Author: Brendan Chris
“What is it?” Jall asked, staring at the strange, shiny object sitting in the middle of the conference lounge table.
“It’s pretty,” Yanick added, the slightest frown on her face as her lips drew into a pout.
“Can we touch it?” Lieutenant Sage, Acting Chief Engineer asked.
“Hey guys,” Captain Stafford said pleasantly as he stepped in from the bridge carrying a tray with cups, a small pitcher of milk and a bowl of sugar, “I think we need to have a replicator installed in here. I know it’s already kind of cramped, but if we get rid of the potted plant in that corner-“
“What the hell is this?” Jall asked, gesturing at the object on the table as Stafford set the tray down next to it,”
“It’s a pot of coffee, San,” Stafford said, his smile showing signs of strain.
“Yes, we can see it is coffee,” T’Parief said, throwing a dirty look at Jall and taking a large bite out of a brown object.
“The question is,” Dr. Wowryk cut in, “What is it doing here?”
“I thought it’d be nice if I made you guys something to drink during our meeting,” Stafford said, taking his seat, “Y’know, part of that whole ‘Let’s Improve Our Working Relationships’ thing,”
“Ah,” T’Parief nodded, his mouth still a bit full, “That was on ‘The Vonna Show’ last night, yes?”
“Oh yeah!” Yanick piped in, “Something about random acts of kindness?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Stafford sighed theatrically.
“It’s a lovely gesture,” Wowryk smiled, “I think if we all follow the Captain’s example we’ll be well on our way to a happier and more mentally fit team,”
“Let’s take this one step at a time,” Noonan said, grinning.
“Hey Wowryk, I think you have something brown on your face,” Lieutenant Sage said, “Right about here,” he tapped at the end of his nose.
“Lieutenant,” Wowryk said, her tone turning chilly as she looked down her nose as Sage, “That isn’t funny,”
“Speaking of brown stuff,” Jall said, turning to T’Parief, “What are you eating?”
T’Parief swallowed abruptly.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Chocolate,” Yanick corrected, drawing an annoyed look from the security chief, “I think he’s hooked,”
Jall looked down at T’Parief’s middle.
“Uh, Jall,” Stafford said after a moment, clearing his throat uneasily, “Um, what are you looking at?”
“I was wondering why he was sitting so close to the table,” Jall said, looking back up, “Turns out he’s using it to hide the fact that he’s getting a bit of a gut!”
“I am not getting fat!” T’Parief snapped, his teeth coming together with a ‘click’.
“Mr. T’Parief, you should know that chocolate is very high in calories and really shouldn’t be eaten in large amounts,” Wowryk said, “I can suggest some great, healthy alternatives-“
“Isn’t chocolate poisonous for dogs?” Sage wondered, “I wonder if it’s good for reptiles?”
Everybody stared at him.
“I’m just trying to fit it,” he said in a very small voice.
“Compare me to a dog again and you will fit in,” T’Parief said, a dark expression on his face, “Fit into a storage locker, that is,”
“If we could all get to the point?” Noonan suggested.
“Right, right,” Stafford reached for the coffee pot on the table and poured himself a cup, “As you all know, I’m taking a few days off to go to a family reunion on Starbase 45. I’m confident you’ll manage just fine without me-“
“Easily,” T’Parief nodded. Stafford looked at him, a slightly offended expression on his face.
“I did not mean it like that,” T’Parief amended.
“We’re going to be short on support craft,” Sage said, desperate to contribute, “With you off in the Asessippi and Jeffery using the Niagra we’re going to be out of runabouts.
Dead silence fell at the mention of Jeffery’s name. A few eyes flickered over to Wowryk.
“Fascinating,” Fifebee stated, picking up a tiny object from the conference room table, “It was actually possible for human ears to hear this pin drop,”
“You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me,” Wowryk said, crossing her arms, “I’ll handle Jeffery when he returns, but there is no need to avoid mentioning him around me or talking about him. He was a very important member of this crew after all,”
“Sexual intercourse,” Jall said loudly.
Wowryk flinched back, an expression is distaste on her face.
“Oh good,” Stafford sighed in relief, “I was worried we’d brought the wrong Wowryk back from that super-competent universe for a moment there,”
“Bridge to Stafford,” Lieutenant Quintaine’s voice came over the comm, “Sir, we have a ship approaching. They’re asking for you specifically,”
“What do you make of them?” Stafford asked.
“It’s a civilian vessel,” Quintaine reported, “They won’t say what they want though,”
“We’ll be right out,” Stafford said.
“Perhaps it is time to officially promote Lieutenant Quintaine and move him into the Executive Officer slot,” Noonan suggested.
“I thought you were the Executive Officer,” Wowryk said, looking puzzled.
“I am,” Noonan said, “But only because I am usually on the bridge during the evening shift anyway. Technically, the ship should have a First Officer for the day shift and an Executive Officer to handle command duties on the night shift,”
“But who would run the bridge during meetings during the day?” Yanick asked.
“Executive Officers don’t sleep,” Stafford said, getting up and heading for the door, “They need to be able to pop up anytime it’s convenient for the Captain to be away from the bridge.”
“Wow,” Yanick said as everybody filed out, “I’d hate to have that job,”
Stafford and Noonan relieved a yawning Lieutenant Quintaine and seated themselves on the bridge.
“I hope this business doesn’t take long,” Stafford grumbled, “If I’m late for the reunion it’s going to be a toss-up as to who kills me first, mom or one of my aunts,”
“Kills you first?” Fifebee arched an eyebrow, “As opposed to one of them killing you second?”
“They’re hailing us again,” Jall reported, “Civilian transport, two life signs. Cargo seems to be foodstuffs.
“On screen,” Stafford signed.
There was a flurry of static, but nothing appeared on the viewscreen.
“Jall?” Stafford asked.
“Just a minute,” Jall groaned, “The subspace transceiver is out of alignment again,”
“Didn’t you fix that yesterday?” Yanick asked innocently.
“No,” Jall growled, “SAGE fixed it yesterday! It’s not MY fault the ship is falling apart again!”
“Oh,” Yanick chewed on the end of her ponytail, “I just thought that if something was fixed it usually stayed fixed,”
“Not on this ship,” Sage grumbled from the engineering console, “OK, try it now,”
A man and woman appeared on the screen. The man looked a little like Stafford, only older and a bit heavier. He also had a dark moustache. The woman on the other hand…
“Hi Sylvia!” Yanick called happily, waving at the screen.
“Oh crap,” Stafford sighed, shaking his head.
“Christopher!” Catherine Stafford called out, putting her hands on her hips, “Really! You’ve been on that ship for two years and none of those people know who your mother is?”
“Mistaken identify, Mom,” Stafford choked, “You, uh, look like somebody else…we, um…know,”
“Oh, well,” Catherine smiled, “It’s so good to see you, honey! How have you been? Why aren’t you on your way to the reunion yet?”
“I was just about to leave,” Stafford said, “But, I, uh,”
“Good thing we caught you in time,” Greg Stafford cut in, “Makes things easier. We had to make a couple of changes,”
“What kind of changes,” Stafford asked, an icy cold suspicion gripping his gut.
“Those PEOPLE,” Catherine said the word as though the people in question were anything but people, “at Starbase 45 overbooked their convention center,” Catherine crossed her arms, clearly annoyed, “So we’re moving the reunion,”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Jall whispered to Yanick.
“Where to?” Stafford asked, the cold suspicion turning abruptly to pure dread.
