Author: Anthony Butler
Lieutenant Commander Chris Richards fell against his station, the annoying buzz of Red Alert klaxons ringing in his ears.
“The warp field is collapsing!” he heard a voice cry. It sounded like one of his engineers.
“Reroute power to the warp field!” Baxter replied over the comm system. “We’re not losing him!”
“Hull stress at maximum!” J’hana cried out.
Richards struggled to ascertain what was going on. Two separate views seemed to be invading his mind. He felt like he was on the bridge and in engineering at the same time. What was going on?
Suddenly Richards’ vision blurred again. Images began to come into focus. He was definitely on the bridge.
“Engineering…report!” Baxter barked, looking back at Richards.
Richards fumbled for words, still feeling dizzy. “Captain…I…”
Suddenly someone in a uniform he didn’t recognize was in front of him, aiming what looked like a large weapon at him.
Richards grabbed the front of the weapon and slammed it into the intruder’s face, shouting, “Intruder on the bridge, sir!” then falling unconscious to the deck.
A bearded man ran onto the bridge, waving a clipboard. “Cut, cut, cut!”
Baxter observed the scene angrily. “Okay, what’s his problem this time? Let me guess, he wants more money?”
Leaning down in Richards’ face, Baxter frowned. “Listen, that’s not how you get the big bucks, mister. Haven’t you ever heard of an agent?”
Richards’s eyes fluttered open a minute, then the image of Baxter disappeared as he lost consciousness again.
The man with the clipboard looked down at Richards, then to the other unconscious man.
“Someone get a medic on the set! Can we get a medic on the set?”
“Listen, Mister Frakes, I did like you asked, I worked on my method. Didn’t you see an improvement?” Baxter asked frantically.
“I’ll talk to you about it later, Phil. First I have to figure out why we’ve got an unconscious star and an equally unconscious cameraman,” Frakes said in annoyance.
“You know I’m doing the best I can with what I have to work with, Jonathan. Can I call you Jonathan?” “Phil” asked as he followed Frakes around the bridge set.
“No,” Frakes replied, pointing at Richards and the cameraman as the medics came onto the set. “They’re over there.”
“I mean, I really don’t see what my motivation is,” Phil continued. “Okay, so the Romulans are attacking. But why are they attacking? I need to know this.”
Frakes sighed. “You know, I never had these problems working with the Next Generation crew.”
“How are you, baby?” A beautiful blonde woman asked, running her hands through Richards’ hair as his eyes fluttered open.
“Fine, I just…” he sat up, blinking several times. Something was definitely wrong. “Who are you? Where am I? What’s going on?” he asked.
“I’m your girlfriend, silly,” the woman said, kissing Richards on the neck. “And you’re on the set of your TV show.”
“Stop it, Scooby,” the woman pouted. “I’m in no mood for games. The Enquirer ran another article about us.”
Richards rubbed his eyes as the woman handed him something that looked like an old style newspaper. On the front, there was a picture of Richards, dressed in a white suit, with the blonde woman. A glaring headline read: “Space Cadet and Paltrow more than pals? Are they ‘Explore’-ing new frontiers?”
“What the hell is this?” Richards asked.
“You’ve been sucking up the nitrous again, haven’t you?” the woman, now identified as Paltrow, said. “Well, I’m not sticking with you through rehab again.”
Paltrow stormed out of the room, leaving Richards very confused.
Outside, a voice said, “Gwyneth, how nice to see you again. What are you doing for dinner tonight?”
Moments later, a taller man with a beard entered the room. Richards guessed he was the source of the voice outside. “She’s quite a gal, Dick. I don’t know why you treat her so bad. Before you know it, she’ll be back with Brad Pitt again.”
“What?” Richards asked. “Who are you?”
“I’m the Director, buddy,” Frakes said in annoyance. “I’m the one who tells you two bit actors what to do. I was also in the series that resurrected Star Trek, without which, I might add, you’d never have your sick little parody.”
“I’m sorry,” Richards said, running a hand over his face. “Maybe we’re not on the same frequency here. I have no idea what the f**k you’re saying.”
Frakes eyes widened. “Well, you’d better figure out what I’m saying pretty damn quick, or you’ll find yourself killed by an evil black oil slick quicker than you can say engage, capiche?”
“Um, well…” Richards said.
“We begin filming again in five minutes. Be out on the set, or its your job,” Frakes said angrily, storming out of the room.
Richards fell back against the bed. What the hell was going on?
“Chris!” a voice said, causing Richards to dart up again.
A transparent-looking image of Captain Baxter stood before him, flickering and buzzing with static. “Chris, can you hear me?” he said again.
“Yeah, I can hear you, Andy,” Richards replied. “What the hell is going on?”
“It’s a long story,” Baxter sighed.
“I’ve got time,” Richards said, annoyed.
Baxter paced the room, his image flickering with every movement. “Okay, okay. We got caught up in an ion storm, and some funny things were happening with the warp field.”
“Well, it kind of…well, fluctuated,” Baxter said. “And it…um, kind of, um…well, you were caught up in it.”
“I’m trapped in a warp field!” Richards shouted. “How the heck did that happen!”
“Well, you were standing a little too close to the warp core at the time. I don’t know, you’re the engineer,” Baxter said. “The point is, you’re still trapped in the warp field, in the ion storm, and we don’t know how to get you out. If we go back in, the ship will be torn apart. If we leave you in there, the field will dissipate, and you’ll die. Or at least, that’s what Tilleran tells me.”
“She’s right,” Richards said, scratching his chin. “So if I’m caught in a subspace field, this reality is being created by my subconscious mind.”
Baxter looked around. “Yeah, kind of freaky, huh?”
“Evidently I’m a star on some kind of TV show,” Richards said. “What I want to know is why my mind conjured this up.”
“Maybe it was that television anthology we watched the other night,” Baxter said. “Remember, ‘M*A*S*H,’ ‘Cheers,’ and ‘The
“Who could forget,” Richards sighed. “So what do I do?”
“Sit tight here while we work on a solution,” Baxter said. “I’m being broadcasted to you by a low level subspace signal sent into the ion storm. I don’t know if I’ll be able to reestablish contact, but if I can’t, just hold on. We’ll think of something,” Baxter said, suddenly disappearing with a flicker.
