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 own my bliss. 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

The doors to Captain Andy Baxter’s quarters opened, and he shuffled out, scratching his stomach and wincing in the light of the corridor.

“Computer. Time,” he rasped, noting that nobody else was walking in the corridors, so it must have been somewhere in the middle of ship’s night.

“Oh three hundred hours,” the computer replied.

“Cripes,” Baxter said to nobody in particular, wondering why Steffie picked this of all times to wet her bed.

Moreover, he thought, why was it not Counselor Peterman going to the storage closet to pick up the emergency backup supply of UrineGone, instead of him? Luck of the draw, or spousal abuse? He wondered.

Baxter rounded a corner and walked up to the closet, lazily tapping in his access code.

“Tired. Must clean pee,” he mumbled as the doors opened.

What Baxter saw shocked him fully awake. His eyes bugged.

“Captain,” Commander Christopher Richards said evenly, stuck in a naked, tangled, sweat-soaked embrace with Lt. Commander J’hana. He did not miss a beat. “Can I help you, sir?”

Baxter shook his head. “What…no…why?”

J’hana cleared her throat, shifting her position, which seemed to cause Richards a mix of pleasure and pain. Was that a sling of arrows hanging on her back? “Is there a particular cleaning product you require, sir?”

“Ur…UrineGone,” Baxter said numbly.

“I’ll get it,” Richards said. “I’m closer.” He leaned back, exposing some of his unmentionables to Baxter, who quickly dry-heaved. He licked his lips as he reached the shelf behind him. “There, got it!” He handed the grey jug to Baxter. “Anything else, Captain?”

Baxter stared at the jug in his hand, then at Richards. “Um…no. As you were, Commanders…as you…” He shuffled off. “Were.”

The doors swung closed again, thankfully, sealing Richards and J’hana in darkness.

“So,” J’hana said.

“Yeah,” Richards said. “Guess the secret’s out.”

“Not necessarily,” J’hana said. “The captain could opt to use discretion in this matter.”

“Hmm. Maybe.”


“Are you sure the lower weapons platforms need immediate maintenance?” Richards asked, walking with J’hana down the Deck 36 corridor.

“They need no maintenance. I merely wished to steal you away for a bit of morning… thunder.” She growled low.

“You think that’s a good idea, considering we were…um, caught in the act last night?”

“It makes no matter to me.”

Richards thought about that. “Huh. Good!”

The doors to the Deck 36 fire room opened up, and a phaser technician stepped out.

“Ensign Shank,” J’hana said, nodding an acknowledgment. “I trust the phasers are operating normally?”

“Yeah,” Ensign Lionel Shank said, looking from J’hana to Richards. He stepped past J’hana and, as he passed Richards, extended his hand with a smile. “High five, Commander! Way to go, man!”

Richards looked blankly at the ensign as he slapped his hand, and headed down the corridor. “Thanks, I guess.”

“Where’s my hand slap?” J’hana called after the man, indignantly.

Richards looked at J’hana. “Well, so much for discretion.”

“Evidently,” J’hana said, watching the Ensign go.

“So, I guess you heard?” Lt. Commander Hartley asked Lt. Madera as the two shared a turbolift that was heading up toward the bridge.

“Heard what?” Madera asked. “About the new sauna on Deck Eight? Yeah. I tried it. It’s nice.”

“No. Richards and J’hana.”

Madera glanced at Hartley. “The two of them? Really.”

“Yeah,” Hartley said. “Weird, huh? I can’t even picture the two of them…nope, wait a sec. I just did.” She winced. “Ick….”

“Good for them. Hope it works out.”

Hartley stared at Madera. “Is that all? The man you once loved…the one you almost married…is sleeping with another member of the bridge crew, and you don’t care?”

Madera shrugged. “Eh. Guess I’m over him.”

The lift stopped at Deck Nine, Hartley’s stop, and she stepped off. “Good for you, Lieutenant. Don’t let him get you down.”

“Eh,” Madera said, as the doors closed.

“Maybe this is a positive thing,” Peterman said, sucking on a piece of melon rind in the Captain’s Mess, as Baxter frowned at his half grapefruit.

“A half grapefruit every morning,” Baxter said. “You’d think one morning, just one, I could have something else. Papaya maybe. Or eggs. Or a pizza.”

“You were gaining weight with all those bagels, Andy. This is a good life change for you. Now focus. This Richards and J’hana thing. Tell me again, what exactly were they…doing?”

Baxter covered his eyes. “Don’t make me re-live this, honey.”

“I need to know everything, so I can make an accurate diagnosis.”

“Shouldn’t you be talking to them instead of me?”

“Oh I will, don’t worry about that. Meanwhile, I need to paint a picture. What are their motives? Is this a healthy thing? Or are they headed down an unpleasant road?”

“Isn’t that their choice, really?”

“It’s our job as their superiors…and their friends…to help them out in this situation.”

“You’re not really either of their superior…” Baxter interjected.

“Shh. I’m trying to think.” Peterman took a sip of her Melkorian Macchiatto and set it down. “Could they just be rebounding? They both suffered pretty bad breakups recently.”

“It took you all this time to come up with that? I had that before I made it back to our quarters last night.”

“Surprisingly, Andy, the most obvious answer isn’t always the correct one.” Peterman tapped her chin with her fork. “No. This requires more investigation.”

“Please don’t investigate anything,” Baxter said with a yawn. “Treat this thing like a bad flesh wound. Just let it sit, don’t touch it, and hope it heals up and doesn’t get infected. Do not…do NOT scratch it.”

“Hmmm,” Peterman said thoughtfully. “Maybe you’re right.”

“I think it’s nice. They make a cute couple,” Cadet Natheena Sparks said, eying the terminal screen on the other side of the lab table from Lt. Commander Tilleran, who was reviewing a padd.

“Hmm?” Tilleran asked.

“J’hana and Richards.”

“What about them?”

“They’re…” Sparks shifted a bit and twirled her long, face- obscuring hair. “You know.”

“No, I don’t.” Tilleran stared at Sparks, studying her mind. “Oh. Really? Everyone knows now?”

“You mean you already knew?”

“It’s irrelevant,” Tilleran said, shifting quickly to all-business mode. “We have a job to do, and the affairs of other crewmembers are none of our business.”

“I heard J’hana was in a pretty messy relationship before she was with Richards. She got dumped pretty bad, apparently.”

Tilleran worked her jaw back and forth. “I’m sure whoever it was had her reasons. Let’s focus. What have you got?”

Sparks looked at her panel. “The Oort cloud in this system is putting off an unusual amount of radiation. It might indicate a star about to go nova, or some unusual interplanetary activity…”

“What the…” Tilleran said, paging through the padd.


