Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 54644.5. A few days after the Starshine Kids were wiped out, the Explorer crew is still coping with the aftereffects. I’m talking, of course, about the renewed political stability and peace that’s overcome the Alpha Quadrant and our ship in particular.
“Bring it on!” Captain Andy Baxter exclaimed, as Janice Browning set before him the biggest tray of grapefruit he’d ever seen.
“Sorry it took us so long to get them in,” Browning said, wiping her forehead and collapsing, exhausted, into the chair across from Baxter at his table in “Space Tastes.”
“I understand how hard it was to get these,” Baxter said. “What with shipping regulations and all. I should have just picked up a few bushels while the Explorer was being repaired at Earth.”
“You were in debriefing, don’t blame yourself.” Browning studied the huge tray with awe. “I’m just glad we were able to find so many. I truly think you cleaned Earth out.”
“We’ll just go back in time and get some more, if necessary,” Baxter grinned. “Thanks for doing this, Janice. I know you had to spent all day in the kitchen on these.”
“Hey, what are friends for?” Browning had indeed been in her kitchen slaving away to prepare an array of grapefruit for Baxter to devour, ranging from grilled with yamok sauce, to dipped in honey, to baked in a soft dough, to spread on pizza, to chopped up in stir fry, to ground up in a glass of Brenalian rum with ice shards. Baxter loved his grapefruit.
Baxter stared eagerly at the tray and grabbed a fork. “It’s been all the sweeter for the waiting, Janice.”
“Don’t you mean all the bitterer?”
“Whatever.” Baxter was about to dig his fork into the fresh-baked grapefruit casserole, when he heard a voice chanting from the patio outside.
“He’s eating his grapefruit, eating his grapefruit!”
He glanced behind him, but saw nothing besides the occasional passerby. Ship’s Shoppes was not particularly crowded on weekday afternoons.
“Did you hear that?” he asked, looking to Browning.
“Sounded like someone talking about your grapefruit.”
Baxter shrugged and dug in.
“Eat that grapefruit! Shove it in!”
Baxter shot out of his chair. “Who’s out there?”
Browning got up. “Sit down and eat, Andy. I’ll find out. It’s probably just Ford being a jerk.”
“Tell him I’ll court martial him if he doesn’t cut it out,” Baxter said, and sat down. He grinned at the spread of grapefruit before him. It had been seven long months since he’d tasted that sweet fruit of the gods. Right, gods. Not Directors, damn it. Maloxitarianism was officially over in the Alpha Quadrant. It wasn’t needed, now that the Starshine Kids were gone.
He brought a luscious bite of sweet, bitter, cheese-covered grapefruit to his mouth, just as he heard Browning yelp in shock from out on the patio.
“Oh crap, not you! Get out of here right now. He is NOT to be bothered!”
“Step aside, chubbo. The captain’s audience awaits.”
“I said step aside!”
Baxter turned fearfully, grapefruit wavering on his fork. He thought he recognized that voice.
Alvin Ficker walked in, dapper in a glistening blue suit, carrying a microphone, followed by a man with a headset vidicamera.
“Look at him chow down! Starfleet’s finest!” Ficker grinned, approaching Baxter’s table. “What’s this?” He reached down, grabbed half a grapefruit. “Mmm, it sure smells good.”
Baxter gritted his teeth. “Give that back, Ficker! And how the hell did you get on my ship anyway?”
“Your ship?” Ficker looked back at the camera. “YOUR ship, huh? Don’t you mean the ship paid for by the tax dollars of Federation citizens?”
“They don’t pay taxes!” Baxter replied. “You know that!”
“At any rate, you don’t own the ship,” Ficker said, and studied the grapefruit. “Quite a spread, here, to be sure. And is that a glass of rum? Aren’t you on duty?”
“It’s none of your business!”
Ficker grinned back at the camera. “It’s the peoples’ business, Captain. They have a right to know what goes on aboard the Explorer, don’t they?”
“I don’t see why.”
“Perhaps that’s the problem,” Ficker said dully. “At any rate, that’s for another show. On to why I’m here…”
“Baxter to J’hana,” Baxter growled, rising to his feet.
“There is an unwelcomed guest aboard our ship, down in Janice’s restaurant. I want you here with a team, on the double.”
“Sir, I think we should talk about this…”
Baxter cocked his head. “What do you mean ‘talk’? I want you to come down here with a team and kick Alvin Ficker off my ship!”
“His ship,” Ficker said smartly to the camera.
“And find out who brought him here!” Baxter said, glaring at Ficker.
“Uh, I did, sir. Along with Lieutenant Commander Tilleran.”
Baxter sighed. He saw Browning waiting uncomfortably behind Ficker and his cameraman.
“It’s a little excess birthweight, if it’s anything!” she called over Ficker’s shoulder. “It’s perfectly normal! Tell that to your freaking audience!”
Ficker ignored Browning. “Sam, cut the feed.” He sat down at Baxter’s table and began munching on the half grapefruit he’d grabbed. “Maybe you haven’t heard, Captain, but I have a new vidivision show. We call it ‘The Alvin Ficker Show.’”
Baxter stared down at Ficker. “Good for you.”
“Starfleet had become too stressful. And I felt like I really wasn’t making a contribution to society.”
“I’ve got an idea for your contribution,” Baxter said. “Get a labotomy.”
“Let me get a rusty steak knife,” Browning said, rushing for the kitchen. “We’ll do this right now.”
Baxter grimaced. Ficker really hit Browning’s sore spot. “Listen, mister, I don’t know how you got aboard, or what clearance you have, but I don’t care. You be off this ship in one hour or I’ll personally beam you into space.”
“I have authorization from your commanding officer. One Commodore Velara, I believe.” Ficker’s cameraman produced a padd and handed it to Baxter. Ficker kept sucking on the grapefruit. “This thing is delicious, by the way.”
Baxter read the padd and grumbled. “You son of a bitch. You’re putting us on camera in front of the whole quadrant, and for what?”
“Keep cursing me, Captain. Sam, turn the camera back on.” Ficker tossed the half-eaten half grapefruit over his shoulder and leaned back, interlacin his fingers. “Starfleet jumped at the chance for me to cover a Starfleet crew on my first show. Good PR, you know.”
Baxter turned to the camera and plastered on a smile. “Well, I for one couldn’t agree more. I look forward to being on this new show of yours. I better do it quick, too, because I’m sure you’ll be canceled within a week.”
“That remains to be seen,” Ficker said, and stood up next to Baxter to face the camera. “For those of you who may be wondering where all this animosity on Captain Baxter’s part is coming from, allow me to explain. He and I were classmates at Starfleet Academy. He failed a flight test and blamed me. Let’s see a recreation of that flight test now. Run it, Sam.”
“And we’re clear,” Sam said, and tapped at a control padd.
Baxter turned on Ficker, his eyes burning with rage. “I don’t know how Tilleran and J’hana put you up to this, but I am not about to embarrass myself in front of the quadrant. My crew and I can act with composure and dignity, so whatever dirt you think you can throw in our face is not even going to phase us. I don’t know if you’re up on current events, but we just saved the f***ing quadrant three weeks ago, so whatever you have to throw at us doesn’t seem so damn scary at the moment!”