“Just how many people are we expecting?” Steven asked. He’d been summoned to the conference lounge the second Catherine and Greg had signed off the comm and started docking their ship in the shuttlebay.
“Including my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and second cousins?” Stafford asked, “Around fifty,”
“That’s not so bad,” Steven said. Yanick and Noonan were seated at the table, the former spooning sugar into her coffee.
“And that’s just my grandmother’s branch of the family,” Stafford sighed, “If you include her brothers and sisters, along with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren we’re looking at around two hundred,”
“Did you consider just saying ‘no’?” he asked.
“I thought about it,” Stafford said, “then I came to my senses. In a battle between this ship and my aunts, I’d bet on my aunts any day,”
“You think a bunch of civilian vessels could take out an Ambassador-class starship?” Noonan asked calmly.
“Hey,” Stafford snapped, “you’re talking about slaughtering my family there!”
“Not seriously,” Noonan corrected.
“No, no, of course not,” Stafford grinned, “But you don’t know just how, um, aggressive my aunts can be,”
He turned to Yanick.
“Trish,” he said, “I want to make a good impression. I haven’t seen some of these people in years. So I’d really appreciate it you could take care of making everybody feel welcome,”
“Sure!” Yanick smiled, “Uh, you know we don’t have VIP accommodations for that many people,”
“Start with the guest quarters,” Stasfford said, “then move on to vacant crew quarters, then the cargo bays. Grandma gets her own suite, so do her brothers and sisters,”
“Yes sir!” Yanick grinned, giving a mock salute, “The younger they are, they tighter we pack them in!”
“You got it,”
“And how long will this last?” Steven asked.
“Oh, just a day or two,” Stafford assured him.
“You’re going to be here for four days?” Stafford exclaimed.
“I’d think you’d be a little happier than that to see me,” Catherine said, sounding a little hurt as she looked around the guest quarters she and Greg had been assigned. Greg, burdened with his wife’s luggage, was dropping suitcases in the bedroom.
“It’s not that I don’t like seeing you, Sylvia, uh, Mom,” Stafford said, “It’s just that, y’know, this is a Starfleet vessel and we kind of have a mission…”
“Oh, don’t worry about that honey,” Catherine said, waving a hand, “We’ve managed to get your mission postponed for a bit so we can have the reunion here,”
Stafford’s eyes widened.
“How the HELL did you do that?” he asked.
“Watch your mouth!” Catherine said firmly.
“Dad?” Stafford turned to his father, “How on EARTH did you get Starfleet to divert an entire starship just for a reunion??”
“It was easy,” Greg chuckled, “After the Yeoman on Starbase 45 told us they’d overbooked their convention center we just sent your Aunt Claurice up to have a word with the station commander. He was really cooperative, actually. Called up some Admiral and managed to convince him that your mapping mission wasn’t worth all the bad PR Starbase 45 would get if they didn’t arrange something,”
“Aunt Claurice,” Stafford fought back a grin. Yup. That would explain it.
“Anyway,” Catherine pulled Stafford into the third hug of the past twenty minutes, “It’s good to see you! Now you run off and make sure you have parking spots for everybody. Oh, and get some strong young men down to the shuttlebay to unload our ship, we’ve brought in food for everybody. No way we’re having a family reunion with that replicated garbage!”
“Yes, Mom,” Stafford said.
“Oh, and send your doctor around to look at your father’s back. He strained something unloading my luggage,”
“Yes, Mom,” Stafford sighed.
“And make sure you have quarters ready for your Grandmother! You know what your aunts will say if everything isn’t set up for her!”
“Big Banger, this is Silverado,” Jall said, tapping at the Auxiliary station he had temporarily converted into a traffic control panel, “You’re cleared to dock at the port saucer airlock,”
Watching Jall from the corner of his eye, Noonan couldn’t help but grin. The slim human/Trill officer was wearing an earpiece, Uhura-style, and only his half of the conversation could be heard.
“No, we don’t have room in the shuttlebay for a transport ship your size,” Jall went on, sounding annoyed, “Yes, I know this class of vessel has two shuttlebays. They’re both booked already. No, we didn’t get the refit with the expanded shuttle capacity. I don’t know why not. I said I don’t know, it sure as hell wasn’t my idea!” Jall’s face reddened and Noonan could see his hands clasp into fists. Noonan frowned. What was that strange crinkling sound?
“Look, you pompous old man, I don’t care who you are!” Jall snapped, “Or how many micrometeorites scratch the paint on your new ship! You’re going to dock at the port saucer airlock or you’re just going to have to get out and walk over!” He slammed one fist down on the cut-off switch, closing the channel.
“Where’s Yanick when you need her?” Jall complained loudly, rubbing one shoulder, “She’s much better at dealing with ignorant, no-brain-“
“Another vessel is approaching,” T’Parief cut in. As he spoke, a small piece of chocolate broke free of the candy bar he’d been covertly eating and landed in Noonan’s hair. Noonan, oblivious to the tasty intruder, casually crossed his legs and leaned back in his chair.
“I suggest you find parking space for them, Mr. Jall,” Noonan said pleasantly.
“You realize I hate you now, right?” Jall grunted, “Right along with the Captain’s blow-hard uncle,”
“You’ll get over it,” Noonan replied.
“OK, so the new arrival is just a Class-B shuttle,” Jall grumbled to himself, “We have room for one of those still in the shuttlebay…”
As Jall tried to arrange spaces for all the ships coming in, T’Parief finished cramming the last of his chocolate bar into his mouth. Ahhh! The delight, the pure JOY of 100% pure milk chocolate. He savored the taste as the hard squares softened, melting in his mouth into a glob of gooey goodness before finally, unable to restrain himself, he chewed and swallowed, releasing a burst of extra flavour.
But now his chocolate was gone! No, wait. There was still a piece on Noonan’s head! All he had to do was reach out…
“We’ve got the Big Banger back on the line,” Ensign K’sek purred, her Caithan features giving her the look of a walking, talking housecat.
“Hold, please!” Jall snapped, cutting of whomever he was talking to, “What do they want?”
“Mr. Stafford wants to know why Mr. Macodon was permitted to park in the shuttlebay when he was not,” K’sek replied.
“You’re joking, right?” Noonan rose to his feet. T’Parief snagged his hand back, leaving the chocolate on Noonan’s head. Noonan stepped forward, “Are these the Captain’s relatives or a pack of two year olds?”
“Tell him smaller ships fit in smaller spaces!” Jall told K’sek, “And that his ship is even fatter around the middle than he is!”
T’Parief reached out again. He could almost reach it…if only Noonan would take a step back!
“Let’s edit that a bit, shall we?” Noonan suggested. He turned to K’Sek, oblivious to T’Parief who had now silently eased one knee onto the tactical rail so he could reach further towards the candy balanced on Noonan’s scalp, “Let’s just tell him that his ship won’t fit, Mr. Macodon’s will,”
K’sek relayed the message.
“Now he’s saying that-“
T’Parief, having lost his balance, tumbled off the tactical rail, falling hard enough on one side of the captain’s chair that the chair itself was torn free of its pedestal.
“Hold, please,” Noonan said into the comm as he regarded the unconscious officer.
Chris Stafford nearly fell flat on his face as his cousin Rory slapped his back with a meaty paw.
“Nice ship you’ve got here,” Rory said, smiling.
“Thanks,” Stafford grinned weakly, “It’s, er, a classic,”
“I’ll say! Why, there was a ship just like it in this history special I saw on the holovision last week…’
“Yanick!” Stafford called, attracting the attention of his helm officer. Yanick smiled and carefully navigated through the crowd of family members filling Cargo Bay 2, which had been converted into a gathering place.
