Author: Anthony Butler
ANDOR THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO. . .
“Clear the way, bottom-dwellers, for Haz’maht, of the Ninth Hive, bloodletter of Andor, silencer of voices, creator of dispair, dislodger of hope, smotherer of breaths, smiter of all which irks him, comes your way!”
Zhan, the head of the Andor Death Academy, sighed and looked at the timepiece in his palm, as he leaned against the podium at the front of the amphitheater, crowded with sixty thousand Andorians.
“For Hivemother’s sake, Haz’maht, just come get your fwarking award,” Zhan said, watching as the victorious winner mounted the stage, flexing his rippling blue muscles, clad in leather and metallic spikes, face painted in ritual symbols.
Haz’maht approached the podium, and knelt. “It is with great honor that I receive this award. May it bring honor to myself and my family, and generations of the Ninth Hive brood.”
“You also get a cheese kit,” Zhan said. “For an additional charge, you can be listed in ‘One Thousand of the Greatest Murderers of the Year,’ a beautifully-bound volume that can be treasured by…look, do you want the book or not?”
Haz’maht considered the offer carefully. “No. I will just take the award.”
“Fantastic,” Zhan said, and turned to face a beautiful Andorian woman who’d emerged from behind the curtains, also clad in leather and metal. She came out carrying a broad, beautifully-sharp sword.
“Are you ready to receive your award?”
“Most definitely,” Haz’maht said, and stood at his full height. “Haz’maht has killed, then killed some more, then killed some more, until…”
Zhran sighed, then took the sword, swinging it in a precise arc. A second later, Haz’maht’s head thunked to the ground.
“There,” Zhran said. “Ceremony’s over. There will be a brief reception afterward.” Zhran handed the sword back to the woman who’d brought it, and she quickly wiped it with the towel that hung at her hip.
“Was that really part of the ceremony?” she asked.
“No. I just found him insufferable.”
“Then, may I ask, what do you usually do when you bestow the award?”
“Just give them the sword and the cheese kit and be done with it. But he was getting on my last nerve. All that bragging about his conquests. The man never shuts up.”
“He was particularly good looking, though,” the woman said thoughtfully, glancing down at Haz’maht’s head, as the crowded amphitheater emptied.
“Do you want to be beheaded, too?”
“Then quit your insolence and get rid of this body so we can catch the remainder of the reception. And make a note: Members of the Ninth Hive are no longer eligible to receive the Award for Meritorious Killing.”
“That hardly seems fair.”
“Darling, this is Andor. Fair is not part of the equation.”
NOW. . .
“This is nice,” Commander Chris Richards said, draped across the bed in J’hana’s cabin, catching his breath as the Andorian sat, knees drawn up, running a sharpener over her toenails.
“What? The minute shavings of my toenails hitting you as I continue honing them into claws?”
“N-no. Actually I meant this…laying here with you. You know…after the fact.”
“Yes. About that. When do you plan on leaving?”
Richards rolled over to face her. “Why J’hana, are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Yes. I have security drills in an hour and I have to prepare something particularly nasty for my people. One of them tried to…hug me…yesterday, and because of that, all must suffer.”
“J’ha.na…we’ve been doing…this…” he pointed to the bed, “…for a few months now. Don’t you think it’s time we, you know, define things?”
“First of all,” J’hana replied, her antennae curling a bit and pointing toward Richards. “The bed is a new twist. I was more than happy to continue mating in random closets about the ship, until you started complaining about your back.”
“Yeah…well, you did kind of strain a vertebrate last week. Remember, it was only a year ago I nearly fell to my death in that Breen Circus act…”
“The doctor was able to fix it. You are ambulatory again, are you not?”
“For the moment,” Richards said, rubbing his back. He leaned up, took J’hana’s hands, and looked at her. “You realize, I signed on for this just the same as you did. To clear my mind of the problems I was having with Janice.”
“And I with my Imzadi. Yes, it was an equitable arrangement.” J’hana stared down at Richards’s hands, as if they were some type of alien contrivance. “Why are you touching me so long after mating?”
“Because, like it or not, I’m starting to care about you,” Richards said, and inched closer. “Call me silly, but…”
“BE GONE FROM HERE!” J’hana shouted, and jabbed her toenail sharpener against Richards’s bare chest, carving a swath of flesh. “NOW!”
“Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaghhhh…” Richards cried out, clutching his chest. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Not a fwarking thing,” J’hana said, balling up Richards’s clothes and pushing them against his chest, then shoving him toward the door to her cabin. “I am quite done with this arrangement. Thank you for your patronage. Good day.” She shoved Richards, and his clothes, into the corridor.
“Was it something I said?” he asked softly as J’hana’s door closed.
“You’re naked,” Ensign Stuart said as he passed by.
“Thanks,” Richards said, bunching his clothes around his waist as best he could.
“So you attacked him,” Counselor Peterman said, leaning forward on her elbows across from the fainting couch in her office. “And how did that make you feel?”
“Victorious,” J’hana said. “True, I tend to…damage him…quite a bit during our mating exploits. But this was something different. It was visceral, primal. I felt alive in doing it.”
“What if you’d sliced a major artery? He could have bled to death out in the corridor!”
“He’s made of sturdier stuff than that, I assure you.”
“So now what,” Peterman said. “You’ve driven him away, so what are you going to do now?”
J’hana’s eyes darted at Peterman. “I did not drive him away. This was the natural conclusion of the relationship.”
“So you admit it was a relationship,” Peterman said.
“Do not try to manipulate me with your pathetic psychobabble,” J’hana said, leaning up. “I’m well versed in your deceit and trickery.”
“I’ve never seen you so passionate,” Peterman said. “Look at you. You’re a shade bluer than usual. You’re shaking.”
“I enjoyed hurting him.”
“There’s an old Earth song lyric,” Peterman said, leaning back. “‘You only hurt the ones you love.’”
“In that case, I am about to make love to you,” J’hana growled, pounding her fist into her hand.
Peterman inched back a bit in her chair. She always pondered some sort of forcefield when it came to her appointments with J’hana. “This is hard, I know it. Any real breakthrough is. But it’s important that you come to this realization. For your own good, and Chris’s. You need to realize you’re developing feelings for him. And you need to chase those feelings.”
“If I caught up with the feelings, it would be a massacre,” J’hana pondered.
“If you like to think of it that way,” Peterman shrugged. “Regardless, you’ve got to stop this, abusing your powers like this…”
J’hana cocked her head. “Abusing my…?”
Peterman shook her head. “I dunno where that came from. Abusing Commander Richards, is what I meant. You’ve got to stop abusing him, when what you really want to do is embrace him.”
“Don’t apply your pathetic human platitudes to me, Counselor. Andorians mate for pleasure and procreation, and that’s it. It’s a loveless, adventuresome act, that carries with it no shred of emotional attachment whatsoever, save for the hunger to do it again.”
