Author: Alan Decker
Star Traks: The Lost Years #18
For Every Action…
Hell looked surprisingly like a cocktail party. A very swanky cocktail party at that, Captain Alexander Rydell observed as he, Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins, Federation Representative Byan Sel, and Sel’s personal bodyguard, Mookow, materialized inside the Great Hall of the Grand Leech of the Joegonots’ palace on Ugilious. The Great Hall was positively glowing with soft lights, giving the room an elegant ambiance Rydell would never have expected from a species that considered lard a food group. Looking at the various tuxedos and dresses around him, Rydell felt out of place even though he was currently stuffed into his dress uniform. At least the new dress uniform collars weren’t quite as obnoxious as the old, high collared red ones, but the bright white dress uniform coat made him feel like a waiter for some reason. And the fact that all of the Joegonot waiters happened to be wearing bright white outfits wasn’t helping that feeling at all.
Rydell had been dreading his return to Ugilious since the moment Starfleet had ordered the Secondprize there to take part in the ceremonies surrounding Ugilious’ entry into the Federation, an event that wouldn’t be occurring at all if Rydell hadn’t used the Transference Ray five years earlier to transform the planet’s populace into humans rather than the evil disgusting smelly blobs of cellulite that the Joegonots had been prior to Rydell’s interference.
The Joegonots were so thrilled with their new appearance that they hailed Rydell as a hero. They even named a day after him, a day that had already passed, thankfully…or at least it was supposed to have passed. The program that was immediately shoved into Rydell’s hand upon materializing at the cocktail party made him wonder, though.
SIXTH ANNUAL RYDELL DAY CELEBRATION AND FEDERATION MEMBERSHIP CEREMONY
“There’s the big man!” a boisterous voice Rydell knew all too well called from across the room. Rydell plastered on a weak smile as the Grand Leech lumbered through the crowd of smartly-dressed Joegonots and dignitaries like an out-of-control freighter (the Transference Ray may have made him human, but it hadn’t done much for his size).
“Hello, Your Leechiness,” Rydell said as the Grand Leech pumped Rydell’s hand to the point of almost pulling something in Rydell’s shoulder.
“So you are the Grand Leech himself!” Representative Sel said, practically shoving his way between the Leech and Rydell, not that Rydell minded one bit. “Representative Byan Sel of Betazed. It is an honor to make your acquaintance.”
The Grand Leech slapped Sel on the back, a move that had Mookow going for one of the many weapons hidden on his person. “You’re one of those mind reader fellas, aren’t you?”
“My species does have some telepathic abilities, but I am far more concerned about how your species has been treated, Your Leechiness.”
“Us? We’re doing great!” the Grand Leech exclaimed. “Now go get yourself something to drink and let me talk to my buddy the captain here.” Sel started to speak again, but the Leech cut him off by clapping a meaty hand over the Betazoid’s mouth. “The bar’s over there.”
Clearly annoyed that the leader of the species he hoped to save from cultural annihilation had no interest in speaking to him, Sel sulked away in the general direction of the booze. The Grand Leech, meanwhile, turned his full attention to Rydell, locking a firm grip around the captain’s upper arm.
“Great to see you here, Cap,” the Grand Leech said. “You’re just in time for your big day!”
Rydell’s smile grew a bit weaker. “I thought Rydell Day was over a month ago.”
“Not this year. I moved it as soon as Starfleet told me you’d be coming to this whole membership shindig.”
“Wow. How nice of you,” Rydell said unenthusiastically. He perked up slightly as he spotted a familiar and friendly face heading his way: Admiral Thomas Wagner.
“We were starting to wonder if you were going to show, Alex,” Admiral Wagner said jovially, shaking Rydell’s hand.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Rydell replied unconvincingly. Wagner nodded, acknowledging that he felt the same way about this particular honor.
“Has His Leechiness filled you in on the all of the festivities?”
“There’s more than this?” Rydell asked as a pit opened up in his stomach.
The Leech smiled broadly, making Rydell want to flee as quickly as possible. “Oh yeah! You and your crew are heroes to the Joegonot people, so I thought it’d be great if a bit more of the populace got to meet some of you Secondprize folks.”
“What did you have in mind?” Rydell asked warily.
“Nothing too big,” the Grand Leech replied, then proceeded to give Rydell the scoop.
“Oh, they’ll be so thrilled,” Rydell said, trying to sound sincere as the Grand Leech finished.
“I knew you’d love it,” the Grand Leech said. “But there’s one more little thing.” He pointed over toward Hawkins and Mookow, both of whom were watching over the festivities with suspicious scowls. “The muscle’s gotta wait outside.”
“This room is secure,” Admiral Wagner added. “They can join the other security officers in the adjoining ballroom. They’re having a mini-party of their own.”
“Would you mind explaining it to them, Admiral? I need to tell the Secondprize about their new travel plans,” Rydell said.
Wagner nodded and headed over to Hawkins and Mookow as the Grand Leech watched it all grinning happily, his hand still locked around Rydell’s arm. Rydell sighed, used his free hand to tap his commbadge, and prepared to give his first officer the news.
Approximately ten minutes later, Commander Travis Dillon stepped into the Secondprize’s main shuttlebay wearing his dress uniform as though he’d been born in it. Not a single wrinkle marred the garment’s appearance while Dillon’s pips and commbadge almost sparkled under the shuttlebay lights. He quickly approached the Doorprize II, where Commander Scott Baird was making final preparations for the shuttle’s departure, muttering obscenities under his breath all the while.
“Are we ready, Commander?” Dillon asked as Baird leaned into an open panel on the shuttle’s port rear thruster.
Baird, looking at that moment like Dillon’s polar opposite with the sleeves of his loose-fitting, grimy standard-issue uniform pushed up passed his elbows, glared up from his work. “Are you in some kind of hurry?” he snapped.
“We’re expected,” Dillon replied.
“I still wouldn’t be any f***ing hurry,” Baird said, turning his attention back to the thruster in question. A couple of seconds later, Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan, also clad in dress whites, walked out of the shuttle hatch and down the ramp.
“That’s got it, hon,” she called over to Baird. “The injector flows have equalized.”