Richards was about to scoot off the bed he was lying on, when a chubby, anxious-looking man in a suit stormed in.
“Dickie, Dickie, what are you doing just sitting there? Get back on the set!”
Richards looked at the man in disbelief. “Elliot Finglass? What on Earth are you doing here?”
“I’m your agent, remember? The one who got you this wonderful role you’re throwing away as we speak!” Finglass cried. “Speaking of which, who were you talking to just now?”
“None of your business,” Richards said. “I wonder what my roommate from Starfleet Academy is doing here.”
“Starfleet Academy?” Finglass said, laughing angrily. “Oh, that’s rich, Dickie, that’s really rich.”
“My name’s not Dickie,” Richards said. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Christopher Richards.”
“Sure you are, sure you are,” Finglass said, sitting down next to Richards and opening up his briefcase. “Listen, I’m going to tell you this as your agent and as your friend. You have to straighten up your act, or you’ll be on the street doing guest appearances on Moesha before you know it.”
“Mo-who?” Richards asked.
“Stop playing dumb. Listen, Paramount wants you to sign some papers, basically saying that you’ll straighten up your act, and you know, be more responsible. That means no more drinking, drugging, bar brawling, or sexual harassment suits. And no more punching out cameramen for no reason!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Richards protested.
“Sure you don’t. Listen to me, Dickie: Star Trek actors are known for being clean-cut and well-behaved. Well, except for Grace Lee Whitney. Anyway, this is a clean franchise, and Paramount doesn’t want you screwing it up.”
“Paramount,” Richards said. “And they are…”
“I’m still laughing my butt off, Dickie. Who’s Paramount?” Finglass was obviously quite annoyed. “They sign you’re freaking paycheck, Dickie, and if you don’t get out there and act like a f**king professional, you’ll lose your job, and if you lose your job, I’ll lose my percentage, and if I lose my percentage, I won’t make the payment on my new Lexus, and if I don’t make the payment on my new Lexus, I’ll be very mad. And you don’t want to see me mad, now, do you?”
Richards shook his head. “N-no. I suppose not.”
“Good, now get out there and knock ‘em dead, Dickie,” Finglass said, pushing Richards out the door of the health room.
“Okay, ‘Operation: Deception,’ Act Two, Scene Three, take three!” Frakes said through a megaphone. “Quiet on the set. Action!”
Captain Baxter, otherwise known as “Phil,” lurched in the command chair, even though, Richards noticed, nothing was shaking.
Taking a cue from Phil and the other people on the set, Richards acted like the ship was shaking, gripping his ‘panel,’ which didn’t seem to have any real function, and jiggling his body.
“Engineering, report!” Phil shouted.
Richards stood there at his “station” a moment, not sure what to do.
Frakes anxiously pointed at a giant screen next to his chair, in the big open area where the viewscreen would have been on the real bridge.
Big, plain words were inscribed on the strange screen:
Damage to the hull, sir! At this rate, we’ll fly apart!
Confused, Richards just looked around. Frakes continued to point in annoyance at the screen, and then point at Richards.
“Oh,” Richards said. “You want me to say that?”
“Cut!” Frakes shouted, throwing down his clipboard in frustration.
“I can’t work like this!” Phil said exasperatedly, unzipping his uniform and walking over to a table full of donuts and coffee.
“You’ve got real problems, mister!” Frakes said, pointing at Richards and storming off the set.
“Can I please get out of this makeup!” the woman playing Lt. J’hana said. “I’m burning up!”
“Sure, that’s a wrap for today,” Frakes said, returning to the stage. “Maybe after a good night’s sleep, you guys can turn out a half-decent performance.”
Richards shrugged, stepping away from his station.
The woman Richards knew as Peterman got up from her chair, turning to approach Richards.
“Hi,” Richards said quietly, moving across the set to where the donuts were.
Peterman whirled Richards around. “Is that all you have to say to me? Hi?”
“Um…” Richards said. “I guess.”
Peterman smacked Richards roughly across the face. “I guess all I was was a night on the stellar cartography set, huh? Well, listen, I may be an ex-showgirl from Vegas, but I’m a human being, and I’m a woman with feelings. You’ll learn to think twice before screwing over Maria Helouise Delarosa!”
“But you’re not Spanish,” Richards said.
“You think just because I talk with an American accent on this f**king no good show, that that’s all I am? Is that what you think of me? Well, you got another thing coming, mister!” Delarosa said, stomping of the set in anger.
“Boy, you really pissed her off,” a familiar voice said from behind Richards.
“Mirk?” Richards asked.
“Sure, sure, sure,” the boy said. “That’s all I’ll be known as for the rest of my life, so you might as well start calling me that now. The second I was picked for my part I was doomed to the life of a child actor. I’ll be found robbing a liquor store in Redondo Beach by the time I’m twenty.”
“I’m…sorry,” Richards said quietly. “Um, I’ve got to go.”
“Yeah, well, you go then,” Mirk said sadly. “I’ll just go see if that kid from Home Improvement wants to hang out with me.”
This was all too confusing.
“You never realized TV was so important in history, did you?” Baxter’s voice asked from behind Richards. “It’s kind of scary that the American mind was so entranced by that little electric box.”
Richards turned to see that the hologram of Captain Baxter had returned. “Well, can you guys get me out of here, or what?”
“We’re working on it. It may not be till morning,” Baxter said. “The storm is just too severe. They can barely get this signal through. Is it just me, or is the guy playing me a little too… effeminite? He sounds like such a sissy! I don’t sound like that, do I?”
“No, I…” Richards said, when suddenly a pair of arms wrapped around his neck.
“Hi, sweetie,” Gwyneth said sweetly. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. What’s say we go home and make up?”
“Um…” Richards said.
“Remember,” Baxter taunted, staring at Paltrow longingly. “You’re engaged.”
“Sure,” Richards said, not taking his eyes off Paltrow.
“Wait until I tell Janice!” Baxter said, as his image flickered off.
“Sorry the place is such a mess,” Paltrow said, opening the door to her apartment. “It’s just so hard to find a good cleaning woman in the valley. They’re all either taken, or completely incompetent.”
Richards collapsed onto the couch, sighing painfully, trying to forget that he was wearing the ugly, outdated jeans and T-shirt he had changed into back at the Paramount Studio. He would have been happier to stay in his uniform.
