And in conclusion, we hereby disclaim that Star Trek is the property of Paramount and Viacom. It was created by Gene Roddenberry, AKA 'The Great Bird of the Galaxy'. Star Traks was created by Alan Decker, AKA 'The Guy With the Wife and Kids'. Star Traks Silverado was created by Brendan Chris, AKA 'The Guy With Pictures of Tractors on his Cubicle'.

Author: Brendan Chris
Copyright: 2007

Previously, on Silverado, a lot of stuff happened. For example, Crewman Gibson got very drunk, then fed Exlax to Crewman Roscoe’s pet monkey, Bosco. Also, Nurse Kerry experimented on Crewman Shwaluk with an electro-stimulation device.

Of more relevance, Commander Noonan resigned his position, leaving the post of First Officer vacant. Captain Stafford, sure of his choice, offered the position to Lt. Cmdr. T’Parief, who declined. Stuck, Stafford turned to Admiral Tunney, who sent out two candidates: one who was almost impossible to understand and another who is just plain annoying. Suddenly, T’Parief and Jeffery decided they wanted the position and at the last minute, through a handy legal victory, Lieutenant Jall was un-demoted back up to Lt Cmdr. and also joined the race.

Now with five candidates for First Officer, Stafford has turned to Wowryk and Fifebee to help him choose. Together, they devised a competition to help select the winner.

Unknown to them, forces have gathered to twist their friendly competition into something twisted. Something evil. Something VILE!

Reality television!


EARTH:


Former Commander Matthew Noonan sat on his couch.

Somebody sitting on a couch is hardly unusual. People in the 24th Century may not be the boob-tube addicted couch potatoes so common to the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, but they still enjoy a comfortable sofa, a relaxing drink and a snack.

It was a bit unusual though for somebody to sit on the couch for weeks at a time.

Noonan had returned to his old home in Montreal. The house was old, but one thing that Montreal had plenty of was carefully preserved old buildings. The hardwood floors had been carefully polished, the windows replaced with more modern, baseball-resistant materials and the slot that legend had it was home to an actual microwave oven now held a replicator.

Noonan’s decision to leave Silverado hadn’t come swiftly; he’d known he would leave eventually. It was only a question of when. It wasn’t the nature of his species to remain in one place for an extended time, and while two and a half years was a lot shorter than usual, the veritable blink of an eye, the realization that it was no longer time for him to be among his crewmates had hit him like a truck.

Strangely, it had been Stafford who had brought on the realization. The man may be impossibly young, but he had made a very good point: Noonan couldn’t go on hiding who he was from the people around him. He couldn’t live the lie.

And so he’d returned to Earth, to his home. To the empty house he’d kept for over two hundred years. Empty ever since his fiancé Amber had left him. At least in this universe. In a parallel universe, one where he had chosen to stay closer to Amber rather than exploring deep space, he hadn’t been transformed into what he was today. Instead, he and Amber had led a full live, raising children and growing old together. And eventually, dying.

Coming back to the empty house, he tried to imagine it full of the laughter of children. Of birthday parties, Christmastimes, graduations and even weddings. He could almost see it.

But that was another Matt Noonan. One who had died hundreds of years ago. In both universes.

He’d lost all awareness of the passing of time. He simply sat on the couch, staring ahead at the viewscreen. Every now and then the house computer changed the channel, but he barely paid attention to the moving images, the speaking mortals. His attention wandered, his mind drifted. Minutes became hours, hours became days.

And so it was weeks later, a layer of dust coating his body, that Matthew Noonan was watching the viewscreen at the same time Admiral Edward Tunney was sitting on a stool in Zorgothaks Pub on Starbase 45.

Separated from his crew by a few hundred light years, the familiar jingle of ‘The Vonna Show’ still managed to snag the thread of Noonan’s attention.

He slowly blinked, mind processing what he was seeing on the screen.

“What have I done?” he finally said.

A LOOOONG WAYS AWAY…


“OK, shut up everybody,” Stafford called, standing on a grassy greet field on one of Silverado’s holodecks, “I’ll be brief. We’ve got five officers who want to be second in command. Some took a while to make up their minds about it,” he glared at Jeffery and T’Parief, “others had to do weird legal shit to get here,” this time his gaze moved to Jall. “Either way, we’re going to narrow these five down to one. You guys in the audience don’t really get any say in it, but when I told Yanick we were having a contest she insisted I do something to let you show your support. Anyway, let’s get to it,”

Lieutenant Fifebee stood next to Dr. Wowryk, near the edge of the field, right in front of the bleachers that had been setup for spectators. Surprisingly, they were full. Ensign Yanick was holding a big ‘Go T’Parief’ sign and whistling loudly, several members of the Engineering staff were cheering for Jeffery and a lesbian couple from Deck 7 were cheering for Jall.

“Thank goodness we’re keeping this private,” Wowryk commented as Stafford scratched his nose, then spit a thick wad of phlegm onto the holographic grass.

“Yes,” Fifebee said, noticing that Jall and T’Parief were looking at each other with barely disguised hate, “I have a feeling this could get ugly very quickly.


“Coming to you live from ze USS Silverado, zis is Dr. Vonna,” Yvonnokoff said, speaking into a microphone as Crewman Gibson followed her, a holo-cam headset strapped to his shaved head, “In special episode, vere we look at new vay to choose Commander of ship. Velcome to Silverado Idol, only on AWN! Here ve analyze ze psyches of our officers und see vich vun vill be chosen as new First Officer!”

Gibson pulled the camera off his head and turned it around so it was facing him.

“Uh, what she means, folks, is that-“

THWAP!

Vonna smacked him over the head with her microphone.

“Zey understook me fine!” she said, “Now come! Ve interview contestants now!”

They stepped over to where the five officers were waiting to receive their instructions. Stafford was over by the shack, conversing with somebody inside.

“Lieutenant Commander T’Parief,” Vonna said, “You vere offered job. Vhy you not take?”

T’Parief’s eyes narrowed as his gaze moved from Gibson to Vonna.

“Ignore camera,” Vonna prompted.

“I do not speak to,” T’Parief’s voice dripped with disdain, “the media,”

“I’ll speak!” Jall said happily, “Hi, I’m Lieutenant Commander San Jall, and I’m sure I’ll win. Because,” he looked pointedly at Jeffery and T’Parief, “I’m the one who really WANTS the job!”

“I feel I am best suited,” Fleebun eased in front of the camera, his slimy skin gleaming in the sunlight, “As I am the only one here who understands the complexities of humanoid emotional needs! For example, Dr. Vonna, one might think that your drive to share the pain of others on quadrant-wide holovision points to a deep-seated insecurity in your own-“

“I vill thank you to play ze amateur counselor on your own time!” Vonna snapped, moving over to Jeffery, “Und Lieutenant Command Jeffery, vhat is your thoughts?”

“Ummm,” Jeffery gulped, looking at the camera, “I want to…command?”

“Jas, und vhat a commanding individual you appear to be,” Vonna said dryly to the camera.

“Nigga, please!” Johnson jumped in, a smirk creasing his ebony features, “I’d rock dat shit better dan any dese here cracka’s!”

STARBASE WAYSTATION:


The AWN studio was a hub of activity. At the news desk, Joan Redding was packing up the last of her materials from the evening edition of the news she’d just finished up. Producers, talk show hosts and janitors moved swiftly up and down the hallways. Up in the control booth, two technicians were handling the live feed from Silverado.

“What the hell was that?” Technician Bakuren asked, wrinkling his high, bald forehead.

“I don’t recognize the language,” Technician Ston replied, tapping frantically at his console, “I can’t find a translation matrix for it in the database!”

“Hurry!” Bakuren said, “We only have five more seconds delay before…”

Johnson’s voice boomed out over half the quadrant.

Bakuren and Ston exchanged glances.

“Well,” Bakuran said, shrugging, “Let’s just hope that whatever he said, it’s not important.”

“Or offensive,” Ston added.


“Nigga, please!” Johnson’s face filled the screen in Zorgothaks Pub, “I’d rock dat shit better dan any dese here cracka’s!”

“What?” the bartender frowned.

” He said,” a dark-skinned man at the bar said, “He’s going to win,”

Eyes widening, Tunney’s hand shot for his pocket, fished around and pulled out an isolinear data chip. One that was supposed to have gone to the USS Silverado. On the side was stamped the words ‘African-American Vernacular English Translation Matrix’.

“Oops,” Tunney gulped. He shrugged, looked around, then carefully dropped the chip into the nearest potted plant.


BACK ON SILVERADO:


“OK folks,” Stafford said, clapping his hands as he returned to the group of waiting candidates, “We had some trouble with the Emergency Catholic Hologram, but it’s up and running now. So if…Gibson, what the f**k are you doing here? And with a camera?”

“Keptin!” Vonna’s eyes widened, and she tapped her microphone frantically, “AWN, go commercial! Cue ze von for ze Klingon Carnage ride at Disneyworld!” she turned to Stafford, “Keptin, ve haff some delay time for bleeping on life transmission, but you really must vatch language!”

“Transmission?” Stafford’s eyebrow arched.

“Jas!” Vonna said frantically…the commercial would be over soon, “Silverado Idol! Tonight, only on AWN!”

“This isn’t that project of yours I approved without asking what it was, was it?” Stafford groaned.

“Vell…”

“Yer BROADCASTING THIS?” Jeffery gulped.

“OOO!” Jall giggled, “I get to be on holovision! I want to say ‘bite me’ to my parents!”

The frown that had been gathering strength on Stafford’s face faded.

“Hmmm,” he mused, “Y’know, this is perfect. This is REALLY gonna piss off old Tunney. And right now, that’s just what I’m in the mood for!”