“Some interesting reports…from our encounter with the so-called ‘mirror’ universe.”

“Oh, yeah. That was scary. Didn’t you have an evil twin on that ship?”

“The mirror ship? Yes. I believe I did.” Tilleran continued to scan the report. No matter it was J’hana’s. She’d been reviewing a lot of J’hana’s reports lately.

“What was she like?”

“Nasty, apparently. I suppose it’s no surprise. They don’t call it the ‘evil’ universe for nothing.”

“Can I ask what the scientific significance of this is?”

“Nothing,” Tilleran said. “I’m just doing some paperwork. If you’re ever a department head, you’ll understand.”

Sparks grinned. “I hope to be one day. Thanks again for agreeing to supervise my science rotation. I’m sure you had fun with Colby, and I’m hoping you’ll enjoy working with me just as much..”

“Colby? Oh yes, Cadet Mathers,” Tilleran said distractedly. “Now let’s get back to the Oort cloud. You have to be on the bridge soon and I don’t want you to be late…”

“So I said ‘I don’t care if this is nightwatch. I’m taking her into a tight starboard turn and there’s nothing you can do about it!’” Ensign Dominic Corella said, clenching his fist, and leaning forward at the conference table. “Needless to say, Lieutenant Hevekcz didn’t know what to say to that, so he kept his mouth shut.”

“Hmm,” Madera said, pushing back from the conference room table. “Anybody else have anything to add?”

“You okay, Lieutenant?” Ensign Jerrica Ridley, who had swing duty between conn and ops, asked. “We heard about Richards. News travels fast.”

“Hmmm? Richards? No, I don’t really care.” Madera shrugged. “It’s just one of those things. I hope he’s happy. I really do.”

“That’s big of you.” Corrella leaned forward. “So, do you want to have sex with me to get back at him?”

“I really don’t,” Madera said.

“Nobody has asked my opinion,” Ensign Svenn said from the other end of the conference table.

“We never talk to you, Gamma Shift, and we’re not about to start now!” Corrella snapped at the Vulcan.

Madera clasped her hands. “Okay. Helmspersons’ meeting officially over!”

“So what are you in this for?” Peterman asked, pacing behind Richards as Yeoman James Briggs clipped his hair.

“I just wanted a trim, but your friend here is doing something with a styling gun that I don’t let the looks of…”

“Shut up and let me tease your beautiful locks…” Tunny said sassily, waving his styling gun at Richards’s hair.

“I wasn’t talking about your hair. I’m talking about J’hana.”

“Do we have to talk about this?”

“Yes. Face it, the secret about you two is out. You can either continue to live a lie, or face facts about this relationship. Are you going to invest yourself in this fully, or cut and run like you did with Janice?”

“She left me!”

“But she did it because you were obviously not interested in taking the relationship anywhere.”

“Can I order you to leave?” Richards asked.

“Be nice to her, unless you want me to accidentally cut your ear,” Briggs hissed.

“Um, right,” Richards said, sinking a little lower in the grooming chair.

“I think this has the potential to be great, if you and J’hana know what you want out of it,” Peterman said, poofing her hair with one hand in the mirror behind Richards.

“We do know what we want. We both want sex and that’s it.”

“Are you sure? Women have needs, Chris, and they can’t all be satisfied by sex.”

“We’re not talking about a woman. We’re talking about J’hana.”

“Oh, how little you understand people. Just because she acts tough doesn’t mean she’s invincible. She has feelings too, you know. And you’ve got to appreciate them.”

“Do you want me to show you the knife wounds?”

Peterman bristled. “No. Look, I’m going to give you some time to think about this, but you need to decide what you really want out of this relationship, and if you two don’t want the same things, you need to end it before it gets out of hand.”

“Or I could just run off to Waystation,” Richards suggested. “OWWW!”

“Sorry,” Briggs said.

“I think we’re done here,” Peterman said, and headed out of the room.

J’hana stepped into Space Tastes and glanced around. Although it was late morning, there were still some patrons within, enjoying their breakfasts. Likely the night shifters having a bite to eat before heading to bed.

Her eyes finally lit upon her quarry. She walked in and stood opposite the table in the back corner. “Greetings,” she said stiffly.

Tilleran looked up from her padd. “Hi, J’hana,” she said, and returned to her padd.

“I believe we need to talk,” J’hana said. “Do you have a moment?”

“I’m…reviewing some documents…before my shift,” Tilleran said, and looked up. “But sure. Have a seat.”

“Thank you,” J’hana said, and took the chair opposite Tilleran. “I have been meaning to discuss some matters of import with you over the last few months.”

“Yes, you must have forgotten to, all those times you walked by me without speaking.”

“That was unfortunate.”

“I realize you’re hurt, J’hana. I’ve tried to give you space.”

“And I’ve appreciated that.”

“Good.” Tilleran went back to her padd.

“We need to discuss Commander Richards. Surely you’ve heard…”

“I’ve known for weeks,” Tilleran said as she studied her padd. “I’m thrilled for you guys. I really hope it works.”

“Weeks…” J’hana trailed off. “But how…”

“Imzadi bond,” Tilleran said. “You’re an open book to me, Jan. Always will be. Plus I’m nosey as hell.”

“The Imzadi bond, you say,” J’hana said thoughtfully.

“I know it’s inconvenient, but there’s not much we can do about it. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

“Why did you not tell me you knew all along?”

Tilleran glanced up, bit her lip thoughtfully. “I was respecting your privacy. It’s really none of my business.”

“Do you have…an opinion?”

“About you and Commander Richards? If you’re happy, and he’s happy, then I say shaloo.”


“It’s Betazoid for good luck.”

“Well…thanks,” J’hana said. She stood up. “I’m glad we got that cleared up.”

“Yeah,” Tilleran said. “Me too. See you on the bridge.”


Captain Baxter shifted position in the command chair, trying his best to get comfortable. He sat in this chair every day, for hours each day. As comfortable as it was, sometimes it just…felt weird on his rear.

“Problem?” Richards asked from the seat beside him.

“No,” Baxter said.

“You seem uncomfortable.”

“Nope. I’m dandy.” He glanced at the readout on the arm of his chair. “Say, Chris…when will we arrive in the Ioni system?”

“Five, ten minutes,” Richards said. “Are you running late for a meeting in this totally uninhabited star system?”

“Nah. It’s just a colonial survey thing, after all. Nothing to sweat… about.” Baxter cursed his choice of words and put his fist to his mouth, nibbling on his knuckles. “Lieutenant Madera, prepare an approach vector. Elliptical pattern.”

“Elliptical, always with the elliptical,” Madera muttered. “Why not circular? Triangular?”

