Author: Anthony Butler
“Have you driven a Ford lately?”
Lt. Ford winced as Yeoman Huffmann’s muskan sea punch splashed into his eyes. “So you won’t go to the holodeck with me tonight?”
“Not in this lifetime,” Huffmann said, pushing off her barstool and heading out of the Constellation Cafe.
Ford chuckled, wiping his face with a napkin. “Ah, I can wait.”
Mirk drifted over to Ford’s side of the bar and looked him over with disapproval. “You certainly are bad for business, Mr. Ford. Thank the Directors I don’t charge currency.”
“It’s not my fault that the women on this ship just aren’t sophisticated enough to handle a man of my calibur.”
“People are trying to eat here,” Amara said, stepping up to the bar. “Four Terrelian Tonics and a Breen Windblaster. And more pretzels.” She leaned forward to kiss Mirk on the cheek as he punched the order into his replicator.
Ford looked on, dumbfounded.
“There is a human expression you may be familiar with, Mr. Ford,” Mirk said, stacking the drinks on Amara’s tray. “‘You get more flies with hummus than you do with vinaigrette.’”
“What?” Ford asked, scratching his head. “Why would I want to attract flies?”
“You’re missing the point,” Mirk said, exchanging Ford’s empty glass of Kelvarkian cider for a full one. “Be nice to females. Be yourself. The rest will follow.”
Ford grimaced, sipping his cider. “But I am being myself.”
“In that case,” Mirk sighed. “Try being someone else for a while.”
“Nice talking to you Mirk, but whoever I am has to go on duty,” Ford said, draining his glass and slamming it down.
“Cheer up, Lieutenant,” Mirk said, taking Ford’s glass and polishing it. “There are more important things than impressing women.”
“Like what?” Ford called back, heading toward the double doors at the entrance to the Constellation Cafe.
Mirk watched Amara pass out drinks and smiled fondly. “Uh, I’ll get back to you on that.”
Captain Baxter crossed his legs and leaned back in the command chair. “There Kelly and I are, in the middle of…well, consummating our marraige.”
“Big word,” Conway commented, leaning forward with interest, sipping his double mochacino.
“You get the idea.”
“Uh-huh. Go on.”
“So the door bleeps. We ignore it, as usual. Then someone uses his Priority One Starfleet access code to open the door and barges into my quarters. Then I hear my MOM and DAD calling out my name.”
Conway shivered. “Uhhhh. So what did you do?”
Baxter shrugged. “I screamed for them to get out.”
“And what did they do?” Tilleran asked, grinning and leaning against her science station. Slowly, the whole bridge crew was getting into this.
“They did whatever any sane parent would do when they hear their son scream for them to go away.”
Seated at ops at the front of the bridge, Lt. Commander Larkin cocked her head, processing Baxter’s statement. “They went in.”
Baxter nodded. “Uh-huh.”
J’hana grunted, resting her hands on her tactical console. “That must have been quite a surprise for them.”
Baxter nodded again. “Uh-huh. As you might imagine, that gave Kelly the perfect opportunity to instruct my parents on boundaries and privacy, in the form of screaming and throwing both her boots at them.”
“They were by the bed because she’d just come off duty,” Conway reasoned.
Baxter looked at Conway askance. “The fact that you’ve worked all that out frightens me. Anyway, my parents aren’t talking to me, Kelly’s not talking to my parents, and I’m not talking to any of them. The worst part is, in any other situation aboard a Starfleet vessel, I’d be taking this matter to…”
Tilleran finished the thought. “The Ship’s Counselor.”
“You see my dilemma.”
“Have you ever considered working out the problem yourself?” J’hana asked, annoyed.
Baxter cast J’hana an irritated look. “The thought had crossed my mind.”
Before J’hana could fire back, the aft turbolift doors opened and Lt. Ford shuffled out. “Here I am, love me or leave me!”
“Hmmm…I vote we leave him,” Tilleran said dully.
Ford narrowed his eyes at Tilleran. “I’d expect a somewhat more witty reply from a science officer.”
Tilleran returned to her scans of the passing star system. “Oh, please. Either way you’ll still picture me naked, won’t you?”
“My mind has a mind of its own, Lieutenant,” Ford said, relieving Ensign Madera at helm.
Conway walked over and loomed over Ford’s console, sipping coffee. “Would you look at that!” He leaned forward, examining Ford’s head. “Looks like you’re getting some of that hair back.”
“It’s taking long enough,” Ford muttered. “It’s been six months since I quit that stupid cult and I still don’t have enough to part.”
“It must be a continuing struggle for you, Mr. Ford,” Baxter muttered.
“The look is definitely not doing me any good.”
“I don’t see why you couldn’t have just did what me and the others did,” Conway said. “Regressive genetic hair redistribution therapy.”
Ford shook his head. “Nobody’s messing around with the DNA on my head.”
“I don’t see why not,” J’hana barbed. “You let them mess with the stuff inside your head, didn’t you?”
“That’s enough,” Baxter said. “Let’s get back on task here. Anything interesting in this system, Tilleran?”
Tilleran didn’t answer; she seemed totally engrossed in her readouts.
“Lieutenant?” Baxter asked, looking over at the science station.
Interest piqued, Conway strolled over to the science station and peered over it. “What is it, Tilleran?”
Tilleran tapped some more buttons quickly, then looked at Baxter. Her mouth moved but no sound came out.
“Spit it out, Tilleran!” Conway said, twisting his head as he peered at the readouts. “I can’t read upside-down!”
Tilleran swalloed. “A fleet. A big one.”
“Tactical!” Baxter barked.
J’hana swung around in her chair at tactical and brought a map of the system with the fleet superimposed up on the viewscreen. “Scans coming through now. Confirmed, sir. They’re Leeramar.”
“Not the Leeramar again,” Conway grumbled, returning to his seat. “It’s like they have a personal vendetta against us.”
“Red Alert,” Baxter ordered. “Mr. Ford, bring us around and get us the hell out of here. Skirmishes we can handle, but we sure as hell can’t take on a whole fleet.”
“Too late,” J’hana snapped. “They have spotted us. Three squadrons of Leeramar battleships are breaking off and heading this way.”