“I don’t think that’s quite true,” Peterman said. “You loved Ariel Tilleran.”
J’hana’s eyes narrowed. “I thought we agreed not to speak of that.”
“I’m sorry, you’re right, of course,” Peterman said. “But one is inexorably connected to another. You’ll never be able to begin another relationship until you accept that the last one is over.”
“That I’ve done,” J’hana said, and stood. “Thank you for your assistance. Our time is up.”
“We’ve got like twenty minutes…”
“I SAID…our time is up,” J’hana said, and turned for the door. “You have, however, given me some food for thought.”
“So you’ll talk to Christopher? Tell him how you feel?”
“I will…approach him.”
Peterman smiled, wiping her forehead as J’hana left. Much better.
Now if she could only stop from daydreaming.
Richards tossed in bed that, night, tugging the covers around him. His chest itched from where Dr. Wilcox had applied the dermal regenerator, and he couldn’t stop thinking about…
His eyes snapped open, and locked with another pair of eyes staring right back at him in his dim bedroom.
She reached out and clamped a hand around his neck. “Do not move,” she said. “Do not struggle.”
“Gurp,” he squeaked as she squeezed his throat.
“Listen carefully. Attempt to interrupt me, and I’ll crush your windpipe.”
“That’s better.” J’hana’s antennae twitched slightly. “I snuck into your quarters because I did not want to lure you into the pretense of a date. We owe each other much more than that. Besides, this way, I avoid an embarrassing, public scene.”
“Plsss dnt kll me…” Richards croaked.
J’hana squeezed harder. “What did I say about interrupting me?”
“Now it seems,” she said, not letting up on her grip. “That I’ve grown… somewhat accustomed to your presence. Now do not let your rabid human emotions get carried away with this notion. I simply…enjoy you.” She worked her jaw thoughtfully. “Many things about you. More than an Andorian and human rightly should.”
“Silence,” J’hana snapped back. “So we’re left with a simple decision. Do we end this relationship and spare both our feelings, or do we proceed, and see where this drunken sehlat ride takes us? Blink once for the first option, twice for the second.”
Richards blinked. Once.
“Very well,” J’hana said, letting go of Richards’s throat and turning around. “You will not hear of this again. Good ni…”
“No!” Richards croaked. “I meant to blink twice…but I was starting to pass out from oxygen depravation.”
J’hana turned. “Indeed?”
Richards nodded. “Let’s do it. Let’s see where this goes.” He rubbed his throat.
“As you wish,” J’hana said, with a small, but violent, smile.
“So…that whole bedroom invasion…could we play that over again, but with sex?”
J’hana growled deeply. “I suppose. You are a sick man for proposing that, though.”
“More Bajoran squid soup?” Browning asked, hovering behind Peterman with a steaming pot.
Peterman looked up and smiled politely. “No, thanks. Three bowls were plenty.”
“You’re sure? It’s fresh squid!”
“Positive,” Peterman said, and glanced back down at her padd. “It’s the darnedest thing.”
“Oh. Nothing. A patient of mine is having a rough time with a…relationship…of hers. And she believes it’s because they’re from two separate races. And her race is somewhat, you know, warlike and violent.”
“You’re talking about Christopher and J’hana,” Browning said, sitting down beside Peterman.
“I can’t reveal patient information, Janice,” Peterman said quickly.
“Of course,” Browning muttered. “So, these patient, having trouble, eh?”
“Yes. But nothing a little intervention from a friendly neighborhood counselor won’t help.”
“You think so? That’s nice.”
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “Well, thanks for lunch. I’ll talk to you later.” She stood up, and headed for the door.
Browning looked down at her bubbling pot of soup. “Yeah. Later.”
Later that day, J’hana tossed a towel around her neck and surveyed the dozen security officers writhing, breathless, on the mats in the ship’s aerobics studio.
“Good workout, people,” she said. “That’s enough for today. Those of you who need medical attention…you know where Sickbay is. The rest of you…” she glanced around. “Well, pretty much all of you need medical attention. Good job.” With that, she headed toward the locker room, where she found Lt. Commander Tilleran lacing up her sneakers, clad in jogging pants and a sports bra.
She looked up. “Oh. Hello, J’hana.”
“Betazoid,” J’hana said, and moved past Tilleran to her locker.
“How’ve you been?” Tilleran said, straightening, then pulling her leg back, stretching it out.
“I am fine,” J’hana said, and began stripping off her skintight black workout leotard.
“That’s…good,” Tilleran said, and averted her eyes. “Haven’t seen you in the last few weeks.”
“I have been working an alternate shift. To accommodate my…social habits.”
“That’s nice. I’m happy for you and Chris.”
“Are you?” J’hana asked, whirling.
Tilleran stumbled back. “Yes.”
“Then why do you close your mind to me? Why are you blocking it, even now?”
“I…” Tilleran began. “I’m not…”
“You are lying,” J’hana said, and turned back to her locker, spandex suit half hanging off her. “And I do not appreciate telepathic sleight of hand. If you disapprove of my relationship, if you’re jealous, then tell me. Do not hide your thoughts away like some miserable shevath!”
“It’s complicated,” Tilleran said. “I wish I could talk to you about it, but…”
“But it’s over. I realize that. Do you take me for a fool, Betazoid?”
“No,” Tilleran said. “I just…”
“You just wish for me to be out of your mind, and out of your life.” In an impressive display of acrobatics, J’hana leapt, peeling off the remainder of her leotard as she did so, then tossed it in the reclamator. She stepped up close to Tilleran, chest heaving, brazen in all her nakedness. “Well, that serves me just as well.”
Just then, the comm system beeped. “Bridge to Lieutenant Commander J’hana,” the voice of Lt. Miller broke in.
“Yes, you cowardly freak.”
“Y-you…um, you’ve got a communication coming in from Andor.”
“Put it through to the women’s locker room. I’ll take my message in the nude.”
“Yes, sir, ma’am, sir…whatever!”
“Excuse me. I’ve got to take this. Go, run. That’s what you’re good at,” J’hana said, and waved Tilleran off.
Tilleran let out an exasperated breath, then turned and headed out of the locker room.
J’hana approached the comm unit next to the shaving station and tapped a control, activating the connection, pondering for a moment how many times she had misused said shaving station, beyond all Starfleet regulations.
The Federation symbol on the screen gave way to the image of an Andorian. More annoyingly, it was an Andorian J’hana was quite familiar with.
“D’aht,” she muttered.
“J’hana,” Daht replied. “So good to see you again. How long has it been?”
“Does it matter?”
“I see you’re naked.”
J’hana grimaced. “Yes. What does it matter to you?”
“Nothing. I was simply admiring your pectorals.”
“What in the name of unholy disembowelment do you want?”
“J’hana, that’s no way to address the bearer of such good news.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Much like my sister, I too sought out a place in the arts once I was done serving my prison and torture sentence for trying to destabilize the Andorian government.”
