Author: Alan Decker
THE REJECT’S TABLE
Book Two of Five
“The Hawkins Incident”
By Alan Decker
The Reject’s Table Concept by Anthony Butler and Alan Decker
Captain Alexander Rydell looked longingly at the empty spot on the table where his drink should have been and sighed.
“Some day your booze will come,” Baxter said helpfully.
“Thanks.” Then, magically, the waiter plopped a mug down in front of Rydell.
“What’s this?” Rydell asked, looking at the suspiciously-beer-like substance inside the tankard.
“Your ale, sir,” the Bolian said.
“I ordered a Rum-icee,” Rydell said.
“And your cat consumed it. From now on, you get beer.” The waiter spun away from Rydell with a hrummph and marched off towards the bar. Rydell looked down at Fritz, who had thankfully passed out under the table after drinking Rydell’s Rum-icee and explaining how his people…uh, kitties, had conquered the menace of furballs on their planet.
“Just once in my life, I’d like to go somewhere where the wait staff didn’t openly express a hatred of my very existence,” Rydell said. He then noticed the overwhelming feeling of being watched pressing down on him. Baxter, Beck, Vorezze, and even 4 of 8 were all staring at him.
“Is this a subtle hint that it’s my turn?” he said.
“Afraid so,” Captain Beck said smiling.
“I don’t know. Baxter’s paradise story was pretty nice,” Rydell said.
“It sounded very much like the Nexus,” Vorezze said.
“I’ve been to the Nexus,” Baxter said. “That Place was better.”
“You’ve been to the Nexus?” Beck asked in disbelief.
“Hey, I get around,” Baxter said.
“I’ve been in one of those dream-like places,” Rydell said, taking a sip of his drink. He was immediately struck speechless by the burning river of alcohol sliding down his esophagus.
“Problem, Alex?” Beck asked as she watched Rydell’s eyes bulge.
“I’m fine,” Rydell gasped. “Really.”
“What about the dream place?” 4 of 8 asked.
“Right,” Rydell said, regaining his composure. “I’ve visited a place sort of like That Place and the Nexus, except without the overwhelming joy part.” He took another drink; it wasn’t nearly so bad the second time around. The first gulp must have burned out his taste buds. It was still swill, but at least he had a drink.
“Uh, isn’t the joy part the point?” Vorezze said.
“Hey, you don’t have to convince me of that,” Rydell said. “Especially considering what happened.”
“Go on,” Baxter said, leaning forward in his chair.
“You may find it pretty boring, Lisa,” Rydell said to Beck. “You were there when it happened. Remember our first day on the Secondprize?”
“Oh god,” Beck said, putting her head in her hands. “She’d kill you if she knew you were telling this.”
“Who? What are you talking about?” Vorezze said.
“The Hawkins Incident,” Rydell and Beck said in unison.
“What the hell is that?” Baxter asked.
“Please clarify,” Captain Borg, as Rydell had dubbed him, said. Rydell finished off his beer and signaled the waiter that he wanted another one. It was a short story, but it’d probably be good to be as intoxicated as possible while telling it.
My first mission as captain of the Secondprize was to ferry Admiral Earl Wyndham to Lodgibax for a ceremony commemorating the Great Am-Way Salesman Migration of 2278. Migration was a nice word for it really. The Lodgibaxans ran them off at laser point. A wise people those Lodgibaxans. Anyway, although Lodgibax was a bit off the normal space lanes, the trip was supposed to be fairly routine.
I was spending my time getting to know the crew. As it was, I’d kind of been thrown on the Secondprize at the last minute. From what Admiral Wyndham, who’d been in charge of manning the Secondprize, told me, I was the last post they filled. I should have realized right then that something was odd. But I was too happy about being promoted to care. My previous captain on the Arcadia, where I was first officer, had told me not a month earlier that I’d never make captain if I didn’t start taking things more seriously.
“Is this more ‘set-up’?” 4 of 8 asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Rydell said. “Gotta give the context of the tale.”
“Storytelling in the collective is more efficient. If you know a story, everyone knows the story.”
“That’ll make nights around the campfire pretty boring,” Baxter said.
“Never mind,” Beck said, swishing the remnants of her upteenth tequila sunrise around in her glass. She tossed back the drink and signaled the Bolian to bring her another.
“You’d better hope they don’t charge a story per drink,” Rydell said. “You’ll be a permanent resident here.”
“Just get on with it.”
“Okay. Okay. The morning of my first full day in command, I woke up early, which is a rarity, and raced to get to the bridge. Sure, I was known on the Arcadia as being pretty laid back about everything, but I now had my own ship. You all understand what a thrill it is to have your own command.”
“I did not wish to command,” 4 of 8 said.
“Are you going to be this negative through my entire story?” Rydell demanded.
“Negativity is irrelevant.”
“Love those Borg conversational skills,” Vorezze muttered.
“Conversation is irrelevant.”
“Now you’re just being obnoxious,” Beck said.
“Don’t make me turn you off, robot boy,” Rydell said.
“This is what humans consider being laid back?” 4 of 8 said.