“Hail them,” said Baxter.
“No response,” J’hana said. “Apparently, they don’t feel like talking.”
“In that case, hit the engines, Mr. Ford! Full impulse until we clear the system, then gun it!” Baxter ordered.
Ford struggled to bring the Explorer around. It was no small thing to take a ship that size and spin it around in the other direction, especially when it was moving at full impulse.
“We must have wandered into the heart of their territory,” Tilleran said.
“That’s nice,” Conway mumbled. “Something tells me we won’t be wandering out.”
“They’re gaining on us,” Ford said worriedly. “And I’m squeezing everything we have out of these impulse engines.”
“How long until we get out of the system?” Conway asked, tapping his feet nervously.
“Another minute!” Ford cried.
“They will be within weapons range in under thirty seconds,” J’hana announced. “I am no mathematican, but…”
“Screw the system,” Baxter said. “Hit the warp engines now!”
Ford punched in warp speed just as the first volley passed by the port warp nacelle, barely missing it as the Explorer shot into warp.
“Close one,” Baxter sighed.
“Intriguing,” Larkin noted from ops. “The Leeramar are sending squadrons of ships ahead of us at warp speed. We are being surrounded.”
“How many ships, exactly?” Conway asked.
“Forty-three,” Larkin said.
“Man, talk about overkill,” Ford mumbled.
“Any ideas on how to get out of this?” Baxter asked, glancing at Conway.
Conway shrugged. “Short of begging for our lives? Nope.”
“The first few squadrons are almost within weapons range,” J’hana noted.
“Divert emergency power to shields and weapons,” Conway ordered, crossing over to the engineering console.
Ford watched the swarm of oblong, multi-tiered, multi- nacelled, blue ships close in on the Explorer on screen. “It’s like I’m driving a hovercab at rush hour,” Ford muttered. Except every other “car” was going to try to kill them.
“Time to start driving defensively, Mr. Ford,” Baxter said. “Is there any way we can outmaneuver all those ships?”
“Are you kidding me?” Ford asked, laughing nervously.
“Well, you’d better try anyway. We aren’t going to shoot our way out of this!”
Suddenly beams of orange energy pounded the Explorer as it bobbed and weaved in through the mass of Leeramar ships.
Ford’s hands danced over the helm console. Every maneuver he’d ever been taught rushed through his head. None of them prepared him for this. Every time he changed direction, another Leeramar ship would appear in his path. There was no way out of the tangle of ships.
So Ford did what any good helmsman would do. He pounded his fist into the helm console repeatedly until sparks flew out.
The Explorer shot forward, looping around one Leeramar ship, causing it to smash into two others. Then it flew over three more ships, narrowly weaving around their plasma beams.
“What’s happening?” Baxter cried, gripping his command chair as the Explorer rattled through the fleet of Leeramar warships.
“Some kind of short in the helm controls!” Ford replied, his voice drowned out by the explosions that wracked the Explorer bridge.
“J’hana,” Conway cried, pulling himself toward the tactical station. “We have to break through their defenses somehow!”
“That’s just it, sir,” J’hana said, staring at her console in disbelief. “We are breaking through their defenses!”
“Come again?” Baxter asked.
Ford had stopped steering minutes ago. He just stared through his fingers at the carnage on the viewscreen as the Explorer twisted and turned its way around the Leeramar fleet, until finally the melee on the screen gave way to open space…beautiful stars streaking by the screen. Peace.
Ford sighed, leaned back in his chair.
Baxter stood up and walked toward the front of the bridge, unable to believe his own eyes. “Are we out?”
“It would appear so,” Larkin said.
Tilleran studied her panel. “They’re not following us. It looks like we caused enough confusion in our escape to keep them occupied for quite a while.”
“Well, well, Mr. Ford,” Baxter said, resting his hands on Ford’s chair. “You certainly picked a good time to put on a show for us.”
“Yeah, ha ha,” Ford said, dumbfounded.
“I’m not one to stay where I’m not welcomed,” Baxter said, returning to his chair. “Increase our speed to Warp Nine and head for the Federation border.”
“Right. Warp Nine,” Ford said, searching the helm panel for a portion that wasn’t burnt. He smacked the console a couple times and part of the panel lit up. “Come on,” he said softly, “Please work.” He stabbed a control, and amazingly, the helm responded, speeding the Explorer up to the requested Warp Nine.
“Must be your lucky day, huh, Ford?” Conway asked, clapping Ford on the back.
“Ha ha. Yeah. Lucky.”
Stardate 53498.8. We’re heading back toward Federation space after narrowly avoiding death at the hands of a rather large Leeramar fleet. Meanwhile, Mr. Ford’s performance during the Leeramar attack appears to have caused more of a stir aboard ship than I first realized.
Lt. Ford tucked Starfleet Sex Kittens Weekly, his new padd from Porniverse, under his chin, and grabbed his piece of Melkotian bubbletoast out of the replicator. He hurryed out of his quarters, trying to zip up his uniform jacket at the same time.
When the doors slid open, he was greeted by a semicircle of clicking imagers and shouted out questions.
“How does it feel to be the first junior officer to re-write Starfleet piloting manuals?”
“What’s it like to make the Starfleet Conn Officer Hall of Fame at only 25?”
“What’s your favorite color?”
“How soon until you get your own ship?”
“What do you think of the Romulan situation?”
Ford blinked a moment, tried to swallow a bite of his toast, and backed into his quarters. He took a deep breath. Too much Talarian scotch last night. That had to be it. He stepped back out his doors.
“Do you think they’ll make you Captain of the Explorer?”
“Are you the next Hikaru Sulu?”
“If you had one wish, what would it be?”
“How did you guys get here so quick?” Ford asked, scratching his head and trying to hide his padd behind his back.
“We’re members of the press,” one of the reporters said. “We’re paid to be EVERYWHERE!”
“This is ridiculous,” Ford said, covering his face. He peered through his fingers to see a shortish, rather attractive woman with close-cut blonde hair staring up at him.
“Shannon Schroder, Federation News Service,” she said primly. She seemed the most congenial of the mob that had encirlced Ford’s quarters. “Forgive my friends here. They’re from lesser news services!”