“So ve record?”

“Yes,” Stafford said, a demonic grin growing on his face, “Ve record,”


“The first event,” Stafford said, pacing slowly in front of the contestants “Is a test of cultural tolerance, understanding and honesty. Dr. Wowryk?”

Wowryk walked quickly from the sidelines.

“Within,” she gestured to the shack, “Is the Emergency Catholic Hologram. He is ready to hear your sins. You will all go to Confession and beg the Lord’s forgiveness for your many, many,” Wowryk had to take another breath before she could finish speaking, “Many, many, many sins,”

“Uh, I’m not Catholic,” Jeffery said timidly.

“I’m not even human,” T’Parief added.

“And I’m gay!” Jall put in.

“It’s a test of cultural understanding,” Wowryk said.

“Catholic? Girl!” Johnson crossed his arms, “I tried to be Catholic, but dey all kicked me out when I told da priest he had some nice bling on and asked for a second cup of dat cheap-ass wine!”

Wowryk took a deep breath and crossed herself.

“Cultural understanding,” Stafford said firmly, “Is what Starfleet is about!”

“Very well,” T’Parief squared his shoulders and took several steps towards the confessional. Right before entering, he turned.

“Is killing a sin according to Catholicism?” he asked.

Stafford looked at Wowryk, who nodded.

“This could take a while,” T’Parief advised as he stepped into the confessional.


Some time later, after all five officers had gone, the holographic priest came out of the shack. He looked shaken, as though he’d been deeply disturbed.

“OK,” Stafford said, rubbing his hands together, “What’s the scoop?”

“My son,” the priest said, “I cannot break the Seal of Confession! Such a thing would damn my soul to the-“

“Sylvia, override the hologram, OK?”

“Yes, Chris,” Sylvia answered. The holographic priest flickered for a moment, then stepped towards Jall.

“This one is a liar,” the priest said.

Jall looked like he’d been slapped.

“What?” he said, “I poured my soul out in there!”

“Nobody could do the kind of things you described, with that number of partners.” the priest said, “It is physically impossible.” He moved down the line to Jeffery.

“This one,” he said, looking Jeffery in the eye, “Showed honesty and repentance,”

“Thanks,” Jeffery said, “Ah think,”

“This one,” the priest passed T’Parief, “Honestly, I lost count of his slayings after the first fifteen minutes.” He moved past Fleebun, “This one attempted to solicit Confession from me,” he stopped at Johnson.

“And I am not sure what this one was confessing to,” the priest said, “But apparently he feels remorse for weeding his garden,”

Stafford, Wowryk and Fifebee conferred for a moment.

“So round one goes to….Simon Jeffery!” Stafford announced.


“Hmph,” the bartender of Zorgothaks Pub said, wiping a glass, “Dunno if it was worth changing the channel from the SpikeBall game to this,”

“Leave it on,” Tunney said, finishing his beer, “And bring me another. And another. And a few more after that…”


“Well?” Stafford asked Vonna. He’d tried calling her ‘Yvonnokoff’, but she’d advised him that she needed to stay in her holovision persona for the duration of the broadcast.

“How are we doing?” he asked.

“Vell,” Vonna tapped her padd, “Ratings vere low, until ze nature of show was announced. Zen zey jumped up. But ve lost some after that. Right now, commercial for ‘Dillon’s Starfleet Suites’ is running. Vhat is next task?”

“Uh,” Stafford checked his own padd, “They need to negotiate with Nurse Kerry for Crewman Shwaluk’s freedom,”

Vonna frowned.

“Zat sounds boring,” she said.

“Just wait,” Stafford sighed.


“I don’t know if I can do this,” Kerry said nervously as they waited for the commercial to end.

“Of course you can,” Wowryk said, “From my understanding, you do this all the time. Sinful though it is.”

“Yeah, but not in front of the half the quadrant!” Kerry wailed.

“Nobody will know it’s you,” Wowryk said, making sure Kerry’s Catwoman-type leather mask was in place, “Now get out there and flail that man!”

“Right,” Kerry squared her shoulders just as the ‘Recording’ light lit on Gibson’s holo-camera.

Kerry stalked over to Shwaluk, her leather Mistress outfit squeaking. With a flourish she unfurled a long whip and snapped it against Shwaluk’s back.

“AHHHHHH!” Shwaluk screamed as Kerry prepared for another strike.

“This is just sick,” Jeffery said, turning a faint shade of green.

“That’s not what you said before,” Jall muttered, thinking back to a time when he and Wowryk had been stuck in a temporal quasality loop, leaving Wowryk free to experiment with her wilder side (and Jeffery) with nobody the wiser.

“I am strangely aroused,” T’Parief muttered.

<Me too,> Wowryk thought to herself.

Crewman Shwaluk was strapped to Kerry’s St. Andrew’s Cross wearing a pair of shorts similar to the ones found in Queen Wowryk’s man-enslaving Dreamland. Occasionally, Kerry would snap her whip, electing a scream.

“On many occasions,” Stafford said, wincing as Shwaluk let out a blood-curdling squeal, “Starfleet officers come into situations where the strong (Kerry struck a pose) are oppressing the weak. As bringers of freedom, justice and all that stuff, it’s our job to peacefully reconcile those who have their differences.”

“He don’t want no help, he likin’ dat beatin’!” Johnson said, laughing out loud.

Shwaluk turned red in the face as the other candidates laughed.

Stafford crossed his arms.

“That point aside,” he said, “It’s your duty to help him out,”

“Bring it on!” Kerry snapped, her voice very different from the sweet, charming tone she used in Sickbay.

“You go first,” Jall said, pushing Fleebun towards her.

“I’m really not good with aggressive women!” Fleebun objected.

“Just think of it as trying to calm down a really angry dog,” Jeffery suggested, earning a very nasty glare from Wowryk.

Kerry’s whip snapped out again, wrapping itself around Jeffery’s neck. She gave a sharp tug, pulling him to the ground.

“Bad comparison, very bad!” Jeffery admitted hastily, trying desperately to breath, “‘Twas my bad,”


Tunney had let his head sag down to the bar when the holographic priest had revealed the results of the ‘Confess-O-Rama’, certain that he’d been getting a call from Starfleet HR in the morning. But he’d jerked himself up when cat-calls and drunken hoots broke out. Looking at the screen, he didn’t recognize the Dominatrix lady or the poor sap she had tied up, but he recognized the engineer turning purple as the whip cut off his airflow.

“That one of your ships?” the bartender asked, his eyes locked on the large image of Kerry’s chest on the viewscreen.

“Yup,” Tunney said, reaching for yet another beer, “And I’ve gotta say, I really don’t mind seeing one of them getting strangled right now,”

“Dunno, they seem to be doing OK to me,” the bartender shrugged.

Tunney looked around. Sure enough, most of the bar patrons were staring at the screen. Tunney was pretty sure they were more interested in Nurse Kerry’s bodice than the antics of the Silverado crew, but they were paying rapt attention.


After Kerry released Jeffery, Fleebun continued with his attempt.

“Good day, M’Lady,” he said, giving a fast and nervous bow, “It does appear that your…friend…has suffered something of an accident. May I be of assistance?”

“Accident?” Kerry sneered, “This wasn’t an accident, I tied him up on purpose!”

“What I mean is,” Fleebun tried again, “Surely you don’t mean to hold him against his will-“

“That’s still open to debate,” Jall muttered.

“-in such a fashion,” Fleebun said, “Why don’t we let him go, then we can sit down and discuss your fantastic whip work?”

“I’ll give you something to discuss,” Kerry said darkly.


“I really must admit,” Fifebee said to Wowryk as they watched from a small table that had been setup for the ‘judges’, “She is quite striking in that outfit. Striking being the key word here.”

They watched as Kerry’s whip struck out again, this time smashing the fastening on Fleebun’s pants. The fishy officer’s trousers dropped to the grass. He squawked in surprise, reaching down to grab then, only to have one of Kerry’s boots give him a gentle push, just hard enough to send him topping over.

“NEXT!” Kerry bellowed.

“Her treatment of men is…interesting,” Wowryk said, one eyebrow raised, “I approve,”

“It is not very Catholic, Doctor,” Fifebee said, reaching down to pick up Fido.

“No,” Wowryk agreed, watching as Jeffery approached Kerry for his turn, “But as I am learning, to paraphrase a great officer, ‘Catholicism is the beginning of wisdom, not the end’,”


“Ye can’t do this to him,” Jeffery was telling Kerry, “It’s wrong,”

“Really?” Kerry asked, looking only moderately interesting, “And who’s going to stop me?”

“Ah am!” Jeffery said, putting up his dukes. (Meaning he was preparing for fisticuffs…getting ready to rumble, etc.)

“Oh geez,” Stafford sighed quietly, covering his face with one hand.

“You mean to fight me, little man?” Kerry said, disdainfully.

“I think he just wants to be the next one tied up,” Jall called, grinning.

“Ah mean it!” Jeffery said, positioning himself between Kerry and Shwaluk’s welt-ridden back, “Ye can’t just-“

THWACK!


“Ohhh!” the pub goers were laughing and pointing at the screen, the guy on the stool next to Tunney slapping his hand on the bar as he laughed, “I bet he never saw that one coming!”

Tunney had watched as the engineer bravely stood up to the leather-lady, positioning himself in front of her. Faster than the eye could see, Kerry’s leg had snapped up in a roundhouse kick that caught Jeffery neatly under his chin and sent him pitching to the ground.


