Author: Anthony Butler
Janice Browning walked into the Constellation Club and immediately winced as she was hit by the thrum of techno music.
“Yeesh, I don’t remember it being so loud in here,” she said, moving her hands up to cover her ears.
“Hey there, Doctor Browning!” Ensign Ryan Stuart said, flipping the collar up on his shirt and walking over.
“Call me Janice,” Browning said, scanning the room.
“Haven’t seen you around here in a while!”
“Guess I thought it was about time to get out of my cabin. You know, out of the rut, and such.” Truth is, most of her free nights were spent talking to Pogo, the Changeling political refugee. And while she enjoyed talking to Pogo, she realized she needed to get out a bit more, mix with the crew. See the people she’d been avoiding of late.
“Sure, sure, I get that,” Stuart said. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“Not really,” Browning said, giving Stuart a polite smile and moving past him to the bar, where Mirk was polishing its reflective, lit surface as usual.
He looked up and smiled. “Doctor! It’s been a while. I thought maybe you forgot what deck we’re on.”
“Some ships name their lounge after the deck its on so people never forget,” Browning said with a shrug, pulling up a stool at the bar.
“How dull,” Mirk said, and gave a nod at a glass, sending it telekinetically down the bar to Browning. “What can I get you? Intergalactic Fwarz-sharsher? Symantic Syllyhoo? Veggie juice and whiskey?”
“Veggie and…” Browning wrinkled her nose. “No thanks. How about a nice khalua and cream?”
“Suit yourself,” Mirk said, and went to his replicator, returning with a pitcher from which he filled up Brown’s glass. He could have just replicated a glass, but then he couldn’t do the kinesis thing, and he was rather proud of the ability to send glasses across the bar at will. If only he could use his powers to fill them with something…but then again that might disturb his customers.
Browning sipped her drink and smiled. “Very good. Like a chocolate shake with a kick!”
“So how long has it been since you’ve been here?”
“Let’s not analyze that,” Browning said quickly. “Let’s just say it’s about time I came back. I wanted to see all the fun I was missing.”
“You missed Lieutenant Sefelt throwing up on Cadet Piper earlier. Otherwise, it’s been a pretty quiet night.”
Mirk scanned the crowd. “Pretty busy night…looking for someone in particular?”
Browning sipped. “Oh, any…of the senior staff?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. Commander Richards is…” Mirk trailed off. “Well, he and J’hana are in the back corner. I think J’hana’s letting Richards get a second wind before getting back on the dance floor. It borders on…perverted.” Mirk threw up his hands. “But who am I to judge?”
Browning nodded. “Anyone else? Kelly, Andy? Commander Tilleran?”
“Tilleran’s been keeping a pretty low profile…obvious reasons. And I think it’s Kelly and Andy’s night in with Stephanie.”
“Oh,” Browning said. “That’s nice.”
“How’s Plato?” Mirk said, leaning against the bar.
“Oh, fine. Totally crazy about Cadet Sparks, though I’m not sure they’re on the same padd, if you know what I mean.”
“They’re on a date right now on the holodeck. A baseball game, I think.”
“Yep,” Browning said. “What about Megan, how’s she doing?”
“Double shift in engineering. The injectors haven’t been right since the last run-in with the Idlewild. Then the Aquarius thing a few weeks back didn’t help matters.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“MIRK! More Mazarian Margaritas!” Ensign Stuart called out, emerging from the crowd at the other end of the bar.
“Excuse me, Doctor,” Mirk said, and dashed to the other end of the bar.
Browning turned in her stool, scanning the crowd. There they were, right in the back corner where Mirk said they’d be.
She scooched off the stool and gently nudged her way through the crowd.
“Doctor Browning, it’s about time!” Ensign Ridley called out. “Want to join the conga line?”
“Maybe later,” Browning said with a nod, and kept pushing past, working her way through the cluster of bodies until she reached the back of the lounge and its massive, vertical windows. She walked up to Richards’s table, glancing to the windows and looking at the stars.
“Janice?” Richards asked, looking up.
Browning glanced at him. “Oh! Christopher! Hello, how are you?”
“Fine,” Richards said, looking perplexed. “What are you doing here?”
“Just…out…for a night of fun,” Browning said. “You?”
“Straining every tendon in my body,” Richards blanched, cradling his arm.
“You are weak,” J’hana said, sipping from a boiling glass that emitted putrid green fog. “Come now. Back onto the dance floor, coward.”
“Just a few minutes,” Richards said. “Janice, want to sit down a bit?”
“Sure,” Browning said, ignoring J’hana’s piercing stare.
“Certainly,” the Andorian said. “Stay as long as you like, Doctor.”
“Just Janice. Really,” Browning said. “I’m not practicing anymore. Don’t plan on it, either.”
“That’s a shame. Somebody will need to look at my knee after a night like this,” Richards said.
“Your knee will be the least of your problems,” J’hana intoned.
“Uh, yeah,” Richards said, feeling the Andorian’s glare. “Well, we’d better get back out there…nice talking to you!”
“Yeah, you too,” Browning said, watching Richards and J’hana make their way out onto the dance floor. She turned to look at the stars. It was time for another drink.
“So…” Captain Baxter said, staring out the viewport in his quarters. “Nice night, huh?”
Peterman nodded. “Yes. Nice and quiet. Steffie’s asleep…Charlotte’s finally stopped chasing her tail and collapsed from exhaustion.” She scooched closer to Baxter. “I’d say ‘family night in’ is a rousing success.”
“Want more pizza?” Baxter asked, glancing at the tray on the dining table.
“No, I’m stuffed.”
“Ahh.” Baxter looked around. “Well. So…what do we do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Holodeck? Coffee shop? Go to the bridge and blow up a few asteroids with the navigation phasers?”
Peterman narrowed her eyes at Baxter. “Going out would somehow defeat the purpose of ‘family night in.’”
“Yes, I can see that,” Baxter said. “Something on the vidscreen then?”
“No!” Peterman said. “The whole point is that we’re supposed to be spending quality time with each other!” Peterman grabbed Baxter’s hand and clasped it. “This is good for our marriage!”
“Yeah, but I’m…bored.”
“Then you’re bored with our marriage, eh?” Peterman laughed derisively. “I guess I give you credit for hanging in this long. You’re a real trooper.”
“That’s not what I meant! I’m just saying…I like to do…stuff.”
“We can’t have sex EVERY night. It ceases to be special.”
“Oh, well, yes. Specialness is important.”
“Now you’re just placating me.”
“Bridge to Captain Baxter,” came the voice of Ensign Adam Keefler over the comm system.
“Thank you, Ensign,” Baxter said. “I mean…what, how can I help you? It’s family night in!”
“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but I think you’d better come up here.”
“Oh?” Baxter said, looking nervously at Peterman.
“Your Dad’s on the line and he seems…irritated. Should I patch him through to your quarters?”
“Um, no,” Baxter said, and rose from the couch. “I’ll be up there in a minute. Baxter out.”
Peterman followed Baxter with her eyes as he made his way to the door.
“What?” he asked.
“You can’t take the call down here?”
“He yells a lot. Might wake up the little one.” He glanced over at Charlotte. “Or, you know, our daughter.”
Peterman nodded. “Fine, go. But this isn’t over.”
“No, I imagine one way or another we’ll be spending more ‘quality time’ together.”
“Damn right. And we’ll keep trying till we get it right!” Peterman called after Baxter as he left.
A scowling Harlan Baxter appeared on the viewscreen, seated at his desk in the Baxters’ quarters aboard the Pathfinder. “Rrrmrarffarrfffffffmmm…” he muttered, chewing on his cigar.
