Author: Anthony Butler
First Officer’s Personal Log,
Stardate 51240.3. It’s very difficult celebrating a birthday when you’re far away from home. I hate birthdays to begin with, but this year it’s especially depressing. This day is serving to remind me just how bad my life has gotten. On the upside, since I am in charge of personnel on the Aerostar, many crewmen in the lower ranks have decided that today is the day to make a good impression. Whoopee.
“Happy Birthday, Commander! I made you your favorite. Dark Roast Coffee Cake!” Ensign Kessler said, blinking expecantly up from the desk in his cramped office.
“Very good, move right along.” Conway said unenthusiastically.
Kessler seemed disappointed. “Well, will I get that promotion to engineering?”
“Jerk,” she said, stomping out of the room.
“Next,” Conway said, sucking down his mug of coffee.
Ensign Ryan Stuart stormed in with a straw hat and tap shoes on and began tapping wildly.
“It’s your birthday, Commander Conway,
It’s your birthday, Commander Conway,
Happy Birthday to you!”
“Next!” Conway screamed, pushing Stuart out the door.
Conway decided to just forget about the whole birthday thing and go down to Mirk’s for a quick drink before he had to meet with Counselor Peterman about the promotions.
Commander Conway entered the Starlight Lounge, and, as was his habit of late, became thoroughly disgusted with the change in decor. It was so nice and uniform, so bland, before. Now with all the tassels and bells and whistles, it just looked like an earth bar.
“What’ll ya have?” Mirk asked cheerfully, passing out drinks to a group of crewmen clustered around the bar.
“What do you think?” Conway said.
“Of course, Jamaican coffee, quadruple sweet. How could I have forgotten. Why don’t you try something different for a change?”
“Well, the Delta Quadrant has quite a selection of coffee-like treats. I have the perfect thing.” Mirk turned around and punched several buttons on the replicator. He produced a steaming gold metal mug. “Enjoy.”
Conway picked up the mug and stared down into the liquid. “What the heck is this?”
“Flarn war brew. It makes coffee seem like…well, not as good.”
“Thanks,” Conway said, walking over to a nearby table. He took a sip of the steaming brew. “Tastes like soapy water.”
Suddenly the chemicals in the drink began to take effect. Conway pulled at his collar, gasping for breath.
“Arrrrrggh!” Conway shouted. “What is in this stuff!” Conway stumbled out of his chair, still pulling at his collar, suddenly feeling very hot.
Mirk seemed surprised. “Are you okay, Commander?”
Conway leaned up against the bar. “Do I look okay?”
“Come to think of it, no. But it never had any adverse affects on the Flarn.”
“Do I look like a six meter tall insectoid creature?”
Commander Conway had taken on a rather festive shade of green as he hobbled out of the lounge.
Just then, Lieutenant Hartley was entering the lounge. She was assigned back to back shifts in the transporter room and hence was extremely tired. She only had a thirty minute break before having to return to duty. All she wanted to do was grab a hot cup of cocoa and go to bed.
“Hello, Commander,” said Hartley dispassionately.
“Buaaaaaaahhhhhh,” Conway puked passionately, coating Lt. Hartley in a huge layer of multicolored ectoplasmic vomit.
Hartley shrieked. “Aaaaaah, get this stuff off me!!”
“Uuuuh…” Conway said, wiping his mouth. “That is some powerful stuff. Thanks Mirk.” With that, the first officer stumbled out of the lounge, leaving a disgusted looking Lt. Hartley behind.
“This is so gross,” Hartley said.
“Here, let me get it!” Mirk said, running over with a towel.
Lieutenant Hartley was sure of one thing. She was going to have her revenge on Commander Conway for puking on her, one way or another.
“Captain!” Ensign Fresca called out from ops. “You’d better take a look at this!”
Baxter shifted uncomfortably in his command chair. “I hate it when people say that. What’s the problem?”
Fresca rolled her eyes. “We’re receiving a distress call or something.”
Baxter turned around and looked up at the tactical station. “Do you know anything about this, Mr. Gellar?”
Lt. Gellar tapped a few buttons. “Well whaddaya know. Yes, sir.”
“Great, then put it on audio.”
Gellar pressed another button and activated the bridge’s speakers.
“This is the Sulani trading vessel Yabaz to anyone that can hear me. We are trapped in some kind of temporal distortion. Please help! Our hull is buckling and we’ve lost all control of the frozen yogurt dispenser!”
“Damn,” Baxter said coldly. “Sounds like they are in real trouble. We have to help them. What do you think, Fresca?”
“You are the Captain, sir.”
“Damn right I am. Set a course for the source of that distress call and engage at Warp Eight. Then call the senior staff to the bridge.”
“If you say so, sir,” Fresca said, sighing as she punched in the commands.
“Could you tell us what this is all about, Captain?” Commander Conway asked, stepping off the turbolift and onto the bridge, followed by Counselor Peterman, Lieutenant Commander Richards, Doctor Browning, and Mirk. Larkin, Ford, and J’hana had already taken their customary places.
“We are intercepting a distress call from a Sulani science vessel. They’re trapped in some sort of temporal disturbance,” Baxter began.
“The Sulani…” Mirk said, taking a place beside Lt. J’hana at tactical.
“Yes, what do you know about them, Mr. Mirk?” Baxter asked.