“What a relief,” Baird said sarcastically. “For a minute there, I didn’t think you were going to be able to go.”
“We have other shuttles,” Dillon said, stepping past Baird up the ramp to the hatch as the Chief Engineer resisted the almost-overwhelming urge to hurl a spanner at the back of Dillon’s head.
The shuttlebay doors opened again, revealing no one. After a moment or two, Ensign Faaus from the Secondprize’s Cultural Anthropology department hesitantly peered around the edge of the door frame. The look of disappointment on his face upon seeing the preparations being made to the Doorprize II was obvious.
“Come on, Faaus,” Dillon called from the entrance to the shuttle. “You’re in the right place.”
Faaus, a golden skinned Algolian, flared his wide nostrils with a huff. “Yes, sir,” he replied slowly entering the shuttlebay. As the doors closed behind him, he looked back wistfully.
“I had imagined,” Dillon said as Faaus stepped up the ramp, “that Cultural Anthropology would send an officer with more experience.”
“I drew the short straw, sir,” Faaus said, walking past Dillon into the shuttle.
“Didn’t we all,” Sullivan muttered to Baird.
“Let’s go, Commander,” Dillon said to Sullivan. “I don’t like being late.”
“We won’t be,” Sullivan replied, rolling her eyes at Commander Baird. She blew Baird a kiss over her shoulder as she walked back up the ramp to the shuttle hatch. “Be back this evening.”
“You’d better be. It’s your night to replicate dinner,” Baird said. In a sudden movement, he hopped up onto the shuttle ramp and kissed his wife, an uncharacteristic act for the man who, other than in the very early days of their relationship, was normally opposed to public displays of affection. “Love you,” he said gruffly.
“Love you, too…you big softy,” Sullivan said with a grin.
“Just be careful. I don’t care what the Federation says, these are still Joegonots,” Baird said, stepping back down to the shuttlebay deck.
“We’ll try to stay alert while they’re busy adoring us,” Sullivan replied. She blew her husband another kiss, then closed the hatch.
“More flying, less goodbye-ing,” Commander Dillon said from the co-pilot’s seat. “The chronometer waits for no one.” In the seat behind Dillon, Faaus put his head in his hands and shook it sadly.
Sullivan slid into the pilot’s seat and activated the engines. “Are you in that big of a hurry to see the Joegonots?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Dillon said.
“Because you seem to be in a hurry. Do you really want to get there that badly, or do you just want to get this over with?”
“Both,” Dillon stated firmly.
“Fair enough. You strapped in, Claire?” Sullivan asked, looked toward the rear of the shuttle.
“Claire? Webber?” Dillon asked, spinning around in his seat. Sure enough, the Secondprize’s counselor lay on the shuttle’s rear bench wearing her dress uniform (which, in violation of several regulations, had been tie-dyed). “I don’t recall you being ordered on this trip,” Dillon said to Webber as Sullivan gently lifted the shuttle off of the deck and steered it out into space.
Counselor Webber, still looking a bit worse for wear after being released from sickbay, where she’d ended up as a result of her brawl with Lieutenant Andrea Carr for control of the Secondprize, didn’t move at all.
“She’s ignoring me!” Dillon said hotly.
“Imagine that,” Sullivan replied, drawing an angry glare from Dillon. “Let the woman sleep. She’s had a rough couple of days.”
“Only because she made them rough. Treasonous mutineers like her belong in the brig, not going to big parties.”
“Did you really want to come to Ugilious?”
“Well, no,” Dillon replied.
“And neither did she. She just tried to do something about it out of fear, and now she’s trying to get over it.”
“What do you mean ‘over it’?”
“Aversion therapy. Webber’s big on it. After she got stuck in the Happy Universe, she used it to get past her disgust of…” Sullivan trailed off as she remembered she was talking to the person Webber was adverse to. “Never mind.”
“Fine. But if the Joegonots want to give us any awards or feasts or anything, she’s last in line,” Dillon snapped.
Sullivan swallowed the insult forming on the tip of her tongue and focused on taking the shuttle away from the Secondprize, which was currently in geosynchronous orbit above the Joegonots’ capital city of Gastrulge, and around the planet to what Captain Rydell had tactfully described as the more rural portion of the Joegonot homeworld. Evidently, the residents of those parts were feeling a bit left out of the whole Rydell Day/Federation Membership Ceremony festivities, so, in his infinite wisdom, the Grand Leech had asked Rydell to send some Secondprize officers out to Bowelophon, the largest settlement in the rural territories.
Considering what a joy visiting Gastrulge, the “Heart of Joegonot Civilization” had been, the idea of going to the rural areas appealed to Sullivan about as much as much as open heart surgery without anesthetic.
“So, Alex,” the Grand Leech said as he steered Captain Rydell across the Great Hall toward the head table on the dais at the front of the room. “Starfleet’s been keeping you busy?”
“Oh yeah. Swamped,” Rydell replied, craning his neck to see Admiral Wagner, who was strolling along behind the pair. Rydell mouthed a quick “Help,” but Wagner just shook his head and smiled. Damn Admirals and their damn diplomacy.
“I’d guess so, since you haven’t made it back for Rydell Day in four years,” the Grand Leech continued.
“Yeah, well…like I said, I’ve been busy.”
“And he’s getting married,” Admiral Wagner said.
“Married!” the Grand Leech exclaimed. Much to Rydell’s relief, the Grand Leech let go of Rydell’s arm for a second. Unfortunately, this was followed up by a powerful slap to the back from the large Joegonot leader. Rydell lurched forward and struggled to find the breath that had just been violently knocked out of him.
“That’s wonderful news! Who’s the lucky lady?”
“You wouldn’t know her,” Rydell replied.
“Probably not. But I always kind of wished that you would have changed your mind about my dear Anemia.”
“Your daughter was very…nice,” Rydell said diplomatically.
Admiral Wagner stepped in, deciding to let Rydell off the hook. “Alex fell for a fellow captain, I’m afraid,” Wagner said. “She’s not Starfleet, but I think there’s just a built in connection among spacefarers.”
“You’ll have to bring her to Ugilious someday,” the Grand Leech said. “Let us show the beloved of Alexander Rydell Joegonot hospitality.”
