Author: Brendan Chris
“What day is it again?” Ensign Pye asked, yawning.
“It’s Wednesday,” Lieutenant Quintaine offered.
“Oh, thank God,” Pye sighed.
“Why?” Ensign Bith asked, “That means there’s nothing on holovision except for the Xujo Han’zon Wednesday Night Interspecies Mating show,”
“I love that show,” Ensign Day said, his Deltan heritage giving even that simple phrase a sensual undertone.
“Me too!” Ensign Burke piped in, “Especially when she uses those little figurines! Too bad there’re no pictures, though,”
“And neither of you think it’s a bit…dirty?” Pye asked.
“It’s educational,” Bith sighed, “Which means it’s boring,”
The five evening-shift officers were riding the turbolift from their quarters deep in the saucer section up to the bridge. Normally, such a trek would take seconds by turbolift. However, since it was shift change officers and crew all over the large ship were heading to their quarters, heading to their duty stations or heading to Deck 12 for some recreation. With a limited number of turbolift tubes (and turbolifts!), shift change was pretty much the equivalent of rush-hour traffic on a starship. Luckily, the last turbolift collision had been years ago, before Sylvia’s influence had helped mesh the ship’s unique blend of state-of-the-art and obsolete technology into a working whole.
“So,” Bith asked as the turbolift paused again, probably to let another turbolift pass through the horizontal/vertical transfer point a deck above them, “Why are you glad it’s Wednesday?”
“Because,” Day broke in, “Ensign Yanick uses a different shampoo every day of the week.”
“So?” Quintaine asked.
“So,” Pye said, “Wednesday is ‘Vulcan Essence of Logic’ day,”
“I tried that once,” Bithe said, absently stroking her hair, “All my curls straightened out. But it did give me a lovely shine,”
“And it’s completely odorless,” Day said, crossing his arms as the turbolift started moving upwards again, “Unlike Monday, which is ‘Klingus by Gant’ur’, smells like wet targ and saturates the entire conn/ops area.”
“The smell gets into my chair,” Pye wrinkled his nose, “And it just…lingers…”
“Why would she use stinky shampoo?” Bith asked as the doors opened. She stepped out onto the bridge.
“Because some people,” Burke said with a slight nod in T’Parief’s direction, “Believe that the stench of death is ‘underappreciated’.”
“Ew,” Bith sniffed.
It took only a few moments for the shift change to be completed. Fifebee and Burke conversed briefly; Fifebee updating him on events of the day and Burke asking (again) if Fifebee had taken any pictures of her unsuccessful attempt to copulate with Ensign Grant. T’Parief glared down at Bith, attempting to intimidate her with his glaring red eyes. Bith had taken over some of Lieutenant Stern’s bridge duties to allow him to focus on working with the Hazardous Team, but she’d worked on Silverado long enough to know that T’Parief was harmless…as long as you were on his side. Pye tried to catch a sniff of Yanick’s hair as she surrendered her console, wanting only to confirm tonight was indeed ‘Vulcan Essence of Logic’ day and not realizing that being caught in the act by her boyfriend would get him into a very large amount of trouble, whether you were on his side or not! Lieutenant Quintaine stepped into the ready room to meet with Stafford.
“Anything interesting happen today?” Ensign Day asked Lt. Commander Johnson.
“Very little,” Johnson said in his oh-so-primly-proper British accent, “We did run into a distress signal, but the bloke had triggered it by accident when cleaning his bridge,”
“Didn’t Ensign Yanick do the same thing a month or to ago?” Day asked.
“I wouldn’t know,” Johnson said, stepping away from the ops seat, “I wasn’t on board at that time,”
“Oh, yes,” Day dropped down into the seat, “How could I have forgotten?”
Johnson crossed his arms and looked like he was about to say something. Before he could, he suddenly became aware that all of the evening shift officers were watching the exchange, closely. And they weren’t looking very sympathetic.
“Honest mistake,” he said, retreating for the turbolift, “By the way, do you know when the ship’s orchestra will be performing next?”
“Um, we don’t have an orchestra,” Pye said crossly, “What ship have YOU been serving on?”
“The wrong one,” Johnson muttered as the doors closed.
“No!” Stafford said, “I refuse. She’s just too…you know…”
“Competent?” Jall shot back, “Efficient?”
“She used to be!” Stafford replied, “Until she got that upgrade! I know Lieutenant Fifebee’s been a good science officer, but I don’t know how stable she is anymore!”
“Right, as opposed to Ensign Yanick, who’s been on the promotion list since you started drawing it up,” Jall leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms, “How many ‘fender benders’ has she gotten us into?”
“Uh-huh,” Stafford leaned forward onto his desk, “As opposed to Ensign Thanials? Were’t you telling Yanick that he had the hottest-“
“How did you hear that?” Jall cut in, “If Yanick told you-“
“I sat a meter behind the two of you for almost three years!” Stafford interrupted, “I’ve heard things I hope I never hear again!”
“Just be thankful your quarters weren’t next to mine,” Jall muttered. He stopped, then sat up.
“Hey!” he said, “If I’m first officer now, that means I get quarters on Deck 2, right?”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t remember that,” Stafford sighed, “But yeah. You get Noonan’s old quarters,”
“Sweet!” Jall clapped his hands, “They’re bigger AND they have a better view,”
“Right,” Stafford sighed again, “Look, back to the promotion list…”
The promotion list had actually been due weeks ago. Around the same time he had been hunting for a replacement for Noonan, Stafford had realized that there had been very few promotions on Silverado since the ship had launched. This added to that the fact that Starfleet had, for whatever reason, given him a very junior crew, meant that Stafford had a ship with a hundred Ensigns, a handful of Lieutenants and only five officers with a rank of Lieutenant Commander or higher. One of those, of course, was himself. There were hundreds of enlisted personnel as well, but their advancements were handled somewhat differently.
When Noonan had left, Stafford had suddenly found himself with only two officers who could fill the vacancy. If another one of his command staff decided to resign or transfer, he wanted to be sure he had a larger pool of replacements. Never mind the potential morale problems he’d be dealing with if he didn’t promote those who really deserved it…
Many of the names on the promotion list were relative no-brainers. Lieutenant Quintaine, for example, had commanded the evening shift almost flawlessly for nearly three years and was on the ‘YES’ list. So was Ensign Rengs, the Bajoran security officer who had managed to solve more problems than he caused. Then there was Ensign Simmons, who had a tendency to cause things to go ‘Kabloomy’. In his defense, that was his job as an explosives expert. But he really did need to learn the difference between an enemy stronghold and the duck pond in the arboretum and as such was on the ‘NO’ list. Ditto for Ensign Burke. While he performed his duties reasonably well, he’d also been written up more than once for using the bridge viewscreen for extremely-high definition pornography. He was a definite ‘NO’.
In between was a host of ‘MAYBE’s. Lt. Commander Jeffery and Lt. Commander T’Parief were both ‘MAYBE’s. Having more than one officer at the rank of Commander would balance out the ship, but Jeffery had more than his share of questionable incidents over the past year and T’Parief…well. Stafford was hesitant about promoting either one of them after the whole ‘Silverado Idol’ fiasco. Added to that list was Ensign Dar’ugal, who scored high in aptitude but very low in leadership and communication skills.
