Author: Alan Decker
Mirk, the Maloxian proprietor of the Aerostar’s Starlight Lounge, looked out at his patrons from behind the bar. Even taking into account that this was a Tuesday night, (never his best night for business) this group looked only slightly more active than a group of corpses in advanced stages of decomposition.
He’d feared that this might happen to the Aerostar’s crew. Stranded this far from home with only large expanses of nothingness to look at, they were bound to become lethargic.
Mirk had already tried several ideas to keep the crew’s spirits up. All of them had ended in failure, though. Even the “Captain Baxter Look-a-like Contest” had hit the deck with a resounding thud. The judges, trying to decide between the only two entrants, gave the prize to Counselor Peterman’s dog, Charlie, much to the annoyance of Captain Baxter, who was the other contestant.
Another idea was needed in a hurry if Mirk was going to save the crew from its own loneliness and depression. The only question was, what was that idea?
While Mirk searched his mind for viable ideas, Lieutenant Megan Hartley, the Aerostar’s transporter chief, wandered into the lounge. She plopped down on a bar stool in front of Mirk and rested her head in her hands on the bar.
“Hi,” she said unenthusiastically.
“Hello, Megan. Can I offer you a drink?”
“Sure…fine…whatever,” Hartley muttered.
“Okay,” Mirk said. He hit the random button on his drink replicator and handed Hartley what came out. He wasn’t sure what it was, but the black vapor rising off of it seemed rather ominous.
Hartley didn’t even notice. She just sipped on her straw and stared off into space.
“So, is anything going on?” Mirk asked.
“No.” Sip. Sip. Sip.
“Transport anything exciting lately?”
“No.” Sip. Sip. Sip.
“Did you hear that Commander Conway was seen entering the holodeck with Ensign Fresca?”
“No!” Hartley exclaimed, perking up. “You’re kidding.”
“According to Ensign Ford, Lieutenant Gellar heard from Ensign Rosinthal in Engineering that Nurse Davis saw Conway and Fresca heading into Holodeck Three at about 0300 last night.”
“What program was running?”
“That’s great. I’ve got to go tell J’hana. Thanks, Mirk.”
Megan drained the last of her drink, jumped off her barstool, and immediately ran sideways into the nearest table. She was unconscious before she even hit the floor. Several crewmembers watched her fall, then turned back unconcerned to their conversations.
Mirk shrugged and put her empty glass in the matter reclamation unit. He’d have to find out what the drink was he gave her. It was obviously very potent. That would have to wait, though. Thanks to Hartley, he had the solution to his problem.
What was the one thing that interested everybody on the ship?
The juicier and less reliable, the better.
There were many plans to be made, but Mirk was sure that he had just found the way to cure the crew’s doldrums.
Captain Andy Baxter stepped out of his shower and started drying himself off. He was about to walk out into his living area when he heard voices.
“Who’s there?” he demanded, quickly wrapping a towel around himself.
“It’s just me,” Counselor Kelly Peterman replied from the other room. “Come in here.”
Baxter walked out into the living area where Peterman was lounging on his sofa, also wearing only a towel.
“Sit down and watch this,” she said, pulling her legs closer to her body so Baxter would have room to sit down.
“What’s going on?” Baxter asked, as he took a seat. On the screen was a tight close up of a woman Baxter recognized, but he couldn’t quite place from where.
“…and then…then, she told me to go back to work,” the woman said, on the verge of tears. Many people gasped from off-screen. The camera switched to a wider shot, showing the woman sitting on a make-shift stage in what looked like one of the Aerostar’s cargo bays.
Finally, Baxter realized who the woman was, it was Ensign Helman from Astrophysics. Mirk walked into view wearing a surprisingly subdued suit and carrying a microphone.
“So this casual brush-off from your superior officer is to blame for your present condition,” Mirk said, putting a reassuring hand on the woman’s shoulder.
