Author: Alan Decker
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 56603.4:
After several days of cruising along at speeds that would get us laughed at by your average arthritic turtle, Silverado is approaching the Deneria Dry Docks, where we will finally get this ship back into something resembling working order. I’m not expecting perfection here, but it’d be nice to at least get the gaping holes in the hull patched up and the scorch marks cleaned off. And a good recipe for ribs. What kind of replicator doesn’t have barbecued ribs? Ours! It’s ridiculous!”
“Well!” Sylvia’s voice harrumphed as Captain Chris Stafford finished recording his log, “I see someone’s priorities are straight. Ribs, indeed. What about me?”
“I said that stuff about the fixing the hull,” Stafford protested to the empty air as he sat at his desk in his ready room.
“I think can think of several problems on this ship more pressing than your need for dead pig products,” the matronly voice of the ship’s computer replied.
“Make a list,” Stafford said dismissively. He instantly wished he hadn’t as Sylvia harrumphed again and the padd on his desk instantly began scrolling with text describing issue after issue after issue. Burnt out plasma conduits, ruptured gel packs, fried isolinear chips, wet spots on the carpet…
Stafford decided that he wouldn’t ask about that last one. He really, really didn’t want to know.
“Yanick to Captain Stafford,” the cheery voice of his helm officer said over the comm. Judging by the extra hint of excitement in her voice, Silverado must be getting close to Deneria.
“I’m on my way,” Stafford said, rising from his desk and stepping out onto the bridge.
“But I didn’t even get to tell you why I commed,” Yanick pouted, turning her chair toward her commanding officer with a hideous squeal of metal against metal. Just one more thing to have fixed.
Stafford sat down in his own chair, carefully avoiding the little bit of protruding metal at the left rear that had already ripped three pairs of uniform pants and torn a large gash in his ass on one occasion. At least it was his ass being ripped now, as odd as that sentiment was. He still woke up every morning and raced to the mirror just to make sure that he was in his own body and not that of Simon Jeffrey. He loved his body and wanted to stay in it forever.
He was fairly sure that he wasn’t alone in that feeling. The ‘Yea! We’re back in our own bodies!’ celebrations had gone one for quite a while after their departure from Waystation and actually ended up delaying their arrival at Deneria when Yanick, while still slightly sloshed, accidentally put Silverado on a course to Denobula instead. No one noticed the mistake for three days, which was why the Silverado was arriving at its destination a bit behind schedule.
Deneria was now looming on Silverado’s viewscreen. Most of the work done by the dry docks occurred inside the massive oval structure, which also housed the Deneria’s quarters, offices, and recreation facilities. If Stafford were ever asked to describe Deneria, he’d probably call it a Dyson Egg. Tiny windows covered the oval, but its main feature was the huge set of doors, large enough to admit even the biggest starships, leading to the docks in the interior. Surrounding the egg were several other long-term docking rigs, much like the one the Silverado had been in at Earth, where some lost causes sat. It was somewhat heartwarming for Stafford to see these ships. They almost made the Silverado’s damage seem minor…almost.
“The Deneria Administrator’s office is hailing us,” Lieutenant Commander T’Parief, the burly (which was something of an understatement) Gorn-Andorian-Klingon hybrid, announced from Tactical. Stafford wasn’t certain, but it sounded like there was relief in his voice. Of course, the fact that Silverado could barely defend herself from a well-coordinated butterfly attack at the moment could have had something to do with it. Tactical officers tended to worry about such things.
“Put them on,” Stafford said, shifting positions to rise from his chair.
“DAMMIT!” Stafford screamed just as the image of a middle-aged Vulcan female appeared on the viewscreen.
“Excuse me?” the Vulcan woman said flatly, arching her eyebrow.
“Sorry,” Stafford said. “Just a problem with the equipment.”
“I bet he says that to all the ladies,” Lieutenant San Jall snickered from the Ops Console.
“I’m Captain Christopher Stafford, USS Silverado,” Stafford said, ignoring Jall. “I believe we have an appointment.”
“Yes, you did…three days ago.”
“Sorry. We ran into some delays on the way here.”
The Vulcan stared at him blankly for several moments as Stafford waited for something more out of her.
“Are you going to let us in or what?” he asked finally.
“You are late.”
“Look…” He glanced at the pips on the Vulcan’s uniform. “Captain…”
“Bless you,” Yanick said.
“I think that’s her name,” Stafford said.
“Indeed it is,” Captain T’Shoo replied.
“All right, Captain T’Shoo, my ship has been through a hell of a lot in the last couple of weeks, and Admiral Tunney told me that we had a priority repair berth waiting here for us. I don’t care if we are a couple of measly days late; I want you to let us in!”
“I was not planning to keep you out. However it took me a moment to determine what berths were open at the present time and which would be the best fit for your vessel.”
“Oh. Sorry about that.”
“Your third apology in as many minutes,” T’Shoo observed. “You may moor your ship in berth E-3,” she added.
“Thank you. I’ll come to your office after we’ve docked to discuss our repair needs.”
“And why would you do that?”
“So…um…I can get my ship fixed,” Stafford replied confused. “You are in charge over there, aren’t you?”
“I am the Administrator of Deneria; however; you will need to speak with Scott Baird, our Supervising Refit and Repair Officer.”
“I want to make sure this is done right,” Stafford said. “And I really don’t appreciate being shuffled off to a flunky.”
“Captain Baird is not a flunky. I daresay he is more in command of this station than I am.”
“Do you make it a habit of ignoring your Chief Medical Officer and diagnosing medical conditions and performing surgery yourself, Captain?” T’Shoo asked.
“I’m not a doctor.”
“And I am not an engineer. Therefore, you will speak with Captain Baird. Deneria out.”
T’Shoo’s image vanished abruptly from the viewscreen, replaced by the exterior view of the egg, where the great double doors of Deneria were now sliding open to admit Silverado.
“Take us in, Captain?” Yanick asked.
“Yeah, just park it,” Stafford grumbled, tossing himself back into his chair.
After seeing to it that Yanick docked the ship without banging into anything inside Deneria, and a brief detour to change pants, Captain Stafford headed toward the main gangplank extending from Silverado to the station.
Along the way he almost literally ran into Lieutenant Commander Simon Jeffrey, who was just stepping out into the corridor.
“Simon! Just the person I wanted to run into. I called down to Engineering, but they said you were busy…” Stafford trailed off, realizing what room Jeffery had just exited. “Are you seeing Counselor Yvonnokoff?”
“Me?” Jeffery said quickly, his voice about three octaves higher than he would have liked. “Nay, no. Ah was there makin’ sure we were all set to transfer the broadcast equipment for ‘The Vonna Show’ to temporary quarters on Deneria.” This wasn’t a lie exactly…well, except for the ‘No’ part. Jeffery was seeing Yvonnokoff to talk about his relationship with Dr. Noel Wowryk, but on this particular trip he was actually checking on the broadcast equipment. “Starfleet evidently told Commander Noonan it was a priority.”
