Author: Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Just for Show”
By Anthony Butler
“It’s coming. I can feel it.”
Yeoman Tina Jones sat across from Lt. Commanders Sean Russell and Craig Porter in the booth in Victoria’s pub, staring wistfully at the doors to the kitchen.
“We should have eaten in Starfleet Square Mall,” Russell said. “It would have been quicker. And I have a busy day.”
“You’re building a castle made of padds on your desk and you know it,” Porter said, leaning forward on his elbows. “Anyway. I like the feel of this place. Nostalgic. Warm.”
“And slow,” Russell said, rapping his knuckles on the table.
“I’m the one who should be impatient. I’ve got my first class today at the Starfleet Academy extension center.”
“That’s terrific,” Porter said. “You’ll be an officer in no time.”
“I’m a little nervous, to tell the truth,” Jones said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in any kind of classroom…except that Real Estate Development course I took on Betazed a few years ago. Wow, what a workout…”
“How long does it take to make bangers and mash, anyway?” Russell asked aloud, craning his neck toward the kitchen.
“What’s bangers and mash?” Jones asked.
“Good stuff,” Porter said. “Just relax. It’ll come.” He pointed at the viewscreen embedded in the wall beside the polished oak bar…the only thing in the room that didn’t scream 19th Century London. “Watch the news. That’ll make the time pass more quickly.”
“I only usually take forty-five minutes for lunch,” Russell said, glaring at the screen.
“You take two hours and you know it,” Porter said with a knowing grin. Russell harrumphed.
On the viewscreen, Joan Redding was, per usual, reporting the afternoon news bulletins.
Porter busied himself staring at the drink specials scrawled on the blackboard on the back wall of the booth.
“Aren’t you going to watch?” Jones asked.
“I…already watched news today,” Porter said, shifting a bit.
“He still feels awkward around Joan Redding,” Russell explained.
“I’m not around her,” Porter said. “She’s just on the…”
“Shhh…hold on…” Russell said, holding up a hand as Redding began talking about a new topic. A headshot of a wide- bodied Klingon male was floating as a graphic on the screen beside Joan as she spoke:
“…Klingon delegation will make a stop at Waystation, home of AWN headquarters, this week, on the way home from a successful summit regarding, among other things, increasing hostilities with the Gorn, aid to Cardassian nationalists, and a Romulan chiropractic practice opening up in the Neutral Zone. In a related story, Krinok, CEO of Krinokom Communications–and a civilian member of the Klingon delegation–has also announced that, during their stay at Waystation, a special, live episode of the popular holovision program ‘The Price is Blood’ will be broadcast on Waystation, featuring, among others…”
“Bangers an’ mash! Come an’ git it, loves!” the ornery, cockney waitress bellowed as she strode out of the kitchen, her tray weighed down with three plates.
As she approached the booth, she noticed that all three of its occupants were gone.
She sat her tray down on the table and scratched her head thoughtfully. “Fancy that. How come this ‘appens every time those Starfleet buggers come in’ere and order bangers an’ mash?”
Russell, Jones, and Porter nearly collided with Admiral Leelan Fonn as they barreled toward the turbolift to ops.
“Whoa, whoa. Slow it down a bit,” Fonn said, glancing with amusement at the officers as he waited for the turbolift to arrive. “What’s the rush?”
“Important…news…Beck,” Russell said, leaning forward, breathlessly, on his knees.
“There goes that rumor about security chiefs being in terrific shape,” Porter said, shaking his head as the turbolift door opened. He gestured for Fonn to step in, and the other three quickly followed. “Actually, sir, we just have a little heads up for Captain Beck.”
“Ops,” Fonn said. “At any rate, I hope it’s nothing too disturbing. “
“Well, it might be,” Jones said. “It involves a former game show host and current television mogul that Sean once knew.”
“Sounds like an interesting fellow,” Fonn said thoughtfully.
“He’s really not,” Russell said, leaning back against the turbolift wall.
