Author: Anthony Butler, Alan Decker, Brad Dusen, Maija Meneks
THE REJECT’S TABLE
By Anthony Butler, Alan Decker, Brad Dusen, and Maija Meneks
The Reject’s Table concept by Anthony Butler and Alan Decker.
Captain Andy Baxter watched over the railing that surrounded the expansive antimatter storage pod bay that stretched to the very tip of the Explorer’s beam, nearly 80 meters away. “Have you got a bead on him, J’hana?”
Lt. J’hana, Baxter’s Andorian security Chief, responded with a grunt. “Indeed. He is heading toward an exposed antimatter intake valve forty meters ahead of you.”
“That might cause some irritation,” Baxter muttered.
“On the part of Counselor Peterman, or her damned cat?”
Baxter sighed. “Both. I’m going after him. Baxter out.”
Carefully, Captain Baxter slid down the ladder that led to the very bottom of the ship. Reminded unhappily of his many days in Inventory, scrounging around the bottom of ships checking on Starfleet property, Baxter reluctantly called the name of his prey.
“Fritz!” he called. “Come out! If you get stuck in that antimatter intake, we’ll never get you out!”
“Reeeeer!” came an angry reply from Fritz.
Baxter increased his speed to a jog, hurtling heavy cables and duranium struts that stuck out at odd angles. “Come on, Fritz! I’ve got your squeaky toy! Be cooperative, damn it!”
Squeak-squeak! Baxter continuously squeezed Fritz’s toy tricorder, gritting his teeth. He was supposed to be at an important Astrophysics debriefing about now.
Was it his fault the stupid cat had scrambled out of his cabin the second he’d opened the door to freshen up before the meeting?
Peterman seemed to think so, inasmuch as she ordered him to go get the cat before he hurt himself. Matters had gotten worse when she rode poor Ensign Stockton’s back on turbolift all the way to Engineering, then debarked there to scramble through an open Jeffries’ tube access and down to the ship’s very bottom.
As he neared the antimatter intake, he made out Fritz’s shadow looming behind a bulkhead.
“Come here, you–” he muttered, reaching a hand out, which was immediately slashed by a sharp claw. “Ouch! Don’t you know who I am? I’m the captain of this ship. Don’t scratch the captain! Hear me?”
Fritz responded by jumping onto Baxter’s chest, digging claws in.
“Well,” Baxter said to the cat. “That doesn’t really hurt. And it…” he sighed again, “gives me two free hands to climb the ladder. This is good. Convenient.”
Tears were streaming down Baxter’s eyes once he reached the Engineering level. He could feel sixteen tiny punctures as the tiny orange cat’s claws dug deeper in his chest. But it wasn’t much farther. Soon he’d be in a turbolift and on his way to his quarters to drop that cat off and lock him in one of his cabinets. That would hold him until Peterman was finished with her ceramics class.
On the way to the turbolift, a feeling came over Baxter. The whole reason he’d gone to his quarters to begin with came back to him. He really had to stop by the bathroom. And he’d gone to his quarters because he’d always despised public toilets. That usually didn’t pose a problem–his ready room was equipped with a nice executive washroom. But he was down on deck thirty-six now. Still several minutes away from reaching his cabin.
He jammed the turbolift call button, tapping his foot nervously.
Moments later, he asked the computer what was taking so long.
“No turbolifts available,” replied the computer crisply.
“And why is that?”
“A shift change from Delta to Gamma is currently underway.”
Baxter sighed. “Evening traffic.”
“Please restate request.”
Meanwhile, his bladder was calling for Red Alert. “Strike that, computer. Where’s the nearest bathroom.”
“This deck, section Seven-Alpha.”
“Screw the section crap. What makes you think I’ve had time to memorize the layout of a ship the size of a small city?”
“Please restate request.”
“Give me a freaking landmark, computer! Where is the nearest bathroom?”
“Please restate request.”
Not only was his bladder screaming for help, his chest didn’t feel so great either: Fritz had a hell of a grip.
Baxter raced down the corridor, nearly colliding with Ensign Stuart.
“Ryan!” Baxter said merrily. “Where’s the damn bathroom around here?”
“Around the corner. Next to the plasma reprocessing center.”
“How’s the cat, sir?”
“Ripping my skin of as we speak, Mr. Stuart,” Baxter said, hurtling around the corner toward the plasma reprocessing center.
“Better you than me, Captain.”
After getting turned around a couple of times, Baxter finally located the door to the bathroom. It was stuck in a narrow, out-of-the way companionway that was hidden behind two other doors. What demented lunatic would put a bathroom so far out of reach?
Baxter adjusted Fritz on his chest with one hand as he thumbed the door control. “Finally, Fritz, a chance to–”
Baxter looked around. “This can’t be the right place.”