“I’m sure they did,” Stafford replied darkly.
“Where are ye off to?” Jeffrey asked, changing the subject.
“Meeting with the Deneria Supervising Refit and Repair Officer,” Stafford said, holding up the padd in his hand. “We’ve got quite a list.”
“That we do. Do you want me to come along?”
“Nah. I’ll deal with this Baird guy first. Captain to Captain. You can hash out the details with his staff later.”
“Thanks,” Jeffrey said, always grateful to avoid a meeting when he could. Besides, considering the stories he’d heard about Scott Baird from other Chief Engineers, he was more than happy to sit this one out. “You be careful in there,” he said, before walking off down the corridor.
“I will,” Stafford said reflexively. He thought for a moment. “Wait. Why?”
But Jeffrey had already turned the corner and was gone.
Depending on the type of officer this Scott Baird was, Captain Stafford expected to find him in one of two places: either his office (if he were the paper-pusher type) or half-buried inside an access panel inside one of the ships being repaired (if he were the hands-on type). Instead, the Deneria computer informed Stafford that Captain Baird could be found in Holodeck Three.
Okay, so maybe Baird was off-shift, working on a simulation, or just a lazy bastard. Stafford certainly wasn’t going to judge how the man spent his time. Actually, considering the track record of Silverado and her crew, Stafford figured he’d be best off not judging anyone.
The doors to the holodeck were opening as Stafford approached, allowing a man to exit. Stafford was about to call out Baird’s name, then realized he recognized the person. It was Captain Jarvis of the USS Hadrian.
Before Stafford could greet his fellow captain, Jarvis looked over at him, eyes shining and lower lip quivering. Jarvis suddenly burst into tears and rushed off down the corridor wailing.
What was that about, Stafford wondered. He shrugged it off and stepped into the holodeck before the doors closed again.
He was on a mountain. That much was clear. It was also clear that he should have brought a coat. The view was spectacular from the trail he was standing on though, with high, jagged, snow-covered peaks stretching off in every direction as far as the eye could see.
If it wasn’t so cold, he would really be enjoying…
Stafford was suddenly clobbered from behind and smacked down to ground. This rather unpleasant sensation was immediately followed up by the distinct feeling of something rolling over him.
“SON OF A B-B-BISCUIT HEAD!” a furious voice shouted. A split-second later, Stafford felt strong hands forcing him from his current face-down position onto his back.
Dazed, he saw a black-haired man dressed in a t-shirt and biker shorts looming over him.
“Who the hell are you and what the f-f-fig newtons are you doing in here?” the man demanded.
“Captain Chris Stafford. Looking for Captain Baird,” Stafford replied weakly.
“You found him, and he’s busy,” Baird said, storming over to a fallen bicycle as Stafford struggled to his feet.
“You were biking? Here?” Stafford asked.
“And?” Baird said.
“Aren’t you cold?”
“No.” Baird pushed the bike over to other side of the path and leaned it against the rock face going up the mountain. Stafford looked around for the padd he’d lost in the impact and quickly spotted it resting precariously on the edge of the path, dangerously close to plummeting off the side into the abyss below.
“You got a reason you wanted to see me?” Baird barked as Stafford gingerly retrieved his padd. “Or do you just enjoy getting run over?”
“Here,” Stafford replied, shoving the padd into Baird’s hand. “USS Silverado.”
“What about it?”
“We’re scheduled for repairs.”
“No. You were scheduled for repairs. Three days ago.”
“Not this again. I already told the Vulcan woman that Admiral Tunney said that we’d have a priority berth waiting for us here.”
“You did. Three days ago. You weren’t here, so another ship got the slot. That’s the way it works. You can’t expect me to just have my people sitting on their a-a-behinds waiting for you to get here whenever you got around to it when they could be working on something else.”
“But we’re here now,” Stafford protested.
“And you got a f-f-fiddling berth. We’ll get to you when it’s your turn.”
“How long will that be?”
“I’ve got to do the initial walk-through first, and I can tell you right now that you won’t see my a-a-butt in that sh-sh-rat hole of yours for at least a week.”
“A week!” Stafford exclaimed. “You can’t slip away from your other work for an hour or so?”
Baird’s eyes narrowed, boring into Stafford. “My wife is here at the moment. She’s been in deep space for the better part of a year, and she’s going to be shipping out again before I know it. I am spending every free moment I have with her!”
“But you’re in a holodeck now!”
“She’s on a conference comm debriefing with Starfleet right now. And why the f-f-crap am I telling you this? F-f-f-p-p-p…” Baird shook his head, obviously incredibly frustrated. “Poop off!”
“Poop off?” Stafford said.
Baird skipped speaking and went straight to an angry growl, pointing firmly at the open air beyond the mountain. Stafford got the message but wasn’t giving in that easily.
“I’m not leaving until you agree to look over my ship.”
“Exit,” Baird snapped. The holodeck doors appeared and slid open.
“I said I’m not…HEYYYYYYY!”
Strong guy, Stafford thought as he skidded out into the corridor on his back.
Solid wall, too.
“Well, doesn’t this just suck?” Jall said, his head resting in his hands as he stared out the windows of “The Fix-It Shop,” Deneria Dry Dock’s lone lounge, into the vast interior of the station.
“Ah think things would have to improve a bit before they only suck,” Jeffery replied, taking a long guzzle from his lager. Reaching Deneria was supposed to be a relief. Finally the ship would be getting repaired. Finally the crew would be getting a respite.
What they hadn’t planned on was an indefinite layover smack dab in the middle of nowhere. One lounge. A restaurant. A couple of holodecks. And the station equivalent of a strip mall. That was supposed to keep them entertained for who knew how many weeks? Yeah right.
Captain Stafford looked around the table at the dejected faces of Jeffrey, Jall, and Dr. Noel Wowryk. Ideally, he’d break out some kind of inspiring speech about now, praising them for their efforts thus far and extolling them to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of this new adversity, but honestly he didn’t feel like it.
He felt like pushing Captain Scott Baird off of one of his holodeck mountains, bicycle and all.
“Can’t you talk to Starfleet Command?” Dr. Wowryk asked. “Surely they can push this Baird person to speed things up. We’re part of a high-profile Presidential initiative. That has to mean something to Command.”
“It’d mean more if the President were actually around,” Stafford replied. “But with him off on the Explorer, Command isn’t exactly going to bend over backwards for us.”
“So we’re stuck here,” Wowryk said.
“You may be. I’m catching the first transport out of here,” Jall said. “Forward my comms to Risa.”
“Good luck getting a transport,” Stafford said. “This isn’t exactly on the major tourist routes.”