“Something’s bugging you,” Richards said. “And I know what it is.”

“We don’t need to talk about this now,” Baxter said. “Or here’s a better idea… how about we don’t talk about it…ever.”

“C’mon. Don’t be like that. I helped you through all your weird relationship problems.”

“Hah! What relationship problems?”

Richards ticked them off on his fingers. “Ensign Kryzinski from the Aquarius, Ashley Donovan, the Beldanan diplomat…Lieutenant Fresca…the woman from That Place…the Days of Honor fan with a crush on you….oh, yes…your wife…and my ex-fiancee!”

“And didn’t I ever say thanks?”

“No, but that’s not the point. I never judged you, once.”

“Oh, sure you did.”

“Well, maybe I did. But I listened!”

“I’ll listen,” Baxter said. “But do I have to talk?”

Richards folded his arms. “You don’t have to do anything. This is exactly why I wanted to keep this thing secret. Because I knew people would get all weird.”

“Yeah, well I saw your…” Baxter pointed, and winced. “Listen, can we just…”

“Entering Ioni system,” Madera announced. “Coming out of warp.”

“Thank GOD,” Baxter muttered. “Cadet Sparks, full scan.”

“Yes, sir,” Sparks said uneasily. “Sir, don’t you think Tilleran should…?”

“She’s on her way up,” Baxter said. “I wanted you to have a chance to do a system scan all by yourself, without her looking over your shoulder and reading your thoughts.”

“That’s thoughtful, sir.” Sparks glanced at the science panel. “Um, sir, we’re picking up a…big….wow, something really big in this system.”

“Is it a planet, or a moon, or…” Richards glanced back at Sparks. “We’ll need you to be a little more specific, Cadet.”

“It’s a…big U!” Sparks tapped on her panel, bringing up an image and pointed at the screen.

“Ahh…I hate that letter!” Lt. Sefelt squealed, ducking behind his panel.

“Howie, please…not on the bridge,” Sparks sighed.

Baxter and Richards stood, staring at the object. Indeed, it was big and U-shaped. As it rotated lifelessly in the space between Ioni Two and Three, Baxter contemplated exactly what the big U might do.

“Some kind of outpost or battle platform?” Richards asked.

“Whatever it is, it’s, um…ancient…” Sparks spoke up, her hands shaking on the controls.

“Relax,” Baxter said. “Be glad you weren’t on the bridge when we got sucked into the big fat smiley face. This is nothing next to that.”

“It’s not nothing,” Richards said. “I think it’s worth checking out.”

“Agreed,” Baxter said. “Madera, bring us closer. Half impulse.”

“Aye, sir,” Madera said warily, bringing the Explorer around and steering it toward the object.

“Closer is bad,” Sefelt said. “Artifacts are always bad. Run, run while you still can!”

“Mineral contents and geological makeup indicate it’s at least one to two million years old,” Sparks said.

“And this system has had little or no space traffic running through it,” Baxter said, his eyes widening. “We could be the first beings in millennia to set eyes on this thing.”

“Yeah,” Richards said. “Neat.”

“It’s more than neat,” Baxter said, patting Richards on his back. “It’s amazing. Madera, bring us closer.”

“Sir…um…” Sparks spoke up, waving her hand gently.

“You don’t have to raise your hand around here,” Richards said. “What?”

“Well, Starfleet regulations insist that you scan the object completely from a safe distance before…”

“Oh, don’t worry, Cadet,” Baxter said. “We do stuff like this all the time. It’s perfectly safe.” He licked his lips eagerly. “Madera…increase speed. Get us closer…”

Richards looked at Baxter, then shrugged. “Yeah, let’s see it.”

The “prongs” of the U-shaped object grew larger on the screen as the Explorer approached.

“There are two entrances, one on each…prong,” Sparks said, hands tapping at her panel. “And…well, that’s odd…”

“What?” Baxter asked.

“Sir, energy readings aboard the…U…spiked as we approached. It was completely dead, and then…not.”

“You’re saying that thing is powering up?” Richards asked. “Richards to Tilleran and J’hana. Report to the bridge immediately.”

“Entrances, you say,” Baxter said blankly, stepping toward the viewscreen. “Let’s get closer.”

“Eep!” Sefelt cried out.

“That might not be such a good…” Richards said.

“Forward!” Baxter said. “Take us in, Madera!”

“If you say so,” Madera said, and sent the Explorer surging toward the artifact.

Captain’s Log,

Stardate 58245.6. Good news! We’re inside the artifact. We’re the first ones ever, I just know it. Just to be sure, I sent Richards, J’hana, and Tilleran, inside the belly of the thing to take some readings. I love sending out away teams. It’s such a…mmmm…power trip!

“Was the Captain acting weird to you guys?” Richards asked through the helmet radio of his environmental suit, as he knelt in one of many empty, dull blue metallic corridors aboard the massive artifact, and studied yet another skeleton…he presumed another member of the race that built this thing.

“I did not notice any weirdness,” J’hana said, staring at her security tricorder. “No weapons systems to speak of. Energy readings are low but consistent.”

“Nobody’s acting weird,” Tilleran said, staring at her own tricorder. “Everybody’s fine. Meanwhile, this thing is confusing as all hells. The internal power conduits lead to a major power plant in the curved part of the U-shape. But I still can’t figure out what the thing does.”

“Maybe it just thrums with power,” J’hana said, and looked at Richards. “I like things that thrum. Don’t you?”

Richards licked his lips . “Yes. Commander Tilleran, please continue surveying the area. J’hana and I will head back the way we came. I think I saw a closet back there. We should investigate that further.”

Tilleran rolled her eyes. “Don’t try to cover it up. I know what you two are going to do. I can feel J’hana’s lust. It’s seeping off her.”

“Yes, it is,” Richards said, stepping up next to J’hana, hooking his arm around her waist. “We’ll be right back.”

“Please. Take your time,” Tilleran muttered.

“They’ve been gone a long while,” Captain Baxter said, staring at the grilled sea bass on his plate. “Is this all we have for dinner? Bass?”

“Do you know why the away team has been gone so long?” Peterman asked, scooping peas into Steffie’s mouth. “There you go, sweetie. C’mon. Eat for mommy! You’re outgrowing this feeding thing. Just eat for yourself!”

“I don’t know. They haven’t reported in for a while and I’m getting antsy.”

“Don’t check in on them. Don’t be that kind of Captain, Andy.”

“You’re right. I should just relax,” Baxter said, staring at his fish. “Really, honey. Bass?”

“You love fish. Remember, honey? You love anything you don’t have to chew too much.”

“I know. I just….I’m in the mood for something else. Something… big.”