“His channel is devoid of any good science shows. Kronos has one of the richest wildlife habitats in the galaxy,” Porter said. “Would it kill them to add one or two documentaries? I just know that holo-Richard-Forsyth would be thrilled to go there and do a special.”
“I like Days of Honor,” Jones said, and looked a little embarassed.
“I do too,” Fonn said, and nudged Jones with a smile.
“I do indeed.” The doors opened and Fonn strode out of the lift and up to the doors to Beck’s office. He glanced at the duty officer standing at the docking console. “Ensign…wait….”
“That’s me, sir,” Ensign Waits said.
“Wait…I know this one.”
“It’s Ensign Waits.”
“Really? And I just said ‘wait?’”
“But it’s actually your name?”
“If you add the S, sir.”
“Astounding.” He pointed at Beck’s office. “Is she in?”
“Captain Beck? Yes, sir.”
Fonn turned to find Porter, Russell, and Jones standing right at his back. “Want to come with me?”
“Well…” Porter said.
“If you insist,” Russell said quickly.
“I think you’ll find this most entertaining,” Fonn said with a genuine smile as he pressed the call button at Beck’s office door.
“Come,” Beck’s voice replied.
Fonn strode through the door, to find Commander Walter Morales sitting opposite Beck’s desk.
“…got ketchup all over the carpet on Deck Eighty- Seven….” Morales said, then stopped talking as soon as he saw the admiral. He stood. “Good afternoon, Admiral.”
Fonn patted Morales on the back. “Sit down. Untense those muscles a bit, son. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Do I look tense?” Morales asked, glancing back at Beck, then to the trio of officers standing behind Fonn. Russell, Porter, and Jones shrugged in unison. Morales sank back into his seat and moved his neck left and right. “I don’t feel tense.”
“Nonsense,” Fonn said, and pressed his hands down against Morales’s neck, rubbing vigorously. “The back of your neck is like one massive Beloovian monkey fist!”
“Something I can do for you, sir?” Beck asked archly as Morales writhed, wincing in agony as the Admiral kneaded his flesh.
“Yes, Captain. Just wanted to make you aware of a bit of station business you should…be…aware…of.”
“Oh?” Beck asked, her smile spreading as she watched Morales’s eyes roll into the back of his head, the pain growing unbearable.
“Yes. Nothing major. Just some Klingons…”
“Please…!” Morales suddenly shouted, wriggling out from under Fonn’s hand.
“I know, I know. A good Efrosian neck rub always leaves ‘em begging for more.” Fonn clasped his hands as Morales leaned over, gathering his wits. “As I said, some Klingons will be stopping by in a few days.”
“A delegation…actually. Should I have put this in a memo?” Fonn turned away thoughtfully. “This should have gone into a memo.”
“The delegation from Earth? From the summit?”
“Yes, yes, that’s the one,” Fonn said. “Command thought it would be a nice goodwill gesture if, on the way home, they stopped by Waystation for some R and R. You know…rest and…ruction.”
“‘Ruction?’” Jones asked.
“Noun,” Fonn said. “Meaning ‘a noisy disturbance.’”
“You were really reaching for ‘R’ words, weren’t you, sir?” Porter said.
Beck put up a hand. “Keep your thesaurus in your pocket, Craig. Admiral, are you telling me a delegation of Klingons…from the most important summit between Kronos and Earth in nearly a decade…are coming HERE in a matter of DAYS?”
“Two…to be exact.”
Beck stood up. “TWO DAYS?”
“My neck hurts,” Morales whispered.
“That’s not all, Captain,” Russell said. “Krinok is with them.”
“Yes!” Fonn beamed. “And that’s the best part.”
“Oh, goodie,” Beck said. “There’s a best part.”
Fonn’s beard twitched with excitement. “‘The Price is Blood,’ Krinokom’s new hit show, will be broadcast live from Starfleet Square Mall!”
“About that…” Sean Russell began. “Captain, any contestant who takes part in one of Krinok’s…contests…is liable to be…”
“And I’m going to be a contestant!” Fonn.
“Is liable to be Admiral Fonn,” Russell said weakly, backing up a few paces. “If you’ll all excuse me…I’m just going to be down in my office…gathering…weapons.”
