good shape these days, but the potential profits realized from Beanian partnership far outweighed the cost of a few bags of coffee.
“Gul! Gul Duropens!” called one of his subordinate, “I have it!”
“Another transmission from the Beanians,” reported Operations Officer Howie Sefelt, “The Cardassians have found the second Golden Bean,”
“Any report from J’Hana?” Baxter asked.
“Nothing yet,” Tilleran reported.
“Maybe she needs a hand,” Baxter mused, “Howie, why don’t you- “
“Allergic to cats, sir,” Sefelt said at once.
“We have shots for that-“
“And coffee gives me a rash,” he added.
Baxter looked at his hypochondriac officer for a moment.
“Oh whatever “
Sub-Commander Zelars walked slowly around a simple wooden chair, on which sat a quivering, terrified humanoid named Furly. There wasn’t so much as a tiny scratch on him, yet he seemed to be in a large amount of pain.
“You know who I am,” Zelars said coolly, “And you know who I represent,”
“Uh-huh,” Furly groaned, flinching a little.
“It’s very simple, really,” Zelars said, warming her voice to a more conversational tone, “You have something I want. Give it to me and I will reward you. Withhold and Sers here will have to hurt you,”
Sers, a 6’4 Romulan with sufficient muscle to give him the appearance of a walking brick, cracked his knuckles.
Eyes flashing between Sers, Zelars and the cadre of Romulans standing near the entrance to the room, Furly held his head over the dish Zelars was holding out and spat out a disgusting mess of blood, saliva, two broken teeth and a small object that glinted with a metallic light.
“Chewing these foul beans,” Zelars shook her head, handing the bowl to a subordinate, “You deserve what you got!”
She turned to another crewmember.
“Find a good orthodontist and see that he is suitably compensated,” she said as she moved out of the room.
“Transmission from the Beanians,” a pale ensign reported, “The Romulans have located the third Golden Bean,”
“Dammit,” Conway snarled, banging one fist against the warp core railing, “That’s only two left!”
“We’ve reached standard orbit of Signadel 4,” the same nameless ensign reported, “Shall I send down an away team?”
“I’ll lead the team myself,” Conway snapped, “Kamtezen, Smith, you’re with me,”
Sighing, Kamtezen followed Smith and Conway out of Engineering and into the corridor.
“If you don’t mind me asking, sir,” he asked, “What makes you think the bean is on this planet?”
“I had Larkin query planetary databases in this sector for any shipments from Beanus that didn’t match their standard delivery size,” Conway said, “That gave me 14 planets. Of those 14, this one,” Conway coloured a little and cleared his throat, “this one just felt right,”
“Use the Coffee Force, Luke!” Ensign Smith cried out, laughing.
“Shut up!” Conway snapped.
They materialized outside a large structure. Although the front and rear were flat the sides had several curves protruding from them.
“Standard storage facility,” Conway said, walking towards the entrance.
“And we’re here why?” Smith asked.
“I don’t think I like you,” Conway decided, “Nameless extras shouldn’t talk so much,”
“I have a name,” Smith objected.
“This wasn’t in my contract!” Conway said loudly, shoulders slumped and arms crossed, “Now either shut this kid up or I’m out of here!”
Look, Conway, he may be obnoxious, but how else am I going to give you the chance to explain the brilliance of your plan?
Conway considered for a moment.
“Good point,” he conceded, turning back to the building.
“All right, smart-ass,” he said to Smith, “This is where the Beanians drop off roasted beans in bulk. The building over there-“ Conway gestured to a smaller building, “Is where they’re bagged and labeled for distribution across the planet. We did a tight-focus sensor sweep of this building, and it looks like there’s a foreign object in one of the storage bins, but we couldn’t narrow it down any. So we’re investigating,”
“Brilliant, sir,” Smith said.
“Damn right,” Conway growled, opening the door and marching up to the security desk.
“I’m Captain David Conway of the-“
“Go right in,” the guard said in a bored voice, gesturing to a large set of double doors that led further into the building.
“I just can’t seem to finish an introduction today,” Conway mused as he led his team through the doors.
After climbing a ladder to an overhead catwalk, Conway led his team down a walkway between the storage bins. Open hatches revealed the bins to be filled to the brim with coffee beans.
“Breathtaking,” Conway breathed as he walked down the walkway.
Tapping at a tricorder, Kamtezen leaned close to one of the hatches.
“Careful,” Conway snapped, pulling him back, “You don’t want to fall in!”
“It’s just coffee,” Kamtezen shrugged,
Conway flinched like he’d been slapped.
“If you fall in,” he snapped, “You’ll drown. Coffee, grain, whatever. You step into a bin this size you’ll sink right to the bottom,”
“But it’s just coffee!” Smith objected.
“Wanna try it?” Conway snapped.
Smith shut up.
Conway moved from bin to bin, stopping for a moment at each one. About halfway down the row he stopped. Reaching into one bin he pulled out a handful of beans, held them to his nose and sniffed.
And sniffed again.
“If you don’t hear from me in two minutes,” he said, “Call for beam out,”
And with that he dove into the bin.
He sank slowly, but sink he did until he was completely out of sight.
“Captain!” Kamtezen cried. Smith snickered into his hand.
“Conway to Kamtezen,” Kamtezen’s badge chirped, “C’mon in, the water’s fine,”
Less then a foot under the surface of the bean bin, Kamtezen abruptly dropped through several feet of open space onto a cool, flat floor. Catching his breath he looked around, finding Conway standing by a small pedestal on which sat a single bag of Beanian House Blend. Sidestepping Ensign Smith as he dropped from the coffee-bean ceiling to the floor, Kamtezen stood next to Conway.
“Holographic,” he said, “How did you know?”
“The smell,” Conway replied, “No matter how good your holodeck matter-replication system is, it just can’t handle Beanian coffee,” Fishing around in the bag, he pulled out a small object that glinted in the dim light.
The fourth Golden Bean.