“Your Uncle Mitchell just arrived with his family,” Yanick relayed breathlessly, “And he wants me to tell you he knows this great after-market place where you can get an expansion for the saucer shuttlebay,”
“Oh, brother,” Stafford groaned.
“Your brother?” Yanick consulted a padd, “Nope, haven’t seen him yet. In fact, he’s not on the list,”
“Nevermind,” Stafford sighed. He smiled, trying to look welcoming as a young male relative approached him. The guy had Klingon cranial ridges and was clearly of mixed birth.
“It is an honor to be aboard the vessel that crushed the Matrian fleet,” the youth said harshly, his words clipped.
“It’s good to have you here,” Stafford nodded, “Uh, excuse me,” he ushered Yanick away.
“Who the hell was that?” he muttered.
“Um,” Yanick consulted her padd, “Only one of your relatives married into a Klingon family.
“Let me guess,” Stafford said, “My sister?”
“Um, no,” Yanick said, oblivious to the joke, “Your father’s sister’s son Randall Stuvokivitch married K’Tren of the House of Farthus fifteen years ago. This must be their son, George,”
“George?” Stafford fought back a chuckle, “I have a half-Klingon second-cousin named ‘George’?
“Cousin,” Yanick corrected, “I think.”
“George,” Stafford started giggling.
“At least he knew about one of the good things this ship has done,” Yanick shrugged.
“‘George’,” Stafford was nearing hysterics, “Of the house of Farthus!”
“Mother to Stafford,”
Crewman Gibson, who had been pressed into serving drinks at the pre-reunion gathering, passed by just as the comm sounded and started giggling at Stafford.
“Momma’s boy!” he laughed.
“Get out of here!” Stafford said, helping Gibson on his way with a firm push, “What is it, Mom?”
“Your Aunts Claurice and Lillian are arriving with your Grandmother. They want to see you,”
“Of course they do,” Stafford shook his head.
“We need to have a talk about this ‘Sylvia’ person your crew keeps mistaking me for. I swear, I can’t even use the comm system without somebody calling me Sylvia! It’s like they have some issue with the sound of my voice!”
“Yes, Mom,” Stafford sighed.
“This is insane,” Lieutenant Stern grumbled, using one hand on a support strut to brace himself as another set of parents along with five screaming, yelling kids pushed their way through the corridor.
“Bajoran children,” Ensign Rengs said crossly, “Are far more disciplined and well behaved than this!”
“Uh-huh,” Ensign Marsden winced as a small, flailing fist caught him on the cheek. The mother gave a rushed apology as she shifted the infant to her other shoulder and started chasing after another child that had run into the turbolift, “And the fact that your kid has kept you up for the past three nights screaming has nothing to do with it?”
“This far from the peace of the Prophets-“ Rengs started, but was cut off.
The turbolift doors had closed, whisking the child away to who-knows-where.
“My baby!” shrieked the mother, “Where did he go?”
“I don’t know,” Marsden shrugged, “The last guy to take that turbolift didn’t come back for nearly a week,”
The woman paled.
“Knock it off,” Stern snapped, “Ma’am, if you’ll follow me…”
“I said this is a BAR!” Steven repeated for what felt like the millionth time, “You can’t bring kids in here! We used to have a family friendly policy, but that Captain threw that out the window months ago,”
“Do you know who I am?” Mitchell Stafford growled, a thick cigar hanging out of one mouth.
“A fat man with a bad attitude?” Samantha, one of the waitresses asked.
“Uh, Dad,” one of the children in question said, “maybe we should just go find Mom and-“
“I’m not letting these Starfleet jerks push me around!” Mitchell said firmly, “I have rights! I know the captain of this stinking ship and I…I”
Mitchell trailed off as he was confronted by a wall of fur. Ensign Dar’ugal, the Barudan security officer, had been drawn by the racket and clamped a heavy paw on Mitchell’s shoulder.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Mitchell swung, hitting the Barudan in the gut. Without any visible sign of discomfort, Dar’ugal swept one arm around, knocking Mitchell off his feet.
Before he could drag the man out of the lounge, Dylan Stuvokivitch, one of the captain’s cousins, leapt onto the security guard’s back, trying to take him down. Dar’ugal shook him off, only be tripped by a third member of the captain’s family.
“Security to Unbalanced Equations,” Steven called into his comm-badge, “Help!”
“How can we put this delicately?” Wowryk said, half to herself, her mouth pulled into a grimace.
“Just give it to us straight, Doctor,” Noonan said, giving a sideways glance at Jall and chuckling inwardly, “What’s wrong with him?”
“Aside from the obvious fact that he’s a huge mutant lizard,” Jall cut in, unable to resist.
“He hit his head on the way down,” Wowryk said, “And cracked two ribs. Nothing serious, the damage is repaired,”
“Except for the Captain’s chair,” Noonan mused, “But why did he pass out in the first place?”
“Pass out?” Wowryk frowned, “He didn’t. He was rendered unconscious when he hit the deck,”
“Then what was he doing?”
Nurse Kerry, having just finished examining the chocolate-smeared tips of T’Parief’s claws, noticed something on Noonan’s head and reached up to grab it.
“Probably reaching for this,” she said, plucking down a small piece of chocolate, “He had this stuff under all eight claws,”
“Oh my,” Noonan chuckled, “How long has that been there?”
“At least since T’Parief knocked himself out,” Jall laughed.
“Which brings us to the awkward part,” Kerry sighed.
“He’s addicted,” Wowryk said, going with the blunt approach.
“Addicted?” Jall look incredulous, “to CHOCOLATE?”
“Yes,” Wowryk said sadly, “With his biology, the compounds in cocoa beans that we use to make chocolate break down in his systems into a substance that acts almost like a narcotic,”
“Almost?” Noonan asked.
“Narcotic?” Jall added.
“It’s not the same,” Wowryk explained, “I could write an entire paper on this. In fact, I will. No doubt I’ll earn great acclaim with it in the medical community, perhaps even a Pulaski award or two,” she noticed an annoyed look on Noonan’s face and moved back to the topic (and patient) at hand, “In any case, we just need to wean him off chocolate,”
“And get him to join a gym,” Jall said, pointing at T’Parief’s somewhat enlarged stomach, “At least most drugs don’t make you fat!”
“I’m sure once he gets his addiction cleared up he’ll get back into shape,” Kerry said, “He’s really obsessive about being fit,”
“He should be,” Noonan observed, “Since he’s responsible for protecting all of us. Can you wake him?”
Wowryk and Kerry exchanged looks.
“Uh, of course,” Wowryk said, “Please stand back. Computer, activate a Level-4 security field around Bio-Bed 3,” As the field crackled to life, Noonan and Jall exchanged confused looks while Wowryk fitted a small canister of Gorn smelling-salts onto a long, extendable pole. Tapping the controls, she created an opening in the force field and carefully extended the pole through so the canister bobbed under T’Parief’s nose.
“He doesn’t really like being woken up,” Kerry said, in way of explanation, “We found that out during the thing with the Matrian SIDs. Y’know, when he crushed Lieutenant Fifebee,”
“And Yanick sleeps with this guy?” Jall asked.
Wowryk twitched, half the canister of smelling salts spilling out as the container hit T’Parief’s cheek. She quickly repositioned it.
“Has either of them actually explained how they manage to…you know?” Noonan asked.
