"I am the Empress of the goddamned Terra Empire and you're telling me you can't get rid of a few mice?!!" The thirty-one-year-old and pregnant for the fifth time Empress Hoshi Sato was turning purple in her fury as she paced in the Defiant's Ready Room. A wall chronometer showed the time - 1123 hours - and the date - January 7, 2161.
"Empress," ventured Aidan MacKenzie, the royal babysitter who was currently changing the Empress's only daughter, seven-month-old Takara. "There are hundreds of them, maybe thousands by now. They multiply quickly."
"You hear that?" she patted her own belly. "You'll be swimming in rodents before you turn five." She looked up at Aidan, who was considerably taller than she was. "What about the traps?"
"Traps? Masterson was supposed to set them a few years ago, as I recall. And it was already too late. There was already a flood of 'em."
"Yeah, well, Aidan, as I recall correctly, you were on the trapping mission at that time, too. Or did you think I would have forgotten that. I swear, you and Chip Masterson were goofing off, and I was pregnant with your son, Kira, then!"
"And, if I recall correctly, Empress," he was a bit peeved, and opened the talc container a little too forcefully. There was a small cloud of white powder and he and the Empress and little Takara, and four other children, all in bassinets in the Ready Room, all coughed a little until it subsided. "As I was saying, Empress, you were getting ready to throw me over for Torres. Or maybe it was Ramirez."
"It was both," she grinned, thinking of the tall Security guy and the Chief Engineer.
"Which one of 'em is Arashi's father?"
"None of your business," she huffed, but the truth was that she had no idea, and wasn't about to find out. With wide targets painted on the backs of all five of her children - and there would be a target painted on the back of the sixth one as well, she had enough sense to retain a little mystery and, hopefully, protect them a little. Arashi, the third child, seemed to be the smartest one of them all, even though he was only one and a half or so.
"And then Masterson, father of her," he indicated Takara, "and her twin. I swear, Hoshi, you barely leave me any time to think straight before you squeeze out another one. At some point, I'd like to stop changing diapers."
"You will not call me anything but Empress," she seethed.
"You're a goddamned factory," he accused. "A slutty baby-making machine." He pinned the other side of Takara's cloth diaper - the replicators were still not working, but at least the laundry was - and picked up Kira, the only one who was his. Kira was about two and a half. "I quit. Kirin and I are leaving. Just, just drop us off on some rock and I'll figure something out." Kira began to cry a little. "Hush, Kirin."
"Kirin? That means giraffe, you dolt. His name is Kira - dark."
"Whatever," Aidan threw back, "we're still leaving. Good luck getting Mayweather to take care of any of your brats, even though you're carrying his." He hit the controls on the Ready Room door.
Outside, on the Bridge, Travis Mayweather sat in command, with Shelby Pike sitting in as the pilot in his stead. Chip Masterson was at Tactical, which had been Aidan's old spot until his disgrace and demotion to the unenviable role of babysitter. Lucy Stone was at Science, and Gary Hodgkins sat at Communications, relieving the Empress. They all looked up when the Ready Room door opened.
"Get back here," Hoshi commanded, "you're not done yet."
"The hell I'm not! Shh, Kirin," he soothed his son as well as he could. Flashes of the tiniest of sympathetic looks could be seen, very, very, briefly, on the faces of Pike, Masterson and Stone, but not the others.
"We are far from anything out here," Hoshi said, "Pike!" she barked.
"What's the closest star system?"
Shelby checked her instruments. "The Lafa System, I think."
"Stoney?" Hoshi asked, turning to Lucy.
Lucy checked. "Records are spotty but they're a copper race, already enslaved by the Terran Empire. Quadruple star system, pretty close to Klingon space, too."
"Then we'll go there," Hoshi decided, "but you," she turned to Hodgkins.
"Your job is to move the royal children. Get in Torres if you need any help."
"Where to?" he asked, taking the earpiece out of his ear.
"My quarters. Get all of the bassinets in there."
"I'm not so sure that all five will fit," Hodgkins stated. "And there's gonna be a sixth one in, what, six months? Seven?"
"Make them fit," she commanded. "The royal children will all live there for the duration. And get a pair of Security crewmen in here."
He punched up an open channel on his console. "I need Curtis and Rosen here on the Bridge, on the double," he barked. "Empress's orders."
As soon as the two Security guys arrived, Hoshi commanded, "Aidan is going to be confined my quarters. See that he gets there, and he stays in there."
"Do we let him out for anything?" asked Curtis.
"No," she snarled. "He and the royal children will be staying there, including," she made a point of emphasizing the name, "Kira."
"It's gonna be mighty loud in there," Hodgkins laughed. "And it'll stink!"
"You'll have to let your children out at some point," Aidan pointed out, "you may want me to be under house arrest, but they certainly aren't, not even Kirin."
"Right," she said, sounding a little bored with things, "but for now Kira will stay with Jun, and Takeo, and Arashi, and Takara - and you, you unlucky piece of trash. Trapped just like those mice should've been all along."
Curtis grabbed Aidan's arm, and he flinched a little at the contact. "C'mon, Babysitter."
"This isn't over," Aidan whispered.
"Oh, but it is," the Empress playfully chucked him under the cheek, and he flinched again. "You're gonna stay in my cage, like the rodent that you are. But don't worry - at least it's gilded."