“I’ll just take this with me,” he muttered, dropping the bag of Beanian beans into his pocket.
The three segments of the USS Aerostar rendezvoused near the outskirts of the Beanian system. Moving on carefully programmed courses the three segments matched orientation and velocity before slowly coming together to dock.
“Congratulations, Captain,” Larkin said.
“Thank you, thank you,” Conway said, settling into his chair, “It looks like we’ll be the Federation Envoy to Beanus after all!”
“Incoming transmission from Beanus,” Seral reported.
Timothy Sundollar the 2nd appeared on the main viewscreen.
“Congratulations contest winners!” he said, clapping his hands together, “Congratulations on your wit, your skill and your determination! And now for your instructions: At exactly 0900 hours tomorrow morning you and two crewmembers of your choice will come to the entrance to our Grand Coffee Beanery. I will be there to greet you myself and will be more than happy to show you the pride of our planet. At the end of the day Beanus will declare its allegiance to one of your governments. I look forward to meeting each of you. Again, congratulations!”
The screen went blank.
“Larkin,” Conway said, “I want a shuttle ready to go for tomorrow morning. You, Ford and I will go down to the planet’s surface,”
“Are you sure including Mr. Ford is a good idea?” Larkin asked quietly, “We are, after all, trying to make a good impression,”
“I’m sure,” Conway said firmly, “With him around, I’ll make a great impression. Y’know,” he shrugged, “By comparison,”
“What are you two talking about back there?” Ford asked loudly from the helm.
“Nothing,” Larkin and Conway replied innocently.
“Anyway,” Conway said, stretching, “I’m heading off-duty. The bridge is yours, Commander,”
“Acknowledged,” Larkin replied as Conway stepped onto the turbolift.
“You did not inform the Captain of the Beanians’ other transmission,” Seral said from Ops, referring to the transmission announcing the finder of the fifth Golden Bean.
“No,” Larkin agreed, “Though I am an android, I do have emotions and so must do what feels good sometimes,”
“See?” Baxter said, “I knew we could do it!
He smiled at J’Hana as he delivered his little victory speech, “Now, I know my limitations: I’m not a perfect strategist and I can’t determine the molecular composition of a substance without reading an operations manual, but part of being a good captain and a good leader is knowing what your people are capable of. And in this case, I hit it right on the mark!”
J’Hana said nothing.
“So, um, yeah. Thank you so much for your effort, J’Hana,” he plucked the small, shiny bean from her limp hand and winced, wiping blue blood onto the bio-bed.
“I really don’t think she can hear you,” Richards said as he surveyed the scratches, bites and gashes covering the Andorian security officer. There was something strange, almost wrong about seeing her lying so still and quiet, with only the rise and fall of her chest showing that she was still alive. Of course, on the other hand, he’d spent more than his share of time in Sickbay, thanks to J’Hana’s unique skills. At least this way he was safe for a while.
He also wouldn’t be getting any action, he realized. The realization that he couldn’t decide whether he was relieved or disappointed was just starting to really worry him when Baxter cut him out of his reverie.
“Dr. Wilcox here say’s she’s going to be fine,” Baxter assured her, “Besides, she had a great time. See? She’s smiling!”
Richards was pretty sure the goofy grin on J’Hana’s face had more to do with the drugs being pumped into her rather than anything Baxter had said, but had to admit Baxter was right. J’Hana probably found the battle with the feline aliens to be the highlight of the mission.
Act Two: Entry
Conway was on top of the world.
A state that, considering he was in the shuttlecraft Taurus high above the planet Beanus 6, was probably more accurate than the original creator of the expression would have expected.
Looking out the port window, Conway could see another shuttle descending towards the planet. This one didn’t have the same clean lines as the Tarus did. The colour was a shade of brown best described as ‘dirty rust’ and the shape was akin to a flying brick. The Klingon delegation was on the way.
Out the starboard window a tan Cardassian craft was likewise descending, the Beanians having refused to the lower the planetary shields preventing anybody from beaming to or from the capitol city.
Taking a sip of fresh Beanian coffee, Conway signed in contentment. Taking that bag of beans back to the Aerostar had sure been the right thing to do. He could taste the delicate flavours, so perfectly balanced, which made Beanian coffee famous. He hadn’t even considered adding cream or sugar; such a thing would be a violation of the highest order.
“Ahem,” Commander Larkin cleared her throat politely.
“Huh?” Conway started, pulled out of his reverie.
“I said,” Larkin repeated, “We are approaching the Grand Coffee Beanery,”
Setting his travel mug carefully aside, Conway looked out the front window.
They were flying over the sprawling Beanian capitol, a city with a population of 8 million, according the brochure that had been sent up along with their winning instructions. Larkin brought them down near the edge of the city, merging smoothly with the city’s hover-traffic.
“You know,” Ford said, “We could have flown right to the Beanery. What’s the point in fighting local traffic the whole way there?”
“This is why I am piloting this morning,” Larkin replied crisply, “By observing local customs and minimizing the impact of our presence, we could be contributing greatly to the Beanians’ first impression of us,”
“Some impression that’ll be if we show up late,” Ford grumbled.
“I have analyzed Beanian traffic patters,” Larkin told him, “We will arrive precisely 7.89 minutes early, which is the average preferred arrival time for planets with predominantly human populations-“
“There it is,” Conway said in awe.
Standing above the rest of the city was a broad plateau, upon which was a huge structure. The central building had a somewhat utilitarian look, being constructed of brick. Soaring windows ran along one side while another had massive stacks belching white clouds into the sky. Conway couldn’t count how many smaller buildings were attached to this one grand structure, but he thought there were a hell of a lot of them.
“The emissions appear to be steam,” Larkin read from her display panel, “I’m picking up traces of organic matter, probably coffee residue-“
“Larkin,” Conway said softly, “Just shut up and look at it “
Larkin moved the shuttle carefully, avoiding the dozens of Beanian craft that flew into, out of and around the Beanery.
As they watched a small freight hauler flew into an opening on one side of the building while another flew out the other side. Both craft moved sluggishly, as though bearing great weights.
