Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 52394.4. We are currently holding position around Ojaya Three, where DNA evidence seems to indicate that early life existed centuries ago. As soon as the science department has cleared the planet for beamdown, Commander Conway will take a team to investigate.
“Good morning, Mr. Elton,” Lt. Tilleran said coldy as she strolled into the planetary studies lab.
Elton didn’t reply; he simply grunted as he bent over one of the science consoles.
Tilleran looked at him a moment and then turned away to do some calculations on the master viewscreen. “When are those atmosphere analyses going to be completed?”
“When I say they’re completed,” Elton grunted back.
Slamming her padd down, Tilleran whirled around to face Elton. “Okay, that’s it. I’m sick of this. We haven’t had a real conversation since we broke up six months ago. Don’t you think it’s possible that we can get along like colleauges without our personal feelings getting in the way?”
“I don’t have any personal feelings on the matter,” Elton said, turning back to his analyses.
“Fine, be a jerk,” Tilleran huffed. “But just in case you were wondering, I happen to know differently. You do have personal feelings on the matter. You broadcast them like a damn communications relay. It’s so obvious you’re not over me it’s not funny.”
Elton stopped what he was doing and headed for the door to the lab. “That’s it. I’ve had it with your smug Betazoid deductions and observations. I can’t see how you can have a relationship with someone who always knows what you’re thinking. It takes all the fun out of it!”
Before Tilleran could respond, Elton was out the door.
“Arrrrrrrgggggghhh!” Tilleran cried, slamming her hand on the console.
“Bridge to Lieutenent Tilleran,” came Captain Baxter’s voice over the comm. “Do you have those analyses ready yet?”
“By the holy f***ing rings, I’m almost done. You’ll just have to wait,” Tilleran muttered angrily.
There was a long pause. “Is, uh, something wrong, Lieutenant?”
“No!” Tilleran shrieked. “Now leave me alone!”
“Okey doke. Just let us know when you’re ready.”
Tilleran pounded the console again in frustration and went to work.
Commander Conway paced in front of the viewscreen, looking up occasionally to watch the orange ball that was Ojaya Three turn. It seemed to him like the planet was mocking him. Nah nah nah. Come explore me, that yellow, twirling storm below the equator seemed to say.
“I’ll explore you, you damned…” Conway muttered.
“What was that?” Baxter asked from the command chair.
“Nothing. Isn’t Tilleran done by now?”
“I’m certainly not going to ask her. Evidently she’s bent out of shape about something. We’ll have Peterman talk to her after this mission, but right now we don’t have the time to worry about it. Starfleet wants a report on Ojaya Three by the end of the week.”
“It’s Lieutenant Elton,” J’hana said from her place at tactical.
“What’s Lieutenant Elton?” Baxter asked, turning.
“That’s why Lieutenant Tilleran is behaving so strangely. She is upset about the break-up.”
“How the hell do you know that?” Conway asked.
J’hana folded her arms. “I have my sources.”
“What, is Ensign Saral funneling information to you? I know her and Tilleran are friends,” Baxter said.
“It is none of your concern,” J’hana said firmly.
“I’m Captain of this f***ing ship, so it is my concern,” Baxter said, adding with a smile, “I want to keep my troops happy.”
“Then resign,” Conway retorted.
“Don’t get started with me, Conway,” Baxter said, and turned back to J’hana. “So what else did Saral say?”
“I haven’t indicated that Saral gave me the information.”
“You haven’t said she didn’t, either.”
“Would you all listen to yourselves?” Ensign Vicki Dawson exclaimed from the science station. “You sound like a bunch of gossipy old women.”
“I beg your pardon, Ensign,” Baxter said.
“Sorry, Captain. It was just an…observation.”
“Keep up with observations like that and you’ll be an ensign until you are a gossipy old woman.”
Dawson thought about that a moment. “She hasn’t had a date since the break-up and she’s afraid human men aren’t attracted to her because of the telepathy thing. Science officer Bjornson told me after a staff meeting the other day.”
“I see,” Baxter said. “Keep up the good work, kid. You never know, the First Officer position may open up for you soon.”
“Inside I’m really laughing,” Conway grimaced at Baxter.
Baxter considered Dawson’s report, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I wonder why she doesn’t consider dating the Betazoid men on the ship.”
“Because Betazoid men are spastic,” Conway said. “They’re either muderers or nut-cases, or anal-retentives.”
“Good point,” Baxter replied.
Lieutenant Larkin turned back from her panel. “Captain, we are recieving analyses from the science lab.”
“Let ‘em rip, Lieutenant,” Baxter said.
Larkin punched up the analyses on the viewscreen and
quickly read the information as it wizzed by beside the image of the planet. “Ojaya Three. Class…M. Atmospheric composition… I hate men. Soil composition…men are pigs. Gravity…Dan Elton
can kiss my…”
Baxter held up a hand. “Okay, okay. That’s enough. Either Starfleet science is using new measurement guidelines or our Lieutenant Tilleran is a little distracted.”
“I would tend to believe the latter, sir,” Larkin replied.
“Me too,” Baxter said. “Why don’t we-“
“Tilleran to Bridge. Captain, I’m waiting down here in the transporter room. Can we get this damn away mission overwith or are we going to sit around and gab all day?”
“She is in a foul mood, isn’t she?” Baxter said quietly.
“What was that?”
“Uh, nothing, Lieutenant,” Baxter replied, pointing at the First Officer and the Security Chief. “Conway and J’hana are on their way down.”
