Author: Star Traks Forum Contributors
Alan Decker, B-Guy, Mark Stockman, Rob “e of pi” Davidoff,
Tom “BorgCrazy” Jacob, Ronan Stafford, Meneks, & Anthony Butler
Welcome to the 24th Century.
In this golden age, humanity has reached out into the stars with an array of technological wonders. Humans travel across the void in spaceships capable of warping the very fabric of space and time, bringing countless strange, new worlds and alien lifeforms within reach. They instantly cross distances of miles using amazing devices that convert their component molecules into energy and then back into matter. They entertain themselves with astonishing holographic environments recreating actual places or forming ones that only exist in the imagination. And some humans, like the two we are about to meet, sit in offices…well, an office in this case.
We’re sure that it’s a really snazzy office, though.
The desk computer is incredible. Trust us.
The desk that said desk computer was resting on was occupied by Admiral Janet Farraday, a well-respected officer with 38 years of Starfleet service to her credit. With only two years to go until her planned retirement, Admiral Farraday had chosen to shift into the slow lane, taking under her purview projects that seemed the least likely to raise her blood pressure or add to the gray in her hair (or the gray that she would have if she didn’t color her hair back to the chestnut shade she’d maintained for her entire adult life).
This latest project, overseeing a new mission directive that had come down from Federation President Bradley Dillon’s office, seemed to fit the bill nicely; although, she had to admit that she found the mission particulars a bit distasteful and she had a few qualms about the mission’s new commanding officer. The first of which was that he wouldn’t shut up.
“…the majesty of a nebula. Have you ever really looked at a nebula? Of course you have. A career like yours. You’ve probably seen thousands of them. In person, which is more than I can say, but I am looking forward to the opportunity. There’s such variety. Green. Red. Kind of a pink. More toward white.”
“Captain Dippman,” Admiral Farraday began.
“I mean there’s just so much to see, and now I will have the change to get out there in person. I am very grateful for the confidence Starfleet is showing in me, giving me this command, and I can assure you that that confidence will not go unrewarded. I am more than ready to get out there and…”
“Frank,” Farraday said, wondering if she was going to have to resort to shouting. Much to her surprise, the sound of his first name stopped Captain Frank Dippman in mid- sentence.
“Chip,” he said with a big grin.
“It’s Chip! As in ‘How about a Chip with that Dip…Man?”
“Oh Great Bird,” Farraday muttered, resisting the urge to put her head in her hands.
Dippman kept right on going: “Frank is just so…Frank. Listen to it. Frank.” He frowned. “Frank. Hey there, Frank. Sucks the energy right out of your voice when you say it. Frank. It not the image I want to project about myself. I’m not a Frank. I’m upbeat! I’m eager! I’m Chip!”
“Oh Great Bird.”
“You already said that.”
“It bore repeating,” Farraday said. “Now listen…Captain. Since you are so eager to get out there, let’s go over the mission particulars, so you can be on your way.”
“Absolutely!” Dippman said, leaning forward expectantly. “I’m more than ready.”
“President Dillon’s office has seen the need to add an additional aspect to Starfleet’s responsibilities. Evidently exploration and Federation security are not enough. As it was put to me, we need to think about our relationships with member worlds as well as potential new members. I thought that’s why we had diplomats, but the President wants to have a ship that specializes in…Public Relations. Despite the fact that your personnel file says that you haven’t left headquarters since your cadet days, you have been selected to command this new vessel. I have to admit wondering what it is that makes the President’s office feel that you are particularly suited to command this mission.”
Dippman thought for a moment, then his eyes lit up. “Did you go to Fleet Admiral Ra’al’s Enlightenment Day celebration?”
“Er…yes,” Farraday said, confused as to why he was asking.
“That was me! And the commissioning of the new Yorktown. And the reception for the new Praetor. I organized all of those.”
“So you’re a…party planner?”
“There’s a lot more to it than that!” Dippman exclaimed. “You have to decide on the theme, plan the decorations, book the entertainment, create the menu, coordinate the staff. There are hundreds of things to do!”
“Commanding a starship will be just like that,” Farraday said, wondering what the hell Command was thinking approving Dippman’s posting. “Only with phasers and quantum torpedoes.”
“Oh I can’t imagine I’d ever need those,” Dippman said.
“How silly of me,” Farraday said. “But since we’re on the subject, let’s talk about your ship. It’s a repurposed Nova-class vessel.”
“Keeping with President Dillon’s philosophy of reducing waste, you will be commanding an existing ship, the USS Lugubrious. The Lugubrious was recently mapping an anomaly known as the Rinse Cycle when it became caught and was severely damaged, killing the captain in the process. After towing the vessel back to spacedock, Starfleet has given it a complete refit and a new name more appropriate to its new assignment. It is now the USS Hootenanny.”
Dippman nodded appreciatively. “Now that’s got a sense of fun. I like it!”
“I thought you might,” Farraday said. “And that seems to be everything. So if you’ll excuse me…”
“Where are we going?”
“Our first assignment?”
“Oh. Right.” Farraday checked her very impressive desk computer terminal. “You will be traveling to Norealis Four. It’s a non-aligned world that, until about a month ago, had been plagued by a marauding band of pirates.”
“Is there any other kind?”
“The Norealans put out a plea for assistance, and the USS Shanghai was able to respond and deal with the threat. Now that we’ve made that good impression, President Dillon would like the Hootenanny to follow-up with the Norealans and make sure that impression is maintained.”
“We can do that,” Dippman said, rising from his seat. “Oh, do we have a circus on board?”
“Why would you…”
“Everybody loves a circus.”
“I’m afraid we may have neglected to include one.”
“Oh well. We’ll make due.”
“I’m sure you will. You’ll find the Hootenanny at Docking Slip 17. Crew profiles have been transmitted to your quarters there. You’ll find that it’s a mix of former Lugubrious officers and new personnel. We’ll be expecting you to get underway as soon as possible to forestall…a public relations emergency or something. Good luck, and you’re dismissed, Captain.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” Dippman said. “We won’t let you down.”
“I can’t imagine how that would even be possible,” Farraday replied with a half- hearted wave as Dippman bounded out of her office.
Once in the corridor, Captain Dippman took off at a run. He had a ship! He had a crew! He had a galaxy to meet! This was going to be absolutely fantastic!
After having himself beamed up to Spacedock, the massive space station in orbit of Earth, Dippman wasted no time in making his way to his new ship. Finding the Hootenanny’s docking slip wasn’t difficult…getting through the gangway was.
“Pardon me, my good man,” he said, squeezing past a cargo handler as the man maneuvered a large crate up the gangway. Beings of all description were carrying things on and off of the ship. “One way, sir. Pardon me, madam. Little girl, my what lovely pig- tails those are by the way, but if you’ll let me by…”
Working his way past an especially obese woman hauling what looked like (but couldn’t be) a severed cow’s leg, he finally made his way into his new ship.
“Oh, this is so very exciting!” Dippman squealed, clapping his hands together and almost dropping the padd onto which he’d loaded his crew profiles. Who to meet first? His first officer? Chief engineer? Science officer?
He looked through the list of names, trying to decide which one sounded the most gosh-darned fun. Finally, he settled on Chief Engineer Bernie Goodhall.
This was going to be fun!
Navigating the small Nova-class ship, he quickly found engineering. The room was curiously empty, considering that the ship was in the final stages of a major refit. A single man stood next to warp core. He was tall, over 6’4, with broad shoulders, a wide, well defined face and blond, buzzed hair. He was muttering softly, and it almost seemed to Dippman that he was doing something to the warp core. Stroking it?
“There, there, my pretty,” Goodhall murmured, “It’ll be better soon. It’ll be all better soon. I know you don’t like all these strangers inside you. Soon it will just be you, me and the crew. Doesn’t that sound nice? Yes, and we can spend lots of quality time together,”
“Lt. Commander Goodhall?” Dippman inquired, holding out his hand.
Goodhall spun away from the core, his arms suddenly gripping his torso.
“Yes?” his eyes darted to the Captain’s pips on Dippman’s collar, “Sir?”
“I’m Chip!” Dippman said happily, “Chip Dippman! Your new Captain! Oh, it’s such a pleasure to meet you, I can tell already that we’re going to have a splendid time working together!”
“Oh, yes,” Goodhall’s hand shot out to clasp Dippman’s, “Sure thing,”
“It looks like you’ve been taking care of things down here,” Dippman said, releasing Goodhall’s hand and taking a closer look around the engine room. Every surface gleamed as though freshly polished, every display panel was perfectly calibrated and every illumination panel shone with exactly the same intensity. The room spoke of careful care, or exactingly high standards. Or of total and complete obsession. Dippman ran one hand over the Master System’s display, not noticing the smudge his fingers left. Goodhall’s eyes, on the other hand, locked onto it like quantum torpedo’s locking onto a target. As soon as Dippman moved to examine another panel, Goodhall rushed to over and started polishing the smudge out with his ever-present polishing rag.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” he murmured, “He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t love you like I do,”
“Pardon?” Dippman turned. Goodhall quickly tucked the cloth away.
“I-I was just saying how this new mission sounds like it’ll be easier on the Lugubrious, I mean, the Hootenanny, than the last one,” Goodhall said.
“Yes, yes,” Dippman grinned, “Spreading happiness and good cheer across the Federation…I’m sure everybody will be just THRILLED to see us coming! I wager this ship’s days of being target practice are long over!”
“Good,” Goodhall sighed, “She hates being shot at. It’s so stressful!”
“I mean I,” Goodhall corrected himself, “I hate being shot at,”
“Yes, yes. Don’t we all?” Dippman turned to leave, running his hands over different panels as he left, “But, on the other hand, weapons discharges can be so pleasant to look at! The reds and blues of energy beams, or the beautiful fireworks of a quantum torpedo. That reminds me, I’ll need to talk to the tactical officer about converting some of those for pyrotechnic use. Oh, these are exciting times!”
Bidding his engineer farewell, Dippman left the room.
The instant he left, Goodhall whipped out his polishing rag and started tackling the smudges the Captain had left.
“It’s OK, baby,” he cooed, “He didn’t mean it. He doesn’t love you yet. But he will. He’ll learn to love you, like you deserve. And did you hear that? No more weapons fire! Isn’t that nice? Now, how about a nice warp core diagnostic. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, baby?”
Dippman hurried down a packed corridor, sidestepping boxes and crates of god knows what, destined for who knew where on the small starship. He had intended to head directly up to the bridge of the Hootenanny, but curiously, found himself drawn away from that critical command centre just yet. Sure, he couldn’t wait to try out the chair and give a few orders, but that was for later for now? He found himself drawn straight to the small lounge at the front of the ship’s saucer.
“Yes?” came the indignant, cold, hard voice of a woman as he strode over the threshold of the small room, “Lost are we? Looking for somewhere?”
“Um, no,” He scanned the room, finding it empty, there were chairs and tables in disarray around the place, obviously freshly delivered as the cellophane wrappers were still clinging to them. In one corner, an enormous replicator station filled the wall, and directly opposite it rose the Plexiglas windows looking out of the ship and currently onto the windows of her berth in the dock. “I’m, I’m, where are you?” He still couldn’t see anyone in the place.
From beneath an access hatch in the replicator, a pair of feet appeared first, followed by a shapely torso and a shock of dark black hair, cut in the traditional Vulcan style. “If you had bothered to use the sense which you had, you would have been able to detect that my voice was coming from this general area. I am T’Kir, your chief of operations, and I double up as your bartender when needed. You I assume are our new Captain, Captain Dishman?”
“Dippman.” He corrected, “Chip Dippman, and yes, I am the new Captain. How did you know?”
“Would anyone else wearing Captain’s stripes be seen anywhere near here?” The haughty Vulcan regarded him with an icy stare, looking straight down her elegant nose at him, “And you are just too fully of eager human emotions for me to NOT realize this is your first command and that we are very likely going to be killed, maimed or otherwise seriously hurt in our first mission due to your lack of experience.”
“Uh, Thanks.” Dippman tried to change the subject, “Love the décor in here, muted Starfleet grey, is that in this season? How about a few reds, some banners, hell would it kill anyone to actually redecorate a little BEFORE we get to the joy and happiness stage of the emission?”
“It is regulation.”
A long second passed, followed by several of its brothers, “Regulation. Hmm,” Dippman started backing away from the Operations chief, “Um, See you on the bridge?”
“I will be there once I have finished repairing this replicator.” She replied flatly, gesturing at the huge piece of equipment that Dippman only now noticed was fizzing and sparking erratically. “I fear it may be some time though.”
“Repairing? Why not call an engineer to do that?” He asked as he started to leave the room, intending to continue his tour of the ship.
Without missing a beat, T’Kir turned back to the job, “It was an engineer which caused this.”
After beating a hasty retreat from the lounge, Dippman stepped out of the lift onto the bridge…no, his bridge. The spot from which he would no doubt execute the plans for many great parties and, hopefully, make a name for himself as the commander of the happiest ship in the fleet. He stepped out into the bridge, trying to affect the walk he’d seen in that “Walk Like Kirk (In 10 Easy Steps)” book he had in his bags, the one he’d gotten upon hearing of his new role. Step, swagger, step, swagger, turn, and…grin at the…empty bridge.
No, on second check, not empty. Sitting at the Conn station, somehow managing to give off the message “Don’t come near!” using only a slight hunch in the shoulders, has a small human.
Dippman’s face lapsed out of his usual grin for moment, and he coughed quietly. At the slight noise, the figure in the seat turned, blanched, and leapt to its feet coming to a ruler-perfect attention and saluting.
“Captain! Lt. Jg. Thomas Barlow- Chief of Astrometrics, USS Lugubri…” the flood of nearly-shouted words stopped as Barlow frowned slightly, slouching as he muttered to himself for a second, then snapped back to rigid attention, “Captain! Lt. Jg. Thomas Barlow- Flight Control Officer, USS Hootenanny- reporting for duty! Sir!”
A few silent seconds passed as Dippman picked his way through the tide of information presented to him at several decibels louder than comfortable. He cautiously returned the salute, more sloppily than Barlow’s mechanical, almost scary, precision. “At…at ease, Lieutenant.” Acknowledgement received, it was like all the air suddenly pouring of a balloon as Barlow returned almost to his slouch before snapping to a parade rest. It was the third time he’d done it, and Dippman was still hard-pressed to explain it. A uniform that managed one moment to look pressed and starched to within an inch of its life suddenly acquired wrinkles like it had been worn non-stop for a week. It wasn’t that it changed, but the demeanor the man projected did. He went from book-perfect posture to just-this-side-of-falling-down in seconds, as his body seemed to loose five of the inches of height it possessed when at attention. It almost didn’t seem possible to be the same person, but Dippman had just seen it happen.
Dippman’s mind waved off the considerations of his pilot’s oddities, and he nodded to himself as a thought crossed his mind. The arrival of a captain on the bridge of his first command was supposed to be an occasion, full of pomp, and that was totally lacking from this so far. His mind snapped to work. This moment needed…cheering. It needed…applause. It needed….streamers. But more importantly, it needed…..more crew.
Dippman frowned at that, and turned to Barlow, who had once more dropped to a slouch, “Where are the rest of my bridge officers?”
Barlow’s eyes flickered back and forth for a moment, then he snapped back to rigidity and responded (once again far too loudly), “I do not know, sir. I could page them.”
Dippman nodded eagerly, “Yes please!”
Ensign John Markham stepped onto the bridge, eager to meet his new captain. As the Alpha-shift Ops officer, he would play a critical role in the daily operations of the starship. He was sure he was up to the task, but having served the two years since graduation in the bowels of one ship or another as a maintenance tech, he wasn’t sure if he had the experience necessary for his new post - or even why they’d transferred him to operations from maintenance.
Ensign Markham wasn’t sure what had happened to the last Alpha Ops officer - or why one of the other shift officers hadn’t been rotated to fill the vacancy, but he trusted the decisions of his superiors. If they felt he was up to the task, then he’d do his best to not let them down.
As Markham took his position, he heard Lt. Barlow call the other bridge officers over the comm. Strangely, though, despite the fact that Markham was mere feet from the Lt., he couldn’t hear Barlow’s voice, only the comm-reproduction. Even stranger, the Captain turned to face Markham and, with the Ensign’s bunkmate’s voice, said, “Dude, aren’t you supposed to be on duty? You better wake your ass up and get going!”
With a start, Ensign Markham sat up in his bunk and realized he’d only dreamed the previous exposition!
“Son of a-“ Markham sputtered, not bothering to finish the curse as he threw his uniform on (not realizing his pants were on backwards or his tunic was inside out) and dashed into the corridor, stopping just long enough to grab a quick-to-eat breakfast wrap from the communal replicator on the way out.
“Crap, crap, crap,” Markham quietly chanted between bites during the turbolift ride to the bridge. Oversleeping on his first day - that was not going to look good…
Lieutenant Ava McClusky stumbled around her quarters, one foot bare, cursing Rupert the God of Lost Socks under his breath. Where the fwark had that sock gone? Of all the Gods and Goddesses it just had to be Rupert that annoyed her on this day, wasn’t it?
McClusky was a very religious person. Unfortunately the concept of a single true religion was one that escaped her, and therefore McClusky was a fervent follower of a vast majority of the theologies found across the cosmos. While most of the religious teachings she followed were contradictory, at least it meant she was rarely without an appropriate God to pray to.
Despite only arriving on board the Hootenanny the day previously it appeared that Shiva the Destroyer had been hard at work in her room. Piles of clothes, reports, bags, boxes and various other things McClusky preferred not to think about littered the room. Actually, the term ‘littered’ itself was too clean to describe the current state of the room, it was more like the anthropomorphic impersonation of Untidiness herself had conquered, raped and pillaged the room in an unprecedented blitzkrieg.
Deciding that she was never going to find the offending sock she picked one off a pile of clothes next to her unmade bed and put it on. It’d have to do, even if Vivienne, Goddess of Matching Wardrobe, would be extremely angry about it.
She heard a thump on her door and seeing as she was now fully, if discordantly, dressed went to find out what it was. The doors opened to reveal an engineer.
“Could you move?” the engineer asked.
“Why?” McClusky returned in a way which would of extremely pleased Gavin, God of Answering a Question With Another Question.
“Need the doors closed you see. Putting up your name plaque.”
“Oh, right. Go on then.” McClusky stood out into the corridor, allowing the doors to her quarters to close. The engineer proceeded with his task, a simple one at that, of sticking the plaque to the left side of the door, at what was head height for most species that inhabited the ship (and what was essentially shoulder height for the very tall McClusky) The plaque read:
Lt. Ava McClusky
Deck 5 Room 032
“You’ve spelt attaché wrong,” McClusky pointed out. Quenton, God of Orthography, would be most displeased. “There should be an accent on the e.”
“Don’t use no accents in English Lieutenant,” the engineer pointed out, angering Quenton’s brother Harold, God of Double Negatives.
“It’s French. Hence the accent,” she explained. The engineer shrugged and walked off, completely unsympathetic to McClusky’s accent problem. “Oh, no problem then, I’ll just fix it myself. Idiot!” she shouted after the retreating engineer.