The end result was that Stafford and Jall had been going back and forth over potential candidates for weeks. Their conversations ranged from bored to calm to ‘DIE-SCUM-DIE!’ Still, they had made great strides in their working relationship. Not to say things were perfect. Jall still found Stafford to be an arrogant and Stafford still thought Jall was immature and annoying, but hey…at least progress was being made.
Luckily, the ready room door chimed before this conversation could escalate further.
“Come in,” Stafford said, starting to gather up the padds scattered across his desk.
“Ready to call it a day, sir?” Lieutenant Quintane asked, stepping into the ready room.
“Yes, yes, oh God, yes,” Jall said, climbing out of his seat.
“Not so fast, Jall,” Stafford said, holding out one padd, “You need to have these replicator usage reports ready to file by tomorrow,”
“Aww, but tonight is Poetry Corner in the Arboreteum!” Jall objected, “You know how much I like creative literature!”
“The report will take fifteen minutes!” Stafford said, forgetting about Quintaine and leading the way out of the ready room, “Stop whining!”
“Have a good night, then,” Quintaine said as the two officers left.
There was silence on the bridge for several minutes as the evening shift officers finished settling themselves in.
“Our course this fine evening is going to take us within half a light-year of a Class-4 nebula,” Pye said in his best ‘Tour Guide’ voice, “Please keep your hands and arms inside the starship!”
“Yeah, that never gets old,” Bith said from tactical.
“It’s called ‘tradition’,” Pye said, “And besides, I’m bored!”
“You just got here!” Quintane said.
“I know,” Pye sighed.
There was silence for a while.
“Soo,” he said, “Tetris, anybody?”
“I’ll play,” Day shrugged. They quickly setup the game on their consoles. On the main screen, starlines were replaced by ancient, pixilated graphics as polyphonic music began to issues from Daystrom Digital surround speakers around the bridge.
The two men played silently for a while, one eye on the screen and the other watching their panels for any sign of a problem.
“So,” Pye said, “Saw you talking to Johnson earlier,”
“What of it?’ Day asked.
“Nothing,” Pye shrugged, “It’s just nice that you’re keeping him cut down to size, that’s all. Reminding him he’s the n00b here,”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Day replied calmly. His Tetris stack was still only a few rows high, while Pye’s was nearly double, “I simply forgot that he hadn’t been on board,”
“Please,” Bith said from tactical, cocking one hip, “You’re cracking the old whip, letting him know who’s higher up in the Ops pecking order,”
“He is,” Day said, his voice becoming flatter than normal, “He is the senior Operations officer, after all,”
“I don’t know why they didn’t promote you into that slot,” Bithe went on, “I mean, you do your job well, you’ve been on the ship for a lot longer,”
The piece Day was currently positioning skittered across the playing area, landing on top of another piece in a manner that did not conduct itself to the goals of Tetris.
“I don’t think talk like that is going to make Mr. Day feel better,” Lieutenant Quintaine cut in.
“It’s alright,” Day said, “I’m sure the Captain had his reasons,”
“Really?” Pye asked, “Let’s explore that, shall we?”
“Let’s not,” Quintaine pleaded.
“C’mon, we’ve got all night!”
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58652.4:
“We’ve arrived at Sumatrus III, a planet currently under the jurisdiction of the Federations First Contact Office. There have actually been rumors that the FCO is thinking of changing their name to the Starfleet New Observation Operations Programs, but apparently a focus group didn’t like the new acronym very much.”
“Anyway, Sumatrus III is a planet in the later stages of development, close to mid 21st-century Earth, with First Contact anticipated sometime in the next eight to ten standard years. We’ve been assigned to send a data-collection team down to the planet to see if their development is in line with the FCO’s predictions,”
“On a personal note, I’m not sure what happed last night, but it sounds like the night shift was in a pretty foul mood when the overnight crew took over. I wonder if there’s a problem I should know about? Naw, probably not.”
“The captain’s an idiot!” Day slurred, wavering slightly on his bar stool.
“Doesn’t know what’s right in front of him, Pye agreed, leaning on his elbows.
“Barkeep! Another round!” Bith said. It had been a very long night, debating back and forth over why Day should have been given the Ops position instead of Johnson and she was tired. And drunk. And starting to get tired too. Being a minor character was a surprising amount of work. She had to keep things aboard ship up and running while the senior staff was dealing with the crises of the week! The hours sucked, she didn’t get much in the way of recognition and she constantly ran the risk of being killed off to prove the senior staff was in real danger. She really, really needed a way to blow off some steam.
Unfortunately, when she called for another drink, nothing happened.
“Ohhh…” Bithe grimaced, brushing back her long hair, “Sylvia, can you bring back the Emergency Holographic Bartender?”
“No need,” Steven’s voice came from behind them, “What are you people doing in here? I don’t open for another hour!”
“We came in after shift,” Pye shrugged, “Nothing wrong with that!”
“You guys got off shift eight hours ago!” Steven crossed his arms.
“Well, we were talkin’,” Pye slurred, “Then we talked more…and then we noticed this thing on the floor that looked like a butterfly,” his voice suddenly became very sad, “Only wasn’t,”
“Uh-huh,” Steven wasn’t impressed, “Look, guys,” he gave Bith an appraising glance, “And attractive woman. You need to clear out. Go clear your heads,”
“I’m not sleepy,” Bith said suddenly figuring out just how she could blow off some steam and maybe even get herself enough recognition to avoid being killed off by whomever controlled her universe. She turned, giving Steven a slow wink.
Steven crossed his arms.
“Shake it off!” he insisted.
With a sigh, the three officers made the mental effort needed to dismiss the effects of synthohol.
“Ugh, that ten second hangover is a killer,” Day sighed, “Now I’m just tired,”
“I’m not,” Bith said, still eyeing Steven like a piece of meat at the grocery store.
“Let’s go,” Pye said, “We can make fun of the captain more tomorrow…I mean, tonight,” he and Day left.
“Make fun of the captain?” Steven asked.
“Oh, we’re just annoyed that Stafford didn’t even think about promoting anybody from the night shift to fill the open Ops slot,” Bith explained, “So, handsome. Come here often?”
“Yes. I work here, remember?” Steven nodded, “So what if-“
He was cut off as Bith jumped him, pulling him to the floor.
“Good morning everybody!” Stafford said cheerfully, standing in front of his officers in the conference lounge, “I hope you all slept well? Feeling great?”
“Why the hell are ye in such a good mood?” Jeffery asked, “Did ye finally get a woman into yer room?”
“He’s just one of those insufferably happy morning people,” Jall grumbled, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.
“Perhaps he has begun experimenting with illegal, mind altering substances?” Fifebee asked, rising a newly pierced eyebrow.
“You’re just jealous that those things only work on organic beings,” Jall said.
“I have inebriation subroutines, thank you,” Fifebee said coolly, “And can readily create new programming to allow me to experience whatever I wish. Perhaps you would care to help me test my new Andorian Pleasure Mistress subroutine?”
“Sorry, sweetie,” Jall said, resting his chin on his hands, “I don’t swing that way,”
“If an Andorian Pleasure Mistress desired you, you would not have a choice,” Fifebee shot back.