“I didn’t catch that last part, Dad,” Baxter said. “What do you want me to do with my carpet?”
Harlan angrily snatched the cigar out of his mouth. “Rrrmmmm seen the last article AWN ran on the Explorer?”
“AWN writes articles about us?” Baxter asked, scratching his head. “Plural?”
Harlan nodded. “Don’t you read the news services, boy?”
“We have more than one news service?”
“Don’t screw with me. How do you expect to captain a starship without reading the news?”
Baxter shrugged. “Been doing fine without reading the news for the last seven years, so why change?”
“Because you’re getting smeared, boy!”
“Why does he keep calling him ‘boy,’?” Cadet Mathers whispered to Keefler from the science station.
“Don’t ask questions when Admiral Baxter’s on the screen,” Keefler said from between clenched teeth. “Just trust me.”
“Smeared by who?” Baxter asked, ignoring Mathers and Keefler.
“Joan Redding, Peter Balshart, Victor Vargasham! They think the Explorer is a laughingstock.”
“How come?” Baxter asked, tugging the bottom of his uniform top indignantly.
“Redding got off on the wrong foot with you when she came aboard for that news story,” Harlan said. “That started the whole damn thing. Richards mishandled her from the start.”
“He was busy handling J’hana.”
“So since your people royally pissed her off, she takes any chance to embarrass the Explorer.” Harlan looked down at the padd. “The botched rescue on Gorn…adopting a Borg puppy…the whole Idlewild mess. Godsake, son, you’re getting worse press than a guy who stole a starship!””
“First of all, Dad, it was a DAWG puppy,” Baxter corrected. “And the Idlewild thing isn’t ALL my fault. Okay, so maybe I got in the way of what was apparently a carefully coordinated attempt to capture the Idlewild once and for all, but don’t you remember that you had a hand in kicking the whole thing off last year?”
Harlan gritted his teeth, glaring hard at Baxter. Mathers shrunk a bit behind his console, opting to busy himself with some star charts.
Baxter shifted from foot to foot. “A small hand…really, more of just a finger, in it…hardly any involvement, really. Look, Dad, what do you want from me?”
“Yer off yer current mission. I’m rerouting the Tracker to take your place. You’re gonna change course to new coordinates here…” He punched something into a nearby panel.
Lt. Madera looked back at Baxter. “This takes us to a system adjacent to Klingon space…”
Harlan stuffed the cigar back in his mouth. “Drmn rrght.”
“Klingon space?” Baxter asked. “Why on Earth would you send me there?”
“Klrngnsrfderfffffffarsrrnsns!” Harlan shot back.
“Dad, once and for all, nobody can hear a damn word you’re saying when you’ve got that thing in your mouth!”
Harlan took the cigar out. “Klrrnrng rr frccc jrrnnnnst!”
“E-NUN-CI-ATE!” Baxter shot back.
“I said…” Harlan said, heaving a deep breath. “Klingons are FIERCE JOURNALISTS!”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “No wonder I didn’t understand that.”
“We need to make up ground fast. The Klingons have agreed to give you the fair shake AWN won’t give you. They’re the only ones who would, by the way. You’ll meet a representative from the Krinok News Network. Yer gonna have a special on one of their talking head type programs. Don’t screw this up, boy. We need the good press!”
“Impress some Klingon reporters. Sounds easy,” Baxter said, settling back into his seat. “Don’t worry, Dad. The Explorer is on the case. We’ll clear our good names. I stake my reputation on it.”
Harlan put the cigar back in his mouth. “RGGFRKN. MRMSHHI. PRHFNDR OTT.”
“Aw, his mom says hi,” Keefler said softly. “That’s nice.”
“You understood that last part?” Mathers asked.
“You get better at it after a while,” Keefler shrugged.
Stardate 58528.4. We’ve just arrived at the Vendrathi system, where we’re apparently going to meet up with some Klingon…journalists. I guess it says something about my situation when I need to ask the Klingons for help to clear my good name with the Federation. Then again, I guess I’ve never really cared if I’ve had a good name with the Federation. I’m just content to have the respect and admiration of my crew. Okay, just the respect. Okay, I’m pleased just when they say hi to me in the corridors. Whatever.
“Contact bearing oh-four-three mark one-five-seven,” J’hana reported from tactical. “Klingon freighter, Yur’oh’Van class.”
“Hail them. Send the appropriate greeting,” Baxter said, leaning back in the command chair. “Quapla, or whatever.”
“I’m sure they’ll be touched,” J’hana said, tapping at her panel.
“I wonder if Krinok’s aboard,” Richards said, shifting a bit in his seat.
“So what if he is?” Baxter asked.
“Well, he did try to murder me the last time I saw him.”
“I’m sure that’s all water under the bridge of honor,” Baxter said. “Besides, he’ll have a security detachment around him twenty-four-seven, right, J’hana?”
“I will keep an eye on the Klingons. I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I’ll never forgive them for the death of my boyfriend.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Baxter said. “Dwanok. We helped you save him. That should give us some clout with the Klingons.”
“We didn’t save him! His venemous shvetlat of a wife killed him, supposedly to spare him from life in a coma!”
Baxter’s shoulders fell a bit. “Oh. Right. Then we won’t bring it up.”
“Of all the murders I’ve committed - which are many - that one was the sweetest,” J’hana said, licking her lips. “Kessica, of the House of Dwanok…”
“All right, all right, we don’t need a total recap,” Baxter said, waving at J’hana. “Calm down back there, and get ready to receive the Klingon boarding party.”
J’hana looked at her panel, gritting her teeth and reigning in her emotions. “I’ve received word from their communications officer. A Mister Drondarg will be transporting over in ten minutes.”
“Wow!” Richards said, turning to Baxter. “We’re going to be on Drondarg 360!”
“Is that good?”
“It’s the most watched news program on KNN, followed closely by Late Night with Vok’Moval.”
“Nice,” Baxter said. “At least we’re working with the best…in Klingon terms, anyway. Anybody else coming along?”
J’hana looked back at her panel. “A holocamera operator, two assistants, and…yes, Krinok himself.” She bared her teeth at Richards in a hungry smile. “You may do battle before the day is done, human.”
“Yeah, today isn’t really a good day for that,” Richards said, and moved out of his seat. “You know what? I’ve got a LOT of paperwork. I’ll be down in my office…”
“You have an office?” Baxter asked.
“Oh, right. Guess I forgot. Well, have fun. I’ll send Drondarg looking for you if he needs an interview.”
“Take your time,” Richards said, and moved toward the turbolift.
“I’ll come with you, my little veshtart,” J’hana called after Richards.
“Um, take the next turbolift car. I’m really late. Gotta go!”
Baxter looked at J’hana as Richards disappeared into the turbolift. “Don’t look at me. You’re the one that’s dating him.”
“I’ll figure out why our first officer is so scared of Krinok, sir. Do not worry.”
“I’m not worried…about that. But I am worried about the Klingons. Go meet them.”
“Are you coming with, or are you frightened as a baby targ, as well?” J’hana asked as she walked to the lift.
“I’m no such thing,” Baxter said, moving to join J’hana at the back of the bridge. “Really. I’m happy to go along. Lieutenant Madera - you have the bridge.”
“Glad to hear it,” J’hana said as the lift came.
“Just stay in front of me, okay,” Baxter said, ushering J’hana into the lift.
“Coming up next on Drondarg Three-sixty! Drondarg sits down with the captain of the Federation Starship Explorer. Ship of fools, or ship of honor? You decide! Or die!”