“Well, the Sulani generally keep to themselves, and that has been their saving grace. Because of that, the Flarn have left them alone, and they’ve been able keep their corner of the quadrant relatively quiet.”
“Then what are they doing so close to Flarn-governed space?” Conway asked.
“Good question. My guess would be that the Sulani are tired of keeping in their own yard. More than likely they are ready to expand.”
“That doesn’t sound very smart,” Conway said, walking over to the replicator for a cup of coffee. He still felt queasy after drinking that Flarn brew, and began to feel as though any culture that drank that kind of substance for pleasure was not to be screwed with.
“What about this disturbance?” Richards asked from the engineering station on the far left side of the bridge.
“We haven’t found out much,” Baxter said, “only that it seems to be crushing their ship.”
“Figures. Why are there no nice temporal anomalies out there?” Peterman asked.
Baxter turned in his seat to look at her. “That was very profound. Maybe you should do a thesis on it.”
“You think I should?”
Baxter ignored her.
“Hey,” Doctor Browning said, taking a stance behind the science station and staring at its terminal. “This distress call mentions a frozen yogurt maker. I think the first thing we need to do is make a scan and ascertain whether it makes chocolate, vanilla, or chocolate-vanilla swirl.”
Everyone on the bridge stared at Browning a moment, sighed briefly, and returned to their respective stations.
“The temporal disturbance is in visual range,” Lt. Larkin announced from ops.
“On screen.” Baxter commanded.
The bridge was lit up with the red light of the glowing, throbbing, snakelike phenomenon.
“My god…” Baxter said. “The Nexus Ribbon. What’s it doing all the way out here?”
“Maybe it’s on vacation,” Lt. Commander Richards mused.
“We are receiving a hail from the ship caught within the disturbance, Captain.” J’hana called out
“Thank the Directors you are here, whoever you are…” the Sulani captain said.
“No problem. We are going to do everything we can to help you,” Baxter said. “Close channel. Suggestions, everybody?”
“Well, we definitely no what not to do,” Richards said, recalling the Federation’s first contact with the entity known as the Nexus Ribbon. The Enterprise-B was almost destroyed by its energies.
“I can’t believe it,” Commander Conway said, for the most part to himself.
“Well believe it,” Baxter said. “I think the best course of action is to get in close and get a tractor beam on that ship. Luckily, we have one, unlike the Enterprise-B.”
“On it,” Richards said, typing in the necessary commands on his terminal.
“We’d better hurry–the Sulani vessel is at thirty percent hull integrity,” Doctor Browning noted from the science station.
“Okay, Lt. J’hana,” Baxter began, “start beaming people off that ship just in case the tractor beam doesn’t work.”
“Commander Conway, I want you to…” Baxter said, turning around. The first officer was gone. “Commander Conway?”
Commander Conway raced down the corridor towards transporter room one. This was no doubt the most miserable birthday he had ever had, and he was totally unsatisfied with his life. He decided that fate had brought him to the Nexus Ribbon to give him a chance to make things right, and he wasn’t about to screw that up. He envisioned the endless mounds of coffee beans he’s soon be rolling in as he burst into the transporter room.
“What the hell do you want?” Lt. Hartley asked.
“I have to use the transporter. Move over,” Conway barked.
“Says me!” Conway said, grabbing a phaser from the supply closet.
“First you puke on me, now this. You don’t even have the balls to shoot me, you weenie,” Hartley said defiantly, folding her arms.
“Wanna bet?” Conway asked, pressing the trigger and sending Hartley flying across the room and into a wall. “Man I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“Where the hell did Commander Conway go?” Baxter asked, rubbing his chin.
“Captain,” J’hana said, “We are in transporter range now.”
“Signal all transporter rooms to begin transport.”
“Sir!” Larkin called out, “someone has fired a phaser in transporter room one.”
“What the…” J’hana asked, looking at her panel. “Captain, someone has transported off Aerostar.”
“Computer…locate Commander Conway,” Baxter said with exasperation.
“Commander Conway is not aboard the Aerostar.”
Captain Baxter looked up at Lt. J’hana, gesturing toward the turbolift. “Lieutenant, go down there and see what the hell has happened.”
“On my way,” J’hana said, heading for the lift.
“Chris, where’s that tractor beam?”
“Almost ready sir,” Richards said, tapping in the last few buttons. “But I must remind you that we are low on power as it is…”
“Ensign Ford…bring us within tractor range,” Baxter asked of the man at the helm.
The Aerostar moved slowly towards the Nexus ribbon, closing to tractor beam range.
“We’re in range now, Captain!” Ford called out.
“Richards, engage tractor beam!”
“Tractor beam engaged!”
The hull of Aerostar could be heard sighing with the weight of the other ship as its tractor beam locked on.
“Maximum reverse!” Baxter said as the ship began to shake.
Energy lashed out from the billowing energy ribbon, cutting into the Aerostar and the Sulani science ship.
One of the energy bolts connected with the bridge, sending sparks flying everywhere.
Commander Richards ran over to the tactical station. “Sir, the sensors report that we have nearly escaped the Ribbon’s pull, but in the process, we fractured our hull on four different decks.”
“J’hana to Bridge. I’m down in the transporter room. Lieutenant Hartley is unconscious, and it appears that Commander Conway has transported off the ship.”
“He’s in the Nexus!” Doctor Browning said, awestruk.