He was in a bar. A smoky, unattractive one at that. It wasn’t clean and bright like Explorations. As a matter of fact, it didn’t have the Explorer’s patented color scheme or decorator’s touch at all. It had the distinct feeling of a dive.
“Baxter to Stuart. You gave me lousy directions, Ensign.”
The captain turned to head back into the companionway, to begin his search for a bathroom once more.
But the door he’d just stepped through was gone, replaced by a wall filled with odd pictures of starships, boats, and a few craft Baxter’d never seen before.
A hand gripped his shoulder and spun him. “Captain!”
“How’d you know I was a captain?” Baxter asked, sizing up the generously-bulked bearded man, who appeared to be wearing some sort of pirate getup.
“We’re all captains here at The Captain’s Table!” said the pirate.
“The Captain’s what?”
“Never heard of it.” This was too much. So Baxter’d only been in command of the Explorer for a few months. He would have remembered hearing about a seedy bar on the Engineering level.
“It’s anywhere and everywhere, mister!” a furry, catlike creature–quite nicely built, said, her legs wrapped around the second-floor railing, her face dangling in front of Baxter’s.
“And any time,” said the bartender mystically, rubbing a glass.
“What sort of double-talk is that?” responded Baxter.
“Nice kitty,” said the cat lady. “He a captain too?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“I love kitties,” the pirate said, patting Fritz’s head. He grinned up at the cat lady. “Get along with ‘em real well.”
Fritz launched himself from Baxter’s chest and latched on the pirate’s face.
“Get this cat off me!” the pirate cried, clawing at Fritz.
Baxter grabbed hold of the wily cat and pulled him off. “Sorry.” Fritz promptly latched himself back onto Baxter’s chest.
“The great Redbeard will destroy you for this,” growled the pirate.
“Just ignore him,” said a slight, youngish Bolian with a waiter’s smock. “He’s harmless. This way, please.”
“To your table,” said the Bolian, pushing through the throng of grunting and laughing aliens.
“I just want to go to the bathroom.”
“In good time.” The waiter glanced at Baxter over his shoulder, sizing him up. “Baxter. Captain of the USS Explorer. And the Aerostar, before it blew up.”
“Yeah, that’s me. Who are you?” He glanced around at the motley group of aliens nearby, sucking drinks and laughing heartily. “Who are any of you?”
“All the captains in the galaxy,” said the waiter.
“Hmmph,” Baxter said. “I’ll believe that when I–”
Someone brushed against his shoulder.
“Excuse me, son,” said a familiar voice.
Baxter wheeled around. “James T. Kirk!”
“Don’t let it get around,” the man replied. “Now move aside. I need to get to my table.”
Well, at least there was someone Baxter knew here. Well, not really knew, but at least he’d talked to Kirk in the Nexus Ribbon. Maybe that’s where he was. But that made no sense. How could the Nexus Ribbon be in the deck 36 bathroom? Then again, how could a seedy captains-only bar be in the deck 36 bathroom, either?
“This way, sir,” said the Bolian, gesturing to the far end of the bar.
“I’ll just go sit by Kirk.”
“Oh, I’m afraid that’s quite impossible. We have a special place reserved for you.”
Baxter arched an eyebrow. “Really? Just for me?”
“For you and those like you.”
“And what exactly does that mean?”
The Bolian swallowed a giggle. “Special captains only, sir.”
“Special, huh? I kind of like the sound of that.”
Baxter was led to a large, round, wooden table in the very back of a bar, right behind a wide column.
“Hey. This table doesn’t look so special.”
“Oh, it is.” The Bolian chortled. “Trust me.”
“So where is everyone else?”
“They’ll arrive, in time. Just sit down. Can I get you a drink?”
“Actually, I’d really appreciate it if you’d tell me where the bathroom is.”
It took a while to find the bathroom, since the cramped little bar was so crowded, but Baxter eventually found it, nestled at the end of a long, dark corridor.
Upon squeezing into the heavy wooden door, Baxter immediately unlatched Fritz and sat him in the dirty Captain’s Sink.
The Captain’s Bathroom was dank and smelly. Baxter sniffed a miasma of alien scents as he relieved himself and flushed The Captain’s Toilet. He noticed several perverse sayings scrawled on the wall, and one particularly odd epigram that read “KATHRYN JANEWAY GIVES GOOD H—.” And the rest was smudged.
Baxter zipped his fly and headed to wash his hands, moving Fritz swiftly aside. As he dried his hands under The Captain’s Hand Drier, he noticed another machine beside it.
“The Captain’s Prophylactic Dispenser,” Baxter said to himself. Man, this was a seedy place.
Baxter returned to the out-of-the-way table and sat down, placing Fritz firmly at the center of the table. “Now you just stay still. I’m going to have a drink and get the hell out of this place.”
After about twenty minutes, the Bolian drifted by. “Ready with your drink order, sir?”