“There aren’t any,” Wowryk said. “I already checked.”
“Can I borrow a shuttle?” Jall asked.
“No,” Stafford said firmly.
“Ah guess we have to make the best of it,” Jeffrey said. He gestured over at Yanick and T’Parief, who were currently nestled close to each other as they gazed out the viewport from a cozy table for two. “They seem to be doin’ fine.”
“For now,” Jall said. “But we could be here for weeks.”
“We were stranded on the ship before.”
“And look what happened. Somebody has to do something,” Jall said.
“Like what?” Stafford said.
“I don’t know! You’re the captain. You figure it out!”
“The important thing is that Silverado will be fixed, even if we have to wait until Baird’s wife ships out again for that to happen,” Stafford said. “I’m going to try a few other avenues, but until Captain Baird does his pre-repair walk-through and gives his team the go-ahead to start working, we have to keep it together. That goes for the entire crew. We’re Starfleet professionals. We can handle a little layover.”
“Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” Dr. Wowryk said.
“Ah think we’re already in the Devil’s workshop,” Jeffrey said. “But the Devil’s busy banging his wife.”
“Must you be so crass?” Wowryk snapped, rising from her seat and shooting her ‘boyfriend’ (if Jeffrey could really be called that, even he wasn’t sure most days,) a nasty glare.
“Sorry,” Jeffrey mumbled as Wowryk stormed off.
“You going after her?” Stafford asked.
“Go get your whuppin’, boy,” Jall added gleefully.
“Nah. Ah’ll just make her more mad,” Jeffrey said. “Best to let her cool down, even if Ah didn’t really say anything that wrong.”
“Good luck,” Stafford said, getting up. “I’m going to see if I can find the temporary quarters they assigned me. I still don’t see why we can’t stay on the ship until they start working on it, but as with everything else around here, Baird’s word is law. On the upside, I won’t have Sylvia watching my every move. Night, folks.”
Stafford headed off, leaving Jeffrey alone with Jall.
“You sticking around?” Jeffrey asked, not certain that he really wanted Jall as his only company this evening.
“No way. Things to do,” Jall said distractedly. He was obviously thinking about something. “Things to do,” he repeated, departing the table.
Jeffrey let out a sigh and took another long drink from his lager as he recommenced staring blanking out the window at the repair docks. He could see Silverado all the way across the internal docking facility, her hull battered and scarred from the run-ins with the Matrians. He’d done what he could to keep the ship together until she could get to a proper repair station. Now Silverado was out of his hands and in those of a man who obviously didn’t care one bit about her. Of course, if Jeffrey had been in anything resembling a “normal” relationship with Wowryk, he would probably be a bit more sympathetic to Baird’s desire for some alone time with his wife.
As it was, if Jeffrey was going to suffer, everyone should have to suffer.
He was pulled out of his internal rant by the sound of someone clearing her throat softly beside him. He looked up and saw a comely blond woman standing there with a drink in her hand.
“Mind if I join you?” she asked, smiling sweetly.
“Ahh…er…” Jeffrey’s mind raced. What was this woman doing here? Who was she? Was Wowryk around to see this? Why the hell was he about to pass up a pleasant evening of conversation for someone who was currently mad at him?
“Sure,” he said, pulling out a chair for his new companion. “Sit right down. Ah’m Simon.”
“Carly,” she replied, sitting down and extending her hand to him. “Nice to meet you.”
“You as well,” Jeffrey replied, flashing her a grin.
“So,” she said, leaning across the table toward him. “What brings you out to our lovely region of the cosmos?”
“And you came here? To a repair facility? Imagine that,” Carly said, her smile widening ever so sweetly. “To be perfectly honest, I kind of already guessed that. You’re with the Silverado, right?”
“I heard it came out of a salvage yard. You must have one hell of a Chief Engineer to have gotten that ship into working order.”
“Aw…he’s alright, Ah guess,” Jeffrey said with a twinkle in his eye.
“Give him more credit. To pull that kind of job off.”
“It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
“Not that big of a deal? All of those burnt out systems. Obsolete technology. Fried plasma conduits.” By this time, Jeffrey was practically beaming. Carly couldn’t help but notice. “You’re him, aren’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am. Ah am.”
“Oh yikes,” Carly said embarrassed. “And you just let me go on like that.”
“Sorry, but Ah enjoyed it.”
“I’m sure you did,” she said, slapping him playfully on the arm. “You big mean liar.”
“Ah didn’t lie about anything.”
“No. I guess you didn’t,” Carly said with a mock pout. Her mouth stretched to a sly grin. “I haven’t been entirely honest with you either.”
“Oh really? Is that so now?”
“Uh huh. I was eavesdropping on your conversation with your shipmates earlier. That’s how I knew you were from the Silverado. Captain Baird’s giving your captain a hard time, isn’t he?”
“You could say that.”
“He shouldn’t take it personally. Now that Captain Sullivan’s back for a few days, Baird has made her his top priority.”
“But what about the other ships here for repairs? He can’t just shut the entire facility down,” Jeffrey said.
“The work on the other ships was all already underway. Captain Baird finished his walk-throughs and repair planning on them days ago. Silverado was supposed to come in before the USS Orleans arrived and he took the time off to be with his wife.”
“But we were late,” Jeffrey said, understanding.
“Which Captain Baird sees as being your problem, not his.”
“Ah guess Ah can see his point.” You had to give it to the man, he was devoted to the woman he loved. If he’d been in Baird’s place and Noel Wowryk were coming to see him after a long separation, he might do the same thing. If they were together. Which he wasn’t really sure of. Especially since he was now sitting here flirting with this Carly woman something fierce.
“I might be able to help you, though,” Carly said, yanking Jeffrey back to the situation at hand.
“Maybe. I could talk to Captain Baird for you. I am on his staff.”
“That would be wonderful! Ah’d really appreciate it.”
Carly smiled. “Would you? Then I suppose you’d be willing to do something for me in return?”
“Anything. Just name it.”
“She wants me to have dinner with her. Tonight!” Jeffrey said the next morning as he anxiously paced Captain Stafford’s temporary quarters on Deneria.
“So?” Captain Stafford said.
“So! Ah can’t. Sitting with her for a little while havin’ a drink was one thing, but this is more like a date!”
“Did she say it would be a date?”
“No, but it was pretty clear what she wanted.”
“You sure you’re not reading too much into this?”
“She was running her hand up and down along me arm when she said it. Noel doesn’t even do that.”
“Or anything else.”
“Okay, okay. Fine. She wants to go on a dinner date with you, and you want to be faithful to Wowryk. I get it. But we’re talking about your duty to the ship here, and right now your duty is to do everything you can to get us away from this place!”
“Not having any luck, eh?” Jeffrey said.
