Do I really need to say that CBS, Paramount, and Viacom own Star Trek at this point? Does anyone care that Alan Decker owns Star Traks?

Author: Alan Decker
Copyright: 2004

The Star Traks Reunion Special

By Alan Decker



PROLOGUE


“I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes, you can. Everything will be fine, Travis. Trust me.”

“But how are they going to react, Alex? Why would they even want to see me?

“Commander Travis Michael Dillon was and always will be a part of this crew. You have to be there. It won’t be right if you’re not.”

“But I’m not that man.”

“Then come introduce yourself to a room full of friends you didn’t know you had.”

“Well…”

“You’re going to come, right?” Alex insisted.

On the monitor, Travis Dillon smiled slightly. “Who am I to argue with the Captain of the Secondprize?”

“Why do I think there’s a joke there that I’m missing?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“So I’ll see you here next week.”

“Yeah yeah. I’ll be there.”

“You’d better, or I’m calling out the fleet to find you.”

“GOODBYE, Alex.”

“All right. See ya, Travis. Rydell out.”




REUNION


One of the benefits to owning your own resort world was the ability to instantly host a party. It was a benefit Alexander Rydell had not taken advantage of as often as he probably should have. Rydell family reunions tended to be held at his parents’ resort on Bransonis, and the day-to-day business of running The Suburb generally kept Rydell too occupied to consider planning something like this.

Looking around The Suburb’s ballroom at this moment, though, Rydell knew he’d been an idiot not to do it sooner.

His crew had come, and it wasn’t until now that he realized how much he had missed them. It had been sixteen years since he resigned from Starfleet and just about eight since he last saw most of these people during the Forever incident when Starfleet briefly dragged him back into service. In short, it was ages since he was in command of anyone in this room, yet he still felt so close to them all. Spending that many years on the same starship created bonds that didn’t break easily. He’d needed to move on with his life, though. That’s why he retired with his wife, Karina, to The Suburb. The rest of his crew had needed to move on as well. The last thing he wanted was for any sense of misguided loyalty to him to cause any of them to miss out on career opportunities.

From the looks of things, it hadn’t.

Jaroch was standing by the bar (enjoying something non-alcoholic no doubt, if his past experiences with alcohol were any indication). He was captain of the Secondprize now. Actually, he’d been captain longer than Rydell was. Somehow Rydell would always think of the Secondprize as his ship, but it really wasn’t. Not anymore. He was just some old guy who used to run the place. Jaroch had center seat now, and it suited him.

Standing with Jaroch was Patricia Hawkins. Or was it Patricia Jaroch now? How does that work when the groom only has one name? Knowing Patricia, she probably kept the Hawkins name anyway. Even though Hawkins had spent a good deal of Rydell’s tenure on the Secondprize dating the ship’s First Officer, Travis Dillon, Rydell always had a hunch she and Jaroch would figure things out. The looks between them were just too obvious. The couple looked very happy together. Rydell would just hate to be around if they got into an argument and J’Ter showed himself. Between her normal temper and his warrior prince past life, that would get really ugly really fast.

Jaroch and Hawkins were talking with the other couple to emerge from the years spent on the Secondprize, Scott Baird and Emily Sullivan. Baird left the Secondprize shortly after Rydell did to take over as the Supervising Refit and Repair Officer of the Deneria Dry Dock, a position he still held, even though it looked like the pressures of the job were turning Baird’s black hair gray. Either that or the man just grayed earlier. Kind of scary considering he was only in his mid 50s. In order to get the job at Deneria, Baird had been forced to have a profanity filter installed. The filter had been deactivated during the Forever incident (rather forcibly), but Rydell had to wonder if the Deneria higher-ups had allowed him to remain unfettered once he returned to duty. Somehow Rydell doubted it.

Fairly early into Emily Sullivan’s assignment on the Secondprize, Rydell had made a log entry predicting she would be a captain one day, and sure enough, she had. As captain of the USS Inevitable, Sullivan had played a big role in resolving the Forever crisis. Even now, seeing her in civilian clothes, Rydell could sense the commanding officer about her. Maybe it was egotistical of him, but he liked to believe that he’d played some small part in shaping her into the officer she was today. At the very least, maybe he showed her a few things not to do; although, he had heard rumors that she had instituted his buffet-during-briefings practice on the Inevitable.

A short distance away, Rydell spied Andrea Carr. Once upon a time, she’d been one of the Secondprize’s shuttle pilots. After spending a few missions with her, Rydell had seen her potential and promoted her to Operations Officer, putting her on the bridge. Captain Jaroch had evidently agreed with Rydell’s assessment of her, since he had made her his First Officer as soon as Starfleet would allow it. The pair had been working together for over eight years now, and Rydell had every confidence that she too would get her own command before too much more time passed.

Carr was seated at the long dining table that had been set up for the group with Elizabeth Aldridge. He and Beth locked eyes for a moment and exchanged a smile. They’d actually tried dating for a while back on the Secondprize, but quickly discovered that their personalities made for better friends than lovers. There was no animosity in their split, though. If anything, Rydell felt it made him closer to his Chief Medical Officer. It also helped her bedside manner a bit.

Before coming to the Secondprize, Aldridge had been a pathologist. Shifting from working on the dead to caring for the living was something of an adjustment as she wasn’t used to her patients complaining…or saying anything at all really. She must have decided she liked the work, though, because, last Rydell heard, Aldridge had gone into private practice on Earth.

Also at the table were Monica Vaughn, once his Transporter Chief and sexual sparring partner (not that it ever had gotten to the point of actual sex, only banter) and now the Secondprize’s Chief Engineer; Lisa Beck, his former Communications Officer who left to command Waystation and now had achieved the rank of Admiral; and Claire Webber, once the Secondprize’s Counselor and now the host of a very successful children’s show on the Associated Worlds Network.

The face he didn’t see was Travis Dillon. Travis had chickened out, not that Rydell could truly blame him. Actually, blame was at the heart of the problem. Travis was sure that the Secondprize crewmembers would blame him for what had happened during the Forever incident. Rydell had hoped that instead Travis would come and join the group. Evidently, that wasn’t going to happen.

Pushing thoughts of Travis aside, Rydell approached the table, unable to stop the huge grin from spreading across his face. Seeing their former captain heading their way, Jaroch, Hawkins, Baird, and Sullivan took their seats.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Rydell said, standing at the head of the table. “And welcome to what I hope will be the first of many Secondprize reunions.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Baird said, raising his glass and taking a long swig.

“What won’t you drink to, dear?” Sullivan remarked, elbowing her husband playfully.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am that all of you could make it,” Rydell continued.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Beck said.

“Nor would I,” Jaroch said.

“That stands for all of us,” Hawkins said.

If possible, Rydell’s smile grew a bit more. “I’ve missed you guys. I’ve been looking forward to tonight.”

“Well, the gang’s all here,” Baird said.

“Almost,” Rydell said.

“No, I believe Scott is correct,” Jaroch said, pointing at the ballroom entrance.

Rydell turned to see Travis Dillon tentatively peering into the room. He decided to come after all. “Travis! Get your butt in here!” Rydell called, waving him into the room.

The final reunion guest did as he was told, making his way toward the table as his eyes shifted nervously from one person to the next to the next. Suddenly, Claire Webber leapt up from her seat, charged Dillon, and grabbed the cringing man in a massive bearhug.

“Everybody gets a squnch for old time’s sake,” Webber said.

“Thanks,” Dillon gasped.

After finally releasing him from the hug, Webber grabbed Dillon’s arm, led him to his seat, and pushed him lightly into his chair.

“Um…hi, everyone,” he said. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Rydell said. “We’re just happy you made it.”

“Indeed,” Jaroch said flatly.

“Since, as Scott said, the gang is all here, I’ll get back to my speech,” Rydell said.

Dillon raised his hand slightly. “Alex, can I say something before you get started again?”

“Uh…okay. Sure.”

Dillon stood up from his chair, rubbing his hands together uncomfortably. “Thanks. I just want to apologize to everyone about what happened with Forever. I wasn’t myself then. I’m sorry. Thank you.” He quickly sat back down.

Jaroch and Hawkins exchanged a quick glance. “Apology accepted, Travis,” Hawkins said smiling softly. “Besides, if you think about it, I’d say Jaroch did more damage to you over the years than you ever did to him. You don’t even have the market cornered on going crazy.”

“I beg your pardon,” Jaroch said, eyeing his wife.

“Come on, Jaroch. You went after him lots of times, and you were out of your mind on at least a few of those occasions.”

“Name one.”

“How about that time we ran into that other Yynsian ship?” Sullivan said.

“You do not have to help her,” Jaroch said.

Sullivan smiled. “Sure I do.”

“She’s right anyway,” Hawkins said. “Remember…”




“PICNIC”


“Captain’s Log. Stardate 49504.3. Our arrival at Copitana is going to have to be pushed back a bit, since some inconsiderate person decided he just HAD to activate an automated distress signal nearby. The Secondprize has altered course to investigate. Hopefully, we can wrap this up quickly seeing as how I have some pressing duties to attend to on Copitana.”


“A little faster, Sullivan,” Captain Alexander Rydell said, leaning forward eagerly in his command chair.

“Somebody’s in a hurry,” Ensign Emily Sullivan remarked from the helm as she pushed the Secondprize’s speed up a bit.

“Hey. Those swimsuits on Copitana aren’t going to judge themselves.”

In the chair next to Rydell, Commander Travis Dillon let out an exasperated sigh. “I can’t believe you accepted their invitation. Starfleet Captains have no business judging beauty pageants.”

“Think of it as public relations,” Rydell said grinning.

“And just how much of the public will you be having relations with?” Lieutenant Commander Jaroch asked from his post at the bridge science station.

“Touche’.”

“We have arrived at the coordinates,” Ensign Kristen Larkin, the Secondprize’s android navigator reported.

“So what’s the big emergency?” Rydell asked as the Secondprize’s tactical officer, Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins, shifted the viewscreen image to show a small space craft.

“It looks to be adrift,” Hawkins said.

“The vessel’s engines have been shut down; however, all systems are functional,” Jaroch added. “I am detecting three lifesigns. All Yynsian.”

“Friends of yours, Jaroch? Rydell asked.

“Unknown but HIGHLY unlikely.”

“You never know. It’s a small galaxy,” Rydell said, swivelling to face his communications officer, Lieutenant Lisa Beck. “Beck, see if anybody’s answering the comm over there.”

“Hailing…they’re responding,” Beck reported.

On the viewscreen, a wild-eyed Yynsian woman appeared. Her hair looked like it had just been through some kind of natural catastrophe, and the small ship’s bridge visible behind her didn’t seem to be in much better shape.

Rydell rose from his seat. “This is Captain Alexander Rydell of the Federation Starship Secondprize. Can we offer assistance?”

“LOST CONTROL! VOICES EVERYWHERE!” the woman screamed. “And it’s ‘may we offer assistance’…YOU STUPID FREAK!”

“Ooooooookay. Jaroch, you have any clue here?”

“The vessel is a private yacht of standard Yynsian design. No anomalous readings detected,” the science officer replied.

“I guess that’s a no. All right, Hawkins, send Miss Grammar and friends to sickbay. Dillon, you and Jaroch go take a closer look at that ship.”


As soon as they materialized on the small bridge of the Yynsian yacht, Dillon and Jaroch’s noses were assaulted by the smells of several different foods and drinks, most of which had been smeared across the various chairs and consoles around the room, mingling in an entirely unpleasant fashion.

“What a mess!” Dillon exclaimed in disgust. “This is why space travel should be left to professionals.”

Jaroch nodded. “Agreed. We should return you to Earth immediately.”

“If we didn’t have a job to do, Mister…”

“You would still be an idiot.”

“Just start scanning something!” Dillon snapped.

Jaroch pulled out his tricorder to do just that as Dillon looked around the bridge, picking up a small bottle of some sort.

“Maybe it was a wild party. They all got a little too drunk. End of story,” Dillon said.

“I sincerely doubt it,” Jaroch replied.

“Okay then, Lieutenant Commander,” Dillon said, putting the emphasis on Jaroch’s lesser rank. “What did happen here?”

“I do not know as yet. We may have to wait until the ship’s occupants regain something resembling coherence.”

“Pardon me if I don’t hold my breath.”


In the Secondprize’s sickbay at that moment, the three Yynsians in question were resting comfortably under the soothing effects of a nice, strong sedative while Doctor Rebecca Singer and Counselor Claire Webber watched them from nearby.

“All three of them were acting like raving lunatics when they beamed in,” Singer said, waving her arms around wildly. “I didn’t know what do to! They were all shouting and screaming, and I couldn’t make them stop and tell me what was wrong! I had to drug them. I didn’t want to, but I had to.” Singer sniffled, fighting back a tear. “Those poor poor people. What could have done this to them?”

“There there,” Webber said, clutching Singer close in a tight hug. “You just let me talk to them.”

Webber approached one of the biobeds, where Jurel was staring dazed at the sickbay ceiling, muttering softly to herself.

“Ma’am, my name is Claire Webber, ship’s counselor. You can just call me Claire. Can you tell me what happened?”

Jurel’s head turned to Webber, but her eyes refused to focus. “We were having a nice meal and then…too many lives…all at once…lost control. Speak in complete sentences, woman! Leave her alone! Make me!”

Webber quickly realized this was getting out of hand. She scooped up Jurel in the super bone crunching bear hug she only used in really extreme case and squeezed with such force that the Yynsian woman’s eyeballs almost burst from her skull.

“It’s going to be okay. Claire is here with all the squnches you need,” Webber said, refusing to let go.

“For me too?” Singer whimpered.

“Yes, for you too,” Webber replied soothingly.


Quickly growing bored as Jaroch continued his scans of the ship, Dillon decided to take a load off and try out the yacht’s command chair. Sure it wasn’t anywhere near as impressive as the command chair of a Federation starship, but he was willing to see how it felt…at least until he saw the pile of brownish green gunk that was already occupying it.

“Uggh. What is this stuff?” Dillon asked.

“Yynsian potato salad,” Jaroch replied after a quick glance.

“It smells awful.”

“That is what it is supposed to smell like.” He aimed his tricorder at a nearby console as something caught his attention. “Hmm…I am detecting faint traces of radiation.”

“Dangerous?” Dillon asked, his hand poised over his commbadge, ready to call for beam out.

“Not at these levels.”

Suddenly, something on the console started beeping.

“What is that?” Dillon demanded in a panic.

“The Secondprize is hailing us,” Jaroch said flatly, opening the channel.


Over on the Secondprize bridge, Captain Rydell paced back and forth anxiously as he waited for the away team to respond to his comm. He wasn’t particularly concerned about their safety. Nothing in the scans so far had indicated any real danger. What really concerned Rydell was the chronometer, which was continuously ticking. If the pageant organizers on Copitana went ahead and found another judge, he was going to be VERY upset.

Finally, Dillon’s face appeared on the viewscreen as Jaroch continued his tricorder scans in the background.

“What’s your status?” Rydell asked quickly.

“There’s nothing really to report, Captain,” Dillon replied. “Jaroch says everything here seems normal except for a small, benign radiation leak. And he seems perfectly normal as well. Is it possible that…”

“You will die for this trespass, puny mortal!” Jaroch bellowed suddenly. Dillon managed to get out half of a “hunh?” before Jaroch, now fully possessed by the past life of J’Ter, warrior prince, grabbed him and flung him forward.

The Secondprize bridge crew found themselves with an excellent view up Dillon’s nose as his face flattened against the camera projecting his image on the viewscreen. Then the channel abruptly closed, the viewscreen switching to an exterior view of the yacht, which began rapidly moving away.

“Beam them out of there,” Rydell ordered.

“They’ve raised shields,” Hawkins said.

“Tractor beam!”

“He’s already jumped to warp,”

“If Jaroch makes me late… Sullivan!”

“Already pursuing,” Sullivan replied, sending the Secondprize launching into warp.

“Singer to Captain Rydell,” the comm barked suddenly. Well, it didn’t really bark. It was more of a soft whimper followed by a sniffle.

“Go ahead, Doctor,” Rydell said.

“You’ve got to get Jaroch out of there. He’s in danger from the potato salad!”

“You want to run that one by me again?”

“I found traces of irradiated potato salad in the Yynsians’ digestive tracts. Somehow it’s disrupting their control over their past lives. He doesn’t even have to eat the salad!” Singer exclaimed. “If he even gets near it, he could…he could…LOSE CONTROL!!!”

“So we’ve noticed. I’ll send him to sickbay as soon as we catch him and rescue Commander Dillon.”

“Oh no! Am I going to need to knit Dillon’s bones back together…AGAIN?”

“I think that’s a pretty safe bet.”

“Oh…okay,” Singer said, her voice audibly quivering. “Just please get Jaroch away from that potato salad!”

“I may just have an idea about that,” Rydell replied with a slight smile.


“Captain’s Log. Supplemental. We have caught up with Lieutenant Commander Jaroch, but rather than risk harming him or Commander Dillon with weapons fire, I’m going to try a less dangerous approach…well maybe not less dangerous for Dillon, but it will be a lot safer for everyone else.”


All Dillon wanted to do was sleep. Every bit of his body ached, and the idea of movement, any movement, was just horrifying. In his future he saw a lot of being very still and hoping that Jaroch didn’t come back for round two.

His dream of immobility was quickly shattered as his commbadge activated. “Psst. Dillon. Wake up,” Rydell’s voice whispered.

Dillon groaned softly, half in pain, half in irritation.

“Dillon!” Rydell whispered again.

“Wha?” Dillon muttered.

“Listen to me. There’s potato salad on that bridge. Find it and get rid of it.”

“What?”

“Get rid of the potato salad! That’s an order!” Rydell said just before the channel clicked closed.

An order. Why did it have to be an order? A suggestion Dillon could ignore. He’d even have happily turned down a request to do it, but he couldn’t not follow an order. Forcing his neck to move, Dillon looked for Jaroch/J’Ter, whom he quickly spotted hunched over the helm, poring over the controls and muttering to himself.

With Jaroch/J’Ter occupied, Dillon saw his chance. Moving as quickly as he could (which ended up being a plodding crawl), Dillon made his way over to the pile of potato salad in the yacht’s command chair. It was even more disgusting close up.

“What are you doing, spineless one?” Jaroch/J’Ter demanded suddenly.

Dillon froze, scared out of his mind. If he didn’t act fast, Jaroch/J’Ter was going to start pummeling the crap out of him again. But he had to get rid of that potato salad! Panicked and out of options, Dillon frantically started shoveling the potato salad into his mouth at a furious pace.

“Answer me!” Jaroch/J’Ter boomed.

Dillon scooped in the last bit of potato salad just as Jaroch/J’Ter reached him, yanking Dillon’s head back and leaning in threateningly. The sudden movement jolted a belch out of Dillon powerful enough to send Jaroch/J’Ter staggering back. The dazed Yynsian slammed into the helm console and promptly flipped backwards over it.

The possessed science officer pulled himself back to his feet, his eyes wide with fury. “You will perish for this outrage!”

Terror helping him force his way past the pain filling his body, Dillon scrambled to his feet and ran off of the bridge, covering his mouth with both hands as he went. Racing down the ship’s corridor, he could hear Jaroch/J’Ter’s footsteps thudding behind him.

For his part, Jaroch/J’Ter could not believe that any creature would have the gall to defy him, yet that’s exactly what the man fleeing in front of him was doing. The puny one would die painfully for this. “Stand and face me so that I may rip out your spleen and…eat…and…unnh.”

Jaroch stumbled, the wild look draining from his eyes. An instant later, it was over.

“Commander, I have regained control,” Jaroch called to Dillon. “I will now return to the bridge and lower our shields.”

Relieved, Dillon stopped running and collapsed against a wall. His stomach suddenly shuddered, then rolled, then broke into the electric slide. Dillon gasped. “Need…bathroom.”

He took one tiny step, then instantly doubled over.

“BLAAAAAAAAAAT!!!”


“Captain’s Log. Stardate 49504.7. After giving their ship a thorough cleaning, particularly in the spot where Commander Dillon puked up a mountain of radioactive potato salad and a large portion of his digestive tract, we have returned the Yynsians to their yacht and sent them on their merry way. Jaroch seems to have completely recovered from his experience, but Dillon will be spending the next day or so in sickbay. And in even better news, we’re still going to get to Copitana in plenty of time for me to help crown the next Miss Sector 834…and, more importantly, console the runner ups.”


The Secondprize did indeed reach Copitana in plenty of time for Captain Rydell to serve as a judge in the Miss Sector 834 pageant, but, as he watched the eight tentacles of Miss Lekikek Prime wave about in time to the gyrations of her vaguely eggplant-shaped body, Rydell sorely wished that it hadn’t.

“Next time, Rydell, research the sector first,” he thought to himself. He accidentally locked eyes with Miss Lekikek Prime, who gave him a sultry wink.

Rydell plastered a fake smile on his face. “Shoot me now,” he muttered through clenched teeth.




REUNION


“I always meant to contact Jurel and her friends to see how they were doing,” Webber said. “I’d hate to think they had any nasty aftereffects from their experience.”

“I’m sure they were fine,” Jaroch said flatly.

“Oh come on, honey,” Hawkins said, rubbing his leg. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We can look back on it now and laugh.”

“And Dillon’s bones knitted just fine,” Sullivan said.

“I’d watch it if I were you,” Baird said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, it’s not like Jaroch and Dillon are the only ones who’ve been known to go a little crazy.”

“Yeah, but we all know you have a temper, hon,” Sullivan said.

“I wasn’t talking about me,” Baird replied pointedly.

Dr. Aldridge smiled. “No. I bet he wasn’t.”

“What?” Sullivan demanded.

“I seem to remember a certain dinner party.”

“Oh no,” Rydell said, lowering his head. “I liked that restaurant, too.”

“It was nice,” Aldridge said. “Until we got there…”




“SCENES FROM AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT”


STARDATE 51783.8


“Well…what do you think?” Captain Alexander Rydell asked, looking around the table expectantly. The others with Rydell, namely Dr. Elizabeth Aldridge, Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins, Commander Travis Dillon, and Lieutenant Commander Jaroch, collectively shrugged.

“It’s fine,” Aldridge said.

“Fine!” Rydell exclaimed. “Look at this place! It’s fantastic.”

“No offense, sir,” Dillon said. “But I’ve been to Italian restaurants before.”

“In Italy?”

“No. Actually I think the last one was on Rigel Six, but the idea is pretty much the same. Candles mounted in empty wine bottles, a few paintings of Italian scenery, wine rack, soft music, some more wine.”

“But this is really Italy,” Rydell protested. Indeed it was really Italy; although, Rydell was quickly wondering why he bothered bringing this group to his favorite restaurant on Earth, La Casa di Salsa Segreta. He’d found the place by accident during a layover on Earth when he was just an ensign. He’d arranged to meet with some friends in a bar in Naples, but he had gotten lost and ended up down the wrong alley where he found La Casa di Salsa Segreta. Hungry and annoyed at being lost, Rydell ducked inside and had one of the best meals of his life. La Casa di Salsa Segreta was a bit off the main roads, so only the locals really knew about it, which was fine with Rydell. It was his chance to get his crew into some civilian clothes and take them someplace really special.

At least he thought it was special. The others would obviously take a bit more convincing. Wait until they had the food. The food would change their minds. Of course, they couldn’t eat until they ordered. And they couldn’t order until the last couple involved in this triple date (triple date plus Jaroch anyway) arrived.

Finally, the creaky wooden door of the restaurant was yanked open, and Commander Scott Baird stormed inside, followed by his new bride, Lieutenant Emily Sullivan, who was wearing a bemused smile.

“Who the fuck puts a fucking restaurant where nobody can find it without a full fucking sensor sweep?” Baird groused, slamming himself down into an empty chair beside Hawkins.

“Trouble finding the place?” Rydell asked innocently.

“Some people just can’t appreciate a scenic stroll,” Sullivan said.

“You’re here now. That’s the important thing,” Rydell said.

“Which means you can start talking,” Hawkins said. “How was the honeymoon?”

Baird, who was in the process of shoving a complimentary breadstick down his throat, gave a thumbs up. Hawkins quickly looked to Sullivan for a more thorough answer.

“Nice,” Sullivan said grinning.

“I think we get the picture,” Dr. Aldridge said.

“And just what are you implying?” Sullivan replied in mock horror.

“That you copulated incessantly,” Jaroch said curtly. “May we order now?”

“What’s with him?” Sullivan asked.

“He doesn’t have a date,” Dillon said.

“I did not wish to bring a date,” Jaroch shot back.

“Uh huh.”

“I could have brought someone.”

“Who?” Dillon demanded.

“That is none of your affair.”

“See. Couldn’t get a date,” Dillon said smugly.

“I CHOSE to come alone,” Jaroch insisted.

“Okay,” Dillon said, holding up his hands. “I believe you.”

“No, you do not.”

“I said I did.”

“I do not believe you.”

“Am I going to have to sit between you two?” Hawkins asked.

“Please,” Jaroch replied, drawing a glare from Dillon.

“Waiter!” Rydell said, hoping for a distraction.

In an instant, a young man in a white dress shirt, black pants, and a black bow tie rushed over to the table. “Are you prepared to place your order?” he asked eagerly.

Baird gulped down the last giant bite of his third breadstick. “Fu…OWW!” His head whipped toward Sullivan. “What was that for?”

“I think we’re all ready,” Sullivan said sweetly, thickening her normal slight Southern accent to an all-out drawl as she usually did when she was trying to sound sweet and friendly. “Captain?”

“No no. Newlyweds first,” Rydell said.

“All right. I’d like the ricotta and spinach tortellini, but could I get the sauce on the side.”

The waiter jolted slightly. “The…the sauce on the side, you say?”

“Is that a problem, hon?” Sullivan asked.

“No! Not at all. But you are sure you are here for the ricotta and spinach tortellini with the sauce on the side?”

“I sure am.”

“Very well. It shall be yours,” the waiter replied, tapping the order into a small padd. The waiter continued around the table, taking everyone’s meal order, then headed back to the kitchen, turning back to Sullivan and giving her a wink as he went.

“Friendly staff,” Sullivan commented.

“I noticed,” Baird grumbled. The restaurant door creaked open again, allowing two hulking men and a rough-looking woman, all fitted with matching scowls, to stomp inside.

“Charming clientele, too,” Baird added.

“The locals aren’t real big on tourists in their restaurants,” Rydell said.

“I’m so glad you picked such a warm and friendly place for us to eat at,” Aldridge said, patting Rydell’s arm. “Do the cooks spit in our food, too?”

“You’ll see,” Rydell replied. “Once dinner arrives, you’ll all be eating your words along with one of the best meals you’ve ever had.”

“In the meantime,” Hawkins said, turning back to Sullivan and Baird, “I’m not letting you two off the hook. I want details!”

Sullivan shrugged. “It was a honeymoon. What’s to say?”

“Where did you go?”

“Here.”

“This restaurant?” Dillon asked confused.

“No. Earth,” Sullivan said, prompting a round of snickers from the non-newlyweds at the table.

“What?” Sullivan demanded.

“Earth?” Aldridge asked. “You’ve got an entire galaxy out there, and you decided to stay on Earth?”

“Earth’s got a lot to see,” Baird said. “It’s a good planet.”

“But no one goes to Earth this time of year!” Hawkins said.

“We did.”

“And it was great,” Sullivan added.

“What did you do that was great?” Hawkins asked.

“Is there a reason that you are pressing this particular issue to such an extent?” Jaroch asked.

“Does it matter?”

“I just find it interesting that you are so intent on learning the details of an event occurring after a wedding.”

“I’m not getting married, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“I do not believe that I implied anything.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Hawkins said flatly.

“Sure sounded like an implication to me,” Dillon added.

“I was not aware that you were even familiar with the concept,” Jaroch said.

“Oh look. Food’s here,” Rydell said relived as the waiter set a steaming tray of plates down on a tray stand and began distributing each meal, ending with Lieutenant Sullivan.

“Your sauce on the side, signora,” the waiter said, giving Sullivan another wink then quickly made his way to the table where the three scowling locals had planted themselves.

“He does that again, and I’m taking his eye,” Baird grumbled.

“Shut up and eat, honey,” Sullivan said, giving her husband a quick peck on the cheek then impaling one of the tortellinis on her fork and dipping it in the pint-sized bowl of garlic parmesan sauce that came with the meal. She popped the tortellini in her mouth.

“Wow! Yummy!” Sullivan exclaimed, diving for her next piece.

“This is fantastic,” Dillon agreed between forkfulls of his veal scallopini (faux veal, of course).

“Told you,” Rydell said vindicated.


“And what may I bring you this fine evening?” the waiter asked the three occupants of the table he’d approached.

“Lasagna,” Hentora and Makon Nessu replied in unison. The pair were brother and sister, as a casual observer may have been able to guess from their resemblance to each other. What they were not, however, was local, despite their appearance. They were not from Naples, or Italy, or from Earth for that matter. They were actually from Orion, not that anyone would have guessed it due to their exceptional lack of green skin. Amazing what a little pigment alteration could do.

Hentora and Makon were accompanied by (actually, they were more accompanying him) a fellow formerly-green-skinned Orion by the name of Gronus Dalor, who next place his order with the waiter.

“I want the ricotta and spinach tortellini with the sauce on the side. Got it? I want the sauce on the side.”

The waiter blanched. “The sauce on the side?” he asked nervously.

“That’s what I came here for.”

“Ah…well…you see, signor.”

“Is there a problem?” Gronus asked darkly as Hentora and Makon made a show of reaching for the knives in their place settings.

“Yes,” the waiter squeaked.

“What problem?” Gronus demanded.

“WEEEEHAAAAAA! ZIPPIDEE-DOO-DA-DAYYYYYYYY!” Sullivan shouted suddenly from the table across the restaurant. “ME LIKEY!” She suddenly jammed her hands into the sauce bowl and began shoveling it into her mouth as fast as she could.

“That would be the problem,” the waiter said.


“Sullivan,” Rydell said, looking around the restaurant embarrassed as other patrons began to stare. “Emily. I know it’s good food, but let’s show some restraint. Okay?”

“Fuck, Emily. Slow it down,” Baird said.

“Um…I’ve seen Sullivan eat before, and this isn’t how she normally does it,” Dillon said.

“You don’t say,” Jaroch remarked. “Emily, stop it,” Baird said, trying to pull her back.

“MINE!” Emily snapped, slapping Baird away. “What the fuck is wrong with her?”

“Good question,” Dillon said. “What’s wrong with her, Doctor?”

“How the hell should I know?” Dr. Aldridge retorted.

“Examine her!”

“Funny. I seem to have left my tricorder on the ship.”

“Why would you do that?” Dillon said.

“I don’t know. Maybe because I was on a date?”

“Seems unprofessional, if you ask me.”

“Fortunately, nobody did,” Rydell said.

“We’ve got to get her out of here,” Baird said.

“Go,” Rydell said. “I’ll settle the bill and meet you.”


“You gave the berydin to that human woman! Have you lost your mind?” Gronus whispered harshly, resisting the overwhelming urge to grab the moronic waiter and slam his head into the table until he really did lose his mind…in little oozy bits all over the nice tablecloth.

“She gave me the code.”

“Impossible.”

“She did! Right down to the sauce on the side.”

“Really?”

“Yes!”

“Weird. I didn’t think anybody would order that with sauce on the side.”

“Well, she did.”

“Hmm…have to remember that. Make a note, Makon. Need better code.”

“Errrmph,” Makon grunted in acknowledgment.

“In the meantime, that woman has thirty grams of pure berydin in her system.”

“No refunds,” the waiter said. “Paolo is very firm about that.”

“Fine. We’ll just have to get the berydin out of her,” Gronus said.

“Is that possible?”

“Sure. We just drain every drop of blood from her body and distill it out.”

“Oh.”

“Her friends seem to have noticed that she’s not right,” Gronus said, watching Baird and Aldridge try and help Sullivan from her chair. “Convince them to stay.”

“Um…of course,” the waiter said, bowing curtly and racing over to the Secondprize crew’s table.

“Is there a problem with the food?”

“My wife’s crazy about it,” Baird said.

“She may have a food allergy,” Dr. Aldridge said. “We just need to get her home.”

“Ah…well…maybe you should just let her rest,” the waiter said.

“Can I eat your head?” Emily said, her eyes darting around wildly. “That’s some mighty fine lookin’ corn you got up there.”

“We’re leaving,” Baird said firmly, pushing past the waiter and dragging Sullivan to the exit. He found their path blocked by Gronus, Makon and Hentora.

“She stays,” Gronus said, pointing at Sullivan. Sullivan’s head darted forward suddenly as she chomped down on the disguised Orion’s finger. “YEOOWWW!” Gronus cried, snatching his hand back.

Baird handed Sullivan off to Aldridge and stepped up closer to the Orions. “That’s my wife you’re talking about there, pal. The only place she’s going is with me.”

“Makon,” Gronus said.

Makon moved toe-to-toe to Baird, towering a good six inches above the Secondprize’s Chief Engineer.

“You know the old saying,” Baird said. “The bigger they are…”

THWACK!!!

Makon slugged Baird, then grabbed the dazed officer and lobbed him directly onto the Secondprize officer’s table.

“The quicker they smack you into oblivion,” Aldridge remarked, retreating quickly back to the table with Sullivan in tow. Hawkins, Dillon, Jaroch, and Rydell were already on their feet. Jaroch and Rydell dragged a moaning and battered Baird off of the table as Hawkins and Dillon quickly flipped the large round table up to use as a barrier between them and the Orions.

“We’re reasonable beings,” Gronus said as he and the other’s advanced on the group huddled behind the table. “The rest of you can go. We just need the woman. She has something that belongs to me.”

“What does she have?” Rydell called out. “Maybe we can just throw it to you.”

“She kind of ate it.”

“Then we’ll mail it to you when it comes out the other end.”

“It’s not that kind of thing. We just need to drain her of blood.”

“That will kill her!” Aldridge shouted.

“Consider it an unfortunate side effect.”

“That’s it!” Hawkins said, yanking a hand phaser out of her boot.

Dillon gaped. “What…what is that?”

“What does it look like, Travis?”

“I don’t believe this. You brought a phaser on a date! Did you think we were going to be attacked or something?”

“News flash. We ARE being attacked!”

“This was supposed to be a romantic dinner.”

“You’re mad she has a phaser?” Aldridge said in disbelief. “You were just all pissed off about me not having a tricorder!”

“At least Patricia came prepared!” Dillon shouted back.

Hawkins popped up above the edge of the table and fired off a quick shot, nailing Makon on the shoulder and sending Gronus and Hentora scrambling for cover. With the path to the door clear, the other restaurant patrons, who had been doing a nice job up until that point of panicking and screaming for their lives, stampeded for the exit, giving the Orions the cover they needed to flip up a table of their own to huddle behind as the waiter tore back into the kitchen.