“That’s it. I’m not talking to you anymore. Back to the story.”
“Thank god,” Beck said.
I took the turbolift up to the bridge, all the while trying to remember the names of my command crew. I’d met them briefly at the launching ceremony the day before, and we’d pulled out of spacedock together. But after that, shift rotations and other bureaucratic matters had kept me off the bridge.
The turbolift slowed to a halt, and I stepped out trying to hide the huge smile threatening to take over my face. I was startled out of my joy by a loud noise.
“Captain on the bridge!” my first officer, Commander Travis Dillon, shouted, leaping to attention. I fell backwards in surprise, almost landing back in the turbolift.
“Don’t ever do that again,” I gasped, clutching my racing heart. “You just about killed me.” The looks on everyone else’s faces told me that they’d had a few years knocked off their lives by Dillon’s exuberance as well.
“My apologies, sir,” Dillon said. “However, standard protocol is to announce the captain’s arrival.”
“I’m here. Hi, everyone,” I said, waving. “Everyone see me.”
“Clearly,” Lieutenant Commander Jaroch, my Yynsian science officer, said from his console.
“Good. No need for the shouting then.”
“We could get a gong,” Ensign Emily Sullivan, the helmsman remarked. “Dillon would love that.”
“Watch your mouth, Ensign,” Dillon said. “You’re dancing along the edge of a cliff there. One slip, and you’ll fall right into the land of insubordination.”
“Huh?” I said, staring at Dillon in disbelief. Who was this guy? His record was spotless. Top of his class at the Academy. Seven years of service. But in person he was about as charming as head lice.
I took a seat in the command chair as Dillon positioned himself in the chair next to me. Now, I’d sat in the big chair plenty of times before, but this was different. Somehow, the entire Secondprize felt like a part of me. Every thrum of the engines gave me a rush. The stars racing by on the viewscreen seemed closer to me somehow, like they were my stars.
“What’s our ETA at Lodgibax?” I asked our navigator. I guess I should explain something real quick. For some reason, the Secondprize was fitted with old style helm and navigation consoles rather than the conn and ops consoles we usually use nowadays. I don’t know why. I don’t want to know. Odds are that it would probably make me question the safety of flying around in my ship.
“Fourteen hours, sir,” the navigator replied. Ensign Larkin hadn’t been assigned to us yet, so we a different navigator. She was a pretty young ensign straight out of the academy and absolutely the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet. I don’t think she ever stopped smiling. Having her on board just brightened the entire ship, and her name was Ensign Patricia Hawkins.
“Excuse me?” Baxter said in shock. “Patricia Hawkins?”
“Is that relevant?” 4 of 8 asked.
“Only if you know Patricia Hawkins,” Beck replied.
“Wait. This is the same woman who threatened to rip my testicles off if I ever stepped on her foot again?” Vorezze asked.
“One in the same,” Rydell said.
“We never said anything about telling alternate universe stories,” Baxter said.
“Just listen,” Rydell said smiling enigmatically. “All will be explained.”
The problem with Ensign Hawkins was that she was so sweet, no one wanted to assign her anywhere remotely dangerous. As it was, the Secondprize was looking at a future of ferry missions and cargo drops, so we seemed perfect for Hawkins. To give you an idea, we were only given a temporary chief of security, Lieutenant George Poston. The poor guy usually worked at the night watchman in the Starfleet Hall of Fame at Headquarters. He had to be at least 112-years-old. We had to install a high chair, so he could sit behind the tactical console. And he made all of us just call him George. He said at 112, he didn’t give a damn about all that rank crap. I was just happy he hadn’t keeled over dead at tactical, so I let him have his way. Obviously, Starfleet wasn’t expecting us to get in any trouble.
“So Hawkins was our sweet little navigator, I was captain, and we had a highly-trained communications officer on board in case of any lingual emergencies,” Rydell said.
“Thank you,” Beck said smiling.
“But you have nothing to do with this story, so that’s your cameo,” Rydell said, finishing his drink just as the Bolian waiter brought Beck her next tequila sunrise.
“Where’s my beer?” Rydell asked.
“What beer?” the waiter said. “You’ve already gotten your drink.”
“I asked for another one five minutes ago. Never mind. I’ll take three more,” Rydell said.
“All at once?” the waiter asked.
“Yep,” Rydell replied. The waiter walked away shaking his head and muttering something about alcoholics. “It’ll probably take him the rest of the night to bring them to me,” Rydell added.
“When does Hawkins get mean?” Baxter asked.
“Let the man talk,” Beck said.
“Thank you,” Rydell said.
Anyway, soon after this, Admiral Wyndham asked to meet with me in my ready room. Still giddy from the fact that I even had a ready room, I didn’t even think about what Wyndham may have wanted. Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about him at all since he came on board. Wyndham had been the admiral assigned the task of getting the Secondprize built and space-ready. Normally, that tends to instill a bit of possessiveness, but Wyndham seemed more relieved that the whole thing was done with. After our launch ceremony, he’d gone straight to his quarters mumbling something about “damn fool ideas.” If you’d asked me then, I’d have said he seemed a bit on edge.