“Oops,” Kerry said, looking down at Jeffery’s unconscious form, the hard attitude of a moment ago gone, “I didn’t mean to hurt him, sir,”

“Don’t worry about it,” Stafford shrugged, “being First Officer is a rough job,”

“Should I take him to Sickbay?” Kerry offered.

“No, no,” Stafford shook his head, gesturing for a pair of crewmen to drag Jeffery out of the way, “Just make sure that when you kick Jall it’s twice as hard,”

“Got it,” Kerry’s voice hardened as she got back into character.


She never got the chance.

T’Parief had stormed towards the duo, intent on ending the situation immediately with pure brute strength. What he hadn’t realized was that one of the pockets on Kerry’s utility belt had a hand phaser in it. As he charged angrily towards her, she calmly pulled it out and stunned him.

Johnson had decided for a different approach. He approached Kerry calmly and rationally, making no quick movements, his deep brown eyes never leaving hers. Closer and closer he came, his body relaxed, arms down by his side.

“Any idea what he’s got planned?” Stafford asked Wowryk and Fifebee, having joined them where they were watching the action (but maintaining a healthy distance from Fido).

“Not at all,” Wowryk said.

“Based on an analysis of past actions taken by successful first officers in similar situations-“

“Similar?” Stafford raised an eyebrow, “This has happened for real?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Fifebee said, “But historically, when confronted by a powerful female opponent, starship Captains and First Officers have often won by-“

“Uh-oh,” Stafford rolled his eyes, “I see where you’re going with this,”


“He isn’t!” Noonan said to himself, having brushed the dust off his shoulders as he watched, “He is! He’s attempting ‘The Kirk Maneouver’? Noo…”


Across the quadrant, AWN views watched in anticipation as Johnson came up to Nurse Kerry then took her in his arms, planting a firm kiss on her mouth. For a couple of moments she responded, kissing him back.

Suddenly, Johnson was down on the ground, gasping in agony as he rolled on the soft grass.


“What the hell?” the bartender asked, “Computer! Instant-Replay, one quarter speed!”

Tunney and the rest of the pub-goers watched as Johnson and Kerry kissed. Then, the movements blurred even in slow motion, they watched as her knee rose, hitting Johnson right in the groin. They could see every detail as his eyes popped open, the calm, cool expression gone from his face as his jaw dropped. The solidly built officer doubled-over, falling slowly to the ground.


“Yvot!” Vonna said, on hand going to her mouth, “Zat was low blow!”

“I’ll say,” Gibson gulped, crossing his legs.

“Four down,” Stafford said, a sympathetic look on his face, “One to go,”

Fifebee turned to Wowryk.

“Even you have never inflicted such pain on a man,” she commented.

“It’s been close a couple times,” Wowryk said. Fifebee noticed she wasn’t looking at Johnson, but instead staring at Kerry.

“What is it?” Fifebee asked.

“Something’s bothering her,” Wowryk said, frowning.

“Please,” Fifebee arched an eyebrow, “She just emasculated him on quadrant-wide holovision,”

“No,” Wowryk said, “She’s thinking about something. We’ve got to talk to her once this is finished.”


“OK,” Stafford said, looking nervously at the camera, “That’s four down. We’ve had one officer humiliated, two more knocked unconscious and a fourth kicked in the most vulnerable spot known to any humanoid male,”

“Actually,” Jall piped up, “Some species keep their-“

Stafford smacked him upside the head. Jall grunted, rubbing the sore spot as he glared over at his CO.

“Sure you want to do this?” Stafford asked, smirking, “I mean, I bet you’re not exactly that skilled when it comes to dealing with women!”

Now Jall crossed his arms and turned to face Stafford.

“I could get more chicks then you could any day!”

“You wouldn’t know what to do with them!” Stafford shot back.

“Boys, boys,” Vonna quickly jumped into the picture, pushing the two apart, “Zis bickering, fanstastic for ratings, keep up! But later. Ve haff end of today’s show in ten minutes,”

With a flourish, Jall turned away from Stafford and approached Kerry.

“OK, sweety,” Jall said, one hands on his hip, the other giving a wave, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Having fun,” Kerry said, casually flicking her whip over Shwaluk’s back.

“I’m not going to argue with that,” Jall said, “But you’re doing it wrong,”

“Wrong?” Kerry raised an eyebrow, “You question me, worm?”

“Well, no,” Jall shrugged, “But there’s always room for improvement, right?”

“Right,” Kerry said warily. Her eyes flickered over to Stafford. Wasn’t Jall supposed to be rescuing Shwaluk?

Stafford just shrugged.

“See, it’s like this,” Jall said, “Whipping him is all fun and good, but you’ve got to see how much he can take. Hit him again, harder.”

Kerry shrugged, then lashed out. The entire audience flinched Shwaluk let out a bellow.

“No, no!” Jall said, “See, that’s not good. You’d wake up half the deck, noise complaints from the neighbors, and the poor guy’s gonna end up so hoarse he won’t be able to grovelingly apologize for being the disgusting little maggot he is,”

“Am I the only person who thinks this is sick?” Stafford asked Fifebee and Wowryk.

“I was enjoying it until Jall entered the picture,” Wowryk admitted.

Jall had pulled a leather strap from Kerry’s belt, folded it, then put it between Shwaluk’s teeth.

“Bite down,” he advised. Not in a position to argue, Shwaluke complied.

Jall walked back to Kerry and took the whip.

“Check this out,” he said. He lashed out against Shwaluk, his superior upper body strength making the whip snap. This time, Shwaluk’s scream was muffled, more of a grunt.

“Fantastic,” Kerry murmured, watching intently.

“Oh, and by the way honey,” Jall said, suddenly grabbing her wrists and binding them behind her back with the whip, “You lose. I win,”


There was a round of applause in the pub as, on screen, the Mediterranean officer defeated the Dominatrix. In the background, Tunney noted with some satisfaction that Stafford looked beyond surprised and the audience in the stands was cheering loudly.

“Und so,” Vonna said, reappearing, “Ve haff two contestants vith good performance, three vith bad. Who stays? Who goes? Find out tomorrow on special Vonna show edition!”

Tunney sighed into his beer as the AWN late night news came on.

“Why so glum?” his neighbor asked him, “That’s probably the coolest thing Starfleet’s put on holovision in the past six months!”

“You liked it?” Tunney asked, not looking up.

“Sure!” the guy laughed, “It had hot chicks. It was sorta funny. I kinda wanna see who wins! Besides, how often you ever see a sexy girl in a Starfleet uniform?”

“Me too,” another pub-goer said, “What do you guys say, back here same time tomorrow night?”

“You might be surprised,” Tunney said to the first speaker. He sighed again, “Don’t get your hopes up for tomorrow though. First thing I gotta do in the morning is contact Silverado and order them to never, under any circumstances, pull s**t like this again.

Before anybody could answer, Tunney stumbled out of the pub.


“And we’re off,” Gibson said, pulling the holo-cam off his head.

“And how about that?” Jall said happily, walking towards Stafford, “Was that sweet or what?”

“What?” Stafford asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I said,” Jall repeated, “Was that-“

“Yes, I heard what you said,” Stafford said mildly, “I was choosing ‘or what’,”

“I said ‘we’re off’,” Gibson repeated, “Save the pissing contest for tomorrow night’s show,”

“Respectfully,” Jall said, “I did exactly what I was supposed to do. I rescued Shwaluk,”

“Yeah but,” Stafford blinked, “What?”

“What what?” Jall asked.

“What did you just say?”

“I said I did what I was supposed to do,” Jall said, crossing his arms and looking annoyed.

“Before that,” Stafford cocked his head.

“Respectfully?” Jall shrugged.

“Since when have you done anything respectful?” Stafford asked.

“Uh, Keptain,” Vonna cut in, “Really like ze dialog, but show over for today,”

“Hey, I’m trying to be professional here,” Jall said angrily, “You might want to try doing the same!”

“Professional?” Stafford shook his head, “You just whipped Shwaluk’s ass on quadrant-wide holovision!”

“It was his back!” Jall shot back.

“I really don’t think either of you can talk about professionalism after that little show,” Sylvia said, approaching the two, Fifebee and Wowryk close behind.

“Uggghhhhh….”

The argument was interrupted by a groan from nearby. On the grassy field, still lying where the medics had carried him early, Jeffery was pulling himself to his feet.

“What hit me?” he grunted.

“Kerry’s dainty but booted foot,” Jall quipped pleasantly.

“I think we all just need to go to bed and have a good night’s sleep,” Sylvia said, moving her holographic body between Stafford and Jall, “Before one of you says something you’ll regret,”

“Jas,” Vonna seconded, “If must say somezing you regret, vait for show tomorrow!”

“Give it a rest already, Doc,” Stafford sighed, “Fine, until tomorrow then.”

The next morning…


“Captain on the bridge,”

Stafford froze as he exited the turbolift, having just finished a routine tour of the Stellar Cartography lab.

“Huh?” he asked dumbly.

“Starfleet protocol requires that the presence of a ranking officer be announced,” Jall said, swiveling in the command chair to face Stafford.

“What are you doing in my chair?” Stafford asked crossly.

“He won the toss,” Yanick said from the conn, “We had a really hard time finding a five-sided coin though,”

“Why didn’t you just get a couple of dice?” Stafford asked dryly.

“That was my suggestion,” T’Parief said from tactical.

“It wouldn’t have been the same,” Yanick said, shaking her head.

“Would you like the conn?” Jall asked with exaggerated politeness, “Sir?”

“No,” Stafford said slowly, looking like he’d tasted something sour, “I think I’ll just go over to my ready room now,”

True to his word, he walked slowly towards the door to his ready room. Right before he stepped through, he looked back. Jall was still looking back at him, a polite expression on his face. He gave a cheerful wave. Stafford turned into his ready room and waited for the doors to close.