“Well, I spent two long minutes replicating dinner, so just eat it,” Peterman said. “We can go to Mirk’s for dessert if you want.”

Baxter brightened. “Really?”

“Sure. I’ve had a mind all day to get out on the dance floor.”

“You have?”

“Yeah.” Peterman leaned forward, clasping her hands under her chin. “I used to dance like there was no tomorrow. Undulating… moving my body with the music. My family had moved from Sydney to Melbourne. We didn’t know anyone. But then I met this fellow at the dance studio. He danced like nobody I’d ever seen. He was so fluid…so flexible, graceful. He taught me everything I knew. We fell in love. Of course, then I took him to meet my parents, and he accidentally fell into the sloth cage, and was mauled.. Six months later he was released from the hospital, and by that point I was already dating someone else, so…” Peterman took a deep breath and sighed.

Baxter pushed his plate away. “Fantastic. You about ready for dessert?”

“Dessert!” Steffie said, pounding her fork. “Dessert now!”

“Okay, okay,” Peterman said. “What’s the rush?”

“Where is Cadet Sparks?” Chaka’kan asked, looking at Plato and Colby Mathers as they approached, wearing their traditional white Aikido robes. They took position in front of Chaka and bowed.

“Nat…I mean Cadet Sparks is on the bridge,” Plato said.

“Special duty,” Colby Mathers said, tugging at his robe. “Chaka, I split my pants again.”

Chaka let out a patient breath. “That’s fine, Cadet. We will replicate you new pants. Let’s first concentrate on our breathing and relaxation, before we get into today’s lesson.”

“But I can’t relax…somebody’ll see my boxers.”

“We’re alone in the training room, Cadet. And I assure you, neither Plato nor myself are looking at your…boxers,” Chaka said, shaking his head. “Just close your eyes and breathe with me.”

“Pssst. Colby,” Plato whispered as Chaka closed his eyes and took several deep breaths.

“What?” Mathers replied.

“I need your help. How well do you know Cadet Sparks?”

“Well enough. Why?”

“I’d like to…get to know her more.”

“You’re not concentrating,” Chaka said evenly.

“We’re still breathing,” Plato said.

“SILENCE!” Chaka said, his eyes opening wide.

Plato and Mathers hopped backwards a bit.

“Please, boys,” Chaka said, rubbing his eyes as he regained his composure. “I beg of you. The more quickly you relax, the more quickly we can continue with the lesson and then I can get back to my gardening.”

“You’re gardening?” Plato asked.

“It calms me. Now…focus.” Chaka closed his eyes and resumed his breathing.

“Can you help me?” Plato asked Mathers in a whisper.

“Not if you’re asking what I think. She’s with Lieutenant Sefelt, besides. He’s a…he’s an officer!”

“He’s a woefully disturbed officer,” Plato said. “I can handle him. But I can’t make a move without knowing more about Nat. I need you. You’re her friend. You can help me get to know her better.”

“Yeah. But what’s in it for me?”

“The satisfaction of a job well done?”

“Nice. What else?”

“A week of meals at my mom’s restaurant…cooked to your specifications.”

“No waiting?”

“No waiting.”

“Deal. Meet me in the ship’s library at nineteen hundred.”

“That’s it,” Chaka said, and headed for the door. “My patience with the two of you is at an end. Continue your conversation. We’ll train when you’re ready to. Meanwhile, I must tend to my petunias.”

“Weird,” Plato said, turning to Mathers. “Wanna just meet now?”

“Sure. But let’s get a snack first.”

“Now this is more like it!” Baxter said, sitting on a stool at the bar and shoving spoonfuls of rocky road ice cream into his mouth. “It’s just so…tasty!”

“Glad you like it,” Mirk said, leaning against the bar. “Been getting a lot of odd requests tonight.”

“You don’t say,” Baxter said, scooping more ice cream into his mouth.

“You were able to get the Wurlitzers to watch Steffie?”

Baxter shook his head as he ate. “Richard Simmons. The nice thing about a hologram is that if you piss him off, you can just reprogram him.”

“I never thought of it like that.”

“You should.”

“More ice cream?”


Mirk took Baxter’s empty bowl to the replicator and returned with a fresh one moments later. As Baxter dug in, he looked out on the dance floor. “Who is that out there dancing? By the Directors, look at the kumquats on her!”

Baxter glanced over his shoulder at the undulating woman in the leather pants, who jiggled and gyrated, her ponytail flopping. He shrugged. “It’s Kelly.”

“That’s your wife?” Mirk asked, cocking his head. Sure enough, as the woman turned around, he realized it was Peterman. Her top was even tighter than her pants. “She…wow. Are you sure she had a baby?”

“I saw it myself,” Baxter said, scooping ice cream into his mouth. “Get another bowl ready, this stuff is amazing.”

“She’s breathtaking,” Mirk said softly.

“Hey, buddy!” a voice called out. “Another Shran Adams Andorian Ale!”

“Just a second!” Mirk snapped at his customer. He then felt a fist wrap snugly around his neck, gracelessly turning his head.

“Like what you see?” Lt. Commander Hartley asked between clenched teeth.

“I’m a lover of the arts,” Mirk croaked.

“Get. My. Beer,” Hartley ordered, and pushed Mirk back against the bar. She turned to Baxter, who had some fudge dribbling down his chin. “What are you looking at, fatso?”

Baxter gulped. “Nothing, Commander. Carry on.”

“You’re damned right I’m going to carry on.” She glanced around the bar. “All right, people. Who wants a fight? Did you look at me funny? I thought so. It’s go time!”

“Ahh! My ice cream!” Baxter cried, grabbing his bowl and climbing behind the bar.

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. And I plan on telling him that as soon as I see him,” Janice Browning said, chewing on a carrot as she sat in the empty Space Tastes, basking in the aftermath of the dinner and dessert rush.

On the desktop terminal that sat on her table, Pogo looked pensive. “Doctor, it’s obvious you care about them both very much. Just tell Christopher you give him your blessing.”

“In time. I want him to sweat a little more.” She grinned pensively.

“It sounds as though he’s sweating a great deal.”

“You might be right about that,” Browning said and giggled, as she suddenly heard the pounding of footsteps approaching her restaurant. She glanced up.

“Doctor? What’s wrong?” Pogo asked, his flat face creasing with concern.

“I don’t know,” Browning said, standing up. “Somebody’s coming. A lot of somebodies.”

“Are you in danger?”

“Don’t think so. Let me get back to you, Pogo.”

She stepped toward the entrance to the restaurant…

…and was knocked over as dozens of crewpeople poured in.

“We want food!”

“Feed us now!”





“Ham sandwich!”

“Tuna and chocolate!”

“Rice cakes!”

“Flavian eel worms!”



