Author: Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION
By Anthony Butler
Lieutenant Commander Ariel Tilleran stared over a cup of Betazoid Pleasures leaf tea, and studied the star charts on the viewscreen, trying to figure out what they all meant.
It was the usual maze of numbers, scan readouts, and other information on the sectors surrounding the Explorer, but on this particular morning, she didn’t particularly feel like looking at them. Were they supposed to align in a certain way? Were they supposed to tell her something? Although Tilleran possessed a terrific intellect, to say nothing of advanced telepathic abilities (and a certain knack for digging into other people’s business), she had no idea what the stars were supposed to tell her, other than that they were far apart, and far away. But beneath thoughts of stars, which usually comforted the Betazoid, something else simmered, just beneath the surface. An itch, so deep she could not possibly scratch it. A strange sensation that tugged her, invisibly toward…
“Ahoy, Commander! Guess who’s here!” a voice called out from the doorway to the lab.
Tilleran turned and put her teacup down, as dozens of star systems spun by on the spheroid wall behind her. “Mirk?”
The Maloxian nodded earnestly, carrying Steffie Baxter on his shoulder. “Yes. We formed a little away team and are exploring the…well, the Explorer!”
“Oh, great,” Tilleran said dryly. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“No, I just thought she’d enjoy seeing stellar cartography,” Mirk said.
“Planets!” Steffie squealed.
“Yes,” Mirk said, pointing at the screen. “Those are planets!” He inclined his head toward Tilleran. “They really are inquisitive at this age, aren’t they, Commander?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Tilleran said, and returned to her scans. “I’m…not so good… with kids.”
“Maybe you just haven’t had the right opportunity,” Mirk suggested. “If you like, Steffie can stay here a bit while I go make her lunch.”
“No!” Tilleran said quickly backing away. Then she softened. “I mean, I’d love to, normally, but the captain’s expecting these scans by this afternoon and I can’t let him down.”
“Of course,” Mirk said, as Steffie ran around the room, skipping about along the edge of the wall of star charts. He looked at Tilleran. “Are you all right, Commander?”
“What? Oh, I’m fine. Just been pulling some…long nights. You know how it is.”
“Oh, sure. I run a night club. It’s nothing but late nights.”
“And now you’re getting up early to take care of Steffie?” Tilleran asked, turning to Mirk.
“Well sure,” Mirk said. “It’s not like work to me. It’s fun. Truthfully, I think Megan and I are ready to talk about having children.”
Tilleran gave a small smile. “Really?”
“I think Megan’s excited about the idea, too. I mean, she’s been talking about it off and on since we took care of Plato last year.”
“She did enjoy that, didn’t she?”
“Not as much, apparently, as Plato did,” Mirk said, shaking his head.
“I heard about that,” Tilleran said, recalling the half-changeling boy’s obsession with Explorer’s chief engineer. “Well, boys will be…” Tilleran stopped mid-sentence as an unusual bleep sounded on her panel. She glanced up at the star charts. “That’s interesting.”
Mirk stepped up next to her. “What is it?”
“I’m getting a signal from the fourth planet in that system. The Retzin system.”
Mirk studied the star charts. While he was no Starfleet science officer, he’d put in a good amount of time as a freighter pilot and knew how to read stellar maps. “The Federation hasn’t cataloged that system yet.”
“No, they haven’t. It’s part of our mapping mission,” Tilleran said. “But this signal….it’s subspace. And I’m detecting warp traffic in the system…”
“Well, that’s great!” Mirk said, watching as Steffie knelt down and rolled on the floor, patting her hands on the star charts that floated by. “So what does the signal say?”
“I’ll bring it up,” Tilleran said, opening a comm window on the view wall and tapping at her panel.
“C’mere, Steffie, stop rolling on the ground…” Mirk chided, waving at Steffie to come over as an eager, high-pitched voice filled the room.
“Bored with space travel? Need a break? Well, then don’t we have a treat for you!”
Tilleran shook her head in disbelief, watching the talking figures on the screen as a panorama of beach games and delicious food scrolled by behind them. “We’ve been in deep space for three weeks, and the first intelligent signal we get is a…commercial.”
“Prepare yourself for the respite of a lifetime…” the voice continued, as Mirk turned to face the screen. “And set a course, at Warp Nine, for The Celestial Hotel!”
Mirk looked up at the figures on the screen and his mouth dropped open. “They’re…!”
“Mirk!” Steffie cried out with glee, pointing at the screen, at the two thin, thirty-something aliens with slightly freckled faces. “Two Mirks!”
Tilleran looked from the screen to Mirk and back again. “They’re Maloxians!”
“And they run a deep space hotel,” Mirk said.
“We’d better tell the captain.”
“We’re going to check this out, right?” Mirk asked, taking Steffie by the hand and following Tilleran to the door.
“Are you kidding?”
“So what have we got here?” Captain Andy Baxter asked, snacking on a banana as he sat at one end of the conference table, facing the commercial footage on the room’s view screen.
“Two Mirks!” Steffie called out happily from her seat at the other end of the table.
“She put it succinctly enough,” Tilleran said, standing at the front of the room and looking at the frozen image on the screen. “These do appear to be two Maloxian males.”
“Should Steffie really be at this meeting?” Peterman asked, from the other side of Baxter.
“Sorry,” Mirk said sheepishly, seated near the other end where Steffie was. “We were in a hurry and I didn’t have time to drop her off with Richard Simmons.”
“Just as well,” Baxter said. “He’s really starting to grate on her as she gets older and her tastes become more…sophisticated.” He sighed. “Still…can someone get her a high chair? She’s gonna hit her chin on the table or something. J’hana?”
At the middle of the table, J’hana turned toward Baxter, incredulous. “You must be kidding.”
“There’s one in the readyroom. In the cabinet under all the Dallas Cowboys crap,” Peterman said, pointing to the door.
“Memorabilia,” Baxter said.
“Crap,” Peterman said. “Thanks, J’hana!”
J’hana growled low and stared at the table.
Richards inclined his head toward the door. “C’mon, J’hana. The Captain gave you an order.”
“I will kill one of you in his sleep tonight. I’ll let you sweat over which one,” the Andorian said, and marched out of the room.
“Well then, let’s get back to the briefing,” Tilleran said, stifling a laugh as she turned back to the screen. “As I said, they do appear to be Maloxian.”
Baxter turned to Mirk. “Do you recognize them?”
“Nope,” Mirk said.
“Malox is a big world. Mirk didn’t meet all of them,” Hartley said, standing at the back of the room, leaning against the bulkhead. “Even if he did have an…” she smiled. “Engaging personality.”
“What do we know about Retzin?” Richards asked.
“Not much,” Tilleran said, pointing at a schematic of the planet in question. “There doesn’t seem to be much on the planet other than the ‘Celestial Hotel,’ and the hotel apparently cropped up about sixteen years ago, built by the Flornagor Corporation as part of a failed expansion effort into an area with little or no space traffic. Interestingly, business began to pick up substantially for the Celestial Hotel once the Maloxians arrived, about nine years ago.”
“Well, obviously we have to investigate,” Peterman said. “If for no other reason than to find out how these Maloxians made it all the way out here.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Mirk asked. “The same way I did. Through the Juicy Portal of the Directors. The Bermuda Expanse.”
“Juicy juicy,” Peterman affirmed, bowing her head.
“Oh, stop,” Baxter said. “We stopped practicing Maloxitarianism three years ago.”
“I still sing some of the hymns in the shower,” Peterman said, blushing slightly.
“Well, while we try to get that mental imagery out of our minds,” Hartley asked. “Should I start our engines?”
“Sure,” Baxter said, standing. “We’re just doing a bunch of boring mapping stuff out here. We might was well see what this little resort has to offer.”
“You just want another vacation, don’t you, honey?” Peterman smirked.
“Investigation,” Baxter corrected. “And if we happen to drink a fruity drink while we’re down there, all the better.” He turned to Mirk. “And something tells me there will be no shortage of fruity drinks down there.”
“You can say that again,” Mirk said confidently.
“Then let’s get a move on,” Baxter said, heading for the door.
“Sir,” Richards said, holding up a hand. “I suggest we try to keep a low profile on this planet, at least until we figure out what the Maloxians are doing there.”
“You think there could be more going on here than meets the eye?” Baxter asked, turning.
“Just advising caution, Captain,” Richards said. “Small, discrete away team. We can beam in outside the resort and make as little noise as possible.”
“That may be hard to do if we bring J’hana,” Baxter said, rubbing her chin.
“We should probably park on the other side of the system’s sun,” Tilleran suggested.
“Agreed. So let’s change course and head to the Retzin system with all deliberate speed,” Baxter said. “And speaking of J’hana, where…”
Suddenly the door to the conference room opened and J’hana strode in with a high chair in tow. “There. I have your fwarking high chair. By the way, Counselor, it was not in the book case. It was in the cabinet behind the captain’s desk. Underneath his…spare trousers.” She grimaced and tossed the high chair on the table.