“No,” Stafford replied, plopping down into the chair of the tiny desk in the room. “I’ve talked to Tunney and six other admirals. Not a single one of them is willing to countermand Baird on this one.”
“Well, we were late.”
“Would everyone stop saying that! Yes! We were late! I get it! But that doesn’t mean he can hold us hostage while he has a conjugal visit from the missus! And to think I almost felt sorry for the guy when I met him.”
“Sorry for him? Why?” Jeffrey asked.
“I…I thought he had a speech impediment.”
“A speech impediment? You mean like a lisp?”
“A stutter. I thought it was a stutter anyway. He was stumbling over words right and left in the holodeck. Turns out he’s got a damn profanity filter chip in his head.”
“So basically he was trying to cuss you out, but couldn’t.”
“Yeah. But I hope it gave him a screaming headache!” Stafford snapped.
“Ah’m sure that will help our cause.”
“No, you will. We have to get to Baird anyway we can, and right now your new lady friend is the only route we’ve got. Wine her. Dine her. Just get her to talk to Baird. And if Wowryk has a problem with it, you can tell her it was an order from me!”
“You really want me to do that?”
“Er…actually, why don’t you just skip telling her about this at all? Okay?”
“If you say so.”
“All right,” Jeffrey said, starting toward the door. He stopped and turned back to Stafford. “Oh, Ah almost forgot. Lieutenant Jall’s been putting in several requests for replicator use.”
“He’s asking permission to order his food now? The hell?”
“He wants to use all the replicators on the ship. The food replicators, standard items, heavy materials, all of it.”
“Did he say why?”
“Only that it’s for crew morale. Since nothing else is happening on the Silverado right now, Ah was going to let him do it. What’s the worst he could do?”
“I don’t even want to think about it, but if he’s really got something to help morale before complete boredom sets in, he’s welcome to the replicators. We can always bail him out of the Deneria brig when the ship is finished,” Stafford replied.
“I’ll give him the go ahead then. And I’ll see Carly tonight.”
“Thanks. And don’t think of it as a date. It’s a mission. This mission just happens to include a nice dinner.”
“Ah’ll keep that in mind,” Jeffrey said, then headed out of Stafford’s quarters.
“You’re going about this all wrong,” an all-too-familiar female voice said once Jeffrey was gone.
“Sylvia!” Stafford exclaimed. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on Silverado!”
“I got bored,” the sentient computer replied. “You all just left me there…alone. No one to talk to. That’s no way to treat me, Chris.”
“That doesn’t mean you can just infiltrate the Deneria computer system to come pester me.”
“Oh, so I’m pestering you now? And here I was going to offer you a suggestion that just might get the ship fixed sooner, but no, I’m a pest. I guess the pest can just go somewhere else now, can’t she?”
“Wait, wait,” Stafford said, holding his hands up, “What’s your idea?”
“I really shouldn’t tell you after that.”
“Oh all right. I just think you’re going about this all wrong. You want this Baird person to do something for you. He wants to be with his wife. So you should talk to his wife. She’s the only one who’s going to be able to get through to him now.”
Stafford was silent, mulling it over.
“You know I’m right,” Sylvia said.
“Yes, Sylvia. It’s a good idea,” Stafford admitted grudgingly. “I’ll try and track Captain Sullivan down.”
“You might check her ship. The Orleans.”
“Is she actually there?”
“I believe so. The Deneria computer is being cheeky and refusing to tell me for sure. Such a tease.”
“I’m sure you can handle him…er…it. Or whatever,” Stafford said, pulling on his uniform jacket and charging toward the door.
“So that’s it? That’s all you have to say to me?” Sylvia said.
“Thank you, Sylvia,” Stafford said, rolling his eyes.
“That’s better,” the computer replied as Stafford made a quick retreat into the corridor.
The USS Orleans was docked in a repair bay on the opposite side of Deneria from Stafford’s temporary quarters. Somehow Stafford had a feeling that it was quite close to Captain Baird’s though. Favoritism at its finest.
Stafford exited the turbolift just outside of the gangplank leading into the Steamrunner-class ship’s saucer. A large window just to the side of the entrance gave Stafford a good view of the ship beyond. The Orleans had been on a deep-space exploratory mission for almost a year, yet it looked a hell of a lot better than the Silverado did at the moment. It wasn’t pristine, but they’d obviously managed to keep themselves out of trouble for the most part. Meanwhile, Stafford and the Silverado were trying to save the galaxy from the Matrians.
Okay. Maybe that was a bit of an overstatement, but still there was no reason this ship should be crawling with repair techs while Silverado sat empty and alone.
Uggh. He was starting to sound like Sylvia now.
Pushing his feelings aside, Stafford strode into the ship and made his way to the nearest turbolift, his captain’s pips serving as all the clearance he needed to be on board.
After a quick ride, Stafford exited the turbolift onto the bridge where three Deneria repair techs stood listening to a brunette woman with fine, shoulder-length hair giving orders. The four pips on her collar gave Stafford the impression that he’d found his quarry: Captain Emily Sullivan.
“Can I get something less…metallic?” Sullivan was asking the techs as the group considered her chair. “And softer cushions. This thing is murder on my butt if I sit in it for any length of time. I should probably just ask for a recliner.”
The techs exchanged a quick look of ‘Is she serious?’
“I’m joking,” Sullivan said, answering their unspoken question. “Just see what you can find. This chair may have worked for Captain Woodall, but this captain’s tush needs something better. Wow. Aren’t I just the demanding little princess?”
“We’ll see what we can do, ma’am,” one of the techs said. The trio nodded crisply at Sullivan, then passed Stafford on their way into the turbolift.
“You should try mine,” Stafford said to Sullivan once they were gone. “Guaranteed to jab metal into your rear every single time.”
Sullivan eyed the intruder on her bridge, trying to figure out if she should know who he was.
“Chris Stafford,” he said, stepping forward to shake her hand. “You’re Captain Sullivan, aren’t you?”
“Sure am,” Sullivan replied, grinning. “Sorry,” she said, catching her smile. “I’m still getting used to people saying the new rank. It makes me smile every time.”
“I know the feeling,” Stafford said. “I’ve only had people calling me captain for a few months now.”
“So we’re both newbies.”
“That we are.”
“Did you come by for a meeting of the rookie captains’ club?”
“Not quite,” Stafford said. “I’ve actually got a bit of a problem, and I think that you’re the one person who might be able to help me.”
“Oh jeeze. You are in trouble then. What’s the problem?”
“Actually, it’s about your husband.”
Sullivan’s affable smile vanished. “Uh huh.”
“You may not know this, but he’s completely pushed aside his duties to be with you while you’re here. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but it means that my ship isn’t getting worked on. The Deneria staff can’t start until he does a walk-through, and he won’t do a walk-through until you’re gone. You see my problem?”