“Bite me, Schroder!” one of the other reporters muttered.
“Can we speak in private?” Schroder asked sweetly, batting her eyes at Ford.
“I’m about to go on duty,” Ford said.
“Then I’ll follow you up to the bridge,” Schroder replied, gesturing to the tall man behind her, who was wearing the standard-issue head-mounted video camera. “Come on, Trevor.”
Ford plodded toward the turbolift, glancing over his shoulder at Schroder, who was walking backwards and gesturing toward Ford.
“Despite popular belief, Zachary Ford is really just like any other Starfleet officer. He gets up at 0900 hours for his bridge shift, where at any time he may come up with another new maneuver. We’re here to take you through an average day…if any day lived by the legendary Lt. Zack Ford can be called average!”
“Is all this really necessary?” Ford mumbled under his breath as he stepped into the turbolift.
Schroder smiled. “The people back on Earth eat this up, kid. Just act natural. The vidimager will do the rest.”
Ford watched Schroder take notes as he munched on his toast and rode the turbolift up to the bridge. Evidently, news of his special “maneuver” had made it all the way across the Federation, and now he was reaping the benefits. Of course, he had no idea what his “maneuver” was. What was he supposed to tell these people? That he’d just smashed his fist into the helm controls? That would go over really well.
The doors to the bridge wheezed open, and Ford stepped out, surrounded by the same mob that had surrounded his quarters.
“What the–” Ford said. “How the hell did you guys get up here so fast?”
Captain Baxter shouldered through the crowd and looked Ford over. “Welcome to the bridge, your highness.”
Ford leaned close to Baxter, and in a hushed voice, said, “Sir, what is this all about?”
Baxter shoved a padd into Ford’s hands. “Here, let’s switch. What do you have here?” Baxter paged through Ford’s padd and smiled. “Well, well, well. I’ll have to review this report very carefully.”
Ford ignored Baxter. He read the lines on the padd Baxter gave him again and again. “The Starfleet Cross? They’re giving me the Starfleet Cross?”
“And naming a maneuver after you,” Conway said, looking askance at all the reporters. “A detachment of dignitaries, including Admiral McGrath and Federaton President Jaresh-Inyo himself, are on their way aboard the starship Salerno to present the medal. We’ll rendez-vous with them in less than two days.”
Ford smiled. “This is great. I really am famous!”
“And how does it feel, Mr. Ford?” Schroder asked sweetly. “Or may I call you Zack?”
“Um, sure,” Ford said, shrugging. “It…it feels pretty good.”
“Do you want to take the helm or should we just go ahead and give you the command chair?” Baxter asked wryly.
“The command chair!” the press people shouted enthusiastically.
“I didn’t ask you!” Baxter snapped. “Be glad I let you on this ship to begin with, you little leeches!”
“Can we quote you on that?” one of the press people asked.
The press hounded Ford the rest of the afternoon as he monitored the Explorer’s course, adjusted her deflectors so she could pass through an asteroid field, went down to Engineering to coordinate a re-fueling of the deuterium tanks on the impulse engines, and went to Yeoman Briggs for a haircut and styling.
By 1700 hours, Ford was already feeling the strain of fame. It really did take a lot out of a person to constantly answer questions, give interviews, and hold press conferences. By the time he got to the door to his quarters, he was more than ready to just pass out on the couch. He was enjoying all the attention, but enough was enough.
Ford unlocked the door to his quarters and stepped in, and immediately yelped in shock. “Ford to security! I have an intruder in my quarters!”
The reporter from the Galactic Inquirer was going through his drawers!
Before the reporter could extricate himself from the credenza in Ford’s living room, the helm officer dragged him up by his shoulders and shoved him up against the wall. “What’s the matter with you? Don’t I get any privacy?”
“No, you don’t,” the reporter said flatly.
“Don’t you see, Mr. Ford? You belong to the ages now!”
“The hell I do!” Ford said angrily. He glanced down at the floor. “My photo album!”
The reporter grinned as Ford scooped up the bound stack of padds. “You had quite an adventure on Rigel Three last year, didn’t you?”
“You stay out of my stuff!” Ford said, shaking the padd that contained the picture of him riding on top of Leah Brahms’ shoulders at the Daystrom Institute party he’d crashed in the reporter’s face. “Or I’ll personally shove this padd up your butt so far you’ll need a transporter to get it out!”
“What seems to be the problem, spanky?” Lt. Gellar asked, stepping into Ford’s quarters.
“This jerk was in my quarters rooting through my stuff!” Ford said angrily.
Gellar looked around Ford’s cabin: Pornographic playdoh was spread everywhere, Ford’s Vulcan romance padds and set of Tholian mating crystals were strewn across the floor, and his blowup poster of Lt. Uhura (circa 2266) was torn down.
“You’re one of those press people?” Gellar asked, gesturing at the reporter with his phaser.
“Yes, sir. With the Galactic Inquirer.”
“Well,” Gellar said definitively, “I don’t care what magazine you’re with. You’ve invaded the privacy of an Explorer crewperson, one that happens to be my friend, and that puts you on my sh** list. So how about we take a walk down to the brig and see what we can investigate down there?”
“Hmm,” the reporter said, staring down the barrel of Gellar’s phaser. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
Gellar shook his head. “Nope.”
Ford patted Gellar on the back. “Thanks, Brian.”
“No problem,” Gellar said, leading the reporter out of the cabin at phaserpoint.
“What was your name again?” the reporter asked.
“Lieutenant Brian Gellar. That’s with two l’s.”
Ford groaned and collapsed onto his couch. Fame was a capricious bitch, that much was certain.
Mirk scanned the Constellation Cafe’s evening crowd. The crowd was definitely larger than normal. Filled with press people and the assorted space rubbish that went along with them. Ever since Ford’s little performance during the Leeramar attack, small groups of Ford-watchers approached the Explorer in a rag-tag mass of ships, ranging from the exquisite to the barely operable. Space barges that were nearly the size of the Explorer, and transports barely bigger than an escape pod. All grouped in close formation around the Explorer. Personally, Mirk felt more comfortable with the Leeramar fleet.
