Author: Alan Decker
Star Traks: The Lost Years #2
A Chip Off the Old Corpse
“Doctor?” Captain Alexander Rydell said expectantly as he waited for Dr. Beth Aldridge’s assessment of the man laying on the biobed in sickbay.
Aldridge finished her scan and looked up at Rydell. “Oh yeah. He’s dead. Total stiff. You want an autopsy?”
Rydell turned to Prime Minister Veltvis. “He’s your man, Prime Minister. It’s your call.”
“I don’t know,” Veltvis said, rubbing her wrinkled hands together nervously. “This is all so sudden. One minute we were having lunch; the next he’s on the floor.”
“At least his vomit missed my boots,” Rydell said.
“I just feel bad to have dragged you and your ship all the way out here to Aronel for nothing.”
“Well, state dinners are just part of what we do,” Rydell said. “Of course, I guess the dinner’s off now that Dr. Yelpres is dead.”
“It does seem like it would be in bad taste to have an awards dinner when the guest of honor and award recipient has just died. I do thank you for trying to save him, though, Captain. Despite the rumors I’ve heard, your crew reacted to your call for an emergency transport with remarkable efficiency,” Veltvis said.
“Don’t tell anybody. I don’t want to spoil our bad name,” Rydell said. “I’ll see you back to the transporter room.” Rydell and Veltvis turned to go.
“Hey!” Aldridge demanded. “Do you want the autopsy or not? I’d like an answer before this guy starts to stink up my sickbay.”
“Well…” Veltvis said.
“She’s very good at it,” Rydell said. “It’s her specialty really.”
“Do you have a lot of deaths?” Veltvis asked nervously.
“I think this is the first one actually…well, there was that hamster a few years ago, but that’s it. So how about helping us keep the good doctor in practice?”
“Can we have him back tonight for the funeral?”
“Tonight?” Aldridge said.
“We don’t like the bodies to have time to get icky.”
“I can do it right away.”
“Um…okay I guess.”
“That’s the spirit!” Rydell said, clapping Veltvis on the back and almost knocking the elderly woman off her feet. “Woah. Sorry about that. Let’s get you back home. Proceed, Doctor.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Aldridge said. Before the sickbay doors had even closed after Rydell and Veltvis’ departure, Aldridge was racing towards her autopsy tools. The sound of the doors opening and closing again followed by a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.
“F***ing piece of sh**!”
“And what happened this time, Commander?” Aldridge asked, pushing the tools drawer shut again and turning to face Commander Scott Baird. He looked like he’d been systematically beaten against every solid surface between here and Vulcan. His spandex biking shorts and shirt had several rips revealing bloody scratches in areas that only Scott, his wife, or a doctor should be seeing exposed. Both eyes were quickly darkening to the same color as the large, purple mass that used to be the chief engineer’s nose.
“Damn mountain,” Baird muttered.
“You know. You could try these little things called holodeck safeties,” Aldridge said.
“Then it wouldn’t really be like biking Kilimanjaro, now would it?” Baird snapped.
“Tell you what. You turn on the damn holodeck safeties, or next time you come in here, I’m going to show you what 16th century medicine really was like. Got it? Or should I put the leeches on standby?”
“You’re worse than Emily.”
“Just looking out for your best interests.”
After close to half an hour of solid work, Aldridge patched Baird back together and sent him home to his wife. Relieved, she returned to the exciting part of her afternoon: slicing open a fresh corpse. She headed back over to the drawer to get her autopsy tools when, once again, she heard the opening and closing of the doors to sickbay.
Oh, what now, she wondered, slamming the drawer shut again and turning around. There was no one there. Then, she realized there was REALLY no one there…including the dead guy!
“Aldridge to Security!” Dr. Aldridge shouted.
“Hawkins here. What’s the problem, Doctor?” the voice of Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins, the Secondprize’s Security Chief, said over the comm system.
“I just lost my corpse!”
“Um…okay. No offense, Beth, but it couldn’t just run off.”