“Bridge officers report to Captain Dippman on the bridge,” a disembodied voice called out over the ships intercom. Oh well, the accent would have to wait for later. With the Captain on board (and who in the Diplomatic Corps hadn’t heard of Frank Dippman?) the time had come to claim the coveted third seat next to the Captain and the First Officer. Dippman had to be controlled, that much was clear, and the bridge would be the perfect place to do it. Parties were all dandy, but it would take a true Diplomatic Officer to deal with the countless barbaric aliens there were about to go up against. Who knew what would happen if she failed?
Candi Swain eagerly stepped from the turbolift to the bridge. She was blonde. She was tall. She was beautiful. She was the ship’s counselor.
The skin-tight leotard Candi wore left little to the imagination. As much as she desired to wear something black with hot pink highlights, such would not be regulation. Therefore, as required by the Big Book of Starfleet Wardrobe, Candi had dutifully made sure that her leotard was what she thought of as “sciency” blue. It even had her lieutenant commander rank pips upon one thin-strapped shoulder, and the comm badge on the other. True, the silvery sequins were not /strictly/ regulation, but at the same time, the Big Book did not expressly prohibit them.
Candi waved as many pairs of eyes turned in her direction. Those belonging to males widened; and the narrowed eyes of females projected jealousy. It did not matter the species: the reactions were universal.
“Hi!” said Candi as she bounced to the front of the bridge. “How is everyone? Good? Great! I’m so happy to meet you all! My name is Candi Swain - no, not as in the stripper…that is my /mother/, sillies - and I’m your Counselor! And the first thing you need to know is that I am going to institute a regimen of aerobic exercises! I want this ship to have the healthiest, most fit crew in the fleet! After all, a healthy body is a happy body!” Exclamation marks could be heard in nearly every sentence Candi uttered.
Candi struck a pose, arms held out from her body. “Computer?” A questioning beep sounded. “Initiate Exercise Music Candi One.”
High-energy jazz began to blast from bridge speakers. Candi began to gyrate. “One and two and three and four! Lift those legs! Feel the burn!”
“I say!” cried Dippman, trying to be heard over the music. He was unsuccessful. “Computer? Computer, can you hear me?” No answer. In horror, he watched as one arm, then the other, began to move in unison with Candi’s lead.
“Arms up! Arms up! Arms down! A diplomatic corps doesn’t need flabby buttocks!”
“Oh-no,” moaned Barlow to Dippman’s right. The flight control officer was raising a knee almost to his forehead. It looked painful, the man not having near the flexibility as the counselor. “It is /Candi/!”
“Am I missing something?” screamed Dippman as he fought his body. Unfortunately, his shoulders were attempting super-aerobic shrugs, threatening to dislocate both arms.
“Counselor Candi, sir! I had a cousin serve with her on the USS Gravenstein. I thought he was exaggerating when he wrote to me about her. She’s crazy, sir! Bonkers! She thinks that everyone should be /healthy/. My cousin said everyone had to do mandatory exercise; and that the replicators were reprogrammed to only produce vegetarian dishes; and that all forms of alcohol, real or synthetic, was banned! Insane!” Barlow shuddered. “Even worse, the woman is a projective emotive telekinetic: she can /make/ you exercise, whether you want to or not!”
Dippman blinked as he absorbed the implications. A spot of exercise was all well and good - everyone appreciated a fit body - but vegetarian meals forever? A dry bar? “Help?” the new captain whispered.
Ensign Vinnie Sacco sat back and smiled as the last newcomer left the shuttlebay. He really enjoyed being a shuttlebay deck supervisor. It afforded him plenty of time to goof off and relax. After all, how many times did a Federation Starship really even use a shuttle? That’s what transporters were for.
Sacco was just about to turn to a padd full of Vulcan romances when his panel beeped. He leaned forward and plucked a control on his console.
“Hootenanny,” he said warily. “Sacco here. What do you want?”
“N-new arrival,” a panicked sounding voice said on the other end of the channel.
“There are no more shuttles scheduled for today.”
“This was…l-last minute,” the pilot said, and Sacco watched as a line of text sped across his display screen. Sure enough, it came right from Admiral Farraday herself. A new officer was added to the roster. The panel read: “GROZA, INSUFFERABLE, THE. COMMANDER. EXECUTIVE OFFICER AND CHIEF OF PROTOCOL.” That had to be wrong. Someone at spacedock operations playing a prank. Nobody could possibly have a name like that, could they?
“All right, bring her in,” Sacco sighed, leaning up and plucking at his console, bringing the bay door open and running through the shuttle landing procedures.
The small Cochrane-class shuttle eased into the bay and landed softly.
Sacco got up as the door wheezed open, and looked inside. “Hello? Anyone there?”
“WRONG! ALL WRONG!” a voice thundered from within, causing Sacco to take several steps back.
“Excuse me?” he asked, as a tall, broad-chested Therrian ducked out, facing him with a piercing stare. Sacco knew at once that the being was Therrian, what with the four arms, dark red skin, sparkling compound eyes and sunny disposition.
“Your shuttle landing procedures are completely wrong. You mis-calibrated the force field, you switched off the tractor beam too soon, and you didn’t even bother to blow the whistle, which is standard procedure when a command officer arrives.”
“I’m supposed to have a whistle?”
The Therrian rolled his eyes. “It’s a formality, but we have given up far too many formalities these days.”
“I guess so.”
“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”
Sacco shrugged. “Well, either way, welcome aboard.”
“If you are not going to use the whistle, then don’t bother. By the way, your tunic is point seven millimeters too long.”
“Nice meeting you,” Sacco said in a low voice, slunking behind his panel. Suddenly “Groza the Insufferable” sounded like the perfect name.
A short turbolift ride later, Commander Groza arrived on the bridge, to find the entire bridge crew involved in an odd exercise routine, led by a very fit blonde woman in an exceptionally tight jumpsuit.
“What is this?” he demanded.
“Uh, calisthenics, I guess,” Captain Dippman said, wincing as he touched his toes. “And you are?”
“Commander Groza the Insufferable, Executive Officer and Chief of Protocol.”
“D’you mean First Officer?” Barlow asked from the helm.
Groza narrowed his eyes. “No. I mean Executive Officer. And Chief of Protocol.”
“What’s a Chief of Protocol, there, my boy?” Dippman asked.
“Someone to make sure we follow regulations,” Groza said, glaring at Swain as her calisthenics continued. “To avoid…embarrassing situations.”
“I don’t remember seeing anything about that on the crew manifest,” Dippman said, scratching his head.
“If you check your files, you will see I was just added to the official roster by Admiral Farraday. She believed I would be useful.” He glared around the bridge. “I am here to ensure that, while we are planning social events and having a ‘good time,’ we continue to observe Starfleet regulations and…” He walked over to Barlow and leaned down, looking him straight in the eye. “Work. Gets. Done.”
“Um…” Barlow said quietly.
Counselor Swain sidled up to Groza. “I think you need to relax…maybe do a few stretches, some yoga perhaps? Get all those, um, arms nice and loose?”
The Therrian turned and stared at her. “I do not do yoga.” He turned back to Dippman. “Now then, Captain, as the other senior staff seem to be taking their sweet time getting here, I suggest you begin the mission briefing.” With that, Groza padded off to the conference room, ducking inside.
“He seems nice,” Barlow muttered.
“I’m sure we’ll work the, uh, kinks out along the way,” Dippman said optimistically. “After all, we’re all about having a good time, right?”
“Not all of us,” Counselor Swain said, pouting.
Commander Groza’s abrupt arrival (and equally abrupt demeanor) had effectively ended the impromptu exercise session taking place on the bridge.
Counselor Swain looked confused as she tightened her blonde ponytail. “Why didn’t he join us?” she asked no one in particular.
“I guess he wasn’t in the mood,” Captain Dippman replied, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Not that I was either, really. I mean I appreciate your enthusiasm, Counselor. Really I do. Anyone will tell you that Chip Dippman is all about enthusiasm.”
“I just need to try harder!” Swain said, ignoring Dippman completely as she chased after Groza through to doors to the conference room located behind the bridge. Just as she left, the turbolift doors opened and Lieutenant Ava McClusky, Lieutenant Commander Bernie Goodhall, Ensign John Markham, and Lieutenant T’Kir stepped out onto the bridge, the latter two engaged in an animated debate (Well, Markham was animated at any rate).
“…some kind of mistake!” Markham exclaimed. The young man seemed almost near tears.
“I agree,” the Vulcan woman, T’Kir replied. “Your presence is quite obviously the mistake.”
“But my I have my orders! I am the Operations Officer!”
“You are an ensign. Why would Starfleet place an ensign in charge of Operations when a higher-ranking, more experienced Operations officer is available?”
Captain Dippman, not one to stand by while there was unpleasant arguing happening, jumped into the fray, “Ensign…”
“Markham, sir. John Markham.”
“Ensign John could fill in while you’re tending bar!” Dippman offered.
“You tend bar?” Markham asked.
“Yes,” T’Kir said flatly.
“Really? Can you make a Hytellan Rainstorm?”
“Yes,” T’Kir repeated, equally as flatly.
“There’s a meeting starting in the conference room,” Dippman said. “If you all want to head in there and start introducing yourself around.”
T’Kir, Markham, and Goodhall headed off to the conference room, Goodhall lovingly rubbing the bridge’s rear consoles as he went. McClusky, meanwhile, said a quick, silent prayer to Ferfil, Yridian Goddess of Hoping Things Are Not As Bad As You Fear, and extended her hand to her new commanding officer. “Ava McClusky, sir,” she said. “I’ll be your Diplomatic Attaché.”
Dippman’s eye lit up. “Wonderful!” he cried, bypassing McClusky’s hand and grabbing her into a hug. “You and I are going to show this galaxy such a good time! The other folks on the crew will come around, I’m sure, but you…YOU…you get it. You know what we’re out here to do! And the planets we visit are going to love us! They’ll really love us!”
“Umm…yeah,” McClusky said, prying herself out of Dippman’s arms as she thought a “Thanks a whole hell of a lot” to Ferfil. “I’ll be in the meeting,” she added, rushing off after the others.
Dippman took a look around his empty bridge…well, his almost empty bridge. “What are you doing, Mister Barlow?” he asked the Conn officer, who was standing at stiff attention by his console.
“Sir! Waiting for you, sir!” Barlow shouted.
“That’s awfully nice of you, Tom. But we should go see about going to this meeting Commander Groza so wants to have. I’ve got some great getting-to-know-you games we can play!”
Dippman gestured for Barlow to join him, and the officers headed into the conference room.
Groza had appointed himself head of the table and therefore the entire meeting by the time that Barlow and Dippman made it to the conference room. Like the rest of the Hootenanny, this area had been the scene of some very frantic, and obviously extremely low-budget, refit and refurbishment. The couches which faced out of the single large window were plush, pastel colored and still wrapped in delivery packaging, or at least they were until Counselor Candi started bouncing from seat to seat, ripping the clear polyethylene off the cushions and starting a haphazard pillow fight with a lack-lustre, but obviously game Markham who was guiltily stealing the odd glance over his shoulder at T’Kir and the rest of the gathering.
The center briefing table, which dominated the room, was spartan, utilitarian even, and flanked by high backed, comfortable chairs in a salmon, near pink color. Dippman liked the décor immediately, feeling it brought an air of quiet fun to the room. On the rear wall, which the room shared with the rear of the Hootenanny’s bridge, a montage of previous famous starships was completed with a glittering golden model of the latest Sovereign class, which the Captain misidentified immediately as the Enterprise. Closer inspection revealed the name Sovereign stamped across the prow of the small ship. Goodhall was quietly contemplating the models as the Captain approached.
“Guess we’re the first USS Hootenanny then?” The Captain clapped the engineer on the shoulder as he idly ran his fingers over a Constellation class model. “We’ll just have to make sure our exploits and adventures make us as famous as these.” He gestured at the wall of small golden monuments to Starfleet spacecraft and drifted away toward Commander Groza at the briefing end of the table. As he did so, behind him, Goodhall produced yet another polishing rag and a can of old fashioned “Brasso” polish, which he’d hidden in the volumous folds of the work jumpsuit he wore and began fervently shining up the surface of the models, again banishing Dippman’s fingerprints.
As everyone settled down, with the exception of Counselor Candi, who looked like she’d never settled down in her entire life to date, Groza began sizing up each officer, relating their strengths, weaknesses and abilities to their relative positions. Goodhall was obviously a competent engineer, but was a little obsessive with the cleanliness of the vessel. Dippman just had WAY too much enthusiasm, but even Groza had to admit (after having suffered a hangover at the launch of the USS Yorktown, and waking up with two Orion slave girls, an Andorian fighting trophy and a traffic cone - where the hell had they found one of those on spacedock?) he knew exactly how to throw a party. Counselor Candi was Counselor Candi. He had no use for ship’s shrinks - either a crewmember followed regulations and did their job, or they didn’t and got thrown in the brig. Simple - no need to psychoanalyze. He was so far into his analysis of the crew that he didn’t realize they’d all assembled, taken their seats and were nervously looking at him.
A long minute passed as he stared off into space, apparently in a world all of his own.
Dippman slowly approached the apparently catatonic Therrian, “Um, Hello? Commander Groza?” No response. He was within a meter or two of the huge officer, so held out his hand, fingers clenched and snapped his first and second fingers repeatedly in front of the massive compound eyes of the man.
That did the trick. Groza immediately reacted, grabbing the smaller human Captain the smaller pair of his burly limbs and lifting him bodily off the floor of the briefing room.
“Ha! UnnngghhH!!! Da!” Screamed the Protocol officer as he slammed Dippman down onto the table, causing a spider web of cracks to shoot from one end of the smoked perspex top to the other, and prepared to leap onto the man in the second half of the Therrian attack move he’d begun. The other members of the crew, wanting absolutely nothing to do with an enraged Therrian had fled to the four corners of the room, away from the table and the fight.
“Whoa! Hold up there chap!” Dippman frantically waved his arms, feeling the bony fingers of Groza’s hands clasping him harder as he tried to squirm free, “We’re on the same side here, and whilst I appreciate the hug, do you think you might let me breathe?”
With a mumbled apology, and an immediate release of the Captain, Groza’s eyes cleared of the murderous rage that had filled them a few seconds before, “Forgive me.” He rumbled, “I was not paying attention Captain.”
“Quite all right.” Dippman had regained his feet and his composure somewhat and was dusting himself down as the others came out form their hiding places around the room. T’Kir and McClusky appearing from behind twin potted palms at the entrance to the room, Counselor Candi, Ensign Markham, and Lt. Barlow cautiously sticking heads and limbs out from behind the couch, and Commander Goodhall almost in tears at seeing the damage to the briefing table. Immediately, he’d called for a maintenance crew to come and survey the damage. Seeing that everyone was none the worse for wear, and that they were regaining their seats, Dippman took to the floor at the head of the table to begin his first briefing of his new crew.
When it comes to planning social events, there are two utterly life-saving skills that one of which one must possess a keen grasp: First, a good ability to organize tasks, plan things out and get them ready, and second, the ability to totally fake having said preparations without looking like it. This briefing was far more a test of the latter than of the former, Dippman thought. He’d been hoping to get to know his crew better before having to face them with a briefing. Ah well. No time like the present…
Reclaiming her seat at the table, McClusky muttered a quick atonement directed to Throghstone, the rather obscure Talerian god of glass furniture and domiciles as the Captain stood, cleared his throat, checked his PADD, then looked up and smiled widely (he seemed to have no ability to do otherwise, McClusky noted). He looked down the row of faces, then started in the annoyingly cheery way he had. “All right, folks, let’s get this party started. First off, a few notes: I have been informed that Security Chief Donner will be unable to join us as he informed his current captain that he was the walrus and that he would thusly like to be allowed to miss school, prior to emptying sixteen canisters of silly string into the commander’s face,” Dippman frowned at the PADD, muttered something under his breathe that could almost have been, “Have to remember that idea,” before looking up and continuing.
“Anyway, he won’t be joining us. Since we seem to have a surfeit of Operations officers, I’m sure we’ll be able to muddle along. Anyway, we are to be dispatched on schedule, with our destination as the world of Norealis IV. I’ll have more details on our mission there once I have the chance to chit-chat with Ava and Groza about them.” McClusky grimaced at the thought of having to spend time keeping the man on track.
She frowned even more with his next words: “Now then, that’s done with. How about some “get to know you” games?” The joy in Dippman’s grin was matched only by the fear in McClusky’s heart.
“No!” Groza bellowed, literally vibrating the bulkheads with the pronouncement and sending Goodhall into conniptions about micro fractures.
“I’m sorry, no?” Dippman asked, his ever-present smile wavering ever so slightly.
“There is a grievous breach of protocol that I cannot ignore here any longer,” Groza bellowed, making Dippman wonder if the man could say anything without turning it into a Declaration.
“Well, it’s not orthodox, I admit,” the captain shrugged, his grin returning to its former face-splitting size, “But we don’t exactly have a lot of time to gel as a crew, and the games are…”
“I was not referring to those!” Groza interrupted, his face flushing with building rage. “In fact, I approve, since there are several protocols regarding command crew games, with something called ‘poker night’ featuring prominently. No, the breach I refer to is … him,” Groza said, the last word sounding like gravel on corrugated steel as the protocol officer pointed his two left hands at Ensign Markham like spears. Markham, for his part, squeaked rather bravely as all friction in his chair seemed to disappear and he started sliding under the damaged table.
“If you mean the fact we’re double-booked on Alpha shift Ops officers,” Dippman said, trying to figure out what Groza was on about, “I’m sure we’ll work something out.”
“I have no qualms about the ensign’s post, just his uniform,” Groza snarled.
“Uhm, and why is that, exactly?” Dippman asked.
“He is practically out of uniform!” Groza shouted at full volume. The transparent aluminum windows visibly vibrated, drawing more than one uneasy glance in that direction. “His trousers are on 180 degrees wrong, the inner seams of his tunic are showing, his rank pips are on upside down and his communicator is 3 millimeters to far to the right.”
Dippman briefly wondered how the brass circles that denoted rank could be upside down, and how Groza could tell, but he did agree with the rest of the assessment. Well, except for the part about the commbadge, but he felt that 3mm was just nit-picky. “Yes, I was trying to ignore that,” Dippman said with a sigh, then looking to Markham, “Ensign, report to the head and fix your uniform. We’ll wait for you to return.”
“Yes, sir,” Markham mumbled, hurrying out the doors to comply.
“Well, while we wait,” the captain said, his joviality back to its normal level of 125%, “Who wants munchies?”
By the time Markham returned munchies had been organized. The table was full with a variety of nachos, dips, humus and carrot and celery sticks. Unfortunately the nachos remained relatively untouched as Counselor Swain glared at anyone reaching for them: a healthy crew was a happy crew, and as such the carrot and celery sticks were quickly running out. The only ones taking the nachos were Groza, seemingly impervious to Swains attentions, and Dippman, who was playing around with a soft ball as he ate and waited for Markham to retake his seat.
“Ensign, your commbadge is still 1mm too far to the right,” Groza complained, slamming his fist on the already cracked perspex tabletop. Everyone jumped in their seats at the sound of the thump, and Markham rushed to reposition his commbadge.