“Great. Thanks, J’hana,” Baxter said, heading to the door. “Unfortunately, we just finished our meeting, so we won’t be needing it. But I appreciate your effort.” He clapped J’hana on the shoulder and walked out.
Peterman walked over and scooped Steffie up. “Yeah, we’ve got to get to lunch anyway, right sweetie?”
“Lunch!” Steffie exclaimed, throwing her arms around Peterman.
“We should have just enough time before we reach the Retzin system to grab a bite ourselves,” Hartley suggested, hooking her arm around Mirk’s.
Soon Richards and J’hana were left alone in the conference room.
“I hate children,” J’hana muttered, turning a cold glare on Richards.
“You could hardly tell,” Richards said, leaning in and kissing J’hana on the cheek. He nodded at the high chair. “Now, you wanna go put this back where you found it?”
J’hana stared at him long and hard.
“Or I can…”
“Was it just me, or did you seem a little antsy in that meeting?” Mirk asked as he sat opposite Hartley in Space Tastes. He had an agreement with Janice Browning: He would eat as often as possible in Space Tastes, and she would drink as often as possible in the Constellation Club. It seemed to be a policy that worked for everybody.
“It was just you,” Hartley said, poking her fork around in her salad.
“You still seem antsy.”
She looked up at him, pointing with her fork. “Maybe I am. What do we know about these Maloxians, anyway? Just because you’re a great guy doesn’t mean they are.”
“The fact that they run a tropic resort speaks well of them, though,” Mirk said thoughtfully.
“Yeah, well, seems like most of the Maloxians we’ve met have actually stabbed us in the back. Come to think of it, you’re really the only truly decent Maloxian I know.”
“My dad isn’t such a bad guy.”
“He tried to blow up our ship and kill us all because he thought you were a demon.”
“Who knows, maybe I am,” Mirk said with a wink, then pointed with his sandwich. “Regardless, he had the courage of his convictions.”
“You’re a wonderful balance to my hatred and loathing, aren’t you?” Hartley said, leaning forward. “We’re going to make such good parents.”
“You’re serious about this thing then?”
“I am serious about talking about it,” Hartley said with a smile. “And that’s a good start, right?”
Mirk smiled and leaned in, kissing Hartley’s forehead. “That’s a wonderful start.”
Captain Baxter rounded the corner just as Richards did, from the opposite end of the corridor, and they both stood there, looking at each other across a ten-meter distance.
“Captain,” Richards said, straightening his uniform and approaching his commanding officer. “Ready to beam down?”
“Commander,” said Baxter, in shorts and a bright blue t-shirt.
Richards burst into laughter. “Aren’t those shorts a little…I don’t know…short?”
Baxter stared down at his legs. “Damn it. I told Yeoman Briggs they were too short. But he said that’s how people are wearing them now!” Baxter erupted, turning to face is approaching wife. “Kelly, I was right!”
“Oh hush,” Peterman said, emerging behind Baxter, slinging an arm around his waist. “You could stand to show some leg now and then.” She was wearing a flowing sarong that was, frankly, not as revealing as Baxter’s shorts.
“Speak for yourself,” Hartley said, replete in a lime tanktop and matching skirt, locked arm in arm with Mirk, who predictably, wore a bright tropical shirt and bermuda shorts.
“Nice…choice,” Mirk said with a nod.
“Yeah, whatever,” Baxter said, leaning close to Mirk and dropping his voice to a whisper. “Could you use your powers to lengthen my shorts?”
“I’m afraid my powers don’t extend to…haberdashery,” Mirk said. “Sorry, Captain.”
“Are you ready to beam down, or what?” Richards asked.
“Yes,” Baxter said. “And how kind of you to see us off.”
“It’s the least I could do, seeing as you wouldn’t let me come with you.”
“It’s not a vacation. It’s an exploratory mission.”
“Damn. I forgot to bring sunproofing,” Mirk said thoughtfully.
“I’ve got it,” Hartley said.
“Did anyone bring a schnargleball net?” Peterman asked.
“I’m sure they’ve got one down there, or something resembling it,” Hartley said. “Or, at the very least, volleyball.”
“Yeah, okay,” Richards said. “So enjoy your vacation.”
“Oh, don’t be that way,” Baxter said. “You can go on the next away mission.”
“Yeah, like maybe another ghost-ridden planet…”
“Captain’s prerogative,” Baxter said, and waited a beat. “Well, we’re off!”
“Don’t get sunburn!” Richards called after them as they ducked into the transporter room.
“You guys should decorate this place. You know, with posters and stuff,” Plato said, leaning back in a chair and looking around the cadets’ briefing room as Sparks, Mathers, and Piper huddled at their individual desktop terminals, reviewing their academy assignments.
“You’re technically not even supposed to be here, Plato,” Sparks whispered, leaning back from her panel and reaching a hand out to touch Plato’s. “Why don’t you head down to the arboretum while we finish up here, and I’ll meet you there in like half an hour. “
“Oh fine,” Plato said, pushing out of his chair. “You guys obviously have important cadet stuff to do. I’ll go.”
“Important is a relative term,” Mathers said, squinting at his terminal. “I’m still not sure what half these words mean.”
Sparks eased out of her chair and put her arms around Plato. “See you in a bit, sweetie. Find a secluded spot for us, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Plato said, kissing Sparks on the cheek. “See you soon, Nat.”
“You two seem to be doing better,” Piper observed as Sparks returned to her seat.
“We’ve hit a nice, normalized place, yes,” Sparks said, looking back at her panel.
“Have you talked about what you two are going to do when you leave?”
Sparks looked at Piper. “What?”
“Well, we’re due to head back to Starfleet Academy in a couple weeks, when the Explorer is finished its mapping mission. What are you going to do then?”
Sparks took a big clump of her long brown hair and pulled it over her shoulder, twisting it gently. “You know, I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Don’t you think you should?”
“Well, we can’t very well have a subspace relationship. Those never work out…”
“Ahh…sun!” Captain Baxter exclaimed, as he stepped out onto the beach, breathing in the cool, salty air. “Sun, clear sky and…” He looked down. “And…blue sand?”
“Apparently,” Peterman said.
“Well, I guess that’ll do,” Baxter sighed. “But I tend to like my sand, you know, sand-colored.”
“You know,” Mirk said, picking up step behind Baxter. “Scientifically speaking, there’s actually only a small percentage of planets in the galaxy even capable of supporting humanoid life.”
“So I guess we’re lucky that we’re even breathing,” Hartley said, bringing up the rear. “Oh. Did someone remember to check that this was a breathable atmosphere?” Baxter asked.
“They wouldn’t have beamed us down if it wasn’t, dear,” Peterman chided Baxter.
“I knew that,” Baxter said. “I was just checking to see if you knew that.”
Mirk set off down the beach. “You guys claim a section of beach and set up. I’m off to find a fruity drink stand.”
“Thirsty?” Hartley asked.
“Thirsty for answers,” Mirk said. “Because where there’s fruit, there’s generally Maloxians.”
“Good luck!” Baxter said, and reached into Peterman’s bag for lotion. “Okay, honey…time to sunproof my back.”
Hartley groaned and headed toward the crashing surf, peeling her tanktop off and removing her skirt to reveal a sparse lime-colored bikini. “While you do that, I’m just going to jump in the water and see if I can find a big, nasty fish to eat me.”
“Huh,” Baxter said, watching Hartley wade into the water.
“What?” Peterman asked, reluctantly readying the sunproofing canister.
He narrowed his eyes with scientific interest. “Hartley has…well…woman parts.”
Peterman angled her neck and looked. “Wow. So she does. I’ve never seen her in anything but a uniform, and she’s usually covered in engine goo…”
“Go figure,” Baxter said
“Okay. Stop looking,” Peterman said, and popped Baxter across the back of the head with the canister of sunrpoofing.
“Ahoy and welcome,” the juice stand proprietor said, a green and yellow scaled Plelgian said. If the sign atop his stand was any indication, his name was Grazi. “Welcome to the fruitiest fruit stand on Retzin.”
“Yes, looks great. Wonderful variety. And the papayas look fresh.”
“The freshest,” Grazi said.
“You have a wonderful resort here,” Mirk said. “And wonderful fruit.”
“The fruit comes from all over the sector,” said Grazi. “And what about you, offworlder. Where do you come from?”
“A cargo ship, in port for just a couple days,” Mirk said. He leaned forward. “I was wondering. Have you seen others who look like me?”
“Smooth, pale-skinned and freckled?” The Plelgian wrinkled his stub of a nose. “Not many. Only two that I know of.”
“Two, you say,” Mirk said. “What are there names?”
“You really are new here,” the vendor said. “Everybody knows Pik and Mok.”
“Pik and Mok.” Mirk searched his memory, but the names didn’t sound vaguely familiar. “Can’t say I’ve heard of them.”
“Well, look no further. Here they come!” the Plelgian said, and pointed at the sky.
Mirk turned and looked up at the sky. Two aircraft were pulling banners behind them. The banners read: COME, ENJOY THE CELESTIAL HOTEL. SPECIAL OFF-SEA SERPENT SEASON RATES. ASK ABOUT OUR FRUIT COCKTAIL.