“That was a phaser!” Gronus exclaimed.

“Uh huh!” Makon and Hentora agreed as Makon rubbed his numb arm.

“Why would they have a phaser unless…” A horrible realization dawned.

“Hey!” Gronus shouted across the restaurant. “Are you Starfleet?”

“Yes, we are!” Rydell shouted back. “Want to surrender now?”

“Granklefrap!” Gronus cursed.

“Is that a yes?” Rydell asked, peering around the table. He narrowly managed duck back down before a knife sailed past him.

“I’m guessing not,” Hawkins said, knocking the power level of her phaser up a few notches.

“What are you doing?” Rydell asked.

“Obliterating their cover,” she said, taking aim at the Orion’s flipped over table.

“You’re going to disintegrate them in the process!”

“I’m really not caring.”

“No vaporizing anything,” Rydell said firmly.

“Can’t we just call in security?” Dillon asked.

“The entire crew is on leave while the Secondprize is in Spacedock, and I am NOT bringing Starfleet security into this,” Hawkins replied. “People think we’re enough as a joke as it is.”

“I am not a joke!” Dillon said.

“I would consider you more of a recurring gag,” Jaroch remarked.

“Could you think about getting us out of here instead of picking on Dillon?”

“We could just rush the door; however, that would not deal with the underlying problem.”

“I thought those guys trying to kill us was the underlying problem,” Aldridge said.

“Our attackers wish to take Lieutenant Sullivan away in order to get something out of her bloodstream. Judging by her recent behavior, it is safe to say that this is most likely a narcotic of some sort, a narcotic that was transported via Sullivan’s bowl of sauce. If that is indeed the case, then this establishment is engaged in a bit more than the restaurant business.”

“Makes sense,” Rydell said. “Let me check.” He cautiously peered around the table again. “Hey! What drug did my friend eat?”

“Berydin. And I want it back!” Gronus shouted back.

“We don’t want her dead.”

“If she hadn’t ordered the sauce on the side, none of this would have happened!”

“I’ll let her know,” Rydell said, ducking back behind the table just as Hentora sent another knife winging his way.

“Berydin?” Dr. Aldridge said. “I’m not familiar with it.”

“I’ve seen it mentioned in some alerts on Orion Syndicate activities,” Hawkins said. “It’s supposedly really popular with the Andorians and the Yridians.”

“And evidently this place serves it to go,” Rydell said.

“It is quite possible that they are synthesizing the drug on the premises, most likely in the kitchen where such equipment would most likely go unnoticed,” Jaroch said.

“Then I’m going to find it,” Rydell said, holding his hand out to his security chief. “Hawkins, phaser.”

Hawkins’ eyes widened in shock and horror. “My…my…phaser?”

“I need it to blast the lab equipment. Hand it over.”

“But I could blast it,” Hawkins protested.

“Scott and I can handle it. You guys take care of our friends at the next table. You up for it, Scott?”

“Yeah,” Scott muttered, forcing himself up. He turned on the rest of the group. “Nothing happens to Emily. Got it?”

“We’ll take care of her,” Dr. Aldridge replied.

“All right,” Rydell said, getting into a sprinter’s stance. “Count of three. One…two…three.” Rydell and Baird took off running and slammed through the kitchen door, bowling over the waiter and two cooks who had hidden there to watch the show in the dining room.

“Sorry, fellas,” Rydell said looking over the fallen group as the door closed behind them. “Now who’s going to show me the drug lab?”


“Okay,” Hawkins said, thinking over the situation. “We still outnumber them five to three.”

“Redo the math, Hawkins,” Dr. Aldridge said. “Sullivan isn’t in any condition to fight, and I’m staying with her.”

“Fine. It’s three on three then. Even odds.”

“Not quite,” Dillon said anxiously. “You saw what that guy did to Baird.”

“They do appear to have us at a distinct strength disadvantage,” Jaroch agreed.

“That only matters if they hit us,” Hawkins said.

“I’m not nearly as fast as you are, dear,” Dillon said. “You’re so quick and skilled you could take one of them without any trouble, but not me.”

Hawkins smiled and gazed lovingly at Dillon. “You really think I could clobber one of them? That’s so sweet.” Hawkins gave the Secondprize’s first officer a soft kiss on the lips.

“Be still my churning innards,” Jaroch muttered.


Before any of the kitchen staff could respond to Rydell, a tall, older Italian gentleman stormed into the kitchen from a door on the opposite side of the room. Rydell immediately recognized him as Paolo, the restaurant’s owner.

“Good evening, signor,” Rydell said with a slight bow. “Our meal has been so amazing that we just had to have a word with the chefs.”

“You must leave my kitchen!” Paolo demanded.

“Come on, Paolo. I really wanted to see how you made the secret ingredient. I think it’s called berydin.”

“I know nothing of this berydin.”

“Really? I’m guessing you cook it up right here. What do you think, Scott?”

The chief engineer’s trained eye scanned the equipment in the room. Finally, he pointed at a large stainless steel object along the far wall. “That one.”

Rydell aimed and fired.

ZAP!

“My stove!”

“Whoops. Try that one.”

ZAP!

“My dishwasher!”

“Er…There.”

ZAP!

“My pasta maker.”

“Wait! Over there.”

ZAP!

“My drug lab!”

“That’s got it,” Baird said smugly.

Rydell shot a quick glare at Baird then turned his attention back to the restauranteur. “I’m really ashamed of you, Paolo. Was making fantastic food not enough for you?”

“Who eats it? We are a hole in the wall with eight measly tables. Look at our location. I had to do something to supplement.”

“You could have moved,” Baird said.

“But we’ve always been here,” Paolo replied defiantly.

Rydell shook his head. “And just like that, logic loses another one.”


“Was there any sauce left in Sullivan’s bowl?” Dr. Aldridge asked suddenly as Hawkins, Dillon, and Jaroch continued their strategizing.

“I have no idea,” Hawkins replied.

“And I don’t think that’s going to help us right now,” Dillon added.

“I want to look at it,” Dr. Aldridge said.

Dillon peered out around the table and spotted the bowl of garlic parmesan sauce sitting upright in the mass of splattered meals on the other side. “It’s out there, but I can’t reach it from here.”

“Then go get it,” Aldridge said.

“But…”

“Doctor’s orders. Now GO!”

“All right,” Dillon grumbled. “But I’m not sure that your authority extends to things like this.”

As quickly as possible, Dillon crawled out from behind the safety of the table and scurried toward the bowl. He had the bowl in his hands in a matter of seconds and was on his knees racing back to cover.

THUD!

Dillon looked back in horror at his shoe, which now had a rather long and sharp steak knife embedded in it.

“Hey!” he cried. “I liked these shoes!”

Gronus poked his head up from behind the Orion’s table. “Hold still and Hentora will make you stop caring.” He looked back at his comrades, who were evidently speaking to him. “What do you mean we’re out of the sharp ones?” he snapped angrily.

Dillon didn’t wait around for an answer. He sped around the table again and shoved the bowl into Dr. Aldridge’s hands. “Enjoy it,” he said, slumping against the table beside Sullivan.

She looked over at him with heavily dazed eyes. “Are you chewy? You look like gum.”

“I taste like Brussel sprouts,” Dillon said flatly.

“Not good gum.”

“Nope.”

“What do you expect to learn from the sauce?” Hawkins asked, sliding over to Dr. Aldridge.

“Hard to say. Jaroch, come take a look at this.”

“I was not aware that there was anything to see,” the Yynsian replied, moving closer to Aldridge and bowl.

“Look closer at the texture,” Aldridge said.

Jaroch peered into the bowl. “What are you referring to? I do not see…MMMMPHHH!”

In an instant, Aldridge has scooped the bowl’s remaining contents into her fingers and shoved it into Jaroch’s open mouth. He yanked himself back and gulped hard, swallowing most of what had been forced upon him.

“What was that for?” Hawkins shouted.

“Hopefully, I just called the cavalry,” Aldridge replied as she watched Jaroch’s eyes go wide and his body begin to twitch.

“And if you didn’t?” Dillon asked alarmed.

“Who knows? Either way, we should probably move.”

“Where?” Dillon exclaimed. “I’m not about to be the one to find out if those guys managed to find more pointy things to throw at us.”

Jaroch was heading toward outright vibration at this point.

“I don’t think we have much more time to argue,” Dr. Aldridge said.

“You’d better be right about this,” Hawkins said. She suddenly shoved Jaroch, sending him out beyond the cover of the table. For a few moments, nothing happened. Then an expertly-thrown salad fork embedded itself in his chest.

“Holy OWWWW!” Jaroch screamed. “I mean that really, REALLY hurts. And my shirt! Look at my shirt! You will all be facing many of my boots to your heads, and when I am done, I shall write of my needs without mercy or remorse!”

THWACK!

A particularly firm breadstick sailed across the room and smacked Jaroch in the head. “Another oww…this one most buttery.”

THWACK! THWACK THWACK!

Three more breadsticks slammed into him.

“Your grains cannot harm me,” Jaroch said, striding forward.

THUD!

Jaroch staggered back as an empty wine bottle holding a candle slammed into his gut. “You have lobbed your last table setting, weak ones!” Jaroch bellowed, scooping the bottle up by the neck and charging.

“Get him!” Gronus ordered, smacking Makon and Hentora on the back and pushing them forward.

“You smell of fear and soap,” Jaroch announced as the pair of Orions approached him. “Soapy fear with brimming bubbles of terror.”

“Huh?” Makon said.

WHAM! CRASH!

Jaroch swung the bottle upward, catching the lumbering Orion under the chin. He smoothly slammed the bottle back down, smashing it over Makon’s head and sending him tumbling to the floor unconscious.

Jaroch turned on a stunned Hentora. “You also smell of fear, but your soap has a nice lavender scent. Pretty odors do not mask the fright billowing from your pores in great jets of flowery panic.”

“You hurt my brother,” Hentora said simply, then swung at Jaroch.

The Yynsian dodged quickly, then came back with a swift kick to the Orion’s left shin. “Whatcha gonna do about it?” he taunted.

Hentora swung again and missed. She was rewarded with a boot to her right shin.

“Nyah nyah!” Jaroch laughed.

Hentora suddenly grabbed Jaroch by the throat and lifted him off of the floor. “You will feel pain now,” she said.

SMASH!

A Hawkins-wielded plate suddenly crashed over Hentora’s head followed closely by another swung by Dillon. Hentora dropped Jaroch and turned around to face her attackers. She was met immediately by Hawkins’ foot slamming into the side of her already-battered head. The impact spun her directly into Dillon’s oncoming fist, which spun her toward Jaroch’s right cross. After to more circuits of this circle of pummeling, Hentora collapsed to the floor, joining her sibling in dreamland.

With Jaroch, Dillon, and Hawkins occupied beating the crap out of his associates, Gronus made a break for the exit. He’d made it most of the way to the door before a weight leapt onto his back, sending him sprawling on the floor.

“Tasty!” Lieutenant Sullivan squealed happily as she bounced up and down on Gronus’ back a few times before ripping a nice chunk of hair from his head and shoving it into her mouth, roots and all.

“Emily, get back here!” Dr. Aldridge said, rushing over.

“My meal! My meal!” Sullivan protested, yanking Gronus’s head up by the hair and slamming it back down repeatedly to emphasize her point.

“That’s not food, Emily,” Dr. Aldridge said gently just as Rydell and Baird returned from the kitchen holding Paolo at phaser point.

“Much…hurting,” Gronus gasped, looking up at the Starfleet Officers with pleading eyes.

“I could yank Emily off of him,” Baird suggested.

“Or I could just stun him to take the pain away.”

“That’s awfully nice of you,” Aldridge said.

Rydell fired, letting Gronus join his friends in unconsciousness. “What can I say? I’m a nice guy.”


Fifteen minutes later, the local authorities had swarmed over La Casa di Salsa Segreta and taken Gronus, Paolo, and all of their compatriots into custody while detectives took statements from Dillon and Hawkins. Dr. Aldridge had promptly snatched the medical tricorder away from the medtech who came along and started to work on treating the injured and the supremely drugged. A quick scan of Gronus revealed a bit more than some missing scalp.

“Hmmm…Orion. You don’t say,” Rydell remarked loudly so the Naples constabulary could hear as he looked over the readings Aldridge was showing him. “An Orion disguised as a human buying a drug that the Orion Syndicate is known to sell. And buying it from this very restaurant. Residents of this fine city involved with the Orion Syndicate? Paolo, I’m shocked!”

The two officers flanking the restaurant owner were obviously not amused as they glared down at their captive. “We have a clean city,” one of them said, an edge of menace in his voice. “We work hard to keep it that way.”

“Hear that, Paolo?” Rydell said smiling. “They’re going to clean you up! Aren’t you excited?”

As the officers dragged Paolo out of the restaurant, he shouted something back that the universal translator couldn’t handle, but Rydell got the gist of it. “Make sure you clean his mouth up, too,” Rydell called after them, then he turned his attention to Dr. Aldridge, who was looking over Jaroch and Sullivan.

“How are they?”

“They should be fine once I get them back to a decent medical facility and detox them. I was able to link the tricorder back to the Starfleet Medical database and look up berydin. It’s not very effective on humans or Yynsians. Large doses can cause mild hallucinations and a feeling like intoxication, though. It even comes complete with its own hangover in the morning.”

“Lovely,” Commander Baird muttered as he held his wife still for Dr. Aldridge.

“Remember, Scott. It’s in sickness and in health,” Rydell said, clapping his engineer on the shoulder.

“If she vomits, I’m calling you. You’re the one who got us into this.”

“Hey. It was a memorable evening,” Rydell said.

“Don’t even try that one,” Aldridge said.

“Excuse me, Doctor ‘Jam the kooky drug down Jaroch’s throat’?”

“What? It worked…mostly.” Aldridge said.

“You were so certain?”

“It seemed likely. I hoped that the drug would weaken his control over his past lives and let them take over. The drug seemed to affect them to…assuming what we saw was them, but it got the job done.”

“I’m sure Jaroch will want to discuss your great plan tomorrow…after his head stops pounding,” Rydell said. “In the meantime, I’m starving. Wanna get some dinner?”

Aldridge eyed Rydell. “After all this, you expect me to go out with you again tonight?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“Let me get these two back to the Secondprize first. Then I’M picking the restaurant.”

Rydell grinned. “Okay, but I guarantee it won’t be nearly as exciting.”




REUNION


“One time!” Sullivan exclaimed. “One time I get a little kooky, and you throw it back at me.”

“We have to take the opportunities when we get them, Captain,” Rydell said. “Can’t have you getting too big for your pips.”

“But my own husband didn’t have to be the one to bring it up,” Sullivan said.

“Sure I did,” Baird replied with a smile.

“You’ve have your not-so-shining moments too, you know.”

“True, but most of the time he was so loud and angry about it that the rest of us felt it best not to say anything for fear of our lives,” Rydell said.

“Fear is good,” Baird said. “I worked very hard to cultivate that image.”

“I still liked you,” Carr said. “Even if you did scowl a lot.”

“It’s a cute scowl, though,” Sullivan said. “And most of the time, you were pretty together.”

“Thank you,” Baird said, crossing his arms.

“Most of the time,” she repeated with a smirk.

“Chose your next words carefully,” Baird threatened.

“Oh, I’ve only got one word.”

“What?” Baird said warily, leaning forward.

“Herbert.”

“Fuck.”

“I thought you might say that…”




“UNCLE DORK”


STARDATE 52165.6


“Doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed,” Commander Scott Baird repeated as he paced the living room of his quarters.

“Would you stop saying that?” his wife, Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan, said as she watched her husband from the sofa.

“Fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked.”

“Never mind. Could we go back to ‘doomed’ please?”

“You just don’t get it, Emily.”

“He’s a seven year old boy. What’s to get?”

Baird chuckled humorlessly. “You’ve never met him. You have no idea what he’s capable of. Damn her! Cathy did this on purpose!”

“Yes. How dare your sister take a second honeymoon! She’s obviously out to get you.”

“She and George are off to Risa just when we happen to be docked at a Starbase on the way, so we can watch her little hellspawn for the night? Tell me that wasn’t planned. If I ever figure out how the fuck she knew when we would be… You told her, didn’t you?”

“She asked,” Sullivan said with a shrug. “Cathy thought you’d want to spend some time with your nephew.”

“Translation: I’m going to torture Scott. I am so getting her for this.”

“Oh relax. Your parents will be here tomorrow to get him.”

“Good…and they’d better not stick around long,” Baird grumbled.

“I like your parents. They’re very sweet people.”

Baird only grunted.

“Makes me wonder how the hell they produced you,” Sullivan added.

“Vaughn to Commander Baird,” the voice of the Secondprize’s transporter chief said, breaking in over the comm system.

“Oh fuck. Here we go,” Baird said. “Baird here.”

“You’ve got company anxiously waiting to beam over.”

“We’ll be right there, Monica,” Sullivan said, getting up from the sofa, grabbing Baird by the arm, and dragging him toward the door. “Remember, hon. It’s only one night.”

“And when it’s over, I guarantee you’ll be begging for my parents to get here.”

“Oookay, hon.”

“Begging!”

“Gotcha.”


“Monica, get this kid out of here,” the Starbase 57 Transporter Chief pleaded over the comm. “He’s driving me crazy. NO! Don’t touch that!” Lieutenant Monica Vaughn heard an annoying giggle in the background closely followed by a female saying “Now now, Herbert.” Just then, Baird and Sullivan walked into the transporter room.

“The relatives are here to take possession, Paul,” Vaughn said. “I’m energizing now.”

“Thank you,” the harried transporter chief replied in relief. “I’m never going to get this peanut butter out of the matter reintegration circuits.”

“Oh shit, he’s started already,” Baird moaned.

“He sounds like a wonderful kid,” Vaughn said sarcastically as two figures began to materialize on the transporter pad. “You three should have lots of fun.”

“Care to join us?” Sullivan asked.

Vaughn laughed. “Not a chance in hell.”

“Some friend you are,” Baird mumbled just as the transport finished leaving a woman and a small boy on the padd. The woman was a good two inches taller than Baird; however, her facial features and black hair (although hers was curly) left no doubt as to the fact that she was related to the Secondprize’s chief engineer. The sandy-haired boy’s facial features were hard to gauge as his head was whipping back and forth in a blur taking in his new surroundings.

Cathy stepped down off the transporter platform and hugged her brother.

“Scott, luv! How have you been?” she asked almost too happily. “I haven’t seen you in so long. You never write or comm. And when are we going to get a visit? Hello, Emily. Good to see you again. I’m so glad to see you’ve stayed with him.”

“He hasn’t run me off yet,” Sullivan said with a smirk.

“Where’s George?” Baird asked.

“He’s…waiting for me.”

“Too scared to show his face, huh?”

“Well, you could be nicer to him. He is your brother-in-law.”

“It’s not my fault he’s scared of me. I never did anything to him,” Baird said.

“He thinks you don’t like him.”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t even know him,” Cathy exclaimed.

“Exactly. Not liking people is kind of my default setting. If he decides to grow some balls and get to know me, maybe I’ll like him. Doubt it, but it could happen.”

“This is why he wins the ship’s Miss Congeniality award every year,” Sullivan said.

“Well, I’m sorry George and I can’t stay, but at least you’ll get to see your nephew some,” Cathy said.

“I’m thrilled,” Baird replied. He could see Herbert inching toward the circuit access panels on the far side of the transporter room. He was about to grab the innocent looking seven-year-old when, but Cathy acted first.

“Come here, Herbie, and say hello to your Uncle Scott and Aunt Emily.” Herbert stopped in his tracks and turned toward his mother and uncle. Baird could see the look of ‘I’m going to destroy everything I can’ in his eyes.

“Hello, Dork,” Herbie shouted and started laughing hysterically.

“I’m sorry about that Scott. He’s been calling everybody dork for the last two weeks,” Cathy explained. “Promise me that you won’t cuss around him. You see how quickly he picks up words he shouldn’t say.”

“Better gag yourself,” Vaughn mumbled.

“Shut up, bi…”

“Scott!” Cathy snapped.

“All right! I promise,” Baird said grudgingly.

“Well, I’d better get back. The starliner to Risa leaves in half an hour. Have fun,” Cathy said, hugging her brother again. “Thank you again, Emily.”

“We’re happy to do it,” Sullivan replied as Cathy stepped back onto the transporter padd.

“One of us is,” Baird muttered. “Goodbye, Cathy.”

“Goodbye, Scott. Now, Herbert, you be the little angel we all know you can me. Mommy and daddy love you. See you soon!”

Herbert just nodded distractedly, his eyes locked on the controls of the transporter console in front of Vaughn.

“Energize,” Baird said. Vaughn activated the transporter sending Cathy back to the Starbase. Suddenly, Baird heard the soft whoosh of doors opening. A quick glance around the room confirmed what he already knew. Herbert was missing. Baird ran out into the hallway in time to see Herbert disappearing around a corner.

“COME BACK HERE!!!” Baird bellowed at the top of his lungs, freezing terrified crewmen up and down the corridor. Sullenly, Herbert rounded the corner back into the main corridor and trudged up to Baird.

Baird leaned in closely to his nephew. “Do that again, and I’ll…”

“Who wants some lunch?” Sullivan said, stepping quickly over to the pair. “It’ll give us a chance to get to know each other.”

“Lunch!” Herbert cried happily. Baird growled under his breath.

“Come on, boys,” Sullivan said, taking Herbert by the hand and leading him toward the nearest turbolift.

Herbert looked back at Baird and stuck his tongue out. “We’re beating you…dork!”

Baird’s growl instantly became quite audible. Across the deck, crewmen fled in fear of whatever monster had been unleashed on the ship. Herbert just giggled and continued strolling along with his aunt.


“All right,” Sullivan said, clapping her hands together as Herbert sat at the dining table in Baird and Sullivan’s quarters, arms crossed and face in a full pout. “What would you like to eat?”

“I don’t wanna eat here,” Herbert said angrily.

“Then you don’t eat,” Baird said, stepping over to the replicator. “I’m having a hamburger, though. A big, juicy hamburger with a ton of fries.”

“Aunt Emily promised me a restaurant!”

“We’re not going to Seven Backward, and that’s final,” Baird said.

“Scott…” Sullivan began.

“I’m not setting him loose in there.”

“Fine. Herbert, how about a hamburger like Uncle Scott has?”

“I don’t wanna eat like Uncle Dork!”

“Then what about something else?” Sullivan said quickly before Baird say anything in response. Most likely nothing he’d have to say would be appropriate for Herbert’s ears…or anyone else’s for that matter.

“No.”

“Chicken fingers?”

“No.”

“Grilled cheese?”

“No.”

“Peanut butter and jelly?”

“No.”

“Tuna fish?”

“No.”

“Pizza?”

“No.”

“K’rachit da’al?”

“NO!”

“Then pick something yourself!” Sullivan snapped, losing her cool for a moment. She quickly caught herself and calmed down. “I’ve got an idea,” she said, moving over to the replicator. “Hot dog and french fries.” The order materialized, and Sullivan placed the plate in front of Herbert. “There you go. One nice…”

SMASH!

In a sudden blur of motion, Herbert had swung his arm out and slapped the plate, sending it flying off of the table and against the wall.

“Pizza!” he shouted, glaring at Baird, who was seated across the table eating his lunch and trying hard not to start laughing at Sullivan’s efforts to appease the demon child.

“Pizza. Fine,” Sullivan said, plastering a smile on her face as she returned to the replicator and placed the order. “Here you are,” she said, returning with the plate a few moments later. “Now, you’re going to sit here and eat your lunch, and if you’re very good and eat every last bite, we’ll take you up to see the bridge. If not, you’ll sit at this table until your grandparents get here…which is in about eighteen hours. Your choice, Herbie.”

Herbert wisely decided to eat the pizza.


“So this is our special guest,” Captain Alex Rydell said, swivelling around in his command chair as Baird, Sullivan, and Herbert stepped out onto the bridge. “What’s your name, little man?”

“Beelzebub,” Baird said.

“No, it’s not, Uncle Dork!” Herbert screamed. “I’m Herbert!”

“Uncle Dork?” Rydell said with a smirk.

“Endearing, don’t you think?” Sullivan said, leading Herbert down toward the helm console. “This is where Aunt Emily sits to fly the ship.”

“Can I do it?” Herbert asked.

“Not right now. We’re parked at this spacedock and can’t move.”

“Does this make you want a kid of your own?” Rydell asked as Baird plopped down into the chair normally occupied by Counselor Webber.

Baird glared back. “Have you lost your fu…freakin’ mind?”

Rydell smiled. “Watching your language? How sweet.”

Before Baird could respond, the ship suddenly jolted forward.

“I said don’t touch that!” Sullivan shouted, then quickly caught herself. “That’s a big no-no.”

“This is no fun. I wanna see where Uncle Dork works,” Herbert said, crossing his arms in a pout.

“No way,” Baird said. “I’m not letting that thing into Engineering.”

“I’m telling Mommy you were mean to me.”

“Go ahead. I was mean to her too. All through our childhoods.”

“I WANNA SEE ENGINEERING!” Herbert wailed.

“NOT A CHANCE!” Baird shouted back.

“Here,” Sullivan said, practically yanking Herbert out of the helm chair and dragging back to the rear of the bridge. “This is kind of like where Uncle Scott works. These are the Bridge Engineering Stations. Now don’t touch any…HERBERT!”

Baird was about to spin around and let Herbert have it when he realized that he wasn’t exactly in the chair anymore. Instead, he was slowly drifting up into the air as was everyone else on the bridge.

“I see he found the bridge gravity controls,” Rydell said flatly.

“Not just the bridge, sir,” Sullivan replied sheepishly as Baird did his best to propel himself over to the engineering station.

“Ah. Okay.” Rydell flipped himself over in mid-air, reached down, and tapped the all-call on the armrest of his chair. “Good afternoon, everyone. This is Captain Rydell. You might have noticed a slight loss of gravity. It’s nothing to worry about. We’ll have everything back to normal in just a second.”

Rydell, along with everyone and everything else on the ship, suddenly plummeted back to the deck as Baird reactivated the artificial gravity.

“There,” Rydell gasped painfully. “All better now.”


Lieutenant Commander Sullivan rolled over in bed to look at her husband, who was flat on his back, glaring at the ceiling.

“You planning on speaking to me again any time soon?” Sullivan asked.

“No,” Baird growled back.

“Hey, this isn’t my fault. Talk to Dillon if you’ve got a problem with it. He’s the one who made the bridge shift assignments.”

“I’d have a better chance of getting through to Herbert,” Baird groused. “But why did it have to be tomorrow morning? It’s like he knew that I needed you to help…you asked for this shift, didn’t you?”

“Why would I do that?” Sullivan replied quickly.

“Emily…”

“You’ll only have to keep Herbert occupied by yourself for a couple of hours. Then you can hand him off to your parents and forget he was ever here,” Sullivan said.

“Way to be a supportive spouse, Emily.”

“I’m not the one related to that monster.”

“So you admit he’s a demon child.”

“Yes. You were right. Happy?”

“No. I’m the one stuck with him tomorrow, while you’re off doing nothing on the bridge. We’re docked at a starbase! Why do you need to be up there anyway?”

“Talk to Dillon.”

“Never mind,” Baird said, crossing his arms angrily.

“I love you,” Sullivan said, kissing him lightly on the cheek. “Try to have fun with Herbert. I’ll be thinking about you.”

“You mean laughing at me.”

“Well, that too.”


The next morning, Commander Baird stared across the table at the young boy who was currently slurping his way through a big bowl of Frosted Plomeek Flakes. Baird wasn’t sure if coating the cereal flakes in so much sugar was logical, but it sure had given the Vulcans a big hit with the kids of Earth. Herbert was happy with them, so they could be coated with plasma residue for all Baird cared.

To the boy’s credit, he hadn’t destroyed the spare room where he’d slept the night before. Baird had taken the precaution of locking him in, just in case. Of course, he didn’t tell Sullivan about that part. He didn’t see the big deal. The room had a bed and a bathroom. What more would Herbert need?

“So what do you want to do today?” Baird asked finally. “How about heading to the holodeck?”

“I wanna see engineering,” Herbert replied.

“That area’s off limits,” Baird said, trying to come up with a more tactful response than “NO!”

“Why?”

“There’s a lot of dangerous stuff there.”

“I wanna see it.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t take you there.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so, you little brat!” Baird snapped. So much for tact. It wasn’t exactly his strong suit, anyway.

“Look,” Baird said, calming himself down. “I could create a simulation of engineering on the holodeck. How’s that sound?”

“Stupid!” Herbert spat back. He suddenly leapt out of his chair and made a break for the exit.

“Hey! Where are you going?” Baird shouted, fumbling to get out of his seat and give chase.

“Away from you…DORK!” Herbert cried, darting into the corridor.

“Come back here, you fu…” He couldn’t curse. Herbert would hear and…it’d be so much easier just to kill the monster. Cathy would be pissed, but cared. No, he couldn’t do that either. He really couldn’t do anything except…

“ARRGGGGGGH!”

The scream helped a little, but it still didn’t solve the problem of the escaped munchkin from hell. Baird could hear Herbert’s obnoxious giggle receding down the hallway.

“Bye, Dork,” Herbie shouted.

“Baird to security,” Baird said slapping his commbadge as he ran.

“Hawkins here,” Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins responded from her post on the bridge.

“I need you to find a small boy running away from my location.”

“This is not a proper use of the ship’s internal sensors.”

“Dammit, Patricia, you sound like Dillon! Since when did you care about regulations anyway?”

“Great attitude to have toward the person you want to help you,” Hawkins said.

“Did you lose Herbert?” Sullivan’s voice broke in.

“Emily…”

“Please give him a hand, Patricia,” Sullivan said.

“All right,” Hawkins said. “I’m checking… got him! He’s heading toward Sickbay.”

“Thanks,” Baird said, breaking into a job down the corridor.

“If you’re having a hard time controlling your nephew, I could send Counselor Webber down to help you.”

“I think a security team would be more useful,” Baird muttered.


Running at full speed, Baird managed to catch up with Herbert as the boy approached the doors to Sickbay. Herbert was weaving back and forth through the corridor, trying to find a set of doors that would open to him. So far he hadn’t had any luck, but Baird knew that would change if he made it to Sickbay.

“Stop right there!” Baird bellowed. Rather than freezing in his tracks, Herbert actually sped up and raced right up to the Sickbay doors, which had just opened to allow Lieutenant Andrea Carr to exit.

“Hi there, little guy,” Carr said warmly, tousling Herbert’s hair as he dashed past her. She spotted Baird running toward her. “Morning, Commander.”

“Why didn’t you stop him?” Baird demanded.

“Was I supposed to?” Carr asked confused.

Baird growled and stormed into Sickbay, where he quickly spotted Herbert. He had a hypospray in his hand and was eyeing it mischievously as Dr. Elizabeth Aldridge slowly approached him, hand outstretched.

“Give the nice doctor her medicine back please, little boy,” Aldridge said, a distinct edge present in the sweetness she was trying to force into her voice.

“Is this yours?” she asked, spotting Baird.

“Unfortunately,” Baird said. “What’s he got?”

“It’s a local anesthetic. I was about to use it on Ensign Borral. He caught his third leg in the turbolift doors again.”

“And it hurrrrrrrts!” Borral wailed from a nearby biobed.

“Give it back, Herbert,” Baird ordered.

“No! I wanna see it.”

“You saw it,” Baird said, moving to grab Herbert. “Now give it…”

Herbert squirmed away Baird’s arms and slammed the hypospray against the Chief Engineer’s leg.

HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

“Get away from meeeeeee!” Herbert whined, running back out the door. Baird moved to follow and promptly fell to the deck as his right leg refused to cooperate.

“That’s not good,” Dr. Aldridge observed, looking down at Baird.

“You got something to counteract this?” Baird asked, using a biobed to pull himself to his feet. His right leg was stuck straight and stiff as a duranium rod.

“Sure. Time. In about three hours, you’ll be good as new.”

“Fucking great,” Baird grumbled, step-dragging himself to the Sickbay replicator. “Give me a roller skate,” he ordered.

“This is a food replicator only,” the computer replied. “For other replicated items, use the replicator rooms located throughout the ship.”

“I know where the fucking replicator rooms are!” Baird thundered. “But if you don’t give me a fucking roller skate, I’m going to ram a fucking phaser up your control circuits and alter your fucking programming the hard way!”

The replicator hummed softly and produced a nice shiny roller skate. With a great deal of difficulty (accompanied by a fair amount of profanity), Baird put the skate on his immobilized foot and stood up, step-rolling toward the exit with a look of grim determination (or maybe it was cold homicidal fury. It can be so hard to tell the difference sometimes) on his face.

“Sullivan to Baird,” his commbadge barked.

“Baird here.”

“Patricia says Herbie’s in a turbolift. No wait. He’s out and heading toward engineering,” Sullivan said.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!!!!” Baird screamed. “How did he even know where it was?”

“He probably just asked the computer.”

“Remind me to make that thing less fucking helpful,” Baird said.

“I’ve got some good news, honey,” Sullivan added.

“What?” Baird asked. “Are the Borg attacking?”

“We received a message from the ship carrying your parents. They’re going to be here in half an hour.”

“Something is going right. Evacuate engineering, Emily.”

“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?” Sullivan asked uneasily.

“I’m going to get him one on one.”

“Whatever you say, dear. Bridge out.”

“Baird to Vaughn.”

“Vaughn here,” the Secondprize’s transporter chief replied.

“I need you to beam me to engineering now.”

“Too lazy to walk?” Vaughn replied.

“What part of now did you miss?” Baird snapped.

“Fine. Energizing.”

Baird felt the tingle of the transporter beam envelop him, and seconds later he was in engineering, which was already deserted. His staff had sure cleared out in a hurry, not that they needed to be told twice to take a break.

“Baird to bridge. I’m here. Where’s Herbert?”

“He’s in there somewhere,” Sullivan said. “He couldn’t have left without us knowing about it.”

“Well, I don’t see… ARRRGH!” Baird suddenly felt his good leg being pulled up behind him, flipping his body parallel to the ground supported only by his dead leg. Then he heard Herbert’s evil cackle behind him.

“Time to go for a ride, Uncle Dork!” Herbert said as he started wheeling Baird around the room, narrowly avoiding slamming him into the status table and several of the wall displays.

“Let me go, you little shit!” Baird screamed.