Fonn glanced over his shoulder as Russell darted out. “What’s his problem?”
Beck stared at the doors to her office. “Klingon anxiety,” she said, then looked at Fonn. “Of course, we’ll be ready, Admiral. But I would have liked more notice.”
“I really should have written a memo.”
“Yes, about two months ago. Nevertheless, we’ll be ready. Commander Morales, will you begin setting up a stage in Starfleet Square, and make sure the VIP guest quarters are ready for the Klingons?”
Morales stood, then immediately winced. “Certainly. Right…after I get back from Sickbay.”
“Good. I’ll be belowdecks. Craig, you have ops. Tina, put together a nice welcoming ceremony for the Klingons.”
“But…I…have…class…” Jones called after Beck as she walked out of her office.
Fonn patted her on the back. “You sure do. I’m sure it will be a very classy party.”
“Bet you wish you were belowdecks eating bangers and mash, instead of this, eh, Tina?” Porter asked, nudging Jones as Fonn left the office.
“Not really,” Jones said, and darted out of the room.
“Need some help setting up the electrified fence?” Beck asked, standing in the doorway to Russell’s office.
He glanced up from his desk, and the terminal, where all of Waystation’s internal security measures were laid out on a diagram.
“I hadn’t thought of that. But it’s a good idea!”
“Aren’t you overreacting a little about the Klingons, Sean?”
“It’s not the Klingons that have me worried, Captain. It’s one Klingon in particular.”
“Krinok,” Beck said.
“Yeah. I’ll never forgive him for what he did to my vacation.”
“The game show you were on what…five years ago?” Beck asked, shaking her head. “Win or Die?”
“Win or Else,” Russell corrected. “You remember that?”
“How can I forget,” Beck replied, and eased into the chair opposite Russell’s desk. “You wouldn’t talk about anything else for weeks afterward.”
“I should’ve never gone to Kronos. I should’ve gone to Risa.”
“Kronos has better food.”
“You have weird taste in food.”
Beck shrugged. “So Krinok dragged you into a harmless game show…”
“It wasn’t harmless. It was torture. And at the end, I was almost eaten by my fabulous parting gift.”
Beck chuckled. “What was it, a targ?”
“An olak. And it was a nasty one. Nearly bit my finger off!”
“Still…as I recall, the show itself was fairly harmless. You won, didn’t you?”
“But if I’d lost, I’d have gone to Rura Penthe.”
“Food’s not so good there,” Beck admitted. “Still….that was a long time ago. Krinok runs a major media conglomerate now. I doubt he’s going to sacrifice all that by starting trouble on the station.”
“I don’t trust him,” Russell said, leaning forward. “And, with the Admiral as one of the contestants…”
“Yeah,” Beck said. “That bothered me a little, too. The last thing we need is for him to fall off the greased spire of Por’thos as he’s trying to grab the ring off the top of it.”
“Oh…my…God,” Russell said. “You watch The Price is Blood.”
“I may have…caught it…accidentally…while looking for…the…command show…” Beck said, averting her eyes.
“So you know it’s dangerous.”
“You really care about this, don’t you, Sean?” Beck asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I know my instincts, Captain.”
“Very well,” Beck said. “Contact the Klingon delegation. Tell Krinok’s people we’re adding another contestant.”
“You.” Beck smiled. What better way to protect the Admiral than from the inside?”
Russell slumped back in his chair as Beck walked out of his office. “Er…thanks.”
Yeoman Jones ran, breathless, into Room 232-J on Deck 87, stopping to brace herself on the desk in the front of the classroom. “Yeoman Tina Jones, reporting for…sorry I’m late for, uh…” She looked around. The room was empty, nothing but empty seats with little desks attached. Empty, that is, except for the man sitting at the front desk.
“Hello, Cadet,” the kind-faced asian man said, clasping his hands on top of the desk and smiling at Jones. “I am Commander Remo Nakahashi. You are here for Tactical Scenarios One- Twelve?”