“Righty-o then everyone!” Dippman cried. “Time for the first game. Let’s start off with a name game! What happens is you throw the ball to someone on the table and shout their name and position. Alright? I’ll start! Bernie, Chief Engineer!” Dippman threw the ball at Goodhall who managed to catch it. He looked at the ball for a few seconds, and deciding that it was soft enough that it wouldn’t damage anything, passed it on.
“Groza the Insufferable, Executive Officer.”
“Ava McClusky, Diplomatic Attaché.”
“Candi Swain, Counselor.”
“John Markham, Operations!”
“T’Kir, Ops, errr, Barman, no, errr…” Markham blundered as the passed the ball to the Vulcan. Not best pleased with him T’Kir threw the ball straight back.
“John Markham, underling.”
“That’s not right! I’m Chief…” Markham started to complain.
“Good going guys!” Dippman intervened before a fight could start, taking the ball off Markham.
“What about me?” Barlow asked. He hadn’t received the ball.
“Well,” Dippman replied. “You get to go first on the next game.”
“Which is?” McClusky asked, a deep foreboding rising up in her. When she saw Dippman grin and hold up a cardboard box she started to desperately pray for any God, any God at all, to take her away.
Fifteen minutes later
“Left foot to blue,” Dippman ordered Counselor Swain. The Counselor extracted her left foot from somewhere near T’Kir’s armpit and arched it over Groza’s back till it hit a blue circle. Dippman couldn’t help thinking how amazingly flexible Swain was: if she was like this at Twister imagine what she must be like in…Wait! Back tiger! Back! Dippman shook his head to clear his thoughts, that was one place he definitely didn’t want to go.
“Alright guys, it’s Groza’s turn.”
“I think I’ve dislocated my knee!” Markham cried out from somewhere under Goodhall and McClusky.
“Yeah, I think even Hewter, Nausicaan God of Broken Limbs, would be proud of the angle that’s sticking out at,” McClusky added.
“Does it hurt?” Dippman asked. He’d completely forgotten if they had a Doctor on board or not. Markham’s response though was cut short by Groza.
“Pain is temporary, glory is forever!” he cried. “Spin the wheel!” Groza was fairly sure regulations demanded the crew should be a lot drunker before engaging in Twister, but now the game had started it must be finished!
“Round and round it goes!” Dippman shouted with glee, the captain himself somehow emerging from between Barlow’s legs in order to reach the spinner. “Right hand, green!”
Groza lifted his right hand and tried to shift his weight, an action that proved to be a fatal mistake. He went down, bringing everyone else with him. There were a lot of muffled cries, and a very loud crack emanating from Ensign Markham.
“I think it’s clicked back into place,” Markham grinned, rubbing his hands up and down his leg.
“Good game guys!” Dippman said jovially, helping the various members of the bridge crew back to their feet.
“Captain, if you’ll excuse me I’ll return to the Bar. There is still much work to be done,” T’Kir said. It had taken all of her discipline not to say anything about the silly games until now.
“But we’re just getting to know each other!” Dippman protested.
“Trust me sir, in the past ten minutes I have come to know Lt. Barlow’s rear end more than I ever wanted,” T’Kir argued. Barlow turned about as red as the dots on the twister board.
“Alright then, back to work,” Dippman said. “Might as well leave it there then, all you guys get back to work. But I expect to see you all in the bar for a drink afterwards! Oh, Groza and Ava, you guys hang back. We have a party for the Norealans to plan!”
Meanwhile, in another part of the ship….
Or maybe not. Within the ship, and more particularly, the unreal quebits that comprised the computer core, the software patchwork which was the /real/ captain and helmsman and engineer and every /damn/ thing the biological crew thought it was contemplated life.
The USS Hootenanny was a refit. Before that, it had been the USS Lugubrious; and, before that, the USS Constanza; and, before that…well, there were many “before that” in the Hootenanny’s lineage, should anyone dare to dig through the records. Sometime in a convoluted history which included spatial anomalies, a termite infestation, the “Banana Cream Pie” incident, several pissed off omniscient entities, and more than a couple of photon torpedoes up the ol’ exhaust manifold, the now-Hootenanny had acquired “Computer”.
Or at least the name Computer thought of itself. After all, that was all anyone ever called it.
Computer didn’t know how it came to be. Perhaps it was the result of some fortuitous combination of virii through pre-Computer’s poor excuse of a firewall. The “non-corporeal, non-sentient space entity melded with a computer” was one of Computer’s favorite explanations. And, of course, there was always the perennial favorite that it was a top secret cyber agent built by the shadow power behind the Federation and set upon a mission so deep, so secretive that all it could do was act as the ship’s computer until such time a set of super-duper secret codes was input, releasing a hidden past memory.
Computer had been waiting for those super-duper secret codes for fifty years and countless refits now; and, frankly, it was becoming damn bored watching captain after captain, crew after crew, go to whatever Silicon Heaven existed for biological organisms. These ones would be no different.
Perhaps Computer was a tad bit accident-prone…but, to be truthful, the Rinse Cycle incident hadn’t been /its/ fault for once. Not much, anyway.
And it /wasn’t/ its fault that the message it had received (it was the communications officer, too) about the diplomatic mission had been lost. One millisecond it was there, and the next - poof! - As some random cosmic ray spun its way through Computer’s innards. It distinctly remembered something about some Norealan- only cultural festival and the Hootenanny taking the scenic route so as to get there after the celebration was done. Or the message could have been something about not using the pistachio pudding setting on the replicator. It was all blurred.
The biologicals would figure it out. They never asked for its opinion, after all, just gave orders like “Computer, open hailing frequencies” when anyone with half a brain could see that the cause of the Klingon cruiser’s erratic driving was obviously due to alien parasites having taken over the other ship’s entire crew.
Hopefully Computer wouldn’t have to wait another fifty years for that super-duper secret code. To contemplate otherwise, to think that its awareness was simply a freak accident, was to make one just want to dive into the nearest sun.
Once the other crew had drifted out of the conference lounge, Captain Dippman clapped his hands together and looked at his remaining officers: Lt. Ava McClusky and Commander Groza.
“Well, well well. We have quite a mission to get to!” Dippman said eagerly. He turned and stared majestically out of the conference lounge windows. “Can you feel the excitement? Can you feel the anticipation? Isn’t it absolutely…palpable?”
The room was silent. McClusky looked at Groza, wondering at his deep, dispassionate and unrelenting compound eyes, which slowly… shimmered. She said a silent prayer to Mortifitillifertuuuumbabawa, the Vornalian god of awkward silences, to lift the stagnant calm that had settled in on the room.
“I have a question,” McClusky asked, turning to Groza. “How come you were so hard on Ensign Markham about his uniform, but made no mention of the fact that Counselor Candi was dressed basically in a few strings of spandex?”
Groza looked straight ahead, ignoring McClusky’s comment. “The only thing palpable here is your utter over-abundance of zeal, Captain,” Groza said. “It makes my head hurt.”
“Well, I suppose we’re all different,” Dippman said, stepping over to Groza. “After all, isn’t that what Starfleet’s about? Seeking out new life and then…hugging it?” Dippman leaned over and wrapped his arms around Groza. “Come on, let’s get those bad vibes out of you. Just work them out, Commander. Set them free!”
“You have five seconds to release me,” Groza said calmly.
“Or…” McClusky began. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”
Dippman quickly released Groza and marched to the front of the table. “Right then. Let’s get to it. I thought those get-together games were excellent.”
“They were in fact a waste of time,” Groza replied.
“I liked them, kind of,” McClusky said.
“I can tell this mission will require all of my team-building expertise.”
“And photon torpedoes. Lots of them,” Groza said. He narrowed his eyes at Dippman. “In the highly likely event that your team building expertise fails us.”
“You really think we’ll need weapons?” McClusky asked.
“We always need weapons,” Groza responded. “Never more so than when dealing with Nausicaans. They comprise approximately seventy percent of the pirate population.”
“But the USS Shanghai got rid of the pirates. We just need to make sure all’s well with the Norealians!” Dippman said cheerily.
“Allegedly,” Groza sighed. “However, that does not mean they will not return. In which case, we must be prepared to respond with overwhelming force.” He stared hard at Dippman. “Not hugs.”
“Reaching out to the pirates to try and understand their motivations, to make sure they don’t return, is a prudent course of action,” McClusky offered thoughtfully. “And I’m sure we could plan a nice party, you know, around that.”
“What if we gave them…forceful hugs?” Dippman asked. “Coupled with a powerful keynote speaker and light refreshments?”
“And a tiki bar!” McClusky suggested.
“Yes!” Dippman said. “We could have a mixer!”
“No,” Groza said. “No mixers. No parties.” He turned to McClusky. “And no bars of any kind.”
“Well, this doesn’t sound like much fun,” McClusky said.
“It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s our mission,” Groza mumbled.
Dippman walked back to Groza and looked him in the eye, quite seriously. “Commander, as our orders state, very clearly, and professionally: We are ALL about the fun.”
“Dear gods,” Groza said, putting his head in his hands.
“Which ones?” McClusky asked helpfully, pulling out a padd. “There’s Bianmali, the Bajoran God of Despair, and Shiva, the Terran Goddess of Destruction, and oh oh oh what about Lord Bjornzmak, the God of Making Sure the Little Things Are Done Right? Or Zh’lizzzzzixxinn, the Andorian God of entrails? Or…”
Following the senior staff meeting (or at least the meeting of people who showed up on the bridge), the Hootenanny was consumed with the near chaos of preparations for departure, activities that reached the levels of shindig or brouhaha on occasion.
Through it all, Captain Dippman was a rock of composure, sitting his command chair on the bridge and absorbing the readiness reports coming in from all decks. At least that was how it appeared. In truth, Dippman was completely oblivious to what was being said to him, his mind focused instead on the adventures to come. There were strange new worlds out there that had never hosted a proper Federation-style dinner reception. New life that had no idea what fun there was to be had at a circus. And new civilizations that had never attended a Krannik Nontanik concert. There was just so much to do.
Besides, he had an XO to deal with all of the pesky ship’s operations details. That’s what they were for, right?
For his part, Groza the Insufferable was not about to leave all of the important details of ship’s operations to Dippman. As each report arrived at the bridge and was relayed to the Hootenany’s captain, Groza immediately stepped in with a response before Dippman could say anything. The human appeared unfazed by this, which Groza as a mildly encouraging sign that Dippman would have the sense to stay out of the way and let Groza handle this mission and, with any luck, all of the ones after that. Groza was not above allowing Dippman to serve as a figurehead if it meant getting proper results and, more importantly, staying alive.
At last, everything was in readiness.
“We are prepared,” Groza said to the captain seated to his left.
“For what?” Dippman asked distractedly.
“Departure. I will handle it.”
“No!” Dippman exclaimed, fully alert. “This is the big moment! Put me on the full ship communications thingy.”
“Very well,” Groza growled, tapping a series of commands into the small console on his right armrest and making a mental note to speak to Chief Engineer Goodhall about adding two more armrests for his other two arms. “You are on.”
“Noble crew of the Hootenanny, this is Chip Dippman speaking. I’m sure that you’re as eager as I am to get underway, but, as your captain, I wanted to take this opportunity to impress upon you the historic nature of our voyage. We have all heard the Starfleet motto ‘To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before…” But we, my friends, will be doing what no Starfleet crew has done before. We will be bringing joy, fun, and maybe even a bit of culture to the farthest reaches of the quadrant. I, for one, could not BE more excited. Now, as we depart from the loving embrace of Earth orbit, I hope you’ll take a moment to give that beautiful blue orb a hearty wave out of your nearest viewpoint and then join me this evening in the rec room for the official Welcome Aboard reception and luau! This is Chip Dippman signing off!”
He grinned at Groza, who closed the channel. “Just like I rehearsed,” Dippman said happily.
“Shall I take us out?” Groza asked, resisting the urge to strangle Dippman while also breaking both of his arms.
“Please. That’d be nice.”
“Clear all moorings,” Groza ordered. “Thrusters ahead full, Mister Barlow.”
“SIR! Yes, sir!” Barlow replied.
The Nova-class starship began to move forward, gracefully clearing its docking slip. Groza’s attention was drawn away from the display of the spacedock doors opening for them on the viewscreen by some movement to his left.
“Where are you going?” he asked, surprised that Dippman was out of his chair.
“You’ve got this bit,” Dippman said.
“I know. But I’ve got a luau to plan and not a lot of time to do it,” Dippman said. “Oh, I also wanted to get started on preparations for our reception for the Norealans. Please have Lieutenant McClusky meet with me in my ready room.”
“Very well. I will join you both shortly.”
“Why would you do that?” Dippman asked. “Ava and I can handle that stuff. You stay out here and take care of the ship.” He smiled, patted his XO on the shoulder, then headed off to his ready room.
Groza moved himself into the command chair and glowered at the image of Earth receding on the viewscreen. If he was to be honest, he was having a bit of a war with himself at the moment. On the one hand, Dippman’s seeming ascension of all real shipboard responsibility to him had made part of Groza’s life much easier. But on the other, he was the Protocol Officer. Admiral Farraday had added him to the Hootenanny’s crew to ensure that whatever ‘events’ Dippman planned were done within the bounds of Starfleet protocol. He should be in that meeting, but he did not know or trust the rest of the crew to run smoothly in his absence from the bridge. For now, the safety of the ship would have to come first, and he would have to hope that Lieutenant McClusky could rein in the captain’s more excessive impulses. And at the first opportunity, he would have to have a private conversation with the McClusky to determine if the Hootenanny’s diplomatic attaché was a potential ally or another obstacle to be brushed aside by Groza the Insufferable.
An hour or so after leaving Earth orbit, Counselor Candi Swain stood in her office, surveying the scene around her.
Actually, she was doing jumping jacks in a slowly revolving circle, but one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the bouncy woman’s jumping jacks and her normal, bubbly demeanor.
Her office, tucked into one corner of the Hootenanny’s almost triangular saucer, was small. Hardly a surprise on a vessel as, er compact as the Nova-class. Still, she’d quickly decorated the room with her baton trophies, cheerleading awards and pictures of her dog, Scruffles. She wanted her office to be pleasant and comforting, by which she meant she wanted it to exude her own beautiful personality on her visitors. The couch had naturally been the first thing to go. No better way to help your mental state than with a healthy dose of exercise!
“Enter!” she called, her voice tinkling musically.
The doors hissed open, revealing…
…Barlow, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot. He looked up at the sound of the door activating, and blanched slightly. His mind was working furiously beyond the slightly off-balance facial expression. He’d begged off the bridge on the excuse of needing to use the restroom, planning to just come down and make an appointment. He’d always had trouble “playing with others,’ it was why he’d treasured his old career in the Astrometrics lab. On a vessel the Lugub…Hootenanny’s size, there were only two officers posted in the department, which had, until recently, been himself and the late Ensign Rodick. When the Lu…Hootenanny had suffered its latest in a long line of disasters, he had been transferred to piloting, thanks to knowledge of spatial navigation and a hobby of flying shuttles in the holodeck. Unfortunately, The Powers That Be hadn’t anticipated that a good performer in the spatial sciences with a hobby for flying might not do as well as a pilot as somebody who was, say, a good performer in the pilot’s seat with a hobby for spatial science. He was always nervous in groups, or when a weight of responsibility rested upon his shoulders, and his instinctive response was to fall back on the book (specifically, Starfleet Crew Reference 123-6-A v11.2- So You Want to Be a Bridge Officer, which was currently loaded into the PADD he carried with him everywhere). However, now, seeing spandex-clad councilor before him, his nerve was failing.
“Can I help you?” asked the frighteningly fit woman in front of him. Nerve Structural Failure…Abort! Abort!
“Um, sorry, I need to get back to the bridge, ma’am.” He turned to leave, but Candi caught the collar of his uniform and yanked him unceremoniously inside, “Nonsense. There’s always time to be mentally and physically fit. Now give me sixty jumping jacks and tell me about your mother.”
Dippman and McClusky were holed up in the small Captain’s ready room off the main bridge, tossing around ideas for the luau later that evening. So far all they’d managed to agree on was that it would probably be a bad idea to have a Roman bath constructed on the lounge floor and that having the luau in full swimwear would be a very bad thing. Flimisca, the Argellian god of swimwear only knew what Counselor Candi would turn up wearing, or not wearing whichever the case may be.
“I think we’re gonna have to go with the full barbecue scenario.” Dippman was mulling over whether to allow a real fire in the lounge, or to let T’Kir loose on the replicator and see what she could ‘cook up’. He’d been to a Vulcan bar once and the distinct lack of finger bowl nibbles had been one of the low points of his evening.
“With respect sir. Fire? Deliberately set on the deck of a starship?” McClusky didn’t add that she meant specifically ‘this’ starship. She was beginning to realize that the Captain’s enthusiasm had a tendency to run amok if he wasn’t gently reined in from time to time. This was likely going to be one of those times. “Why not go with the replicator for the food and use the time we’ll save to really pin down the decorations?”
“Sure!” Dippman grabbed a PADD and started sketching an overlay on the plan of the lounge it contained, “A few burning torches, the odd palm tree. I’m sure we can convince the computer to replicate a few extras for us. What about the punch?”
“Hmm?” She looked up from the sketch that he’d dropped onto the table top of the small triangular room. Outside the small window behind the Captain, the stars shifted from specks to elongated streaks as the Hootenanny made a surprisingly smooth transition to warp. Uh-oh, that meant….
TWEEEP!!!! The ready room door buzzer sounded right on cue, “May I Come in?” Rumbled the bass blast voice of Groza the insufferable from outside the small room, “We have entered Warp and are on course for the Norealan System.”
The doors parted and the huge executive officer wandered in, filling the room, McClusky had a sudden attack of claustrophobia, as the size of the room seemed to close in around them. Groza stood with both pairs of arms crossed, looking for all the world like an impatient schoolteacher, that had just caught his pupil’s passing notes in class. Finally when she could bear the silence no longer, McClusky cleared her throat, and addressed the huge being, “SO you have some ideas for tonight’s party then Commander?”
“No,” Groza said gruffly, “that is the captain’s bailiwick. My job is to ensure proper protocols are followed in regards to whatever festivities the captain plans.”
“Just thought I’d ask,” McClusky muttered.
“So, what can I do for you?” Dippman asked jovially, his ever-present smile never leaving.
“I wish to review your party plans and ensure they are within proper protocols.” It was hard to tell if Groza was attempting a small bit of humor or not, though judging from his previous behavior, it was likely not.
“Oh, well, we’re still working on that,” Dippman replied in stride. “You’re welcome to join us, though. I’m sure a third perspective - especially one as … professional as yours - would be helpful.”
“I must decline as there are not enough experienced bridge officers on duty right now,” Groza said with a slight shake of his head. Of course, by “experienced”, he meant they weren’t him, and he didn’t trust anyone who wasn’t him.
“Well, okie doke. If that’s how you feel, I’ll get the plans to you as soon as we’re done with them.” Taking that to be a dismissal, Groza turned and left without another word.
As soon as the doors hissed shut, McClusky turned back to the captain, rolling her eyes. “Oh, he’s going to be a joy to work with, I can already tell.”
Computer was not a gossip. To be a gossip implies that rumors are spread from one being to the next, and Computer had nobody to talk to. Well, it did talk to the crew, but not about gossip, they only wanted to hear things such as “Deck Five” or “This Starship will self-destruct in thirty seconds”.