“Captain, according to Starfleet regulations, no away teams can be allowed to beam down to a planet without thorough scientific evaluation,” Larkin said. This prompted Conway and J’hana to stop a moment before entering the turbolift. “And, unless I am mistaken, ‘men are pigs’ does not constitute a thorough scientific evaluation.”
“Tell that to Lieutenant Tilleran,” Baxter muttered. “I’m not making her any madder. The planet’s class-M and that’s good enough for me. I trust Tilleran.” He looked back to Conway and J’hana. “Get moving guys, before Tilleran blows her stack completely.”
“Aye, sir,” Conway said, following J’hana into the turbolift.
Commander Conway and Lt. J’hana arrived in the transporter room just in time to hear Lt. Tilleran finish her lecture to Lt. Hartley about maintenance on the phase transition coils.
“And another thing,” Tilleran said, “your buffer is absoultely filthy. Somebody needs to get in there and clean out the transitory matter particles before someone gets there molecules rearranged.”
“Bitch much?” Hartley said sweetly, thumbing her nose at Tilleran. “The whole Dan thing is really making you grumpy.”
“‘The whole Dan thing’ has nothing to do with it,” Tilleran huffed defiantly. She then seemed to soften a bit. “Listen, Megan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go off on you like that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hartley replied. “Listen, when you get back we’ll find Lt. Elton and transport him into the bottom of the waste reclamators, okay?”
Tilleran smiled back, and was about to say something, when Conway stepped in between them.
“Excuse me. I hate to break up your little chat session, but we have a planet to check out.”
Tilleran turned on a heel and marched onto the pad. “Fine, Mister ‘I like to do wierd things with tupperware.’”
“I-I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Conway said defensively, looking from J’hana to Hartley.
“Sure you don’t,” Hartley said with a smile. “Now get on the pad, plastic man.”
“You’ll pay for that, Tilleran,” Conway growled under his breath. “Engergize, Lieutenant Hartley.”
“Aye, sir,” Hartley said, running her fingers up the lighted slidebars and watching as Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran dematerialized.
Commander Conway pulled out his tricorder as soon as he and his team had materialized. “Okay everyone, begin sca-“
That’s when the unbearable feeling of suffocation grabbed hold of his lungs and dropped him to his knees.
Clouds of orange vapor swirled around the away team, causing the whole group to drop to the ground in a writhing mess.
Tilleran squinted through the gas at her tricorder, all the while pulling at her quickly tightening throat. “The gas…it’s-“
J’hana struggled to pull herself to her feet as she gasped for air, slapping her comm badge. “J’hana to Explorer…emerg-“
And she fell back to the ground on top of Tilleran and Conway.
“J’hana to Explorer…emerg-“
Standing between conn and ops, Captain Baxter looked over to Lt. Larkin. “What’s happening down there?”
“Captain!” Ensign Dawson cried. She had been running another planetary scan to complete Lt. Tilleran’s report. “That planet isn’t Class-M! They’re breathing a highly toxic acetylcolene atmosphere!”
“What?” Baxter asked frantically, slapping his combadge.
“Lieutenant Hartley! Get them out of there!”
“Energizing now, Captain!”
“Hartley to Sickbay, three patients incoming!”
Dr. Browning threw on her labcoat and hurried out of her office. Nurse Holly Carter and Nurse Joan Luntley were immediately at her side as the three bodies materialzied on separate biobeds.
“Get them into stasis!” Browning ordered, quickly jabbing a hypospray into Commander Conway.
“Done!” Carter and Luntley replied.
Browning examined the readings and shook her head. “They took in too much gas. It’s completely destroyed their nervous systems! Prepare to do a cortical stimulation.”
Carter and Luntley placed cortical stimulator chips on each forehead and stood clear. “Ready, Doctor.”
Browning tapped a contol next to Conway’s biobed. “Clear!”
Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran all shook in response to the jolts to their brains as Browning and her two nurses worked.
“Nothing, Doctor!” Carter reported.
“Damn, let’s try neuroisotope injections.”
Captain Baxter hurried into Sickbay as Browning administered another set of hyposprays.
“Status, Doctor?” Baxter asked worriedly.
“It’s having no effect,” Nurse Luntley said. “There’s just too much neurological damage.”
Browning clasped her fists together and then rammed them into Conway’s chest. “Come back to life, you jerk!”
“Doctor–” Baxter said, placing a hand on Browning’s shoulder. He didn’t know much about medicine, but he knew what dead looked like. “That’s enough.”
Browning looked back at Baxter, then back to her patients. “I wish I could disagree. Computer, record time of death for patients Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran as 1008 hundred hours. Patients died of severe neurological damage due to exposure to poison gas.”
“Noted,” the computer responded.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” Browning said, looking mournfully down at Commander Conway’s body.
Baxter rubbed a hand over his face tiredly. “It’s okay, Janice. You did all you could.”
Commander Conway shook his head, trying to clear away the cobwebs of what felt like the worst hangover ever recorded. “You ought to be sorry, Browning, you almost lost us.” Conway slid off the biobed and straightened his uniform. He turned to Baxter. “What the hell happened down there, Captain?”
Baxter motioned to Luntley and Carter. “Would you two get these guys into the morgue? I don’t want the crew coming in here and seeing them.”
“Very funny,” Conway said. “Har har. In the morgue. I get it.”
“I feel horrible,” Browning said.
Baxter led her away from the biobeds and back towards her office. “Come on, Janice. We’ll get you a nice ice cream sundae out of the replicator.”
Conway followed Baxter and Browning towards the office. “So, will you tell me what happened, or shall I try to guess?”
The sliding glass door moved aside, allowing Baxter and Browning into the Doctor’s office. Before Conway got there, the door slid shut.
