Author: Mark Stockman
Dippman relaxed back into the padding of his command chair on the bridge of the Hootenanny. After all the excitement recently of the Norealan affair, the continuing rehabilitation of his First Officer after the horrific fall he’d sustained from the Bridge to the bottom of the small ship’s primary hull, and the final indignity suffered by the damage to the shuttlebay caused by the flamboyant exit of their only functional runabout, the Captain was bushed. “Uh oh.” T’Kir was manning ops, her first shift since the ‘hard reset’ that she and Phreak-O-Bozz had performed on the systems of the diminutive ship, “Another system ‘glitch’.”
“Define ‘glitch’” Wearily the Captain hauled himself over to her console, taking care to avoid the jammed open access hatch near the helm, covered over with anti-hazard tape and surrounded by the quartet of traffic cones they’d managed to scrounge from around the ship after the party, no one had a clue how, where or why they had them aboard, “Is the ‘glitch’ going to restrict our party going, or is it one of those Starfleet glitches, which will just cause us to loop round a temporal anomaly for the next fifty years?”
She raised an indignant eyebrow at the Captain as she scanned a screen on the console, which currently displayed Starfleet’s latest FAQ on troubleshooting tactical and ops consoles. “Aha. Yes, well. Maybe.” She consulted the screen once more, clasped both her hands together above her head and hammered them down onto the control surfaces. The console obligingly beeped, and a huge crack appeared running the width of the glass covering. “Not productive.” She finished, rubbing the edge of her bruised hands together.
Markham and Barlow appeared from the aft turbo-shaft. “Awww, crap. She’s here already.” Markham sighed, turning to drag himself back into the turbolift. He wondered if Sacco needed some help putting things back together down in the shuttlebay, anywhere would be better than manning environmental engineering and watching T’kir do his job better than him on the bridge.
“Ensign.” Gestured the Vulcan, standing from the console and heading for the lift herself, “You may man the console while I report to sickbay for pain relief.”
“Umm, thanks.” Markham gingerly approached the console, took his seat behind the controls, “Umm, is this supposed to be like this?” He asked, pointing at the crack in the surface, which had started sparking and smoldering.
“I have already reported it to Mr. Goodhall, he is on route to evaluate the damage” She replied, just as the doors cut her off and whisked her away from the bridge.
“That was nice of her.” Barlow smiled from the helm, “At least she already reported it.”
“Yeah.” Markham sat with his hands in his lap, doing nothing, “But I can’t help feeling….” He did not finish, the arrival of a fuming Goodhall from the outboard turbolift taking his entire attention.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing to MY ship!!!!” The engineer stomped directly across the bridge, ignoring Dippman who stood up with his finger in the air and his jaw flapping in the wind of the engineer’s passage across the small command area, about to interrupt and tell the engineer that T’Kir, not Markham was to blame. The Captain saw the error of his ways, and sat down, observing the unfolding interplay between the two.
“Ummm.” Markham tried to get out of the chair, succeeding only in falling out of it to the carpet. “I-I-I-it wasn’t me!!!” He protested, hold his hands out to fend off the infuriated engineer, “T’Kir was on duty….”
“She’s in sickbay, how could she do this anyway. Vulcans aren’t vandals!!!” He approached the console, taking note of the damage to the surface of the controls, “You hooligan, you scumbag, I mean… look, how the hell am I supposed to fix that without leaving a mark? Or a fingerprint?” He caressed the console lovingly, “It’s ok, baby,” he cooed to the ship, “I’ll take care of it… and him!”
At that last, Markham bolted, almost making the lift before Goodhall lobbed a can of brasso clear across the small bridge, impacting perfectly on the rear of the Ensign’s head, knocking him into blissful unconsciousness just as the lift arrived. As he pitched forward, his momentum carried him into the lift properly before he collapsed into a heap of uniform on the floor of the small car. “Sickbay!” bellowed Goodhall, loud enough for the lift sensors to register. The doors snapped shut, whisking the car and it’s unconscious cargo directly to the domain of Doctor Snork.
Several decks below, Snork almost dropped his protoplaser right onto Groza’s still broken jaw when the sickbay turboshaft spat open and disgorged Markham onto the floor at his feet. He juggled the instrument crazily for a second, almost switching it to laser scalpel mode and slicing the top off the first officer’s head. After five full days in the bone-regenerating unit, the doctor doubted that the XO would appreciate being decapitated just before he was fully healed.
“Hmmm, Excuse me Commander.” He nodded at the prone form of the first officer, still mostly held immobile by a stasis field, not to promote healing, but to prevent Groza from bolting now that his legs were more or less back to normal and working properly. Eyes wide and staring at the glowing tip of the instrument which had so nearly removed his good looks, Groza could just barely blink in response. Snork had almost lost the Commander twice in the last five hours alone as more and more bones were healed after his horrific impact at the bottom of the ship, all that remained for the Doctor to reset were his jaw, a wrist on his left bottom arm and one pinkie toe. It had taken four crewmen nearly an entire day to navigate the twisting turns of the jefferies tubes to bring him back to sickbay, and Snork had no intention of repeating that journey in the near future. The tubes were too narrow, made him feel claustrophobic, and made his fur itch. The Tellarite waved a medical probe over the prone form, gave it a cursory glance and then aimed a tentative gentle kick to the ensign’s side. When his foot remained attached to his leg, the doctor returned to the Therrian on the main table, “Now, about that jaw…”
The doors to the main corridor slid easily aside and T’kir walked into the medical bay just as Snork was returning his attention to the Therrian. “Ah.” She observed, glaring down at Markham, “I see Mr. Goodhall is as efficient as normal.”
“Eh?” Snork didn’t even look up, “Goodhall? I thought that he was Markham?”
“Well where the hell is Goodhall?” The short squat doctor busied himself around the bed, “You can’t expect me to treat more than one at a time you know.” He complained, “I haven’t even finished the full toxicological screening for Mr. Groza here. There’s still Terran Smallpox, Rigelian Ring-Rash and Klingon Hemorrhoids to check for.” With a flourish, he produced what looked like a silver skinned probe, about eight inches long, rounded at what appeared to be the business end, about an inch and a half, rising to four inches in diameter and polished to a high shine, it buzzed and jumped and throbbed in Snork’s hand. A small click, and four bladed extrusions sprung out from the nose of the thing, each with a small grabbing attachment, which looked wickedly, sharp, and barbed. “I’ve been waiting for a chance to try this beauty out.”