Jones nodded, hugging her padd against her chest. “Yes, Commander. Again, I’m so sorry I’m late. You see, I had this big ceremony to plan for the Klingons and, well, the Starfleet Square Merchant’s Association doesn’t like fuscia, but our welcome banner is fuscia, and we get into this thing with them every singe…”
Nakahashi nodded sagely. “I understand. Take your seat, if you please.”
Jones glanced around the room. “Did you dismiss class early?”
“Your class begins now,” Nakahashi said, following Jones with his eyes as she sat down.
“Okay, okay…you’re doing a special after-class session for me, right? I can’t tell you how thankful I am, Commander…” Jones said giddily, pulling out her padd and tapping her name and date into it. That information was pre-programmed, but for some reason it just made Jones feel better to start out that way. She straightened up in her chair, smiling broadly. “I’m ready when you are!”
Nakahashi stared at her.
“You can start whenever you like. I’ve got my padd and everything, so…”
The Professor continued watching her, placidly, his eyes unbinking.
Jones glanced around. “Should I, uh…well..am I supposed to be reading my text quietly or something? I just downloaded it, so I confess that I…”
Nakahashi stared at her.
Jones stared back a few moments, beginning to feel like a strain of bacteria under a microscope. “Sir..are you going to say anything else? Because there’s like, forty minutes of class time left.”
Nakahashi stared at her.
TWO DAYS LATER
“Where ya going, Sean?” Lt. Commander Porter asked amicably, picking up step next to Russell as he worked his way through the mall, giving cursory glances at the storefronts.
“Where does it look like I’m going,” Russell said distractedly, his gaze seeming far-off.
“Command briefing? Weapons training? Security conference?” Porter stroked his beard. “Oh, no, wait. I get it. You’re going targ hunting!”
“Shut up,” Russell said, and stepped up to the turbolift, punching the call button. He shrugged uncomfortablly, shifting from foot to foot, resplendant in Klingon leather and chainmail, the typical uniform of a proud warrior of Kronos. “I’m going to meet with the Klingon delegation and you know it.”
“Look mommy! A Klingon!” a small child walking with her mother cried out as she walked by.
“That’s not a Klingon, dear,” the mother said softly, glancing at Russell. “That’s an idiot.”
“I said I was sorry I never called you back, Nancy! Can’t you get over it? Our date was four years ago! And you’re obviously…doing fine! What with the kid and all!”
Porter shook his head as the lift doors open. “Why you didn’t go into the diplomatic corps is anybody’s guess.”
“The Klingon getup was Admiral Fonn’s idea. He thought dressing up in this Klingon outfit would be…fun.”
“And? Is it?”
“My crotch is being hemmed in by four layers of sharp, interlocking metal,” Russell muttered, and stepped into the opening turbolift doors. “Does that answer your question?”
“You’re going to meet the delegation now?”
“I’m sure as heck not going to an aerobics class.”
“At least the hard part is over,” Porter said. “You know, introductions out of the way.”
“I’m still hung over from the blood wine,” Russell muttered.
“That was a nice reception last night. Remind me to tell Yeoman Jones what a good job she did.”
“It’s kind of hard to remind anyone of anything when you’re being…” Russell shifted. “PINCHED the way I am!”
“And the game show hasn’t even started yet,” Porter said with a smile.
“Go to Sto’vo’kor,” Russell muttered.
“Day two,” Yeoman Jones said, taking a big breath as she stepped up to the doors to Room 232-J. Since Starfleet Academy extension courses held were every other day, she’d had 48 hours to contemplate the odd behavior of Commander Nakahashi. Was it a test? Some kind of behavioral study, like the psychological entrance exam she’d heard about? She’d just figured Captain Beck had gotten her out of doing it, or maybe she didn’t have to take it because she was already in Starfleet as a Yeoman.
Maybe there was something more to it. Maybe Nakahashi was trying to make a point with his silence. Something about being late to class, maybe? Jones took that to heart. Being an officer in Starfleet was a trust not to be taken lightly, which is why she made a point to be a few minutes early for class this time.