Expecting the door to open for him, Conway stepped through. And instead of slamming into the glass like he normally did when there was a problem with the doors, he actually stepped THROUGH.
“What the hell?” he asked, looking back at the door. “I didn’t even leave a smudge!”
Dr. Browning withdrew her ice cream sundae from the replicator and sat it down on her desk. She sat down and stared at it, then peered over it at Baxter.
“What?” Baxter asked.
“You know, I’m not hungry.”
“You…not hungry?” Conway asked. “Now I have seen everything.” Suddenly Lt. Tilleran stepped through the door just as Conway had. “Commander…something’s very wrong.”
“Damned right something’s wrong,” Conway muttered. “Through some transporter malfunction, we’ve gone out of phase or something and the crew has taken us for dead.”
Outside, Nurse Luntley could be heard complaining. “Ouch! Damn, watch it Holly. He’s heavy.”
“I think you should see something, sir,” Tilleran said solemnly.
Conway followed Tilleran back out to the Sickbay. Lt. J’hana was standing there watching Carter and Luntley drag some kind of large black sack or…Conway stopped dead as soon as he saw what Carter and Luntley were lugging.
“Take a look, Commander,” J’hana said wryly. “It’s not every day you get to see your own dead body.”
Luntley dropped Conway’s body and wiped her forehead. “Get an antigrav. This is impossible.”
Supplemental. Accidents are rare in Starfleet, specifically because of our high standard of precautionary protocols. What happened to Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran should not have happened. To that end, I have convened a staff meeting to ascertain exactly why it did.
“Class ‘N’?” Baxter asked incredulously, pulling at his hair. “Class-N!!!”
“How on Earth could this have happened,” Lt. Commander Richards said, shaking his head.
Lt. Larkin spoke up. “Apparently, in her haste, Lt. Tilleran misread the computer’s designation of the planet Ojaya Three’s class. On a computer screen, the letter ‘N’ closely resembles the letter ‘M’.”
“I don’t need a lesson in the alphabet,” Baxter said sternly. “I need to know how we let such an obvious mistake go unnoticed.”
“I believe you did not want to anger Lt. Tilleran by making her complete her scans,” Larkin said.
Baxter through his hands up in the air. “I see. So it’s my fault. It all comes down to me. The buck stops here, eh?”
“I did not say that.”
“Listen,” Browning said, getting the attention of everyone gathered at the table. “It was no one’s fault. They died because of a stupid accident that will hopefully never be repeated. But no amount of arguement is going to bring them back!”
“Agreed,” Baxter said, folding his arms. “So let’s table that and get on to the burial ceremony.”
“Burial ceremony?” Conway asked, leaning in Baxter’s face. “I’m right here, Captain, I don’t need to be buried!”
“He can’t see you,” J’hana muttered. She was perched in the alcove of one of the observation windows. “Don’t you understand? We’re dead.”
“We are not dead,” Conway said. “There’s a perfectly good explanation for this, right Tilleran?”
“Actually, there is,” Tilleran said.
Conway shook his head. “No, I refuse to believe that.”
“It doesn’t matter what you believe, Conway,” J’hana said. “We’re dead. And since we didn’t die honorably, we are constrained to exist on this plain for the rest of our lives, watching our friends grow old and enjoy their lives while we poke about with nothing to do.”
“I take it that’s the Andorian take on death?” Conway asked, staring at Baxter angrily as he talked with his staff.
“You must admit it applies pretty well to our situation,” Tilleran said.
“Like it or not, you’re dead,” J’hana said with a fiendish smile. “And, though it’s not exactly how I wanted to go out, I am satisfied to know that I died in the line of duty. At least that will earn me some small scrap of honor among my people.”
“Fat lot of good that does us now,” Conway grumbled, folding his arms.
“Okay then, it’s set,” Baxter said. “0700 tomorrow morning in torpedo bay twelve. If you want to prepare any speeches, make them short. I have a raquetball lesson at 0900 hours.”
“I’m really touched,” Conway said, grimacing at Baxter as he dismissed the meeting.
“Begin nightwatch,” Lt. Larkin said, taking her place in the command chair as the night shift began their duties.
Commander Conway paced in front of the viewscreen as he had done that morning, but this time he was pacing for completely different reasons. “Maybe our conciousnesses are caught in some kind of nebula.”
“There are no nebulae or other stellar phenomena in this sector,” J’hana said. She and Tilleran were perched atop the conn and ops consoles. If they had been visible, they’d be completely blocking the views of Ensigns Madera and Monroe.
“Well, maybe Q did it. Or a Q-like entity. Or maybe the Directors!”
“Commander, we’re dead,” Lt. Tilleran said glumly. “We all saw our dead bodies. They were right in front of our eyes.”
“There still must be another explanation,” Conway mumbled.
“Do what you want to do,” J’hana said, sliding off the conn station and heading towards a bulkhead. “I’m going to float down to the residential decks and do some haunting.”
Captain Baxter adjusted the flap on his dress uniform and looked out at the large audience gathered in torpedo bay twelve. “Ahem. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Commander David Malcolm Conway of the New Hoboken Conways, Lieutenant J’hana, of the Ninth Hive of Andor, and Lieutenant Ariel Marranis Tilleran, daughter of the forty-fifth house of Betazed. They served as Executive Officer, Chief Tactical Officer, and Chief Science Officer, respectively, and did a great job at it too.” Baxter cleared his throat again and looked out at the audience. He could see he was losing them. “Well…just like King Henry said to his third wife, ‘I won’t keep you long.’” Baxter waited for a roar of laughter from his audience, but got nothing. “Right. Well, I just wanted to say a few things about my First Officer. My Number One. Well, I didn’t really call him number one, but he was…ah, number one on my list of great guys. David and I didn’t always see eye to eye. Actually, we usually saw eye-to- shoulder…”
“Get him off the stage!” someone cried from the back row.