I found out just how on edge he really was when he walked into my ready room. His uniform was a crumpled mess with rank pins stuck straight into his chest and his commbadge resting somewhere around his liver. His white hair was sticking up in all sort of directions like those old photos of Albert Einstein. The most frightening part of his appearance, though, was his eyes. I swear the man looked like he’d just seen the face of dementia itself. The were stuck wide open, fixing their gaze on everything and nothing all at once.
“Have a seat,” I said, trying to act like nothing was wrong.
“Propertudes,” Wyndham replied with a smile and a curt nod as he sat down on my desk, leaning his face right down into mine.
“Something wrong with the accommodations?” I asked nervously.
“You have no idea, do you?”
“What? Are the beds lumpy?”
“You don’t know.” He started cackling light a hyena on nitrous oxide. He stood up on my desk and started jumping up and down. “No knowledge for the basket-man. Basket-man! Basket-man!”
“Admiral, let’s get you to sickbay,” I said, moving out of my chair. Wyndham leapt off of the desk, grabbed my collar, and put his face practically into mine, staring into my eyes with his manic gaze. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. We stood there in silence for several seconds, his hot breath crashing into my face breath after breath.
“I can see how the petunias are growing,” he said, his voice deadly serious. “It doesn’t take much to catch the wind in the windows and to see that everything’s coming up condors. You get me?”
“Sure,” I said hesitantly.
“I can protect you from yourself,” he said, pushing away from me suddenly. He began pacing my ready room like a caged targ. “Protect you. That’s what I have to do. Protect you all. The condors are coming. Coming in close. Must protect the bait; must become the antidote to the poison; must shore up the sand. Must must musty musty must!”
He suddenly stopped his pacing, looked at me, and marched over to me with his hand extended to shake mine.
“Pleasure talking to you, Captain,” Wyndham said, shaking my hand vigorously. “We expect great things from an officer of your caliber.”
“Uh…thank you, sir,” I said, feeling more confused than I ever had in my life. Wyndham gave me another curt nod, then marched purposefully out of my ready room.
Now, since he seemed so normal when he left, I figured that he must have just been testing me or something. Admirals love to pull crap like that. Pushing the incident out of my mind, I sat down at my desk to finally try and force myself to read the Secondprize owner’s manual Starfleet had stuck on my desk computer. I had just gotten to the section on how to reprogram the chronometers in the event of a power failure when I was interrupted by my first officer.
“Dillon to Rydell,” he said, in clipped tones. I was quickly realizing this was the way Dillon always talked. The man was constantly at attention, if not physically, mentally.
“What is it?” I said, as I tried to get the demonstration chronometer in the manual to stop flashing 1200 hours.
“Well, Admiral Wyndham seems to have made other transportation arrangements,” Dillon said.
“He just left the ship in a shuttle.”
“What? Who authorized that?” I demanded.
“Uh…he did. He is an admiral,” Dillon replied. Dammit, he had a point. I stormed out onto the bridge angrily, cursing myself for not having Wyndham dragged to sickbay the second he started babbling about the damn condors.
“Where is he?” I said.
“He has made a run for the Nikser Asteroid Belt,” Jaroch reported from the science station.
“Is there anything there?” I asked.
“Many many completely unremarkable rocks,” Jaroch replied.
“But we won’t be able to follow him,” Ensign Hawkins said. “There’s no way a ship this big could navigate in there.”
“Good point, Ensign,” I said. She smiled happily. It’s always good to stroke the egos of young officers, especially cute, perky ones.
“Where could he be going?” Dillon said. “Is there something in there we don’t know about?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Computer, display log tape of the captain’s ready room on the main viewer. Time index 0930.”
I let the bridge crew watch Wyndham’s performance while I observed their reactions. Dillon was struck dumb by the display. The man was so locked into the chain of command that the idea of a less-than-perfect admiral shook him to his very core.
“That poor, poor man,” Hawkins said softly as the playback ended.
“Opinions?” I asked.
“The man is brings new meaning to the phrase psychotic whack-job,” Jaroch said.
“Hey, watch it!” Dillon said. “He’s still an admiral!”
“Then what would you call him?” Jaroch asked.
“Sanity challenged,” Dillon said. “I’d better take a shuttle and go after him,” Dillon said, straightening his uniform and heading for the turbolift.
“Nah, I’ve got him,” I said.
“I can’t let you do that alone, sir,” George said from behind tactical. He slowly and unsteadily forced himself to a standing position. “Security’s got to go with you.”
“You shouldn’t be going at all,” Dillon said. “I’m more than capable of piloting a shuttle into an asteroid field.”
“So am I,” I replied. “But I’m taking our navigator to help me out just in case,” I said, putting my hand on Hawkins’s shoulder. “Let’s go, Ensign.”
I did this for a couple of reasons. First, I felt the whole situation was at least a little bit my fault. Second, I wanted Dillon to learn right off the bat that when I want to leave the ship, I leave the ship. And finally, I was not at all opposed to spending some time alone with Ensign Hawkins. Don’t get me wrong. I have a strict rule against dating my crewmen. My crew-women are fair game, though.