“Yes. How is Suva, by the way? Still on the Arts council?”
“Yes. She sends you veiled threats.”
“I’d expect no other kind. Now, before my skin puckers from the steam in this place, please tell me what you want.”
“As I said,” D’aht continued, “I took a place in the arts. But I don’t have the artistic aptitude of you and Suva. I quite prefer the deadly arts.”
“You’ve joined the Andorian Slaughter Society, then?”
“Indeed, I’ve been in the A.S.S. for several years. Eighteen months ago, I took a seat on the A.S.S. awards council.”
“You must be proud.”
“Not so proud as when I heard the news of your exploits on the Explorer during the incident with the Orions.”
“You speak of the killing.”
D’aht nodded, and pressed a button off-screen, prompting a small sub-screen to pop up, displaying the footage of J’hana carving her way through a horde of Orions invading the Explorer. “What was the final body count, again?” she asked.
“Two hundred and seven,” J’hana recited. “Others died of collateral injuries some time after the initial attack, but I do not count those.”
“Understandable,” D’aht said. “Still, for a Starfleet officer on active duty, two hundred and seven is an impressive number. Impressive enough to catch the eye of the nominating committee.”
“You’re kidding me,” J’hana said, rubbing her chin. “The Award for Meritorious Killing? The A.S.S. wants to honor me?”
“That’s the one. You’re one of three finalists.”
“Interesting. I’ve always assumed my people disdained my Starfleet career, as it’s seldom a path to righteous death.”
“Our people are well known for giving credit when it’s due,” D’aht said. “Come to Andor, J’hana. Join us as the A.S.S. puts on a spectacular extravaganza, in your honor.”
“Hmm,” J’hana said. “It’s fairly busy here. I suppose I could shift some appointments around. Are they holding the Ball again?”
“As always. You can even bring a date…if you like that kind of thing.”
J’hana nodded. “This is excellent news. I will be there. Plus one.”
“Very good.” D’aht glanced at a screen beside her and tapped a control. “Would you like the chicken or entrails?”
“Entrails for me.” She sighed. “My date will have the chicken.”
D’aht cocked her head, looking at J’hana askance. “As you wish. See you soon.”
“Yes. Oh, and…D’aht?”
“If you try to kill me…”
“You’ll be the first to know. D’aht out!”
“Well, of course, if it’s D’aht, then by all means, go,” Captain Baxter muttered, tossing the padd with J’hana’s request on his desk, and looking up from his chair at J’hana, who stood rigidly opposite his desk. “All she did was try to kill the President of the Federation a couple years ago.”
“This is sarcasm,” J’hana said. “It’s a waste of time to say the opposite of what you really mean.”
“Come to think of it, trying to kill Bradley Dillon isn’t a problem here, but she could have killed Richards, your new boyfriend by the way, too.”
“Please don’t say boyfriend.”
“The point is, you shouldn’t trust her. She tried to overthrow the Andorian government. She’s a killer. Like you, except not on our side.”
“Why must you be so difficult, sir? I ask very little of you.”
“You asked me if you could kill the astrometrics staff last week.”
“They incorrectly labeled a gas giant, which threw off one of my tactical reports.”
“By all means, then. Off with their heads.”
“Again with the sarcasm. Do others find it funny? Because I do not.”
Baxter sighed. “Have you even considered that this is a huge trap? That D’aht will try to kill you?”
“Oh, she’ll definitely try to kill me, sir. But to imply that it’s a trap would indicate that I don’t know she’ll try it. It really just comes down to a matter of tradition.”
“That your people try to kill each other.”
“It’s a pasttime. Like your footbop.”
“I could care less. Look…I thought you would be proud of me. The Award for Meritorious Killing is one of the most prestigious honors an Andorian can receive.”
“Other than death in combat.”
“Yes. But that’s so…done.”
“You did kill an awful lot of Orions on that mission.”
“I am pretty sure one or two of them weren’t Orion, but that’s neither here nor there, as far as I’m concerned.”
“When you’re right, you’re right,” Baxter said. He turned and glanced out his window a moment at the starscape passing by. “You know, the Federation is always saying we need to strengthen our ties with Andor. That ever since they nearly seceded from the Federation six years ago, that relations have been strained.”
“That’s because Andorians generally see humans and others in the Federation as cowardly and weak-willed.”
“Well, we’re all one big happy Federation, in the end,” Baxter said. “Let’s pay them a visit.”
“Sir, all I really need is a runabout…”
“Nonsense,” Baxter said, rising. “We’re on detached duty for a couple weeks. We can afford to take some time to go to your homeworld. If you’re getting a big award, it’s only right that your crew be there, cheering you on.”
“Could you possibly…not do that?”
“Not a chance,” Baxter said, patting J’hana on the back. “We’re family, and we’ll damn well act like it. Tell your Andorian friends the Explorer is coming to an orbit near them.”
“Fantastic. They will be thrilled.”
“And try to get a few extra tickets for the senior staff. It sounds like there’ll be some great food, all entrails aside.”
“This is disturbing,” Peterman said, tapping her lips thoughtfully, pacing as J’hana sat on the fainting couch in her office.
“What? That I am nervous about this upcoming…date with Commander Richards?”
“No. That Andy would commit me to an event without asking first. Doesn’t he realize I have a life too?”
J’hana worked her jaw thoughtfully. “He did not mention you by name. He actually just said ‘senior staff.’”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be wanting me to go. And be my usual effervescent self.”
“If it matters at all, I’d rather none of you were there.”
“That’s nice, J’hana, but that’s not the point,” Peterman said. “Andy’s got to learn about boundaries. I’ll have to sit him down tonight and…”
“Isn’t this session supposed to be about me?”
Peterman glanced down at her. She sat, folding her hands in her lap. “Yes. Of course, you’re right. Tell me, why are you nervous about this date with Chris?”
“I suppose…some part of me fears that my harshness is sometimes mistaken for outright hostility.”
Peterman blinked. “It isn’t outright hostility?”
“No. It usually is. But with Commander Richards, I do feel a…”
Peterman leaned forward. This was amazing. In a few brief moments, J’hana had begun to reveal new elements to her once flat and predictable personality. She was admitting to being a fully-fledged person, with all the lies and dreams and hopes of…
“I do feel a need to not kill him,” J’hana finally said. “Isn’t that terribly…mushy?”
“Yes, but only for you,” Peterman said. “J’hana, I think you’re starting to fall in love.”
“Fwark that. This was just supposed to be about sex.”
“Well, Andy and I were supposed to be just friends at first, but look where we are now.”
“I guarantee he wanted sex from the beginning.”
“Per…haps,” Peterman stammered. “However, you have to think of yourself. What is it you want, J’hana?”
“Well…” J’hana leaned forward, resting on her knees. “I suppose it would not hurt to demonstrate that I have a softer side. That I am not going to kill him.”
“I like where this is going,” Peterman smiled.
