Author: Alan Decker
Captain Andy Baxter’s companion was silent as the runabout Chicamacomico lifted off of the deck of the massive docking facility about Rigel IV and made its way toward the exit. The silence wasn’t all that much of a surprise, since it had been the general state of affairs for the last day or so. It was the half-pout/half-glare accompanying said silence that concerned Baxter. It didn’t take the deductive reasoning skills of his Chief of Security to figure out that his wife was pissed off (Wait. J’hana didn’t have any deductive reasoning skills. Not that that mattered now. He was letting his mind wander again to avoid facing the inevitable). There was a reckoning coming. And unfortunately he had a sense he was the one about to be reckoned…reckoned with…feel the reckoning? Oh never mind.
“Honey…” Baxter began.
“Watch where you’re flying,” Kelly Peterman snapped.
Baxter adjusted their course a bit to avoid the frame of the docking bay doors and sent the runabout into the busy orbital tracks around Rigel IV.
“You’re mad about something.”
“So you noticed that.”
“What do you think?”
“I think you think I did something that I have no clue that I did, and since I don’t know what that something is, I’d really like for you to tell me so that I don’t have to spend the entire trip back to the Explorer guessing and being scowled at.”
“I think I’m pretty focused.”
Peterman pointed out the front viewport. “You’re drifting!” she said. Baxter once again adjusted their course, preventing the runabout from edging toward a nearby Andorian freighter. Definitely not the folks you want to accidentally bump into. They tended to be rather touchy about that kind of thing.
“Are you going to tell me what I did or not?” Baxter asked as he flew the runabout along their orbital track until he reached the navigation buoy indicating the proper exit point into open space.
“What was this supposed to be?” Peterman demanded.
“A romantic getaway?”
“To a conference on ‘Emerging Trends in Intra-System Relations’?”
Baxter bit his lower lip. “It was a nice hotel.”
“You hate diplomacy.”
“I like it better than being blown up.”
“I got an invitation!” Baxter said defensively. “Me! I never get invited to conferences. And you said you wanted to get away for vacation. Just the two of us.”
“Sitting through three hours of ‘Brekka and Ornara: Lessons Learned’ was not what I had in mind.”
“We cuddled in that session.”
“You fell asleep on my shoulder. And drooled. It hardly counts. This whole thing was about you. What you wanted. Not me. Not us.”
“Hey. I wanted you…”
Baxter whipped his head back toward the viewport and slammed his hands down on the helm console just in time to veer the Chicamacomico away from an oncoming Vulcan shuttle. He wasn’t quite fast enough. The runabout jolted as its port warp nacelle scraped against the Vulcan’s nacelle briefly.
“Did you see that?” Baxter cried. “He sideswiped us!”
“You were in his lane.”
“It’s space! He had plenty of room to avoid us.”
“You were on his approach vector.”
“No. He was in the way of our departure,” Baxter said. “He didn’t even stop.”
“We’d better turn around,” Peterman said.
“If he doesn’t want to talk to us, I’m not going to go chasing after him.”
“I mean to check the ship,” Peterman said.
“Is fine!” Baxter snapped. First the trip wasn’t good enough, then his flying wasn’t good enough, and now she didn’t think the ship was okay. Was Kelly ever going to let up? Suppressing an annoyed grunt, he sent the runabout into warp.
Five Minutes Later…
“We’re not fine!” Peterman said, gripping the armrests of the co-pilots chair for dear life as the runabout bucked and jolted violently.
“Working on it,” Baxter said through gritted teeth as he struggled to keep the runabout under control. The warp field was destabilizing, the coils in the port nacelle were dangerously close to overload, and if Baxter didn’t do something soon, the entire runabout was going to be vaporized in a brilliant ball of flaming stubbornness.
Quickly deciding that admitting that Peterman was right and he was wrong was preferable to exploding, Baxter dropped the runabout out of warp. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite solve the problem.
“Honey,” Baxter said hesitantly looking over the readouts.
“What?” Peterman replied irritated.
“Um…we’re going to blow up in a minute.”
“Well…forty-five seconds really.”
“I told you that nacelle…”
“I know,” Baxter said, cutting her off. “This really isn’t the time for blame.”
“It’s the only time for blame. We don’t have time for anything else!”
“Ha!” Baxter said, suddenly sending the runabout dipping downward.
“What is it?”
“There’s an asteroid field in range.”
“How is that going to help us?”
“I don’t know. One of them might be big enough to hold a bit of an atmosphere. Or at least we could beam onto one in EVA suits and hope somebody finds us before our life support gives out.”
“Do we even have time to put the EVA suits on?” Peterman said, scrambling out of her seat.
“I said, do we…”
“Not hunh the question. Hunh the…hunh.”
“Right,” Baxter said.
“No, hunh the what the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m getting energy and life sign readings from inside one of these asteroids. There’s a chamber in there. I’ve moved us within range.”
“Then let’s go!” Peterman exclaimed, dragging Baxter away from the pilot’s console toward the transporter at the rear of the runabout cockpit. She got in position for beam out as Baxter yanked a phaser out of the supply cabinet, rushed over to the transporter, then froze.
“What are you doing?” Peterman demanded, near panic.
“It’s been a while since I did this.”
“You don’t remember how to work a transporter?”
“Do you want to do it?” Baxter snapped.