“That’s very kind of you to offer,” Rydell said.
“But, Alex, isn’t she on the Secondprize right now?” Admiral Wagner asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“She is!” the Grand Leech exclaimed. “Then get her down here. This party is big enough for everyone!”
Searching for some kind of an escape route to spare Karina Durham from this fate, Rydell looked at the program. “I’m sure she would love to be here, but we have quite a bit of official business to attend to.” His eyes locked on the times displayed on the agenda. “Eight hours worth,” he added with a sigh.
“I guess you’ve got a point there, Alex,” the Grand Leech said, leading Rydell up onto the dais and steering him to a seat next to the podium as Admiral Wagner slid into the seat beside Rydell. The one saving grace to all of this was that the Grand Leech was sitting on the other side of the podium from Rydell. But, at the moment, he wasn’t going to his seat. He stood at the podium, but, before addressing the crowd, he leaned down to Rydell conspiratorially.
“We’ve got a surprise for you, Alex,” the Grand Leech said. “You’re just going to love it!”
With that, the Grand Leech raised himself to his full height of well over six feet and adjusted his 400 pound frame behind the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen, Joegonots and Federation visitors, Starfleet guests, and, of course, Captain Rydell, welcome to a very special day for us here on Ugilious, a day that would not be possible without the heroic efforts of Captain Alexander Rydell and the crew of the USS Secondprize.”
From somewhere out in the crowd, Rydell could hear Byan Sel scoff.
“As you can see from the program, we have a lot to do today. But while I’m on the subject, remember to pick up your official full-color Rydell Day souvenir program from one of our kiosks in the main concourse while on your way to or from the restrooms.
“Now, without further ado, let’s get this party started. And for this, Captain Rydell’s first visit to Ugilious in four long years, we wanted to do something very special. With a little help from Rydell’s friends at Starfleet Command…”
“Friends?” Rydell thought. “What kind of sadistic ‘friends’ would get him involved in something like this?”
“…we’ve learned about Captain Rydell’s very favorite music. So it gives me great pride to introduce to you the Royal Joegonot Youth Orchestra performing the greatest hits of PRINCE!!!”
Suddenly, the double doors to the Great Hall flew open and dozens of Joegonot children, none of whom could be over the age of ten, marched in carrying a vast assortment of objects Rydell could only assume were musical instruments.
As Admiral Wagner started laughing from the chair beside him, Rydell could only stare wide-eyed at the horror before him.
“Oh dear god, kill me now.”
“You know, I think I should be a lot more upset about this than I am,” Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins said as she sat at a table in the ballroom set aside for security officers, bodyguards, and the like. She lifted a tall glass of Risan Rum Punch (syntheholic, of course) to her lips and looked over at Mookow sitting across from her.
“I am QUITE upset,” the Klingon bodyguard said, scowling. “My client may be in danger.”
“If he is, so is everyone else. But no one in here looks worried to me. Just relax and enjoy the break.”
“That may be easy for you. If your captain is killed, your career will continue. If Byan Sel dies, though, my business dies with him.”
“Ooooh. I guess that could be a problem,” Hawkins said. “Do you like doing private security?”
“My work is…” Mookow grinned as he remembered the crunch of bones beneath his fists on a recent protection job. “…satisfying.”
“So you haven’t thought about joining the Klingon military or anything?”
“Klingon warriors do not require bodyguards.”
“Good point. And it must be nice to be your own boss. Take the jobs you want. Skip the others. Travel without the hassle of taking an entire starship along.”
Mookow nodded. “As I said, my work is satisfying. Last year alone, I served fourteen clients for varying periods of time, visited eight worlds including Earth and Risa, and killed or maimed twenty-three potential threats.”
“Woah. It’s been almost a year since I so much as fired a hand phaser in real combat,” Hawkins replied. “Don’t get me wrong. It was good combat, but I don’t get to do it enough.”
“Perhaps you should request a transfer to a ship that sees more action,” the Klingon bodyguard suggested.
“It’s not that easy. As a member of the Secondprize crew, I’ve been kind of marked. Other captains don’t want to have us around. At best, I could get on the Explorer or over to Waystation, but they both already have security chiefs.”
“You could pursue other options.”
“And what would those be?”
“Private security,” Mookow replied, leaving Hawkins unsure if it was a job offer or merely a suggestion.
The far side of Ugilious definitely qualified as rural…and it wasn’t even a scenic rural. The best Earth analogy Sullivan could come up with to the marshy landscape before her was some of the coastal areas of Louisiana. She wasn’t sure what the temperature was outside, but it just looked hot…hot and humid. The drooping trees almost seemed to be steaming as they sat in brownish-green swamp water covering their bases.
Every so often, the shuttle would fly near a dwelling or cluster of dwellings, some built out of nicer prefab materials, but most constructed out of wood and mud from the swamps around them.
Once again, Sullivan thought of Louisiana. Her parents had taken her there as a child during one of their annual visits to Earth. Even though the Sullivans raised their daughter off-planet, they wanted her to at least have some familiarity with the homeworld of her species. Every year, they chose a different region of planet to visit on a whirlwind cultural tour. All Sullivan could remember about Louisiana was the heat and humidity. It wasn’t a place she exactly wanted to run back to.
But given the choice of August in the Louisiana bayou or this visit to Ugilious, she would have gladly taken the bayou. Commander Dillon, for his part, just stared out the viewport with a look somewhere between boredom and disgust.
“I can’t believe people live like this,” he said finally.
“They’ve chosen a lifestyle that makes them happy,” Counselor Webber, who’d finally woken up and crawled off of the sofa, said from the chair behind Sullivan.
“Mucky squalor makes them happy? I know the Federation is real big on supporting the diversity of the universe, but come on!”
“Be nice, Commander. These people are most likely the same sort who are going to be at the Rydell Day festivities.”
“Fine, but I’m taking the porta-sterilizer with me, just in case. I’m not shaking the hand of anybody who hasn’t been sterilized first.”
As much as she hated to admit it, Sullivan kind of agreed with Dillon on this one. She steered the shuttle over the course of a large river, following it toward Bowelophon. “ETA three minutes,” she reported.