“Bartender,” a familiar voice said. “Give me a Talarian scotch.”
Mirk looked up from his scrubbing. “Right away, Mister…”
“The name’s Pete,” the man said in a hushed voice. It was obviously Lt. Ford, with a badly positioned blonde wig, a fake mustache and sideburns, and sunglasses.
“Right, Pete,” Mirk said, as he filled “Pete’s” order. “Everyone’s welcomed at Mirk’s. Including those wishing to keep a low profile.”
“Excuse me, sir,” a dapper-looking man said, rushing up to the bar. “Would you happen to know where a Lt. Zack Ford is?”
“He should be in Cargo Bay Thirteen, twenty decks down,” Mirk said.
“Thanks, you’ve been a real help.”
“I try to be.” Mirk waited for the man to leave, then turned to Ford. “Well, Mr. For…I mean Pete. It seems you’ve come a long way since you were last in here.”
“You mean the sudden fame thing?” Ford asked. “Well, it sure does have its downfalls.”
“The first of which being that you can’t go out in public without a ridiculous get-up like this?”
“Yeoman Briggs reccomended this,” Ford muttered.
“Yeoman Briggs wears something called ‘bell-bottoms.’ He’s not exactly a fashion authority.”
“He’s the fashion authority now that people found out he’s tailored some of my uniforms.”
“Hmm, how things change,” Mirk said, shaking his head.
“I just wish these people weren’t hounding me all over the place.”
“Fame like yours comes at a price, Pete.”
“The price is too high.”
“You should have thought of that before pulling the ‘Ford Maneuver.’” Mirk made air quotes.
“I don’t want to go into that,” Ford said, and downed his drink.
“You have no idea what the Ford Maneuver is, do you?” Mirk asked, arching an eyebrow.
Ford blinked, cocked his head. “What are you, telepathic now?”
“No. I’m just a damn good bartender.”
“Well, you’re going to be a dead bartender if you bring that up to anyone,” Ford seethed. “Get me?”
“The truth will come out no matter what you do,” Mirk said, oblivious to Ford’s threats. “It’s just a matter of when and how.”
“We’ll see about that,” Ford said, handing Mirk his glass. “Meantime, I have to find some way to live without these insane reporters watching my every move.”
“Good luck, Lieutenant.” Mirk shook his head as Ford made his way out of the Constellation Cafe. “You’ll need it.”
Lt. Hartley whistled a happy tune as she made her way down the corridor to Lt. Gellar’s quarters. Their relationship had been going a lot better recently. At Hartley’s reccomendation, Richards had begun dating Ensign Madera, ridding her of that complication. Gellar was under her control more than ever, and she was slowly getting used to being a transporter chief again. All in all, things were good.
“Computer, unlock door, authorization Hartley Omicron 095,” Hartley said. She’d planned on using her security clearance to sneak up on Gellar just as he was getting off duty. Gellar was so predictable. Every night at 2200 he came back to his quarters, had a drink, then went to the hoverball courts. She decided she’d try to convince him that there were more interesting things he could do with his off-hours than playing hoverball.
As the doors to Gellar’s quarters parted, Hartley stepped in. Steam was seeping from the direction of the bathroom. He was in the shower.
“Oh Mr. Man…” Hartley whispered, poking her head into the bathroom. “Wanna come out and play?”
“Huh?” a voice responded.
The glass door to the shower flung open and Lt. Ford stuck his head out. “Megan?”
“AAAAAH!” Hartley shrieked and rushed out of the bathroom, skidding on a wet towel and flopping onto the ground.
Ford quickly wrapped himself in a towel and hurried out. “Megan …are you okay?”
“Ooooh, my back,” Hartley moaned, rubbing the small of her back. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Brian agreed to let me hide out here until the reporters go away.”
“He did, did he?” Hartley muttered, pushing Ford’s hand away as she grabbed the edge of Gellar’s desk and pulled herself up. “Well, we’ll just see about that.”
“Come on, Megan. It won’t be that bad. It’s just for another day, until President Inyo and the delegation of admirals arrives and I get my medal. I’m sure they’ll leave after that.”
Hartley narrowed her eyes at Ford. “And if they don’t?”
“Then you’ll have to get used to having two men in your life!” Ford grinned.
Hartley looked down in the general direction of Ford’s towel. “I’m guessing more like one and a half.”
“Har har. You know, I’d expect you to give a famous personality like myself a little more respect.”
“Don’t make me laugh,” Hartley said, poking around Gellar’s cabin. “Where the hell is Brian, anyway?”
“He’s getting the last box from my quarters. I convinced him to do it since I can’t risk being visible right now.”
Hartley slumped onto Gellar’s couch. “How gracious of him.” She arched her head back so she could see out the transparent aluminum window behind Gellar’s couch. Seeing the stars soothed her at times like this. Then she came face to face with a space- suited man pointing an imager at her.
“Son of a bitch!” Hartley cried, hopping off the couch and staring at the reporter, shaking her fist. “Come in here, buddy, so I can shove that imager right up your ass!”
“Yipes!” Ford cried, diving into the bathroom.
Hartley pushed up her sleeves and pressed the comm button on Gellar’s desk. “I can handle this. This is no problem. I will enjoy handling this.” She grinned pleasantly at the reporter as she talked: “Hartley to Engineering.”
“Mr. Sanchez, I need you to do me a favor.”
“Anything for you, Megan.”
“Reverse the polarity on shield grid 009-Alpha, Deck Seven.”
“Why would you want me to do that?”
Hartley waved pleasantly at the reporter as he continued taking pictures. “Just do it, Paul.”
And with a blue flash of light that filled Gellar’s dim quarters the reporter was blown away from the window, spiraling into space.
“Darn, that must have hurt,” Hartley said, fake-pouting. “Come on out, scaredy cat.”
Ford crawled out of the bathroom. “Is he gone?”
Hartley frowned, folded her arms. “Yes. No thanks to you.”
The doors to Gellar’s quarters parted and Gellar stepped through, grunting under the weight of the cargo container full of clothes, padds, and other assorted memorabilia. “Are you sure you need all this?” Gellar grunted, plopping the container down onto the couch.