“I was ready a long time ago.”
“Sorry. It’s a busy night. Saturday’s tend to be busy.”
“Maybe it’ll be better tomorrow,” Baxter said, by way of conversation.
“Tomorrow is Saturday.”
“Well then what’s today?”
Baxter scrubbed a hand over his face. “Oh, hell, just get me a damned Tom Cochrane and be done with it.”
“Right away, sir.” And the Bolian disappeared into the crowd.
He was deep in thought, staring at Fritz angrily. Because of that cat, he’d miss his Astrophysics briefing entirely. And knowing that stupid Commander Winchell, he’d probably have to reschedule to meet with her early the next morning. Baxter hated getting up early.
“Mind if I sit down here? Some waiter said I belonged at your table.”
Baxter stared at the man. Trench-coated and fuzzy- bearded. He had a very 20th century look to him. The bartender and that cat lady were right–this place did defy time and space.
“You’re from Earth?” Baxter asked.
“What other planet would I be from?” the man replied. “And what kind of costume party is this?”
“You’re asking the wrong guy.”
“Guess it doesn’t matter.” The man swished his drink around. “So what’s your story?”
“I’m captain of a Federation starship.”
“What about you?”
“Captain of an oil rig. Exxon Valdez. Ever heard of her?”
“Well, let me tell you, she’s a great ship.”
“Listen,” the captain said urgently. “They say I have to tell a story to someone, or I can’t leave!”
“That’s the rule. If you drink here, you have to tell a story. That’s how you pay for it.”
“What a strange rule.”
The Valdez captain belched. “And believe me, I’m going to have to tell a hell of a long story. I’ve been drinking all night.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Who knows?” the captain belched again. “Time doesn’t seem to have any meaning here.”
“I’m beginning to get that feeling.”
Captain Alexander Rydell tried to ignore the strange looks and snickers from his crewmen as he made his way to the holodeck. He swore that he’d get Counselor Webber for this. No captain should be seen in this get up.
Rydell finally arrived at Holodeck Three where he could at least escape the eyes of his subordinates.
“Computer, run program Webber Six…and hurry.” Rydell looked around real quick to make sure no one was watching and, as unobtrusively as possible, pulled the tights that were steadily climbing up his rear end back out into the light.
“Error. Cannot find supplemental module ‘hurry,’” the computer stated a few seconds later. “Operation terminated.”
“Damn piece of crap,” Rydell muttered.
“Error. Please restate the command.”
“Run program Webber Six,” Rydell said through gritted teeth.
“Thank you,” Rydell said. He mashed the pointy green hat he was wearing down on his head to make sure it was still there, walked into the holodeck…
…and stepped out in a place that didn’t look anything like Never-neverland. Instead, it was more like Never-clean land. A dank, musky bar reminiscent of some of the places he’d frequented during his raucous days in the Richus Sector. There was a stench about, something more rich than offensive, but not quite pleasant. It was the smell of alien sweat and cigar smoke, and stale beer.
“And what the hell kind of captain are you supposed to be?” a very large rough-looking man sitting at the bar shouted over at Rydell. From his outfit, Rydell guessed the man was supposed to be an old Earth pirate. What the hell was Webber thinking sending him into a program like this?
“Computer, freeze program,” Rydell said. Nothing happened. “Exit!” Still nothing.
“Not talking, eh?” the pirate said, picking himself up off of his stool and sauntering over to Rydell. “You obviously don’t know who I am.”
“Good guess,” Rydell said.
“Yeah yeah. We know you’re Redbeard, the most feared pirate of the Caribbean. Just sit down,” the bartender shouted. “Besides, Captain Rydell there could probably wipe the walls with you.”
“Not bloody likely,” Redbeard growled. He turned on Rydell angrily and lunged. Rydell dodged out of the way, sending the oaf slamming against the wall.
“Was that supposed to help me?” Rydell asked. The bartender just shrugged. By this time, Redbeard had recovered and was charging again. Rydell ducked down, clenched his fists together in patented Starfleet style, and slammed them into Redbeard’s groin. The giant doubled over, giving Rydell the opportunity to slam his fists down on the back of Redbeard’s head, knocking him unconscious.
“Told ya,” the bartender said, looking down at the fallen pirate.
“How’d you know my name?” Rydell asked.
“Trade secret,” the bartender replied. He snapped his fingers, and almost instantly a waiter appeared from out of the mass of patrons in the bar.
“Show Captain Rydell to his table please.”
“Of course,” the Bolian said with a stiff bow. He looked at Rydell a moment. “Let’s see. Alexander Rydell. USS Secondprize circa Stardate 51748.”
“Just a moment, sir.” The waiter seemed to be making an effort at remembering something. “Joegonots. Zero. Time travel. My my, what a mess. Right this way.” The waiter quickly spun around on his heel and started weaving his way through the crowd towards the back corner of the bar. A dimly-lit table with one occupant came into view.