Larkin suddenly pulled the Taurus into a rough dive, sending Ford scrambling for handhelds while Conway gripped his precious mug of coffee, falling to the deck and fighting to keep the mug from spilling.
“What the-“ Conway started, catching the glimpse of a Starfleet runabout through the side windows.
“We have been the victim of a flyby,” Larkin said calmly, “They missed us by 4.67 meters,”
“What the hell is Baxter doing here?” Conway snapped, watching as the runabout came to a gentle landing near the Beanery gates.
“Baxter and the crew of the Explorer found the 5th Golden Bean,” Larkin said, her small smile visible to nobody.
Conway’s reply was not recorded.
Once they had landed, Conway marched over to where Baxter was standing with Richards and Peterman.
“I don’t want you here,” Conway said simply.
“Aw, c’mon Dave,” Baxter smiled, “It’s been so long since we’ve had a chance to work together! We’ve been looking forward to this,”
Peterman and Richards smiled innocently.
“This is MY mission, Baxter!” Conway said firmly, “Don’t get in my way!”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Baxter shot back, “We’ll just sit back and be ready to pick up the pieces once you’re finished making an ass of yourself,”
“We’ll see who’s picking up the pieces!” Conway snapped.
Standing nearby, Captain Kitan and Gul Deropens, flanked by their respective crewmembers, exchanged a look.
“Humans,” Kitan grunted, “Why does one not simply tear the other’s head off?” His First Officer, Commander Kub, nodded his agreement.
“Perhaps they are engaged in an intricate power struggle,” suggested Duropens, “A carefully laid out plan in which one will emerge the victor and the other a humiliated hulk,”
Sub-Commander Zelars ignored the others, focusing instead on the Beanery. This close, the building was even more impressive. Rather than wasting her time with cross-species competition she was more concerned with her real interest on this mission, the Beanians.
The brick construction of the Beanery betrayed the colonial nature of Beanus. After all, brick was easy to obtain, easy to work with and always readily available. Most likely, she decided, the Beanery had been constructed in the early days of the Beanus 6 colony, before Beanian coffee had come into such high demand. This was confirmed when she noted the glass and duranium construction of some of the surrounding buildings. Clearly, the Beanery had been expanded several times. Tapping her scanner, she determined the newest buildings to be only 1 year old, while the Beanery’s main building was closer to 200. The obvious separation of the Beanery complex (parking it on a plateau) from the rest of the city spoke of the importance the Beanery held to the inhabitants of Beanus.
Pleased by her analysis, Zelars immediately began thinking of ways to use her knowledge to her own advantage.
Now, she noted, the other contingents had huddled into their own groups, tapping at scanners and whispering observations. Several steps behind her, of course. Zelars gave a small smile. Her subordinates took up positions to either side of her and the three of them proceeded to wait patiently for their hosts.
“Arrogant jerk,” Peterman grumbled, watching as Conway sipped from his travel mug as Larkin tapped at her tricorder, “Can’t be bothered to do any of the work for himself, just goes walking right in, so sure he knows what he’s doing when he SO clearly doesn’t!”
“Almost finished those scans?” Baxter asked Ricards. Both of them were starting to sweat in the near-tropical heat.
“Yeah,” Richards said, “Looks like-“
“Just give the really important stuff,” Baxter interrupted.
“This building has been here for a very long time, and I don’t know what’s inside,”
“Good enough,” Baxter shrugged.
Her scans finished, Larkin turned to regard the team from the Explorer. Richards turned to chuckle at something Baxter had said, bringing a pang of loneliness from Larkin’s emotion program. She took several steps in Richards’ direction, ignoring the dirty look from Conway.
“Father,” she said, “I hope you are well,”
“Kirsten!” Richards grinned, pulling the reluctant android into a hug, “I was hoping I’d get a chance to see you!”
“I as well,” Larkin replied, “It is unfortunate that this direct competition will prevent us from socializing further,”
Richards’ face fell.
“Well,” he said, “It’s not like your consorting w-“
“Larkin!” Conway snapped, “Get back here! Quit consorting with the enemy!”
Richards crossed his arms and glared back at Conway.
“Not now, Chris,” Baxter cut in, “We’re trying to make a good impression,”
“The Captain is correct, Father,” Larkin said, turning to return to her own group, “I look forward to our next reunion,”
“Bye,” Richards mumbled, giving a weak wave.
“Is it time yet?” Conway asked.
“It will be the time indicated by the Beanians at the sound of the tone,” Larkin replied. She paused for a moment, then released an electronic sounding ‘beep’.
“Her boyfriend’s never gonna need an alarm clock,” Ford chuckled.
There was a sound of heavy mechanical gears shifting into place, then the huge front doors of the beanery started to slide open.
The 15 visitors watched in awe as the doors opened. Sub- Commander Zelars and her two crewmen, Sars and Feduc. Captain Kitan and his crewmen, Kub and K’Chek. Gul Duropens and his crewmen, Gan Koyle and Glinn Terd. Conway, Larking and Ford. Baxter, Peterman and Richards.
“Lots of people here,” Ford mused, “That Klingon chick is sure worth looking at,”
K’Chek’s head snapped around, glaring at Ford. Ford gave her a wink and a smile. K’Check let out a decidedly unfriendly growl and shifted to give Ford a better view of the very sharp d’k tagh knife.
“She likes it rough,” Ford smirked, blowing her a kiss.
K’Chek smiled back, pointing first to her knife, then to Ford’s crotch. Ford immediately looked away and paled.
“A little too rough?” Larkin inquired.
Conway, ignoring them, was fixated by the open doors. He couldn’t make out what was inside, the lighting was all wrong. But he could see Timothy Sundollar the 2nd as he made his way down the steps.
Sundollar was a small man, dressed in a carefully tailored suit of deep black. He wore no hat, but held a cane that looked like an oversized replica of a cinnamon stick. A Golden Bean was pinned to his lapel and a beaming smile was plastered on his face.