“Okay!” Herbert replied gleefully, running Baird directly toward the warp core, more specifically toward the deep shaft surrounding the core. At least there was a railing there…a railing Baird quickly realized that he was going to pass right under in his current position. Herbert let go at the last second, giving Baird a chance to take action. He managed to reach up and grab onto the railing just as he started to pass under it, hanging on for dear life as the rest of his body dangled over the core shaft. His one good leg kicked madly, attempting to get a perch on the safety of the deck.

He wasn’t having much luck, particularly since he kept getting distracted by Herbert, who was stalking over with an sadistic glint in his eye. “Can Uncle Dork fly?”

“No!” Baird shouted back. “If I fall, I die. Do you understand?”

“No, you won’t.”

“Yes, I will.”

“No, you won’t.”

“YES, I will!”

“No, you won’t,” Herbert insisted, grabbing one of Baird’s fingers.

“Don’t do this, Herbert,” Baird said, next pulling out a word he rarely used. “Please.”

“That’s enough!” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan’s voice bellowed, echoing across the emptiness of engineering. Herbert spun around and saw that his Aunt Emily and another woman were racing toward him. Neither looked happy at all.

“I was just playing!” Herbert cried, jumping away from Baird.

“Tell it to her,” Sullivan said, pointing at Lieutenant Commander Hawkins. “This is our chief of security, and she thinks you have been VERY bad.”

“BBBBUT,” Herbert wailed on the verge of tears.

“Shut up!” Hawkins shouted, getting into the swing of playing bad cop. “You’re under official…playtime arrest.” Sullivan looked at her in confusion. Hawkins shrugged. It was all that she could come up with.

“I want to play with Uncle Dork…I mean Scott some more,” Herbert whined.

“Too bad, kid. You’re coming with me. Now march!” Hawkins said, grabbing Herbert by the arm and dragging him toward the door as Sullivan helped Baird get his footing then pull himself over the warp core railing.

“Tsk tsk,” Sullivan scolded, barely containing her laughter. “Scott Baird almost gets taken out by a seven-year-old.”

“An evil seven-year-old!” Baird said, trying to regain his balance on his numb leg.

“Sure, hon.”

“He is!”

“Okay.”

“Fine. I know what would have happened if you hadn’t shown up. Dead Me!”

“So you admit I saved your life,” Sullivan said smiling.

“Oh, go to hell,” Baird snapped, storming out of engineering with as much indignation as he could muster on his roller skate.


Thirty minutes later, Baird paced slowly around Transporter Room Three, trying to work some feeling back into his leg as Herbert wandered sullenly around the transporter room, watched closely by Hawkins and Sullivan. There were two security guards stationed just outside the door should Herbert decide to make a break for it. Hawkins wasn’t taking any chances. Every once in a while, Herbert would edge toward one piece of equipment or another, but Hawkins would promptly aim her phaser at him, sending him a clear message to move away.

“Bridge to Commander Baird,” Lieutenant Caulk’s voice said over the comm system.

“Baird here.”

“Starbase 57 Transporter Control says your parents have arrived and are standing by to receive the child.”

“About fucking time,” Baird muttered, low enough that Herbert couldn’t hear. “We’re sending him over. Baird out.”

“You don’t want to beam over with him?” Sullivan asked. “We could see your parents.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Baird asked.

“I hope this taught you something,” Hawkins said to Herbert as he stepped up onto the transporter pad.

“Yeah. Don’t get caught,” Herbert said as an evil grin spread across his face.

“Get him out of here,” Baird ordered.

“Energizing,” Lieutenant Vaughn said.

And a moment later, the demon was gone, but Baird could swear that just before Herbert vanished for good, he’d stuck his tongue out at him.


“So you’re back to normal, huh?” Sullivan said from the sofa as Baird walked into their quarters with both legs in perfect working order.

“Finally,” Baird said, ordering a drink from the replicator.

Sullivan got up and wrapped her arms around Baird. “Your dad commed while you were in Sickbay. Something about Herbert calling him a ‘little shit.’ You wouldn’t know where he picked that up, would you?”

“Fucking kid. Next time Cathy comms, you’re talking to her,” Baird said. “And this is the last time we babysit. As far as I’m concerned, this is the last time I ever want to be near anything even associated with kids!”

“Is this a bad time to tell you I’m pregnant?”

Baird’s eyes widened in horror as he broke into a spontaneous coughing fit.

“Kidding, hon,” Sullivan said smiling sweetly.

“Death,” Baird croaked, slamming his glass down on the table.

“Can’t we talk about this?” Sullivan asked, backing toward the door.

“No talk, just death.”

Baird lunged at her just as Sullivan darted out of the exit, screaming and laughing all the way as her husband pursued her through the Secondprize corridors.




REUNION


“Funny how things change, huh?” Sullivan said, patting Baird’s hand on the table.

“Uh huh,” Baird said simply.

“Um…excuse me?” Beck said, catching the glint in their eyes. “What do you mean change?”

Sullivan and Baird exchanged an amused glance.

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” Beck insisted.

“Yep. We found out a few days ago,” Sullivan replied, a huge grin spreading across her face. Baird wasn’t able to hold back a smile either.

“Wow. What happened?” Rydell asked after the initial hugs, shouts of excitement and calls of congratulations subsided. “I mean, last time I saw you two, you’d decided to have a dog instead of kids.”

Baird shrugged. “We changed our minds.”

“Somebody decided he wanted to be a daddy,” Sullivan said, cupping Baird’s chin. “Yes he did. Yes he did.”

“Do you want to live to deliver this bugger?” Baird growled.

“Yes I do,” Sullivan cooed, planting a kiss on his lips. “And to think I only had to be pushing 50 before you made up your mind.”

“So you’ll be 100 when your kid hits 50. No big deal,” Rydell said. “My kids aren’t going to have it that much different.”

“Kids plural?” Jaroch said. “I was not aware that you had had a second child.”

“Four years ago,” Rydell said. “Brian. He’s just getting to the point where he can effectively annoy his older sister. What about the rest of you? Any offspring we should know about?”

“We don’t think so,” Hawkins said. “We’re pretty happy with just us.”

“No,” Travis said.

“None here,” Beck said.

“Is that a none ever or a none for now?” Rydell asked.

“If I ever get the love life figured out, I’ll think about the whole motherhood thing. For now, I’m doing just fine.”

“Fair enough,” Rydell said. “Claire?”

“Millions. Via holovision, of course. I can sing to them, teach them, nurture them, and the best part is I don’t have to clean up after them.”

“You may be onto something there,” Rydell chuckled. “Beth?”

“Adrian. He’s 10. Looks just like his father, too.” Aldridge’s husband was also her partner in the pediatrics practice she had on Earth.

“Monica?” Rydell asked.

“A little boy here, too. He’s five.”

Rydell paused for a moment before speaking. Several years ago, Vaughn had married a Nuphelian. The male of the species was known for a particular anatomical difference from most other humanoids. “Does he…um…take after his father?”

“You mean does he have three pee-pees? Jeeze. Listen to me. I am a mom. But no. He’s just got the two.”

“Two,” Rydell said. “Oooookay. Moving on. What about you, Andrea?”

“Well…we’re thinking about it,” Carr replied with a slight smile.

“We? When did you become a we?” Rydell asked amused.

“Two years ago last month.”

“And I didn’t get an invite.”

“No one did,” Hawkins said. “They eloped.”

“It was romantic,” Carr said a little dreamily.

“So who’s the lucky guy?” Rydell asked.

“Dr. Temple,” Jaroch replied, since Carr seemed to be busy staring off into space, most likely remembering bits of her elopement. “He is part of the Secondprize’s medical staff.”

“A doctor, huh?” Rydell said.

“Yes indeed,” Carr said, her mind coming back to the group. “He is.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but somehow I always thought you’d end up with someone more…I don’t know…artsy. Like a painter or something.”

Carr’s face darkened. “Unh uh. No way. I tried that route once and NEVER again…”




“YOU’RE THE INSPIRATION”


STARDATE 51977.3


There was something of a spring to Lieutenant Andrea Carr’s step as she made her way past the various storefronts and stands of The Vergunui, the galactically-renown shopping district of Oentia City on Argellus III. Actually Carr’s spring was bordering on an all-out bounce, which was starting to get to her shopping companion.

“Andrea!” Lieutenant Emily Sullivan snapped suddenly. “Please! It’s like walking with a kangaroo here!”

“Sorry,” Carr replied giddily. “It’s just…TWO WHOLE WEEKS LEAVE! Can you believe it? I owe Starfleet a big thank you letter. Maybe I’ll even write them an ode or something.”

“You do realize they did this to get us out of the way while the Federation President tours the local sectors,” Sullivan said.

“Who cares? We get two weeks on Argellus III. I’ve always wanted to come here.”

“I didn’t know you were that into shopping.”

“I’m not. This planet…this city is the home of Seugio P’lezar. I might get to meet Seugio P’lezar!” Carr exclaimed.

“Okay. I’ll bite,” Sullivan said. “Who’s Seugio P’lezar?”

“The Phases of Neuiris Diel?”

“Never heard of it.”

Carr gasped. “It’s the greatest book of poetry of the modern age! Six years ago when P’lezar published it, the book won the V’dreth Prize in Literature. They even asked him to be Poet Laureate of the Federation, and he turned them down! Instead he stayed here.”

“Wow. I can’t believe I didn’t know that,” Sullivan said sarcastically.

“I guess poetry just isn’t your genre.”

“I didn’t think I had a genre,” Sullivan said. “That aside, how are you going to meet this guy? Go knock on his door?”

“NO!” Carr replied in horror. “He’s scheduled to do a reading this evening at the Oentia Central Theater. I ordered tickets as soon as I found out we were coming here.”

“Tickets?” Sullivan asked warily. “As in more than one?”

“Yes! I got you one, too!”

“But…”

“Isn’t Scott off on that caving trip with the Captain for the next couple of days?”

“Spelunking.”

“But he’s away.”

“Yeah, but…”

“And you didn’t have any other plans.”

“No, but…”

“And you’re always complaining that Scott isn’t interested in culture.”

“True, but poetry and I…”

“Will get along great!” Carr said. “You just need to give yourself over to it.”

“I don’t know, Andrea. If the poetry starts trying to get that personal with me, I’m out of there.”

“You’ll love it. Trust me. We’ll get dressed up, find a nice restaurant to get dinner at, then we’ll go hear the words of the greatest poet of our time.”

“Sounds great,” Sullivan said weakly. Oh well. At the very least she might be able to catch up on her sleep.


The evening was not turning out to be nearly as painful as Sullivan had expected. She didn’t have much use or many opportunities for getting dressed up, but finding a sleek black formal dress and slipping into it had been kind of fun. Dinner was also decidedly on the enjoyable side. Argellian cuisine, while limited to meats and vegetables, was exceptionally flavorful due to the various blends of herbs and spices they used to season their foods. No sauces of any kind need apply.

At the reading itself, the famous Seugio P’lezar read from his equally famous (or perhaps more so) and award winning collection of poems, “The Phases of Neuiris Diel.” Sullivan didn’t have a clue if this Diel was a person a place or a state of mind, but from what she could pick up, the phases varied between longing, loneliness, some lonely longing, and the occasional longing while alone.

It didn’t seem to matter to Carr, though. She was obviously a full-on poetry groupie, or at least a Seugio P’lezar groupie. Sullivan couldn’t blame her for the most part, P’lezar was an attractive man in his mid-30’s with wavy black hair, intense eyes, a strong chin, and a soulful melodious voice that had a way of sucking you in even when you didn’t have a clue what the hell he was talking about, which Sullivan didn’t. Carr, meanwhile, was mouthing the words along with P’lezar as he made his way through each poem in his practiced yet powerful performance.

“A life of wisps.

A silent hiss before muted time.”

P’lezar finished his last verse, took a slight bow, then retreated from the stage as the audience broke into enthusiastic applause. Sullivan, who was clapping more politely than eagerly, glanced over at Carr, who sat ramrod straight in her chair, her body seemingly frozen as her eyes stared forward.

“Andrea?” Sullivan said. “You in there?”

Carr nodded slowly, her gaze still locked on the now-vacant podium where P’lezar had stood moments before.

“Wasn’t he incredible?” Carr said finally.

“Poetry isn’t really my thing, but he kept my interest,” Sullivan said. She almost asked Carr to explain what the hell any of it was supposed to mean, but caught herself. No need to walk into that trap.

“I want to meet him,” Carr said, standing up and heading out to the aisle.

“Now?”

“I’ve got to catch him before he leaves. This could be my only chance to talk to him.”

“All right. All right,” Sullivan said, rising up from her chair as quickly as she could in a dress that didn’t allow her as much mobility as she was used to. By the time she made it out into the aisle, Carr was already climbing the stairs to the stage. A moment later, Carr disappeared into the wings, following P’lezar’s path.

Jogging as much as possible, Sullivan raced after Carr, soon finding her backstage standing a short distance from Seugio P’lezar himself. At the moment, P’lezar was in conversation with an older, heavyset gentleman who was shaking his hand warmly. The man soon said his goodbyes and rushed away. P’lezar, noticing Carr, turned to his admirer and smiled.


He was smiling at her. Smiling! At her! Carr was at once exhilarated and petrified as the man whose work she had admired for years took a step toward her.

“Greetings to you,” P’lezar said with a slight bow.

“H-h-hello,” Carr stammered. “I-I can’t believe I’m talking to you.”

“And why is that?”

“You! You’re you!”

“That I am, but it is no great feat. As for you, you’re Terran, are you not?”

“Yes. Andrea. Andrea Carr. I’m a big fan of your work. I adore it really. You’ve been such a huge influence on my own writing.”

“Oh really? You write as well.”

“Yes. I’m nowhere near the poet you are, though. Your words touched me from the first time I read ‘The Phases of Neuiris Diel.’”

“You’re very kind. I hope you enjoyed the reading,” P’lezar said.

“Oh I did! I did! I never thought I would get the chance to actually see you in person. This has been amazing. I’m sorry. I’m babbling. You must have a hundred other things to do. But I just had to come speak to you and let you know what your work has meant to me.”

“Would you like to join me for a drink?”

Carr froze. “Excuse me?”

“Pardon me for being so forward, but I have not had the opportunity to speak to anyone from off world for quite some time. Certainly no one as lovely as you.”

The Secondprize’s Operations Officer blushed. “Thank you. I’d be honored.”

“The honor is all mine.”


Across the room, Sullivan watched as Carr took P’lezar’s arm and walked with him toward the exit. Carr looked over her shoulder, spotted Sullivan, and gave her a quick wave. That settled it. Carr would not be coming back anytime soon. Sullivan chuckled softly and headed off in the other direction. At least someone wouldn’t be spending the evening alone.


The following morning, Carr has just about finished her breakfast in Seven Backward when she heard the rapid approached of feet. Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins practically leapt into the seat across the table from her.

“Sullivan told me everything except the important stuff,” Hawkins said as her significant other, Commander Travis Dillon, plodded up behind the chair, obviously unhappy to be dragged into this situation. “So spill it. What happened last night?”

“I had a wonderful evening with the most amazing man in the cosmos,” Carr replied dreamily. “What else is there to say?”

“Plenty,” Hawkins said. “Like did clothes stay on?”

“Patricia!”

“I’m just asking!”

“There’s a betting pool,” Dillon said flatly.

“Travis!” Hawkins snapped, glaring back at him.

“Well there is.”

“What?” Carr exclaimed.

“We’re just looking out for you, Andrea,” Hawkins said.

“Sure.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“How far did it go?”

“He was a perfect gentleman,” Carr said.

Dillon snorted.

“He was!” Carr insisted. “This is one of the greatest lyrical artists of our time we’re talking about here. Not some one night stand!”

“So you’re seeing him again,” Hawkins said.

“Tonight. He’s invited me to his home for dinner. I think he’s actually going to cook for me. Can you believe it?”

“He probably wants your access codes to the ship,” Dillon said.

Carr resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “With all due respect, sir, he’s a poet. What would he want with my access codes?”

“I just don’t trust a man who does this.”

“Does what?” Carr asked. “Ask me out?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“It was implied.”

“It was a hell of a lot more than implied,” Hawkins said, swinging her hand back and swatting Dillon lightly on the arm. “Where’s your sense of romance?”

“It’s fine. I just don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning to find the ship overrun with Argellian extremists.”

“There’s no such thing as Argellian extremists,” Hawkins said.

“Prove it.”

“Travis…”

“You can’t! So I say better safe than sorry.”

“Fine,” Hawkins said, turning back to Carr. “Andrea, if the nice poet asks for your access codes, say no. Okay?”

“I’ll do that.”

“Good. Problem solved,” Hawkins said, getting up from her chair. “You go have some fun tonight.”

“I plan to,” Carr said. “You try to have a nice evening as well.”

“I’m going to try to teach this guy some romance,” Hawkins said, elbowing Dillon playfully in the side.

“I’m romantic,” Dillon protested.

“Oh really?” Hawkins said skeptically.

“Really,” Dillon replied. “And that, I can prove. I got you something.”

“What?”

“A new holodeck program.”

“Is it violent?”

“Very. I had it especially designed for you.”

“Can we play it?” Hawkins asked eagerly.

“I reserved us a two hour slot tonight, which includes time for a nice meal before the carnage begins.”

“Okay. You got me. That was romantic.”

“Thank you.” She looked back at Carr. “I’ll check with you tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Carr said with a laugh. “Enjoy your slaughter.”


If it wasn’t actually happening to her, Carr would have thought that the last few hours were some fantasy her mind had conjured in her sleep rather than actual reality. P’lezar had indeed made dinner for her. An incredible meal of meat so tender it almost dissolved in her mouth accompanied by equally sumptuous vegetables and wine that set her taste buds dancing.

After the meal, she and P’lezar had gone to his den, where they were both lounging on thick floor rugs in front of a blazing fireplace. An actual blazing fireplace! She was ready to melt into his arms at any moment.

But then the most amazing thing happened. He asked to hear her poetry. Sure connecting to the ship and downloading her work to a padd he’d let her borrow broke the mood for a few moments, but that was more than worth it to have Seugio P’lezar sitting across from her, watching her intently as she read her poems, poems his own work had inspired.

He was silent as she completed her final reading, his right fingers slowly and repeatedly running across his left palm.

“I know they’re nowhere near as good as yours,” Carr said. “But you’ve been a big inspiration to me.”

“They were very nice,” P’lezar replied with a warm smile. “Very emotional. You have a way of evoking your inner self that is admirable.”

“Really? Thank you! And thank you for listening. You must have people coming up to you all the time wanting to read you their poems.”

“Not so often anymore. Staying on my homeworld has hurt my galactic fame, but that was never of interest to me. It is all about my art.”

“Of course,” Carr said wistfully.

“I do enjoy sharing my work with others, though. In fact, I have a reading tomorrow afternoon, if you would care to join me.”

“I’d love to!” Carr exclaimed. “Um…should I meet you here or there or…”

“Actually, I was hoping you would stay the night.”

Carr grinned. “I was hoping you’d ask.”


As much as she loved her writing, Lieutenant Carr had never really considered it to be more important than her Starfleet career. Yes, she enjoyed the time she spent composing her works, but it was a good way to relax after bridge shifts and the like. Deep down, she always saw herself in command of a starship one day. It had been a dream since high school. Something about the Starfleet recruitment vid she’d been forced to watch in class one day had struck a chord and made her realized that she longed to be out among the stars.

But after last night and this morning, Carr was seriously considering chucking it all and taking up residence on Argellus III, preferably inside Seugio P’lezar’s residence. Honestly, it was taking everything she could muster just to allow herself to be pulled from his house today. But P’lezar’s fans were waiting, and she could not deny them the thrill of listening to him read his work.

The couple emerged into the sunshine of a cool Argellian Fall day and began their walk down the shaded path in front of P’lezar’s wooded lot toward the main road where they would catch a hovertram into the central part of the city. To Carr, the entire scene was idyllic, especially the part where she was walking hand-in-hand with Seugio P’lezar.

P’lezar stopped suddenly about halfway down the walk. “I’ve forgotten my reading,” he said with a chuckle. “You’d think by now I wouldn’t need anything to read from.”

“It is a lot of poems,” Carr said. She had them all memorized, but she wasn’t about to make him feel worse about needing a padd to jog his memory.

“Stay here. I’ll just run back and grab it.”

P’lezar jogged back to his front door and went inside, leaving Carr to enjoy the crisp air.

Which was what she did right up until the hand clamped over her mouth and dragged her away.


“Who are you?” Carr shouted to the darkness surrounding her. “What do you want?” After being roughly grabbed from P’lezar’s front walk, she’d had a hood tossed over her head and been stuffed into a hovercar. Now she was blindfolded and tied to a chair, which was a situation that, considering how wonderfully the day had began, she never expected to find herself in, not that there were many days she expected to be kidnapped and bound to a chair.

“I’m a Starfleet Officer, so unless you really want to bring a whole bunch of trouble down on yourselves, I think you’d better let me go.”

“Oh we have every intention of letting you go,” a silky female voice whispered into her ear. “But in exchange you’re going to do something for us.”

“I’m not giving you my access codes,” Carr said firmly.

“What would we possibly want with your access codes?”

“Um…never mind. What do you want me to do?”

“Just deliver a message for us to your friend P’lezar.”

“What kind of message?”

“If you’d let me say more than ten words without interrupting me, I’d tell you!” the woman snapped.

“Sorry.”

“Good. Now then, at P’lezar’s reading tomorrow at the Oentia Citadel, he will deliver our message to the Governing Council.”

“I thought I was delivering the message,” Carr said confused.

“You’re delivering the message that he has to deliver our message. Understand?”

“Got it. Will you be giving me the message that he’s supposed to deliver?”

“Yes! That’s what I’m trying to do! Listen closely. Unless P’lezar tells the Governing Council to turn rule of the Uleera Province over the to the local magistrates at his reading tomorrow night, we, the members of the Uleera Independence Guild, are going to start killing the people closest to him one by one…starting with his new girlfriend.”

“He has a girlfriend!” Carr shouted in horror.

“That’s you.”

“Oh! Does he really think of me as his girlfriend? It’s so fast. But so sweet. He’s really an amazing man. I’m so lucky to have met him.”

The mysterious woman cleared her throat threateningly.

“Oh right!” Carr said. “Message! Got it.”

“You’d better hope so,” the woman hissed.


Several hours later, Carr was unceremoniously dumped onto P’lezar’s doorstep, still blindfolded and with her hands bound behind her back. Her captors were nice enough to ring the door chime before running away at least.

A few seconds later, she heard the door whoosh open.

“Andrea!” P’lezar exclaimed, pulling her into the house. “What happened to you?”

“I was kidnapped!” Carr replied as P’lezar removed the blindfold from her eyes and started working on the bindings on her hands.

“Why would anyone want to do that?”

“It was the Uleera Independence Guild. They want you to say something at your reading tomorrow about turning the Uleera Province over to the local magistrates. I don’t get why they think it’s so important for you to do this, though.”

“I have always kept politics out of my work, and that has given me a good relationship with the Governing Council. The Guild believes that, because of that relationship, if I take a stand on an issue, the Council will be swayed by my point of view. I’ve refused their requests in the past. Obviously now they’ve decided to step up their efforts. Hopefully you won’t have to be involved in this anymore.”

“I’m very involved now. They threatened to kill me if you don’t do what they say.”

“Perhaps you should spend tomorrow on your ship then,” P’lezar said, his face filled with concern.

Carr shook her head. “No way. I’m going to that reading tomorrow. No Argellian extremist group is going to keep me from hearing your poetry again.”

“I don’t know that they’re really extremists…”

“Close enough. And I’m going!”


Another picture perfect day on Argellus III, yet Carr could shake a sense of nervous anticipation. It could have something to do with the threat of death hanging over her, not that she really put much stock in the abilities of the Uleera Independence Guild. If they wanted to get to her, they were going to have to get through Starfleet…well, the Secondprize anyway…the few people she could muster to help at least.

For his part, P’lezar appeared to be equally nervous as he and Carr once again made their way down his front walk toward the main road. He’d cooked for her again last night and then given her the most wonderful massage to work out any kinks brought on by being tied to a chair for a couple of hours. Honestly, Carr didn’t have any muscle pain after her mini-ordeal, but she wasn’t about to tell him that. Not when there was massaging to be done.

P’lezar suddenly stopped in his tracks.

“What did you forget?” Carr asked, anticipating his next words.

“My security badge. I won’t be able to get us into the Citadel without it.” He turned back to the house. “I’ll be…”

“No. I’ll go,” Carr interrupted. “Just tell me where it is.”

“Top right desk drawer in my study.”

“Got it. Be right back.”

“All right. I’ll hold the hovertram for you.”

As P’lezar continued on to the street, Carr jogged back to the house and waited for the computer system to authorize for entry. The computer chirped its approval, the door slid open…

And then a hand clapped over her mouth from behind and dragged her away.


Commander Travis Dillon shifted uncomfortably on the stone bench he was seated on in the outdoor amphitheater at the Oentia Citadel, the seat of government for Oentia City and the surrounding provinces, and looked around as his annoyance grew.

“Where is she?” he asked for the hundredth time since their arrival.

“I don’t know,” Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins replied. The crowd for P’lezar’s reading was slowly growing as the start of the event approached, but there was no sign of Carr anywhere.

“If I’m going to have to sit through the same poems again, she’d damn well better be here,” Lieutenant Emily Sullivan groused.

“I’m with her,” Dillon said. “Except for the hearing them again part. I didn’t hear these poems before, and I’m not really happy about hearing them now.”

“Then don’t listen,” Hawkins said, watching the crowd for signs of anyone suspicious. “That’s not what we’re here for anyway.”

“Right. We have extremists to find. What about him?” Dillon said, pointing a man out to Hawkins.

“He looks to be about a thousand years old,” Sullivan said.

“He’s scowling.”

“So are you,” Hawkins said.

Dillon folded his arms and deepened said scowl. “Carr had better be here.”


Carr wasn’t there. At that particular moment, she was again blindfolded and her hands tied behind the chair in which she was seated, a state of affairs that had her emotions wavering between frightened and damn annoyed.

“Okay. That’s enough! Is someone going to talk to me today?” she called out.

“No need to talk,” a raspy male voice replied. Hmm…a man this time. What happened to the woman from yesterday?

“Are you with the Uleera Independence Guild?”

The man grunted a yes.

“Um…so why am I here then? I delivered your message to Seugio.”

“If he doesn’t say what we want him to, we’re supposed to kill you.” Was it just her imagination or did this guy not sound at all comfortable with the threatening captor role?

“I’m sure he will,” Carr replied, trying to sound as sweet and innocent as possible. “Seugio wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt. And you don’t really want to hurt anyone, do you?”

“We’ll do what we have to do,” the man replied unconvincingly.

“You won’t have to hurt me. I’m sure of it. Seugio will deliver your message, but while we’re waiting, could you untie my hands?”

“What?”

“I’m claustrophobic, and this is really starting to make me want to panic. I won’t move. I promise.”

“Claustrophobic? You seemed fine yesterday.”

Time to lay it on. “Only because I was so scared. Now I know everything will be fine, but these ropes…I can’t move my hands. Please…”

“I don’t think…”

“Please! Untie me! Please! PLEASE! You have to untie me! I can’t take this! I’m going to…I can’t breathe. Help! AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! PLEEEEEEEEEASEEEE!”

“All right! All right!” her captor cried. Carr felt hands working on her bindings as the man knelt behind the spartan metal chair holding her. A moment later, her hands were free, but before the man could stand back up she suddenly threw all of her weight backward, knocking the metal chair back right into his skull. Carr leapt up from the chair, ripping the blindfold off as she did so.

For the briefest instant, she was stunned by her surroundings. She was in a living room. Somehow she’d expected the Uleera Independence Guild to operate out of a warehouse somewhere or something, not some normal residence.

She didn’t have much more time to consider the matter as her captor was shaking off the chair to the head and struggling to his feet. Carr quickly sent him back to the floor with the help of one of the patented Starfleet double-fist shots to back of his already battered noggin. That was enough to send him off to the realm of the unconscious. In short order, Carr hogtied him with the ropes he’d used to tie her hands, then raced out of the house determined to get to the Citadel and P’lezar before the Uleera Independence Guild realized she’d escaped.


Despite Carr’s assertion to the contrary, after listening to P’lezar read for a second time, Sullivan was now positive that poetry was not her genre. In fact, she was pretty much back to her earlier belief that she didn’t have a genre at all. The one small consolation to all of this was that P’lezar was reading new poems this time. Too bad Carr wasn’t there to hear them.

From the growing look of concern on Hawkins’ face next to her, Sullivan could tell that the Secondprize’s security officer was having the same dark thoughts that were running through Sullivan’s mind. The Uleera Independence Guild must have gotten to Carr first. So far P’lezar had not made any political comments, but the reading wasn’t over yet. That meant Carr was probably still alive. The Secondprize’s transporter room was supposedly keeping track of Carr, but if the Guild found the commbadge she’d stashed in her pocket, all bets were off.

For now, all Sullivan, Hawkins and Dillon could do was watch for anyone who didn’t seem to be there for the poetry. It was a longshot, but it was all they had until the situation changed.

Hawkins tapped Sullivan on the shoulder and pointed to the rear of the amphitheater. Carr was standing there, gasping for breath as though she’d just run a long distance.

That certainly changed the situation.


Carr squatted at the top of the amphitheater stairs, trying to pull herself together after sprinting from the hovertram stop into the Citadel, past the security guards (who seemed to content when she flashed her commbadge and shouted that this was a Starfleet emergency), and into the area where P’lezar was to read.

Much to her relief, everything seemed to be calm and orderly. Her backup from the Secondprize, such as it was, had arrived and was seated several rows down. Meanwhile, P’lezar stood at the center of the stage, his arm extended dramatically, his voice booming as he spoke those words.

Those words.

Wait.

“HEY! THOSE ARE MY WORDS!” Carr shouted, storming down the stairs toward the stage.

The audience erupted into utter chaos. Okay, really is was more of a confused murmur, but it didn’t matter to Carr. The bastard was reading HER poems!

“Andrea!” P’lezar exclaimed, obviously surprised to see her there.

Carr reached the stage and went toe-to-toe with the frightened poet, snatching the padd out of his hands. It was full of nothing but her poems. “Another writer’s work. How could you?” She turned back to the audience. “I wrote these poems,” she announced. “Not this…this…plagiarist!”

“That would explain the frequent Earth imagery,” a voice from the crowd said.

“And that bit about his hair billowing in the wind.”

“And that whole poem about his womanhood.”

A wave of discontent swept through the audience as they realized that they had indeed been had. Hawkins quickly motioned for Sullivan and Dillon to follow her up to the stage. She didn’t think a poetry reading crowd would really get violent, but best to be prepared just in case things got ugly.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” Carr demanded turning back on P’lezar.

The Argellian’s head drooped. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this before, but once I heard your work, I saw a light in the darkness that has been surrounding me.”

“What darkness?” Carr scoffed.

“The darkness that fills my mind every time I try to write. I haven’t completed a new poem since ‘The Phases of Neuiris Diel’ was published. I can’t. I’ve tried, but nothing happens. That’s why I turned down the offer to be Federation Poet Laureate. That’s why I’ve stayed on my homeworld. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had lost my talent. But then I met you, and when I heard your work I felt flashes of my own. I grew jealous and did something horrible. I had my sister and brother-in-law keep you from attending my readings so that I could read your poems and present them as my own. I hoped that if I could just keep you out of the way until your ship left, I could stay here and read your work without you ever knowing.”

Carr’s face softened. “You really thought my poems were good enough to steal? Wow. That’s…” She suddenly lashed out and slapped him. “…still really crummy!”

“I know. But you can’t know the agony I felt knowing that the quadrant was watching me, waiting for me to produce new works. Day after day I would stare at a blank screen, praying for something to happen. Some inspiration to come. Instead, I felt nothing but despair as I faced an arid wasteland my own creative famine. I was staring into the abyss of my own mind, searching for sparks of…” P’lezar’s eyes suddenly glazed over as he stood staring off at nothing.

“Sparks of?” Carr asked. “Seugio?”

“Ha!” P’lezar cried suddenly, grabbing the padd back from Carr. He slipped a light pen of out the back of the padd and began scribbling furiously on the screen. Moments later, he slapped the padd down on the podium and launched himself at Carr, embracing her in a bear hug that would have made Counselor Webber jealous.

“Thank you!” he exclaimed, holding her close. “The words! I can feel the words returning to me!”

“Glad I could help,” Carr gasped. P’lezar released his grip and took a step back, clasping her hands in his. “I know I’ve done a horrible thing, but I do care for you. Please come home with me, so that I can try to make this right.”

Carr smiled softly. “Um…no.”

“No?”

“No,” she repeated, pulling her hands away. “You had me kidnapped and stole my work. There’s no coming back from that one, Seugio.”

“I…I don’t want this to end. The pain of losing you. I will feel it inside for the rest of my days. I will…HA!” P’lezar scooped up the padd again and resumed his scribbling.

Carr took the opportunity to join her shipmates at the foot of the stage. “Let’s get out of here,” she said.

“I knew that guy was after something,” Commander Dillon muttered.

“You okay, Andrea,” Hawkins asked.

“Fine. Really. I may have actually helped him. I think Seugio’s problem was that he wasn’t suffering enough. Some people have to suffer to create, you know.”

“If you ask me, you didn’t make him suffer enough,” Sullivan said.

“Probably not, but it’s a start.”

“Speaking of, I haven’t made Scott suffer lately,” Sullivan said. “You wanna go visit a cave and mess up some male bonding?”

“Sure. Sounds like fun.”

Hawkins turned to Dillon. “See. Now aren’t you glad the Captain didn’t invite you?”

Dillon just grunted.

Carr took a last look at P’lezar, who was still writing furiously as the audience filtered out of the amphitheater. She couldn’t help but smile. He looked so involved in his work now. Idly, she picked up a pebble and lobbed it in his direction, smacking P’lezar right in the ear.

“OW!”

There. She’d done her bit to increase his suffering.

She tapped her commbadge. “Carr to Secondprize. Four to beam up. Energize.”




REUNION


“I’m much happier with my doctor, thank you very much,” Carr said.

“That’s all that matters,” Rydell said. “Hmmm…you know. I never did properly thank Starfleet for giving us those two weeks off. It was awfully nice of them.”

“Nice?” Jaroch said. “We were being shunted to a remote locale so that we would not cause trouble or embarrass the president.”

“That’s one perspective on it.”

“There’s another?”

“Probably,” Rydell said. “I can’t think of it right now, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

“It doesn’t,” Sullivan said.

“So we weren’t popular with the top brass. Big deal,” Rydell said.

“We weren’t popular with anyone,” Vaughn said.

“Waystation liked you,” Beck said.

“Not that y’all were biased or anything,” Sullivan said.