“For the Klingon…” T’kir stopped dead in her tracks, even a Vulcan it appeared, could show some sympathy for her crewmates. Groza’s eyes flew wider with alarm. Even with the still broken jaw, he managed a strangled squeak, which could only be the beginnings of a scream.
“No, this is the adjuster for the biobed.” Chided Snork, slamming the thing into a receptacle at the foot of the bed’s frame. “New version, just approved and only for these nebula class ships.” Fitting into the slot, the thing appeared to be a joystick, allowing Snork to tilt the Commander’s biobed to any angle.
“Of course.” T’kir gestured at the unconscious Markham, “I need some pain relief, and seeing as Mr. Markham is here, I should get back to the bridge at once.”
“I didn’t think you Vulcan’s felt pain.” Snork mused, “Here,” He pressed a hypospray against her offered forearm, repeated the procedure on the opposite arm, all the while examining the rapidly forming bruises on the underside of her palms. “Nasty. How did you do that? Residual effect from the smelling salts, MaKarvian stun blast? Have you been exposed to a Cardassian Vole lately? Ah, I know, Nausicaan love bite?”
“No to all the above, especially the last.” She spat, noting that Markham was starting to regain consciousness; he struggled up onto his knees over the Doctor’s right shoulder, “Um. Doctor?” She pointed, just as Markham grabbed hold of the bed adjuster as an anchorage point to drag himself upright.
“Unnnnghhhh!!!!” He mumbled, finding the bump on the back of his head with a questing hand, “That smar….” He got no further. Groza’s bed swung through a mad, haphazard circle, the head of the bed rocketing upward, the feet downward, then undulating back and forth. Suddenly it swung laterally, and the first officer’s feet cracked the ops officer across the face, breaking his nose instantly, the sickening crack of impact being heard clear across the sickbay. Markham collapsed again, followed by Groza unceremoniously falling off the side of the manic biobed come fairground attraction as the stasis field failed momentarily.
“Damn.” Snork flipped back to the Therrian, scanning again, “There goes one of his ankles AGAIN!”
“Wod Abo Mi Node!!!!?” Markham groaned from the deck.
“And on that note, I will get back to the bridge.” T’Kir forced back a grin, almost choking, as she haughtily stomped from the small room.
“Now, we better see about starting on that ankle again Mr. Groza.” Snork picked up a PADD and retrieved a stylus from behind his ear. As he settled into the chair next to Groza’s bed, he started chewing on the already misshapen end of the small plastic appendage, “Now, since your last injury have you been exposed to…”
Groza tried desperately to struggle against the stasis field, which the computer had re-established as soon as it had located the errant patient. He began vainly pushing his recently knitted bone structure to its limits as he tried to escape the floor of the sickbay before the inquisition could begin yet again.
“Blink once for yes, twice for no please!” Snork admonished as the XO’s brow popped out in beads of sweat at the futile exertion.
“Captain’s Log, Chip Dippman recording.” He was in his element now, relaxed, calm, easygoing, and very very bored. “After the excellent conclusion to the Norealan mission, Starfleet seem to have found us absolutely no parties to attend! I have lodged my displeasure with the powers that be, and command have assured us that we’ll be needed in the very near future at the recommissioning of the USS Enterprise, they finally finished repairing the bits that Picard blew up in Romulan space.”
“I imagine that party will be in the distant future.” T’Kir interrupted as she returned to the bridge, “I am certain that Starfleet will repair rather than decommission the current vessel, she is less than ten years old, but I am sure there is something in the Starfleet manuals about NOT ramming your ship into Romulan Super-vessels.” She took a seat at science 2, behind Dippman’s left shoulder. Goodhall was still repairing the ops console. Well, he was layering polish onto the control surfaces so it could be wiped clean of greasy fingerprints at the drop of a rag.
“Hmmm.” Dippman shot her his best ‘that-sucks’ look of disapproval before reactivating the log, “Until they find us something to celebrate, I’ve asked Counselor Swain to start pouring through the personnel files, we’ve got two hundred people aboard the Hootenanny, surely one of them’s got a birthday coming up, or an anniversary we could practice on.”
“Um…Got ONE!!! Barlow’s got a significant date coming up.” Called Swain from the comm channel just as he shut the log recorder off. Dippman leapt from the command chair in eager anticipation.
“Three days time, the anniversary of his circumcision. 19 terran years ago.” Replied the enthusiastic voice, “That’d do surely?”
DJ P-o-B collapsed in fits of laughter at the main science station, “Just don’t serve sausage rolls and it’ll be a great party!!!” He wheezed out between the guffaws and giggles.
McLusky joined him, “Or cocktail wieners!!!” She added, tears rolling down her face as she rocked with laughter.
“Quite.” Dippman sat again, watching his helmsman turn several shades of embarrassed red at once, “I don’t think that’s exactly what we need Candi.”
“Why not just celebrate the end of our first successful mission together.” T’Kir stated, “We saved the Norealans, no one got hurt, and we even converted a Nausicaan pirate vessel into a floating Federation diplomacy advert.”
“We saved the Norealans from the Nausicaans, true. But who’s going to save them from their own diplomats?” Mused McClusky.
“And you can guarantee that the Verba went right back to piracy just as soon as we left Norealan space.” Agreed P-o-B.
== Nausicaan Raider Verba - Billions of Km’s away, that exact second ==
“They’re gaining Captain!” Mongo yelled as he hunched over the battered controls of the old raider.
“More speed!” Grumbled Vichak, hefting an unconscious and bleeding crewman out of the weapons control seat so he could take on the targeting himself. “We need more speed! Get us out of weapons range!”
“Haven’t got it. That’s a Sovereign class starship. We’ll NEVER escape! Should I sound the surrender?”