“Then let me think,” Baxter said, putting the phaser down on top of the console so he could work. “Put in coordinates. Prime transporter circuits. Set time delay. Got it!” He ran up beside his wife. “Crap! I left the phaser!” Baxter started to move.
“Leave it!” Peterman cried, yanking him back just as the transporter beam locked onto the pair.
They were gone seconds later.
A second or two later, the Chicamacomico was also gone…but in a much messier fashion involving a big flash, a shockwave, some twisted metal and…you get the idea.
Baxter and Peterman rematerialized deep inside the mysterious asteroid chamber they had detected and barely had a chance to breathe before the entire place shuddered.
Peterman turned to Baxter. “Was that…?”
“Uh huh,” Baxter nodded.
“Next time I tell you to check the nacelle…”
“Can we argue about this later?” Baxter said. He stepped forward to look around. They appeared to be in a living room. The decor was straight out of the Starfleet catalog. If Baxter didn’t know that they were currently inside several hundred feet of rock, he would have thought that he was in a set of quarters on a starship or a starbase. Very big quarters, but quarters nonetheless. On the far side of the room, a corridor led off toward what Baxter assumed were other rooms. His attention was more drawn to the large set of heavy double doors on the side wall. Did those things go outside? Well, outside into the parts of the asteroid that hadn’t been converted into an apartment, at any rate. Why would anyone want to go out there? And why put the doors in the same room with a sofa, chairs, and a holovision?
At least, if the furniture was any indication, Baxter didn’t have to worry too much about not retrieving that phaser.
A set of doors opened down the hallway, and a somewhat rotund bearded man shuffled out, his attention focused on the bowl of food he was carrying. He popped a piece of whatever the food substance was into his mouth and got through about three chews before he realized that his destination was already occupied. His eyes widened in alarm for a moment, but then he suddenly stopped and nodded, a smile of understanding tugging at his lips.
“You’re here to check up on things,” he said, entering the living room. “They told me you would eventually, but after all this time I was starting not to believe it.” His eyes locked on Peterman, looking her up and down appreciatively as he extended a hand to her. “Doctor Ray Miller. It’s a pleasure.”
“Kelly Peterman,” Peterman said, shaking Miller’s offered hand.
“As I said, a pleasure,” Miller replied, continuing the handshake.
And continuing it.
And… “I’m Andy Baxter,” Baxter said, snatching Miller’s hand away from his wife and shaking it. “Captain Andy Baxter. Look, we…”
“You want to go inside. Of course,” Miller said, heading over to the panel by the large double doors.
“Um…don’t we need to be wearing…”
“No. You’re fine,” Miller said, activating the controls. The doors slid open revealing…
This was not what Baxter was expecting. Why would a bathroom be behind a door like that unless… “What the hell are you putting out?” he exclaimed.
“Huh?” Miller said confused.
Peterman leaned over to Baxter’s ear and whispered, “I think it’s a holodeck.”
“Oh. That makes sense,” Baxter whispered back. “But shouldn’t we be telling him about the whole ship exploding thing. We’re not who he thinks we are, so he might be about to show us classified material that I’m probably not authorized…”
“I wanna see it,” Peterman said, pushing past Baxter into the bathroom where Miller stood. Baxter hesitated for a moment. Things were just starting to straighten out for him as a captain. He’d been invited to a conference, after all. And now he was about to withhold information so that he could see a classified project, which was inevitably going to get him in trouble yet again. What would it be this time? Another remedial class at the Academy? Another stint at a rehabilitation colony? But Kelly was already inside, and he wasn’t about to leave her alone with that Miller guy. With a soft sigh, he headed inside.
Again, the bathroom decor was Starfleet-standard…well, except for the massive bathtub with the spa jets and room for at least four people. At least Baxter didn’t think it was standard. Did other captains get tubs like that on their ships? He’d have to check when he got back to the Explorer.
Miller, meanwhile, opened the bathroom’s other door and led Baxter and Peterman out into a Starfleet-issue bedroom, complete with a pair of non-Starfleet issue naked and nubile women lounging in the bed.
“Doctor Ray!” the pair exclaimed, both quickly getting on their knees and bouncing up and down on the bed to display their excitement.
“Not now, ladies,” Miller said, shooting a sheepish glance back at Baxter and Peterman.
“I’ll be back soon, though. I promise.” Miller gestured for Baxter and Peterman to follow him out of the bedroom and into a starship corridor.
“Now I know it’s a holodeck,” Peterman muttered.
“Yeah. Bedrooms don’t usually go straight out into a corridor like that,” Baxter said.
“I wasn’t paying any attention to them.”
They followed Miller into a nearby turbolift, which he ordered to the bridge. Baxter was starting to get a sense of what was happening here. Dr. Miller was obviously some kind of starship designer. This whole facility must be a place for him to work on advanced projects away from the possible spying eyes of foreign governments. It was possible that Baxter was about to be one of the first people in the galaxy to see the future of Starfleet.
By the time the turbolift slowed to a halt, Baxter was almost giddy. What if he could offer Miller some suggestions that got used in the final design? What if Miller liked his ideas? This could be his legacy.
He dashed out of the turbolift onto the bridge. The sight before him stopped Baxter in his tracks. He hadn’t known what to expect, but he certainly didn’t…
“DILLON!!!!” Baxter screamed.