Captain Ficker nearly spit his coffee out all over the table in the Idlewild’s mess as he saw Veeksla, the comely KNN news anchor, announce the upcoming program.
“Is the coffee not to your liking, sir?” Commander Worthy said, hovering with an almost ghostly quality right next to him.
Ficker pointed at the screen. “Look! The Explorer got an exclusive on Drondarg Three-sixty!”
“And this concerns you?”
Ficker nodded, gesturing for Worthy to sit beside him. “And it should concern you, too.”
“Be that as it may, I have an update on Doctor Drake’s work on the Device. Suffice it to say, it’s not all positive. We have to decide…”
Ficker held up a hand, silencing Worthy. “Never forget that we are fighting two wars, Commander. One against the Explorer, in the flesh, and the other against the Explorer, in the headlines. We cannot ignore the P.R. war, not for a moment!”
“May I ask why, sir?”
“Because! It does us no good to defeat the Explorer in battle if she only survives as a beacon of hope to downtrodden, reject officers everywhere! That’s supposed to be our job!”
“I thought we were taking over Starfleet,” Worthy said. “This thing with the Explorer. It seems a bit…personal.”
“It is personal,” Ficker said, taking off his glasses and wiping them with a cloth napkin. “Captain Baxter dismantled my Starfleet career. Helped me become a laughingstock. It was his actions at the Battle of Coreolis that ended my Starfleet Career.”
“Oh. When you were Captain of the Explorer?”
“Don’t remind me. *I* should have been credited for winning the battle with the Starshine Kids, not him!”
“Did you have anything to do with the victory?”
“On the surface, it would appear not, but trust me, I loosened up the ketchup bottle for Baxter. He’d never admit it, but yeah, I was instrumental in our victory.”
Worthy nodded. “According to historical records, you stole the Escort and ran away.”
“We don’t need a whole freaking recap!” Ficker snapped. “Let’s just watch the news program and try to come up with a counterstrike.”
“As you wish,” Worthy said blandly.
“And get me another coffee!”
“I’m here with Captain Andy Baxter, commander of the U.S.S. Explorer,” the thin, angular, and sharp-dressed Klingon correspondent, Drondarg, said, grinning at the holocamera as he and Baxter walked down the Explorer corridor. “And we’re heading where, Captain?”
“To Space Tastes, our restaurant, to get something to eat,” Baxter said.
“Sufficient for our needs, Captain,” Drondarg nodded. “Can you tell us, what is the Explorer’s current mission?”
“Talking to you guys,” Baxter said, nervously looking from Drondarg to his camera. “Why? Are we supposed to be doing something else?”
“Not at all,” Drondarg said. “But it helps our viewership to have a context. Your vision for the Explorer. How does she fit in with Starfleet?”
“Well, I think we do our part,” Baxter said with a forced grin. “No slackers on this ship, for sure!”
“I’m sorry - ‘slacker’?”
“Yes, a human term. Kind of like ‘p’tak,’ I guess, since you guys seemingly use that word for everything.”
“Ah, I see,” Drondarg said. Baxter noted that the Klingon news man didn’t seem as imposing as most Klingons. As a matter of fact, he seemed downright charming. Guess even the Klingons had charismatic people giving the news. Some things were constants in all cultures.
“So where is the Explorer going next?”
“Odeon Delta Three, to deliver supplies.”
“Can we go with you? See the Explorer in action?”
Baxter shrugged. “It’s not really that exciting. Just a pickup and dropoff kind of thing.”
“Cut it,” Drondarg said to the camera, then turned to Baxter pushing him against the bulk head.
“Find someone to rescue, or something heroic to do, immediately. Our viewers require compelling news. They enjoy human…er…Klingon interest stories, not scenes of your ship delivering supplies!” Drondarg sneered. “You will provide us with a heartrending story or I will show your still beating heart to you…” He glanced at his camera operator. “…by reporting to all our viewers that you were hostile and uncooperative!”
Baxter swallowed hard. “Listen here, I…”
“Activate camera,” Drondarg ordered, and plastered on a large smile. “So, Captain Baxter, where will the Explorer be taking us next?”
“Um, not sure, Drondarg…but I’m sure it will be, um, exciting!” Baxter’s back was suddenly damp wish sweat. His heart pounded. He looked around. Just where the hell was J’hana?
“Make this short, Krinok,” J’hana said testily, pacing the conference room she had commandeered at the Klingon TV mogul’s request. “Stellar Cartography is throwing a birthday party in here in ten minutes and balloons will soon be delivered.”
“What I have to say won’t take long,” Krinok rumbled, patting his expansive chest. “Trust in Krinok. You will want to know this.”
“So. What?” J’hana asked, glancing about impatiently.
“I have something aboard my ship. Something that belongs to you.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Yes. Contrary to popular belief, Parma’chai’s actually have some rights. The Klingon Consulate asked me to deliver it for you.”
J’hana nodded, her defenses softening just a bit. “Part of Dwanok’s estate, then?”
“You could…say that.”
“Well, give it to me then. I don’t have all day.”
“As you wish,” Krinok said with a smile. He tapped a control on his wrist. “Shmatz! Chuy’Choo!”
With a glimmer of red transporter static, three Klingons, all seemingly in their late teens to early twenties, materialized in front of J’hana.
“What is this?” she asked, ignoring the young Klingons completely and turning to Krinok.
“These,” Krinok said, his voice deep and resonant, “are Dwanok’s children.” He nodded in their direction as J’hana steeled herself, her eyes going wide. “D’vorak, Tesla, and of course, Dwanok Junior. By Klingon law, they now belong to you.” He laughed uproariously and headed for the door. “Have a nice day.”
“Genetic tests are conclusive, J’hana,” Dr. Holly Wilcox said, leaning in the doorway of her office as J’hana stood within, pacing like a caged beast. “These Klingons are definitely Dwanok’s offspring.”
J’hana cocked an eye staring at Holly. “So this is not a trick of cloning or holography?”
“Well, if they were clones, there would be markers, some sign of genetic drift. And if they were holograms, well, they’d…be holograms.”
“So you say,” J’hana said, folding her arms. “I don’t suppose you’re an expert on Klingon law?”
Holly shook her head. “Must’ve skipped that class at the academy.” She tapped her padd idly against her hand and glanced back toward the medical bay. “All in all, they seem like fine kids…by Klingon standards. Any idea what you’re going to do?”
“I believe Klingon law states that I can kill them if I do not wish to have the burden of raising them on my own.”
“Hmm. I have a feeling Starfleet would frown on it.”
“Oh, they WOULD, wouldn’t they,” J’hana muttered. “Well, I appreciate your help, Doctor. You’ve been efficient as always. And may I say, your bustline today is looking particularly appealing.”
Holly sighed and turned around. “Blast it, J’hana, you almost made it through an entire conversation…”
“I cannot help it. You are attractive. I can see what the braindead one sees in you.”
“Dean isn’t braindead. He’s just…different,” Holly huffed and walked off.
Just then, the doors to Sickbay wooshed open and Commander Richards dashed in. He looked around and his eyes lit on J’hana. “Hey! I came as soon as I found out…”
“So you say,” she muttered. “However, site-to-site transport would have been a great deal faster.”
“Where are they?”
J’hana inclined her head. “In the other room. Holly just confirmed their genetic signature.”
“Oh,” Richards said. “So they’re yours?”
“NO!” she spat, so loud she surprised herself. She lowered her head. “They are Dwanok’s. Krinok simply brought them to me because Klingon law dictates…”
“That what? The girlfriend gets the children if they’re orphaned?”
“I have not fully studied the matter.”
“Don’t you think you should?”