Ficker grinned through Baxter’s tirade, then stood up. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Captain.” And he shook Baxter’s hand. “This show should be quite interesting.”
With that, Ficker and his cameraman left.
Browning emerged from the kitchen. “Got my knife. Where is he?”
Baxter sighed and sat down. “Gone.”
Browning walked over and sat down beside Baxter. “Well, what happened?”
“He has orders from Velara saying we have to appear on his show in front of the whole quadrant tomorrow, at which point a ‘sexy secret’ will be revealed by Commanders J’hana and Tilleran.”
“Well, it’s obvious what they’re going to reveal to us. They’ve been… you know…doing the…nasty.”
“There has to be something more. Ficker hates me as much as I hate him. He wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t think we’d go down in flames and bring up his ratings at the same time.”
Browning sighed. “Well, all we can do is be ourselves.” She watched Baxter stare at his tray of grapefruit. “Aren’t you going to eat?”
Baxter grimaced. “I’ve actually lost my appetite.”
“Now I am worried.”
“So there was some minor flirtation between J’hana and Tilleran, before they became Imzadi?” Ficker asked, as Sam aimed his camera at Mirk and Lt. Megan Hartley, who were dressed in white painting smocks. They were remodeling the Constellation Club, which Mirk had kindly convinced the proprietor, Dillon Enterprises, to return to him.
“I would say so,” said Mirk. “They always seemed a bit interested in one another. They rarely talked. They never ate together, but when one of them would come in here, the other would glance up from her meal and watch. It was like a little cat and mouse game.”
“Sounds familiar,” Hartley said, grinning at Mirk.
“What do you mean by that?” Ficker asked.
“Nothing,” Mirk said quickly.
“There was a bit of flirtation between Mirk and I,” Hartley said. “I’d say it started about three years ago. We were put on a mission to go back to his home of Malox…”
“When you were back in the Delta Quadrant, on the Aerostar.”
Mirk cringed. “Megan, I don’t think they’d be interested in–”
“We would,” Ficker said, and turned to Megan. “Continue, please.”
“We flirted. I’d brush against him on my way to the replicator. He’d hand me my drink with a flourish of his hand, or put a little fancy umbrella in it. He got all moody when I would talk about Brian, who I dated for a time, in an alternate timeline, and I’d get equally jealous when he’d louse about with that little Bajoran tramp Amara.”
“She was not a tramp.”
“Ooh, she just wanted you because you were her boss.”
“She did not!”
“Mirk, wake up. You’re so naieve!” Hartley grabbed Mirk’s hand. “And that’s why I love the little guy. He’s not jaded like most of the creeps on this ship. Sure, he’s ten years younger than me, but he’s more mature, and more of a man than anyone else on this ship.”
Mirk blushed brownish. “Aw, Megan…”
“More of a man than Captain Baxter?”
“I can’t speak to that,” Hartley said uneasily. “Captain Baxter is…well, a one of a kind guy in his own right. He’s a little low in the self esteem department, but he’s got a great heart and a sharp intellect. Just don’t tell him I said so.”
Ficker grinned. “Wouldn’t want to dream of it. What about the other men on the Explorer? What can you tell me about them?”
Mirk stepped in front of Hartley protectively. “What are you doing here? Digging up dirt? I thought you were just asking about J’hana and Tilleran.”
“I’m just peeling back the subtle layers of life aboard ship, Mr. Mirk. Surely you all have nothing to hide, am I right?”
Mirk and Hartley exhanged nervous glances. “Course not,” Mirk said quickly.
“I don’t see what you want from me,” Commander Conway said, sitting uneasily rigid on the couch in his office, with Tyra Shar gripping his hand in a harshly proprietary way. “Sure, I went on many many away teams with Tilleran and J’hana. They’re good officers. We’ve suspected them of… getting together, over the last several months. But that’s their prerogative, right?”
Ficker nodded. “Sure, sure. They make a cute couple. Speaking of couples, you and Ms. Shar seem quite close.”
“He loves me more than any woman he’s ever been with,” Tyra said quickly.
“Is that so?” Ficker asked, looking to Conway.
Tyra glared hard at Conway. “Y-yes,” he said fearfully.
“Was there ever anyone else on the Explorer crew you were interested in?”
Conway glanced uneasily at the camera. “Well, if you must know, I guess Dr. Browning and I thought about getting together. But for the good of the crew, we figured that would be a bad idea.”
“Why is that?”
“Certain people, like Counselor Peterman, didn’t like the notion of us dating.”
“What business of theirs is it?” Ficker asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Tyra snapped. “He’s with me now. That’s what’s important.”
“And what about your former wife, Tyra?” Ficker asked. “One Jenna Fran?”
“We still see each other from time to time, when I go by the Book and Beanery.”
“But you are no longer together?”
Tyra shook her head. “Oh, no.”
“How would you describe your former relationship?”
“They’re lesbians,” Conway said quickly. “They had sex with each other, okay, and it turned me on every time they talked about it! Is that what you wanted to hear?”
Ficker tacked away at his padd. “Exactly what I wanted to hear. Thank you.”
“You better get out before I have my Yynsian waitress channel a past-life and kick your butt,” Dr. Browning said angrily from the doorway to “Space Tastes.” “From what I hear, she once was a tri-sector boxing champ!”
“I’m very sorry about the weight comment,” Ficker said. “You look beautiful. There isn’t an ounce of fat on you.”
Browning folded her arms. “You’re just saying that to get back on my good side.”
“Not at all. You are a vision of beauty.”
“Tell me,” Ficker said. “Did you ever consider dating Commander Conway?”
Browning blinked. “Well, I guess. It wasn’t a wise idea. There are all sorts of problems there.”
“Surely. But what about Commander Chris Richards? How does he fit in?”
“What has he told you?”
“Oh, nothing. We just dug in the personnel records a bit. You two used to date? And were engaged to be married for a year?”
“That’s in the personnel records?”
“Well, yeah, we dated,” Browning admitted. “But that’s over now.”
“But you wish you could get back with him?”
“Not at all. Where do you get that idea?”
“These are just questions, Doctor. Try not to get so defensive.”
“Then don’t ask stupid questions.”
Ficker glanced at a padd. “It says here Commander Richards had a brief relationship with a Kris Larkin, the woman his android daughter Kristen was modeled after.”
“That’s right. What about it?”
“How did that make you feel?”
“What does this have with Tilleran and J’hana?” Browning demanded.
“We’re just trying to understand how their crewmates interact.”
“You mean how much sex they have, don’t you?”
Ficker shrugged. “That’s one way of putting it. Now, how would you describe Mr. Richards’s relationship with Kris Larkin? Would you say it was a bit strange for him to be having relations with a woman that looks just like his daughter?”
“If you’re trying to get me to say he’s a pervert, you can forget it. Chris loves Kristen like a good Daddy should.”
“And what about Captain Baxter?”
“What about him?”
“Have the two of you ever…you know…thought about…”
“Andy and I are good friends,” Browning said. “Nothing more. And you can quote me on that.”