“Come to think of it, no,” Jall scratched his head, “Maybe they’re not having sex at all?”
Wowryk spilled the remainder of the smelling salts, yanked the pole back out and began looking for another canister.
“Humans, or humanoid aliens,” Noonan amended, “Rarely maintain relationships without having sex on at least a semi-regular basis,”
“DO YOU TWO MIND??” Wowryk snapped, rummaging her medical cart, “I’m trying to work here!”
“Sorry,” Noonan said, abashed.
“Second time’s the charm,” Kerry said pleasantly as Wowryk refilled the smelling salts and eased them towards T’Parief’s nose.
“RRAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!” with a shriek of animal rage, T’Parief leapt off the bed and crashed into the force field. Unfortunately, the field threw him right back, cracking his head against the bio-bed. He fell to the floor, unconscious.
“Third time’s the charm?” Noonan suggested.
“I’ll go get the crash helmet,” Kerry said.
Stafford stood in the control room for Shuttlebay 2, watching as the small ship containing his grandmother and two aunts settled in for a landing in the spot reserved for them. Stafford frowned, tugging at the collar of his white dress uniform. He could have sworn the last time he’d seen that ship it hadn’t sported ablative amour. Or enhanced warp nacelles.
“A brawl already?” he groaned, having just heard Stern’s report on the attack on Dar’ugal, “Anything else?”
“Our teams are busy just trying to keep track of all the brats,” Stern reported, “If anything else like this comes up-“
“Pull the science teams in for backup,” Stafford interrupted, “And those evil little monsters you’re talking about are my relatives!”
“Uh, I just said ‘brats’, sir,” Stern corrected.
“Yeah, but I know them better than you do,” Stafford grinned, “Stafford out.”
“Come ON Chris,” Catherine snapped, “Let’s not keep them waiting!”
Stafford led his parents and Ensign Yanick down into the shuttlebay.
“CHRISTOPHER RICO STAFFORD!” came a shrill voice.
“Rico?” Yanick asked.
“Don’t ask,” Stafford sighed.
“Funny story,” Greg Stafford started, “you see-“
“Dad, please!” Stafford begged.
“We’ll talk later,” Yanick whispered to Greg, “I bet you have a lot of stories about Chris that the crew would love to hear!”
“What are you DOING wearing white in this grimy shuttlebay?” Claurice Thenian asked, her hands on her hips. Claurice, Yanick noted, was slightly older than Stafford’s parents, though she sure did seem to have the energy of youth. She wore a professional yet sylish dress, carefully applied makeup and gold earrings that looked like they had tiny dilithium crystals imbedded in them. Her curly, shoulder-length dark brown hair was arranged in the kind of hairdo one would expect from a saleswoman, though Claurice herself was far more often seen on the customer side of the counter. After raising five children of her own and dealing with various other members of the Stafford clan, Claurice and most of her sisters had adopted a no-nonsense attitude that left little room for argument.
“My shuttlebay isn’t grimy!” Stafford said, trying anyway.
“What, not even a hello for your dear aunt?” Catherine nagged, hands on hips.
“She started it!” Stafford objected, “URK!”
Claurice had snagged Stafford in a tight hug.
“It’s good to see you!” she said, smiling, “Now go help your grandmother with her luggage!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Stafford nodded, stepping into the ship.
“Chris,” Lillian Stuvokivitch said as Stafford entered the passenger compartment, “Hello. Please get one of your crew people to take your grandmother’s luggage to her quarters. She’s had a long trip and needs to rest,”
“Hi Aunt Lillian,” Stafford said, “Uh, Aunt Claurice told me to carry-“
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lillian cut him off, “A starship captain carrying luggage? How absurd. You need to remember that your rank holds some dignity!” she frowned, “At least it should. What ARE you DOING wearing white in this grimy shuttlebay?”
“Oh, boy,” Stafford sighed.
“Randall?” a soft voice called out.
“Uh, no…” Stafford said, moving towards the aft cabin.
“Geor-Gre-Al-Jo-,” Stafford’s grandmother started several different names before she found the right one, “CHRIS! Yes. How are you dear? I haven’t seen you ages! What are you doing wearing white in a dirty shuttlebay anyway?”
“Hi Grandma,” Stafford smiled, carefully hugging the frail-looking woman and ignoring her comment on his dress uniform, “I’m glad to see you!”
“NO, take the large case FIRST!” Claurice’s voice filtered back from the front of the ship, “And lift with your knees, not your back, do you want to slip a disk??”
“Sounds like ‘help’ has arrived,” Stafford chuckled.
“Well, they should keep your aunts busy for a while,” Grandma Stafford chuckled, her eyes shining with amusement, “You look like you haven’t eaten all week! Why don’t you use that transporter thing of yours to get us out of here and into someplace where I can fix you something?”
“The subspace compensators on the transporter emitters have been giving us trouble,” Stafford said, “If we tried an intraship transport we’d end up with our molecules smeared..” he trailed off. What was he doing, trying to explain transporter theory to a woman who’d spend her youth as an expert in warp field mechanics?
“Right,” Stafford mentally kicked himself. With the ship sitting idly in space with the warp drive powered down, there was no reason not to use the transporter.
“Stafford to Transporter Room 1,” he said, tapping his comm-badge, “Two to beam to Platterheads,”
Wowryk, T’Parief and Yanick were seated in Wowryk’s small office off of Sickbay. T’Parief was still wearing the crash helmet Kerry had pushed onto his head to keep him from knocking himself out again, except now it was stuck and wouldn’t come off.
“I don’t understand how this could have happened,” Wowryk was saying, “The replicators are supposed to adjust your foods based on your species’ bio-chemistry,”
“It could have been another malfunction,” T’Parief said, “We have had a lot-“
“It was my fault,” Yanick said quietly, “You see…”
Two weeks ago…
T’Parief stepped into Yanick’s quarters, flinching as he met the eyes of at least a dozen potpourri lizards. And five stuffed rabbits. Rabbits? What the snarz?
“Happy Easter!” Yanick said happily.
“Oh, it’s some holiday that celebrates when that guy Jesus came back from the dead,” Yanick explained.
“Why would anybody want to do that?” he asked.
“Well,” Yanick hesitated, “It was sort of a religious thing. Uh, why don’t you ask Noel the next time you see her?”
<Like hell> T’Parief thought to himself. He sighed inwardly, preparing himself to experience yet another human custom, “What does this holiday entail? Rituals? Rites of Passage?”
“I don’t really know,” Yanick frowned, “I know there’s some stuff about prayer, and blessing food. And something about ‘Good’ Friday, but I’m not sure why it’s so good. Personally, I think any Friday is a good day,”
“I see,” T’Parief said, keeping his expression blank.
“But we get to eat chocolate!” Yanick said happily, pulling out a chocolate rabbit, “I thought you might like one of these. Cuz, y’know, you like eating small animals. I like small animals and hate it when you kill them. But since this one’s meant to be eaten…”
“There is no blood,” T’Parief complained, “And no crunch of bone,”
“But this one has caramel in the middle!” Yanick said, pushing the candy towards the security officer, “And chocolate crunches!”
“Very well. I will try one bite…”
“And so you can see how that turned out,” Yanick finished gloomily.
Wowryk stared at her for a moment.
“That ‘guy’ Jesus?” she repeated, her expression darkening, “‘Stuff’ about prayer?”
“Uh-oh,” T’Parief gulped.