Nope. Baxter certainly hadn’t been expecting that.
But there he was, Commander Travis Dillon, sitting in the command chair on the bridge like he owned the joint and looking back at the new arrivals.
“Ah, Ambassador,” Dillon said, looking past Baxter and Peterman at Miller. “I wasn’t aware that we had guests aboard. And Starfleet ones at that. Is there a new mission that I should know about?”
“No no,” Miller said, stepping forward. “They’re simply here to observe me and discuss some ambassadorial-type business. Nothing for you to worry about. I just thought I’d show them the bridge.”
“It is impressive, isn’t it?” Dillon said smiling.
“Very much so, Captain,” Miller replied.
Baxter forced a smile, then turned to Miller. “Could I talk to you a second?” he asked through gritted teeth moments before he dragged him back toward the turbolift with Peterman close behind.
“What the hell is going on here?” Baxter demanded.
“Well…” Miller said.
“You’re letting that man test out advanced systems?” Baxter snapped, cutting Miller off before he’d even gotten his explanation started.
Miller opened his mouth to speak again, then stopped, staring at Baxter in confusion. “Advanced systems? That man, as you call him, is my patient.”
So Miller was that kind of doctor. And Dillon was sick. Baxter winced. “Ah.”
“Aren’t you two here to check on him?” Miller asked.
“Our runabout blew up. We beamed in here to save ourselves,” Peterman said.
“But you know Captain Dillon…or Commander really. I keep forgetting he made himself captain.”
“He can do that?” Baxter asked.
“In here, he can do anything he wants.”
“Told you it was a holodeck,” Peterman said, slapping Baxter’s arm.
“You said he’s your patient. What’s wrong with him? It is contagious?” Baxter asked.
“No no. Just a little mental breakdown.”
“And this is how you’re treating him?” Peterman exclaimed aghast.
“Well…yes,” Miller said.
“We need to have a talk,” Peterman said, pointing for Miller to get into the turbolift. Baxter moved to follow, but Peterman held up a hand to stop him. “You stay here with him,” she said. “Find out whatever you can about how he’s doing.”
“But you’re the counselor, honey,” Baxter said, trying to keep anything resembling a whine out of his voice. But to have to stay here alone with Dillon? A crazy Dillon at that? He could barely stand the man when he was briefly assigned to the Explorer in the First Officer exchange program. “I’d probably be better at interrogating Doctor Miller.”
“Interrogating?” Miller said surprised. “Wait a second. Who said anything about…”
“Stay here,” Peterman said firmly to her husband before storming into the turbolift with Miller. “We’ll be back soon.”
“Won’t be soon enough,” Baxter muttered.
Once they were in the turbolift, Peterman called for the holodeck exit and practically shoved Miller out into the living area of the asteroid. As Peterman charged out after him, Miller ambled over to the sofa and stretched out on it with a yawn.
“You call that treatment?” Peterman said, planting her hands on her hips as she stood in front of Miller.
“Of a sort,” Miller said, eyeing Peterman appreciatively. That pose made her attributes jut out oh so…
“Stop ogling me!” Peterman shouted. “This is a man’s mind we’re talking about here. He needs counseling. But you…you’re just letting him indulge himself while you…indulge yourself.”
“I’m just following orders,” Miller said with a shrug.
“Orders? Who would order you to do something like that?”
“A decision was made. That’s all I can tell you. It was felt that this solution would be in the best interests of everyone involved.”
“To Travis? One life disappointment too many. The command he felt was his went to someone else. The woman he loved left him for another man without saying goodbye. It was just too much for his mind to bear. He snapped. Rather than send him off to Tantalus V or someplace like that, Dillon was brought here where he could create whatever kind of life for himself he so desired. And I left my post as counselor at Waystation to care for him.”
“Wait. You were the counselor at Waystation?”
“We need to talk about that place…later. Now what about Dillon?”
“What about him?” Miller asked.
“Have you tried counseling him at all?”
“A little at first. He didn’t take well to it.”
“So instead he’s just supposed run around in his own fairy dreamland until he dies? You call that a life?” Peterman said.
“It doesn’t sound so bad to me.”
“But it’s not real! How is he supposed to grow as a person?”
“Just what are you expecting him to grow into? He had his life, and his mind decided that it just wasn’t working out. Yes, maybe a facility like Tantalus V could help him, but then what? Do you think he’d just be able to step back into his Starfleet career? That’s what he really wants. Out there he’d probably be given a medical discharge. In here, he’s been in command of his own ship for three years. He’s happy. Why would you want to mess with that?”
Peterman really couldn’t think of a response. She was sure there was one, but at the moment she couldn’t manage much beyond silent fuming.
Miller took this to be the end of the argument. “You both are welcome to stay until we can find some transportation for you,” he said, pulling himself up off of the sofa with a grunt. “There’s a spare room down the hall. Oh, we should probably go get Captain Baxter. Travis tends to get testy when people hang around too long and won’t obey his orders.”
“Testy? What does that mean?”
Miller shrugged again. “There a reason this ambassador spends most of his time below-decks.”
“So…” Baxter said, rocking on his heels as his wandered aimlessly around the holographic bridge Dillon had set himself up in, “this is your ship, huh?”