“It is hard to deny that we developed a certain reputation that affected our dealings with the rest of Starfleet,” Jaroch said.

“That’s an understatement,” Vaughn muttered.

“It didn’t matter that much,” Rydell said. “We had our own family on the Secondprize, and we stuck together. The rest of the fleet just wasn’t an issue.”

“Unless the Secondprize wasn’t around for some mysterious reason,” Vaughn said.

Rydell winced.

“And no matter how nice you are, other people still don’t want to help you,” Webber added.

“You two aren’t still bitter over that tiny little goof, are you?” Rydell asked.

“Little goof!” Vaughn exclaimed.

“Well, you were late,” Sullivan said.

“Sure. Take his side.”

“Look at it this way. You got to make some new friends,” Rydell said.

Vaughn rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah. They just loved us…”




“THE ROAD TO FERUK’ZIN”


STARDATE 52843.2


“All right. I’m here,” Captain Alex Rydell said as he jogged out of the turbolift onto the bridge of the USS Secondprize. “Let’s go. Let’s go.”

“You know, we wouldn’t be in such a rush if you’d gotten back to the ship on time,” Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan observed from the conn console.

“And you’re starting to sound like Dillon,” Rydell said, settling into his chair.

“That was just mean, sir.”

“You’re right. Sorry. Clear all moorings, and tell Starbase Control that we’re outta here. We’ve got an appointment to keep.”

“Starbase Control confirms that we are clear for departure,” Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins reported from the tactical console behind Rydell’s chair.

“Then by all means let’s depart,” Rydell said. “You think we can pick up some time on the way, Sullivan?”

“We’re going to have to push warp nine the whole way to the rendezvous just to keep us to our usual fifteen minutes late, and you know what kind of wonderful mood that’s going to put Scott in.”

“Which is why it’s a good thing you’re married to him and not me,” Rydell said as Sullivan steered the Secondprize away from the docking port and toward the docking bay doors of Starbase 163.


Normally it took a lot to faze a Nausicaan, but upon seeing the determined being in tie-dye charging his way, the Nausicaan standing in the corridor heading toward the docking ring inside of Starbase 163 dodged left, pressing himself against the wall as Counselor Claire Webber plowed by with the Secondprize’s transporter chief, Lieutenant Monica Vaughn close behind.

“Okay! So I shouldn’t have tried on that last dress,” Vaughn panted as she struggled to keep up with Webber. “But come on! This is Captain Rydell we’re talking about. He probably isn’t back on board yet himself.”

Webber didn’t respond as she hurdled a horta sliding along the hallway and turned the corner to the docking arm assigned to the Secondprize.

Vaughn passed the horta on the right and made the turn into the docking arm. “Besides, it’s not like they’re going to…” She trailed off and came to a halt beside Webber, who was staring out of the docking arm viewport into the vast interior of the starbase’s docking bay. The Secondprize was no longer attached to the arm. Instead, the Excelsior Class starship was just clearing the massing docking bay doors into open space beyond. A moment later, it launched into warp, streaking away from Starbase 163 at incredible speed. “…leave us,” Vaughn finished softly.

The counselor started frantically slapping her commbadge. “Webber to Secondprize! Webber to Secondprize! Captain Rydell! Stop!”

“They can’t hear us,” Vaughn said. “They were out of range the moment they went to warp.”

“I-I-I can’t believe this,” Webber said. “What are we going to do?”

“Take the emergency recall to the ship message more seriously next time?”

“Monica! Our home just flew away! This is serious!”

“Not to counsel the counselor here, but just relax, Claire. We’ll get this straightened out. All we have to do is talk to the Starbase commander. I’m sure she can help us.”


The Secondprize command crew had just managed to fill their plates at the briefing room buffet and get to their seats when Captain Rydell bounded into the room and dropped himself into his chair at the head of the table.

“Okay, Commander,” he said to Commander Travis Dillon, his First Officer. “Since you’re the one who volunteered us for the mess, why don’t you fill us all in on the big emergency that cut our visit to Starbase 163 a bit short.”

“You volunteered us!” Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins, the Secondprize’s tactical officer and Dillon’s significant other exclaimed, eyes widening.

“We were the fastest ship available,” Dillon squeaked.

“As much as I don’t give a fuck what’s going on, could I at least hear it from the beginning?” Commander Scott Baird groused.

“All yours, Dillon,” Rydell said, gesturing for Dillon to take the floor.

Dillon stood up and quickly went into full-on lecture mode. “While I was in the starbase commander’s office filing our requisition requests, a distress call came in from a small spacecraft traveling through a nearby sector. The vessel has experienced an engine failure and was currently adrift. Normally this would not be a life-threatening situation; however, the spacecraft in question was transporting the heir to the throne of Feruk’Zin to his homeworld.

“The heir’s mother, the Queen of Feruk’Zin died two days ago. By law, if her legitimate successor is not on the planet and in the palace in the next thirty hours, their claim to power will collapse. If that occurs, the planet will erupt into a massive civil war as rival factions attempt to seize control.”

“We’re the only ones close enough who can grab the heir from his ship, get him to Feruk’Zin by the deadline, and prevent a bunch of people from getting slaughtered,” Rydell said, leaning forward and resting his hands on the table. “I know this is a bit different than most of what we’ve been doing lately, but we’re still a Federation starship. We’ve got a chance to prevent a war here, and I’m determined that we’re going to succeed. Any questions?”

No one spoke.

Rydell started to rise from his chair. “Okay then, if there are no other issues…”

“Um…sir?” Dillon said hesitantly.

“What, Dillon?”

“There is one little thing,” Dillon replied. His voice dropped to a fast whisper. “We left Counselor Webber and Lieutenant Vaughn at the starbase.”

Rydell was silent for a moment, processing Dillon’s words. “We what?” he exclaimed suddenly.

“Vaughn and Webber didn’t make it back to the ship by the deadline,” Dillon said. “We left without them.”

“How did we do that?”

“You said ‘clear all moorings,’ so we did,” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan said with a shrug.

“I can’t believe we left them,” Rydell said, falling back into his seat. In all of his years of command, he’d never lost a crewmember. Webber and Vaughn were exactly lost in the sense of being dead or anything, but leaving without them wasn’t exactly Rydell’s idea of a good thing either.

“We can’t go back for them now,” Dillon said. “We’d miss the deadline for the heir’s arrival at Feruk’Zin.”

“I know. I know,” Rydell said, rubbing his chin. “They’re either going to have to wait for us to finish this mission or meet us at Feruk’Zin. That’s all there is to it.”

“I have no doubt that Counselor Webber will find a way to join us,” Commander Jaroch, the Secondprize’s science officer, said, clearly displeased by this turn of events.

“And I wouldn’t count Monica out either,” Sullivan said. “They’ll probably get a ship from the starbase commander and be at Feruk’Zin before we are.”


She was laughing. Laughing at them.

This was probably not a good sign.

After a few more moments, Commander Ter’hiss, the officer in charge of Starbase 163, got herself back under control. Mostly under control anyway. The Andorian’s antennae were still twitching occasionally.

“Just what do you think I’m going to do?” Ter’hiss asked Webber and Vaughn as they stood on the other side of her desk. “Call them back?”

“Could you?” Counselor Webber asked. “That would be really nice of you.”

“They’re going to prevent a war,” Ter’hiss said, her eyes narrowing. “I’m not going to put that mission at risk just so they can come back for you two.”

“Then what are we supposed to do?” Lieutenant Vaughn asked. “Help out around here until they get back.”

The Andorian went a slightly paler shade of blue. “Absolutely not,” she snapped quickly. It was bad enough that the Secondprize had been docked at her starbase at all. Ter’hiss was not about to make things worse by putting any members of “that crew” anywhere near her officers. The counselor was wearing a tie-dyed uniform for the hive mother’s sake! The best thing would be to get these two off of her starbase as quickly as possible. Fortunately, Starfleet had given Ter’hiss the perfect opportunity.

“The USS Ontario is currently heading to Feruk’Zin,” Ter’hiss said. “It will pass by four parsecs from here, but if you take a shuttle and leave now, you could intercept it and go with them the rest of the way.”

“You’d give us a shuttle?” Webber asked.

“Most definitely.”

Webber was across the table in a heartbeat, clenching Ter’hiss in a massive bear hug. “Oh thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Ter’hiss could only manage a strained gurgle in reply. After what seemed like an eternity to the viciously-squnched Andorian, Webber released her.

“Have you…ever considered…taking up…l’kesszt wrestling?” Ter’hiss panted.

“Is it anything like rugby?” Webber asked.

“I do not know. But with your strength you could…”

“Hang on a second,” Vaughn said interrupting. “Why is another ship going to Feruk’Zin?”

“Monica! They’re going to be our ride!” Webber said.

“I know that, Claire, but why are they going there if the Secondprize is already on the way?” Vaughn replied, pointing the question at Ter’hiss.

“Do I really have to answer that?” Ter’hiss said.

“Since you put it that way, yes,” Webber said, crossing her arms and looking as stern as she could, which wasn’t very.

“The Feruk’Zin are not Federation members, and quite frankly we’d rather that their impression of Starfleet not be formed based solely on the h’iknzzts on that ship of yours. Secondly, the report we received stated that their planet could be facing a war. A war! Do you really think Starfleet would leave something that sensitive in the hands Alex Rydell?”

“He could stop it!” Webber insisted. “He’s very diplomatic!”

“The man altered the genetic structure of the entire Joegonot species because he didn’t like them!” Ter’hiss shouted.

“Nobody else did either!” Vaughn shot back.

“That’s not how diplomacy works,” Ter’hiss said. “If the Feruk’Zin are facing the prospect of war, they need someone competent to help them. That is why the Ontario is going there. And if you want to have any chance of meeting them and getting back to where you belong, you would advised to get to our main shuttlebay…now. Dismissed!”

“Gladly!” Vaughn said, turning to go. She quickly realized that Webber wasn’t moving. The counselor had her eyes locked on Ter’hiss, and she was breathing heavily, practically growling with anger.

“You…I…This,” Webber sputtered. “I take back that squnch!” she shouted finally, then turned and stormed out of Ter’hiss’s office.

“Yeah. What she said!” Vaughn said before changing out after Webber.


As their borrowed shuttlecraft sped toward their rendezvous point with the USS Ontario, Lieutenant Vaughn found herself growing a bit concerned about Counselor Webber. The normally-bubbly woman had barely said a word since they’d left the starbase. Instead, she’d replicated a truly massive mug of hot cocoa and curled up on the small bench at the rear of the shuttle, where she sipped her drink slowly and stared out at nothing.

“You hungry?” Vaughn asked finally, getting up from her chair and heading over to the replicator. The autopilot could handle things from here. Actually, it had been handling things almost from the moment they’d cleared the starbase. Vaughn was never much for flying.

Webber just shook her head.

“You can’t let that woman get to you like this,” Vaughn said. “Come on, we know the ship has a certain reputation in Starfleet. That’s part of what I like about it. And we still get the job done…somehow.”

“It’s not that,” Webber said, finally looking at Vaughn. “It’s just…they…they left without us. How could they do that?”

“They were in a hurry,” Vaughn said. “And we were late.”

“I know, but still… Those are our friends, and they didn’t even wait until we were on board. What if somebody needs counseling in the next few days? Or they have a transporter emergency?”

Vaughn shrugged. “Then they’ll wish we were there and try to get through it as best they can without us…if they’ve figured out we’re not there yet.”

“They know by now,” Webber said firmly. “They have to!”

“Maybe,” Vaughn said, sitting down beside Webber with a heaping plate of lo mein in her hands. “But face it, Claire. We don’t exactly do the most essential jobs on the ship.”

“Don’t you say that, Monica Vaughn!” Webber said. “We are very important to the running of that ship. Don’t let yourself think otherwise.”

“How many times has Captain Rydell come to you for counseling? Or Commander Dillon? Commander Baird?”

“I can’t divulge that information.”

“Fine. How about this? Don’t tell me who and don’t tell me how many. Have any of them ever come for counseling?”

Webber was quiet for several moments. “No,” she said finally, her voice barely above a whisper. “But lots of other people on board do.”

“And I beam people and cargo from place to place all the time,” Vaughn said. “It doesn’t mean the ship can’t run without me.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Webber said, curling her knees up to her chest. “We’re just going to get ourselves depressed.”

“You’re right,” Vaughn said. “Immediately change of topic. So what’s Jaroch like in bed?”

Webber suddenly spit hot chocolate across the shuttle. “Wh-what?” the counselor exclaimed.

“Half the ship saw you leave Seven Backward with him a couple of weeks ago, and you’ve been together a lot since then. We all know you’re bonking him.”

“I am NOT bonking Jaroch,” Webber said. “We…we enjoy each other’s company and have formed a kind of connection.”

“Whatever you say. But I’d be careful if I were you.”

“Of what?”

“I’m not the counselor here, but I think your boy may be using you to keep his mind off of other things…or people.”

“Patricia Hawkins.”

“You know about that?” Vaughn asked surprised.

“I am a counselor.”

“Wait. I’m confused. If you know he’s in love with Hawkins, what the hell are you doing with him?”

“The relationship is mutually beneficial,” Webber replied simply.

“As long as you’re getting something out of it,” Vaughn said. “Poor Patricia is stuck between Commander Nimrod and Jaroch, who wouldn’t know what to do with a woman if he got one.”

“Oh, he knows,” Webber said, unable to stop a little grin from spreading across her face.

“Uh huh. Like I said. You’re bonking him.”

“He bonks me, too!” Webber snapped defensively.

“I just can’t imagine what Jaroch would be like in that kind of situation,” Vaughn said. “But you’re going to tell me. In detail.”

“Do you grill Emily like this about her sex life with Commander Baird?”

“No,” Vaughn said, suddenly getting up from the sofa and heading back to the pilot’s seat. “That’s all about her and Scott. I’m out of it.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that.”

“Peoples’ lives change after they get married. I get that. Emily has a husband and bridge duty and her latest promotion to fill up her time.” Vaughn’s attention was suddenly drawn to the console in front of her. “I’ve got a ship approaching at the edge of sensor range. I’m guessing it’s our ride.”

“Have you talked to Emily?” Webber asked.

“We’re being hailed,” Vaughn said, ignoring the question. “Hmm…text only. It’s the Ontario. They want us to proceed into their docking bay.”

“I’m sure Emily doesn’t realize that you…”

“This will have to wait, Counselor. I need to concentrate on my flying.”

“Of course you do,” Webber said, standing up from the bench as a Steamrunner class starship dropped out of warp ahead of the shuttle. “We can talk later.”

“Sure thing,” Vaughn said; although, it was quite obvious to Webber that Vaughn had absolutely no intention of continuing this particular topic of conversation.


Another office. Another commanding officer.

Technically, though, they were in the USS Ontario’s ready room, and Captain George McConnell was not laughing at them, which was a plus. On the downside, he didn’t look at all happy to see them either.

“What is that?” McConnell asked, pointing at Webber’s tie-dyed uniform. They were the first words out of the man’s mouth after his first officer, Commander Bryan, a tall young man who instantly caught Vaughn’s attention, left them in the ready room.

“Do you like it?” Webber asked eagerly. “I did it myself.”

“And you’re allowed to wear that on the Secondprize bridge,” McConnell said. “Of course you are. Why would I expect otherwise?”

“I’m a firm believer in the power of personal expression,” Webber said.

“I’m not. And you will not wear that…thing on my bridge during your time on this ship. Understood?”

“Why would I be on your bridge?” Webber asked. “Did you need some counseling help?”

“Never mind.”

“I’d be more than happy to assist.”

“We both would,” Vaughn said, extending her hand to McConnell. “Lieutenant Monica Vaughn, Captain. Transporter Chief. And my colorful friend is Counselor Claire Webber. We appreciate the ride to our ship. If you need anything or anyone beamed, I’d be more than happy to oblige.”

“I won’t require your services…either of your services,” McConnell said.

“You haven’t seen my services,” Vaughn said, her voice dropping sultrily.

McConnell smiled slight and rose from his desk chair. He then planted his hands on his desk and leaned across toward Webber and Vaughn. “Let me put this plainly. I don’t want you here. I don’t like you. I don’t like your ship. I don’t like your captain. I don’t like anything you stand for.”

“You’re very negative,” Webber said.

“Shut up while I’m talking to you!” McConnell snapped. “Now then, while you are on board my ship, you two will do your very best to make sure that I forget you’re here. We don’t want or need your help. So just get to your quarters, relax, and stay the hell out of our way. Are we clear?”

“Perfectly,” Vaughn said, forcing a smile. “That relaxation thing sounds like a wonderful idea, sir.”

“You could stand to relax a little yourself,” Webber said. “You seem very tense. Would you like a back rub?”

“Come on, Claire,” Vaughn said, grabbing Webber’s arm and dragging her toward the door. “Let’s leave the man to his captaining. Bye now.”

“I think that man needs counseling,” Webber said after Vaughn had shoved into a turbolift, which was currently descending toward their temporary quarters on deck four.

“He needs a good kick in the ass,” Vaughn muttered.

“I’m not going to let you kick him.”

“I wasn’t planning on it, but I’m not going to spend the rest of this trip hiding in our quarters either. Tonight, let’s see if we can’t do our bit on behalf of inter-ship relations.”


Counselor Webber couldn’t help feeling a little bit relieved as she and Vaughn entered the Ontario’s lounge, Starry Vistas, later that evening. This was one of the few lounges left in the fleet that Guinanco hadn’t taken over with its staff of oddly-hatted counselor wanna-bes. Instead, Starry Vistas appeared to be a sedate, Starfleet establishment filled with Ontario officers enjoying their off-hours.

“See anything you like?” Vaughn asked.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at the menu yet,” Webber said.

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Oh wait. I get it. We’re being faithful to our beloved Jaroch.”

Webber’s eyes narrowed. “I will be at that table over there,” she said, pointing to a vacant table for two by the viewports. “When you’re done with your relations, feel free to drop by.”

“Sure thing,” Vaughn said chuckling as Webber stomped off to the window. There was obviously more to this Jaroch situation than Webber was letting on. She didn’t seem to be in love with him, but she was certainly sensitive about whatever it was that was going on between them. Oh well. That was Webber’s business. Vaughn had business of her own to attend to with a certain first officer, who was currently standing at the bar ordering a drink.

She slid up beside the man and leaned over to grab the bartender’s attention. “I’ll have one of whatever he’s having,” she said, pointing at the first officer’s drink. The bartender nodded and headed off to the replicator as Vaughn turned her full attention to the evening’s target.

“Good to see you again, Commander,” she said, clasping his hand and shaking it slowly. “Monica Vaughn.”

“I remember,” Bryan said.

“Good,” Vaughn said smiling. “I certainly didn’t forget you, Commander.”

“Perry. Call me Perry.” He lifted his glass. “Do you like Jovian Sunsets?”

“I guess I’ll find out. You look like a man with good taste, though.”

“I do, huh?”

“We’ll just have to see how good your tastes are.” The bartender arrived with her drink, and she took a long sip. “Mmmmmm. That’s a good start,” Vaughn said. She swirled her finger in the glass, then sucked the liquid off of it slowly. “Yes. Very good.”

Bryan gulped loudly.

Across the lounge, Counselor Webber finished giving her order to waitress then stared out the viewport at the stars streaking past. It may have been a Starfleet ship, but this definitely didn’t feel like the Secondprize. When she got back, she was going to personally give each and every person on board a big hug.

Her thoughts wandered to Jaroch. Did he miss her? Possibly. If Patricia Hawkins were to throw herself at him while Webber was gone, though, he’d forget about her in a heartbeat. The poor man was obsessed. She’d just have to work with him some more when she got back to the Secondprize.

Someone cleared their throat close by, snapping her back to her current surroundings. A nervous looking lieutenant was standing in front of her, his right hand fidgeting with his blond mustache. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“It’s okay,” Webber said warmly. “Sit down.”

“Thank you,” he said, taking the offered chair across from Webber. “I’m Murray. Murray Campbell.”

“I’m Claire. Nice to meet you, Murray.”

“You’re a counselor, right?”

“Yes I am.”

“Good. I mean, I thought so. That’s what the rumor is anyway. Can I talk to you about something?”

“Of course,” Webber said. “But don’t you have your own ship’s counselor?”

Murray shook his head. “Captain McConnell won’t allow them on board. He says it’s all a bunch of rubbish.”

“That’s because he needs counseling.”

“Probably,” Murray said with a chuckle.

“So what did you want to talk…” Webber trailed off as she saw Vaughn leaving the lounge on the arm of the Ontario’s first officer. That didn’t take Vaughn long. Of course, the only man Webber knew who had been able to resist the Secondprize’s transporter chief once she’d set her sights on him was Captain Rydell. Jaroch would probably resist as well. At least Webber thought he would. Hopefully, she’d never have to find out.

“Counselor?” Murray said concerned. “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” she said. “Go on. Tell Claire what’s troubling you.”

“It’s just…I feel…I don’t know. I’m not sleeping. I’m thinking about work constantly. I worry all the time.”

“What are you worried about?”

“That’s just it. I don’t have anything really to worry about. Sure I’m the Chief Operations Officer and I have responsibilities, but it’s nothing unusual. I can’t figure out why I’m this strung out about it.”

“What else do you do?” Webber asked.

“That’s it. That’s my whole job.”

“I mean when you’re off duty. Do you have any hobbies? Other interests?”

“Er…not really. I come here most nights, but that’s about it.”

“There’s your problem.”

“It is?”

“You’re not expressing yourself. You’re not letting the inner Murray out.”

“My inner Murray,” Murray said, nodding in understanding.

“Do you know who he is? What he wants?”

Murray nodded again. “He wants to…dance.”

“Then dance, Murray. Dance. Dance your way back to happiness.”

“You’re right! I’m gonna do it! Thank you, Counselor!”

“You’re welcome,” Webber said, opening her arms wide. “Now come here and give us a squnch.” Moments later, Lieutenant Murray Campbell was gasping for air while trapped inside one of Claire Webber’s bear hugs.


As she opened the door to her temporary quarters the next morning after being summoned by the sound of the door chime, Counselor Webber was not at all surprised to see Lieutenant Vaughn standing there. What was a bit more of a surprise were the two armed security officers standing directly behind Vaughn glowering sternly.

“Um…hi,” Webber said confused.

“Morning, Claire.”

“Is there a problem?”

“Whatever would give you that idea?”

Webber pointed behind Vaughn. “Oh them!” Vaughn said. “Evidently the captain wants to see us about something, but I thought we’d grab some breakfast first. Is that all right with you two?”

The two guards shook their heads equally sternly.

“Oh well. I guess breakfast will have to wait.”

“Please come with us, ma’am,” one of the guards said.

“Did we do something wrong?” Webber asked.

“You’ll have to take that up with the captain.”

Webber and Vaughn were directed to the nearest turbolift, which took them up to the Ontario’s bridge, where Captain McConnell was waiting, seated imperiously in his command chair as the two Secondprize officers were brought before him.

“Good morning, Captain McConnell,” Webber said, trying to remain cheery in the face of confusing circumstances. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“I thought I told you never to wear that disgrace on my bridge again,” McConnell said, pointing accusingly at Webber’s uniform. It had taken her close to half an hour to convince the clothing replicator in her quarters to make her a fresh outfit that matched her old one, but it had been worth the effort to be in clean clothes after spending so much time in the same uniform.

“I didn’t know I would be coming up here again,” Webber said.

“Sure you didn’t,” McConnell said. “Honestly, I’m trying to think of one good reason to not have the both of you thrown in the brig until I can send you back to that hellhole you came from.”

“The brig?” Webber exclaimed. “I’m sorry, Captain, but I don’t understand what’s happening here. What could we have done to deserve the brig?”

“My first officer is in sickbay!”

Webber turned to Vaughn, who shrugged innocently. “Hey. It’s not my fault I have more stamina than he does,” Steven said.

“My CMO says you nearly killed Commander Bryan. He’s suffering from extreme exhaustion, dehydration, and several strained muscles.”

“I like my men hardy,” Vaughn said. “I guess Bryan wasn’t up for it. Would you be up for it, Captain?”

“What two people choose to do in their personal lives and on their free time really isn’t any of my business,” Webber said.

“I agree,” McConnell said. “But that is your business,” he added, pointing at the chair of the Ontario’s operations officer. “Campbell, turn around!”

The chair spun around revealing Murray Campbell, who was currently dressed in a Starfleet uniform top, but instead of the standard black pants, he had on cream-colored tights and soft, form-fitting shoes.

“You did this to him!” McConnell snapped.

“I simply recommended that Murray pursue a hobby.”

“Sir, please don’t attack Counselor Claire. She helped me.”

“Shut up, Campbell,” McConnell said.

Murray’s eyes widened, and he started to hum. The humming grew louder and more frantic until Murray suddenly leapt from his seat and began bounding across the bridge in a series of leaps, leg kicks, rolls, and poses, his hummed soundtrack continuing as loud as he could muster.

“What do you call that?” McConnell demanded.

“Stress relief,” Webber said. “It’s just his way of coping.”

“Coping! He’s disrupting my whole bridge and distracting my other officers! I want…”

BAM!

The Ontario lurched forward suddenly, and the power cut out. Moments later, the emergency systems kicked in, providing light and returning power the bridge consoles. On the viewscreen, the streaking stars coalesced into points of light as the Ontario slipped out of warp.

“What the hell happened?” McConnell shouted, turning on his conn officer.

“Unknown, sir,” the Bolian woman at the conn replied, frantically hitting controls on her console. “The helm is non-responsive, though.”

“We seem to have encountered a field of subspace distortions,” the science officer, a regal looking Rigellan, said. “Systems have been affected across the ship. Warp and impulse engines are off-line along with main power and phasers.”

“Subspace distortion field? That should have shown up on sensors. Why didn’t you see them?”

“I was…distracted.”

“How long until we’re moving again?”

“First, I am not an engineer. And second, even when the engines are operational again, we will still be unable to go anywhere due to the effects of the distortion field.”

“See!” McConnell bellowed, spinning back around to Webber. “You people are like a damn plague! As soon as you arrive, things start going to absolute hell.” In a frenzy, McConnell whirled around to his conn officer. “Get us out of here! I don’t care if it’s on thrusters, but you WILL GET US OUT!”

The Ontario lurched again.

“We’re moving!” the conn officer cried, checking her console.

“Good work,” McConnell said. “Looks like a good crew can even overcome the effects of you two,” he added shooting a glare at Vaughn and Webber.

“Er…I didn’t do anything,” the conn officer said.

“Then how…?”

“Tractor beam, sir,” the human woman manning tactical reported.

“Another ship?” McConnell said. “How did… No. Don’t tell me. You were distracted. Just put them on screen.”

The viewscreen shifted to a rear view revealing a familiar Excelsior class starship, familiar to Webber and Vaughn anyway. Captain McConnell meanwhile reacted with horror to the image on the screen.

“No,” he said softly as he read “USS Secondprize” on the ship’s saucer. “No. No. No! Not them. Not him.”

“We’re being hailed,” the tactical officer said. McConnell stared ahead blankly. “Captain? The hail!”

“Put him on,” McConnell mumbled.

The starship towing them out of the distortion field was replaced by a view of the Secondprize bridge where Captain Alex Rydell stood, smiling broadly.

“There you two are,” he said, shaking his finger in a mock scold. “We’ve been worried sick. Just sick! Oh, hey there, George. Good to see you.”

“Rydell,” McConnell muttered.

“Stuck in a subspace distortion field, huh? Looks like we came along at a good time. But you folks need to watch where you’re going from now on. Okay?”

McConnell muttered something else under his breath. Something impolite, Webber imagined.

“But Captain,” Vaughn said. “What about your mission? Did you get to Feruk’Zin in time to prevent the war?”

“Yeah yeah. We stopped the war…the fashion war!”

“Huh?”

“The heir of Feruk’Zin is heir to a fashion empire. If he didn’t get back in time, the other designers on their planet were going to start a war of fashion shows to decide who would be the next king or queen of Feruk’Zin couture. From now on, Commander Dillon will be doing a bit more research into a planet’s culture before he volunteers us to save them from anything.”

“Clothes?” McConnell said in disbelief. “You’re telling me all of this was about a bunch of damn clothes!”

“Afraid so. And it’s not anything I’d wear, let me tell you,” Rydell said. “You might have liked a few of the…garments, though, Lieutenant.”

“Sexy.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Yummy.”

“Have you been behaving yourself?”

“I put a man in sickbay,” Vaughn said proudly.

“Get off my ship,” McConnell said.

“Excuse me?”

“GET. OFF. MY. SHIP. NOW!!!” McConnell screamed.

“Woah, George,” Rydell said. “You seem tense. Maybe you should schedule an appointment with your ship’s counselor. Or borrow mine, since she’s standing right there.”

“I offered to help him, sir,” Webber said.

“She helped me!” Murray cried, leaping into view, spinning around a few times, then dive rolling away.

“Take them away, Rydell. Please. Take them!” McConnell said, his voice wavering.

“Okay. Whatever you say. Thanks for giving them the ride, George,” Rydell said.

“Hang on,” Webber said. “Before you beam us back, I want you to promise me something.”

“What?” Rydell and McConnell said in unison.

“Him, not you, sir,” Webber said to McConnell. She turned her attention back to Rydell. “Promise me you will never leave any of us anywhere again!”

“Promise me that, too!” McConnell cried.

“Not a problem,” Rydell said. “I promise. Are you ready now?”

“Yes,” Vaughn said.

“Bring us home,” Webber said.

“Energizing.”

“Bye, Captain McConnell. Thanks for having us,” Webber said waving as transporter beams from the Secondprize grabbed her and Vaughn. McConnell waved back numbly, then, once they were gone, stumbled back to the command area and collapsed into his chair.

“Rescued by the Secondprize. I’ll never live it down,” he said with a weary sigh.

“But we helped Claire and her friend get home,” Murray said happily. “That’s a good thing. I know I feel good about it.”

“Campbell…”

“Yes, sir?”

“Shut up and dance.”




REUNION


“We got you back safe and sound,” Rydell said. “No harm done.”

“Except maybe to the Ontario’s first officer,” Webber said.

“He had a good time,” Vaughn said. “And I bet he remembers me.”

“And Murray developed into quite the dancer from what I’ve heard. He started up his own modern dance troupe on Le Marche Colony.”

“See. It all worked out,” Rydell said.

“I don’t know. If you hadn’t shown up when you did, I think Captain McConnell would have thrown us into the brig,” Webber said.

“Or out an airlock,” Vaughn said.

“Never. Starfleet types are a helpful bunch, especially to other Starfleet types! It’s in the job description somewhere,” Rydell said.

“Unless we were involved,” Sullivan said. “Then they tried to kill us.”

“Starfleet never tried to kill us. If they’d wanted us dead, they could have sent us into the Dominion War or something. They left us mostly to our own devices, which was just fine with me.”

“Except when they were trying to kill us…”




“THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT”


STARDATE 48663


“We’re in position and at full stop,” Ensign Emily Sullivan reported from the Secondprize’s helm console.

“Confirmed,” Lieutenant Commander Jaroch said, peering over his readings at the science console located at the rear of the bridge. “The Mondigeri Anomaly is directly to starboard.”

“No offense, Jaroch, but I kind of guessed that from the big green and purple blob of gas on the viewscreen,” Captain Alexander Rydell said as he spun his chair to face his science officer. “And as neato-keen as all this swirling gas is, I’d really like to get our job done here so we can move on. In short, let’s see if those sensor upgrades were worth all the credits Starfleet spent, shall we?”

“I am initializing the new array’s software as we speak,” Jaroch replied. “Although, I must express my discomfort with Starfleet’s use of a third-party to design this system.”

“Relax, Jaroch,” Rydell said, leaning back in his chair. “It’s just some sensors. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Jaroch didn’t respond, electing instead to hit the “Start Scan” icon that was now flashing on his screen.

Instantly, the bridge rumbled with a low bellowing noise that could best be described as a whale losing power. Kind of a “BEEWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooo,” which was accompanied by the complete loss of lights and consoles. Fortunately, this last problem was rectified moments later as the emergency power kicked it.

“Engineering to bridge!” Commander Scott Baird’s voice shouted over the comm system.

“Tell him I’m not here,” Rydell said, sinking deeper into his seat.

“I heard that!” Baird snapped. “I don’t know what you people are doing up there, but we just lost control of the engines.”

“What do you mean lost?” Rydell asked.

“Lost as in the fuckers won’t do a thing we tell them to. We’re entering commands, but the engines are just ignoring them. Impulse, warp drive, thrusters. You name it, we don’t have it.”

Rydell spun his chair back to Jaroch. “I may be going out on a limb here, but I’m getting the feeling our new sensors might be a tad buggy.”

“I believe your assessment is more than generous,” Jaroch said. “I would say that we have been given substandard garbage that has effectively sabotaged our vessel and possibly endangered the crew.”

“That’s another way to put it. But then my way doesn’t cause a panic.”

“You are implying that the crew cannot handle the truth.”

“Let’s not go there, okay?” Rydell said. “Just see about shutting that thing down or uninstalling it or whatever we have to do to get this ship back under our control.”

“Normally I believe I would be able to handle this myself; however, since this is proprietary hardware and software, I will contact the company,” Jaroch said, rising from his seat. “I will be in my office attempting to do just that if anyone needs me.”

Rydell watched Jaroch exit the bridge into a turbolift, then turned back to Ensign Sullivan. “He has an office?”

“I think it’s somewhere near the science labs.”

“Hmm. Guess I missed the memo.”


“Captain’s Log. Stardate 48663.7. After several hours work put in by the Engineering staff as well as our oh-so-mellow Chief Engineer, the Secondprize has been returned to basic working order…well except for the small problem that our engines still aren’t responding to any commands, a problem that our intrepid Science Officer is supposedly addressing and has been for the last five hours. In the meantime, here we sit. At least the viewscreen is back up so I can watch the pretty swirls. That was fun for…oh I don’t know…ten seconds.”


“Thank you for your continued patience,” the computer-generated smiling woman’s face said on Jaroch’s monitor for the 304th time (Jaroch counted). “All of our customer support representatives are still busy assisting other customers; however, your business is important to us. Please stay on the line, and the first available representative will assist you. Thank you for comming Maracaan Industries.”

At a rate of one message every minute, Jaroch quickly calculated that he had been on hold now for over five hours (a conclusion he could have come to just as easily by glancing at his desk chronometer or asking the captain, but he had to do something to keep his mind busy). As he waited, a thought occurred to him. Perhaps his current assistance request had actually been lost in the Maracaan Industries commnet. Perhaps no one was actually coming to his aid.

Keeping his current channel open (No sense losing his place in the queue), Jaroch initiated another comm to Maracaan Industries. Soon the wrinkled, scowling face of the same charming receptionist who had helped him the first time he commed appeared on his monitor.