Baxter looked out into the audience in order to seek out the source of the voice. “I heard that. Anyway, if anyone else wants to step up here and say a few words, be my guest.”
Commander Conway watched disapprovingly from beside the front row of senior officers. “I can’t believe they’re going to shoot us out a photon tube. I outlined in my will that I didn’t want that done and they’re doing it anyway.”
“Maybe they couldn’t find your will,” J’hana suggested.
“I think it’s kind of romantic,” Tilleran said. “You know, returning to the space from which we came.”
“I for one didn’t come from space,” Conway said. “I came from Mars. And that’s where I wanted to be buried.”
“Too bad,” J’hana said. “Now be quiet. I think Counselor Peterman is saying something about me.”
“…she was wild, irreverant, and angry all the time,” Peterman said. “The perfect tactical officer and a model Andorian. But not a very good cat-sitter.”
That sparked a chorus of laughter from the audience.
Baxter turned from his chair and looked back at the audience. “Hey, why does she get all the laughs?”
“Because she’s funny!” the voice from before called out.
“You know, it almost seems worth dying to see Captain Baxter tormented so,” Conway said.
“That’s awful,” Tilleran said.
“Not as awful as what I did to Ensign Ford in his sleep,” J’hana said with a mischievous grin.
Ensign Ford shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as he looked out at the audience. “About a month ago Commander Conway and I beamed down to a topless Orion slavegirl Outlet in the Crandor sector. We were both shoving latinum slips into panties left and right, all the while swilling down large glasses of Romulan Ale. And the Commander…” Ford stopped a moment, as if trying to compose himself. Counselor Peterman reached up and put an arm on his shoulder. “And the Commander said, ‘It doesn’t get much better than this, does it, Mister Ford?’ And, well, heh heh, he and I were tossed into the Crandorian jail facility later that night because of supposed ‘harrasment’ charges, but anyway, that’s what I’ll always remember.”
“Wow,” Conway said, wiping a tear from his eye. “Ford remembered that.”
“Are you crying, Commander?” Tilleran asked, looking over at Conway.
“Of course not,” Conway said, turning away.
“And thanks to Lt. Tilleran, I was able to find out exactly what Janice wanted for her birthday,” Lt. Commander Richards said. “Turns out she wanted a latinum-plated flatware set. Good thing I didn’t get her that sweater.”
“Amen!” Browning called out.
“And, I guess that’s all,” Richards said. He stepped off the stage to be replaced by Captain Baxter.
“Thank you, Chris. If there’s no one else that wants to say something, I’ll go ahead with the ceremony. Ensign Madera?”
Ensign Madera obediently broke into a dramatic harp rendering of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”
“Hmm,” Conway said. “Baxter remembered my favorite song.”
“He musn’t have hated you after all,” Tilleran said.
“I never thought he hated me,” Conway said defensively. “It was always plain and clear that I hated him.”
“Thank you, Ensign Madera,” Baxter said, stepping back onto the stage. He put on a pair of glasses and examined the padd in his hand. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…the Lord is my, um, Shepard I shall not…walk through the valley of the shadow, because who knows what lurks in the hearts of men… um, well, you get the idea.” The Captain turned his back to the audience and faced the row of three photon torpedo casings that held three inert bodies. “David Conway, Ariel Tilleran, J’hana. We commit you to the galactic stuff from whence you came. We wish you luck in all your travels and hope that Eternity is a cozy place to hang out. All rise.”
A crewman blew a whistle, directly into Conway’s ear.
“Stop that!” Conway cried, swiping at the crewman. His hand just passed harmlessly through the crewman’s head.
“Ready tubes one, two, and three,” Baxter ordered solemnly.
“Tubes ready,” a voice called over the comm.
“Attention!” Baxter called out. He and the other officers and men snapped to attention. “Fire one!”
With a rush of air, the photon casing that held Commander Conway’s body was sucked through a tube and blown out the forward torpedo launcher.
“Fire two!” J’hana’s tube shot out to join Conway.
“Fire three!” Tilleran’s followed after J’hana.
“Stand easy,” Baxter said, turning back to the audience. “That concludes our ceremony. I encourage you to stop by Mirk’s this afternoon for a cold cut buffet in honor of our departed friends.”
“Free drinks if you mention Conway, J’hana, or Tilleran,” Mirk added from the back of the room.
“So that’s it,” Conway said, watching as the crew filed out of the torpedo bay. “We’re reduced to three photon torpedoes and a round of free drinks.”
“That’s the circle of life, Commander,” Tilleran said.
“I wouldn’t mind a free drink myself,” J’hana said.
“Ghosts don’t drink,” Conway muttered, following after the other crewmembers.
Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran moved through the bulkhead and into Mirk’s. Conway put his hands on his hips and looked around with satisfaction.
“Mirk put on quite a party for us, didn’t he?”
J’hana took up a position next to Conway and clicked her tongue. “Perhaps by human standards. But if this were Andor, there would be chants and ritual combat long into the night.”
“With this group, ritual combat wouldn’t last half that long,” Tilleran said with a smile. She caught a glimpse of Lt. Elton, Ensign Dawson, and Ensign Saral in the corner of her eye and moved over towards their table.
“Considering your past record, it is highly illogical that you would be selected to take Lieutenant Tilleran’s place,” Ensign Saral said placidly.
Elton laughed. “Oh, that insanity thing? I’m sure the Captain has forgotten about that little incident.”