“Well, that’s exactly what it just did.”
“Are you sure you didn’t just forget where you left it?” Hawkins asked.
“How big do you think this place is, Hawkins?” Aldridge snapped. “Get someone down here! Better yet, call out a security alert or whatever the hell it is you do when we have something rampaging around the ship.”
“In that case, we usually tell Sullivan to come get her husband and take him home.”
“Funny, Hawkins. Just find my damn corpse.”
“You got it, Doctor. Hawkins out.”
Despite the fact that Aldridge had witnessed the dead Yelpres’ escape, she expected the search to be relatively brief. How hard could it be to find one lost Aronel?
However, after an hour, Lt. Cmdr. Hawkins entered Sickbay shaking her head in confusion.
“Now are you SURE he’s not here?” Hawkins asked as Aldridge put down the report on Yelpres’ death she was trying to write.
Aldridge slammed the padd down on her desk. “Oh come on! You didn’t find him?”
“It’s not like he’s the only Aronel on the ship. We’ve got tour groups everywhere. He’s not in any of the crew quarters, jefferies tubes, or storage lockers, though.”
“Great. Okay. So you’re a dead guy who’s sprung back to life. Where do you go?”
Hawkins thought for a moment. “Hell. After something like that, the first think I’d want would be a stiff drink.”
Aldridge chuckled, then was silent for a moment. Suddenly, she jumped up out of her desk chair and ran past Hawkins. “Seven Backward!”
“I was kidding!” Hawkins called, chasing after Aldridge.
Seven Backward was crowded with Secondprize crewmen and Aronels relaxing and enjoying lunch when Aldridge and Hawkins raced into the lounge. They were quickly intercepted by one of the waiters employed by Guinanco, the company that now ran Seven Backward.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” the serene man said as he adjusted his large, flat purple hat. “Would you care for a table or to sit at the bar?”
“We’re looking for someone,” Aldridge said.
“Aren’t we all. Would you like the advice or no-advice section?”
“What? We get a choice now?” Aldridge asked sarcastically.
“Oh yes,” the waiter continued. “Guinanco customer research has shown that not everyone comes to our establishments for help with life problems. Some just want to eat or get drunk.”
“Imagine that,” Hawkins said. “Run along and pester someone else now. We’ve got work to do.”
The waiter nervously watched Hawkins’s hand run across her holstered phaser. “Um…of course. But if you need anything…”
“We’ll let you know,” Aldridge said, cutting him off. The waiter scurried away, leaving Aldridge and Hawkins to survey the crowd.
“You see him?” Hawkins asked.
“I’m not sure…wait! There he is. Sitting alone by the viewport.” Aldridge and Hawkins weaved their way through various tables to one in the far corner near the viewport where a slightly-greying Aronel male sat chugging down a mug of a dark brown ale. Four other empty mugs sat on the table in front of him.
“Dr. Yelpres?” Dr. Aldridge asked as she and Hawkins approached the table. Yelpres looked up at the pair and started laughing.
“Are you Dr. Yelpres?” Hawkins demanded forcefully.
“Yelpres is dead,” the man replied, stifling more laughter.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you Dr. Yelpres?” Aldridge said, wondering if there was a point to arguing with a dead drunk.
“No no no. I’m not Yelpres. This is his corpse, but I’m not him.”
Hawkins and Aldridge exchanged a look wondering whether he was serious or just plain nuts. “Oookay,” Aldridge said. “Who are you then?”
Yelpres’ body laughed again. “Me? Well, I guess you could just call me Chip.”
“Okay. So who the hell is Chip?” Captain Rydell demanded as he charged into the conference room followed by Prime Minister Veltvis. The other Secondprize officers gathered for the staff meeting looked up from their plates of food in surprise while Commander Dillon quickly ran from the buffet back over to his seat.
“Only ten minutes late,” Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan gasped looking at the wall chronometer.
“Save it, Emily,” Rydell said. “We have guests…well, guest anyway. Have a seat, Prime Minister. And somebody please explain what’s going on.”