It was settled. He had definitely imagined himself in the latter twentieth century for some ungodly reason. Why on Earth would he want to come back here? He had only just visited this place in reality less than a year ago, and now, it seemed, he was back.
Maybe it was because he had visited this particular period, Richards thought. That made sense, but it annoyed him extremely.
“Can I get you something?” Paltrow asked, digging around in the kitchen.
“Aldebran Whiskey,” Richards said without thinking.
“Very funny. How about a Mountain Dew?”
“You drink the moisture that collects on mountains?” Richards asked. “How odd.”
“You’re just full of jokes tonight,” Paltrow muttered, grabbing two cans out of the fridge and sitting down next to Richards.
Richards stared at his can of “Mountain Dew” curiously, as Paltrow grabbed a small black box and pressed a control.
The “TV” in front of Richards obediently switched on. He hadn’t looked forward to this moment. He’d had his fill of “TV” the other night with Baxter.
“Space…the funny frontier…” Baxter’s voice said from offscreen, as a field of stars flew by on the screen. “These are the voyages of the Starship Explorer.”
“Oh, look, it’s your show,” Paltrow mumbled.
“Let’s watch,” Richards said. He might as well see what this so-called “show” looked like.
“If you say so,” Paltrow replied. “I thought you hated the show. Personally, though, I think you look cute in the uniform.”
Richards cringed at the awful music that assaulted his ears once Baxter’s monologue was finished. It was revolting. Like the stuff Conway listened to all the time. “What is this awful music?”
“I like it,” Paltrow said defensively. “This song was on the top twenty for ten straight weeks. I think Paramount made a good move getting the Rembrandts instead of Jerry Goldsmith to write a theme song. Look at what they did for ‘Friends.’”
Richards continued to cringe, as the song “Space is a Keen and Cool Place” played.
Space is a Keen and Cool Place!
We’re just a crazy crew of
wacked out space aces.
Crazy space aces, crossing space,
And going places.
Space is cool,
And space is keen,
Just stay in space,
And you’ll stay clean!
The Captain’s shmuck,
The Exec is a jerk,
The Counselor’s a slut,
And then there’s Mirk!
Larkin’s a robot,
And Ford is obscene.
The Doc’s a pig,
The Engineer is a putz,
Tilleran reads minds,
But hey, ya can’t touch!
Space is cool,
And space is keen,
Just stay in space,
And you’ll stay clean!
As the theme played, the Explorer flew by on the screen. After it flew by, words began to appear on the screen.
STAR TREK: EXPLORER
as “Captain Baxter”
and Drew Horner
as “Commander Conway”
as “Doctor Browning”
as “Lt. Cmdr Richards”
as “Counselor Peterman”
as “Lt. Larkin”
as “Lt. Tilleran”
Troy Dunston Gray
as “Ensign Ford”
as “Lt. J’hana”
and Kate Winslow
as “Lt. Hartley”
Based on Star Trek
Created by Gene Roddenberry
Richards just shook his head. This seemed almost unreal. Oh, yeah. It was unreal.
Suddenly the screen faded away, as the Explorer came into view again and shot into warp.
Unfortunately, after the other night, Richards knew exactly what came next, and all he could do was cover his eyes.
“What’s your problem?” Paltrow asked, looking at him strangely. “They’re just commercials.”
“Sure, sure. Just tell me when they’re over,” Richards said uneasily.
“You really need help, Dick,” Paltrow said. “Your mind is burnt to bits. It’s all that speed.”
Richards looked over at Paltrow as if she was stupid. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Warp travel is very safe.”
“Nevermind, the show’s back on,” Paltrow said, as the Explorer flew by slowly on the screen, and the title “Inoculations” appeared in front of it. “I don’t even know why you’re watching. Your character had like three lines in this episode.”
Richards ignored Paltrow, instead watching while what seemed like a normal day on the Explorer played on the screen. Of course, the crew all seemed a little more melodramatic about everything, less things went wrong, less people died, and there was a lot less cussing. Overall, though, it seemed like a better reality than on the real Explorer.
Then again, Richards supposed, it wasn’t reality at all.
Suddenly, Richards became aware of an unmistakable “Psst” sound.
Turning, Richards realized that Captain Baxter’s image had once again reappeared, and was now motioning him into Paltrow’s bathroom.
“Excuse me, honey. I have to, um, use the bathroom.”
“You know where it is,” Paltrow said, absorbed in watching the TV.
“You know, she can’t hear you,” Richards whispered, as he closed the bathroom door behind him. “You could have come right out and got me.”
“Well, I was just being cautious,” Baxter said defensively, as Richards took a seat on the toilet. “Listen, we’ve got some bad news.”
“Oh, great,” Richards said. “What now?”
“Well, it’s nothing you should be alarmed at…um, yet.”
“What?” Richards asked.
“Well, your field is beginning to deteriorate faster than we expected. It should be gone by late tomorrow morning.”
“Then what do we do?” Richards asked.
Baxter shrugged. “Ideally, we’d find a better way to get you out. But so far we haven’t come up with anything.”
“Wait a minute, didn’t you say you’d have me out of here by tomorrow morning?” Richards asked.
“Well, yes. But, um, things came up,” Baxter said. “The storm got worse, and well, you know, it’s kind of busy over here right now.”
“I could die!” Richards shouted.
“You’re not taking a dump in there, are you?” Paltrow asked from the other room. “Because last time I couldn’t go in there for two days!”
“I’m fine!” Richards shouted, looking back at Baxter and whispering. “Look, you have to get me out of here. This place is a nuthouse.”
“We’re doing our best,” Baxter said. “What about you? You’re not succumbing to that beautiful woman’s charms, are you?”
Before Richards could say something, Paltrow stuck her head into the bathroom. “Why the heck are you talking to yourself in here? You’re getting high in here, aren’t you?”
“N-n-no!” Richards said. “I’m not getting…“high”…whatever that means.”
“Don’t believe him,” Baxter said with a smile. “He’s a big fat liar!”
Richards glared at Baxter. “You’re not helping me.”
“Oh, great,” Paltrow sighed. “You’ve got a little imaginary friend now. Well, I hope for your sake that she’s better in bed than I am. Because you’re not getting any from me tonight!”
With that, Paltrow slammed the bathroom door.
“You were saying?” Richards said wearily.
“How sweet,” Baxter commented. “She’s jealous of me.”