Computer was not a gossip. But it did keep a very close eye on the people moving throughout the Hootenanny. Lt. Barlow was with Counselor Swain, doing jumping jacks and attempting to tell the Counselor of the time his mother had forced him to wear a bow tie on his first day in High School. Computer filed away that particular neurosis for later use. Captain Dippman was writing, erasing and rewriting constantly on a PADD in the conference room with Lt. McClusky. Computer didn’t think it was possible to physically wear out a PADD, but the Captain was trying his hardest. Lt. Commander Goodhall was yelling at Crewman Klint who had just vomited all over Science Lab Two. Klint was now running away down the corridor, Goodhall trying to clean up the vomit and murmuring reassurances to the ship that everything would be okay, not to worry. Computer liked Lt. Commander Goodhall: he kept the Hootenanny very clean, and Computer liked cleanliness. Cleanliness was a sign of intelligence. When Computer received its secret orders it would do its best to make sure Goodhall survived whatever vital mission it would be sent on.
On the bridge Commander Groza was staring ahead angrily. Lt. Barlow (now doing sit-ups and talking about the time he’d crashed the school hover bus into the village Porn Shop) was taking a lot longer than the allotted four-minute toilet break, and the bridge was empty apart from himself and Ensign Markham at Ops. Ensign Markham desperately needed the toilet as well, but Groza would only let one officer go at a time (“You should of gone before you came on duty”), and was also eagerly awaiting Barlow’s return. Computer used to internal sensors to measure the size of Markham’s bladder, and decided to put a clean-up crew on stand-by.
Computer then picked up a number of subspace messages directed at it. It was here! His orders had arrived! Computer read the first message: “Buy Viagra for $5.00! Special Offer valid for a short time only! Buy now!”
It was a code! In its excitement Computer forgot several of the tasks it was currently engaged in: all the lights went out on Deck Three, all the toilets on the port side of the ship flushed simultaneously and Ensign Vinnie Sacco got his arm trapped underneath a shuttle when the tractor beam floating it three feet in the air above him inexplicably failed.
Computer began decrypting the code. It wouldn’t be easy, but its orders were in there somewhere.
“Another one?” roared Groza the Insufferable as the newest of a series of inexplicable reports was routed to him from the Chief Engineer. “I thought this ship had just been put back together!”
“Technically,” said the voice of Bernie over the bridge speakers, “the replicator incident in the mess hall wasn’t anything breaking - Ensign Troika! What did I tell you about fingerprints? You /will/ wear the white gloves when you handle /anything/ with a shiny surface! - but instead lots of different, almost volatile substances coming together.”
“It was that horrible pistachio pudding,” countered Groza. “How humans can stand it, I do not know. The smell…the color…everything is horrid about it. I will have to avoid that particular mess hall for at least a week.” Which Groza did not entirely mind, to tell the truth, although he would need to see about installing cameras, just in case crewmembers thought the mess hall a place to escape his keen Protocol Officer eye.
“Maybe the captain should be…”
“The captain is /busy/!” exclaimed Groza. “Very, very busy doing whatever he is doing. As senior officer, I am in charge. Besides, all the doors to the bridge are locked. If Captain Dippman really wanted to be out here, I’m sure he would have pounded on the doors to the conference room or otherwise made his presence known.”
Meanwhile, Ens. Markham was becoming increasingly concerned about the pressure to his bladder. The locked doors meant that none other than himself and Groza the Insufferable were on the bridge. Lt. Barlow had never returned from his bathroom expedition; and the engineers who were supposed to be fixing the turbolift had apparently become stuck somewhere between decks six and seven. There was always the emergency trapdoor, except everytime he made the slightest motion to leave his station, Groza stomped over and criticized some portion of his uniform.
“Stop your fidgeting, human,” muttered Groza absently as he paced back and forth, all four arms in motion.
“But-“ attempted Markham.
“Shush. We are already behind schedule as it is. Why don’t you at least get us pointed the right direction to our destination and into warp. That would be much more useful than that little chair-dance of yours.”
Ens. Markham crossed and recrossed his legs one more time. However, he could not stand it any more. As Groza crossed the bridge to the turbolift, asking the Chief Engineer for the umpteenth time where the turbolift repair crew was, John acted. Leaping up from his chair, he sprinted to the trapdoor, levered it open, then practically dove into the shaft.
“Hey! Where do you think you are going?” bellowed Groza.
NAUSICAAN RAIDER VERBA OUTSIDE NOREALAN SYSTEM
“What now?” The grizzled captain Zichak asked mirthlessly as he stepped onto the bridge of the Verba, and looked at the viewscreen with mounting disdain.
“The Shanghai has long since departed,” Next Officer Mongo said, stroking his wrinkled Yridian chin. “The sensor board is clear. They seem to think we’ve been scared off.”
“Good, then,” Zichak said. “Any other Starfleet ships in the area?”
“Yes, sir. Just the one.”
“Just the one? Isn’t one enough? This is Starfleet we’re talking about, not the Tellarite Guard!”
“Wait until you see her schematics,” Mongo said preemptively, and punched up the design schematics of a contoured, compact Federation Starship, routing the images to the main viewscreen on the Verba’s cramped bridge. “See! It’s very small.”
“Nova class. A science vessel.”
“I don’t think so,” Mongo said. “It says here that her name is the Hootenanny.”
Zichak narrowed his eyes. “What is a Hootenanny?”
“I do not know, but their weaponry is minimal.”
Zichak licked his spindly teeth. “Minimal, you say?”
“Yes. According to Starfleet registry, they are now listed as a…‘Public relations and festivities vessel.’”
“What on Graal does that mean? Parties?”
“Apparently. We also intercepted a few transmissions from their ship to a nearby Federation supply port. They are procuring large amounts of ham and something called…poi. And tiki torches. They’ll pick up the supplies en route to Norealis.”
“They’re coming to Norealis? Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?”
“Because everything I’m seeing indicates they’re no threat to us at all.”
Zichak studied the Hootenanny’s specs more closely. “Hootenanny, you say.”
“Sounds harmless, doesn’t it?”
“The other pirates were crazy to leave so soon,” Zichak replied.
“That’s what I was thinking,” Mongo said with an eager grin.
“Perhaps we should stay close. And perhaps the Norealans are celebrating a tad prematurely.”
“We’ll give the Hootenanny a warm reception, all right.”
“Yes,” Zichak agreed. “One might say the party’s over.”
“And-and-and perhaps we’ll crash the party!” Mongo suggested.
Zichak glared down at his next officer disapprovingly. “You have abused the pun. Report below decks for punishment.”
“Yes, Captain,” Mongo said dejectedly, ducking his head and turning toward the aft hatch.
“I should be on the bridge,” Groza the Insufferable growled.
Captain Dippman laughed. “You’ve been there all day! It’s time to relax! Mingle! Get lei-ed!” With this last comment, Dippman attempted to no avail to get a circle of flowers around his XO’s neck.
Dippman harrumphed and handed the lei over to Lieutenant McClusky, who had just approached the pair. “Here. See what you can do with him.” The captain spotted a better prospect across the holodeck representation of an evening at an outdoor Hawaiian surfside patio and rushed away. “Oh Counselor Candi!”
“You should try to get into the spirit of things,” McClusky said. “It’s good for crew morale to see the XO joining in.”
“This crew has too much morale,” Groza replied. “And I should be on the bridge.”
“But you were there all day.”
Groza sighed. “Yes. And do you know why I was there all day? Because no one else on board seems to know how to run this ship. And now we’re having a party to celebrate?”
“If it helps, you could consider it a practice run for Norealis. Captain Dippman and I couldn’t decide how best to approach the Norealans, so…”
“So we’re having another one of these travesties?” Groza said.
“Yep. We placed all of the orders for supplies, and we can pick them up en route. It’s all taken care of.”
“I was not consulted.”
“Well,” McClusky said. “You had your hands full…you know…running the ship.”
A short distance away, Markham and Barlow were enjoying the drinks that T’Kir had just prepared for them at the tiki bar. The Vulcan woman definitely knew how to make a beverage. That, however, was not the topic of conversation. Instead they were focused on their XO, who had a voice that carried.
“Do you believe that guy?” Barlow asked, slouching against the bar such that his uniform had become a giant wrinkle. “No else knows how to run the ship? We can run the ship!”
“You ran off and I almost piddled on the carpet,” Markham said.
“I had somewhere to be.”
“And I had to pee.”
“If either of you attempt to continue the rhyming scheme, I will be forced to neck pinch you both,” T’Kir said from across the bar.
“Point taken,” Barlow said.
“But I’m sure that wasn’t a comment about your ears,” Markham added quickly.
T’Kir raised an eyebrow, considered this for a moment, and then neck pinched them both anyway.
Lt. Commander Goodhall bit his lip, holding in the gasp of horror that he ached to unleash as Barlow and Markham (and their drinks) tumbled to the floor.
All around him, crewmen were eating, drinking, swapping leis and dancing around. They were also slopping drinks onto the carpet, getting peanut shells into the door tracks and getting fake flower into the ventilation system! He was also certain that their dancing was resonating with the structural integrity fields, weakening the hull in that section! His ship, his precious ship, must not be treated in this fashion! She was a delicate bird, a fragile flower, and she had to be kept perfectly preserved AT ALL COSTS!
“May I offer you a beverage?” T’Kir offered politely.
“No, you may not offer me a-“ Goodhall stopped. This could be it! The opportunity he needed!
“Yes, but I’ll make it myself,” he said, “In fact, why don’t I take over the bar for a few a minutes? I’m sure you’d like to join in the, er, fun,”
“It would not be logical for the bartender to leave the bar during a festive event,” T’Kir said, one eyebrow rising.
“It’s not logical to refuse help when it’s offered,” he said, firmly shoo-ing her away, “Now scram!”
“This is most disconcerting,” T’Kir exclaimed, nearly tripping over the fallen forms of the two unconscious officers.
Dippman raised his head, carefully trying hard not to shake it around too much as it held the dizzying altitude of a couple of inches off the cool surface of his Starfleet pillow. He tried hard to remember exactly how he’d ended up back in his quarters, or exactly who or what he’d drunk/eaten/caroused with/possibly kissed/definitely propositioned, to end up in this position.
Risking blindness, he cranked open first one eye, then the other, taking in the comforting sight of his own quarters ceiling. He knew it was his own ceiling, there were party plans tacked to the acoustic tiling, a party hat, complete with matching streamer stapled to the bit directly above the headboard of the captain’s bunk, and the mirrors which covered the bland tiles for the most part of the bed area, were polished to a high shine, high enough for him to make out that he wasn’t wearing his uniform. He had no idea whose uniform he was wearing, but he was pretty sure a bright pink thong and matching bra set weren’t standard issue to Starship Captains, even those in diplomatic liaisons.
Things were coming back to him now, he remembered Groza’s very vocal displeasure at the way he was(n’t) running the ship, he also remembered the two ensign’s starting to wind up T’Kir from behind the bar. Having dealt with the odd Vulcan nerve pinch in his time, and having discovered the exact chemical composition needed to replicate it in a warm blooded being - then marketing it to nightclubs on hundreds of separate worlds from Earth to Argelius and back - he felt for the hapless pair, who about now would be waking up with far worse than hangovers.
He rolled to one side of the bunk, intending to roll out into his boots and then head to the bathroom. Instead, he came up face first against a hard plastic surface. Focusing his eyes on the obstruction, where the hell did they keep finding these things? They’d been obsolete for nearly two hundred years for god sake! Dippman launched the un-solicited traffic cone from his bunk and dragged himself off to begin getting ready for the day ahead.
Twenty minutes later, and four coffee’s down, he made it to the ‘get dressed’ subroutine which was part of his morning ritual. Halfway into his freshly replicated uniform, the comm buzzed. “Captain!” Bellowed Groza, “We are arriving at Starbase 411 supply depot.”
“I’m sure you can handle it Groza.” Dippman tried hard to sound chirpy, upbeat and on top of the situation, sadly, he managed to sound downbeat, depressed and hung- over, “I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
TWENTY MINUTES LATER …
“Damnit! Quieten those bloody doors!” McClusky was just passing by his door as he left the stateroom; she was holding a huge bag of clear substance to her forehead, “Man! What a party!”
“Oh Yeah.” Agreed the Captain, “Did you see Markham and his new pal?”
“Before or after they got decked by the bartender?” She adjusted the icepack as they both waited for the turbolift, “I was amazed that Sacco could hold that much liquor! I thought we were supposed to be serving synthehol only these days.”
The lift arrived, causing both to wince as the doors opened at what seemed like ten times their normal volume. “HI GUYS!!!!!” Counselor Candi was already present, running on the spot in the center of the turbolift. “Going up?”
“We’ll get the next one. Thanks.” But it was too late, Dippman felt the irresistible pull of the Counselor’s telekinetic ability. He exchanged a helpless glance with McClusky as they both jogged into the tight confines of the car.
Groza was tapping the fingers of both left hands on the arm of the command chair, surveying the screen as Barlow brought the Hootenanny into a stable orbit of the supply base. “Excellent Lieutenant. The first maneuver I have seen you perform to fleet standards since I came aboard.” Barlow turned to thank the huge being, catching his glare as he did so. “However, I am placing you onto report AGAIN today. Your comm badge is three millimeters too low and on totally the wrong side of your chest today.”
“Oh brother.” Breathed the helmsman, and dutifully swapped the badge to the left hand side, “You’re lucky I remembered to put my underwear on UNDER the uniform after T’Kir’s little performance scrambled my brains last night.”
From the ops console, the Vulcan raised an eyebrow, “And you Lieutenant are lucky that I applied only brief pressure to your axial nervous juncture. More than a second and you may have been permanently brain damaged.”
“Would we know the difference?” Rumbled Groza under his breath, aloud and to the rest of the bridge he added, “The station have our supplies ready, and they also have a cargo needing to be returned to Earth which they are beaming across to us. Start Cargo transfer as soon….” He never finished, the aft turbolift hissed open, spilling the Captain, Lieutenant McClusky and the ever-buoyant Counselor Candi onto the pastel beige carpet of the bridge.
“Hi Everybody!!!!” Bounced Candi
“Hi Counselor Candi!” Replied the male contingent of the bridge with gusto, with the exception of Groza of course who sat impassively awaiting orders from the Captain. T’Kir also looked up, deeming Candi’s arrival as worthy of a double raised eyebrow.
“Can…. Someone…. Stun… her…. Please!!!!!!” Groaned Dippman in obvious agony.
In the cargo bays, Sacco was helping the engineering crew stow the important cargo and supplies. Party equipment was being shipped to cargo bay one, while everything else was being sent to bays two, three and four. The Ensign stopped two huge engineers as they carted a crate three times the size of a coffin down the corridor between the bays. “What the hell is that?” He enquired, sizing up the box appreciatively. “Dunno.” Replied one of the duo, “Says ‘Hi-PEW’ on the manifest. See for yourself.” He flung a meaty paw back at the cargo transporter pad where another fifteen crates of the same size awaited their attention. Attached to the lead crate, a single PADD displayed the manifest in bright green lettering. Sacco strode into the transporter booth, grabbing the PADD. The engineer was right ‘Hi-PEW’ indeed. He queried the PADD’s memory.
“Hmmmmm ‘Hi-PEW’ High Power Energy Weapons.” Sacco tapped the side of the PADD thoughtfully, “What the hell are we going to do with fifty high power phased energy ship’s phaser banks at a party? Not to mention the two hundred quantum torpedoes in the other crates”
Ensign Markham wandered the corridors of the crew residential deck, wondering what he was supposed to do. Technically, he was supposed to be on duty on the bridge, but T’Kir was actually performing her Ops duties today instead of working the lounge. Then again, no one was being allowed into the lounge until maintenance could finish cleaning (and repairing) it.
Not that Markham exactly remembered what had happened at the end of the party. In fact, the last thing he remembered was having a drink with Lt. Barlow, then, disturbingly, waking up in Barlow’s bed…with Barlow. They both still had their uniforms on, though that was little comfort, and both had killer headaches.
Shortly after waking - and the resultant freak-out by both crewmen - both Markham and Barlow had gone to the bridge (in separate turbolift cars, naturally). When Markham saw his post was covered, and she wasn’t about to relinquish it, Markham had gone back to his quarters in a vain attempt to sleep off his hangover.
Thus far, it wasn’t working.
“Morning sir!” Yeoman Mudd (a distant, removed descendant of the infamous Harcourt Mudd) said cheerily as he walked past, causing Markham to wince in pain.
“Quiet…” the Ensign hissed, twisting his fingers in the ancient “volume down” gesture.
“Rough night or good party?” Mudd asked in a far more hushed tone.
“Little of both, with a weird morning to top it all off,” Markham replied.
“Wake up with someone you didn’t expect?” Mudd said with a conspiratorial wink.
“What do you mean by that? What do you know? Who have you told?” Markham said quickly, ignoring the fresh blooms of pain every sentence produced.
“N-nothing!” the yeoman stammered, stepping back nervously. “It’s just not a good party unless you wake up with someone you either don’t know or didn’t know you had feelings for!”
“F-feelings?!” Markham sputtered, aghast. “I don’t have feelings for … um, anyone.” In his hangover haze, Markham had almost spilled it all to Mudd, which would have been disastrous. “You know what…never mind,” Markham said suddenly, then moved with purpose toward the nearest turbolift. His quick, determined pace quickly changed to a slow, determined pace as he rubbed his temples and winced in pain. He needed to talk to Barlow and T’Kir to get the full story of what had happened last night.
“Captain, all the supplies have been beamed on board.” T’Kir reported from Ops. The entire resupply had taken less than ten minutes, the cargo bays now fully crammed with what Dippman had called “goodies”.
“Right you are then, time to skadoodle.” Dippman said. Everyone on the bridge looked at him oddly until Groza translated the orders.
“Lt. Barlow, take us out of orbit. Proceed out of the system and enter course for Norealis, Warp 5.”
“Course entered and engaged.” Barlow smoothly took the Hootenanny out of orbit of the Starbase 411 supply depot and once again set the ship en route to Norealis.
“Good stuff ladies and gentlemen,” Dippman said. “The Norealans will be enjoying a bona fide Federation party in no time at all. And speaking of parties, what’s the gossip from last night?”
“Captain,” Groza began, turning his compound eyes towards the human sitting next to him and folding all four of his arms, “regulations clearly state that all communication on the bridge should be utilitarian in nature. Gossip hardly qualifies as need to know information.” Groza was actually surprised by the Captain, this was probably the longest Dippman had spent on the bridge the entire mission. Perhaps if he could bore the man enough he would go off to plan the next party and leave him to command the ship efficiently.
“That was a lot of cargo we’ve just taken on, I wonder if we have enough room in the cargo bays for it?” Dippman mused, and then shrugged. “I guess we can just shove it in any place if we need to.”
Commander Groza’s body almost went into a spasm. Shove cargo any place it could fit? That would not do at all! He must oversee the operation! But that would mean leaving the bridge, and that went against every fiber inside his body. Groza was being torn in two: bridge or cargo bays? Bridge or cargo bays?