“Yep,” Ford said. “Just the essentials.”
“We have to talk,” Hartley said, tapping her foot in annoyance.
Gellar didn’t turn around. “Megan. How nice of you to drop by.”
“Since you already have company, I guess I might as well get going,” Hartley said, heading for the door. “Three being a crowd, and all…”
“No!” Gellar said, blocking Hartley’s exit. “You were just leaving, weren’t you Zack?”
“No,” Ford said. “I have to keep a low profile.”
“Then we’ll go to your quarters,” Gellar said to Hartley. “How’s that? That way Ford can be alone with his thoughts…and you and I can be alone with…our thoughts.”
Hartley touched Gellar’s nose ever so slightly. “Or you and Ford can be alone with your thoughts.”
“Bye, Brian.” Hartley pushed past Gellar and stepped through the doors. “We can resume after Sulu there moves back into his quarters.”
It was too late; Hartley was already gone. Gellar and Ford could hear her laughing all the way down the corridor.
“So,” Ford said, wrapping an arm around Gellar. “I think I packed some excellent vid chips in there. How does Nude Orion Slave Girl Detective Agency sound? We can stick the chip in, eat some popcorn, have a beer. Just us guys.”
“Right. Just us guys. Whoopee,” Gellar said, collapsing onto his couch.
The next morning, the mob of reporters was up bright and early, exploring every facet of the Explorer.
“And this would be Main Engineering,” Shannon Schroder said, walking backwards into the cavernous Engineering compartment, as her cameraman soaked in the surroundings. “The heart of the Explorer. Its guts, one might say.”
As she approached the master systems display, she turned to look at Lt. Commander Richards, who was hunched over some kind of schematic, reviewing it with Ensign Stuart.
“This is Lt. Commander Christopher Richards,” Schroder said brightly. “I take it you oversee the Explorer’s engine and power needs?”
“That’s right, Shannon,” Richards said, turning and smiling into the camera. “She’s a big ship, and it takes a big man to keep her running.”
“What were you doing when the Ford Maneuver was first brought into action?” Schroder asked excitedly.
“Well, usually a Chief Engineer’s place is here in Main Engineering, but at taht time…I was, well, indisposed.”
“Can you elaborate?” Schroder asked.
“I was…reviewing some data.”
Ensign Stuart stuck his head in between Richards and Schroder, to get on camera. “He was in the bathroom.”
“I see,” Schroder said, jotting that down on her padd. “How interesting.”
“Stuart!” Richards seethed. “I was in the bathroom fixing something.”
“So you’re also the ship’s plumber?”
“No, that’s not it at all…” Richards said, turning to the camera. “Listen, everybody has to go at some point, right? That’s why there are bathrooms.”
“But during a firefight?” Schroder posed.
“When nature calls, you must answer it,” Richards said boldly.
“Very poignant,” Schroder said. “Now let’s continue on up to the bridge.”
Richards touched Schroder’s shoulder as she turned to leave. “Hey, Ms. Schroder. Do you think we could reshoot that? Without the bathroom comment?”
“Sorry!” Schroder said. “That was a live subspace feed. Half the Federation saw it.”
“Damn,” Richards said, turning on Stuart as Schroder and the cameraman left Engineering. “Ensign…we must talk.”
Commander Conway sat stiffly in the command chair as Schroder’s cameraman filmed him. “I’ve known Mister Ford for two and a half years.”
“Go on,” Schroder urged. “What can you tell us about Mr. Ford?”
Conway shifted uncomfortably. “He is a good officer.”
“Can you elaborate?”
“Um. He knows his helm. Reacts well in a pinch. A little on the smart-alecky side, but then again, aren’t all good helm officers?” Everything Conway said was at the same, dull, stiff pitch. It was obvious Conway wasn’t comfortable in front of an imager.
“So you’d say you enjoy having Ford under your command?”
“Yes,” Conway said slowly. “Yes, I, uh…would.”
Schroder rolled her eyes, turned back to the camera and flashed a big smile. “Isn’t that great. Coming up, we’ll hear some first-hand anecdotes from Lieutenant Ford’s fellow crewmates and get a special interview with Andy Baxter, the Starship Explorer’s captain. But first, a word from our sponsors.”
“And we’re clear,” Trevor said, flicking off his head-mounted imager.
“Well, how was I?” Conway asked, rubbing his sweaty palms on the armrests.
“Excellent,” Schroder deadpanned, then muttered under her breath, “but don’t consider going into acting.”
Schroder slid into the seat normally occupied by Counselor Peterman and began to jot some information down on her padd.
Meanwhile, another reporter peered over J’hana’s panel, inspecting it with intense interest. “What is this panel again, ma’am?”
“Tactical,” J’hana huffed.
“And that would make you…”
“The tactical officer, if you must know.”
“It is adequate.”
The reporter glanced over J’hana’s panel some more and jotted down some notes. “Intriguing.”
J’hana watched the reporter work with barely restrained anger, then, finally, her patience gave way. “Please step away from my panel. The Explorer’s defensive capabilities are classified.”
“I’m not a spy. I just want to get a clear idea of what all these systems do.”
“If you do not step away from my panel now, I will use force to remove you from the bridge.”
“Uh-huh. I’ll just be another…”
“I warned you.” J’hana picked the reporter up by the back of his jacket and carried him over to the port side turbolift, dumping him in. “Bottom of the ship, voice override J’hana Gamma 901.”
Before the reporter could climb to his feet, the doors swung shut and the turbolift began its descent.
J’hana hovered behind Conway. “This situation is becoming intolerable.”
“No kidding,” Conway muttered. “But there’s not much we can do about it. Free speech and all.”
“A flawed concept. If I was in charge, I would shove each and every reporter out an airlock. They are affecting the crew’s ability to perform.”
“Come on, J’hana, you know you’re just jealous that there isn’t a ‘J’hana Maneuver.’”
J’hana returned to her station, and in a low voice, huffed, “There could be.”
“I think I’m going insane, Andy,” Counselor Peterman said, angrily digging into her salad as Mirk came by to refill her iced tea.