“Okay, okay. What about his relationship with Counselor Peterman? Would you call that a strong marraige?”
“The strongest,” Browning said. “Nothing will pull those two apart. And trust me, the cosmic forces of the universe have tried. They love each other more than any other two people I know.”
“You’ve managed to shy away from the subject of you and Commander Richards fairly well. Any reason for that?”
Browning shrugged. “What can I say? I’m just trying to cover my butt, you know?”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“Make it quick, Ficker,” Chris Richards said, sitting on top of the flat table of the Master Systems Display at the center of the engineering compartment, with Lt. Commander Larkin at his side. “I have a lot of work to do today.”
“I’ll be as quick and painless as I know how to be,” Ficker said with a winning smile. “I just really want to know how you would characterize your relationship with Kristen Larkin.”
“I thought we were going to talk about J’hana and Tilleran.”
“Oh, we are, we are. But I’d like to know a bit about their crewmates too.”
“Kristen is my daughter, plain and simple,” Richards said. “I love her with all my heart. I’d do anything for her.”
“That’s beautiful,” Ficker said dryly. “And Commander Larkin, how do you feel about your, uh, father?”
Larkin looked at Richards. “I feel nothing. I am an android, and therefore incapable of feeling.”
“I realize that, but surely you have some thoughts on your relationship with Mr. Richards.”
“Only that he created me, and I am, in a way, I suppose, thankful for that.”
“Aw, Kristen,” Richards grinned.
“But Mister Richards, you are only Commander Larkin’s co-creator. Wasn’t someone else also involved in her creation?”
“If you mean Private Henricks, sure,” Richards said. “He built the body, but that’s it. He just wanted some cheap, meaningless sex. He’s a sex- starved, brainless, lousy maniac with delusions of grandeur. But he was my roomate at Starfleet Academy, so I like him okay, I guess.”
“Grand,” Ficker said, and nodded at his cameraman. “That’s all for now. You two were just great.”
“Right,” Richards mumbled.
“I’ve saved the best for last,” Ficker said, looking across Baxter’s desk at the captain. Counselor Kelly Peterman sat up on the desk beside Baxter. “Thanks for conceding to this interview.”
“I didn’t have much choice in the matter, did I?”
“True. Why don’t we get right down to it. What do you think of the Explorer crew?”
“They’re the best crew in Starfleet, or any other fleet,” Baxter said. “Even the ones that have sex with one another, behind other ones backs. Even the silly ones, the stupid ones, the lazy ones, the crabby ones, the dirty, sick ones. They’re all great.”
Peterman patted Baxter’s hand. “I second that.”
“And you two have lived together on the Explorer for three years. And a little less than two years ago you were married.”
“Happily married,” Baxter said, interlacing his fingers with Peterman’s.
“And you’s say you’re happy with your life on the Explorer?”
Peterman grinned at Baxter. “We couldn’t be happier.”
“That’s what I like to hear. That’ll be all, then.” Ficker stood up.
“Wait,” Baxter said, standing. “Aren’t you going to ask us about J’hana and Tilleran?”
“Nope. I have all I need.”
Ficker and his cameraman left a curious Baxter and Peterman behind in the readyroom.
Peterman turned to face Baxter. “I can’t figure him out, Andy. Was he trying to trick us into saying something damning, or what?”
“It would figure,” Baxter said. “He’s been canvassing the ship. But, from what I’ve heard, everyone told him good things. We should have nothing to worry about.”
“Except for a Betazoid science officer sleeping with an Andorian tactical officer.”
“Oh, that happens all the time,” Baxter said. “I’ll just be interested to see where Mr. Ficker gets his ratings draw.”
Peterman sighed. “Me too.”
Supplemental. We’ve nearly arrived at Krinokor Three, a space station on the outskirts of the Beta Quadrant, owned by Krinokom Communications. There, we’ll appear before Ficker’s camera to have a ‘sexy secret’ revealed to us by Tilleran and J’hana. I don’t know how to prepare for a mission like this. I wish we could just simply rush in and blow the damn station to smithereens. That would make my life a hell of a lot easier. Uh, computer, strike that last bit.
“We have arrived in the Felevan system, sir,” said Lt. Commander J’hana from tactical.
“Counselor Peterman,” Baxter said, glancing to his left. “Please tell Commander J’hana I acknowledge her announcement, and she may request clearance for us to dock at Krinokor Three.”
Peterman rolled her eyes. “You’re still not talking to her?”
“Not until this foolishness is over.”
“Okay, but I think you’re being a bit childish about this.” She turned to J’hana. “Commander, he acknowledges…”
“I heard him,” J’hana grumbled.
“This space is filled with lots of interesting photonic phenomena,” Tilleran said meekly from her station. “Maybe we can…”
“Tell Commander Tilleran she can do whatever she pleases, and that she need not bother me with the details,” Baxter said and folded his arms.
“Andy,” Peterman grumbled.
“I heard,” Tilleran said moodily and stabbed at her station. “I was just trying to make conversation.”
“This place is tenser than a Vulcan/Romulan convention,” Ford said from the helm. “What’s the big idea?”
“The ‘big idea’ is that we’re scheduled to be grilled in front of a live audience of billions tomorrow,” Baxter muttered. “Thanks to Commanders Tilleran and J’hana.”
“Andy,” said Peterman testily, “you’ve got to get over this silly hatred of Captain Ficker. He’s not even in Starfleet anymore. There’s no need to compete with him!”
“So you say.”
The next morning, Lt. Commander Tilleran rolled over in bed and stared up at the ceiling. “Jan, what on Betazed have we done?”
J’hana giggled gutterally under the sheets. “Many things.”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“I think we’ve done what we should have done in the first place. We’re coming clean to the crew, and the whole quadrant while we’re at it.”
“But we really annoyed Captain Baxter.”
“So? We’re not going to be on this ship the rest of our lives. Why should we worry what Baxter thinks? Let him hate us.”
“But you haven’t heard what he’s been thinking. I have, unfortunately. If the crew gets embarrassed in front of the whole quadrant, he’ll blame us. And he’ll never forgive us.”
J’hana rolled over to kiss Tilleran on the forehead. “Ariel, everything will be fine. Trust in me. I will protect you.”
“Okay, Jan, I trust you already. But I don’t trust Ficker. What if he does something to seriously damage our crew’s reputation?”
“Then I will kill him. Fair?”
Tilleran nodded. “Now I feel much better.”
Baxter led the senior staff down the corridor to the airlock. “Okay, let’s get this overwith.”
“I don’t see what we have to worry about,” Commander Conway groused. “We all talked to Ficker. None of us said anything condemning. We’ll just listen to J’hana and Tilleran talk to us about their hot lesbian sex and get out in time for coffee and chocolate fingers.”
“It can’t be that simple,” said Richards. “He has to have other motives. He’s going to screw us, one way or another.”
“Not as long as we stick together,” said Peterman. The airlock opened with a hiss, and she and Baxter ducked inside. Conway, Larkin, Richards, Browning, Tilleran, J’hana, Hartley, and Mirk followed.