“I don’t see anything but those aircraft,” Mirk said.
Grazi laughed. “Those aren’t aircraft…”
The two shapes in the sky turned suddenly and streaked down toward the beach. Mirk backed up, his mouth gaping wide.
“Holy gourds!” Mirk cried out.
The two shapes grew closer, and Mirk soon realized they were the two Maloxians he was looking for. Flying.
They were even more like him than he’d thought.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Plato asked, looking up at the stars outside the massive arboretum viewports as he and Nat Sparks lay on their backs, surrounded by gardenias.
“What’s that?” Nat asked, turning to look at him.
“I don’t know. It’s just something people say.”
“You want to buy my thoughts? Why would you do that?”
Plato shrugged. “I think people say it when they want to know what’s on a person’s mind.”
“Oh,” Sparks said. “In that case, I…” She turned and looked at Plato. “You know, I’m leaving in two weeks, right?”
Plato nodded. “Yeah.”
Sparks turned back to the viewports. “So you understand what that means for us…”
Plato turned and leaned on his elbow. “We can speak by subspace every day. And the Explorer goes to Earth every now and then…” He paused, rubbing his chin. “Of course, horrible things seem to happen every time they do that. Still…”
“Plato, a long distance relationship isn’t the answer.”
“Then you want to quit Starfleet Academy and stay here?” Plato asked hopefully.
Sparks stared at him. “Plato, I…”
“Or I could come with you,” he said, leaning in and pulling her against his chest. “I could stow aboard your transport, then sneak into your room at the academy. I can’t turn into any animal or object I want like most changelings, but I can camouflage myself pretty well. I’ll bet with a little concentration I can become an odd, ornamental lamp…”
Sparks leaned back against Plato and pulled his arm around her. “That’s sweet, Plato, but it’s not very practical.”
“So…where does that leave us?” Plato asked, turning Sparks’ chin so she was facing him.
“Having the two best weeks of our lives, and then…”
Plato leaned up, staring down at Sparks, shock plain on his face. “And then just end it? Just like that?”
Sparks leaned up. “Plato…”
“Maybe you can take the gardenias with you when you leave,” he said, and ran for the door.
“Plato!” Sparks called out, standing up. But he was gone.
“Two jashlaya smoothies,” one of the Maloxians said, walking past Mirk and stepping up to the fruity drink stand.
“Coming right up,” Grazi said, and turned to fill two mugs with the fruity beverage.
Mirk walked up behind the two Maloxians. “You’re Pik and Mok?”
“Yes,” one of the Maloxians, rail thin and angular, said, turning and staring at Mirk. “And you are…” He looked at Mirk for a moment, his eyes widening. “Maloxian!”
Doctor Wilcox was supposed to hide his freckles. Great job she did of it, Mirk thought.
The other Maloxian turned toward Mirk, incredulous. He was broader of build, but shorter. “By the Directors! You’re…you’re…”
“Maloxian,” Grazi said. “Yes, we’ve all pretty much established that.”
“I’m Pik,” the skinny one said, and reached forward, grabbing Mirk in a hug.
The other one, ostensibly Mok, leaned in and threw his arms around Pik and Mirk. “Brother!”
“Not exactly,” Mirk choked out, gently pulling free of the tangle of arms. “You’re right on one count. I’m from Malox.”
“And how in the fruit pits did you get here?” asked Mok.
Mirk shrugged, not wanting to give away more than was absolutely necessary. “Same way you did, I imagine. The Great Portal of the Directors. The Crebius Cluster.”
“We must speak, and drink of fruit!” Pik announced, throwing an arm around Mirk. “This is a joyous time!”
“Well, if you insist…” Mirk said, and glanced back at the beach. Baxter was asleep on his towel, while Peterman sat next to him intent on her padd. Hartley was back-stroking in the rather immense orange sea, splashing among the other resort-goers.
Mirk decided he would find out what he could about these Maloxians, then get back to the others. No sense getting them involved until he knew what was what.
“Plato, dear, you’ve got to eat something,” Browning said, standing outside the door to Plato’s bedroom.
“I don’t want any. Go away,” he called from within.
“But it’s your favorite! Green bean casserole with spaghetti!”
“I don’t want any. Feed it to Aunt Kelly’s llama!”
“Well, that’s a decent idea,” Browning said, staring at the bowl of delicious casserole/pasta goodness. “But I’d rather give it to you.”
“Come back later.”
“Okay,” Browning said. “Fair enough.” She stood a moment outside Plato’s door, tapping her foot. “Okay. It’s later. Are you ready to eat yet?”
“MOM!” Plato called out. “Go away!”
“Fine,” Browning sighed, and turned back toward the kitchenette. “I’ll be right out here if you change your mind.”
Browning sat down at her kitchen table and put the bowl down in front of her. She didn’t know what was wrong with Plato, but she knew it had to do something with Sparks.
Fact was, the ship’s counselor was down on the planet, and Browning wasn’t about to broach this subject with the assistant ship’s counselor, who was a Starfleet cadet as well as a friend of Sparks’.
Browning would have to solve this one herself.
“…engines and shields were gone,” Mok said, sipping his beverage and staring out over the broad, orange and blue landscape of Retzin. The Maloxians’ suite was huge, and on the resort’s top floor. The view from their balcony was breathtaking, and Mirk guessed, expensive. There were worse ways to make a living than running a resort, Mirk thought.
“Yeah,” Pik said, settling into the seat opposite Mok, and next to Mirk at the ornate glass balcony table. “We floated dead in space for days. We figured the Sulani would come after us, sooner or later.”
“Or we’d be eaten by the Flarn,” Mok said.
“And that was nine years ago,” Mirk said, staring into his cup. “About two years before I came over.”
“We were fourteen,” Pik said. “An excellent age for Maloxian scavengers.”
“No doubt,” Mirk said. “So how did you make it all the way out here?”
“We were picked up by a Plelgian vessel on their way back to this sector,” said Mok.
“They were delivering supplies to the resort, which wasn’t doing terribly well,” Pik said.
“It stunk like rotting guava,” Mok said. “But of course that changed once we got here and began revamping their entire entertainment and service operation.”
“The Flornagor Corporation has many faults, but it knows talent when it sees it,” Pik said.
“We quickly rose through the ranks,” intoned Mok. “Suddenly we were running the place.”
“We’re clever,” Mok winked. “As are you, obviously, to be running your own club!”
“It’s a nice little establishment,” Mirk said. He hadn’t told them much, but the competitive spirit in him couldn’t resist sharing that he too was involved in the service industry. Not quite on the scale of these two, but not too shabby.
“So why don’t we talk about the kumquat in the room,” Pik said.
“I’m sorry?” Mirk wasn’t used to using his people’s vernacular so much. He found it oddly comforting.
“Obviously, you noticed our…” Pik began.
“We fly around!” Mok announced.
Mirk cocked his head. “Oh. Come to think of it, I did notice a certain amount of…airborne-ness.”
“Well, we’re here to tell you that the rumors you heard growing up were true,” Pik said. “We are living proof that a select, chosen few of us have powers beyond measure!”
“No kidding,” Mirk said flatly, staring out at the setting Retzin suns.
“I’m sure you have questions,” Pik said, edging forward to face Mirk. “Perhaps you even wonder if you’re capable of such amazing feats!”
“We can do more than fly, too,” Mok said. “We can levitate objects with our minds…produce small objects out of thin air…”
Mirk nodded. “And may I ask when you learned about these…powers?”
“Not long after we arrived here,” Pik said.
“Yes…we learned about our powers when we found…” Mok began, but Pik reached across the table and slapped a hand over his mouth.
“And now we’ve got powers,” Pik said quickly. “Well, you’re obviously quite tired. May I upgrade your room to a deluxe suite?”
Mirk shrugged. “Sure, considering I don’t have any kind of room, that’s a huge upgrade.”
“And another room for your three friends?” Pik asked.
Mirk looked at Pik askance. “You know about my friends?”
“Our security system is pretty good,” Mok said. “I can show it to you tomorrow!”
Pik glared at him.
“Oh. Or not.”
“Well, it’s been a long day,” Pik sighed. “Let’s get you and your friends into some first-rate accommodations.”
I’ll have to solve this one for myself, Browning affirmed to herself as she leaned back against the turbolift wall the next morning, feeling it rush up through the Explorer’s saucer section. “Good idea, Janice. Show that you’re a good mom. Independent. Fully capable of solving problems on your own.”
The lift doors suddenly opened, and Browning stepped out onto the bridge.
Richards turned from his place in the command chair. “Janice?”
“Christopher,” Browning said evenly. “I need your help. Can we talk in the ready room?”
“Sure,” Richards said, and got up and led Browning into the readyroom, where he promptly sat down in Baxter’s chair and put his feet up. “What seems to be the problem?”
“It’s Plato,” Browning said. “Something has happened between him and Cadet Sparks, and now he’s cooped up in his room and won’t come out. I can’t get him to talk to me.”