“Captain Rydell?” the man seated there said in surprise. He stood up and stepped into the light. Rydell recognized him immediately.
“Captain Baxter? But you’re missing.”
“Missing? We came home months ago,” Baxter replied.
“What the hell is going on?” they both demanded, turning on the waiter.
“Temporal displacement,” the waiter replied, irritated. “Just deal with it. What can I get you to drink?”
“Wait. Why do I have to sit with him? I can see Captain Picard right over there,” Rydell said.
“Those tables are reserved for good captains,” the waiter said, walking off in disgust.
“Welcome to the Reject’s Table,” Baxter said dully.
“Goody,” Rydell said, taking a chair across from Baxter.
“What’s with the outfit?”
“Counselor Webber thought I needed to get back in touch with my inner child.”
Baxter looked at Rydell’s pointy hat and green tights. “Looks like your inner child needs a lot of therapy.”
“She wanted me to be Peter Pan,” Rydell said, throwing the hat down on the table.
“And she’s a certified professional?”
“More likely certifiable,” Rydell muttered.
“So other than the environmental system failure on Deck 87, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Lieutenant Craig Porter, the operations and science officer of Waystation, reported, setting his padd down on the conference room table.
“Glad to hear it,” Captain Lisa Beck said quickly. She was already halfway out of her chair.
“I take it the meeting’s adjourned?” Dr. Nelson said, voicing the question on the lips of everyone else in the staff meeting.
“Uh…yeah,” Beck said. “I’ve got to go.” She raced out of the room, closely followed by Porter. They ended up riding the turbolift together down to Starfleet Square Mall.
“What’s the rush?” Porter asked. “Is Dillon’s having a sale?”
“I finally got an appointment for a massage at that Medusan spa.”
“Gorgonite’s! Wow. I heard they’ve got a month-long waiting list,” Porter said.
“No kidding. I’ve been on it forever. But in five minutes, I will be just starting an hour of blissful relaxation under the expert tendrils of Mak’Krel the Magnificent. Then, it’s on to a long soak in a bubbling mud bath.”
“Sounds like a party,” Porter said.
“A private party,” Beck retorted. “This’ll be my first chance to relax since we opened the expanded station.
“Well, you’ve certainly earned it,” Porter said as the turbolift slowed to a halt. “Have fun.”
“Oh don’t worry,” Beck said, stepping out of the lift into the mall. “I will.”
After checking with the receptionist at the “Don’t Look–Just Feel” Spa, Beck was led back to a private changing room to get ready for her massage. Once out of her uniform, she slipped on one of the plush white robes the spa provided for its guests. Even the robe felt wonderful. It was knitted out of a specially-designed thread that adjusted itself to the body temperature of the wearer to provide optimum snuggliness. Beck tied the robe closed, put on a pair of equally snugly slippers, and stepped out into the actual massage therapy room.
Funny, they’d decorated the therapy room like a smelly, smoky bar, complete with loud patrons and raucous laughter. A couple of wolf-whistles and cat-calls thrown in her direction quickly led Beck to the conclusion that this was not the massage therapy room. She also surmised that the fat guy behind the bar was not Mak’Krel the Magnificent. However, experience told her that bartenders were usually the folks with all the answers. She stepped up to the bar, squeezing between a female Romulan and a battered-looking human in what she could only guess what a pirate costume.
“Excuse me,” Beck said, flagging down the bartender. The bartender smiled and walked over to her.
“Welcome, Captain,” he said warmly.
“What’s she?” the pirate said, his words slightly garbled due to a swollen jaw. “The evening’s entertainment?” He put his hand on Beck’s leg. In a flash, she slammed his head down on the bar, knocking him unconscious.
“Where am I?” Beck asked, not missing a beat.
“The Captain’s Table,” the bartender replied. He snapped his fingers. Before the sound had even finished reverberating in Beck’s ears, a waiter was next to her. “Show Captain Beck to her seat.”
“Yes. Captain Lisa Beck. Waystation.
Uggh…another one of them,” the Bolian said disdainfully. “Follow me.”
“Wait. I have an appointment right now I really need to be at,” Beck said, growing irritated.
“Sorry, Captain. You’re here now,” the bartender replied, smiling. Beck reached across the bar, grabbed his collar roughly, and dragged him towards her.
“No. You don’t understand. I’ve been waiting for this for a LONG time. You send me back to my station NOW!”
“Please, madam, I have other customers,” the waiter said impatiently.
“Then go take care of them,” Beck snapped. “I’m not staying.” The bartender sighed tiredly.
“Captain Beck, you can’t leave. House rules. You’re stuck until you have a drink and tell a story.”
Beck grabbed the tankard of ale sitting in front of the unconscious pirate and downed it in one gulp.