“However, the last time I tried to have a relationship discussion, I nearly crushed his windpipe.”
“Yes, well let’s try not to do that so much,” Peterman said. She tossed the thought around in her mind a bit, then smiled wider. “I think I have a solution, but it’s radical. You may not be ready for this.”
J’hana’s antennae perked. “Do your worst.”
“Voila!” Yeoman James Briggs said, spinning the chair toward the mirror and gesturing at J’hana, his “jazz hands” wriggling.
J’hana glowered at her reflection. “This was a colossal mistake.”
Peterman stood beside her chair in the salon and looked on. “I love it. It’s kicky, fresh, young and adventuresome.”
“So is a killing spree. May I start with you, and the man in a blouse?”
“It’s not a blouse,” James muttered. “It’s a…frilly top. At any rate, your hair looks fabulous.”
J’hana stared at herself. Her once ordinary white bowl of hair was reshaped, and the bun of white braids that rested at the back of her neck had been unwound, and likewise styled and teased to within an inch of its life.
“There is a reason Andorians have short hair,” she grunted. “So that our opponents cannot throw us around by it.”
“Something tells me you’ll survive most of those confrontations,” Peterman said. “Now let’s get you to Old Starfleet while they’re still open. I saw the cutest little outfit for you.”
J’hana glanced back at James as Peterman dragged her out of the salon by her wrist. “I am going to push her over the second floor railing and make sure she falls to her death. Say your goodbyes now.”
“Hmm. Interesting.” Commander Richards sat in his office, poring over Lt. Commander Hartley’s report.
“Just say it, sir,” Hartley said with a smirk from opposite his desk.
“The engines. They’re humming like an Orion slavegirl, aren’t they?”
Hartley leaned forward. “How good?”
“Uh-huh. And how would you say the engine performance now compares with, say, four years ago?”
Richards cocked his eyebrow. “That number seems rather…arbitrary. But I suppose they’re…better.”
“And who was chief engineer then?”
“There’ve been a number of technological advancements between then and now…”
Richards waffled. “Well, I’m not up on all the latest journals, but…”
“Just admit it, I’m damn good at this job.”
“And modest, too.”
Hartley chuckled. “The important thing is, I found a place that suits my skills better than being a transporter chief, and you found a place that suits your skills better than being chief engineer! Just look at you…commanding people. Setting up schedules. Handling complaints. I hate that stuff.”
“Yeah,” Richards said, and leaned back. “I don’t hate it.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Hartley said, and leaned forward, drumming her fingers on his desk. “I don’t know about you, Commander, but it would take a hell of a lot to rip me away from this job.”
“Yeah,” Richards said distantly. “Same here.”
Just then, the door to the office bleeped.
Hartley turned in her chair. “Must be another department head doing a kick-ass job.”
“Come,” Richards said, rubbing his temples. “Please.’
The door wooshed open. Richards and Hartley gaped in unison.
“I…” Hartley’s mouth opened and closed. “I’ve got nothing.”
“Um…” Richards said.
“Don’t just sit there dumbstruck, you fools. Complement my appearance or die.” J’hana grinned toothily, although her teeth seemed much whiter. Her hair was immaculate. A mound of cascading curls and teased locks that shimmered in the artificial light of Richards’s office.
Her face was artfully dabbed in extra-blue makeup, with some pink highlights around her eyes and on the tips of her antennae.
She wore a wide-collared black silk shirt, white mini-skirt, and knee-high leather boots.
“Damn,” Hartley said, slowly rising. “I think even I’m getting a little turned on.”
“Don’t tease,” J’hana said, narrowing her eyes at her. “I’ll make you regret it.”
“Yeah, that’s my cue to get out of here.” She headed for the door. “Oh, by the way, Commander. We’ll be at Andor in a couple hours, which is ahead of schedule. Damn I’m good!”
J’hana stood opposite Richards for a beat as the doors closed. She folded her arms. “Well?”
“Wh-what do you want me to say?” Richards asked.
“Do you find me…appealing?”
“Yeah,” Richards nodded dumbly. “But who…did that to you?”
“Counselor Peterman, Yeoman Briggs, and the attendants at Old Starfleet. Did you know knee-high boots are back in, for a third consecutive season?”
“Um, I didn’t.”
J’hana swanked stiffly over to Richards’s desk and sat on it, swinging her legs over. “I am here to please you. Tell me what you want.”
“Sex on my desk, if you really want to know.”
“As you wish.” She rolled over. “Take me, you great, sizzling hunk of burning hot man!”
Richards yanked open his uniform tunic. “Remind me to thank Counselor Peterman.”
“Do not abuse the buttons on this shirt. I am returning it tomorrow. Now take me!”
“Hey, buddy, just checking to…wow!” Captain Baxter exclaimed, stepping into Briggs’s salon and fashionery.
Richards stood there, awkwardly tugging at the neckline of his blousy shirt. “I look like a…pirate or something.”
“Nah. More like you’re playing a pirate in a big musical production.” Baxter leaned against a salon chair as Richards studied himself in the mirror. “I think it’s nice.”
“I feel like an idiot.”
“Well, you look like one too, but I think that’s unavoidable at this point. Think of it this way, you’re winning major points with J’hana.”
“I wasn’t aware she gave out points.”
“I’m not sure she does either, but you might as well try.” Baxter took a big breath. “This is big for you, Chris. The first relationship after Janice. Who knows, this may actually turn into something.”
Richards stared at his reflection thoughtfully. “That’s kind of what I’m afraid of.”
Baxter walked up and slapped Richards on the back. “Don’t worry, buddy. Just go with your instincts.”
“Yeah, cause they’ve been real helpful so far.”
“Oh, stop being so melodramatic and put on this floppy tie!” Yeoman Briggs announced, breezing into the salon from the adjacent storage room. He tossed the tie at Richards, who stared at it blankly.
“I’m going to look like an idiot.”
“You’re going to look trendy,” James said. “The bell-bottoms are retro. They’re very twenty-third century. Now let me finish up the hem on those pants.”
Richards watched as James knelt, tugging at the inseam at his tie and applying the auto-stitch. “You keep going back to the inseam. I told you, it’s fine!”
“Let me be the judge of that,” James said with a chuckle.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Baxter grinned, and headed for the door.
“I’ve got to put on my Starfleet dress uniform. No bell-bottoms!”
“Help me,” J’hana growled, as the doors to her cabin opened. “I’ve been bedazzled, whatever that means.”
Counselor Peterman, replete in a silky red dress, stepped in, eyes beaming. “It looks better than I’d hoped! James is a genius!”
“You’re supposed to!” Peterman looked J’hana up and down, circling her and studying the boddice-hugging floor-length dress. “I love the way it hugs your hips. And the length draws attention away from your freakishly muscular calves.”
“I once crushed a skull with them.”
“Yes,” Peterman said, putting her hands on J’hana’s shoulders. “And you’re going to take that kind of enthusiasm, and redirect it at Commander Richards.”