The next morning, Richards was up bright and early. He hadn’t been able to sleep all night from the combined effects of Gwyneth’s painfully lumpy post-modern couch, and by the terrible fear Richards had that he would die later that morning.
Oh, well. The crew of the Explorer was working hard to save him.
And for some reason that wasn’t so comforting.
Thankfully, Gwyneth had been kind enough to drive Richards to work. Though he had seen Conway do it before, Richards wasn’t at all confident that he could drive himself. And, if there was one thing he could say for his “girlfriend,” it was that she didn’t hold a grudge. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even seem mad anymore.
Richards hopped out of Gwyneth’s fancy sports car, kissing her on the cheek and proceeding into the studio.
This acting job shouldn’t be that hard, anyway. He was really just doing what he normally did, only he read his words off a screen instead of thinking them up, and he was never in any real danger. At least, not the kind of life-threatening danger he was in on a daily basis aboard the real Explorer.
“I hope you’re ready to work today, Corrigan,” Frakes said as Richards stepped into the costuming room. “No more nonsense.”
“No, sir,” Richards said. “The straight and narrow for me.”
“That’s what I want to hear,” Frakes smiled, as Richards sat down in the makeup chair.
“Hey, there, Mister Corrigan,” a fat, older woman with dyed red hair and gum in her mouth said, as she began to apply cakey makeup onto Richards’s face. “How’s tricks?”
“I don’t trick people,” Richards said firmly, coughing as the cloud of makeup surrounded his face.
“Look at this, my part’s all wrong. The hair looks ridiculous!” Phil cried from the chair next to Richards. “I look like an idiot.”
“I can only do so much,” Phil’s stylist said, stepping back as Phil scooted out of the chair.
“Do you think Shatner had this problem?” Phil ranted, “No, he had a good hairdresser. This is unacceptable. You’re fired!”
“But, Mr. Burkenstock…” the woman said, bursting into tears.
“Shut up!” Phil cried. “I want you out of here in five minutes! And give us back our Explorer mug.”
The woman continued to cry, throwing down her hairbrush and running out of the room.
“You can’t get good help these days,” Phil said, straightening his hair and leaving the room.
“I knew she wouldn’t last,” the fat makeup lady said. “Phil is such a debutante. You’d think he was the Prince of Wales, the way he acts.”
“What a jerk…um, Flo,” Richards commented, looking at the name on the woman’s nametag.
“Whaddaya think?” Flo asked, smacking her gum loudly as Richards regarded the finished product in the mirror.
Richards tried not to panic. He had lipstick on! Were the people of this century insane?
“It’s, um, great,” Richards said, scooting out of the makeup chair.
After quickly putting on his uniform (which he noticed was not at all as comfortable as the real one), Richards made his way out onto the set.
“You should feel lucky, Phil,” the woman who played J’hana said. “My makeup takes hours, and these antennae are heavier than they look.”
Phil swayed uneasily in the command chair. “I don’t care, Andrea. I’m the star of this show, and if my hair is even a bit uneven, the audience notices. Remember when they tried moussing my hair last season, and that old woman in Michigan started that vicious internet letter writing campaign? It was horrible.”
“It’s a paying job,” the man who played Conway said, strolling out onto the stage. “You should be glad to have it.”
“Easy for you to say, Drew,” Baxter countered. “After all, I’m not the ex-porn star!”
“Hey, I thought I told you never to bring that up!” Drew whispered harshly. “That’s my past, and it will stay my past. You think I want some annoying Trekkie digging up a promo for ‘Deeper Impact’ and shoving it in my face, asking for an autograph?”
“Gee, you know, I’m going on the internet tonight,” Phil said with a wry smile. “I hope I remember not to mention that!”
“You wouldn’t!” Drew sneered.
“Are you sure?” Phil said with an evil grin.
“Okay, okay, let’s get working,” Frakes said, stepping in between Drew and Phil. “Break it up, guys.”
“Phil’s threatening to put my porn past all over the internet!” Drew cried, glaring at Phil.
“You don’t hear that every day,” Frakes said. “Don’t worry, Drew. If Phil does that, I’ll take the massage chair out of his trailer.”
As Frakes returned to his director’s chair, Drew stuck his tongue out at Phil. “So there.”
“He can’t protect you forever, Drew. Don’t forget, I get to direct an episode this season,” Phil taunted.
Richards watched the exchange uneasily, realizing how hauntingly similar Drew and Phil’s banter was to that of Conway and Baxter’s. It seemed like some things never changed.
“Okay, let’s take it from the top, guys,” Frakes said suddenly, as an annoying buzzer went off throughout the stage. “Operation: Deception, Act Two, Scene Three, take four! Action!”
“Engineering, report!” Phil barked, as the crew on the bridge pretended to be jarred around.
Still feeling a little dumb, Richards dutifully read the words off the teleprompter. “Damage to the hull, sir. At this rate we’ll fly apart!”
“Return fire!” Drew said, looking back at the woman playing J’hana.
“It’s no use,” Andrea replied, “weapons connections are fused.”
“Larkin…Richards…get down to Engineering and get those phasers operating!” Phil shouted.
Richards looked at the screen again, reading the words. “Aye, Captain.”
“Cut!” Frakes said joyfully. “And print. Beautiful, beautiful. Now everyone get ready for the phaser control room scene.”
Richards stepped out from behind his station, heading over to the donut table for a cup of coffee.
Richards watched as workers began moving the set around and preparing the soundstage next door for the phaser control room scene. He barely noticed the sound of munching celery next to him.
“Janice?” Richards asked, turning.
The woman who played Dr. Browning turned in the opposite direction. “Our law suit states that you cannot speak to me or come within fifty yards of me, unless required by our jobs on the show, if you’ve forgotten,” the woman said coldly.
“I don’t…” Richards said, when suddenly an arm dragged him back, pushing him up against the wall.
“Are you crazy!” Richards’s agent cried frantically. “You don’t want to be sued again, do you?”
“What did she sue me for?” Richards asked, watching as the woman munched peacefully on her celery.
“Okay, fine, play dumb. Jessica sued you for sexual harassment. Remember the episode when Richards had an alien parasite stuck inside his navel? And when Jessica examined you, you locked your tractor beams right onto one of her…”
“All right, I get it,” Richards said, exasperated. “I guess in this reality I’m a real…”
“Dick,” Frakes said putting a hand on Richards’ shoulder. “Good job out there, guy. Keep that up in the last scene, and you’ll be looking good come contract time.”