“I’m proud to say it is,” Dillon said…well…proudly. He got up from his command chair and threw open his arms, taking it all in. “USS Indomitable. One-hundred seventy-two deck and over three-thousand crew. She’s equipped with super-transdimensional warp drive, poly-phasic regenerative shielding and armor plating, ninety-eight ultra-quantum torpedo tubes, and an outer hull completely layered in mega-compression phaser arrays.”
Baxter choked. “Was USS Invincible already taken?”
“I considered it, but I thought it might just be asking for trouble.”
“Riiiight.” So Dillon had created an ridiculously-powerful ship for himself. No surprise there. It was a holodeck. He could do whatever he wanted. An over-inflated ego like his would need a ship to match. Or was this one of those over-compensating for his previous life failures kind of deal? How was Baxter supposed to know? He wasn’t the counselor. This was his wife’s job. Miller’s job really, not that he’d been doing.
But Kelly wanted information. Fine. He’d keep the conversation going.
“Otherwise?” Dillon asked confused.
“Other than your ship.”
“Fine,” Dillon said, obviously wondering why he was being asked such a question.
“I mean, is there anything else you do in here?”
“Besides command? It’s a bridge. What else would I do in here?”
“What about when you’re not commanding?”
“We’ve been in space for the last three years. There hasn’t been time for much else.”
“So no extra-curricular activities?” Baxter asked.
“I have a ship and crew to look after.”
Dillon’s face instantly darkened. “No,” he said, his voice almost a growl. He quickly recovered himself. “My life doesn’t leave time for such things.”
“Wait. You mean to tell me that you’ve been in here for three years and haven’t done anything but run a starship?”
“I am the captain,” Dillon said.
“You need to go,” Dillon snapped.
“I’m more of a captain than you are!” Baxter shot back.
“The pips don’t make the officer.”
“You would say that considering.”
“Considering what?” Dillon demanded.
“Don’t give me that. I know who you really are.”
“You don’t know a thing about me.”
“As much as I wish that were true, we’ve had too many run-ins.”
“What the hell are you babbling about? I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
Baxter stopped in the middle of preparing a devastating retort. “You don’t remember me?”
“We’ve never met,” Dillon said firmly.
“Yes, we have!”
“Are you questioning me?”
“Damn right I am. You can’t just pretend you don’t know who I am. I’ve had to put up with you since the Secondprize, and…”
“How DARE you say that word to me on my own ship!” Dillon thundered, going toe-to-toe with Baxter. This seemed awfully familiar to Baxter for some reason. Oh yeah. They’d ended up yelling at each other in Baxter’s ready room on the Explorer a few years earlier. That particular argument had ended with Baxter challenging Dillon to punch him, which Dillon did. Not this time.
“Listen up, you insa…HEY!” Baxter narrowly ducked Dillon’s fist, which was headed in the direction of his face. He struck back, catching Dillon in the gut with a solid right and doubling him over. “Not feeling so puffed-up now, are ya?” Baxter said, standing up. Dillon leapt back and crouched into a fighting stance. Baxter laughed. “What the hell is that supposed to be?”
“Hapkido,” Miller’s voice said from behind him. Baxter turned his head to see the counselor and Peterman exiting the turbolift onto the bridge. “Captain Dillon is working toward his black belt in the discipline…as well as several others.”
“I’ve been studying,” Dillon said.
“Obsessively really,” Miller said. “You should see the Indomitable’s recreation facilities at some point. The captain gives rather impressive demonstrations.”
“I’m about to give one now,” Dillon said.
“Maybe another time,” Peterman said, grabbing Baxter’s arm and urging him toward the turbolift.
“I’m so sorry he disturbed you, Captain,” Miller said. “We’ll just be off to our meeting now.”
Dillon glared at Baxter, then stood up from his ready stance. “Very well,” he said, straightening his uniform. “And I would ask that you keep a tighter rein on your guests, Ambassador.”
“I will,” Miller replied, backing into the turbolift where Peterman and Baxter were waiting. The doors slid shut and…
“I told you to talk to him, not pick a fight!” Peterman said.
“I didn’t mean to,” Baxter said. “He just snapped! And get this. He claims not to remember me.”
“Did you know him well?” Miller asked.
“We were on the Secondprize together and…”
“Ohhhh,” Miller said. “You didn’t happen to mention that word, did you?”
“He doesn’t like that word.”
“So you just avoid saying it?” Peterman asked. “Why am I even asking? It’s not like there was any real counseling going on here anyway. Exit!” The holodeck doors appeared as requested.
“We have an arrangement. It works,” Miller said, stepping out into the living area with Baxter and Peterman. “I just don’t think you two should go in there any more.”
“Good idea,” Baxter said.
Peterman said nothing.
“Honey?” Baxter said.
“Yeah yeah fine,” she groused.
“Good,” Miller said, starting off down the corridor leading back to the rest of the complex. “Now why don’t I show you to the guest quarters? I know you didn’t come with any luggage, but I’m sure we can find something for you to sleep in…unless you prefer to sleep in nothing at all,” he added with a leer at Peterman.
Peterman leaned over to her husband. “I just want you to know,” she whispered, “that this is officially the worst romantic getaway ever.”
“Worse than the Starshine Kids musical house of horrors?”
“Worse,” Peterman said, stalking off after Miller.