“Dan, you took over the entire Aerostar and killed one of the crewmembers,” Dawson said. “Captains don’t forget mistakes like that. Besides, it’s on your permanent record.”
“Damn that permanent record.”
“I believe I am a valid alternative,” Saral said.
“You’re not even a science officer, Saral. You’re in security,” Elton replied.
“I have experience in several areas. And Vulcans are always in demand for the job of chief science officer. We have a tradition of excellence in that field.”
“You have a tradition for big egos,” Elton said.
“Ego has nothing to do with it. We are simply qualified to perform many tasks at which humans are…slightly less adept.”
“Did she just insult us?” Dawson asked.
Elton shrugged. “Hard to tell.”
Lieutenant Tilleran circled the table as Dawson, Elton, and Saral talked. “I can’t believe you guys are arguing over who should get my job! I thought you were my friends!”
Elton finished off his drink and sat his glass back on the table. “I don’t care who gets her job. I’m tired of sitting around talking about her. Let’s just move on.”
With that Elton rose from his chair and left the lounge.
“What’s his problem?” Dawson asked.
“Humans often misrepresent uncomfortable emotions,” said
Ensign Saral. “Lt. Elton is likely disturbed over Lt. Tilleran’s
death and therefore must cover up for that by displaying anger at
“Uh-huh,” Dawson said, standing up. “I’m going to go get another drink.”
Commander Conway peered over Captain Baxter’s shoulder as he maneuvered his tiny holographic player across the green astroturf field simulated on the holo-game table in the rear corner of Mirk’s. On the other side of the table, Lt. Commander Richards attempted to move his defensive players in response.
“The thirty…the twenty…Michael Irvin could go all the way!” Baxter shouted triumphantly.
Richards slammed his hand on the panel as Baxter’s holo-player high-stepped into the endzone, spiked the ball, and did a little shuffle.
“Dallas Cowboys, 36 to 30 in overtime,” the computer reported.
“You win again, Captain,” Richards said, moving around the videogame table to shake Baxter’s hand. “I guess I’m just no match for you.”
“You left his wide recievers open, you idiot,” Conway said. “Baxter will always go for the long bomb if he gets the chance.”
Baxter put an arm around Richards’s shoulder and led him back to the table. “Only one person could ever beat me, and that was Commander Conway.”
“With the Green Bay Packers…” Conway said wistfully. “Your defensive ends could never touch Bret Favre.”
“My defensive ends could never touch Bret Favre,” Baxter explained, taking a seat next to Counselor Peterman as Richards took the seat beside Dr. Browning.
“Now I need to find someone else to be my best man,” Richards said.
Conway stared at Richards incredulously. “You’re kidding. You wanted me of all people to be your best man? I thought you hated me.”
Baxter laughed. “You wanted Conway as your best man? I thought you hated him.”
“We had our differences, but in a really wierd way, I respected him. He stuck by his guns and he wasn’t afraid of pissing anyone off.”
“Is that a critique against me?” Baxter asked. “I’m really sensitive to that kind of stuff, you know.”
“I noticed,” Richards said wryly. “Anyway, you’re performing the ceremony, Mirk’s going to be running around like a madman preparing for the reception…”
“There’s always Ensign Ford,” Browning suggested.
“That’ll be the day,” Richards said with a laugh.
“Hey good lookin’, are those space pants?” Ensign Ford asked with a grin as he leaned up against the bar.
Ensign Madera looked down at her slacks and back up at Ford. “Uh, no. They’re actually Tholian silk. Why?”
“Because that ass is out of this world!” Ford slapped Lt. Gellar on the back and chortled loudly.
Lt. J’hana stared down at Ford’s hand and concentrated on the glass he was holding. Suddenly it flew up and hit him in the face, splashing Bolian Brandy all over him.
“Sorry, Mr. Ford, I’m intimidated by smooth talkers,” Madera said sarcastically, taking her drink and moving away.
“What happened?” Lt. Gellar asked, as Ford grabbed a towel to wipe off his dress uniform.
“I don’t know,” Ford said, irritated. “Maybe it’s my nerves. They’re shot. I had nightmares all last night. I hardly got a wink of sleep.”
“You’re welcome,” Lt. J’hana said, folding her arms.
“How did you do that?” Tilleran asked, stepping down to join Lt. J’hana.
“Concentration and effort. Postmortum visitations are required study in Andorian gradeschools.”
“You learn how to haunt?” Tilleran asked in disbelief.
“Essentially,” J’hana replied. “It is gratifying to know that knowledge has been put to good use.”
Commander Conway walked over to join the others. “I don’t know about you guys, but this is really starting to get me down.”
“Why?” Tilleran asked. “It seems like everyone’s having a good time here.”
“Maybe that’s what disturbs me. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a nice, sad, depressing funeral. These people look almost too ready to say goodbye to us.”
“They have to get on with their lives. Mourning is considered dishonorable in Andorian culture,” J’hana said proudly.
“There’s nothing wrong with a little mourning,” Conway said, sighing. “I’m getting out of here. Maybe I can find Dale Earnhardt.”
“Who?” Tilleran and J’hana asked simultaneously.
“And you guys call yourselves knowledgeable Starfleet officers.”
“I heard his face melted right off his skull!” Commander Conway heard one ensign say as he strolled down one of the Explorer’s long, winding corridors.
“Yeah, right,” the other ensign replied. “That’s just a rumor. Commander Conway died of gas inhalation. We all know that.”
“But you don’t know what other kind of stuff was on that planet. Weird, funky, alien kinds of stuff.”