Finglass smiled politely as Frakes walked away, his expression becoming angry once Frakes was gone. “Watch out for him, Dickie. He’s a shark. Listen, I know you think you’re untouchable. The fact that you’re the most attractive male character on the show, and all. But you’re not invincible. Get on the wrong side of enough of the higher-ups, and it’s…errrkk!” Finglass drew a finger across his throat. “Got it?”
“G-got it,” Richards said shakily. He was wondering how much more of this he could take.
“Okay, everyone, places,” Frakes said, settling into his director’s chair as Richards and “Larkin” took their places on the set of the phaser control room.
The woman who played Larkin looked disdainfully down at the conduit as technicians finished setting it up so it would spark and seethe. “I ain’t gonna get singed, am I?” she asked in a brusk New York accent.
“Don’t worry, Claire,” Frakes smiled. “You’ll be fine.”
“So where do you want me?” Richards asked.
“Right next to Larkin,” Frakes ordered. “You two are trying to repair the phaser relays.”
“What happens?” Richards asked. “Are we going to fix them?”
“Sure,” Frakes smiled. “Eventually.”
Richards picked up the fake coil spanner and looked at it. It was a terrible prop. The emitter was backwards, and the battery pack was missing. These people knew nothing about science or technology.
“Chris!” Captain Baxter’s image shouted, from behind Frakes’ director’s chair. “Over here! Come here, quick!”
“I’ll be right back,” Richards said, dashing off the set and following Baxter’s flickering image.
“Don’t be long,” Frakes said. “That’s five everybody.”
“Please tell me you have good news, Andy,” Richards said, as he and Baxter ducked into a dressing room.
Baxter shook his head. “Afraid not. The storm is getting worse. Your field is being torn apart. Tilleran is giving you about half an hour, tops.”
“But you guys have found a way to get me out, right?” Richards asked hopefully.
“Well, we have a few ideas,” Baxter said. “Tilleran suggested that we send a shuttlecraft into the storm on autopilot. She thinks a smaller, more maneuverable object would last longer in the storm’s effects.”
“Then you could maneuver the shuttle into the exact position of the warp bubble, and engage a static isolation field,” Richards continued. “That should pull me out of this godforsaken hellhole, right?”
“Sure, sure,” Baxter said. “Something like that.”
“So all I have to do is stay alive until then, right?” Richards asked.
“Theoretically,” Baxter said.
“Dickie, Dickie!” Finglass cried, rushing into the dressing room. “Oh, there you are. I just got the new revision of the script. They’re going to kill your character!”
Richards looked to Baxter, who just shrugged and disappeared.
“What does that mean?” Richards asked.
“It means you’re out of a job!” Finglass cried. “I’m going to try and negotiate with the producers. You just sit tight and try to suck up! We can’t lose this one, Dickie!”
Suddenly Baxter reappeared. “I just talked to Tilleran. The field is almost gone now. According to her, the more it deteriorates, the more this world will try to destroy you.”
“Oh, great,” Richards said. “So what do I do until you rescue me?”
“I don’t know,” Baxter admitted. “Survive?”
“Easier said then done,” Richards said, heading out of the dressing room.
“Okay, let’s get this show on the road,” Frakes said hurriedly, as Richards came onto the set.
Just as Richards took up position next to Claire on the set, Baxter appeared beside him.
“Okay, Tilleran says that the only way to slow the field’s deterioration is to try and prevent your character’s demise any way you can. She says there’s a good chance that if your character dies, the field will disappear altogether and you’ll die too.”
“You say something?” Claire asked from beside him.
“Just practicing,” Richards replied uneasily.
“Freakin’ Hollywood actors,” Claire cursed.
“Okay, everyone, places,” Frakes called out. “‘Operation: Deception,’ Act Two, Scene Three, take one. Action!”
Claire assumed her “Larkin” character and began pretending to work on the conduit. “The main relay is quite damaged, Commander,” she said, adopting Larkin’s emotionless tone.
Richards picked up his fake coil spanner and glanced up at the teleprompter. Evidently, it said that he was supposed to use it on the relay, then say…
“Argghh?” Richards asked, looking back at Frakes.
“No, not ‘Arggh?’” Frakes said, getting out of his chair. “ARRGGGGHH!”
“Oh,” Richards said. “And why exactly am I saying this?”
“You’re getting blown apart, you idiot. The relay blows up and you die. Can’t you at least die well, or is that too much to ask?” Frakes ranted, pulling at his sparse hair.
“Yeah,” Richards said. “I can do it.”
“Good,” Frakes said, settling back into his chair. “From the top. Take two.”
Claire took her place again, staring down at the relay in an android way. “The main relay is quite damaged, Commander.”
Richards looked at the relay, looked at his coil spanner, then looked up at the teleprompter.
“Um. Well, I think it’s going to blow,” Richards replied, forgetting what the teleprompter said.
“Fuck him!” Frakes cried, “blow the conduit now!”
Richards ducked, throwing Claire in front of the conduit just as it burst into pretend sparks.
“I’m not going out like that!” Richards shouted.
Frakes jumped out of his chair, running over to Richards. “Are you insane? You do what you’re told to do or we’ll drop you!”
“You’re already planning on killing me off anyway,” Richards said defiantly. “So what difference does it make?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Frakes said.
“Oh, so I’m going to survive the conduit explosion?”
“Well, not exactly,” Frakes admitted.
“And I assume Larkin somehow miraculously manages to get clear of the explosion.”
“You know very well Claire’s dad is on the board of directors at UPN,” Frakes said. “Listen, the execs said your character has to die, so he has to die. You can’t cut it, and that’s that. Now take your death like a man!”
“No,” Richards said finally. “Can’t we go back and rewrite the script?”
“No!” Frakes shouted. “We can’t go back!”
“Then I’m outta here!” Richards said, pushing Frakes to the ground and running like hell.
“Security to the soundstage!” Frakes shouted, jumping to his feet.
Phil Burkenstock shifted in the command chair as he went over his lines, trying his best to look sad. “You say he’s dead, Larkin? That can’t be. For the love of God, he was my friend! He was my friend, damn it! Please, tell me he’s not dead!”