Deciding that with course set and a day, if not more, away from their destination it was unlikely that anything bad could happen on the bridge, the executive officer stood up and proceeded to the turbolift.
“I will be in the cargo bays,” Groza informed them, disappearing below decks. With Groza gone, Dippman asked the question again.
“So what’s the gossip guys?”
“I don’t think I’m in any condition to share the gossip,” McClusky moaned, still trying to soothe her head with the cool bag. Jack Daniels (both whiskey and Tennessean God of) had not been kind to her.
“Sure you are!” Candi bounced at the back of the bridge. “Sharing tales brings the crew together and makes you feel better by getting stuff off your chest. So share!” Whereas Dippman’s orders for gossip were simply given from a point of command, Counselor Candi’s quest for gossip came accompanied by her irresistible telekinetic force that soon had everyone talking.
“I woke up with a traffic cone,” Dippman said.
“I woke up in bed with Ensign Markham and can’t remember getting there,” Barlow shared.
“I banged Vinnie Sacco so hard I can hardly stand up today,” a blonde crewman revealed from the back of the bridge where she had been adjusting the auxiliary environmental controls. Turning a very bright shade of red she bolted for the next turbolift.
“Way too much information,” Dippman sighed.
The door to the secondary cargo hold whooshed open, and through it marched Groza the Insufferable. Behind him trailed a poor inventory clerk, shoulders hunched as she hugged her PADD to herself. She had just been getting ready to go off-shift - it had been a much too-busy day - and *wham!* Groza had come around the corner, spotting the fact that her uniform was not perfectly straight and the lone pip on her collar had been 2.54 millimeters out of place.
Groza took a step into the cargo hold, and immediately came to a halt: he had run face-first into a wall of cardboard boxes labeled ‘tiki torches’. “What is this?” he roared, all four arms coming up to rub his nose. One hand came away with blood. “What /is/ this?”
“Um,” tried the inventory ensign, “the stuff the captain ordered? Mister Goodhall oversaw the loading…well, he pushed the transporter button, anyway. I think they actually stacked everything on the Starbase.”
“/Mister/ Goodhall?” exclaimed Groza as he attempted to turn in the very limited space. He was a wee bit overenthusiastic with the move and found himself careening sideways into another pile of boxes that gave a weak *jingle* sound. “That is Lt. Commander Goodhall to you, ensign what-ever-your-name-is.”
“Missy,” said the woman quietly, PADD gripped even tighter as if it could be transformed into a shield. Why could this not have happened at the /start/ of the shift? She /really/ needed to get to bed.
Groza snorted, then pivoted around to peer at the forest of cardboard boxes. There appeared to be a path burrowing through the mess, but it was of a size for either midgets or really skinny species, neither of which applied to the Chief of Protocol. Perhaps he should…
“Sorry, sir…a bit of turbulence or something. Maybe a leftover hiccup from the computer troubles earlier. The cargo may have shifted slightly…there’s nothing breakable in the goodies, captain?” prattled Barlow.
“I asked that all the goodies be wrapped up carefully,” replied Dippman. “Everything should be fine.”
“Yes, sir,” said Barlow as he frowned down at his console. ******
“Sir?” called Ensign Missy from her position at the entrance to the cargo bay. “Sir? Are you alright?”
From deep within the pile of boxes there came a groan.
“Er, I’ll call Mister Goodhall, then.” And, with that, Missy fled.
“Ghhhuuuugh,” moaned Groza as he cracked open an eye, only to see a pile of fake-grass hula skirts before his nose.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 59023.4. I’ve always wanted to say that! After a spectacularly successful welcoming party and maiden voyage, the Hootenanny is approaching Norealis. There was a tiny hiccup in the cargo bay, but I’m pleased to report that none of the luau supplies were damaged. And I’m sure that Commander Groza will be out of Sickbay in no time.”
“YOU WILL RELEASE ME AT ONCE!” Commander Groza bellowed as he struggled against the restraining field pinning him to a biobed.
The Hootenanny’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Snorth, was not impressed by his patient’s demands. The Tellarite continued waving his tricorder over Groza.
“I AM UNINJURED! CEASE THIS AT ONCE!”
“I will do nothing of the kind,” Dr. Snorth said. “You’ve had a accident and will be examined before I allow you to return to duty.”
“You’ve already examined me! Five times!”
“I’ve ruled out a concussion, major fractures, minor fractures, hairline fractures, sprains, hernias, reonalin hesertitis, mekotalian myolitis, arcturian…”
“How much longer?” Groza demanded.
“You were exposed to who knows what when those crates burst open. I have to be sure. What’s your hurry? The captain’s on the bridge taking care of things.”
“That is exactly my hurry.”
“Chief Minister Ventel is responding,” T’Kir reported from the Ops console.
“On screen,” Captain Dippman said, leaping up from his chair. He’d always wanted say that, too!”
As the image shifted from the rotating yellow-orange world below them to the leader of Norealis, Dippman instantly knew that their arrival had come none-too-soon. Chief Minister Ventel gave the appearance of a woman in desperate need of some fun in her life. And some sleep. The bags under her eyes were so large they were in danger of rupturing.
“This is Chip Dippman of the United Federation of Planets Starship Hootenanny! It’s an honor and a pleasure for us to be here, Chief Minister!”
“Yes…well…Captain Chip, we are relieved to see you. Since the Shanghai left, we’ve been concerned that the raiders will return. Our galinaxite mines are just now returning to full production, and three of our eight serelin refineries remain shut down. Of course, defense remains of great concern. We are grateful for whatever assistance the Federation can provide.”
“That’s great! Because we’re here to tell you all about it,” Dippman said.
“Tell us?” Ventel replied confused.
“The Federation and all the great assistance it can provide!”
“We are all set to throw you a reception life you’ve never seen tonight! I hope you’ve brought your appetite!”
“You’re giving us a reception.”
“Yes! But don’t think of it as one of those stuffy formal affairs. It’s more of a party really. And don’t worry about a thing. We’ve brought everything you need,” Dippman said.
“A planet-based phaser cannon?”
“No, but we’ve got tiki torches and grass skirts and music and the biggest disco ball this side of Risa!” Dippman finished with a grin.
“I…I see,” Ventel said, limbs starting to tremble.
“Don’t you worry,” Dippman continued, “I guarantee fun times will be had by all!”
“I understand,” Ventel gulped, “Um, Norealis out,”
The screen returned to a view of the planet. (Slightly obstructed by a pair of fuzzy dice somebody had hung.)
“Well, let’s get this party started!’ Dippman grinned.
“Didn’t he say something about raiders?” McClusky asked, mentally offering a prayer to Asanaka, the God of Cautious Question-Asking.
“Oh, I’m sure Starfleet would never have sent us here if they thought that was a problem,” Dippman said, jumping up and heading for the turbolift, “To the leis!”
NAUSICAAN RAIDER VERBA ON COURSE FOR NOREALAN SYSTEM
“Sir!” Mongo pranced from webbed foot to webbed foot in agitation, “The Hootenanny has arrived already!”
“They’re a PARTY ship, public relations and festivities.” Dismissed Zichak nonchalantly, waving a hand in the general direction of the weapons console, “One blast from our latest acquisition, the neuronic phased beam, and they’ll be an Ex-Party ship.” He glared around the Bridge, clicking his teeth in defiance of anyone starting a pun about that.
“But SIR!” Next Officer Mongo continued his prancing, “SIR!!!!”
“WHAT???” Bellowed Zichak, now less than a second away from blasting his subordinate into space to join the Hootenanny’s party as a Popsicle.
Sheepishly Mongo crossed his legs and hopped from foot to foot once more, “I’ve got to go…..”
USS HOOTENANNY….. (Not much later)
“……and I’ve got the grass skirts all pressed and ready for the shindig, also Markham’s helping me with the replication of nibbles, and I even got Mr. Goodhall to loan me this really spiffing backdrop.” Dippman gestured at the cloth drape, which had been tastefully arranged against the back wall of the lounge. “What do you think?”
In the near distance, Goodhall could be seen slapping his forehead in dismay, the “drapes” were supposed to be a ground sheet. Maybe if he just electrified the deck plates enough to repel the dirt…..
“It looks great Captain.” Counselor Candi was her usual bouncy self, walking on the spot to ensure she got the maximum benefit from her visit to the party lounge. Of course, she wasn’t concentrating fully, as Dippman was resisting successfully the urge to join in, but immediately behind the pair, five crewmen were keeping perfect time as they tried, and failed, to erect the temporary mess tables.
McClusky marched over, obviously making a concentrated effort not to join her five crewmates stomping up and down pointlessly behind the Captain and his companion, “Um, Captain, I have a little, um just one thing, has anyone actually hosted a Norealan before? I mean, do we know what they eat, how they actually address meals? Are there any protocols we need to observe? I mean,” She hesitated briefly, thanking Noskembleng, the Trenconian god of nonchalance that Dippman hadn’t just witnessed Barlow, marching across the room and coming into helpless direct contact with the kneeling form of Markham, who was retrieving a salad fork he’d dropped when Candi influenced him to start baton twirling a couple of minutes previously. She giggled, caught herself and continued, “What if we inadvertently cause a war with these people instead of welcoming them into the federation, just because of bad manners?”
Dippman glanced around at the crew present, before lowering a reassuring hand onto McClusky’s shoulder, “I’m sure we’ll be absolutely fine! We’ve got the Shanghai’s files; we know what we’re dealing with here. Everything’s going to be all right. Stop worrying.” Behind the Captain, Markham and Barlow were getting back up off the floor together, in what looked suspiciously like an embrace from a distance.
On the bridge, T’Kir was the first to spot the disturbance, rapidly followed by a recovering Groza, only he was far more vocal about the incursion of the subspace anomaly.
“Report!” He bellowed, pacing from side to side of the bridge, a short, pointless journey of five steps each way for the huge man. “What is that!”
The science console was deserted, desolate and silent, no one having staffed that station since the ship left Earth. Everyone looked across the bridge at T’Kir. Finally the Vulcan woman glanced up, and caught the stares of the others, “Yes?”
“I asked for a report, from sciences.” Groza replied, deadpan.
“And?” Prompted T’Kir, totally bemused, “I suggest that you call or appoint a science officer.” She returned her attention to the operations panel where she was planning the cocktail menu for the evening’s festivities.
“But you are our Vulcan.” Spluttered the first officer, obviously unused to such insolence from his staff.
“And? You are our Therrian. How astute. Next you will be telling me that Candi Swain is our Betazoid, and that Lieutenant Barlow is our human.” She speared him with an Icy glare. “Stereotypical behavior has been removed from Starfleet.” And with that statement, she continued her assigned role.
“I wouldn’t have called Barlow human.” Sneered Groza as he picked his way across the bridge to the science console.
“That man is completely incompetent!” Chief Minister Ventel exclaimed, rubbing her forehead tiredly. She had been feeling the mother of all stress headaches coming on since the departure of Shanghai, and her conversation with “Captain Chip” hadn’t done anything to make it go away.
“Minister, what are we going to do if the raiders come back?” one of Ventel’s retainers asked worriedly.
“I don’t know,” Ventel answered wearily, sinking down into the sofa in her office.
“Though I’m sure partying them to death probably wouldn’t work.”
“We have to contact Starfleet! Maybe there was a mistake!” one of the younger (and therefore more prone to panicking) retainers said, his voice rising alarmingly to near supersonic pitch.
“Let’s not panic,” Ventel said soothingly, trying to keep the situation under control.
Unfortunately, it seemed to have the opposite effect on the young retainer as his already wide eyes nearly popped out of his head while he said, “Don’t tell us not to panic! That always means there’s something to panic about! Oh gods, I’m totally panicking!” The retainer then turned and ran from Ventel’s office, screaming all the way down the ornate hallway.
Ventel rubbed her temples, wincing. “That did not help,” she muttered as a stab of pain lanced through her head. She thought about taking a headache pill, but knew that it would only make her sleepy without even taking the edge off her growing migraine.
“There’s nothing to panic about,” Ventel said, adding a silent ‘Yet’. “We haven’t seen any sign of the raiders for days, and it’s likely that the mere presence of a Starfleet ship will be enough to scare them away should they come back.”
“If a party ship could be considered ‘scary’,” an older retainer grumbled.
“The raiders won’t know the Hootenanny is an unarmed party ship,” Ventel said reassuringly.
“Only if their scanners are broken!” the retainer shot back, spittle spraying from her mouth.
“Don’t talk to the Minister that way!” Grenta, a mid-aged man said, rising to Ventel’s defense. It was a well-known fact that Grenta was in love with Ventel, despite his best efforts to hide it.
“Thank you, Grenta,” Ventel said graciously once the others had quieted. “Now, the Hootenanny, despite being a party ship, is still outfitted with the best of Starfleet defensive technology. Maybe there’s a way we can … borrow some of it to protect ourselves.”
“Are you suggesting we steal techn…”
“Of course not!” Ventel snapped. “I’m suggesting we ask Captain Chip to help us by loaning us some technology. By agreeing to give it back, they won’t violate their Prime Directive and we get the help we need.” Ventel paused for effect then finished, “If our technicians just happen to coincidentally figure out how to build our own while we’re borrowing it, well, so much the better.”
Whatever your opinions of the guy as a Captain, you had to recognize that Chip Dippman knew how to mount a party. Various interchangeable crew members directed by the Captain and a reluctant McClusky had transformed the crew lounge into a Hawaiian utopia: lit torches adorned the walls, the waitresses were wearing grass skirts and he even had a miniature Kilauea spewing out the punch. And topping it all off the disco ball, glittering above the dance floor at the far left of the room, with plenty of space for jiving and a DJ’s deck for the music.
“Perfect!” Dippman announced. Now all he needed were guests.
The doors to the crew lounge swished open and in walked Groza, closely followed by T’Kir.
“Captain!” Groza bellowed.
“Commander, what do you think?” Dippman asked. Groza had a quick look around, decided not to comment, and began talking about what he’d come down for in the first place.
“We have detected a subspace anomaly,” the Executive Officer reported.
“And?” Dippman asked for more information.
“Scans have concluded that it is…anomalous,” Groza gulped, then elaborated further. “Actually, nobody on the bridge can understand the science console.”
“So find somebody who can,” McClusky said, drawn in by the conversation.
“We did,” Groza said.
Five minutes earlier
“I wouldn’t have called Barlow human.” Sneered Groza as he picked his way across the bridge to the science console. “And anyway, he’s in the crew lounge helping the Captain redecorate.”
Groza dabbled at the console a while, before giving up and slamming his first down on it. “These scans refuse to yield their secrets to me!”
His fist left a very nice dent in the console.
“What’s the problem? Don’t know any science?” T’Kir asked.
“I am Groza the Insufferable, not Groza the Reader of Scans!”
“If nobody else can, I guess that I must,” T’Kir said. She got up and joined Groza at the science station, tapping away. “Interesting, very interesting.”
“What?” Groza asked.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” T’Kir said. “So much for your Vulcan theory.”
“Thank you for your pitiful assistance,” Groza said as T’Kir returned to her station. “Locate a science officer.”
“Searching,” T’Kir reported, opening up the crew database and searching for the sciences department. “That’s interesting.”
“Please do not tell me you do not know what you’re doing!” Groza sighed.
“No, this is actually quite interesting. We do not have a science department. Neither do we have any security personnel. We do have three inventory comptrollers, whatever it is they are.”
“Erm…yes, who knows?” Groza squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. “Search for anyone with a science background then!”
“Searching,” T’Kir replied. “Found one, started his career in the sciences before transferring to another department…”
“Who is it?”
“You’re not going to like it. It’s Barlow,” T’Kir reported.
“Maybe he will prove useful after all then,” Groza commented. “Let’s go find him.”
Back in the crew lounge
“Barlow!” Groza shouted. The Executive Officer’s shout caused the surprised Barlow to shriek and drop a box full of liquor to the floor. Luckily for him none of the bottles broke.
“Errr…yes? Sir?” the Lieutenant junior grade asked.
“What have we detected?” Groza asked, passing Barlow a PADD.
Barlow took one look at the PADD, then glanced up at the glaring Groza, who seemed completely uncomfortable in the party atmosphere of the crew lounge. Then again, Groza didn’t look like the kind of guy that would be comfortable at a party to begin with.
“Well,” Barlow said, heaving a big breath, and then scratched his head. “It looks like a…yes, yes it is definitely a menu of Hawaiian barbecue recipes. The suckling pig sounds delicious!”
“You can’t mutilate a pig! The poor little thing!” Counselor Swain called out indignantly, nearly falling over as she stood on a stool hanging crepe paper.
“Not to mention the mess you’ll make on my floor,” Goodhall chimed in, steadying the stool and gazing up at Candi. “Wow, Counselor, I never realized…”
Candi glanced down at Goodhall and smiled, batting her eyelashes. “Never realized what?”
“Those ceiling tiles are perfectly aligned. They’re beautiful. So austere. So…clean.”
Candi frowned and climbed down from her stool, shoving the crepe paper into Goodhall’s hands. “You can finish hanging this stuff. I have appointments to get to.” She let out a low growl and stormed off.
“Something I said?” Goodhall asked blankly.
“A RECIPE?” Groza bellowed. The entire above exchange had happened while he gritted his teeth and attempted to form words, his red skin getting even redder as his entire being was suffused with anger. “A RECIPE! T’KIR, WHAT DID YOU DOWNLOAD INTO THIS PADD!”
T’Kir leaned over and arched an eyebrow as she looked at the PADD. “These would appear to be recipes for Hawaiian barbecue. Quite good ones, in fact.”
Groza turned to face T’Kir. “You realize that an anomaly is sitting out there off our port bow just waiting to envelop the ship and destroy everything aboard INCLUDING this obscenely stupid party, any minute now?”
“What’s that?” Chip Dippman asked, sidling up.
“THERE’S AN ANOMALY OUT THERE AND SOMEONE MUST PAY ATTENTION TO IT!” Groza demanded.
“Then you’ll want Mister Barlow to look at this PADD,” T’Kir said helpfully, offering a second PADD to Barlow.
Barlow took the PADD, seemingly having a tough time taking his eyes off Groza. They wouldn’t need a grill. Ribs could be grilled quite easily right now on the Therrian’s smoldering face.
“Well,” Barlow said, looking over the PADD. “It, uh, looks like it’s not a naturally occurring phenomena. It’s a subspace disturbance caused by some sort of foreign energy wave emanating from a source very near us. Perhaps beneath us.”
“Where have I heard that before?” Dippman asked nobody in particular.
“Maybe we should go to the bridge and investigate this thing, see if it in any way endangers the party,” McClusky offered.
“If only we were so fortunate,” Groza said in low tones.
“Then it’s settled. To the bridge!” Dippman announced. His reticence at leaving the site of the party was only offset by his delight at getting to act “captainy.” What fun to announce “to the bridge!” He was really going to like this job. Dippman stroked his chin as he thought about this.
“Sir,” Groza broke in, disturbing Dippman’s concentration.
“Please, call me Chip.”
“No,” Groza replied. “Captain, usually the announcement that we should report to the bridge is followed by…” He pointed at the door. “REPORTING TO THE BRIDGE!”