Vichak glowered, “Never. We shall fight to th…”
He was interrupted by the comm system of the old ship, “BING BONG! This is a customer service announcement from the Federation Diplomacy Service vessel USS Unity. We are happy to announce that your subscription to Federnet Diplomacy Monthly has been approved and the current issues are being dispatched to you as we speak if this month’s free gift of a live and functional photon torpedo is not attached to your copy, please do not hesitate to contact the Federation diplomatic service on subspace channel four-three-one. Have a nice day! BONG BING!”
“How many subscriptions did we get?” Breathed Mongo as the viewer lit up with the blue incandescence that could only mean certain bad things for a certain Nausicaan crew in the very near future.
“One for each crewman. I DIDN’T KNOW!!!!!” Wailed Vichak, “I thought they’d leave us alone if I signed us ALL up!!!!!”
“Oh Mother of the nine hells of Nausica…..!” Mongo cursed as the first of the subscription free gifts slammed into the hull.
<FTOOOOOMMMMM> Went the Verba in response.
“Nah.” Dippman waved his hand in dismissal, “They’re cured. They’ve seen the light, the error of their ways. Besides, they’ll be too busy taking bookings for the strip club that Markham negotiated into the deal for them.”
“Say where IS Markham?” McClusky glanced around the bridge, “I mean, he left the bridge almost unconscious, shouldn’t we check on him?”
“The Ensign is alive and well.” T’Kir didn’t even look up from the panel she worked, “He made it to sickbay in one piece.”
“Which is more than can be said for this console he broke.” Grumbled Goodhall, applying yet another layer to the covering of the controls, “He’s lucky I only had a can of Brasso and nothing heavier.”
Dippman was about to correct the engineer on who had broken the ops console when McClusky diverted his train of thought, well her console did in all truthfulness, but once that particular train was diverted, a derailment of epic proportions was almost guaranteed. A yellow button started flashing repeatedly in time with an annoying “ping” sound. After about ten seconds of silence punctuated by the odd “ping”, the console finally stopped flashing and a baritone voice issued from a speaker mounted in the station. “You Have Mail!” It cheerfully announced.
“I have?” The diplomacy officer looked quizzically at the thing, unsure of how to continue, “Um, little help?” She pecked at the controls on the console, “Where the hell is ‘PLAY’?”
Decks below, Snork had finally finished resetting the last of Groza’s skeletal injuries, and was already regretting doing the jaw. Immediately as the bone had been fused whole again, the XO had started criticizing the Doctors equipment, technique and even his dress sense.
“Your surgical scalpel is miscalibrated by ten milli-microns, and your stasis field is only 99.851 percent effective.” Grumbled the huge Therrian as the Doctor busied himself repairing the ankle damage, which Markham’s face had contributed to a scant few minutes beforehand.
“Maybe we should recalibrate your sense of humour.” Breathed Snork as he watched the XO’s eight toe digits on the foot closest to the doctor wriggle against the protesting stasis field. “If you continue to fight against the field, you will strain the generators and disable the only proper diagnostic bed we have aboard. How will that impact on your efficiency then Mr. XO when I have to repair your smashed pelvis next time using crazy glue and a half dozen stapler guns? Hmm? Fancy that do we?”
“Ed Ot Ooo Dere!” Giggled Markham from the next bed where he had been dumped by Snork and pumped full of pain relief, “ooo edder eee ice do da docder.”
“And you,” Groza glanced over at his crewmate, “Your underwear is on back to front and your rank pins are STILL upside down.”
“Ow oo oo dow dat?” Markham fumbled his pins around on his collar with one hand, the other was busy holding a pad over his smashed nose in a vain attempt to stop it bleeding over the front of his uniform. The attempt was currently failing miserably. “Dey ook da ame itchever ay up dey are! An oo an’d e’en eee aye udderwar.”
“A REAL well trained officer would know the answer to that.” Groza stated, “How much longer will you be Doctor? I have work to do and people to punish for my ‘accident’.”
“Accident?” Snorted the Doctor, “Accident implies there was no one to blame. The way I heard it told, you dumped yourself down that shaft, I’m reporting it as attempted suicide. You’re already booked in for a series of appointments with Counselor Swain. Every morning at 0600 you’re her first appointment of the day for the next six months or until I decide that you are cured.”
If he could move, Groza would’ve thumped the back of his head repeatedly against the bed frame in an effort to end it all or at the very least fracture his skull again and prolong his stay under the knife of the Tellarite. Anything was better than Swain first thing in the morning. Her incessant babble would ensure that the very next crewmember he met after each session would be in for a VERY bad day indeed.
The comm chose that exact second to beep for attention. Snork ambled across the small room to answer it in that ‘teddy bear’ walk that only a Tellarite can do properly, it looked ludicrous to all male sentients, but for some reason, females found it damn cute. Hence Tellarite’s were NEVER short of company. “Snork here. How can I help you?”
“Doctor!” Ejaculated the panel in Dippman’s perpetually cheery tones, “How are the wounded today?”
“I’m still finishing your first officer, Captain.” Snork replied, aiming a sharp blast of regenerative energy at the Therrian’s ankle, “Haven’t even looked at the other one yet.”
“I’ arkam, da ups uccifer!!!” Indignantly Markham added, this outburst starting his nose streaming again. Snork muttered under his breath and threw yet another surgical gown at the ensign to stem the flow before it hit the deck and triggered yet another of Goodhall’s seemingly endless “grime alarms” which were obviously patiently patrolling the entire Hootenanny, ever vigilant for the call to clean when the dirt arose. “I oo ad a dame oo no!”
“Indeed you do,” Rumbled Groza, waiting patiently while Snork finished the procedure on his leg. “Several of them in fact in my current frame of reference, and not one of them is repeatable in polite company.”
“No problems!” Dippman’s inanely cheery voice broke in before Markham could reply, “Just checking in with the party below decks.” The comm clicked closed.
Snork snapped the bone regenerator closed, clipping off the steady hum it had been emitting whilst fixing the final broken bones in his body. A click and the field released the first officer’s arms and head from the stasis field. “There you go Mr. Groza all finished.”
“Finally, revenge will be mine!!!” He tried to draw himself upward from the surface of the biobed. “Release the rest of the fields Doctor!”