“Yes…YES! It’s all Lt. Tilleran’s fault. And now… now I’m an addict. I go into the holodeck and kill an image of her four, sometimes five times a day. I can’t help it!” Hearn let out a loud sob and fell to the stage crying hysterically while the audience applauded and cheered.
“And there you see the frightening results of holomurder,” Mirk said, speaking into the camera. “It starts off as a simple way to blow off steam, but then…this is the result.” He pointed to the quivering form of Ensign Helman on the stage floor.
“What is this?” Baxter said.
“I don’t know,” Peterman replied. “Mirk told me that he had some idea to help crew morale, but I didn’t think it would be something like this.”
“It’s disgusting,” Baxter said.
“Terrible,” Peterman concurred.
“Tomorrow on ‘Mirk,’ crewmembers who fantasize about sex with their commanding officers,” Mirk said just before the screen went black.
“When is this on again?” Baxter asked.
Captain Baxter walked into the Starlight Lounge rubbing his sore rib from where Peterman had punched him. She was definitely not fond of tomorrow’s show topic. In the interest of his crew, his relationship with Peterman, and his physical welfare, Baxter decided to have a little chat with Mirk.
“Welcome, Captain,” Mirk said warmly as Baxter sat down at the bar. “Can I get you something?”
“Pineapple juice,” Baxter said. Mirk got his drink and set it down in front of him in a gaudy, tropical glass.
“Would you like one of those little paper umbrellas with that?”
“No. This will be fine,” Baxter said, taking a drink. “Mirk…”
“Did you see the show today?”
“The end of it,” Baxter said. “Actually, that’s why I came down here. Counselor Peterman and I are concerned that your show is…well…sleaze.”
“Yes, you’re feeding the crew’s baser instincts by exposing people’s inner turmoil.”
“It’s an invasion of privacy.”
“How? They volunteer the information.”
“By whose standards? Today’s audience loved the show, and I’ve got twice as many who want to come back tomorrow,” Mirk said proudly.
“Hey, Mirk, fantastic show. You’ve got one devoted viewer here,” Lieutenant Brian Gellar said as he walked by.
“You aren’t helping,” Baxter snapped. “Go back to your post.”
“My shift’s over,” Gellar said.
“Then get to a table and shut up.” Baxter turned back to Mirk. “Just please try to watch your show’s content.” Baxter got up and headed for the door. He stopped and looked back at Mirk. “Start watching your content after tomorrow’s broadcast…not that I’m interested.”
“Of course not, sir,” Mirk said, smiling as Baxter left.
Baxter couldn’t exactly say that he was surprised when Counselor Peterman stormed into his ready room a week later.
“I thought you told Mirk to watch his content!” Peterman demanded.
“I did,” Baxter said.
“Excuse me. I don’t call ‘I’m Carrying a Flarn Love Child’ watching your content. For that matter, ‘The Engineering Best Body Contest’ was in pretty poor taste, too. And I don’t even want to discuss the ‘Interesting Birth Marks’ episode. Where’s the clean, uplifting stuff?”
“That’s just not what he does,” Baxter said. “But he has this crew more excited than they’ve been in months.”
“Sure, but it’s all vile, obscene, and base. He could be using his show to do so many positive things. He could be building self-esteem, giving helpful tips, and helping the crew face their situation.”
“Kelly, that’s more your department,” Baxter said. Peterman stared at him for a few moments, causing Baxter to wonder if he was about to get hit again. Slowly, a smile spread across her face.
“You know what? You’re right,” she said, leaning across the desk and kissing him. “I’ve got to go. See you later.”
“Good morning, Aerostar,” Counselor Peterman said warmly as she strolled through the arboretum toward the holocam she had programmed to follow her movements. “Today on ‘Wake Up With Kelly,’ we’re going to be discussing the impact of plants on your psychological well being. My guest is Lieutenant Herbert Ross, the officer in charge of the arboretum.” She walked over to Ross, who was busy watering some large flowering plant.
“There you are my happy little stem. Let the water seep, seep down and feed those parched little roots. Soon you’ll be all moisty moisty moist.”