“Grooming check,” Dillon said, standing up and straightening his dress uniform just before he whipped an auto-comb out of his pocket to run through his hair. Faaus pulled at the neck of his uniform uncomfortably, knocking off his pip in the process, which he had to chase to the rear of the shuttle. Dillon turned a disapproving glare at Webber.
“I’m not replicating a new one,” Webber said, wrapping her arms protectively around the tie-dyed uniform she wore. “The Joegonots should learn about our diversity, just as we’re learning about theirs.”
Dillon snorted, then focused his gaze on Faaus, who was currently laying on the shuttledeck trying to get his pip out from under the rear bench. “Speaking of, do you have any cultural insights for us, Ensign?”
“Wha…OW!” Faaus tried to stand up, but managed to slam his ridged head against the bottom of the bench. He scrambled to his feet, trying to re-affix his pip as he shook off the effects of the blow to the head. “Well…these Joegonots are rural, so they may be slightly wary of outsiders.”
“But they invited us,” Sullivan said.
Faaus winced. “Right. They did. Okay. They also don’t seem to use a great deal of technology here. We may be seeing a situation where the urban Joegonots are the technological haves and these are the have-nots. Or it may simply be that they choose not to use a lot of technology. In either case, since we use a lot of technology, they may distrust us.”
“But we’re going there to be honored,” Dillon said.
“I drew the short straw! I’m sorry!” Faaus snapped suddenly, his voice quivering.
“There there now,” Webber said, grabbing Faaus and slamming his face into her shoulder as she wrapped her arms around him. “You did just fine, Ensign.”
“Ank-oo,” Faaus mumbled from Webber’s shoulder.
The shuttlecraft passed over another clump of trees, which then gave way to open land. In the distance, a community of nicely-maintained, pre-fab buildings stood with smaller dwellings on the outskirts leading up to a downtown area of ten or so buildings rising up five to eight stories in the air. At most, the city’s population couldn’t be more than five hundred people. And from the looks of it, all of them were currently gathered in a park-area at the center of town. In the midst of the crowd, a wooden stage had been constructed, and a bare patch sat nearby with the words “LAND HERE” spelled out in Earth Standard with red paint on the green grass.
As the shuttle came into view over the roofs of the buildings of downtown Bowelophon, a huge cheer erupted from the gathered crowd of Joegonots. They raised signs and banners into the air, most written in Joegonotese, but the few in Standard read “Rydell, we love you!”, “Secondprize Forever!”, and “Your Ad Here.”
“They do know the Captain’s not coming, don’t they?” Sullivan asked uncomfortably.
“Yes,” Dillon said firmly. “I think. But it doesn’t matter. You and I were both part of the away team to Ugilious that liberated the Transference Ray. We’re heroes, too.”
“We liberated it? Is that the story now?” Sullivan said.
“It was constructed by a human being held against his will. That makes it ours, so we liberated it,” Dillon said. “Don’t worry. If you want, I’ll do all the talking.”
“You mean you weren’t planning on it anyway?”
“I could do without the sarcasm, Sullivan.”
“I like it,” Webber said, still clutching Faaus, who was now beginning to flail his arms about as he struggled for breath, to her shoulder.
“I didn’t ask you,” Dillon snapped. “And let that boy go before he suffocates!”
Webber abruptly released her grip on Faaus. “Are you feeling better now, Ensign?” she asked sweetly.
“Much,” Faaus gasped just before he collapsed to the deck.
Back in space on the other side of Ugilious, Commander Jaroch sat in the command chair of the Secondprize reading over the proceedings from the most recent Federation Science Symposium. Jaroch had decided to skip the symposium for past two years, which was understandable considering his last visit to that particular conference had almost resulted in the destruction of the current timeline.
But with the Secondprize basically parked among several other transports and runabouts over Gastrulge and Rydell and Dillon away from the ship, Jaroch was saddled with the fairly dull job of command.
“Lieutenant Commander Sullivan reports that the Doorprize II has landed safely in Bowelophon,” Lieutenant Robert Prescott stated from tactical.
“Mmm hmmm,” Jaroch muttered distractedly as he perused the latest singularity research coming out of the Romulan Empire. While the Romulan scientists would not ever come out and say so, it was obvious to Jaroch that they were nearing the maximum capabilities of their quantum singularity drives. Of course, Starfleet was running into similar barriers with warp drive, not that their scientists would ever admit to it.
The turbolift doors opened and closed, an event that was of no interest to Jaroch. At least it wasn’t until a voice pulled him away from his padd.
“I’d like to report for duty, sir,” Lieutenant Carr’s voice said from in front of him. Jaroch peered up at Carr, who was still looking a bit rough after going way too many rounds with Counselor Webber.
“Please do not misconstrue any malicious intent from my next comment, Lieutenant, but you look awful. If Doctor Aldridge released you from Sickbay, I imagine it was with explicit instructions to return to your quarters and go to bed.”
“I’m a little sore, but otherwise I’m fine. I just feel like I need to be up here right now,” Carr replied. “And I think Morgaine le Fur is in heat. She keeps watching holovids of other dogs and shouting really vulgar things at the images.”
“Hmmm…that would explain why she kept eyeing my leg during our training session this morning,” Jaroch said. “Very well. If you wish to sit at the helm, I will not object. In fact, you may get more rest up here than in your quarters.”
“That’s fine with me,” Carr said, relieving Lieutenant Krieger at the helm and sliding gingerly into the seat. She let out a soft sigh.
“Would you like me to find you a foot rest?” Jaroch asked amused.
“Ooooh. That and a back rub would be fantastic.”
“I was kidding, Lieutenant.”
“No offense, sir, but don’t taunt me like that. It’s mean.”
“Noted,” Jaroch said, turning his attention back to his padd.
“Now why would I want to go into the private security business?” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins asked, leaning a little closer to Mookow. “Maybe I’m happy right where I am.”
“If you were truly happy, would you be using words like ‘maybe’?” the Klingon replied, his dark eyes locked unwaveringly on hers.
“No comment,” Hawkins said quickly.
“You would find that my world suits you,” Mookow continued. “You have too much of the warrior within you to be satisfied opening comm channels and standing around waiting for your services to be needed, which, from what you’ve said, is not that often.”