“Release the fields I said!” Groza started groping blindly round the base of the bed with his hands, unable to feel or see any controls that would free him. “I must return to duty immediately. There are transgressions! There are rules being broken as you stand there doing nothing! And more importantly there are people which I need to punish for such transgressions and rule breaking!”
The Therrian strained and struggled against the energy fields, pushing and pulling back and forth against the restraining effect. “I MUST LEAVE HERE!”
“You’ve got at least a week of recuperation to go before you so much as set foot outside the ward.” Chided Snork, waving a finger in the face of the gargantuan man as Groza stared dumbfounded back at the diminutive Tellarite, “A week, 7 days, 168 hours, 10,080 minutes - Earth standard of course, maybe I should make that a Therria week.”
Groza paled, “A Therria week is not desirable.”
“a derry-ah eek?” Questioned Markham, moving the surgical gown away from his face barely enough to squeak out the question.
“I cannot remain here for a Therria week.” Groza stated, deadpan, “I have to prepare for… um, I have things I need to do before that time has elapsed. Something I need to make sure does not interfere with our mission you may say.”
“Mission critical.” Snork scratched his head, “Within a Therria week you say?” He consulted a PADD, “Nothing on my list. Speaking of lists.” He turned to Markham, “Have you ever been exposed to Klingon Cooties, Tarkallian measles, Vulcan Ponn-Farr syndrome…”
“Oh dear god….!” Groza tried to cover his face in dismay, but the noise wouldn’t go away.
“Captain’s log, um, stardate…. Anyone got the time?”
“If you’ve got the place and the energy!” Bozz laughed from the science console.
“Captain’s LOG.” Dippman started again, “Stardate um, 1 week after Norealis. We’ve just received word that there will be a celebration thrown next week for the crowning of the new new Romulan Praetor and seeing as I did such a grand job on the last one, they asked me to do this one too AND WE CAN’T GET THERE IN TIME!” He pouted and slumped into the command chair, “The best that they can finally offer us for a party-mission is the inaugural party for the new federation representative to Eminiar 7. If we’re lucky, and I mean really lucky, find a four leafed clover floating between the local star systems lucky, then Groza won’t be out of sickbay in time to cause a diplomatic incident and restart their five hundred year war.”
From sickbay, the intercom carried the indignant voice of their Doctor, “He’ll be out as soon as I finish screening him for anything Markham brought in, and stop sending me more than one patient at a time. The cross contamination chance is massive with so many patients in one ward.” Snork sounded annoyed, “Groza! Stop trying to release those clamps!”
“When I am free, you will suffer!!!” Groza’s wrath was returning as the Therrian regained his health, and his temper. “I Must work!”. The channel quit just as Groza started another rant, cutting him off before any comments reached the bridge.
McClusky prayed hard and long to Mechanisto, the Medusan god of electronic equipment, that the restraints were Therrian proof, he sounded really pissed this time. She nudged Dippman, “Just how are you bribing Snork to keep him down there? What have you possibly got that a Tellarite doctor could need badly enough to keep exposing himself to that kind of abuse daily?”
“That’s just it.” Dippman shrugged in response, “I’m not. Snork actually ENJOYS Groza’s company.”
“Tellarites are VERY thick skinned.” Offered T’Kir from the repaired ops console, “And they have some VERY strange socialization habits.”
“Well pointed out.” Dippman agreed, “But even Snork must be tired of him by now.”
“Dunno.” Bozz slumped back into his chair, slapping his boots up onto the science console, “Who cares?”
As the shoe leather made contact with the console, a shrill whistle screamed from the overhead speakers, “What the?”
“I believe that is one of Mr. Goodhall’s dirt alerts. Since the ops console, he has made them three times as sensitive in an effort to get us to look after the ship more responsibly” T’Kir stated flatly. “I further believe that Mr. Bozz has about 30 seconds head start before Mr. Goodhall gets here.”
Bozz took notice and fled into the port side turbolift, before the engineer could appear, not willing to risk his own neck. As the doors closed, T’Kir silenced the howling siren.
McClusky sidled closer to the Vulcan ops officer, lowered her voice so Dippman wouldn’t hear her, “For a Vulcan, you are coming VERY dangerously close to showing your sense of humour. That was low. I take it Mr. Goodhall didn’t set that particular alert.”
“I have no idea to what you are alluding.” T’Kir glanced at the Diplomatic Attache, “We Vulcans have NO emotions and NEVER lie or deceive.”
“No, you Vulcans have very well HIDDEN emotions, and you can exaggerate with the best of us.” Corrected McClusky, with an evil grin, “and believe me when it comes to emotions, yours are starting to show. I for one know exactly WHY you volunteered for this post. So beware.” And with an enigmatic smile, she retook her position on the command bench next to Dippman.
“Problems?” He asked as she perched next to him.
“No. Not yet anyway.” She smiled.
Bozz raced down a corridor three decks below, heading for the one place he knew he was safe from Goodhall, the only part of the ship that even the Chief Engineer would not enter. Since the party above Norealis, even coming close to the lounge brought the Engineer out in waves of nausea and sweating shakes. Bozz realized he’d probably be safe there, if he could make it. Strangely, there was no sign of any pursuit; he had no illusions that the rest of the bridge crew would stall for him. Once Goodhall was on the warpath, no one stood in his way. Upsetting the engineer on ANY starship could make life very unpleasant for a crewmember. Environmental controls on cabins could mysteriously stick wide open, freezing or boiling the occupants, transporter locks were easy to get when you knew the entire internal structure of the ship, and Bozz did not fancy awaking to find himself naked and attending one of Counselor Swain’s aerobic sessions. No thank you very much.
He skidded to into the lounge, which was packed with beta shift officers all having just woken up and grabbing breakfast before their shift started in 30 minutes. In the furthest corner from the door he spotted Ensign Sacco and a HUGE clique of female crew members, trying hard to look suave and sophisticated, instead of scared and intimidated, Bozz swanked up to them.
“Hey ladies!” He hitched a hip up against Sacco’s chair, leaning into the conversation equipped with his best winning smile, “How’s thing’s? I’m the DJ.”