A couple of minutes later, Hawkins and I took off in the shuttlecraft Doorprize to go chase down Admiral Wyndham. I was a bit upset at this point. The bastard had taken the Consolation-prize which has the big plush seats and a much better sound system. The man was truly a psychotic monster. Our plan to get him back was pretty simple: with Hawkins’s help, I’d navigate through the asteroid field much faster than Wyndham could. We’d beam on board his shuttle, incapacitate him, and head back to the Secondprize, which would be monitoring us from outside the field.
I didn’t get to make nearly as much small talk with Hawkins as I would have liked as we entered the asteroids. All of our focus was aimed at not getting crushed. I don’t know if any of you have ever been to the Nikser belt, but it’s pretty damn thick in there.
Finally, we reached an area of little asteroid activity. Wyndham’s shuttle was showing up clearly on our sensors, but it didn’t seem to be moving. Pretty soon we saw why.
The Consolation-prize had landed on one of the asteroids and lay dark.
“I’m picking up some sort of energy readings from inside the asteroid,” Hawkins said. “It looks like there’s some sort of structure inside the rock. What could it be?”
“I have a feeling Wyndham knows,” I replied. So the nut-bar was after something. The question was what? “Rydell to Secondprize.”
“Check the computers and see if Starfleet has any record of any bases located inside the Nikser Belt.”
“Just do it, Dillon,” I said.
“Aye, sir,” Dillon said quickly. He came back on the line a couple of moments later. “Sir, Jaroch reaffirms his assessment that the Nikser is nothing but rocks. We don’t have a record of anything. Besides, this is deep in Federation territory. Who’d have a base here?”
“Maybe us,” I replied. “We’re going in. Rydell out.”
“Sir, I…” Dillon started to protest, but I closed the comm channel, cutting him off. My instincts were telling me something fishy was going on. Was it coincidence that Wyndham went AWOL just as we were passing the Nikser? Did he plan this all along? Was he too nuts to be planning anything?
“Hawkins, could you handle the landing; I need to make a log,” I said.
“Uh…the restroom’s in the rear,” she replied uncomfortably. “And with all due respect, sir. I don’t need that much information.”
“Not that kind of log!” I said.
“Oh. Sorry.” She flashed me her smile, and any irritation in my body just seeped away. She was just so…sweet.”
“Computer, begin recording,” I said.
“Captain’s log. Stardate 47989.4. We are preparing to land on an asteroid in the Nikser belt as we continue our pursuit of that lunatic, Admiral Wyndham. I don’t know who’s watching over this stuff at Starfleet Command, but you guys really need to start doing psych evaluations more often. This guy’s about eight planets shy of a solar system. End log.”
“Is that such a good idea?” Hawkins asked, as the shuttle gently touched down on the asteroid.
“Insulting an admiral and command like that in your log. Don’t people listen to those?”
“Probably,” I said. “Can’t say that I really care. Now, what have we got?”
“There’s a small metallic reading just a few yards from here,” Hawkins said, checking the sensors. “It could be an access hatch.”
“Suit em up and move em out,” I said, heading to the EVA suit storage locker.
“Do you think we’ll need phasers?” Hawkins asked distastefully as she opened the weapons locker.
“Better safe than sorry, Ensign,” I replied. “I take it you aren’t real fond of them.”
“I could accidentally hurt someone,” Hawkins said.
“Right. Well, I’ll try and handle most of the shooting,” I said, taking a phaser from her. “You carry one just in case.”
“Aye, sir,” she said, putting a phaser in her holster. I suddenly started to wonder if bringing her along on this trip was such a good idea after all. She handled the navigational part beautifully, but now things were possibly going to get a little ugly.
“You should have taken me along,” Captain Beck said.
“Honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind,” Rydell replied.
“Gee, thanks,” Beck said.
“Besides, just think about what could have happened if you’d been the one to go.”
“No, it isn’t,” Baxter said. “It’s not a point at all. We have no clue what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Then shut up and let the man finish talking,” Beck snapped. “Jeeze, some people just have no respect for others.”
“But you…” Baxter protested.
“Shhh,” Beck said, clamping her hand over Baxter’s mouth.
We quickly suited up and stepped out of the shuttle onto the surface of the asteroid. Hawkins immediately fell to the ground, holding on for dear life. She obviously hadn’t had a lot of EVA experience.
“It’s okay, Patricia,” I said, leaning down beside her.
“We’re spinning so fast!”
I looked around us. She had a point. The space above and around was full of asteroids moving and spinning at various rates as we did the same. It could be a bit disorienting to the uninitiated.
“Just focus on the ground beneath your feet,” I said, helping her up. As I led her to the source of the metallic readings, I once again questioned my wisdom in bringing Hawkins along on this one. I’d look pretty damn bad if I lost a member of my crew on my first full day on the job. Besides, she was too sweet to die. I sent a silent thought to Wyndham that he’d better come along peaceably and not cause me any trouble. If he did one thing to endanger Hawkins, I’d snap his neck. Dillon would probably have tried to have me court-martialed for even thinking such a thing about an admiral, but he was fortunately several thousand kilometers away at that moment.