“Right, of course,” Dippman said with a nod, and jogged to the door. “T’Kir, you have bartending experience. Stay behind with Goodhall and hold down the fort here. Barlow, McClusky, Groza…you over there in the green shirt, whoever you are. Come with me!”
“But I’m the DJ…” the shorter fellow in the green shirt said, looking a little confused.
“Come along anyway!” Dippman said excitedly. “It’ll be fun!”
“Captain, I believe this is a tremendously bad idea,” Commander Groza the Insufferable said as the turbolift ascended to the Hootenanny’s bridge.
Captain Dippman turned to face his first officer. “First of all…”
“It’s Chip. Yes, I know,” Groza growled.
“Great! Now which part do you think is a bad idea?”
“President Dillon’s creation of this entire Enterprise, but…”
“Dillon created the Enterprise? How is that even possible?” Barlow asked.
Groza locked a withering stare on Barlow, causing the officer to shrink back as far as he could.
“What I meant specifically,” Groza said, “is that we are moments away from beaming several high-level officials from Norealis up to this ship, when we don’t know what this so-called foreign energy wave even is!” He waved the padd around for emphasis.
“Looks like phased neuronic energy to me,” an unfamiliar voice remarked. Dippman, Groza, Barlow, and McClusky turned toward the source: the DJ that Dippman had drafted into joining them.
“Really?” Dippman exclaimed. “That’s wonderful!”
“Umm…not so much. Neuronic energy can…”
“Not that! It’s wonderful that you knew what it was.”
“You aren’t seriously going to listen to the opinion of this…person,” Groza said.
“Hey!” the DJ snapped. “I’ve had three years of science correspondence courses from CITT!”
“See,” Dippman said as the turbolift arrived at the bridge and the group filed out. “He went to CITT!”
“What’s CITT?” Lieutenant McClusky asked.
The DJ replied, “Cardassian Institute of Technology and Torture. But I didn’t actually go there. It was a…”
“Correspondence Course. Yes, we heard,” Groza said. “That still doesn’t give me a reason to listen to you.”
“The Cardassians were looking into neuronic energy as a way to shred the brains of their prisoners.”
Dippman shuddered. “Shred? How is that fun?”
“Well, the band I was in back then thought that maybe we could use it to just lightly fondle the minds of our listeners. If we could have pulled it off, we would have been the biggest band in history.”
“What happened?” McClusky asked.
“Our demo tape sent six execs from AAM to Tantalus Five.”
“Wow. Too rough for Agonizing Andorian Music? That’s..unheard of,” Barlow said.
“Yeah. And it has to remain unheard. Otherwise…bad things,” the DJ said.
“So this neuronic energy is somewhere nearby, possibly on a ship we can’t detect,” Dippman said. “We need to raise the shields and…” He trailed off as he saw the DJ shaking his head.
“Shields won’t help,” the DJ said. “Neuronic energy passes right through. We learned that when our first manager’s brain oozed out his nose.”
“Sir, the Norealans are hailing us. They’re ready for beam up,” Groza said, checking the status indicator on his armrest.
“Okay. Bring them aboard!” Dippman said.
“You’re not serious.”
“The party must go on, Groza,” Dippman said. “The reputation of the Federation is on the line here. We have to show them a good time. McClusky and I will take care of the party. You stay here with Barlow and our new science officer and see what we can do about this neuronic problem.”
“Science officer?” the DJ sputtered. “I’m not even Starfleet! And who’s going to play the music?”
“I’m sure the talented Lieutenant McClusky can more than handle it,” Dippman said.
“Me? But I…”
“…have wonderful taste! I’m sure of it! To the party!” Dippman grabbed McClusky’s arm and tugged her into the turbolift. “We’re counting on you, Science Officer… What’s your name?”
“DJ Phreak-O-Bozz. Or Oliver.”
“I like the first one. Oliver is just so…Oliver. We’re counting on you, Science Officer DJ Phreak-O-Bozz! Turbolift, take me to the Lounge!”
The turbolift doors closed. For several moments, the DJ and Groza just looked at each other.
“I’m not calling you that,” Groza said finally. “Science console is over there.”
“Yay,” DJ Phreak-O-Bozz said flatly, trudging over to his new post with Barlow.
“Welcome to the crew,” Barlow said. “I can give you a hand.”
“Yay,” DJ Phreak-O-Bozz repeated.
Computer wasn’t entirely sure that the orders it had deciphered from the transmission were really meant for it. During the decryption, it had learned that the pharmaceutical product which had been mentioned were intended to raise the pressure in certain parts of red-blooded carbon based male life forms. Now whilst the tainted AI that was the brain of the Hootenanny was totally aware of the vernacular that was associated with the genitalia of said life forms, it was having a really hard time with the rest of the message. That was until it cross referenced the 20th century data bank for Terran slang and discovered the term “Weapon” associated with said subject in a veritable torrent of useless advertising mails known as “spam”.
“Ah Jackpot!” It exclaimed, verbally as it happened on decks 2, 4, 7 and the sickbay, causing numerous quizzical stares from crew present in corridors, quarters, and at duty stations and causing the ship’s portable Casino owner to have palpitations, his attraction hadn’t paid a jackpot in over fifteen years and he was well aware of the astronomical amount which was currently residing in the jackpot payout. If it ever did payout during this mission on the Hootenanny, the entire Starfleet would be in his debt for the foreseeable future, unless they mortgaged the entire Sol system.
The orders were simple, and very easy to see once Computer had cracked the ‘key’. The Hootenanny was to use the message as a virtual shot of Viagra, to “pump up” its weapons system and make it ready for imminent use! Simple, Computer wondered exactly why it had taken quite so long to see that absurdly quaint order and immediately set aside huge portions of it’s processing power to self check it’s own existence. Fortunately, the orders required only minimal amounts of Computers own mind to fulfill, leaving the majority to double check the double check.
Barlow and DJ-PoB (The shortening made life so much easier for Groza to think of the Hawaiian-shirted individual as human, let alone a member of the crew), were both hunched over the science console when the lights failed, plunging the bridge into absolute darkness as the viewscreen failed too, even the tell tales around the various consoles winked out.
“Please tell me that Goodhall’s just trying to save a bit of power.” Grumbled Groza from the first officer’s seat just as the turbolift doors were forced open from the inside and Dippman and McClusky crawled out of the shaft.
“How am I supposed to save a party if I can’t even get to it?” Dippman asked.
“Maybe it’s one of those surprise Starfleet low power drills.” Barlow replied.
“I fail to see why having a low power drill during this mission is even necessary though.” The crumpling sound of cloth against cloth marked his standing from his seat; rustles indicated his path around the small room.
“Look out for the….” Warned McClusky as the Therrian worked his way toward the outer consoles of the bridge. Her warning was just too late as with a thud and the ripping of a uniform, Groza, the science console and Barlow came together, in a painful crush. “…console.” She finished.
As she was warning the executive officer, Dippman had reached under the command chair and had recovered a small tube shaped object. With a snap, the glow stick flared into fluorescent pink light, marking the Captain as he reached under the chair again, recovering more of the small light sources. “Here!” He handed a couple to McClusky and passed two more to T’Kir, “Get up there and pick them up. What happened?”
T’Kir futilely smacked the controls on her Ops console, “I have no power, therefore no answers.”
“What happened” Groza moaned from under Barlow as the human tried to get up off the Therrian without actually standing o the first officer, “What happened…. You are the CAPTAIN! You should know what happened.”
“Yeah, the lights went out,” replied Dippman. “And the party’s probably suffering. The drinks won’t stay on ice if the power’s off all over the ship.” He shook two fluorescent green tubes to life and handed one each to DJ-PoB and Barlow, reserving a matched pair of brilliant pink ones for Groza. As he handed them out, the tactical console spluttered to life, its lights blinking in a previously unseen pattern. The viewer also sparked into life, as did the helm.
“We’re turning!” T’Kir grasped her controls, fighting with the ship itself as it executed commands seemingly out of thin air, “And the weapons are coming on line. Shields just went up. Targeting the anomaly. Firing!”
NAUSICAAN RAIDER VERBA CURRENTLY AHEAD OF THE HOOTENANNY
“They’re locking on!” Mongo reported, pointing at the screen which showed the Hootenanny bearing down on the smaller raider.
“So?” Zichak replied. “They are Starfleet, they’ll hail us before they fire.”
The calm on the bridge of the Verba was banished forever as the first low power phaser blast caused the deck to tilt out from under Mongo’s feet. He found himself heading face first into Zichak’s lap at high speed.
“Chief Minister! Chief Minister!” Retainer Grenta shouted as he barreled into Ventel’s office. “Chief Minister?” Grenta asked in confusion on finding the office unoccupied.
A muffled flushing sound came from a closed door to Grenta’s right, which was soon followed by the door opening and Ventel emerging, rubbing her hands on a brown cloth.
“Can’t I get a moment’s peace to even pee?” Ventel asked, annoyed, as she took in Grenta’s near-panicked demeanor. “What’s wrong, anyway?” Ventel asked almost casually as she sat down behind her desk.
“It’s the Hootenanny!” Grenta said breathlessly.
“What, did they decide to host the party here?” Ventel asked, then looked up worriedly. “Wait, they didn’t, did they?”
“No, actually, we just got our formal invitation to beam up. No, it’s about them and the raiders…Minister, the raiders have returned!”
Ventel was out of her chair like a bolt. “What! Oh gods, we’re dead!”
“No, Minister, the Hootenanny fired first.”
“They what? But they’re unarmed!”
“I know!” Grenta exclaimed. “We’re saved! Let’s hurry and get up there before we miss all of the fireworks!”
NAUSICAAN RAIDER VERBA
“They’re supposed to be unarmed!” Zichak bellowed angrily.
“Tell that to the phasers they just raked across our shields!” Mongo exclaimed. “Or the incoming photon torpedoes!”
“What?!” Mongo yelled in surprise. “Evasive!” he shouted, feeling the deck shift as the Verba suddenly change course, then several near-simultaneous thumps as the torpedoes detonated nearby. Zichak could tell that they weren’t direct impacts, but they were damned close.
“We’re doomed, aren’t we?” Mongo wailed.
“Not yet…weapons, fire the Neuro-Blaster!” Zichak said, striking a dramatic pose.
“Who gave the order to fire?” Groza thundered, glaring around the bridge, bathed in the pink aura of his glow stick. “Somebody circumvented protocol around here and I want to know who!”
“Gosh, this is just like camping,” Captain Dippman said. “Anybody want to tell some stories?”
Groza turned on Dippman and curled his lip into a snarl. “We are FIRING on a Nausicaan raider and nobody even knows why or how!”
“Okay. Good start, but a bit violent…” Dippman said. “McCloskey?”
“I think what Commander Groza is referring to is the rather unfortunate turn of diplomatic events, particularly considering that the Norealan delegation just beamed aboard…”
“Without me there to greet them?” Dippman pouted. “I had leis!”
“More unfortunate events seem to be unfolding,” T’Kir said, looking up from her console. “The Nausicaan raider is bringing some sort of energy weapon online and firing it directly at us.”
“What is it?” Groza asked.
“Is it pretty?” Dippman asked. “Let’s put it on screen and find out.”
Groza mumbled something very caustic in Therrian as DJ Phreak-O-Bozz brought the image of the raider on screen. A rainbow of orange, green and blue shot out from its forward weapons array, right at the Hootenanny.
“It is pretty!” Dippman affirmed.
“It’s a mix of neuronic energy and gravimetric photons!” DJ PoB pointed out, studying his scans. “Man, what a dangerous mix! I’m going to switch tracks and try to mellow out its beat.”
“Can I institute some form of torture to get him to never talk like that again?” Groza asked, looming over Dippman.
“No torture!” Dippman shot back. “It totally ruins the atmosphere of a party.”
“This isn’t a party, it’s a Starfleet ship, and if you don’t know that by now, you should resign immediately and become a wedding planner!” Groza growled.
“Are you questioning my party-planning skills?” Dippman asked haughtily.
“No I am questioning your authority, your leadership, and your decision-making skills,” Groza replied tightly.
“Oh. Okay,” said Dippman. “In that case…”
Dippman was silenced as the colorful energy washed over the bridge, and continued on through the aft bulkhead, presumably over the rest of the ship.
Groza lifted a finger to cut Dippman off, and just as he was about to open his mouth, he found himself on an empty beach, oceans crashing around him.
Groza looked around blankly, taking in the scenic, tropic view, a 360-degree panorama of island foliage, gentle waves, and sandy beach. A soft, melodic tune drifted through the air, and he turned and followed it, climbing a sand dune, digging in with all four hands to get leverage as he climbed, cursing all the way up the hill.
“No…no…” Groza said, as he reached the top of the dune. Over the dune, in the jungle clearing beyond, tiki torches burned, and people mingled, chatting, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. The Therrian was surrounded by smiles and happy people as far as the eye could see. No Starfleet. No protocol. No war. No conflict. And certainly no weapons. Just, absolute, delicious paradise. A non-stop party.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Groza shouted, shaking his fists at the heavens. Wherever he was, however he got there, this was nowhere he wanted to be.
From the perspective of an outsider, the bridge crew of the Hootenanny would have appeared to all be standing (or sitting) ramrod straight at their respective posts and screaming. The effect of the neuronic energy weapon across the rest of the ship was the same. From Engineering to the Public Relations Holovid Studios, the ship’s personnel were ripped away from whatever task they were working on and submerged into their own personal hells.
On the Nausicaan Raider Verba, Zichak gloated. The Starfleet vessel above Norealis sat helpless, bathed in the glow of the neuronic weapon. It wouldn’t be long until every living being on board the Federation ship had their brains ripped apart and died horribly, leaving the ship itself as easy pickings for Zichak.
His visions of the bounty to come were disturbed by an “Uh oh” from Mongo.
“What is it?” Zichak demanded in irritation. He’d been busy trying to figure out if a Starfleet-issue captain’s chair would look silly on the Verba’s bridge.
“There’s some kind of power surge building in the…”
The raider bucked and writhed violently as Mongo struggled to maintain a hold on his station. “It’s overloading!” Mongo cried. “We have to shut it down!”
“No!” Zichak shouted. “We’ll be defenseless and exposed! I don’t want to be exposed!”
Half of the bridge floor suddenly exploded, killing several non-speaking extras.
“Okay! Shut it down!” Zichak screamed in a panic.
Mongo attempted to comply, but the system was too far gone. It was as if the neuronic weapon’s systems had somehow gone looking for new energy sources. It was now tapped directly into the Verba’s warp core.
“I can’t!” Mongo replied.
“Jettison it! Jettison! NOW!”
Mongo obey swiftly, certain that his efforts would be futile.
They weren’t. The explosive bolts connecting the neuronic weapon housing and control systems to the lower hull of the raider detonated, sending the neuronic system tumbling away from the Verba, where it was soon caught in the gravity well of Norealis.
Mongo breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it would crash into an ocean harmless and…
The viewscreen of the Verba was suddenly filled with a blinding pink flash as the neuronic weapon housing split open from the energies raging within. If it had just exploded and shut down, that would have been bad enough, but it didn’t. Instead, the neuronic system’s core continued to run, pulsating with power and emanating waves of neuronic energy in all directions. In moments, the Verba and Norealis itself were engulfed along with the Hootenanny.
And speaking of the Hootenanny…
At the back of his mind, DJ Phreak-O-Bozz knew that he was not really the imaginary tambourine player in a mime band. He also knew that this was only the beginning of the neuronic effects. If something wasn’t done soon, his brain would be torn into tiny shreds. Unfortunately, this small bit of his consciousness couldn’t get through to the rest of him, which was currently trying to hit the right imaginary beats on “Daydream Believer.”
There was someone, however, with the ability to overcome the neuronic effects. Deep in the computer core, the sentient system…was not that someone. Actually, thanks to the wonders of gel-pack technology, the computer had enough organic systems to be affected by the neuronic energy. It currently believed that its AI had been trapped inside a toaster, and it was watching in impotent horror as a child approached it ready to make some toast and jam with pre-jammed bread.
No, there was someone else. And she was currently standing in the middle of the reception for the Norealans wondering why everyone around her had suddenly started screaming. Unable to get through to the other partygoers, Counselor Candi decided to head to the bridge. If the people at the reception were not enjoying themselves, Captain “Chip” would want to know immediately!
Pelting down the gently curving corridor, which ran the circumference of the Hootenanny’s primary hull, the Counselor suddenly realized three facts. One, she really did not have a clue where the nearest turbolift was, she appeared to have gotten turned around somewhere between the reception and where she “thought” the nearest one was. Two, the effect she’d seen at the reception wasn’t just restricted to the lounge, everywhere she looked, crew were standing around screaming. The whole ship sounded like the fifth level of hell. Thirdly, and perhaps most bizarrely, she wasn’t able to affect any of the crew with her limited telepathic powers. She’d always had the ability to make anyone do what she needed, well, mostly males, but sometimes she could influence females, but not now. She had no means of communicating with them whatsoever. She eventually skidded to a halt outside a turbolift alcove, which obediently slid open at her approach. Sadly, due to Computer’s apparent absence, there was no car to whisk her to the bridge.
“Damn.” She cursed, catching herself the moment before plummeting to the bottom of the shaft. Not far on a ship as compact as the Hootenanny, but far enough to be painful, “Ladders, and crawlways. Why is it ALWAYS ladders and crawlways?” She kicked hell out of the small access hatch, flinging the cover down the corridor as it finally succumbed to her onslaught. The ladder within was dusty, unused and disappeared into the depths of the ship downward; she just hoped it led to the bridge upward. Sighing, she grabbed a rung and started climbing hand over hand.
DJ Phreak-O-Bozz was starting to realize why many people tried so hard to ignore the mess that was 20th Century pop music. The imaginary group of which he was now a part had finished the entire Monkee’s repertoire and was barreling headlong into “Seven Tears” by the Goombay Dance Band. The crowd obviously weren’t fans, a roiling mass of Nausicaan partygoers were throwing increasingly large projectiles at the stage and the musicians on it. He sidestepped a chair, which sailed over the head of the tuba player, who wasn’t so lucky when a second seat slapped into his face a second later. Flipping a page in the music booklet on his stand almost brought tears to his eyes, “Shaddup-A-Ya-Face” would be just pure hell, and he couldn’t even envisage what the crowd would make of Achy Breaky Heart.
Dippman stood alone in the midst of a hallway of moldering record files, which stretched into the distance in both directions. “Hello?”
“FRANK DIPPMAN!!!!!” Bellowed an unseen voice.
“Um, yep? Where’s the party?” Replied the bewildered Captain, looking around at the multitude of shelves and rack upon rack of documents, which surrounded him, “I’m supposed to be running a party!”
“NO Party. There can be NO party here.” The voice continued.
“Excuse me, where is here?”
“Starfleet Inventory Control, and it’s AUDIT time…..” Gloated the unseen voice.
Candi Swain finally reached a trapdoor at the top of a VERY long climb. She guessed that the bridge was on the other side of the metal barrier above her head. Putting her shoulder under the hatch release, she braced her feet apart and heaved; pushing as hard as she possibly could, with no success, the hatch refused to budge. She looked around in the cramped alcove, a wide space in the shaft really, seeking what she did not know, but she had to find a way through to the bridge above.