“A common problem.” Richards nodded, leaning back. “The way I see it, you have two options.” Richards shifted in the desk chair. Man, it was comfortable. Twice as nice as the chair in Richards’s office. And oddly warm, considering Baxter had been gone for more than twelve hours.
“And those are?” Browning probed.
“Sorry, I was just…” Richards cradled the chair arms. “Thinking about something. Anyway. Where was I? Yes. Two options. You can either confront Plato, or leave him alone.”
“Wow. I’m so glad I came up here,” Browning said, rolling her eyes. “Is that all you’ve got?”
Richards held up a hand. “Wait a sec. Not so hasty. Hear me out. If you confront him, then you risk alienating him, and driving him even deeper into himself.”
“But if you leave him alone, he’s just going to sit there and sulk all day long. And that won’t do.”
“Well, there are worst things that could happen, I suppose…”
“No,” Richards said. “He’s a healthy, exuberant kid. He needs to get out there and exercise, and, uh, enjoy his body!”
“That’s what got him into this mess,” Browning muttered.
“Oh,” Richards said. “Well, anyway, that leads me to the third option.”
Browning scratched her head. “I thought there were only two options?”
“There’s one more,” Richards said. “You let me talk to him.”
Browning leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “You got any other options?”
“This bed is amazing,” Baxter said, laying bathrobed and spreadeagle on the massive bed in one of the two master suites Pik and Mok had so graciously given to him and the away team. “It’s as wide as a runabout, and almost as long. And it feels like a hundred hands are rubbing me everywhere!”
“Are you wearing anything under that robe?” Hartley asked, wrinkling her nose.
“I’m wearing a shirt,” Baxter said, prompting Hartley to turn away.
“So does anyone want to talk about what we do now?” Mirk asked, staring out at the roiling orange sea through the suite’s broad, multifacted glass door. Beyond, a balcony offered a view almost as amazing as Pik and Mok’s.
“Not particularly,” Baxter said with a yawn.
“Yeah. I’m kind of drained,” Peterman said.
“Didn’t you two get a good night’s rest?” Mirk asked.
“Yeah,” Baxter said, “But we stayed up late talking about Mike and Pork.”
“Pik and Mok,” Mirk corrected.
Hartley slumped in a chair. “Could we be overlooking the obvious here?” she asked. “Could it be these are just two brilliant entrepreneurs who are channeling their powers and putting them to a productive use?”
“No, that’s impossible,” Peterman said. “Are you new to our ship, or what?”
“Good point,” Hartley said. “So they’re up to something. But what?”
“I don’t know,” Baxter said, rolling over. “But let’s vacation some more, and maybe we’ll figure it out.”
“For once, I’m in agreement with Andy,” Peterman said. “Beach time?”
Hartley nodded. “Yeah. But can we get a coffee on the way out?”
“Definitely,” said Peterman, smacking Baxter lightly. “You just sleep all day while we enjoy the cool water and the beautiful…orange…” She looked out the windows and squinted. “No, sorry…green. This beautiful green sky.”
“I’ll slip into my bikini,” Hartley said, dashing back into her and Mirk’s adjoining suite, prompting Baxter to briefly look up.
Mirk looked around. “Aren’t you guys at all concerned about Pik and Mok?”
“You’ll figure it out,” Baxter said, rolling over and burying his face in the pillow.
“Shouldn’t you be, you know, running the ship?” Browning asked, as she keyed open the door to her cabin.
“J’hana can handle things on the bridge for a bit,” Richards said. “Anyway, that’s what good leaders do. They delegate.”
“I’ll take your word for it. But are you sure you know what you’re doing with Plato?”
Richards nodded. “Trust me. I’m good with relationships.”
“Christopher. We dated off and on for seven years,” Browning muttered. “I’m well aware of your skill with relationships.”
“Oh. Right. Still…”
Browning pointed the way into her quarters. “Go.”
“Where will you be?”
“The Constellation Club,” Browning said, turning on a heel. “I’m hoping desperately that Zordok the Bold knows how to make a good Bloody Mary. Do a job, Christopher…”
“Leave this one to me,” Richards said. “Trust me. I know just what to say.”
He walked into Browning’s cabin and let the doors closed behind him. He approached Plato’s room and knocked on the door. “Hey, Plato. It’s me, Chris. Look, your Mom asked me to come in here and chat with you.”
“Forget it,” Plato called back from within the room.
“Okay, then I guess you wouldn’t want to go with me to the Holodeck to check out the newest Orion Slavegirl program?”
The doors whizzed open and Plato pushed past Richards and led the way out of his and Browning’s cabin.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked, already halfway down the corridor.
“Yeah. Janice’s going to be so glad I took care of this,” Richards said with a smile, and jogged after Plato.
As soon as Hartley and Peterman headed down to the beach, Mirk headed over to Pik and Mok’s penthouse.
Something was amiss on this planet, and Mirk was determined to get to the bottom of it. Was it really plausible that an intergalactic corporation like Flornagor would take in two space travelers and give them a resort to manage, no matter how bad the resort was doing in the first place?
Then again, Mirk wondered, was it so different from what Baxter did? The trust he’d shown in him over the years, as a proprietor, bartender, and sometimes advisor?
Still, something just wasn’t right.
Mok answered the door to his suite and waved Mirk in. “Hello, fellow Maloxian! Pik and I were just about to pray to the Directors. Do you want to join us?”
“Sure,” Mirk said, following Mok out to the veranda, where Pik was already sprinkling himself with melon juice.
“Directors, bless us this day, and all those who share in our wonderful resort!” Pik exclaimed.
“Juicy juicy,” Mirk affirmed, and stepped up with Mok. “It would be my pleasure, to partake in your melon juice.”
“And so it shall be,” Pik said, looking at Mirk. He waved the melon over Mirk’s head, giving it a good thump with his thumb.
“We truly have much to thank the Directors for,” Mok said. “They delivered you to us, just as they delivered us to the Celestial Hotel!”
“Yes, it’s a good thing, too,” Mirk said, basking in the sweet nectar of the Directors. “Tell me, Pik…Mok. Have the Directors ever spoken to you…directly?”
Pik and Mok exchanged confused glances. “What?” Pik asked. “Of course not. No Maloxian has ever made contact with the Directors, except for those in the sacred scripts.”
Mok looked at Mirk. “Have…have you?”
“Oh, no, don’t be silly,” Mirk said with a wave of his hand. “I was just curious. So…big day today?”
“We’re judging the bikini contest this afternoon,” Mok said proudly.
“And we have to order more beach chairs,” Pik said. “Terribly busy day.”
“Do you mind if I join you?” Mirk said. “I’d like to see how your business operates. I’d love to own a resort of this scale some day.”
Pik and Mok looked at each other. “Sure,” Pik said. “Come with us.”
“…and so Nat was like, ‘wow, Plato, I can talk to you about anything,’” Plato said, edging closer to the Orion slave girl, who was perched on the edge of the stage, dangling her legs. “And I said, ‘no, Nat, you don’t understand, it’s because you’re just so darned easy to listen to…”
“That’s sweet,” the Orion, whose name was Sheetha, said. “So then what happened?”
Seated beside Plato in the ring of seats surrounding the stage, Richards put his chin in his hands and sighed. “For the love of…Plato, are you going to stop talking about Nat Sparks at some point and actually watch this woman take her clothes off?”
“We’re having a nice chat,” Sheetha said, looking over her shoulder at Richards.
“You’re a freaking hologram!”
“Well, how much freaking I do is up to our boy here,” she smiled, turning to Plato.
“Oh, oh oh!” Plato exclaimed. “I didn’t tell you the coolest thing about Nat. There’s this thing she does with her hair. She pulls it in front of her face, sort of so it covers her eyes. Then she plays with it. Oh, it’s so cute!”
“This was so not what I had in mind,” said Richards.
“First prize, no contest!” Pik said, clapping as hordes of travelers from other systems clapped feverishly. Next to him, Mok held up the arm of the bikini contest winner, a particularly well-endowed Nybarite in a particularly form-fitting bikini.
Mirk waited beside the massive beachside stage, as Pik and Mok wrapped up their remarks. The crowed loved them. It was obvious they were the main draw of this resort, known by all of the vacationers.
Mirk was happy for them. Maybe they had earned a great lot in life, by working hard and asserting the Maloxian values of faith, customer service, and excellent proprietorship.
As they concluded their talk, Pik and Mok launched themselves off the stage, flying loop-de-loops and coming to rest beside the stage, right beside Mirk.
“Did you enjoy that?” Pik asked.
“Very much,” Mirk said. “So, do you always…fly off like that?”
“The audience loves to see our powers,” Mok said. “It’s sort of our…thing…”
“No kidding,” Mirk said. “So, where to now?”
Pik shrugged. “The pool. Maybe the warm lava mud room?”
Mok nodded. “You’ll love the warm lava mud room!”
“Another Brevaran Ale?” Plato asked, having moved his conversation with Sheetha over to the bar at the back of the club.
“Please,” Sheetha said, as the bartender approached with a fresh glass. “Aren’t you going to have something?”
“Heck no,” Plato said. “I’m not old enough to drink.”