She’d show Commander Nakahashi that his faith in her was justified. She’s prove herself worthy of Starfleet Academy, and of one day earning her commission.
She stepped toward the door, it opened, and she ducked into the classroom, nodding briskly at Nakahashi. “Commander,” she said, walking back to her seat in the middle of the classroom. She sat down, setting her padd in front of her on her desk, and then looked around. Once again, all of the seats were empty.
“Good morning, Yeoman!” Nakahashi said with a pleasant smile. “We’re glad to have you here.”
“I must be early this time,” Jones said self-consciously. “Better than late, though, huh?”
“Oh, yes,” Nakahashi said. “You’re early today.”
“So the others will be along shortly, then?”
“Others?” Nakahashi asked, raising an eyebrow.
“The other people in the class?”
“No,” Nakahashi shook his head. “No others in the class. Just you.”
“Just…me…” Jones said, and winced inwardly. The Academy Extension Center was part of the station’s commerce plan. Had she not done a good enough job marketing it? She made a mental note to set up a subspace conference call with one of the academy recruiters.
“I thought a lot about the other day, Commander,” Jones said. “And I think I understand what you were trying to get across to me.”
“Very good, Yeoman,” Nakahashi said, and glanced up at the chronometer on the wall. “Well, it’s time. Let’s go ahead and begin class.”
“I’m ready and willing, sir!” Jones said.
“Good,” Nakahashi said, and leaned forward. He stared blankly at Jones, his expression once again unreadable.
“Sir?” Jones asked meekly.
“Nice outfit, Mister Russell!” Fonn said, as Russell and Porter approached the doors to the Diplomatic VIP Suite, where Fonn was currently standing. “Where’s yours, Porter?”
“It’s at the cleaners. Would you believe the luck?” Porter asked, putting on his best straight face.
“No I wouldn’t,” Fonn said. “Don’t you have somewhere to be, son?”
“I was just going along with Sean for moral supp…”
“Are you a contestant on The Price is Blood?”
“Not that I know of. But if a voiceover announces my name, I’ll come running down the aisle to take a chance at marvelous prizes!”
Fonn gave Porter a patient, but stony, gaze that told him his services wouldn’t be needed.
“I’ll, uh, be in ops,” Porter said, and darted off down the corridor.
Russell held up a hand, as if to hold Porter there, but gave up as the science officer disappeared into the distance.
“Scared, son?” Fonn asked, turning to Russell.
“No, sir. I’ve trained for many a battle scenario. I’ve also been on a Klingon game show before. So it’s safe to say I’m prepared.”
“I’m scared out of my mind. But that’s part of the fun, you know! Just remember, don’t show your fear to the Klingons.”
Russell raised a finger. “But I’m not afraid.”
“That’s it. Put up a good front!” Fonn said, clapping Russell on the back.
“Sir…about your Klingon uniform. Does it, um, ride a little uncomfortably on the front of your…uh, on your midsection?”
“You obviously don’t know anything about Efrosian physiology, Commander,” Fonn said with a wink.
“See…now that I didn’t prepare for…” Russell trailed off, as the doors to the VIP suite quite suddenly opened, and filled with a hulking Klingon.
“I am Brak,” the wall of muscle said in a deep voice. “You will come.”
“We will come?” Russell asked, looking at Fonn quizzically.
Brak grabbed Fonn and Russell, one in each of his fists, and dragged them into the suite, bellowing: “Now you shall hear the rules of the game show! Listen well or perish!”
And the doors closed.
“Total silence?” Morales asked, leaning on a pillar in the Starfleet Square Food Court, where the Klingon Delegation had asked to set up the latticework of holographic generators that made up the set for The Price is Blood, plus enough chairs to seat a large- sized crowd.
Jones looked around, as crewmen set up chairs, and some of Porter’s engineers made the final touches to the holographic latticework. “I feel like I’m forgetting something.”
“Where’s the welcome banner?” Morales asked, looking around.
Morales nodded. “So…total silence?”