“There was once a pissed off woman from Waystation who killed some stupid freakazoid bartender who tried to keep her from her massage. He died. She went home. The end. Satisfied?”
“Go to your table, or I’ll never let you leave,” the bartender said, his voice a veiled threat.
“Fine,” Beck said. “Have three tequila sunrises at my table pronto.”
“Of course, Captain,” the bartender said, all smiles again.
“Right this way,” the waiter said, motioning for her to follow him. They pushed through crowds of people from every species and time Beck could imagine. Finally, they arrived at a dimly lit table in the back corner of the bar. Two others were already sitting there.
“Lisa,” Captain Rydell said warmly as he stood up and gave her a hug. She couldn’t help noticing the green tights he was wearing.
“Peter Pan holodeck program,” Rydell said by way of explanation. “Counselor Webber’s idea.” Rydell looked at her robe.
“Massage appointment,” Beck said as she sat down. “Which I should be at right now!”
“Just schedule another one,” the other person at the table said. Beck knew that voice. As the man leaned into the dim light, Beck recognized Captain Andy Baxter.
“You don’t just schedule another appointment with Mak’Krel the Magnificent,” Beck said bitterly. “I’ve been waiting for close to month.”
“Sounds like about how long we’ve been waiting for our drinks,” Rydell muttered. The waiter then came into view with a tray of glasses. He set three tequila sunrises down in front of Beck then started to walk away.
“Hey! What about ours?” Baxter asked.
“They aren’t ready yet,” the waiter said simply, then moved off into the crowd.
“See if I ever come back here again!” Baxter said angrily. “Not that I had much choice in it the first time.”
During Baxter’s rant, Fritz had moved over to Beck’s lap. Captain Beck rubbed the underside of the cat’s chin. “I know this cat isn’t a captain.”
Baxter grunted. “I think that cat’s captain of my ship sometimes. He’s a bigger pain in the butt than the Flarn.”
“The who?” asked Rydell.
“Nevermind.” Baxter watched Beck stroke the cat’s chin. “You know, he seems to like you.”
“So he does.”
Baxter’s eyes lit up. “You could take him with you!”
“Forget it. I have brand new quarters with brand new carpet. No way.”
Baxter sighed. “Oh well. It was worth a try.”
Beck put the cat aside and turned to Rydell. “So what’s the deal? We tell a story then we can leave?”
“That’s what they tell us,” Rydell said.
“But we can’t start yet,” Baxter added. “The waiter told us we have to wait for the rest of our party to arrive.”
“The rest? Who else is coming?” Beck asked.
Baxter shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“Captain?” The voice seemed distant. Then Captain Jad Vorezze opened his eyes, only to see the face of Dr. Brian Issac standing over him. “Good, you’re awake.”
Captain Vorezze looked around. He was in the Banshee’s sickbay, dressed in his black Section Thirty-One uniform. “Why am I here?” He asked weakly.
“Calm down, Captain.” Brian said comfortingly. “You passed out after accidentally walking in on Commander Burns in the bathroom.”
The thought made Jad somewhat queasy.
“I detected over thirteen different toxins you inhaled after the bathroom doors opened.”
“Doctor, please.” Jad said as he got up. “I’m fine now, trust me.”
“The last time someone said trust me was nine months before I was born.” Brian said. “So I want you to go to Counselor Stokes. That had to be a traumatic experience for you!”
“Believe me, it was.” Jad said as he adjusted the zipper on the front of his uniform top and brushed the lint from the sickbay bed off his leather capped shoulders. “I’ll be in the lounge.”
He wandered through the arched corridors of the Banshee until he entered the lounge. Instead of finding a clean looking bar with loud patrons, he found a run down looking bar with loud patrons. “Peter’s done some redecorating.” Jad mumbled. The thought then occurred to him that he was no longer on the Banshee.
There was a skanky looking human sitting at the bar wearing odd clothing and holding an ice pack to his head. Jad quickly figured out that it was a pirate.
“What are you looking at, four eyes!?” The pirate grumbled.
“Never mind.” Jad shook his head. “Where the hell am I?”
“The Captain’s Table.” A voice came from behind. Jad spun around and saw what he assumed to be a bartender.
“The Captain’s Table.” The bartender said. “Follow the waiter.”
“Let’s see.” The Bolian waiter looked at him. “Captain Vorezze, USS Rameses and the USS Banshee.”
“And I thought I was the telepath.” Jad said unenthusiastically.”
“Right this way.”
“You’re sure you don’t want him,” Baxter pleaded to Captain Beck as she nuzzled up to Fritz. “I’m sure I could convince Kelly that he was caught in the antimatter stream and exploded.”
“Right here.” The waiter said as Jad sat down at the table.
“Uh, hi,” Jad said. His attention was suddenly drawn to Captain Rydell.
“Don’t ask,” Rydell said.
“Peter Pan?” Vorezze asked.