“And this is Sickbay, Grandma,” Stafford said. Grandma Stafford had donned an exoskeletal support suit, allowing her to move easily around the ship, even considering her advanced age. After fixing Stafford a bite to eat, she’d insisted on seeing as much of the ship as she could before she was bogged down in family duties.
“We have a very highly skilled medical team,” Stafford said proudly.
At that moment, Nurse Kerry rushed towards one of the bio-beds, shouting loudly.
“Code white! We have a CODE WHITE people! Move!”
“They certainly seem well organized,” Grandma Stafford observed as nurses and medical assistants rushed to assigned stations, “But where’s the patient?”
“What’s a Code White?” Stafford asked, scratching his head.
“IGNORANT, ATHIEST INFIDELS!”
“That’s a Code White!” Nurse Kerry called, taking a sheltered position behind the bio-bed.
“Uh-oh,” Stafford pulled his grandmother as gently as he could to the side as T’Parief and Yanick came running from Dr. Wowryk’s office, a bottle of holy water spraying it’s contents as it pin wheeled through the air.
“Hi, Captain!” Yanick called out. T’Parief ducked into the corridor, hauling Yanick after him, “Bye, Captain!”
Dr. Wowryk stepped calmly out of her office and crossed her arms.
“May I help you?” she asked coolly, regarding Stafford and his grandmother.
“We were just leaving,” Stafford gulped, leading his grandmother out the door.
“They seemed very nice,” Grandma Stafford observed on the way out.
“Where HAVE you been?”
“Uh-oh,” Stafford groaned. His Aunt Claurice came marching down the corridor. He could see Aunt Velora right behind her. Which would mean that Velora’s husband and daughters were on board by now. Likely Elisa was hitting her head in the corridors already, smearing them with that funny hair paint she liked the use. The kid was just way, way, WAY too tall.
“We just went for a look around,” Stafford said.
“Using intraship beaming to get past us?” Claurice snapped, “Those things are dangerous! In fact, I heard about this one man who-“
“Mother, you should know better than to go wandering around a strange ship,” Velora said, “You don’t know what kind of people you might run into!”
“I met a very nice young lizard in Sickbay,” Grandma Stafford said, “And I’ll do what I like, thank you!”
“That’s my crew you’re talking about here,” Stafford said, annoyed.
“Then you’re the one we should talk to about the accommodations?” Velora asked.
“Uh, that would be Ensign Yanick,” Stafford said, trying to dodge the bullet, “Is there a problem?”
“There aren’t any kitchens!” Claurice complained, “Lindsey brought a cheesecake that needs to be refrigerated immediately, and our suite doesn’t have a kitchen!”
“Mmmm,” Stafford sighed, remembering his cousin Lindsey’s cheesecake.
“Oh! Um, the Officer’s Mess on Deck 12 has facilities-“
“Let’s go,” Claurice said.
“I’ll take Mother to her suite,” Velora said.
The three of them hustled off, leaving Stafford standing by himself in the middle of the corridor.
“That could have gone worse,” he remarked.
“Yanick to Stafford,” chimed the comm, “Sir, your sister just arrived,”
“Crap,” Stafford sighed.
“What happened to my chair??” Stafford demanded, standing at the rear of the bridge with his hands on his hips as Sage tried to reattach his chair to its pedestal.
“It broke,” Noonan said, straight faced.
Stafford gave Noonan a ‘no duh’ expression.
“Y’know,” Sage said, “there are mounting points in the deck here for a third chair. I bet Counselor Yvonnokoff would like a chair up on the bridge,”
“No!” Stafford said firmly, accompanied by a calm “No, thank you,” from Noonan.
“She’s, er, busy enough as it is,” Stafford added, “No need to add to her workload,”
“Speaking of which,” Noonan said, “We weren’t expecting you back on the bridge so soon,”
“Obviously,” Stafford said, sitting in Noonan’s chair. Noonan opened his mouth to object, saw the look in Stafford’s eyes and quickly closed it, hoping nobody had seen his fang teeth while he had been standing there rather stupidly with his mouth hanging open.
“Hey, C,” came a voice from the rear of the bridge.
“Oh no,” Stafford said, hunching down in the chair.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Stern started, turning around from the tactical rail to address the intruders, “Visitors are allowed on the bridge only by…invitation…oh my…”
“Here we go,” Stafford rolled his eyes.
“Wow,” Sage breathed, letting his phaser welder drop from his fingers.
Maredeth Stafford and Debora Thenian, Stafford’s sister and cousin respectively, stepped out of the turbolift. As they did so, every male head on the bridge snapped in their direction with an almost audible ‘snick’.
Maredeth was a grinning, brown-haired woman with heavy eyeliner and a light, curving figure. Her cloths had been carefully picked to draw male attention to places most likely to reduce said male to a gooey mess. Debora, on the other hand, didn’t even need to bother. With her long blond hair, baby-blue eyes and a body belonging on the cover of Nandegar’s Secret magazine, she drew male attention whether she wanted it or not. Which she usually didn’t. Her disdain for men was something she had in common with Wowryk, though for different reasons. Wowryk despised men for their sexual appetites and ungodly behavior. Debora simply felt that men were beneath her. Useful, perhaps. Attractive, for sure. Fun, occassionally. But ultimately they always bored her.
“May I show you around?” Stern found himself saying, eyes locked on Debora’s breasts.
“If you like,” Sage jumped up, eyeing Maredeth’s backside, “I’d be happy to give you a tour of Engineering. We have some Jefferies tubes that are nice and…private…”
“Hey, over here!’ Ensign Pye was having his arms, “Wanna learn how to drive a starship? You can sit on my lap…”
“Aren’t you going to do anything about this, Captain?” Noonan asked.
“Shhh!” Stafford said, still hunched in his chair, “Maybe they won’t see me!”
“We can see the back of your head, Chris,” Debora said, “And besides, the computer told us you were here,”
“You’re crew’s a pack of idiots, C,” Maredeth laughed.
“Don’t I know it,” Stafford growled, climbing out of Noonan’s chair, “And don’t call me that!”
“Is this the ready room?” Debora poked her head though the doors on the port side of the bridge, “It’s so small!”
“Mine is bigger,” Stern said, then blushed, “Sorry sir, that just slipped out,”
“Stern,” Stafford said crossly, “I just don’t want to know,”
“And what’s with this plaque, C?” Maredeth was running one finger over the ship’s dedication plaque as though checking for dust, “‘You can’t be late if you’re going nowhere’? That’s stupid. And they spelled your name wrong,”
“I thought we were going to get that fixed,” Stafford crossed his arms.
“It was on Mr. Jeffery’s rather lengthy ‘to-do’ list,” Noonan said.
“That was over two years ago!”
“Hey!” Debora smiled wickedly, “Where’s the button that launches the quantum torpedoes? Cousin Jernall’s ship is due right away!”
No less than four crewman stumbled over themselves, offering to show the lovely young lady around.
“This is just sad,” Stafford said with disdain, “C’mon, let’s head down to the dining hall. Mom and Aunt Claurice want to have a Stafford family dinner before the reunion starts,”
“Oh good!” Debora said, flipping her hair as she lead the way to the turbolift, “I’m STARVING!”
The bridge fell silent as the turbolift doors closed.
Noonan looked around before settling in his reclaimed chair.
“That,” he said calmly, “was really quite pathetic,”
“What are you,” Sage asked in disbelief, “Gay?”
Noonan arched an eyebrow.