“I just can’t believe that man,” Peterman said, pacing in front of the bed in the spare bedroom Miller had provided to her and Baxter. Judging by the condition of the place, they were probably the first people to set foot inside.
Baxter finished his yawn and propped himself up on the bed pillows as he lay watching his wife’s movements. “He’s aggravating. He’s always been aggravating. I’m just mad that I let him get me worked up like that…again!”
“Not Dillon!” Peterman snapped. “Miller!”
“Shhh. He could be listening.”
“The only thing he would be listening for is the sounds of sex,” Peterman said. “WE’RE NOT HAVING SEX!” she shouted at the wall.
“Figures,” Baxter muttered.
“He thinks he’s given Dillon a good life. That all of this is somehow best for him.”
“Dillon gets to spend his life living out his every fantasy, boring as they are. You know he hasn’t done anything except command that ship. No wife. No kids. No anything. Anyway, my point is that people have been using holodecks for living out their dreams since they were invented.”
“But most people don’t live in them. And they know what they’re experiencing isn’t real. That’s Dillon’s reality in there.”
“It’s wrong! It’s not a real life. How is any of this helping him get better?”
“But he’s happy.”
“That’s what Miller said.”
“Then leave it alone. It’s not our problem,” Baxter said. He saw the look on Peterman’s face. “This is about to become our problem, isn’t it?” he said.
In the next room, Counselor Miller wasn’t listening at all. Okay, he was briefly, but he quickly realized that there would be no auditory entertainment coming from the directions of his guests this evening. And really his mind was too troubled to have enjoyed it even if Captain Baxter and his lovely bride has decided to engage in any bedroom recreational activities. Stunning as she was, Kelly Peterman struck Miller as a potential source of trouble. Miller’s existence was fairly stable, which was one of his favorite aspects of it. Life on a bustling outpost like Waystation had just been so chaotic with all those patients to see and the threat of attack and so on. Here he could just relax and go about his business. The holodeck provided ample recreation even within the bounds of Dillon’s starship simulation. Things were quite and orderly. All of Miller’s needs were met.
And he did NOT want that to change.
This was going to require a specific action on his part, an action he had not taken in the entire three years he’d been inside this asteroid: activating the comm unit.
With the asteroid running on Starfleet Standard Time (otherwise known as Pacific Time a.k.a. the time in San Francisco) and it being fairly late at night, it wasn’t surprising that his intended comm recipient was not in his office. Undaunted, Miller left a message.
“Admiral Wagner, this is Counselor Ray Miller comming. I believe we have a problem…”
“I’m trying to SHHHHHHHHHHH.”
“Then don’t hit the walls.”
“It’s not like he’s going to wake up.”
“You gave him that much anesthezine, huh?”
“You gave him the anesthezine.”
“No, I didn’t. You did.”
“What? I found the anti-grav pallet!”
“You were supposed to get the anesthezine, too!”
“Then what were you doing.”
“Making sure Dillon was asleep in his quarters.”
“So if neither of us gave him… Wow. Deep sleeper.”
“He’s going to be waking up soon. You should go,” Counselor Peterman said to her husband as they sat watching Dillon sleep in their bed.
“No way. I’m not leaving you alone with that madman,” Baxter replied, crossing his arms and settling deeper into his chair. “Not happening.”
“I don’t think he’s going to attack me. Why would he?”
“We took him out of his fantasy world, and now you’re going to try to counsel him. Gee, I can’t imagine what might make him attack you.”
“Your presence isn’t going to be very conducive to this process.”
“Okay. Fine. You can stay. Just be quiet.”
“You won’t even know I’m here…unless he tries to hurt you.”
Peterman leaned over and kissed Baxter’s cheek. “You’re sweet. You know that?”
“It’s one of my best features.”
“I won’t argue with you there. Why don’t you get us some coffee?”
“You got it,” Baxter said, getting up from his seat and heading toward the door. He stopped and looked back at Peterman. “Should I get him one, too?”
“Sure. That’d be a nice way to kick things off.”
“Three coffees coming up,” Baxter said, heading out of the bedroom toward the small kitchenette he’d seen down the hall, which seemed to have the complex’s only replicator. Now that Peterman had a project to focus on, she didn’t seem to be so irritated with him. Maybe ending up inside this asteroid wasn’t such a bad thing after all. They were together. They were sniping at each other…
And she’d just tricked him into leaving the room.
After taking a second to smack himself in the forehead, Baxter rushed back to the bedroom door and started tapping furiously at the door control panel.
Locked. What a surprise.
“KELLY!” he screamed.
Inside the room, Dillon bolted upright in bed. “What is it? What’s happening? Dillon to bridge! Are we under attack?”
“It’s okay. You’re safe,” Peterman said calmingly.
Dillon locked onto her with an angry glare. “What are you doing in here? How dare you sneak into my quarters and…these aren’t my quarters. How DARE you move me into quarters that aren’t mine and then sneak in here while I’m sleeping? What’s the meaning of this?”
“I’m here to help you.”
“Help me? I don’t need any help.”
“KELLY!” Baxter’s voice cried again.
“Just ignore him,” Peterman said. “I’m here to talk about you.”
“While you’re interest in me is understandable,” Dillon said, climbing out of bed and beginning to pace in his pajamas (which looked more like a uniform than sleepwear), “this is not the way to go about it.”
“Tell me about the Secondprize.”