“Yup,” Rydell said. “Betazoid?”
“Yup. Captain Jad Vorezze, USS Banshee.” Jad looked around at the odd group around him. “Are you wearing a bathrobe?”
“Don’t ask,” Beck said. “Hey, aren’t you dead? I heard the Banshee was destroyed.”
“Call it a change of command. We’re under the control of Starfleet’s Section Thirty-One now.”
“Starfleet’s WHAT?” Baxter said.
Jad was interrupted as he felt something on his leg. “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!” Jad screamed. He reached down, grabbed a fuzzy lump and pulled up Fritz, who had black cloth from Jad’s pant leg in his claws.
“Fritz!!” Baxter shouted as he grabbed the disgruntled feline from the captain. “Good kitty.” He whispered.
“I heard that.” Jad shouted.
Baxter sat Fritz back down on the table. Jad began to glare at the cat, summoning up all his telepathic ability. Fritz suddenly got up and ran off towards a group of Klingons.
“Ahh, lunch!” the Klingons shouted.
“Fritz!” Baxter screamed as he ran towards the Klingons.
Jad turned back to Rydell and Beck. “So what is this place?” He looked around.
“The Rejects Table,” Rydell said.
“Uh-huh.” That didn’t help Vorezze’s confusion.
Baxter returned to the table with Fritz tightly in his grasp. “That wasn’t funny!”
“I thought so.” Vorezze demonically smiled.
“From what I’ve heard,” Beck said, “we have to tell a story before we can leave. But not before the rest of our party arrives.”
“Oh great.” Vorezze slumped back in his chair. “Who else is left?”
“Beats me,” said Baxter, shrugging. It was then that the captain of the Exxon Valdez returned, obviously from spinning a tale at the Alcoholic’s Table.
“What’s up, rejects?” the captain belched, slumping into a seat.
“We are not rejects,” Baxter said defiantly.
“BRAAAP!” said the Valdez captain. “Then why are you at the Reject’s Table?”
“The what?” asked Rydell.
Before the Valdez man could reply, the Bolian hovered swiftly into view. “One more member of your party is due to arrive.”
“Can you give us a hint as to who?”
“I couldn’t tell you that. I just work here.”
Chaos, a depressingly normal state of affairs, was raging in Exploratory-class Cube #347. At last count, nineteen separate fires were located throughout the ship, not as a result of battle damage, but because of a certain…problem.
“Heehee, heehee! Fire. Fire! FIRE! Heehee, heehee! Fire is neat!” yelled the problem over the internal nets.
“279 of 300, you will desist in these actions now! And you will report to Doctor to have your yearly attitude adjustment!” uselessly returned Captain. At the same time, he was casting about the internal sensor grid, attempting to pinpoint where the pyromaniac had managed to clamber.
Delta, head of the engineering hierarchy, A body by the primary reactor core and B body assisting with control at one of the worst fires, reported in her odd unison mental signature, “Another fire as been started in subsector 3, submatrix 8. That makes twenty now. Nine are under control and ten are in areas which can be exposed to vacuum, including the most recent. The eleventh fire, unfortunately, is deep in the cube and has no exterior access. It also has the potential to spread to critical systems if it isn’t controlled soon.”
“Fire! Fire! Fire! I like fire! Fire is neat! Heehee, heehee. Firefirefirefirefirefire!”
Captain dispatched fifty of the weapons hierarchy to the general location of the most recent fire. 279 of 300 was still efficiently partitioning his mental signature, making it virtually impossible to track him via the intranet.
“Captain,” came Delta again, “this fire is spreading!”
“I can’t follow this worth sh** up here in my subsection. Too many moving points of view. I’m transporting down to take a look first hand. Second, you continue to coordinate the hunt for that pyro; and when you find him, make sure Doctor gets those special nanites into him. I most likely won’t be Captain next year, but I don’t want to be going through this nonsense later in any capacity if I can help it.”
Second, standing next to Captain in the local nodal intersection which functioned as Captain’s main residence when he wasn’t in his alcove, grumbled and sent acknowledgment.
“Firefirefirefirefirefirefire! Heeheeheeheeheehee! I like fire! Fire is our friend! Fire purifies the universe! Fire will purify this cube!”
Grinding his teeth, Captain activated the transporter beam to take him to Delta B’s location. Green sparkles danced about, dissolving his view of the catwalk area, which was dimly illuminated by a fire closer to the ship’s hull. The world shimmered and began to solidify again; Captain promptly stumbled over a chair.
Blinking and focusing eye and optical implant more fully on the object, Captain realized his first impression had been correct, and it was a chair he had run into. The chair was next to an empty table sporting many ring-shaped stains. Many other tables, some occupied, some not, additionally could be seen in what appeared to be a very large room; the people, of all shapes and sizes, more species than Captain could recognize, were in various states and types of dress and generally drinking a variety of colored liquors from bowls, cups, or, in one case, a skull. The din, which had quieted only slightly at the near accident, was tremendous.