“Y’know, not that you seem gay,” Sage quickly backtracked, “Y’know, except that you’re sorta refined, and know a lot about wine. And you never seem to chase the women,”
“I think you should just drop the subject,” Noonan suggested, taking his seat “Though I will mention that I had many wonderful sexual adventures with a young woman by the name of ‘Amber’ in my youth,”
The turbolift door hissed open and Yanick, Jall and T’Parief strode out.
“Uh, hi guys,” Yanick said, giving a small wave.
“Good evening,” Noonan greeted them politely, “But aren’t you all supposed to be off-duty?”
“We are,” Jall grumbled, taking a seat at the unoccupied Port Auxillary console, “But the rest of the ship’s been overrun by the Captain’s relatives,”
“The lounge,” Yanick said dully.
“Both dining halls,” T’Parief added.
“The Arboretum,” Jall crossed his arms.
“Guest quarters on Deck 7,”
“The Observation Deck,”
“That little waiting room across from Sickbay,”
“I get the picture,” Noonan said mildly, “So what do you plan to do on the bridge then?”
“I brought a movie!” Jall perked up, holding up a data chip.
“Charming,” Noonan sighed, “Probably some ridiculous tale of sex, violence and stupidity-“
“I brought ‘Interview with the Vampire’,” Jall said.
“Oh, how delightful!” Noonan grinned, hopping into his seat and crossing his legs, “By all means, put it on! Yanick, get some popcorn and beverages for everybody, hmmm?”
“What are you doing here, Doc?” Stafford asked, approaching the entrance to ‘Le Plateau Argente’.
Noel Wowryk shifted little Luke from one hip to the other and forced a smile.
“Well,” she said, “It seems that your father’s cousin’s niece is engaged to my mother’s stepsister’s nephew’s cousin,” she frowned, “Or something like that,”
“So we’re,” Stafford gulped, “related?”
“Distantly,” she said quickly.
“Extremely, totally distantly,” Wowryk said.
<You humans are the most repulsive species I can imagine> Luke thought-spoke to himself. Of course, since most humanoid brains couldn’t detect his species’ telepathy, all his thought-speaking had been to himself lately. Luke had been found adrift in a stasis pod and mistaken for a humanoid infant. Wowryk had been convinced to adopt him, thinking it an act of generosity. To Luke though, he was a prisoner.
“So my family invited you to this little Stafford-clan gathering because you’re distantly related?” Stafford finally asked.
“Nooo,” Wowryk sighed, “I think they invited me because your Aunt Veronica,”
“Velora,” Stafford corrected without thinking.
“Whatever,” Wowryk grimaced, “Your aunt thought Luke here was cute,”
“Goody,” Stafford sighed.
The two of them had met at the entrance to Le Plateau Argenté, also know as ‘Platterheads’. The name came from the huge hats usually worn by the Guinanco waiters. Officially the Officer’s Mess, Platterheads had come under the jurisdiction of Guinanco, much to the dismay of Steven.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Wowryk said, “But your family isn’t going to fit in that room,”
“Well, no,” Stafford said, “This is sort of an immediate family gathering,”
“Oh, good,” Wowryk moved to the door, “than it should be fairly-“
The door hissed open, revealing close to fourty people talking, laughing and wandering about. Several kids were rushing between the adults, laughing shrilly.
“-quiet,” Wowryk finished with a sigh.
“Hey Chris!” Catherine Stafford smiled, “Glad you’re here. Is this your girlfriend, by chance?”
“Dear GOD no!” Stafford exclaimed, shocked.
Wowryk punched him on the arm.
“I know, I know,” Stafford said, holding up his hands, “I took the Lord’s name in vain,”
“And would dating me be that horrible?” Wowryk glared.
“Please don’t make me answer that,” Stafford moaned.
“Oh boy,” Stafford grimaced as Patsy Horton marched straight towards him, seemingly tiny without her giant hat.
“These people,” she waved back towards the door leading to the galley, “Took over my kitchen and my restaurant! I demand that you remove them immediately!”
Stafford actually laughed.
“Horton, I thought you’d realize by now that it just isn’t possible to go up against my aunts,” he took a sniff, “Besides, it smells like whatever they’re doing in there is pretty good. My aunts and cousins are fantastic cooks, you could probably learn something from them,”
“But Captain, you don’t understand,” Horton sounded frantic, “They, that is, THEY’RE COOKING CABBAGE!”
“Ohh, really?” Stafford moved towards the cabbage, “Hey! Lindsey! Are you guys making cabbage rolls in there?”
“Hi Chris!” a grinning woman with curly brown hair poked her hair out, “We’re done with the cabbage rolls. Grandma’s just boiling the perogies now,”
“Awesome!” Stafford laughed.
“I give up,” Horton snapped, storming out of the room.
Little else was said after dinner was served. Everybody was too busy eating the fantastic food that had been prepared.
“This stuff is really good,” Wowryk said, a dribble of gravy dripping down her chin before she could get a napkin.
“I really wish Horton would have stuck around,” Stafford said, pulling another slab of roast beef onto his plate then reaching for the cabbage rolls, “If her staff could learn to cook like this-“
“If she learned to cook like this,” Aunt Claurice broke in, stabbing her fork in Stafford’s direction, “You wouldn’t have any need to visit with your dear old aunts anymore!”
“Aw, c’mon Aunt Claurice,” Stafford said, “you know I’d never do that!”
“Chris, take some of this fish,” Catherine said, pointing to a large baked salmon. Wowryk noticed, with some disgust, that the head was still attached to the rest of the fish.
“Uh, no thanks Mom,” Stafford said, “I think I’ll just take more perogies…where the hell did the sour cream go?”
Aunt Velora, who had been getting more smorgie from the kitchen, smacked Stafford upside the head.
“Whatch your language!” she said sharply.
“You should hear him when we’re being attacked,” Wowryk said, “He cusses like a-“
“Noeeeel,” Stafford grumbled warningly.
“Why isn’t the rest of your staff here?” Claurice asked.
“Were they invited?” Stafford asked.
“Well, it would have been nice,”
“Uh, they’re busy…” Stafford trailed off. Bad enough he had Wowryk telling stories about him, he didn’t need his family and senior staff exchanging notes.
“Well,” Wowryk said, cutting off a tiny piece of perogie and daintily taking a taste, “It’s good to see the Captain has a healthy appetite today. As his doctor, I had wondered if he’d been a picky eater since childhood, but clearly-“
“Picky eater?” Catherine laughed, “This kid wouldn’t eat anything! Any time I tried something new it was the same thing,” Catherine and Greg exchanged glances and spoke together, “YUCK!”
“Really?” Wowryk grinned, “Tell me more?”
“This guy,” Greg pointed at his son with his fork, “Is the only person I ever know of who’s gone into a Klingon restaurant and ordered Rokeg Blood Pie, ‘without the blood’,”
Stafford sunk low in his chair.
“And forget about mushrooms!” Catherine went on, “And offworld dishes? We went on vacation to Andoria and I was afraid he was going to starve to death!” she frowned, “Or end up gutted by those insane people. One or the other. I kept saying ‘eat your veggies, try some mushrooms, try to get a little culture here, but nooo!”
She passed him a bowl of something Wowryk didn’t recognize, except that it was brown and looked vaguely Klingon.
“Eat some pupenkia,” Catherine said.
“Mom, I’m not eating boiled mushrooms,” Stafford grunted, turning green.
“Try them. You’ll like them,”
“No I won’t,”
“Yes, you will,”
“No, I won’t”
“How can you know if you’ve never tried them?”
“Mother,” Stafford crossed his arms, “you’re nagging me,”
“Well than do as I say!”