“So it would seem,” J’hana’s voice agreed. “What should I do, Captain?”
“Wait for me there. I’ll be right down,” Baxter said.
“What are you going to do?” Peterman asked.
“WE are going to get Commander Conway out of the Nexus,” Baxter responded.
“We????” Peterman returned.
“Yeah, you and Doctor Browning are with me. Mr. Richards, you have the bridge.”
“Aye, sir,” Richards said, folding his hands behind his back and walking toward the front of the bridge.
The world around Commander Conway was spinning.
“Where am I? What’s happening?” he asked. The last thing he could remember was being in the transporter room aboard the Aerostar, then suddenly he found himself spinning around nauseatingly.
The spinning continued, all he could make out was spinning, noise, and lights…multicolored lights.
Finally the spinning stopped, and Conway was able to make out what was going on.
“Stop doing that, Dave, you’re annoying the customers,” a voice said.
As Conway’s vision cleared, he could make out rows and rows of cellophane-wrapped boxes of all sizes. There were glittering lights and signs, including one above him that simply said, “Electronics.”
“What’s going on here?” Conway asked, turning toward the voice.
“Very funny, Dave, now help that old woman get that TV in her cart.”
Once Conway’s balance seemed to return to normal he scanned the surroundings very carefully. “Where the hell am I?”
The woman just shrugged and walked off. Deciding that she would be no help, Conway looked at his own attire to try and figure out where he was. He was wearing a blue vest, some khaki-colored pants made of some kind of itchy material, and–wait a minute–his vest had a name tag on it, as well as several colorful buttons. The tag said “David.”
“Wow, big help that is,” Conway muttered.
Then Conway looked at the name above his name. “Wal-Mart,” he repeated. Things suddenly clicked. “I must be at the pinnacle of 20th century commerce.”
“Stop Brown-nosing. There aren’t any managers around,” the woman that had addressed him earlier called out from behind a display of stereos.
“This sure as hell beats…” Conway trailed off. “Whatever I used to do. It doesn’t matter, I’m working at Wal-Mart, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my eternity.”
“What a loser,” a teenage girl muttered from the audio aisle.
Suddenly there was a smash. A TV set had fallen on the old woman who had required Conway’s help earlier. She groaned softly as the huge TV set squeezed the life out of her.
“I love my job!” Conway said happily.
The last words Captain Baxter had heard before entering the nexus was Counselor Peterman muttering “what have you done, you dumb jerk?”
She was obviously not too excited at the idea of risking her life to save Commander Conway, someone who she hadn’t known for very long and who certainly hadn’t been very nice to her. Baxter had to admit that he had similar feelings, but he knew that every crewmember of the Aerostar was vital to their survival. Okay, well, that wasn’t exactly true, there was actually a large number of crewmembers that they could stand to get rid of.
Baxter had no more time to consider his decision, for suddenly, there he was, aboard the bridge. But it wasn’t his bridge.
“…they’re trying to lock on to us again!” A voice said.
Baxter looked at the viewscreen at the front of the strangely familiar bridge. There was a Borg vessel bearing down on them.
“What the hell?”
“What do we do Captain?” the voice asked from behind him.
Baxter turned around and suddenly found himself overcome with a feeling of nausea. “Travis Dillon.”
“Yes, sir?” Dillon asked, seeming extremely scared.
Baxter shook his head a moment. Of course, he was Captain of the starship Secondprize. He had been for a couple years. That was nothing new. He must have just had too much to drink the night before.
“Fire phasers, keep modulating the frequencies. Mister Jaroch, I want you to…”
Suddenly the turbolift doors opened, admitting an officer Baxter found vaguely familiar, but one who the rest of the bridge crew seemed unfamiliar with.
“Can we help you?” Commander Dillon asked angrily.
“I’m Lieutenant Alexander Rydell. I’m the Secondprize’s inventory officer.”
“Wait just one darn minute…” Baxter muttered, staring at his surroundings.
“Confused?” a voice said from just to the left of him.
Baxter turned around. “Damn right I’m confused.”
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the bald man said. “I am Captain Jean-luc Picard, or to be more accurate, an echo of him. And you are now in what the El-Aurians call the Nexus.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Baxter said. “Now I remember.”
“Federation starship, this is Bozo of Borg. We are left with no recourse but to destroy you. Have a nice day,” a monotone voice said over the bridge comm system.
“The Borg have engaged their cutting beam!” Lieutenant Commander Jaroch, the science officer, said.
“I want my mommy,” Dillon said, dropping to a fetal position.
“Great,” Baxter said, pushing the comm button on his command chair. “All hands, this is the Captain. ABANDON SHIP! I REPEAT: ABANDON SH–”
It was too late. The Secondprize exploded in a bright dance of fire and light.
“Well, Captain, as Picard’s people say, ‘c’est la vie’.” Another voice said. This time it was a slightly older, slightly portlier man in an antiquated Starfleet uniform.
“James T. Kirk,” Baxter said in disbelief. “What is this? A Captain’s convention?”
“Not exactly,” Kirk said, chuckling. “Breakfast?”
Baxter looked up. Now him, Picard, and Kirk were sitting in a living room in a log cabin somewhere in the mountains on earth.
“Sorry about all that, but it was your fantasy,” Picard scolded, sounding somewhat like an old schoolmaster.