The holographic image of Captain Baxter watched in annoyance on the bridge set as Phil went over his lines. It was enough to make him sick. Did he really sound that melodramatic?
Still in the middle of a dramatic performance, Phil attempted to stand up from the command chair, but stumbled, looking up in grief. “You Romulan bastards, you’ve killed my friend. You Romulan bastards…you’ve…killed…my…friend!”
“What is your problem?” Baxter asked, peering down at Phil as he writhed in pretend agony. “You’re nothing like me. You’re pathetic. You’re an overdramatic actor with a huge ego and a bad haircut, and that’s all you’ll ever be.”
“J’hana…signal our surrender,” Phil said, stumbling right through the image of Baxter. “We SURRENDER!”
“Make way!” Richards shouted, plowing through the particle board bulkheads and running right through the bridge, pushing Phil back into the command chair.
Phil’s head turned as Richards ran by. “I know damn well that wasn’t in the script.”
“Don’t let him get away!” Frakes cried out, perched on the hood of one of the speeding Paramount security golf carts. “He signed a contract and that contract is worth blood!”
“Yes, Mr. Frakes,” the security guard said uneasily.
Richards plowed through another fake wall, emerging on the sickbay set, where the actress who played Dr. Browning was eating a contraband order of french fries that was smuggled on the set by an assistant.
“Janice, help! They want to kill me!” Richards cried, running through the set and knocking over all the fake medical equipment.
Jessica stashed the fries behind her back. “Give me a gun and I’ll kill you myself, you pervert!”
“Hellllllpppppp!” Richards cried, running as fast as he could. He glanced back. Frakes and the golf carts were hot on his tail.
“What’s up, buddy?” Baxter suddenly asked, floating a few feet in front of him as he ran.
“What’s up is they’re trying to kill me!” Richards screamed. “You have to do something!”
“Don’t sweat it, Chris,” Baxter said “The shuttle is almost ready. We’ll have you out of here in no time.”
“What do I do in the meantime?”
“Your brain must have some defense mechanisms, Chris,” Baxter said. “Try to use them. I’ll be back in a flash.”
Baxter disappeared again, leaving Richards to plow headfirst through another plaster wall.
Richards stopped dead. It looked as if he’d gone from the set of a starship to the set of some kind of apartment on Earth.
“Niles, you are a complete twit!” a balding man bellowed.
“Oh, Frasier, stop it!” Niles replied.
“Hello, everyone, here’s some crumpets. Oh, dear, the dog has pooped on the floor again!” a dark-haired woman with a British lilt said, bringing in a tray of food.
“Who the f**k are you?” Frasier asked, annoyed.
“You never saw me,” Richards said, continuing to run as fast as he could.
Moments later, the golf carts burst onto the set, tearing through Frasier’s apartment, demolishing his piano, his Dad’s chair, and finally, mercifully, running over Eddie the dog.
Richards kept running, plowing through a door that led him out into a huge studio full of people.
“So are you telling me that you’ve been visited by men from space?”
“Yes Jerry, I am,” a four hundred pound woman in a large flowery muumuu said.
“You haven’t been visited from men in space!” the man next
to her, a bearded, barrel-chested man with a cap that said “Skoal”
said. “You’re a damn fool is what you are, woman!”
“You shut up, Daddy!” cried a fat boy in coveralls. He grabbed a chair and slammed it in the Skoal man’s face.
The crowd began shoutin “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”
“What on Earth is this?” Richards wondered, rubbing his head.
Jerry shoved a microphone in an angry-looking woman’s face.
“Jerry,” the woman growled, “I just have one thing to say to little Elroy. He should respect his daddy!”
The whole crowd cheered at this. No save haven here, Richards
Richards ran past the string of guests, noting that now a gaggle of burly men that had been surrounding the stage were chasing him too. He increased his speed, looking out into the audience. “Hi there, don’t mind me, just passing through!”
“Are you from space?” Jerry asked with a smirk. He might as well milk this little stunt for some ratings.
“Actually, I’m from Pennsylvania, originally. I just work in space,” Richards said, plowing through the doors on the opposite side of the stage.
Richards kept running, weaving in and out of hallways, in an attempt to lose the studio security.
“Stop!” a uniformed security officer cried, pulling his gun and running down a corridor after Richards.
Richards ducked the bullets soaring over his head, realizing that this studio must really care about preserving their intellectual property.
Concerned about preserving some property of his own, Richards darted into the closest door.
“…got the whale home again,” a woman said, crossing her slender legs coyly underneath the desk in front of her as the cameras rolled. “Next, on Entertainment Tonight, we’ll meet one of the actors from Star Trek: Explorer, who’ll be sharing some juicy tidbits on–”
Richards crossed in front of the cameras in hopes of evading the security guard, waving happily at the woman at the desk and at the cameras.
“And there he goes…” the woman said in shock, watching as Richards hurtled toward the set of doors on the opposite side of the studio.
A mass of people, including Jonathan Frakes, poured into the ET studio, all passing in front of the cameras.
Jonathan paused long enough to shout, “Remember our dinner date, Mary!”
Once they were all gone, Mary Hart just looked up at the cameras and shrugged. “Hmff. Hollywood.”
“Dickie, Dickie, over here!” Elliot Finglass called out, waving his briefcase at Richards as he emerged outside the Paramount Studio. “I talked to the execs, Dickie!”
Richards stopped, putting his hands on his knees and breathing heavily. “Wha-what did they say, Elliot?”
“They wouldn’t listen, Dickie. I tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. They’re going to replace you with Lavar Burton somehow. He’s already signed his contract and everything. It’s even on the Internet. They’re already calling the episode where he’s introduced ‘The Way of the Engineer.’”
Richards caught his breath, dragging Finglass along with him. “Listen, Elliot. I need you to do me a favor. Hold off the security long enough for me to get back to the set of the show.”
“Why?” Finglass asked. “What can you hope to accomplish?”
“I just want to survive,” Richards said. “And, damn it, if my brain can last a few more minutes, I will.”
“The seventies just weren’t very good to you, were they?” Finglass asked, frightented.
Richards just stared Finglass in the eye. “Listen, Ellie, I can’t explain why this is happening, or why I need you to do this for me. Just trust me. You’re my agent, whatever that is, right?”