Wowryk marveled at how, despite the apparent disagreement, there was never any anger in the words being exchanged. It sounded as though they’d been having variations on that conversation many times and neither really expected the other to give in, yet for some reason they felt compelled to keep trying.
“Here, Noel,” Stafford pulled over a bowl of something else unrecognizable, “Try some mushinana. This is the good stuff,”
Wowryk wrinkled her nose.
“What planet is it from?” she asked.
“Earth!” Catherine said, sounding a little cross.
“It’s ham, kubassa, horse radish and boiled egg,” Stafford explained.
“I’ll pass,” Wowryk said.
“Wow, it’s like you two were made for each other,” Greg chuckled.
Wowryk and Stafford exchanged looks and paled.
“Please dad,” Stafford said, “Don’t say that!”
<Well I must admit,> Lord Stalart (AKA Luke) was saying to himself, <This meal is really quite delightful. Perhaps when my race conquers humanity we will keep your clan as our kitchen slaves,>
The next morning the senior staff gathered in the conference room for their morning briefing.
“BRAAAAAAP!” Stafford belched.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, turning red.
“Oh, think nothing of it,” Fifebee said, crossing her arms, “By all means, subject us to your biological digestion processes,”
“Somebody got up on the wrong side of the holo-emitter,” Jall muttered.
“At least,” Fifebee turned to Wowryk, “Some of you have the courtesy to keep your processes to yourself,”
Wowryk looked at Fifebee, then over to Noonan and Sage. She swallowed, coloured a bit, tried to hold it in, but…
“Oh, that’s nasty,” Jall waved a hand in front of his face, “What where you two eating?”
“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” Wowryk said, “If you’d asked me yesterday I would have told you that Ukrainians came from the planet Ukran II. But apparently they’ve been living on Earth all this time,”
“Hey, don’t diss my culture,” Stafford said, “It may be a distant culture, since my family hasn’t actually lived in the Ukraine for centuries, but it’s still culture!”
“You have a culture?” Sage asked.
“You know Sage,” Stafford said, annoyed, “Just because you’re technically a senior officer for the time being doesn’t mean you get to make fun of all of us!”
“I was just curious,” Sage mumbled.
“Well, anyway,” Stafford went on, “Since we’re just sitting here until my family leaves I guess we don’t really have anything to discuss,”
“What about the way your family has completely taken over the ship?” Jall asked.
“The dozens of children that are keeping my security forces working overtime?” T’Parief added.
“Both Steven and Miss Horton have filed numerous complains over bar disputes, overcrowding and the forceful eviction of the Guinanco staff from Platterheads,” Noonan added.
“Have you met my aunts yet, by chance?” Stafford asked Noonan.
Noonan shifted his weight.
“Well, yes,” he admitted, “The phrase ‘Resistance is Futile’ came immediately to mind,”
“You mean those tall ladies with the jewelry?” Sage asked, “They came through Engineering yesterday. Had something to say about everything. Swept right through like a force of nature,”
“So they’re somewhere between a force of nature and the Borg?” Yanick asked.
“As I said,” Stafford said firmly, walking to the door, “We have nothing further to discuss,”
The doors hissed shut behind him.
“We could beam them all into space,” Jall suggested.
“I think they’re nice,” Wowryk objected.
“You haven’t met Uncle Mitchell yet,” Yanick muttered, “Pari! Put that down!” she slapped a bar of chocolate out of his hands.
“Just one piece?” he asked.
“No!” Wowryk and Yanick said, “No narcotic chocolate and no high-fat foods for you until you recover!” Yanick went on, “And get that silly helmet off your head!”
The staff started filing out of the room.
“But it is stuck, and I am hungry,” T’Parief whined softly. He stopped, listening to the way his own voice had sounded. Clearly, if he was reduced to whining the chocolate was having more of an impact on him that he had thought. But what to do? Hmmm…
Later that day…
“OK,” Yanick was explaining, “We’re locking most of the doors on Deck 12 open so we can use several rooms, y’know, open things up a bit. Both dining halls, both crew lounges, the arboretum, the library, two holodecks, the Ambassador’s Club-“
“The what?” Stafford asked.
“The fitness facilities,” Yanick said, “Remember? Horton renamed them like six months ago,”
“Oh yeah,” Stafford grumbled, “that’s why I stopped going,”
“And we have one of the cargo bays prepared for the younger children,” Yanick finished, “Of course, the rest of the crew is a bit annoyed, y’know with having their rec facilities taken over-“
“Throw a few kegs of beer in the shuttlebay and pull the mechanical bull out of storage,” Stafford grumbled, “That should keep them happy,”
Yanick started tapping at her padd.
“I was kidding,” Stafford said.
“Oh. Well, maybe if we skip the bull but throw a keggar…” Yanick started thinking.
“Whatever keeps them happy,” Stafford said, “Now, I only have an hour before everything starts. I’m going to go get ready,”
“Velora to Stafford,” chirped his comm-badge.
“Your grandmother is missing!” Velora wailed.
“OK everybody, calm down,” Stafford tried to say. His aunts and uncles, Claurice, Velora, Lillian, Mitchell and Gweneth, along with his father, had come together to find out what had happened to their mother.
Nobody paid any attention to him.
“I told you we should have just held the whole thing on Earth,” Velora was saying, “Expecting Mom to travel all the way out here, what were you thinking?”
“Not everybody is lucky enough to live on Mom’s back doorstep!” Gweneth shot back, “We picked Starbase 45 because it was the most convenient for everybody!”
“This ship is a deathtrap,” Mitchell cut in, “Did you read the news story about the refit? Fifty years old and they put it into service…”
“Hey,” Greg said, not really sounding angry, “That’s my son’s ship you’re talking about!”
Stafford quickly reflected, trying to remember when, if ever, he’d actually seen his father get really angry. Nothing came to mind. Well, time to show him how it’s done.
“QUIET DOWN!” Stafford shouted as loudly as possible.
There was silence for a moment.
“What do you think you’re-“
“Don’t you take that tone of voice with me!”
“Little respect for your elders-“
“There’s only so many places she could be on a starship!” Stafford said, ignoring their protests and hoping he wouldn’t regret it later, “We’ll take a look around and she’ll turn up in no time,”
“For all we know she could be lying dead of a heart attack somewhere!” Velora said, sounding frantic.
“No, she’s fine,” Claurice held up a small handheld device, “She has a bio-scanner implant, remember? We’d know if there was something wrong,”
“Too bad Sylvia isn’t around,” Stafford sighed, “She’d be a big help around now,”
“Who is this Sylvia person anyway?” Greg asked, “It’s driving your mother insane!”
“Dad, can we talk about that later?” Stafford groaned. He tapped his comm-badge, “Stafford to T’Parief,”
There was a pause.
“Captain,” T’Parief’s voice came back, “I am somewhat indisposed at the moment. Perhaps Lieutenant Stern could help you?”
“Uh, OK,” Stafford shrugged, “Stafford to Stern. We have a missing person. Have all security personnel start searching the ship. Subject is a little old lady, grey hair, around a hundred and fifty-five centimeters…oh hell, why am I bothering? Just tell them to look for my grandmother. It’s not like we have a lot of ninety year old-ladies running around the ship,”
“Uh, yes sir,” Stern’s voice came back, sounding slightly confused.
“You’re not putting your best man on the case?” Lillian asked, “Why not?”