Sure enough, the metallic readings were a hatch leading into an airlock. Fortunately, the last one through hadn’t bothered to re-engage the security lock-out. Otherwise, the retinal scanner mounted by the hatch could have presented a real problem.
We stepped inside the airlock, took off out EVA suits and tossed them down next to another one which I assumed belonged to Wyndham. That done, I rechecked the power level on my phaser, opened the airlock, and stepped into complete chaos.
“Sounds like how we got here,” Vorezze quipped.
“No kidding,” Baxter said.
“At this rate, we will never finish these pointless tales,” 4 of 8 said, a hint of irritation evident through his cool Borg exterior.
“That anxious to get back to the collective?” Vorezze said.
“It is far preferable to you four,” 4 of 8 replied. The sound of glass shattering suddenly drew the group’s attention to the other side of the bar. Two Starfleet officers were brandishing broken bottles at each other.
“Is that Jim Kirk?” Rydell asked.
“Which one?” Beck said.
“Both of them, I think.” Rydell said. Sure enough, the two Kirks, each brought to The Captain’s Table from a different point in his career, were squaring off against each other. The bar fell completely silent.
“You couldn’t attract a desperate mugatu,” the younger Kirk, dressed in his gold tunic, spat at his older, red uniform clad self.
“I’ll have you know that I do better now than I ever did,” old Kirk retorted. “Everyone wants to be with the legend.”
“The problem with legends is that they usually turn out to be based on fiction. I’m the real deal.”
“Would you two just shut up and fight?” Rydell shouted. “I’m trying to tell a story over here!”
The two Kirks whirled around towards Rydell, turning their anger towards him as well.
“You want to join us?” Actually, they started heading towards the table implying they were going to join him.
“Oh hell,” Beck muttered.
“We’ll just be under here,” Baxter said, as he, Beck, Vorezze, and 4 of 8 ducked for cover under the table.
“Where are you going?” Rydell demanded of the retreating Borg captain. “I thought the Borg didn’t fear anything.”
“That is James Tiberius Kirk. Two of them no less. The Borg are not stupid. Good luck.”
“Who are you supposed to be?” young Kirk asked, looking at Rydell’s Peter Pan garb.
“Uh…I’m…Captain…Blarney of the Leprechanis,” Rydell said, an even odder story than the one he’d already been telling forming in his mind. “Our culture reveres on bar room brawls. It’s an extreme honor to witness one fought by the likes of the one and only…well, two and only, James Kirk.”
“You’ve heard of me,” the Kirks said, their demeanor lightening considerably.
“Of course,” Rydell said. “Who hasn’t?”
“So who’s better: me or him?” old Kirk said, pointing at his counterpart.
“Who could say?” Rydell replied. “You’ll have to settle that for yourselves.”
“Right,” young Kirk said. Without warning, the two Kirks dove at each other, rolling away from Rydell’s table locked in combat.
“I guess the way to that man’s heart is through his ego,” Beck said, retaking her seat.
“Leprechanis, huh?” Baxter said. “That was pretty good.”
“Yeah, I thought you were dead for sure,” Vorezze added.
“The odds were not in your favor,” 4 of 8 said.
“And I’d like to thank you all for your support,” Rydell said, just as the waiter arrived with his drinks. “Perfect.”
“Pardon me,” the waiter said. “But we have a two minute limit on story breaks. Please cease your witty banter and return to Captain Rydell’s tale.”
“All right. All right,” Rydell said. He took a large gulp of his beer. “On with the chaos.”
And chaos is exactly what it was. What Hawkins and I stepped into couldn’t even really be called a place. Storm clouds sped by us, sometimes stopping to swirl in an almost beautiful dance. Instead of ground, we stood on nothing, just the air. Images of objects, animals, and people we didn’t recognize darted throughout the landscape, zipping in and out of the clouds. Somewhere above the roar of the wind in our ears, a chicken clucked. Next to me, Hawkins was screaming her head off. Of course, so was I.
“Come to chase the condors back to their nest, Captain?” Wyndham’s voice boomed from all around us. A section of the clouds stopped moving and slowly resolved themselves into the giant shape of the admiral’s face. “Welcome to my world.”
“Where are we?” I demanded.
“I just told you. You’ll become pine mulch at this rate. The gophers are on the rampage, you know.”
“He really is insane,” Hawkins said softly. The cloud face rushed in close, it’s huge lips almost touching Hawkins.
“Insanity is relative, my kelpling. Care to play in the quagmire?”
“Uh…that’s okay,” she replied.
“It was really a rhetorical question,” Wyndham said. He suddenly sucked Hawkins up into his cloud-mouth as she screamed.
Instantly, the world shifted, and I was inside a room that would have made M.C. Escher nauseous. On one end, the ceiling rose eighty feet high, with a vaulted ceiling; it looked like the inside of a cathedral. The other end was a cozy log cabin. The other two walls were a blended mix of architectures from around the quadrant. The floor I walked on was really the corner joining the walls. I closed my eyes to fight off vertigo. When I reopened them, I was standing sideways on the wall near the log cabin fireplace.