“Maracaan Industries. How may I direct your comm?” the receptionist growled.

“I wished to speak to someone concerning a problem my ship has encountered with your…”

“I’ll transfer you to support.”

“Wait…”

Too late. There was his pixilated female friend waiting for him. “Thank you for contacting Maracaan Industries Customer Support. All of our customer support representatives are busy assisting other customers; however, your business is important to us. Please stay on the line, and the first available representative will assist you. Thank you for comming Maracaan Industries.”

Jaroch wasn’t sure if his situation had improved, but at least now he had double the chance of getting through to these elusive customer support representatives.


Six hours and counting. Six hours and not a peep from Jaroch. Rydell had half a mind to go to Jaroch’s office himself and see what the hell was going on. Maybe he’d do just that…as soon as he finished reading this chapter. He glanced up from his padd briefly and glanced at his helm and navigation officers. Sullivan seemed to have found a padd of her own to busy herself with while Ensign Larkin sat staring straight ahead blankly as the android tended to do when she had no tasks to perform. Rydell was sure she was very busy on the inside, though. Most likely with something involving penguins. Odd bird that one. Get it? Penguins? Odd bird? Oh never mind. Rydell didn’t think it was that funny either and went back to his book.

“Sir?” Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins said from the tactical console directly behind Rydell’s chair a few moments later.

“Permission granted,” Rydell said distractedly. “Go find yourself a book.”

“It’s not that, sir,” Hawkins replied. “Look.”

Rydell lowered the padd and followed Hawkins’ gaze to the maelstrom of green and purple on the viewscreen. “Um…is it getting bigger or are we drifting?”

“From what I can tell, neither,” Hawkins said. “Of course, we don’t have Jaroch’s super-spiffy-break-the-whole-damn-ship sensors to go by at the moment. Only my poor old tactical readings.”

“Your resentment is noted and logged,” Rydell said. “But what about that big ‘neither’ you just gave me. I’m fairly sure that thing out there didn’t look quite that close a little while ago.”

“It’s coming to us.”

“Excuse me,” Rydell said.

“The anomaly is reaching toward the ship. At the rate it’s moving, it’s going to surround us in about two hours,” Hawkins said.

“And then what?”

“That sounds like a question for our science officer.”

“So it does. Rydell to Jaroch.”

“I cannot speak to you now,” the Yynsian’s voice replied impatiently, then abruptly closed the channel.

“Who taught him comm manners?” Rydell said.

“I guess he’s busy,” Sullivan said.

“He can get unbusy,” Hawkins said. “I want to know what that thing out there is going to do to us when it gets here.”

“Actually, I’d prefer not to be here when it arrives,” Rydell said. “Bridge to Engineering.”

The comm system barked back a thirty second tirade of profanity from Commander Baird that roughly translated as “What do you want?”

“Is this a bad time to ask about the engines?”

Baird let out a loud grunt, then closed the channel.

“No one seems to want to talk to you today, sir,” Sullivan said.

“I’m trying not to take it personally,” Rydell replied, spinning around to face Lieutenant Lisa Beck, his Communications Officer. “I don’t think we’re getting away from here under our own power, Lieutenant. Think you can find someone around to give us a push?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Beck said, tapping commands into her console. She frowned and turned back to Rydell. “I can’t get a channel out.”

“Did that program hit the comm array too?”

“No, but there’s no bandwidth left to open a channel. The array is fully utilized by other comm traffic.”

“I didn’t think that was possible. How many channels do we have open currently?” Rydell asked.

“One thousand four hundred and eight. All of which are originating from the same location. Jaroch’s office.”

Rydell rose from his seat and straightened his uniform. “I think I’m going to go see if I can’t help him along. You’ve got the bridge, Beck.”

“You don’t want me to wake Commander Dillon?”

“Nah. Let him sleep. He can take over when the anomaly swallows us up.”

“Not funny, sir.”

“Who’s joking?” Rydell replied with a grin as he stepped into the turbolift.


Considering the size of Maracaan Industries’ customer base, the expected percentage of those customers to be contacting customer service at any one time, and the minimum number of customer service representatives necessary to handle that volume of comms, the maximum expected wait time for any one customer should be approximately 15-20 minutes. Jaroch was now approaching twenty times that figure with his first attempt, and he now had 1,407 additional ones trying as well. The odds that one of these calls would be answered in the near future were extremely high. Someone at Maracaan had to respond. They had to!

“Hey there, Jaroch. How are things going?”

Jaroch spun his chair away from the bank of monitors behind his desk to face the intruder in his den of science (Which is what he called his office in his mind. No one else knew that, of course. It would be bad for his image.). Captain Rydell was standing in the doorway attempting a casual smile when the rest of his body indicated a state of agitation.

“Now is not a good time,” Jaroch said cooly.

“Oddly enough, we’re not having one on the bridge either. It seems that the Mondigeri Anomaly has decided to come visit.”

“I currently have well over one thousand comms attempting to breach the seemingly-impenetrable barriers surrounding the Maracaan Industries Customer Service Department. I do not have time to deal with the Mondigeri Anomaly at the moment.”

“You’re missing my point, Jaroch,” Rydell said. “The anomaly is coming to deal with us. As in it’s heading this way. As in toward the ship. As in it’s gonna get us in less than two hours unless we move, Jaroch. Baird can’t get the engines up, and you’ve got the comm array so clogged up we can’t call for help.”

“I sincerely doubt that anyone would be able to reach us in that small a time frame.”

“Yeah, well I’d like to at least try to contact help before sinking completely into a lovely defeatist funk.”

BREEEEET! BREEEEET!

“What the hell is that?” Rydell exclaimed as an alarm blared through the office.

“Contact!” Jaroch shouted joyfully. “We have made contact!” His hands flew to his keyboard and typed madly to isolate the comm channel that had connected. “HA! Here it is!” he cried.

The bank of monitors on the wall behind Jaroch became one, showing one large image of a computer generated woman. “Welcome to the new Maracaan Industries Customer Help Center. To streamline costs, we have transferred our Customer Help Services away from our headquarters on Alpha Centauri to this new center. You are now being connected to a Customer Service Representative. Thank you for your patronage of Maracaan Industries.”

“Looks like you have everything under control,” Rydell said backing toward the exit, not that Jaroch was paying him the slightest bit of attention. “Once you get off the comm, come see us on the bridge. Maybe we can solve this whole imminent danger problem we’re having.”

As expected, Jaroch ignored him. Instead, every bit of the Yynsians concentration was focused on his monitor waiting for the near-mythical Customer Service Representative. Confident that if there was an answer to be found, Jaroch would find it, Rydell headed out into the corridor and made his way back to the bridge.

A mere five minutes later, Jaroch finally came face-to-face with a Maracaan Customer Service Representative.

He had quite the forehead ridge.

“What do you want, pit’akh?” the Klingon on the monitor growled.

Hmmm…perhaps he was a technically proficient Klingon.


“There he is!” Rydell said with a smile and a leap out of his chair as Jaroch stepped onto the bridge. “And with an hour to spare. What’s the good word?”

Jaroch just stared back at him blankly.

“There is a good word isn’t there?” Rydell said. “Please tell me there’s a good word. I’ll even take a fairly all right word because if there’s one thing I remember from my studies at the Academy, it’s that messing with big cloud things never goes well. What happened down there?”

“My conversation with the Customer Service Representative was not as productive as I would have hoped,” Jaroch replied.

“Now is not the time to mince words, Jaroch.”

“Very well. In an effort to increase their own bottom line, Maracaan Industries transferred their customer support tasks to a group on Q’onoS.”

“Q’onoS as in the place with all the Klingons.”

“That would be the one. The gentlemen with whom I spoke, one Korek, had several suggestions to resolve our current situation; however, since each and every one involved stabbing something or someone with a bat’leth, I decided to ignore his advice. At this point, he became rather agitated and informed me that I had dishonored him. I closed the comm channel just as he shouted something about declaring the Right of Noh’ SupK, which according to the computer is invoked when a Klingon shopkeeper feels he has been wronged by a customer. I think its use in these circumstances is something of a stretch.”

“And it doesn’t help us move the ship,” Rydell said.

“No. Although, if I am ever on Q’onoS, I am honor bound to face Korek in single combat to the death.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, assuming of course we get out of here.”

“I take it then that Commander Baird has been unsuccessful in his efforts to regain control of the engines.”

“The problem with all this nice technology we have is that it’s all run by computers. Take away the computer, which that sensor software seems to have done a really efficient job of, and suddenly you’ve pretty much lost everything. Baird’s managed to get some systems isolated from the main computer, but the engines, particularly the warp drive, require computer control to manage their operation. In short, pal, unless you can undo what that stuff did, we’re not moving.”

“Removing the Maracaan software will require a complete core purge, which we cannot complete in the time remaining; therefore, I will look into other possibilities.”

“I don’t know, Jaroch. If we’re stuck here too much longer, I may be willing to consider that bat’leth option.”

“I do not believe it will come to that,” Jaroch said, heading back to the turbolift.

“You have another idea?” Rydell asked.

“Possibly.”

“And you’re going to be vague about it until you do whatever it is you’re going to do, right?”

“Most likely.”

“Gotcha.”


Generally, Captain Rydell did not consider himself to be the nervous sort. He firmly believed that his relaxed demeanor was part of what had gotten him off of the USS Arcadia, since his former captain really couldn’t stand it. Rydell was not feeling all that relaxed at the moment, though. An anomaly of unknown properties was minutes away from engulfing his ship; his Chief Engineer had barricaded himself in Engineering cursing the engines, his staff, Rydell, and the galaxy in general while he futilely fought against the ship’s locked systems; and his Science Officer had been missing in action for the last forty minutes as gassy possible doom crept closer.

Rydell suddenly realized he was pacing and stopped himself. Pacing was just not the sort of thing that tended to inspire confidence in a crew. Granted, in the just under a year since he’d been given command of the Secondprize, Rydell felt he’d earned the crew’s trust. By the same token, he’d learned to trust them, even if they could be a bit unorthodox at times. Not that he wasn’t unorthodox. Hell they probably could have renamed the ship the Unorthodox without anyone thinking anything of it.

“Captain, the shuttlebay doors are opening,” Lieutenant Hawkins reported. “A shuttle just launched. I’m reading one occupant. Yynsian. Jaroch’s leaving us here!”

“That would be a logical course of action,” Ensign Larkin remarked.

“You should blast him, Patricia,” Ensign Sullivan said.

“Hang on,” Rydell said. “No one is blasting anyone. Where is Jaroch going?”

“He’s…actually, he’s landing on top of the secondary hull,” Hawkins said.

“Why would he do that?” Lieutenant Beck asked from the communications console. “There’s a door. That’s how we get outside for the astroball games.”

Rydell nodded. “True. Hmm…remind me to make sure the astroball field lines up there get erased before we put into port next time. I’d hate for Starfleet to think we were doing anything unseemly.”

“They’re the ones who designed the ship with a big flat surface up there. What else were we supposed to do with it?” Beck replied.

“Evidently Jaroch’s thought of something. Hawkins, put him on screen.”

“Aye.”

The image of the pretty colors of approaching potential destruction vanished, replaced a view of the flat area at the top of the Excelsior class starship’s secondary hull where Jaroch, dressed in an EVA suit, was currently using an antigrav unit to push a large metal tube out of the rear cargo section of the shuttle.

“What is that thing?” Rydell asked, squinting to get a better look.

“I’m not sure,” Hawkins said. “This isn’t the sort of thing the tactical sensors were designed for.”

“Well, whatever it is, he’s attaching it to the hull,” Sullivan said.

“I’m getting a comm from him,” Beck said.

“Finally some answers,” Rydell said. “What’s he saying?”

“Hold on.”

“Okay. I’m waiting.”

“No. Hold on,” Beck said firmly.

“Oh,” Rydell said, tossing himself into his seat and gripping the armrests. “Rydell to all hands. Grab onto something, preferably something that won’t be moving in the next few seconds.” He turned back to Beck. “Tell Jaroch we’re secure.”

On the viewscreen, Jaroch ran back into his shuttle and took off moments before the end of the tube-like object pointed toward the anomaly exploded in a blinding flash of white light. The Secondprize jolted, knocking everyone on board around violently, and tossing a certain sleeping First Officer clear out of his bed and into the far wall of his quarters.

“We’re moving!” Sullivan exclaimed.

“Confirmed,” Larkin said. “Relative position to the Mondigeri Anomaly has increased by twenty meters and climbing.”

“Go inertia go,” Rydell said. “What about the anomaly? What’s it doing?”

“It’s just sitting there,” Hawkins said. “Maybe it knows it can’t catch us now.”

“Works for me,” Rydell said, releasing a sigh of relief. “I didn’t really feel like getting turned inside out today anyway. But to be fair, I really don’t feel like doing that any day.”

A few minutes later, Jaroch emerged from a turbolift onto the bridge looking rather pleased with himself.

“Nice work, Jaroch,” Rydell said, getting up from his chair to shake his Science Officer’s hand.

“Indeed,” Jaroch replied.

“Looks like you found another option.”

“Quite. Since our engines were out of service, I simply built my own. Of course, I did not have time to construct a fully-operating thruster with sufficient power to move a starship; however, I was able to create a tube strong enough to withstand the blast of some high yield explosives while directing said blast out through an opening in rocket-engine fashion. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to obtain Commander Baird’s assistance with a complete purge of the computer cores.”

“By all means,” Rydell said.

Jaroch turned back to the turbolift just as Commander Travis Dillon exited, his hand clasped over a massive knot on the side of his head. “What the hell happened?” Dillon demanded.

“Karma, Commander,” Jaroch said, smirking ever-so-slightly as he stepped passed Dillon and entered the turbolift. “Karma.”


“Captain’s Log. Stardate 48667.4. While the Secondprize spent a couple more days adrift a safe distance away from the Mondigeri Anomaly, Lieutenant Commander Jaroch and Commander Baird wiped out both of the ship’s computer cores, removing every last vestige of the Maracaan Industries software, then rebuilt the cores from the ground up. It was a massive effort, but thankfully the Secondprize is once again fully operational.

“We are returning to Earth’s McKinley Station to have every last bit of the Maracaan Industries sensor hardware removed from the ship as well. Jaroch has requested that we make a brief stop on our way. Considering he just prevented us all from being painfully transformed into multicolored blobs of slime (which, after he got the standard science sensors back online, is what Jaroch discovered the Mondigeri Anomaly would have done to us had we stuck around), I was more than happy to agree to his request.”


“How did it go?” Rydell asked, spinning his chair around to face Jaroch as the Yynsian stepped out onto the bridge.

“Mission accomplished,” Jaroch replied, taking his station at the science console.

“Good,” Rydell said. He was silent for a few moments. “So…can you tell me now why you wanted to beam down to Alpha Centauri in the middle of the night?”

“I simply gave Maracaan Industries its software back.”

“I see,” Rydell said as a smile spread across his face. “And I’m guessing we should break orbit fairly soon.”

“That would be advisable.”

“Uh huh. Helm, you heard the man. Get us out of here.”


MARACAAN INDUSTRIES SIX HOURS LATER…


“Help! The doors have me trapped in my office!”

“My eyes! My eyes! Someone shut down the coffee machine!”

“The toilet’s got my arm!”

“The cleaning robots have snapped! RUN!

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”




REUNION


“In all fairness, that was not Starfleet’s fault,” Beck said. “The third-party vendor should be held accountable for…oh lord. Listen to me. I sound like a bureaucrat. I’ve been behind a desk for too long.”

“Yep. You’re one of ‘them’ now,” Sullivan said grinning.

“I’ll remember that you said that…Captain.”

“And there goes my shot at the Admirality.”

“Not to belabor the point, but I still believe Starfleet should shoulder the responsibility for our issues with Maracaan Industries,” Jaroch said. “While they did not specifically develop the new sensors themselves, they did contract with a vendor that provided sub-standard equipment and support. We were very nearly killed because they…”

“OOOOKAY! That’s enough,” Rydell said, breaking into the conversation. “No more talking about contracts and vendors. Let’s stick to the subject at hand.”

“Starfleet trying to kill us?” Carr asked.

“Exactly.”

“It’s better than that other crap,” Baird said.

“Starfleet never tried to kill you!” Beck insisted.

“Oh yes they did,” Dr. Aldridge said. “And they didn’t have to work all that hard at it either!”




“WE WELCOME YOUR SUGGESTIONS”


STARDATE 52479.6


No tasty smells. No mingling aromas of steaming entrees waiting on the buffet greeted the command officers of the USS Secondprize as they grudgingly trudged into the Secondprize’s briefing room behind the bridge on their way to a meeting that none of them were looking forward to.

“I can’t wait!” Commander Travis Dillon said, barely able to hide his giddiness.

Okay. Maybe one person was looking forward to it.

Inside the briefing room, the buffet table was indeed gone as was the large conference table itself. In its place were two rows of chairs facing the large monitor at the front of the room. Also present was a smiling man in an ill-fitting black suit. The Secondprize crewmembers didn’t really notice the suit, though, as they stared at the man’s light green skin and tried to figure out what species he was. Not dark enough to be Orion, but no forehead bumps, spots, ridges or any other unique features.

“Come on in,” the man said warmly, gesturing toward the chairs in a big movement.

“You heard the man,” Captain Alex Rydell said, resisting the urge to hide in the back row himself as he and his officers, Commander Dillon, Commander Scott Baird, Lieutenant Commander Jaroch, Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins, Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan, and Lieutenant Andrea Carr, did as they were told.

With the command crew seated, their host rubbed his hands together and started his presentation. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for coming for today’s little seminar.”

“Not that we had a choice,” Baird muttered.

“My name is Robert Baskey, but just call me Mister Bob.”

“That’s it,” Baird said, rising from his chair. Sullivan grabbed his uniform and yanked him back down.

“I’m here today on behalf of the Federation Diplomatic Corps to talk to you for a short while about the vital importance each and every member of a starship’s bridge crew plays during First Contact scenarios and other diplomatic assignments when an unfamiliar or hostile party is speaking to Federation or Starfleet personnel while that Federation or Starfleet personnel is located on the bridge of a Starfleet vessel.

“Since your faces are the first ones the beings will see when contact is initiated, extreme professionalism is of paramount importance. At all times Starfleet personnel must…”

Baird’s surroundings went blurry as sleep claimed him. Under normal circumstances, his wife, Lt. Cmdr. Sullivan, would have been right there with a rough elbow to the ribs to wake him back up, but she was too busy slipping off into a coma of her own.


“…more than adequately polished. The typical level of shine is just not acceptable for these sorts of situations. As bridge officers, each and every one of you has a solemn duty to rise above the basic standards of grooming and truly put the Federation’s best foot forward.”

Must stay conscious, Dillon thought, his eyes struggling to stay open as the vast majority of his brain demanded that he admit defeat and give in to the boredom as everyone else in the room had; although Mister Bob was evidently completely oblivious to the fact that his audience was currently in dreamland, which seemed impossible considering the volume of Baird’s snoring. Dillon desperately tried to stay focused, but he knew it was a losing battle. Concisely presented new regulations were one thing, but this incessant prattle was…was… ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ


After what seemed like an eternity (really three and a half hours), the Secondprize command crew strode out of the briefing room back out onto the bridge. As soon as the doors closed behind them, Lieutenant Hawkins’ shoulders sagged. “Starfleet hates us,” she groaned.

“So they like to tell me,” Captain Rydell said, stretching his tired muscles. “I don’t believe it, though. They secretly love us.”

“Then they must keep that knowledge in a place so secret that even they don’t know about it,” Jaroch said, sliding into his chair at the science console at the rear of the bridge.

“You guys done yet?” Dr. Elizabeth Aldridge demanded, standing up from the command chair.

“What? You didn’t like having the conn?” Rydell asked with a grin. “You haven’t had to do it in so long, I thought you might go find yourself something to attack, just for kicks.”

“I got your kicks for you,” Aldridge said, cocking her boot back threateningly.

“Woah now,” Rydell said, putting his hands up. “No need for violence.”

“Then tell me I’m relieved.”

“You’re relieved.”

“Thank you,” Aldridge said. “I’ll be in sickbay doing my actual job.”

“Have fun,” Rydell said. “Dinner tonight?”

“Fine,” Aldridge said, stalking back to the turbolift where Commander Baird and the backup bridge officers who had just been relieved by the return of the primary command crew were waiting. “Be on time for once.”

“Anything’s possible,” Rydell replied settling into his command chair as the turbolift doors closed. “So is everybody feeling enlightened.”

“Well rested would perhaps be a more accurate assessment,” Jaroch said.

“I’m glad Scott and I weren’t the only ones,” Sullivan said from the conn console. “And you were at least nice enough not to drool on my shoulder like some husbands who shall remain nameless,” she added, looking in disgust at the damp spot drying on her uniform.

“Hawkins?” Rydell asked.

“Snoozeville.”

“Carr?”

“Um…I’m sorry, sir. I just couldn’t stay awake,” the Secondprize’s Operations officer replied.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure Commander Dillon can give us all the notes, right?” Rydell said, turning to his first officer seated beside him.

Dillon muttered something unintelligible.

“What was that, Commander?”

“I fell asleep,” Dillon admitted. “But the man was boring!”

“No one’s arguing with you there,” Rydell said. “And did anybody get a bead on where he was from? Human sounding name, but the skin. It wasn’t dark enough to be Orion. What would you call that color? It’s a little lighter than lime. Jade?”

“Tarkalian tree snail slime,” Jaroch said after a few moments thought.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Avocado?” Carr offered.

“Hmm…closer.”

“Lima bean,” Sullivan said.

Rydell nodded. “I think that’s got it. And now that we’ve solved that little mystery, let’s move on, shall we? Sullivan, continue on course for the Corathi System.”

The Captain paused for a moment, his eyes widening as his head listed to one side. “Change course to the Pesalis Cluster.”

“The Pesalis Cluster it is,” Sullivan said, altering the Secondprize’s course as Dillon shot a confused look at Rydell.

“Sir, unless something has changed that I’m not aware of, our next assignment is in the Corathi System.”

Rydell shook his head quickly, as though trying to shake something off. “Right. We’re going to the Corath…” He trailed off again, his eyes slowly drifting to the arm rest of his chair. Rydell’s eyes bulged suddenly as he leapt out of his seat.

“SNAKE!” Rydell screamed, toppling over into the vacant chair normally occupied by Counselor Webber.

“Captain!” Hawkins exclaimed, going for her phaser. She looked over her console at the command area. “Um…what snake?”

Rydell threw himself out of Webber’s chair onto the floor, pointing frantically back at the armrests. “Snakes!”

“Sir, there are no snakes here,” Dillon said. Suddenly, he slipped out of his seat and fell to the deck. Concerned, he stood up and looked at his rear. “My butt!” he screamed suddenly. “Who took my butt?”

“Travis?” Hawkins said confused.

“Someone stole my ass!” Dillon shouted, looking around the bridge accusingly.

Hawkins didn’t exactly need to stress her security officer instincts to realize that something was very wrong on the Secondprize bridge. She spun back to the science console. “Jaroch, what’s going on here?”

The Yynsian looked back at her with undisguised mirth in his eyes. Suddenly, he just exploded into laughter.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“Jaroch?”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh please. Stop,” Jaroch gasped, rolling out of his chair onto the deck. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Hawkins turned back to Sullivan and Carr, who were watching Rydell and Dillon with a mix of confusion, amusement, and concern. “This isn’t right,” Hawkins said.

“You think?” Sullivan replied.

Hawkins looked around the bridge for some inspiration. “We need to…”

THUD.

Hawkins abruptly dropped to the deck fast asleep.

“Wait!” Dillon exclaimed. “Maybe I lost my butt in the briefing room!” He ran to the rear of the bridge and charged through the briefing room doors, where he found Mister Bob shuffling the room’s chairs back into their proper positions.

“Is there a problem, Commander?” Mister Bob asked, walking over to Dillon.

Dillon looked around the room. “Have you seen my butt?”

“No, but I’m sure it’s very nice.”

“You don’t understand. I lost it.”

“Hmm…what about this?” Mister Bob suddenly jabbed a hypospray into Dillon’s arm.

“No,” Dillon said woozily before collapsing to the floor unconscious. “That’s not it.”

With Dillon taken care of, Mister Bob jogged back over to the small padd he’d left sitting on a chair and scooped it back up. The engineer should have returned to his post by now, so…

“You hate everyone, Scott,” Mister Bob whispered into the small transmitter on his padd. “You hate them all and want them to leave you alone. Seal the doors. All of them. All over the ship. Keep them away from you.”


The usual scowl on Commander Baird’s face deepened and turned angry as he sat at his desk in his office in engineering watching his underlings moving about outside his office windows. Annoying pricks, the lot of them. Why wouldn’t they just leave him alone?

Why wouldn’t everyone just leave him alone?

He’d make them leave him alone!

Baird called up the starship’s master systems console and set to work making sure everyone stayed right where they were and well away from him!


Back on the bridge, Lieutenant Commander Sullivan took a quick stock of the situation. Dillon was gone and Jaroch was paralyzed with laughter, which would usually mean she’d be in command. But with Rydell sitting not more than a meter away, she wasn’t sure it was time to invoke the chain of command, not that Rydell seemed real interested in giving orders at the moment.

“What do you want me to do, sir?” Sullivan asked Rydell, who was currently crouched on his haunches watching his armrests warily.

“Shhhh,” he shot back. “Don’t anger them. They could strike!”

“Riiiiight,” Sullivan said. That’s did it. She had to take some kind of action until they could figure out just what the hell was going on. “I’m just going to bring us to a stop until…” Sullivan suddenly jumped up from her chair and broke into a loud Tarzan yell.

“Emily?” Carr asked fearfully. Sullivan turned to her in wide-eyed shock, opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was another ear-splitting Tarzan cry.

“Okay,” Carr said nervously, slowly easing herself out of her chair and backed toward the turbolift. “That’s nice. You all just stay here, and I’m going to…” She stopped. Something was wrong. Something was very very wrong. She looked down, checking herself over.

“I’m…I’m NAKED!” she screamed, rushing to cover herself with her arms as she dashed for the turbolift doors…which she bounced painfully off of as they refused to open. Carr charged the doors again, pounding her fists on them. “Let me in! Let me in! Please let me in!” She shot a threatening glare back at the rest of the bridge crew. “And don’t any of you dare look at me!”


“The bridge crew has been neutralized and the ship is on course for the Pesalis Cluster, as we agreed,” Mister Bob said into his padd as watched the stars streak away from the Secondprize’s briefing room windows. “And no one had to be harmed.”

The man on the other end of the commline grunted. “Whatever makes you happy.”

“There was no need for this to be violent, Nejed!” Mister Bob snapped. “I just proved it.”

“We’re stealing a starship. At some point violence is probably going to come into it.”

“It doesn’t have to. Once the Secondprize arrives in the Pesalis Cluster, you’ll see that I’m right. Just have that cargo freighter ready to accept the ship’s crew.”

“It’d be easier to kill them.”

“Nejed! I’m warning you… I will pull the plug on this whole thing right now, and you can find some other way to prove that you’re good enough to join the Orion Syndicate.”

“Some brother you are,” Nejed grumbled.

“Half! Half brother, and don’t you forget it. And I’m doing this for Mommy. Not you.”

“What she ever saw in that pale-skinned father of yours…”

“Nejed!”

“Fine. Fine. Just get the ship to the Pesalis Cluster. I’ll be ready.”

“And you’re sure you know how to work the anesthezine system?” Mister Bob asked.

“Why don’t you just have their Chief Engineer or their Tactical Officer do it?”

“Hypnosis doesn’t work like that. I can’t make them take actions that are beyond what they might normally believe or do. This is very delicate work.”

“Which is why violence…”

“Goodbye. Nejed.”

“I’m just saying…”

Before Nejed could continue with what he was just saying, Mister Bob cut the comm channel and turned his attention back to the movements of the Secondprize’s command crew.


“Why won’t this open?” Carr cried, continuing to pound on the turbolift doors.

“Stop that!” Rydell snapped in a harsh whisper. “You’re antagonizing the snakes.”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”

“Could somebody stun Jaroch?” Sullivan groused before breaking into another bridge-shaking Tarzan yell. “And me.”

Hawkins’ hand grabbed the edge of the tactical console and she pulled herself groggily to her feet. “What happened? What’d I miss?”

“Watch the snakes!” Rydell ordered.

“Oh yeah. That.”

“Hawkins, give me your phaser,” Rydell said, holding out his hand. “I think I can shoot them.”

Hawkins considered this proposal for a microsecond. Hmmm…hand a weapon to a delusional guy. Ummm…no. “I don’t think that would be a wise idea, sir.”

“The ready room!” Carr shouted suddenly, dashing for that door while attempting to cover herself. She slammed into them and fell back to the deck. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

“What’s with her?” Hawkins asked.

“Thinks she’s naked,” Sullivan said.

“I AM NAKED!” Carr screamed, retreated to the front of the bridge and curling up in as small of a ball as she could manage. “Where are my clothes?”

Sullivan shrugged. “With Dillon’s ass?”

“Ewwwww!” Carr whined as Sullivan broke into yet another Tarzan yell.

“Something is messing with our heads,” Hawkins said. “If we don’t do…”

THUD.

She hit the deck asleep again.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“Jaroch, if one of these snakes bites me because of your cackling, so help me…”

Sullivan let out another cry. “That’s it. Bridge to sick…” She trailed off as another idea struck her.


“Stunning is faster,” Mister Bob whispered soothingly into the transmitter in his padd. “The yell will stop if you’re stunned. The doctor will just want to run tests. Stun is the better answer.”


“The answer!” Sullivan announced, stalking back to Hawkins’ prone form and scooping up her phaser.

“Emily, what are you doing?” Rydell asked warily, glancing quickly between the “snakes” in his chair and his conn officer.

“This is the answer,” Sullivan said brightly aiming the phaser at herself. Just as she broke into another Tarzan yell, she fired, blasting herself into unconsciousness on top of Hawkins.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Jaroch’s body convulsed with paroxysms of laughter, leaving the Yynsian gasping for breath as he rolled around the floor by his station.

“Jaroch!” Carr shouted. “Throw me Emily’s uniform top!”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“Come on, Jaroch! Please!”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“Jeeze,” Rydell muttered, his eyes locked on the vipers following his every move. “Am I the only one taking this seriously?”


“I’m going to go to Seven Backward and grab some lunch. Do you want anything?” Dr. Uhrbak Beon called out to Dr. Aldridge as he headed for the Sickbay doors. Uhrbak, a Bajoran, had, like most Bajorans, fought against the Cardassian occupation of his homeworld, but, with Bajor freed, Uhrbak had decided to pursue his interest in medicine that had developed during his time in the Resistance. He’d naturally gravitated toward a Klingon medical school, with its emphasis on battlefield care. Upon graduation, though, he enlisted in Starfleet hoping to put his skills to good use. Unfortunately, it was quickly discovered that most of his skills were in the area of amputation (as the captain of the USS Anne Bolyn learned when he went into her Sickbay for a phaser burn on her right arm and left without said appendage). Almost overnight, he was transferred to the Secondprize, where, so far, he’d practiced medicine without incident. Of course, it helped that Dr. Aldridge had told him in no uncertain terms that if he amputated anything without consulting with her first, she’d amputate something of his.

“No,” Aldridge replied. “You go ahead. Have a nice meal.”

“I always do. Those Guinanco folks are just so comforting to talk to. I love them!”

“Freak,” Aldridge mumbled as she scrolled through sets of lab results from the crew physicals on the console on her desk.

“Ow!” Dr. Uhrbak cried suddenly.

“What?” Aldridge said.

“I ran into the door.”

“How’d you manage that?”

“It didn’t open.”

BANG.

“OW!”

“It still didn’t open!”

“Then stop walking into it,” Aldridge said, coming out of her office. The Sickbay doors were indeed closed as Uhrbak stood nearby rubbing his ridged nose. Aldridge approached the door and waved her hand at it experimentally. Nothing happened.

“Huh,” she said with a shrug. “Must be broken. Sickbay to engineering.”

“Leave me alone!” Commander Baird voice shouted over the comm system.

“But we…” Aldridge stopped as she heard the slight click of the comm channel being cut. “Oh no. No no no,” Aldridge said annoyed. “That is not how this works. Sickbay to bridge.”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Aldridge and Uhrbak exchanged a confused look. “Bridge?”

“Don’t come up here!” a voice that sounded like Rydell’s said. “We’ve got snakes.”

“And I’m not dressed!” Carr’s voice shouted.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“Stop laughing at me, Jaroch!”

“What the hell is going on up there?” Aldridge demanded.

“Like I said, snakes,” Rydell replied.

“And I’m naked!” Carr added.

“I’ll contact you when the situation is resolved. Rydell out.”

“Sounds like we may be better off in here,” Dr. Uhrbak said, heading over to the door leading into Sickbay’s small staff lounge. “I’ll just use the replicator in the…OW.”

“That door doesn’t work either, huh?” Aldridge said.

“No,” Uhrbak moaned, holding his re-injured nose.

“Then I’m betting it’s shipwide,” Aldridge said, scooping up her medkit and tricorder. “I’m going to the bridge.”

“Oh yeah. Just how to you plan to pull that off?”

“The easy way,” Aldridge said. “Sickbay to transporter room.”

“Vaughn here. What can I do for you, Doctor?” Lieutenant Monica Vaughn, the Secondprize’s transporter chief, replied.

“Is your door working?”

“My door? You mean to the transporter room?”

“Yes,” Aldridge said, fighting to keep the exasperation out of her voice.

“I don’t know. I’ll check, but why wouldn’t it be…OW!”

“Doesn’t work.”

“No,” Vaughn’s said nasally.

“Ours isn’t either.”

“Did you comm engineering?”

“Of course I commed engineering! Baird cut me off,” Aldridge said.

“I’ll try…”

“Later,” Aldridge interrupted. “I need you to beam me to the bridge right away.”

“Does the captain know that…”

“NOW!” Aldridge shouted.

“All right. All right. Energizing.”

Uhrbak smirked. “And that was the easy way?” The Bajoran felt the glare of doom upon him as Dr. Aldridge dematerialized.


Dr. Aldridge quickly took in the situation as the rematerialization sequence finished. Bridge in one piece? Check. Snakes anywhere? No. Naked Carr? No. Laughing Jaroch? Check.

“I told you not to come up here,” Rydell snapped without taking his eyes off of the command chairs as he crouched on the floor.

“Um…what are you doing?” Aldridge asked.

“Snakes!” Rydell shouted, pointing at the menace in his seat.

“Sure.”

“Did you bring me clothes?” Carr squeaked from her ball at the front of the bridge.