J’hana glared at Richards. “Of course. I simply need…time to…digest the news.”
“My question is, why now?” Richards scratched his head. “I mean, you killed Kessica more than two years ago. If you did…inherit them…why now?”
“That is precisely what I intend to find out,” J’hana said thoughtfully.
“Do you want me to see if I can make contact with some of the people I knew during my Days of Honor days?”
“Are there any remaining who don’t wish you dead?”
Richards sighed. “No.”
“I know a few associates of Dwanok’s,” J’hana said, rubbing her chin. “I must speak with them and establish a legal recourse.”
“So I guess that means you’re not keeping them.”
“Of course not!” She shook her head. “I am in the prime of my life. I enjoy my work…and your shnargatz…far too much to give that up in favor of raising three teenaged Klingons!”
“At least they’re teenaged…you wouldn’t have to do that much raising.”
“Still,” J’hana said. “They will undoubtedly…want things…of me. And what then?”
“It’s a tough one,” Richards said. “Well, you know, whatever you decide, I’m behind you.”
“Of course you are, you fwarking coward,” J’hana said, pushing past him and walking out into Sickbay proper.
“I walked right into that, didn’t I?” Richards said to himself.
“All right, stop talking amongst yourselves,” J’hana said, approaching the central biobed, around which the three Klingons were gathered. “I am here now, and I require your attention. Which one of you is the leader?”
The Klingons looked at each other. One stepped forward - a broad- chested male. “I am D’vorak, the eldest.”
“You’ll do,” J’hana said, as Richards stepped slowly up behind her.
“Hi guys. I’m Chris. I’m…her…commanding officer…” He looked at J’hana. “Boyfriend. Commanding officer-boyfriend. Commanding boyfriend.”
“Do not pay any attention to the human,” J’hana said, stepping closer to D’vorak and the others. “We have much to discuss, it seems.”
“Indeed we do,” Tesla, the female and middle-child, said, pursing her lips firmly.
“I believe it is nearly lunch time. We have an establishment here that should suit your needs.”
Richards looked at her. “We do?”
“Andy?” Peterman asked, stepping into Baxter’s readyroom.
Baxter jumped, nearly out of his desk chair. “Oh. It’s just you. Whew.”
“Who did you think it’d be?” she asked, walking up to his desk.
“I thought you were Drondarg. Is he still out there interviewing the bridge crew?”
“Yes, but I should point out that Keefler had to stop him from punching a hole through Howie’s skull.” She wrinkled her nose. “Is it just me, or is he a somewhat different guy when he’s not on camera?”
“You could say that,” Baxter said. “He threatened to disembowel me if I didn’t find a heroic situation for us to get in to.” He turned to his terminal and started tapping into it.
“So what’re you doing? Contacting Starfleet to report it?”
“Um, no,” Baxter said. “I’m trying to find a distress call…a star going nova…something!”
Peterman leaned on Baxter’s desk. “What? You’re giving in to his demands?”
“Better than having my intestines handed to me!”
“This is your ship, Andy! You can’t let that guy boss you around.”
Baxter tapped on his panel. “You just watch me.”
Peterman shook his head. “Listen, mister passive-aggressive, this is your counselor talking. You have to nip this thing in the bud.”
“Why do you always switch to counselor mode when you want to boss me around? It’s like getting a second vote. It’s really not fair.”
“You switch into captain mode sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “That’s right. Fine, then, so I overrule your order. I’m going to be a ninny coward and there’s nothing you can do about it, so there.”
“Yeah, but counselors can override captains if they think they’re not mentally fit for duty!”
“Dammit!” Baxter pounded his fist on the desk. “I always forget that one.”
“And it’s not like I have to work very hard to demonstrate mental incompetence.”
“Just calling it like I see it, honey.”
Baxter worked his jaw angrily. “You know, just for that…go out there and…and tell Drondarg I won’t be submitting to any of his demands. Tell him this is my ship, and if he has a problem with that he can take it up with you.”
“You’d really send your wife out to talk to a dangerous Klingon…”
“He’s not dangerous! He’s a talk show host!”
“Then why are you scared of him!”
“ARGHHHHHHHH!” Peterman moaned, stomping her foot. “Fine. I’ll deal with it.” She stepped up to the door, and it opened to reveal Drondarg, framed in the doorway, holding a squirming Charlotte in his arms.
“Your dog, Counselor,” he said gently, handing Charlotte over to Peterman.
“Um, thanks,” she said, taking the puppy into her hands.
“You should be careful letting your animals run loose on the ship, lest an unfortunate accident befall one of them.”
Peterman turned quickly to Baxter, hugging Charlotte protectively. “Dammit, Andy! Haven’t you found some planet for us to rescue yet? Mister Drondarg doesn’t have all day!”
“Spaghetti and raw meatballs!” Janice Browning announced, setting the plate down in the center of two hastily-pushed-together tables in the middle of her restaurant. She looked at Richards, who shot her a confused glance. “Well, it was the best I could do on short notice, and it’s kind of like gagh…”
Dwanok Junior regarded the pile of pasta and sauce. “This is not the blood of a targ?”
“Nope, tomato sauce,” Browning said. “Loved by many on our planet. You should see what it’s like on pizza…”
“Yes, I’ve heard of this…flattened food,” D’vorak said, his jaw muscles tensing. “Disgusting.”
“You know, I think I forgot the Parmesan cheese,” Browning said, not missing a beat as she headed back to the kitchen.
“We cannot eat this,” Tesla said, staring at her plate. “Bring the human back and tell her we want other food. Or behead her.”
“Or both,” Dwanok Junior offered.
“Janice Browning is your host and you will treat her with respect while you are under my command,” J’hana said tersely. “Now eat this peculiar cuisine. Immediately.”
The Klingon teens ate quietly for a few minutes, and Browning returned with the cheese.
“Hey, Chris,” she said through a forced smile. “Could you come back and join me in the kitchen for a moment?”
“Uh, sure,” Richards said, and backed away from the table.
“So, tell me,” J’hana said, turning to D’vorak. “What brings you here? What makes you think I would be a suitable parent?”
“We’ve all reached the age of ascension,” Tesla explained. “Dwanok Junior was the last, having undergone ascension just last month.”
“I’m still sore,” the boy muttered.
“Weakling,” Tesla muttered. “At any rate, at that time we met to discuss our parentage. The last two years we have been guests at the Keyh’lar Home for Wayward Klingons. A suitable facility, however, their staff did not provide the strong hand we long for.”
“The strong hand of our mother,” D’vorak said with a sneer. “Which you took away from us when you murdered her!”
“Mhm,” J’hana said. “Could you pass the pepper?”
D’vorak pushed the pepper across the table. Before he could withdraw his arm, she grabbed it and dragged him halfway across the table.
“LISTEN TO ME, YOU SPINELESS LITTLE P’TAK! LET’S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT! I DID NOT MURDER YOUR MOTHER! SHE KILLED YOUR FATHER JUST BECAUSE HE WAS IN A COMA. I CLAIMED THE RIGHT OF VENGEANCE LIKE ANY GOOD KLINGON WOULD AND EVISCERATED THAT ZHIXIZZ! I DON’T REGRET IT FOR A MOMENT!”
With that, she pushed D’vorak back into his seat, looking around at the others.
“Well?” J’hana asked, catching her breath.
“I told you she would be perfect,” Tesla said with a smile.
“Our mother was simply exercising her right to perform Mauk’tovar. It also is the Klingon way, is it not?” Dwanok Junior asked.
“Your ‘Klingon way’ can be damned,” J’hana muttered. “Kessica killed my boyfriend, and for that, I hope Fekhlar devoured her soul swiftly after she was killed.”