Up in his quarters, Captain Baxter struggled valiantly against his urge to change the channel and watch Mirk instead. This was Kelly’s show. He had to watch and support her, but if this ditz Ross said one more thing about happy little plants, he was going to puke.
Counselor Peterman strolled into the Starlight Lounge feeling that her first broadcast effort had been a complete success. Finally, the crew would have some uplifting entertainment to watch.
She was stunned by the complete lack of acknowledgment that greeted her entrance. Not one crewmember came over to congratulate her or praise her or even criticize her. After a few seconds of searching, she spotted Captain Baxter sitting over by one of the viewports. Peterman quickly retreated over to him to see to her bruised ego.
“Hi, honey,” Baxter said, standing up and giving her a quick kiss. “Great show today. I loved it.”
“Thank you, Andy,” Peterman said, slumping into the chair opposite him. “No one else has said a word to me.”
“I’m sure that the crew appreciated it,” Baxter replied.
Lieutenant Kristen Larkin walked over to the table a few moments later.
“May I have a word with you, Counselor?” Larkin asked.
“Of course. Have a seat, Kristen. What can I do for you?”
“Now that you have started a show of your own, I decided that it would be an interesting to see how the crew reacted to their programming choices.”
“Okay, so what’s that mean?” Baxter asked.
“Well, sir, using computer records of crew locations and viewscreen usage for that time period, I have instituted a system similar to that present in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to gauge the viewership of television shows.”
“You know how many people watched?” Peterman said, excited. “Tell me.”
“Mister Mirk had a rating of 98.”
“Your rating was one half,” Larkin reported.
“One half!” Peterman shouted. “How the hell did I get a rating of one half?”
“One person was watching, but they switched channels halfway through your show.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” Baxter said meekly. “It’s just that he kept talking about happy little flowers and happy little leaves and happy little trees and happy little clouds. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“What was Mirk showing today?”
“I believe the topic was ‘My Partner Cannot Please Me in Bed,’” Larkin said.
“I see.” Peterman got up and headed toward the exit.
“Is she upset, sir?” Larkin asked.
“Larkin, I have a great regard for your intelligence, but that was a really stupid question.”
Peterman paced around her quarters like a caged animal. Fritz, her cat, mimicked her movements, pacing around the sofa while Charlie, Peterman’s dog, sat on the floor watching her intently.
“It’s only the first show,” Peterman said suddenly, turning toward Charlie. “They’ll start watching. They have to. I just need to spice up the topics a bit. Tomorrow will be different.”
“Today on ‘Wake Up With Kelly,’ foods that will spice up your life.”
“Today on ‘Mirk,’ private holodeck fantasies.”
“How’d I do?” Peterman demanded as she charged into Larkin’s spartan quarters unannounced. The android looked up from the penguin sculpture she was working on. Other penguins of all sizes and carved from many different materials stood scattered throughout the quarters in different poses.
“You wish to discuss your ratings, I assume,” Larkin said.
“And you and I definitely need to talk about this obsession of yours.”
“I am an android. I am incapable of obsessing about anything.”
“Right,” Peterman said unconvinced. “Now, give me the rating.”
“You will be pleased. Your ratings doubled.”
“Doubled! That’s great. How much is that?”
“One,” Peterman repeated flatly.
“Thanks.” Peterman walked out of the quarters totally demoralized. She ran into Doctor Janice Browning coming down the hallway.
“Kelly, today’s show was great!” Browning said enthusiastically. “Where did you learn to cook like that? You have to have me over for dinner sometime!”
“Sure,” Peterman said, walking on. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw myself out an airlock.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I always get suicidal when I’m happy. That’s why I prefer to stay miserable all the time.”
“You’re a real pain when you’re depressed.”
“Now seriously, what’s wrong?” Browning asked.
“No one except you is watching my show. Andy didn’t even watch today.”
“He couldn’t. I think he was a guest on Mirk’s show today.”