“I really can’t think about that class right now,” Jones said, pointing to the caterers from Appetizers on a Stick, a much-less successful operation than Breakfast on a Stick. Which, to Jones, made no sense, since most appetizers actually BELONGED on a stick, unlike, say, pancakes and eggs. Then again, what did she know?
“Don’t get too worked up about it. Academy professors love to play mind games. I had one, I remember, that conducted an entire class in the dark.”
“Why’d he do that?” Jones asked, looking back at Morales.
“It was philosophical. Something about us realizing we were thinking in the dark or something.”
“See! That’s what I think Nakahashi’s doing. But all I can get him to do is talk smalltalk with me, until class begins, and then he’s quiet as a statue.”
“And at the end of class?”
“He smiles at me, tells me I’m doing a great job, and sends me on my way. He won’t answer any direct questions.”
“Have you tried pinching him?” Commander Morales wondered idly.
“Commander!” Jones exclaimed. “I can’t pinch a Starfleet professor.”
“No. I guess you can’t,” Morales said distantly.
“Are you okay, sir?”
Morales twisted his neck left, then right. “No. I’m still sore from…” He straightened quickly, turning. “Admiral Fonn!”
“Yeah he did do a number on your…” Jones began, then felt Morales grab her arm and turn her to face what he was looking at. She gaped.. “Fonn!”
Admiral Fonn approached, flanked by Russell, a Klingon teen, and an older Klingon woman with substantial…bosom.
“Time to get this show on the road,” Fonn said, raising an eyebrow. “Commander,” he said to Morales, taking the first officer’s hand and pumping it vigorously. Morales winced.
“Sir,” Morales said, nodding.
Jones glanced at Russell who, like Fonn, wore complete Klingon regalia.. “Sean?”
“Today is an okay day to die,” Russell said, trembling slightly, as he passed by.
Then a couple larger Klingons passed by Morales and Jones.
“Greetings, Commander Morales. I have enjoyed your station,” the leaner of the two Klingons said.
Morales nodded. “Ambassador Worf.”
The fat Klingon beside Worf chortled. “I hope the investors are watching.”
“Krinok,” Jones said under her breath.
An even more enormous Klingon brought up the rear. Certainly a bodyguard.
“They all look very serious,” Yeoman Jones said in a small voice, turning to watch the group enter the metal latticework of the hologrid, as audience members began to file in.
“Yeah. I think they just came from rehearsals,” Morales said. “I wonder what that was like.”
“We’re going to DIE!” Sean Russell said from between his teeth as Brak, at a nearby control terminal, activated the hologrid and the group was suddenly surrounded by ornate Klingon-inscribed pillars, and statues of warriors-past, including Kahless.
“Shh! Not in front of the Klingons!” Fonn hissed.
Krinok lumbered toward the middle of the group, looking out at the growing audience. “Your PR efforts have been most pleasing Mister Russell.”
“You can thank Yeoman Jones for that. She handles that kind of thing.”
“She is a fitting…go-between. What is the word I’m looking for?” Krinok stroked his beard.
“Liaison?” Fonn suggested.
“She’s good at what she does,” Russell said, nodding.
“I will destroy you,” the teen Klingon, Marek, said, from beside Russell.
“Thanks. Same to you,” Russell said, a little off-put.
Marek’s hand shook next to the blade on his hip.
“Now, now. No fighting until the competition is underway,” Krinok said. “We don’t want to spill blood before the holoimagers roll.”
“So you haven’t been recording us all this time?” Russell asked. He hadn’t gotten a chance to catch up with Krinok during the whirlwind “getting to know you” session in the diplomatic suite.
Krinok grinned at Russell. “You know me well, human. Brak has a concealed holoimager. He recorded our meeting, rehearsal, practice. Even the walk here. It’s going to be part of a behind the scenes special airing next month: ‘The Price is Blood: How’d They do that?’”
Russell nodded, stepping toward Krinok and leaning in. “I do know you well. Well enough, that is, after the charade that was the last game show you put me on.”
“Have we met?” Krinok asked, cocking his head.