“And what price will you pay when you die?” D’vorak scowled. “What price will you pay for killing our mother?”
J’hana laughed uproariously. “I assure you, D’vorak, I’ll face my punishment at the Great Hive like any other. But I promise you, I’ve far grander sins to atone for than killing your shevath of a mother!”
“Well,” Tesla said. “I realize we’re all a bit…heated…but we must remember the purpose for this trip.”
“Which I am still trying to determine…” J’hana said.
“While we may not all forgive what you did,” Tesla said, looking from Dwanok Junior to D’vorak, “we must admit that you are our last living connection to our father. You are also well-versed in the ways of the warrior.”
“Many songs were sung of your battle to save our Father,” Dwanok Junior said in a small voice.
“Oh,” J’hana said, trying to hide how genuinely touched she was. “I was hoping.”
“We’ve much to learn from you,” Tesla said, shooting D’vorak a glare. “Having all reached the age of ascension, we therefor put our lives in your hands, to do with as you will. It’s our hope that we emerge from the fires of your training as extensions of your mighty hands, as instruments of destruction. As true warriors.”
“Well,” J’hana said, turning a darker shade of blue. “I don’t know what to say…”
“What’s going on out there?” Browning asked Richards, as he peered through the crack in the door that led out from the kitchen.
“I don’t know. If you’ll be quiet, maybe we can both hear!”
“Stop listening in, that’s not why I called you in here,” Browning said. “I’m worried about J’hana.”
Richards glanced back at her. “You are?”
“Sure. This doesn’t feel right for some reason.”
“It’s Klingons. If it felt right, I’d be worried.”
“I mean, how do we know what they’re asking for is on the level?”
“They’re kids. They want parenting. Isn’t that a reasonable request?”
“It just doesn’t add up. And what about you?”
“What about me?” Richards asked, turning to Browning.
“How do you fit in to all this? Are you going to father these kids?”
“I…I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
“You’ve been with J’hana for a few months now. I figured the thought of commitment would have crossed your mind by now.” Browning smacked her forehead. “But no, of course, this is Chris Richards we’re talking about.”
“I’m just saying, Christopher, that if J’hana takes on three new children, you may find yourself with responsibilities you never dreamed of. And if you weren’t ready to get married, I’m guessing you sure as hell aren’t ready for this.”
Richards narrowed his eyes at Browning. “This is all about us, isn’t it?”
“No, Christopher,” Browning sighed. “It’s not always about us…”
“I think it is. I think you’re still conflicted about leaving me at the altar. And you can’t stand the idea that I may ever get on that altar with anyone else again.”
“I don’t doubt you’ll get there,” Browning muttered. “But whether you stay there, that’s another story. And I certainly don’t see you there with J’hana.”
“No?” Richards asked defiantly. “Well, I’ll show you.”
“At least you’ll already have kids,” Browning shot back.
“She’s not keeping them,” Richards replied harshly, pushing through the kitchen door. “Of that, you can be sure.”
As he stepped out, he came toe to toe with J’hana, who stared at him with an odd, euphoric look on her face.
“I have decided to keep the teenagers,” J’hana said. “Doctor Browning, uncork your best carbonated beverage. I am a mom.”
“All we had was root beer,” Dr. Browning sighed and stared out the large windows in the Constellation Club. She’d tried to contact Pogo, but he was at some sort of rally on Bosphorus Three. Just as well…what she needed right now was her best friend and counselor. “I kind of wish it had been something stronger.”
“I can ask Mirk to get you something, if you want,” Peterman said, staring at her Pink Squirrel.
Browning narrowed her eyes at Peterman. “Isn’t it a little early in the day to drink?”
Peterman shrugged. “I need to loosen up before my afternoon slate. Lieutenant Sefelt AND Ensign Verducci in one day!”
“Verducci?” Browning asked.
“Thinks he’s allergic to his shoes.”
“You’re telling me. It’s an equinox of bad appointments that only happens once every couple of years. On top of that, I’ve got a psychotic Klingon commentator roaming the ship, frightening my husband, who’s usually frightened even when he’s not dealing with psychotic Klingon commentators.”
“That is…a lot.” Browning shook her head.
“Plus, there’s Tilleran…she’s been a bit reclusive. I’m afraid she’s not really assimilating. I try to meet with her, to get through to her, and she just kind of blows me off. We haven’t had the breakthrough I’ve been hoping for yet.” She took a breath and sipped her drink thoughtfully. “Enough about my problems. What about you?”
“I guess I just feel a little lost lately.”
“You find it odd that J’hana decided to keep the Klingon children?”
“I guess I got this sudden image of J’hana and Christopher raising these children…”
“They’re adolescent Klingons. By that age, in their culture, they’re pretty much already raised.”
“Still. Where does that leave me?”
“With a beautiful son and a fulfilling life on the Explorer,” Peterman said, reaching out to touch Brown’s hand. “And don’t you forget it.”
“Yeah. Things are good. And…romantically,” Browning said. “There’s Pogo.”
“Ahh,” Peterman said. “And is there any progress there?”
“Not exactly,” Browning said. She sighed. “It’s complicated.”
“Always is,” Peterman said, draining her glass. “Mirk, another squirrel over here, and keep them fluffy!”
From behind the bar, Mirk gave a small sigh and turned to the replicator.
At a nearby table, a glassy-eyed Krinok held up a chalice of blood wine, inclining his head at Peterman. “Cheers, human!”
“What’s he so happy about?” Browning asked.
“I don’t know,” Peterman mused. “But whatever it is can’t be too good for us.”
“Why are there so many humans around?” Tesla asked, puffing out her chest as she walked down the corridor with J’hana, grimacing at the crewmembers that passed by.
“Because this is a Federation vessel,” J’hana said patiently. “The Federation is made up of many splendid cultures; however, the humans ruin that by being…well, just about everywhere.”
“I’ve noticed,” D’vorak growled.
“Well, you’re no treat yourself,” Richards said quietly from behind the group.
J’hana glared back at him. “Well, I’m not going to just stand here and have my species impuned,” he said.
Tesla turned on a heel, withdrawing a blade and shoving it up close against Richards’s neck. “And just WHY not you sniveling p’tak.”
Richards floundered. “Oh, no reason, I guess…”
J’hana’s face lit up with barely restrained glee. “Oh, Tesla. You’ve made your mother so proud. Don’t kill him, though. Mommy gets sex from that man.”
Tesla looked from J’hana to Richards and back again. “May I inflict a non-mortal wound?”
“No,” J’hana said. “Starfleet can’t stand that sort of thing, and then I’d have to fill out a bunch of reports. It’s just not worth the trouble.”
“Plus…I’m…her…boyfriend…” Richards choked as Tesla put her blade away. He rubbed his throat. “So, you know, she wouldn’t want to see me dead.”
“Yes, that too,” J’hana sighed, turning to a large pair of doors and keying them open. “Anyway, this is the arboretum. Grass, flowers, et cetera. I imagine if you’ve seen one garden, you’ve seen them all.”
“What is the point of this tour?” Dwanok Junior asked.
“Because you need to see where Mommy works. And eventually, you’ll be selecting quarters on this vessel, so I can keep my eyes on you and train you in the ways of life, so you can go out and be cunning warriors, or at the very least, survive a mild skirmish.”
“And we’re expected to learn all that on a Federation ship?” D’vorak scowled.
“A Federation ship with me aboard, yes,” J’hana said. “Now then, let’s visit the torpedo launch room. You’ll find that interesting.”
Richards jogged to catch up. “But J’hana, these Klingons aren’t really authorized to…”
J’hana glared back at him.