“Yeah,” Baxter said, still a little taken aback by everything.
“So, what do you say? Want some breakfast? I have Ktarrian eggs!” Kirk said, heading back toward the kitchen.
“No, thank you,” Baxter said.
“I’ll have some,” Picard said, crossing his legs and flipping through a magazine.
“Oh, make yourself at home, Johnny,” Kirk needled.
“Thank you, I will,” Picard said broguishly.
“I don’t know what to do with him. He’s been hanging around this house for the last…well, how long has it been, Johnny?”
“You’re getting old, Jim,” Picard laughed.
“This is too weird,” Baxter said, slumped in Kirk’s unbelievably comfortable easy chair.
“Butler!” Kirk called out.
A huge dog suddenly romped into the room, slobbering all over the place.
“Butler, I presume,” Baxter said, as the mammoth dog bathed him in slobber. “What, you coudln’t have named him Baxter?”
“Indeed,” Picard said, patting Butler on the head. “Ugly mutt, isn’t it?”
“He’s so ugly he’s cute,” Baxter conceeded, stroking Butler’s ears and scratching behind them.
“Would you two like something to drink?” Kirk asked, shuffling from one end of the kitchen to the other preparing breakfast.
“Tea, Earl Gray, hot,” Picard said.
“All I have is Orange Pekoe.”
“BLASPHEMY!” Picard raged.
“Sounds good to me,” Baxter muttered. “No cream, no sugar.”
“Why can’t you be as easy to please, Jean-luc?”
“Oh, shut up and cook, you old twit,” Picard said, throwing down the magazine in disgust.
“Try to behave, Jean-luc. We have guests coming soon, you know.”
“Who’s that?” Baxter asked with interest.
Kirk laughed like a drunken maniac. “You’ll see. Won’t he, Johnny?”
“Stop calling me that, you fat American moron,” Picard griped.
“It’s like Thanksgiving at my house,” Baxter complained. He thought the point of the Nexus was that it transported you to a place where your fondest dreams are realized. Instead, it seemed like he was stuck in a bad “Odd Couple” rerun.
The first thing Doctor Browning noticed as she regained consciousness was that she was hungry. That was normal. What wasn’t normal was the fact that she was surrounded by a sea of flowing chocolate, on a marshmallow island with candy cane trees.
“Yummy!” She said, looking all around her. Browning dived into the chocolate surf, sucking down the chocolate as fast as she could.
Counselor Peterman turned around and grabbed at the nearest neck she could reach, hoping it was Captain Baxter’s. She was strangling something, but she couldn’t tell quite what it was, but it did feel good. Suddenly, she realized that what she was strangling was too fluffy to be Captain Baxter. Doctor Browning? No, it wasn’t her, either.
Suddenly the thing she was strangling made a loud squeaking noise, and began to speak in a muffled voice that sounded like a recording.
“I want to be your friend.”
“Yay!!” Peterman said, opening her eyes and realizing that she was in a room filled with toys, squeaky, fluffy, furry, happy, funny toys.
Peterman jumped on the daybed in the corner of the room and rolled around in a pile of stuffed animals, truly feeling as if she was in heaven.
The room was nauseatingly cute, everything done in fluffy pink and purple. It had a daybed, and a little table for putting on makeup and doing hair, and a huge closet full of beautiful, flowery sundresses. And, then, of course, there were stuffed animals as far as the eye could see.
“Kelly! It’s dinner time!” A woman’s voice called from outside the door.
“Ooooo!” Peterman shrieked, running out of the door and down the stairs.
The house was just like Peterman had seen on those old clips of mid twentieth century TV shows, it looked like it belonged on “Donna Reed” or “Leave it to Beaver.”
“Come on, Kelly, it’s your favorite–MEATLOAF!” the woman, who Peterman concluded was supposed to be her mother, said.
“Goody goody goody!” Peterman squealed, sitting down and looking at all the cute little table decorations.
“Where’s daddy?” Peterman asked, wolfing down the meatloaf.
“He’ll be back from work soon. He’s bringing you a present.”
“Yippee!” Peterman squealed again.
“Did you have a good day at school, Kelly?”
“Yeah, it was okay. Third grade is so hard,” Peterman said, impishly sticking out her lower lip. Wait a minute–she was twenty-eight years old. She wasn’t in third grade. Was she?
“Everything will be fine, precious, just eat your meatloaf. Daddy will be home soon.”
Suddenly the doorbell rung, to the nauseating tune of “Baby elephant walk.”
“Oh, that must be your present now.”
“I’ll get it!” Peterman cried, running for the door.
“Chew your food, young lady!” her mom called out after her.
Peterman opened the door. Outside on the porch stood a dark skinned, older-looking woman in a dark blue outfit, with long, flowing, black dreadlocked hair. She was holding a rope that was attached to something outside Peterman’s field of vision. “Well, hello Kelly. How are you?”
“You’re not a door to door salesman, are you?” Peterman asked.
“No, not exactly. You don’t know me, but your father sent me to give you this present. My name is Guinan.”
Peterman followed the rope Guinan was holding, jumping up and down when she realized what it was attached to.
“Yay! A horsey!” she shrieked, running out the door and jumping on top of it. “I love horseys!”
“I know you do. Now I think you have somewhere to go, Miss Kelly,” Guinan said, smiling.
“You’re right. I do. I have to get out of here.”