I closed my eyes again and jumped into the fireplace. I could feel myself sliding up the chimney just like those old Earth stories of Santa Claus. I exited into the cold air of the outdoors and just kept on going upward. Not really wanting to know but unable to resist checking, I opened my eyes again. Sure enough, the world below me was shrinking rapidly. I looked up to see where I was heading. Instead of open sky, though, I was plummeting into a huge canyon. I looked down again. Yep, I was still rising from one ground but falling towards another.
For lack of a better idea, I began flapping my arms and trying to slow my decent. It didn’t work. Instead, I suddenly started falling sideways towards yet another ground, this one a vast city scape. I looked all around me. I was inside a cube of some kind. Each inner surface was covered by a different landscape. As I would fall too close to one of them, the influence of another would take over, sending me plummeting towards it. I was just falling and falling and falling in a some demonic mockery of an orbit.
At the thought of the word orbit, a small round object appeared in the inner space of the cube. I soon realized it was Wyndham’s head, his face revolving at the same rate I was falling towards the various landscapes.
“Have you learned to tell your left from your chainsaws yet?” he asked.
“Sure. Anything you say,” I said.
“Be careful, Captain. The condors are not always what they seem.”
“Oh do tell,” I said weakly. I’d never been one for air sickness, but it was setting in now. I vomited, sending a stream out that turned and twisted until it was on a heading right toward Wyndham’s open mouth. He drank it all, cackling wildly.
“Excellent steak, Rydell!” Wyndham exclaimed. “Where did you get the recipe!”
Seeing him suck down my puke sent me into another retching fit, which he drank up with equal gusto.
“I so love the 2276 vintage of Chateau D’Armes!”
“Glad you approve,” I gasped. I think he was enjoying my celebratory dinner from the night before even more than I had. “Where’s Hawkins?”
“Here. There. Everywhere. I don’t think she knows for sure. Would you like a hand?”
Instantly, a disembodied feminine hand appeared in front of me, it’s fingers wiggling frantically. I grabbed it, and it clenched onto me for dear life.
“Captain, help!” I heard Hawkins’s voice cry in my head. “I’m losing me! Help me find me!”
Wyndham began to laugh even more heartily.
“Oh this is more than my wildest dreams of joy and carnations!” he shouted.
“Leave her alone,” I demanded. Closing my eyes again, I clenched my fists and willed myself to charge at him, flying along like some superhero.
I don’t know what I expected to achieve, but I flew right at Wyndham, my fury building. Just as I was about to smash into his giant jaw, he tilted his head down putting me on a direct collision course with his eye, which I passed right through.
I found myself in another room, a plain white one. Hawkins was there, sort of. Her legs were running around, trying to corral different bits of her arms into one place. Her head floated in the middle of the room, watching it all in a glazed shock. Seeing that vacant look in her eyes, I started worrying about her sanity as well.
“Put her back, Wyndham,” I shouted at the empty room.
“All right,” he said, appearing in normal human form behind her. “This was getting as boring as a scorpion’s bachelor party anyway. He vanished in a Q-like flash. The bits of Hawkins did the same, instantly reappearing as one complete body.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I.I.I think so,” she said, checking herself over.
“Good. Hold it together, Ensign. We’ll find a way out of this,” I replied. Wyndham’s lunatic laughter filled the room again.
“A way out of my mind? Good luck,” he said, suddenly appearing behind Hawkins. “Hey Hawkins,” he said, whispering right into her ear.
“Wh..wh..what?” she stammered fearfully. He showed her his closed fist.
“Got your nose.”
“You do not!” Hawkins said.
Wyndham opened his fist. Sure enough, Hawkins sweet, petite little nose lay on his palm. That spot on her face was not just a blank patch of skin.
“Gib it bat!” she wailed. “Thit ibn’t fuddy!”
“It’s not. I guess I’ll just have to come in then,” he said. In an flash, Wyndham dove at Hawkins’s ear. His body contorted and deflated as it passed right into Hawkins’s skull. Her whole body locked up, her eyes frozen open in horror.
“Hawkins!” I shouted, rushing over to her and shaking her. “Patricia!”
It didn’t help. She was completely catatonic, and Wyndham was causing who knew what kind of damage to her mind.
“Dammit, Wyndham! Get out here!” I screamed at the madman inside Hawkins’s head. “Don’t hurt her. She’s just a kid! Take me instead! Come see what you can do! I dare you! I dare you, you psychotic bastard!”
Nothing happened. The room was silent except for the rhythmic sounds of Hawkins’s almost robotic breathing.
At this point, I honestly didn’t know what to do. Here I was, a Starfleet captain. Supposedly one of the best the Federation had to offer, and I was powerless to help someone standing right in front of me. That look in her eyes chilled mt to my very core. I felt I could almost see the havoc Wyndham was wreaking inside her mind. Hawkins didn’t deserve this. No one did. Especially not some kid on her first mission into space. Part of me thought about just pulling out my phaser and vaporizing her right then and there. It would probably be better than what Wyndham was doing to her.