He walked over his desk, then sat.

“What the hell was that?” he asked the empty office.

“Were you speaking to yourself, or do you actually want an answer?” Sylvia asked, materializing in front of him.

“Little bit of column A…” Stafford shrugged.

“He wants the job,” Sylvia said, “You said he needed to get professional, he’s getting professional,”

“He’s getting creepy is what he’s getting,” Stafford said, “He’s Jall. Last time he was respectful towards me he had a bet going he could get me to apologize to him. I trust him about as far as I can throw him,”

“He did that for an extra week’s vacation,” Sylvia reminded him, “Wow, that was a long time ago. Back before I was even ‘born’, so to speak. Ahh, the old days. Y’know, when I’m your age-“

“Sylvia?”

“Right, right,” Sylvia rolled her eyes, “Look, Chris, give the guy a chance. Who knows? Maybe he could work out!”

“I don’t WANT him as First Officer,” Stafford said, “I’d rather have somebody I can depend on, like T’Parief,”

“Then why did you invite him to apply?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Stafford grunted, “I mean, I gotta at least be fair to the guy, right?”

“Right, you’re being really fair,” Sylvia cocked her head, “You’re letting him apply for a position you have no intention of giving him,”

“Well, I thought it might be entertaining to watch him try,” Stafford said.

“Right, now you’re just being vindictive,”

“Yes, I am,” Stafford said honestly.

“Well, think about this,” Sylvia said, “He’s been trying since he heard about the position. He and Jeffery are the only two that did anything close to clever on the show today. What happens if he ends up being the best one for the job?”

“The universe will end,” Stafford said immediately, “And we won’t have to worry about it,”


STARBASE 45:


“Good morning, Ghrushetta,” Tunney said pleasantly, passing his horned, purple and very irritable secretary on his way to his office, “How’s the family?”

“Multiplying rapidly,” Ghrushetta growled.

“Good stuff, good stuff,” Tunney nodded as he stepped into his office.

“Let’s see,” he muttered, pulling up his ‘To-Do’ list, “Meeting with the Tilani Ambassador at 1000 hours. Meeting with station commander at 1100 hours to discuss the rash that keeps spreading…oh, what’s this?”

A reminder message had popped up on his monitor.

“Give Stafford s**t,” Tunney read off his screen. “Huh. Don’t know how I let that slip my mind. Best part of the job!”

He quickly prepared to open a subspace channel to Silverado. While he waited for the communications protocols to complete, he pulled a padd out of his desk.

“I wonder how many people really keep one of these?” he muttered to himself. The title of the padd was ‘Admiral Tunney’s S**t List’. He quickly scrolled down the list of ships under his command. The Stallion was racking up an impressive total, and the Vendome was creeping up there too. But Silverado by far had the largest number of tick marks next to her name. Grunting to himself, Tunney added one more.

“One of these days,” he muttered.

“Thank you for calling Silverado, where you always get service with a smile!” the cheerful Ensign Yanick said, appearing on the screen, “Unless you’re a Klinon, in which case I’d be more than happy to connect you to our frowny Chief of Security. If you’re calling about our ad in the ‘Personals’ section of ‘Male Humanoid Weekly’, I’ll connect you to our Operations Officer after I have the chance to-“

“I said that WASN’T ME!” somebody snapped in the background.

“Actually,” Tunney said, crossing his arms and leaning back, “I want to speak to Captain Stafford,”

“And who may I ask is calling?” Yanick asked.

“It’s Admiral Tunney,” Tunney said, rolling his eyes, “Ensign, we spoke last week!”

“Oh, I know it’s you, silly!” Yanick said, “But I have this script thingy I have to read,” she held up a padd.

“Just connect me to the Captain, please!”

“Okie!”

The perky Ensign was replaced by a spinning Starfleet logo, then a view of Stafford’s butt appeared on the screen.

“No, I don’t see it,” Stafford was saying to somebody, “Yes, I’m stretching as high as I can! No, I don’t want you to pick me up with a micro-tractor beam! If there’s a bloodstain on my window just have the cleaning crew get rid of it! And remind me to go to the bathroom the next time I have to pop a zit,”

“Captain,” Tunney winced,” Would you please turn around and sit down! And not in that order!”

Stafford jumped, spinning around and falling into his chair.

“Admiral Tunney!” he exclaimed, “Sir! I had no idea you were on the screen!”

“Obviously,” Tunney said dryly, “Look Stafford, about this show of yours-“

BEEP!

Tunney signed as his console chimed, indicating a call coming in from Earth.

“Hold on,” Tunney ordered, “I’m getting another call.

Before Stafford could protest, Tunney hit the ‘Hold’ button and Stafford’s face was replaced by that of a beautiful blond woman. Her lipstick was perfect, her teeth sparkled like diamonds and her makeup was exquisite. Yet there was a darkness to her pale skin, a sense of thinly veiled savagery.

“Admiral Tunney,” the woman nodded, “This is Lydia Thompson, the Office of Starfleet Humanoid Resources,”

“Of course, Miss. Thompson,” Tunney nodded. Lovely. Just what he needed, “If you’re calling about the, er, inappropriate conduct of some of my officers, I assure you the situation is being taken care of,”

“I’m sure,” Lydia said, smiling pleasantly, “You’ve always been most efficient in handling Silverado’s many indiscretions,”

“Thanks,” Tunney said, suddenly even more concerned. Compliments from Humanoid Resources were rare things indeed.

“However, I wanted to be sure that this matter is being handled in a way that is in line with the current desires of Humanoid Resources,” Thompson went on.

“I’ve got Stafford on the other line,” Tunney assured her, “I’ll see to it there’s no continuation of that mockery of Starfleet traditions tonight,”

“Commendable,” Lydia gave a curt nod, sending Tunney’s danger sense tingling again, “However, in this case, Humanoid Resources is in favour of allowing the ‘show to go on’, so to speak,”

“I…wha?” Tunney’s jaw dropped.

“Admiral, are you aware of the current image Starfleet has with the youth of the Federation?”

“Considering we just saved them from a Dominion invasion a few years ago, I’d think it’s pretty good!” Tunney said, recovering his balance.

“Oh without a doubt,” Lydia said, “You’re seen as brave, heroic, selfless beings who put their lives on the line to defend the Federation and its values. The best of the best! Skilled, professional and above all,”

Thompson trailed off, her expression telling Tunney that she expected him to continue.

“Valiant?” Tunney guessed.

“BORING!” Lydia exclaimed, “Nobody wants to join Starfleet as an enlisted crewman anymore! Since the war ended, recruitment has plummeted! They see Starfleet as a place where they can be surrounded by cold, uncaring officers who’s sole duty is to see that they’re ripped apart by rampaging Jem Hadar, murdered by Changelings or sent on pointless away team missions to die so that more important characters can live! Nobody sees Starfleet as a place to surround themselves with friends, comrades and people who like to have fun exploring the galaxy! They see it as a place where they can be ordered around and worked to the bone until they’re killed by the latest ‘Threat of the Week’!”

“That’s just not true!” Tunney objected, “Any ship I’ve served on, I’ve made good friends, seen amazing places and learned to better myself and the rest of humanity!”

“Image,” Lydia said haughtily, “Is everything. Did you know that since we started broadcasting ‘The Vonna Show’, our public opinion polls jumped five percent?”

“I always wondered why we kept that drivel on the air,” Tunney grumbled.

“We keep her on the air,” Lydia said pointedly, “Because she’s providing the public with a view of starship life they don’t normally get to see! Regular people, like them, with problems, fears and dreams! Not a pack of absolutely perfect professionals that they could never hope to be!”

“So you want us to let Stafford keep up with his mockery of Starfleet tradition and values?” Tunney asked, shoulders slumping.

“Last night’s broadcast sent our public opinion surveys up another four percent,” Lydia said in a tone that did not invite argument, “And we’re anticipating an increase in recruitment from the 18 to 25-year age group and other species equivalents…the people who wrongly felt they could never make it in Starfleet because they weren’t ‘professional’ enough, or didn’t fit the mold.”

“Are those the kind of people we even want in Starfleet?” Tunney asked.

“Admiral,” Tunney gave him a skeptical look, “You went through the Academy. They’ll become the kind of people we want in Starfleet,” she shrugged, “And if not, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of room for them in the Explorer Program or on an Operation Salvage ship. You know what to do. Thompson out.”

The screen returned to the Starfleet logo.

“Wonderful,” Tunney sighed. He tapped his console, putting Stafford back on screen.

“No, Sylvia, I’m not going to tell you if they feel real or not!” Stafford was snapping, “I know you’re not Mom, but it’s still weird! Why don’t you get Jall to tell you? I know guys like him don’t know much about a woman’s body, but if he can’t tell if a pair of breasts are real or not he needs to have some body parts removed-“

“There’s a reason why I avoid using the hold button,” Tunney sighed.

“Admiral!” Stafford turned deep red, “I…uh…”

“You know I could put you on report for those kind of remarks,” Tunney said mildly.

“Uh, I meant to say-“ Stafford said lamely.

“Forget it,” Tunney waved the remark away, “Uh, about last nights show…”

“Yeah?” Stafford sighed, a resigned look on his face.

Tunney slouched in his chair, then gritted his teeth.

“Keep up the good work,”

He cut the channel.


“Fifebee! Please, wait up!”

Obediently, Fifebee halted in the corridor. A sudden shock to her holographic force-field informed her that her pursuer had collided with her.

“I said wait up, not stop!” Noel Wowryk said, rather crossly as she shook her head, trying to clear it from the impact, “Shouldn’t you fall over when people run into you?”