“Not until you finish your dinner, young lady!” the voice called from inside.
“I’ll take care of mom. Just go,” Guinan said.
Peterman simply responded by kicking the horse’s side gently and galloping away.
“Yee hah!” she said, goading the horse onward.
“The Sulani vessel is safely out of range of the ribbon, Commander,” Lt. Larkin noted, as the Aerostar streaked alongside the rumbling Nexus Ribbon.
“Excellent,” Richards said. “Lt. J’hana, release the tractor beam and tell them to hold position and wait for us.”
J’hana did as she was told. “They have acknowledged. They also thank us for all our help.”
“Tell them it was nothing,” Richards said sarcastically. “Helm, I want you to keep us within transporter range of the Nexus, no matter the risk. I want to make sure we’re there to rescue the Captain and the others in case they appear outside the ribbon.”
“If they are in the Nexus and can have anything they want,” J’hana asked, “why don’t they just wish to get out of there?”
Richards thought long and hard. She had a good point.
The Kirk household had been quiet for several minutes. Kirk’s dog had fallen asleep on the floor in front of the fireplace, Kirk was occupied by the meal he was preparing, and Picard was absorbed in a crossword puzzle. That afforded Captain Baxter some time to consider his plight. Where was he? Why was he there? And what was he supposed to do? It had all become so unclear.
“What’s a seven letter word for ‘repulsive’?” Picard asked, finally breaking the silence.
“Romulan,” Kirk joked.
“Ha ha, quite amusing, Jim!” Picard said, chuckling and scratching the letters in with a pencil.
“I’m scrambling the eggs, is that okay, guys?” Kirk asked.
“Make it so!” Picard said, chuckling again.
“Jim!! I need you!” a voice called from the bedroom.
“Oh, Antonia. Whoops. I totally forgot.”
“Not that old bag again, Jim. Are you out of your mind? She’s completely wrong for you,” Picard looked back at Kirk from the couch.
“Stick to being a Captain, Jean-luc, you’d make a lousy marriage counselor.”
“That joke gets less and less funny the more you say it, Jim.”
“Well, it’s a hell of a lot funnier than that damn dom-jat story you insist on telling over and over again.”
“That is a wonderful story. There they were, Nausicaans, all around me, when suddenly, I felt something stab me in the back. I was in shock, of course, but I can remember…laughing!”
Kirk made a disgusted face. “Oh, brother.”
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
“That must be our guests!” Kirk said, running for the door.
Baxter leaned forward to see who it was. As Kirk opened the door, Baxter felt that dizzying nausea of confusion return.
“Tolian, Guinan, how nice of you to join us!” Kirk exclaimed.
“Delightful!” Doctor Tolain Soran said, smiling.
“A pleasure!” Guinan continued. “And nice to see you, too,” Guinan said, her eyes fixing on Baxter.
FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER….
“So then I said, ‘You don’t know the first thing about how to play dom- jat.’ I also included some slight about his mother, I can’t remember exactly how that went,” Picard continued.
“When will it end?” Kirk said, his voice muffled by the napkin he had pressed over his mouth.
“Why? Why? Why?” Soran cried, his fingernails digging into the table the group sat around.
“Even El-Aurians have to get tired of listening sometimes. Right, Tolian?” Guinan said, looking a little peaked.
Meanwhile, Captain Baxter simply played with his food. What kind of fantasy was this? An insane one, that’s what kind, a voice in his head prodded.
“Excuse me,” Baxter said, suddenly getting up. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Up the stairs and to the right,” Kirk said, still covering his face with his napkin.
Baxter climbed the stairs and reached the top, still completely disoriented.
“Is that you, Jimmy?” a voice asked.
“SHUT UP, ANTONIA!” Baxter called out.
Baxter opened the door to the bathroom and walked in.
“Man,” he said, grabbing his nose. “Who didn’t flush?” It was then that he realized that he was in a horse barn.
“What is wrong with this FREAKING HOUSE???????” Baxter cried, realizing that the Nexus was much more like hell than heaven as far as he was concerned.
In the matter of an hour, Doctor Browning had engulfed the chocolate ocean, the marshmallow island, the candy cane trees, and some other things she wasn’t sure were edible, but that she ate anyway.
“Now what?” she asked. All around her was nothing but grass and mountains. Funny, she didn’t see those before. Nor did she see that log cabin. But she did recognize the smell of …what’s that? Scrambled eggs!
Browning took off running toward the familiar smell.
Captain Baxter sat himself down in a corner of the horse stable, trying to ignore the terrible smell of horse poop. What was he supposed to do? He knew he was there for a reason.
“Ho boy, slow down!” Counselor Peterman said, pulling her horse into the stable. “Good boy, stay!”
Baxter looked up. “Kelly?”
“Andy? I mean, Captain Baxter!” Peterman exclaimed.
The two hugged for a few minutes. Baxter once again became aware of beautiful the Counselor was.
“This is sooo weird!” Peterman said.
“Tell me about it. I thought I was going insane!”
Peterman stepped back a moment and seemed to be in deep thought. “Well, what the heck do we do now?”
“About what?” Baxter said, in a happy daze. He was so happy to see Counselor Peterman he couldn’t think of anything else.
“About Commander Conway!”
“Oh, yeah. We are here to find him, aren’t we?”
“Yes, what did you think I was talking about?”