Conway stood between the two ensigns and concentrated very hard, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Woah, Gary, did you just feel this really cold wind go by?” one ensign asked.
“No, I didn’t. And neither did you.”
Conway watched the ensigns scurry off with satisfaction. “It’s a lot easier than J’hana made it out to be.”
“Hey, Commander. Looks like you’re lost,” a voice said from behind Conway.
“Who said that?” Conway asked, turning. His jaw dropped in dumbfoundment when he saw the source of the familiar voice. “Dale…Earnhardt?”
“I’m sure as hell not Jeff Gordon,” NASCAR’s Dale
Earnhardt replied, clapping Conway on the shoulder. “So, you’ve
finished the Daytona 500 of life, huh? What I want to know is,
did you get first place, or did you spin out?”
“What are you doing here, and how is it you can see me?” Conway asked.
“Isn’t it obvious, my boy? You’re deader than a doornail.”
“Oh. Well, I guess if it comes from you I have to believe it,” Conway said resolutely. “Tell me, are we in Heaven or Hell?”
“It doesn’t work quite that way, son. Let me show you around. You can meet the pit crew. First, though, let me tell you a little bit about GM Goodwrench…”
Dale Earnhardt led Conway through a doorway–which should have been a turbolift–and into a large banquet hall.
“Welcome to the convention,” Earnhardt said. “I think your table is in the rear.”
Conway weaved his way towards the back of the banquet hall, passing famous leaders and personalities from countless words. Almost all the way in the back was a table with a sign protruding from it which read: Aerostar/Explorer Crew
“Come on, Commander. Have a seat,” Lt. Tilleran said, gesturing at an empty chair.
Conway took a seat and looked around the table. He was seated with everyone who had died since the Aerostar had launched a year and a half ago.
“Care for a roll, sir?” Ensign Neil Dunston (died in “Clouded Judgment” asked, passing a bread basket down to Conway. Conway graciously accepted the roll, trying to ignore the fact that Dunston’s stomach was gutted open and that his innards were more or less hanging out.
“Did you have a pleasant trip here?” The pale-faced and sallow Ensign Dunbar (died in “Process of Elimination”) asked.
“I hear you got to meet Dale Earnhardt.”
“Yeah…fffft…was he all you expected?” Ned Clemson (died in “No Trespassing”) asked. Conway couldn’t imagine how poor Clemson could even sit upright. Scraps of his body were literally hanging in mid air.
“He was…um, nice.”
“I got to meet Shr’rrran, founder of the First Hive of Andor,” J’hana said proudly. “And Tilleran was brought here by the first Betazoid to use telepathic powers.”
“He’s gorgeous,” Tilleran said brightly. “Unfortunately, half his torso was blown apart. But I can get past that.”
“If I may ask…how did you die?” Ensign Liza Hill’s neck asked (died in “Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things”). Conway shivered at the sight of the headless ensign. “Uh… suffocation.”
“Hah! You got off easy!” Crewman Dave Ferrera (death coming soon in another “Unleashed” story) said. “I was stuck through the chest by an angry changeling.”
“And I had my head blown up,” Hill said.
“And I was sucked out of the ship,” Dunbar said.
“And I was hacked apart by a chainsaw,” Dunston said.
“And I was gutted by a hideous…ffft…alien creature,” Clemson said.
“I’m very sorry,” Conway replied, looking at the salad that a waiter had placed before him. It looked like a normal Ceaser salad to him. Maybe the afterlife wasn’t going to be so bad after all. He could still get a nice meal and talk to some old friends…even if some of them didn’t have all their body parts.
“I’d like to apologize for Lt. Elton’s behavior,” Tilleran said, turning to Ensign Hill. “He was really out of it that day. He didn’t mean to blow up your head.”
“Aw, it’s in the past,” Hill’s neck said happily. “Here we try to let bygones be bygones.”
While Tilleran and Hill chatted amiably, Conway reached across the table and grabbed an oversized pepper shaker.
“Boy, that’s a big pepper shaker,” Conway said, preparing to spread a nice, spicy pinch of pepper over his salad.
“No!” Ensign Dunston cried. “That’s Nurse Bailey” (died
in “Clouded Judgment”).
Conway examined the pepper shaker carefully. Sure enough, the pile of matter inside ruffled excitedly.
“Hello, Commander,” the pepper shaker said. “Because J’hana vaporized me, I have to be kept in this little bottle.”
“You really left me no choice,” J’hana said. “It was nothing personal.”
“Think nothing of it,” Bailey replied. “The pepper’s on the other side of the table.”
Conway put Bailey down and pushed his plate away. “Guys, isn’t it a little disconcerting to be so…”
“Mangled?” Ferrera offered.
“Fffft…Let me field this one,” Clemson said. “Here in the afterlife, we try to focus on matters of the soul. Our corporeal bodies as you think of them do not actually exist here, they are merely represented here by these appearances.”
“It sounds like they’ve enlightened the hell out of you,” Conway remarked.
“They don’t like you using words like that around here, mister,” a voice said from behind Conway.
“Oh, man.” Conway covered his face.
“Hello, Captain Kirk,” Bailey said. “Here to see our new friends?”
“Yes…to…evaluate the troops,” Kirk said, clasping his hands together and looking Conway, Tilleran, and J’hana over carefully. Conway tried to ignore the way Kirk’s leg swung loosely while he walked. Evidently it had been shattered when he fell down a mountain back on Veridian Three.
“They’re still pretty new here,” Dunbar explained. “Let us show them the ropes. They’ll be fine.”
“Yes I’m…sure they will,” Kirk said, looking Conway in the eye. “Looks like you’re the ranking officer among these officers, Commander. Welcome aboard.”