“No.” Sacco replied dryly, “You’re the one who covered us all in smelling salts, shut down the computer, blew a hole in my shuttlebay…”
“That was Barlow.” Corrected Bozz. “Or Markham. Whichever one was on top at that moment. And Dippman himself shut down the computer”
“… gave the order to launch the runabout which was to blow a hole in my shuttlebay and finally gave the Captain erroneous advice which caused the computer to shut down.” Sacco glared at the fledgling science officer, “And to top it all off, you’re ruining my style. Bug out!” He and his entourage of beautiful crew females moved to a different table as far away from Bozz as they could.
“Of all the nerve!” Fumed Bozz, slumping into the warmth of one of the recently vacated couch, “One mission and I’m hated!”
“Ooo, I wouldn’t say that.” Cooed a breathy female voice from behind him, “Not hated, misunderstood maybe? Or just unknown.” Counselor Swain dropped into the opposite chair with her usual flamboyant entrance. “How ya doing DJ?”
Sacco glanced over to the rejected table and it’s lone occupant, only to double take and glare at the back of the man yet again. Of all the ladies on the crew, of all the prospective mates, the gorgeous Counselor Swain was number one on his ‘must get alone’ list. And now, here she was, fawning and smiling at that social reject. Sacco could barely believe that the fabulous blonde Counselor would choose to prefer to spend her time chatting with a man who wore an orange and lime green patterned Hawaiian shirt over his duty uniform and wore his hair shoulder length and full of green highlights. It just didn’t make sense.
“It doesn’t make sense Counselor.” Bozz lamented, “I’m human, don’t smell bad, haven’t got any antisocial diseases that I know about, I’m single and above all, I don’t look that bad.” He jerked a finger over his shoulder at Sacco and his followers, “What the hell has he got that I haven’t?”
“Dress sense?” Offered Swain with a shrug.
Later that night, in the almost totally deserted silence of sickbay, Groza tossed and turned under the reduced power of the stasis fields that Snork had refused to turn off even for ship’s night. He’d spent most of the evening devising punishments for every single transgression of ship’s rules and regulations which he’d seen whilst in sickbay, and then had wasted a futile couple of hours straining his every muscle against the fields in an attempt at freedom. He failed.
On the opposite diagnostic bed, Markham still lay propped up against the wall at the head of the bed. His nose had finally finished bleeding as the XO had been testing the strength of the fields, and Snork had been able to reset the break with a protoplaser after administering minimal pain relief. Ordinarily, the man would have been released back to duty at least a day ago, but the Doctor had only gotten halfway through the list of cross contamination events which may have occurred between the patients before he went off duty, necessitating that Markham spend another night in the infirmary. It was proving to be not a good night. No one had told him that Therrians snored, nor just how loud that snoring could be. Previously, he’d been sedated to remove the pain from his mashed nose, and hadn’t been conscious enough to register the sounds of the night in sickbay. Consequently, this night, Markham found himself awake and very alert at what was now the equivalent of 3am ship’s time. He’d spent the last twenty minutes trying to find something heavy enough and big enough to throw over the Therrian’s head and muffle the noise, then he’d tried gesturing at the night duty nurse, Trindaaan, a huge Capellan who was sat at the night duty station wearing a headset which was effectively screening out every noise outside whatever the huge being was engrossed in. So complete was his obliviousness, that he didn’t see the incoming communication light winking on the desktop of his station.
Markham did. Figuring that he was already awake, he just as well do something useful, after all, the comm couldn’t be anything important, he reached for the small control console attached to the side of the biobed, and transferred the call to him directly. “Sickbay, Markham here.”
“Ah. Mr. Markham.” T’kir from the Bridge, without adequate ops cover, she’d had to pull a double shift, that’d teach her for setting him up, “I have a communication for Mr. Groza.” Before he could tell her that Groza was still indisposed, or even raise a feeble protest, she added, “Patching it through.”
“GROZA!” the voice managed to fill the room just from the small comm speaker embedded in the control console of the bed, “YOU HAVE NOT COMM’ED ME IN OVER A WEEK!”
“Um.” Markham started to interrupt the obviously furious voice, “Um, Mr. Groza is um, indisposed. To whom am I talking?”
“I AM HIS MATE.” With a voice like that, it had to be Markham reached for the volume control and dialed it waaayy down, “GRONA THE UNDENYABLE, MATE OF GROSA THE INSUFFERABLE. IF I CANNOT SPEAK TO HIM DIRECTLY THEN I WISH TO LEAVE A MESSAGE.”
“S-s-s-ure.” Markham stammered. “Or I can have him call you back in the morning?”
“NOT ACCEPTABLE, I WILL BE ASLEEP THEN AND HE KNOWS BETTER THAN TO AWAKEN ME.” Markham bet that went the other way too. Awakening the XO hadn’t even crossed his mind, for fear of his mood when awakened. TELL HIM. TELL HIM HAPPY BIRTHDAY FOR THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. GRONA OUT.” And the channel started to die, then jumped back to life, “AND ENSIGN, YOUR RANK PINS ARE ON BACK TO FRONT.” Markham fumbled for the pins, “Just how the hell can you know that? Wait a second, I’m not even wearing my uniform!!!” He bellowed at the now closed comm. This last was true, he’d shucked into a surgical gown while Snork repaired the damage to his nose, and his uniform had been neatly folded up and place at the foot of his biobed days ago on his admittance to sickbay, regulation folding only, under the supervision of the immobile Groza. He decided that he couldn’t sit on news of this magnitude until morning, and he discharged himself summarily by running out the main ward, through the duty office and out into the ship corridors.
As he passed, Trindaaan glanced up, wondering just how far the ops officer would get before he realized that the surgical gown Snork had thrown on him had no back.
“His birthday?” Dippman sounded shocked, “Why didn’t we pick it up on the crew files?”
On the other end of the comm channel, McClusky’s tinny voice replied, “Looks to me like his service record has been altered, the date has been purposefully corrupted. You know that Therria orbit’s it’s sun only once every fourteen Terran years don’t you? I mean, he won’t get another one for another fourteen years and this could be just the chance to break through that stoic exterior and appeal to the party animal within.”
“Hmmm.” The Captain laid back on his bed, “Trouble is, what could we possibly plan to appeal to him?”
“Sorry?” McCluksy replied.