“Uh, he’s more like my best lizard,” Stafford said, “But Stern can do it,”
“Chris, I don’t think I like the way you’re handling this,” Lillian said, “I would think that given the severity of the situation-“
<My God> Stafford thought to himself, <It’s like having Fifebee around. Only with earrings>
“Aunt Lillian,” Stafford said, “Everybody. I know how important Grandma is to the family. Without her we wouldn’t be anywhere near as close as we are. But trust me: we’re on a Federation starship in friendly territory. If she’d taken one of your ships, we’d know it. If she’d accidentally blown herself out an airlock, we’d know about it. We’ll find her!”
“BLOWN OUT AN AIRLOCK??” Claurice shrieked.
“Wrong comparison,” Stafford winced, “Look, the reunion is supposed to start in fifteen minutes. I’m sure she’ll turn up. Why don’t you head down there?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Velora said, “We’re joining the search!”
“Are you sure this is wise?”
“I know exactly what I’m doing. Have a little trust in me, dear,”
“But the reunion. Won’t everybody be worried?”
“A little panic never heard anybody, dear,” Grandma Stafford said, “Now, go stir the pot for a few minutes while I slice these carrots,”
They worked for several more moments.
“It is starting to smell really good,” T’Parief admitted as he stirred…well, he wasn’t sure what he was stirring. But it smelled good.
“Here,” the Captain’s grandmother pulled something out of a stasis bin, “try some of this while we’re waiting for this to boil,”
He eyed the slimy, slightly green jelly. Some kind of meat appeared to be embedded in the slippery material. It was the kind of food, he mused, that would turn the stomachs of most humans.
It looked fantastic to him. He ate it, feeling it slide down his throat.
“Delicious,” he said, “What is it called?”
“Headcheese,” she said.
“An interesting name,”
At that moment the door to T’Parief’s quarters burst open and Stafford came in, along with one of his aunts. Velcro? No, Velora.
“See? Your science hologram was right!” Velora said, “Tracking her bio-sensor led us right to her!”
Velora marched up to T’Parief and put her hands on her hips.
“Just what do you think you were doing?”
Stafford took a moment to admire the sheer bravery that it took to go up against the huge, fanged security chief.
“I, er, that is, I,” T’Parief seemed at a loss for words, surprising Stafford even further.
“I wanted to learn to cook,” he said.
“Really?” Stafford asked, eyebrows nearly up to his hairline.
“He’s a better learner than you are,” Grandma Stafford said, her eyes shining, “He’ll eat almost anything! Although,” she frowned, “we usually throw the fish guts out for the cats instead of eating them,”
T’Parief pushed the bowl of fish guts he’d been snacking on behind a stack of dishes, hoping nobody else had seen them. They didn’t give him the same wonderful feelings chocolate did, but they sure tasted better.
“Well, no harm done, right?” Stafford said lightly.
Velora shook her head.
“No, no I suppose not,” she said, “But next time, tell us where you’re going!”
“Oh really Velora,” Grandma Stafford said, “We’re on a Federation starship in friendly territory. What did you think I was going to do, blow myself out an airlock?”
Two days later…
“By sweetie,” Catherine said, giving Stafford the final hug in a series of about fifteen good-bye hugs, “Next time you’re near Earth make sure you drop by!”
“And that doctor of yours is such a nice girl,” Catherine went on, “I really think you should think about seeing her more often,”
“No, Mother,” Stafford said firmly.
“Well come on!” she went on, “You can’t be single forever! You need a nice girl in your life!”
“Yes, Mom,” Stafford sighed.
As Stafford said goodbye to various relatives, his father pulled him aside.
“OK, Chris,” he said, “You owe me an explanation. Who is this Sylvia we kept hearing about?”
“Oh boy,” Stafford sighed, “Look, do you promise not to tell Mom?”
“Sure,” Greg shrugged.
“Well,” Stafford wasn’t sure how to best explain it, “OK, One of my officers sort of programmed the ship’s computer to act like Mom. Only there were some glitches, some malfunctions and some alien technology involved later on and she kinda sort became self-aware. She’s off with our Chief Engineer right now on assignment, but,” Stafford shrugged, “Well, you know that saying about everybody having a twin in the universe? Well, now Mom really does have one,”
Greg’s eyebrows were near his hairline. His mouth opened and closes several times, but no sound emerged.
Finally, he said, “So your mother’s ‘twin’ is a starship computer?”
“Well,” Stafford said, “Sort of. More like a sister, I would think. Since Sylvia sort of has her own personality now,”
“Well,” Greg crossed his arms, “At least the next time your mother says she’s getting fat I can tell her she’s about a hundred million tonnes lighter than her sister,”
“Don’t you dare!” Stafford snapped, “It’s bad enough having one of them nagging me at a time! Can you imagine what would happen if they started comparing notes?”
“Good point,” Greg chuckled.
“Greg!” Catherine called, “Hurry up! If we’re not out of here in ten minutes we’ll never make it to the Starbase 45 in time for me to get my errands done!”
Stafford checked his chrono.
“Uh, their shopping level doesn’t close for another five hours,” he said, “And Starbase 45 is only about half an hour away,”
“I know,” Greg sighed.
“Bye, Dad!” Stafford grinned, “Have fun!”
Stafford walked into Unbalanced Equations, noting how empty it seemed without dozens of relatives milling around. He found his senior staff milling around the bar, the seats they’d normally occupy having been taken by the science team.
“Hey all,” he said.
“So are we finally down to just one Stafford?” Jall asked.
“Yup,” he said, “But c’mon, there’s something I need to show you all,”
He led the senior staff to Cargo Bay 1, the largest cargo bay, where he’d already called in the day shift, the graveyard shift, support staff and dozens of other crewmembers. Even though only about half of the crew was actually there, the bay was packed.
“Ok, ladies and gents,” Stafford said loudly, standing in front of a dark curtain that hid one wall of the bay from view, “I know it’s been a tough few days, what with all the relatives and all. And they wanted to thank you in their own special way for your patience and hospitality. So, here you go,”
He tapped a control, dropping the curtain and revealing row upon row of stasis units. Roast beef, gravy, Yorkshire pudding, casseroles, baked fish, cabbage rolls, smorgie, pupankia, and dozens upon dozens of perogies and various other dishes. Enough, in fact, to feed the entire crew.
“What is this?” T’Parief asked.
“This,” Stafford said happily, “Is a quaint little human custom. We call them ‘leftovers’. Dig in!”
Stafford collapsed into his command chair, massaging his full stomach. Yanick was sprawled in her helm chair, while T’Parief leaned heavily against the tactical rail.
“Captain?” Jall called from Ops.
“Your family can visit any time they want,” Jall said.
“I second that,” T’Parief said firmly, “Your Grandmother’s headcheese is divine,”
“Eww,” Stafford said, “you actually ate that stuff?”
“It,” T’Parief growled slightly, “is divine,”
“Captain,” Jall called, rubbing his swollen belly, “We’re being hailed. It’s - urp - Admiral Tunney,”
“On screen,” Stafford ordered.
Tunney appeared on the screen, looking nervous.
“Is she gone?” he asked.
“Who?” Stafford asked.
“Your aunt!” Tunney hissed, “That she-devil that nearly chewed my arm off until I agreed to delay your mission for this stupid reunion!”
“Oh, yeah, she’s,” Stafford paused as his stomach shifted, “all gone,”
“Good,” Tunney straightened in his seat, “Then you’re all set to end your little vacation and get back to work?”
Stafford, Jall, Yanick and T’Parief exchanged glances as the large amounts of food they’d eaten abruptly shifted in their stomachs again.