But I couldn’t do it. She depended on me to look out for her. That’s what captains do. I made a solemn promise to myself in that moment that I would never, ever lose a crewmember under my command. I owed these people that much.
The way I saw it, I had one option. If Wyndham wouldn’t come to me, I had to go to him. Hoping for the best, I dove at Hawkins’s ear…and was sucked inside.
The world around me was pitch black. I couldn’t see a thing, but the sound of Hawkins’s screams were almost deafening. Behind it all, I could hear Wyndham’s incessant cackle, like some deranged jack-in-the-box.
“I’m here, Patricia,” I shouted. “Focus on me. I can help you.”
At least twenty Wyndham’s rose up out of the blackness, forming a circle around me.
“Oh can you, Captain?” the said in unison. “You don’t even understand the flight of the condor when it’s heading right towards your file.”
“Would you stop it with the damn condors?” I said.
“In the end, we’re all condors,” he said. “Always have been. It’s our destiny.”
What does that mean?”
“You will know. I already do. But then, maybe you won’t. Maybe I’ll kill you right here. The condors would be awfully upset about that one, wouldn’t they? Can’t go killing the poison pen.”
“Get out of here, Wyndham. Let us take you back. You can be helped.”
“Help? Why do I want help? My dolphins are in formation. They’re happy in these caves.”
“What about Hawkins?” I said. “You’re torturing her.”
“Invigorating her,” the Wyndhams replied. “She’s really feeling the rush now. But you need to go away. I’m busy showing her all about the ways of the dragonflies.”
The Wyndhams shot straight upwards, disappearing into the blackness, which itself then disappeared, leaving me in a room that looked like a musty attic.
I was surrounded by various creatures. A dog that wore clothing and a monocle. A group of dolls in frilly dresses sitting around playing poker. And, slowly rocking in an old rocking chair, a glistening black orb, the surface of which undulated like oil.
“Who’s the new guy?” the dog asked. The dolls looked up at me.
“He’s cute,” one of them said. “Let’s play for him this hand.”
“Good idea,” another replied. “Aces wild.”
“Where did Patricia think you up?” a voice said from the direction of the black orb.
“Think me up?” I said. “I’m her captain.”
“Wait. You’re real?”
“Yes,” I said. “Who are you?”
“We’re all the discarded imaginary friends of childhood,” the dog said. “Woofus T. Bowhouse, at your service.” He bowed deeply.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” I said.
“And those are the Pretty Penny quintuplets,” he said, pointing at the dolls.
“We’ll be with you in a moment, deary,” one of them said.
“And I am evil,” the orb said.
“I am the evil that lurks in the heart of Patricia Hawkins,” it explained.
“But she’s so sweet,” I said confused.
“And I’m the reason why,” the orb continued. “I am every Christmas her parents forgot, every boy who didn’t ask her out, every snobby person who didn’t invite her to her birthday. I’m every heart break; it’s all in me.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” I said.
The orb suddenly groaned. The oil shuddered as the orb expanded.
“Sorry about that. She’s dumping a lot into me right now,” the orb said, it’s voice straining.
“Patricia’s in a lot of trouble right now,” I replied. “I’m trying to help her.”
“I know. She can’t stand up to this, though. The walls of her mind are starting to breach,” the orb said. “Soon, we’ll all be destroyed.”
“Not until we finish this hand,” one of the dolls shouted.
“This is what she gets for being so damn sweet,” the orb said.
“I guess so,” I said glumly. I stared at the orb a moment, an idea forming. “Can you help her?” I asked.
“Give her your strength. Give her back the things you’ve buried for her.”
“Release the darkness! Are you insane?”
“No. What’s out there is insane,” I said. “I can’t even touch Wyndham, but Hawkins can. This is her mind. She can fight him and win here.”
“But the darkness is…really dark. She won’t be the same.”
“If you don’t do this, she may be dead. And where would that leave you?” I said.
“Can’t argue with that logic,” the orb replied. “I guess this is goodbye, folks.”
“You will be missed,” Bowhouse said. “You may have been the embodiment of evil, but you were one hell of a bridge player.”
“Thanks,” the orb replied.
“Kisses, darling,” the dolls said in unison.
“You gals are dolls,” the orb said. “But I guess you knew that already.” Little oily legs sprang out from underneath the orb, which it then used to leap out of the rocker and walk towards the wall. “Once I go through this wall, things could get ugly. Be prepared.”
“After you,” I said. The orb and I stepped through the wall and into hell. In a desolate landscape reminiscent of some desert wasteland, Wyndham was stood twenty feet high over the quivering form of Hawkins.
“Mommy and Daddy were too busy again this year,” he said, his voice booming. “Here’s some authentic belly-button lint from the King of the Slobs of Hygenis Four.” Giant globs of lint crashed down on Hawkins, covering her.
“What an ass,” the orb said.
“That’s exactly what I want you to go kick,” I said. “Good luck.” I patted him on the…um…back. My hand came away a bit oily.
“Watch it,” the orb said, sucking the oil off of my hand. “Got a bit of evil on you there. Banzai!”