“Um…no,” Aldridge said.

“Then what good are you?” Carr shouted.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Jaroch cackled, his eyes locked pleadingly on Aldridge. “HAHAHAHAHA…need…HAHAHAHAHAHA…air…HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”

Aldridge flipped open her tricorder and scanned the Yynsian. Physically, he seemed to be fine other than a slight lack of oxygen due to extensive laughter. She needed to investigate further, but rather than let Jaroch asphyxiate, she loaded a hypospray with a sedative and pushed it into Jaroch’s arm.”

“HAHAHA…thank you…HA.” And he was unconscious, which allowed Aldridge to hear a slight moan coming from behind her.

“Get…off…me,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins grunted, shoving Sullivan’s body aside.

“Are you all right?” Aldridge said, moving over to help her up.

“I think so,” Hawkins said, shaking her head to clear out her disorientation as Aldridge scanned her up and down with her tricorder. “But something weird is going on up here.”


Someone else was on the bridge! Someone not under his control!

This wasn’t supposed to happen!

Mister Bob rummaged frantically through his shoulder pack until he found another vial for his hypospray. It would be risky, but he was going to have to take out whoever else was on the bridge. Otherwise, the whole plan was in danger.

But first, to occupy the rest of the bridge crew.


“MORE SNAKES!” Rydell screamed in horror as he leapt backwards, slamming himself into the chair at the ops console. His eyes widened as his terror increased upon seeing what he’d hit. “EVEN MORE SNAKES!!!”

“STOP LOOKING AT ME!!!” Carr wailed.

“What is happening to us, Doc?” Hawkins asked as Aldridge continued her tricorder scan. “It’s like we…”

THUD.

Hawkins collapsed dead asleep right at Aldridge’s feet.


Hypospray in hand, Mister Bob gathered up his courage and charged out the briefing room door.

“OW!”

At least it would have been out if the doors had opened. Mister Bob rubbed his sore nose and concluded that he should have put a little bit more thought into this part of the plan.


Aldridge’s attention was locked on the readings coming from her tricorder. An instant before Hawkins collapsed, Aldridge read some kind of energy pulse near the security chief’s left ear. She squatted beside Hawkins and scanned the spot in question. There were signs of a cut that had been regenerated…recently…as in very recently. And something was under the skin.

Aldridge pulled her laser scalpel and microtweezers out of her medkit and set to work making a slit of her own at the same spot and retrieved the mystery item. Actually, it wasn’t much of a mystery as soon as Aldridge got a look at it: a subcutaneous transmitter.

In a matter of moments, Aldridge had removed identical transmitters from Sullivan and Jaroch as well. The sedative would keep Jaroch under for a while, and judging from the phaser laying next to Sullivan, she wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon either. Hawkins, however, was another story.

Aldridge shook Hawkins, jolting her awake.

“Wha…huh?” Hawkins said, bolting upright.

“It’s okay,” Aldridge said, grabbing Hawkins’ arm reassuringly. “It’s over.”

“What’s over? What happened?”

“I’m not completely sure. I need to deal with those two, though,” Aldridge replied, gesturing at Rydell and Carr.

“What do you need me to do?”

“Make them hold still.”

“On it,” Hawkins said, pocketing her phaser and charging down to the command area.

“What are you doing?” Rydell said warily.

“Hold still.”

“But the snakes…HEY! LET ME GO!”

SLICE. TWEEZE.

“OW!”

“Got it,” Aldridge said.

“Thank you, sir,” Hawkins said, dropping Rydell.

“Hey! What happened to the snakes?” Rydell asked confused.

Hawkins and Aldridge turned on Carr, who was now curled up and cowering fearfully.

“Go away!” Carr said.

“Can’t do that,” Hawkins said.

“Please?”

“No.”

“But…NOOO!”

JUMP.

GRAB.

SLICE.

“OWWWW!”

TWEEZE.

“Got it!”

“I have clothes!”


“Okay. Let’s take this step by step,” Rydell said a couple of minutes later as he, Hawkins, Aldridge, and Carr stood gathered in the command area. “We’re supposed to be going to the Corathi System.”

“Yes,” Carr said.

“But we’re now going to the Pesalis Cluster.”

“Yes.”

“Somehow I don’t remember that being on my list of things I wanted to do this week. Of course, neither was thinking my armrests are a couple of snakes. You think that little device you pulled out of my head caused that, Doctor?”

“Actually, I think this was just a transmitter. If I had to guess, I’d say someone was giving you the suggestion that there were snakes.”

“So somehow at some point today we were all hypnotized, fitted with transmitters, and sent on our merry way. Gee. I wonder who could have possibly done that,” Rydell said.

“I can’t imagine,” Hawkins muttered sarcastically.

“Bridge to transporter room,” Rydell said.

“Vaughn here, sir. I seem to be locked all alone in here, and it’s getting awfully chilly. How about I beam you on down to warm me up?”

“That’s sweet of you to think of me, but I’m going to have to pass due to a little situation up here. Instead, how about you track down our Starfleet visitor and beam him to the bridge, then get yourself a nice mug of hot cocoa out of the replicator?”

“That’s no fun.”

“Sorry about that, but duty calls.”

“If you say so. Huh…that guy is still in the briefing room.”

“You found him that fast?” Hawkins asked surprised.

“There aren’t too many half-human half-Orions on board.”

“Oh! Half-Orion!” Rydell said, snapping his fingers. “That explains the lima bean!”

“Do we have to call it that?” Carr said. “It’s so…icky.”

“I’m open to suggestions.”

“Sir, it looks like Commander Dillon is in there too, but he’s not moving,” Vaughn said. “Do you want both of them?”

“Get a bonus first officer with every bad guy you transport. Not a bad deal. Bring ‘em both.”

“Energizing.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. Bridge out.” As Rydell closed the comm channel, Dillon’s unconscious body and Mister Bob began to materialize on the bridge. The half-Orion was obviously rather surprised and more than a little petrified to find himself surrounded by Rydell and crew.

“Hi, Bob,” Rydell said smiling. “Whatcha doin’?”

“I was…trapped in the briefing room,” Mister Bob said hopefully.

“Good thing you had that padd to keep you occupied,” Rydell said, gesturing to the device in Mister Bob’s hand. Hawkins yanked his arm up and snatched the device away.

“It’s a transmitter,” she said. “He’s got direct links to everyone who was at the seminar.”

“So you bored us into a trance, implanted the transmitters, and sent us off to do your bidding,” Rydell said. “I didn’t see that in the course description.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mister Bob said, falling back on the old standby lie as he tried to keep his body from shaking.

“You don’t,” Rydell said. “Funny because I think you do. It really doesn’t matter one way or the other, though, because I’m handing you over to her,” he added, pointing at Hawkins, who, on cue, cracked her knuckles.

“Fun,” Hawkins said ominously as Mister Bob gulped.

“Oooh!” Rydell exclaimed. “Could you do that thing? You know the one where you get the guy by the throat, then do that little twisty jerky move, and his eyes pop out? I love that.”

“Not a problem.”

“WHAT?” Mister Bob cried. “No! Wait! I’ll tell you everything!”

“You’d better make it worth it,” Carr said. “Because I really like the eyeball thing.”

“And I could use a few for the organ bank,” Dr. Aldridge added.

“So what did you do?” Rydell asked. “Fake some Starfleet credentials.”

“No. I’m really a trainer. I promise. All of this was just to help my brother. He wants to get into the Orion Syndicate, but they won’t take him unless he can prove himself, so he came up with this idea of stealing a starship, and yours seemed like it would be the easiest to get.”

“The easiest!” Hawkins thundered. “THE EASIEST!”

“Well, you do have a reputation,” Mister Bob said meekly. “I just did my usual presentation, but this time I released a sedative into the air to relax all of you. Once you were lulled to sleep, I was able to plant the post-hypnotic suggestions and place the transmitters. But none of you were going to be harmed. I promise. My brother has a freighter waiting in the Pesalis Cluster that you all could have used to get to a starbase or something.”

“Thanks a bunch,” Carr muttered.

“I’m really not a bad guy, you know. I just love my mother, and when she asked me to help Nejed, I really couldn’t say no. Sure helping someone get into the Orion Syndicate sounds bad, but it’s his dream. Haven’t you ever had a dream, Captain? Would you want someone to help you make that dream come true?”

“Hawkins?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Shoot him.”

“Yes, sir.”

ZAP.

THUD.

“Thank you.”


Nejed watched with growing anticipation as the Excelsior-class Federation starship sailed into the Pesalis Cluster. Everything was going precisely according to plan. Well, except for the freighter for the Secondprize crew. That was just stupid. Sure Bob was going to whine for a while after Nejed killed them all, but he’d get over it.

The important thing was that Nejed was about to have ticket into the Orion Syndicate. Something on his small craft’s sensors caught his eye.

Was the Secondprize powering weapons?

ZAP!

BOOM!

TRANSPORT!


“Captain’s Log. Stardate 52480.4. After storming engineering to subdue Commander Baird and picking up a new special passenger in the Pesalis Cluster, we have resumed our course for the Corathi System, where we will rendezvous with the USS Kreskin. Mister Bob was supposed to be doing another seminar on the Kreskin. Hopefully his audience won’t mind that he’s doing it from the brig. On the upside, Bobby-Boy is getting lots of quality time with his brother. Meanwhile, with the transmitters removed, things on the bridge have pretty much returned to normal…pretty much.”


“Okay. This isn’t funny anymore. WHERE IS MY BUTT?”




REUNION


“In all fairness, Mister Bob wasn’t trying to kill us,” Rydell said.

“True. He just wanted to steal our starship and strand us on a freighter. A freighter that wasn’t even really there!” Hawkins said. “That’s so much better.”

“Life was so much easier when I could order you all to shut up,” Rydell replied with a laugh.

“I do not recall you ever giving such an order,” Jaroch said.

“Why would he bother? None of us would have listened anyway,” Aldridge said.

“See all the fun you missed when you left,” Rydell said, turning to Beck.

“I’ve tried to go on somehow,” Beck replied smirking.

“You wound me,” Rydell said with mock hurt. Beck narrowed her eyes. “In all honesty,” Rydell added, suddenly serious, “I didn’t blame you a bit when you went to run Waystation. I would have loved for you to stay on the Secondprize, but we both knew there was nothing for you there.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing. Communications may have been a dead end, but I made some good friends.”

“Fortunately, you don’t lose your friends when you change jobs,” Rydell said. “Besides, command suits you.”

“Thank you.”

“I just hope we showed you a good time before you moved on.”

Beck smiled. “That you did…even if I almost never got to leave the ship.”

“Come on! What about the Mists of Time?” Rydell said. “That was off of the ship AND it was fun.”

Baird groaned and put his head down on the table. “Please don’t mention that fucking place.”

“Well you and I had fun anyway,” Rydell told Beck.




“VIVA LOST VEGA”


STARDATE 50139.6


Captain Alexander Rydell sat back in his chair and took a look at his surroundings. “You know, for a ferry assignment, this isn’t half bad,” he said to Commander Travis Dillon, Commander Scott Baird, and Lieutenant Lisa Beck, who were seated at the table with him. He raised the tall glass of Losian Hammer in his hand to his lips and let a long swig side down his throat. “Nope. Not bad at all.”

Across the table Commander Dillon, Rydell’s First Officer, harrumphed. “We’re running senior citizens on a day trip,” he said with disgust. “How is this even a remotely appropriate assignment for a Starfleet ship?”

From the “explore strange new worlds; seek out new life and new civilizations” perspective, Dillon had a point. For this particular mission, the USS Secondprize had traveled from the Utopia Acres Home for Retired Starfleet Officers on Mars to the Vega system, which was about as dangerous and exciting as walking from the bed to the bathroom in his quarters. But Captain Rydell actually liked these kinds of assignments from time to time. They were simple, quiet, and generally didn’t involve anyone being sent to Sickbay. Well, there was Ensign Prescott and that mishap with the automatic sheep shearer, but that was that wasn’t even mission related? And what was he doing with a sheep shearer in his quarters anyway?

Back to the mission, the Secondprize had been ordered to take the residents of Utopia Acres to the grand opening of the Mists of Time Resort and Casino on Vega Four, a planet, which up until very recently, was an uninhabitable rock in space. An investment group, seeing the potential for a resort in a system as heavily-visited as Vega, dumped a large amount into developing Vega Four, which now, rather than being a barren rock in space, was a barren rock with a really big environmental dome on it.

Inside the dome was the resort complex, which had been made to look like a series of ziggurats used by the ancient Kinidowi culture of Vega Two, or, as Commander Baird had dubbed them, the “ass lovers.” Captain Rydell had to admit that the statues of the Kinidowi deities scattered around the casino interior did look an awful lot like naked people with donkey heads. Some of the female deities were rather well constructed naked people, but, Rydell had a feeling that if he ever met one in person, the donkey head thing would be an issue. That and having Commander Baird calling him “ass lover lover” for the rest of his natural life.

Dillon glanced over at the stage at the front of the lounge where they were sitting and harrumphed again. “Are they ever going to get on with this?” Dillon wasn’t the only one impatient for the opening ceremonies to start. The tables full of Starfleet seniors seemed to be getting restless.

“Just relax,” Rydell said. “Try to get into the spirit of things. Baird is. Aren’t you, Scott?” In all honesty, Rydell was surprised that Commander Baird had volunteered to beam down as one of the four Secondprize officers allowed to attend the opening ceremonies. Normally he’d try to put a few light years between himself and something like this.

“I’m just here for the buffet,” Baird said. Well, that explained that.

“There’s a buffet?” Dillon said, perking up.

“You’re having fun, right?” Rydell asked Lieutenant Beck.

“I don’t even know why I’m here,” Beck replied, swirling her tequila sunrise around in its glass. Rydell smiled and shrugged. Actually, he’d noticed lately that Beck had seemed a bit less than satisfied with her job duties. He couldn’t really blame her. She was the last her kind. A communications officer in a fleet where they had been deemed unnecessary. Rydell had hoped that bringing her along for a day of VIP treatment at the casino grand opening would cheer her up a bit.

The lounge lights dimmed and a sprightly bit of orchestral music began to play as a short, thin woman in a sparkling gold suit climbed the three stairs up to the stage. The crowd hushed as she took up position behind the podium, a glowing red affair illuminated by its own internal lighting.

“Good afternoon,” she said, looking around nervously at the audience. “My name is Colica Nagaar, Chief Financial Officer of the Vega Four Investment Consortium and the manager here. On behalf of my fellow investors and the staff here, I’d like to welcome you to the Mists of Time Resort and Casino. We firmly believe that your gambling experience here will be second to none, and that our guests will wish to return time and again not only for the games, but for the dining, entertainment, and hospitality we offer.

“We’re honored today to have with us several guests from Utopia Acres…”

A loud whoop went up from the retired Starfleet Officers.

“These valiant veterans put their lives on the line to make this galaxy a safer place, and we’re pleased they could here for our grand opening. Welcome, veterans,” Nagaar continued. Rydell wasn’t positive, but he thought he could see beads of sweat forming on the Vegan woman’s brow. She looked like she was mere seconds from fainting.

“So without further ado, I would like to bring up Vega Two’s own Admiral Percis Maian.” A wizened Vegan seated with the other Starfleet retirees rose slowly from his chair and waddled over to the stage. After being helped up the stairs by Nagaar and one of her assistants, Admiral Maian was handed a large golden key and walked over to a giant decorative lock at the side of the stage.

“Thank you for having us,” Maian said, his voice wavering. “And now on behalf of Veterans of Starfleet Chapter 103, I declare this casino open for business!” He turned the key, setting off a booming bit of music accompanied by blasts of laser lights lancing across the lounge. “Let’s gamble people!”

With surprising speed, the Starfleet seniors stampeded out of the room followed by Nagaar and most of the other VIP guests attending the grand opening.

“You know where I’ll be,” Commander Baird said, scooping up his drink and heading for the exit.

Dillon shifted uncomfortably in his chair for a few moments. “Nice ceremony. Short. To the point. Nice.”

“Go on, Dillon. You don’t have to wait for my permission,” Rydell said with a bemused sigh.

“I wonder if the buffet has crab legs!” Dillon said eagerly, leaping from his chair and charging out of the lounge.

“Another tequila sunrise?” Rydell asked, gesturing to Beck’s empty glass. If he couldn’t cheer her up, he could at least get her nice and drunk.

Beck thought about it for a moment. She hadn’t planned on coming here today to get intoxicated. Of course, she hadn’t planning on coming here at all, so that wasn’t exactly a counter-argument. “Maybe one more,” she said.

“Coming up,” Rydell said, raising his hand to get the waiter’s attention.


Now THIS was a buffet! Commander Dillon stood frozen in awe a couple of steps inside the Oridoni Room, home of the largest array of buffet tables Dillon had seen ever. Even though the casino crowds for the grand opening ceremonies were nowhere near what they would be when it opened its doors for regular visitors, each and every one of the eighteen buffets in the room were fully stocked with a wide array of tempting delights.

“Sir? Are you all right?”

Dillon snapped out of his trance and looked over at the smiling hostess who was tugging on the sleeve of his dress uniform.

“I’m fine,” Dillon said, a grin of his own filling his face. “Everything is just about perfect.”

“That’s nice to hear. Just find a seat anywhere and dig in.”

“Oh believe me. I will,” Dillon said. An instant later, he stormed the buffets with the determination of a trained warrior. His mission was accomplished a short time later as he strode away from the buffets, each hand carrying a plate dangerously close to overloaded with culinary delights.

Now to find a place to sit. He certainly had any number of tables to choose from, since most of the guests for the grand opening had obviously decided to visit other areas of the casino. One table, however, was already occupied by Commander Baird, who was busy diving into his own buffet selections. Even if they weren’t exactly close, it still seemed odd for them to not sit together. They were from the same ship after all.

Dillon walked over to the table, then, seeing that Baird was attacking his meal with a single-minded focus and not paying a bit of attention to the approaching First Officer, he thought better of it. Why not give Baird his space?

And then Baird was staring at him.

“Um…” Dillon said.

“Sit and eat,” Baird growled, nodding to the spot across the table from him. “That’s it. Just eating.”

“That’s all I’m here for,” Dillon said, setting his plates down. Moments later, the only audible sound in their area was their chewing. Well that and that excruciating Muzak version of some Andorian showtunes being pumped through the speaker system. Fortunately, Dillon and Baird were eating too loudly to care.


“Thanks for the drinks,” Lieutenant Beck said as she and Captain Rydell wandered out of the lounge twenty minutes later.

“Not a problem,” Rydell replied. “I mean really. Not a problem. It’s all on the casino’s tab. All we have to do it kick back and enjoy ourselves.”

“They don’t happen to have a spa, do they?” Beck asked. She could really go for a massage right now. And maybe a mud bath.

“You never know. We could head over to the hotel section and ask.”

“You don’t have to go all that way on my account.”

Rydell shrugged. “Do I look like a man with other plans?”

“No, but then we never know whether or not you actually have a plan. It’s part of the fun of serving with you.”

“Keep ‘em guessing. That’s my motto,” Rydell said, flashing Beck a grin as the pair strolled through the main casino floor on their way to the transparent aluminum tunnel connecting the casino ziggurats to the resort hotel ziggurats.

Evidently, all of the Starfleet retirees had set a course directly for the slot machines as soon as Nagaar had ended the opening ceremony. Each one was now planted on a stool in front of a slot machine. Time and time again they fed a credit token into their slot machine, pulled the lever and watched the wheels spin. No one said a word as they sat entrances by the spinning wheels. As Rydell and Beck walked by, an elderly woman won 400 credits. She didn’t react at all. She didn’t even flinch. She just kept feeding the credits into the slot machine and pulling the level.

Beck shuddered. “Creepy. Should we be worried about this?”

“Nah. Trust me. This happens at every casino,” Rydell replied as he and Beck stepped through the doorways into the connecting tunnel. They both stopped in their tracks at the scene before them.

“This we should be worried about,” Rydell said.

Outside, where there should have been a star-filled sky, was nothing but white. Blank, featureless white as though someone had forgotten to draw in the universe. They could still see the rocky surface of the planet and the hotel ziggurats a short distance away but that was it.

“Did we misplace space?” Beck asked, eyes wide.

“I knew I should have put a leash on it,” Rydell muttered, slapping his commbadge. “Rydell to Secondprize.” No response. “Rydell to Secondprize.” Still nothing.

“What the hell happened?” Beck said.

“Not a clue, but I’d guess it happened to just this planet and not all of space. I don’t know that we’re even in normal space anymore. But I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t some random accident that got us here.”

“Based on what?”

“Sweat,” Rydell said, turning back toward the casino. “I thought the casino manager just had stage fright, but she knew something was going to happen!”

“And if she didn’t?” Beck asked, falling into step beside him.

“Then we’d better find someone who knows what’s going on or hope like hell the Secondprize can rescue us.”


Eyes closed, Lieutenant Commander Jaroch sat in the command chair of the USS Secondprize pondering the puzzle with which he was faced. It was a perplexing problem to say the least. In all honesty, Jaroch felt downright confounded.

What was that sheep shearer doing in Ensign Prescott’s quarters? It’s not like he had any sheep around.

The Secondprize shuddered slightly, pulling Jaroch out of his ruminations. “Is there a problem, Lieutenant?” he asked, opening his eyes slowly. Everything on the bridge appeared to be normal.

“Just a brief gravimetric fluctuation,” Lieutenant Emily Sullivan replied from the helm console. “I’m not sure what caused it.”

“Additionally, Vega Four is gone,” Ensign Kristen Larkin remarked from the navigation console beside Sullivan as though there was nothing unusual about this whatsoever. Of course, the android was generally unflappable. It came with the whole “no emotions” thing.

Jaroch and Sullivan’s eyes shot to the viewscreen. Where before there had been a small sliver of the rocky planet visible in the lower left hand corner of the viewscreen as the Secondprize orbited Vega Four, now there was nothing.

“But that’s impossible,” Sullivan said. “If the whole planet vanished, we’d be feeling a lot more than that tiny jolt. It’d screw up the whole solar system.”

“Normally, I would agree,” Jaroch said, heading back to his science console at the rear of the bridge. He quickly pulled up a scan of the region. “In this instance, however, it appears that the Vega Four gravity well is still present and accounted for.”

“A planetary cloak maybe?” Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins offered from tactical.

“Why would anyone bother?” Sullivan asked.

“We can speculate about motives after we have a clear idea of what we are dealing with,” Jaroch said. “Lieutenant Hawkins, please fire phasers at the planet’s coordinates. Minimum power.”

“Firing,” Hawkins said. “The shot’s went right through! So much for my cloak theory.”

“Do not feel bad. It was my primary working theory as well,” Jaroch said.

“So you have a secondary theory then?” Sullivan asked.

“The beginnings of one. Unfortunately, the beginning is ‘something swiped the planet,’ and I have not progressed much from there,” Jaroch replied, turning back to his sensors.

“Progress quickly,” Hawkins said anxiously. “The captain and the others could be in some real trouble.”


Was he really heading back for another plate? Where was Baird putting it? They’d been running neck and neck through the first five plates, but Baird evidently wasn’t satisfied.

All right. If that’s the way he wanted to play it, that’s what they’d do.

Commander Dillon shoved the last bit of targ tips into his mouth, pushed the plate away, then got up to pursue the chief engineer back to the buffets. He wasn’t about to be shown up by Scott Baird.


“Narblats! Come on narblats!” Colica Nagaar pleaded as she slapped her hand down on the green pulsating lighted disk in front of her.

“Kreagan!” the casino employee manning the game called as its symbol flashed on the monitors around the game table.

Nagaar slumped down on the edge of the table, burying her head in her arm.

“Bad luck?” a male voice from behind her. Nagaar looked up to see the captain of the Starfleet vessel standing beside her along with one of his officers.

“It’s just a game,” Nagaar said with a weak smile.

Beck craned her neck to get a look at the display in front of Nagaar. “A game where you just lost three thousand credits.”

“Is there something I can do for you both?” Nagaar asked, bristling.

Rydell and Beck exchanged a quick glance, then each grabbed one of Nagaar’s arms and hoisted her up from her seat. “We’d like the VIP tour,” Rydell said. “You know. We’ll walk, you can show us around a little bit.”

“And then you can tell us exactly where the hell we are,” Beck said as the pair led her toward the exit doors.

Nagaar blanched.

“Huh,” Beck said. “Looks like you were right, sir. She does know something.”

“Thought so,” Rydell said. “So how do you want to do this, Ms. Nagaar? We can open the doors, scream, and panic everyone as they realize space is gone, or we can go somewhere private and have a nice quiet chat. It’s up to you.”

“M-my office is up there,” Nagaar said, pointing to the far wall of the main casino floor where a short flight of stairs led up between two banks of slot machines.

“Good. I didn’t feel like screaming today anyway,” Rydell said. “Let’s go.”


After several minutes of focused concentration as he sat hunched over his sensor readings, Jaroch leaned back in his chair and spun to face the other bridge officers, steepling his fingers as he did so.

“And?” Lieutenant Hawkins asked expectantly.

“Vega Four is gone.”

“We don’t need the recap, sir,” Sullivan said. “What happened to it?”

“I am getting to that,” Jaroch said. “Even though the planet is no longer present, a force equal to its gravitational pull remains, thus stabilizing the region and eliminating a possible negative impact on the surrounding solar system. Actually, remains is something of an imprecise term. For a brief moment just after the planet vanished, we experienced a sudden change in gravimetric readings before the replacement gravity source activated.”

“The turbulence,” Sullivan said.

“Precisely.”

“Wait. You said ‘activated.’ So the gravity is coming from a machine?” Hawkins asked.

“Not that I can detect. But the force is undeniably present.”

“And we’re thrilled,” Sullivan said. “What happened to the planet?”

“I have no idea.”

“I thought you said you were getting to it!” Sullivan exclaimed.

“I was getting to the fact that I have no idea,” Jaroch replied. “I just wished to run down what I actually did know first.”

“So what do we do?” Hawkins said, fuming. She hated feeling helpless like this.

“We wait and hope that the away team can find a way to return Vega Four to its proper place in the galaxy. I am sure they are working on the problem as we speak.”


Commander Baird could feel his fists clench as Commander Dillon pulled himself up from the table to take another run at the buffet (Actually, it was more of a waddle at this point). He and Dillon hadn’t exchanged a single word throughout the entire meal, and Baird still wanted to kill him. The man just didn’t know when to quit. Eleven plates already.

Eleven plates!

Sure he knew Dillon’s appetite had something of a reputation on board the Secondprize, but Baird was no slouch himself in the eating department. If Dillon wanted to see who had the bigger stomach, that was fine by Baird. He stood up gingerly, his gastric system moaning, and headed after Dillon, positive that he could handle ten more plates if he had to.

Well, possibly five.

Maybe two.

Dillon would give out before then, though. Baird could see it in his eyes. He was full, and every bite from now on would be torture. And Baird would be across the table, shoving food into his mouth, and reveling in every wince of agony twisting Dillon’s face.


As the doors to her office closed, separating Nagaar from the chaos of the casino outside, the Vegan slumped into her desk chair as Captain Rydell and Lieutenant Beck stood across from her.

“I was starting to hope it was just a bad joke,” Nagaar said, her eyes drifting to the expanse of white visible outside of her office window, one of the few windows in the casino fortunately.

“What was a joke?” Beck asked.

“The game. The bet. All of it.”

Rydell stepped over to the office replicator, ordered a cup of coffee, and set it down in front of Nagaar. “Just start at the beginning,” he said soothingly.

Nagaar stared at the mug, then up at Rydell. “Coffee is poisonous to Vegans.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Rydell quickly shoved the coffee back into the replicator and disintegrated it. “Tea maybe?” Nagaar nodded gratefully, and Rydell ordered the beverage. “There,” he said, putting the new mug down in front of her. “Let’s try this from the beginning again.”

“I love casinos,” Nagaar said, leaning back in her chair with a weary sigh. “The lights. The sounds. The games. Especially the games. I’ve traveled the quadrant visiting as many as I could.”

“Sounds like an expensive hobby,” Beck said, slipping into the chair across the desk from Nagaar.

“Only if you lose.”

“Do you lose much?” Rydell asked.

“No,” Nagaar said sadly. “Not normally.”

“Why am I sensing a big ‘but’ coming on?” Beck said.

“Keep going,” Rydell said.

Nagaar took a sip of her tea. “About a year ago, I had this idea. Why should I keep traveling from casino to casino when, between my credits and a few friends on Vega Two who I knew would invest with me, I had the resources to open my own? I’ve visited close to a hundred casinos over the years. I know what works and what doesn’t. I could take the best ideas from each and incorporate them into my design. And that’s what I did. Once I had the design, all I needed was a location. Vega Four was perfect. It’s a rock no one cares about, but it’s right along the major spacelanes that pass through the Vega system. It was perfect. It would have been perfect anyway.”

“Cue the ‘but,’” Beck said.

“But last night, I screwed it all up. I was here late getting some last minute details finished for today’s ceremony when this couple appeared.”

“What do you mean appeared?” Rydell asked.

“Appeared. One second I was alone here, and the next they were in my office with me. I was a bit tired at the time, so I just assumed they didn’t know we weren’t open yet and that I hadn’t heard them come in. They were very friendly, and we ended up talking about the casino and such. After a while, they told me they had a game I might like to play. The woman pulled a small device out of her coat that suddenly expanded into a full game table. The game itself was a mix of dice, cards, buttons and a wheel, and it took some time for me to learn the rules. But pretty soon I was getting the hang of it and actually winning more than I was losing.”

Rydell and Beck exchanged a glance, fairly certain they knew where this was heading.

“Soon after that, I started want to place actual wagers on the game. It was fun until then, but I needed some actual stakes to keep things interesting. Over the next few rounds, I won more than I lost and was generally feeling good about things. I guess I should have known I was being suckered in. The couple said they had to leave but before they did, they wanted to play one last round. If I won, they’d give me fifteen thousand bars of latinum.”

Beck let out a low whistle.

“And if they won?” Rydell said.

“They got the planet,” Nagaar said. She chuckled nervously, shaking her head. “It sounded ridiculous at the time. They didn’t want money or even the casino. They wanted this useless hunk of rock. And even if I agreed to the bet and lost, I knew it wouldn’t matter. Under Vegan law, no planets in the Vega system can be owned by anyone. Their use is managed by the Vegan government. They gave us our clearances to build here. So what did I have to lose? I’d either get the latinum or I wouldn’t. If they were stupid enough to think I owned the planet, fine.”

“So you took the bet,” Beck said. “And you lost.”

Nagaar nodded. “They were very nice about it and seemed very happy. They packed up their table, told me they’d be back tomorrow…I mean today to collect, and then they were gone. They just vanished. That’s when I suddenly realized I might be dealing with beings who could take the planet.”

“We’re a little past might at this point,” Beck said.

Nagaar’s eyes widened suddenly as she stared past Beck and Rydell. “Oh no.”

Beck and Rydell spun around to find that they were no longer alone in the office. The couple had come to collect.


Must…finish…drumstick.

Commander Dillon fought with everything he had to lift the bit of roasted bird to his mouth, but the combined load of twenty-one plates had taken its toll.

Can’t…give…in.

Dillon’s mouth opened to accept the food, but it never made it that far.

“Unnnnnnnnnh.”

THUD.

Dillon collapsed forward onto the table, his head landing on his plate in a puddle of leftover gravy as his eyes glazed and a bit of drool streaming out from the corner of his slack mouth.

Across the table, Commander Baird forced a weak smile and pointed at his fallen foe.

“Fu…”

Baird never completed his thought as his own body and mind gave out, pitching him forward into a pile of gnawed rib bones.


Outwardly, the couple were nothing extraordinary. If anything, they appeared almost too normal. Both the man and the woman looked to be in their mid-fifties and dressed in cream-colored outfits, his a suit and hers a flowing dress.

“Well, hi there!” the man said warmly, extending his hand to Beck and then Rydell, his bright blue eyes shining warmly. “Nice to see you.”

“Likewise,” Rydell said hesitantly as he returned the handshake.

“Here we are, Colica! Right on time,” the woman said.

“And you are?” Beck asked.

“Oh!” the woman gasped. “How rude of us. Honey?”

“Of course, dear,” the man said. “Hi, I’m…well, you’d never be able to pronounce it. Just call me Joe. And this is my lovely mate Edie.”

“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Rydell said, taking Edie’s hand politely and kissing it. “My name is Alex, and this fine lady is Lisa.”

Beck shot a confused look at Rydell. She thought he would go straight for the whole “Captain Alexander Rydell, United Federation of Planets” routine.

“My! How charming!” Edie said.

“Why thank you,” Rydell said, flashing the pair a smile. “So what brings you folks out this way?”

“We’re just picking up our planet,” Joe said. “Actually, we picked it up a little early, Colica. Hope you don’t mind. We wanted a little time to figure out its final placement.”

“Placement?” Beck said.

“Yes,” Edie said. “Joe and I are building a little solar system of our own. We looked everywhere for just the right world to finish things off. We knew we wanted something rocky.”

“Gives the system a little bit of an edge,” Joe said.

“We hadn’t originally wanted a place with structures on it, but when we saw this planet…well…we just fell in love.”

“That’s right,” Joe said, squeezing Edie’s hand as the couple gazed at each other adoringly. “We did. Lucky for us, our friend Colica was able to help us out.”

“I see,” Rydell said frowning. “Well this is all…very upsetting.”

“It is?” Joe asked confused.

“Yes indeed it is. You see, Joe…” Rydell suddenly wrapped his arm around Beck’s waist and pulled her close to him. “It was already ours. Right, honey?”

“Uh…right…dear,” Beck said, awkwardly wrapping her arm around Rydell’s waist as well. “We’ve also been looking everywhere for the perfect place to settle down,” she continued, getting into the act a little more. “All Alex and I ever wanted was a little cottage in easy walking distance to a casino where we could start a family and have a lovely view of Vega Two. Ms. Nagaar promised us that. She promised!” Beck finished, her voice quivering.

“Shame on you, Ms. Nagaar,” Rydell said, turning on the incredibly confused and fairly frightened Vegan woman. “Is that all this was? A scam to rip the dreams away from two people in love!”

“Joe,” Edie said concerned.

“I know, snookie. I know,” Joe said, patting her arm comfortingly. “Now, Colica, I have to tell you that I’m more than a little bit disappointed at what I’m hearing here. I liked you, and I thought you were dealing with us in good faith. It’s becoming apparent that this is not the case!”

“I agree,” Rydell said, taking up a position beside Joe with crossed arms and a disapproving scowl.

“Did you have a prior deal with these nice people?” Joe demanded.

Nagaar’s eyes darted from Beck to Rydell. “Um…yes?”