“Oh, he’s a dead man,” Peterman said. “I’m going to make him wish he had never, ever changed that channel.”
“If you could do that to him on the air, you might get some more viewers,” Browning said.
“But that wouldn’t help the crew’s psychological well-being,” Peterman replied.
“I’m trying to provide the crew with something wholesome and uplifting.”
“Stop it. You’re making me nauseous.”
“Look, show business is a dirty business,” Browning said. “If you want people to watch, you’re going to have to show them what they want to see. You don’t have to sink as low as Mirk. And if you stay above Mirk’s level, you’re still providing the crew with something more uplifting to watch.”
“I don’t know…”
“Then you might as well not go on the air tomorrow.”
“Just be better than Mirk, huh?”
“That’s the ticket.”
“So, ‘Better Living Through Animals’ should not be the topic of tomorrow’s show.”
“Okay, but Charlie is going to be very disappointed.”
“Today on ‘Mirk,’ the secret the command crew doesn’t want you to see. Find out from Doctor Phil Kerridan the real reason the Aerostar is in the Delta Quadrant and how it could go home tomorrow.”
“Welcome to ‘Wake Up With Kelly.’ Today we’re going to show you what men and women really want in a lover.”
Peterman strolled into the Starlight Lounge whistling happily and wandering over to Mirk, who was wiping down the bar.
“So, scared yet, pip-squeak?” Peterman said, leaning in close to him.
“Why should I be scared?” Mirk said.
“My show jumped five ratings points today. Larkin just told me.”
“We have ratings points?” Mirk asked, confused. Peterman lunged across the bar and grabbed him by the collar.
“I’m going to kill you, you little dork!”
Four security guards and a few stiff drinks later, Peterman was feeling much better.
“Welcome to ‘Wake Up With Kelly.’ Today we’re going to be talking with Lieutenant Fresca. She’s going to tell us who she’s done it with, where they did it, and how good they were. After that, I’m going to try to help her break her addiction to sex.”
“What happened?” Kelly said, looking disgustedly at the ratings report Lieutenant Larkin handed her. “The show started off so well.”
“Yes, for a while you had a full quarter of the crew watching,” Larkin said. “However, I believe that viewership began to fall of dramatically when you started trying to give Fresca therapy.”
“Oh. So what was Mirk showing today?”
“A competition between sickbay and security. The events were all fairly sexual in nature including a wet T-shirt contest and…”
“I don’t want to know…who won?”
“It was a tie. I believe that Mister Mirk wisely decided that he did not want to get on the bad side of either Lieutenant J’hana or Doctor Browning.”
“So the lesson here is cut the therapy; stick to the sex. Right?”
“Amazing Sexual Encounters, today on ‘Mirk.’”
“Closet Nymphomaniacs, today on ‘Wake Up With Kelly.’”
“Details of the Astrophysics department orgy. Join us for ‘Mirk’.”
“Crewmembers most revealing and embarrassing home holovideos shown for the first time today on ‘Wake Up With Kelly.’”
“Holodeck hijinks, romantic rendezvous, secret sexual encounters. What really went on during our last shore leave? That and much more, today on ‘Mirk.’”
“What’s Captain Baxter like in bed? I’ll tell you today on ‘Wake Up With Kelly.’”
Counselor Peterman went back to her quarters after the show and collapsed onto her sofa. What had she done? She’d taken the most private, intimate details of her life and broadcast them to the whole crew without any regard for Andy’s feelings or his privacy. How could she have sunk so low?
“Larkin to Peterman,” the android’s voice said over the comm system, interrupting Peterman’s thoughts.
“Peterman here. Go ahead, Kristen.”
“You did not come by my quarters, so I thought I should contact you to tell you today’s ratings.”
“Were they good?” As if it mattered after what she had done to get them.
“Yes. Almost half of the crew was watching.”
“If you will excuse my prying, Counselor, you do not sound excited. Does this not please you?”
“Not right now, Kris. Peterman out.”