“If I may ask, sir, where are we?”
“We call it Eden. The Vulcans call it Sha Ka Ree. The Romulans call it Vorta Vor. The Andorians refer to it as…”
“Don’t even try it,” J’hana warned.
“Yes, well, whatever you want to call it, it simply is…the Afterlife. I have been put in charge of coordinating all dead Starfleet officers.”
“Big job,” Tilleran said.
“Yes, it certainly is. Commander Conway, I’ll leave you in control of the Aerostar and Explorer crews. Let me know if you need anything.”
“Sir?” Conway asked.
“Why are we at a convention?”
Kirk considered the question. “It will become apparent shortly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the entire crew of the USS Yamato is having a…hootenany and I’m invited to…attend.”
“Don’t let us keep you,” Tilleran said.
“He’s seen better days,” Conway muttered.
“He did tumble down a rocky crevasse,” Dunbar countered.
“So, we’ve been through worse,” Ferrara said.
“Beside, it wasn’t a crevasse. It was a slope,” Hill’s neck said.
“I can call it a crevasse.”
“Would you all please shut up,” Conway said. “I have to think.”
“Think of what?” Bailey asked pleasantly.
“A way out of here.”
“Commander, you have obviously missed the whole point of this. We are dead. There is no ‘out of here,’” J’hana said.
Conway stood up. “We’ll see about that.” Raising his voice, Conway announced, “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to speak to Dale Earnhardt.”
“DALE EARNHARDT HAS LEFT THE BUILDING,” a resounding, bass voice said.
Conway looked up, attempting to find a source for the voice. “Who are you?”
“Ha ha. Funny. I want to talk to the man in charge.”
“About leaving. I want to go back.”
“Back to life.”
“HA. I DO NOT THINK SO.”
The Godmike’s voice grew exponentially louder. “BECAUSE I SAID SO!!! NOW EAT YOUR SALAD AND STOP CAUSING TROUBLE, LITTLE MAN!”
“Excuse me,” Tilleran said.
“I AM TIRED OF QUIBBLING WITH YOU CORPOREALS. YOU COME THROUGH AND EAT UP THE SALAD AND MESS UP THE GOOD LINENS, AND NEVER GIVE A WORD OF THANKS. NEVER A GOSH DARNED WORD OF THANKS. DO YOU NOT THINK I HAVE FEELINGS TO?”
“Excuse me,” Tilleran said, a little louder.
“WHAT? DON’T YOU KNOW IT’S RUDE TO INTERRUPT?”
“I was just wondering,” Tilleran said, “what a Godmike needs with a salad.”
“What does a Godmike need with a salad?”
Suddenly the table that the Aerostar and Explorer crewmen were seated at began to rumble.
“Oh, you’ve gone and done it now,” Hill’s neck said.
“You’ve really pissed him off!” Ferrera cried.
Suddenly holes formed beneath the chairs of Tilleran, J’hana, and Conway, sucking them downward.
After the screams died down, Hill pointed over to Dunston. “Can you pass the parmesean cheese?”
“Hello?” Commander Conway said, as he proceeded down a long, bright, white expanse of nothingness. “Is anyone out there?”
“Turn around,” a deep voice said.
Conway turned to find J’hana and Tilleran standing in front of a great glowing golden, roughly humanoid, shape.
“Greeetings,” the voice said again.
“And you are?” Conway asked, folding his arms.
“Need you ask?” the being replied.
“Yes, I need ask.”
“Commander,” Tilleran whispered. “It’s…you know…God.”
“Or the multispecies equivalent thereof,” J’hana asserted.
“Whatever the case, I am,” the golden being replied.
“You are what?” Conway asked, irritated.
“Alpha and Omega…eternity. I am everything.”
“Yadda yadda yadda,” Conway said. “Can you get to the point?”
“Yes, well,” the glowing being said. “I brought the three of you here because you should not have died.”
“Come again?” Conway asked.
The being turned to Tilleran and pointed a long, glowing finger at her.
Tilleran shrunk back a bit. “Sorry.”
“Okay, Lieutenant,” J’hana said. “Out with it.”
“I was so ticked off at Lt. Elton, I didn’t bother to double check the planet’s gas composition. Turns out it was Class N.”
Conway turned to Tilleran angrily. “TILLERAN!”
The being laid a glowing hand on Conway’s shoulder. “Fear not, Commander. Now is not the time or place for you and your friends to die.”
The being narrowed its eyes at Conway menacingly. “I SAY!”
“Way to tick off God,” Tilleran whispered.
“Now…all of you, be gone. You will return to this place when the time is right.”
“Mind telling me when that will be?” J’hana asked, leaning toward God.
“It’s a secret. Now go!”
“Come on, Lieutenant,” Conway said, grabbing J’hana’s arm. “We’re not going to look a gift God in the mouth!”
Captain Baxter stepped out of his readyroom and looked around at his bridge crew. The afternoon shift had already started and his people were in place, but there were several noticable absences. That was something that would take Baxter a while to get used to.
“Status, Commander Larkin?” Baxter asked, rounding the command area to take his place in the command chair.
Sporting a full Commander’s pip and a red collar, Larkin examined the panel next to her chair. “Engineering reports all systems ready for departure.”
Baxter glanced over to the science station. “Lieutenant Dawson?”
Dawson straightened at the science station. “Scans of Ojaya completed, Captain.”
“I suppose there’s no reason to remain here, then,” Baxter said, shifting in his seat uncomfortably and leaning forward.
Peterman placed a hand on Baxter’s back. “Leaving them behind will be the hardest part, Andy. But you have to do it.”