“Hello?” said Doctor Browning, peering inside the front door of the log cabin.
“Come in, come in. Have something to eat!” said Captain Kirk, motioning for the doctor to come in.
“Thanks. I have to admit, I’m starving!” Doctor Browning said, pulling up a chair at the dinner table. “MMMmmmmm….eggs, my favorite.”
“Help yourself, my dear,” Kirk said, smiling.
“Aahh, a blue uniform. Let me guesss…a doctor!” Captain Picard said with a sparkle in his eye. “Well, Tolian here is a Doctor as well.”
“Right,” Browning said, her mouth full. “Do you guys have any spices here? These eggs are a little bland.”
“I put plenty of dill,” Kirk said, appearing hurt.
“What it needs is thyme,” Browning said.
“My dear,” Soran began, “thyme is a predator. It’s stalking you right now. It is the fire in which we–” Soran stopped. There was something buzzing around him and it was driving him crazy. Finally, Soran clapped both his hands together around the fly, smooshing it and letting it fall to the table. “There. Stupid fly.”
“Doctor!” Picard exclaimed. “That’s disgusting.”
“There was a time I’d never hurt a fly…”
“Hey, mister, where’s the bathroom in this place?” Browning asked of Captain Kirk, who seemed to enjoy watching Picard and Soran bicker.
“It’s up the stairs and to the right, darling.”
“Thanks,” Browning said, standing up and putting her napkin down. “Breakfast was great.”
“I still think the eggs were a little dry,” Guinan said idly.
“Complain, complain, complain!” Kirk exclaimed. “If you think you can do better, be my guest!”
“That’s okay. Anyone else feel like some lemonade? I sure am thirsty!” Guinan said mirthfully.
“Love some,” Kirk said, still annoyed at Guinan.
“Wonderful!” Guinan said, snickering to herself. “I make the best lemonade this side of the Nexus!”
“What’s so great about it?” Kirk asked.
“Oh, I add a little something special,” Guinan said with an enigmatic wink.
“It’s a nice day out, isn’t it?” Peterman said, trying to muster up some sort of conversation.
Baxter floundered. They were alone in this horse stall, in the middle of the Nexus Ribbon, and all he wanted to do was make a little proverbial hay. Was that so wrong? Probably. Not for the first time, Baxter was glad his ship didn’t have an HR department on board to report to.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
“Come in!” Baxter and Peterman said in unison.
“Whew! Who forgot to flush? Oh, there you guys are,” Dr. Browning said, slipping in through the bathroom door.
“Doctor Browning!” Baxter said. “Great, we’re all together now. All we have to do is go get Commander Conway and we can get the hell out of this creepy place.”
“And how do we do that?” Peterman asked.
“I’ve been thinking. It’s actually pretty simple. All we have to do is wish we were with Commander Conway right now,” Baxter replied.
“Why would we do that?” Peterman asked.
“Come on, Kelly, we have to rescue him. It’s the only way.”
“But what if you don’t particularly want to be around him?” Browning questioned.
“Come on,” Baxter said, mounting a horse. “Let’s go. That’s an order.”
Peterman sighed. “Oh, well. I am getting kind of tired of hanging around this smelly barn.”
“I second that!” Browning said, heaving herself up onto another horse.
“Okay, then, let’s ride!” Baxter said, slapping the horse on the butt with the cowboy hat that seemed to conveniently appear in his hand. “Ay yi yiiiiii!” Baxter cried, riding off into the sunset.
“Come on, Janice, let’s get this overwith. Hi ho, Silver, awaaaaay!” Peterman said, following, with Doctor Browning close behind her.
Commander Conway had stacked heavy boxes for what seemed like an eternity. Now his job was to take empty boxes and crush them down. He wiped his hands together and got to work, smashing each box with his head.
“Hukkkkk…what are you doing?” a very familiar voice asked.
“What the hell?” Conway jumped. “Ensign Clemson? What are you doing here?”
“I’m not an ensign. I work here…ffft.”
“Of all the…” Conway said, continuing to smash boxes.
The woman Conway had talked to earlier, whose name he discovered was Carla, was sitting lazily on one of the counters, chatting on the phone. “Less talk, more box smashing!”
Conway grumbled and continued to work.
Suddenly, three people on horses galloped down the aisle, yipping and yelling in triumph, coming seemingly from out of nowhere.
They stopped outside the Electronics department.
Carla simply fell back behind the counter, keeping hold of the phone for dear life.
“Ffft,” Clemson said, staring at the three strange riders–who seemed quite reminiscent of the three riders of the apocalypse.
“Dave!” Captain Baxter shouted, dismounting. “I thought we’d never find you!”
Conway continued to smash boxes. “Who are you?”
“I’m your Captain, you idiot!”
“That seems…almost familiar…” Conway said. He continued to smash boxes.
“There has to be something we can do to make him believe us!” Peterman sighed.
“Look, it’s me, Captain Baxter, the overbearing jerk you’ve come to despise and disagree with at every turn. And look there–it’s Counselor Peterman, the thought of her dog makes you cringe. And Doctor Browning, she eats all the time! Don’t you remember us?”
“Whatever,” Conway said, putting the boxes under the counter.
“Come on, Dave! Think of all those great times we had on the Aerostar.”
“What great times?” Peterman asked.
“You’ve got me,” Dr. Browning said, shrugging.