“Ahh,” Stafford laughed, “You guys crack me up,”
Everybody stared at him. Wowryk reached down to one hip, pulling out her medical tricorder.
“Oh, cut it out!” Stafford said, noticing the instrument, “Look, I had a really good night’s sleep, we’re on an assignment that actually resembles a proper Starfleet mission, and everything on the ship is going just peachy. Why shouldn’t I be happy?”
“Jall’s gonna be your next-door neighbor,” Jeffery stated.
Jall gave Stafford a big grin.
Stafford slowly blinked.
“Nope,” he said finally, “I’m not letting that ruin my mood. I’m not letting anything ruin my mood, not even the way Johnson mis-calibrated the navigation deflector this morning,”
“I said I would re-paint that scratch on the outer hull,” Johnson muttered.
“Rookie,” Jeffery said, “Ye’d think that the Academy would still be teachin’ ye youngin’s to properly run a ship!”
“I graduated a year before you did!” Johnson objected.
“So, on to our mission!” Stafford said happily, “We’re taking a good, close look at Sumatrus III. Nobody’s going to be shooting at us, there’s no weird body-switching, or genetic aliens, or temporal fracturing. Just a nice, peaceful civilization that, with any luck, will be discovering warp drive in about five years or so,”
“Warp drive really is an amazing technology,” Fifebee broke in eagerly, “I am quite frankly astonished that any organic brain could conceive of combining matter and anti-matter to form a high-energy plasma. Or, for that matter, injecting said plasma into the unique combination of alloys needed to create even a low efficiency warp coil,”
“Have we just been insulted?” Yanick quietly asked Jall.
“Possibly,” Jall muttered back, “But I think it was more of a general insult. Nothing personal.”
“Oh,” Yanick giggled, “Goody!”
“Would anybody like some coffee, by the way?” Stafford asked, getting to his feet, “I forgot to ask earlier,”
“Ok seriously, Chris,” Jeffery said, “This is getting’ creepy,”
“I would love a cup of tea,” Johnson said meekly.
“Sorry,” Jall said before Stafford could reply, “Only experienced officers get coffee. Or tea.”
“I’ll get it,” Yanick said.
“Naw, nevermind,” Stafford said before Johnson could reply, “So, the mission. We need to evaluate the development of the Sumatrians. Easy mission. We beam down, we take a look, take a few notes, and beam back up. Any questions?”
Johnson raised his hand.
“Any other questions?” Jall asked.
“Ah’d like to examine their research on warp propulsion,” Jeffery said.
“Sure,” Stafford shrugged, “That’s what I have planned anyway. Except,” he referred to his padd, “the Sumatrians call it a ‘Pulsating Squeeze Drive’.”
Jall and Yanick exchanged one glance, then started laughing so hard they almost fell off their chairs.
“A whot?” Johnson asked, speaking loudly to be heard over the giggles.
“No doubt they refer to the process in which the warp coils are sequentially activated with bursts of electro-plasma, creating a carefully controlled warp field that ‘squeezes’ the ship through warp space,” Fifebee said.
“Activate Squeeze Drive!” Jall giggled.
“Vibration Factor 1!” Yanick added, laughing loudly.
“Shouldn’t that be Pulsate Factor 1?” Johnson asked.
The laughter dimmed, then died. Yanick looked blankly at Johnson.
“You say ‘potato’, Jall said, “She says po-tah-to,”
“And I say it’s time to get on with it,” Wowryk grumbled impatiently.
“Yes,” Stafford said, “OK. So, Dr. Worwryk, you’ll be taking a look at their medical sciences. We’ve got you beaming down with Nurse Kerry to one of their major medical centers on the southern continent.”
“Very well,” Wowryk bowed her head.
“And Doctor,” Stafford shook his finger as though reminding a child to stay out of the mud, “No religious conversions!”
“Yes, heathen Captain, sir,” Wowryk replied.
“Jeffery, you and Jall are going to their top-secret propulsion research center on the north pole. Dress warmly,”
“Aye, mum,” Jeffery replied.
“Oh! If it gets too cold, we can always huddle up to conserve body heat!” Jall teased.
Jeffery gave Stafford a pained expression that very clearly said ‘Can I go alone?’
“A little too far, Commander,” Stafford said.
“Aye sir,” Jall said, throwing a mock-salute, “Straightening up, sir!”
“Thank ye, God!” Jeffery muttered.
“Fifebee,” Stafford went on, “I want you to check out their agriculture. Take Johnson with you, OK?”
“Why must I babysit the nOOb?” Fifebee asked, “Surely Yanick would be better suited to such a study?”
“Because Yanick has a tendency to talk too much, which is bad when you’re supposed to be undercover! And because I said so,” Stafford said, “And, I’m sorry, the what?”
“Newbie,” Jall translated.
“That means I get the day off, right Captain?” Yanick asked hopefully.
“Sure,” Stafford shrugged, “Why not.”
“Hey, can I have a day off too?” Jall jumped in.
“Nope,” Stafford said, still grinning, “You have a job to do,”
“If I may say so, Captain,” Johnson cut in, “I noticed you haven’t assigned anybody to examine their political system.
“Sure I have,” Stafford said, “Me. I got it covered. You just run along with Fifebee and play nicely. Mr. T’Parief, you have the conn.”
“I call dibs on Transporter Room 1!” Stafford said, bolting for the door.
“Transporter Room 3!” Jeffery cried, hot on his tails.
“Room 4!” Wowryk snapped, running off like a lioness on the prowl.
“Damn!” Fifebee cursed, “We’re stuck with Transporter Room 2!”
“Dare I ask what that means?” Johnson asked.
“It means we’re going to have to spend twenty minutes looking at pictures of Chief Haran’s cats before we can beam down,” Fifebee sighed.
“So,” Ensign Pye yawned, tapping at the helm, “Once again, the senior staff is off to play and we’re pulled out of a sound slumber to cover their asses,”
“And I was having hot…er,” Bith blushed, “Uh, a hot date,”
“Night shift is always getting shafted by the day shift,” Ensign Burke sighed.
A deep rumble rose in T’Parief’s throat as he sat uncomfortably in the command chair.
“Er, present company excluded,” Day corrected quickly.
T’Parief stood and straighted his tail, the bones cracking loudly.
“Ensign Bith, you may return to your quarters. I will command from the tactical station,” he said.
“Oh, sir, I couldn’t!” Bithe objected, already heading for the turbolift, “It’s too much work for you, and I know you enjoy the chance to - HEY! HOLD THAT TURBOLIFT!”
“Shafted again,” Day sighed.
“Transporter rooms report,” Quintaine broke off as he yawned loudly, “Excuse me, transporter rooms report that all away teams have beamed down.” he shifted, trying to get comfortable in Jall’s seat.
“Maintain geosynchronous orbit,” T’Parief ordered, “Engine status?”
“We’ve taken warp and impulse engines off-line,” Lieutenant Sage reported from the Engineering console, “Maintaining orbit with thrusters and inertia. Angle to the planet is set to minimize visibility, running lights off,”
“Excellent,” T’Parief nodded.
There was silence for several seconds.
Then several minutes.
Half an hour.
“Pardon me,” T’Parief said, “I must use the facilities.” He stepped through the door leading to the conference room and the lavatory. No sooner did the doors hiss shut than Pye spun his chair to face Day.
“If you don’t say something to him, I will!”
“Hmmm?” Day asked, running a hand over his bald head.
“About Johnson!” Pye said, “We’ve got a senior officer hanging around the bridge, let’s see if we can dig up the dirt on why you didn’t get the Ops officer position!”
“We might not get this chance again for awhile,” Quintaine agreed, “Not with the missions we’ve been getting lately!”
The bridge doors opened as T’Parief returned.
“Did I miss anything?” he asked.
“I thought I saw a comet,” Ensign Burke said, “But it was just blob of gravy on the display screen,”
There was silence for several more moments.
“Er, Commander,” Pye asked politely, “Could I, um, could we ask a question?”
“Of course you may,” T’Parief said, “However, if it involves my personal life, I may have to gut and consume you,”
Pye gulped, his face blanching.
“That was a joke,” T’Parief sighed.
“Oh. Heh heh. So, um, do you have any idea why Johnson was made head of the Operations department instead of Ensign Day here?”
“Such wit,” Day grumbled, “Such tact!”
T’Parief cocked his head, thinking.
“I believe the Captain had to put Johnson somewhere. With Jall’s promotion, the Operations slot was most convenient.”
“So it didn’t have anything to do with Johnson being more skilled, or more experienced or anything like that?” Pye pressed.
“I do not believe so. Johnson does outrank Day, but if you really wish to know you will have to ask Stafford himself,”
“Yeah, well. He’s on a pretty important mission right now, isn’t he?”
Stafford was struggling to stay awake. Dressed in Sumatrian cloths and sporting an impressive (and prosthetic) pair of blade-like talons on his elbows, he had posed as a tourist and made his way to the building that housed the Sumatrian government. Learning about Sumatrian government turned out to be as easy as using a bit of his replicated local currency to purchase a spot on a tour group. So far, the tour had consisted of his group being led into a large amphitheatre where they were forced to watch video after video detailing the history of Sumatrian government, the origins of their political parties and the events leading up to their planetary unification.
His eyes drooped, drool threatening to spill down his chin.
Fifebee and Johnson had materialized on an empty gravel road. It was a beautiful day out. The sun was shining brightly, the air was fresh and clean and the sides of the road were a virtual garden of grasses, flowers and weeds. The land was fairly flat, covered with fields of tall plants that looked like a cross between wheat and canola. One could see the horizon in all directions. Living on a starship (or in a city), one tended to get used to being able to see only a few meters before finding a bulkhead, building or other object that blocked the view. To suddenly go from a cramped transporter room into the great outdoors was an almost physical shock. Johnson could almost feel the enormity of the planet beneath him. He felt tiny, miniscule. The softly waving crops went on, and on, and on, giving him the impression that he was the smallest bump on an infinitely large surface.
“Quite breathtaking,” Johnson said softly.
“If you’re into that sort of thing,” Fifebee grunted, adjusting her holographic relay. She had barely glanced at the panoramic vista, her full attention focused immediately on the holo-relay that allowed her to be projected outside of the ship. The anti-grav on the bottom of the unit had been replaced with wheels for this mission; the Sumatrians wouldn’t discover anti-gravity for at least another seven years.
“Who would not enjoy this kind of view?” Johnson asked, turning slowly around, “The sky…the clouds…the endless fields. It almost makes me want to frolic!”
“Perhaps, as an artificial being, I prefer settings that are somewhat more…artificial,” Fifebee said crisply. The rest of the crew was familiar with Fifebee’s disdain of nature and the various creepy-crawly bugs and critters that came with it. Johnson, being new to the crew, wasn’t.
“Oh,” Johnson said. He was quiet for a moment.
“How do you plan on explaining your holographic relay to the inhabitants of this planet?” he asked. Obviously, since Sumatrius was a low-tech planet, they couldn’t reveal Fifebee’s holographic nature.
“The Captain and I have carefully constructed a cover story,” Fifebee said. She made once last adjustment to the relay. It shimmered, then took on a new appearance. It retained its cylindrical shape, but the display panel on the side was now covered by a plate of metal and the subspace transceiver now resembled a series of pipes.
“It looks like an ancient hot-water heater,” Johnson said, frowning.
“Precisely,” Fifebee nodded, “We will tell anybody who asks that I am a plumber. Now, stop asking questions and help me locate a farmer,”
“What about that?”
Fifebee turned. A four-legged animal, somewhat resembling a dog with a ridge of sharp spines along its back, was running towards them.
“That is not a farmer,” Fifebee said sharply, “That is a canine-like animal,”
Johnson was cut off as the animal jumped, knocking him to the ground.
“Help!” he cried, “It’s killing me! It’s…”
“It is licking your face,” Fifebee said, crossing her arms.
“I forgot what it was like to receive a warm greeting,” Johnson sighed, pushing the animal off and staggering to his feet.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Day asked as he, Quintaine and Pye walked down the corridor on Deck 13.
“Sure it is,” Pye said, “All my ideas are good,”
“What about the time you wanted to try waterskiing behind the ship?” Quintaine asked.
“Even though there’s no water in space,” Day chipped in, “And forgetting the fact that you’d be shredded at the molecular level if you accidentally passed outside of the warp field,”
“OK,” Pye admitted, “So some ideas are more good than others. But they’re still all good,”
“Are you sure T’Parief bought our story?” Day asked.
“After you and Ensign Burke finished that last round of ‘Who Would You Do?’, I think he was just glad to get rid of us,” Quintaine sighed.
“Ok,” Pye said, getting the trio back on track, “Here’s the idea: It’s easy. We don’t like Johnson. He’s new, he thinks he’s better than us and he’s already been exposed as a liar once. We like Day. He’s been with the ship since the beginning. So we go around and see how much the rest of the crew supports us.”
“You do realize,” Day said, “That this is a starship, not a democracy. If Stafford doesn’t want me as a senior officer, we can’t force him,”
“You heard T’Parief,” Pye shrugged, “Stafford just gave the job to Johnson cuz he needed to put him somewhere,”
“Why are you so keen on getting me off the evening shift?” Day asked, eyes narrowing, “What’s in it for you?”
“What?” Pye looked shocked, “I can’t do a favour for my good buddy?”
Quintaine and Day exchanged glances.
“OK, OK,” Pye sighed, “Look, it’s just…none of the chicks every pay any attention to me when you’re around. You’ve got that whole Deltan Pheromone thing going on,”
“I would never-“ Day started.
“-take advantage of a sexually immature species,” Pye and Quintaine finished the standard Deltan slogan as they approached a series of living quarters, “Yes, we know. And we keep telling you, you’re an idiot,”
“But let’s see what kind of support we’ve got,” Pye said, turning to the first set of doors and pressing the chime.
“Lazy good for nothing,” Pye grumbled, thumbing the door chime again.
“Sylvia!” Pye called, “Where is,” he squinted at the name plate on the door, “Chief Petty Officer Chulkary?”
“Chief Chulkary is in the Xeno-Biology Laboratory,” Sylvia’s said. Her voice was a bit dull; lacking the usual cheerful energy that had been the trademark of the artificial intelligence residing in the ship’s computer core. Pye and company had noticed that Sylvia had seemed increasingly bored over the past few months. She’d been spending less time interacting with the crew, and more time buried in the virtual world that was her domain. Nobody really knew why exactly she was bored, it could have been that she’d grown tired of dealing with the hundreds of requests that went through the computer on a daily basis. Or maybe she’d grown weary of having the same old stars visible to her sensor arrays. Heck, for all anybody knew, maybe she was lonely? Just how did you about setting up a virtual woman on a blind date? Especially if her physical form was that of a multi-megaton starship?
“What the heck is he doing there?” Pye asked, annoyed.
“Probably on his duty shift,” Day shrugged, “It’s the middle of the afternoon, you know,”
“I know,” Burke said, yawning loudly.
“Chief Chulkary is currently on duty,” Sylvia supplied helpfully.
“Crap,” Pye frowned. He walked a few steps down the corridor to the next set of doors, this set belonging to Yeoman Amir.
Pye pressed the door chime. Again, there was no answer. He pressed it again. Tapped it a few times. Finally, he leaned on it until the soft chime threatened to turn into an ear-splitting shriek.
“Sylvia!” Pye snapped, “Where the hell is Yeoman Amir?”
“Yeoman Amir is currently in the First Officer’s office,” Sylvia said promptly, “And before you ask, he’s on duty, helping Jall with the thruster fuel consumption reports,
“Look, Travis,” Day said calmly, “It’s really not that important. Let’s just head back up to the bridge,”
“I’m doing this, dammit,” Pye said firmly, “It’s a matter of honour, now!”
Johnson staggered down the dirt road, sweat beading on his ebony skin. The sun, which had bathed him in such gentle warmth before, was now beating down on him mercilessly. He’d been walking behind Fifebee for what felt like kilometers, trying to stay in the meager shade offered by her ‘water heater’. The canine-like creature trotted happily alongside them. It was almost like a dog. A larger dog, along the size of a German Shepard or a Doberman, but there were enough differences that Johnson had no problem remembering that it was an alien species. The serrated spikes on the animal’s legs and back were one big hint. (Everything on the planet seemed to have blades, spikes or talons at elbow/knee joints.) The fact that the animal did not pant but instead sweated was another big clue. The biggest clue had to be the animal’s body odour, which really wasn’t helped by all the sweating the poor critter was doing under the hot sun.
On the other hand, Johnson reflected, he probably didn’t smell all that great either.
“I tell you,” he said again to Fifebee, “There are people nearby. There must be!”
“And how have you come to this conclusion?” Fifebee asked, remaining carefully upwind of both Johnson and the animal.
“It’s friendly,” Johnson said, pointing at the creature, “Domestic. Clearly it is used to having people around,”
“Perhaps,” Fifebee acknowledged with a tilt of her head, “Or, perhaps, it has mistaken you for one of its own. You certainly smell similar,”
“Really, Lieutenant,” Johnson said, still panting, “Is it necessary for you to insult and belittle me along with your fellow officers? I would think a hologram like yourself would be above such petty squabbling,”
“I have been programmed to simulate the behavior of an organic being,” Fifebee replied, “Unfortunately, that includes petty squabbling, bickering, insults and flaws,”
“Flaws?” Johnson muttered.
“Eww!” Fifebee cried out as a large wasp-like creature landed on her head, “Get it off! Get it off this instant!”
Johnson, quick to oblige, lunged at Fifebee, smashing the wasp-creature flat. What he hadn’t planned on was the shower of bug guts that promptly seeped into Fifebee’s hair.
“Hey!” she cried, pushing him away, “In the name of nVidia, what were you thinking?”
“You wanted it dead!” Johnson protested.
“I wanted it off! Not smeared into my hair!” Fifebee cried. She shimmered briefly, her holographic form losing its form long enough for the insect remains to fall to the ground, “Honestly!” she huffed.
“You know,” Johnson said, ever so politely, “I do outrank you. I would think that you should be addressing me in a more respectful manner!”
Fifebee considered for a moment. Yes, Johnson was higher than her in rank. Yes, he did have seniority over here. Logically, she should be treating him as such. Johnson really should be in charge of the away team, but neither Stafford or Fifebee had even considered that. But even as Fifebee considered these points and prepared to submit to Johnson’s authority, another part of her rebelled. Johnson didn’t deserve to be in charge of the team, this part of her cried. She was the science expert. He didn’t know enough about agriculture to make any kind of intelligent observations about the Sumatrian crops. She, on the other hand, had uploaded full Xeno-botany and Xeno-agriculture databases into her program. She attempted to query her emotional subroutines to determine just why she felt such hostility towards Johnson, but received no answer that she could make sense of.
“My apologies, Lieutenant Commander,” Fifebee said coolly, her subroutines reaching a compromise, “Simply stay out of my way, and I will be happy to address you in a respectful manner.
“I guess that’s the best I’m going to get,” Johnson sighed.
“Pye, enough of this s**t,” Burke groaned, “You realize we’re supposed to go on duty in two hours? I should still be sleeping! Or enjoying a nice holovision show featuring those really hot Orion slave girls,”
“We’re already on duty,” Pye replied immediately, “They’ll just bring up another batch of minor characters to cover us. There’s no way they can expect us to cover the bridge for the senior staff AND still do our full duty shifts, right?”
“Why didn’t they just have minor characters fill in for the senior staff to being with?” Day wondered.
“We’re more fun,” Burke said.
“Anyway, we can’t fail with this one,” Pye said. They’d moved on to Deck 15. Even on a ship as large as an Ambassador-class vessel, it just isn’t feasible to give each one of the 800+ officers, crewmembers and civilians on board quarters of their own. The senior officers for each of the duty shifts rated their own quarters, as did some of the lower officers. Once you started to get down to Ensign Redshirt, just graduated from the Academy, no special distinctions and assigned to man some random panel in some random location…well, you’re looking at groups of two or three people sharing quarters that resembled tiny two or three bedroom apartments. Families shared quarters, of course, and while Silverado had a decent number of families on board, she wasn’t as large or family-friendly as a Galaxy-class ship. Some non-commissioned crewmembers, mainly those who had many years of seniority, rated their own quarters or perhaps a roommate. But once you get down to the junior crewmen like Shwaluk, Gibson or Roscoe, then you’re looking at barracks-style living, with as many as twelve people in a room.
The particular set of quarters that Pye had led them to was one of these rooms. Instead of listing the names of all the occupants on the door, it was simply labeled ‘Cabin 15-102’.
“See, they’ve got eleven people living in these quarters,” Pye said confidently, “Working on different shifts too, so the place never gets too crowded. So you know that there will be a few people home! If we want to drum up some support, this is the place to be!”
He stepped through the door, not bothering to ring.
The room wasn’t much bigger than the senior officer’s quarters. The single room had six pairs of bunk beds running along the rear wall. To Pye’s left a pair of doors led to a large multi-unit washroom that was shared with the next barracks-style room down the corridor. Two tables with chairs sat to Pye’s right. The room was very minimal, the expectation being that the occupants would go to the lounges, Arboretum or galley for their meals and leisure time.
Unfortunately for Pye and his team, that’s exactly what they had done. The room was empty.
“DAMMIT!” Pye hissed.
Johnson and Fifebee were still walking down the gravel road, the canine-creature still bounding along happily beside them.
“He does seem to be a very friendly beast,” Johnson observed as the animal started sniffing around a suspicious-looking clump of bush, “I believe, until we discover his proper name, that I shall call him ‘Fido’,”
“The animal is female, as one can PLAINLY see from the lack of penis,” Fifebee said haughtily, “And you may NOT name her Fido! Fido is the name of my parasitic alien pet,”
“Excuse me,” Johnson grimaced, “I suppose I’m just too much of a gentleman to examine the genitals of any creature I meet!”
“If Dr. Wowryk were here, she would undoubtedly berate you for assuming the creature was male, pointing out typical sexist tendencies in the male human,”
“I will have you know that my great-grandfather on my mother’s father’s side was Centaurian,” Johnson said.
“Interesting,” Fifebee said , sounding anything but interested, “Did you know, that with the exception of an extra joint in the smallest finger, that there are almost no significant anatomical differences between a human and a Centaurian?”
“There are few significant differences in personality between a hologram and a toaster over,” Johnson muttered, “Fine, I’ll name her Spot!”
“Silence,” Fifebee said sharply, holding up one hand, “Do you hear that?”
Johnson stopped to listen. There was something. A rumble? He became conscious of the ground starting to vibrate beneath his feet. The sound was growing louder, a kind of rumbling whine. What on earth would make a sound like that?
He and Fifebee spun around. Right behind them, something was coming over the hill they had just topped. It rose higher, and higher, until the full magnitude of it was visible. It was big! It was clearly a machine of some kind, running on heavy-duty rubber tires. Exhaust belched from an exhaust pipe and the engine roared with what was clearly some kind of internal combustion. Approximately the length and width of a runabout, though over twice as high, the machine bore down on them, the sun gleaming cruelly off metal struts, supports and panels . In front of the machine, a wide front section held wicked, serrated blades, huge crushing paddles and oh, were those wicked, serrated blades Johnson had seen coming straight at them?
“AHHHHHHH!!!!!” Johnson and Fifebee screamed. The machine lunged closer, the blades gleaming in the sunlight.
Instinct took over. Johnson grabbed Fifebee and pushed, the two of them tumbling into the grassy ditch next to the road while ‘Spot’ jumped happily around, convinced it was all some grand game.
Johnson pulled himself up and turned to watch the behemoth. It was heading right for Fifebee’s holo-relay!
“Idiot!” Fifebee cursed, smacking him upside the head, “You should have protected the relay, not my holographic avatar!”
“Well, it would look quite strange to any onlookers if I had ignored the damsel in distress and rescued the hot water heater!”
The machine was bearing down on the relay, but…
“It’s slowing down,” Fifebee said, cocking her head.
Johnson took a closer look at the sharp blades that adorned the front of the contraption.
“Those blades are stationary,” he remarked, “They aren’t even activated!”
The machine came to a stop, giving the relay the slightest love-tap. And older Sumatrian jumped out of the operator’s compartment, giving Fifebee and Johnson a smile and a wave as he did so.
“Sorry, folks,” he called, the Universal Translator instantly translating his words. The man’s elbow spikes were dusty and he wore thick gloves on his hands, “Didn’t mean to scare you, but these things don’t exactly stop fast. Name’s Wextrix,”
“Not a problem,” Fifebee said primly, holding her hands, wrists-up, in the Sumatrian equivalent of a handshake as Johnson cowered on the ground, “I wonder, sir. We’re from the city, and would love to learn a bit more about how things are done here on the farm. Could you perhaps show us around?”
“Delighted!” the Sumatrian farmer said.
“What is this…thing?” Johnson asked, gesturing up at the machine that had nearly caused him to wet himself.
“A harvester,” Wextrix explained the functions of the machine as Fifebee took careful notes. (Her notepad was unnecessary, of course, but helped hide her holographic nature.)
“And so after the grain is cut and fed into the core of the machine, the rotor rubs the heads against the rotor cage,” Wextrix explained, “The fans blow the lighter chaff up and out while the heavier kernels fall down into the collection pans. They go off into the cleaning machinery and are then stored in the hopper until they can be unloaded.”
“I thought farmers didn’t use techno-babble,” Johnson whispered to Fifebee.
“You have clearly never studied agriculture,” Fifebee whispered back.
“Of course,” Wextrix went on, “You have to recalibrate the rotor cage anytime you switch crops. This thing’s setup for Flaxona right now, but I can have her ready for Wharly in about fifteen minutes.
“And are you preparing to harvest any of these crops?” Fifebee asked, gesturing to the fields of grain.
“Nope,” Wextrix said, “Not for another month or two. Just moving this thing out of my way,”
The two of them continued to discuss fertilizers, fungicides, crop rotation, genetically-modified crop strains and fluctuations in market prices until Johnson’s eyes started to cross. Clearly there was more to farming that stepping in cow shit!
Pye, Burke and Day had abandoned their canvassing of personnel quarters. Instead, the trio had moved up to Deck 12, the social hub of the ship. They hadn’t found anybody in the gym or the Arboretum; it was still ship’s day, with Alpha shift on duty and Beta shift just getting out of bed. Still, they finally had some luck when they arrived in the crew galley.
Lacking Patsy Horton’s personal touch (and the suffocating influence of Guinanco), the crew dining hall was still neat and comfortable. Several windows looked out at the space beyond the ship, several sets of tables and chairs were arranged in neat rows and a bank of replicators quickly produced meals. A small door in one corner led to a kitchen, for those willing to spend the time needed to actually cook a meal. A few members of Beta shift were eating breakfast, still yawning and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Several members of Alpha shift were taking their breaks, giving Pye his first audience all day.
“Excuse me, ladies, gentlemen, and that squid thing over in the corner,” Pye said loudly.
“That’s Crewman Trac,” Day whispered, “It’s Velvattian”
“They self-impregnate,” Burke whispered, “Velvattian pornography is probably the most boring porno in the known universe!”
“Your mind disgusts me,” Day said, crossing his arms.
“Did you three actually want something?” a Latino human asked, his casual cloths marking him as a civilian.
“Well, yes,” Pye said, unconsciously straightening his uniform top. He looked around, “Um, I don’t suppose there are more people around, are there?”
Grumbling, everybody turned away from Pye and returned to their meals.
“So what’s with that there water heater?” Wextrix asked, “How come you’re hauling that sucker all the way across the country? The Sumatrian farmer had finished moving his harvester and had returned for the two officers in a primitive vehicle. Fifebee’s database informed her that the large storage area in the rear classified it as a ‘pickup truck’. ‘Spot’, who as it turned out belonged to Wextrix, had been allowed to make her own way back to his yard,”
“I am a plumber,” Fifebee replied promptly.
“And why is a plumber so interested in farming?” Wextrix asked.
“My wife means that I’m a plumber,” Johnson said, putting one arm around Fifebee, “I’m just watching her work,”
“Ahh, young love,” Wextrix chuckled.
“You have ruined my cover story,” Fifebee whispered.
“It was ruined the moment you and Stafford came up with it,” Johnson muttered back,”
“So have you decided what colour you want the babies to be?” Wextrix asked, looking from Fifebee’s pale white skin to Johnson’s ebony complexion.
Johnson’s eyebrows shot up. Fifebee, of course, was fully aware that Sumatrians were exploring new genetic engineering technologies with great enthusiasm, including cosmetic uses. Had Stafford still been conscious, he would have been learning all kinds of fascinating facts about the early relationships between Sumatrians of different ethnicities. Including the unusual fact that racism was completely unknown on Sumatrus. On Earth, Wextrix’s question could have come across as deeply offensive, but on Sumatrus it was like asking if the couple would prefer a boy or a girl.
“We had decided to stick to the natural blend,” Fifebee said, glaring daggers at Johnson, “However, my husband is sterile. Accident with a plumbing wrench, you understand,”
“Oh,” Wextrix looked embarrassed, “Sorry,”
“Hey-“ Johnson started.
“There, there, honey,” Fifebee said, patting his arm, “There’s no need to defend you manhood. The prosthetics are almost as good as the real thing.”
“Yes well,” Johnson crossed his arms, “At least I haven’t cheated,”
“Cheated? At what?” Wextrix asked.
“Monogamy does not exist on this planet,” Fifebee whispered to Day, “Therefore, infidelity is impossible,”
“Sounds like a fun planet,” Johnson muttered.
“Well, if the two of you want to learn something else new, I have to do a test over here,” Wextrix said, eager to end the awkward moment,”
“Yes?” Fifebee raised her notepad, looking eager, “Excellent, I really must say, Mr. Wextrix, I have been most impressed with the information you’ve shared so far. Your agricultural techniques are quite sophisticated. Please, perform your test,”
Wextrix pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road, next to a field covered with tall, thin green plants. The three of them piled out the side door, leaving Fifebee’s holo-relay in the back of the truck. Wextrix started rooting around in a storage box.
“You’re really impressed?” Johnson asked.
“For a planet in this stage of development, they have exceeded my expectations,” Fifebee said, “Assuming the information I have received from Mr. Wextrix is accurate, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t. While his equipment is somewhat primitive, we have discussed some new technologies being developed which are quite similar to those used on Federation member planets. And their genetic engineering has resulted in higher crop yields than one would expect, given their technology,”
“Um, of course,” Johnson said, “And what’s he doing now?”
“He is testing for a type of tiny, flying insect classified as a ‘midge’, “Fifebee explained, “No doubt, he will be using some form of collection technology to determine how many insects exist, if any. Or, perhaps, he may even have a very primitive life-signs detector, an analogue to early tricorders, or-“
“What in the name of Apple is he doing? Fifebee asked, frowning.
“I believe he has gone insane,” Johnson observed.
They watched in disbelief as Wextrix ran up and down the rows of the field, holding a white disc outstretched in each hand. After a few moments, he jogged up to the gaping officers.
“Gonna have to treat this field,” he said, a grim look on his face.
“And did the Tooth Fairy inform you of this?” Fifebee asked, raising one eyebrow.
“Look,” Wextrix, held out the discs, which turned out to be simple, paper plates. A thin layer of oil had been applied to each one, and several tiny insects were stuck to the slick surfaces.
Fifebee’s expression charged from disdain to interest and went right on to awe.
“Amazing,” she said, “You have performed a sophisticated test for crop-damaging insects using only textile products and,” she ran one finger on the oil-covered surfaces, then held it up for closer examination, “Cooking oil?”
“Yup. Good thing too. The counter-insects I’ll have to buy to take of these ones are expensive enough…can you imagine having to pay the Agricultural Surveyor’s of Sumatrius to come in here with all that expensive analysis equipment?”
After waiting another half-hour, Pye had determined that he had as big an audience as he was likely to get. It was almost shift change, and several crewmen (and women) from Beta shift were getting ready to start their days.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and that Velvattian squid thing in the corner,” Pye started.
“That’s not Crewman Trac,” Day whispered, “He left 10 minutes ago. That’s our D’Ceti exchange officer, Ensign Sweddlbeshid,”
“I’m suddenly in the mood for Calamari,” Burke said thoughtfully. Day smacked him upside the head.
“If I could get your attention,” Pye went on, “I want to speak to you about a great injustice that was done, on this very ship, by our very own Captain!”
“Outlawing Naked Limbo?” somebody asked.
“Kicking Madame Schoonbaert’s Grade 1 class out of the lounge on Ice Cream Day?” somebody else shouted out.
“That time Commander Jall refused to go out with me?” a young crew-woman asked.
“You know he’s not into women, right?” Pye asked her.
“That’s the injustice,” she said, sighing, “He’s dreamy!”
“Oh brother,” Burke rolled his eyes.
“Well, those are, um, pretty un-just injustices,” Pye said, “But no, I’m talking about our new Operations Officer, Lt. Commander Johnson!”
There was scattered muttering.
“Here is a man,” Pye said, his voice taking on the heated tone of somebody working to convince a crowd, “that come onto our ship, supposedly as a candidate for First Officer. But did he get it?”
“Well duh,” a blond girl said, “Commander Jall got it. Now he won’t even do Tequila shots off of my chest anymore!”
“Exactly!” Pye said, “Wait, he did what’s off of your where?”
“Y’know,” the girl, Crewwoman Makurat said, batting her eyes, “When you put the shot glass in your cleavage, then the man has to pull the glass out with his teeth and drink it,”
Burke and Pye exchanged glances.
“Uh, I don’t get it,” Burke said, “Could you demonstrate?”
“Later!” Pye cut him off, “The point is, Johnson didn’t get the First Officer position! And why is that?”
“Uh, was it because he’s taller than most humans?” a Bolian man asked.
“What?” Pye frowned, “No, that’s stupid! That’s like saying he didn’t get it because he had an extra toe, or because he was black, or because he was bald or something! No, he didn’t it because…” he gestured at Burke.
“Uh,” Burke swallowed, suddenly the center of attention, “Because he lied?”
“Exactly!” Pye said triumphantly, “He lied! He misrat…misret…Day, help here?”
“Misrepresented,” Day muttered, looking very embarrassed.
“Yes!” Pye threw his arms in the air, “He misrepresented himself! Pretended to be some tough guy when he was really a wimpy nothing! Acted up! Faked it! And for what? To be second in command of this funhouse? Is that the kind of man you want in charge of Operations? Is that the kind of man you want to be turning to when you have a problem with the computer systems, or the replicator? Is that the kind of man you want up on the bridge, or representing this ship?”
Nobody said anything. Burke looked around, then shouted.
“Of course not!” Pye preached, “Do you want a liar on the bridge?”
“No!” Burke cried, suddenly feeling like he was at a religious service.
“Do you want the operation of this ship in the hands of a man who has shown a lack of integrity?”
“No, sir!” Burke cried out.
“Do you want ice cream?”
“No!” Burke frowned, “I mean, yes?”
“Uh, sorry, that just sort of popped out,” Pye swallowed.
“This is a fun show,” Crewwoman Makurat said, crossing her arms, “At least tickets were free. But what’s the point?”
“Why should we have an outsider on the bridge when there’s a better choice?” Pye asked.
“Why?” Burke shouted.
“A finer man!” Pye was almost ranting now, “A stronger man! A man who’s already served with this crew for several years! A man who distinguished himself in the battle of Matria Prime! A man who has the ability to shag any chick in a hundred light years, but has to pass because of some funky Deltan oath! A man who deserves to be in charge of Operations on this ship! And what should we do? We should march right up to Captain Stafford and insist that he put this fine officer in charge of the Operations department!”