The orb flew forward like a cannonball into the lintball. For a few tense moments, nothing happened. Then, an angry roar the likes of which I had never heard before filled the room. The lint exploded upward revealing Hawkins, and she was growing fast. Up and up and up until she towered above Wyndham.
“I see the boulders have come home to dance,” he said.
“If that means you’re about to get your twisted ass whooped, you’re right,” Hawkins bellowed, grabbing Wyndham. She then just plain ripped him in half, tossing his bits across the room. An instant later, Wyndham reappeared reformed in Hawkins’s hands.
“Got your head, asshole!” Hawkins said, ripping it off of Wyndham’s body. Suddenly, the cries of thousands of birds filled the air. Wyndham’s decapitated head looked skyward and screamed.
“Here’s your f**king condors!” Hawkins shouted, tossing Wyndham’s head into the air. One of the birds caught it in his mouth as the other swooped down on Wyndham’s body and started ripping it to shreds.
And Hawkins laughed.
Then, it was over. The world around me shifted again revealing a simple room. The walls were grey and lined with Federation-style computer consoles. In the center of the room, sat a strange chair with an odd device mounted in the headrest.
“What the hell?” Hawkins said. She was standing next to me, normal size and everything. “Is this reality?”
“I think so.”
“Outpost self-destruct in two minutes,” the familiar voice of a Federation computer said.
“Oh sh**!” Hawkins said. “We’ve got to move it! Now!” She raced back into the airlock quickly followed by me. All three EVA suits were still there.
“Where’s Wyndham?” I said.
“Who cares? Let’s leave the psycho.”
“Not much choice at this point,” I said, scrambling into my EVA suit. We ran outside and saw that both shuttles were still there. We each took one and lifted off just as the ground beneath us erupted in an explosive fireball.
To be honest, I was grateful to be alone on the flight back. I’d saved Hawkins, sure, but how would what I’d done affect her? Already it was clear that she wasn’t the sweet little ensign I came here with. She was alive, but changed forever.
We arrived back at the Secondprize without incident and rode back up to the bridge together in silence.
“Captain on the bridge!” Dillon shouted as Hawkins and I exited the turbolift.
“We know. Just shut up,” Hawkins said. Before Dillon could retort, Hawkins drew her phaser with lightening speed and stunned him into unconsciousness.
Now, obviously, I had to do something about this. Dillon said so in no uncertain terms when he woke back up.
“We can’t have our navigator running around shooting people,” he argued. I had to admit that he had a point.
So I made her my chief of security.
Rydell leaned back in his chair and took another drink of his beer.
“I really wish this place had some peanuts,” he said.
“Wait. That’s the whole story?” Vorezze said.
“Yeah. Afraid so.”
“But what about the installation in the asteroid? It was ours?”
“I guess so,” Rydell said. “Starfleet wouldn’t tell me a thing. They declared Wyndham killed in the line of duty, had a big funeral service for an empty coffin, and buried the whole thing.
“Sounds fishy to me,” Fritz the Cat said, emerging from under the table.
“So he’s back to the land of the living,” Baxter said.
“Watch it, dough boy. One wrong meow from me, and your life’s a living hell. Your girlfriend will see to that.”
“Hey, Fritz. Is that you?” a voice said. The two Kirks, both looking a bit battered, walked over smiling and shook Fritz’s paw warmly. “Long time, no see.”
“Tell me about it,” Fritz said. “I got assigned to this lout.” He pointed at Baxter.
“Come join us. Picard’s about to try to do eight tequila shots in a row.”
“Wait,” Rydell said. “What about the fight? Who won?”
“We did, of course,” the Kirk’s said smiling. “Let’s go, Fritz. These losers make me nervous.”
“Later, rejects,” Fritz said with a swish of his tail as he and the two Kirks strode away.
“The final indignity,” Baxter said.
“Oh no. I’m sure they’ll come up with some more,” Beck replied.
“I’m really starting to hate this place,” Rydell said.
“It’s better than Wyndham’s mind, isn’t it?” Vorezze said.
“Yeah. At least here I can get drunk enough to block some of it out.” Proving his point, Rydell drained his first of the three beers the waiter had brought and tossed the mug into the air behind his head.
“Hey!” a familiar voice shouted angrily.
“I just hit a Kirk, didn’t I?” Rydell said.
“Yep,” Beck replied. “The younger one.”
“And he’s on his way over here, isn’t he?”
“Gotta go,” Rydell said quickly, leaping out of his seat and heading for the bathroom.
“Should we help him this time?” Baxter asked.
“He can handle it,” Beck said, finishing off her last tequila sunrise. Her eyes turned to Rydell’s two remaining beers. “But he may not be needing these any more.” She slid the two mugs in front of herself.
“What? You aren’t going to share?” Vorezze said.
“Go steal your own,” Beck said, taking a drink as the sounds of a thorough ass-kicking resounded from The Captain’s Bathroom.
Will Captain Rydell survive a thrashing by James T. Kirk? What do a bunch of Andorians have to do with Captain Beck’s life? And just what is a Z’arkbelst anyway? Find out in the next installment of THE REJECT’S TABLE!