Joe threw his hands up in the air. “Well that tears it,” he said exasperated. “I just don’t believe this. I can’t believe…what kind of universe is this?”

Edie stepped forward and took Beck’s hands in hers. “You take it, sweetie. Go build that dream cottage.” She shot a glare at Nagaar. “Assuming she hasn’t sold this planet to a few other folks.”

“No,” Nagaar said, shaking her head emphatically. “Just you.”

“You’d better be telling the truth, missy,” Edie said, shaking a scolding finger at Nagaar.

“Come on, snookerkins,” Joe said, taking Edie’s hand in his. “There are other planets out there that will be perfect for us. I don’t want this one anyway. It has the stench of deceit!”

“You tell her, Joe,” Edie said.

And then they were gone. No flash. No pop. Just gone. Outside, equally abruptly, the white nothingness was replaced by the blackness of space.

Almost instantly, Rydell’s commbadge chirped.

“Rydell,” he said, slapping the badge.

“Sir, are you unharmed?” Lieutenant Commander Jaroch’s voice asked.

“We’re fine here,” Rydell replied.

“What happened?”

“Just a minor real estate deal. Nothing to worry about.”

“I see,” Jaroch said, even though from the sound of his voice he clearly didn’t. “Do you wish to return to the ship at this time?”

“No. Not yet. We still haven’t finished checking the place out. We’ll let you know. Rydell out.” He turned to Beck. “You didn’t want to go back yet, did you?”

“Nah. I’m fine here for now,” Beck said. “I could actually use something to eat.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Rydell said. “But as for you,” he said, turning to Nagaar, “don’t ever ever do this again.”

Nagaar looked at up Rydell. “Wait. That’s it? ‘Don’t do it again’?”

“What did you want to me do? Have you locked up? You goofed. Don’t do it again.”

“Thank you!” Nagaar exclaimed. “What can I do to repay you? I have to do something. Name it!”

Beck and Rydell exchanged a glance.

“VIP accommodations for life?” Beck said.

“Done.”

“All right then,” Beck said. “Food?”

“Yes,” Rydell replied. And the pair headed out of the office.


A weak hand rose unsteadily into the air, then pulled the body it was attached to over, allowing Commander Dillon to gaze bleary-eyed at the ceiling. He let his hand fall onto the commbadge on his chest.

“Dillon…to Secondprize. Medical emergency. Transport me…and Baird…directly to Sickbay.”

Baird’s head rose up slightly. “Have stomach pumps…on standby.”

Twin groans filled the air as the two officers dematerialized.


“Do you think they even noticed anything happened?” Lieutenant Beck asked as she and Rydell walked past the rows of Starfleet retirees still pumping credits into the slot machines.

“Not a chance,” Rydell said. “I think it’d take a supernova to move these people, which is fine. They’ve done their bit for the galaxy. Let them have their fun. Come to think of it, we’ve done our bit today as well. I’m officially off-duty.”

“Then that makes two of us,” Beck said. “And sir?”

“Yeah, Beck.”

“Thanks for bringing me. It’s nice to get off the ship.”

“Not a problem,” Rydell said as the pair walked into the Oridoni Room to check out the buffet. Minutes later, they were seated at a table and enjoying a well-earned meal. Rydell noticed Beck frown and gaze off into space.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“One thing’s still bothering me.”

“Prescott and the sheep shearer?”

“Yeah. I mean, why? Why?”

“The galaxy may never know. And we’re probably all better off that way.”




REUNION


“Yes, that was definitely fun,” Beck said smiling.

“Speak for yourself,” Baird said. “Do you know how long it was before I could even look at a buffet after that place?”

“Fifteen seconds?” Sullivan said smiling.

“You’re just on a roll today, aren’t you, woman?” Baird grumbled.

“Why thank you. I am, aren’t I?”

Baird rolled his eyes. “See what I have to go home to.”

“You know you love it.”

Baird couldn’t help but smile a bit.

“Yeah, he does,” Vaughn said. “No hiding that grin.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Why? It’s fun.”

“We always had fun…when we weren’t being shot at,” Rydell said.

“You know that’s not why I left, right?” Beck said. “I loved the ship. The Secondprize was always fun.”

“I know,” Rydell said. “You were given a great opportunity. And let’s face it. No one stays in the same place forever. It’s not like you were the only one. Most of us moved on to other things.”

“And some of us will be on the Secondprize until we keel over and die,” Jaroch said.

“That was lovely, dear,” Hawkins said. “At least you’ll get to come back again after that happens.”

“I know,” Jaroch said darkly.

“My point,” Rydell said quickly, “is that we all have our own lives, and we have to live them. That’s not going to mean that we all stay together on the same ship. When the time is right, you go. Look at Trinian. Her time came, and she went.”

“I thought that was because she wanted to have a 10 year binge before the end of the universe,” Beck said.

“Yeah. Well there was that.”

“I wonder if she ever got bored,” Carr said.

“What do you mean?” Sullivan asked.

“Well, she was this powerful being, and she spent years running a lounge while she waited for Captain Rydell to destroy the universe.”

“I didn’t destroy the universe!” Rydell said. “Well, okay. I did. But I put it back together.”

“But do you think Trinian minded that most of her life on the Secondprize was spent serving drinks?”

“Nah,” Rydell said. “I’m sure she found ways to keep herself occupied.”




“THE SECRET LIFE OF TRINIAN”


STARDATE 48003.9


Somewhere along the line, Trinian had been deemed an expert on humans by the other members of her species. It wasn’t a title she particularly aspired to or even wanted, yet here she was, advising humans (and a few other beings) on a regular basis as part of her assignment to the USS Secondprize.

In retrospect, it was her own youthful indiscretions that had landed her in this situation. She just had to get away from Seatella for a while, and that little blue planet in that outer spiral arm of the galaxy had looked so quaint and inviting.

That was four hundred years ago.

And while Earth didn’t turn out to be quite the unspoiled paradise she was expecting, the world had enough charm that she decided to stick around for a short time. That short time turned out to be a bit longer than she was expecting, though. Love does funny things to your travel plans. Eventually, she’d overcome the pull of the Earth and returned to the stars, leaving behind a husband and two children (not until she knew that they’d be okay without her. She wasn’t heartless.).

Yes, she’d left Earth beings behind.

Or so she’d thought.

Now she was surrounded by them. And most of them seemed to want her to talk to them. This evening’s guest in Seven Backward for example…

“If I take Jaroch with me, there’s always the risk that J’Ter could show up and disrupt the negotiations,” Captain Alexander Rydell was saying, not that Trinian was paying all that much attention. “You remember what he did to the ruling clan of Nuoran Three? But if I leave him here and take Dillon, that creates two problems. What if Jaroch changes while he’s in command? He hasn’t done it so far, but can I take that risk? And what about the risk of Dillon putting his foot in his mouth? He means well, but I’m starting to get the feeling the man doesn’t have a thought in his head that wasn’t put there by a Starfleet regulations manual.”

Rydell was a good guy. Of course, Trinian was a bit biased consider she had something of a connection to him. He’d only been a captain and in command in the Secondprize for a little over a month now and was still finding his way. He’d be through this adjustment phase before too long, but for now he just needed a sympathetic ear to take the time to listen to him.

“How about you act like a captain and MAKE A DECISION!” Trinian snapped, causing Rydell to flinch back involuntarily. He flinched a tad bit too far and ended up plummeting off of the rear of the stool and thudding to the deck.

Rydell could find someone else to play sympathetic. Trinian had other places to be.

“Thanks,” Rydell groaned, grabbing onto the bar and pulling himself to his feet. “Very enlightening.”

“Sometimes you just need a new perspective,” Trinian said with a quick smile.

“Still, who do you think…”

“Last call!” Trinian called, shouting directly in Rydell’s face.

“Ah,” Rydell said, rubbing his ear. “I’ll be going then.”

“Good night, Captain,” Trinian said warmly, snatching his half-empty glass away and chunking it into the waste reclaimator. “Sleep well.”

“Uh huh,” Rydell said, waving at her distractedly as he headed to the exit muttering to himself. Trinian made eye contact with the only other occupants of the Secondprize’s lounge, a couple of ensigns playing footsie with each other across a table by the viewports. Her glare said it all, and the couple beat a hasty retreat.

Alone at last.

She grabbed up the last of the stray glasses, then set the sani-bot to work on the carpets, viewports and such while she went into the back room. For the most part, the back room served as storage for some of the more unique items that were not served out of the replicator. It was also Trinian’s office, if she could be considered to have an office. Any visitors tonight would be hard pressed to find a desk, though. Instead the floor space not occupied by storage containers was taken up by a green felt octagonal table surrounded by four chairs.

“All right, folks,” Trinian said, calling out to the seemingly-empty air. “All clear!”

One flash, one shimmer, and one blip later, the room had three additional occupants: an old man with an almost floor length beard; a younger, rather haughty-looking blond woman; and a giant eyeball.

“I still don’t see why we have to wait for you finish serving those simians,” the woman said, taking her seat with a graceful anger. “They should be serving you…or at the very least bringing us pretzels.”

“And beer,” the eyeball said, hovering over one of the other chairs. “There should be beer.”

“Naturally,” the old man said, nodding sagely.

“You know the rules. No poker until after last call,” Trinian said, grabbing a deck of playing cards and a circular carrel full of poker chips from inside of the flowing robe she wore while on shift. There was something of a dispute between her and the Enterprise’s lounge manager, Guinan, over who had developed the robe and platter hat look first. Guinan always claimed it was part of her El-Aurian heritage, while Trinian swore she’d seen the look on the runways of Sirap Major a half-century earlier. To the rest of the galaxy, however, the true source of the outfit hardly mattered. They were far too busy wondering why anyone would want to spend their days looking like a giant, technicolor mushroom.

“Okay then,” she continued, taking her own seat at the table. “Here’s a few more rules. Five card draw. Deuces wild. No telepathy, astral projection, or other attempted use of powers are allowed.”

“Not that they would work with you around anyway,” the woman said in a huff.

“You don’t enjoy my company, Q?” Trinian asked, mocking hurt as she dealt the cards for the first hand.

“Our esteemed guest from the Continuum does not enjoy a level playing field,” the elderly man said, handing out the chips.

“Stuff it, Ayelborne,” the Q shot back with a nasty smile.

“Are you children quite finished?” the eyeball asked.

“Why is this…thing even here?” Q demanded.

“I am a Director!” the eyeball stated grandly.

“Never heard of you,” Q said. She turned her attention to Ayelborne. “And I wish I’d never heard of you.”

“Really. It’s a wonder your kind ever achieved omnipotence,” Ayelborne said boredly.

“If Trinian weren’t here…”

“What? What would you do if our host weren’t here negating those measly powers of yours?” Ayelborne asked amused. “Do you really think you are any match for an Organian?”

“Don’t forget I can negate your powers as well, Ayelborne,” Trinian said. “And aren’t you supposed to be encouraging peace?”

“Even I have limits. And I evidently hit them around the letter Q.”

“I’ll give you a hit, gramps,” the Q threatened. “One word from me, and the Continuum will be down on you light bulbs before you can emit another photon.”

“We’ll still be shining brightly long after your kind has slipped into oblivion.”

“We’re eternal!” Q cried.

“Your prattle certainly is.”

“That’s it. It’s on, pal. We’re coming for you, and you are NOT going to like what we’re bringing to the party.”

“I think you’ll find that we’re more than a match for the likes of you,” Ayelborne said.

“Guess we’re going to find out. It’s war.”

“War, it is, then.”

“A war between your kinds would most likely destroy this universe,” the Director observed placidly.

“There are others,” Ayelborne said.

“We’ll destroy you there as well,” Q said.

“How about we play some cards?” Trinian said, butting in.

“Now? Can’t you see we’re in the middle of something?” Q retorted.

“Yeah yeah yeah. Destroying each other and taking the whole damn universe with you. How about this? We’ll settle it in the next hand. Q wins, and the Continuum can destroy the Organians. If Ayelborne wins, the Organians can wipe out the Q.”

“What if I win?” the Director asked. “Can I erase all of them from existence?”

“Please do.”

“What if you win?” Q demanded.

“Then you three shut up and play some cards. Let’s go.”

Q and Ayelborne eyed each other unflinchingly as they took two and three cards respectively. The Director took none, while Trinian selected a single card.

“Hands down,” she said.

Q slapped down a pair of tens and a pair of queens, drawing a smile from the wizened Organian. “Enjoy oblivion,” Ayelborne said, setting down a 9-King straight.

“Both of you can be silent,” the Director said, setting down his cards: two of clubs, jack of spades, three of diamonds, five of diamonds, and an ace of hearts.

“What is that?” Q asked with a laugh.

“Poker dominance.”

“It’s a pair of aces,” Ayelborne said. “And if it weren’t for the wild card, you wouldn’t even have that. Now then, your cards, Trinian?”

Absolutely stone faced, Trinian set down her hand. Three kings and two aces. “I think that settles it,” she said. “Now shut up, and let’s play some poker.”

“But I was going to eliminate the Q,” Ayelborne protested. “How did you defeat me?”

Trinian smiled serenely. “The house always wins.”


STARDATE 49973.4


You’d think these people had never seen an asteroid before.

Trinian shook her head in bemused disbelief as she delivered a drink to a lieutenant sitting at the bar, one of the few Secondprize officers in Seven Backward who wasn’t pushed up to the viewports watching the show outside.

If it could really be called a show.

The Secondprize was currently on a rescue mission. Somehow a small Aldeberan ship had gotten trapped inside a rather large asteroid field. With their engines out and power failing, they were pretty much doomed unless someone came in and pulled them out. Lieutenant Commander Jaroch had concluded that the Secondprize’s tractor beam would be able to move the asteroids aside, clearing a path for the starship to reach the Aldeberans and tow their vessel back out again, which is what the Secondprize was in the process of doing.

Each flare of the tractor beam as it lanced out of the ship and locked onto an asteroid was met with ooohs and aaahs and the occasional “Batter batter batter. Swing batter!” (Trinian had no idea what that was about.) from the crowd gathered at the lounge viewports.

“Did you need anything else?” Trinian asked the lieutenant. Before he could respond, Trinian felt a slight buzzing at the edges of her mind. The buzzing quickly escalated into an all-out booming.

<AHEM! TESTING TESTING. ONE TWO. CAN YOU HEAR ME?>

Trinian staggered back slightly under the onslaught.

“Are you okay?” her customer asked concerned.

“Fine,” she hissed through clenched teeth. “Excuse me a minute.” She quickly retreated into her back room just as another blast of thought hit her.

<HELLO? IS THIS THING ON?>

<YES!> Trinian thought back as forcefully as she could manage. <Quiet down!>

She could barely sense the reply. <sorry.>

<A little louder.>

<How’s that?>

<Perfect,> Trinian thought. <Now who are you and what do you want?> she demanded.

“I am Donchuu,” a voice said from directly behind her, drawing a startled scream from the hostess.

“Don’t do that,” Trinian spat, whirling around to face her “guest.” She didn’t recognize his species, but he was certainly…pale. White robes. White skin. White eyes with pink irises. Impossibly white hair. And two massive ivory horns swooping skyward from either side of his head.

“I’m sorry,” Donchuu said. “I was simply going to obliterate this vessel, but I detected your presence on board. What is a Seatellan doing among these pests?”

“Woah woah woah. Go back to the ‘obliterate this vessel’ part.”

“Have you seen what they’re doing?” Donchuu demanded.

“Traveling through space? Moving some rocks? Breathing? You’ve got to be a bit more specific here.”

“They’re ruining my masterpiece!”

“You lost me.”

“Look!” Donchuu exclaimed. He waved his hand through the air, instantly bringing forth a hovering recreation of the asteroid field outside the ship.

“Okay. I’m not getting it.”

“Look!” Donchuu insisted again, pointing at the lower right corner where a tiny version of the Secondprize was diligently shoving asteroids aside as it made its way toward a silver speck in the middle of the field.

“That would be us,” Trinian said.

“Yes. And just look at what your ship is doing! I had each asteroid placed exactly where it needed to be for maximum artistic effect!”

“Um…if you hadn’t noticed, there’s another ship stuck in your masterpiece as well,” Trinian said, pointing at the Aldeberan craft.

“I know. I put it there on purpose.”

“On purpose,” Trinian repeated confused.

“Yes. I thought it added an unexpected bit of whimsy to the piece.”

“There are people on that bit of whimsy,” Trinian said. “My ship is trying to rescue them.”

“But they’re damaging my work!”

“Let us go in and tow their ship out. We’ll be gone in no time.”

“Tow them out?” Donchuu exclaimed in horror. “Absolutely not! I’ll lose my whimsy. I’ll get you off of here, but I’m going to have to destroy this ship.”

“What if we just took the people and left the whimsy?” Trinian asked.

“Well…my asteroids…”

“We’ll put the asteroids back, too.”

“You promise?” Donchuu asked.

“You have my word,” Trinian said.

“Very well. I’ll be watching, though.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll put everything back the way it was,” Trinian said. Donchuu nodded, then vanished. “Now all I have to do is convince the captain,” Trinian muttered.


After leaving the running of the lounge in the hands of one of her waiters, Trinian made her way into a turbolift and requested to be taken to the bridge. She rarely visited the Secondprize bridge. Almost never really. For the most part, any information she’d want about the Secondprize’s activities filtered down to Seven Backward in moments anyway, and any people she might want to speak to invariably visited the lounge on practically a daily basis.

The current situation required more immediate action, however.

“Not even just a little?” Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins was saying from her post at the Secondprize’s tactical console as Trinian stepped out of the turbolift.

“No,” Lieutenant Jaroch replied firmly from his seat at the rear science console.

“It’d be fun.”

“We could cause a chain reaction of impacts that could result in the complete destruction of either the Secondprize or the Aldeberans.”

Complete destruction. What do you know? They were already discussing Trinian’s topic of choice for the day.

“I want to throw an asteroid!” Hawkins pouted.

“Maybe next time,” Captain Alexander Rydell said, turning around in his chair to face his officers. Upon spotting Trinian, his face showed surprise. “Greetings,” he said somewhat hesitantly. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Neither did I,” Hawkins said, clearly displeased at being snuck up on.

“Quiet shoes,” Trinian said with a quick smile. “Could I see you for a minute, Captain?”

Rydell glanced at the viewscreen where the latest asteroid was being moved out of the way, then back to Trinian. “Sure, I guess. We’re just shoving some rocks around.” He gestured for her to follow him into his ready room.

“So,” he said a bit uncomfortably once they were inside and the doors were closed. “What…um…can I do for you?”

Rydell had been acting a bit odd around her for the last couple of weeks, but Trinian wasn’t all that surprised. He’d recently found himself trapped in the 20th century on Earth inside the body of one of his ancestors, the very ancestor that Trinian had married during her time on Earth. The news that Trinian was something more to him than just a bartender was taking a little time for Rydell to deal with. She was sure he’d talk to her about it eventually, but for now she wasn’t going to push him. Especially since her relationship to him would hardly matter if Donchuu wiped out the ship.

“We need to put the rocks back,” she said simply.

“Excuse me?” Rydell asked surprised.

“Not now, of course. But on our way out. And we have to leave the Aldeberan ship where it is.”

Rydell laughed even more uncomfortably. “Uh…Trinian. Getting their ship is the only reason we bothered bringing the Secondprize in at all. We could have sent a couple of shuttles into this field and beamed the crew out if we were just going to leave their ship there.”

“Good idea. Stop here, and send shuttles to get their crew. It will mean less work later.”

“I can’t just do that for no reason.”

“Do you want to die?” Trinian blurted.

Rydell stopped, staring at her questioningly for several seconds. His eyes widened suddenly. “Wait. Are we going to die? Are you getting premonitions of the future? Can you do that?” After finding out that Trinian had been alive for several hundred years, Rydell was no longer sure what she was capable of.

Trinian winced inwardly. This was exactly the kind of thing she was trying to avoid. It was enough that Rydell knew that she lived for a long time. The last thing she needed was for him to start believing she was precognitive or possessed other kinds of powers. Just what she could and could not do was her own business, and she certainly didn’t want Rydell thinking that his bartender was some kind of crutch to rely on. She also didn’t want him to know about her visit from Donchuu. Rydell’s ego wasn’t exactly fragile, but knowing that higher beings were contacting his bartender instead of him might hurt a bit. And at worst, it might make him start wondering just why she spent her time aboard his ship. She could not risk having her own work threatened in that way. In any case, it was time to diffuse the situation.

“I’m not psychic,” she said. “I just think we should leave things around here the way we found them. Galactic ecology and all that.”

“That Aldeberan ship is hardly part of the local ecology.”

“True, but it will eventually make a wonderful space buffalo lodge. Please, Alex. Just grab the crew, put the asteroids back, and let’s get out of here. Consider it a favor to me.”

“A favor?” Rydell said. “That’s an awfully big favor.”

“After all the times I let you babble at me about your insecurities after you became captain!” Trinian snapped back.

“Hey! I never babbled…well, maybe sometimes. But not a lot. I just need something more to go on here than helping the ecology of an asteroid field. Are you sure you haven’t had a vision of the future? A precognitive flash? Maybe a funny feeling?”

“Fine,” Trinian sighed. “I have a funny feeling.”

“There! That I can work with! Picard’s bartender set a precedent for this years ago,” Rydell said, charging back out of his ready room onto the bridge. “Everybody stop what you’re doing,” Rydell announced. “We’re out of the rock moving business.”

“Captain, we still have 164 asteroids to move before we reach the Aldeberan vessel,” Jaroch said.

“Their ship is staying there. Send Carr in a shuttle to retrieve the crew.”

“May I ask why?”

“Trinian had a funny feeling.”

“Wouldn’t that be best handled in sickbay?” Jaroch remarked.

“Never tempt fate, Jaroch. We’re pulling out.”

“You were just looking for a reasonable excuse, weren’t you?” Trinian said, suddenly understanding the reason for Rydell’s eagerness to jump on her funny feeling.

“Me? Never?” Rydell said, settling back into his command chair. “I love the idea of moving a few hundred rocks.”

“One hundred ninety-six,” Jaroch said.

“But who’s counting,” Rydell said with a grin. “As soon as Carr’s away, start backing us out. But you have to put the asteroids back where you found them.”

Jaroch choked slightly. “Excuse me?”

“That’s the deal,” Rydell said as Trinian made her way back to the turbolift. “Pull up the original chart of the asteroid field and put the rocks back in position.”

“And again I find myself asking why?”

“You’re supporting the arts, Jaroch,” Trinian said, stepping into the turbolift. As the turbolift doors closed, Trinian smiled as she caught Jaroch and Rydell exchanging a bewildered look. Confusing the command crew was fun.


STARDATE 52005.3


When you spend day after day after day serving the needs of others, you need a quiet sanctuary to retreat to that’s all your own. Trinian’s quarters were her sanctuary, a place that had never been visited by another member of the Secondprize crew.

If any of the crew were to go inside Trinian’s domain, they would find a cozy and exceptionally cluttered living room filled with the knick-knacks of the galaxy, collected over the centuries as she made her way from world to world. The bedroom was more like an art gallery with every available centimeter of wall covered by paintings, holos, and such.

At the moment, though, Trinian was not looking at any of the works, mostly because she was asleep. If she didn’t get a full three hours of rest a night, she tended to get cranky (Or possibly crankier depending on your view of her everyday personality).

Her dream had begun pleasantly enough, which was no surprise since she’d selected the general subject matter before drifting off for the evening (Dream control was one of the perks of being Seatellan). Gradually, though, she noticed an ominous shadow drifting over her dreamscape where she was busy ravishing and being ravished by a rather dashing yet swarthy pirate captain (a lingering…interest, shall we say, developed during her time on Earth). The shadow rapidly morphed into an all-out monsoon which tossed Trinian and her companion back and forth across the deck of their ship. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

Trinian willed herself awake, forcing her way up through the layers of sleep encasing her. At last she jerked her eyes open…

…and found herself staring directly into two red compound eyes mounted on algae green eye-stalks. Trinian screamed and lashed out, knocking whatever it was away from her. She instantly felt a searing pain in her forehead as a straw-like appendage belonging to the same creature was ripped away from her flesh.

Trinian was on her feet in an instant tracking the intruder. She found it twitching on the floor directly below the wall it had slammed into. It turned out that the eye-stalks and straw were attached to a potato-shaped body about the size of one of Counselor Webber’s rugby balls. Mounted on top of the potato were four delicate-looking white insectoid wings, which were currently flapping wildly in an attempt to get their owner airborne again; although, how wings that fragile-seeming could lift a creature of this apparent bulk was a mystery to her.

Finally, the intruder achieved flight, but rather than approach Trinian again, it headed directly for the wall, and phased right through it, making a repetitive noise as it went.

“Yumyumyumyumyumyumyumyum.”

Trinian’s body went cold as her mind realized what she’d just encountered. But it was impossible. Psionic Parasites were just a story told to scare Seatellan children on dark and stormy nights. The monsters (known informally as the Brain Drainers or Skull Snackers, depending on your slang of choice) didn’t really exist, did they?


Unable to sleep and not wanting to stay in the place where she’d just seen the Brain Drainer, Trinian made her way to Seven Backward, which was conveniently located just a few doors down from her quarters, a padd containing a download from her Seatellan archives clutched her hand.

Inside the empty lounge, she took a seat up against the viewports, giving her a view of the entire room in case the parasite came back. She was not about to be caught off guard.

The information in her system about the psionic parasites was frustratingly vague. Mentions of them dated back to the early days of Seatellan space travel, but apparently the creatures had never come anywhere near Seatella itself. It was noted, however, that they did not seem to show an interest in life forms without more advanced mental abilities, which at least meant that the rest of the ship’s crew was…

“Evening.”

“AHHHH!” Trinian screamed at the unexpected interruption. She thrust up the padd defensively, narrowing avoiding smacking Captain Rydell in the face. Gathering herself back together, she lowered the padd. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. “You’re never up this early.”

“I haven’t even gone to bed yet,” Rydell said, pulling up a chair across from her. “So what are you doing awake at this hour?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” she replied.

“Something wrong?”

Trinian opened her mouth to reply, but stopped as three of the Brain Drainers phased right through the wall behind the bar and headed her way.

“What?” Rydell asked, looking around to see whatever it was that Trinian was currently staring at in horror. He looked back at her. “Did you forget to wipe the bar or something?”

He couldn’t see the parasites, Trinian realized. He couldn’t see them! In fact, she was mere milliseconds away from screaming, “You can’t see them?!?” when the rational side of her brain tackled the portion that was careening toward hysteria.

If she ranted about creatures that Rydell couldn’t see, he would very likely think that she’d lost her mind and send her off to sickbay, where Dr. Aldridge would probably sedate her, which would allow the Brain Drainers to suck her dry, at which point she really would have lost her mind.

“I’m suddenly tired,” she said instead, practically leaping out of her chair as the Brain Drainers closed in. “I’ve gotta go.” She hit the doors of Seven Backward almost at a run, the parasites buzzing close behind.

“Yumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyumyum.”


The breakfast crowd in Seven Backward had to make do without Trinian’s usual sparkling wit that morning, as she was nowhere to be found. Her staff was more than capable of handling the lounge in her absence, but it was rare, actually almost unheard of, for Trinian to not be present in the mornings.

Instead, Trinian was taking a rather rushed tour of the ship. A few crewmembers even asked her when she had taken up jogging. Of course, they couldn’t see the horde of psionic parasites, now numbering 14, yumyumyumming a few yards behind her. They weren’t exceptionally fast, but their ability to phase through walls made staying away from them impossible unless she kept moving. One of Commander Baird’s bicycles would really have come in handy.

Trinian knew she couldn’t run forever, though. She would eventually tire, and the parasites would be quickly using her brain as their own personal punch bowl. If she was to prevent that outcome, she needed to find a way to deal with her problem. The Secondprize crew was her best bet, but, once again there was the threat that they’d think she was nuts. Even if they believed her, they’d probably want her to sit still and explain everything, which would leave her open for brain slurping. No, she’d have to handle this herself, but there was at least one way the crew could help…


“Yes?” Jaroch said, standing in the doorway of his quarters peering at Trinian questioningly. Somehow she never figured him for the purple bathrobe type.

“Can I borrow a tricorder?” she gasped, glancing off down the corridor as she tried to catch her breath. The incessant “yumyumyum” was faint, but growing in volume as the psionic parasites closed in. Her sudden sprint had only bought her a few moments.

“May I ask why?”

“I want to scan something. Can I borrow one or not?”

“You could requisition one from ship’s stores,” Jaroch said.

“No time. And I’m not official crew.”

“That is true,” Jaroch said thoughtfully. “I suppose I could lend you one. Are you familiar with the functioning of the device?”

“Sure,” she said. At least she probably was. It was a scanning device. How hard could it be?

Jaroch nodded, then disappeared back into his quarters to retrieve the tricorder.

“Yumyumyumyumyum.”

They were getting closer.

“Um…Jaroch?” Trinian called in through the door.

“Yes?”

“Are your past lives considered a psychic ability?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I’m curious,” Trinian said impatiently. If Jaroch was in danger of becoming a snack, she was going to have to find a way to convince him about the parasites before they arrived.

“Here you are,” Jaroch said, returning with the tricorder and handing it to her. “And to answer your query, my prior existences are an inherent part of the lifeforce that animates my body. I do not believe they could be remotely considered psychic phenomenon.”

“Glad to hear it,” Trinian said, jogging off down the corridor just as the first of the parasite horde rounded the corner into view. “Thanks!”

“You’re welcome,” Jaroch replied confused as he ducked back into his quarters.


“Phaser,” Trinian said.

“What about it?” Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins said groggily, leaning against the door of the quarters she shared with Commander Travis Dillon.

“I need one.”

“Now?”

“Please.”

“What?”

“Can I have a phaser or not?” Trinian demanded, knowing that her lead on the parasites was slipping away quickly.

“What for?”

“Target practice. I promise not to hurt anyone.”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll give you free meals and drinks in Seven Backward for life.”

“They’re already free.”

“Not if you don’t give that phaser,” Trinian said.

“If you shoot anyone…” Hawkins began.

“I’ll be careful.”

“Okay,” Hawkins said, pulling a phaser out of the pocket of her floral dressing gown and handing it over. Trinian wasn’t even going to ask why she kept a phaser there. She didn’t have time anyway.

“Yumyumyumyumyumyum.”

She turned in time to see a straw-like appendage aimed directly for her skull. She dodged back, then spinning on her heel, ran off down the corridor, leaving Hawkins to wonder if she’d just made a very bad decision.


Trinian dashed into a turbolift and ordered it to the bottom of the ship, holding the car there until she could hear the “Yumyumyumyumyumyum” of the approaching parasites. She then ordered the lift back up to Seven Backward. If she was going to take these things on, she wanted a home field advantage.

“EVERYBODY OUT!” she screamed, charging into the lounge, much to the surprise of the officers gathered there for breakfast. Everyone stared back at her in stunned silence. “You heard me! We’re closed. GET OUT!”

“What about my fucking flapjacks?” Commander Scott Baird demanded.

“OUT!” Trinian screamed, yanking Baird up by his arm.

With much grumbling and muttering, Seven Backward emptied of people, including Trinian’s waitstaff. whom she shooed out the doors. After sealing the entrances, she stormed over to the viewports and climbed up onto a table with the phaser and tricorder. Obviously if the ship’s internal sensors weren’t seeing the parasites, they weren’t the easiest thing to pick up on scans. But they were there! And if they were there, something had to be able to detect them. Trinian just hoped that if she set the tricorder to maximum sensitivity and aimed it directly at one of the Brain Drainers, she could get some kind of reading.

The wait for the arrival of the parasites took longer than she expected, which allowed plenty of time for gawkers to gather at the doors to Seven Backward to watch the show, not that they were sure what show they were watching. For now, Trinian was just crouched on a table backed up to the viewports and scanning frantically. Suddenly, she seemed to lock all of her attention on one area of the room.

Inside, Trinian had a lock on the first of the parasites to sail through the wall and into the lounge proper. The parasites had to be slightly out of phase with normal reality but not so much that Trinian couldn’t see them. If the tricorder could just give her a reading of the phase variance, she could…

There! She had it! And none too soon considering the rest of the horde had arrived. Seeing their meal backed up against a window, they spread out for the kill…er, suck.

Trinian quickly adjusted the frequency setting on her phaser, then dove down from the table, opening fire as soon as she hit the ground.


“Baird to Rydell,” the Secondprize’s chief engineer said as he watched Trinian’s actions through the window in the Seven Backward doors.

“Unnnh,” the captain replied in a sleepy groan.

“I think you’d better get down to Seven Backward. Trinian’s fucking flipped.”

“Unnnh err umm ehh,” Rydell grunted. Baird loosely translated it as “I’m on my way.”


As one of their number vaporized in a fiery poof, the remaining psionic parasites spread out and went into their version of evasive maneuvers. While Trinian was a capable bartender and quite a bit more, she never really considered marksman to be one of her skills, which was making eliminating her foes difficult. One by one, though, she was slowly picking them off.

“Okay. What’s the problem?” Captain Rydell asked, stumbling up to Seven Backward. At least he was in a freshly replicated uniform.

“Nut job,” Baird said, pointing at the window.

Rydell peered inside just as Trinian executed a flying leap, hit the ground at a roll, and came up blasting. “Um…is she having an action sequence without us?”

“Like I told you, she’s fucking flipped. Who the fuck is she shooting at?”

“Rogue air molecules?” Rydell offered.

After a few more minutes, Trinian suddenly stopped and sat down in the middle of Seven Backward, gasping for breath. “Guess the show’s over,” Rydell said, tapping his override code into the door panel. The entrance to the lounge obediently slid open, allowing him to enter.

“Soooo…,” he said, strolling over to Trinian. “Busy morning?”

“Not really,” she replied with a slight smile.

Rydell surveyed the room. “The scorch marks add a bit of ambience.”

“I thought so.”

“Better the walls than the customers, I guess,” Rydell said just as another parasite shot through the wall behind him. Trinian stiffened. Dammit. There was another one! In a blur, she raised the phaser and fired, sending the beam searing past Rydell’s head and into the creature.

“You done?” he asked.

“I think so.”

“I don’t want to pry or anything, but you seem a little stressed.”

“I was. I’m not anymore, but I was.”

“So shooting up Seven Backward took care of it.”

“Yeah.”

“Uh huh. You know, staying around the same place for too long can do funny things to the mind sometimes. Maybe you should take a vacation.”

“A vacation,” Trinian repeated blankly, the full level of fatigue from her day’s activities settling in on her.

“Yeah. Get out of here for a while.

Trinian considered the idea, then nodded slowly. “A vacation. I could do that. A couple of days couldn’t hurt.”