Browning struggled to her feet as the herd of hungry people swarmed in. “One at a time people! And I thought I was the only one who got the late night munchies…” She squeezed against the wall, taking a breath and cradling her dinged elbow. She’d need to call in a couple emergency chefs, and bring out some extra seating.

But she would feed these people.

It was her sworn duty. And dammit, she’d do it.

Browning raced to find her apron.

“Ahh. Gardening is calming,” Chaka’kan said to himself as a mantra. “It’s a great way to ease the day.” He leaned up from his spot in the back corner of the arboretum and surveyed his work. Petunias, mums, gardenias. All blooming and bright, twinkling under the artificial sunlight and the glare from the spaceport windows. It was a small patch, but it was all his.

He glanced around at the arboretum, noting it was quiet, except for a couple walking near the nearby stream, picking fresh orchids. It was an idyllic scene, worthy of a painting.

Maybe he should take up painting.

Then the double doors to the arboretum slid open, and a crowd of shirtless Explorer crewmembers came charging in.


“Extreme kayaking!”

“Bet you can’t climb that tree as fast as I can!”

“Anybody want to spelunk?”

“Oh dear,” Chaka said, turning protectively toward the crowd, spreading his arms wide to protect his little flower patch. “No one better touch my petunias. Things could get…messy.”

“So that’s when I decided to hide under my bed,” Lt. Sefelt said, leaning back in the command chair as Jerrica Ridley sat at ops, and Madera at helm.

“But tell them what you did next,” Sparks said from sciences.

“Well, I realized that boogie men like to hide under beds, so I ran into the closet.”

“Classic Howie,” Madera said, shaking her head. She stared at her console thoughtfully. “Being locked in a closet. I bet I could write a song about that. Maybe a song in many parts…” She rubbed her chin pensively. “Nah. Too much trouble.”

“Go on, Howie,” Ridley said, turning in her chair. “What did you do then?”

“I decided to face up to my fears,” Sefelt said resolutely. “I realized that I couldn’t hide anymore. Besides, Christmas only comes once a year so…yeah, I went downstairs and opened my presents.”

Sparks shook her head. “You’re a brave man, Howie.”

“Is there anything you’re not scared of?” Ridley asked.

“Moray eels,” Sefelt said matter-of-factly. “I could take them or leave them, I guess. Really, any kind of snakes. They’re nothing special.”

Madera shook her head. “Weird.”

“Hmmm…” Ridley said, glancing at a beeping indicator on her panel. “Lieutenant, I’m getting some odd readings from the Constellation Club. And…now a distress call. Sir, it looks like a fight’s breaking out down there!”

“Don’t call me sir! Authority scares me!” Sefelt shrieked, drawing his knees to his chin.

“There’s more than that,” Sparks said, glancing at her own panel. “Reports coming in from all over the ship. Really odd activity. People are ransacking the mall!”

“Somebody do something!” Sefelt cried out, burying his face in his arms.

“I’m diverting security down there,” Ridley said, shaking her head. “It’s okay, sir. Don’t panic.”

“Me? Panic?” Sefelt laughed nervously. “Not at all.”

“Uh-oh,” Ridley said, glancing down at her panel. Red lights blinked all over.

“What uh-oh?” Sefelt asked, and ran over to the ops panel. “WHAT UH-OH?”

“Some of them are coming here. Lots, actually…”


“I wish them well. I really hope they end up working out,” Tilleran said thoughtfully as she strolled down the endless corridor on the Ioni artifact, scanning with her tricorder.

“Explorer to away team. Come in, please!” came the panicked voice of Lt. Sefelt.

“Howie?” Tilleran asked, cocking her head.

“Commander! Thank God it’s you!”

“What’s wrong, Howie?”

“The ship’s gone a little wonky.”

“Define ‘wonky.’”

“There’s a big fight going down in the Constellation Club. People are spelunking in the arboretum. I’m craving pork chops. And some naked people just ran by. Please advise!”

“Um…have you gotten in touch with Captain Baxter?”

“He’s in the middle of the fight.”

“How about Commander Richards?”

“I opened a channel to him. All I heard was grunts…and screaming.”

“Okay,” Tilleran said, taking a deep breath. “I’ll take care of it. Beam me back.”

“What about Richards and J’hana?”

“They’ll be fine. Energize!”

Tilleran clutched her head as she stumbled out of the transporter room, wincing with the onslaught of a thousand crazed minds all screaming out at once.

“Headache? Have some painkillers! They’re great!” Ensign Stuart exclaimed as he walked by, then shoved a hypospray into his arm. His eyes bulged and he giggled. “FANTASTIC!”

Tilleran shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the onslaught of thoughts as she made her way down the corridor.

“Chocolate! It’s better than sex!” a crewperson shouted as he ran by. “Wait. I’ve got an even better idea. Chocolate AND sex!”

“What the hell…” Tilleran said, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

“Hey!” Plato exclaimed, appearing as if from out of nowhere in front of Tilleran. He was standing next to Cadet Mathers.

“What,” she snapped.

“Have you seen Nat Sparks?”

“She’s probably on the bridge,” Tilleran said, trying to focus on the turbolift at the end of the corridor. She was almost there. If she could just get to the bridge.

“Are you going to the bridge now?”


“Can we come with you?”


Plato stomped his foot. “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy not!”

Tilleran turned toward him, breathing heavily, her black eyes blazing. “Because. I. Said. So.”

“C’mon,” Mathers said, grabbing Plato’s arm. “Let’s find a replicator. I just got a mad craving for some spanakopita.”

“No!” Plato said, wrenching his arm free from Mathers. “I WANT NAT SPARKS NOW!”

Use your mind, a voice said in Tilleran’s head. It was a calm, measured voice. Not all loopy like the scores of other voices in her head.

“No. That would be bad.”

Use your mind. You know you want to.

“No. Bad!” Tilleran covered her eyes, and resumed her walk to the turbolift.

Do it.

“C’mon! I WANT NAT!” Plato cried, following Tilleran.

Do it.

Plato grabbed Tilleran’s shoulder, and she whirled.

“Well we don’t always get what we want, you little brat!”

And with that, Tilleran stared deep into Plato’s eyes.

Plato’s eyes widened. Then the boy fell to the deck in a heap, out cold.

Mathers looked on, gaping. “Hell with this. I’m going to go eat!”

“You do that,” Tilleran snapped, and headed to the turbolift.

“More ice cream, Mirk,” Baxter said, curled in a corner behind the bar.

“I’m a little busy right now!” Mirk said, standing on the bar, ducking a bottle of Caldavian scotch that sailed by his head. “My wife’s throwing victuals at me.”

“I don’t know what those are, but it sounds painful,” Baxter said. “Now feed me!”