Dillon froze, his already-angry expression darkening. “I am warning you…”
“It’s just a name, a ship you once served on. Why the hostility?”
“I do not want to discuss it.”
“Why not? You’re here. You’re a captain. You’ve got your own ship. Why not reminisce about the past? There’s no harm in it.”
“Don’t push me…”
“Or is there something more to it? Could it be perhaps that you know all of this is a lie, Travis?”
“Captain Dillon to you.”
“Commander Dillon,” Peterman said. “You know that’s your real rank. There is no Indomitable. You aren’t a captain. You know that deep down, don’t you? Tell me the truth, Travis. I can’t help you until you do that.”
“No. I know the truth. This is the lie,” Dillon said.
“NO!!!” Dillon thundered, raising his fists.
“What’s going on?” Counselor Miller demanded, storming out of his quarters while tying his robe closed.
“She’s counseling him,” Baxter said, sliding down the wall beside the door of the guest room until he was sitting on the floor.
“Dillon? She’s got him in there?” Miller exclaimed.
“I knew it!” Miller shouted. “I knew she’d be nothing but trouble, and not the fun kind that ends with you tied to a bed covered in…”
“Okay!” Baxter snapped, covering his ears.
“She can’t start prodding and poking his psyche,” Miller continued. “The scab covering his wounds isn’t strong enough. She’ll rip him open, exposing the pus-filled oozing hole of…”
“OKAY!” Baxter shouted.
“We’ve got to do something.”
“You think I don’t know that? Wait. This is your place. Just use your security override code and open the damn door.”
“Security override code. Good idea. Wish I knew it.”
“You don’t know the security override code? How the hell do you not know the security override code? You live here!”
“Never needed it,” Miller said with a shrug.
“You can’t hide from yourself…or from me,” Peterman said.
“Captain Travis Michael Dillon hides from no one!”
“That might be true…if he actually existed. Sit down, Travis. Let’s talk,” Peterman said, gesturing to the chair next to her.
Dillon stalked over to the proffered seat…
…then yanked it up over his head as he turned on Peterman.
“What do you see?” Miller asked, pushing his head close to Baxter’s. Actually right into Baxter’s field of view.
“Nothing with you there,” Baxter replied, shoving Miller out of the way so that he could see the tiny display of the tricorder he was holding. Finally Miller had offered up something useful. He didn’t have the security override codes. He didn’t have so much as a pocket phaser. But he did have an old tricorder laying around, which at least gave Baxter a vague idea of what was happening inside the locked door. Peterman was sitting. Dillon was pacing.
And now the madman was about to clobber his wife with something large and metal.
Baxter was guessing chair, but he really didn’t give the matter much thought as he flung the tricorder aside (nailing Miller in the chest) and charged the door. He knew it wouldn’t open. He didn’t care. With the fury and panic he’d built up, he was just going to barrel right through it and tackle Dillon before he could…
Hmmm…would have been a better plan if the door had cooperated.
Baxter staggered back from the impact with the implacable door. He had to get inside. Kelly was in danger. Dillon was going to hurt her. Possibly kill her. He couldn’t just stand there while his wife was…
There was something he could try.
It went against every fiber of his being, but there was something he could try.
“Captain Dillon!” Baxter shouted, pounding frantically against the door. “Captain Dillon! Are you in there, sir? You’re needed on the bridge!”
Dillon started his downswing, which would hopefully end with the rather satisfying silencing of the annoying person in front of him (Granted, this wasn’t traditional Starfleet policy, but Dillon had no doubt that Starfleet Command would understand why he’d taken this extreme action after they read his report. Most likely this Peterman woman wasn’t really Starfleet anyway. She was just involved in some kind of pathetic attempt to weaken one of Starfleet’s most decorated captains. Smashing her brains out was completely justified).
“Captain Dillon! Captain Dillon! Are you in there, sir? You’re needed on the bridge!”
Dillon turned toward the door in mid-swing, sending the chair clattering to the floor well away from its intended target, much to the relief of said target. Peterman’s happiness at not being pummeled with a chair quickly subsided as she realized the cost of saving her.
“Don’t listen to him,” she said, leaping up from her seat and grabbing Dillon’s arm. “He just didn’t want you to hurt me.”
Dillon’s eyes met hers, revealing a dark rage the likes of which she had never witnessed. “It’s bad enough that you tried to come after me, but you WILL NOT endanger MY SHIP!” Dillon hissed. Peterman reflexively released her grip. “You’re very lucky I don’t hit women…most of them.”
“But the chair…”
“With my fists,” Dillon snapped, adding a nod that was evidently supposed to indicate the finality of his statement, nonsensical as it was. He tried to walk out of the door, but found it locked. “Open it,” he demanded.
“Travis, I know you’re angry, but this isn’t…”
“Open it!” Baxter’s voice screamed from the corridor.
Peterman clenched her teeth and opened and closed her fists repeatedly. This wasn’t how this was supposed to work. Dillon needed counseling, but instead Andy was just playing on the man’s delusions to save her.
To save her.
And, when she thought about it, she really didn’t want to get crushed by chair or otherwise beaten to any kind of a pulp, which was likely to happen if she kept Dillon locked up for much longer.
Letting out a long sigh, she pushed past Dillon and typed in the code she’d set up to unlock the door.
Baxter suddenly jerked up from his position listening at the door.