Russell’s eyes widened. “Yes we’ve met! You tried to kill me. Then you gave me a rabid pet as a parting gift. Which I gave back to you…”
“Oh,” Krinok said. “Must have been a long time ago.”
“I remember it well.”
“Good for you,” Krinok said, and moved over to whisper some instructions to Brak.
“If you’re planning anything…underhanded…you won’t succeed!” Russell called after him.
“Are you calling Klingons underhanded?” Worf asked from behind Russell.
He turned. “What? Oh. Nope. Not at all!”
Fonn glanced around. “So…should I stand here?”
“Right on the X,” Krinok said. “And don’t move until you’re told to. The repercussions of disobeying orders…they could be disastrous.” He looked at Brak and smiled toothily.
“You should know this temporary holodeck setup comes with full safeties,” Russell said quickly.
Krinok cocked his head at that. “Indeed. I’ll remember that.”
“You are muscled….for a human,” a voice said from behind him, as two meaty hands gripped Russell’s shoulders.
The security officer bristled at his fellow contestant’s advance. She’d had her foot between his legs through the entire run-through meeting. “Thanks, Tartess. That’s awful nice of you. But I’m…with someone.” It was a blatant lie, but it was his only hope.
She squeezed harder. “I do not care.”
“So much for hope.”
“All is ready?” Krinok asked, surveying his contestants, including a glowering Ambassador Worf.
“We will begin,” Worf said. “And I should note that the only reason I’m showing up here is that our delegation was rerouted toward Waystation, due to an ion storm, and fleet activity in the sector of…”
Krinok put a hand up. “Stop, Ambassador. You need not always explain your presence.”
“Some may question…” Worf began.
“Don’t worry about it,” Krinok said. “It’s fine.”
“I just happened to be here,” Worf grumbled to himself.
“I was just on a conference call with the Starfleet Diplomatic Corps,” Captain Beck said, sneaking through the darkened food court and pulling up a seat beside Morales at a table near the front. “Suffice it to say, this must go right. No screwups.” She looked around. “Thanks for saving me a seat, Walter. Did I miss anything?”
“Just everything getting dark,” Morales said, as Jones and Porter brought trays of appetizers over and sat down, filling the other seats at the table.
“Anybody want some rumaki on a stick?” Jones asked
“Isn’t rumaki always on a stick?” Morales asked.
“Don’t get her started,” Porter chuckled. “Just have some salsa on a stick and enjoy the show.”
Suddenly lights came up strong in the middle of the food court, but the rest of the audience remained bathed in darkness.
Krinok stood at the front of the holographic frame, holding a microphone.
“Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, and genderless beings. Welcome to the test of wills that’s sweeping the Alpha and Beta Quadrants: The Price is Blood!”
The crowd cheered, as Beck glanced around.
“So other people watch this? I thought I was the only one.”
“Apparently not,” Morales said, leaning forward.
“Now we begin the struggle. The trials that will define who is most courageous, who’s willing to pay the price…which is blood,” Krinok said, and turned to face the five spotlighted individuals: Worf, Russell, Fonn, Tartess, and Marek.
“But first, let’s meet our contestants!” Krinok said excitedly, walking up to Russell, who opened his mouth to speak. “Sean Russell is the chief of security on Waystation. This is his first time on a Klingon game show. He enjoys long walks and candlelight dinners and…well let’s just skip that. He’s human. He’s weak and will not make it past the first round. On to the next contestant, Tartess. She’s the illegitimate child of a slevak farmer…”
“I’m not worried,” Morales said, leaning back. “Sean will be fine.”
“Yeah. Right,” Beck muttered.
“Looks dangerous, does it not?” Krinok asked the crowd, as the five contestants were suspended by their ankles, dangling over a large, transparent vat of churning reddish-brown glop, ringed by interlocking transparent tubes. “What’s that glop, you ask?” Krinok chortled. “I’m glad you asked. It’s year-old rokeg excrement.”
Russell’s nose twitched, as the ammonia-like stench crawled up his nostrils. “I don’t know what a rokeg is, but whatever they eat…they should stop eating it immediately!”