“Shut up and let me handle this, will you?” Baxter said angrily. “Listen carefully David: We all serve together on a starship in space called the Aerostar. We’re a little lost on the other side of the galaxy. Presently, we are caught inside a peculiar spacial phenomenon known as the Nexus. Being in the Nexus is in effect like having any wish granted–like being inside joy. But it’s not real, it is all just an illusion. Trust me!”
“Sure, right, whatever you say Mr. Space Cadet,” Conway responded.
“Okay, if this is just normal old Wal-Mart, or whatever, explain this!” Baxter shouted. Suddenly two beautiful girls appeared, one on either side of him, looking lovingly into his eyes. “Why would two beautiful women hang around with a guy like me?”
“He has a point, Dave,” Peterman added helpfully.
“You could have paid them. It would have to be a lot of money, but it could have been done.”
Just then, Clemson walked up. “Fffffft. What’s going on, guys?”
Baxter seemed confused a moment. “Clemson?”
“That’s my name…hukkkkk…don’t wear it out.”
“Weird. Okay, Dave, if this is the real world, explain this!”
Baxter pointed at Clemson and made a shooting gesture with his thumb and forefinger, causing him to instantly disappear in a flash of light.
Conway seemed unimpressed. “Are you guys going to buy something or am I going to have to call security?”
“Fine, Conway, we’re leaving without you,” Baxter finally said.
“You do that,” Conway said, turning to see a woman bring her dog into the department. “Excuse me, madam, you can’t bring that dog in here.” Suddenly, something seemed to click inside Conway’s mind. “That dog…”
The dog was a golden retriever. And much like Charlie on the Aerostar, this dog had fire in its eyes.
The dog ran and jumped the counter, knocking Conway to the ground and gnawing into him.
“Get off me!” he screamed.
“Now do you remember?” Baxter asked, bending over Conway as the dog snarled and attacked.
“Yes, yes, I do. Aerostar…Charlie…you…Peterman…Browning… I remember everything!”
“We’re outta here!” Baxter said. Suddenly, a great hole in reality opened up, through which he Peterman and Browning dragged Conway, along with the dog.
The woman who had brought the dog in shrieked in terror. “Snaxie!!!! What happened to my dog????”
Moments later, the dog suddenly reappeared, looking none the worse for wear.
Meanwhile, Carla peered over the counter. “Is everything under control?” Clemson and Conway were gone. Where the heck did they go? And where were the horses and the three weird riders?
What was going on?
“Excuse me miss…” someone said from the other side of the counter.
Carla stood up and tried to straighten herself out. “Yes, how may I help you?”
The man was thin and older looking, and he had a large scar down one side of his face. “Yes, madam, I was wondering where the movie section was.”
“Back there,” she said, transfixed in his eyes.
“Thank you,” the man said, moving toward the back of the department.
Suddenly two other people walked up, one bald and one older-looking and a little chubby. Carla immediately recognized all three people, but dismissed the idea that they could really be who she thought they were.
The chubby one was holding up an action figure. “Can you believe this? It looks just like me!”
“Right, Jim. You wished you looked that good. If they really wanted to be accurate, they would have made the action figure with a little pot belly.”
“Funny. Well, they could have made yours with some hair.”
“Hey, I’m comfortable with my baldness. Unlike some other people…ahem?” Picard cleared his throat, nuding Kirk in the side.
“Screw you, Jean-luc. This is my real hair and you know it,” the chubby one said, pulling at his hair with all his might.
“Testy, testy. Now where did Tolian go to?”
“B-back there,” Carla said, still in shock.
“Miss!” the man with the scar said, walking back up to Carla’s counter. “I can’t find the tape I want.”
“Would you mind terribly looking in the back?”
“There aren’t any more in the back.”
“Are you sure? Perhaps you should check.”
“No, I can’t leave the department unsupervised.”
The man got directly in Carla’s face and looked at her as if he was peering into her soul. “We leave so many things unfinished. They say time is the fire in which we burn. Right now, Carla, my time is running out. Now I need you to find me that video tape.”
Carla seemed extremely shaken. “Right. Well, who will watch the department?”
Suddenly a woman in a huge hat stood up behind the counter adjacent to Carla’s. She was also wearing a blue Wal-Mart vest and a name tag that said “Guinan.”
“Hi, my name is Guinan. I tend the cash register…and I listen.”
Carla ran from the department screaming.
“Great, we’ll never find our video now,” Soran whined.
“Relax, guys, I have a copy right here!” Guinan said, producing a video tape from underneath the counter.
“You know,” Kirk said, “I liked the first six way better.”
“Rubbish,” Picard retorted. “My show ran seven seasons. As I recall, yours ran less than four.”
“Your first season was a little rough, but it got better later,” Guinan said as she plugged the tape in one of the display model VCRs.
“You two are impossible,” Kirk muttered. “I’ll never understand your generation.”
“Where the hell have you guys been?” Richards asked with confusion as Baxter, Conway, Peterman, and Browning appeared on the bridge, looking extremely disoriented.
“Don’t ask. It’s a long story,” Baxter said, heading for his readyroom. “Conway, you have the bridge.”
Commander Conway looked especially disoriented. “Yes, sir.”
“And what’s with that outfit, Commander?” Richards asked.
Conway looked down at his clothes. He was wearing his Starfleet uniform, but he still had the Wal-Mart vest on.