“Musing my dear.” Dippman smiled, and grabbed his party planning padd which never left the bedside cabinet in the small quarters he had been assigned, “Convene a staff meeting tomorrow morning, and for gods sake, tell Snork to keep Groza in sickbay while we sort this out. I don’t want him knowing ANYTHING.”
“Sure thing. Just one more matter while I’ve got you awake sir.” She cleared her throat, “I’ve um, I’ve had to arrest Markham sir. He’s in the brig now.”
“He’s the one that found out about Groza’s special day!” Dippman shocked awake, “On what charge?”
“Take your pick sir, unauthorized discharge from sickbay, mooning a senior officer, T’Kir by the way, or just gross, and I mean gross, misconduct, reporting for duty semi-naked.”
“Release him, and get him to report to the bridge and relieve T’Kir. Tell him to at least dress before he gets there to avoid another internal incident.” Dippman dropped the Padd, “I’m too tired to work now, get everyone to report to the briefing room at 0700 tomorrow, and don’t forget to tell Snork about keeping Groza out of our hair.”
“I don’t doubt that he’ll mind, he LIKES the brute. McClusky out.”
Dippman slipped nicely to sleep, chuckling at various party plans as they zipped through his mind. There was nothing like planning a party for someone you knew, or thought you knew anyway. It added an extra zing when their little faces lit up when you all showed how much you cared.
0700 - Meeting room, Early, very very very early.
Dippman tapped his fingers on the surface of the table, admiring Goodhall’s repair work, you couldn’t even see a ghost of the cracks which Groza had made during the Norealan briefing, the whole thing had been polished and repolished to a high sheen. He’d been admiring that sheen for the last twenty minutes, being the first to arrive at the meeting. It was now 0710 and there didn’t seem to be ANY signs of him being joined by any crew in the immediate future. In exasperation, he started a game of tic tac toe with the computer to pass the time. It was starting to look like this could be the beginning of a VERY long day.
Computer was still clearing the effects of the Norealan mission from some of the reserve memory packs which resided in the very very lowest priority areas of it’s structure. It was shoving the last remnants of the toaster dream out from the emergency backup file storage when Dippman requested the “tic tac toe” program to be started. Distributed processing meant that Computer could assign a small part of itself to service the Captain’s commands whilst leaving the rest of it’s consciousness to sift the remains of the memory files. This may have been a mistake. A Big mistake.
0715 - Dippman won his first game against the machine. This was followed rapidly by his second, third and fourth wins one after another. He started to feel that the computer might be letting him win. He ramped up the difficulty and made the grid bigger.
0720 - Seventeen games won on the trot. Dippman changed game and started with something he’d found buried deep in the databanks - he’d been secretly wanting to try this as an ice breaker or a party game, the history banks told him that “connect 4” was a great way to make friends. Computer responded by assigning another 20% of it’s run time to beating the Captain.
0725 - He’d won the entire series of Connect 4. Dippman changed the game one last time, activating another ancient game he’d discovered, Minesweeper. This was more like it, but with a 100 x 100 square grid, he probably wouldn’t even finish a single game by the time the crew arrived. Computer responded by adding all the remaining spare runtime cycles it could spare to defeating the Captain.
On the bridge, the telltales dimmed, and consoles went out as yet again, the Hootenanny found itself without computer support. Around the various consoles, the beta shift crew just looked at each other in utter despair. At ops, T’Kir drew a chided breath through her teeth, before sighing, “Here we go again.”
Markham, Goodhall and McClusky slunk into the briefing room at 0805, each hoping to enter quietly and not disturb Dippman’s briefing. What they hadn’t realized was that beside the Captain himself, they were the first to arrive. The sight that greeted them made them wish they’d stayed at breakfast for at least another half hour. Goodhall glared at the floor of the small room, trying to decide when he’d changed the carpet, whilst McClusky offered a quick quiet single line prayer to Apologisia, the Martian colony god of forgiveness, not for herself, but for what she suspected Goodhall would do to Dippman when he realized that the Captain was to blame for the mess.
Dippman finally realized he had company and removed the headphones of the strange device he’d replicated, “Aha! There you all are! Computer!”
A non-committal click from the loudspeakers was all he got.
“Computer!” The captain started across the gridded carpeting that he’d had the machine project onto the floor of the room, the screen on the table being nowhere near large enough for the grid he’d asked for. “Computer, cease the holographic project…” He’d walked away from the squares that he’d cleared with the old time metal detector, and onto a square surrounded by bright red warning numbers. Computer simulated the CLICK of the landmine engaging, before with cunning use of the holomatrix rerouted from Hootenanny’s single holodeck and the transporter system, it detonated one of Dippman’s special reserve party streamer grenades, the one’s filled with replica 20th century silly string. “Ftooom!!!!!”
Goodhall began his daily coronary as the string plastered the entire room.
They adjourned the briefing to the bridge whilst a medical team removed the badly convulsing engineer and a clean up crew removed the string from the walls, floor, carpet, seating, briefing table and just about every single surface within the room. Goodhall had actually managed to turn purple with rage before Markham and McClusky had finally restrained him, preventing the engineer from getting his hands on the rapidly retreating Captain.
Dippman himself still wore, as a badge of honour, a wig of fluorescent green, pink, orange and a funny puce coloured silly string that was stubbornly clinging onto his natural hair. He’d tried to pull it free, but at the risk of yanking out handfuls of his own still attached hair he’d decided to wait until the end of shift and deal with the menace properly.
“Ok.” He called, pulling up a blank document on the padd he’s saved from the briefing room, “Anyone had any ideas on what to do about Groza’s birthday?”
“Shoot him out an airlock?” Barlow suggested, “Cos if you do something and it ain’t right for him, you’ll wish you had.”
“Not constructive.” T’Kir turned from her console, “Why not just ask the Commander what he would like us to do to help him celebrate?”
“I can see that now…” Markham stood, doing a passable impression of the colossal Therrian, “I DO NOT NEED YOUR CELEBRATIONS!” He boomed, “THIS IS ALL AGAINST REGULATIONS< YOU WILL ALL BE PUNISHED!”