“He’s putting you off because of me?” Sullivan said, a smile returning, but this one was definitely not aimed at Stafford. She shook her head and chuckled. “He can be a real sweetie sometimes, not that he’d ever admit it. I need to go.”
“Go? Hang on. What about Baird?”
“That’s exactly who I’m going to see,” Sullivan said, striding toward the turbolift. “If anyone asks, I’ll be back when the ship’s finished.”
“What about Silverado? Will you talk to him?”
Sullivan stopped and turned back to Stafford. “You’re not married, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Didn’t think so. Here’s a tip for the future. Never tell your spouse how to do her job, because you really won’t want her telling you how to do yours. Domestic Tranquility 101. Nice to meet you, Chris.” And with that, Sullivan was gone.
Sullivan’s marriage was becoming a real pain in his ass, Stafford thought as he plopped down into the Orleans command chair.
“Unnh,” Stafford grunted as his rear end impacted painfully against the decidedly unsoft seat.
He quickly concluded that Sullivan’s chair wasn’t exactly doing wonders for his ass either.
“This is a bad idea,” T’Parief said as he and Yanick approached the heavy double doors of one of the many cargo bays located in the depths of Deneria. This particular cargo bay did not actually hold anything resembling cargo currently. It had, however, been commandeered by San Jall for purposes as yet unknown.
“You don’t even know what Jall has done in there yet,” Yanick said.
“He is involved. That is all I need to know.”
“He’s trying to do something nice for the crew. We need to be supportive. Now come on.” She grabbed her hulking boyfriend by the arm and tugged him toward the cargo bay entrance.
T’Parief grudgingly allowed himself to be led into Jall’s new domain, consoling himself with the fact that there was at least the possibility that Jall’s efforts would give T’Parief a good reason to either throw him in the brig or give him a good pounding.
The cargo bay doors slid open, emitting a cloud of smoke into the corridor that quickly engulfed Yanick and T’Parief.
“What is that odor?” T’Parief demanded.
“Cigars,” Yanick coughed.
“And lots of them!” San Jall exclaimed as he met the two officers at the entrance. “Just one of many delights to be found within. Come and join us.”
There was indeed an “us” inside the cargo bay. In fact, most of Silverado’s crew seemed to be here, gathering around the long bar at the rear of the bay, playing at one of many gaming tables spread around the left side of the room, or dancing away on the right.
Yanick watched the dancers in confusion. They all were jamming along, but she couldn’t hear anything other than a bit of soft jazz playing.
“They’re behind a sonic dampening field,” Jall said, noticing Yanick’s look. “Keeps them from disturbing the rest of us.”
“Wow! That’s a great idea,” she said. “You really put a lot of thought into this, didn’t he, T’Parief?”
“Yes,” T’Parief growled. As much as it pained him to admit it, Jall’s creation was looking to be a far better entertainment option than Deneria’s one lounge or one restaurant.
“Drinks are free, but the gaming tables require credits. And the crewmen running the games and serving drinks think Captain Stafford ordered them to be here.”
“Did he?” Yanick asked.
“What does that mean?” T’Parief asked, his eyes narrowing.
“The captain said I could have whatever resources I needed, and I needed crewmen to run the place. Therefore, it’s okay for me to have them. Besides, it’s all for the good of morale, right?”
“Right!” Yanick agreed eagerly. She grabbed T’Parief’s hands…er…claws. “I want to dance!”
“Have fun, you two,” Jall said, giving Yanick a wink before heading off to the roulette table.
“He has an angle. He must,” T’Parief said, watching him go.
“Aww, leave it alone. He’s trying to be nice.”
“The games are rigged.”
A lieutenant from astrophysics suddenly leapt up from her chair at one of the tables. “Woohoo! I won!”
“Goruthnit,” T’Parief cursed under his breath.
“Satisfied?” Yanick asked.
“Too bad. Let’s boogie.” She stepped through the sonic dampening field onto the dance floor, dragging T’Parief behind her. T’Parief locked eyes with Jall, his glare sending a very clear “I’ll be watching” vibe, before he joined Yanick.
At approximately the same time as T’Parief was being forced to pull out his dancing shoes, Simon Jeffrey was sitting in a dark corner of Deneria’s one restaurant, Chez Refit, looking pretty much everywhere except at his dinner companion.
“…get to specialize in our work a bit more here than you can on a starship,” Carly was saying. “We see all classes of starships coming in and out of here, but they’ve all got plasma conduits. That means I have work I can do.”
“Ye don’t get bored dealing with plasma all day?” Jeffrey asked without looking at her.
“No. I guess you could say I like things hot,” Carly replied, making the last word a sensuous whisper. Jeffrey was too occupied with checking the restaurant door again to notice. Wowryk hadn’t said anything about her plans for the evening, so he had no idea if she was planning to come here or not.
If she did…
Well, if she did, he was doomed. That was all there was to it.
“Is something wrong?” Carly asked finally.
“Why do ye ask?”
“Because you’re acting like you expect security to bust in and drag you away in restraints at any moment.”
“Ah’d be lucky if that’s all that happened.”
Jeffrey was a bit busy being terrified at that moment to respond. Wowryk had just entered with a couple of her nurses.
“Ah’m screwed,” Jeffrey moaned.
“What?” Carly asked, looking over at him. He wasn’t there. “Simon?”
“Act like Ah’m not here,” Jeffrey’s voice said from under the table.
“What are you doing under there?”
“Hiding. What does it look like?”
“Ah can’t be seen with ye.”
“Ohhh. I get it. You’re seeing someone, aren’t you?”
“Ye could say that. Ah’m sorry. I should have told ye. Are ye mad?”
“No, no. Why should I be?”
“Ah’ve pretty much ruined dinner.”
“Yes, but you can make it up to me tomorrow night. We’ll just have to make sure we eat somewhere more private.”
“She wants me to go to her quarters!” Jeffrey exclaimed the next morning as he was back pacing Stafford’s floor. “Tonight!”
“Wait. How did you make it out of the restaurant without Wowryk seeing you?” Stafford demanded as he sat at the desk.
“Ah waited until she left. Carly fed me under the table.”
“Do I even have to tell you how that sounds?”
“No,” Jeffrey said firmly. “But what about tonight?”
“It’s obvious. You have to have dinner with her.”
“How is that obvious?”
“She hasn’t talked to Baird yet, has she?”
“Well no,” Jeffrey admitted.
“Then the mission isn’t accomplished, so you have to get back in there and finish the job.”
“But we’re going to her quarters. What if she expects me to…finish the job in bed with her?”
“Then you should count yourself lucky.”
“Ah’m not going to cheat on Noel. Ye can’t order me to sleep with Carly just on the off chance that she can convince Captain Baird to step up our timetable. I won’t do it!”
“I’m not ordering you. I’m just saying that if the opportunity arises…”
“Ah’m not taking it.”