Sheetha sipped her drink. “Really? You seem so…mature.”
“My brain aged a lot faster than my body.”
“And how old is your…body?”
The Orion nearly spit out her drink. True, she was a hologram, but even holograms can only take so much.
“Yeah, my body aged pretty fast too, eh?”
“Yeah,” said Sheetha. “Say, where’s that other guy…”
“Richards? Oh, he had to leave. Some work thing…”
Suddenly the holodeck arch opened nearby, and Richards stepped in from the Explorer corridor. The arch disappeared behind him and he walked over to Plato.
“Are you about finished here?”
“I believe he is,” Sheetha said, shifting uncomfortably.
“Oh, did you just figure out he’s a four year old eighteen year old?”
“Something like that,” Sheetha said.
Richards shook his head. “I hope you’re proud of yourself, Plato. I actually left a room full of naked women to attend a department heads’ meeting.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?’
“No!” Richards said. He looked around. “This is where I go to get away. Andy doesn’t even know about it. We were going to come down here and see…” He looked at Sheetha. “Flesh! We were going to speak as men do. Bond, talk about how girls are confusing and irritating, and just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they either leave you at the altar or stab you with a ceremonial blade!”
Plato’s eyes widened. “Wow, Uncle Chris. You sure have a lot of problems.”
“I’m…fine…” Richards said, catching his breath.
“I can still take my clothes off, if you really want,” Sheetha said.
“Nah,” Plato said. “I’m all done talking. You were great, Sheetha.” He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “And I really will think about what you said.”
“Good boy,” Sheetha said, watching Plato call for the arch and then step out of the holodeck. She turned to Richards. “So should I put that stupid Billy Idol song on again?”
“No,” Richards said, taking a breath. “I guess I could stand to talk to somebody too.”
“Let’s have it,” Sheetha said. “I’m an artificial construct, so I can’t feel boredom.”
“You’re covered in mud,” Hartley observed, leaning up on her elbows, splayed on the bed in their suite, still damp from a romp in the ocean and wrapped in a towel.
“You’re covered in orange water,” Mirk observed, grabbing a spare towel off a nearby rack and mopping the mud off his skin.
“Did you find anything else out?” a voice asked from the other side of the bed.
“I fell asleep on the floor,” Peterman said, leaning on the bed and looking up at Mirk.
“Actually, I kicked her out of the bed,” Hartley said. “She clings.”
“Do not,” Peterman said, drawing herself to her feet. “What time is it?”
“Nearly nineteen hundred hours,” Mirk said, and sat on the edge of the bed. “Did you two have fun?”
Peterman shrugged. “Yeah, we had a great time. But I’m worn out.” She turned toward her and Baxter’s suite. “I guess I’ll try to wake our fearless leader.”
“Worn out, huh?” Mirk asked, turning to Hartley as Peterman ducked into the next room. “What did you two do?”
She shrugged. “Not much, really. What about you? Did you learn anything new from Pirk and Mork?”
“Pik and Mok,” Mirk corrected. “And no. I had a wonderful time. Beach contests. Sporting events. After parties…” He wiped his muddy face with the towel. “Lava mud rooms.”
“Well, maybe they really are just good guys,” Hartley said. “Ever think of that?”
“I’d love to believe that,” Mirk said, walking over to the window and watching the setting greenish sun descend on orange water. “But something tells me that all is not right here. Call it Maloxian intutition.”
“Or call it jealousy,” Hartley said, sliding up behind Mirk and wrapping her arms around his waist.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Running a resort this size…successfully…isn’t that like the Maloxian dream?”
“There are many possible dreams,” Mirk said, turning to Hartley and looking her in the eyes. “You’re mine.”
“You always know just what to say…for a troublemaking kid…”
“I haven’t been a troublemaking kid for years,” Mirk said.
“You’ll always be a troublemaking kid to me,” Hartley said.
“And if that’s so, what does that make you?”
Hartley smiled. “A girl in love.”
“You know, I can put the investigation on hold for a night. Want to go out to the balcony and listen to the waves?”
“Nah,” Hartley said with a wink. “Let’s go to bed….”
“Sheetha, I’m so confused,” Richards moaned, leaning forward and burying his face into the Orion dancer’s ample bosom. “Why do women always hurt me? Janice did it with my emotions, and J’hana is doing it with my…intestines…”
“Maybe it’s people with ‘J’ names you should avoid.”
“Maybe,” Richards sniffed.
Suddenly the holodeck arch appeared and Janice Browning stepped into the room.
“Christopher! I just wanted to stop by and thank you. Plato seems like a changed kid. I don’t know what you did but…” As Browning approached Richards, she stopped and looked around. “Oh my. Is this a…?” She glanced up at one of the Orion slave girls dancing on the stage. “Yes. That’s definitely a boob.” She turned to Richards. “Is this where you come to spend your time since we broke up?”
Richards lifted his head from Sheetha’s chest. “Well…”
“Are you Plato’s mom?” Sheetha asked with a smile. “Your son is such a fine boy!”
“Oh lord no!” Richards exclaimed, nearly falling out of his seat. “Computer, end…!”
“Thank you. He is a great kid. Just every now and then we…” Browning thought a moment. “Wait one second!” She looked at Richards. “Is this where you brought Plato? Is this your idea of a man-to-man talk? Watching scantily clad, ditzy Orion girls bop all over a stage and bare their ample breasts?”
“I’m NOT ditzy,” Sheetha said defensively. “But thank you for the compliment on my breasts.”
“Don’t mention it,” Browning said offhand. “I mean, computer, end program!”
The club, as well as the stool Richards was half stooped on, suddenly disappeared. This time Richards fell straight to the ground.
“Oooh!” Browning stomped her foot. “Christopher, just when I start thinking you’re a great guy, you go and do something stupid like this!” With that, Browning turned on a heel and stormed out of the holodeck.
“You’re welcome,” Richards said, still lying on the floor.
Mirk stood on the balcony the following morning sipping kiwi juice. Hartley was still sleeping. She really must have been tired, Mirk thought. When she said “lets’ go to bed…” she really meant go to bed. To sleep.
He shrugged. That’s what vacations were for, right?
The sun was beginning to shine its glorious green ways down on the beach. This was the perfect time to come out and start sunbathing. Strangely, though, the beaches weren’t nearly as filled as they were the day before. Had a lot of the resort goers left during the night or early morning? Or was morning just a slow time?
No, the previous morning was packed.
“Mirk,” a voice said from beside him, causing him to nearly jump out of his unbelievably soft slippers.
Mirk turned, trying to hide his surprise. “Mok?”
Mok nodded, resplendent in a shiny suit adorned with images of multicolored gourds. “I hope you don’t mind me stopping by?”
Mirk looked out over the balcony railing. “What did you do, fly in?”
“Yeah,” Mok said. “We can do that kind of thing.”
“I noticed,” Mirk said, glancing about. “Is Pik flying in too?”
“No.” Mok looked down. “Pik doesn’t know I’m here.”
“I want to show you something,” Mok said. “But you need to keep it secret. Can you do that?”
Mirk glanced back into his room and his sleeping wife. “Sure. What is it?”
“It’s the reason we have our powers. And it’s the reason you may have powers too…”
Mirk nodded. “Well, you’ve certainly piqued my interest…”
“So, the labs are working overtime analyzing and mapping this sector. There isn’t much sensor data available, so we’ll be able to return a lot of important information to Starfleet Sciences.”
Richards leaned his chin on his fists and stared at the other end of the table in the conference lounge. Tilleran might has well have been babbling in Jaradan. He was staring at the person at the other end of the table.
“Commander, I hate to be the one to bring this up,” Dr. Wilcox said, leaning against the table. “But what is Janice Browning doing here?”
There was an unbearable pause, during which J’hana idly cracked her knuckles, Madera feigned a deep interest in the daily navigation report, and Cadets Piper, Mathers and Sparks stared out the windows at the Retzin moon.
Richards was struck by the fact that he currently had two ex- girlfriends and one current, and terribly abusive, girlfriend sitting around the same meeting table. Not good.
Lt. Sefelt, for his part, began to explode with sobs, prompting Piper to sweep him up and out of the conference room, whispering to him soothingly.
The silence was unbearable.
“Yes,” Richards said. “Doctor, uh, Janice…Doctor Janice…to what do we owe this pleasure?”
“I brought a continental breakfast,” Browning said dully, staring knives right at Richards.
“Right,” Richards said, looking over at the small table by the windows. “Thank you for the, um, muffins.”
“You’re welcome,” Browning said, still staring at Richards.
“This is one of our odder meetings,” J’hana said. “Which is saying a lot. Can we go now?”
“Yes. Please,” Richards said, remaining seated while the other officers filed out, J’hana casting a vengeful glare at Browning as she left.
Cadet Mathers stayed behind and revisited the breakfast table.
“I’ll just take a few more of the honey oat muffins,” Mathers said, scooping them into his arms. “There aren’t any rules about eating off the ops panel, are there?”
“Leave, Cadet,” Richards said, not taking his eyes off Browning, who was likewise still seated.