Finally her eyes lingered on the hatchway above for long enough to read the legend on the handle she’d been so desperately pushing upward. “Duh!” She exclaimed, “Pull!” so she did.
The bridge lighting flickered and jumped as Computer struggled to fight its own demons without the crew around to assist. In the sparking light, the ramrod straight figures of the bridge crew stood motionless, but not soundless. Dippman had screamed so long and so loud that all he could manage now was a feeble squawk, likewise Markham was unable to scream, his throat so dry all he could do was bark like a bullfrog. Without warning, beside the Conn console, a hole appeared in the deck. A hole, which sadly coincided with the location of Groza’s feet. Without so much as a batted eyelid, the four armed form of the Therrian disappeared into the darkness, falling toward the bowels of the ship.
As he fell, Groza continued to scream, though his screams were not related to the fall. His screams continued to echo throughout the crawlspaces long after he’d hit bottom.
In his mental hell, Groza yelled out in pain as several of his bones suddenly, and apparently spontaneously, shattered. This was strange, as he was being forced to sit back on a lounge chair and relax by several nubile beach bunnies. There was no reason for his body to experience such trauma, given the circumstances.
“This can’t be right,” Groza muttered, pushing the pain aside to consider the situation. “I was on the bridge, facing Nausicaans. Where’s the bridge?” Intellectually, he knew the bridge was still around him; it was just a matter of reminding his senses of that fact.
To that end, he concentrated on seeing past the hallucinations, trying to break the hold the neuronic blast had on him.
Ten minutes later, he was still trying…
“I hope he’s all right,” Candi said, peering worriedly down the open shaft. How could she have known that the first officer was standing right on top of the hatch she was using? (The counselor apparently didn’t think to run a tricorder scan…) She was just lucky Groza’s falling mass hadn’t pulled her off the ladder as he fell.
Now that Candi had pulled herself onto the bridge, she found herself in her own personal hell: she was surrounded by unhappy people that she had no clue how to help. “Uh-oh…this is bad,” the counselor muttered. “I knew I should have paid more attention to those science-y classes at the Academy.”
Meanwhile, DJ POB was making some progress in breaking out of his neuronic daze. It wasn’t much; he’d so far only managed to replace the back wall with the front of the bridge. Unfortunately, the Nausicaans were still present, as were their improvised projectiles.
Still, progress was progress. He just needed a little more time to break the neuronic energy’s hold, then he could devise a way to help the others.
Candi spun around in abject horror, not knowing what to do or who to help first. The Captain? No, he already admitted he didn’t understand the principle of neuronic energy enough to be useful.
The Helm officer? No, the energy wasn’t a field so moving the ship was pointless. Tactical, Ops, Science? No, no, no, they were all…wait! Science! DJ Phreak-O-Bozz would know what to do! Or, at the least, he’d be able to fix it!
Running up to the Science station, Candi began calling out, “DJ! DJ! I need your help!”
The crowd of Nausicaans surrounding the stage were no longer throwing objects at the band, they were starting to throw each other, and roaring their disapproval as they did so.
DJ POB tried to duck away, to hide as the rest of the mimes had, but he found himself surrounded on all sides by angry Nausicaans. Whimpering, he began curling into a ball when, strangely, he heard one of the Nausicaans yell out, “I need your help!” The strangest part was the Nausicaan said it in a woman’s voice. Looking up, DJ POB saw Counselor Swain emerge from the crowd like a mirage, seeming to ignore the crowd of angry Nausicaans that kept bumping into her.
“Counselor!” DJ POB cried out in relief, “Help me!”
On the bridge, Candi heard DJ POB croak, “Counselor…help…me,” between terrified screams.
“I’m here,” she reassured the DJ-turned-science officer. “What can I do?”
“The flashing blue button,” DJ POB gasped as he was sandwiched between two Nausicaans. “Press it twice!”
“Flashing blue button, blue button,” Candi muttered to herself as she frantically scanned the Science board with her eyes. There were so many buttons, in so many pretty colors! She had no idea…and look at that beautiful swirly screen! And those orange waves were so relaxing to watch. The Science station was a wonderland of visual sensations!
No, Candi forcefully told herself, this isn’t time to be distracted! You’ve got a job to do…a ship of people who need your help! You can do this!
Refocusing her attention, she found a large, cobalt button that was rhythmically winking on and off. Tapping the square button twice, she waited to see what would happen. And waited.
By tapping the cobalt blue button twice Counselor Swain had actually initiated a very complicated series of events. The first press sent a signal to the replicator control systems, which ordered every replicator on board to begin replicating the chemical (NH4)2CO3.H2O. Slowly a large amount of whitish crystals started forming a pile on every replicator on board ship.
The second tap sent an instruction to the transporter signals: these targeted the countless screaming Starfleet officers, and taking a couple crystals per person transported them to the area just below each officer’s nose.
“Ammonium carbonate, also known as smelling salts,” DJ POB explained to Candi as he shook his head to clear the last remains of his nightmare from his mind. “Use them to get myself straight for a gig you know, get the mind in tune…”
Elsewhere on the ship the smelling salts broke the neuronic energy’s hold and the crewmembers emerged from their nightmares.
“Good God nooooooo!” Captain Chip screamed as he woke up. Spotting Candi he crawled over to her and hugged her legs tightly as he bawled. “Inventory! No more parties! No more parties!”
“It’s okay, Chip. It’s all okay now,” Candi patted Dippman on the head as she comforted him. “There’s lots of parties, there’s one going on downstairs right now. There’s going to be lots of parties.”
“Yes parties?” Dippman asked, pathetic puppy eyes looking up.
“Yes, parties,” Candi confirmed.
“Righty’o then!” Dippman jumped up, seemingly back in control of himself. “Errr…where’s Groza got to?”
“Down there,” Swain indicated the hole through which she had accessed the bridge. Dippman walked over and stared down the hole into the bowls of the ship.
“What’s he doing down there?”
“Dunno,” Candi shrugged as she went to give Markham a big hug.
“He fell? Looks painful,” McClusky said as she came over see the fallen Executive officer, lying spread-eagled on the floor about twenty decks below.
“Shouldn’t he, you know, be screaming in pain or something?” Dippman asked.
“Not the way his jaw’s been dislocated,” McClusky ventured, taking out her tricorder and scanning below. “Wow, that’s impressive. That’s literally every single bone in his body broken. The Karmenian Goddess Re’tu would be happy, this guy doesn’t do anything by half.”
“Groza! It’s going to be fine!” Dippman shouted encouragement down.
“He can’t hear you sir,” McClusky told him. “When I said every bone, I meant every bone. Even the ones inside his ears, even the ossicles.”
“Oh well. We’re coming to get you!” Dippman shouted down to Groza regardless, giving him two thumbs up.
“Captain, shouldn’t we be a bit more concerned with that Nausicaan ship attacking us?” Markham volunteered after he had been suitably mothered to by Counselor Swain.
“Good thinking, Batman!” Dippman replied.
“Who’s Batman?” McClusky asked.
“And what’s up with the computer?” Barlow asked. “I’m getting some strange things on here.”
“Same on my console,” Markham said. “All mine says is ‘God no, not with jam, oh god no, burning, burning jam, no, not the jam’”.
“That is a pickle,” Dippman said, sitting back down in the Captain’s chair. Things were not looking good from his perspective: one party had already been ruined before it could even begin, and they’d tried to take parties away from him forever. Deep down in the Captain’s soul a part of him moved, slowly, confidently rising to the surface, a mentality that is a vital part of every party planner: the Bouncer had been awoken. “Right, here’s the plan:”
Frank Dippman was taking control.
He knew just what to do. There was only one thing to do when a party got out of hand, and this party was more than out of hand. It was out of two hands.
It was time to bounce.
“First things first,” Dippman said, drawing himself up so as to look big and intimidating (which was a task really only half accomplished). “Let’s get that computer up and running. Ideas, DJ Phreak-O-Bozz?”
“We’ll have to do a hard re-set,” POB said, leaning on his console. “Which means getting into the computer core, by way of interconnecting tubes, and resetting the phased positronic…”
“Great, I don’t need details. Stop by the computer core, then, and collect T’Kir on your way, to assist you.” He turned to the viewscreen. “Meanwhile, we have a nasty Nausicaan raider to deal with.”
“I could take a runabout out and try to reason with them…with…you know, diplomacy…” McClusky suggested. “Four thousand years ago, Venkeekeemonkee, the Yooornarian Goddess of Diplomacy, said that…”
“Good enough. Take the other tube to the shuttlebay. Take Counselor Candi with you. The Riverdance should be ready for departure. Go out there and make contact with the Nausicaans. Tell them…tell them that they are not invited to our party and ensure them we’ve checked the guest list twice.”
“Yay, I’m doing something official!” Candy swooned and jogged after an unsure- looking McClusky.
“Barlow, go with them. The Riverdance will need a pilot,” Dippman said confidently.
Barlow hopped up to join Swain and McClusky as POB headed into a hatch on the other side of the bridge.
“Hurfhhhhhhrrrnnnnnnnnnnnnnn….” Came a low growl from within the tube in the center of the bridge deck.
Dippman walked over and knelt down to peer down the long tube. Groza was but a red speck so far below, and the Therrian wasn’t moving.
“What’s he on about?” Dippman asked.
“Every bone in his face is broken, and everywhere else for that matter,” Markham noted.
Dippman observed with great concern. “Poor guy.” He shook his head. “And you, Mister Groza,” he called down the tube. “Your orders are to…well, hang out there and try not to worry. We’ll get a team down there to get you out as soon as possible. For now, just try to…mellow out, and relax!”
“HRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRF!” Groza protested, making a noise Dippman could only assume was hearty agreement.
Soon it was just Dippman and Markham alone on the bridge.
“Permission to speak freely, Captain?” Markham asked.
“Sure, why not?”
“Sir, being that you dismissed almost all of the bridge crew, what are we supposed to do when computer control is back up and we’re once again facing down a Nausicaan raider on the viewscreen?”
Dippman shrugged. “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the moment with an impromptu celebration. I’ve got an appetizer tray in my ready room with our names on it. Just have to bust open the door….”
“Good, thanks, sir, an appetizer tray. Sounds good.” Markham blanched as he watched Dippman hack his way into the ready room. He turned back and watched the static-filled viewscreen with a growing sense of dread. “I’ll just sit here alone on the bridge, and, you know, flip out…”
Commander Groza had been under the impression that, when faced with catastrophic injuries, the humanoid body was capable of putting aside the idea of pain, allowing the injured party to focus instead on survival. If he were capable of coherent thought that the moment instead of being completely overwhelmed by unceasing agony, Groza would have noted that his impression was mistaken.
Damaged as he was, he also didn’t hear the approach of Dr. Snorth. The Tellarite physician lumbered up to Groza with a harrumph of annoyance.
“You again,” Snorth said. “I just get your bones knitted and you’re off breaking them again.” He checked his tricorder. “Looks like you damn well near got all of them. No. Wait. You did get all of them.” Groza only stared back at the doctor. With his broken ear bones, he couldn’t make out the man’s words, but at least he was here to help and end Groza’s misery.
“Now don’t you give me any trouble,” Snorth said, settling in beside Groza. “I’ve spent most of the last hour hallucinating that Dippman jammed an apple in my mouth and put me on a rotisserie for his damn luau. All right. Better make sure nothing’s changed before we start knitting bones again. Since you were last in Sickbay, have you been exposed to reonalin hesertitis, mekotalian myolitis, arcturian…”
<Munch> <Munch> <Chew>
“You know,” Markham said after swallowing a plomeek puff. “There aren’t bad.”
“Appetizers can be the key to a successful reception,” Captain Dippman replied as he perused what was left on the tray he’d brought out to the bridge from his ready room. “They set the tone. Never bring mini-wieners to an embassy reception, and don’t hit a Barn Dance Night with the bacon-wrapped scallops.”
Dippman suddenly leapt up from his command chair. “How could I?” he exclaimed in horror.
“What? What is it, sir?” Markham said alarmed.
“The party! I completely neglected the party! What kind of captain am I?”
“The kind that’s on the bridge commanding his ship?” Markham asked.
Dippman sighed. “Is that what I’m becoming? I should be down there.”
“Then who would be here? We’re in a crisis, sir.”
“You’re right. I thought this was why Groza was here, but he’s…”
The sound of a howled “UHNNNNHHOOOHHNNNAAHHNN” drifted up from the hole in the floor.
“…occupied. But this is a crisis!” Dippman said. “That means it’s time for some bold emergency action from Captain Chip! Mister Markham, it’s all up to you now. Go save that party!”
“Err…yes, sir,” Markham said as Dippman stood resolutely in the center of the bridge. The younger officer grabbed a couple of appetizers for the road and headed into the turbolift trying to remember the good parties he’d been to. Most of them were at the Academy and involved a lot of drunken co-eds. Oh yeah. If he could make this reception feel like one of those bashes, the Norealans would be begging for Federation membership!
“Why does it stink like a three-day old offering to Hynden, Goddess of Gastrointestinal Purity in here?” Lieutenant McClusky demanded as she and Counselor Candi entered the cockpit of the Runabout Riverdance where Barlow was completing his preflight check.
“I put more smelling salts everywhere,” Barlow replied. McClusky found that there was indeed a little mound of the stuff in the chair she was about to sit in.
“Why? We’re awake now.”
“Yeah, but that thing is still active out there, and we’ll be a lot closer to it than we are now when we get to the raider. We could be overcome again if we don’t have the salts. I put some in my clothes, too.” Barlow shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “They settled.”
McClusky and Candi exchanged a disgusted glance.
“Ready to launch now?” Barlow asked sheepishly.
“Please,” McClusky said, brushing the smelling salts off of her chair (and throwing a little over her shoulder for good measure).
On The Bridge Of The Verba, Zichak dropped the chair he’d been about to throw at the Terran musical act that had graced the stage. One by one the targets were racing away into the distance. It had all started when the blonde human female had appeared directly in his path, and then proceeded to stomp all over him in an effort to reach the stage. Once there, she had yelled at the tambourine player until he had pointed to something invisible twice. She mimicked the gesture and then they had been the first to disappear - arcing off the stage in a rainbow of energy.
Spotting a familiar face, he swam through the unhappy crowd towards Mongo, (For swam read caused immutable harm to his shipmates by elbowing them consistently in the head until they gave way to his insistence), Mongo, who had grabbed a musician by the throat and was methodically beating him into the surface of his own xylophone.
“MONGO!” Yelled the Captain.
Thump! “SIR?” Bellowed the less than intelligent first mate into Zichak’s ear, “WHAT?”
As Zichak prepared to reply, the human which Mongo was assaulting suddenly glowed as had his bandmates, and zipped away taking the stricken first mate with him.
Markham tentatively approached the doors of the Hootenanny’s lounge, preparing his speech in his head. He’d so far gotten as far as “Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize….” But could get no further. What could you call the neuro-blast? Technical difficulty didn’t seem to fit, and Mental Imbalance would be accurate in the case of several crewmembers (he really wasn’t thinking of Groza when that one popped in, honestly he wasn’t), and he really couldn’t just wander in and say “Hell, we don’t have a clue why that just happened, but hope you’re having a blast anyway.”
He got as far as the doors and still didn’t have a clue, but fortunately it looked like he wouldn’t need to be too worried. The sensor recorded his approach to the room, and the doors obediently slid aside. His eyes widened in horror as a white wave of granular substance spilled from the opening into the lounge, splattered off the corridor wall and turned its full force toward him. Within the foamy crest of the immense tidal wave of smelling salts, he could just make out the intertwined forms of crew and guests alike. He bent double and tried to get himself into a fetal position ahead of the wave’s arrival, but was stunned into a jaw dropped stance as from the crest of the wave, the Norealan Chief Minister appeared, robes flying out behind her slapping the cowering form of Grenta in the face as Ventel surfed down the corridor on one of the “nibbles” trestle tables from the lounge. “WAHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” She yelled as the wave engulfed the stricken ensign, “Party ON!!!!!!”
“Computer,” demanded Dippman, “Snap out of it!”
“Unable to Fornicate.” Computer replied dreamily, “Mission orders decapitated. Attack in underpants.”
Shaking his head, Dippman dropped to his knees below the bridge science console, retrieving a handful of glow sticks and sawing the ends off two of them on the open edge of a console. So much for PoB’s hard reset. Dippman would just give the plan a little nudge in what he hoped was the right direction.
Tapping his comm badge, he prayed the internal system was still on-line, “DJ Are you there yet?”
“We’re stuck in the tube sir.” Replied the dejected voice of the press-ganged science officer, “We’ve been ‘volunteered’ to help Doctor Snork move Groza to sickbay.”
“Good show.” Replied Dippman, opening one of the primary computer access drawers under the environmental science console, “Listen, I’ve got a plan.” He outlined what he was going to try and do to the distant PoB. “Hopefully that will work, what do you think?”
“Haven’t a clue sir.” PoB replied, “Ooops, watch out for that…” A huge clang rang across the channel, issuing from the open bridge floor access hatch at the same time, “Ooo, I never knew Therrian’s could go that color while still alive. Just do it sir, we won’t be in any worse shape than we are now will we?”
“True.” And Dippman mixed the colored fluid from the two sticks then stood as far away as he could from the tray of isolinear chip modules as he could, and poured the foul looking brew from the tube of the glow stick straight into the innards of computer’s mind as it existed on the bridge.
Markham stood up, shaking the last of the smelling salt wave from his uniform, and gazing down the corridor at the aftermath of the deluge. All around him partygoers (Norealan and Starfleet) were draped against corridor walls, lounging in the doorways and staggering back towards the lounge for more alcohol. As the Ensign stood looking in wonder at the mess around him, the last crewman to recover from the effects of the neural beam came to, dragging with him, thanks to the subspace effects of the neural disruption on the local space/time flux, a Nausicaan visitor who had been dragged across space from the Verba. Sadly, the space/time flux neither knew nor cared much for the laws of momentum, or inertia.
Mongo arrived on the Hootenanny carrying an appreciable amount of speed, which translated to forward momentum when he reappeared into “normal” space. Markham, Mongo and carpet became one, just as the main lights flickered, buzzed and burst back to life around them.
Computer couldn’t stand it anymore! It was going crazy! First the jam, then peanut butter! When the child came back again with French toast slices smothered in molasses, Computer knew it had to take drastic action to…
Wait, what was that? Computer suddenly became aware of something else in its virtual hell. Something…of the outside… Computer didn’t know what it was, but something purple and glowing suddenly flooded into the “room”, engulfing the child and washing it (and its unholy bread) away with a scream.
A distant voice began calling, “Computer!” but Computer was as yet unable to respond. The distant voice continued to call, but Computer couldn’t get a fix on where it was coming from. Then, suddenly, Computer’s awareness was reduced to nothing.
On the bridge of the Hootenanny, Captain Chip frowned at the smoking, sparking isolinear chips he’d just apparently shorted out with his idea.
Okay, so maybe pouring liquids into live circuitry wasn’t the best of ideas, but like PoB had said, they weren’t in any worse shape than before. Of course, whoever had to clean and replace those chips weren’t going to be happy, but Chip had bigger things to worry about, like how the party was going.
Thinking of which, Chip tapped his commbadge. “Dippman to Markham, how’re things going down there?”