“You want me to crush his skull?”
“NO! I mean, romantically…”
“Because I’ve considered it, on more than one occasion.”
Peterman scrubbed a hand over her face. “You’re not getting…oh, nevermind. Just go out there and have a great time.”
“Very well. Will I see you at the Blue Ball?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.” Peterman blinked. “Wait, the what?”
J’hana smoothed her dress and walked toward the door. “Tonight’s event, which celebrates all of the award winners at tomorrow night’s ceremony. The Blue Ball.”
“Of course. Why am I not surprised?”
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to learn how to walk in this fwarking constricting thing.”
“I’ll see you at the Ball!” Peterman waved. “Oh, it’s so heartwarming when you get to control their lives.” She sighed and headed the other way, looking for Baxter. He was probably fighting his way into his dress slacks about now.
Richards extended his arm as J’hana ducked into the transporter room. “After you, milady.”
“Um, nothing. Just go to the transporter pad.”
J’hana looked at Richards askance as she mounted the pad. “You’ve been looking at me oddly ever since I picked you up at your cabin.”
“I’m just…this is such a different look for you.”
“Do you not like it?”
“No, I just…do you care if I don’t like it?”
“Enough chatter. Ensign Yang, engage transporters.”
Blue lights cascaded around the banquet hall as screaming, metallic, death-metal style music billowed out of every speaker in the house.
Richards held his hands to his ears to blot out the screeching “music,” but it did no good.
“Are you having a good time?” he shouted at J’hana.
“Good enough,” J’hana said, scanning the crowd. “I have noticed several rather cutting remarks aimed at my attire.”
“We do seem…overdressed.”
J’hana looked around. “Yes. I feared this would be the case. Traditional Andorian dress garb is leather straps and spikes.”
“They make it work.”
She nodded. “As I once did. No matter. This pleases you.”
Richards glared at her. “J’hana, I liked you the way you were. You didn’t need to do all this for me. I figured you liked it…”
“If you did, then you do not know me. This was all for you.”
J’hana sighed. “It makes no matter. Andorians are a spiteful, hateful lot. If they did not have this to complain about, they’d find something else. You should be warned though, that a death strike will occur before the night is over.”
“Will you tell me when to duck?”
“Certainly; however, I doubt ducking will save you. Ah, D’aht, how are you doing!”
D’aht approached, clad only in an art-deco looking sheath of aluminumesque metal strips. “Jan, so lovely to see you! What…” Her eyes bugged, antennae waggled. “What in the name of the hive mother’s flabby arms are you wearing?”
“Human attire,” J’hana said flatly. “I see you’ve gained weight.”
“I’ve enhanced my pectorals,” D’aht replied.
Richards looked from one to the other, shifting uncomfortably.
J’hana narrowed her eyes. “Yes, of course. D’aht, you may remember Commander Richards. He helped us prevent you and your sister from destroying Andor as we know it.”
“Yes,” D’aht said, limply holding her hand out for Richards to shake. “I vaguely remember that.”
“Glad to see you’re out of prison,” Richards said by way of conversation.
“Well, we can’t all be mass-murderers like J’hana, but I like to think I’ve made a nice life for myself. Have you tried the entrails?”
“I’m having the chicken,” Richards said.
“Oh,” D’aht said icily. “Right. The chicken.”
“Humans tend to find entrails unappealing,” J’hana said.
“Well, we can’t all be perfect,” D’aht said with a laugh. “Kill you later?”
J’hana nodded. “Not if I kill you first.”
“Enjoy the Ball!”
“Right.” J’hana glanced around. “Do you want another drink? I’m parched.”
“Isn’t this the stuff that would dissolve my esophagus if consumed?”
“Well, yeah. Do you want some or not?”
“Nah, maybe later.”
“So how many people in this room do you think want to kill me?” Baxter asked, as he and Peterman walked hand-in-hand into the ballroom.
“Roughly all of them,” Peterman said. “The Andorians are a warlike culture, after all.”
“The Klingons actually seem kinda reasonable by comparison,” Baxter said.
“You did win a fight to the death with the Chancellor.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Maybe I’ll tell that story tonight. You know, get some good vibes.”
“Somehow I’m guessing the less you say the better. Have you seen Richards or J’hana?”
“Nah,” Baxter said. “And you’d think it would be easy. There aren’t many non-blue faces in here.” He maneuvered toward the middle of the milling crowd, and accidentally elbowed a hunched, older Andorian lady.
She whirled, swinging her cane at him, dropping his legs out from under him. “You’ve declared deathmatch! Off with your head!”
“No-no…” Peterman stammered. “He wasn’t trying to death…match. He’s just clumsy.”
A blade emerged from the tip of the haggard woman’s cane and she peered at Baxter through one open eye. “You should still die. Your head would be excellent for the silent auction later.”
“But I kind of like my head,” Baxter said defensively.
“Feh. You’re hardly worth the trouble, shnarzix.”
“Thanks!” Baxter waved, as Peterman helped him to his feet. “Honey, mental note, be very careful here.”
“So…” Richards said, sitting at a corner table with J’hana, who stared off at the crowd as he stuck another forkful of chicken into his mouth. “The chicken’s actually really good. Kind of like chicken kiev, but spicier. How are the entrails?”
“Fresh and wriggly,” J’hana muttered, continuing to look at the crowd.
“Are you all right?”
“I am fine.”
“You seem…I don’t know…preoccupied.”
“Of course not.” She turned to Richards and smiled. “I am simply…ugh. Enjoying your company.”
“Great.” Richards reached out a hand and clutched J’hana’s. “I’m glad we could do this. You know…something…constructive.”
“You are still thinking of sex. I can detect your arousal with my antennae.”
“Maybe. But I also like being with you.”
“And I with you. However, what you’ve seen today is the farthest I will go to win you over.”
“You don’t have to do anything to win me over, J’hana,” Richards said, squeezing her hand. “You’ve already done that.”
J’hana stared at Richards’s hand. “I think I may vomit.”
“From the entrails, I hope?”
“Forget about it. I’ll be fine. I just need some fresh air.” She stood and stiffly waddled to the nearest door, still tightly wound in her dress.
“Nice outfit, human!” one of the Andorians called out. J’hana’s antennae wriggled but she didn’t look back.
Richards sat there a while, eating, wondering what the squiggly lumps were in his pasta side-dish, when suddenly Baxter and Richards emerged from the crowd, plates in hand.
“There you are,” Baxter moaned, and collapsed into the seat next to him. “You have no idea what we went through to get here.”
“We were challenged to battles to the death five times between the dinner line and here,” Peterman said, looking at her plate. “Okay, somebody screwed up my order. I got entrails.”
“Want some of my chicken?” Baxter offered.
“Yes, you’re so sweet…” Peterman said, reaching over with her fork to jab at Baxter’s plate. “So how are things going?”