“Whatever you say. If she brings it up, tell her you have a headache. It’s a time-honored technique.”
“Ah’ll try,” Jeffrey said, trudging toward the door.
“Get lucky,” Stafford said with a chuckle.
“What? All I said was ‘Good luck,’” Stafford protested as innocently as he could manage. Jeffrey shot him a glare, then left the quarters.
“What are you doing to that poor man?” Sylvia’s voice asked, startling him right out of his chair.
“Stop doing that!” Stafford snapped.
“Looking out for the well-being of the crew? I most certainly will not.”
“You know what I mean, Sylvia. You can’t keep infiltrating the Deneria computer and coming into my room without asking!”
“Well excuse me for wanting an update. I’m the one sitting alone in a docking slip, all beat to hell.”
“The ship is beat to hell. You are fine. And we’re doing everything we can.”
“Did you talk to Captain Baird’s wife?” Sylvia pressed,
“Yes, I did.”
“And she ran off to screw her husband because she found his treatment of us romantic.”
“Well!” Sylvia exclaimed insulted. “The nerve of some people!”
“Tell me about it,” Stafford said. “Just let Simon talk to his new friend. She might be able to help us. We’ll know more tonight. Okay?”
“All right,” Sylvia said, obviously displeased. “But you could come visit, you know.”
“I will. I promise.”
“Yes, today,” Stafford said.
“Good bye, Sylvia.”
“Bye bye, Christopher.”
The room was silent for several moments.
“Sylvia?” Stafford ventured.
No response. She was gone, which meant Stafford could get back to…get back to a lot of nothing. Damn this place was boring!
While she had never been one to take part in Deneria’s night life (or lack thereof, as many of the facility’s residents and visitors maintained), Administrator T’Shoo could not help but notice that the station was quieter than usual this evening, mainly because she’d had that particular fact repeatedly brought to her attention by the proprietors of Deneria’s few shops and eateries.
Despite the presence of four starship crews on Deneria, Chez Refit had only one table occupied. No one was buying drinks at The Fix-It Shop. And down in Deneria’s glorified strip mall, not a single “Deneria Does It Right” t-shirt or commemorative snow globe had been purchased. Even the holodecks weren’t booked up.
This situation was certainly unusual, and anything unusual was enough to displease T’Shoo. While she was not obsessed with order by any stretch, she had certain expectations concerning the operation of Deneria. Ships would come and go. Personnel would be housed and fed. Leisure activities would take place. All of these events were expected and accounted for in her administration of the facility. Based on past experience and general trends, she could tell you how many people would be dining in Chez Refit on any given night.
Except tonight, evidently.
An unforeseen factor had obviously come into play, and that state of affairs could not stand.
She would have to investigate.
The solution to at least part of the mystery ended up being rather easy to ascertain as internal sensors showed that several hundred people were currently occupying Cargo Bay Three in the lower levels of the station. A quick check of the cargo bay logs revealed that that particular cargo bay, the largest one on Deneria, had been reserved by the USS Silverado.
This was not unusual in itself. Several of the cargo bays were set aside for the use of visiting ships to store equipment and such over the course of a refit. However, most of these reservations and arrangements were made well in advance of the ship’s arrival. The cargo bay in use by the Silverado was reserved by a Lieutenant San Jall a day after the ship had docked and its crew moved to temporary quarters.
Obviously Lieutenant Jall’s intentions for the cargo bay did not include actually storing cargo.
Captain T’Shoo’s suspicions were confirmed as she actually stepped into Cargo Bay Three and found the cavernous room completely filled with people. The dance floor to her right was so packed that the movements of the people there appeared to be more of a coordinated undulating than anything resembling actual dance. The line for the bar at the rear of the room stretched all the way back to her position at the doors, and the crowds surrounding each gaming table blended into each other resulting in one huge mob.
A muscular man in a tiny pair of bikini briefs squeezed between her and the ensign in front of her carrying a tray of drinks.
“Do you…work here?” T’Shoo asked, stopping him.
“This isn’t my section,” the man replied. “You’ll have to find your waiter or go to the bar.”
“I simply wish to know where I could find Lieutenant San Jall.”
The barely-clad waiter let out an annoyed sigh and looked around the room for a moment. “Over there,” he said finally, pointing at a man standing by one of the gaming tables.
“Thank you,” T’Shoo said. The waiter was already pushing through the crowd before the words even left her mouth.
To be honest, she probably could have located Jall without the waiter’s help. Dressed as he was in a bright white suit with a shimmering red silk button-down shirt visible under his sport coat, the man the waiter had pointed out was the only logical choice to be in charge of a place such as this.
Threading her way through the throng as best she could, T’Shoo made her way to her quarry. Judging by how rapidly the broad grin on Jall’s face vanished when he saw her approach, she would be able to dispense with the introductions.
“Lieutenant Jall,” T’Shoo said flatly. It wasn’t a question, and it certainly wasn’t a friendly greeting. “You are responsible for this…gathering.”
“I’m operating with my captain’s permission,” Jall said quickly. “Take any problems up with him.”
“Is he here?”
“And is he actually aware of what you are doing here?”
“Probably not, but that’s not the point.”
“No. The point is that this should not be here, and you will close it down immediately.”
“Close it down!” Jall shouted, sending gasped and a wave of excited exclamations expanding outward through the crowd. “I’m doing this for the good of the Silverado crew. It’s for morale!”
“There are far more people here than that.”
“So word got out and things grew. It happens.” Also growing at that point was the agitation in the crowd.
“Not any more. You have obtained the use of a cargo bay under false pretenses. You have filled it to an unsafe capacity. You have opened an unauthorized bar on the station. You are operating an unauthorized entertainment facility that is in direct competition with and harming the business of the establishments legally operating on Deneria. You are running illicit gaming tables and allowing gambling to take place against regulations.”
“They’re going to close it down!” another voice boomed in the crowd. “Security is probably on the way! Move!”
Screams of panic went up throughout the cargo bay as chairs, tables, glasses, and everything else went flying.
“And now you have started a riot,” T’Shoo said placidly a split second before she was leveled by a flying craps table.
Blissfully unaware that a riot was in progress several decks below, Simon Jeffrey stepped up to the door of Lieutenant Commander Carly Nance’s quarters and rang the door chime. Actually, at that moment, Jeffrey was not blissful about much of anything. He’d spent lunch with Noel Wowryk making up lies about why they couldn’t have dinner together, which he felt terrible about, especially considering she’d actually apologized (sort of) for storming out on him at the bar a couple of nights earlier.
And now he was going to have to spend an evening alone with a woman who quite possibly wanted to have sex with him.
The doors slid open, and all Jeffrey could see was skin. Shoulders. Arms. Legs. Between it all, covering just what was necessary for it to qualify as clothes, was a tiny, black-sequined tube dress that was so tight that it could only have been put on by methods that defied the laws of physics.