“Of course, you’ll be supervising, so…”
“You should just leave, human,” Dwanok Junior growled back at Richards as the group moved down the hallway.
“Well, all right,” Richards said, his shoulders falling. “If that’s really how you feel.”
“See you at dinner, chevaz-kins,” J’hana barked back at him, and then continued down the corridor.
Richards turned to head the other way just as Browning emerged from a turbolift.
“Christopher!” she said, jogging up.
He turned and glared at her. “What?”
She gaped. “What’s your problem?”
Richards blinked. “Oh, nothing I guess. What do you want?”
“Actually, I just came to tell you I’m sorry for the way I was acting before. It was immature. I’m happy for you and J’hana.”
“Yeah. I guess we all just have different ways of dealing with things, you know?”
“So…how are things? With you, and J’hana, and the…uh, kids?”
Richards stared down the hallway; they’d already rounded the corner. “Fine. Great, actually.”
“That’s good. Do you, um, have time for a coffee or something?”
“Not really. I should get back to the bridge. The captain may need me.”
“Well, okay…but you know, if you want to talk…?”
“I know where to find you,” Richards said, and headed back toward the turbolift.
“Good,” Browning said, watching Richards go. “Just checking.”
“URK!” Baxter choked, as the Jem’Hadar soldier grabbed him by the neck and shoved him against the side bulkhead on the bridge.
“Watch as I squeeze the life out of you, pathetic human scum!” the Jem’Hadar growled, shaking Baxter vehemently.
“NO!” Baxter struggled, wrenching free of the Jem’Hadar. “Never!” He slapped the Dominion soldier across the face, and then elbowed him in the gut, dropping him to his knees. “The Dominion have no chance of re-invading the Alpha Quadrant, not on my watch! Not if Captain Andy Baxter has anything to say about it!”
The Jem’Hadar looked up at him, his jaw working thoughtfully. “Really? Okay!” And he hopped up and walked toward the turbolift. “Sorry for the trouble. Hey, by the way, poetry reading tonight! Deck Fourteen Multipurpose Room. You really should stop by. I’m reading my new stanza on white dependence.”
“CUT CUT CUT!” Drondarg seethed, storming between Baxter and Chaka’kan. “What, are you insane? Is that any kind of drama? ‘Really? Okay!’ is that really how you expect a Jem’Hadar to speak?”
“Well, actually, I am a Jem’Hadar,” Chaka said meekly.
“Oh, don’t talk back to me,” Drondarg railed. “We had the perfect shot set up. Valiant captain defends his bridge from diabolical minion of death!”
“Hey!” Chaka protested. “I’m no minion of death.”
“That’s for sure,” Drondarg said, waving him away. “Get out of my sight. You sicken me. And you call yourself a Jem’Hadar!”
“You know, just for that, you are not invited to the poetry reading,” Chaka said resolutely, and backed into the turbolift. “But the rest of the bridge crew is. Bring your friends!”
“The poetry reading sounds like fun,” Baxter said, walking back toward the center of the bridge. “Oh, by the way, real nice, you guys, not charging to my rescue in that scene.”
“We thought you’d look braver fighting your babysitter by yourself,” Susan Madera said from helm.
“I’m afraid of holocameras,” Sefelt said from ops.
“Of course you are,” Baxter said, and sat down in the command chair. A shadow suddenly fell over him, and he gazed up to see Drondarg staring at him intently.
“Well?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Where is the groundbreaking, holovision-worthy moment I was promised?”
“I never promised anything,” Baxter muttered.
“Right, of course.” Drondarg bared his teeth, leaning into Baxter’s face. “What I mean to say is, where is the groundbreaking, holovision- worthy moment you’re going to give me to prevent me from removing your skeleton and hanging it in my trophy case right next to my Humbolt Award!?”
Baxter narrowed his eyes. “Isn’t this supposed to be news? Aren’t you supposed to be reporting facts, not staging an elaborate drama?”
“Pathetic human p’tak!” Drondarg said, pulling his blade from his belt and holding it to Baxter’s neck. “You know nothing about network news! I should kill you for your insolence!”
Keefler’s phaser was out and pointed at Drondarg in a second. “I’ve got a clear shot from here, Captain. Just say the word.”
“No, no,” Baxter said. “We can solve this amicably. I’m going to show my dad I’m good at P.R. stuff. He’ll see.”
“He’ll see your dead body trailing your ship’s wake with all the other useless flotsam!” Drondarg seethed.
Baxter narrowed his eyes. “You know, you were a lot cooler on holovision.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” the Klingon growled, turning from Baxter and pocketing his blade, just as the turbolift doors opened, admitting Richards to the bridge.
“Hey guys, what’s…”
“CHRIS!” Baxter exclaimed, rising from his chair. “Just the man I was looking for. Think you could show Drondarg here around the ship?”
Richards stared at Drondarg and shrugged. “To tell you the truth, Captain, I’m a little tired of dealing with Klingons right now.” He looked to Drondarg. “No offense.”
“None taken. Our people have loathed you ever since you left the staff of Days of Honor and the program sunk into a creative hell.”
“SOR-RY! Would you stick around if your writing staff was always trying to kill you?”
“IT IS THE KLINGON WAY!” Drondarg protested.
“Look,” Baxter said, holding up his hands. “You guys obviously have a lot to talk about. How about talking about it somewhere else?”
“An excellent idea,” Drondarg said, nodding to his cameraman. “And along the way, maybe we will find a perfect moment of shocking brutality to film.”
Richards looked at Baxter fearfully. “But…”
“Keefler, go with them,” Baxter said, nodding at the security officer. “Make sure that Richards isn’t involved in the shocking brutality Drondarg is talking about.”
“Uh, yes, Captain,” Keefler said, and walked down from his station to pass by Baxter. As he walked by, he quietly said, “Or you could just kick the Klingons off the ship for threatening to kill you.”
“No, I’d rather do it this way,” Baxter whispered back. “I have a lot riding on this with my dad.”
“If you say so,” Keefler muttered.
“If I don’t get the sound bite I’m hoping for,” Drondarg said, glancing back at Baxter, “I will return, and take a bite out of your worthless Federation hide!”
“Great, I’ll be waiting!” Baxter said, waving as the group entered the turbolift and Ensign Gordon Taft took over at the tactical station. As soon as they were gone, Baxter turned to Taft. “Okay, Ensign. Secure the bridge. Nobody on or off until I give the word.”
Taft stared at him as he headed back toward his ready room. “Are you just going to hide, sir?”
“No. I’m going to come up with a solution. That’s what captains do. If I have to hide while I do that, then, well…so be it.”
“You’re an inspiration, sir.”
“Day players don’t get to deliver clever one-liners, Ensign. You’ve gotta earn that,” Baxter snapped, and ducked into his office.
“So this is the photon torpedo control room,” J’hana said flatly, looking about as the Klingon teens moved into the room, where several crewmen moved around performing routine maintenance. “This is where we load up the foreward torpedo bays and, well, launch the torpedoes.”
Dwanok Junior glanced about approvingly. “This is where your Federation morals are put aside so that true combat can take place.”
“They don’t see it that way,” J’hana said. “But yes, essentially.”
D’vorak walked up to the row of tubes, and studied the controls. “So these controls open the tubes, and the torpedoes are loaded here?”
“Well, yes, this is the manual operation; however, there’s an automated system below this deck that loads them at a much faster rate. Were that to get jammed though…and it does, especially if the ship’s atmosphere is humid or…” J’hana caught herself. “But I may be boring you…”
“Yes you are,” Tesla said, circling the room.