“Ladies and gentleman,” he said, the stopped. Looked around. Smiled again.
“Do we have any trans-gendered species here?” he asked, the smile fading, “Species with more than 2 genders perhaps?” he looked closely at the Cardassians.
“No,” Gul Duropens said firmly.
“Oh,” the smile returned, “Good. Ahem. Ladies and Gentleman! The High Council of Baristas extends its warmest greetings. As their representative, and the representative of the Beanian people, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Grand Coffee Beanery! Please, follow me!”
“The Beanery was constructed over 200 years ago by the second generation of colonists,” Sundollar said loudly as he led the group up the steps, “Shortly after it was discovered that Beanus 6 was particularly well- suited to the growing of coffee beans,”
“And you of course expanded on your original construct as the need arose,” Sub-Commander Zelars said, nodding in understanding.
“Mr. Sundollar,” Conway cut in, “On behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I’d like to thank you for your invitation-“
“And over here,” Sundollar went on, “Is our Grand Coffee Beanery Coat-check. Please leave your coats, hats and any and all weapons or scanning equipment here,”
“Your invitation to visit your world,” Conway finished weakly.
Sundollar pretended he hadn’t spoken and simply looked on expectantly at the crowd of visitors.
None of them had coats or hats, on account of the warm weather, but they reluctantly set their tricorders, scanners and sensor units down on the shelf. The Klingon delegation also added several ceremonial blades to the pile.
“Thank you,” Sundollar replied. There was a hiss of hydraulics as a heavy steel press came down, crushing the delegates equipment with a crunch of crumpled metal and several sparks. The press lifted back to reveal several flat chunks of metal.
“You p’tak!” Kitan snarled, “What foolishness is this? That was my d’k tagh!”
“Our operation is quite confidential,” Sundollar said with an uneasy smile, backing away from the furious Klingon, “We really can’t permit any recordings or sensor readings to be taken from this location, nor can we allow weapons of violence,”
“I will not forget this!” Kitan growled.
“You could have just asked,” Baxter said
“Yes,” Sundollar smiled, “I could have,”
He led them down a broad hallway that was as quiet as it was large. The floor was a dark hardwood that gleamed with generations of careful polishing. The wall paneling was plain, the support struts functional rather than ostentatious. The overall effect though was one of stately dignity, as opposed to pointless luxury.
Conway sipped from his travel mug, sighing in pleasure.
“Beanian Medium Roast,” Timonthy Sundollar said pleasantly, “Southern province, harvested this past season,”
Larkin raised an eyebrow.
“Fascinating,” she said, “Sir, may I ask, do all Beaniuns share your enhanced sense of smell?”
“Hmmm?” Sundollar looked around, “Did I hear a car? Anyway,” he turned back to Conway, “Always a pleasure to meet a pleased customer. I do suggest though that you take a deep breath. You may find our first stop a bit overwhelming,”
They approached a wooden door, one of those doors with the tall glass window in the center. This particular window though was frosted, blocking anybody from seeing what was inside.
“Mr. Sundollar,” Captain Kitan said, “What is the point of this?”
“The point?” Sundollar smiled politely.
“Why are we examining this place?” Kitan said, “Should we not be checking the defensive capabilities? Surely such a successful manufacturing plant is the target of,” he threw a pointed look towards the Cardassians, “industrial espionage?”
Sundollar said nothing, merely pushed open the door.
“Welcome,” he said, “to the Café,”
Conway felt his jaw drop as he took in the site of the room, the huge room, filled with coffee of every conceivable kind. Small fields of coffee lined the wall near the windows, the plump red cherries almost ready for picking. A dark stream meandered through the room, from an odd contraption at one end to a dark tunnel at the other, crossed by several bridges of what looked like braided coffee vines. A light conveyor belt ran up to the ceiling where a roasting oven had been setup; a crystal ceiling amplifying the incoming sunlight and producing temperatures perfect for roasting the beans.
“Of course,” Sundollar was saying, “we have beans brought into the Beanery from all over Beanus. But here is where we grow and roast specialty flavours for our Elite line of beans,”
“I didn’t know there was an Elite line,” Conway said breathlessly.
“Then you’re not an elite, I suppose,” Sundollar mused.
A sudden hiss drew everybody’s attention to the other end of the Café where a huge, ornate filter was being filled with a literal downpour of ground coffee. A spout jerked into place and released a spray of steaming, boiling water. After a few moments a flow of coffee, dark as volcanic glass, poured out the bottom and into the stream running through the room, disappearing into a tunnel at the far end.
“I want to go swimming,” Conway said softly.
“You would be horribly scalded,” Larkin reminded him, “Likely disfigured beyond recognition,”
“I don’t care,” Conway replied.
“What is the purpose of this device?” Duropens asked.
“The river of coffee?” Sundollar asked, “Why, this is where we produce our pre-bottled coffee products. Chilled cappuchino, lattes, mochachino and so forth. Further down the stream,” he gestured, “different flavourings are added and allowed to cool at a carefully calculated rate for optimal flavour balance,”
“I lost my d’k tagh for a dirty puddle?” K’tan grumbled, “how dishonorable,”
“What-“ Sub-Commander Zelars started, then quickly cut herself off.
“Yes?” Sundollar said, smiling, “Please, my lady, if there is any question to wish to ask then my all means do so! I,” he bowed gently, “am here to serve!”
“It was nothing,” Zelars said firmly.
In truth, she wasn’t sure exactly what she had seen. Except she was sure she didn’t like it.
Sundollar let them spend some time exploring the Café. Duropens and his crewmen tried to engage him in conversation, but his non- committal replies quickly drove them to join the rest in their wanderings. Kitan, still upset over the loss of his weapon, growled as the moved quickly past the Arabic beans growing in the Elite gardens. Baxter crossed his arms, looking bored. After a few minutes of looking around, he pulled Peterman in a copse of coconut trees. Conway, wondering where he could find the coconut-flavored Beanian lattes continued to move from place to place, gazing lovingly at his surroundings.