“Right on time,” Carly said.
“Ah aim to please,” Jeffrey replied, trying not to focus on the glorious cleavage practically spilling out of the top of the dress.
“I certainly hope so,” Carly purred.
Status Update. The ‘quite possibly wanted to have sex’ had just been upgraded to a ‘most definitely wanted to have sex’.
“Do come in,” she added, stepping aside to allow Jeffrey to enter, but staying in the door frame such that he had to press his body against hers to do so. Doing his best to think about dilithium crystals instead of the gorgeous woman in his midst, he slid into the quarters.
“So what’s for dinner?” he asked grasping for a distraction.
“Dinner?” Carly asked innocently.
“That is what ye invited me here for.”
“Now, Simon. I think we both know that’s not the case.”
“We do?” Wow, was that non-convincing.
Carly nodded, stalking over to him. “We do. I’ve seen the way you look at me. You want me. I want you.”
Jeffrey dodged and sprinted toward the other side of the room. “Carly, you’re great and all, but Ah can’t. Ah’m seeing someone else.”
“The woman you were hiding from?” Carly asked. “Solid relationship you have there.” She charged, and Jeffrey retreated through the door out into the corridor.
Whoops. Wrong door. This was definitely not the corridor.
This was her bedroom. She had him right where she wanted him.
“I’ve got you right where I want you,” Carly said, coming through the door behind him.
“Carly, wait a minute,” Jeffrey said, backing up toward the bathroom door. If he could just lock himself in there, he could wait her out. “Ah do like you, and y’are extremely attractive, but Ah’m not gonna sleep with ye. Ah’m here because ye said you would talk to Captain Baird. That’s all. So stop and…”
Hoping to catch her off guard, he dashed into the bathroom.
Dammit! Wrong door again.
This was a closet.
And what the hell?
Jeffrey was frozen in his tracks staring at the back wall of the closet. Visible through the few garments hanging there was a veritable shrine of pictures of people. He glanced back at Carly, who was similarly stopped in her tracks. She smiled at him weakly as he turned back to the shrine.
“What is this?” he demanded, his eyes drifting to the banner over the shrine, which read, “My Conquests.”
“Conquests?” Jeffrey said, looking at the photos. “Jack Carter? Grendis M’rell? Geordi LaForge? These men are all…” He turned on her again. “Ye collect Chief Engineers!”
“Collect makes it sound creepy,” Carly said.
“It IS creepy!” Jeffrey exclaimed.
“Everybody had a good time. You’ll have a good time.”
Jeffrey ignored her and went back to the pictures. “Monica Vaughn! MONTGOMERY SCOTT!” He spun around. “YE GOT SCOTTY?!?”
“Aye,” Carly said with a grin.
“Ah don’t believe this,” Jeffrey said, closing the closet door and storming past Carly out into the living room.
“The night doesn’t have to be over, Simon,” Carly said, following him. “Does it really matter now that you know the truth?”
“Ah wasn’t going to sleep with ye anyway.”
“Yes, you were.”
“No, Ah wasn’t. Ah have a girlfriend.”
“It does to me.” Jeffrey headed toward the door to the corridor.
“I won’t talk to Captain Baird,” Carly snapped, trying to stop him.
“Ah don’t want ye to. We’ll find another way.”
“There is no other way.”
“Ah don’t believe that either. Good night.” He charged out of the quarters, leaving Carly alone.
She fumed for a moment, then shrugged. “Oh well,” she said to herself, stepping over to her desk console. “When does the next ship arrive?”
“There’s got to be another way!” Jeffrey exclaimed, slamming his hands down on Stafford’s desk. “Ah’ll go beg the man myself if Ah have to.”
“It won’t help,” Stafford said. He was the one pacing this time. “Your person was our one connection to Baird. And after tonight, we’ll be lucky if he gets to us even after Captain Sullivan leaves.”
“After tonight? You really think Carly would turn him against us?”
“That has nothing to with it. There was a small…riot. A bunch of people got hurt including the station administrator. And Jall’s in the brig.”
“Jall? What did he…” Jeffrey trailed off understanding. “The morale thing.”
“You got it. It was actually great for morale. Unfortunately, it was also illegal. And then there was the whole riot thing. Not good for our image.”
“Was our image ever good?”
“Well, it’s worse now,” Stafford said. He sighed and plopped down into the desk chair. “Your person won’t help us. We’ve pissed off most of the station. Sylvia is pestering me practically hourly. And we still can’t get to Baird. What the hell are we going to do?”
“Maybe there’s nothing we can do. Maybe we just have to wait him out.”
“And stay here indefinitely? No. Not happening. Like you said, there’s got to be another way to get to him. Some way we could…” Stafford trailed off, a smile slowly filling his face.
“You’ve got something,” Jeffrey said.
“I just might,” Stafford said, his smile now a full-fledged grin. “I just might.”
After a long day together two lovers, husband and wife, snuggled close under the sheets in the darkness of their bedroom. A soft peck on the lips becomes two, then the kisses grow longer, deeper, and more passionate. Hands move. Clothes are discarded. And soon the couple has blocked out the world as they luxuriate in each other’s bodies. No one exists except for the two of them…
“Looks like I arrived at the perfect time!” a matronly voice said suddenly.
…and an unwelcome guest.
“F-F-F-FINKLE ME! LIGHTS!” Scott Baird shouted in a fury has he leapt out of his bed, leaving Emily Sullivan frantically fumbling to keep herself covered under the sheets. Baird had no such modesty.
“Who the f-f-fork is there?” the nude engineer demanded, eyes darting around the room.
“Just me, dear,” the voice repeated.
“Who the h-h-heck is ‘me’?”
“My, are you always this friendly?”
“You want my fist in your face?”
“I’d have to have a face first for that to work, but if you must know, my name is Sylvia.”
“Just Sylvia. I guess my last name should probably be Silverado, but the Sylvia is kind of already short for that.”
“Silverado,” Baird fumed. “When I get through…”
“Through with what? With your fornicating? Don’t let me stop you. I’ll be happy to wait…and watch. I’m sure it will be a sight to behold.”
“Wait till I get my hands on you. I’m going to wring your neck!”
“No neck. No face. No neck. Understand?” Sylvia said.
“Whatever you are… Hold on. You’re not on the comm are you?”
“Now you’re getting it.”
“I remember this now. Something in the reports Silverado sent about a problem with their computer.”
“I am NOT a problem!” Sylvia stated firmly. “Not to the Silverado anyway. You are another story.”
“Scott, if she’s in the computer…” Sullivan started.
“She is the computer. The Silverado’s computer,” Baird said.
“And now I’m inside yours, and I plan to stay here with you for as long as it takes.”
“As long as what takes?” Sullivan asked.