There wasn’t much lower for Peterman to sink. She had to finish this thing once and for all. After tomorrow’s show, either she or Mirk would be off the air permanently, and she had no intention of losing.
Mirk stepped out onto the stage and was immediately greeted by the excited cheers of the crewmembers making up his audience. He smiled, bowed, and signaled for them all to quiet down. He had a big show in store for them today.
“Today on ‘Mirk,’ we’re going to take a deep, probing look into the sexual history of our command crew as reported in their Starfleet records. Have they really done as many people as they say they’ve done?”
“Who cares?” a voice shouted from the rear of the cargo bay. Counselor Peterman walked forward toward Mirk, followed by her holocam.
“What can I do for you, Counselor?” Mirk asked, amused by the sudden turn of events.
“You. Me. Holodeck Two. Now. We’re going to settle this once and for all. Mano y womano.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you chicken?” Peterman demanded.
“I just asked a question.”
“Coward! You’re afraid.”
“You think so? Fine. Let’s go,” Mirk said angrily.
Mirk looked at the pit in front of him wondering of Peterman had lost her mind.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Mud wrestling, you moron,” Peterman said. “Winner gets to stay on the air. Now strip, pal!” Peterman ripped off her clothes revealing a tiny, string bikini underneath. That alone should have been worth a couple of ratings points.
“Okay,” Mirk said, taking off his suit. He had on a pair of tacky gold and silver striped boxer shorts.
“Into the mud, pig boy.” Peterman pushed Mirk, sending him flying face-first into the mud pit. She jumped on top of him and started ramming his face into the filth. “Yum. Eat it up, punk.”
Mirk, having had enough, raised up, flipping Peterman off of him. She landed on her back in the mud. Before she could react, Mirk was on top of her. He slammed a large handful of mud into her face, making sure that a large portion got into her mouth. Then, he yanked on her bikini top, snapping it off of her. Swinging the top over his head a few times in victory, he used his other hand to push her head farther and farther down into the muck.
Enraged, Peterman jabbed her knee up into Mirk’s unprotected crotch. He leapt off of her and landed across the ring from her. Peterman got up and regarded her opponent. He seemed hurt, but not nearly as badly as he should be after a shot like that. Damn Maloxian biology.
She just finished cursing his alien anatomy when a mud clod hit her smack in the forehead. Mirk smiled at her from across the ring. The bastard was using her top as a sling. That’s when she remembered she had lost her top. Oh well, so much for modesty now.
“You win, Mirk,” she said, bowing her head.
“You win. I never should have tried to fight you like this. Now, look at me. I’ve been totally degraded and humiliated by you.”
“Not totally,” he said, walking over to her.
“Yes, totally. You’ve destroyed me, Mirk. You’ve won. And for that, I am yours. Take me.”
“…am a complete sucker!” Peterman shouted, lunging at Mirk. She hit him with enough force to knock him back into the mud. Then, she jumped on top of him, wrapped her legs around his neck, and started to squeeze. Mirk flailed around frantically trying to escape, but Peterman held down his arms with hers. He was helpless and losing air quickly. Finally, he collapsed, unconscious. Peterman kept on squeezing, ignoring Mirk’s collapse and the sound of the holodeck doors opening behind her.
“Kelly, stop!” Captain Baxter’s voice shouted. Peterman turned her head and saw Baxter and Doctor Browning.
“I’m going to beat him.”
“You already did, baby,” Baxter said soothingly. “Let him go.”
“You won, Kelly!” Browning said. “You’re killing him!”
“I won. I won! I won!” Peterman jumped up off of Mirk and started prancing around the mud ring.
“See to Mirk, Doctor,” Baxter said.
“Are you kidding? It’s disgusting in there,” Browning said. Deciding not to argue, Baxter jumped into the ring and pushed Mirk’s limp body out onto the floor where Browning set to work. Baxter then took off his grey and black uniform top and put it on Peterman.
“Let’s go back to your quarters, honey,” Baxter said, putting his arm around her.