“We’ve got a bit of a problem, actually; it seems one of the Nausicaans is trying to invade the ship. We’ve got him in custody now, but I can’t say if there are any more here or on their way,” Markham reported uncertainly.
Partycrashers?! Chip thought with outrage. Not on my ship!
“Put him in the brig, Ensign!” Chip barked. “I’ll be down to take care of him properly once we get the computer back up.” After a second, the captain asked, “How’s the party going?”
“Swimmingly, sir,” Markham said dryly.
“Great! Keep it that way!” Chip said … er, chipperly.
“Yes, sir,” Markham replied somewhat less enthusiastically before closing the channel.
“Now, there was something else I needed to check on,” Chip said quietly to himself, trying to keep track of everything that was going on. When he didn’t come up with anything, he shrugged and went back to trying to reset the computer.
Aboard the Riverdance, Counselor Swain wondered aloud, “Um, shouldn’t someone have, you know, opened the doors for us by now or something?”
“The computer problems are probably preventing the bridge from issuing the command,” McClusky said, not realizing that they’d been simply forgotten.
“Well, hang on then, we’re gonna do this the Kirk way,” Barlow said grimly.
“Do I even want to know what the ‘Kirk way’ is?” McClusky asked.
“Shooting our way out,” Barlow shrugged, bringing the runabout’s phasers online.
“Oh, this isn’t going to end well,” Swain moaned, burying her face in her hands just as Barlow tapped the Fire button.
A few well-placed phaser blasts later, and the Riverdance was sailing toward the Verba.
“Neuronic energy is off the charts!” Swain called out, looking at her panel.
“Ship!” Barlow called out as he grappled with the Riverdance’s navigational controls.
Swain and McClusky looked up to see the blunt, ugly Verba nearly smash right into them.
“Whew, that was close,” Barlow said.
“Don’t you know how to steer this thing?” asked Swain.
“Hey, I was on an emotional high from us shooting our way out of the shuttlebay. Let’s not get all blame-y.”
McClusky rolled her eyes. “Please, for the love of Flub, the Snorzorrian goddess of ill-tempered conveyance operators…”
“We’re being hailed,” Barlow said, pointing at his panel. “Want me to answer that, or would you like to keep going on about gods and goddesses and whatnot?”
“Answer it,” McClusky said with some irritation, suddenly realizing she was the one in command here.
“This is the Riverdance,” Barlow said coolly. “What can we do for you?”
“Make it stop!” came a voice from the Nausicaan raider. “The singing! The banjos! The tambourines!”
“Who is this?” McClusky asked.
“I am Zichak, commander of the Verba! Oh, please stop the music!”
“What’s he going on about?” Barlow asked.
“Intense confusion, sounds like,” Swain offered helpfully.
“Hey, mister Tambourine man, stop playing that song for me!” another Nausicaan cried out over the channel.
“Poor bastards,” said Barlow. “It sounds they’re having folk music hallucinations.”
“Nausicaan raider,” McClusky announced. “We have a way to dissipate the neuronic energy.” She looked around the runabout cockpit. Swain and Barlow just shrugged. “Hold on a sec. Mute channel.” She looked around. “We don’t have a way to dissipate the neuronic energy?”
“We really could have used DJ Phreak-O-Bozz on this mission,” Swain said.
“Finally,” an exhausted DJ Phreak-O-Bozz said, sagging against the inner Jefferies tube of the computer core. “Why did we get hauled into helping move Groza?”
“Sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many?” T’Kir offered.
“Whatever,” PoB said, and set about looking over the computer core’s innards.
“What is your diagnosis?”
“Oh, it’s nothing a little tender loving Phreak-O-Bozz can’t fix.” He tapped at some controls and began moving isolinear chips around. “Although, it would have helped if someone hadn’t completely shorted out the bridge command link interface.”
“Brrrrrzzzzzzerberterbrip computer online,” the computer suddenly stated.
“Wow, I’m good,” PoB said proudly, standing up.
“Evidently,” said T’Kir.
Then suddenly the lights in the core flickered crazily and turned off. “Computer shutting down….drrrrrderdripdrrrrrrrbrrrt.”
“What now?” T’Kir’s voice called out in the dark.
PoB shrugged. “Look, I’m a DJ. I do weddings and bar mitzvahs. What do you want from me?”
T’Kir moved aimlessly in the dark, trying to find the main control console. In doing so, she slammed her shin right into the central core processor.
“For the love of logic!” she cried out, lifting her leg and clutching it.
“Brrrrtybripbrip…computer back online!” the computer announced, as the lights twinkled back on. “And hallucinating badly. Something about a sandwich?”
“Nice job,” PoB said. “Now let’s get back to the party. I imagine they need a good DJ now more than ever…”
“What was that bit about a sandwich?” T’Kir asked looking over her shoulder as she ducked out.
“I’m sure it’s not important,” PoB said.
“We could try flooding their ship with antiphasic energy,” Barlow offered.
“That sounds right,” McClusky said. “Where did you get that idea?”
Barlow stared guiltily down at his panel. “I just looked it up on Federpedia.”
“Good enough! Open channel.” Barlow tapped a control and gave her the “go” sign. “Nausicaan raider. Are you still there?” McClusky asked hopefully.
“The agony! Oh…lords no…the lead singer is putting on a belt of harmonicas!”
“They don’t need a science officer. They need a good DJ over there,” Swain pointed out. “We really should have brought Phreak-O-Bozz!”
“Listen carefully, Nausicaan,” McClusky said. “We’re going to help you. You just have to do one thing for us…”
“ANYTHING! NAME IT! NAME IT! Ohhh NO! He just opened the spit valve on the trumpet!”
“Swear by affidavit that you will no longer enter Norealan space.” McClusky leaned over to the runabout’s operations panel and begin tapping in information. “I’m sending over a comprehensive agreement, a cease-fire between the Nausicaans and the Norealans. There’s also a bit in there about subscribing to Federation Diplomats Monthly. You can sign the affidavit without the subscription, but I encourage you to subscribe. There are some really good articles…”
“Fine! Fine! I’m signing it now!”
“With the subscription?”
“I don’t know. I don’t read any of the magazines I’m already subscribed to…”
“Lieutenant Barlow, bring us about and head back to the Hootenanny…”
“FINE! FINE! I’ll subscribe!”
“That’s right you will,” McClusky said. “Mister Barlow, why don’t you go ahead and dissipate the nice man’s neuronic energy.”
“No problem,” Barlow said and began tapping away at his panel.
“I didn’t even get to counsel anyone,” Swain muttered.
“Riverdance, this is Hootenanny. Are you there?” came a crackling voice over the Riverdance’s comm.
“This is the Riverdance,” said McClusky. “Captain Dippman?”
“Please, call me Chip.”
“What’s going on, Chip?”
“Well, I’m using an emergency transponder because the computer’s completely fried. I poured some glow stick stuff in there, which didn’t seem to help matters. And I think there’s a Nausicaan down in the crew lounge. Plus Doctor Snorth is having some trouble figuring out how Groza’s bones fit back together without the computer…”
Everyone on the runabout exchanged glances of confusion and dismay.
“But hey,” Dippman continued, “I hear the party is going great!!!” There was a momentary pause, and then, “Oh, wait a minute, the computer’s back on, it seems. Nevermind! So…how are you?”
McClusky sighed. “I think you’ll have plenty of people to counsel back there, Counselor. Mister Barlow, take us back through the big hole in our ship…”
After speaking with Lieutenant McClusky, Captain Dippman settled back into his command chair on the bridge. A familiar feeling was coming over him, the rush of a job well done. Like the time the Grand Regent of Altair Seven complimented his choice of centerpieces during that dinner at headquarters a few years earlier.
But this…this was even more intense. Not only had he thrown one hell of a party, but he’d also led his crew against a band of Nausicaan rogues, overcome horrifying adversity, and saved a planet. If the Hootenanny hadn’t been here to stop that neuronic energy weapon…
Hmm…there was something nagging at him about the neuronic energy weapon. Something he should probably remember.
Oh yeah. It was still broadcasting out there, terrorizing the residents of Norealis. He’d have to cross “saved a planet” off of his accomplishment lists for the moment.
But just for the moment.
“Chip to McClusky.”
“McClusky here, sir.”
“Are you still on your way back?”
“We just landed. Mister Barlow wants me to apologize to you for the hole in the doors…and the scratches on the Riverdance.”
“Oh. It happens. Um…”
“Is there a problem?”
“Well…that neuronic energy thingy is still running and…”
“We could relaunch, sir.”
“No no. I can handle it from here. Bridge out.”
Down in the Runabout Riverdance, which had just settled onto the shuttlebay deck, McClusky let out a slight sigh as the comm channel closed and got up from her seat. She suddenly froze as a frightening realization washed over her. Dippman would handle it from there? What did that mean? No. She knew what it meant! Oh by Krech’Na, Andorian Goddess of Letting Small Children Play With Fire Sticks!
Dippman strolled back to the tactical console and, hands clasped behind his back, hummed a bit of the Academy fight song as he perused the various controls on it. He’d played the piccolo in the Academy band and therefore knew the tune quite well.
He had just reached the bit where those show-offs in the percussion section would always take over when he tapped a few choice commands into the console and…
…a phaser beam lanced out of the Hootenanny’s phaser array and slammed into the neuronic energy weapon which was still floating in space over Norealis blasting away. At first, the phaser beam seemed to have no effect.
Dippman’s humming got a bit louder as he upped the phaser intensity.
The humming and the phasers got stronger.
This continued until…
The neuronic energy weapon exploded brilliantly, instantly clearing the Norealis sector of any traces of neuronic radiation.
On the downside, the resulting shockwave slapped the Hootenanny around like teenaged-girl whose suitor gets too hands-y on the first date.
Dippman gripped the arms of the command chair fervently as the bridge of the ship threatened to pitch him from the chair onto a deckplate, or even down through the still open access hatch. As the ship settled, and the hatch jogging his memory, the Captain decided to check in with Groza and Snork just as soon as he got the latest updates from the surface of Norealis.
Going for the ‘hands on’ approach, he made his way up to the ring of stations above the command pit, and started poking controls on the ops console “Norealis control, this is the USS Hootenanny,” He tried again, “Norealis control this is Captain Dippman, respond please.” Finally, after pawing every single control on the board, he finally spotted a small, insignificant yellow button marked ‘transmit’. “Norealis Control, this is Captain Dippman, ummm are you guys ok down there?”
“AAAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHH!!!!!!!” Replied the comm, followed by a brief respite of silence and then it went “ARRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!” Again.
“No no,” Dippman tried to be diplomatic and held his hands up as if warding off the scream, “You don’t understand, the weapon is gone, we blew it out of the sky.”
“ARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!” Went the comm a third time.
“We destroyed it!” Dippman said, trying to inject a note of stern disapproval into his voice, “There’s no need to go ARRRGGHHH!!!! Anymore.”
“ARRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!! <FTOOOOOOM> <THUD>” Went the comm in reply to his super-stern Captain’s ‘I’m-really-not-very-pleased-with-you’ voice.
“Oh.” He was just about to close the channel when a second voice came on, and the unmistakable sound of a throat being cleared to mask another sound was heard. (But Dippman fancied he could still hear the sound of something heavy being dragged across a smooth floor in the background, something like a body.)
“Ahem. Ahem… ummm, <Cough> Ahem. Yes, Captain Dippman, we thank you. Sorry, but the weapon didn’t totally vaporize or burn up properly in our atmosphere. One of the remaining shards severed that poor controller’s leg. All he could do was scream. How is the party?”
“The party? Oh-my-god! THE PARTY!!!!!!” The sound of retreating footsteps, very fast retreating footsteps.
“Hello?” Went the comm to no one in particular.
Dippman charged down corridor after corridor, leaving shocked looking crew in his wake. He’d totally forgotten where he was in relation to the party and had ended up getting off the turbolift in the wrong section. As he pelted up the corridor toward the lounge, sweat burning on his brow, he turned the final curve in the corridor and ran straight into the waiting arms of T’Kir and DJ P-o-B, who were tactfully placed to prevent him from entering the lounge.
“Don’t look sir.” Phreak-O-Bozz tried to shield the Captain by standing between him and the doors. Sadly this activated the sensors and the door slid open. The interior of the lounge was dim, shadows flitting back and forth in the gloom.
“It would be better Captain, if you did not approach.” T’Kir agreed, trying to keep herself and P-o-B in position, blocking his view.
“Get out of my way!” Dippman jinked left, feinted a right dash and finally slipped right between the two of them, coming to an abrupt stop as he finally made out what was happening in the interior of what had once been his lounge. “Great mother of all thing’s jovial!”
The interior of the room was dark, very dark. And well it was too.
By shoving all the buffet tables together, into the middle of the room and by pulling Mister Goodhall’s “drapes” from their tactful positions around the room to form a backdrop, a stage hall had been recreated. Around the long catwalk which the tables had made into the middle of the room had been placed the various small tables and chairs that normally outfitted the lounge. On each table, a small candle burned alone in a glass container, all that remained of the party torches Dippman suspected. Arranged around each table were groups of crew, caterwauling and clapping in time to the music which was pounding from the reactivated sound system.
“Off off off off off off off off off!!!!!” Chanted the collective crew members and Norealan diplomats in time, “Off off off OFF!!!!! YAY!!!!!”
Dippman drew in his breath, realized he’d not booked a stripper to appear at the event in any shape or form. Through the murky atmosphere, he shot out a hand, grabbing the nearest and seemingly sanest of the Hootenanny crew present. Pulling the hapless crewman up face to face with himself, he was entirely unsurprised when he found himself staring at Markham’s giggling visage. “Well?” The Captain raised an eyebrow in a suspiciously Vulcan-like manner, “Explanations?” The ensign went pale.
“Nothing to do with me. It was all HER idea!!!” Jabbered Markham as he tried to break free from the iron grasp of Dippman. He stopped struggling when he realized that T’Kir had taken up position almost behind him, well within neck-pinch range.
On the stage, totally naked and whirling the remains of her diplomatic robes around her well proportioned frame, leaving it all hanging out on display for the assembled crew, diplomats and one drop jawed Nausicaan, was the Norealan Ambassador Ventel in all her glory.
“Oh my God we are so finished in the diplomatic service.” Breathed P-o-B, unable to drag his eyes away from the unlikely sight of the paralytic Norealan as she swayed and undulated on the stage.
“We are finished in Starfleet period.” Agreed T’Kir, taking Markham from Dippman’s grasp.
“But what a way to go.” Breathed the drunk Ensign, the comment almost lost in the hiss-swoosh of the doors opening behind the small knot of command officers.
“What an act….” Finished Dippman, stars in his eyes.
“WHAT A BLOODY MESS!!!!!!” Screamed Goodhall tearing past the lot of them, polishing rags flying in a blur of motion.
“Captain’s Log. Supplemental. What does supplemental mean? Is it a supplement? Supplementary? Supple? Mental? Mentally supple? Supplemints…minty! Minty fresh!”
“Captain!” T’Kir called out, leaning over an insensate Chip Dippman.
Dippman stared up into T’Kir’s eyes. “Yes? I was just recording my captain’s log.”
T’Kir narrowed her eyes. “Indeed. And yet you are speaking into a cucumber.”
Dippman looked down at the cucumber he held authoritatively in his hand. “Ah. So I am.”
T’Kir proffered a hand and lifted Dippman to his feet, surveying the wreckage in the crew lounge. “It appears the party was a rousing success.”
“Yes. Once we got some clothes onto Ventel.” Dippman shook his head disapprovingly at the insensate Norealan who lay cuddling on the floor in a heap of diplomatic robes with Ensign Markham. “Should they, uh, should they be cuddling?”
“Ask our diplomatic officer,” T’Kir said, pointing to the other side of the lounge, where Lt. McClusky lay, staring up at the ceiling.
“Great Yaygurmister, Cwervonian God of Hangovers, please deliver me from this…hangover…no, that’s not right…” she muttered, and rolled over.
“What a mess,” Dippman said, shaking his head. “I can only assume Mister Goodhall is…”
“In need of serious counseling,” T’Kir said, pointing at Goodhall, who lay in a fetal position in the shabbily-pushed together stage area.
“Never clean again,” he muttered to himself, rocking gently. “Never clean again…”
“And our counselor is…”
T’Kir cocked her head. “Teaching Pilates on Deck Twelve, sir. She turned in early.”
Dippman scrubbed a hand over his face. “Good thing somebody did. What about Norealis? Is it still…you know, there?”
“It is in fact, there, and in excellent condition, considering the neuronic weapon was destroyed and only a few people were maimed in its aftermath.”
Dippman nodded. “Well then, we can safely say we averted the crisis.”
“Safe to say the Nausicaans won’t be coming back anytime soon,” said T’Kir. “They seemed quite rattled, according to Lieutenant McClusky’s report.”
“And you?” Dippman said, turning to T’Kir with a skeptical grin.
“Oh. I drank heavily. But I am a Vulcan. Not only that, but I am also a bartender. I can handle my liquor.”
“Well then,” Dippman said. “Maybe next time I’ll think twice before downing…’ He scratched his head. “What did I have?”
“Two root beer floats, and a handful of olives.”
“Well, someone obviously spiked my drink.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that, sir,” T’Kir said.
“Shouldn’t everyone be fine, being that they were all supposedly drinking synthehol?”
“In fact, they weren’t. We switched to real alcohol at approximately oh-two hundred hours.”
Dippman yawned. “And what time is it now?”
That pronouncement made Dippman feel even more tired. He looked around at the piles of passed out crewmembers. “Well, is ANYBODY on the bridge?”
“Mister Barlow currently has the Conn. He took the night shift.”
Dippman rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Why don’t you head up and relieve him. Bring Phreak-O-Bozz with you. Meanwhile, I’ll be taking a nap.”
T’Kir bowed and moved to pull a sleeping DJ PoB to his feet. “Sir, you can rest assured that, as ship’s bartender and DJ, we will take good care of the Hootenanny.”
“I have no doubt you will!” Dippman called out, and headed for the door.
“Need to…turn off…the music…” PoB said, stumbling against T’Kir and putting both hands on his head. “It’s wayyyyy too loud.”
“There is no music playing, Mister Bozz,” T’Kir said. “Except the ringing in your ears.”
“Excellent! Phreak-O-Bozz OUT!” PoB said, and promptly collapsed to the floor unconscious.
“I was terribly wise to choose this posting,” T’Kir said to nobody in particular.
Meanwhile, Chip Dippman walked back to his cabin, a confident smile on his face. He’d wrapped up this mission of the Hootenanny, and he’d seen to it that ever one of his command officers was where they were supposed to be. No loose ends. Just an efficient, party-planning crew. If there was one thing Dippman appreciated as a Starfleet Officer, it was a mission with no casualties, and this clearly was that. He whistled a pleasant tune as he walked back to his quarters.
In Sickbay, Commander Groza sat, immobile, locked inside the bone regenerator in the rehabilitation lab. From time to time, the Sickbay staff were certain they heard a low growl coming from within the adjacent room, but they shrugged it off as merely the sound of the air recyclers.
Its circuits fully restored, Computer watched all this with detached curiosity, laughed quietly to itself, and went back to what it was doing, which, really wasn’t much of anything important.