“I chose not to,” Fifebee said simply, “How may I assist you?”

“Are you busy right now?” Wowryk asked.

“I am attempting to locate Fido,” Fifebee said, “He escaped from my quarters last night and attempted to mate with Ensign Bith’s cat. I must locate him quickly, that I might add a ‘neutered’ subroutine to his program.” She frowned, “Or do I simply remove the ‘mating’ subroutine?”

“Shouldn’t you be on duty?” Wowryk asked.

“I called in sick,” Fifebee shrugged.

“I need your help,” Wowryk said, cutting to the chase.

“I believe by telling you about my morning plans, I was indicated that yes, I am busy,” Fifebee said.

“Don’t get snotty with me,” Wowryk snapped, “Look, something’s fishy with Kerry and this contest!”

“We are having a competition to chose which of five candidates will become first officer of a Federation Starship. I do believe the USS Fishy has already gone to warp,”

“Not only are you making foolish decisions,” Wowryk shook her head, “But now your jokes are worse than ever. Look, if Kerry suspects something about one of the contestants, we need to know about so we can disqualify them before they have the chance to win!”

“Perhaps she learned about Commander Jeffery’s ‘Orion Mistress’ holodeck program and would like pointers?” Fifebee wondered.

“No, I think it-“ Wowryk did a double take, “Simon had an ‘Orion Mistress’ program? That bastard!”

“It wasn’t for sex,” Fifebee informed her.

“Oh,” Wowryk shrugged, “Well, good for him for expanding his horizons, then.”


“Remember,” Wowryk said as she and Fifebee neared Sickbay, “Kerry usually isn’t very open about her personal life. If we’re going to get this information from her, we’re going to have to be subtle about it.”

“Understood,” Fifebee said,” I suggest our best bet would be a ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ routine, where you come across as angry and aggressive while I appear to be sympathetic to her situation. This will encourage trust in me,”

“I like it,” Wowryk nodded, “It’s devious without being dishonest,”

The doors to Sickbay hissed open as they approached. As they stepped through the found Nurse Kerry standing behind the nurse’s station by the main entrance.

“Remember,” Wowryk whispered, “Subtle,”

“Doctor,” Kerry said, sounding relieved, “I’m glad you’re finally here! It’s not like you to be late for your shift!”

“I’ll be late when I want to be!” Wowryk said, getting into character, “I’m in charge here!”

“Hey,” Kerry put up her hands in surrender, “No biggie, ma’am.”

“Of course not,” Fifebee said soothingly.

“Look, Nurse,” Wowryk said, “We need to talk about something!”

“Me first,” Kerry said, “Look, something’s fishy with Lt. Cmdr. Johnson and I want to find out what it is!”

“No, we need to talk about…” Wowryk trailed off. “What?”

“When I, um,” Kerry looked embarrassed, “When I kicked him in the nuts, Johnson said something that just seemed…weird…”

“He says a lot of things like that,” Fifebee said reassuringly, taking Kerry’s hand, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it,”

Kerry gave Fifebee a weird look.

“Lieutenant,” Wowryk rolled her eyes, “You can stop now,”

“Good,” Fifebee straightened and dropped Kerry’s hand, “That was distasteful,”

“Speak for yourself,” Kerry muttered.

“Johnson says a lot of strange things.” Wowryk said.

“Yes,” Fifebee agreed, “Yesterday, he told me ‘Daym gurl, u needs to chill da hell out!’. My linguistic database cannot-“

“He said you need to relax,” Kerry interrupted.

“You can understand him?” Wowryk asked.

“Sure,” Kerry shrugged, “I did my internship in New York. Black men are fantastic to…um…work with!”

Fifebee and Wowryk exchanged glances.

“That’s sinful,” Wowryk said.

“That’s disgusting,” Fifebee added.

“That’s racist,” Sylvia cut in through the intercom.

“No it isn’t!” Kerry objected.

Silence.

“Which of us were you arguing with?” Fifebee asked.

“All of you!” Kerry snapped, “Look, I know how Johnson speaks, and something about it doesn’t quite fit!”

“Maybe he’s from New Jersey?” Fifebee suggested.

“You didn’t hear what he said,” Kerry said.

“What was that?” Wowryk asked.

Kerry told them.

The skeptical looks fell off Wowryk and Fifebee’s faces immediately.

“Let’s pull his file,” Wowryk said, gesturing to the large console/worktable next to her office.


Jeffery, T’Parief, Jall and Johnson had met in one of the smaller holodecks, a simulation of a rustic cabin running.

“So,” Jeffery said, “Ye ready to admit defeat yet?”

“Hey,” Jall said, crossing his arms, “We’re tied!”

“I will not admit defeat,” T’Parief said firmly.

“I ain’t gonna let some craka-ass hold me down!” Johnson said, gesturing wildly with his hands.

“Yeah!” Jall nodded, “What he said!”

“Anybody seen Fleebun?” Jeffery asked.

Negative looks were exchanged.

“Sylvia,” Jeffery asked, “Where’s Fleebun? All five of us were supposed to stay down here until tonight!”

“I can’t find him on the ship,” Sylvia replied, sounding concerned, “At all!”

“Where’d he go?” Jall wondered, “Did he chicken out?”

“Here’s a novel idea,” Sylvia offered, “Why don’t you try comming him?”

“Jeffery to Fleebun?” Jeffery tapped his comm-badge, giving the ceiling an evil look.

“This is the USS Cricket,” came a female voice, “I’m sorry, but Lt. Cmdr. Fleebun has locked himself in his room and won’t come out. He says he doesn’t want to work with ‘all the angry, scary people’ anymore. Good luck. Cricket out.”

Everybody exchanged glances.

“Well, I guess it’s just us four then,” Jeffery said.

“Dude’s a pussy, yo,” Johnson said, looking like he’d just tasted something unpleasant. (Jall had a similar expression on his face) Johnson walked to the replicator, tapped some buttons and pulled out a steaming cup.

“What is that?” Jall asked.

“Keep to yo-self, fool!” Johnson snapped. He took a sip, “Wooooord.”


“Anything?” Wowryk asked, looking over Fifebee’s shoulder.

“Actually, yes,” Fifebee said, “I’ve learned that I dislike having you look over my shoulder here just as much as I dislike having the Captain look over my shoulder on the bridge,”

“What about Johnson?” Kerry asked.

“Grew up on some colony somewhere…Sector 020. Not all that far from Earth. Educated in New York, then joined the Academy. Blah, Blah, Blah.”

“Any mention of what language he speaks?” Wowryk wondered.

“It’s listed as ‘English’ in here,” Fifebee replied.

“Right,” Kerry snorted, “And Jall speaks Klingon!”

“Actually, the Lieutenant…excuse me, the Lt. Cmdr. speaks fluent Klingon,” Fifebee said, arching an eyebrow.

“Why would he learn Klingon?” Wowryk asked.

“In his words,” Fifebee said, “‘Those ridged guys sure know how to party’,”

“Let’s see what we can find in the Academy records,” Wowryk suggested.


A few hours later…


“Is my uniform straight? There’s no lint on my butt, is there?” Stafford asked, trying to twist his head around to check.

“Butt is fine!” Vonna said, annoyed.

“Really?” Stafford cocked his head, “You like it?”

Vonna took a deep breath.

“Ve talk about lack of self-esteem later. Now, where is contestants? Ze show must start!”

“Ze show must start!” Gibson repeated, giggling. He was making a few last-minute adjustments to the holocam he was wearing.

The holodeck doors opened and Jeffery, Jall, T’Parief and Johnson stepped in.

“Let’s do this!” Jall said, strutting in. Today the holodeck was simply a white room; there wasn’t a tree or blade of grass to be found.

“Bring it!” Johnson said.

“Ah good,” Vonna smiled, “Ve start!”

“Hey wait,” Stafford objected, “Fifebee and Wowryk aren’t here yet!”

“Zey have five minutes!” Vonna snapped.


“We shouldn’t be in here,” Wowryk said, “This is sinful,”

“And illegal,” Fifebee added.

“Grow some backbone,” Kerry hissed.

The three of them had just finished breaking into Johnson’s quarters. The room was still fairly neat, having only been occupied for a couple days, but there were dirty cloths hanging off some of the furniture, a huge pile of gold jewelry on the table and e-magazines filled with naked women scattered on every surface.

“Looks like a typical man’s quarters,” Wowryk said with disgust.

“Not really,” Kerry said, “If Shwaluk had nudie magazines in his, I’d whip him raw,”

“What are we looking for?” Wowryk asked.

“I have a theory,” Kerry said, “I just need something incriminating to prove it…”

“How about this?” Fifebee asked, picking up a large glass tube half filled with liquid.

“No,” Kerry shook her head.

“How about some of the disgusting porn?” Wowryk asked, gagging.

“No,” Kerry was going through the pile of stuff on the coffee table.

“Got it!” she announced.


“Keptain, ve haff to start now,” Vonna said, “Cannot vait,”

“Oh, fine,” Stafford sighed. He waited as Gibson activated the holocam, then spoke.


Across the quadrant, households watching AWN were greeting with the image of an Ambassador-class starship flying through space. A deep, masculine voice spoke.


Space! It’s big, it’s scary and there are so many places to go!

Here, on the Silverado Idol edition of The Vonna Show, we’ll follow the adventures of five sworn rivals as they struggle into a position of authority!

Simon Jeffery, a mild, wimpy Engineer who just broke up with his overbearing girlfriend!

San Jall, an insubordinate party-boy who plays on only one team!

Jerome Johnson, a newcomer to the ship, struggling to fit in.