“Then we stick together,” Hartley said confidently, and held Mirk’s hand. “Right, bucko?”
“Indeed,” Mirk grinned.
Baxter swallowed uncomfortably as a couple Klingons in vidi head-sets led he and the crew through the corridors of Krinokom Three. What was he about to be in for?
The massive double doors to Studio 4A opened with a grinding sigh and Baxter and his senior staff were led in. Suddenly he realized what they indeed were in for:
A studio filled like a football arena with screaming fans, all shouting, “Ficker, Ficker, Ficker, Ficker!”
He had a following already.
And he stood there, grinning like the devil, in a glowing lime green suit, at the front of the auditorium, in front of a stage that was lined with chairs.
Baxter swallowed hard again.
“Come on up on stage, Baxter,” Ficker grinned, gesturing like the ambassador to hell. “Your public awaits. We go on in five.”
Like a prisoner to execution, Baxter led the way onstage.
“Coming to you live, from Studior 4A on station Krinokor 3, it’s the Alvin Ficker show, starring Alvin Ficker. Mr. Ficker’s guests today are the senior staff of the Starship USS Explorer, which, along with the USS Pathfinder and other vessels, saved this quadrant from a massive cult invasion three weeks ago…”
“I can’t believe you let me sleep through that,” Harlan Baxter harrumphed, curled on the couch with Captain Lucille Baxter of the starship Pathfinder. Their cabin was dim and candlelit, but now glowed with the viewscreen glare of the so-called “Alvin Ficker Show.”
They’d been planning a romantic night, but once they heard about the show, and its guests, they quickly tuned in.
Lucille sighed. “Harlan, I was busy. I didn’t have time to wake you. Besides, it’s your own fault you slept through all those explosions.”
“I wish I was still an ambassador.”
Lucille squeezed Nelson’s hand. “I know you do. Want me to make some popcorn?”
Once the introduction segment was over, Ficker wasted no time getting down to the nitty gritty.
“Tell me, Captain,” Ficker said, standing in a row in the midst of the huge audience, addressing Baxter, who was at the right end of a long row of chairs. The other staff were fanned out according to rank, with Mirk and Hartley at the far left end. J’hana and Tilleran were absent, but two chairs waited at Baxter’s side for them. “How long have you known Commanders Tilleran and J’hana?”
“Nearly four years now,” Baxter said easily. He looked right at the imager that was aimed at him. “And I find them extremely competent officers, no matter what their sexual orientation may be.”
“Very well,” Ficker said, stepping down the aisle steps to get closer to the stage. “But let’s get to the core of the matter. What do you know of their romantic history?”
“Bits and pieces, really,” Baxter said. “I’ve seen them kiss. A lot, really. And passionately, not like friends.”
Peterman, who sat at his left, patted him on the leg. “Andy…”
“Do you have something to add, Counselor?” Ficker asked. “Maybe you can speak to their mental competence?”
“J’hana has had a history of temper trouble,” Peterman admitted. “But I think she’s controlled it well over the last several months.”
“Mm hm. And Commander Tilleran?”
“Well, she’s a Betazoid. And not to malign any Betazoids out there, but she’s nosey. She likes to poke in others’ minds without permission.”
“And, over the last seven or eight months?” prodded Ficker.
“Well, I’d have to say she’s improved somewhat.”
“Can you lend this to any closeness in their relationship that may have arisen in that time?”
Baxter looked uneasily at Peterman.
“I cannot confirm or deny that, Alvin.”
“Very well,” Ficker said. “Let’s go ahead and bring out our guests of honor. We welcome Lieutenant Commanders Ariel Tilleran, and J’hana Ninehive.”
Tilleran and J’hana walked in, to the cheers of the audience, and took their seats at Baxter’s right.
“Incidentally, my name is J’hana of the Ninth Hive,” J’hana said, somewhat testily.
“My apologies,” Ficker said, looking at an index card. “Can you tell me what each of you do aboard the Explorer?”
“By day or by night?” J’hana said mischievously.
“By day,” said Ficker dully.
“I’m Chief Science Offier,” said Tilleran.
“And I am Chief of Tactical and Security,” J’hana said.
“And the two of you were recently promoted from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander,” Ficker said, reading from his card. “Is that right?”
“That is correct,” J’hana said, shifting in her chair.
“Care to tell us why?”
“We acted above and beyond the call of duty,” Tilleran said. “In the matter with the Starshine Kids.”
“Care to go into details?”
Tilleran and J’hana exchanged glances.
“No,” said J’hana.
“All right, then,” Ficker said, pacing between the rows of eager audience members. “Let’s just get down to it. The two of you have something to say to your friends on the staff of the Explorer?”
“Indeed,” J’hana said. “Ariel, you may speak best on this issue.”
Tilleran nodded. “Thanks, Jan.” She turned to look down the long row of Explorer crew. “Well, guys, this isn’t easy to say.”
“OUT WITH IT!” screamed an audience member, a fat Tellarite woman, standing. Ficker smiled.
“J’hana and I never actually had sex.”
“WHAT?” demanded Conway, and others rumbled with similar reactions.
“Not, that is,” Tilleran continued, “until the unfortunate encounter with the leader of the Starshine Kids three weeks ago.”
“I’m amazed,” Baxter said, scrubbing a hand down his face.
“You two have a lot of explaining to do,” Peterman said, looking sternly at Tilleran and J’hana. “Why have you two been leading us on so?”
J’hana squirmed in her chair. “What has happened to Tilleran and I is not an easy thing to explain.”
“Yeah, it is,” Tilleran said. “It’s called ‘Imzadi.’”
“Right,” Ficker said. “And for our non-Betazoid viewers out there, that means ‘The state of mind that arises between a Betazoid and his or her lover; a state of pure telepathic contact and understanding, an overwhelming connectiveness, a bond that cannot be broken.’” Ficker turned to face his audience. “That’s taken directly from the Encyclopedia Galactica.”
“At any rate, we became Imzadi,” Tilleran said. “It happened about eight months ago. We were on shoreleave, while the Explorer was being reassigned. J’hana and I got drunk at a bar in San Francisco.”
“Anyone who has been to San Francisco knows what kind of place that is,” J’hana added.
“Well,” said Tilleran, “to make a long story short, we got together with this Gorn, and when we woke up, we were Imzadi.”
“That doesn’t happen often in your species, I take it,” said Ficker.
“Rarely, if ever,” Tilleran said. “We saw all sorts of experts. They think since I’m on the high end of the telepathic scale, I make the Imzadi bond more easily than most Betazoids.”
“And she shags like a Tarkalian razorbeast,” J’hana added.
“Nice of you to say, but it’s beside the point,” Tilleran said. “Over the last several months, J’hana and I have been doing everything in our power to sever this connection. We’ve tried pills, pumps, spells, surgeries, potions, chants, rituals, the whole nine yards.”
“So that’s what all that constant noise is about,” said Dr. Browning.
“Yes, Dr. Browning, you live next door to Lt. Commander Tilleran, do you not?” asked Ficker.
“And you noticed quite a bit of noise in Lieutenant Commander Tilleran’s quarters?”