“Feed yourself!”

“Andy! Help me! I’m being fondled and I’m not sure if I like it!”

Mirk’s ears perked. “Captain, that was your wife! She needs your…I mean our help!”

Baxter reached up to the replicator and punched a control. “Computer: Ice cream. Butter pecan. Cold.”

“I mean she needs my help!” Mirk called out, and leapt into the fray. “Fear not, Kelly! I’m coming for you!”

Baxter grabbed his ice cream bowl, ignoring the massive rainbow glow as Mirk unleashed his powers on the room, sending crewpersons flying left and right.

Lt. Commander Hartley came flying over the bar, landing in a pile next to Baxter.

“You can’t have any,” Baxter said, barely sparing her a glance.

“Tilleran to Baxter. Can you hear me?”

“I’m BUSY!” Baxter snapped.

“There’s something odd going on with this artifact, sir! Do you realize the crazy things that are happening on the ship?”

“Everything seems fine. I’ve got ice cream!”

“Great, sir. You just keep up the good work. I’ll handle everything. I’m the only sane one around here, anyway. Tilleran out.”


Doctor Holly Wilcox paced Sickbay. “You should see these reports, Nurse Chadway. People all over the ship are doing oddball things. They’ve overrun the mall, the arboretum, the Constellation Club. They’re getting in fights!”

Nurse Christina Chadway leaned against a biobed and sighed. “That suits me. I haven’t done anything in a long, long time.”

“That’ll change pretty soon,” Holly said. “Casualties will probably start rolling in any minute.”

Suddenly the doors to Sickbay opened, and Dean Wilcox stepped in.

“Humma? Humma okay?”

Holly brightened. “Yes. Yes, dear! Your Humma’s okay! It’s so sweet that you came to check on me. And you even remembered where Sickbay is!”

“Dean need Humma,” Dean said earnestly, wrapping his arms around Holly.

“That’s sweet,” Chadway said, staring at her fingernails idly.

“Dean really need Humma.”

Holly blushed. “Dean, that’s awfully nice, but now really isn’t the time.”

“Dean need Humma now!” And with that, he tossed Holly over his shoulder and marched back to her office.

“Hold down the fort, Christina!” Holly called out as Dean carried her off. “I’ll be…busy for a bit. Thanks!”

Chadway sighed. “All I ever wanted was a chance to operate on somebody. But nooooooo…nurses aren’t allowed to operate. Don’t have the proper training. Might cut the wrong thing. Noooo don’t let the nurse operate!”

The doors to Sickbay opened again, and Ensign Albright from security crept in. “Nurse Chadway?”

“Yes, dear boy?” she asked, fluttering her eyes. Maybe everyone on this ship was mad with lust, as Dean had obviously been. Plus, Albright was handsome.

“I think I’ve got appendicitis. Can you take it out, just to be sure?”

“I don’t…”

“C’mon. It’s inflamed! I just know it!”

Chadway chewed her lip thoughtfully. “Ah, hell with it. Up on the table you go! Let’s do it!”

“Thank you for getting rid of the naked people,” Howie Sefelt said, pacing worriedly in front of Tilleran as she sat in the command chair.

“Think nothing of it,” Tilleran said, her eyes boring into the viewscreen. “All I did was shove them back down the Jefferies tube.”

“But it was the way you shoved them. It was great.” Sefelt fumbled with his fingers. “Are we all going to die?”

“We’re not going to die,” Tilleran said. “There’s obviously an external force generating an extreme psychological reaction among the crew. It’s actually quite common.”

“Yeah, it’s happened on the Explorer like six times,” Madera muttered, kicking back in her chair at helm and staring at the viewscreen.

“It’s got something to do with that artifact,” Cadet Sparks said, pointing at the screen, which displayed the cavernous internal walls of the U-shaped monstrosity.

Tilleran glared at her. “You think?”

Sparks continued on. “Well, according to the internal logs, it appears people started acting oddly right when the artifact’s power started to spike.”

“So let’s get out of here,” Madera said, stretching and yawning. “I mean. You know, whatever.”

“Don’t be so hasty,” Tilleran said. “Richards and J’hana are still down on the artifact. Not only that, but if our crew is experiencing an altered state of consciousness, removing the external force quickly could cause irreparable psychological damage. I wish I could talk to Counselor Peterman about this to be sure.”

“Want me to get her for you?” Jerrica Ridley asked, looking down at her panel. “Looks like she’s wrestling some people down in the Constellation Club. Wait a sec…that’s not wrestling…”

“No,” Tilleran said, and slapped her thighs, standing up. “I’ve got to make a decision. The crew’s counting on me. J’hana’s counting on me. Ensign Ridley: Beam up Richards and J’hana. Madera: Prepare an escape course out of here.”

“What should I do?” Sparks asked.

“Stop looking so cute,” Tilleran said. “You’re nauseating me. Now c’mon, Madera. Get us out of here.”

Sefelt turned on Tilleran suddenly and grabbed her wrists. “No! What if you’re wrong! What if the artifact gets mad that we’re leaving it and kills us all! I want my mommy!”

Tilleran pushed Sefelt away. “Calm down! Start acting like a professional.”

“But I’m NOT a professional!”

Tilleran sighed. “Mister Sefelt, restrain yourself, or I’ll have to remove you from the bridge.”

“No! I wan my mommy now!” Sefelt said, folding his arms, his lip trembling.

Tilleran scrubbed a hand over her face. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. Mister Sefelt: You will leave the bridge immediately and return to your quarters. Your mommy isn’t here. And even if she was, I wouldn’t be inclined to put you in the same room with her.”

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I hate you!” Sefelt cried, and leapt on Tilleran, knocking her to the floor.

The two rolled about in front of the command chairs.

To Madera, most of the shrieking was coming from Sefelt. For Tilleran’s part, it was mostly just annoyed grunts.

“Guys, stop,” Madera said distractedly, glancing at the ceiling. “I mean, c’mon.”

“Do something!” Sparks said, shrinking behind her panel.

“Eh,” Madera muttered.

Finally, Tilleran flipped Sefelt, straddling him and pinning his wrists. “Now listen carefully: You will stop acting like a nut. You don’t need your mommy. And you don’t have to be afraid of every FWARKING thing in the GALAXY!”

“Yes I do!” Sefelt shouted back.

It was then that something clicked into Tilleran’s head. She thought back to the report she’d read that morning. To her knee-jerk reaction to Plato. She had such power locked in her mind, and it was a shame she never used it.

It was so simple.

Such a no-brainer. Or, actually, a brainer.

She stared into Sefelt’s eyes and concentrated.

She felt her mind touching his.

She opened the door between them, stepped in.