T’Parief, a security officer with second thoughts

And Fleebun! A whiny, slimy green ‘sensitive’ man!

Who will become First Officer? Find out tonight in our second edition of Silverado Idol!


“I thought you were getting this stuff cancelled?” the bartender asked Tunney as the Admiral settled back onto his stool in Zorgothaks Pub.

“I tried,” Tunney said, “God knows I tried,”

“They’re sure ripping up your Starfleet image, huh?” the bartender asked.

“Yeah,” Tunney grumbled, reaching for his beer, “And ‘image is everything’,”

On the screen, Stafford was speaking.

“Ladies, gentlemen, transgendered beings, gender-neutral beings, beings that reproduce by fission-“

He looked off camera for a moment, the swallowed.

“Uh, and everybody else. Welcome back…”


“So,” Stafford said, still not looking comfortable in front of the camera, “I’m sorry to say that Lt. Cmdr. Fleebun has dropped out of the running. He, uh, said we were too mean to him. Or something like that. So we’re actually down to four candidates: Jeffery, Jall, T’Parief and-“

“HOLD IT!” Wowryk’s crisp voice rang out as she marched into the holodeck, Fifebee and Kerry following close behind.

“Should I stop recording?” Gibson asked Vonna.

“No,” Vonna replied, “Zis could be juicy,”

“Uh, what gives?” Stafford was asking, stealing nervous glances at the camera.

“One of these men,” Fifebee paused dramatically, “Is a big liar!”

“Only if ‘I’ll call you’ is a lie,” Jall snickered.


Matthew Noonan still hadn’t moved from the previous night. He still sat on his couch, not even moving as a spider crawled up his back.

“Are you going to tell us who’s lying?” Stafford was asking Fifebee, “Or are you just going to stand there?”

“I was pausing for dramatic effect, Captain,” Fifebee replied, “And now you’ve ruined it!”

“Look, you’ve got ten seconds to tell me what’s going on before I let Gibson tinker with your subroutines!”

“Fat chance,” a voice off-camera, probably Gibson, muttered, “I already went to the bathroom today,”

“What is this galaxy coming to?” he murmured to himself, “Perhaps a closer look at the situation is warranted,”

He closed his eyes and tried hard to reach out with his mind…


“Johnson’s been lying to us from the beginning!” Fifebee announced.

“She’s trippin’!” Johnson objected, looking around nervously, “I ain’t been lyin’!”

“Oh really?” Kerry asked, stepping closer to the ebony-skinned officer, “Then perhaps you’d like to tell me what this is and why it was in your quarters!”

She held out a tiny baggie, filled with crushed leaves.

“Uh, that’s not mine,” Johnson said quickly, “I ain’t dirty!”

“Is that?” Stafford frowned, then crossed his arms, “What is that?”

“A substance derived from plant matter, used to help one relax,” Fifebee said harshly, “One that his people use very frequently!”

“Whoah,” Stafford swallowed, looked at the camera, then swallowed again, “Uh, Fifebee, I really don’t think we can stereotype an entire race of humanity as drug users on quadrant-wide holovision,”

“Dude!” Gibson broke in, “You don’t know where I score some of that do ya?”

Wowryk, Fifebee and Kerry stared at Gibson.

“Use of a substance such as marijuana aboard a starship was once grounds for disciplinary action,” T’Parief said smugly, flexing his claws, “Captain, if you wish, I would still be happy to take this vermin into custody,”


“Lieutenant Command Johnson!” Tunney was shouting at the viewscreen in the pub, some of his beer (his 6th already) sloshing as he waved his mug, “What the hell? I sent you out there to whip those people into shape, not broadcast your recreational habits to the quadrant!”


“Whoah, whoah!” Wowryk called out, stepping between the reptile and Johnson, “Marijuana? What are you talking about?”

“Isn’t that what you’ve got there?” Jeffery asked.

“Why would you say that?” Wowryk asked.

“Well,” Jeffery gulped and looked at the ground, “You were making such a big deal of it…”

“Hey man!” Johnson moved right up to Jeffery, “You want a piece of me?”

“Hey, hey,” Stafford moved quickly between the two, “Let’s just calm down. Wowryk, what’s going on?”

“Smell this!” Wowryk snapped, pushing the baggie up to Stafford’s nose.

Stafford sniffed.

“That smells like,” he frowned, “Earl Grey? TEA???”

“Tea!” Wowryk nodded triumphantly, “And not just any tea! FRESH TEA LEAVES!

“But what does that mean?” Stafford asked.

“It means he’s not ‘thug’,” Kerry announced, “He’s BRITISH!”

DUN DUN, DUN-DUN-DUN DUUUUUUUUUN!


“What the hell did you do that for?” Technician Ston asked Technician Bakarun as the two of them manned the AWN control booth.

“I dunno,” Bakarun shrugged, taking his hands off the ‘Sound Effects’ control panel, “It just felt right,”


“British?” Stafford was asking, “But…I mean, he talks-“

“Like a rapper?” Kerry asked.

“Well,” Stafford shrugged, “I was going to say he talked like the Chris Rock hologram at the Starbase 45 Comedy Club, but whatever fits,”

Johnson was looking very embarrassed, surrounded on all sides now by Silverado officers.

“Is this true?” Stafford asked him.

“Yes, quite true,” Johnson sighed.

There were gasps all around at his crisp, British accent.

“Why would you lie to us like that?” Ensign Yanick shouted from the stands.

“Well, my dear,” Johnson said, “To tell the truth, I started with the ‘gangtsa’ talk in high school. I’m afraid joining the Chess Club just wasn’t done in my part of town, and I wanted to be ‘cool’,”

“Kept it running a little long, huh?” Jall asked.

“Well, mate,” Johnson shrugged, “I found that the ladies were much easier to shag when I used a New York or Caribbean accent,”

“You did it for sex?” Stafford asked flatly.

“I like this guy’s style!” Jall chirped.

“Can we talk about this after the camera has been turned off?” Johnson asked politely.

“No!” Vonna snapped, “Zis is good for ratings!”

“Ugh,” Stafford grunted, “Johnson, I’m sorry. But based on this, I can’t consider you for the post of first officer. Honesty, well, we had honesty problems with our last first officer.”

“I quite understand,” Johnson sighed, trudging off.


Noonan’s eyes snapped open, his attempts at astral travel spoiled by the distracting remark.

“Yes, I get it, Chris,” Noonan said crossly to the holovision, “I kept secrets. But that’s no reason to broadcast it to the quadrant!”

Sighing, he focused again.


As Stafford and Wowryk watched Johnson go, Jall turned to Jeffery and T’Parief.

“So,” Jall said, “Just the three of us again, huh?”

“Yes,” T’Parief said thoughtfully, “Just the three of us,”

“Ah don’t suppose one of ye would like to drop out?” Jeffery asked, “Y’know, make it easier for the rest of us?”

T’Parief and Jall glared at him.

“Just checkin’,” Jeffery said.


“Uh, OK,” Stafford turned back to the camera, “So we’re down to three now. Three Silverado officers too. So now we get to try and find out if the new XO is going to be the loyal Security Chief, the long time pal and Chief Engineer or the smart ass Operations Officer. I know which one I don’t want sitting in that command chair!”

“Three guesses,” Jall grumbled.

“So we come to our final contest,” Stafford announced, “Sylvia?”

“Hello boys,” Sylvia said. The holodeck shimmered, the blank white walls being replaced with blue skies, green grass, and a solid wall of green shrubbery, “Your final mission, if you choose to accept it, and at this point you’d better, is to work your way through the maze!”

“Maze?” Jeffery’s eyebrows went up.

Everybody in the holodeck lurched at their viewpoint rose hundreds of feet into the air, giving everyone a bird-eye view. The wall of green was just one side of a huge garden maze, ten foot high hedges bristling with thorns running as far as the eye can see.

“Don’t do that again,” Stafford groaned, holding his stomach as Sylvia returned the holodeck viewpoint to the ground.

“In the center of the maze,” Sylvia went on, “Is a rank pip. The first one to get the pip wins this event. To get through, you’re going to need skill, agility, endurance, diplomacy and wit!”

“Just go,” Stafford said, still clutching his stomach.


T’Parief was first into the maze, having shot into action before Stafford’s mouth had even closed. Entering the maze, he immediately took a left turn. So far things were pretty uneventful. He slowed to a jog, not wanting to tire himself out.

As he came around one corner, he found himself facing a stone door. There was no sign of any kind of handle, doorknob or switch. On the door itself though were several carvings. One carving looked like an Ambassador class starship, only heavily damaged. Another carving seemed to be of a Klingon woman, her lips pulled back in a grin as she squeezed a planet between her hands. Yet another had a symbol that T’Parief didn’t recognize, though he was sure he’d seen it somewhere.


“Well, this is interesting,” Jall muttered to himself, facing an identical stone door. He’d taken a bit longer than T’Parief had, and had chosen to take a right turn instead of a left. He’d come across the door entirely by surprise; he’d been trying to count his footsteps to see how far he’d gone.

“So it’s a puzzle you’ve got for us, huh?” he muttered, running his hands over the door, “Good thing it’s a hologram, this workmanship is just awful! Although stonework is ‘in’ right now…”

As he ran his hand over one of the symbols, this one showing an Ambassador-class starship and a Sovereign-class starship separated by a jagged line, the symbol lit up, glowing with a soft, yellow light.

“YELLOW LIGHTS on GREY STONE?” Jall exclaimed, “EWWWW!”


Jeffery laughed as he approached a third identical door. He’d taken a passage that had veered off the main path shortly after Jall and T’Parief had split up, but he was pretty sure the other two paths would lead to similar doors. Stafford would be too lazy to come up with different puzzles for each of them, besides, that wouldn’t really be fair.