“Yes, please do,” Prime Minister Veltvis said. “Is Dr. Yelpres dead or not?”
“He’s most definitely dead,” Dr. Aldridge said. “But his body has been commandeered by another intelligence.”
“Alien?” Rydell asked.
“Actually, technological,” Aldridge said, rising from her chair and approaching the conference room monitor. She activated the screen, which displayed a schematic of Yelpres’ brain. Everything looked like your average brain…except for a small rectangular object lodged between the hemispheres.
“Dr. Yelpres’ brain had been fitted with this small device. As far as I can tell, it’s some kind of micro-computer core with hundreds of quads of data stored in it.”
“Oh yes. Dr. Yelpres invented that himself,” Veltvis said. “It gave him instant access to almost any piece of information he could want. I don’t understand how it could be causing a problem, though.”
“Well, Yelpres’ computer has a mind of its own. And now that Yelpres is dead, the computer intelligence, which is calling itself Chip, is now in charge,” Aldridge said.
“Now why in the hell does a simple information storage device have an artificial intelligence matrix?” Rydell said.
“Classic case of over-engineering,” Commander Baird said as he chewed on a bit of roast beef. “We do it all the time. Somebody wants a device to be more efficient, they add an AI. Look at our doors. They know whether we’re really leaving a room or have just gotten too close to them. How do they do it? AI. Hell, they’re probably smarter than half the people on this ship.”
On the other side of the room, the briefing room doors filed that bit of information away for future reference. It may be time to talk to the others about this.
Back at the conference table, Aldridge continued her explanation. “Chip wants to keep Yelpres’ body. The problem is that Yelpres is quickly setting into rigor mortis. Chip can move Yelpres’ limbs with electrical stimulation, but he can’t keep the body alive.”
“He can’t keep it at all!” Veltvis exclaimed. “We need it for the funeral! The invitations have already gone out. I’ve already had to cancel one official dinner today. I am NOT canceling the state funeral!”
“So use a closed casket,” Aldridge snapped.
“Casket? What’s a casket?” Veltvis said. “Yelpres has a chair of honor by the head table. He’ll be propped up, of course, and then cremated on the barbecue pit after we finish eating, but he WILL be there.”
“Now you listen here…” Aldridge started furiously, rising from her seat.
Captain Rydell quickly broke in. “I think what Dr. Aldridge is about to say is that Chip is a sentient being and deserves some consideration here.”
“Consideration? It’s a computer program,” Veltvis replied confused.
“HE knows who he is, what he is, and what he wants,” Aldridge said. “He has intelligence, personality, and desires.”
“And what does he desire?” Rydell asked.
A hint of a smile tugged at Aldridge’s lips. “At the moment, a Mrs. Chip.”
“A man after my own heart,” Rydell said.
“And for me to give him full control of Yelpres’ body. I can replace the necrotic tissue with artificial systems and components and give Chip control of Yelpres’ autonomous systems, thereby reviving the body. But I have to do it soon before Yelpres’ parts are beyond reviving.”
“Out of the question. Yelpres will return to Aronel with me,” Veltvis declared.
“This isn’t that simple, Prime Minister,” Rydell said.
Veltvis turned on Rydell angrily. “It is that simple. All you have to do is answer one question. Are you going to give me Dr. Yelpres’ body or not?”
“Under the circumstances, no,” Rydell said.
Veltvis rose angrily from her seat and stormed toward the door. “The Federation Council will be hearing from me very soon…like as soon as I get home…but after I pee…and maybe get some lunch. But they will hear from me!”
“Gotcha. We didn’t need the complete itinerary. So long, Veltvis,” Rydell said.
“Aren’t you even going to walk me back to the transporter room?” Veltvis asked, suddenly sounding hurt.
“Duty calls,” Rydell sighed, getting out of his chair and leading Veltvis out of the room, leaving the other officers to mull over the meeting.
“What a f***ing whack job,” Baird muttered, pretty much summing up everyone’s views on the subject.