Sub-Commander Zelars and her crewmen moved through a patch of what was labeled as Jamaican coffee plants. Without pausing, Zelars snatched a single coffee cherry from the plant and continued on her way.
As she passed by one of the tall windows, she barely paid attention to the ornate vines growing up the wall. Until, at least, one of them reached out to grab her.
Conway and his party leapt to their feet, abandoning the cozy patch of meadow they’d claimed. Baxter and Peterman emerged, Baxter whipping lipstick from his face. Duropens and Kitan looked non- chalantly over to where Sub-Commander Zelars dangled by her ankles.
“What’s happening?” Baxter demanded.
“That would be our anti-espionage system,” Sundollar replied.
Before he could say anything else, Conway became aware of music slowly increasing in volume. Everybody gasped as nearly two dozen tiny men emerged seemingly from nowhere.
“What are THOSE?” Conway asked.
“Those?” Sundollar asked, “Why, those are the Venti-Lentis. Cruel joke, I know. But they work here in the Beanery,”
“What are they doing?” Peterman asked.
“Well,” Sundollar cleared his throat, looking embarrassed, “They’re big on musical theatre, if you get my meaning “
The Venti-Lentis arranged themselves around Zelars’ dangling form and raised their voices in song
Zelars, Zelars, the Romulan, Was playing where she should not have been, And now she dangles, come and look! She’s like a worm hanging from a hook!
What has she done? What was her crime? Why must these songs so often rhyme? You may think we’re being cruel, But spying here is never cool.
As the little men sang, the vines shook Zelars like a rag doll until a small red cherry dropped from her pocket. Once it fell free, the vines pulled back, pulling Zelars out of sight into the walls.
You see, you see! We’ve caught the thief! But rest assured, justice shall be brief. She won’t be harmed, she won’t be hurt, She won’t end her life buried in the dirt.
‘So what?’ you ask, ‘So what?’ you shout!
There was the muted sound of screaming as, outside of the windows, a figure could be seen skidding across the ground.
She shall be firmly booted out!
Baxter and Conway looked at each other as Captain Kitan crossed his arms. “Musicals are DISGUSTING!” he snarled.
After rounding up the Cardassians, Sundollar led the group to a boat floating serenely on the aromatic river. “Best way to get a look at the place,” Sundollar said, “Everything we make here needs coffee flavouring,” he looked seriously at Conway, “Even the coffee!” “Um, right,” Conway said, taking a seat. Taking a sip from his mug, he realized it was empty. “Aw, f**k,” he mumbled. Next to him, Larkin stiffened. “Captain Conway!” she whispered, “This is a high-profile diplomatic mission! Such language is-“ “I’m out of Beanian coffee!” Conway complained, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get this-“ Sundollar plucked Conway’s mug from his hand, dipped it in the stream and handed the steaming brew back to him. Conway looked blankly at Sundollar, Larkin and then back at the mug. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “Anybody else?” he offered. “I’ll have some,” Ford said. Peterman and Richards accepted as well. “I’m more of a tea guy,” Baxter said. Duropens and Kitan accepted warily, though their crewmen refused. “Quite good,” Gul Duropens said, though from the look on his face he looked to be on the verge of gagging. “This coffee,” Kitan said, glancing at Conway “while flavourful, is weak,” “We have considered adding a Raktagino line,” Sundollar said. “The Empire would enjoy that,” Kitan said diplomatically. He did not finish his coffee. As they spoke, the boat slipped into the tunnel, the coffee picking up speed as it was channeled into the beanery. Up ahead, Conway could see several tunnels branching off. “Cappuccino, Mocha, Latte or Classic?” Sundollar asked. “Classic,” Conway replied at once. “Any other takers?” Duropens and Kitan said nothing, glaring at Conway. Sundollar steered the boat into the largest tunnel.
“Our next stop is the Grinding Facility,” Sundollar announced. “I thought you did your grinding in the Café,” Conway said. “For the Elite line,” Sundollar said, “But we have huge amounts of coffee to process,” They left the boat moored in the river and stepped into the Grinding Room. “By Khaless,” Kitan breathed. Dozens of clear columns stretched from floor to ceiling. Halfway up each tube was a pair of jagged blades, each the length of a humanoid forearm and spinning at incredible speeds. Bursts of deep brown shot up from the floor, catching in the blades long enough to be pulverized before being whisked away out of sight. Kitan moved right up to the nearest tube, pressing his eyes against the clear surface like a kid looking in the window of a candy store. As he watched, the blades pulverized another batch of beans to a find powder. “The blades are magnificent,” Kitan breathed. His gaze hardened as he stalked balk to Sundollar, “I must have one!” Sundollar looked blankly at the huge Klingon. “No,” he said. “You destroyed my d’k tagh!” Kitan snarled, “I believe compensation is in order!” “Is it?” Sundollar asked, “I do believe our instructions included a ‘no weapons’ request,” “A d’k tagh is not a weapon!” Kitan replied, “It is a ceremonial-“ “It is a very sharp blade used to cut people,” Duropens cut in scornfully, “Personally,” he turned to Sundollar, “I think you were perfectly justified in-“ “What a suck-up!” Baxter snickered. Kitan stalked over to one of the tubes. Slapping a button, he brought the spinning blades to a halt. “Sir,” Sundollar was worried, “I really must insist that you-“ “Argh!” Kitan snarled, sending Sundollar jumping back half a step. Not knowing what else to do, Kitan’s crewmen moved uneasily towards their Captain. Kitan pried open a hatch just above the blades and started to reach in. Before he could get one though, there was a tremendous burst of suction, pulling Kitan into the bean grinding tube where he skyrocketed out of sight. “Oh dear,” Sundollar sighed, “I knew that was going to happen,” “Um, is he going to be OK?” Peterman asked. “Oh yes,” Sundollar waved away her concerns, “We’ll just have to go send somebody to the bagging department to find him. I do hope he likes the aroma of freshly ground coffee,” Conway took one step towards the tube before Larkin pulled him back. “Oh, look!” Peterman said, “The adorable little men are going to sing again!”