The noise of many voices made Captain suddenly realize he could not feel the four thousand minds of Cube #347, nor find the link to the Collective itself.
Captain swiftly turned around to face what should have been a bulkhead, considering that was a common feature on the cube, only to find a fake-wood paneled wall sporting an old poster of someone named Elvis. A dedication was scrawled at the bottom of the paper: “To all my buddies at the Table, from The King and Captain of Rock and Roll.” The first signs of panic were starting to rise in Captain when he heard a voice off to his right.
“Man, a Borg. Why the hell did we get one of those? It can’t even drink. I swear, management is going to hear about this.”
Captain turned to fixate on the voice, for the moment steeling himself against the tremors of his apparent severance with the Collective. The owner of the voice was a middle-aged being, human in appearance, standing behind a long bar. He was wearing a well-washed shirt of dark green under a large apron; the black hair was badly in need of a cut.
“What…what is this place? Where am I? How did I get here? How can I leave? There’s a little problem I have to attend to before it literally blows up.”
The bartender picked up an empty glass and began to polish it, ignoring the call for alcohol from a blue-skinned, many-tendrilled creature sitting on a nearby barstool. An outlandishly dressed and moderately fat human slumped nearby on another stool clutching an icepack to his face; he took one look at Captain, groaned, swallowed a comment, and painfully closed his eyes.
Polishing complete, the man answered, “Hummm…. you said ‘I’…very unlike the Collective we’ve heard about in here from time to time. There’s been rumors of an omega cube where the loose ends get shuffled off and out of the eye of the camera, and you must be from it. As far as this place, you are at the Captain’s Table, where only the most select come to have a drink and pay for it with bullsh** stories. You go when your tab is paid. As far as coming,” the bartender shrugged, and picked up another glass, “that is a mystery, and tends to be unique for every captain.” He paused to fill up the glass with a purple liquid and send it skidding down the bartop to the increasingly agitated blue creature. “Sendarians…if they don’t get their fix of Toblish whiskey they tend to get a little violent.
“Anyway, as I said, only the most select come to the bar…and those that leave don’t remember much afterwards, although the rumors out in the real universe do fly, I am told. The most select consist of those who have faced the terrors of the multiverses, saved their timeline from certain destruction, witnessed the birth of new civilizations and species; you are certainly not of that category.” The bartender muttered to himself, “Stupid gateway’s been acting up as of late…gotta have a talk with management to see if maintenance can look into it.” A louder voice, “So…why don’t you go to the back of the bar. You’ll see a table back there, with several others that have stumbled in and don’t belong. Can’t miss it. This waiter here will show you the way, just in case.” A Bolian seemed to materialize out of the crowd. “Until then, you’ll be out from under foot.
“Oh, and if you try to assimilate any customers or staff on your way back there, trust me, you will regret it. We’ve a guy named Q who functions as a bouncer; he says it gives him a unique picture of life.” The bartender smiled, waved in the general direction of the table in question, then went back to his endless glass polishing.
Feeling even more confused and out of place, Captain began to edge his way towards the back of the bar, following the waiter. Although the room looked to be of nearly infinite size, it in fact wasn’t…well, it wasn’t in the direction Captain took. There were many tables and chairs, several of which were occupied, but the species there scarcely gave the Borg a second glance. This attitude, more than anything else, unsettled Captain: he was used to the word “Collective” making creatures shake in terror.
The table (“Another for the Reject’s Table,” was stage whispered in the near distance to the accompaniment of raucous laughter, but the voice was impossible to place in the general local chaos.) was somewhat isolated, nearest parties not glancing at the waiter nor the still- confused Borg drone trailing behind. The Bolian squinted his eyes slightly in thought, but the moment did not last very long.
“This is 4 of 8 of Cube #347 of the Borg Collective. He is also quite appropriately known as Captain. Your party is complete. Just to remind you, we will be listening, and until each of you has told a story, you are stuck here.” The Bolian frowned then addressed Captain, “You don’t drink…we know that, so don’t give me that ‘Alcohol is irrelevant’ junk. There is a minimum cover charge in this establishment of one story, whether you drink or not. Therefore, make life easy on yourself and order something. You can give it to one of your tablemates for all I care.”
Captain automatically reached for the datafiles in the general memory of his sub-collective, cursing as the block roughly made its presence known. Forced to rely on the data stored in the personal memory crystals in his brain, Captain spouted the first thing he accessed, “Jovian Sunspot.”
“Better be a good story you tell. That costs a lot as the ingredients have to be shipped from a fundamentally different reality.” The waiter promptly disappeared into the crowd.