“How are they going?” Richards worked his jaw thoughtfully. “What the hell have you been putting in her head?”
“She’s acting weird. All accommodating. Not violent at all.”
“And isn’t that an improvement?”
“It’s not J’hana!” Richards snapped, throwing his fork down. “Don’t you realize that? Not everybody has to be…Susie Normal!”
Peterman bit her lip. “I was just trying to help.”
“And a good job she did of it too, right, Chris?” Baxter said, patting Peterman on the shoulder.
“Yeah, terrific,” Richards muttered, and walked off.
“J’hana?” Richards asked, stepping out a side hatch of the ballroom facility, and into a dim, rainy alleyway. In the distance, the sound of hover-air vehicles, screaming and explosions, indicative of a major Andorian city such as Zabarz, could be heard above the din of ceaseless rainstorms.
Yes, it was monsoon season on Andor.
Richards hugged his jacket around him tighter and glanced about. “I know you have great hearing. So if you’re out here, you know, say something. I’m pretty sure I heard this type of rain is dangerous to humans after prolonged exposure.”
“That’s not all that’s dangerous to humans,” a voice said from behind Richards. He turned, to find six Andorians blocking the door he’d just exited. He’d never even heard them.
“Who are you?” Richards asked.
“Not your girlfriend,” the boxy-shaped man said, stepping forward, whipping a chain into his hand. “Not your friend at all.”
“Well,” Richards said. “I think we may have a huge misunderstanding here.”
“Do we?” one of the other Andorians, a broad-shouldered woman, said in a thunderous voice.
“Yeah,” Richards said. “I’m here with J’hana. Of the Ninth Hive. You may know her as the recipient of tomorrow’s Award for Meritorius Killing.”
“We’re quite familiar with the A.S.S., and the awards it bestows upon deserving Andorians,” the man muttered.
“And those not so deserving,” the woman said.
“Regardless,” the man growled, “it’s a longstanding Andorian tradition that the recipient of a major accolade can be stripped of said award if she fights and is defeated by a superior foe.”
“I doubt you could defeat J’hana,” Richards said, a small smile spreading.
“No,” the man said, whapping his hand with the chain again. “But the tradition also states that in the award winner’s absence, her mate can stand in.”
“M-mate,” Richards said, backing up until he was pressed against the opposite alley wall. “M-me?”
“Are you not her mate?”
Richards thought about that. “Well, yes, I guess I am, but…”
Richards gulped. “Haven’t you all heard of, you know, making, like, a toast or something?”
“Destroy him!” the man roared.
“Christopher, oh my stars, no!” a girlish voice called out.
The advancing Andorians turned toward the doorway, where J’hana, in all her dressed-up splendor, stood, fanning her face.
“What is this?” the man bellowed.
“Xax, you little curd of tripe,” J’hana said sweetly, stepping up to the man. “You’re still not the same since we broke up, are you?”
“I had twelve back surgeries after you left me,” Xax replied, as J’hana swept a finger along his chin.
“And you’re still a hunched over freak,” J’hana said. “You were too weak for me.”
“And he’s not?” Xax asked, angrily pointing his chain at Richards.
“Weak? Now that’s a little…” Richards pointed out, but J’hana held up a silencing finger.
“He’s weak, all right,” J’hana said. “He’s human. And I’m here to say…” She glanced back at him, her eyes twinkling. “He’s tamed me.”
One of the other attacking Andorians turned, retched, and threw up in the nearest garbage receptacle.
“No, it cannot be,” Xax said, the blue draining from his face.
“It certainly be,” J’hana said. “It just took the right kind of man to show me that there’s a better way. A kinder, gentler way.” She stroked Richards’s face. “I do love this man.” She turned at Xax and smiled. “And I couldn’t bear to watch you hurt him.”
“J’hana, you’re starting to freak me out.”
“I’m trying to be sweet,” she said between clenched teeth.
“Yes, but these people want to kill us.”
“I’m well aware. And if we do die for our love, there is surely nothing ‘sweeter’ than that.”
“Yes, but then we’ll be dead.”
“Shart. I knew you would bring that up. What fun is life if you don’t eventually die in combat!”
Richards swallowed hard. “But I don’t want to die!”
J’hana sighed. “Humans are a total mystery.”
“That’s enough,” Xax said, stretching his chain between two hands, then knotting it up in one fist. “This human’s obviously turned J’hana into a weakling. Killing her will not bring us any glory.”
“Hey, looks like your makeover came in handy…” Richards whispered.
“BUT LET’S KILL HER ANYWAY!” Xax shouted, leaping toward J’hana.
“THE HUMAN TOO!”
“J’hana, do something!” Richards shouted, pushing J’hana to the ground as Xax leapt at her, swinging his chain.
“But I may damage my dress,” J’hana replied, rolling over on the ground, pushing Richards to the side as one of the Andorians’ blades came sailing at him.
“Fwark your dress, J’hana! This is a fight, and I need you to, you know, be yourself. Do your thing!”
“You mean kill people?”
“But it’s not ladylike.”
“I don’t care! I love you just the way you are.!”
J’hana’s face softened. “Do you mean that?”
Richards nodded vigorously, and she kissed him on the forehead.
“In that case, wait one second, sweetie. I’ll be just a minute.”
With that, J’hana stood, circled by snarling, crouched, vicious Andorian murderers.
“REARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHH!” she screamed, leaning forward and flexing her arms. Her dress split down the back, and she reached back and yanked it off, leaving only a smattering of leather undergarments.
Richards ducked, covering his eyes, as he heard J’hana’s excited panting, and the juicy sounds of hand-to-hand violence, followed by horror-stricken cries of pain.
Moments later, a hand tapped his shoulder. “You may stand now.”
Richards reluctantly rose to his feet, and slowly took his hands away from his eyes. Sweaty, blood-spattered, and half-naked, J’hana stood there facing him, breathing heavy.
“That was fun,” she said, drawing a forearm across her forehead.
“You look…fantastic,” Richards said, leaning forward and kissing J’hana square on the mouth.
She hooked her arm in his. “Dessert?”
“Apparently it was something to behold,” Captain Baxter said, stepping with Peterman through the dual doors that led into Ship’s Shoppes. “From what Chris said, she laid waste to the gang of Andorians in moments.”
“Well, there’s a reason she’s winning the award for meritorious killing, I guess,” Peterman said.
“You feel like you failed.”
“Well, yeah. I was hoping to soften J’hana a bit. In hopes that her relationship with Chris would work out. They both…” She looked at Baxter earnestly. “They both really need something to work out.”
“Agreed,” Baxter said. “However, did you ever think that maybe someone like J’hana’s never going to change.”
“And really, would we want her any other way?”
Peterman shrugged. “I have to admit, she does make me feel…safe.”
“Don’t let her hear that,” Baxter muttered. “It might, you know…turn her on.”
Peterman slapped Baxter’s chest, as they ducked into Space Tastes. “Shut up.”