“I’ve been wearing earmuffs to sleep.”
“But it’s all just us trying to disentangle ourselves from each other,” Tilleran said. “Sure, we hang around together lot. We’re intimately connected. The kissing’s just for show, really. Sure, it’s fun, but I’m straight as a rod. So’s J’hana. Right, Jan?”
J’hana made a low gurgling noise.
“J’hana, I think you have something to say to Commander Tilleran.”
Tilleran glanced at Ficker. “What?”
J’hana nodded. “That is right, Alvin.” She stood, then pivoted toward Tilleran and dropped to one knee. She produced a box from her pocket. “Ariel, my Imzadi, I would like you to marry me.”
The crowd erupted into cheers and boos. Every mouth up on stage, save J’hana’s, hung open.
“What’s in the box?” Ficker asked with a s***- eating grin.
“A spiny dart, which we must each pierce our chest, to fortify our blood-bond,” J’hana explained easily. She looked to Tilleran. “Well?”
“J’hana, I, uh…”
“NO!” came a scream from backstage. A man none of the crew on the stage recognized rushed onstage and tackled J’hana. In a whirl of blue motion she flipped him over and pinned him, drawing a hand back to chop a killing blow to his neck.
“Ficker, Ficker, Ficker!” roared the crowd.
“EXPLAIN YOURSELF!” she commanded, shoving the hand against his throat.
“Leehghgho…” he murmurred.
A Benzite, Ficker’s former first officer, Commander Eno, approached J’hana and pulled her off the surprise visitor.
A stage hand pulled up a chair for the new arrival, right next to Tilleran, who just covered her face.
“Tell us who you are,” Ficker said, indicating the newcomer.
“Crellus Risello,” the man said. “I run a lucrative properties firm on Betazed. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Century 25?”
“Indeed,” Ficker said. “And how do you know Commander Tilleran?”
Crellus smiled. “Her parents promised her to me when I was three.”
“I don’t believe this,” muttered Tilleran.
“I’ve been watching your career with satisfaction,” Crellus said. “I’ve just been waiting for the right time to reveal myself and ask for your hand. In the old days, the parents set the time, but the new Betazoid is flexible in these matters. So, what do you say, Ari?”
J’hana broiled at Tilleran’s right. The rest of the senior staff seemed busy looking at their clothing, or fingernails, or aspects of the set, which resembled a Starship crew lounge.
Tilleran made several mouth-movements, then, finally, said, “It’s not very romantic.”
“We can make it romantic. I am rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Let me take you on the most delightful space cruise you’ve ever seen!”
“Well, it sounds nice, but…”
“You can’t refuse!” said Crellus. “You’ve been promised to me!” He kneeled before Tilleran and produced a boquet of flowers.
“NO!” J’hana screamed, and dove on the flowers, ripping them to shreds. She grabbed Crellus by the throat and lifted him in the air.
“Ficker, Ficker, Ficker!”
“Let him go,” ordered Eno from the sidelines. “We will stun you, if necessary!”
J’hana sighed and released the Betazoid. “Fine. Fine, Ariel. Have your little Betazoid man. See if I care.”
“I don’t want either of you,” Tilleran said definitively. “I don’t need to be tied down, by an overzealous Andorian lesbian or an arrogant Betazoid financier.”
“And you heard it here first,” Ficker said. “After the break, we’ll take a look at some footage of the Explorer’s heroic crew. We’ll be right back.”
“And we’re out,” said the stage manager, holding a padd off at the far left side of the stage.
“If you wish, I’ll get my lawyers involved in this,” Crellus said, once again comfortably seated by Tilleran.
“Do your worst,” Tilleran muttered, turned to J’hana, who, also, had stormily sat down. “Jan, what did you expect me to say?”
J’hana harrumphed. “I expected you to say ‘yes.’”
“That was such a silly stunt. In front of all those people…”
“I assumed you would find it romantic.”
“You were wrong. I’m not marrying you. We were trying to get rid of this Imzadi bond, remember?”
“Yes, well I found I actually began to enjoy it. Even Dwanok the Large has not brought about the level of satisfaction in my life that you have, Ari.”
“I’ll be available to talk to all three of you after the show,” Peterman whispered, leaning over Baxter’s lap. “Just try to hang on a little longer.”
“I do not need your quackery,” J’hana said. “I simply wish to be left alone, to sulk in my failure and commit ritual suicide.”
“Now there’ll be none of that!” Baxter said.
“What a mess,” said Tilleran.
“When am I going to get to talk?” Richards asked, from down the line.
“Shut up!” Browning said, and bopped him on the head.
“And we’re back,” Ficker said, motioning to the stage. “A lot has happened in the last fifteen minutes. We’ve come to quite a few revelations. Let’s review.”
“Let’s not,” Baxter grumbled.
“First, we learned that J’hana and Tilleran were not actually having sex on all those hot nights in the Tilleran quarters. Next, we realized that J’hana actually does have some hot lesbian feelings for Tilleran. Thirdly, we met Crellus, who is promised to be wed to Tilleran, and who vows to make good on that promise.” He grinned at the audience and chuckled. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but it sounds like a full show to me. Could there possibly be more? I think so.” He stepped down the aisle steps, gesturing up at the stage. “Something had to create an environment stifling enough that a relationship as dysfunctional as the one between Commanders J’hana and Tilleran might flourish on board the Explorer. Let’s take a look at some of the crew that J’hana and Tilleran work with on a daily basis, and maybe we’ll get a better insight into what’s caused all this misery.”
Baxter rubbed his eyes. “Oh, brother.”
“Turn toward the viewer behind you, if you plese,” Ficker said, and the crew on the stage turned to watch the viewer. “Roll it.”
“What do you think of the Explorer crew?” an off- screen Ficker said to Baxter and Peterman, who were seated at Baxter’s readyroom desk.
“They’re silly, stupid, lazy, crabby, dirty. They’re all sick,” the viewscreen Baxter said choppily. Someone had been cutting and pasting the footage.
“I second that,” said the viewscreen Peterman happily.
“What if I told you the Explorer crew all died in a horrific accident. What would be your reaction?” the off-screen Ficker asked.
Viewscreen Peterman grinned at Baxter. “We couldn’t be happier.”
“This is a disaster,” Commodore Velara said, staring at her desktop viewer. “It was nothing like Mr. Ficker promised us.”
Telvin, who sat across the desk from her, nodded. “I just wish Sesil could be here to watch. He’d probably really enjoy this.”
Velara raised an eyebrow. “Indeed.”
“This is an obvious forgery,” Baxter said, eyes wild with ire. “Even you should be capable of something more sophisticated than this, Ficker!”
“Forgery or truth?” Ficker asked the audience. “Let’s let the people decide.” He pointed his microphone into the audience.
“Ficker, Ficker, Ficker!”
Where did he get these people from? Baxter wondered.
“I’m done with this,” Baxter said. “We’re out of here.”
Conway grumbled at Baxter. “What, afraid you’ll be found out for the fake you are?”
“Don’t be silly, Conway. This is an obvious forgery…”
“Or are you really sick of us? I’d like to know!” Conway demanded.