“Your attempts to undermine and anger me will go unfulfilled,” J’hana responded, keeping her cool, as the boys moved around the room studying the panels in further detail.
“We mean you no disrespect,” Tesla said, stepping up behind J’hana with a sneer. “We merely wish to understand you. If you are to become our parent, we must establish a rapport.”
J’hana glanced sidelong at Tesla. “I’m glad we agree.”
“Oh, we do.”
“I said we do.”
“Yes, and I was agreeing with you.”
J’hana turned and stared at Tesla. “WHY ARE YOU BEING SO FWARKING DIFFICULT?”
“BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT OUR MOTHER, YOU ANTENNAED ANDORIAN WRETCH!” Tesla shot back, shoving J’hana hard. The Andorian barely moved. Instead, she slapped Tesla backhanded across the face, knocking her back into a bulkhead.
“Clear the room,” J’hana said, glancing at the crewmen in the control room. They took one look at her face and immediately went for the door.
Once alone with her children, J’hana turned to Tesla, balling her fists. “Precocious shevath! I have had quite enough of your disrespect. I’ll die before I let my own children malign me so!”
“Funny, we had the same idea,” Tesla said, pushing J’hana backward.
Dwanok Junior and D’vorak appeared at either side, each taking an arm, dragging her toward the torpedo launch tube.
J’hana chuckled. “Oh, my….you, you’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?”
“What was your first tip?” D’vorak asked, punching back on the control to one of the launch tubes, causing it to slide open as Dwanok Junior shoved her back against the wall, right near the open tube.
J’hana’s eyes welled with tears. “Oh, I am so proud. You all are really trying to kill mommy!”
“Yes,” Tesla said. “We want you dead for what you did to our family, leaving us orphans, the subject of ridicule….for those reasons and so many more we claim the right of ChiNtoPok. The right of patricide!”
“Well, then, by all means,” J’hana said, her face twisting into a mask of rage. “SHOW ME WHAT YOU’VE GOT!”
Tesla whirled, swinging a leg up to kick at J’hana’s head. J’hana grabbed the Klingon girl’s leg and twisted her midair, flopping her on her back. She fell, driving an elbow right down into her head.
“Tesla!” Dwanok Junior cried out, and leapt at J’hana, as D’vorak went for her legs.
“YES!” J’hana screamed in pure delight, rolling to her feet and spin-kicking D’vorak, just as Dwanok Junior rammed her in her side. “These are the family moments I’ve missed so dearly!”
“Break her spine!” Tesla shouted, rising to her feet and cradling her head.
“No…make sure she lives long enough to feel herself being blown out into space!” D’vorak shouted back.
“Aw, you’re all debating how to kill Mommy,” J’hana said, firing a fast succession of punches at Dwanok Junior while swinging a leg back to kick D’vorak in the gut, doubling him over. “Yes, well, if you don’t come to consensus, you’ll never get the job done…”
“ENOUGH!” Tesla screamed, reaching out and grabbing J’hana by her one white braid and dragging her toward the torpedo tube entrance.
“Yes, let us finish this,” D’vorak said, rising and bulling toward J’hana, pushing her toward the tube.
“Yes, that’s it exactly! Work together!” J’hana exalted.
“Watch your head,” Dwanok Junior said, pushing J’hana down and kicking her hard into the tube.
“That’s the way!” J’hana said proudly as Tesla pushed a button, sealing the tube.
“Find the firing console and override bridge control,” Tesla said, wiping blood from her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Are we really going to do this?” Dwanok Junior asked.
“That was the plan from the moment we set foot on this Kahless- forsaken ship of fools,” D’vorak said. “Don’t be a coward now at the eleventh hour!”
“I’m just wondering…”
“So Captain Baxter had to fight Chancellor Martok, but I beat up my share of Klingons too,” Richards said to an attentive Drondarg, then stopped mid-sentence when he heard shouts. “You hear that?”
“It sounds like potential bloodshed,” Drondarg said. “We must report the news!”
“It’s coming from just down the corridor,” Richardss aid. His eyes widened. “The torpedo control room!”
“Finally! Something newsworthy!” Drondarg said gleefully.
“Bridge control is locked out. They’re going to be sending security down in a few minutes to find out why,” D’vorak said.
“They’ll be too late,” Tesla said, studying the primary control panel. “Once I find the firing control, J’hana will be forcefully ejected out into space, and our dear mother Kessica will be avenged.”
“You don’t think it’s possible J’hana’s side of the story is true?” Dwanok Junior ventured.
“Well, it’s too late to think about that!” Tesla snapped, and reached for the firing control. “Ah, here it is…”
Just then, the doors to the torpedo room opened and Richards ran in, followed closely by Drondarg and his cameraman.
“Stop!” Richards called out. “What the hell are you doing in here?”
“Just trying to figure out how all this works,” Tesla said, with an innocent smile. “Our mother left us behind here, to fend for ourselves…” She turned to the camera. “What a bad mother!”
“You shouldn’t be here alone,” Richards said, walking up to the controls. “Hey. What’s this…there’s a foreign body in the torpedo tubes. You all didn’t…”
“Yes we did!” Tesla said, joining her fists to bring them down hard on Richards, who turned just in time to miss her swipe, and tripped her, causing her to smash into the deck.
D’vorak leapt at him, but he ducked the Klingon boy and ran for the torpedo tubes.
The angry trio of Klingon teens bore down on him as he frantically stabbed at the controls, opening all the tubes.
J’hana soared out of a nearby tube as if she really had been fired out, and took Tesla to the ground.
D’vorak ran for the door, but J’hana had his ankle, flipping him around and crashing him into the wall.
She then turned, eyes blazing, at Dwanok Junior, who gave her one look, then obediently fell down all on his own.
“Maybe this parenting thing will work out after all,” J”hana said, breathing heavy, and looking at the camera.
“Finally! Just the kind of carnage I was looking for!” Drondarg said excitedly.
“And who the hell do you think you are, filming this?” J’hana said. She walked up to the cameraman, snatched his holocamera headset, and smashed it violently against the nearest bulkhead, then politely handed it back to him. “The next time you film one of my dear family moments, I’ll do that to your head.”
Drondarg’s shoulders fell. “That was it…the perfect shot…”
“If you don’t want to take my place in the torpedo tube, you’ll get off this ship as soon as your little legs can take you, journalist,” J’hana mumbled, and headed for the door. She glanced over her shoulder at Richards. “You coming?”
“Uh, yeah. By the way, for the saving you part, you’re welcome…”
Stardate 58529.4. We are returning Drondarg, Krinok, and the journalism team to their Klingon freighter, in hopes to never encounter them again.
Meanwhile, I’ve consulted with the Judge Advocate General and our Ambassador to Kronos about the whole mess with Dwanok’s children. They’ve found a solution that seems amenable to all involved, except maybe J’hana.
“Adoption?!” J’hana said, pacing Baxter’s ready room. “Aren’t I a fit mother?”
“They tried to kill you.”
“And they’ll try to kill their new parents, too.”
“Actually, they just got off subspace with Krel and Varga. They are excited to go out to live on the outpost with their aunt and uncle…who are, after all, related to them anyway.”
“It is not the Klingon way. There’s no formal challenge, or combat…”
“I know,” Baxter said. “And the Ambassador pointed that out. But we think this is one area where doing something the Federation way might actually benefit the Klingons. Besides, we feel there’s already been enough combat.”
“Krel raises targs. It is not honorable.”
“They’ll adjust,” Baxter said, rising and putting a hand on J’hana’s shoulder. “You will too. If you want to say your goodbyes, you’d better do it now. The Klingon battlecruiser Yager will be here within the hour to pick them up.”