“Anybody home?” Baxter asked, glancing into the dim restaurant.
“Computer, lights to one half,” a voice said, and the restaurant slowly illuminated. Janice Browning sat at the back corner table, surrounded by an array of desserts. “We’re closed.”
“We just wanted a nightcap,” Baxter said.
“A nightcap of food,” Peterman fully explained. “Andy’s been talking about boston creme pies all night.”
“There’s plenty…of well, everything,” Browning said, gesturing at the plates of cakes, pies, and muffins. “Grab a fork and dig in.”
“Janice, um…you’ve got chocolate on your mouth,” Baxter said, grabbing a fork from the nearby bin, and another for Peterman.
Peterman sat down opposite Browning, and stared at her as Baxter sat down and handed her a fork.
“Janice, what’s wrong?”
“Hmm?” she said distantly. “Oh, just having dessert.”
“You’re just having ten desserts,” Peterman said. “This is a lot, even for you.”
“How was the party?”
“The…” Peterman trailed off. “Oh. The party. I see…”
“J’hana and Chris,” Baxter replied through a forkful of pie. “Man this is good!”
“Honey, let me psychoanalyze,” Peterman said, and turned back to Browning. “It’s J’hana and Chris, isn’t it?”
“Well. Yeah,” Browning said reluctantly, and pushed her plate away. “I want to see this thing with J’hana work out as much as the rest of you do, it’s just…just that…”
“You’re afraid she’ll kill him? Yeah, us too,” Baxter said, gobbling up another slice of pie.
“No, it’s not that,” Browning said. “I’m just not ready to be…enthusiastic about this. Not enough to go to a party, to watch them together, I just can’t yet.”
Peterman rubbed a hand over her face. “Janice, I’m so sorry. I feel like an idiot.”
Baxter turned to her. “Why, you’ve got no chocolate on your face.”
“Quiet, dear.” She gestured at Browning with her fork. “You needed me today, and I was busy…grooming J’hana.”
“Actually, Yeoman Briggs…”
“Shhhh.” Peterman shook her head. “I’ve been a terrible friend! I ignored you in your time of need. I didn’t even ask why you weren’t going to the Blue Ball.”
“I’ve been trying to lay low,” Browning said with a shrug.
“Well, no more of that,” Peterman said. “Andy, you’ll go down to the award show with Chris tomorrow. Support your friend. But I’m staying here with you, Janice. We’re going for a night out at the holodeck, wherever you want. I’m here for you.”
“Really?” Browning said. “You don’t have to.”
“Darn right I do,” Peterman said, reaching forward and taking Browning’s hands. “Counseling is my job, but being friends with you is what I do in my spare time. And damn it, right now, my job is to be your friend!”
“You’re not making sense,” Baxter pointed out.
“Yeah. I…drank…some stuff…at the Ball,” Peterman said, her eyes going glassy.
Browning looked at Baxter. “We’d better get her down to Sickbay.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, pushing out of his chair and helping Peterman up. He snagged a crueller, and then followed Browning out of the restaurant.
“You were magnificent tonight,” Richards said, leaning up on an elbow and staring at J’hana. “The way you…well, I was too scared to watch, but it sounded awesome.”
“I did inflict a great deal of carnage,” J’hana agreed, and stared back at Richards. “But what now? Are you sure you can handle me…the real me…without any of your sill human weaknesses?”
“I like your strength, J’hana. I love it. I draw from it. I don’t know how else to say it.”
“Then say no more,” J’hana said. “You will accompany me tomorrow to the awards ceremony?”
“Of course.” Richards thought about it. “As a matter of fact, since you tried things my way, it’s only fair that tomorrow I, uh, do things…you know, your way…”
“You wish to dress like an Andorian.”
J’hana grinned toothily. “Yeoman Briggs will be most pleased. Now then…if you wish to see a display of my strength, that can be arranged….”
Stardate 58299.4. We’re about to wind up the second of our two- day visit to Andor with what I’m told is a terrific awards show. I’m happy to report that Counselor Peterman recovered nicely after some minor gastric and nervous-system-related problems brought on by Andorian lava punch. As a result, she won’t miss her date in the holodeck with Janice.
Meanwhile, I’m heading down to the planet to show my support for Commander Richards and his new…girlfriend. Can we say ‘girlfriend’ in captain’s logs? I’m sure I’ve done it before, so no need to stop now.
Anyways, since Kelly’s not going, there’s an extra ticket. So I took someone I thought might enjoy it.
“I appreciate the ticket, Captain,” Lt. Commander Hartley said, following Baxter to the transporter room. “It’s not often I do things with senior staff type people.”
“Yeah. That’s what I was thinking. Plus, you like violence.”
“Yeah, I like a good fight.”
“You’ll probably see one,” Baxter said with a sigh.
“You’re not just bringing me for protection, are you?”
“Nonsense,” Baxter said with a nervous laugh.
“That’s what I’m here for,” Mirk said, bringing up the rear. “The Captain here figures that a semi-omnipotent being should be able to shield him from any knives that might fly his way.”
“Finding an extra ticket wasn’t hard,” Baxter said. “And it helps when you know…well, violent killers…” They came up to the transporter room door, at the same time as Lt. Commander J’hana. “Well, speak of the devil,” Baxter said with a grin, sizing up J’hana’s leather-banded outfit, complete with spikes and inappropriate garters.
“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, sir?” J’hana asked, standing rigidly at attention by the door.
“You will tonight. Your wife will regret staying on the ship.”
“Personal reasons,” Baxter said weakly, as Mirk and Hartley walked up behind him.
“I appreciate each of you coming tonight,” J’hana said somberly. “However, you must know, that as pink-skins, you will be targets. My people will be especially rambunxious, since we’re talking about killing.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Baxter said. “Besides, I’m packing a Maloxian tonight.”
“You’ll need him,” J’hana said, and pointed toward the door. “Now then, Commander Richards is within. He has dressed for the occasion. Brace yourselves.”
The doors opened, and shortly thereafter, Baxter, Mirk, and Hartley dropped to the floor laughing.
“Can we just go?” Richards asked.
“And I’d like to thank my assault and battery instructor, without whom I’d never have known the five major weak points on a Naausican’s spinal column. Thank you, again, for this terrific award.”
With that, the slender Andorian male pivoted and headed off the stage, to be replaced with Su’zan, a popular actress in Andor’s theatre world, who took the podium, smiling at the crowd.
“And that was Zzzzzztara, with the award for best hand-to-hand pummeling of a species with superior strength to weight ratio,” Su’zan said, clapping vigorously. “Let’s hear it for Zzzzztara!” She looked out at the audience. “Now then, we come to the moment of the night we’ve all been waiting for…other than the hatchet fight and the Mishtak Deluxe.”