And she made herself comfortable.

Sefelt screamed, but very soon, was quiet.

“Wow. Thanks,” he said. “I feel lots better.”

Tilleran, for her part, felt her eyes roll back in her head as she flopped backwards onto the deck, unconscious.

“You guys okay?” Ensign Yang asked as Richards and J’hana, in tattered uniforms, stepped off the turbolift.

“We are fine,” J’hana said gruffly.

“It was a bit of a rough ride,” Richards said, clutching her stomach.

“Yeah, I know,” Yang said. “Sorry about that. I got this strange temptation to switch a few things around between you two during the transport. Nothing major. Just some…you know, of your insides.” She held up her hands defensively. “Don’t worry! I put everything back the way I found it…I think.”

Richards and J’hana exchanged glances, shrugged. “As you were, Ensign,” Richards said, and the pair walked out of the transporter room.

“You were particularly…effective…during our visit to the artifact,” J’hana said after a few moments of silence.

“Yeah, I know,” Richards said with a smile. “I kind of got inspired.”

Suddenly a pair of naked people ran by, chased by the slithering Lt. Unlathi, who was waving a torch at them.

“Wonder what’s been going on here?” J’hana asked.

“I don’t know,” Richards said. “But I’m exhausted. Want to get a nap?”

J’hana shrugged. “Sure.”

She thought there was probably something more important to do, but figured it could wait.

“That was weird,” Jerrica Ridley said, glancing at Madera.

“Yeah,” Sparks said, creeping out from behind the science console and walking down to where Tilleran and Sefelt lay. She gently nudged Tilleran’s immobile form aside and took Sefelt’s hand. “Howie, you okay?”

Sefelt looked up at her. “I’m…fine. I’m actually…really great.”

Ridley looked up at the artifact. “Don’t look now, but that thing’s gaining power.”

“Think we should go?” Sparks asked Sefelt.

“Why?” Sefelt said. “It’s just an old space artifact.”

Madera looked up at the screen and sighed. “Well isn’t that great.”

“Looks like it’s up to us,” Sparks said softly.

“Or we could ask the naked guy to come back,” Ridley suggested. “Actually…let me go chat with him. Yeah, that’d be fun.” She backed away from the ops console and popped open the Jefferies tube hatch in the middle of the bridge, slipping in without so much as a goodbye.

Suddenly, Sparks’ console beeped, and she ran back to it as Sefelt took the ops console.

“That beeping…man, it just won’t stop,” Madera muttered.

“The energy buildup in the artifact…” Sparks said. “It’s…starting to narrow its perimeter.”

“Yeah,” Madera said. “So?”

“It’s focusing the majority of its output…right on the bridge.”

Madera looked up at the viewscreen. “Oh yeah?”

Sparks tapped at her console. “This is not good. Not good.”

“Don’t worry,” Sefelt said, looking back at her with a grin. “I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“You’re creeping me out more than anything else about this mission,” Sparks said, rolling her eyes.

“Relax,” Madera said.

Suddenly, the viewscreen crackled with static. The image of the artifacts insides twisted, blurred, and went black.

“I’m losing the sensor feeds,” Sparks said. “I can’t figure out what’s happening out there. Damn, why am I not good enough!”

The bridge suddenly dimmed.

“Susan Madera,” a loud voice suddenly boomed.

“What,” Madera muttered, leaning her head back. “What do you want?”

“You must fulfill your greatest desire. Do it now.”

“Eh. I don’t really want anything.”

“What?” the voice asked, sounding perturbed. “Why not?”

“I’m fine the way I am.”

“Could you make me older, smarter…like a lieutenant commander or something?” Sparks asked the voice.

“Could I get a bigger….” Sefelt said, and looked back at Sparks. “Rank?”

“Shut up, both of you, I’m talking to her. The complacent one!”

“You’re really pissing it off, whatever it is,” Sparks said, looking back at her panel. “Just do what it wants you to do!”

“Eh,” Madera said. “Go bother someone else, creepy voice.”

“That voice is familiar,” Sefelt said. “It sounds like the voice that was telling me to freak out. Not like I need a voice to tell me that.” He chuckled. “But that’s all over now.”

“SHUT UP!” the voice snapped. “Susan…think about it…J’hana and Richards are belowdecks now. You can go bust up their relationship. Make an awkward moment. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“I’m happy for them.” Madera sighed. “Why should I make them miserable just because I haven’t found love yet?”

“But you can find love! Take this Sefelt person. He’s otherwise useless. Exploit him!”

“Hey, do I get a say in this?” Sefelt asked.

“NO!” the voice replied.

“We’re just friends. I don’t think of him like that,” Madera said.

“This thing is concentrating all its power on you, whatever it is,” Sparks said. “Lieutenant, you might want to think about getting us out of here.”

“NO!” the voice shouted. “DO AS I SAY! Give yourself over to ultimate pleasure. Do what you crave most! The world is yours, if you simply ACT on your instincts!”

Madera shrugged. “You know, I kind of just felt like hanging out today, really…”

“DAMN YOU!” the voice cried, as the ship started shaking. “If you won’t do as I say, then you can all die!”

Madera leaned over and activated the Explorer’s engines. “Hell with this. See you later.”

“Get us out of here!” Sparks called out. “Full impulse!”

“Yeah, yeah, relax,” Madera said, leaning back in her chair as the Explorer soared along the tube on the other side of the U-shaped object from the side they’d entered. The blurry viewscreen image cleared to show inviting, clear space ahead.

“Reverse angle,” Sparks said, looking up at the screen.

Sefelt looked on as the cavernous tunnel they were in rippled with explosions, collapsing in on itself. “Wow,” he said. “That’s…something.”

The Explorer shot out of the artifact, just as the reverse angle showed it erupt on all sides with powerful explosions

The voice cried out throughout the bridge, throughout the entire ship:


Once the ship was free and clear, and the explosion’s shockwave passed, Madera turned around and slouched out of her seat.

“There, we’re out. Happy?”

“Y-yeah,” Sparks said, mopping her forehead.

“Good. I’m taking my fifteen minute break. Howie, you’re in charge.”

Captain’s Log,

Supplemental. Yikes. I mean…yikes.

“Is that all you’ve got so far?” Richards asked, sitting across the desk from Baxter.

“Yeah. I’m thinking of leaving it like that.”

“You don’t want to mention the artifact?”

Baxter shrugged. “Not particularly. I mean…the ship’s archivist found out that the last scout team to explore the artifact came through in 2308. Nobody’s even checked this system in nearly a century. Who really cares?”

“The people who named it the ‘Gargantuan Ionian Pleasure Magnet,’ I’d expect,” Richards said.