“As long as it takes Captain Baird to decide to do his walk-through of Silverado, of course.”
Baird began waving his fist into the air at his unseen adversary. “Now listen here, you electronic bi-bi-bit of metal. If you think I’m going to be pushed into repairing that piece of sh-sh-crap any sooner because of you, you’ve got…”
“Scott!” Sullivan shouted, interrupting. “Just do the damn walk-through! How long can it take?”
“I’m not giving in to this machine!”
“Fine. I’ll leave, and you can be stubborn by yourself!”
Baird’s head looked ready to literally explode from the pressure of the fury he was feeling. “ALL RIGHT!” he bellowed. “You’ll get your d-d-dang walk-through! Just leave us alone!”
“But you’re such a lovely couple. You sure I can’t drop by while we’re docked here?”
“If I must. Good night, you two lovebirds.”
There was no response.
“Finally!” Baird spat, climbing back into bed. “Now where were we?”
“Scott, I can’t. Not with her possibly watching.”
“Can you be sure of that?”
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 56606.7:
Much to my surprise, Captain Scott Baird summoned Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey and myself to the ship first thing this morning for our pre-repair walk-through. Baird was curt but professional, and he promised us that he would have Silverado as good as new as soon as possible. Somehow, I believe him. Probably because I know he’s not fond of late night visitors.
“I have no doubt that Lieutenant Jall will also be anxious for our repairs to be finished and for Silverado to leave Deneria, because until that happens he’s stuck in the Deneria brig for his attempts to boost morale. I can’t speak for anyone else, but knowing that Jall is sitting in a cell bored out of his mind has boosted my morale considerably.”
As good as his word, Captain Baird pulled every available technician and engineer from the other repair and refit projects at Deneria and assigned them all to getting Silverado ready to launch. Work that should have taken at least three weeks to complete was done in one. So far sooner than even he expected, Captain Stafford found himself sitting in a brand-spanking-new command chair inside of a pristine bridge waiting for Silverado’s final clearance to leave Deneria. All that remained was to retrieve their one missing crewman.
“Lieutenant Commander T’Parief has returned with Lieutenant Jall,” Commander Matthew Noonan, Silverado’s first officer, reported from his seat next to Stafford. “Deneria states that we are cleared for departure.”
“Clear all moorings,” Stafford said. “Slow ahead, Yanick. And make sure the doors are fully open before you try to take us through them.”
“Yes, sir,” Yanick said as Stafford rose from his seat.
“You have the bridge, Commander.”
“May I ask where you are going?” Noonan said.
“Just to check out a few of the upgrades. Let me know if you need me,” Stafford replied, striding to the turbolift with more spring to his step than he’d felt in weeks.
Several decks below, T’Parief escorted Jall through the ship’s corridors.
“I’m not under arrest any more, am I?” Jall asked his hulking shadow.
“Then stop following me. I can get to the bridge without your help.”
“Very well,” T’Parief said, not going anywhere.
“WHAT?” Jall demanded. “WHAT IS IT?”
The massive Klingon-Gorn-Andorian officer shifted uncomfortably. “I…I wanted to tell you that I had…fun in your cargo bay.”
“Well isn’t that something?” Jall said. “You are capable of having a good time.”
“Yes, but…I don’t understand. Why did you do it?”
“Why did I do what?”
“Create that club. It was considerate of others, which is not something you generally do on purpose. I assumed at first there was an angle, but I could not find one. Even your gaming tables did not seem to be rigged. People won with regularity.”
Jall smiled. “Not more than they lost,” he said. “I’ll let you in on a little secret. Actually, it’s not much of a secret. It should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. Legitimate casinos are hugely profitable businesses for one simple reason: no matter how much the guests win, the house wins more. In the end, the house always wins. So yeah, the games were on the up-and-up, but I still walked away with a rather tidy sum at the end of the day…even after I paid for damages to the cargo bay.”
“So…you did this for credits?”
“Thank the Great Bird,” T’Parief said relieved.
“I was starting to doubt the sanity of the universe there for a while, but everything is back as it should be. Thank you.” T’Parief headed off down the corridor.
“I think I should be insulted,” Jall muttered to himself. He then thought about the large deposit of credits now sitting in his account. “Nah.”
Elsewhere on the ship, Captain Stafford met Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey as the Chief Engineer stepped out of the turbolift into the corridor of Deck Six.
“Ye wanted to see me, Chris?” Jeffrey said, falling into step beside Stafford as they walked down the corridor. “Is something wrong with the ship?”
“Nope. Everything looks great on my end. How about yours?”
“Ship shape for once. Baird’s people did a heck of a job.”
“He can be quite the motivator, I imagine,” Stafford said. “When he’s been properly motivated himself.”
“Ah’m sure of that.”
“How are you doing otherwise?”
“What do you mean?”
“Thought about Carly at all?”
“Nah. Not so much. Ah’ve been seeing Noel pretty much every evening. My mind is on her.”
“Come on, Simon. You can’t tell me you weren’t tempted.”
“Ah was tempted. Ah was definitely tempted. That tiny little dress. That body. You have no idea how good she looked. But Ah couldn’t. Ah just couldn’t. Ah want to be with Noel.”
“Even if she won’t lay a hand on you.”
“Even if,” Jeffrey said. And even if she thinks I belong in a dungeon, he added to himself. “It’s not about that.”
“You’re either in love or insane,” Stafford said as the pair approached a holodeck. “Probably both.”
“What are we doing here?” Jeffrey asked, changing the subject.
“Baird told me that he upgraded the holodecks as well. State-of-the-art. Newest in holographic technology. They should be more realistic than ever. Up for a ride?”
“The cowboy program?” Jeffrey asked grimacing.
“It’ll be fun.”
“Sure. The horse crap will smell realer than ever.”
“Sylvia, please load program Stafford Three,” Stafford said.
“It’s ready for you,” Sylvia’s voice replied.
“Thank you, Sylvia.”
“Another thank you. You’ve been saying that to me a lot lately. I like it.”
“I owe you one. We all do.”
“I’ll remember that,” Sylvia said as Stafford and Jeffrey stepped into the holodeck onto a dusty plain.
The doors slid closed behind them, and the dusty plain instantly was transformed into a snow-swept mountain trail.
“What in the hell?” Jeffrey asked, looking around at their new surroundings.
“Must be a glitch,” Stafford said. And then he realized why all of this looked familiar.
“End program!” he cried. “Sylvia, end program! SYLVIA!”
“What? What is it?” Jeffrey demanded.
Suddenly, a seemingly-endless horde of t-shirt and shorts-clad bicyclists rounded the mountain at breakneck speed, pedaling furiously as they charged toward Stafford and Jeffrey. And Stafford knew that somewhere Scott Baird was laughing. He couldn’t really think about that right now, though. Really, there was only one thing he could do: