Author: Brendan Chris
“I say we blow it up,” Ensign Simmons stated.
“You ALWAYS say we should blow it up,” Lieutenant Marsden said crossly.
“Cuz it’s always a good idea!” Simmons shrugged.
Ensign Dar’ugal pointed at Simmons, then at the new rank pip on Marsden’s collar.
“Yeah, Darg,” Lieutenant Rengs nodded, “If he hadn’t caused so many accidental explosions, he probably would have been promoted too!”
“And we’d have a cooler name than ‘The Hazardous Team’,” Lt. Cmdr. Stern added, “Now, can we get this mission wrapped up please, ladies?”
“Sure thing, brave leader,” Rengs squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, sized up the target and dropped to one knee.
“Excuse me, little girl,” he said, using the same tone of voice he used with his one-year old son, “You’re blocking the replicator. Could you please move?”
The child, daughter of one of the scientists in Xeno-Gynocology, stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry.
“Smoothly done, Rengs,” Stern commented.
The Hazardous Team was Silverado’s Alpha shift security team. A collection of officers and crew with diverse specialties, their job was to achieve whatever security-related missions objectives T’Parief or the Captain could come up with. They’d earned their nickname during a Matrian attack on Silverado years ago, when their efforts to defend the crew against a boarding party did as much damage to the ship as they did to the boarding party!
Though T’Parief was Chief of Security, the actual operation of the Hazardous Team was left largely to his deputy, Lieutenant Commander Stern. At 6’4, with shoulders broad enough to land a shuttle on and a near unbeatable five o’clock shadow, he was an imposing figure. His specialty was sharp shooting. He often attached pictures of his least favorite team members (and commanding officers) to his targets to help get that last bit of motivation in. Next on the team was Lieutenant Rengs, a Bajoran man with a wife, a child and an interest in energy weapons. While he was less accident-prone than most other team members, he still had a few incidents under his belt.
Newly promoted Lt. Marsden was the team’s hostage negotiator and computer expert. A tall but skinny human, he had yet to remain conscious for an entire Hazardous Team mission. Ensign Simmons, an explosives expert, made things go boom. He was very skilled at his job, but nobody was sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Likewise, nobody was quite sure whether his tan complexion and dark hair were due to his heritage or due to the repeated singeing of his face and hair. On top of that he had a very loud, sarcastic mouth. He liked to think of himself as a ladies man, but in truth the ladies really didn’t consider him much of a man at all.
Crewman Kreklor, the team Klingon, was the only member of the Hazardous Team who wasn’t an officer. He specialized in hand-to-hand combat. Big surprise.
The final team member was Ensign Dar’ugal. Two meters tall, covered with orange fur and completely lacking a head, it was a matter of confusion as what exactly his specialty was. The fact that he was totally mute didn’t help, either. Being one of the only Barudans in Starfleet, he tended to startle people, especially when they saw eyes and a mouth where most species kept a chest. (Or, on many females, a nice rack.)
“Enough,” Kreklor snarled, “This situation, and this pointless re-introduction, has gone on long enough!”
Without showing the slightest effort, he lifted the girl (ignoring her squeal of surprise), carried her across the dining room and deposited her on her mother’s lap.
“I believe you lost this,” he growled.
“Finally!” Simmons exclaimed stepping towards the replicator and rubbing his hands together, “Chow time!”
On cue, the comm sounded.
“Hazardous Team, report to the holodeck. NOW!” T’Parief’s voice barked.
“Shit,” Stern growled, slapping a hand against the replicator.
As they turned to leave, Marsden looked back at the girl. She stood on her chair and blew another raspberry.
“Do you know vhy you are here?” Counselor Yvonnokoff asked, a professional ‘I’m-interested-because-it’s-my-job-to-be-interested’ expression on her face.
“That is a stupid question,” Lt. Cmdr Valtaic declared flatly, “I know perfectly well why I’m here, and I find it pointless,”
“Hmmmn,” Yvonnokoff’s pale brow, framed by white-blond hair, wrinkled delicately, “Und vhy zis hostility?”
“There is no hostility on my part,” he replied, softening his tone slightly to accommodate human customs, “Did you not get the memo?”
“Ve use memos on zis ship?” Yvonnokoff blinked, “I haff never received one,”
“That does not concern me,” Valtaic decided, “Please start my session. If I must undergo a psyche evaluation, let us make it brief.”
“Jas, jas,” Yvonnokoff sighed. She reached for her padd, unclipping it from the holster than kept it constantly hanging on her hip.
“Let us see,” she tapped away, “I say: ‘Hello insert name here und velcome to insert ship name here. For your family planning conveniences, contraceptives are available in Sickbay or from ze replicator…” she trailed off, then stopped. “I am sorry, zat is ze sexual health briefing vith Dr. Wowrk. Of course, she uses ‘Ze Catholic Guide to Filthy, Sinful Fornication’ instead!” she rolled her eyes.
“Really?” Valtaic, though he had lived on Earth for several years to attend the Academy, knew little of Earth religions, “And what does that book say on the subject?”
“‘Don’t haff sex’,” Yvonnokoff said crisply. She tapped her padd again, bringing up the proper evaluation form, “Now zen, let us discuss you family. Did you hate your mozer?”
Some time later, Crewman Gibson was walking down the corridor, a bag sling over his shoulder. ‘The Vonna Show’ was starting in half an hour and as producer it was his job to have the set ready and the high speed subspace linkup to AWN established. Gibson was shorter than average and had one of those faces that just made you stop, take a closer look and think ‘monkey’! His shaved head and slim build added to the image, making it easy to believe that humans evolved from primates. He had more than his share of bad habits, including wearing his pants halfway down his ass, body piercings in a variety of places and, rumor had it, partaking of Crewman Shwaluk’s stash of ‘flammable plants’.
He came around the corner, not really paying attention to where he was going, and nearly ran into Valtaic.
“Yo!” Gibson called as Valtaic deftly moved to one side, “You seen Vonna?” He took a closer look at the network of lines covering Valtaic’s skin. “Hey, nice ink job!”
Another officer might have been offended, but Valtaic’s people preferred such bluntness, as opposed to the social pleasantries used by most other races.
“I do not know this ‘Vonna’, am carrying no ink and do not have time for questions at this time,” Valtaic said briskly.
Yvonnokoff rounded the corner, coming from the same direction Valtaic had come. Gibson thought he saw what looked like sparks jumping between Valtaic’s fingers as he gave her a look of contempt, but decided it was probably just part of his buzz.
“Gibson!” Yvonnokoff snapped, “Vhat are you doing? Get uplink up! Show is in fifteen minutes! Vonna must soothe ze strained psyches of ze quadrant!”
With this, she continued down the corridor, heading towards her studio.
“She is Vonna?” Valtaic asked.
“Uh, yeah, dude,” Gibson replied.
“And they broadcast her, live?”
“Yup. Only on AWN!”
“And she actually HELPS people?” Valtaic’s energy field was starting to make the hairs stand up on Gibson’s arms.
“Sometimes,” Gibson shrugged, “But even if she doesn’t, the weird stuff she comes up with is pretty good sounding shit!”
Captain Stafford sat in his command chair, hoping somebody would just attack the damned ship already. Next to him, Commander Jall was grinning.
“OK,” Lieutenant Yanick said, “Everybody join in!”
She raised her voice:
Oh, we’re going off to Matria,
A place that’s really neat,
The girls there are big and strong,
And the guys are really meek!
“Please stop,” Stafford groaned. Fifebee had deactivated her audio subroutines and the crewman at Ops was wearing noise-dampening headphones. Jall, however, joined right in.
We’re going off to Matria,
They had a great big war,
It happed a hundred years ago,
We’ll be sure they have no more!
Stafford was picking at the buttons on his armrest when Valtaic returned to the bridge. Yanick and Jall were working on their next verse.
“What are you doing, sir?” Valtaic asked.
“Looking for the button to eject her into space,” Stafford grumbled.
“There isn’t one,” Valtaic said, the sarcasm lost on him.
“Have one installed,” Stafford said. Valtaic nodded, then took over the Ops station.
The ship was less than a week out of Waystation, fully stocked and supplied for the long-term mission to Matrian space. Morale was definitely down (except for Yanick), Stafford and his officers were still getting used to dealing with Valtaic’s customs and Sylvia had retreated even deeper into the ship’s computer core. Even if you called her name, you usually got the computer’s sterile, automated responses.
The turbolift doors opened and Commander T’Parief stepped onto the bridge.
“How was the surprise drill with the HT?” Stafford asked.
“Ensign Simmons destroyed several buildings that had no relevance to the mission, Kreklor ate the spleen out of a downed enemy, Marsden was knocked out by a stun-grenade and Stern put a phaser-beam through one enemy’s skull,” T’Parief reported.
“Same as always then, huh?” Jall smirked.
“I thought the purpose of the drill was to have them practice reconnaissance using the Matria Prime holodeck program,” Stafford said crossly.
“It was,” T’Parief admitted.
“We’ve only been cruising for a few days,” Stafford growled, his blood slowly beginning to boil, “It’s too early to go space-crazy!’
“Too late,” Jall said, “We were declared space-crazy a long time ago. And that walking demolition crew you call a security team will put us in the ‘rabid targ’ box before long!”
“They have been effective in their missions,” T’Parief said, “We have yet to learn if you will be the same,”
“I’ve done missions,” Jall said, turning in his chair.
“You examined a ‘Pulsating Squeeze Drive’,”
“That was my mission!”
“I am sure you say that to all the-“
Heads (except for the temporarily deaf Fifebee) snapped around to stare at Stafford. The Captain was standing in front of his seat, his face beet-red.
“I’m sick of listening to the two of you take shots at each other! We have a long trip ahead of us, and I refuse to spend it like this!’
He walked briskly to the turbolift.
“I’m taking the next few days off,” he said, “Don’t call me unless the ship’s about to explode!”
The doors hissed shut.
“That was weird,” Yanick said to Jall, “He usually doesn’t start shouting until you start talking about your sex life,”
“I figured he’d crack sooner or later,” Jall laughed, clapping his hands and kicking his legs, “Yay! I get to be Captain!”
“Never,” T’Parief growled darkly.
“You never know, Pari,” Yanick said.
His throat rumbling with displeasure, T’Parief started pulling up the ‘Andorian Ritual Suicide Handbook’,”
“I can’t stand it! He just eats, and grunts and leaves molten rock on the rug! I love him, but I can’t stand living with him!”
“I zee,” Yvonnokoff said, now in her ‘Vonna’ personae, “Ave you considered dating somebody closer to own species? Humanoid, perhaps? Und if you haff, never spoken to him via translator-“
“Hammy, no!” the woman screamed, causing Vonna to jump slightly in her seat.
“I’m sorry, Vonna, she said, “He just set the couch on fire! I gotta go!”
As the line went dead, Vonna composed herself and looked into the camera, putting on her ‘profession and friendly’ face.
“Vell, ve haff run out of time for today,” she said, “I vould suggest to you all though zat dating a Horta is not a good idea if your species lacks natural body armour. I zank you for your letters and for viewing show this evening. Please join next week when ve haff special episode, focusing on a case I haff found to be very interesting. Remember, I am here to help,”
The on-air light faded as AWN switched to the next feed. Gibson signed off with the signal controller and shut down the subspace feed.
“Who dates a Horta anyway?” Gibson asked through the intercom built into his tiny, sound-proof booth, “It’d be like humping a pile of rocks!”
“I do not expect you to understand ze complex aspects of ze human mind,” Yvonnokoff said.
“Why not?” Gibson asked, slack-jawed.
“Because in your head is only sex, booze und burning plants,”
“I haff no time for you today,” she said, pulling out her padd, “Go play vith Roscoe’s pet monkey, or perhaps try to educated yourself in ship’s library,”
“Huh, as if,” Gibson chuckled, trying to look over her shoulder, “Whatcha doin’?”
“Study on crew member,” she said, “You go away now,”
Shrugging, Gibson grabbed his equipment bag and stepped into the corridor. He turned into a turbolift and was about to head down to the secret room/clubhouse/grow-house he shared with Roscoe and Shwaluk when he realized what he’d just heard.
“That sucked,” Marsden said, sitting in Platterheads and rubbing his head.
“We accomplished our mission,” Rengs said, “We also blew up half the city, killed a bunch of no-name guards and accidentally drowned a cat,”
“A good day,” Kreklor said happily.
“Better too much than too little,” Simmons agreed.
“Whatever,” Marsden said, “I still want a hypo for this headache,”
“Guys! Hey, guys!”
Everybody turned to see Gibson running into the room, ignoring the Guinanco waiter that tried to tell him that he wasn’t supposed to be in the officer’s dining hall without being invited by an officer. (Not that anybody on Silverado paid attention to such things anyway.) He stumbled to a stop at their table, clutching the back of a chair and coughing.
“Dude,” Simmons said, “How far did you run?”
“From,” Gibson gasped, “the turbolift,”
“What the f**k?” Simmons’ mouth twisted, “That’s, like fifty feet!”
“Smoker’s cough,” Gibson wheezed,”But listen; we gotta warn everybody!”
“Why?” Rengs asked, “Does T’Parief have that monster fish-gut gas again?” He’d been getting less and less pleasant as his son approached teething age.
“No, it’s Vonna,” Gibson said.
“What about her?” Stern asked, “She’s not really much of a security threat,”
Dar’ugal made a series of hand gestures, looking for all the world like he was dancing to ‘Kung-Fu Fighting’.
“A black belt?” Stern frowned, “Really?”
“She’s gonna do a whole show based on somebody on the ship!” Gibson interrupted, “I just heard her talking about it! Somebody on this ship is gonna be totally humiliated!”
“Nothing new there,” Simmons shrugged.
“Who is it?” Kreklor demanded, “Is it me? I will destroy her!”
“I dunno,” Gibson said, pulling his pants back up to his waist, only to have them fall back down, “She’s got it on her padd-“
“We have to get it!” Stern said, drawing himself up, “And warn the poor bastard!”
“Another mission?” Marsden groaned, rubbing his head, “I just woke up!”
The next morning, Jall stepped out of his quarters, turned and walked into the bulkhead.
“Ow,” he muttered, “I’ve GOT to get used to this new room,” Noonan’s old quarters, now Jall’s, were on the opposite side of the ship compared to his old quarters.
He heard a door hiss open behind him, turned around and saw Stafford step into the corridor.
“Hey, Captain,” Jall called out.
“I’m on vacation!” Stafford said sharply, “Do it yourself,”
“I was just saying ‘good morning’,” Jall snapped back.
“Good morning!” Stafford called over his shoulder as he stepped into the turbolift. As the doors closed, something slipped out onto the deck.
“What the…” Jall bent to pick it up. It was flat, extremely thin and flexible. “Wait, I’ve seen this before. Um…paper?”
Please with himself, he turned the sheet of paper over. The other side was covered with bizarre symbols. Circles, bars, lines and strange squiqqles covered the sheet. Alien, no doubt. But why would Stafford have it? Was Stafford researching aliens? The only aliens they knew they’d been dealing with in the near future were the Senousians and the Matrians, and their written scripts looked nothing like this. Was Stafford in the middle of some secret contact? Did that have anything to do with his mood change?
Was it an authorized contact?
“Time to call lizard-boy,” he muttered.
“Bugs, this is Daffy. The rock is on the coyote. Repeat, the rock is on the coyote!”
“I wanted to be Daffy this time,” Simmons whined as Rengs made his report over the comm.
“Shut up, Porky,” Stern said.
“What’s that shit about the rocks and coyotes?” Simmons asked.
“Marsden just knocked himself out tracking Yvonnokoff in the arboretum.”
“That was fast, even for him,” Simmons observed.
“Bugs, this is Taz,” Kreklor’s voice growled, “I have acquired the target. She is leaving Deck 12 via the starboard turbolift,”
Crap, Stern thought to himself. Marsden wore the second cap of technology specialist for the team, but with him out Stern needed to either take the time to track her using the computer or have another team member try. Both would take valuable time.
Luckily, the Hazardous team was a good team, despite their flaws. Anticipating the issue, Dar’ugal (code named ‘Tweety’) immediately accessed the closest computer panel to his post near Yvonnokoff’s office, tracked the lift and sent the destination to Stern via text-only message.
“Bye, Porky,” Stern said, tapping at his panel and beaming Simmons to Yvonnokoff’s destination: the residential section of Deck 10.
“You f-“ Simmons voice faded as he dematerialized.
Simmons found himself on Deck 10, near a stretch of junior officer’s quarters. He heard the humming of an approaching turbolift and ducked into a side corridor. The lift opened and Yvonnokoff walked out, padd in hand.
“Next, counseling vith Nurse Kerry,” she muttered to herself, “Zen back to office, zen show. Busy day!”
She walked right past Simmons and continued down the curving corridor. Simmons quickly reported what he’d heard.
“Confirmed, Poky,” Stern’s voice came through the special headset Simmons and the rest of the HT wore when on a mission, “Will deploy as needed,”
“Remind me,” Rengs, currently code-named ‘Granny’, came onto the comm, “Why do we need her padd so badly?”
“She does everything on that padd,” Stern said, “Haven’t you noticed? Now cut the chatter, Granny!”
“She’s gone into Nurse Kerry’s quarters,” Simmons reported.
“Get in there!” Stern ordered.
“Right,” Simmons muttered to himself, “Just get into a room with only one door without being noticed. Just like that,”
“Your comm is still on, Porky,” Strern’s voice said.
Jall sat in Stafford’s ready room, staring at the sheet of bizarre symbols. Finally, he had to admit defeat.
“Sylvia?” her called.
“I’m sorry,” a recording of Sylvia’s voice said, “I’m either away from the computer core, or in an unreachable virtual reality. Please leave a message at the beep,”
“Override!” Jall said, “Sylvia!”
“Yes?” Sylvia’s real voice replaced the recording, “Is this important?”
“You tell me,” Jall said, “What’s this stuff?” He gestured at the sheet.
There was a brief pause, then Sylvia’s holographic avatar appeared. She straightened her curly, blond-ish hair (why, Jall had no idea) and picked up the sheet.
“Oh, this is Chris’,” she said.
“Yeah,” Jall looked expectantly at her, “But what is it?”
“Nevermind,” Sylvia said, somewhat more sharply than normal, “Does he know you have it?”
“No,” Jall suddenly noticed how many pictures of Silverado (Sylvia?) were hanging in Stafford’s ready room. Not to mention the ship model.
“You should give it back,” Sylvia said, hands on hips.
“I’m not done with it yet,” Jall said, “Why are you getting so worked up over this?”
“It’s Chris’ private business,” Sylvia said, “But if you’re going to be a jerk about it, then fine!”
Jall groaned and threw his arms theatrically into the air.
“Lizard-boy to the ready room!”
Simmons jerked, narrowly avoiding being poked by an isolinear chip. He’d let himself into the set of empty quarters next to Kerry’s and crawled into the narrow crawlspace under the replicator. He’d taken a tiny camera/microphone combo out and was easing it through a hole he’d drilled in the wall between the two sets of quarters.
Back in the security office, Stern and Rengs were watching the feed.
“What the hell is that?” Stern wondered, leaning forward to look at the screen.
“It looks like a piece of chain,” Rengs observed.
“Hold on,” Stern said, “Pull the cam back a bit.”
The view zoomed out and suddenly hundreds of tiny chain links became visible.
“Chain mail,” Stern snickered.
Simmons repositioned the camera. This time the full room became visible. Crewman Shwaluk was strapped to Kerry’s St. Andrew’s Cross wearing only a pair of tight leather shorts. A ball-gag hung around his neck. Standing next to him, Kerry was wearing an ancient white nurse’s uniform made entirely of leather, a stiff carbon rod held in one hand.
Stern and Rengs exchanged a look.
“I honestly have no idea what to say,” Stern said.
“By the Prophets,” Rengs shook his head. They quieted as the audio kicked in.
“-just doesn’t hit me like she used to, Counselor,” Shwaluk was saying, “the passion just isn’t there anymore!”
“Hmm,” Yvonnokoff tapped at her padd,”Und vhy you want to be hit? Vere you abused as child?”
“Huh?” Shwaluk looked confused.
“No, zen,” Yvonnokoff made a note, “Und you, Kerry? You zink you haff problem?”
“Well,” Kerry looked uneasy, “It’s just that he’s been really good lately. I don’t really have anything to punish him for,”
“Hmmm,” Yvconnokoff thought hard for a moment, “Shwaluk, close eyes. Listen to vhat I say,”
“You are in Sickbay. Dr. Wowryk is zere. She comes to you, und slowly starts to remove shirt. She says you to you: ‘Seth, I vant you to be my first.’ Vhat do you do?”
Shwaluk was already drooling.
“Bang her brains out!” he cried.
“WHAT?” Kerry shrieked. The rod lashed out, smacking Shwaluke’s back. He screamed out in pain.
“Better?” Yvonnokoff asked.
“Much,” Kerry said, angrily lashing out again and again.
“My work is done,” Yvonnokoff gave a satisfied nod and turned to leave.
“What do you want?” T’Parief asked sharply, walking into the ready room. He felt the familiar rumble in his throat as he looked down at Jall, seated at the Captain’s desk, next to the Captain’s model of Silverado, sipping a fruity drink and sitting there like he was running the whole show. It was all T’Parief could do to stop himself from dragging the undisciplined excuse for an officer back to the ops console where he belonged.
“I called you like, ten minutes ago,” Jall complained.
“Unless Sylvia is in direct control of the comm system, ‘Lizard-Boy’ is not recognized by the computer,” T’Parief said calmly.
“Uh-huh,” Jall leaned back, “But you still know I called you.”
T’Parief was quiet for a moment.
“No comment,” he said.
Cocking his head, Jall put the sheet of paper on Stafford’s desk.
“What is this?” T’Parief crossed his arms, “Plans for your next parade?”
“I have no idea,” Jall said, “Stafford dropped it,”
“So give it back,” T’Parief said, unmoved.
“You’re really not a deep thinker, are you?” Jall asked, “The Captain drops some kind of message written in an unknown language and the ship’s computer suddenly refuses to help me,”
T’Parief said nothing, but his hostile expression softened.
“Doesn’t this seem a little ass-over-teakettle?”
“Is that a serious question, or are you simply being yourself?” T’Parief asked, turning to leave.
“Hey, I’m the hot, sexy First Officer, and you are the…” Jall trailed off, looking for a word. Deciding to be professional this once, he straightened up in Stafford’s chair.
“Security Chief,” he finished.
T’Parief hesitated, then sat.
“This could be an indication of an alien influence,” he admitted, “Possibly hostile,”
“And you hate the fact that it was me that found it,”
“Could be,” T’Parief repeated, using a tone that clearly said ‘don’t push it’.
“Let’s get Fifebee to check it out,” Jall said.
“No,” T’Parief said sharply, “If Sylvia has been compromised, it is likely that the aliens have manipulated her program as well.”
“Oh,” Jall said.
“That is why I am in charge of security,” T’Parief said, slightly smug.
“So what do we do?”
“We research those symbols using the linguistics database,”
Jall slammed his drink onto the desk.
“You’re shitting me!” he cried, “There’s, like, a hundred thousand languages in there,”
“Yes,” T’Parief said.
“I hate you hard-working types!
“Report, Wile E,” Stern called into the comm.
Marsden, revived by means of dunking his head in the duck pond, had trailed Yvonnokoff after she left Kerry’s quarters.
“Target is returning to her office,” Marsden reported.
“Counseling sessions all afternoon,” Stern mused, “Great,”
“I hear enough about other people’s problems from my wife,” Rengs grunted.
“Whatcha doin’?” Yanick asked. She was heading off for her break and had stopped by to see if Jall was going to join her. “Up for a snack?”
“We are-“ T’Parief started, but Jall cut him off.
“Nothing,” Jall said, “Uh, I’ll be right out-“
“No,” this time T’Parief cut Jall off, “I am sorry, Trish, but we are very busy,”
“Oh,” Yanick looked a bit down, “OK. I’ll just go,” She turned and started to leave.
“Bring me back some couscous!” Jall called. He turned to T’Parief, “Why the hell couldn’t I have a break?”
“This is more important,” T’Parief said, “And why did you not allow me to inform Trish of our dilemma?”
“This is a security matter, you should know that!” Jall said, using his most profession tone, “Regs say that it should be kept on a need-to-know basis,”
T’Parief wasn’t sure what was more annoying: the tone of Jall’s voice or the fact that the smug bastard was right.
They sat in cold silence for several minutes, looking over sample after sample of alien writing. They had found a few scripts that were similar to Stafford’s mystery note, but not close enough.
After several more minutes, T’Parief stood and walked to Stafford’s replicator.
“Puppy,” he ordered, “Roasted. And a side of heartworm,”
“Oh my God!” Jall exclaimed, covering his mouth as the dish materialized, filling the small room with a vile scent.
“I am hungry,” T’Parief declared. He began eating with one clawed hand, the other working on the portable terminal he’d brought in.
Jall, trying hard not to gag, narrowed his eyes at T’Parief. What was up with the other officer? Why would he be ranting about the need to focus on work one minute, then grabbing disgusting snack foods the next? There was only one explanation in Jall’s mind (two, but we’ll ignore the other, it’s disturbing). Clearly, T’Parief was trying to get under his skin; to irritate him as much as he used to enjoy irritating Stafford. Well, Jall mused, he still enjoyed irritating Stafford, he was just learning to exercise restraint. Well, he, San Jall, had more experience as the irritant than as the irritee, and he was sure he could see his way through any of T’Parief’s tricks. All he had to do was sit back, finish his work, and ignore whatever T’Parief did.
He tapped at his panel, loading his Madonna database and blasting ‘Material Girl’ through the ready room speakers. T’Parief glared him over the steaming plate.
“So, are we gonna actually try for the padd on this one? Simmons asked.
“If we get the chance, we will,” Stern affrirmed.
“Can we please drop the code-names?” Rengs asked.
“Rengs,” Stern rolled his eyes, “is going to beam into Yvonnokoff’s office, right behind her couch, and get us some good, close-up recon.”
Dar’ugal gestured at his eyes, then at his ears.
“No, she won’t notice him,” Stern said, shaking his head, “We have a plan!”
“Zo tell me,” Yvonnokoff asked, “How long is you been haffing zis fear?”
“I…I don’t know, Vonna,” Petty Officer Brunby said, looking very nervous as he sat rigidly on the couch.
“Please,” Yvonnokoff smile, “Ve are off ze air and in private space. I call you ‘Sean’, and you call me ‘Counselor Yvonnokoff’,”
“I don’t know what did it,” Brunbvy said, eyes darting around the room, “But for as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrified of…of…” his green eyes darted around the room again and his voice dropped to a whisper, “Disco,”
“Disco,” Yvonnokoff repeated, interested, “Hmmm. Vas there perhaps traumatic experience in your youth zhat led to zis?”
Before Brunby could answer, the lights in the office suddenly started pulsing as an electronic beat began to play. Brunby shrieked, flailing his arms and knocking Yvonnokoff back in her chair. Unnoticed, Rengs materialized, lying prone under the couch. Expecting to find two somewhat confused crewmembers, he was totally unprepared for the pandemonium he found. Brunby was now racing around the room, bouncing off the walls in his insane desire to escape. Yvonnokoff had pulled herself to her feet and was chasing after Brunby, stepping on Rengs’ fingers in the process. Biting back a Bajoran curse (which really wasn’t all that potent anyway) he quickly scanned the room for his goal.
There! Up on the coffee table! Rengs snatched the padd and called for beam-out.
As suddenly as it started, the music stopped and the lights returned to normal. Brunby collapsed against the wall, sobbing.
“Vell,” Yvonnokoff shrugged, “Let us discuss your traumatic experience. It vas not in your childhood, but it will do!”
“Idiot!” Rengs snapped at Marsden, clutching his hand, “What was THAT?”
“A fantastic distraction!” Stern said, “We couldn’t have hoped for better!”
“Here’s the padd,” Rengs growled, handing it over and massaging his injured hand, “Can I go now? I have to babysit, and dirty diapers ferment after about five minutes,”
“Whatever,” Stern said, handing the padd to Marsden, who was preparing to decrypt, decode or otherwise hack into Yvonnokoff’s most secret writings. As it turned out, his efforts were totally unnecessary; the padd consisted of plain text.
“‘Take me, NBarchonem’,” Marsden read, a confused expression on his face, “‘I don’t love Dacoran, he can’t give me the burning, passionate love you do! My busoms ache for’…” he trailed off. “Yvonnokoff writes trashy romance novels?”
“Or she just reads them,” Rengs said, still on his way out, “I think my wife was reading that one the other day…”
“What does this mean?” Simmons demanded.
“It means,” Stern grimaced, “We have to try again. And get the right f**king padd this time!”
It was now Simmons’ turn.
It was almost time for a recording of ‘The Vonna Show’. Almost every episode was done live, right from Vonna’s studio, but the Associated Worlds network liked to have a few pre-recorded shows on file, for those times when Silverado was engaged in activities that prevented broadcasts. (Alternate universes, ion storms, coffee in the transmitter, etc.)
At least this time they had an ally. Crewman Gibson had let Simmons into the studio before Vonna arrived and had secured him behind a fake bookcase.
“You know,” Gibson said, ready to close the door to his booth, “I’d have, like, tons of chances to snatch this thing. I could do it for you, no sweat!”
Simmons looked Gibson over, starting at the scuffed boots, moving up to the pants hanging halfway down his hips, up to the mustard stain on his shirt and finally stopping at the dull, stoner gaze.
“Leave it to the professionals,” Simmons said, patting Gibson on the shoulder.
He scrambled back behind the bookcase as the doors hissed open. Yvonnokoff strode in, drawing her Vonna persona around herself like a cloak.
“Gibson, you have lines?” she demanded.
“I’m like, totally not into that dangerous shit,” Gibson replied, “But I have the comm lines open. AWN says they have plenty of transmissions rolling in.”
“Vhat haff ve got?”
“We have this Rigillian dude who’s convinced he’s Elvis reincarnated,” Gibson read off his screen.
“Too far-fetched,” Vonna waved a hand as she settled into her chair, oblivious to Simmons.
“A human chick who can’t find meaning in her life,”
“Perhaps, but could be a time-eating,” Vonna said thoughfully.
“And,” Gibson said, “A Vulcan drag-queen who deams of performing for the Klingon High Chancellor,”
“Ve haff vinner!” Vonna declared.
As Vonna and Gibson carried on with shop-talk, Simmons examined his inventory. He had a phaser, his comm headset, a tricorder and a pair of practice grenades. He used to carry stun grenades in every available pocket, but Stern had put a stop to that after an errant stun grenade had knocked out half of the kindergarten class. The practice grenades made a nice ‘bang’, but didn’t do much else. Unknown to Stern, Simmons had started carrying several tiny explosives, too small to do much damage, but better than the stupid practice grenades.
“Camera one, ready,” Gibson said, tapping his console. In the studio, the wide-angle camera whirred into position.
“Camera two ready,” he said, tapping another control and producing another whir.
“Camera three, ready,” he announced.
Vonna sighed as Simmons looked around in confusion. He’d only been told about two cameras! Vonna herself knew there were only two, but had long since stopped trying to understand Gibson’s foolishness. (Unknown to either of them, Gibson had planted his hand firmly on his crotch upon announcing camera three.)
“You’re like, totally on in five, four, three,” he counted down the remaining time with his fingers then waved Vonna on.
Simmons spotted the padd. It was clipped to Vonna’s hip. Hiding behind the bookcase, he was far out of reach. Eyeing the cameras and trying to ignore the Vulcan drag queen as he explained the logic of performative cross-dressing, Simmons slowly sank to the floor. Slowly, carefully, he stretched out, prone, and started inching his way towards the desk and chair Vonna had selected for today’s show.
“Und so, Slan, vhy, honestly do you vear ze cloths of a Vulcan woman?”
“And what’s the difference, anyway?” Gibson piped in.
Vonna shot a look of annoyance in Gibson’s general direction, giving Simmons the chance to crawl behind one of the potted plants next to Vonna’s desk. Damn! Her chair was too high! He wouldn’t be able to get a hold on that padd without his handing showing up on camera! If only he could get the chair lower! Simmons’ brow furrowed as he concentrated.
Gibson chuckled as the sound of a fart ripped through the studio. Vonna looked to either side, Simmons barely managing to stay out of her view.
“Zat vasn’t me,” she said, slightly flustered.
“Logically,” Slan said, “If you are the only person in the studio-“
“Ve haff already learned about your logic, zank you!” Vonna said briskly, waving a hand in front of her face.
Simmons twisted, still trying to stay out of her sight. As he shifted his weight, there was a crunch and shower of sparks as his training phaser shorted out, crushed under one hip.
He was out of time. Forgetting about the convenient lever that would lower the chair, he grabbed a tiny explosive out of his pocket, slapped it on the chair support and rolled out of the way.
There was a small bang, then Vonna squaled in surprise as her chair collapsed under her. Gibson was laughing hysterically as Simmons’ took advantage of the sudden confusion, snatching the padd and bolting for the door before Vonna knew what had happened.
“I got it!” he announced, running into the security office, “And it’s the real deal! I checked an everything!”
“We saw,” Marsden said from the computer terminal.
“He hacked into the ‘Vonna Show’ recording,” Stern explained.
“Oh,” Simmons tossed the padd at Stern, “So I pull off a daring mission, get our objective, and now nobody cares?``
“You hid behind a plant and blew up a chair,” Rengs pointed out.
“What’s the padd thing say, anyway,” Simmons growled.
“Master Crewman Lanerat is a sick, sick man,” Stern said, reading carefully.
“Coming from you, that’s really saying something,” Marsden whistled.
“So who’s she doing the show on?” Simmons demanded.
Stern quickly scanned the list of documents until he found the one he wanted. His eyes quickly ran through the document.
“Ohh,” Stern breathed, “She is a bitch!”
T’Parief and Jall were-
“Hey, Hey!” Simmons shouted, “What the hell?”
Excuse me, are you talking to me?
“Hell yeah! What the hell do you think you’re doing? You can’t change scenes at a juicy point like that!”
Simmons, who obviously knows nothing about suspense-
“Suspense my ass!” Simmons said, “You’re just too lazy to finish writing our part! Nobody is going to care about the next scene if they’re too busy wondering what happens to us!”
Look, buddy, I created you, I can un-create you! Or maybe you’d like to be re-written is as a mutant slug, living in the waste processing tanks? Oh yes, I can create waste processing tanks just for you!
“I’ll be good,” Simmons said in a small voice.
As Ensign Simmons was escorted to Sickbay to be treated for a nasty rash, (did I forget to mention that part?) T’Parief and Jall were still seated in Stafford’s ready room, the cramped compartment feeling more cramped than ever.
T’Parief’s dishes were still on the desk, bones stripped of flesh. He’d donned every article of uniform clothing approved for Klingon, Andorian and Gorn Starfleet officers, including a Worf-style bandolier, Andorian ceremonial daggers and Gorn chain-mail gloves.
Jall, in contrast, had his Madonna blasting at full volume (with the occasional number by the Betazoid Boys), had spiked his hair and quickly frosted his tips and was making it a point to call T’Parief ‘dah-ling’ at every opportunity. Yanick had entered the room some time ago with Jall’s couscous, looked at both of them for several moments, then turned and left, muttering about male egos all the way back to her station.
“Still nothing,” Jall said, disgusted, “And if you don’t put those dishes away, I’m going to court-martial you!”
T’Parief raised an eyebrow ridge.
“I’m sure I could simply appeal,” he said, “It seems anybody can be pardoned these days,”
Jall jerked as though he’d been slapped.
“You don’t know anything about that!” he snapped, his slightly good-natured desire to mess with T’Parief’s mind gone.
“You were convicted of a crime and demoted,” T’Parief said, a sneer on his lips, “You have since been pardoned and had your rank re-instated.” He looked down at his terminal and brought up the next language sample, “Obviously, somebody was…influenced,”
“Influenced?” Jall slapped his hands down on the desk, “You actually think I somehow cheated the system to get my rank back?” He stared at T’Parief, “That makes no sense!”
T’Parief said nothing. He knew he’d already gone way over the line. Even though they shared the same rank, Jall was now his superior officer, even if he felt that position was undeserved. As much as he despised Jall, he wasn’t going to sink to the level of breaking regs and protocols, and telling your boss you think he cheated the justice system was a pretty serious breach of protocol. And so he turned his attention back to his work, determined to avoid speaking to Jall until they had solved the mystery of Stafford’s bizarre symbols.
But Jall wasn’t about to let the matter slide just yet. He had no problem with T’Parief disliking him, hell, it gave him a target, a chance to keep his verbal wit sharpened. But he didn’t want that overgrown lizard questioning his honesty or his integrity! Of which he was pretty sure he still had some.
“You do know why I was demoted, don’t you?” Jall demanded, “You must, I mean, Yanick figured it out and there’s no way she’d keep her mouth shut about it!”
“Gossip about you does not interest me,” T’Parief declared.
“Uh-huh,” Jall said, “Listen, Mr. High-and-Mighty, here’s what happened;”
“I do not care about your underhanded dealings,”
“And it doesn’t occur to your that if the Starfleet JAG has cleared me, I might actually be innocent? You, who seems to think that the galaxy revolves around law and order?”
“Starfleet JAGs rarely makes mistakes,” T’Parief said, “And given that they either mistakenly demoted you or mistakenly cleared you, I know which I find more likely,”
“I was dating somebody,” Jall said, getting the slightly wistful look of somebody delving deep into memory, “We were getting pretty serious. I was posted on the Sutherland as first officer at the time, and our ship was attached to Starbase 164. I didn’t find out until later that his father was the Admiral in charge of the station.”
“I do not wish to hear about your twisted relationships!” he said.
“Neither did his father,” Jall said, his voice growing dark, “When he found out we were together, he demoted me, transferred me to Operation Salvage and locked my appeal up in beaurocratic knots for the next three years! When the damned thing was finally pulled up, they found out that he’d done the same thing to two other officers since then!”
“That is abuse of authority,” T’Parief said. His tone was still hard, but his distain was no longer directed solely at Jall.
“That’s what they found when they court-martialled him,” Jall said with satisfaction, “The other two officers had their ranks restored too,” Jall frowned, “We still have no idea how the appeal finally got through. He had that thing snarked up enough to stay in limbo for another ten years.” His tone hardened, “So don’t go thinking I’m a total f**k-up who doesn’t deserve this post! I’ve put a lot of work into my career, and after getting stalled out by this bull-shit for three years it’s time for a bit of respect!”
“Nothing you can say will make me respect you as a person,” T’Parief said slowly, “However, I can acknowledge that your demotion may have been improper. And you have shown some…abilities worthy of respect,”
“‘Bout time,” Jall said with a satisfied grin. His pleasant expression faded somewhat, “You still hate me though, right?”
“With a passion,” T’Parief inclined his head.
“And I think you’re an up-tight, arrogant jack-ass,” Jall replied.
“Things are as they should be,” T’Parief said.
They sneered at each other, then returned to their task.
“Stern,” Simmons called, trying to match the larger man’s strides, despite the lingering pain from his hastily treated rash. Stern was storming full-speed down the corrider. As he reached a cross-corrider he took a hard right, the rest of the team struggling to keep up.
“Stern!” Simmons tried again.
“Stern!” Marsden called, “At least tell us what’s on the frickin’ padd!”
Stern swung into the turbolift, tapping his comm-badge as the lift jerked into motion.
“All Hazardous Team members, report to Vonna’s studio!” he called.
The lift doors hissed open and Stern strode to the studio door. As the HT converged on the door, Stern tapped the override code into the panel and walked in. He stopped, looking around.
“Where the hell did she go?”
Jall’s head flopped down onto the desk.
“Three thousand, four hundred and three symbolic languages,” he groaned, “And nothing!”
“We will continue,” T’Parief said.
Jall contemplate a coffee stain on the desk.
“I think we just have to take him out,” Jall said.
“You want to kill the Captain?” T’Parief stiffened, his claws ready to extend.
“Only when he makes me work weekends,” Jall mumbled. He sat back up. “No, I don’t want to kill him, but we can stun him and then interrogate him,”
T’Parief considered for a moment.
“We will only shoot him if necessary,” he decided, “And we will disable to holo projectors first, to prevent Sylvia or Fifebee from interfering,”
“Sylvia’s gonna be pissed,” Jall said, looking up at the ceiling nervously. Jeffery assured him that Sylvia had agreed to have certain limitations imposed on her monitoring capabilities, for security reasons, but he had his doubts as to just how anybody could limit what Sylvia could do on the ship. “Why don’t you take care of that part?”
“Why should I incur her wrath?”
“Because I want her to show me how to make pumpkin cheesecake later,” Jall said.
“Let’s just go get phasers, OK?”
“Sylvia!” Stern called out, “Where’s Counselor Yvonnokoff?”
“She’s in Holodeck 1,” Sylvia replied automatically.
“Thanks,” Stern said, heading back out the door and signalling for the HT to follow.
“Will you just tell us what the f**king padd says already?” Simmons demanded.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” Rengs asked, “She’s doing a show about your perverted mind, right?”
“They could write a whole new Karma Sutra with his, er, creative habits,” Marsden agreed.
“There is no special show,” Stern snapped, walking back through the turbolift doors, “She f**king played us!”
“But Gibson said-“
“He’s not really a reliable source,” Rengs commented thoughtfully.
“Yes, now this occurs to you!” Stern said. The turbolift had delivered them to Deck 12, twenty feet from the holodeck doors. Stern quickly entered, the team flanking him.
They found themselves in a non-descript board-room. Yvonnokoff was standing near the head of the table, next to a man wearing a very professional business suite and a somewhat greasy smile. Gibson was sitting halfway down the table, giving Stern an apologetic expression. He cringed back as Stern fixed a cold glare in his direction.
“You see?” Yvonnokoff said, “Just as I said!”
“Vonna, baby, you’re fantastic,” the man said, “Like, bam! But, you know, AWN’s going to want to know what the big deal is. So you led these guys here, nice. But we know you’re an expert on human behaviour, or you wouldn’t have that sweet show of yours,”
“Who are you?” Stern asked.
“Oh, sorry Slick,” the man said, “I’m Pat. Pat Parazzi. AWN Vice-President of Programming. Love the whole teamwork thing you boys have going on, by the way.”
“What the hell is going on?” Stern demanded.
“Is concept for special Vonna Show series!” Yvonnokoff exclaimed, “Instead of vaiting for people to call in vith problems, I present zem vith a tempting problem and analyze their response,”
“She PLANTED this whole ‘special show’ thing in our heads? Simmons exclaimed, “That’s not cool!”
“I swear I didn’t know, guys!” Gibson said.
“Show business is one without honour,” Kreklor spat.
“But, like, check out this awesome footage we got!” Gibson said. He tapped a panel on the table and multiple vid-screens materialized in mid-air, each showing a different view of the HT as they carried out their mission to get Vonna’s padd.
“You were spying on us the whole time, too?” Marsden asked.
“I edited out that thing you did in the Deck 30 Jefferies tube,” Gibson assured him.
“What were you doing?” Simmons asked.
“Nothing!” Marsden was turning red.
“Loving the discourse here, folks, really loving it,” Parazzi said, clapping his hands together, “But, y’know I really don’t think this is the kind of thing AWN is in for right now. Don’t get me wrong,” he held his hands up, “I love it. I’ll have a little chat with the studio, and get back to ya,”
“How about a show about an elite security team?” Gibson suggested, “Call it ‘Starfleet Security Investigations’. Sound cool?”
“Great idea,” Parazzi said, “Not interested. But I bet one of the news teams would love to check out some of that footage you’ve got,”
“If that stuff gets out, I’ll personally post the video of ‘Vonna’s Explosive Fart’ on GalactiTube,” Stern warned.
“Zat vas not me!” Yvonnokoff said, visibly upset that her show idea had been given the old ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’.
“Done,” he said. He turned to Yvonnokoff,” Don’t forget honey, contract re-negotiations next month! It’s gonna be a blast!”
“I look forward to it,” she grimaced.
“AWN out,” Parazzi, or more accurately his holographic avatar, said. The hologram faded as the subspace connection was closed.
Yvonnokoff and Gibson stood on one side of the board room table, a very pissed-off Hazardous Team on the other.
“Can we talk about this, guys?” Gibson asked weakly.
“I am here to help!” Yvonnokoff added.
Stern cracked his knuckles.
“I feel so manly with this thing,” Jall said, running a hand over his shiny new phaser rifle.
“It is an illusion,” T’Parief assured him.
The two of them were striding down the corridors of Deck 30, down in the engineering section of the ship. Crewmen flattened themselves against the bulkheads as the two armed officers passed. Their destination was a small cargo bay towards the aft end of the ship, not far from the shuttlebay. Jall had tapped his way into the personnel locator system, tracking Stafford’s comm-badge down manually without involving Sylvia.
“He could be constructing a sabotage device,” T’Parief said, “Or transmitting Starfleet secrets! Who knows what horrible brain-washing he has been subjected to?!”
Jall gulped. T’Parief had becoming increasingly paranoid over the past half hour as they prepared to confront the captain, concocting what Jall hoped were worst-case scenarios, involving various alien races using Stafford as an unwitting tool to undermine the very security of the Federation itself! (Although he really thought T’Parief’s idea about conquest-hungry alien squirrels was just a bit too far-fetched.)
They quickly arrived at the cargo bay doors, skidding to a stop.
“Do you hear something?” Jall asked, cocking his head.
“No,” T’Parief grunted, “I am still deafened by your hideous ‘Madonna’ music,”
“But I’m sure I can hear…hey!” Jall cried.
“ATTACK!” T’Parief shouted, hitting the door control and rushing in at full speed. Sputtering, Jall raced after him.
They found Stafford seated in front of a huge, gleaming black device. His eyes were half-closed, and he appeared to be in a fugue state; swaying slowly back and forth. His hands were hidden from view, but T’Parief was quite sure that they were attached to the device itself. If they hadn’t been removed to allow easier access to the nerve pathways in Stafford’s arms!
The black device, Stafford’s mindless state and the bizarre, round symbols suddenly came together in T’Parief’s mind. And in Jall’s.
“BORG!” T’Parief screamed, shoving Jall out of the way even as Jall protested. T’Parief squeezed the trigger repeatedly, sending several shots into the black device.
His first shot blew the rear of the device apart. Stafford jerked up in surprise, falling backwards off his seat. The second shot blew a large hole in the side of the device. The third, forth and fifth quickly reduced it to scorched rubble.
“What the F**K??” Stafford screamed, still lying on the cargo bay floor, “What are you MORONS doing??”
T’Parief blinked, confused. Next to him, Jall was thumping his forehead repeatedly with the palm of his hand, muttering ‘stupid’ over and over again.
“We are saving you from an alien mind-control plot,” T’Parief said, sounding unsure of himself, “Possibly Borg in origin, based on the method,”
“Borg?” Stafford cried, an incredulous look on his face, “You just blew up my piano!”
“But…” T’Parief said, “The symbols…” His eyes wandered to several pieces of paper on the floor next to Stafford. They all had the same symbols: lines and circles on an elongated grid. One piece, however, was labelled in Standard English.
‘Moonlight Sonata’, it said.
“I’d forgotten what sheet music looked like,” Jall admitted to T’Parief.
Stafford’s reply was not recorded. But it was loud.
Captain’s Log, Stardate…
“I’m too pissed off to worry about the stardate! It took me months, MONTHS to get a real piano onto this ship, and now my security chief blew it to bits! How the hell do you mistake a piano for Borg technology? I mean, maybe if it had ‘KORG’ writing on it, T’Parief’s not that great with written Standard sometimes, but it was a freaking Yamaha!”
“I’m just so…so…PISSED!”
“I don’t think he’s very happy with us right now,” Jall said, glancing towards to the closed ready room doors. He was seated in his command chair, looking like he was ready to bolt at any second.
“He’ll get over it,” Yanick called from the helm, “He always does. We’ll just get Jeffery to build one. I’m sure you can, like, replicate a ‘Do It Yourself’ piano kit, or something,”
“He said this one was special,” Jall said, making little air quotes, “Because he had it shipped all the way from Earth,”
“Perhaps he will send you off ship to retrieve a new one,” T’Parief said, a hint of hope in his voice.
“Hey,” Jall snapped, spinning in his chair, “You were the one that blew it up!”
“You were the one in command-“
Yanick turned back to her magazine padd, tuning out the rapidly rising argument.
Some things just never changed.
Down in squad room, the Hazardous team had just finished cleaning up from their frantic scramble around the ship. Towels and discarded uniforms were scattered around, each team member wearing a freshly replicated uniform.
“I can’t believe we let her dupe us like that,” Simmons said for the fifth time.
“She’s a counsellor,” Stern said, glaring, “It’s her job to mess with people’s heads,”
“Yeah, but she’s supposed to help us, not mind-f**k us!”
“Don’t worry,” Stern said, “Marsden and I cooked up a little surprise for her on our way out of the holodeck,”
“I do not like look of zis,” Yvonnokoff said to Gibson, the two of them trying to keep the table between themselves and the group of people who had appeared after the Hazardous Team had left.
“Don’t worry about it, girlfriend,” Oprah Winfry said, examining a sharpened nail as she moved menacingly towards the duo, “Things have a way of working out,”
“It’s a good thing,” Martha Steward added, brandishing a rolling pin like a baseball bat.
“I’m listening,” Frasier Crane said, “For screams of pain!”
“Any final thoughts?” asked Jerry Springer.
“Just one,” Gibsone gulped, retreating from the mob of holographic talk-show hosts, “RUN!”