“That would be bad,” Baxter said, chewing thoughtfully on his hamburger. “Considering you’re the Ship’s Counselor, I mean.”
“No kidding,” Peterman said, taking a long sip of iced tea. “This morning has been absolutely horrible. Ensign Sefelt is convinced that he’s allergic to air, Lt. Hartley can’t stand the fact that Lt. Ford is living with Lt. Gellar, Lt. Commander Richards is still broken up about him and Janice, Lt. J’hana is upset that no one thought to name a maneuver after her, and of course your parents had to stop by and try to apologize about the other night…and on top of all that, Charlie has developed a new rash!”
Baxter shrugged. “I guess some days are better than others.”
“Most of our problems are stemming from Lt. Ford’s newfound fame, you realize.”
“You’d think he’d be enjoying it.”
“None of us are enjoying it. We have reporters combing every square centimeter of this ship. No one is getting any work done and everyone’s edgy. Things were easier when all we had to worry about were cults, the Dawg, and the Leeramar.”
“I think that may be an exaggeration.”
“At least the Leeramar don’t bump into you in the corridor and call you a ‘space-babe.’”
“Space-babe?” Baxter arched an eyebrow. “Someone did that to you?”
“No, they did it to Charlie. Of course they did it to me!” Peterman stabbed her lettuce ruefully. “Andy, you have to get those reporters off this ship.”
“We can’t do a thing about it, honey. It’s good PR to have these guys aboard, and we have to seem as welcoming as possible.”
“Well, I won’t be held accountable if I bash one of their heads in.”
Baxter grinned. “I’ll look the other way.” The Captain reached across the counter and took Peterman’s hands. “Kelly, listen, you won’t have to worry about these reporters for much longer. President Inyo and his delegation will be arriving early this evening, Ford will get his stupid medal, the reporters will leave, and we can return to worrying about how to defeat my parents.”
“I guess you’re right,” Peterman said. “You always have a way of putting things into perspective, Andy.”
“Captain Baxter…” Shannon Schroder said cheerfully, approaching Baxter’s table. “Is it okay if we do that interview now?”
“We’re trying to eat lunch,” Peterman said, struggling to be polite.
“I was actually almost finished,” said Baxter, grinning at Schroder. “How about I meet you in the lounge across the corridor in five minutes?”
“Sounds great,” Schroder said, turning on a heel and heading out of the Cafe.
“I can see why the Federation News Service hired her. She’s very nice,” Baxter said, as Peterman turned a dark look on him.
“Well, now I see why you don’t mind these reporters.”
“It’s not like that at all, Kelly. You’re being silly.” Baxter backed out of his chair. “I kind of like having the Explorer in the galactic spotlight. I’d say it’s about time, really. We’ve battled half-cyborg canines, traveled through time, resurrected an aging weight-loss guru, and saved the quadrant from Flarn. And the only thing we’ll ever be noted for is the Ford Maneuver.”
Peterman sighed. “I’ll gaurantee you it’s something Ford didn’t expect.”
Baxter shrugged. “Oh well, I’m off to my interview. Wish me luck, hon.”
“Good luck,” Peterman said, then slid down in her chair as Baxter walked away. “Ford Maneuver my ass.”
Lt. Ford fussed with his dress uniform. “I hate this idea.”
“What, getting a medal for coming up with that maneuver?” Gellar asked, adjusting his own dress uniform.
“Yes. Sooner or later someone is going to ask the wrong question and people will figure out that the ‘Ford Maneuver,’ is just pounding the control panel until sparks come out.”
Gellar nodded. “It’s amazing that someone hasn’t asked you a technical question yet. Sooner or later someone will ask you what exactly you did.”
“I know. My luck can only last so long.”
“Well, whatever the case, it’s been a good ride,” Gellar said evenly, checking his hair.
“It has not,” Ford said. “It’s been a horrible ride. I’ve been hounded, spied on, poked at, and prodded…in a bad way, for the last two days. I’ve had none of the good things that are supposed to be associated with fame like sex and loud music.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Zack,” Gellar said, shrugging.
“Tell me this is all a horrible dream.”
Before Gellar could reply, Ford’s comm badge chirped:
“Baxter to Ford. President Inyo’s Starship has just rendez- voused with us. We’re convening in the Main Auditorium in twenty minutes for the awards ceremony, after which we’ll be having a catered buffet dinner.”
“Understood,” Ford said woefully. “Come on, Brian. It’s time for me to face the music.”
Gellar rubbed his hands together eagerly, following Ford out of the room. “This is going to be good. It’s almost worth having Megan mad at me. What am I saying? Nothing’s worth that!”
“I hate dressing up for these stupid functions.” Commander Conway tugged at the collar of his dress uniform as he stood up on stage, watching the other senior officers line up beside him. One by one, Lt. Commander Larkin, Lt. J’hana, Lt. Tilleran, Lt. Gellar, Lt. Hartley, Lt. Commander Richards, Dr. Browning, and Counselor Peterman took their places.
“Then you went into the wrong business, Commander,” Captain Baxter said, studying his padd carefully. “Personally, I enjoy rubbing elbows with the Starfleet brass every once and awhile.”
“I’ll give you brass,” Conway grumbled.
“Now, now, Commander. I want you on your best behavior,” Baxter whispered. “Everyone in the quadrant will be watching this.”
Conway looked out at the sea of crewpersons, reporters, and dignitaries that packed the auditorium. None of that did anything to lessen his nerves. And if that all wasn’t bad enough, he’d also had six cups of coffee in the last hour, so his hands were trembling.
“All right, everyone,” Baxter said quietly, as the huge doors to the auditorium opened up. “Here they come.”
A string of Admirals, led by Admiral McGrath, strode down the aisle toward the stage. Behind them, President Inyo walked much slower, waving to the crowd and shaking hands.
“Mr. Briggs,” said Baxter, “cue the music…”
A spotlight shone on Briggs in a white tux at the left side of the stage. Briggs’s musical selection, “Big Shot,” by Billy Joel, played on, with Briggs chanting new lyrics:
You had to be a big shot, didn’t you,
You had to prove it to the crowd.
You had to be a big shot, didn’t you,
The Ford Maneuver knocked us out!