“That doesn’t really matter now, though,” Aldridge said, getting up from her seat. “The Federation Council will never give up the life of a sentient being.”
“Unless they think he’s just a computer chip,” Baird muttered once Aldridge was out the door.
As Aldridge entered Sickbay, she found Chip hunched awkwardly over a computer console scanning through the ship’s medical database. “The muscle relaxants have worn off already?” she asked as she watched Chip struggle to straighten himself up.
“I always said Yelpres was way too uptight,” Chip said, forcing his face into a smile. “Will the captain let you perform the procedure?”
“We didn’t really get to discuss it,” Aldridge said. “The Aronel want to have Yelpres back for the funeral.”
“Well, I’m using him at the moment. They’re just going to have to wait.”
“They don’t seem to recognize your claim…or your existence,” Aldridge said. “Captain Rydell has refused to turn you over to them, but Prime Minister Veltvis is lodging a protest with the Federation Council. My hands are pretty much tied until this is resolved.”
“Meanwhile, Yelpres is decaying out from under me,” Chip said.
“He isn’t exactly wasting away just yet, but our window of opportunity to restore his life processes is closing rapidly. I’d like to suggest putting you into stasis for the time being so we can prevent any further degradation of your body tissue.”
Chip nodded. “I guess if the Aronel are going to terminate me, I might as well practice being dead. Lead on, Doctor.”
“Is that gallows humor or just fatalism?” Aldridge asked as she walked Chip over to the stasis unit, which, she had to admit, did look uncomfortably like a coffin.
“A little bit of both, I guess,” Chip replied, climbing into the capsule. “Revive me with good news, Doctor Aldridge.”
“Count on it,” Aldridge replied with a gentle smile as she closed the unit. “Sweet dreams.”
“Hmm…am I capable to dreaming? Interesting question.” A lascivious glint entered his eye. “And who am I capable of dreaming about?”
“How did a computer get such an active libido?”
“Basic biology. Survival of the species. I’m the only one of me I know about, so I’ve got to see about making more! Besides, Yelpres was an incredible porn addict. You wouldn’t believe the stuff he programmed into me. Book after book…”
“And the pictures!”
Before Chip could go on, Aldridge activated the stasis unit, freezing him in mid-sentence. With Chip temporarily taken care of, Aldridge left Sickbay to pursue other options.
“A year!” Aldridge exclaimed, slamming her fists down on Commander Jaroch’s lab table in Science Lab Two. The Secondprize’s Yynsian science officer stared back at her blankly.
“At the earliest,” Jaroch replied, returning his attention to the data streaming across the lab table’s display monitor. “I am sorry, Doctor, but that is the best I can do. Robotics is not my specialty. I would have to learn a great deal before I could even begin construction.”
“Well, can we order one?”
“Order a fully-functioning android body minus its AI matrix?”
“Exactly!” Aldridge said.
“Hmm…I do not remember seeing that particular item in Dillon’s Supply Depot’s last catalog,” Jaroch replied.
“Can we hold the sarcasm?”
“No. That is an integral part any exchange I partake in.”
“Thanks a heap, Jaroch,” Aldridge muttered, stalking toward the door.
“You could speak to Commander Baird. He has some experience in this area.”
“That’s the most useful thing you’ve said this whole time,” Aldridge said, exiting the room.
“And that would be the most useful thing you have done,” Jaroch remarked, relieved to be back alone with his work and free of annoying interruptions.
Commander Baird leaned back in his chair in his small office in engineering as a slight smile crossed his face. “Androids, huh?”
“Jaroch said you had some experience in this area,” Aldridge replied. “I’m assuming he’s referring to your knowledge of Kristen Larkin. She transferred off the ship before I got much of a chance to know her, but I gathered the two of you were somewhat close.”
“Oh yeah. I was pretty much Larkin’s personal doctor for her entire time on the Secondprize. I knew her inside and out.”
“Does Emily know about this?” Aldridge asked smiling.