She paused for laughter; however, there was none. “At any rate, I met J’hana of the Ninth Hive back when I was performing the role of Sleeza in the Zandor City production of ‘The Fury and The More Fury.’ She was a teenager, barely out of the hiveling stage, and she was a thing of beauty. We ran into each other on the streets of Zandor City, and anyone here who’s been there can attest that it’s not wise to travel there alone…”
Still, no laughter.
“Well, she had just stepped off a hovercar, when a roving deathmatch squadron sank upon her. I was too far away to offer assistance, but I was able to watch her dispatch fourteen Andorians in a matter of moments, then take the time to tip her hovercar driver the appropriate amount. We all know how that is.”
Someone coughed in the audience.
“Oh, come on, that was actually funny!” Su’zan sighed. “So I came to meet and know J’hana, as a deft opponent in battle. I watched her join Starfleet, and although she’s been criticized far and wide for spending her time with weaker races, she’s made a life for herself on the U.S.S. Explorer. It was there, five months ago, that she slaughtered two hundred and seven Orions. Let’s take a look…”
Baxter shifted uncomfortably in his seat as a screen emerged from the stage floor and displayed J’hana, cutting a swath through a horde of attacking Orions, defending the Explorer.
He leaned toward Hartley. “How the hell did they get ahold of our flight recorder footage anyway?”
“Don’t ask me, sir. I just came for the free food.”
“Thanks. You’re lots of help.”
“That’s just a taste of the kind of vengeance J’hana has dealt day in and day out on the Explorer. And though it’s not vogue to say so of a Starfleet officer, I believe J’hana is one of the most deserving winners of the Award for Meritorious Killing in our history. Come up to the stage, J’hana. Claim your plaque and fruit basket!”
J’hana stood, straightened her leather encumbrances, and marched up onstage. She turned and looked out on the audience.
“I have only one person I wish to thank,” J’hana said.
Baxter smiled. “That’s so nice. She really shouldn’t…”
“Commander Christopher Richards, who has been a friend, commanding officer, and most recently, a mate. Chris, come on up on stage!”
From his seat in the dim auditorium, Richards waved politely. “No thanks, J’hana.”
“You’re being modest. You know how we have talked about that. Come here now and share in my glory.”
Su’zan glanced up at the control booth. “J’hana, they’re telling us to move it along.”
“Silence. I want to share this moment with my mate!”
Reluctantly, Richards made his way to the stage, amidst gasps from the Audience.
There he stood, in all his Andorian splendor, leather, spikes, and all, and an ornate bronze codpiece that would make knight of the dark ages of Earth blush.
J’hana took his hand and lifted it, smiling viciously out at the crowd. “We did it, Christopher! The Award for Meritorious Killing. My family’s long stretch of dishonor is over!”
Richards blinked. “Their what?”
“WAIT!” a voice cried from the audience.
“This is peculiar,” Su’zan said, glancing back up at the control booth.
“D’aht,” J’hana asked, trying to see into the audience. “I know we said we’d try to kill each other before my trip was over, but your timing is rather inappropriate.”
D’aht jogged up at the stage, a large sword held aloft. “You have no claim to that award!”
“Yeah I do.” J’hana thumbed back at the plaque. “It has my name on it and everything.”
“Have you seen the bylaws of the Andorian Slaughter Society!”
J’hana looked at Su’zan, who shrugged. “I don’t know much about the A.S.S. This is just a one-time gig.”
“Three hundred years ago, it was ordained that no member of the ninth hive would ever win the Award for Meritorious Killing. And so it has been, time immemorial, until now!”
J’hana cocked her head, her antennae twitching. “But you’re the one who called me! You’re the one who championed me through the committee!”
“Yes, that’s true,” D’aht said, and leapt onto the stage. “And I did it all for the chance to stand here on stage with you, share your glory, deprive you of the right to this prestigious award, and like my ancestor of so long ago, behead you in front of a live studio audience!”
J’hana processed this, her jaw working. “So your descendant beheaded my descendant, and was singlehandedly responsible for my family being held out of contention for this award every year, for centuries?”
“Indeed. And now I intend to finish the job! Suva may have reformed, but I’m as nasty as ever, shevath. Now defend yourself!”
Su’zan, for her part, leapt from the dais. Andorian or not, most pop icons are fairly soft individuals.
Richards ducked, as J’hana stood in front of him, her fists balled. D’aht shrieked, and lunged at her, sword swinging.
J’hana went down, sweeping a leg out, dropping D’aht’s legs out from under her.
The Andorian woman flipped end-over-end, and slammed to the floor.
The broad sword flew, also end-over-end, up into the air.
On the way back down, J’hana grabbed it by the hilt, and guided it home, thrusting it into D’aht’s chest, pinning her to the stage.
The audience was silent.
“Well, what are you waiting for, Mirk?” Baxter asked through clenched teeth. “Create an orb of protection or something. Flash us into another dimension!”
“Nah…actually, this is kind of entertaining!” Mirk said, stroking his chin.
Baxter glared at Hartley, who just shrugged.
“When he’s right, he’s right.”
Richards stared out at the audience, then at D’aht’s immobile form, then at J’hana.
“Is this normal?”
“For Andorians, it is. Scared yet?”
“Not really but…okay, a little shaken up.”
“That’s normal.” J’hana took Richards’s hand and led him off the stage. “Let’s get back to the Explorer. I can see your outfit is chafing you.”
“Wait…aren’t you going to get your award?”
J’hana shrugged. “I was just here for the show. Grab the cheese kit, though. Those are usually pretty good.”
“I’m still feeling a little rumbling in my tummy, but it’s nothing a hot tea with lemon won’t cure,” Peterman said with a light laugh as she sipped her tea. “But how are you?”
“Fine,” Browning said. “I had fun last night.”
“Me too. It’s not every day I get to visit a holographic smorgasbord from one hundred and nineteen different planets.”
“That might explain the rumbling in your tummy, as much as the Andorian stuff,” Browning suggested, rising. “Well, I’ve got to open the restaurant. Thanks for chatting.”
“I’m always here,” Peterman said, rising to walk Browning to the door. “You know, everything’s going to be fine.”
“I know,” Browning said. “Time, and such.”
Peterman nodded. “Yeah.”
The door opened to reveal J’hana.
“Ahhhh!” Browning shrieked.
“Am I early for my appointment?”
“A little,” Peterman said sheepishly. Browning glared at her, then looked back at J’hana.
“Nice to, um, see you…J’hana.”
“Likewise,” J’hana said. “By the way, your ex is a formidable presence in the bedroom.”
“You know…I’ve really got to go…” Browning said, pointing toward the door.
“Was it something I said?” J”hana asked, watching Browning jog off.
“No,” Peterman said, and gestured for J’hana to sit down. “You’re just…you. Have a seat. Let’s talk about it.”
Baxter and Peterman get an unexpected surprise when their runabout detours into an asteroid belt. What they find there will put Counselor Peterman’s training…and Captain Baxter’s patience…to the test. Guest-written by Alan Decker!