“Let’s see some more tape,” Ficker said with an evil grin.
Conway appeared on the viewscreen, with Tyra Shar.
“What do you think of Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman?” inquired the off-screen Ficker.
“A bad idea,” said the viewscreen Conway.
“That’s no biggie,” the live Conway said. “I didn’t say that, but I would have gladly said it anyway.”
“Let’s continue,” Ficker said.
“What about Counselor Peterman and her good friend Doctor Janice Browning? What can you tell us about them?” the off-screen Ficker said.
“We’ve suspected them of… getting together, over the last several months. But that’s their prerogative, right?” said viewscreen Conway.
“True,” replied off-screen Ficker. “But let’s get one thing clear. What exactly is the nature of Peterman and Browning’s relationship?”
“They’re lesbians,” viewscreen Conway said quickly. “They had sex with each other, okay, and it turned me on every time they talked about it! Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“That is HOT!” Richards exclaimed.
“We did no such thing!” snapped Browning.
“You are one sick f***!” Conway called at Ficker. “How dare you–”
“How dare you!” Baxter exclaimed, turning on Conway.
“Sir, like you said, it’s a fake!”
“How am I to be sure?”
“I didn’t make it with Janice, Andy,” Peterman said. “Don’t be silly.”
“Oh, so now I’m silly.”
Ficker cackled. “This is fantastic. On to more tape…”
“There was a bit of flirtation between Baxter and I,” screen Hartley said. “I’d say it started about three years ago. We flirted. He got all moody when I would talk about Brian, who I dated for a time, in an alternate timeline, and I’d get equally jealous when he’d louse about with that little tramp. He’s not jaded like most of the creeps on this ship. Captain Baxter is a one of a kind creep. He’s a little low in the intellect department, and he’s so naive!”
“When you’re right, you’re right,” Captain Lisa Beck of Waystation said, heading up the conference table where the rest of her senior staff had gathered to watch what Krinokom Communications had billed as the “Dressing Down of the Explorer crew.”
“More popcorn,” Lt. Commander Morales asked, shoving the bowl across the table to Beck.
“Please,” Beck said, and grabbed a handful. “You know, this is top-rate entertainment.”
“I’m already thinking syndication,” said Bradley Dillon, from the opposite end of the table.
“WHAT?” demanded Peterman. “TRAMP?”
“You better have bodyguards, Ficker,” Hartley seethed. “I didn’t say anything like that.”
“You’re just trying to divide us,” Mirk said, pointing at Ficker. “But it won’t work, I promise you that!”
“You little scheming bitch!” Peterman cried, and hopped across her chair to grab Hartley’s hair.
“Let’s see what Janice Browning had to say,” Ficker grinned.
“Doctor Browning, did you and Captain Baxter ever…get together?” off-screen Ficker asked impishly.
Screen Browning blinked. “Well, I guess. It wasn’t a wise idea. There are all sorts of problems there.”
“Surely. But what about Commander Chris Richards? How does he fit in?”
“He’s a pervert, you can forget him. That’s over now.”
“You say he’s a pervert? Does that have any effect on his relationship with his daughter, Kristen Larkin?”
“You mean how much sex they have, don’t you?”
“Chris loves Kristen like a pervert.”
“And what about Captain Baxter?”
“He loves me like a good Daddy should.”
“Janice!” exclaimed Baxter.
“Janice!” exclaimed Richards.
“Andy!” exclaimed Peterman.
“RATINGS!” exclaimed Ficker.
“He loves me like a good daddy should.”
In a bar, on Mars’s moon Phobos, Admiral Frank McGrath ordered another double shot of whiskey, neat.
“Keep them coming,” he grumbled drunkenly.
“You know those people up on the screen, boss?” asked the bartender as he poured McGrath another.
“Yup. Unfortunately. Damn Explorer thing’s gone all to hell. You got any popcorn?”
“You are going to hell for this!” Browning yelled at Ficker. She turned to Peterman. “Kelly, I swear, none of that is true! It was all twisted around!”
“You think I have sex with Larkin!” Richards cried. “What’s next? What the hell is next?”
“Let’s find out,” Ficker giggled.
“How do you feel about your commander, Captain Baxter?” off-screen Ficker asked of on screen Richards.
“He’s a sex-starved, brainless, lousy maniac with delusions of grandeur,” screen Richards said.
“What about Counselor Kelly Peterman?”
“I love her with all my heart. I’d do anything for her.”
“But she’s married to your supposed best friend,” off-screen Ficker said. “How do you explain that?”
“She just wanted some cheap, meaningless sex,” replied screen Richards.
“And Commander Larkin, how do you feel about your father despising Captain Baxter, and sleeping with his wife behind his captain’s back?”
“I am, in a way, I suppose, thankful for that,”said screen Larkin.
“My internal logs can dispute that much,” the live Lt. Commander Larkin said. “This entire show is a farce. Anyone watching should switch off their viewscreens immediately.”
“I’ll be damned,” Baxter said, glaring at Richards. “What gives?”
“ARE YOU STUPID?” Peterman asked Baxter. “This is all a set-up. We’ve been made into a laughingstock!”
Baxter’s lip quivered. “Yeah, I can see that, I guess.”
Everyone on the stage looked shaken.
“The fun isn’t over,” said Ficker. “We have a special guest waiting in the back room, in a soundproof booth. He just watched Commander J’hana’s recent proposal to Commander Tilleran on a private viewscreen.”
“Who could that be?” Baxter wondered.
“DIE!” Dwanok the Large bellowed, rushing onto the stage and ripping at the first person he could get his meaty hands on, which happened to be Commander Richards.
“HELP!” Richards cried, as he was hurled bodily into Ficker’s audience.
“Ficker, Ficker, Ficker!”
“We’ll be right back for my final thoughts,” Ficker grinned at the camera.
“I wonder why we weren’t interviewed,” Jad Vorezze, captain of the undercover Section 31 flagship Banshee, said, shoving popcorn into Chief of Operations Tagel Axik’s mouth as the two watched the Alvin Ficker show in a hot tub full of bubbles.
“Because we barely know them,” said Axik.
“Of course. But we did a hell of a job helping them stop those Starshine Kids.”
“But that’s confidential.”
“So we’ll never get any credit.”
“Unfortunately not,” replied Axik. “Hey, by the way, you aren’t promised to anyone back on Betazed, are you?”
“Uh…” Jad shoved another handful of popcorn into Axik’s mouth. “Let’s see what else’s on.”
After the stage was cleaned up and Dwanok was put safely behind a forcefield backstage, the Alvin Ficker show returned to the airwaves.
Ficker sat down on a stool and faced the camera. “Now, for today’s Final Thought. Starships are supposed to be professional places where Starfleet crews take on the awesome responsibility of protecting Federation citizens. If the USS Explorer is any example, Starfleet is not doing a heck of a job. Here you have a Captain whom none of the crew respect, and a crew that engages heavily in debauchery, lies, and cheating whenever possible. Certainly, we may have used a few bits of artistic license to underline these points, but the bottom line is, the Explorer crew is incompetent. What’s to be done? Well, I have quite a few suggestions on the subj–”
“Wait!” said a voice. Baxter walked up behind Ficker, right into the frame of the camera recording him live. “I brought a clip.”