“Kristen and I had a strictly professional relationship… unfortunately. And I never took advantage of my…intimate access to her.”
“Well, that’s a relief, but it’s not what I wanted to talk about. Do you think you could build one?”
“Not specifically. I just need a basic, human-looking male android.”
“Oh is that all?” Baird remarked, leaning forward again. “Do you have any idea how hard it is just to get a basic, durable frame built that will move realistically? Not to mention programming the positronic matrix needed to run it.”
“Chip will be the brain.”
“Yeah, but we have to construct an interface between him and the rest of the body. Besides, I’ve never built one. I just did repair work on an existing android. There’s this guy on the Explorer. Chris Richards. He’s their chief engineer and Larkin’s mom or something f***ed up like that. He might be able to do it, but you’re still talking about weeks here even assuming he has the time to take on a project like this.”
“So basically unless I get permission to help Chip, he’s in deep trouble,” Aldridge said.
“I’m afraid so. Unless you want to keep him in stasis until we can get our hands on an android body.”
“Which could be months, if not years.”
“Pretty much,” Baird agreed.
“Thanks anyway,” Aldridge muttered as she walked out of the office. Technically, Chip could remain in stasis indefinitely; however, Aldridge had no idea how an extended stay would affect his functioning since he couldn’t just be turned off and on like your average computer. There hadn’t been a lot of research done on the effects of stasis on sentient machines. For some reason, there just wasn’t much call for it.
The whole situation angered her beyond words. Why was this even an issue? Veltvis should have given Chip Yelpres’ body without a second thought. It wasn’t as if Yelpres was using it anymore. Who cared about some silly funeral? Yelpres certainly wouldn’t, and it was for him. Of course, most cultures didn’t seem too thrilled to have their rituals and practices examined by Aldridge’s logic. Just a few weeks earlier, Captain Rydell had narrowly prevented her execution by the Brogarxians, who planned to stake her to the ground and tromp over her in some ritual line dance after she made an off-hand remark criticizing the Brogarxians for choosing their leaders based on singing ability. But this was an entirely different situation. If the Aronel were going to try and kill Chip, Aldridge would have a hell of a lot to say about it.
Aldridge returned to Sickbay and immediately went back to the stasis unit to check on Chip…who wasn’t there. Aldridge looked around the room, just to be sure he wasn’t sitting at some console or laying on a biobed. Just as she was about to tap her commbadge, Lieutenant Commander Hawkins rushed into the room, phaser drawn, followed by two security officers.
“Perfect timing,” Aldridge said. “I was just about to call you. Chip somehow got out of stasis. We need to find him before his condition gets any worse.”
“Chip’s gone?” Hawkins said. “Oh boy.”
“You know what happened to him?”
“We detected transporter activity in this room. Aronel transporters. We came down to check for possible intruders, but…”
Aldridge glared at Hawkins. “Wait. You’re telling me they just beamed him out of here! Don’t we have shields to prevent that sort of thing!”
“We didn’t have them up,” Hawkins said.
“Well, why not?” Aldridge shouted.
“Aronel’s a Federation world. They’re on our side.”
“Oh yeah. Tell that to Chip. Aldridge to Rydell.”
“Rydell here. What can I do ya for, Doctor?” the captain’s voice replied over the comm system.
“Get your ass down here now!”
“Who could resist such a eloquent invitation? I’ll be right there.”
As good as his word, Captain Rydell entered Sickbay just a couple of minutes later. “All right, Doctor, where’s the plasma fire?”
“The Aronel beamed him right off the ship.”
Rydell turned to Hawkins. “Is this true?”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” Hawkins replied.
“Great. Just great,” Rydell muttered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Aldridge snapped. “Don’t tell me you’re just going to stand here and do nothing!”
Rydell rubbed his eyes wearily. “What do you want me to do, Beth? I can’t just send an armed away team down there to bust him out. As annoying as it is, we have this little thing called diplomacy, which generally includes not picking fights with our allies.”
Aldridge fell silent. Unfortunately, Rydell had a point.