McClusky chuckled, “You’re absolutely right.” She admitted, “But just what can we do to make him realize we just want to make him happy? Make him feel like part of the crew?”
“I know EXACTLY what he would want.” Dippman suddenly exclaimed, twirling a length of silly string wig that threatened to become a pigtail if the Captain weren’t careful. “And I know EXACTLY how to give it to him too.”
The Day After Tomorrow - Groza’s Birthday.
Groza awoke in the usual manner, unfurled his six-limbed body from the Starfleet regulation bed and stretched mightily. In all six limbs, joints popped and crackled into motion, an effect that Snork guaranteed him would dissipate over the next few weeks as his body finished the final steps of knitting the bones he had destroyed in his recent incident. He hoped so, for everything bad he had to say about the little Tellarite, he actually had some respect for his skills as a surgeon, and though he’d never EVER admit it to anyone, Groza did enjoy the arguments he had with the physician. Most refreshing.
He finally got to his feet and made it to the bathroom in the small suite of rooms he called home on the Hootenanny. It was here that something hit him between the eyes, all of them. Something was not right. Not only was it not right, but he hadn’t a clue what “it” was, just that “it” was wrong, and that in being wrong, “it” was annoying him.
Concerned, he started a search of his quarters, starting in the bathroom niche. Nothing amiss here. Even his favourite nail clippers were untouched, sitting proudly in their small receptacle with his last batch of clippings which he’d forgotten to recycle into the replicator prior to his accident. There was even a small patch of mould beginning to attach itself to the side of the small jar; such had been the neglect whilst the XO had been in sickbay. Groza hurriedly showered, still unable to get rid of the gnawing feeling that something, somewhere was horribly horribly wrong.
Of course something was wrong. He was Groza, Groza The Insufferable, and Starfleet had taken it upon themselves to ship him here, to the latest in a long line of ships of the damned. At least had he been assigned to the Explorer, or the Aerostar or even the Secondprize, he would be involved in exploratory duties, rather than “party” planning. Even a shore post might have been better than this. That thought led naturally on to what Dippman had lined up for him to supervise today, since the accident he’d been begrudgingly forced onto “light duties” until he received a final bill of health from Snork. Despite his appreciation of the Tellarite, Groza was having to fight and struggle against the notion to go directly to sickbay and beat the needed agreement out of the doctor for him to return to full duty.
He grabbed his uniform and whilst clambering into the tight fitting jumpsuit, he surveyed his quarters minutely, searching for whatever was making him nervous and jumpy, the thing that he deduced was “wrong”.
Dippman watched the small screen on the corridor wall, awaiting his cue. On the small viewer, Groza continued to stalk hither and yon around the small stateroom, searching for something. The captain would lay good money that he’d never find it. Ever. Finally the comm chirped.
“Groza, I am unable to report for duty sir.” Replied the dull voice of the depressed Therrian, “Something is Wrong.”
“Define wrong please Mr. Groza. Are you ill? Do I need to send Doctor Snork out to you?”
“No, no, no. Thank you sir.” Replied the XO after a second’s hesitation, “on second thoughts, I, I’ll be right up to the bridge.”
“If you’re not up to it Mr. Groza, we’ll all understand.” The Captain was enjoying this, “That was a nasty injury, and we’ll all be totally fine if you’re under the weather. Don’t forget your 0630 with Counselor Swain though.”
“I will be fine sir.” That last was through gritted teeth, Dippman could hear the rough sound of the Therrian’s jaws grating together, “I will be right up, after my Counseling session of course.”
“Righto. On your way can you check Holodeck 2? There’s a malfunction in the holomatrix grid or something or other, Goodhall’s too busy keeping the nacelle coils polished to get anyone down to check it out.”
“YES. SIR.” Thundered the XO so loud that the comm panel on Dippman’s end of the conversation rattled in protest, “Maybe I should pass by the shuttlebay and do Sacco’s job for him too? Groza Out.”
“No need, we’re not using any shuttles today, and Ensign Sacco is busy teaching the ladies massage course in deck three exercise hall one.” Cheerfully the Captain signed off and then scurried down the corridor to holodeck 2, and the next phase of the operation.
Groza still wasn’t happy.
Something still wasn’t right.
He entered the corridor outside his quarters and stalked down the hallway to the nearest turbo lift. On route he met five crewmembers, all dressed perfectly. Even the rank pips were orientated correctly; they were wearing regulation underwear and were all but marching in regulation strides down the hall toward him. Each one properly saluted the Commander as he or she passed, something which had NEVER happened during his short time on the Hootenanny, what made it worse, was that one of the crewmen fast approaching the stalking Therrian was Markham. AND HE WAS PROPERLY DRESSED! This was too much for the XO, he had to shout and bawl at crew, that was part of his function in life on the Hootenanny, and what was more, he did it so very very well.
Fine, He’d just have to fabricate a reason to shout at the junior ops officer. He waited until the younger usually cringing human had passed him in the corridor, accepting a snappy salute from him and then spinning on a heel.
“MarkHAM!!!!” He bellowed, proud of his very finest ‘yell at the crew’ voice which had recovered surprisingly well from the weeks of un-use. “Front and CENTRE!”
Instantly, Markham froze. Slowly he turned and advanced back up the corridor until he was standing before the enraged Groza. “Yesser!” He snapped off another salute for good measure.
“Your… um… your,” Groza looked the immaculately dressed man up and down, “Your….” He trailed off.
“My?” Quizzically Markham tilted his head as if trying to fathom just what the hell the XO was on about. “My What sir?”
“Your….” He just couldn’t find anything wrong with the supremely well-groomed officer before him. Hair the right length, regulation boots, socks, deodorant, he’d even shone the boots to a fine sheen, reflecting back Groza’s puzzled face from the mirror black psuedo-leather surface. “Aha!!!! Your wearing oh, you aren’t.” Another lap of the stupefied man, the XO just could not bring himself to berate such a well dressed officer, regardless of the fact it was Markham, his favourite target on the Hootenanny, next to Dippman himself, “I just cannot do it Ensign.”
“Do what sir?” Markham looked baffled, a distinctly worried look starting to creep in from underneath the worry.