“This isn’t that kind of a talk show,” Ficker said testily. “You can’t bring a clip. Go sit down.”
“I think this clip needs to be seen.” He turned toward the audience. “Want to see another clip? Want to see some more action, huh?”
“CLIP, CLIP, CLIP!” chanted the audience. They were joined by the hoard of crew on the stage.
“I did not bribe you for this!” Ficker cried at the audience, shooting off his stool.
“Bribe?” Baxter asked, turning. “NOW it makes sense.”
Ficker folded his arms. “Fine. Show your damn clip. See what difference it makes.”
“Glad you approve,” Baxter said. “Baxter to Explorer.”
“Explorer, Ford here,” came the response over his comm badge.
“Mister Ford. Pipe in our video montage.”
“Right away, sir.”
“Montage?” Ficker asked fearfully.
Baxter clapped Ficker on the back. “Let’s take a look at the big screen, shall we?”
Booming classical music played in the background as the scene faded in:
Flight recorder shot of the interior of a Starfleet shuttlecraft. Inside, two men, Ficker and Baxter, were locked in combat.
“You cheated!” screen Baxter cried, leaping on top of screen Ficker. “Admit it, you son of a bitch!”
“I did not!”
“You know what your problem is, Ficker,” screen Baxter said as he smushed screen Ficker’s face into the bulkhead. “You never grew up. You never learned how to take defeat, or how to be humiliated!”
“This is all nonsense,” the live Ficker said, waving at the screen. “It has nothing to do with this show. Shut it off.”
“Keep it on!” Baxter urged. “Right, people?”
“KEEP IT ON, KEEP IT ON, KEEP IT ON!” cried the audience.
“Did you cheat on that shuttle maneuvers test ten years ago?” asked screen Baxter.
Screen Ficker laughed. “Of course I did. I reprogrammed your navigational computer one day when you weren’t looking. I sabotaged the entire test.”
“So your whole career is based on a lie,” screen Baxter said angrily.
The audience booed at this, then the screen view switched to that of just Ficker, in a straitjacket: “Hello, Captain. I just called to wish you a pleasant journey. You know, space can be a very scary place. But I’m confident you can take care of yourself. And me, well, I’m on to greater things. I’ve been promoted to Admiral, you know. I’m going to be put in charge of a Starbase. I may even be given my own planet to govern. I’ll say hello to Captain Kirk and Ambassador Spock for you. You know they’re my close friends. Why, just yesterday I–”
“I was in a different place, then!” Ficker pleaded to the audience, who had decidedly turned on him. One huge man raged and threw his hat at Ficker. “You don’t understand. I was angry about Baxter winning the bet I’d made with him. I went…a little uneven for a while. But I got help! I’m better now! I’m reformed!”
Baxter nodded. “Then this clip takes place some time after your supposed reformation, Mr. Ficker…”
“Listen, mister,” screen Ficker said. He was standing in a starship corridor, leading a few Starfleet crew who were laden with luggage. “This is my ship! I say who comes with. And I say you don’t come with!” He looked to screen Peterman. “You, on the other hand, are more than welcomed to ride with me. If you become my willing loveslave until the end of time.”
“Forget it!” screen Peterman cried. “Not if you were the last humanoid alive.”
“This is stupid,” screen Conway muttered. “Shoot him, Captain.”
“If you insist.”
“Three minutes to warp core breach…” said the ship’s computer.
“Screw this!” screen Ficker said, and ripped his suitcase out of a crewman’s hand, throwing it at screen Baxter and the others.
They hit the deck with the suitcase, which smashed open to reveal a huge deflated plastic Gorn and fourteen bottles of spiced strawberry jelly.
“Oh, by the fourteen hives!” screen J’hana exclaimed, trying to climb out from under the huge, flattened Gorn.
Screen Tilleran rushed to the Andorian’s side. “J’hana!”
Screen Baxter ran toward the airlock, plowing into Ficker like a linebacker before he could duck in. “No you don’t!”
“Don’t just sit there, kill him!” Screen Ficker cried to his officers as screen Baxter rolled on top of him.
“Well…” said one officer.
“Belay that!” said screen Baxter. “Kill HIM!”
“Uh…guys?” said another officer.
“I’ll kill him!” screen Conway muttered, trying to climb to his feet. He slipped in jelly and fell back on his rear end. Tilleran moved to help him, then she slipped too.
Screen Peterman looked on with dissatisfaction. “Stop this insanity right now! We can all get out of here!” She ran over and jerked both men up by the backs of their uniforms. “You should both be ashamed of yourselves.”
“Two minutes to warp core breach.”
“She’s right, you know,” screen Baxter grinned, putting out his hand for Ficker. “Shake?”
“Sure.” Screen Ficker put his hand out, then quickly jabbed his knee up into screen Baxter’s screen crotch. The captain tried to scream but nothing came out, he just dropped to his knees.
“Sucker!” screen Ficker cackled and ducked into an airlock. The doors swished shut behind him.
“Allow me to explain,” Baxter said, addressing the audience. “That was your valiant talk show host, bravely kicking me in the crotch so he could escape my ship, which was at the time about to blow up. None of these clips have been altered, unlike Mr. Ficker’s. So think about what you’ve seen here today. Is this the kind of guy who’s qualified to lob outrageous accusations at me and my crew?”
There was a pregnant pause among the audience, then,
“Ficker, Ficker, Ficker, Ficker!”
Baxter sighed. “I give up.”
“With good cause.” Ficker grinned. “Thanks for coming on the show, Captain. You realize this was all just for a good laugh, right? We don’t really want any hard feelings. Shake?”
Baxter grinned back. “Sure.” He reached out to shake Ficker’s hand, then kneed him in the crotch, grinding his knee in hard. Ficker dropped to the floor like a sack of wheat. “That’s my final thought, you sick f***.” He looked at the camera. “That’s all for today’s show. Thanks for watching.”
On board the USS Secondprize, members of the senior staff Captain Alexander Rydell, Commander Jaroch, Commander Scott Baird, Lt. Commander Emily Sullivan, Commander Travis Dillon, and Lt. Commander Patricia Hawkins, watched the viewscreen in Dillon’s quarters with a mixture of confusion and shock.
On the viewscreen, an Asian Earth film star was shooting up a restaurant, ducking bullets and firing two…they were called ‘guns’…at once at his attackers.
“This Chow Yun Fat guy is really something,” Rydell said, breaking the silence.
“F***in’ A,” said Baird.
“He’s magnificent,” agreed Patricia Hawkins.
“I thought you’d like this one,” Dillon said. “And I have many more films where this one comes from. We could make a weekly event of it.”
“Don’t push your luck,” said Sullivan.
“I feel like we’re missing something,” said Rydell. “Jaroch, did you check the Krinokom listings for tonight?”
“Indeed I did,” said Jaroch. “I saw nothing of interest.”
And Chow Yun Fat fought on.