“He’s going to hurt himself if he doesn’t breath soon,” Burke observed.
“And who is that man?” Pye asked, chest heaving, face red, spittle flying from his mouth.
“Just tell us already!” somebody called out.
“ENSIGN J’RAR RIDALLEP-RAJ DAY!” Pye cried.
The crewmembers in the lounge exchanged confused glances.
“Who?” somebody asked.
“Day!” Pye cried, “Ensign Day!”
“The guy who’s been running Operations on the Beta shift for the past three years!” Pye shouted.
More confused looks.
“HIM!” Pye cried, pointing at Day.
Silence fell as crewmen looked from Pye, to Day, to Burke, then back to Pye again. Pye’s face slowly shifted from red to deep purple.
“We’re not with him,” Day said nervously, grabbing Burke by the arm and pulling him towards the door.
“And so,” Wowryk said, “While the Sumatrians are horribly misinforming their citizens on the moral implications of sex outside of wedlock and will be horribly punished in Hell for their sins, their medical science has progressed in line with the FCO’s expectations,”
“What Dr. Wowryk means,” Nurse Kerry explained, “Is that the Sumatrians have no concept of celibacy, abstinence or monogamy.”
“My kinda planet!” Jall laughed.
“I thought so as well,” Johnson added.
“N-Nobody asked you!” Jeffery replied, huddling under a thick blanket, a cup of hot soup cradled between his frostbitten hands.
The away teams had returned to the ship and gathered in the conference lounge for debriefing. Kerry and Wowryk were seated at the far end of the table, while Jall and Jeffery were seated to Stafford’s left, snowflakes still melting in their hair. Jeffery was shivering uncontrollably, having somehow become the target of several snowballs prior to being beamed up. Stafford was drinking a very large mug of coffee and trying not to yawn while Fifebee and Johnson sat on the other side of the table, picking bits of foliage from their cloths.
“T-T-Their progress on their ‘Pulsatin’ Squeeze Drive’ is comin’ along faster than expected,” Jeffery shivered again, nearly spilling his soup, “They’ve already got a prototype drive built, and Ah bet we’ll have them knockin’ on Starbase 45’s door in about five more years.”
“Mr. Jeffery forgot to point out that their prototype drive only uses one nacelle, with two fuel containers located-“
“What Commander Jall is tryin’ to say,” Jeffery said sharply, “Is that the prototype looked like a giant, well, thingy,”
“Thingy?” Stafford raised an eyebrow.
Jeffery looked back and forth between Stafford and Wowryk.
“If he says the word, you’ll both get mad at him,” Jall giggled.
Johnson picked up the padd Jeffery and Jall had brought back with them and studied it for a moment.
“It looks like a man’s bits,” he shrugged.
“Johnson, I really don’t need to hear that kind of thing in my conference lounge,” Stafford said, annoyed.
“I didn’t start it!” Johnson objected.
“You could have finished it,” Jall leaned back, crossing his arms.
“Really, why must everything come back to sex or sex organs?” Wowryk asked, looking disgusted, “It’s so unprofessional,”
“She has a point,” Fifebee shrugged, “By the way, Doctor, Johnson assumed that an animal on the planet was male without confirming its gender. Is that not the sort of sexism you object to?”
“It is,” Wowryk said coolly, giving Johnson the evil eye.
Johnson’s mouth tightened, but he didn’t say anything.
“What a waste of time,” Pye grumbled. He was sitting at a corner booth in Unbalanced Equations. Burke, Day, Quintaine, Bithe and Sage had joined him. Normally they’d be up on the bridge, but since they had been covering for the command crew during the day (in theory, if not in fact), another group was taking their place.
“We spent all that time going all over the ship, and by the time we found a group of people willing to listen, they didn’t know who you were!” Pye shook his head in disgust.
“Well, the only reason why they knew who Johnson is was because of the television coverage,” Day shrugged, “Travis, relax. You didn’t have to do this for me anyway,”
“Yes, I did,” Pye grumbled.
“Why, exactly?” Bith asked, leaning back and crossing her arms over her chest, “What did you get out of it?”
“I’ve been wondering that myself,” Quintaine added, leaning forward over the table, his eyes gleaming.
Pye looked around at the expectant faces looking at him.
“I just thought,” he sighed, “Well, I mean, if one of us got onto Alpha shift, it would mean that the rest could too, right? I mean, do you all really want to be the ‘other’ guys for the rest of your careers? Always in the command crew’s shadow? If Day could move upward, I guess that would make things a bit easier for the rest of us,”
“Oh,” Quintaine sagged a bit, “That’s…sort of depressing,”
“Yup,” Burke agreed.
“Drinks for everybody?” Steven asked, having come to take their order.
“Several,” Pye, Quintaine and Burke called out together.
“And I’ll be wanting to see a…dessert menu,” Bithe said, smiling suggestively at Steven.
“The customer is always right,” Steven grinned back, then turned to get drinks.
“Hey, look who just came in,” Burke said, sitting up. Across the lounge, Stafford had just walked through the doors. He nodded at Steven, grabbed a glass of something pink and fruity-looking off the bar, then took a seat at a small table.
“We could go talk to him now,” Pye suggested.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Burke sneered, “Do you really think he’s going to change his staff assignments just because we asked nicely?”
“It’s too late anyway,” Bithe said.
They turned again to see Johnson come into the lounge. He looked around briefly, then visibly braced himself and walked over to Stafford’s table.
“Well, this is interesting,” Pye said, watching carefully.
“Don’t be a snoop,” Bithe said, even as she stared at the two officers.
“Stafford’s a bit annoyed that his quiet evening has been interrupted,” Pye said, leaning forward and staring at the two conversing officers, “Johnson doesn’t look very apologetic. In fact, he looks pretty cold. Stafford’s stiffening up, you know how he gets when people tell him things he doesn’t want to hear. Like he’s constipated, but he’s trying to hide it. Now Johnson’s getting a bit angry. Stafford’s on the defensive,”
The other evening-shift officers were watching him, listening to his every word.
“Now Stafford’s trying to calm Johnson down. Johnson doesn’t want to be calmed down. Now I think Stafford’s apologizing. Either that or he just swallowed something that tastes pretty nasty. Ohh, now that’s interesting,”
“What?” Pye, Bithe and Quintaine demanded.
“See how Johnson just sat back and crossed his arms? I bet he just delivered an ultimatum! And Stafford’s agreeing!”
Indeed, Stafford was giving Johnson a resigned nod.
“Well,” Pye sighed, “I guess Johnson’s going to be here for a long time,”
The following morning, Stafford sat in his ready room. The door chimed, and Jall came in, ready for their morning chat.
“So, what’s new? Anything juicy?” Jall asked.
“Johnson’s transferring off the ship,” Stafford said flatly.
“Really?” Jall looked surprised, “Why??”
“He said something about us being ‘the rudest, most uncouth group of officers he’s ever had the misfortune of serving with’,” Stafford said.
“Huh,” Jall frowned, “I wonder what gave him that impressing?”
“Don’t have a clue,’ Stafford shrugged, “Now get the hell out of my office!”
“Yessir, Captain sir!”