“Yeah, yeah. Fine, I’ll do it. Just promise me, if you still make it big, you’ll give me a cut of your pay?”
“Count on it,” Richards said, making a dash for the studio entrance.
As soon as Frakes and the guards burst out into Paramount lot, Finglass waved his hands exasparatedly.
“Guys, guys…he went that way!” he shouted, pointing away from where Richards had gone. “I think he’s trying to find a new agent.”
“Fat chance,” Frakes huffed. “He’ll never work in this town again if I have anything to say about it. I’m going to bust him down to Ensign so fast it will make his head spin. Come on, guys…this way!”
“Ensign?” Finglass asked, watching as Frakes and the security forces took off down the street.
“Me me me my my my mo mo mo…” Phil said, trying to get his mouth to relax. He was so tense because of all the ruckus on the set with Richards, he felt like he’d never find his quiet place again.
“What are you doing?” Drew asked, taking his customary seat next to Phil.
“Shut up, I’m doing mouth exercises,” Phil muttered.
“Oh,” Drew said. “You’re not going to put the thing about the porn on the internet, are you?”
“Course not,” Phil said. “It would lower the resale value of the franchise.”
“You’re a great guy, Phil,” Drew said with a smile, hugging Phil tightly.
“Get off,” Phil replied.
“Hey, everyone, what’s going on?” the guy who played Ford said, taking a seat at helm. “And what happened to the set?”
“Richards went nuts, Brian,” Drew said. “How was Hawaii?”
Brian sighed. “Okay, I guess. Lotsa women!”
“Well, forget about it. You’re married to the show again,” Phil said harshly.
“Well, it was nice to cheat on it for awhile,” Brian sighed,
“You are a pig, Brian,” Maria said, plopping down next to Phil, where Peterman would normally sit as Claire and Andrea, or Larkin and J’hana, walked onto the set.
“What a miserable day,” Andrea said. “We’ll never get anything done at this rate.”
“An dat means double da work tomorrow,” Claire grumbled, sitting down at ops while Andrea went over to tactical.
Alicia Fox, a.k.a. Tilleran, strolled onto the set. “You all look busy. What’s going on here?”
“Richards finally went off the deep end,” Drew said. “I thought you were off today.”
Alicia walked around to the science station. “I was. But for some reason I felt drawn here.”
“Sounds cheesy enough to be an Explorer episode,” Andrea commented.
“Hey, look who I caught cheating on her diet!” Troy Dunston Gray, the actor who portrayed Mirk, said, running onto the set and waving a cupcake.
Jessica followed, trying to grab the cupcake back. “Give it back, you little dork!”
Suddenly Richards stumbled onto the set, uniform torn, hair a mess, and breathing heavily.
“I don’t believe it,” he gasped. “You all just happen to be together, all on the bridge, and all in the right places.”
“What’s he on about, now?” Phil asked angrily. “Another gambit for attention?”
“No, no,” Richards sighed. “Listen, I’m in a lot of trouble right now.”
“Obviously,” Jessica said, jerking the cupcake from Troy’s hand, which, sadly, fell to pieces in the attempt.
“I need your help,” Richards continued, looking at each of the actors that occupied the set. “And you all are the only ones that can help me.”
“What the hell do you mean?” Phil asked. “Do you want us to bail you out of jail? Or pay your fines? Or convince Paramount to keep your sorry ass?”
“No,” Richards said, looking around the slightly damaged set. “No, I just want you to…be your characters for me. I need you to act like the crew of the Explorer would act if one of their own was in danger.”
“Oh, that’s rich,” Claire said, folding her arms.
“You’ve really lost it, haven’t you?” Brian asked. “The fact that they killed off your character pushed you off the deep end.”
“No, no,” Richards said. “Listen, I know this is hard to believe, but you all aren’t real. You’re all figments of my imagination, created by my brain, in a temporal causality known as a warp bubble.”
“If we’re created by your brain, why do we all despise you so much?” Jessica demanded.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” Richards said, pacing the bridge. “Then I realized, you all don’t represent my brain, you represent what’s being done to my brain. You see, if I don’t act fast, I’ll lose everything.”
“I think you already have,” Phil said. “So just take it like a man.”
“I’m asking you all for a…leap of faith,” Richards said grandly, looking around the bridge. “You’re all filling pretty big shoes. You’re impersonating people who I care about a lot. People who matter a great deal to me.” He glanced at Jessica. “People I love.”
“Hogwash,” Drew said. “He’s insane.”
“And I know you’re the greatest crew in this fleet,” Richards continued. “And I know I’d put my life in any of your hands. Now please, trust me here. This reality only matters if I can survive it, and I need all of you to help me do that.”
“Why do I want to believe him?” Jessica asked, staring at Richards with wonder.
“Can’t…think…for…myself…” Phil said, clutching at his head and lurching about in the command chair spastically.
“It’s working, Christopher!” Baxter said, suddenly appearing in front of Phil. “We’re maneuvering the shuttle into place. Just keep up whatever you’re doing a little longer. We’ve almost got you!”
“So, will you help me?” Richards asked, looking around at the actors before him.
“Weapons on-line, Commander,” Andrea said, tapping away at her fake panel.
“Modulating shields to compensate for gravometric distortions,” Claire said, turning in her chair to face her panel.
“Look sharp, everyone,” Phil ordered. “Things could get rough.”
“Warp speed at your command,” Brian chimed in.
“Let’s operate!” Jessica shouted happily, pushing Troy to the ground and pulling a candybar out of her pocket, chowing down on it.
“That’s the crew I know,” Richards said proudly, turning just in time to see Frakes and his guards emerge on the set.
“I knew Finglass was lying,” Frakes said, grabbing a gun from one of the guards. “I figured we’d track you back to the scene of the crime.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Richards said. “I just want to live.”
“Crime enough in my book,” Frakes said, laughing evilly. “Prepare to die!”
“Shields up!” Phil shouted.
“What the-?” Frakes asked, looking around. “Are you all insane?”
“Androids are not capable of insanity,” Claire said plainly. “So why don’t you go ahead and bite me, mister!”
“Ready weapons,” Richards ordered, glaring at Frakes.
Frakes just laughed. “And what ‘weapons’ do you think you’ll use on me, you fools? Huh? Quantum torpedoes?”