Jeffery barely glanced at the symbols on the door.

“Ye’ve spent too much time playin’ 21st-Century computer games, buddy,” Jeffery chuckled. He’d recognized the nature of the puzzle immediately; the stonework, the style of the carvings, the presence of a puzzle…it just screamed ‘Myst’.”

Fortunately, Jeffery had endured many hours of Stafford chattering on endlessly about the damned game, and he knew what to look for.

The symbols clearly were meant to represent several of Silverado’s missions and encounters over the past three years. There was K’Eleese crushing a planet. Next was the symbol of the Matrian Empire. An image of two humanoids, their souls represented as hazy forms hovering over their bodies, probably represented the body switching.

Jeffery tapped each symbol, starting with their earliest missions and working his way up to the last symbol, four crudely-carved humans and one reptile, surrounded by question marks. He was rewarded with a deep rumble as the door slip open.

“Easy,” he laughed, walking through.


“Chris,” Sylvia was saying, her holographic form looking over Stafford’s shoulder with her arms crossed, “I had no idea you could be so sneaky,”

“It was Fifebee’s idea, actually,” Stafford said.

As Jeffery, Jall and T’Parief explored the holographic maze, Stafford, Wowryk and Fifebee had taken their seats at the small judges table, right in front of the bleachers full of spectators. Three huge holographic screens had appeared in mid air, each one carefully tracking the progress of one of the contestants.

Jeffery had been running through the next part of the maze for several minutes by the time Jall had figured out the puzzle, doing a victory dance as the door opened.

T’Parief wasn’t faring quite as well. He wasted several minutes looking for a hidden switch or lever that might open the door, ignoring the symbols on the door itself.

“C’mon Pari!” Yanick cheered from the stands, “Use that big, sexy brain of yours!”

“Could somebody pass me the popcorn?” Ensign Day requested.

“Coming right up, sweety,” Sylvia replied. A bowl of popcorn materialized on his lap.

“I wanted butter,” Day complained.

“Ingrate,” Sylvia muttered angily. There was another shimmer of holographic sparks and a torrent of butter came crashing down on Day.

Day sat for a moment, sputtering.

“Thanks,” he finally said.

Meanwhile, T’Parief had done a quick search of the small area he was in and had located a solid stone statue. Hefting it under one arm, he charged the door. The statue hit like a battering ram, a great crack splitting the door. With a few more well-placed blows the door crumbled.

T’Parief stepped through and began running down the next section of the maze.


“Greetings, traveler,”

“Uh, hi,” Jeffery waved. He stood at one end of a graceful stone bridge that arced over a river. The water rippled as it flowed, reflecting the dim light coming in from above the maze. Blocking his path was a Vulcan, his bowl-cut hair the standard Vulcan black, his robes a deep shade of blue. A small sign next to the bridge read ‘Property of Christopher Stafford,”

“Can I go across, please?” Jeffery asked.

“Logically,” the Vulcan said, “If you wish for me to offer you safe passage, should you not offer me something in return?”

“Huh? Jeffery blinked, “Oh, Aye. Ah guess. That’s the way these toll bridges work, right?”

“Indeed,” the Vulcan inclined his head.

“A tricorder?” Jeffery offered, holding his out.

“I have no need of a tricorder,” the Vulcan replied.

“Well then I’m kinda stumped,” Jeffery crossed his arms, “Cuz Ah don’t have anything else on me!”

“Then your situation is not one to be envied,” the Vulcan observed.

Jeffery glared, blowing air through is lips.


Stafford, Fifebee and the spectators all watched the screens with interest as each of the three contestants met their own bridge-guarding Vulcans.

“I concur with Sylvia,” Fifebee said, “Observing their reactions when they believe they are not being observed is indeed sneaky,”

“It was Wowryk’s idea,” Stafford said, “And besides, ‘Only when a man is hidden does he reveal what he truly is’,”

“That’s deep, dude,” Gibson commented, having removed his camera now that AWN was focusing on the three contestants, “Is that, like Shakespeare or something?”

“No,” Stafford sighed, “Yeesha. It’s from Myst.”

“Myst,” Sylvia looked thoughtful, “Isn’t that the game that had you in your quarters, cursing and screaming at your computer teminal? By which I mean, you were cursing and screaming at me?”

“Some of the puzzles in that game were really hard!” Stafford said, a little defensively.

“Is T’Parief allowed to do that to the Vulcan?” Trish asked from the bleachers. All around her, spectators were grimacing or shielding their eyes.

“Technically, he can do whatever he wants,” Stafford said, shuddering, “But I don’t think that was a very good idea,”


“This is impossible!” Jeffery snapped, “Ye don’t want twigs, or leaves, or rocks. Ye don’t want me tricorder. Ah have nothin’ else to offer!”

“If you eliminate the impossible,” the Vulcan said, “Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer,”

Jeffery looked at him for a moment.

“Yer right,”

With that, he dove into the river and swam to the other side.


T’Parief’s eyes flickered, scanning for threats as he ran through the seemingly endless corridors of the maze. He hadn’t seen another fork in the road in quite some time, and was convinced that he was on the final path.

No sooner did the thought enter his head then the path opened up into a large circular courtyard. Ringing the outer edge were five pathways leading in from the maze, between which stone pillars stood sentinel, supporting an open latticework dome of stone. Five crescent-shaped pools circled the courtyard, about halfway between the center and the outer edge, between which cobblestone pathways led to the center.

In the very center of the courtyard was a thick stone pillar. Atop the pillar was a metal cage, which in which a tiny spot of gold gleamed. The rank pip!

T’Parief ran to the base of the pillar, somewhat surprised by its size. It was over twice his height; reaching the metal cage on top was impossible. The stone was perfectly smooth and hard as marble…his claws couldn’t get enough purchase for him to clime. If it had been narrow he could have tried to shimmy his way up, but the pillar was at least five meters in diameter. On the side of the pillar were five solid dots in a horizontal line. Right below the first line of dots was a second line, only this time the fifth dot was an empty ring.

“Huh. Stafford’s got another silly puzzle for us, huh?” Jeffery commented.

T’Parief whirled.

“When did you get here?” he hissed.

“Just now,” Jeffery said, “Ah had some trouble with the Vulcan.

T’Parief noticed that Jeffery’s uniforms was soaked and that the shorter man’s hair was plastered to his head.

“You swam?” T’Parief asked.

“Aye,” Jeffery nodded.

“Fool!” T’Parief snarled, slamming the palm of his hand against his forehead.

“That’s not very nice,” Jall’s voice added as the slim officer jogged into the courtyard.

“I was referring to myself,” T’Parief said darkly, as if daring Jall to make a comment.

“No problem,” Jall shrugged instead, “Hey, is that relish on your chin?”

“No,” T’Parief said, whipping the green, holographic Vulcan blood off his face.

“Violence doesn’t solve anything,” Jall snickered, then looked at Jeffery, “And the wet hair look only works if you’re wearing a Speedo,”

“And how did ye get past the Vulcan?” Jeffery asked.

“I told him it wasn’t logical for him to charge me for crossing the bridge, considering he didn’t own it and that it would cost him nothing to get our of my way,” Jall said.

T’Parief and Jeffery exchanged angry glances.

“Idiot!” they both snapped to themselves.

“So, what’s the deal here?” Jall asked cheerfully, “Another one of Stafford’s childish puzzles?”

“So it seems,” T’Parief said through clenched teeth.

Jeffery had started wandering around the courtyard. He knew that if Stafford was taking his ideas from an old computer game that there had to be clues somewhere. Games always had clues, for if the puzzle could not be solved, who would want to play it?

T’Parief and Jall watched as he circled the pillar. Jeffery, noticing their watching eyes, paused.

“If yer just goin’ to watch until Ah find the answer,” he said, annoyed, “Ah’m just gonna stop looking,”

“Oh, right,” Jall cleared his throat, “Sorry,”

T’Parief, instead, walked up to the pillar.

“I noticed this marking,” he said, pointing at the dots, “I took it to be rank pips, however this is not the rank of a Commander,”

“Nay,” Jeffery shook his head, “Ah don’t think there’s any rank that has five pips,”

“Are you two conspiring together now?” Jall shouted from across the courtyard.

“Ah think we’re supposed to,” Jeffery said.

“Come again?”

Jeffery left the pillar, heading for the outer edge of the courtyard.

“Help me look for a switch, or a button, or something,” he said.

“Something like this?” Jall called. He pointed to a pillar halfway between two of the entrances. As Jeffery and T’Parief approached, they could see that there was a carving on the pillar, this one of five hands clasped together, like in a friendship circle.

“We have to hold hands?” T’Parief sneered, “I refuse!”

Jall ran to another pillar, this one also spaced halfway between two entrances.

“There’s another one over here!” he called, running back to join them.

“Five dots on the pillar,” Jeffery thought, “Ah bet there are five panels like this one,”

“There were supposed to be five contestants,” T’Parief pointed out.

“So we each push a symbol then, right?” Jall asked.

“There are only three of us,” T’Parief said.

“Aye,” Jeffery nodded, “Cause Fleebun and Johnson were eliminated. Ah bet we only need three of us now,”

“Looks like Stafford wanted to judge us on teamwork too,” Jall mused.

“Indeed,” T’Parief agreed.

“Er, aye,” Jeffery said.


“Damn right I did,” Stafford muttered, watching the show. With the three contestants now in the same area, the three huge vidscreens were now showing different angles of the courtyard. Jall, Jeffery and T’Parief were still discussing the clues in a huddle near one of the symbols.