“Welcome to the Constellation Club, Mark II,” Mirk said, gesturing regally for the senior staff and others to enter the renovated cafe. Everyone was dapper in evening gowns and dress uniforms.
“No snappy new name?” Conway asked, with Tyra Shar on his arm.
Mirk shook his head. He straightened his bow tie. “Nope. I didn’t see the point. The Dillon corporation took my name anyway, so why should I change it?”
“Good point,” said Baxter. “One question. Why not change back to a cafe?”
Mirk indicated Browning with a nod of his head. “We already have a great restaurant. I don’t want to compete with Doctor Browning.”
“Good idea,” Peterman said with a grin. She recalled the time she and Mirk had competed to have a talk show. As soon as her thoughts wandered to the subject of talk shows, she immediately stopped grinning.
“Well the place looks great.” Richards took in the decor. The tacky neon and disco lighting had been replaced by a much more ritzy, classy look of subtle white lights and a shiny parquet dance floor.
“Thanks,” Mirk said, and winked at Hartley, who wore a classy sequined green gown. “Megan and I worked for three days on it.”
Hartley nodded. “We even put in holoemitters.”
“Whatever for?” asked Larkin.
“You’ll see,” Mirk said. “Once we cue the music.”
“Before you do,” Baxter said, “I just want to say something.” He grabbed a microphone off the bar and looked around at the senior staff clustered at the center of the club. “I want to tell everyone who took part in that unfortunate spectacle this afternoon that I’m very proud of them. Sure, we could have crumbled under Ficker’s assault, but we held. We HELD. I think that says something about us. About what kind of people we are.”
“If Ficker’s clips were any indication, it says we’re horny people,” Browning said with a giggle.
“Anyway,” said Baxter, “I’m glad to see we weathered the storm. It’s one thing for us to withstand the onslaught of the Starshine Kids. It’s another thing for us to withstand a psychological attack. That is, after all, where we’re most vulnerable.”
“Here here!” Peterman held up a glass of champagne. She’d hit the bar at the start of Baxter’s speech. She had to.
“So…uh, party down, everyone. You deserve it. And just remember, nothing that was said to day is true. Except the J’hana and Tilleran stuff, which we will never speak of again, because it is not any of our business.” And Baxter clinked glasses with Peterman and both tossed down champagne.
“HERE HERE!” cried the crowd in the club, and Baxter tossed Mirk the mike.
“Okay, pretty babies,” said Mirk. “Snuggle up to someone you love and get ready to dance the night away! I looked long and hard to find a singer in the databanks who everyone will like, and I don’t think this guy will disappoint. Here goes nothing! Computer, engage!”
On a stage at the front of the club, a hologram of a man glittered to life, sitting at a piano and wearing a gaudy outfit. And he sang:
“When are you gonna come down, when are you going to land? I should have stayed on the farm, should have listen to my old man. You know you can’t hold me forever. I didn’t sign up with you. I’m not a present for your friends to open, this boy’s too young to be singin’ the bluuuuuuues, ahhhhhh ahahhhhhh ah ahhhh….ahhhh ahhh ahhh…
“So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl. You can’t let me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plow!”
The crowd paired off and started slow-dancing. They weren’t so sure about the singer, but they decided not to question Mirk’s choices.
“I have to meet him!” Conway said, as Tyra led in the dancing. He didn’t have the nerve to mention that the man, at least in human society, traditionally leads.
“Why? He looks like a flake!”
“That is Sir Elton John! Don’t you understand, Tyra? He was knighted by the British! On Earth, that really means something!”
“Flake flake flake,” Tyra said, and jerked Conley’s head away from Elton John, who tapped happily on the piano on-stage. “You’re not here to lollygag at the performers.”
Meanwhile, J’hana and Tilleran danced stiffly several meters away, near the windows that looked out at the stars streaking buy as the Explorer cruised at warp out to the galactic edge.
“I’m sorry for my little announcement, Ariel,” J’hana said, leaning her head on Tilleran’s shoulder. “I really did not mean it. It was just a stunt.”
“Really?” Tilleran asked.
“Really. I am content to dance with you one last time. After that, our romantic relationship will be dissolved, in spite of the fact that we are still linked as Imzadi, and will forever be so.”
“J’hana, I can read Andorians, you know,” Tilleran said softly.
“Then read your way out the nearest airlock, you smug Betazoid,” J’hana grumbled, and held Tilleran tighter.
Up on the stage, while Elton improvised a piano solo in the middle of “Yellow Brick Road,” Dr. Browning leaned on the piano, grinning.
“I love those big glasses of yours. You have quite the eye for fasion!”
“Don’t mention it.” Browning glanced out at the dancers. Richards was dancing quite close with Ensign Madera. No matter how much she didn’t want him back, that still burned her. “So, Mr. John, what are you doing after the show? Want to go grab a drink?”
“I don’t think that would work out, hon.”
“Why? Because you’re a hologram?”
“Not exactly,” Elton said, and went back to singing. Browning walked off the stage looking disgruntled.
“So,” Mirk said, as he twirled Lt. Hartley by the stage and dipped her toward Elton John, who grinned at her politely as he played. “Given any thought to giving me a hand with getting my powers back?”
Mirk lifted Hartley back to face him. “Yeah,” Hartley said, and gave Mirk a twirl. “I’ve given it a lot of thought.”
“And I’m still thinking. I don’t like the idea that all that power rests on my consent to give you the night of your life.”
“Night of my life, huh? You really think it would be?”
“Mirk, you have no idea,” Hartley grinned, and dipped Mirk. He felt suddenly nauseous.
Peterman watched Mirk and Hartley dance by, then leaned her head on Baxter’s shoulder as they gently glided across the parquet floor. “They look really cute together, Andy.”
“He’s barely twenty, Kelly,” Baxter said. “Eleven full years younger than her.”
“So. They’re both legal.”
“Depending on who you ask. Step two three. The thing gives me the creeps. One romp in the sack with her and he might blow up in one big explosion of Maloxian powers. Step two three. It took us hours to get him off the battle bridge ceiling as it was.”
“It’s romantic, Andy,” Peterman said. “They’re destined for one another, can’t you tell? I don’t think there’d be any harm in them getting together. And it might just answer all of Mirk’s questions about why he belongs here, and what his mission in life is.”
“Why should he get any more of a clue than the rest of us? Step two three.”
“Good point. Now be quiet and try to keep your rhythm.”
Elton sang on: “Oh I’ve found where this side of my future lies, beyond the yellow brick roooooooad!”
After J’hana and Tilleran air their so-called dirty laundry to a quadrant of eager Ficker-fans, lots of questions remain as to what will become of the stalwart Andorian. J’hana goes on a quest to find herself, and the daughter of a planetary leader who the Federation wants to cozy up to. Will she accomplish her mission or try to get killed honorably? Can Peterman help J’hana get out of her emotional slump? How the heck do you counsel an Andorian anyway? Peterman better find out quick, or J’hana might just crack up totally. And you don’t want someone trained to kill bare-handed eight different ways to crack up, no sirree! Next week, find out why “There’s Something About J’hana”!