Captain sighed, then turned to regard the table proper. Two chairs were occupied, one by a human with a fuzzy beard, the other by an animal which Captain took a moment to identify as a nonsentient Terran cat. The other four chairs were tipped over and whispers could be heard emanating from under the table.
“We are screwed, you know.”
“That waiter still hasn’t delivered our drinks. I could face this better if I was plastered drunk.”
“Your hat is poking me, Rydell. This is ridiculous…I’m going to see what’s going on.”
First to appear from under the table was a human female, dressed in a white robe. She was followed by a human male, attempting to look dignified in an incredible odd green outfit. A second human male peeked from under the table, dressed in a Starfleet uniform and looking very anxious. The final male, Betazoid, wore clothes of jet black and glasses.
The waiter reappeared, slid a colorful drink complete with paper umbrella onto the table before Captain, then dematerialized once more.
“Hey!” said the man in the green outfit. The voice was the third one Captain had heard. “Damn. I still don’t have my drink.”
“I know you,” Captain slowly said. “You are Captain Alexander Rydell of the Secondprize, the Federation ship which tried to trap my cube in the Alpha quadrant.”
Captain turned, “And you. The Borg know you, captain Andy Baxter of the Aerostar. The Borg also know captain Jad Vorezze of the Banshee.” Now it was Baxter’s and Vorezze’s turn to look confused. “The Borg know neither the female in the white robes nor the other male, however.”
Beck drew her robe tighter together, “I am Captain Lisa Beck of the Federation outpost Waystation. And the other guy’s is, ummmm…some captain of some surface ship called the Exxon Valdaz.”
“Valdez,” said the nameless human. “The rig is Exxon Valdez. And I don’t understand any of this. Who is this deathly looking person with all the tubes sticking out of him?”
“Perhaps if we should sit?” suggested Rydell, “Assuming you aren’t going to assimilate us all?” The last was directed at Captain.
“I will not assimilate you. None of you would make decent drones, to say the least. If anything, perfection would be detracted from.”
“Um, thank you, I think,” piped up Baxter as he righted his chair and sat down.
“That was not a compliment, idiot,” snapped Beck.
All were now seated, except for Captain. As they looked at him, he said, “Borg do not sit. Sitting is irrelevant. And the last chair is occupied, anyway.” The cat, quietly purring through the commotion from duck-and-cover to reseating, looked up at the Borg, meowed loudly, then went back to purring. Captain looked down at the creature, then at the other four.
“Do you want him?” asked Baxter hopefully.
Captain said, “No, Doctor would just assimilate it.” Baxter sighed.
Silence at the table for a minute, then the captain of the Valdez again, “I still don’t understand.”
Rydell swiftly explained, “That is a Borg. It is a part of the Collective. It likes to assimilate people. The Federation always gets their butts kicked when they try to destroy a cube. What I don’t understand is the first person thing. And what is this captain bit? My impression was it was a queen who was in charge.”
Captain felt sheepish as he explained, “The bartender said you would not remember when you left, so I will tell a closely guarded secret of the Borg. The Collective makes mistakes; assimilation is not always perfect. I and several thousand other drones are proof of individuality not being completely erased. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say, I routinely use the word ‘I,’ and my cube needs a captain to keep it flying straight and out of gravity wells.”
“But…” started the Valdez captain.
“Enough!” interrupted Beck. “I am less than relaxed by missing my massage appointment, and these drinks aren’t working. I say we get on with these stories, and get it over with! So, who’s first?”
“Are you going to want that drink, that, um, ‘Jovian Sunspot’?” asked Rydell. Captain shook is head in a negative as Rydell reached across the table for it.
Rydell greedily reached for the drink, just as Fritz the cat scurried in front of him and dove head- first into the wide martini-type glass, flipping end over end to the floor in one big sloppy mess.
“Oh, look what you’ve done now,” said the Bolian angrily, once again appearing from out of nowhere. “Cleanup at the Rejects–I mean, at the back table!”
Baxter picked the cat up by the scruff of its neck and regarded it with disdain. He was dripping…well, whatever made up a Jovian sunspot. “He’s drunk,” Baxter muttered, pushing the cat away as it belched.
“Just great,” said Rydell. “What am I going to do now?”
Suddenly a whistling, gold glowing, bald, earringed figure in a white t-shirt appeared with a mop and bucket, cleaning up the remains of 4 of 8’s Jovian Sunspot.
“Who the hell is that?” asked Beck.
“I seem to remember him from my 20th century media class,” said Baxter.
“Of course!” Rydell snapped his fingers. “Mr. Clean!”
The Bolian waiter appeared presently, dropping a new drink in front of Beck. “That’s Captain Clean. We gave him a promotion so he could work here.”
Baxter rolled his eyes. “The night can only go downhill from here, folks.”
First up, Captain Andy Baxter regales the rejects with a tale of paradise gone wrong, in “Come Back Now, Ya Hear?”