“Shut up and get back down to engineering,” Conway muttered bitterly.
Commander Conway grunted unhappily as he strolled down the corridor toward holodeck two. Captain Baxter had insisted that he see some new sort of program that he had developed, but Conway knew full well that this was just an excuse for some stupid surprise party, and Conway HATED surprise parties.
Suddenly an icy cold hand latched onto his wrist.
“I won’t forget what you did, you son of a bitch,” Lieutenant Hartley said coldly.
“What, the fact that I puked on you, or that I shot you with a phaser?” Conway replied smartly.
“Both. Just wait. You won’t know when, where, or how, but I will have my revenge.”
“Fat chance, Hartley. See you at the party.”
“What party?” Hartley asked innocently.
“You can’t fool me. I know the Captain’s been planning something.”
“Just remember, when you blow out that cake, you better wish for mercy, mister,” Hartley said angrily, stomping back into the transporter room.
Conway shrugged and continued down the corridor. Hartley didn’t scare him.
“Computer, recognize Conway, Commander David Arlen,” Conway announced to the holodeck computer.
“Acknowledged. There is a program already in progress.”
“I’m sure there is computer. Open the doors.”
The doors slid open to reveal the interior of a large building Conway found familiar. Baxter must have thought himself quite the joker. Wal-Mart indeed.
Conway vaguely wondered how the computer had a record of what the interior of a Wal-Mart looked like as he weaved his way past the checkout counters toward Electronics.
He found Baxter in the Electronics department, leaning lazily against the cash register, decked out in a Wal-Mart uniform.
“Welcome to Wal-Mart, Commander. Happy Birthday.”
Conway looked around, hands on hips. “Cute, Captain. Real cute. I’m laughing my butt off.”
“I knew you would,” Baxter said, picking up a phone and tapping a few buttons. “Attention shoppers, blue light special in electronics.”
On that cue, the senior staff poured out of the aisles and out from behind rows of hanging clothes.
Lieutenant Larkin appeared behind the other cash register. “Happy Birthday, Commander. Is there something I can ring up for you?”
Conway glared at Baxter. “A big gun.”
“Now, Commander, I thought you’d be grateful for such a thoughtful gift. Hit the music, J’hana.”
J’hana sighed and pushed a button on one of the stereos on display.
R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it(and I feel fine)” blared throughout the store.
“All very nice, Captain,” Conway sighed, watching as Browning and Richards jumped on the counter and started dancing.
Likewise, Gellar, Fresca, Hartley, and Ford, and Peterman were dancing around, making fools of themselves.
“So is this it? Can I go now?” Conway asked.
“No, not yet,” Baxter said, stepping out from behind the counter. “Wait until you see the piece de resistance!”
“Oh, brother,” Conway sighed.
Baxter knocked three times on a conspicuously large television box. “Come on out!”
The box suddenly ripped open, allowing none other than Rip Taylor to pop out.
The aging comedian laughed heartily, throwing confetti all over the place. “Hey, kids, it’s Uncle Rip! Are you guys ready to party? Let me tell you, this Commander Conway is a happening guy! He just happens to be an idiot! Hee hee!”
Conway looked to Captain Baxter. “Where did you find this guy, sir?”
Baxter laughed. “Oh, we brought him out of the Nexus. You’d be surprised what you’ll find lurking around in there.”
“I can only imagine,” Conway said, laughing along with Baxter. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
“Checked out the lingerie department yet, Counselor?” Ford asked, nudging Peterman.
“Get away, you scummy freak!” Peterman said, pushing Ford aside.
Richards chuckled a bit as he took a slice of Conway’s cake for Dr. Browning. J’hana was watching Uncle Rip from a safe distance, arms folded.
“What’s the problem, J’hana? Don’t you like Uncle Rip?”
“I was just considering what the Captain will do with him once the party is over.”
Richards shrugged. “There’s an opening in stellar cartography. He can learn.”
“I want my cake!” Browning cried out.
“I’m coming, hon!” Richards said, sitting down next to Doctor Browning and watching her devour the cake.
Lt. Hartley had been working busily at the controls of the holodeck throughout the birthday celebration. Lt. Larkin noticed her peculiar behavior and walked over to see what the problem was.
“Lieutenant, why are you not joining in the festivities?”
“I’m just making a special present for Commander Conway, Lieutenant.”
“I see. How nice of you.”
Hartley snickered. “That’s just the kind of gal I am!”
Commander Conway was just making his way towards the exit. He had grown tiresome of the humorous comedy stylings of Rip Taylor, plus he was exhausted.
“Wait a minute, Commander, I haven’t given you my present yet!” Lt. Hartley said jubilantly.
“Uh-oh.” Conway suddenly became very nervous.
Lt. Hartley pushed a button, and suddenly the holodeck was crawling with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of little golden retriever puppies, each with the fire of the seventh level of hell in their eyes.
Hartley laughed maniacally as she and the rest of the party goers evacuated the holodeck.
Conway waded through the sea of barking, yipping, snapping, evil puppies, desperately reaching for the exit. Lt. Hartley was standing there at the door, smiling.
“Happy Birthday, Commander,” Hartley said, setting the computer to close and lock the holodeck door.
The door closed with a woosh. Hartley laughed out loud as she heard the thud of Conway’s body hitting the door as he tried to escape.