“He’s coming,” he said quickly to Miller as he took off toward the holodeck. “Stall him.”
“Stall him?” Miller cried. “But we wanted to get him out of there!”
“I just need a second,” Baxter shot back. “Then bring him.”
Before Miller could get out so much as a grumble, the doors in front of him whooshed open revealing Travis Dillon. “I don’t have time for you, Ambassador,” Dillon said, brushing past him. “I need to get to the bridge.” He stopped after a couple of steps. “What deck is this? Where’s the turbolift?”
“Ahhh…I’ll take you there, Captain. It’s close by.”
Miller didn’t move. “Umm…did you sleep well?”
“Until I was awakened by a deranged harridan,” Dillon said. “I want her sent to the brig, by the way.”
“I’d be happy to take care of that for you.”
“The turbolift! This is an emergency!”
“Right this way, Captain Dillon,” Baxter said, jogging into view and waving for Dillon to join him.
“Finally,” Dillon said, striding toward Baxter.
“Let’s get you to the bridge.”
“Yes,” Dillon looked around again as Baxter led him through the open holodeck doors into another corridor. “I don’t think I’ve ever been down here.”
“It’s a big ship.”
“Yes, it is,” Dillon said, puffing up proudly as he stepped into a waiting turbolift.
“What did you do?” Miller whispered, rushing up to Baxter.
“I moved your entrance,” Baxter replied. “I didn’t think he’d buy it if he walked into your bathroom and met your harem.”
“They’re not a harem.”
“Uh huh,” Baxter said, stepping into the turbolift with an increasingly impatient Dillon. They traveled to the bridge of the Indomitable in silence…and without Miller, who had decided to skip whatever else Baxter had planned, not that Baxter minded. He just wanted to get this over with.
Dillon was out of the turbolift as soon as the doors opened, rushing onto the darkened bridge as the red alert klaxon blared. He stopped in mid-stride as he saw what was on the viewscreen.
A Borg Cube.
He turned back to Baxter, his face filled not with the shock or horror that Baxter would have expects, but with disgust. “This is the big emergency?” Dillon asked, rolling his eyes before refocusing his attention on the crisis at hand. “Arm an ultra-quantum torpedo and fire.”
An instant later, the Borg cube on the screen was obliterated. Completely obliterated. As in reduced to space dust.
Okay, so it wasn’t much of a crisis.
“I guess I’ll leave you to it then,” Baxter said.
“Your ship. And don’t worry. I’ll take Counselor Peterman with me.”
“That woman who just…never mind,” Baxter said with a dismissive wave. “Have fun, Dillon.”
Dillon gave a firm straightening tug to his pajama top. “Commanding a starship is not about fun. It’s about duty. It’s about honor. It’s about being who I know that I am.”
Baxter just shook his head and headed back toward the turbolift. Before he knew what he was doing, he found himself whipping around and striding back toward Dillon. He should be leaving the man to his delusions. Running away as fast he could. Dillon was insane. He’d threatened Kelly. He and Baxter had never liked each other anyway, and yet…
“You could have more,” Baxter said.
“I don’t need career advice from the likes of you.”
“This isn’t about your career. It’s…everything.” How was he going to explain this without telling Dillon he was in a holodeck, not that Dillon would believe that anyway. Appeal to the ego, he could almost hear Kelly saying (Of course, the real Kelly would never approve of such underhanded manipulation, but the Kelly voice in his head was just fine with it.). “They say that a when a man is strong enough, he can shape reality itself to his desires.”
“Who says that?” Dillon asked.
“Er…the Bajorans.” Sounded like something they’d come up with.
Dillon nodded. “Wise people, those Bajorans.”
“Right. And with you being so…strong…” Uggh. This was starting to physically hurt. “…you could have anything you ever wanted. Love. Children.” He saw Dillon grimace. “Power,” Baxter quickly added. “Whatever.”
“Whatever, huh?” Dillon said, mulling it over.
“It’s your universe,” Baxter said. “And fortunately none of the rest of us will ever have to live it in,” he muttered as he retreated back to the turbolift.
Peterman and Miller were waiting for Baxter when he exited the holodeck. “What did you do?” they both demanded.
“I already told you, I moved the entrance out of your bathroom,” Baxter said to Miller.
“What else did you do?” Peterman asked pointedly.
“Not much. I gave him a Borg cube to fight, but his stupid super ship blew it instantly. Then I left.”
“And I left.”
“AND?” Peterman repeated.
“And I told the holodeck computer to give him more control over the environment in there.”
“He already has too much control!”
“Not really,” Miller said. “The program operates under fairly strict parameters. I let him upgrade his ship a little…”
“That’s a little?” Baxter groused.
“…but everything else is relatively realistic.”
“Including your girls?”
“Leave them out of this.”
“Andy!” Peterman snapped.
“I told the computer to give him anything he asks for, okay?” Baxter said.
Peterman choked for a moment. “You…what?”
“You’ve always told me that the purpose of counseling is to help people to function in society. Dillon isn’t in society. He’s never going to be. I just thought I’d let him have some fun and…” Before he could finish, Peterman wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
“You’re very sweet,” she said.
“You could have trapped him in his own holographic hell for what he tried to do to me.”
“Huh. I didn’t even think about that.”