“But my life is on the Secondprize. I’ve been with those people for the last seven years.”
“Your loyalty is admirable, but perhaps misplaced. Does the simple fact that you’ve spent years with your colleagues mean that you can no longer pursue what you want out of life? One day my spirit will reside in Sto’Vo’Kor, but until that day I intend to live out my existence to the fullest. Anything less would be a dishonor to the gift of life bestowed upon me by my mother and father.”
“You know, you’re pretty poetic for a Klingon.”
“I minored in literature. I felt it was a good complement to my degree in Killing and Maiming,” Mookow replied with a glint in his eye.
“I can see that,” Hawkins laughed.
Mookow leaned in a bit closer to Hawkins, so that the pair was little more than a foot apart. “I am quite serious about your abilities, though, Patricia Hawkins. I hope to expand my business, and you would be the ideal person to assist me.”
“I’m flattered, really,” Hawkins said. “But the Secondprize is more than my job. It’s my home. There are people here that I care about.” Even if occasionally some of them get on my nerves, she said to herself, thinking of Dillon.
“It is, of course, your decision,” Mookow said, straightening up in his seat. “But my offer stands.”
“So does my answer.” The two sat silently for several seconds as the party continued all around them. “All right! Enough of this seriousness. Do you want to dance? And don’t give me any ‘Klingons don’t dance’ crap.”
“Actually, I am an excellent dancer,” Mookow said, rising from his chair and extending his hand to Hawkins. “Shall we?”
“I asked you first,” Hawkins replied, taking Mookow’s hand and leading him out onto the dance floor.
About five minutes into the Gastrulge Modern Dance Troupe’s interpretive rendition of the Secondprize’s first visit to Ugilious, Captain Rydell’s eyes threatened to retreat so far back into his skull that he’d need a tractor beam to get them back out unless he found something else to look at. With few choices presenting themselves, Rydell opened the ceremony for the program and scanned down the list of events.
“Byan Sel!” he whispered harshly at Admiral Wagner. “Who’s letting him speak?”
“He petitioned the Joegonots for an opportunity to address them before the Grand Leech signs the membership documents,” Wagner replied.
“You do know he’s going to try to talk them out of it.”
“No big surprise there. I don’t think he’s going to get very far, though. Sel may have some supporters around the Federation, but the Joegonots themselves definitely aren’t among them.”
“That’s a relief…I think,” Rydell replied. Although, to be honest, Rydell wasn’t so sure that he liked the idea of the Joegonots as Federation members. Reformed or not, they still gave him the creeps.
He looked back down at the program focusing in on the event listed right below Sel’s speech.
KEYNOTE ADDRESS - CAPTAIN ALEXANDER RYDELL, USS SECONDPRIZE
“Woah!” he said, shoving the program over to Wagner. “What’s this all about?”
“You are the guest of honor,” Admiral Wagner said with a shrug.
“Yeah, but nobody said anything to me about making a speech! I don’t have anything prepared!”
“Just wing it. Isn’t that what you normally do?”
“Is that a crack about my command style?” Rydell demanded.
All of a sudden, Admiral Wagner seemed to be finding the dancing to be completely absorbing. Of course, the fact that the dancer pretending to be Jaroch was currently aiming a mock-transference ray at a gaggle of pirouetting Joegonots may have had something to do with it. The mock-Jaroch fired the weapon, sending a stream of lard splattering into the group of Joegonots.
“This just gets better and better,” Rydell muttered.
The dull roar of the crowd outside the Doorprize II turned into a deafening howl as the shuttle’s ramp lowered allowing the Secondprize officers to exit the hatch.
“Everybody wave and smile,” Dillon shouted, plastering on his attempt at a charismatic grin and stepping down the ramp. He actually looked more like he was getting ready to have a dental exam.
Counselor Webber, meanwhile, had obviously gotten over her aversion to Joegonots. She practically ran down the ramp, waving wildly with both hands as Sullivan and Faaus brought up the rear. At the bottom of the ramp, a smiling, well-fed (to put it tactfully) woman, dressed in what Dillon assumed passed for a suit in these parts, waited with a group of other somewhat nicely dressed men and women.
“Welcome, Honored Guests,” the plump woman said with a bow as her voice was broadcast over several speakers mounted around the Bowelophon town square. “I am Mayor Splem. We’re delighted you could join us today.”
Dillon extended his hand to shake with the mayor, but was suddenly shoved aside by Webber, who grabbed the Mayor in a big hug and swung the shocked Joegonot woman around a few times before finally setting her back down.
“I’m happy to be here! I’m actually happy to be here!” Webber exclaimed, jumping up and down excitedly. She ran up onto the wooden stage and waved at the crowd. “HI, BOWELOPHON!”
The crowd went positively bonkers, cheering, screaming and shouting at Webber. This just made Webber more giddy. She skipped over to a microphone mounted a few feet away from her. “How is everybody today?”
“Fantastic. I’m Counselor Claire Webber from the USS Secondprize.”
Upon hearing “Secondprize,” the crowd again went nuts, jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs.
“Captain Rydell…” Even more screams. Webber was pretty sure she saw a few people swoon upon hearing the Captain’s name. “…couldn’t be here today, but…”
Commander Dillon was suddenly beside her. “I’ll take it from here, Counselor.”
“Awwwww,” the crowd cried as Webber relinquished the microphone.
“My name is Commander Travis Michael Dillon. I was a member of Captain Rydell’s…”
Screams, shouts, fainting.
“Please hold your outbursts until the end. I’m trying to speak here. Now as I was say, I accompanied Captain Rydell…”
Screams, shouts, fainting.
“Stop that! I’m never going to finish this if you all go nuts every time I mention Captain Rydell.”
Screams, shouts, fainting.
“Now you’re just being annoying. Captain Rydell…”
Screams, shouts, fainting.
“I don’t think you’re getting through to them, sir,” Ensign Faaus said.
“How many years of training did it take you to come up with that brilliant analysis?” Dillon snapped.
“PUT WEBBER BACK ON!” the crowd shouted suddenly.
“Fine!” Dillon retorted. “But you’ll never hear about how Captain Rydell…”
Screams, shouts, fainting.