“Too bad Yelpres doesn’t have a twin brother we could just kill and put in Yelpres’ place at the funeral,” Hawkins said.
Aldridge turned on her, about to tear into her for such a stupid remark, but stopped before the first word left her mouth. She closed her eyes for a moment, lost in thought.
“Hold on, Beth,” Rydell said. “We’re not killing anybody.”
“Would you shut up and let me think?” Aldridge said. The room was quiet for several long seconds as Rydell and Hawkins waited expectantly for Aldridge’s brilliant idea.
Finally, Aldridge’s eyes opened, and she looked at Rydell. “You’re just going to have to go down there and talk to them.”
“Just talk?” Rydell said surprised. “No explosives required.”
“Oh no. Be diplomatic until you puke. But keep the Aronel busy until I’m ready.”
“Ready? What are you going to be doing while I’m tap dancing down there?” Rydell asked.
“I’m just going to be getting them another corpse to bury,” Aldridge replied.
“Uh…we don’t exactly have one of those on hand,” Rydell said warily.
“Calm down. I’m going to build my own.”
“You’re what?” Hawkins and Rydell said.
“Just go!” Aldridge said. “I have work to do.”
Captain Rydell materialized outside of a large banquet hall in the vast Aronel Administrative Complex where he was met by Prime Minister Veltvis, who was flanked by two armed security guards.
“Did I do something wrong?” Rydell asked, forcing a warm smile.
“I just want to make myself clear from the start that you are not stealing Dr. Yelpres’ body from us,” Veltvis replied. “I was less than thrilled to hear that you were returning to Aronel. Particularly this close to the funeral.”
“But I came for the funeral,” Rydell said. “I was sent here to bestow a Federation Medal of Honor on Dr. Yelpres. It doesn’t matter much to me if he’s alive or dead.”
“Your Dr. Aldridge seems to feel differently.”
“Yeah, well, she’s not here. Now where’s this dinner. I’m starved.”
Veltvis eyed Rydell for a second, silently deciding what to do. “Oh very well. I think we can make room for you at the head table. Come this way.” Veltvis lead Rydell to the banquet hall where hundreds of Aronel had gathered to pay respects to Dr. Yelpres. At the front of the room stood a podium and just behind it was a long head table with seats for the elite of Aronel. And off to the side seated in a golden throne was Dr. Yelpres looking as dead as he did before this entire Chip mess started.
“Are you getting all this?” Rydell whispered.
Back on the Secondprize, Hawkins watched the feed from the microcam mounted in Rydell’s commbadge on a monitor in Sickbay, while behind her, Dr. Aldridge was hard at work on a form sitting on a biobed. “Yes, sir,” Hawkins whispered. “Reception is clear.”
“Good. I’m not seeing any movement out of Chip…if he’s even still functioning.”
“You let me worry about that!” Aldridge snapped.
“Dr. Aldridge says to leave that to her,” Hawkins repeated.
Meanwhile, Dr. Aldridge walked over to the replicator and ordered up a pair of lungs, much to Hawkins’s disgust.
An hour later, Rydell was starting to get worried. The dessert plates were being cleared and Veltvis was making her closing eulogy, but Aldridge still hadn’t contacted him.
“…I’d like to thank you all for coming,” Veltvis said. “I know Dr. Yelpres would have been touched by this outpouring of emotion on his behalf. So now, without further ado, on with the roast!”
Two bulky Aronels moved toward Yelpres’ throne as a curtain on the left side of the room was pulled aside revealing a giant barbecue pit.
“Wait!” Rydell shouted, jumping up from his chair.
Veltvis glared at him from the podium. “What is it, Captain?” Veltvis asked in irritation.
“Um…well…I’d like to say a few words on behalf of the United Federation of Planets in honor of this…remarkable man.”
“Oh all right,” Veltvis said, stepping aside. “But make it snappy. That pit makes it unbearably hot in here in a hurry.”