“Right,” Mathers said, and dashed out of the room.
“So…Janice…” Richards said, and followed that up with a long silence. “Um…I…”
“I can’t believe you, Christopher,” Browning said, standing and heading over to the windows, staring out at the reddish moon that hung just outside. “Why would you take Plato to a place like that?”
“I was hoping he’d open up to me in a way he wouldn’t to you.”
“So you thought you’d have a deep conversation with my three year old son about his love life while Orions are stripping all around him?”
“Chronologically he’s much closer to eighteen and you know that…”
“Don’t try to defend yourself, Christopher.” She sighed. “I can’t believe I trusted you to help him, even for a minute.”
“He seemed to enjoy it.”
Browning covered her ears. “I don’t want to know!”
Richards walked over to her, grabbing a muffin from the table on the way. “Janice, you don’t understand. He enjoyed talking to the Orion slavegirl. He had a…” He frowned. “Meaningful conversation with her.”
“He did?” Browning asked.
“Yes. She was quite…impressed with his maturity.”
“Really?” Browning eyed the muffin suspiciously.
“Oh, yeah. He didn’t want to see the Orion girls dance. He wanted to talk to them about his feelings for Nat Sparks.”
“So he did…open up…”
Richards looked down at his boots sheepishly. “Eventually, once I got the girls to stop dancing.”
“But you admit you were wrong to take him there?”
“Oh, completely wrong,” Richards said. “I’m wrong to go there, too.”
“Yeah. You are.” Browning stared at Richards skeptically. “Is that muffin for me?”
“Well,” Browning said, snatching the muffin and taking a large bite. “I’m glad we have an understanding.”
“I’m sorry,” Richards said. “It was a stupid idea.’
“Yeah it was.” Browning turned and leaned against the bulkhead. “But where does that leave us?”
“The next move is Plato’s,” Richards said. “I suggest you let him make it.”
“The rare wise idea,” Browning said with a small smile.
“Everyone gets one sometime,” Richards said, heading to the door that led to the bridge and turning back toward Browning as it swung open. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a ship to command…” He turned around and gaped. “Colby! Get those crumbs off the ops console!”
“Big rock,” Mirk said, staring at the massive glowing granite-like formation, which sat on a vacant beach, some four hundred klicks from the Celestial Hotel.
“Did you enjoy the flight?” Mok asked expectantly from beside the rock.
“Er, I guess.” Mirk wasn’t taking any chances letting Mok know he could fly, so he had to settle for what ended up being a long, awkward flight on Mok’s back.
“Anyway, it’s more than just a big rock,” Mok said. “It’s our window to the Directors.”
Mirk turned back to the rock and stared at it long and hard. “It is, huh?”
“Oh yes. See how it glows?”
“It’s definitely…glowy.” Mirk wished, for once, that he had a tricorder with him. Or a science officer, for that matter.
“It’s the source of all our power,” Mok said, staring at it in awe. “Oh, Directors. Pik would kill me if he knew I was telling you this.”
Mirk continued to stare at the rock. “He doesn’t want anyone to know about this…window?”
“He’s afraid people would exploit it. Try to steal it and use it for themselves.”
“But it only gives powers to Maloxians,” Mirk said. “So…”
“So imagine how paranoid he is about you,” Pik said. “But I told him to trust you. That you’re a Maloxian, and Maloxians don’t betray each other.”
“My father tried to kill me,” Mirk said. “But yes, generally you’re right.”
“And besides, I wanted to know if the rock had the same effect on you that it has on us,” Mok said. “So I brought you here.” He stared intently at Mirk. “So…do you feel any powers coming on?”
Mirk considered his next move carefully. He needed more information and couldn’t risk Mok learning about his true mission quite yet.
“Sorry…nothing. You and Pik must be special.”
“All Maloxians are special,” Mok said. “Anyway, give it some time. Our powers didn’t come on all at once, either.”
“No. They seemed to get stronger when more people came to the planet. Then, of course, once our powers got stronger, even more people came to see us!”
“And the more people…”
“The stronger our powers, yes,” Mok said. “Fascinating, isn’t it?”
Mirk thought about the last two days and had a sudden and disturbing realization. “Mok, have you noticed your clientele seems to get…more and more tired the longer they stay here?”
“Well, now that you mention it, I suppose they do,” Mok said.
“And you don’t find that odd?”
“I never really gave it much thought.”
Mirk wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing, but he was definitely talking to the dumber of the two Maloxians. Either that, or Mok was putting on quite an act.
“We have to get back to the resort,” Mirk said. “I need to talk to Pik.”
“You’re going to join us?”
Mirk looked back at the glowing rock. “Not quite.”
“You wanted to see me?”
“C’mon in,” Richards said, standing and smiling as Plato stepped into the ready room. Behind him, consoles bleeped and crewmen walked about attending to their usual business, but things were a little more quiet than usual. And of course that was because J’hana was in command, and that tended to put a damper on things.
Plato moved over to the desk. Richards gestured for him to sit down and he did. He looked around. “I haven’t been in Uncle Andy’s ready room much lately.”
Richards looked around. “It’s a nice place if you don’t mind being surrounded by twenty-first century sports memorabilia.”
“So what did you want, Uncle Chris?”
“You haven’t called me that in a while,” Richards mused.
“You want me to call you Commander Richards?”
“No,” Richards said. “Uncle Chris’s fine. Look…”
“I went to the holodeck this morning to talk to that Orion girl and I couldn’t find the file.”
“That’s because I deleted it,” Richards said. Well, hid it, but same difference, he thought.
“Why would you do something like that?”
“Because I was wrong,” Richards said, turning in his (well, Baxter’s) chair. He looked out the window at the stars. “You see, Plato, I was wrong to take you to the holodeck to help you deal with your…Sparks problem.”
“But I had fun!”
“Yes, you had fun…talking…to the Orion slavegirl.”
“Yes, well, be that as it may, I should have known better to involve you in such a…”
“Sexually-charged?” Plato offered.
“Inappropriate environment,” Richards said, shifting in his chair. “Look, Plato, relationship problems are just a part of being in love. One day you’ll find someone you truly care about and want to spend the rest of your life with….”
Plato leaned forward. “Like you and J’hana?”
“Um, well, maybe. But the point is, you shouldn’t get discouraged just because one relationship didn’t work out. There are a lot of pretty girls out there.”
“Yes like…no, not like Sheetha. She’s a hologram. There are real girls out there.”
Plato leaned his elbows on the desk. “I guess so.”
Richards looked at Plato. “You really like Nat don’t you?”
“Well, she has to go back to the Academy, Plato. There’s nothing we can do about that, short of asking her to quit Starfleet. You don’t want to do that, do you?”
“Well, then start looking at your options.”
“Options,” Plato repeated. He suddenly looked up at Richards, a smile spreading across his face. “I have options!”
“Sure,” Richards said.
“I never thought of it that way.” He pounded the desk. “Of course! Thanks, Uncle Chris.”
Richards watched Plato run out of the office and blinked with amazement. “I did it!” He got up and walked out onto the bridge. Plato had just stepped into the turbolift to head belowdecks and the crew seemed to be running about with a bit more urgency.
“I did it! I gave great romantic advice!” Richards exclaimed.
Everyone turned and looked at him.
J’hana swiveled in the command chair. “Fan-fwarking-tastic. Meanwhile, we just lost contact with the away team.”
The flight back to the Celestial Hotel on Mok’s back had once again been awkward, but Mirk didn’t notice as much because his mind was reeling with the possibilities presented by the giant rock.
Were Pik and Mok purposefully draining the life energy out of their customers in order to power their…powers? What was the rock made of? How was it enhancing their powers? And, could it enhance his own powers? Considering the only science training Mirk had was how to make a Bloody Martok, he would have to get help analyzing the structure before he could make any conclusions. The first step was to tell Baxter, Hartley and Peterman about his discovery, so they could contact the Explorer and figure out next steps.
Mirk was considering all of this as he and Mok touched down and he climbed off the Maloxian’s back, stepping down onto the patio outside his room.
“Megan,” Mirk called out, looking back at Mok. “Stay here. I have to have a little chat with my wife.”
“Of course,” Mok said, as Mirk closed the patio door and stepped into his room. He looked about. The bedsheets were strewn about carelessly (not surprising, as Hartley had always been a fitful sleeper) and the door to the adjoining room was open.
Maybe Hartley was in there?
He stepped through to Baxter’s suite, only to find that empty too.
Except for someone sitting out on the patio.
Mirk stepped up to the patio, where Pik was standing, overlooking the expansive beach.
“Anything you’d like to tell me, fellow Maloxian?”
“Where are they?” Mirk asked, advancing on Pik.
The Maloxian turned and faced Mirk, scowling. “We trusted you, and were met with lies.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mirk said. “Do you know where my friends are?”
“They are…being entertained elsewhere.” He pointed to one of the patio chairs. “Let’s chat.”
Mirk shook his head. “I’ll stand.” He glanced over Pik’s shoulder, where Mok was standing on the adjacent balcony. “You have a wonderful resort here, Pik.”