“Oh, forget it!” Dillon stomped to the rear of the stage, where the Mayor and her subordinates had gathered in a group of rusty folding chairs. Dillon forcefully grabbed the Mayor’s hand and shook it. “Commander Travis Michael Dillon. USS Secondprize. It’s an honor,” he grumbled, then tossed himself into an empty chair, promptly ripping his uniform on a bent bit of metal poking up on the seat. “Ow!” he cried, jumping up again and pressing his hand to the bleeding cut on his rear end. “Tetanus! Tetanus!”
“Just relax,” Sullivan said, walking over. Webber, meanwhile, had the crowd doing the wave. “We’ll take care of it on the shuttle when the ceremony is over.”
“Speaking of,” Dillon said, turning on the Mayor. “Shouldn’t you be running these proceedings?”
“Shouldn’t you be controlling your officer?” the Mayor shot back, the warm smile never leaving her face.
“Webber!” Dillon said, marching back over to the microphone. “Get away from that thing, or we’re all getting back on that shuttle right now!”
“NOOOOOO!!!” the crowd screamed, suddenly surging forward toward the stage, arms outstretched, reaching for the Secondprize officers.
“I think you upset them,” Webber observed as the masses scrambled up onto the wooden platform.
“That would seem to be the case,” Ensign Faaus added as he huddled behind Webber for protection.
Dillon looked over the situation for a split-second, pondering his options. In short order, he reached a decision.
The Secondprize’s First Officer leapt over a Joegonot who had just sprawled in Dillon’s path, then high-tailed it toward the waiting Doorprize II. Webber and Faaus were quickly overwhelmed by a mass of bodies. Seeing this happen, Sullivan decided that maybe, for once in his life, Dillon had the right idea. She took off after Dillon just as Webber suddenly kicked up into the air, tossing five Joegonots off of her and Faaus, and threw the frightened Ensign on top of the clamoring crowd. Sullivan had found out just a couple of days earlier that Webber played rugby. Obviously, the experience came in handy in situations like this. But since she didn’t have any such experience, Sullivan continued her pursuit of Dillon. She jumped off of the stage, now mere feet behind the fleeing First Officer as they ran through a gauntlet of Joegonots trying to get a hold on them.
“HEY!” Sullivan shouted, backhanding an elderly man who had just gotten way too friendly with her left breast. Two more Joegonots stepped in front of her, but, before she could stop, she was suddenly lifted off of the ground by a charging Counselor Webber. Sullivan found herself feeling a bit like an oversized teddy bear as Webber tucked her under her left arm. Faaus, meanwhile, was tucked under Webber’s right arm and looking around fearfully as his nostrils flared madly.
Dillon, who’d somehow managed to lose his boots, was up on the shuttle ramp, trying to free his leg from the grip of a particularly tenacious Joegonot child. The problem quickly vanished as Webber slammed into Dillon, sending him flying into the shuttle while the child ended up with an authentic ripped Starfleet trouser leg.
Webber dropped Sullivan and Faaus abruptly. “We should probably take off now. The crowd’s emotional state is a little unstable at the moment, and I’m afraid some of them could get hurt.”
“Some of them?” Dillon snapped, pacing around the shuttle in his socks with one leg bare. “What about US?”
“I lost my commbadge, and I feel violated,” Faaus said.
“Yeah, I lost mine, too, but we’re all okay,” Sullivan said, heading to the front of the shuttle. Outside, the Joegonots were beginning to pound on the hull as a chant of “COME OUT!” rang through the air.
“They just wanted some souvenirs of our visit,” Webber said. “It’s common behavior.”
“They were going to rip us limb from limb,” Dillon retorted. “And I sure as hell don’t consider my body parts to be souvenirs!”
“And I don’t want them dismantling the shuttle either,” Sullivan said as she activated the engines, causing the craft to lift gently up into the air. “Hold tight, ya’ll. We’ve got a few stubborn ones out there.” She suddenly rocked the shuttle, causing it to tip from side to side, which sent several Joegonots sliding off the ship back down into the crowd.
“We’re clear,” Sullivan announced, steering the shuttle back out over the river and quickly putting some distance between them and the city.
“I hope we didn’t hurt their feelings by running off like that,” Counselor Webber said as she sat down in the co-pilot’s seat while Commander Dillon tried to convince the shuttle’s replicator to give him a new pair of pants.
“You didn’t seem too worried about it when you were barreling through them and tossing Faaus and I around like stuffed dolls,” Sullivan said.
“It was just a heat of the moment kind of thing,” Webber replied, sounding almost embarrassed.
“I don’t care what it was; it worked. And you’re teaching me rugby when we get back to the ship. I want to be able to do stuff like that.”
Webber smiled and patted Sullivan on the shoulder. “That’s nice, Emily, but you’d get really hurt.”
“You don’t think I can do it?” Sullivan said.
“Very badly hurt,” Webber said.
“We’ll just see about that,” Sullivan replied firmly as the shuttle moved out of the marshlands and into the swampy regions, still following the river as they went. “As soon as we get back to the Secondprize, you and I…”
“What was that?” Dillon demanded, racing to the front of the shuttle as the sound subsided. “Did you hit something, Sullivan?”
“Something hit us,” Sullivan replied as she checked the readouts on her console. “A metallic object has attached itself to the hull.”
“What sort of object?”
“I don’t know. I’m reading an energy signature, but I can’t tell…”
WOMP WOMP WOMP WOMP
The shuttle went into sudden convulsions, taking nose-dives, then abruptly righting itself, as power throughout the craft started to flicker in tune to waves of energy pulsating through the ship.
“It’s some kind of distortion wave,” Sullivan reported as her screen blipped in and out. “Systems are trying to compensate.”
Suddenly, everything shut down and stayed down.
“Guess it didn’t work,” Sullivan said.
With all engine power gone, the shuttle dropped from the sky, plunging into the river with a massive splash.
As one song led to the next to the next, Lieutenant Commander Hawkins wondered if maybe dancing with Mookow was a big mistake. Not that the Klingon couldn’t dance. He could. Spectacularly. He moved Hawkins across the floor with a grace Hawkins wouldn’t have thought possible from his hulking frame.