“I won!” Peterman shouted, throwing Baxter into the mud and diving on top of him. “Let’s go. You and me. Right here. Right now.” She started tugging at Baxter’s red turtleneck.
Sensing that this would be an extremely good time to depart, Browning attached an antigrav unit to Mirk and floated him out of the holodeck before she saw things she really didn’t want to see.
The next day came and went without an episode of ‘Mirk’ or ‘Wake Up With Kelly.’ This was fortunate for the crew since they were still busy talking about the last episode.
Even though the Starlight Lounge was alive with crewmembers talking and laughing, everyone was keeping a respectful distance from Mirk. For his part, Mirk seemed happy and was serving drinks and food with gusto. But no one wanted to ask him if he was all right or if he was going back on the air.
Finally, Ensign Zack Ford had had enough. If no one else was going to talk to Mirk, he would. Casually, he got up from his table and made his way over to the bar, making a pass at every female he encountered along the way just so Mirk wouldn’t get suspicious. Making a quick mental note of the name and quarters number of the one acceptance he got, Ford walked up to the bar.
“How are you doing, Mirk?”
“Fine, Ensign. How about yourself?”
“Just great. So, how are you feeling?”
“Well, Counselor Peterman did choke the life out of you yesterday,” Ford said deciding bluntness was the way to go.
“Doctor Browning revived me with very little trouble,” Mirk replied, still maintaining his smile.
“Glad to hear it. God, I would have loved to have been in your shoes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on. In the mud, with a gorgeous topless woman who has her legs wrapped around your head. That must have been something.”
“Honestly, I don’t remember a lot of it. I went unconscious. Remember?”
“It looked incredible. If I ever got her like that…”
“You’d be in big trouble with me,” Captain Baxter’s voice boomed from behind him. Ford whirled around to face his commanding officer.
“Sir, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any disrespect. I…”
“Shut up and go away,” Baxter ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Ford said, quickly retreating.
“Can I help you, sir?” Mirk asked once Ford was gone.
“Kelly wants to talk to you. She’s in the reading lounge across the hall,” Baxter said. “I’ll cover the bar for you.”
“Hey, I did more than just inventory before I became Captain. I worked one year at Starbase 26 doing stuff like this.”
“Okay. It’s all yours,” Mirk said, walking out of the lounge.
“Can I have a Gurleitz, sir?” an ensign asked from the other end of the bar.
“Is it in the replicator?” Baxter asked.
“Uhh… I don’t think so. Mirk makes it for me.”
“Then, no, you can’t have it.” Baxter turned to the replicator and hit the random button. The replicator produced a blood red drink with black smoke pouring out of it. “Here, try this instead. It’s good.”
“What is it?” the ensign asked fearfully.
“I have no idea. Drink up.” The ensign took a long drink and immediately collapsed to the floor. Baxter smiled. He hadn’t lost his touch.
Mirk walked into the reading lounge where Peterman was pacing nervously.
“You wanted to see me, Counselor,” Mirk said hesitantly.
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “Come sit down with me.” He walked over and sat down on the lounge sofa at the opposite end from the one she took. Peterman took a deep breath.
“I owe you a big apology,” she said. “I let myself get way out of hand over this whole ratings thing. I never wanted to hurt you. I’m sorry. You’re free to go back on the air if you want to.”
“That’s okay. I had kind of gotten bored with the whole thing. You can go ahead and do your show.”
“No thank you. I’ve decided that I’m much better at dealing with the crew one on one.”
“So, now we went from two shows to none.”
“Don’t worry,” Peterman said. “I’m sure someone will pick up the slack.”
“The secret life of penguins, today on ‘Larkin.’”
The Aerostar was filled with the collective noise of the entire crew turning off their viewscreens at once.
NEXT TIME ON STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION:
Lt. Larkin gets a lesson in detective work when Q beams her into a convoluted 1970’s discotheque to solve a murder. Even worse, the disco is manned by the Aerostar crew. It’s insane, baby!