“I know,” Baxter said. “Lieutenant Gellar, sound the all-call.”
Gellar pressed a button on the tactical console. “You’re on, sir.”
Baxter stood and straightened his uniform. “All hands, this is Captain Baxter. We’re preparing to leave the Ojaya system for good. We leave behind some of our dearest blood. I understand you don’t want a long, tearfilled speech to cap off this difficult time and help us make the transition to our next mission, so I’m not going to say any more. All hands make ready for departure, Baxter out.”
The cheering could be heard through the bridge floor.
“Seems they enjoyed your speech, sir,” Ford said with a grin.
“For once,” Baxter grimaced and sat down. “What are our new orders, Commander Larkin?”
Larkin examined her panel again. “We are to proceed to the Tesla system and evaluate the new Federation colony there.”
“Very well. Ensign Ford, lay in a course for the Tesla system, warp five.”
“Course laid in.”
“Captain!” Gellar shouted from tactical. “I’m picking up life signs…bearing directly ahead!”
Baxter jumped out of his chair and rounded the bridge to join Gellar at tactical. “What are you saying?”
“I…I can’t explain it. Someone’s alive out there.”
“On board a ship? Or a planetoid?” Baxter asked.
“Negative,” Gellar said.
Lt. Dawson studied her panel. “Captain, you won’t believe this, but those readings are coming from the torpedoes we launched this morning.”
“This is lunacy,” Baxter said, returning to the front of the bridge. “The sensors must be malfunctioning.”
“Conway to Baxter. Could you please beam us out of these f***ing cramped torpedoes?”
“Conway?” Baxter asked.
“It sure as hell ain’t Dale Earnhardt.”
“Mr. Ford, move us into transporter range,” Baxter ordered, approaching the viewscreen.
“This can be explained,” Peterman said. “It’s mass hysteria. We’re all imagining this because we want it to happen.”
“There’s one way to find out,” Baxter said with a smile.
“We are now in transporter range,” Larkin reported.
“Baxter to Hartley, lock on to the lifeforms inside the torpedoes ahead of us and beam them directly to the bridge.”
“You heard me. Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran are over there.”
“What are you guys smoking up there, anyway? I mean…hold on. I’m reading life signs. I’ll be damned. Captain, I don’t understand-“
“You don’t have to understand. Just energize, Hartley!”
Moments later, Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran materialized in the center of the bridge.
“Did you miss us?” Conway asked with a grin.
“So he just…put you guys back in your bodies?” Counselor Peterman asked with interest as a crowd of interested onlookers gathered around the small booth at Mirk’s.
“I’d call it…reintegration,” Tilleran said.
“But what about your bodies, weren’t they dead?” Browning asked.
“Whoever the being was, he regenerated us on a cellular level,” J’hana said. “And, evidently, even Lt. Tilleran cannot explain how.”
“There’s a lot I can’t explain about the last couple days,” Tilleran said quietly, looking up at Lt. Elton, who hovered expectantly beside her seat.
“You know,” Baxter said, cocking his head. “God is a strange and funky being, capable of many wonderful and mystical deeds. Then again, it may not have been God. It could have been a noncorporeal Ojayan being who eats conciousnesses. Maybe yours were just not to his taste.”
“Anything is possible,” Tilleran asserted.
“At any rate,” Baxter said. “I’m glad to have you back. Not everyone gets to die and then come back again. Treasure those memories.”
Conway ignored Bulter and instead chugged down a large mug of coffee. “Ah, wonderful java, how I have missed you.”
Peterman watched Conway chug the coffee down and turned to J’hana. “So you guys were floating around the whole time after you had died?”
“We sure were,” J’hana said, glancing at Ford. “Pervert.”
“It was you who…did…that to me, wasn’t it?” Ford said angrily.
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” J’hana replied mysteriously.
“So, Conway, what was it like…on the other side?” Richards asked.
“It was a nice place to visit, but I’m not looking forward to going back,” Conway replied.
“I know one thing,” Tilleran said. “I’ll never laugh at ghost stories again.”
“Well,” Baxter said, pushing away from the table. “It’s been a rough couple days, but we’ve all got jobs to get back to. Larkin, Dawson, Gellar, I’m proud to say you guys are all demoted back to your past positions. Conway, Tilleran, and J’hana have the night off, and the rest of you…get back to your posts.”
“It was nice while it lasted,” Dawson said woefully.
The group began to disperse, until only Conway, J’hana, and Tilleran were left in the lounge. Mirk had gone to the back to get some more bottles of liquor for the night crowd.
“I’m going to miss the haunting,” J’hana said, as she moved off towards the door.
Tilleran stretched her arms out and yawned loudly. “I just can’t wait to get a nice night’s sleep. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like.”
Conway stopped at the door and turned back to look at the stars outside. They suddenly stretched out and seemed to fly towards him as the Explorer shot into warp.
“Coming, Commander?” Tilleran asked.
“In a minute.”
“Suit yourself,” J’hana said, following Tilleran out of the lounge.
Once he was sure he was alone, Commander Conway moved to the stage at the front of the bar.
He looked around the dimly lit room and tried to imagine it filled with the blaring sounds of a Nascar race.
“Ladies and gentlemen, David Conway is back in the race!”
Conway bowed several times and smiled out at the imaginary crowd of race-day onlookers. He turned to see a ghostly apparition, wearing a bright day-glo GM Goodwrench jumpsuit and ray-ban sunglasses.
“Don’t just ride the drafts, Commander,” Earnhardt said,
stroking his moustache. “Go for the win!”
“Tilleran, J’hana! Wait for me!” Conway cried. He was out the doors before Earnhardt could say anything else.