“I’d like to think so,” Pik said, leveling his eyes on Mirk.
“You and Mok should be very proud, building up your clientele base on nothing but hard work and determination.”
“You’ve seen the rock,” Pik said, matter-of-factly.
“He made me show it to him, Pik! It’s not my fault!” Mok protested, gliding over from the other balcony and landing next to Pik.
“No one has to make you do stupid things,” said Pik. “You’re quite capable of doing them on your own.” He sighed and turned to Mirk. “You’ll have to forgive our brother. He’s not as…enlightened as we are.”
“Listen…” Mirk began.
“Save it,” Pik snapped and advanced on Mirk. “I’ve seen everything. Our surveillance systems are more than adequate to observe your discussions with your people and the ensuing conversation with Mok. He’s so proud of that rock. He thinks it’s our birthright. Well, maybe it is.” He leveled a deadly gaze on Mirk. “But whatever it is, it’s ours alone, and you can’t take it from us.”
Mirk took all this in and tried to tamp down his anger and concern over the absence of Hartley and the others. “You have to stop draining your customers. Not only is it unethical…it’s just not how Maloxians proprietate!”
“Not sure that’s a word. But let me counter one ‘P’ word with another: prioritize.”
“Clever,” Mirk said. “You decided that your success was more important than the lives of your customers.”
“They get their stamina back shortly after they leave here. But in the meantime, you can’t say that they don’t relax. As a matter of fact, that’s all they ever do.”
Mirk glanced out at the beach, which was completely deserted now.
“Don’t worry,” Pik said. “More customers are due in this evening. Which means more energy for us.” He looked Mirk up and down and smiled. “And perhaps for you too.”
“He doesn’t have powers,” Mok said.
“Unless he’s lying about that, too,” Pik said. “I imagine we’ll find out shortly.”
“Tell me,” Mirk said a bit more forcefully. “Where are the others?”
Pik glanced away. “Resting. Comfortably. For now.” He pulled a padd out of his vest pocket and handed it to Mirk. On the screen was a windowless room with three beds, where Baxter, Peterman and Hartley lay asleep, apparently out cold.
“What did you do to them?” Mirk asked, grabbing the padd and slamming it to the ground.
“Just drained their energy a bit more. It’s actually easy if you know how.” He turned and looked back out at the ocean. “This is a fantastic planet, Mirk. If you know how to use its power. Of course we can’t run the risk of you or your friends shutting the resort down, so we’ll have to make some…agreements, if we’re to proceed here. We’ll have to come to an understanding.”
“We’re no threat to you,” Mirk said, reaching for his combadge.
“You looking for this?” Pik said, and Mirk realized it was already in Pik’s hand. “Telekenisis is a wonderful gift, isn’t it?”
“Give that back,” Mirk said evenly.
“We know you have a ship in orbit. They’ve been trying to contact you. Explorer, is it?”
“They won’t let you kidnap our people. They’ll stop you. I’ll stop you.”
“Make any move to do anything of the sort and I’ll make sure your friends sleep…permanently.”
“NO!” Mirk shouted, and launched himself at Pik, knocking him over the patio railing. The two tumbled down, off the balcony, toward the ground a hundred meters below.
Confident in his next course of action, Plato strode down the corridor, eager to discuss his revelation with one person, and one person only.
Conveniently enough, Nat Sparks came running from the opposite direction, with Piper and Mathers not far behind.
“Nat!” Plato called out. “Wait until I tell you what I’m going to do! It solves everything!”
“Can’t talk right now,” Sparks said crisply and slid by Plato, headed for the turbolift.
“Sorry. We’ve got a…” Colby Mathers said, pointing up toward the bridge.
“Thing,” Piper said, as the three disappeared around the corner.
Plato glanced after them, and shrugged, heading back to his quarters. Wonder what that was all about?
“Try to raise the away team again,” Richards said, pacing the bridge and looking askance at the spinning planet on the viewscreen.
J’hana looked up from tactical. “I did, and again, no response. When would you like me to go down there and start killing people?”
“Not yet,” Richards said. “We still don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
“We should move closer to the planet to get a better sensor reading,” Tilleran said, leaning over her panel. “If they’re in trouble, our staying in seclusion won’t help anyone.”
“You’re right about that,” Richards said. “Susan, take us into a geosynchronous orbit over the resort. And try to hail them. Emergency channel.” He turned back toward sciences. “Commander Tilleran, commence scanning. If you can find even the faintest blip…”
“Nothing,” Tilleran said. “As a matter of fact, there’s some sort of energy source jamming our sensors. I didn’t pick it up from the other side of the moon but…yes…it’s blocking our scans.”
“Can you identify the source of the energy…source?”
“No, sir. Our sensors are completely jammed.”
“That includes transporters and target locks as well,” J’hana added.
“I imagine the last thing we want to do is beam down…”
“If you want to beam inside a wall…or inside another person…” Tilleran offered.
“Thank you, Commander Helpful.” Richards sighed and stared at the screen. “Our hands are tied for the moment. So we wait.”
J’hana let out a long rattling growl. “For how long?”
“Until I say otherwise,” Richards said grimly.
Halfway to the ground, Pik shot up into the air, dragging Mirk with him. It was as if he’d ignited an invisible booster pack.
“That last bit of energy I siphoned from your friends was just the pick me up I needed,” said Pik. “Or, the pick you up, as it were…”
“Enough!” Mirk cried out, pushing Pik away from him and free- falling.
“Is there something you’d like to share with me?” Pik asked innocently as Mirk fell away from him.
“Yeah,” Mirk said, and rocketed up to join Pik in the sky, now some three hundred meters from the ground. “You aren’t the only one with powers.”
Pik rose higher, as if daring Mirk to chase him. “Delightful!”
“You’ll see how delightful it is,” Mirk said, and shot forward, darting at Pik and grabbing him by the ankles. “Bring me to them. And if you harm even a hair on their heads, I’ll turn you inside out. Literally.”
Pik wriggled free and darted away from Mirk, turning back to face him, a taunting smile crossing his face. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. Allow yourself to get used to these powers. Figure out how to use them. You don’t want to overdo…” Pik said, but Mirk cut him off. With a wave of his hand, Mirk blasted Pik, sending him flying backward, tumbling helplessly end over end.
“I’ve had some practice,” Mirk said, and dove for Pik.
“Guys, stop!” Mok said, floating up to join them.
“Stay out of this!” Mirk shouted, waving a hand at Mok sending him tumbling back.
“You’ve got a rock of your own, then,” Pik said, forcing himself back upright and hovering ten or so meters away from Mirk. “Well done.”
Mirk sneered. “I don’t need a rock.”
Pik raised an eyebrow. “No?”
“Real power comes from within. You don’t have to hurt others to get them.”
“Really,” said Pik. “What a nice lesson. Too bad I’m not listening.”
Mirk flew toward Pik and grabbed him by his vest. “Give me back my people. Now.”
“Or what? You’ll kill me?”
Mirk thought about it half a beat. “Yes.”
“Fair enough,” Pik said, and gave Mirk a conciliatory smile. “You’ve got me.”
Mirk looked from Pik to Mok. “Fine. Then let’s go back and…”
“RACE YA!” Pik called out and shot through the sky, leaving a white trail behind him as he nearly broke the sound barrier.
Mirk gritted his teeth and shot after Pik, pouring on the speed as he tried to overtake him, knowing exactly where he was headed.
“Still nothing?” Richards said, looking back desperately at J’hana and Tilleran.
“Not a…” J’hana said, then looked back at her console. “Yes. Something faint at the edge of jamming range. Something in the atmosphere. Two things…no, three. Imzadi?”
Richards grimaced. He hated that J’hana still called Tilleran that.
“Lifeforms,” Tilleran said, looking up from her panel. “Hard to tell for sure but I think they’re Maloxian.”
“Mirk,” Richards said, stepping toward the screen.
“More good news,” J’hana said. “Looks like they’re heading right for that energy source.”
“Susan, adjust our orbit to follow them. Get as close as you can,” Richards said, moving to the center of the bridge. He turned. “J’hana: Bring the transporters online. Try to cut through that interference.”
“I love it when you give orders,” J’hana snarled.
Mirk dove down, his ears popping at the change in atmospheric pressure, his eyes narrowing, intent on the shape of Pik, who flung himself, arrow-like, toward the glowing rock on the distant shore.
“PIK!” Mirk shouted, gaining ground but not fast enough. When he finally reached the beach, Pik was floating right above the rock. It seemed to glow brighter now.
“The power. The infinite power.” Pik smiled. “I don’t know who or what you think the Directors are, but if you’re misled enough to think that they’re kind, generous and all-knowing, then you’re more gullible than I thought you were. Truth is, the Directors are about one thing and one thing only. Power. They gave me this rock to help build the most successful hotel in the galaxy, and I’m not going to abuse their gift. I’m going to use it…to its fullest.”
“Stop,” Mirk said simply, floating in front of Pik.