Klingon see! Klingon do! Don’t let him make a fool of you, Kitan you see, was made a-jade, Because we took away his blade.
We tried to warn, we tried to aid, But in his heart his choice was made. All for a knife, an object shiny, (Though all day he’s been quite whiney)
And now we’ll find him, deep within, A pile of grounds to bury his sin.
Before he smelled, before he stank,
Like the lowliest, ugliest skank,
But now we’ll find his new aroma,
Smells like a sweet cup of coffee!
“Sometimes their rhyming isn’t all that great,” Sundollar said apologetically.
“Why we haven’t conquered humanity by now is really quite beyond me,” Duropens said sadly.
As Sundollar led them to the next section of the factory, the Federation officers dropped back to speak quietly among themselves.
“Clearly,” Larkin said, “The Beanians are attempting to put us into positions where our baser instincts will push us to show ourselves in a negative light,”
“You know Larkin,” Baxter said, “Just because we don’t have your artificial intellect doesn’t mean we can’t figure SOME things out by ourselves,”
“My apologies, Captain Baxter,” Larkin said, “In the future I will withhold my helpful advice,”
“Er, could you not?” Ford asked, “I mean, not that I don’t have faith in Captain Conway, splendid leader that he is,” Baxter rolled his eyes at this while Ford continued, “But I’m pretty sure we’d be dead by now without the helpful advice,’
“Ignore him,” Peterman said, “He’s a little cranky,”
“Has anybody noticed how artistic this place is?” Richards commented.
“Hmm?” Conway asked absently, sipping his coffee.
“The way they do things,” Richards went on, “I mean, why have big fancy vacuum driven tubes for grinding coffee? Or a coffee river. Or, for that matter, why have this huge beanery? Wouldn’t it make sense to have several smaller processing plants around the planet?”
“Interesting observation,” Larkin replied, “Indeed, crippling this facility would cripple the entire Beanian economy,”
“Who cares?” Conway asked, “I mean, it’s their planet, right? Who cares what they do?”
“He’s got a point,” Ford said.
“Suckup,” Peterman and Baxter muttered.
“Come, ladies and gentlemen!” Sundollar called, “There really is so much to see. Our next stop, for example, is our Chocolate Facility.
“Chocolate?” Peterman asked, “Um, isn’t that part of some copyrighted movie?”
“I suppose,” Sundollar shrugged, “But we’re mixing it with coffee. We’ve created some fantastic coffee creations using chocolate!”
“Mocha,” Conway said at once, “Coffee Crisp. Not to mention about a hundred varieties of frozen, blended coffee beverages,”
“Very correct, Mr. Conway!” Sundollar’s grin froze for a moment, then he looked around.
“Weren’t there more of you before?” he asked.
“My first officer is missing!” Gul Duropens exclaimed, “Where could he be? He must have, er, gotten lost,”
Conway immediately was at Sundollar’s side.
“Don’t trust him,” Conway said, “He probably overheard us talking about how the Beanery is the center of your economy. He sent his goon to sabotage something!”
“Is this true, Gul?” Sundollar asked.
“Of course not,” Duropens said, “I’m sure he’s just, um, in the men’s room,”
“C’mon,” Baxter said, pulling Richard’s along with him, “Mr. Sundollar, where’s your power source?”
“Hmm? Sundollar asked, “Well, I do have this delightful power tie-“
“He meant for the Beanery!” Richard’s exclaimed, “Can’t you see it’s your weak point?”
“As Federation representatives,” Baxter said, “It’s our duty to protect you from people who might harm you, like him!” he pointed at Duropens, then shrugged, “Or something like that,”
“I suppose,” Sundollar shrugged, “The power supply is in Jamaica sector, room 1-G. I can have a Venti-Lenti take you there,”
“Captain,” Larkin said to Conway as a small Venti-Lenti led Baxter, Peterman and Richards away, “Do you not think we should go with them?”
“Naw,” Conway replied, “Sundollar doesn’t look worried. Besides, I bet they already have their own security in place,”
“Anyway,” Sundollar said, turning back to the double doors, “The Chocolate Facility!”
The room, of course, was as splendid as any other. Vast quantities of chocolate poured through what looked like miniature waterslides and into mixing tubs where coffee was added.
“The coffee,” Sundollar said, “Comes from the river, of course. Here,” he tapped a mixing barrel, “we’re pre-bottling Beanian Mocha Mix Blended Coffee. It’s quite delicious,”
Conway noticed that several Venti-Lentis had gathered in the room. As he watched, the drum beat began again.
“Um,” he looked around, “What’s up? Nobody suffered any kind of accident here “
A Cardassian burst through the doors, escorted by a Venti-Lenti.
“Gul,” he said, bowing to Duropens, “My apologies! I stopped to use the waste-extraction facilities while you were in the Grinding Facility, and the group must have left without me!”
Conway and Ford felt their jaws dropping.
“The Cardassian was telling the truth?” Ford exclaimed.
“Cardassians ALWAYS tell the truth!” Gul Duropens shot back, indignantly.
“Actually,” Larkin said, “There are 4 thousand, 6 hundred and forty-two recorded instances of-“
“So where’s Baxter?” Conway asked.
Sundollar only grinned as the Venti-Lenti’s started to sing.
Gather one! Gather all!
For this is the saddest tale of all,
The great, the might Federation,
Must learn the ups of segregation,
‘Just wait!’ they said,
‘Sit tight’ they claimed,
‘You may as well just go to bed,’
‘We’ll kill that bastard good and dead!’
But what they failed to realize,
They’re not the ones who guard this prize,
You’re on a tour, sit back, relax,
Chill out dude, right to the max!
For our Beanery, secure and strong,
Though it may sometimes ring like a gong,
Has been here for a long, long time,
And will be, till the final bell chime,
So get out, be gone,
Goodbye, so long,
We have no need for such as you,
To ourselves we shall stand true!