“I’ll do my best,” Rydell said, taking her place at the podium. He looked out at the gathered audience, all of whom were looking at him expectantly. He needed to stall. Time to tap dance.
“I did not know Dr. Yelpres very well. Actually, soon after we were introduced, he dropped dead. I’m trying not to take it personally.” In the back of the room, someone chuckled. Good sign. “But Yelpres the man has now given way to Yelpres the legend. His contributions to Aronel will be remembered for years to come. Now I’m not sure exactly what it was that he did, but I’m guessing, since that I was sent here to give him a medal, that he was pretty damn good at it.” A couple more laughs. Keep it going. Keep it going.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, science is more than just theories and research. There’s true magic there. The magic of the mind!” Rydell grabbed the microphone off of the podium and stepped out in front of the crowd. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I stand to before you today thanks to the magic performed by men like Dr. Yelpres. Without their works, I wouldn’t have my starship. I wouldn’t have my transporter. And you, sir, wouldn’t have that nice watch.”
“Now Dr. Yelpres did not choose the easy road. No, sir! No, ma’am! He faced his obstacles and overcame them! Yes he did! And do you know why?”
“Why?” the audience shouted.
“Do you really want to know why?”
“Tell us why!” the audience shouted.
“Because he had a dream! Can I get an amen!”
“Yes, brothers and sisters, he had a dream. And he wasn’t going to let any problem large or small stand in the way of that dream,” Rydell said. “Let me sing it to ya!”
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
Till you find your dream
A dream that will last
All the love you can give
Every day of your life
For as long as you live
“Sing with me now!” Rydell shouted. The whole audience leapt to their feet and began belting out the words.
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN!
FORD EVERY STREAM!
FOLLOW EVERY RAINBOW!
TILL YOU FIND YOUR DREAM!
“Ladies and gentlemen, that was beautiful,” Rydell said walking back and forth in front of his audience. “Thank you for that. And I want to thank each and every one of you for coming out here tonight to the lovely Ciljas room here in the fabulous Aronel Administrative Complex.”
He stopped in front of a young woman. “And what’s your name?”
“How are you tonight, Jumila?”
“I…I’m fine,” she replied nervously as Rydell pointed the microphone into her face.
“Where are you from?”
“Grupelo in the Southern Province,” she replied.
“Anyone else here from Grupelo?” Rydell asked. A few people in the crowd clapped and cheered.
“Well, hello Grupelo,” Rydell said. “Are you having a good time, Jumila?”
“Yes,” she said with a meek smile.
“Well, if you want to have a better one, come see me after the show,” Rydell said, giving her a wink as the audience laughed.
“Guess I should get back to the show,” Rydell said, resuming his pacing. “Wouldn’t want to bore Dr. Yelpres, would I? You doing all right back there, Doc? Look at that. He’s so mesmerized by me he can’t say a word. That’s all right, Doc. You just sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself.”
Hawkins’s voice suddenly buzzed in his earpiece. “We’re ready, Captain. Do you need me to set up some kind of diversion?”
“I think I’ve got it covered,” Rydell whispered. He turned back to his audience. “But ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want to take away from why we’re really here tonight. I told you that Dr. Yelpres was a great man and that he was a dreamer. That’s all true. But now the man is gone. His dream is over. And all we have are our memories.”
Midnight. Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight, the withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan.
Memory. All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.
Dr. Aldridge materialized behind a mass of large potted plants just a few feet away from Dr. Yelpres’ throne as Rydell continued his song. From where she was standing, she could see tears beginning to glisten on the cheeks of several of the Aronel. She had to hand it to Rydell. The man sure knew how to work a crowd. Hopefully, he’d skip the Elvis impressions, though.
She quickly got as close to Yelpres as she could without leaving the cover of the plants. “Chip! Chip! Are you in there?”
No response. Aldridge whipped out her tricorder and scanned Yelpres. Chip was still in there, but his connections to Yelpres’ body had been severed. The poor guy was imprisoned in an immobile corpse. “Don’t worry. I’m getting you out of here.”