“I’m afraid you’re too late,” Pik said. “I’m right here, feeding off the rock’s energy. Channeling it. Directing it. One thought from me, and I can cause an earthquake that will destroy the resort and everyone there. Or I can cause a massive tidal wave that will drown you in an instant. The power is mine.”
“You’re wrong,” Mirk said.
“Test me,” Pik said.
“NO!” Mok said, flying down toward Pik. “You can’t destroy the resort!”
“I won’t! That was just an empty moustache-twisting threat!” Pik protested, but Mok wasn’t listening. He slammed Pik down into the rock, and the two tumbled down, falling onto the beach, momentarily dazed.
Pik looked up at Mirk and grimaced. “Don’t pretend to be so superior. That rock is as unique as anything in the galaxy. I’ve only tapped a fraction of its power. Imagine what we can discover, what we could do with that power if we studied it…together…”
“Nah,” Mirk said easily. “Not my style. I’m just a bartender.”
With that, Mirk waved his hands at the rock, focusing all of his concentration, all of his energy on it.
“What are you doing?” Pik cried out, staggering to his feet and pushing Mok down.
“Shaking, not stirring,” Mirk said, and grunted with the effort as the rock suddenly rose, ripping free of the larger rock formation in which it was buried. It thrummed with power, as if complaining at what was being done. Mirk wasn’t listening.
Mirk rose, dragging the rock with him, forcing it up through the sky.
Pik darted through the sky, in pursuit, but Mirk was determined.
Mirk and the rock flew higher, higher, until the clouds gave way and the atmosphere grew cold.
Far off, Mirk caught the oblong silver shape of the Explorer, and grinned. Telepathy wasn’t his thing, but it didn’t have to be. Someone would hear him.
“That’s it,” Richards said. “We’re taking a shuttle down and getting to the bottom of this once and for…”
Tilleran looked up and gripped her panel. “Commander, I’m getting a…a strong mental impression…”
“Sorry,” J’hana said. “I tend to get…sexual…during tense situations.”
“Not that,” Tilleran blushed, and then felt an odd twinge in the back of her mind. She looked at J’hana again and felt flush.
“Commander…” Richards said, impatiently.
Tilleran turned to Richards. “What?”
“Are you going to sleep with me or what?” Richards asked.
Tilleran blinked. “Commander Richards!”
“What? I’m just asking what your telepathic impression was.”
“You didn’t ask me…” Tilleran rubbed a hand over her face. “Nevermind. Of course you didn’t. I’m just….I got distracted.” She closed her eyes, focusing on the source of the telepathic signal she’d received. “It’s…it’s Mirk. He’s contacting us, er, me!”
Richards crossed to the back of the bridge, resting a hand on Tilleran’s station. “Well, what does he have to say?”
Tilleran concentrated, trying to pick up the faint thoughts. “He says ‘destroy the rock.’”
Richards scratched his head. “What the hell does that mean?”
“It’s the energy source,” Tilleran said, pointing at her screen. “It’s on the move, near the upper atmosphere.”
“Almost,” Madera said.
“Move us into range. J’hana, lock phasers.”
“There are two Maloxian life forms nearby,” J’hana said.
“Try not to kill them,” Richards said.
“If you insist…”
Tilleran, for her part, mopped her brow and leaned back in her chair, fanning her face. Whatever had just happened was more powerful than she was used to. And it wasn’t coming from J’hana (though the Andorian’s errant thoughts weren’t helping matters). No, whatever it was was coming from inside her.
“Mirk, you don’t know what you’re doing!” Pik said, soaring up toward Mirk, trying with all his might to work the rock free from Mirk’s grasp.
Mirk wasn’t listening. He just gave one last mental heave, and sent the rock flying upward through the air, up and into space, where it floated…
Until the Explorer sailed overhead and fired a bright orange beam at the rock, exploding it into a million tiny, glowing pieces.
They didn’t glow for long. The rock fragments turned to ash and fell to the planet, already burning up in the atmosphere.
“What? NO!” Pik cried, as suddenly he free fell, apparently no longer able to fly.
Mirk considered whether or not to fly down and rescue him, but it soon became a moot point as he, and Pik, felt the welcome grip of the Explorer’s transporters.
Stardate 58677.5. Due to the fact that our Maloxian hosts became insanely obsessed with their powers and tried to drain every inhabitant of their resort of life energy, and nearly killed us, not to mention that we blew up a small portion of the planet due to its untenable affects on the Maloxians, we unfortunately had to cut our vacation, er, away team, short.
On another note, for some reason I’m really, really tired.
“This one’s going to be tough to explain to Starfleet,” Captain Baxter said, strolling along the upper corridor of Ship’s Shoppes, with Peterman and Steffie at his side. “I mean, where do you even start?”
Peterman yawned. “I don’t know, but I think we need a vacation from our vacation. I’m beat.”
“We seem to say that every time we try to take a vacation.”
“That’s why we shouldn’t do it anymore,” Peterman said.
“Yes, well…let’s get lunch,” Baxter said, gesturing into Space Tastes, where Browning, Richards and Plato were about to dig in to a steaming deep dish pizza.
“You’re just in time!” Browning said, taking a slice that dripped with cheese.
“Oh, god, not pizza,” Baxter said, grabbing a seat at the table.
“Too soon after the Etracia incident?” Peterman asked.
“I’ve got some salad in the back if you’d prefer?” Browning offered.
Baxter thought about that. “Nah. I’ll have the pizza.”
“Plato was just about to give us some news,” Richards said, leaning back. “And I have to say, I’m proud of him. He’s learning to make positive choices about his relationships, and at the risk of tooting my own horn, I think my advice helped.”
“Oh, it did,” Plato said. “You inspired me, Uncle Chris.”
Browning smiled at Richards. “I do what I can,” he smiled.
“So what’s this big news?” Browning asked.
“Mom, Uncle Chris, Uncle Andy, Aunt Kelly…” Plato looked around. “I’ve decided to join Starfleet!”
Baxter looked around the table at the surprised faces, and at Browning, who was staring a hole through Richards. “Can I get mine to go?”
It had been a long day. Mirk had filed a lengthy report to Starfleet Command, giving his version of matters. Baxter had contacted the USS Latrobe, which was en route to fetch Pik and Mok and take them to a Federation penal colony. There was really no way to extradite them to a planet that was over 70,000 light years away.
Mirk had thought about going down to the brig to say some last words to Pik and Mok, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The only other Maloxians in the region, and he wanted nothing to do with them. Mok was just misguided. There was probably hope for him. But Pik had no conscience and no compunction for harming others. They both needed help, rehabilitation, that he couldn’t provide. Until they saw the error in their ways, he had nothing to say to them. Hopefully, when the time was right, they could speak once again. Mirk could forgive. Eventually.
The events of the day played back in Mirk’s mind as he stepped out of his shower, wrapping a towel around his waist and staring at himself in the mirror. What would he have done, if roles had been reversed? If an object was the source of his power, instead of the pure and incorruptible power of the Directors? Would he be strong enough to resist?
<Yes you would. And yes you will.>
The voice was loud and powerful in his ears. Mirk looked in his mirror, and it was no longer his reflection that looked back. It was a big, round eyeball.
<You are our son. You are our future, Mirk.>
“That’s comforting,” Mirk replied, staring at the eyeball in the mirror. “I wish you could explain that to Pik and Mok.”
<They will face a just fate. They will learn from their mistakes.>
“Is that all you came for?” Mirk asked. “To be spooky and prescient again?”
<Yes. But that’s not what we came to be spooky and prescient about,> the eye replied.
“Then what?” asked Mirk.
<Your time here grows short,> the eye said simply. <You will become one of us soon.>
Mirk blinked. “I thought the time and place were up to me.”
<That’s true. But you will be forced to make a decision, and that decision will govern your fate. You will become one with the Directors.>
Mirk stared at the eyeball in the mirror. “When?”
<That is not for us to say.>
“Can you give me a hint?”
<Certainly. After this Tuesday. Before the year twenty-nine eighty-seven.>
Mirk sighed. “Well, thanks for that.”
<Not a problem,> said the eyeball, as it disappeared from the mirror.
Mirk stared at the mirror for several long minutes.
“Hey, Mirkles!” Hartley called out, stepping into the bathroom. “Are you going to hog this thing all night?”
“No, of course not,” Mirk said stiffly as Hartley wrapped her arms around him from behind.
“Good,” she said. “Mind if I join you? I love when you just come out of the shower…all clean and fruity smelling…of course I think my soap is a bit less fruity smelling than yours, but who am I to question…”
“Megan…” Mirk said softly turning to look at her.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” she asked with a smile, and took Mirk’s hand. “You want to go make a baby, and get this thing started already?”
Mirk looked at Megan, and breathed in deep. “Um…that sounds great but…”
Hartley looked back at Mirk, cocking her head. “What is it, Mirk?”
“Nothing, I just…” He gently stepped away and headed out of the bathroom, leaving a confused Hartley behind. “Not tonight.”
Commander Tilleran takes the cadets on a shakedown cruise aboard the USS Escort, hoping to help them hone their Starfleet survival and leadership skills. Sounds good, in theory, until a certain Betazoid love interest gets involved.