“I think what they’re trying to say,” Gul Duropens laughed, “ is ‘shut up and mind your own business’!”
“What happened to Captain Baxter,” Larkin implied politely.
“Who cares?” Conway chuckled.
“I don’t think this is their power supply,” Baxter grumbled.
“What tipped you off?” Richards grunted.
“I’m not sure,” Baxter replied, “It might be the trapdoor that opened under our feet,”
“Or the long slide out the side of the building?” Peterman asked.
“Or,” Richards pointed, “The fact that the Beanery has power lines running down into the city and probably doesn’t have a power source of it’s own?”
“Or that,” Baxter sighed, leading them back to the front of the building.
“OK,” Conway said as Sundollar led them down yet another elegant yet understated hallway, “Mr. Sundollar, I think we’ve figured out what you’re trying to do here!”
“Provide a tour?” Sundollar asked innocently.
“My database contains records of several Earth entertainment phenomenon,” Larkin stepped in, “Many of which have storylines, either primary or parody, that closely resemble the situation you are putting us in,”
“We know you’re trying to weed out anybody you don’t think would be worthy of Beanian allegiance,” Conway continued, “So can we just drop the pretense and get on to whatever final test you have for us?”
“If our esteemed Cardassian representative has no objections?” he asked.
“None,” Duropens replied, frowning at Conway.
“This way then,” Sundollar said, walking in the exact same direction he was before.
“Now the hard part,” Ford whispered to Conway, “is to figure out if he knew that we knew that he was testing us, or if we really caught him off guard, or if we were on our way to the final test anyway,”
“Larkin,” Conway gestured to Ford.
“Aye, sir,” Larkin replied, smacking Ford upside the head.
“This is the Tasting Facility,” Sundollar said.
The room was circular with three different levels, each one set further out like the rows of a stadium. Arranged on each level was a ring of stations, each one containing a different type of coffee cup, above which was a spout. All the cups were different; some were paper, others were ceramic while yet more were glass. The variety of shapes and sizes made the room look as though somebody had on an insane home-shopping spree.
“This room is where we ensure that each blend of Beanian coffee meets only the highest of our quality requirements,” Sundollar explained.
“But if they meet the highest, do they not also then meet the low-“ Larkin started before Conway elbowed her in the gut.
“So what is this test?” Duropens said, a dark look on his face.
“You must choose,” Sundollar said, gesturing to the cups all around the room, “One of these cups represents the true nature of Beanus. Whomever finds that cup will secure our allegiance,”
“And if we choose the wrong one?” Conway asked.
“The consequences vary from cup to cup,” Sundollar said, a look of anticipation in his eyes, “Gul Duropens, would you care to go first?”
Duropens’ eyes flicked from Conway to Sundollar, then to the rings of coffee cups surrounding them.
“I believe I will allow my esteemed Federation counterpart have that honor,” Duropens said finally with an overly polite bow.
Conway blew out a breath and started wandering through the cups.
“Which one could it be?” he murmured aloud. His eyes wondered over a dark, brown paper cup to a glass thing that looked more like a chunk of coral reef.
“I doubt it would be paper,” Larkin stated.
“Go for this one,” Ford said, hefting a rather phallic-looking mug, “I bet the ladies agree with me, right?”
Larkin raised an eyebrow. Ford looked around, realizing that aside from Larkin there were no women in the room.
“Never mind,” he muttered.
“It’s this one,” Conway said. He pointed at an elegant silver coffee mug. The handle was a flat black, the mug thicker at the bottom then at the top. It looked sturdy yet pleasing, without being too fancy. Conway picked up the mug and took a sniff.
“Smells OK,” he shrugged, taking a sip.
He looked over the Sundollar, who was shaking his head sadly.
Suddenly there was a sharp pain in Conway’s gut, sending him clutching for his stomach. As he gripped the cloth of his shirt, part of him realized the cloth was too loose even as Larkin gasped.
“He’s shrinking!” she said.
“Yes,” Sundollar sighed, “Not a very good choice,”
“What’s happening to me?” Conway cried.
“Well,” Sundollar replied, “Our Venti-Lenti’s have to come from somewhere, you know,” he forced a smile back on his face, “Would you care to choose now, Gul Duropens?”
Baxter and his team sat at the steps to the Beanery.
“That one looks like a hippo,” Peterman said, pointing up at a cloud, “And over there is an emu,”
“That one looks like a warp plasma manifold,” Richards added, pointing at a cloud of his own,”
“It does?” Baxter asked.
“Well, no,” Richards admitted. He sighed, “I’m just that bored.”
The doors to the Beanery slammed open as Gul Duropens and his officers stormed out.
“You can have this stupid planet,” he snapped, passing Baxter and leading his group to his shuttle.
Gesturing to the others to follow him, Baxter slipped in the open Beanery door.
A Venti-Lenti was already waiting to lead him to the Tasting Facility.
“Good God!” Richards exclaimed as the trio entered the room.
“Shut up and help me!” Conway squeaked. He’d already shrunk two feet and was still slowing reducing in size as they watched, “Help!”
“What happened?” Baxter demanded.
“He drank a cup of coffee he shouldn’t have and now he’s turning into a Venti-Lenti. The process is quite painless and can be reversed if we so desire,” he smiled at Baxter, “If I may provide any additional information, please do not hesitate to let me know!”
“Can you change him back?” Baxter asked.
“Of course,” Sundollar replied, “Didn’t I just said we could?”
“I,” Baxter paused, “Oh. You did. Well, do it!”
“Are you sure?” Sundollar asked, “Of course, on the surface it may seem like a good idea to have your officer back, but have you thought about the alternative?”
“Yes,” Peterman muttered, “I like it,”
“No,” Baxter said slowly.
“Don’t you think he would be happy here as a Venti-Lenti, living in the Beanery and spending the rest of his life making the most perfect coffee in the galaxy?” Sundollar asked, “Don’t you think that would be a dream come true?”