“There is nothing left to say,” J’hana said. “They didn’t succeed in killing me, and I didn’t succeed in letting them.”
“I’m told you can go visit whenever you want…although I’d suggest you bring weapons when you do.”
J’hana sighed and stared at Baxter sidelong. “Do you think they’d try to kill me again?”
“I can almost guarantee it.”
“Very well,” she said, and took a breath. “I suppose that will have to do. Thank you, Captain.”
Baxter sat back down at his desk as she headed for the door. “Besides, if you are so intent on having children, you could always have one with Commander Richards.”
“Please. Commander Richards is a fit parma’chai, but he would make no sort of father. He can barely discipline me, much less one of my offspring.”
“Well, food for thought, I guess,” Baxter said, watching J’hana as she left.
Richards and a platoon of security officers followed Krinok, Drondarg, and their assistants to the transporter room.
“Well, I wish I could say it’s been fun,” Richards muttered.
“I had a great deal of fun,” Krinok said. “It was fun to sit back and watch Dwanok’s children try to kill your security officer, who, after all, committed serious crimes against the Klingon Empire.”
“Yeah, so did I, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Well, your death would have just been icing on the blood pie.”
“You’re a vengeful, nasty, manipulative bastard, aren’t you,” Richards said, as they stopped at the doors to the transporter room.
“Care to say that to me without your security people present?” Krinok asked.
“Not really,” Richards admitted.
“Well, if it makes you feel better, I feel this visit was a complete waste,” Drondarg said. “The interview was weak, the bloodshed was minimal, and this afternoon’s broadcast interviewing some of the people who heard the scuffle in the torpedo bay was one of my lowest-rated shows ever!”
“That’s a shame,” Richards said. “I’m sure you’ll find some other peoples’ misfortunes to take advantage of, Drondarg.”
“That’s nice for you to say, but I’m not sure,” Drondarg muttered, and ducked into the transporter room, followed by his assistants.
Krinok turned to follow him, but Richards grabbed him by the arm. “Krinok…”
“You set all this up. You knew Dwanok’s children would try to kill J’hana. You brought them together on this ship for two reasons - vengeance and ratings.”
“Either that, or it was all a happy coincidence. No one will ever know for sure,” Krinok said with a deep belly laugh.
“I know,” Richards said, squeezing his arm harder and gritting his teeth. “You are scum, Krinok.”
“Oh, you flatter me, human…”
“…and so help me, I hope something awful happens to you one day.”
“We’ll see, won’t we?” Krinok said with a laugh, and ducked into the transporter room.
“Yes, I suppose we will,” Richards said, staring at him, then headed off down the corridor.
“That’s all?” Roland Worthy asked, standing up and switching the viewer off as he and Captain Ficker sat in the Idlewild’s conference room. “I’m spectacularly underwhelmed.”
Ficker stared straight ahead as Worthy sat back down in his seat. “I guess the Explorer crew couldn’t muster up positive press even if their careers depended on it.”
“I did find the description of the alleged scuffle in the torpedo room rather gripping,” Worthy said. He shrugged. “But still boring. All in all, I’d say it’s nothing to worry about.”
“Perhaps,” Ficker said, steepling his fingers. “But we still need to answer with some air time. I’ll speak with my contact at the Federated Paparazzi Network. Surely they’ll grant me an interview.”
“I hope so,” Worthy said. “But, while we wait for that to happen, shouldn’t we turn back to our mission to take over Starfleet?”
‘“Yes, about that,” Ficker said, and leaned forward, tapping a control on the conference table. “Doctor, you can come in now.”
Doctor Maura Drake stepped into the conference room, looking off-put. She slapped a padd down on the table, putting her hands on her hips. “I don’t appreciate being kept waiting, Captain.”
“I assure you, it’s for good reason,” Ficker said. “We were just strategizing.”
“Well, I’ve got a lot of tests to run belowdecks, so…”
“You’ve been at this for weeks, Doctor. I’m hoping you have, at least, a few encouraging results.”
“My results are quite encouraging. Mister Snodgrass,” she said, tapping her combadge.
The doors to the bridge entered, and Ensign Snodgrass, one of the first crewmen recruited by Ficker, stepped in stiffly.
“Yes,” he said, in an almost trancelike state.
“Mister Snodgrass, do me a favor and slap Commander Worthy in the face.”
“He’d never do that,” Ficker said. “It flies in the face of Starfleet duty and honor.”
“Plus it flies in the face of…my face!” Worthy protested as Snodgrass walked over calmly, then briskly slapped him across the face.
“Mister Snodgrass, kill Commander Worthy.”
Snodgrass nodded, and reached for the phaser at his side.
Ficker’s smile grew.
“Stop him, Doctor!” Worthy cried, backing up in his chair as Snodgrass raised his weapon.
“Belay that, Snodgrass,” Drake said, and the ensign dropped the phaser.
“Mind control is nothing new, Doctor,” Worthy said, straightening his tunic as Snodgrass stared straight ahead.
“True,” Drake said. “But it’s not the mind control itself that’s exciting. It’s the way we’re going to deliver it.” She walked up to the terminal screen at the front of the room and punched a few controls.
Ficker turned in his chair and stared at the schematics. “It’s our subspace antenna.”
“And it’s the key to bringing one misguided soul after another to your way of thinking, as quickly as you might make a subspace comm.”
“And there’s no defense against it?” Worthy said, standing and walking over to the schematic.
“Well, that is the general idea, right?” Drake asked with a smile.
“Oh, Doctor,” Ficker said giddily. “You’re worth every resource we expended on your bizarre experiments. When will we be ready to deploy this weapon on a broad scale?”
“Four to six weeks, with some time built in for unnecessary but enjoyable tests,” Drake said.
“Excellent,” Ficker said. “First stop: the Explorer.”
“And second stop, we procure a certain delicious Admiral,” Drake said. “That was our arrangement, was it not?”
“Of course,” Ficker said. “I’m nothing if not a man of my word.” He nodded at Worthy. “Commander: Inform the crew, and help Doctor Drake make the appropriate modifications to the Idlewild.”
“Aye, sir,” Worthy said, briskly walking to the door, sidestepping the inert and unmoving Snodgrass.
“And when do we inform Captain Baxter that his world’s about to crash down all around him?” Drake asked.
“At the last possible second,” Ficker replied, and turned to the windows, staring at the stars streaking by the Idlewild. “He’ll never know what hit him…”
“All’s well that ends well, right?” Baxter asked, looking around the table at Peterman, Browning, Richards and J’hana, at their table in the Constellation Club.
“How did it end well?” Peterman asked. “Drondarg didn’t get his big story, and our broadcast only got a three percent share! Your father’s furious about how it all turned out.”
“J’hana isn’t dead,” Baxter offered.
“Hrmph,” the Andorian huffed and sipped her drink, wondering idly where Tilleran was.
“And we’re all still together here,” Baxter said, raising his glass. “Try as they might, our bosses, the Klingons, Alvin Ficker…nobody can drive us apart. Am I right?”
Baxter looked at Browning. Browning looked at Richards. Richards looked at J’hana. J’hana looked at Peterman. Peterman looked at Baxter.
“Well,” Baxter said, after a prolonged silence. “More drinks, anyone?”
Everyone agreed. That seemed like a pretty good idea.
The crew’s willful suspension of disbelief is put to the test when they are called in to respond to complaints of ghosts on a Federation colony world. So Richards, Tilleran, J’hana and Piper beamed down, armed with tricorders and lots of skepticism. Which is all well and good, of course, until stuff starts going…well, wrong…