But that was part of the problem. Mookow was almost too spectacular. He had the heart of a true Klingon warrior, yet he was very well-spoken and engaging as he and Hawkins danced and talked about their various experiences across the quadrant.
For the briefest moment while looking up into his face and watching him speak, Hawkins completely forgot that the Secondprize and Travis Dillon existed. And more and more, Hawkins found herself envying the life Mookow led.
Every bit of her consciousness was flashing red alert. Get away from this man. He’s dangerous to everything you’ve built for yourself.
But Hawkins kept on dancing.
After the oh-so-dramatic rendition of the Secondprize’s first visit to Ugilious was presented by the Gastrulge Modern Dance Troupe, Captain Rydell really didn’t feel the need to go through another recap, but he had to admit that the version given by the Grand Leech’s Royal Historian made Rydell and the Secondprize crew look pretty damn impressive.
Actually, Rydell would have been quite content for the Historian to continue on and on, mainly because Byan Sel was next up on the agenda, and Rydell was the next speaker after that. Unfortunately, Rydell was still clueless as to what he was going to say.
Inevitably, the Royal Historian finished his presentation and, after a bow to the crowd, then to Rydell, left the dais. The Grand Leech, who was also acting as emcee for the day’s proceedings, swiftly took his place at the podium to introduce Representative Sel.
“And now, Fellow Joegonots and Honored Guests, in the interest of equal time, our program moves on to a viewpoint that stands in opposition to that of myself and the people of Ugilious.” A loud “BOO!” rose up from the Joegonots in the crowd, which the Grand Leech quickly hushed with a raise of his hands. “Now now. We don’t have to agree with him, but he will be allowed to speak. So, without further ado, I give you the Federation Representative from the planet Betazed, Byan Sel!”
The Grand Leech and other Federation representatives present applauded politely as Sel took the stage. The other Joegonots were not nearly as kind.
“We like being human!”
Sel calmly waited for this to subside, stealing a superior glance at Rydell as if to say, “See what you caused.” Finally, the room was quiet enough for Sel to begin.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am well aware that the message I bring to you is not a popular one, but since when has right been judged by popular sentiment?” He pointed at Rydell. “This man has committed an act against the Joegonot people tantamount to genocide.”
Rydell winced. So much for this being a friendly debate. But considering what Sel had just said about him, Rydell wasn’t exactly upset to see the Betazoid have to duck quickly to avoid a large, greasy meatball flying at his head.
“Hear me out!” Sel said, trying to forestall an all-out onslaught of items from the buffet.
He failed miserably. Sel was suddenly hit from all sides by meatballs, pastries, and other bits of food as Rydell, Admiral Wagner, and the Grand Leech dove under the head tables for cover.
“Nose plugs?” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan offered.
“Please,” Commander Dillon said, taking the small objects out of Sullivan’s hand and shoving one up each nostril as he and the other Secondprize officers stood on top of the Doorprize II, which was currently floating along the Big Stinky River (Counselor Webber had dubbed it such as soon as they’d opened the roof hatch after bobbing to the surface following the shuttle crash).
“Now I REALLY can’t believe people live out here,” Dillon said. “The smell! I’ve never been near anything like it.” He turned on Ensign Faaus, who was having a hard time finding plugs to fit his large nostrils. “So what does this say about the Joegonot culture?” Dillon demanded.
“Maybe they like the smell. Just because we find it gross doesn’t mean that they do,” Faaus offered.
“Sorry, Ensign, but no way,” Sullivan said. “Foul is foul, and THIS is foul.”
“At least the Secondprize will be picking us up soon, right?” Faaus said, looking to Counselor Webber hopefully. Webber shook her head.
“They’d have to know that we crashed, which they don’t,” Sullivan said. “They’re on the other side of the planet from us, the shuttle’s comm system is down along with everything else on board, and that mob back in Bowelophon took all of our commbadges as souvenirs.”
“But aren’t we floating back toward the city?” Faaus asked.
“And that’s supposed to be a good thing?” Dillon said. “They just about killed us the last time!”
“We’re doomed!” Faaus cried suddenly.
Webber had her arms around him in a second. “It’s okay, Ensign. Just let it out.”
“Please, Counselor!” Faaus sobbed. “Squnch me to death!”
“Not yet,” Dillon said. “We may need to eat him later on to keep the higher ranking officers alive.”
“Eat me?” Faaus cried as Sullivan and Webber turned evil glares on Dillon.
“What? It was a joke!” Dillon said defensively.
“Ha ha,” Sullivan said flatly, sitting down on the shuttle deck with a hand phaser. The pulse that hit the shuttle had taken out the phasers and tricorders as well, but Sullivan hoped that she’d picked up enough from being married to an engineer for a while to jury-rig one of the phasers back to working order.
Before she could even get the phaser housing open, she heard Dillon mutter a low “Oh no.”
“What is it?” she asked.
Dillon pointed off toward the rear of the shuttle, which was actually the front at the moment, considering that the craft was floating down the river backwards. “We’ve got company.”
A small wooden canoe (If Sullivan remembered enough from her childhood trip to recall the term, she would have called it a pirogue) being rowed by two grizzled Joegonots was approaching.
Dillon rose up to his full height and tried to look commanding, which was not easy considering that one of his legs was currently bare to the world.
“You folks look like you be havin’ a right bit o’ trouble there, eh?” the Joegonot at the front of the canoe said as it pulled up alongside the shuttle.
“We’re performing a scientific survey,” Dillon replied firmly. “We appreciate your concern, but all is well in hand. Move along.”
“You’ve got a right purty leg,” the Joegonot in the rear of the canoe, a large fellow whose fat rolls were currently hanging over either side of the small wooden boat, said with a toothy grin…at least it would have been toothy if he’d had more than five teeth to show.
Dillon shuddered. “I’ll be inside,” he said, quickly retreating back through the roof hatch into the Doorprize II.
“Um…excuse me,” Ensign Faaus said, extricating himself from Counselor Webber’s grip and looking over the side of the shuttle down at the canoe. “You’re locals, right? Could you tell me a bit about your life here, so I won’t get in trouble when we get back to our ship?” He turned to Sullivan. “And we WILL get back to the ship!” he said firmly.