NINE DAYS LATER…


Trinian strolled leisurely through the outdoor market on Betazed wondering why she hadn’t taken a vacation sooner. Sure, bartending on the Secondprize wasn’t exactly the highest stress job in the world. In fact, for a being of her power and capabilities, it was downright mundane, but she knew she was doing valuable work. In any case, it was nice to get away for a while and spend some time just for herself. If 600 years of life had taught her anything, it was that you just had to give yourself a little present every now and then.

“THEY’RE HERE!” a familiar voice boomed in her head.

“Guardian?” Trinian asked. It’d been so long since she’d been contacted that she wasn’t really sure anymore.

“THEY’RE HERE. YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO STOP THEM.”

“But I’ve only been gone three days. Why did they have to show up now?”

“YOU HAVE FAILED. ACTION MUST BE TAKEN.”

“God damn it! This was my one vacation. My only one. Alex would have to go there now!”

That’d teach her to ever take a vacation. She leaves the Secondprize for a few days and what happens? Rydell finds Forever and starts the end of the universe. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

She should have shot him when she had the chance.




REUNION


“I don’t want this to sound mean or anything, but Trinian could have saved us all a whole lot of trouble if she’d just told us about Forever,” Sullivan said.

“I think that would have been against her orders from the Seatellans,” Beck said.

“Stupid orders then,” Baird said.

“No arguments here.”

“Did Starfleet ever find her species and make contact?” Rydell asked.

“Not yet,” Beck replied. “But I’m sure we will at some point. There’s only so much galaxy.”

“Spoken like a true conqueror,” Rydell said with a grin.

“Hey now,” Beck replied.

“All that time,” Carr said thoughtfully, “and she never once let us in on the truth. I thought we were her friends.”

“We were…and are,” Rydell replied. “But everyone has their secrets, I suppose. The things you don’t want the rest of the universe to know about you.”

“Oh do tell, Mister Rydell,” an unfamiliar male voice boomed from across the room. The Secondprize officers’ heads all whipped around toward the source of the interruption. Standing at the door of the ballroom were two dour-faced men, one human and one Vulcan, in dark green suits.

Karina Durham, Rydell’s wife, suddenly pushed past them. “I’m sorry, Alex. They flashed their IDs and forced their way in.”

“It’s all right, dear,” Rydell said, rising from his seat. “I just didn’t realize our party was going to be popular enough to draw gatecrashers. Care to introduce yourselves, gentlemen?”

“I’m Agent Tannen. This is Agent Smeck. Temporal Investigations.”

“Okay,” Rydell said, turning back to his former crew. “Who stole a clock?”

“Your levity is unappreciated, Mister Rydell,” Tannen said.

“And ill-timed,” Smeck added.

“I think you know why we’re here.”

Reflexively, Rydell stole a glance at Travis. “No. Why would that be?”

“You have aided and abetted a temporal displacement,” Smeck said.

Tannen pointed accusingly at Travis. “That man does not belong here.”

“Alex?” Travis said worried, his eyes wide.

“It’s okay, Travis. I’ll handle it,” Rydell said.

“Handle what?” Beck asked, getting to her feet. “What is going on here?”

“Of course,” Jaroch said softly.

“What is it?” Hawkins said.

“The only logical explanation,” Jaroch said. “That is not Travis Dillon.”

“Yes, I am!” Travis insisted.

“Forgive me. You are not Commander Travis Dillon, formerly of the USS Secondprize. Isn’t that correct?”

Travis once again looked to Rydell, who nodded. “No,” Travis said softly. “I’m not.”

“WHAT?” Hawkins exclaimed.

“I should have realized it sooner,” Jaroch said. “Throughout the evening, while you have listened and clearly enjoyed the stories being told, not once did your face register the slightest hint of recognition. Even the parts about yourself, or Commander Dillon rather, seemed to be completely new to you.”

“Well, if he isn’t Travis…er Dillon, who is he?” Hawkins demanded. “And what happened to the real Dillon?”

“He’s the reason I’m here,” Travis said. “In fact, I owe him my life…”




“EXPERIMENTAL OUTCOMES”


I sit across the desk from Bradley, watching that smirk spread across his face. The same smirk he always got when he was about to tell me something I didn’t want to hear (“Travis, your Super Starfleeter Steve figure broke. I have no idea how.” “Dad says you can’t join the Starfleet Scouts. You’re going to Calculus Camp instead.” “Some girl named Wendy commed. She said you asked her to the homecoming dance. At least that’s what I think she said. She was laughing really hard. Anyway, she said not a chance in hell.”). He reveled in these moments…always had.

Of course, I couldn’t begin to imagine what he could have over me know that I didn’t already know about. He was Bradley Dillon. Galactic Entrepreneur. Billionaire several times over. And former Federation President.

And who the hell was I? No one. Once upon a time I was a Starfleet Officer with hopes of reaching the Admiralty. Ha! It took years for the message to get through to me, but Starfleet had no intention of ever letting me get above the rank of commander, much less giving me my own ship.

Then there was Patricia.

From there, things get a bit fuzzy. The asteroid holodeck. Forever. Tantalus V.

Dr. Cross, my therapist, calls those years a serious mental breakdown exacerbated by my inability to receive proper treatment. It took him two full years at Tantalus V to bring me back to myself. Not that it mattered.

I left Tantalus V with big plans. My finances were fine. Starfleet never discharged me, so they’d just kept dumping credits in my account. Then I had my retirement pay for my years of service. It wasn’t anywhere near the riches my brother had amassed, but I had the freedom to pretty much go wherever and do whatever I wanted.

But what did I want to do? I wanted to write a book. That’s what Dr. Cross had suggested. And the writing was very therapeutic. I talked about the Secondprize, our missions, the crew, everything from that first mission with Admiral Wyndham to Forever. I even managed to find a publisher.

That’s when everything went to hell. Starfleet denounced my book as a total fabrication, publicizing my mental health problems and calling the work the ravings of a lunatic. Evidently the P.R. guys at Command decided that the unorthodox way in which we got things done was bad for Starfleet’s image. I expected the Secondprize crew to jump to my defense, to verify what I’d written. Turned out that most of them never even heard about it. Jaroch was off with the Secondprize on a deep space mission. Last I’d heard, Patricia was with him.

And Captain Rydell. Well, he had his resort to take care of…and a daughter. Rydell actually surprised me through all of this. He was waiting for me on Earth when I arrived back from Tantalus V. He said he wanted to see how I was doing. The odd thing was I couldn’t detect even a trace of condescension or disdain in his voice. Instead he seemed concerned, genuinely concerned.

When all is said and done, Alex Rydell is a good man. I’m honored to have served with him.

Later, when I contacted him about the book, he told me the truth. Starfleet wanted it buried. He didn’t like it any more than I did, but we had to think about the big picture. In the meantime, he asked for an autographed print copy.

Now, five years after my return from Tantalus, I don’t have much to show for my new life. No friends. No book. Nothing. I sit at home. I’ve moved to London. It just amazes me to be in a place on Earth that has seen so much history. I wander the city a lot, marveling at buildings that are close to 1,500 years old. But that is my life. At one point I thought I would travel. But spaceflight just isn’t the same as a civilian.

I was quite content to stay on Earth. Well, I guess content isn’t the word for it. Resigned. But the Bradley commed, and I found myself on Waystation a few days later.


“You look well…considering,” Bradley says, leaning forward in his chair to rest his hands on his massive desk. His entire office just screams wealth and power. I imagine it’s a bit like what an old Earth Robber Baron’s would have been as he contemplated his oil or railroad empire. Of course, Bradley’s Dillon Enterprises empire was far more vast than any of those Robber Barons could have dreamed of. “How long has it been?”

“A month, Bradley,” I say sharply. I’m in no mood to play around. If he has a bomb to drop on me, I just want him to do it. “At the funeral.” Our father had died a month earlier. It was kind of a shock, since he was only 80. I showed up more out of obligation than grief. For my entire life, it’d just seemed like he was out to get me.

“Funny you should bring that up,” Bradley replies. “That sort of what I wanted to talk to you about. As executor of Dad’s estate…”

“Just get on with it.” Yeah yeah. I know he’s the executor. Mom was too busy with work, and obviously Dad wouldn’t leave this in the hands of Travis, the screw-up son.

“Well, Dad left this for you,” Bradley continues, handing a padd over to me. “There’s a lot of material in there, but the opening note should cover the basics.” I activate the padd, which obediently displays a brief text message.


Travis,


If you’re reading this, I’m dead, and the experiment has ended. “What experiment?” you may be wondering. YOU! The work I have done on you has allowed your mother and I to lead the lives we did. I would thank you, but since I did all the work myself,there’s really no reason to. I’m the one whole socialized you, created you neurosis by neurosis.

Now here’s what you are to do so my work can continue. Get your butt to Dr. Jordan Bunch at Johns Hopkins. I’ve given you to him. He’s in the process now of getting records from that incompetent Counselor Miller who was “watching” you on that asteroid. I’m royally pissed off that I wasn’t there to observe you those years, but Bunch should get a good paper out of it.

Enclosed are the papers I’ve written on you so far. If you have an ounce of sense, you’ll read them.


Dr. Richard Dillon


I don’t know what reaction Bradley is hoping for after I read the message, but he seems disappointed when I start laughing. It isn’t my usual laugh, though. This is the laugh I laughed when Patricia left me for that Klingon…when Jaroch was promoted to captain of the Secondprize instead of me. I quickly stifle it, trying to pull myself back together.

“Are you okay, Travis?” Bradley says, feigning concern. He is loving every minute of this. He’d always been the favorite, even when he was a down-and-out used starship salesman skirting the edges of the law. Now I know why. He is their “real” son, while I am just the lab animal. I thought there were ethics boards to prevent such things. Dad had obviously found some way around it, though. I guess when you grow your lab animal, it’s okay.

“Fine,” I say softly. “Just tired.”

“I’ve reserved the Presidential Suite for you at the hotel,” Bradley says. “Free of charge, of course.”

“Thanks,” I mutter.

“What are you going to do now that you know the truth?”

“What should I do?” I ask, getting up. “I don’t see how it really changes my life.”

“But don’t you see?” Bradley says, going in for the kill. “You have no life. Your entire existence has been designed by Dad for his work. You have a duty to continue on. You have to go to Johns Hopkins. It’s the whole reason you’re alive.”

I want to hit him. I want to leap across that desk and smash his face in. I’m still in good physical shape. I’ve kept up the training regime I started on the asteroid. I’m probably more like a 30-year-old than a 50-year-old.

I don’t attack, though, for a couple of reasons. First, he’s probably got bodyguards outside or some sort of high-tech personal protection system. Secondly, if I do jump at him, he’ll probably have me shipped to Johns Hopkins in restraints and committed.

And finally, he’s right. I don’t have a life. I never even had a chance of having one thanks to “Doctor” Richard Dillon. Normally, I would never think such a thing. I had always believed that each individual had the potential to reach whatever heights he or she wanted to achieve. But I was the exception. My own father had undermined my chances. He had created a man incapable of anything but dementia.

I walk out of Bradley’s office, through the Dillon Enterprises executive complex, and out into the main corridor, where I catch a turbolift down to the mall level. The sheer vastness of Starfleet Square Mall is almost overwhelming. Waystation seems to get larger every time I come out here.

As I wander towards the Starfleet Suites Hotel entrance, I ponder my options.

I can just resign myself to who and what I am and go see this Dr. Bunch.

I can fight it, go home, and try to show everyone I am more than my father’s experiment. Of course, Bunch will be watching. I’ll still be a lab animal, just an uncaged one.

Or I can change the rules. I’m no Captain Kirk, despite what I may have thought about myself in the past. But, with any luck, I can throw a curveball that no one would ever expect…and help someone else in the process.


After my return to Earth, I spend several days gathering some needed items together. Before I left Waystation, I checked a few things in the Dillon Enterprises computer network. Bradley may know me, but I know him as well. His computer system wasn’t that hard to access even with my limited hacking abilities. And the information I needed was easily found once I got inside.

With the information and my gear in hand, I travel up to the civilian orbital dock to check out my small cruiser, the Horatio Nelson. It’s kind of a big name for such a small ship, but I’d fought off the Spanish Armada too many times on the holodeck not to have developed tremendous respect for the man.

I picked up the ship from Bradley soon after my release from Tantalus V. Traveling on starliners hadn’t done a thing for me, so I figured my own ship was the answer. It wasn’t. Traveling alone was even worse. At least in London, I can walk around with other people and get some degree of human contact. A smile from the waitress in the restaurant on the corner. A “good morning” from the guard at the British Museum. I cherished those gestures as some small acknowledgment of my existence.

So, after deciding that spaceflight alone was just as bad as spaceflight with strangers, I docked the Horatio Nelson. Until today I hadn’t touched it in three years. Now I’m taking it out of the Sol system and into warp for the two week flight to our destination.

The Dillon Enterprises computers had been more than willing to tell me what I wanted to know. Yes, Dr. Derrick Azar had remained employed until his death. No, he had not delivered a new time pod to Dillon Enterprises. He had, however, begun spending more and more time in his lab on Lorikel.

With any luck, Azar had continued his work. I might be able to get to the person I needed to see without it, but I am not confident enough in my engineering ability to risk something like a slingshot maneuver.


Two weeks alone gives me a lot of time to consider what I’m doing. I could just go back, kill my father soon after my birth, and be done with it. But I can’t do that. The changes that would cause could be disastrous to the timeline. That’s not to exaggerate my own importance, but I have been to a lot of places and met a lot of people. If you remove me from the equation, who knows what could happen?

I chuckle softly at the irony. It’s a testament to Dr. Cross’ ability that I even care. Seven years ago I was ready and willing to wipe out the entire universe. Now I’m unwilling to risk the timeline to better my own life. Of course, deep down I know that the real reason is that I might not better it. Tinkering with time is never the way to fix things…well, almost never.


Lorikel is a deserted dirtball in space. No cultures ever existed here despite its Class M atmosphere and verdant conditions. Dr. Azar found it to be the perfect place to do his work in secret. When he started, Lorikel was on the outskirts of nowhere. Now it’s deep in Federation space, but still not exactly on the main route to anywhere.

My scanners show that I have the sector to myself as I enter orbit above Lorikel and begin my descent. Azar’s lab is the sole structure on the surface, and I can detect energy readings emanating from it. I set the ship down just outside the lab and pull out a phase torch, just in case I need to cut my way through the lab doors.

I can’t help but be surprised when, instead, the lab doors open invitingly as I approach while lights throughout the structure flicker to life. A moment later, a hologram appears in front of me. It’s Azar. He’s older than the last time I saw him, but his eyes still have that piercing look of intelligence/insanity common to most brilliant scientists.

“Welcome, friend. You don’t know it yet, but you have just blundered into the luckiest day of your life.”

“Really?” I say amused. He had no idea how right he is.

“I have a wonder to show you. And it’s yours. All yours. Just promise me one thing: Under NO circumstances will you allow this magnificent device to fall into the hands of Dillon Enterprises.”

“You definitely don’t have to worry about that one,” I say. My heart begins to race. He’s got a new time pod. It has to be the time pod.

“Very well. But if this device is ever taken by Dillon Enterprises…and it WILL know…it will self-destruct leaving you with nothing!”

“I promise,” I reply, wondering just what Bradley did to Azar to make the man this adamant even after his death.

Azar nods and leads me down a long corridor to a huge set of duranium doors, which slide open revealing the main portion of Azar’s lab. In the center of the room, a lone spotlight shining on it, sits a tall cylinder: the time pod.

“This is the Azar Temporal Transport and Retrieval Cylinder,” the Azar hologram declares dramatically. “And it now belongs to you, my friend.”

“Show me how to use it,” I say. He doesn’t need to give me a sales pitch. I know exactly what I want to do.


I approach the door of the cabin feeling strangely calm even though I know I will never return to my home time. Sure, I could turn back, but I have no desire to. This is what I want. This feels right.

This will destroy my father’s precious experiment.

I trudge through a foot of unshoveled snow up to the door of the weather-beaten cabin. I know he will be here now. I read the files on him. I couldn’t bring myself to read how he dies, though, since I know that if I am successful here, I would be reading the cause of my own death. I don’t want that information hanging over me. No one should know the circumstances of his own demise.

I knock on the door. Moments later he answers. Most of his face is covered by a thick beard, and he has put on a bit of weight, but I can definitely tell it is him. It’s in his eyes, eyes that stare back at me with a glazed madness not unlike the look I use to see on Tantalus V when I’d look in the mirror. Actually, it’s the exact look I used to see.

“Who the hell are you?” he demands. Part of me wants to laugh. The last time I saw this man, he was 21-years-old, and I was in my early 30’s. Now he’s 53 while I’m just 50. Oh, the joys of time travel.

“We need to talk, Travis,” I say.

“How do you know who I am?”

“We’ve met before. We’re actually distantly related. Do I look at all familiar?” I pull the hood of my parka off of my head to give him a clear look at me. The snow blowing across this plain in Montana whips through my hair.

“You do look like someone I’ve seen before.” Travis Dillon, resident of the early 21st century replies.

“How about when you look in a mirror?” I say a little too harshly. I’m not here to abuse this man, though. I’ve read his history, and it’s remarkably similar to my own. Mental breakdown, abandonment by the woman who claimed to love him, release into a world that has no place for him, retreat to a lonely place. In some ways his story is worse. His wife left him for this century’s Alex Rydell, taking Travis’ son with her.

I pull a device out of my belt pack and wave it over his head, undoing the mindwipe work of Dr. Aldridge that had been in place for over a quarter century. I shouldn’t have this device, but at this point in my life, rules seem a bit extraneous.

“Think back to Old Dominion. You met two Starfleet Officers from the 24th century. One of them was your descendant.”

Travis’ eyes widen. There’s no way to make this moment seem anything less than ridiculous. A man has just remembered meeting people from the future, people with spaceships, people who live a life he can only dream of.

“Oh dear god,” he says softly. “You. You’re from the future!”

“Yes, Travis. Now may I come inside?”

He ushers me into the small cabin, which consists of a single room. Kitchen area against the back wall. Bathroom facilities out the back. Very rustic.

I very quickly explain to him my proposition. Then I spend the next several hours explaining it again and again until he finally accepts that I am not joking. I’m ready for his next comment.

“That sounds great,” he says awestruck. “But I don’t know if I can just leave my life here.”

“You don’t have a life here,” I reply. It worked on me (not the way Bradley had intended, of course), so I hope this Travis will be similarly persuaded. He sits silently for a moment. I press on, not willing to give him a chance to think along other lines. “Your wife is gone. Your son has nothing to do with you. You see no one other than the occasional shopkeeper when you go into town. What life do you have?”

He looks at me, his eyes tearing up slightly. Obviously, I hit a few buttons. I should know. They’re very similar to my own buttons.

“Let me give you a new start,” I say. “And you’ll be doing the same for me.”

He nods, wiping a couple of stray tears away. Now the work begins.

The next two weeks are for more pleasant for me than they are for him. I eat like a horse to gain weight and use a follicle stimulator to grow a beard. Travis starts to work out for the first time in his life. I run him like an Academy drill instructor while using a few 25th century medical marvels to speed up his weight loss and muscle gain. After a shave, he’s the spitting image of me…the me who arrived in this time two weeks earlier that is. Meanwhile, I have effectively duplicated his mountain-man look.

I spend the time that we aren’t physically training drilling him on things he’ll need to know to exist in the 25th century. I alter his fingerprints and give him contact lenses that will match my retinal scan. These items were not easy to come by, either, but I did make a couple of connections at Tantalus V.

I also spend this time acclimating myself to the 21st century. I have no idea when or how this Travis, who will soon be me, is supposed to have died, since I only asked for information of his whereabouts when he was approximately my age. From here on out, though, his history is my history.

I give Travis instructions about where the ship is back on Lorikel, how to activate the autopilot, and how to get back to my…his home in London. From there he can do what he wants, just as I will be doing so here.

Finally, he is ready, and I am more than ready to be rid of him. He is so excited about the future, so filled with life. I, on the other hand, feel strangely empty. I do not miss my home time, yet I have no excitement about the “adventure” of living in this time and place. Maybe it will come.

I hand Travis the time pod remote activation device. He shakes my hand, then, overcome with emotion, hugs me and whispers “thank you” in my ear. He has no idea that he’s the one actually helping me. He’ll find out soon enough, though. I left him the details of my father’s grand “experiment” back in London along with a few other instructions.

Travis activates the device and vanishes in a blinding flash.

I am alone.

I am free of my father.

I am free of Starfleet.

I am free of Patricia Hawkins.

I am free of everything.

Starfleet and my father thought they could hold me back! I showed them. Patricia was probably working for them all along. But I have beaten them! I am the survivor here!

I laugh…and laugh and laugh and laugh until it becomes a sustained cackle.

My attention suddenly shifts to the world outside. Snow is falling again. Looks like a great place for penguins.

Who was that officer who thought she was a penguin?

Larkin. That’s it. The android. When I left, she was on track for the admiralty. Sure, make the android an admiral, but not Travis Michael Dillon. Have to be a fucking penguin to get ahead in Starfleet huh? I’ll show them!

My clothes slip away almost without me being aware that my hands are moving.

You want me to be a penguin? Would that make you happy? Would that make you want me?

Travis’ cabin is in a shambles in moments, but I find a black bow tie stuck in a ratty old tuxedo coat in the back of a closet. He probably wore it once, decades earlier. Who knows why he held onto it. It doesn’t matter now.

I tie the bow tie around my neck.

I’m a fucking penguin! Happy, Dad? Happy, Starfleet? Happy, Patricia?

But they might not recognize me as a penguin. Can’t have that!

I grab a black marker off of Travis’ cluttered desk and scrawl “PENGUIN” on my chest.

AM I A GOOD SON-OFFICER, ADMIRAL DAD?!?

I bend over and scrawl it on my ass.

AM I A GOOD OFFICER-SON, FATHER STARFLEET?!?

Then I march out the door to show them all just how good of a penguin I can be…


I sit across the table from an empty chair in a diner waiting for him to arrive. Around me, the other patrons chat while enjoying their breakfasts. I can’t say I’m thrilled about the prospect of seeing him, 25th century descendant or not, but Dillon’s message to me called him “a good man.”

I’ve been in this time for close to a month now, the first two weeks of which were spent on Dillon’s ship reading file after file. Even though I know what to expect, the cosmic coincidences still astound me. The same names. Similar looks and personalities. Maybe there is something to all that reincarnation/karma crap. God knows what the stunt Dillon and I just pulled will do to that concept, though.

Dillon had everything well-prepared for my arrival, anally so. I wondered at first if he really understood the value of what he was giving up. Then I read the files. His life was as big of a craphole as mine. This was his last attempt to wrest control and make something good happen. I hope it worked out for him. I don’t want to check, though. As far as I am concerned, he’s still alive and making the most of the opportunity he’s given the both of us.

I’m trying to do the same on my end. I’ve always wanted to travel. Now is my chance. I spent the first few days in London, then I headed across the Atlantic to my former home town of Salisbury, Maryland. The town is there, but in name only. Not a single landmark I recognize still exists. I honestly prefer it that way. A completely fresh start. No demons from the past.

I made my way from Salisbury to Oregon. I always wanted to visit Oregon, but never got the chance. No time like the present…or the future.

I’ve rented a room in the small, ocean-front town of Kernville. It’s fog-shrouded most of the time, which is exactly how I pictured Oregon. I love it. I may buy a place here once I get tired of London.

The door of the diner opens, and he walks in. I know it’s him immediately. Same face. Same smile. Alex Rydell walks over to my table and extends a hand for me to shake, which I do, repeating in my head all the while that this is not him. This is not the man who took my wife.

“How ya doing, Dillon?” he says warmly, taking the seat across from me. “What’s good here?”

“So far, everything,” I reply. The waitress, seeing that my companion has arrived, glides over to take our order. Everyone here seems so relaxed. I like it.

I order two eggs, over easy, and a side of bacon. Rydell gets French Toast and sausage links. I laugh softly. Even after several generations, Rydells still don’t like eggs. Or maybe it’s that cosmic karma again.

“So what did you want to see me about?” he asks, taking a sip of the mug of black coffee the waitress delivered unobtrusively.

I don’t really know how to broach the subject. It sounds insane…and we Dillons seem to know a bit about insanity. I might as well dive right in and see if this Rydell is as good of a man as Dillon claimed.

“I’m not who you think I am,” I say, leaning across the table.

A look of concern flashes across Rydell’s face, then he smiles. “Of course you aren’t. So who are you?”

“I am Travis Dillon,” I reply. “But not the one you think.”

“Alternate universe?” he asks.

“Time travel,” I say.

He stops drinking the coffee, a look of fear and recognition filling his eyes. “Come again?”

“Let me refresh your memory. Old Dominion University. 1993. Your mind ended up in my roommate’s body. Flash to 1995, you and Dillon show up again to stop some psycho from killing us.”

“Dillon would know all of that anyway,” he replies.

“True,” I say. “How about this? During the time you were in Alex’s body, you exercised every night after you thought I was asleep trying to work off a few of those pizzas we ate way too many of.”

“Travis?”

“Gotcha,” I say smiling.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

I quickly outline what happened. “Dillon trusted you,” I say. “He insisted I contact you after I got settled in.”

“Why me?”

“Because someone needs to know about me just in case something happens. You have to help me make sure no one finds out I’m not Dillon.”

“But the timeline…”

“We’re still here, aren’t we?”

“You’ve got a point,” he says. “Okay. If that’s what he wants, more power to him.”

“There’s something else,” I say. “The book. I don’t know which one he means, but he told me that you have to distribute the book.”

“I don’t know…” Rydell is quiet for a few moments, then slowly begins to smile. “That would royally piss off Command,” he says. “But not yet. Give me time to cover my tracks, but I will. I can do that much for him.”

“Thank you.”

We eat our meal in relative silence. Rydell tells me a bit about his family. A six-year-old daughter. A three-year-old son. I am quiet about my life before coming to this time. Let him look it up if he’s so interested.

Finally, we say our goodbyes. Before he leaves, Rydell turns to me. “I have to admire him for going after what he wanted. Good for him. About time.”

“For both of us,” I reply.

Rydell exits. I turn my attention to the other matter at hand: the man at that corner table trying to hide a padd in his lap as he eats his breakfast. Even if Dillon hadn’t left me a file about his identity, I would have noticed him. He wasn’t exactly subtle in his attempts to watch me.

I slide into the chair across from him without him realizing it. He’s too busy scribbling notes in his lap.

“So how am I doing, Doc?” I ask.

He almost jumps out of his seat as his head whips up to see who’s invaded his space. I enjoy watching his mouth gape open as he stammers to get a word out.

“I…I….”

“You’re Dr. Bunch. I’m Travis Dillon. Nice to meet you.” I grab his hand and pump it a couple of times in a far too strong handshake. “Sorry I never came by your office, but you seem to have found me with no problem. Stalked my place in London. Then to Salisbury. Now here.”

He finally manages to get a word out. “You…you aren’t supposed to act this way. It doesn’t fit your behavioral profile.”

“It doesn’t?” I say, mocking disappointment. “I’m awfully sorry about that. Guess you’ll just have to update that profile.”

“Er…”

“Look,” I continue, not interested in hearing whatever he intends to babble at me. “I’m about to leave here. Then I’m going to walk on the beach. I’ll be at the Sunset Bluffs for dinner, I think. Looked like a pretty swanky place. Did Johns Hopkins give you a big enough credit allowance to eat in a place like that?”

Bunch just stares at me.

“And tomorrow, I think I may head down to Los Angeles to see the sights and maybe…” I lean across the table right into his face. “…just maybe MEET SOME NEW PEOPLE!!!”

Before Bunch can react, I’m out of my chair and headed toward the door. Let him stew on that one for a while. That ought to poke a huge stick in the eye of Dr. Richard Dillon and his “grand” experiment.

I give Bunch a quick look and big grin over my shoulder, then walk outside into the future.




REUNION


“You don’t belong here,” Agent Tannen said, taking a step toward Travis. “Not in this century, and certainly not with these people. I don’t know what you hoped to gain by coming here among Commander Dillon’s former colleagues, but your presence is an insult to their service to Starfleet.”

“You obviously haven’t read our service records,” Sullivan muttered.

“You’re not one of them,” Tannen said, ignoring Sullivan.

“Hang on a second,” Rydell said. “Travis Dillon…the other one, went to a lot of trouble to make this switch. Are you really just going to undo that work?”

“Um…that’s the general idea,” Tannen said. “Smeck…”

“You need to come with us, Mister Dillon,” Smeck said.

Travis hopped up from his seat and backed away from the agents. “No! I’m not going back!”

“Calm down. No one is going anywhere,” Rydell said.

“Don’t get in our way, Rydell,” Tannen warned.

“I believe that you will find that several of us are in your way until receive an adequate explanation,” Jaroch said as he and the remaining officers at the table all got to their feet. “What do you plan to do with Mister Dillon?”

“We’ll wipe his memory of this entire incident, and then put him back in Montana, where he can die as he’s supposed to.”

“Die!” Travis exclaimed. “No one said anything about dying!”

“Oh,” Tannen said as Smeck arched an eyebrow at him. “Forget I mentioned that part.”

“No one is dying!” Rydell snapped.

“I don’t get it, Alex,” Beck said, turning toward her former captain. “You knew about this all along. And you still invited him to the reunion. Why?”

“I thought he should get to know Dillon’s shipmates. We may not have liked the guy all the time, but he was still a part of this crew. And this was a great way for Travis to learn more about the man who gave him his life. Beyond that, though, I did it for us. Dillon put us all through a lot at Forever, and it’s only natural that there would be some lingering resentments. I thought having Travis here could give us a chance to heal.”

“Are you a psychologist now?” Webber asked.

“Comes with the job sometimes,” Rydell said.

“I didn’t want to intrude,” Travis said softly.

“You didn’t,” Rydell said. “It wouldn’t have been the same without a Dillon here.”

“That is true,” Jaroch said.

“Well now he’s leaving,” Tannen said.

“I don’t think so,” Beck said, getting between Tannen and Travis.

“Stand aside, Admiral. Our authority in this matter supercedes yours. Your Commander Dillon was left to die in a snowbank, a snowbank that was meant for this man!” Tannen said, pointing accusingly at Travis. “They don’t find him until the spring thaw. Did you know that?”

“No!” Travis protested. “He was fine when I left.”

“Spring thaw,” Jaroch said softly, his mind working.

“What is it?” Hawkins said, touching his arm.

“Travis Dillon was found dead in Montana in 2027 after the spring thaw. Death was estimated to have occurred in early February.”

“How do you know that?” Dr. Aldridge asked amazed.

“I had reason to look it up once,” Jaroch said. “It’s a long story.”

“February 2027!” Travis said. “That’s when I left!”

“See. Told you,” Tannen said.

“In order to restore the timeline, you must return and take Commander Dillon’s place as history intended,” Smeck said.

“Who’s to say what history intended?” Rydell said.

“Commander Dillon went through all that only to die almost immediately?” Carr said.

“Sounds like it,” Vaughn said.

“It hardly seems fair.”

“You’re right,” Rydell said. “It’s not fair.” He turned back to the Temporal Investigations agents. “We’ll bring Dillon back.”

“You will?” Tannen said surprised.

“We will?” Beck said, equally surprised.

“I can’t leave him there to die.”

“He would have died eventually,” Jaroch observed.

“Yeah. But not like that. Not so soon.”

“What about me?” Travis demanded.

“Don’t worry. We’ll take care of it.” Rydell looked around at his former crew. “Anybody up for a rescue mission?”

From the smiles spreading across the faces of his colleagues, he got the sense that they were in.

“The Secondprize stands ready to assist you,” Jaroch said, clasping his hands behind his back.

“You sure you want to do this, Jaroch?” Rydell asked. “This is Dillon we’re talking about.”

“Insulting this Travis just does not feel right,” Jaroch said. “And I do not hold a grudge. I did win our last fight, after all.”

“Nice to see you’re keeping things in perspective,” Rydell said. “Let’s go get him.”

Jaroch held out his commbadge to Rydell. “Would you care to do the honors?”

Rydell smiled. “For old time’s sake, huh?” He put the commbadge on his shirt, then tapped it. “Rydell to Secondprize. Eleven to beam up.”

“Rydell? Who? Never heard of you!” the voice on the other end of the comm shot back. “What did you do with the captain? I’m calling security.”

“That will do, Lieutenant Merhd,” Jaroch said. “Eleven to beam up.”

“Captain?”

“Yes.”

“Prove it.”

“Merhd,” Jaroch said warningly.

“Just checking. You could have been the enemy.”

“We’re at a resort in the middle of Federation space. There are no enemies here.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Standing by.”

“The ship sounds about the same,” Rydell said grinning.

“Indeed,” Jaroch said.

“What was that, sir?” Merhd asked. “Are you in trouble down there?”

Jaroch rolled his eyes. “Energize. Please just energize.”




EPILOGUE


“ONE MORE TIME AROUND THE BLOCK”


He could feel the cold wrapping around him as the snow began to cover over his resting place, but he hardly cared.

The very weather itself would see what a good officer-penguin he was.

Let it come.


Two figures in heavy snow gear materialized a short distance away, not that Commander Travis Dillon noticed.

I need to rest now Father Starfleet.


“He’s naked,” Rydell said watching the scene before. “What the hell is he doing out here naked?”

“Dying alone and insane,” Jaroch said from beside him.

“That’s real cheery, Jaroch. Thanks.” Rydell took a step toward Dillon, but Jaroch put a hand on his arm, stopping him.

“The timeline demands that a Travis Dillon die here today,” Jaroch said. “We cannot change that.”

“Don’t worry. Time will get its dead Dillon. He won’t be real, but he’ll be dead all right.”

Jaroch looked confused for a moment, then understanding struck. “A fake corpse.”

“Dr. Aldridge has done it before. Dillon and Travis come with us, and time gets its body. Everybody wins.”

“Temporal Investigations…”

“…never has to know,” Rydell said. “We’ll figure something out for Travis.”

“I doubt Starfleet would approve.”

Rydell smiled. “Story of my life,” he said, then headed off toward the man in the snow.


A shadow fell across him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered if it was death.

“You know, you really shouldn’t be out here without a coat. Or pants. Or anything really. Nice bow tie, though.”

That voice. That voice!

“Captain Rydell?” Dillon croaked.

“It’s me. And Jaroch’s here, too.”

“Jaroch…”

“We’re all here.”

“How…”

“The Secondprize is here as well. They are waiting for our signal,” Jaroch said.

“Secondprize,” Dillon said softly, a smile spreading across his face.

Rydell stuck a hand out to his former first officer. “Come on, Travis. We’re taking you home.”



Tags: Original