“Yeah. They also wrote a long paragraph on how it should be avoided at all costs. That it has some sort of super smart computer aboard that locks onto people’s minds and forces them to seek out their basest urges and cravings, somehow feeding off the emotion. I mentioned to the ship’s archivist that it would be nice for us to have information like that available at our fingertips.”

Richards bit his lip thoughtfully. “Two questions: Why would a civilization build a computer like that, and…we have a ship’s archivist?”

“Yeah, it was news to me, too.” Baxter tapped his desk thoughtfully. “I don’t know. My guess is, like most cataclysmic creations, the ‘Pleasure Magnet’ probably wasn’t built to do what it did to us. That probably came later.”

“So, no harm no foul?” Richards asked, leaning back in his chair.

“Guess so,” Baxter said. “Just a random occurrence. I wish I had more to report, but the one thing we don’t have is answers. We know how we got into the thing, but damned if I know how we got out. We may never know.”

“Well then we’re lucky nothing more came of this than Nurse Chadway accidentally operating on some guy, and your wife…hooking up a little…on the dance floor.”

Baxter tapped his desk nervously. “Yeah. Let’s never speak of this again, okay?”

“Deal,” Richards said. “Pool?”


Plato rushed, breathless, to catch up with Cadet Sparks, as she strolled down the corridor.

“Nat! I’m glad I found you. I wanted to make sure you were okay after all this craziness!”

“Oh. Hi, Plato.”

“I wanted to let you know…I’m really interested in scuba diving lessons!”

“Really? I like scuba diving.”

“I know. I mean…I figured.”

Sparks looked at him pensively. “Plato, why do you have a lump on your head?”

“Lieutenant Commander Tilleran…did something…I think, to knock me down, under the influence of that magnet thing. My memory’s kind of blurry, but I’m okay. Mom says I’ll be fine, after a few hearty meals.”

“Oh,” Sparks said.

Plato squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating. The lump disappeared. “Okay, so I may have fabricated the lump, just to get some sympathy from you.”

“Well, it worked,” Sparks said, tapping Plato’s arm. “But I’m glad you’re okay.”

“So…scuba later?”

“I’d love to,” Sparks said. “But I have plans with Howie.”

“Howie Sefelt? How long’s that going to go on, Nat?” Plato asked. “I mean…what do you see in that guy?” He’s afraid of everything!”

Sparks stopped by a door, and pressed the call button. “That’s what I thought too, at first. But there’s more to Howie Sefelt than meets the eye.”

“There is?”

The doors opened to reveal Lt. Sefelt, who grinned at Plato. “Hey buddy.” He draped an arm around Spark’s neck and guided her down the corridor. “Have a good one, okay? We’re off to the Constellation Club.”

“Oh…kay…” Plato said slowly, watching the pair walk off.

What the hell?

Lt. Commander Tilleran sat at a cafe table outside Space Tastes, sipping her Flavian Frappe and watching the small crowd walk by, browsing from shop to shop.

Now that they were out of the artifact, the crazy voices had calmed down tremendously.

Still, as always, she heard them. It was a low din, a mild chorus of questions, answers, unspoken thoughts, unexplored dreams, and unrealized potential.

The voices were always with her, kind of a backdrop, which never bothered Tilleran much. As a Betazoid, and a powerful one, at that, she was used to it.

But something happened recently, Tilleran thought, as she sipped her drink. Something wonderful.

She realized she could do more than listen to the voices.

“You in there somewhere?” a voice asked, and she looked up.

“Lieutenant Madera,” Tilleran said briskly, gesturing at the seat across from her. “Please, sit.”

“Thanks,” Madera said, and sat down. She folded her hands on top of the table. “Enjoying your coffee?”


“So…crazy day, huh?”

“The craziest,” Tilleran said, and glanced at Madera. “Are you all right, Lieutenant?”

“I was just wondering…when you look in my mind…what do you see?”

“You actually want me to look?” Tilleran asked, leaning forward.

“Yeah. I…well…the thing, the magnet thing, couldn’t get me to desire anything, and apparently that’s why it went all…kabloom.”

Tilleran raised her eyebrows. “That’s fascinating.”

“I guess I’m just having a…blase day. A blase month, really.”

“Lucky for us,” Tilleran muttered, then focused on Madera. “Relax, this won’t hurt a bit.”

“I know. It’s just like when you cheated on Scrabble night a few weeks ago.”

“Shh, don’t think about that. I need your mind to be clear.” Tilleran looked into the helmsperson’s eyes. “That’s…something.”


Tilleran gave a small smile. “You’re perfectly normal. You’re fine. Maybe a little indifferent, but that’s no crime.”

Madera shrugged. “I guess I’ve been…out of it lately. Just kind of low key. I mean, I really had no reaction when I heard about Richards and J’hana. Maybe he did leave me at the altar, but that was over a year ago. I’m so past that. I’m just…” She shrugged. “Eh.”

“Well, whatever the circumstances, it appears you saved the day. You should tell everyone…”

“Nah,” Madera said, and waved Tilleran back with her hand. “I’d just as soon keep this between us.”

“But why?”

“Because when you’re not all excited all the time…not talking about yourself, your problems…when you’re not really happy or really sad…when you’re just, just…there…it maddens people. It annoys them. Like they have to fix you. Like if you’re not riding one extreme or the other, you must be broken.”

“I think you’re overreacting, but then again, I’m not a counselor, so…”

Madera pushed back from her chair. “Thanks, Commander. I appreciate your help.”

“I didn’t really do anything.”

“You did plenty,” Madera said with a grin.

As Madera walked off, Tilleran reached out and took her hand. “Say, Lieutenant. What would you say if I told you I could make you…happy again?”

“I’d say not everybody’s supposed to be happy all the time. I’ll see you on the bridge.”

“Are you all done?” Imhala, Janice Browning’s waitress, said, looming impatiently over Tilleran’s shoulder, as the Betazoid watched Madera walk away.

“In a little while,” Tilleran said.

“Well, I have to close soon. I have a date and I can’t miss it.”

“I’m enjoying my coffee.”

“Well, enjoy it faster.”

Tilleran narrowed her eyes as she sipped her coffee. “You know, you might miss that date, after all. The customer comes first, right?”

“What are you…” Imhala said as Tilleran stared at her, and trailed off, her eyes glazing a bit. “You know what? You’re right. The customer comes first. Would you like another coffee?”

“Please,” Tilleran said with a smile.



Counselor Peterman convinces Lt. Sefelt to volunteer to lead the Escort on a supply run, hoping to improve his self confidence and dispel some of his fears. Baxter agrees, grudgingly, to let him go. There’s just one catch: Peterman has to go with him.

Tags: vexed