“Get out of my sight!” Grumbled the Therrian at full volume, and stomped off down the corridor towards Swain’s office. Markham shrugged non-commitally, and resumed walking down the corridor in the opposite direction, confusion giving way to enlightenment as he approached the next junction, where abruptly, he turned into a black silhouette shot through with yellow lines just before he disappeared into the corridor wall.
Swain too was in uniform. Correct uniform.
It was beginning to become too much for the XO as he flopped onto a couch in her office. It was the stillest he’d ever seen the counselor, who merely sat on the edge of a chair behind the small desk and studied him with a PADD on her knee. Finally she leant forward, clipped a control pad on the side of her PADD and started a recording circuit. He distinctly heard the B-dip the computer made as it started recording the session in the room.
“Now, Mr. Groza. How are you feeling today?” She started, not a single extraneous movement, nor was there any hint of telepathic urging to induce him to start flinging his arms around or start jogging on the spot. “Tell me about your mother.”
He screamed, leapt up, and bolted.
Calm, confident command center. Obviously not the bridge of the Starfleet Party Ship USS Hootenanny.
But there, in the center seat sat Frank Dippman. Issuing orders to what looked to be a totally competent crew. Goodhall was minding the engineering subsystems monitor from a bridge station behind the Captain. T’Kir had the ops position at the forward console, with Barlow alongside her. Each officer intent on their own controls, not wasting any time bantering back and forth or sniping at one another. DJ Bozz was paying too much attention to the science console, occasionally a bleep, or a click could be heard as he manipulated a switch which did god-only-knew what to god-only-hoped what device deep in the bowels of the ship. Thank god they’d safed all the munitions or there may have been a nasty surprise at the end of one of those clicks.
The aft turbolift shot open, disgorging a flustered and generally disturbed Groza into the center of this hub of tranquil duty. He pointed around the room with all four arms, accusatory fingers flying in all directions and at each and every one of the assembled officers. Dippman patiently waited until the XO was too dizzy and disoriented to keep frantically jabbing the air with all his limbs. Finally the Therrian came to a stop, panting and pointing directly at Dippman himself with his two left arms.
“You!!!!” He panted, drew another ragged breath in, “You!!!!” He swept an arm to indicate everyone, “What’s wrong with you!!!!!!!!”
“Nothing whatsoever.” Replied Markham, striding in from the left hand Turbolift.
“Yes, there’s nothing at all wrong with us.” Markham said again, this time from behind him, coming form the aft turbolift.
“Arrghhh!!!!” Groza picked up the Markham closest to him, (The one behind) and slammed him head first into the ops console. T’Kir continued to peck at controls around the head of the Ensign.
“Not Logical.” She fumed under her breath as she continued to work.
“Indeed.” She said aloud as she walked onto the bridge from the port lift.
Groza’s gaze shot from Vulcan to Vulcan, then from the jerking, spasming form of Markham to the well dressed Ensign next to her. “Wha? You? How? Wh? No!!!!” He started running for the port side turbo lift, right past Dippman, who never even stood up to acknowledge his presence. Sadly, he was running too fast for the limited computational power allotted to the area by Computer and he exceeded the local speed of the machine. A hollow thump! Sounded as he made impact with one of the outer walls, halfway across the bridge of the ship.
“At least he assaulted the FAKE me this time.” Markham smiled. “Computer, Arch!!” With the job of having to fake the ENTIRE ship in a single holodeck, it took Computer five seconds to realize that the REAL Markham had given it an order, and another five seconds to decide if it could be bothered to respond.
Groza groggily opened an eye, warily peeking at the ceiling above his head.
He felt an enormous weight pressing down on his chest, preventing him from moving at all; he couldn’t even raise his head to look around him. Movement on his left, the back of a blue-shouldered Starfleet uniform - DJ Bozz, he thought, and tried to shout out to the man. All he managed was a strangled squawk, which sounded very much like someone had stood on Ensign Sacco’s pet peace Dove. The man he’d thought was Bozz turned to face him.
“Ah, Mr. Groza! You’re awake. Nice to have you back with us again.” Snork gathered up his PADD, “Now, since you last stayed with us, have you been exposed to Rigellian Ringworm, Nausicaan Nit Fever, Aldebaran Anti-Fungal Asterosis….” Groza flopped back, feeling the familiar hold of the stasis field grip him once more.
“Captain’s Log, supplemental. We are en route to the Eminiar peace party, and have taken delivery of the fifteen hundred metric tons of fake suicide booths, which are apparently used to mark the celebration every year on the surface of Eminiar and Vendikar. These don’t actually vaporize their inhabitants, but act as random transporters, beaming people from one booth to another, and sometimes more than one person into the same booth. Sounds like fun.” Dippman leant forward in the command chair, a smile on his face, “We’ve released Mr. Groza from sickbay AGAIN, this time he seems to be having more luck than the first time.”
Alongside the Captain, Groza grunted, “I fail to see the mirth in your ‘Prank’ Captain.”
Markham piped up from ops, (T’Kir was bartending, well she was actually arguing about telepathics with Counselor Swain in the lounge), “It wasn’t a prank Sir. It was a present. We knew about your birthday and wanted to celebrate with you. The only present we reasoned we could give you was a SANE ship and crew. Something you’re unlikely to ever get whilst you’re with us sir.”
“My BIRTHDAY as you so eloquently put it, is my own business.” The XO strode across the bridge to the terrified ops Ensign, “We Therrians do not celebrate their BIRTHDAYS. We call each other to commiserate with ourselves for having lived for yet another miserable Therrian year.” He strode off the bridge in disgust.
“Wow. Does he ever have it bad.” Barlow remarked, resting his boots up on the edge of his console, careful to avoid any of the engineering grime alarms, “Where does he get off being so damn rude.”
“I can answer that.” McClusky grinned. “I just found out how old he was yesterday.”
“Oh?” Dippman smiled. “Go on, just how many years has the universe been graced with Groza.”
“By his own people’s count?” She smirked. “He’s Four.”
And that’s the story of Groza’s day aboard the Hootenanny. In years to come it would be a yearly ship’s holiday for the entire crew, with much drinking, carousing and female visits to Ensign Sacco’s cabin. For Groza? It was just another working day on the ship of the damned called Hootenanny.