“I have ten trained on you right now,” Richards said, putting his hands on his hips. “Do you want to try me, bigshot?”
“Right. In your dreams,” Frakes taunted, firing his gun at Richards.
The bullets harmlessly bounced off a forcefield that seemed to encircle the bridge set.
“Life is but a dream, Mister Frakes,” Richards said mystically. “Now do you want to see if the quantums work too?”
“I don’t believe it,” Frakes replied, scratching his head and looking at the gun he fired.
“It’s working, Christopher!” Baxter said, appearing next to Frakes. “The shuttle is taking position. We’re locking on to you!”
“Thanks, guys,” Richards said, looking back at the crew of actors.
Before any of them could respond, the scene shifted, and Richards was overcome with a sense of nausea.
Colors flared in front of Richards’s eyes as the world became a spinning miasma of colors and shapes.
Then, suddenly, Richards heard Captain Baxter’s voice.
“PREPARE FOR MULTIBALL!” Baxter shouted.
Richards rubbed his head. “What the hell is a multiball?” he asked, looking around. He seemed to be in some sort of giant warehouse with a glass roof, and lots of strange metal shapes all around. Lights blinked off and on around him, and suddenly the room was filled with a horrible clanging sound.
Suddenly Richards realized where he was, as he looked through the transparent glass roof and read the giant writing on the sign overhead. “Star Traks: Explorer–The Pinball Game”
“Oh for crying out loud!” Richards shouted, running like hell as a ball chased after him.
Baxter appeared in front of him again. “Oops. I guess we had the field set to the wrong frequency.”
Richards dived to the side, just in time to see the ball fly through the image of Baxter.
Baxter watched the ball disappear from view and enter a hole. “Where the hell have you imagined yourself, now?”
“You and your freaking nostalgic pinball games,” Richards said angrily, dusting off his rear end.
“Oh,” Baxter laughed. “Sorry.”
Suddenly J’hana’s voice thundered throughout the cavernous room. “Romulan Warbird decloaking. Destroy it with a center shot. Five hundred points!”
“Duck!” Baxter said, as the ball shot at Richards, headed for the large metal representation of a Warbird.
Richards scrambled to his feet, making his way through the cavernous room, clanging against the different lighted columns, each time with a bright “ding-ding!”
Baxter watched the scoreboard with amusement. “Keep it going, Chris, you’re racking up the points!”
“When will you get me out of here!” Richards shouted, ducking to escape a flying ball.
“What’s the hurry, you’re about to confront the Borg.”
“I don’t…want…to…confront the Borg!” Richards cried. “I want to go home!”
“Tilleran’s working on it!” Baxter cried. “Try to hit the Ferengi Homeworld. You get extra bonus points for latinum there!”
“You’re not helping!” Richards shouted, when suddenly this world began to shift too.
Richards dove to the floor to avoid the flying pinball, just as he felt the overwhelming, gut-wrenching feeling that he had felt a few minutes ago, only this time it was even more intense.
Richards struggled to get to his feet, rubbing his throbbing head as shapes coalesced in front of him.
Sounds began to blare in Richards’ ear: red alert klaxons, and Baxter’s voice again.
“…get out of there, Chris, you’re breaking up!” Baxter’s voice crackled over the comm system. “I say the shuttle’s breaking up! You need to use the shuttle’s engines to escape! We can’t lock on to you from here. It’s your only chance!”
Richards opened his eyes, struggling to make out shapes. “Transporter? What?”
“Chris! You have to get off that ship! It’s going to blow up any minute now! For the love of God, hit the engines!”
Suddenly Richards realized where he was. He was evidently aboard the shuttle, still inside the ion storm, and by the looks of things, he was about to be blown to bits.
“Get out of there!” Baxter shouted over the comm.
“I’m working on it!” Richards replied, leaning over and slamming his hand down on the shuttle’s accelerator control.
The tiny shuttle shot forward, angling out of the plasma storm, throwing Richards backward as it did so.
“Hold on, buddy!” Baxter cried, as Richards felt the warm and creamy tingle of the transporter’s effects.
Stardate 52106.8. We’ve finally retrieved Commander Richards from the grasp of the ionic storm, and Doctor Browning tells me he’ll make a complete recovery. After reading his preliminary report and getting a glance at his strange mental world, I’ll have to admit, I’m amazed he survived. Hollywood is not a place for the timid.
“How’s it going, Chris?” Captain Baxter asked, strolling into Engineering.
Richards looked up from the master systems display. “Oh, fine. Janice says my marbles are all intact, and I figured I’d get a jump on tomorrow’s staff meeting with my engineers.”
“Are you sure you feel okay?” Baxter asked, concerned.
“I’m just glad to be back,” Richards said, switching the display off.
“Well, we’re glad to have you back,” Baxter said, as Richards stood up and stretched.
“I feel like I’ve been through hell,” Richards admitted.
“Say,” Baxter said, as Richards checked to make sure all the warp core failsafes were in place before leaving, “did you mean what you told those actors about us? About us being the best crew in Starfleet?”
“Sure,” Richards said, turning to leave. “Do you really think I would lie?”
“Lie, no,” Baxter said, patting Richards on the back. “Act, yes.”
“I’m not an actor, Captain,” Richards said, as the two headed out of engineering. “What does Kelly have us doing tonight, by the way?”
“Opera at the Met. Holodeck Four,” Baxter said. “Hey, it’s Mussolini tonight!”
“I think you mean Pavarotti,” Richards laughed. “Mussolini was a dictator.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Seeing Mussolini would probably be more fun, anyway.”
Richards just laughed again. “Okay, okay, Janice and I will meet you guys up in the Holodeck. I have one more thing I want to do before I unwind for the night.”
“Okay,” Baxter sighed. “But don’t let me catch you sniffing nitrous, or whatever.”
“Very funny,” Richards said, watching Baxter round the corner out of Engineering.
Once he was sure no one was watching, Richards went over to the nearest bulkhead and punched it as hard as he could.
Richards’ fist hit the bulkhead with a painful clank, and he was sure he could hear the snapping of bones.
Yep, it was definitely real.
Richards turned to leave Engineering, stopping dead before he reached the corridor outside.
Once again making sure no one was watching, Richards cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Cut!”
NEXT: Captain Baxter goes a little loopy and creates an assistant in a laboratory. Can Counselor Peterman knock some sense into him?