“All my life, you say?” Conway asked before Baxter could answer.
“All your life,” Sundollar confirmed.
“Am I going to die in two weeks?” Conways asked suspiciously, “How long do Venti-Lentis live?”
“Same as a human lifespan,” Sundollar said, “And we have an excellent benefits package,”
“Hmmm,” Conway looked thoughtful.
Sundollar looked at Baxter.
Biting his lip, Baxter weighed his options. He could be rid of Conway for good, and Conway would probably be happy about it.
“Actually,” Baxter said slowly, “I don’t think I’m the one you should be asking,” he nodded at Conway, “Ask him,”
“Ask me?” Conway was surprised.
“I’m so very glad to see our little song taught you something,” he said, “Why don’t you have a nice cup of coffee while your friend here makes his decision?”
“Uh, OK,” Baxter shrugged and started wandering the various mugs.
“So, David,” Sundollar asked Conway eagerly, “What do you think?”
Conway looked at Sundollar, then over to where Larkin and Ford were standing. Was it that simple? Give up the difficult and lonely life of a starship captain to enjoy perfect coffee for the rest of his life? Beanian coffee, while affordable, was still rare and even he had troubles getting his hands on. To enjoy that perfect brew forever would be like dying and going to heaven.
“Change me back,” he said.
“Really?” Sundollar jerked back slightly, “Why?”
“Because Beanian coffee is the best there is,” Conway said firmly, “It’s something to be treasured and savored. If I live here, I’ll have nothing to reach for. I might love it for a while, but without the crappy coffee the rest of the galaxy gets, I won’t really be able to enjoy a good cup of Beanian roast,”
“You’ve made an excellent choice,” Sundollar said, handing Conway a cup. Conway drank it and immediately began to increase in size, “I’m so very pleased to see that you have such excellent strength in character,”
“So does that mean that because of my great moral character, Beanus is going to join the Federation?” Conway asked.
“No,” Sundollar said, “You still picked the wrong cup. I’m sorry David, but you’ve failed to convince me that the Federation is the place for Beanus,”
“Hey,” Baxter interrupted, a Styrofoam cup in one hand, “This stuff is pretty good,”
“That is why we will join the Federation,” Sundollar said warmly, “Captain Baxter, congratulations! You have found the true coffee cup of Beanus!”
“What, that thing?” Conway demanded.
“Yes”, Sundollar said, taking the Styrofoam cup, “You see, Beanus owes its success to the regular working Joes, those people that drank cup after cup of dark, fragrant coffee. And what better way to respect our heritage then with the traditional, time honored Styrofoam coffee cup?”
“I’ve had enough of this weird planet,” Peterman grumbled.
Captain’s Log, Supplemental,
“Having completed our mission to Beanus we’re ready to get underway. A Federation Ambassador will be arriving shortly to begin negotiations with Beanus for Federation membership. Can’t say I envy him.”
“Well, that was a weird day,” Baxter sighed as he and Peterman returned to their quarters.
“Which part?” Peterman asked, “The dancing midgets or the coffee fixation?”
“All of it,” Baxter said.
“Well, I don’t get the whole big deal over that place,” Peterman went on, “And I don’t think Mr. Sundollar is very healthy, psychologically.”
“Why don’t you offer him counseling sessions?” Baxter asked.
“Please,” Peterman sniffed, “I have enough of a case load already. So I gave him the number for ‘The Vonna Show’. Let that two-bit quack deal with him,”
“Uh-huh,”” Baxter replied, half paying attention. It was time for something he was aching for, something he’d wanted to do since he, Richards and Peterman first rode the runabout down to Beanus:
“Computer,” Baxter said to the computer, “Tea, Orange Peakoe. Hot!”
Conway sat in The Starlight Lounge, looking down at his hot chocolate. Somehow, he just couldn’t bring himself to order coffee, even now that the ships replicators were back online.
“Captain,” Larkin said, “What a coincidence seeing you here,”
“Uh-huh,” Conway muttered, “I’m sure your tracking systems picked me up the minute you entered the room,”
“Of course,” Larkin replied, “I was trying to engage you by conversation by pretending to be surprised to see you,”
“Who-hoo,” Conway replied.
“Do you wish to talk about what happened on Beanus?” Larkin asked.
“No,” Conway snapped.
“Very well,” Larkin started to rise.
“It’s like this,” Conway started, ignoring her attempt to leave, “I know I was right by leaving Beanus. I know that if I stayed there too long, the coffee wouldn’t matter anymore. Like air, or water,”
“Air and water matter a great deal to carbon-based lifeforms,” Larkin said.
“But we don’t enjoy them,” Conway said, “We need them, but we don’t enjoy them. And staying there would have made coffee no different,”
“Then why are you upset?”
“Because Baxter won! Why else?” Conway shouted, “I made a careful, thoughtful decision and lost, and that idiot stumbled in, grabbed something at random and won! It’s not FAIR!”
“Life is not fair,” Larking replied, employing her ‘Ambiguous Responses To Questions To Which Honest Answers Are Likely To Cause Hostility’ database, “But you may want to remember that Sundollar was very impressed with your character. Is that not good enough?”
“No, it’s not,” Conway fumed, “But mark my words, one of these days the tables are going to turn. And Baxter will see that I’m a better Captain that he could ever be,” Conway’s eyes narrowed, “With you as my witness, I vow that-“
“Anybody want some coffee?” Crewman Brown interrupted, oblivious to the conversation.
“Hey, yeah!” Conway exclaimed, pushing his hot chocolate away, “Right here please!”
Dedicated to the staff of the my favorite Toronto Starbucks, without whom I wouldn’t get anywhere near as much writing done as I do.
Romance is in the air as the Explorer discovers an ancient space object and the Explorer crew discovers that some secrets are best kept, well, secret. How will Lt. Commander Tilleran cope with the news that J’hana may no longer be single? Will Plato win Cadet Sparks away from Lt. Sefelt? Time will tell. Then again, so will the story!