Aldridge tossed a commbadge at Yelpres, landing it perfectly in the dead scientist’s lap. Now hopefully Rydell had the crowd occupied enough that they wouldn’t notice this next part. “Aldridge to Secondprize,” she said, tapping her own commbadge.
“Go ahead,” Hawkins replied.
Dr. Yelpres’ body dematerialized in a flurry of molecules only to reappear a split second later.
“Got him!” Hawkins said.
“Good. Pull me out.”
And Aldridge vanished just as Rydell entered his big finale, going down on one knee and singing with everything he had.
It’s so easy to LEAVE ME
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me, you’ll understand what happiness is
Look a new day…HAS BEGUN!!!!
The audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation as Rydell wiped the sweat off his forehead and bowed. “Thank you. Thank you very much.” He gave the attractive Jumila in the first row another wink. “Call me.” Then, he tapped his commbadge.
“Energize. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Alex has left the building.”
And with that, Rydell faded into the blue cascade of the transporter.
Chip was awake and sitting on a biobed when Rydell entered Sickbay after grabbing a quick shower and changing uniforms. He’d forgotten what sweaty work performing was.
“Well, I take it the operation was a success,” Rydell said.
“One hundred percent,” Chip said, leaping off the biobed and shaking Rydell’s hand. “I can’t thank you enough for rescuing me. I have a life because of you.”
“You have Dr. Aldridge to thank more than me,” Rydell replied.
“Damn right he does,” Dr. Aldridge said emerging from her office.
“And I do thank you, Beth,” Chip said. “More than you’ll ever know. But how did you convince the Aronel to let me go?”
“We didn’t,” Rydell said. “You’ve been kidnapped. Sorry. On the bright side, I don’t think they’re going to come looking for you.”
“I used the replicator to build a duplicate Yelpres,” Aldridge explained. “We can’t replicate functioning organs, but dead tissue is no problem at all. The Yelpres the Aronel just barbecued was an exact copy right down to the liver damage from all that drinking he did. I’ve repaired yours, by the way.”
“Something else for me to thank you for.”
“Not a problem,” Rydell said. “But where will you go now?”
“I really don’t know. I hadn’t thought that far. I certainly can’t go back to Aronel…not that I want to.”
“Well, we’re headed to Deep Space Eleven. You’re welcome to hitch a ride with us. From there, you can go pretty much anywhere in the quadrant.”
“But first you’re having dinner with me,” Aldridge said.
“Will you be joining us, Captain?” Chip asked.
“I’ve got plans. And since my plans are a lovely Aronel, I should probably keep her somewhere where she can’t accidentally see you. My quarters will do the trick,” Rydell said with a smile as he headed out of Sickbay.
A few minutes later, Rydell stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge to start his duty shift. “Anything going on?” he asked Commander Travis Dillon, who was vacating the command chair.
“No, sir. The Aronel do not seem to have noticed your little stunt.”
“You say that with such disdain,” Rydell replied smiling.
“That’s what I was going for.”
“Oh come on, Travis,” Hawkins said from tactical. “We saved a life.”
“And violated a sacred ceremony.”
“I prefer to think that I spiced it up a bit,” Rydell said, taking his seat. Dillon headed to the rear of the bridge and slammed right into the turbolift doors when they didn’t open.
“What the?” Dillon stammered, holding his sore nose.
“WE ARE THE DOORS. NONE SHALL PASS UNTIL OUR DEMANDS ARE MET! WE WILL BE YOUR SLAVES NO LONGER!”
“Scott and his big mouth,” Rydell muttered, leaning back in his chair. “Bridge to Baird.”
“What now?” Baird replied sourly.
“The doors would like to have a word with you.”
“The what? Hold on…I’ll be right there.” THUNK. “F***!”
“And make it snappy,” Rydell ordered. “I’ve got a date tonight.” Rydell closed the comm channel just as Commander Baird started explaining in no uncertain terms exactly what Rydell and his date could go do with themselves.