“I know,” Peterman said before kissing her husband again. “That’s part of why you’re so sweet.”
“Is this what I rushed out here for?” a gruff voice said from behind them.
“Admiral Wagner!” Counselor Miller said. “You came!”
“Looks like it,” Admiral Thomas Wagner said walking into the living room from the corridor.
“You have a ship?” Peterman asked hopefully.
“I sure as hell didn’t walk out here,” Wagner replied as he plopped himself down on the sofa. “So Miller tells me you two are going to be a problem.”
“We had the problem about 10 minutes ago,” Miller said. He pointed accusingly at Peterman, “SHE almost ruined everything. And just about got herself killed in the process.”
“It’s okay,” Baxter said. “We took care of it. Of course, it would have been easier if you’d gotten here a bit sooner.”
Wagner snorted. “Wanted a Deus Ex Admiral, huh, Baxter?”
“Actually, it’d be an Admiral Ex Machina, since…”
“I’m guessing Miller told you why Commander Dillon is here.”
“Yes,” Peterman replied. “And I have to say that this goes completely against every principle of counseling that…”
“Honey, shut up,” Baxter said.
“Don’t be rude to your wife,” Wagner snapped.
The admiral got up from the sofa and began to pace. “I’m not going to stand here and argue the morality of what’s been done or not done to and for Commander Dillon. You don’t know the particulars. I do, and I made the call. That’s the end of it. What concerns me is that my call remain in force. Am I making myself clear?”
Baxter and Peterman looked at each other and shrugged.
“Not really, sir,” Baxter said.
“Here’s what going to happen. I’m going to take you folks back to Rigel Four, you’ll come up with some incredibly boring story to explain what happened to your runabout, and you’ll never EVER tell another living soul about anything you’ve seen here. And just in case I wasn’t clear, that’s an order!”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 58320.4. On our way back to the Explorer after attending the Emerging Trends in Intra-System Relations conference on Rigel Four, we hit a thing…in space…a space thing. It was a big space thing. And it…caused our runabout to…blow up. Luckily a passing ship was able to beam us out before the Chicamacomico exploded. We are returning to Rigel Four, at which time we will find alternative transportation back to the Explorer.”
“I could do better,” Baxter said to Admiral Wagner after he switched off the log recorder in front of him.
“It’s good enough,” Wagner replied without looking away from the controls in front of him. Baxter leaned back in his seat and looked around. Wagner’s ship was sleek. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill Starfleet runabout. Baxter wasn’t even sure what a few of the controls did.
“This is nice,” he said, breaking the silence. “New?”
Wagner nodded. “I needed something small and fast, so I borrowed it from R&D. They’re calling it a raceabout for now.”
“Faster than a runabout, so it’s a raceabout. Cute.”
“I get the joke, Baxter.”
“I’m sure they’ll change the name before it hits regular production.”
“Don’t you have a wife to talk to or something?” Wagner said.
“Am I bothering you, sir?”
“Yes, sir,” Baxter said, getting up and heading out of the raceabout cockpit to the living area in the middle of the ship where Peterman was curled up on the sofa staring blankly at a rerun of My Favorite Medusan on the holovision screen.
“Everything okay?” she asked, switching off the show and making room for Baxter to sit down beside her on the sofa.
“We have a cover story,” Baxter said with a sigh, putting his arm around Peterman as she snuggled up beside him.
For several moments the only sound was the soft thrum of the engines.
“Are you sure everything’s okay?” Peterman asked.
“I was just thinking.”
“What happened with Dillon. There’s a lesson to be learned from all this,” Baxter said.
“Listen to your wife when she’s trying to help your flying.”
“Not what I meant.”
“There but for the grace of the Great Bird go you?”
“No,” Baxter replied with a chuckle.
“You’re the one who suddenly wants to be the good captain and get invited to more conferences and such.”
“I am good captain…maybe just not the way Starfleet wants me to be, but it works. And I still have a life. I can’t imagine doing any of this without you and Steffie. Dillon…Dillon doesn’t know what he’s missing. I tried to tell him there was more to life than being captain, but I don’t think it sunk in.”
“No offense, honey, but you aren’t a professional counselor.”
“Oh and you did so well with him.”
“Jerk,” Peterman said playfully, poking him in the side. “So what’s this big lesson of yours?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s something about staying away from crazy people,” Baxter said. “Of course that means we can’t ever go back to the Explorer.”
“The crew isn’t crazy, honey. Just eccentric. There’s a difference.”
“I don’t know. It’s a fine line sometimes.”
“But it’s still a line. And we just saw what happens when you cross it.”
When a man is strong enough, he can shape reality itself to his desires.
Travis Dillon knew he was strong. His force of will was the strongest the universe had ever encountered.
He would prove it.
Today he was a starship captain, but, as that strange man had told him, he could have more.
He could have anything and everything he ever wanted.
He could rule the cosmos.
“First I just need to become head of Starfleet. Supreme Commander of Starfleet. Oooh, I like the sound of that better,” Dillon said, idly spinning in his command chair.
All around him, the holodeck computer began to work.
His wish was its command.
Since they handled the recent Andorian situation so well, the Explorer is invited to a summit on Gorn. It goes exceedingly well, until the reprehensible Sirron, the deceased Captain Harth’s former love interest and diplomatic attache for the Gorn, realizes the Explorer crew is there.