You saved us from a bad fight, last night,
You’re so much fun to be around.
You had to save the ship from a fright,
You had to be a big shot last night!
“What kind of crap is this?” Conway whispered.
“Don’t ask me. Just go along with it,” Baxter snapped.
The group of dignitaries climbed up onstage and took a position in front of the line of chairs in front of Baxter’s senior staff, as the lights came back up strong on the full stage and Briggs retreated behind the curtain.
“Well, I guess we should begin,” Baxter said, stepping out in front of the group and taking the podium. “Ahem. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Explorer. We’re glad to have you here to celebrate the excellence of one of our finest officers.” Baxter ignored the gutteral sounds that were coming from behind him, most likely from the direction of Conway, Hartley and J’hana. “Without further ado, I’d like to present to you Lieutenant Zachary Ford!”
As if on his way to execution, Lt. Ford stepped warily out onto the stage. As soon as he appeared, the assembly broke out into cheers.
“Hi, everyone,” he said sheepishly.
“And now, Admiral Frank McGrath,” Baxter said, gesturing to McGrath and returning to his place next to Commander Conway.
Admiral McGrath stood up, taking the podium.
“Thank you for that introduction, Captain Baxter,” McGrath said. “Since the Explorer project was launched a year and a half ago, I’ve begun doubting its validity. Sure, these people can explore space. All you need is a big computer to do that. But when your mettle is really tested, in the heat of battle…what then? Well, I’d like to tell you that the Explorer has at least one officer that is up to the challenge. Lieutenant Zachary Ford.” McGrath turned toward Ford and clapped his hands, and the audience did the same.
Ford shifted his weight as the crowd continued cheering. He could hear J’hana growling. Suddenly, the auditorium felt extremely hot.
McGrath continued. “As you all know by now, Lt. Ford was single-handedly responsible for getting the Explorer out of an engagement with a fleet of forty-three Leeramar battleships. Against those odds, is it any wonder we’re giving him the Starfleet Cross?”
“Is that what we’re giving him?” President Inyo asked, scratching his head.
“Uhm, yes,” McGrath said weakly. “Anyway, let’s cut to the chase and give Mr. Ford his due. President Inyo, if you’ll please do the honors…”
Inyo rose and took the podium next to Admiral McGrath. “Certainly. Um…” he leaned toward McGrath and whispered, “where is it?”
“I thought you had it,” McGrath said between clinched teeth, smiling out at the audience.
Baxter quickly rushed in between McGrath and Inyo, ducking under the podium. “It’s right here, sirs. Inside the podium.”
“Give me that,” McGrath snapped, grabbing the slick duranium case and handing it to Inyo. He turned back toward the microphone. “And now, President Inyo…”
“Greetings, crew of the Excalibur,” Inyo said brightly.
“Explorer,” McGrath seethed. “This is the starship Explorer!”
“Right, Explorer,” Inyo corrected himself. “I present to you, the Starfleet Cross.” Inyo opened the case and showed the medal to the audience.
McGrath cringed. “It’s upside down, sir.”
Inyo sighed. “Whatever.” He turned toward Ford, who’d been teetering nervously on the stage ever since he’d come on. “Mr. Ford, I am proud to name you one of Starfleet’s finest officers. And as such, you receive this very special faux-latinum medal and a decorative basket full of assorted fruits and cheeses which is…” Inyo glanced over his shoulder.
Dr. Browning was shoving a large hunk of cheese in her mouth. She glared at Inyo. “What? What is everyone looking at?” Browning kicked the empty basket behind the curtains.
“I mean, this very special faux-latinum medal…and that’s it.”
“Gee, thanks,” Ford mumbled, as Inyo pulled out the medal and draped it over his head.
“Do you want to say something or can I get out of here?” Inyo whispered, “these pants are riding.”
Ford struggled with the medal’s strap, which Inyo had messily tangled about his neck. “I…”
Then the auditorium deck thundered under the crew’s feet, the lights flickered, and Ensign Sefelt’s voice crackled over the comm system.
“All hands, this is Ensign Howard Sefelt, bridge duty officer. We’re being attacked by a squadron of Leeramar battleships…and my pulse just increased by two beats per minute…GOD HELP ME!”
“Sheesh.” Peterman rolled her eyes.
Baxter grabbed her arm. “Come on. Let’s get to the bridge.”
Baxter, Ford, McGrath, Inyo, and the rest of the senior staff fought their way through the melee that ensued in the auditorium, pushing toward the door.
“Captain coming through, captain coming through…make way!” Baxter barked, pushing press and dignitaries aside, as more hits cracked against the Explorer, rattling the room.
“Is this an earthquake?” Inyo asked, as security officers encircled him and the admirals.
McGrath grimaced. “No, Mr. President. We’re in space.”
Like a herd of cattle, crowds of people squeezed through the Explorer’s corridors as the alert klaxons wailed, Baxter and his staff leading the way.
When he reached the turbolift, Baxter turned around, flanked by his senior officers. “Listen, everybody! We’re at Red Alert, here. The senior staff is needed on the bridge. The rest of you need to stay down here. What do you all think? That all 200 of us will ride this turbolift all the way up to the bridge and everyone will get to see the fighting first hand?”
The crowd was silent a moment. Someone said. “Uh…yes?”
“Well, forget about it. Lt. Gellar will lead you all back to the auditorium and you can see all the action on our super big screen.”
“I will?” Gellar asked meekly.
“Go!” Baxter ordered, turning toward the opening turbolift doors and leading his senior staff in.
“Get out from under there, Ensign Sefelt,” Ensign Saral called out, firing the Explorer’s weapons as two of Leeramar battleships closed in on the viewscren.
Ensign Sefelt had curled himself under the command chair in a fetal position, muttering something about the air recycling system over and over again.
“Report,” Baxter barked, as he and the bridge staff, followed by Admiral McGrath and President Inyo, poured out of the turbolift.
“Four Leeramar battleships came out of warp off our port bow and began an attack, sir. The Salerno took heavy damage, two of the press ships were destroyed, and Mr. Sefelt is nearly catatonic.”