“Well, lookie what we have here,” the lead Joegonot said with a laugh. “That there boy all gold and leathery. I could make myself a right nice pair o’ boots out of that there hide. Maybe one for you, too, Blecques.”
“Yipe!” Faaus cried, racing back to the hatch to follow Dillon to safety.
“I guess that just leaves us and you lovely ladies,” the lead Joegonot said to Sullivan and Webber.
“You sure got a purty uniform,” the other Joegonot said to Webber.
“That’s sweet of you to say, but I’m not coming anywhere near you. Sorry,” Webber replied.
“There’s no need to be nasty, little lady,” the lead Joegonot said. “You’ll find that Blecques and I can be right nice.”
“And you know what?” Sullivan said, standing up and aiming her phaser down at the canoe. “My phaser here is right nice, too, and I imagine it could put a right big hole right in the bottom of your right rickety canoe, so you fellas might want to get your right rank asses out of here.”
Sure the phaser didn’t work, but the Joegonots didn’t know that. And the stern look on Sullivan’s face was more than enough to convince them to resume their rowing to get away from the crazy human with the weapon.
“You just have to know how to talk to people,” Sullivan said with a smile as she sat back down to get to work.
Commander Dillon poked his head up out of the hatch a few minutes later. “Are they gone?”
“No. They’re standing right behind you,” Sullivan replied.
“Ahhh!” Dillon spun around quickly, lost his balance on the ladder up to the hatch, and fell back into the shuttle. He climbed up onto the roof a few moments later. “Not funny, Sullivan.”
“No less so than you saying we’re going to eat Faaus.”
“I don’t want to be eaten,” Faaus whined, climbing up onto the roof behind Dillon.
“No one’s going to eat you,” Sullivan said firmly.
“Um…I don’t think we’re going to make it back to Bowelophon,” Counselor Webber said suddenly.
“Why not?” Dillon demanded.
“Because we’re drifting to shore,” Webber said, pointing at the rapidly approaching riverbank.
“Into the shuttle!” Sullivan said, racing toward the hatch. Webber and Faaus didn’t waste anytime following her lead, leaving Dillon waiting for his turn down the ladder when the shuttle ran aground, shuddering to a halt and tossing Dillon off of the ship. Dillon slammed into the surprisingly firm riverbank and lay there as the other Secondprize crewmembers climbed back up and lowered themselves gently to the ground.
“Do you need a hug, Commander?” Webber offered.
“No,” Dillon gasped weakly.
“What are we going to do now?” Faaus cried. “We’re nowhere near anyone!”
Almost on cue, the group heard rustling coming their way through the dense foliage of the swamp.
“Who the hell is that?” Dillon said, climbing to his feet and futilely peering off into the thick underbrush. It was as dark as night in there.
“It’s about time you all landed somewhere. We’ve been chasing you forever since we shot down your ship,” a voice called from the swamp. Several armed figures began to emerge onto the river bank.
The reaction of the Secondprize officers upon recognizing the figures was unanimous.
“Ohhhh! That’s WONDERFUL! A little to the left now.” Lieutenant Carr let out a soft sigh and practically began to purr as Ensign Bill Woodville stood behind her chair, rubbing her shoulders.
For his part, Woodville was wondering how he’d gotten talked into this duty. He’d been sitting at the Ops console, minding his own business, then the next thing he knew he was volunteering to help Carr with her stiff neck. At least she seemed to be appreciating his talents.
“Commander Jaroch,” Lieutenant Prescott said from tactical, breaking the relaxing silence that had fallen over the bridge. Jaroch, who’d spent the last ten minutes staring at the same sentence, tried to pull himself back to alertness. This would be the last time he let Carr talk him into reducing the bridge lighting to candlelight mode and pumping incense in through the environmental system. Between that and the soft Celtic music filtering through the speakers, the bridge environment had reached a coma-inducing level of mellowness.
“Report,” Jaroch said, straightening up in his seat.
“The sensors are detecting a massive spatial disturbance ahead. I can’t…NEUTRINO SURGE!” Prescott shouted suddenly, startling Woodville, who reflexively clamped down on Carr’s shoulder.
“OW!” Carr cried, turning on Woodville accusingly. “Now I’m all tense!”
“Sorry,” Woodville said, scrambling back to his console as Prescott changed the image on the viewscreen to a rippling area of open space near Ugilious.
Gradually the rippling began to resolve itself into a ship.
A really BIG ship.
Rather than following Byan Sel, Captain Rydell’s speech came after an emergency visit from the Grand Leech’s janitorial staff. While they cleaned up the aftermath of the food barrage lobbed at Sel, who was currently sulking at a table on the far side of the Great Hall, Rydell frantically tried to figure out what he was going to say in his speech.
By the time the janitors finished, Rydell was still stumped. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the Grand Leech from diving into an incredibly overblown introduction of Rydell, relating once again how Rydell and the Secondprize crew had “saved” the Joegonots from themselves. Sel managed to let out another derisive snort, but quickly had a large dinner roll jammed into his mouth by a passing Joegonot waiter.
The Grand Leech babbled on for a while, but with him gesturing wildly and his voice booming through the room, it was impossible for Rydell to concentrate. All too soon, the Grand Leech was wrapping up his introduction.
“…so at long last, I give to you the Hero of Ugilious, one of Starfleet’s finest and a close, personal friend of mine, Captain Alexander Rydell!”
The room erupted in loud cheers from the Joegonots as the Starfleet and Federation Representatives present, some of whom were still trying to stifle their laughter at hearing Rydell described at one of “Starfleet’s finest,” applauded politely.
Rydell slowly stood up and stepped over to the podium, saying a silent prayer that something, anything would happen. It couldn’t be any worse than making this speech.
Suddenly, transporter beams cascaded down in several positions around the Great Hall, quickly resolving themselves into all-too-familiar forms.
The massive rolls of cellulite.
The unsettling stares.
The pus-filled acne covering their faces.
The sudden smell of cheese filling the air.
They were Joegonots. Old-style, pre-Transference Ray, scary as hell Joegonots, all of whom where aiming rather large rifles at the crowd.
Okay. Rydell was wrong. This was definitely worse than making the speech.
To Be Continued…