“So, vill ze three conteztats come to agreement? Vill zey put aside zere physiological distastes for each ozzer und triumph? Vill I get a research paper out of ziz? Find out after zeze words from ‘Dillon’s Supply Depot’!”

“Commercial,” Gibson said as an indicator light on his padd lit up.

“That’s getting very annoying,” Wowryk grumbled.


“It looks pretty straight forward to me,” Jall said, “We each push one of these symbols and something happens to the pillar.”

“I agree,” Jeffery said.

T’Parief reached out with one hand to the symbol next to them. It immediately light up with a blue glow. As soon as he took his hand away, the glow faded.

“Ah think you have to hold it down,” Jeffery said.

T’Parief put his hand back up against the symbol.

“Let’s go,” Jall said, running towards another symbol.


Jeffery ran to a third symbol. Unlike the other two, he had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. The clue on the pillar was more than just instructions for them to use the symbols, it was a clue as to just how many of them had to hold down the symbols. The first line of dots told them to hold down all the symbols (in this case three, as there were only three people). But the second line said release one symbol!

“Ye ready?” Jeffery asked, poising his hand over his symbol

“Yes,” T’Parief grumbled.

“Go for it,” Jall called.

Jeffery took a deep breath and braced himself.

He tapped the symbol, then took of running.


Watching Jeffery, T’Parief had a sudden, instinctive knowledge that something was wrong half a second before Jeffery touched the symbol. It was something in his stance, something in the furtive way he glanced around before reaching out.

Still, he was caught off guard when Jeffery exploded into a blur of motion, tapping the symbol with one hand, then sprinting for the pillar in the center.

The second Jeffery’s hand left the symbol, the pillar started sinking into the ground with a deep rumble. As it did so, the small metal cage at the top opened.

“TRAITOR!” T’Parief snarled, digging his claws into the ground as he took off running towards the pillar.

“What the f**k?” Jall shouted, confused as he too started running.

But Jeffery had too much of a head start. Jall had barely passed the pools of water halfway to the pillar when Jeffery reached the descended pillar. T’Parief was much closer, closing in on Jeffery as the human reached into the metal cage.

As his fingers closed over the rank pip, Jeffery vanished in a haze of transporter sparkes as T’Parief lunged, passing through the empty space where Jeffery had been.

Seconds later, the holographic maze disappeared, revealing the bleachers of spectators and the small judges table.

“YOU BETRAYED US!” T’Parief snarled, advancing on Jeffery as the smaller man backed towards the judges table, “YOU KNEW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN! AND YOU DIDN’T TELL US!”

“Well, it’s a contest, right?” Jeffery squeaked, still backing away, “The point was to win, right?”

“That was a pretty low trick!” Jall accused, “We’d trusted you!”

They suddenly realized they were being watched.

Stafford, Wowryk and Fifebee sat at the judge’s table, looking coldly at Jeffery. Behind them, none of the spectators were cheering. Instead, they all looked on quietly. Nobody needed to spell out what had happened. They’d seen Jeffery bracing himself, seen him running to the pillar before the other two had even realized what was happening.

Stafford stood.

“You’ll have my decision within twenty-four hours,” he said coolly, then started walking towards the holodeck exit.

“But,” Jeffery protested, still holding the gold rank pip in his hand, “Ye said…”

“He said,” Wowryk said, “That the first person to get the pip would win this event. Nothing more,”

With that, she and Fifebee followed Stafford out.

Vonna turned to Gibson, who had once again donned his holocam.

“Vell,” she said, “Zere you haff it. Vun contestant, driven by dreams of victory und glory, has turned his back on his crewmates und struck out alone! Vill it vin him ze coveted position? Tune in next night for special edition of Vonna show, vhen ve announce vinner!”

Jeffery scowled at the camera, then left.


Stafford sat in the Captain’s Private Dining Room, staring out at the stars. His chin rested on one hand, the other lay flat against the window ledge.

“What a mess,” he muttered.

“This didn’t really turn out the way you planned, did it?” a voice from behind him spoke.

“No, it didn’t,” Stafford sighed, “This was supposed to be an easy choice. Put T’Parief in the first officer slot and carry on as usual. He wasn’t supposed to say no. Then yes after Tunney sends a candidate. Excuse me, TWO candidates.”

“And the show?”

“Should have been fun,” Stafford said, “Should have been a way to teach us all that we achieve more when we work together.”

“It seems to have done the opposite,” the voice said, “Instead of demonstrating that the three of them achieve great things together, Jeffery has demonstrated that through trickery, one can win.”

“I guess I’m just not clever enough to give character lessons,” Stafford said. He turned to find Noonan sitting in a chair, looking back at him.

“You’re a little far from home, aren’t you?” Stafford asked.

Noonan raised one hand. Stafford noticed with interest that it passed right through the table.

“You could say I am at both homes,” Noonan replied with a smile.

“Uh-huh,” Stafford was skeptical, “Seems to me you told me once you’d tried out of body travel when you were kidnapped by the Senousians. Didn’t work then, did it?”

“When injured, my kind often finds that when we heal, our powers increase greatly,”

“Any particular reason you’re here?”

“Just to tell you that you are on the right track,” Noonan said.

“Oh? How so?”

“The maze was a brilliant idea. And, by the way, Myst was a fantastic game. I remember playing it on my parent’s antique PC as a child,”

“You were the one that introduced me to it,” Stafford grinned.

“I wanted to give my advice one last time,” Noonan said, suddenly changing the topic. Stafford noticed that he was starting to flicker, becoming faint, then snapping back into focus, “Don’t ignore what you’ve just learned. Indeed, I think the entire experience has told you something about the people you chose for the first officer position, however you cannot forget that the face a person wears in public can be different from their true face. Don’t forget what you saw in the maze when you make your decision.”

Stafford nodded.

“I look forward to The Vonna Show tomorrow,” Noonan said, “Best of luck.”

“Thanks for dropping by,” Stafford gave a half-wave.

Noonan faded.


Two days later…


“Und vith ze selection of ze new first officer for ze starship Silverado,” Vonna said, looking into the camera in her office set, “Ve now return to your regular schedualed program. Today, on Ze Vonna Show, ve look at ze cultural challenges of mixed-species neighborhoods. On ze line ve haff Korag. Koreg is haffing problems vith a neighboring Horta family, who’s molton rock feces are causing ze geological structure of his property to become unstable,”

Gibson sat in the booth, feet up on the console as Vonna nattered on.

“Things are finally getting back to normally,” he sighed, pulling out the small baggie he’d swiped from Johnson.

He sniffed.

“Earl Grey? CRAP!”


Back on Starbase 45, Admiral Tunney was on the comm with Lydia Thompson.

“I hope you’re happy,” Tunney said, trying to keep his tone diplomatic, “We’ve just broadcast a Starfleet officer betraying his crew to the entire quadrant,”

“Our opinion polls did drop slightly after that event,” Thompson allowed, “However, they are still higher than they were before. All in all, I think we can consider this little experiment a success,”

“Should I share that with the Silverado crew?” Tunney asked.

“I think not, no,” Thompson said, “No, I think what’s needed of them at the moment is silence and obscurity,”

Tunney sighed.

“That’s not really something they’re good at,” he said, “Somehow, they seem to keep popping up where they’re least wanted,”

“I believe the commanders of several other Starbases would agree with you,” Thompson said, “Which is why I have something different in mind.”

“Oh?” Tunney perked up.

“What if I were to tell you,” Thompson said, “That at this very moment, plans are being laid out for a long term mission. A mission that is very far away from both Earth AND the public spotlight. At that all somebody, say, an Admiral, would have to do to get a ship assigned to this mission would be to volunteer them?”

“I’m listening,” Tunney said slowly.


Captain Christopher Stafford stepped out of the turbolift, walked calmly to his command chair and sat.

“Status report, Lt. Commander Johnson?” he asked.

“We’re on course for the Genuri system at Warp 4,” Johnson replied, sitting at his console and tapping away, “All systems appear to be, well, your systems don’t match the specs I recall for an Ambassador-class ship, but Sylvia assures me they are normal for her,”

“Good,” Stafford nodded, “And welcome aboard, Johnson. Glad to have you on the team.”

The doors at the rear of the bridge hissed open as Silverado’s new first officer arrived on the bridge. He stood briefly in the turbolift alcove, taking in a deep breath, as though breathing the recycled air on the bridge for the first time. Smiling, he stepped around the tactical rail, down one step into the lowered forward area of the bridge, then up another as he approached the command area and the twin command chairs. Nobody applauded as he sat in the portside chair, the one that had previously belonged to Commander Noonan.

“Commander Jall,” Stafford said, inclining his head politely.

“Captain,” Jall smiled.

T’Parief bristled, an involuntary rumble emerging from his throat.

Stafford took a deep, calming breath.

“You have the bridge, Commander,” he said, very calmly as he stood and walked towards his ready room.

“Aye sir,” Jall smiled as the doors hissed shut, “Ensign Yanick, how are those navigational sensors holding up?”

“Just fine, Commander,” Yanick answered with a grin, putting emphasis on the word ‘Commander’.

A dull thumping became audible, coming from the direction of the ready room. The sound of Stafford slamming his head into the padded wall. Again, and again, and again.

“Well, now that we’ve got everything figured out,” Jall said, “I think it’s about time we got back to work, hmmm?”

“Aye sir,” Yanick said cheerful.

“Aye,” replied Fifebee.

“You bet!” Sylvia said, materializing near the viewscreen.

“Aye,” Johnsaid said from the Operations console.

T’Parief just growled.

From the ready room, the sound of Stafford screaming could be faintly heard.

And Silverado flew on…