“Very well,” Baxter said, leading McGrath and Inyo toward the front of the bridge. “Mr. Ford, take the helm. Mr. President, Admiral McGrath, have a seat.”
“They’re taking our seats!” Conway said, stepping up behind the command chairs.
“Be quiet,” Peterman commanded, kneeling down and beckoning for Sefelt to come out from under the command chair. “Come on, Howard. This is no time to go into a ‘me’ phase!”
“J’hana, load up the quantums and fire a full spread,” Baxter commanded, as Sefelt squirmed under him. “Try to take out the two lead ships.”
“Thank goodness we have Lt. Ford with us,” President Inyo said fearfully.
Ford lowered his head as he swung the Explorer around three of the attacking ships, allowing J’hana a clear line of fire at the fourth. He had a bad feeling about what was coming up.
“There are too many ships for us to fend off at one time!” Lt. Tilleran cried out.
Baxter nodded grimly. “I think it’s time for the Ford Maneuver.”
“Ugh…” Ford moaned, squirming in his chair. He was afraid of this. “Captain, I…”
“No buts, Mr. Ford!” Baxter barked. “We need the Ford Maneuver now!”
“All right, all right.” Ford cracked his knuckles and stared down at the helm console. “Here we go…”
He slammed his hands down on the helm console, tapping in random commands, hoping one of them would reproduce the maneuver he pulled earlier.
Sure enough, the Explorer surged forward, slamming into one of the sleek Leeramar vessels and then backing into the one behind it.
Everyone was tossed haphazardly about the bridge as the pitch of the alarms grew more urgent. A valve busted above Richards’s head, spewing gas.
“We just lost the third and fourth lateral power conduits!” Richards called out. “We also have buckling on the forward and rear ventral hull plates!”
“Unorthodox, but it worked,” observed Inyo.
J’hana piped up. “Two of the Leeramar vessels are badly damaged. The other two are locking onto them with tractor beams and towing them away.”
“They don’t want to risk leaving any of their ships for us to study,” McGrath reasoned. “And they never gave us a reason for refusing our requests for a diplomatic summit.”
“They are not very personable,” Inyo added.
“Well, I for one am not letting them get away without an explanation. Open a channel, J’hana,” Baxter said, standing up and straightening his uniform.
“Aye, sir.” J’hana went to work at her panel. “No response. Shall I use a special hailing maneuver?”
Baxter glared back at J’hana. “Shut up, Lieutenant.”
McGrath and Inyo strode up to Ford’s place at helm. He turned around and grinned at them weakly. Then he looked at Baxter, Peterman, Larkin, J’hana and the rest of the bridge crew. He could tell by their dark expressions that they had all pretty much deduced that his maneuver was purely random.
“Marvelous,” Inyo said, clapping hands down on Ford’s shoulders. “You saved the Explorer again.”
“You’ll be even more famous,” McGrath said. “You’ve saved the ship twice, in two days!”
Shannon Schroder slid out from a nearby Jeffries tube, Trevor following after. “Can I quote you on that?”
“J’hana, get them off the bridge!” Baxter grumbled.
Ford looked up at McGrath and Inyo. Looked over at Schroder and her cameraman as they were dragged into a turbolift. Months filled with days like the last few days flashed through his mind.
“It was luck,” Ford finally said.
McGrath blinked. “What?”
“I just pressed some random buttons on the helm console,” Ford said. “And earlier, I just pounded my fist into it. It was pure luck that our ship wasn’t totally destroyed.”
J’hana huffed. Baxter rolled his eyes. Peterman smiled weakly and gave Ford “thumbs up.”
“Well,” McGrath said. “I guess we’d better get back to the Salerno and take stock of the damage.”
“Good idea,” Inyo muttered, leading McGrath back to the turbolift.
Once those two were gone, Baxter hovered behind Ford expectantly. “Contrary to what you might think, I’m not going to berate you about this, Mr. Ford.”
Baxter shook his head. “I expect you’ll be doing enough of that to yourself in the coming days, and that’s certainly satisfaction enough for me.”
Several minutes later, the line of admirals hurried onto the transporter pad, passing by Captain Baxter and his entire bridge staff.
Inyo followed after, stopping when he came to Lt. Ford. He ripped the medal off Ford’s neck. “I’ll take that.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. President,” Ford said quietly.
“Get me off this ship,” Inyo muttered, stomping up to the transporter pad.
Baxter wiped a hand over his face, looking away from the gloomy scowl that Admiral McGrath was shooting his way. “Energize, Lt. Hartley.” Once everyone vanished from the transporter pad, the senior staff began trailing out of the room, off to their various duties. “Dinner?” Baxter asked, putting an arm around Peterman and leading her out of the transporter room.
“Sounds good,” Peterman replied. She looked back over her shoulder at Ford. “I’ll get in touch with you tomorrow, Mr. Ford.”
Conway slapped Ford on the back of his head as he filed out. “So will I.”
“Ford Maneuver. Hah,” J’hana chortled, following the rest of the bridge crew out of the transporter room.
Ford remained there, not sure what to do next.
“Well, there go your fifteen minutes of fame, Mr. Ford,” Hartley said wryly, leaning against her console. “Hope you enjoyed them.”
“Not really,” Ford said, shuffling out of the transporter room.
As he made his way back to his quarters, Ford ran into Yeoman Huffmann.
“Hey, Lt. Ford,” Huffmann said, jogging to catch up to Ford. “I heard about your little embarrasment up on the bridge. Sorry to hear about it.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Maybe it’s time you came up with a new maneuver.”
Ford grinned and reached out his hand. “You mean like this one?”
“OOOOOOF!” Ford winced as Huffmann’s knee was thrust up into his crotch.
Maybe I should forget about new maneuvers all together, Ford thought, as he hit the deck.
COMING UP NEXT:
When Kris Larkin, Lt. Commander Larkin’s human counterpart, vanishes, Commander Richards and his android must search for her. What they find is a blast from the past, and a key to the diplomatic trouble the Explorer is handling on the homeworld of a…particularly flighty species from the Secondprize past. Sound complicated? That’s because it’s the next full-length Star Traks: The Vexed Generation book, “Birds of a Feather.” Coming in 1 to 2 weeks!!