“Be cool, Commander,” Fonn said, dangling beside Russell, his voice husky. “Don’t show the Klingons the slightest bit of fear.”
“I’m not afraid of anything. Except that stench. It alone could kill us!”
“Now we drop them in!” Krinok announced giddily.
“WHAT?” Russell exclaimed. “That was never discussed!”
“Surprise factor,” Krinok mumbled under his breath. “Lower them, Brak!”
The group was lowered into the vat, all but Russell looking totally impassive. Beck wasn’t sure, but she could swear Fonn was even smiling.
Once the last person’s feet disappeared completely into the vat, Krinok made a signal to Brak, and a lid was automatically lowered onto the vat, sealing it closed.
“Now for the fun part!” Krinok exclaimed. “Watch our contestants swim around in this muck. There is only one way out, and the first person to find it will win this round!”
“Ewwww…” Jones winced as she watched what looked like Russell squirming through one of the tubes.
“No, Sean! That one’s a dead end!” Porter called out.
Moments later, a hatch in one of the tubes slid open, and Ambassador Worf crawled out, glop bubbling out behind him.
“Good work, Worf!” Krinok exalted, clapping. “Well done! Brak! End program.”
The vat, the tubes, the glop: All disappeared, as Russell and the others suddenly appeared mid-air, then free-fell to the deck.
“Ouch,” Beck said. “Beck to Nelson. Please stand by.”
“Already standing by,” Nelson’s voice came over the comm. “I’m over on the other side of the audience.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
Beck shrugged. “Good point.”
Russell, meanwhile, felt Fonn grabbing his arm and pulling him to his feet.
“Stand up straight, Commander!” Fonn said.
Russell rubbed his backside. “At least the rokeg poo disappeared along with the rest of the program.”
“True,” Tartess, who stood nearby, said, sniffing her arm. “However, the smell remains.”
“Great,” Russell said.
“Do NOT look down!” Russell said, looking across a great expanse at Fonn, who, like Russell, was teetering, one foot on each of two skewers, which stretched up some thirty feet into the ground…thanks to the high ceiling in the food court.
“Just keep your balance, man!” Fonn said, as the thin, sharp metal prongs he stood on wobbled precariously. “How are the others doing?”
Russell winced at the sharp pangs in his arches. He glanced over at the other three contestants who were perched in a similar predicament nearby. “They look fine. Like it’s a day at the park.’
“I’m just glad we’re wearing boots!” Fonn pointed out.
“He let you keep your boots on?” Russell asked, confused. “What the hell!”
“HOT COALS! HOT COALS!” Russell yelped as he ran across the fiery tarmac, Fonn “hot” on his heels.
“Note the human’s vulnerability to fire!” Krinok chortled, nodding at Brak, who punched a control, causing the flames to rise higher, licking Russell’s feet.
“Of course I’m vulnerable to fire!” Russell shouted, dashing the rest of the way, leaping to the ground at the end of the sea of coals.
“Why do so many of these have to do with heights?” Russell moaned, suspended above a cage of raging targs, gripping the handles of the trapeze-like contraption with all his might.
“Don’t slip, Russell! Your time to beat is one hour!” Fonn called up to him.
“It’s been four minutes!” Russell called back. He felt an itch in his left index finger. “C’mon…c’mon…” he said. The index finger slipped off the handle.
The middle finger followed.
“N…n-no no no!” Russell yelped, then lost his grip entirely, and fell, butt-first, into the cage of angry targs.
He blinked for a moment, noticing that each targ had a little medallion with their name inscribed on it. Why was he close enough to catch this detail?
“Hold on, Fluffy. Just stay back! Stay back. You too, Prancer! And Gilda! Back. All of you! Aughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, noooo!”
“They found a great stopping place,” Doctor Amedon Nelson said, checking her tricorder, as Russell sat perched on the end of the biobed. “You were about to go into shock.”
“I’m fine,” Russell said. “I wish we could’ve just gotten the thing overwith!”
“Did we know this thing was going to go into a second day of shooting?” Beck asked, looking at Porter.
Porter shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I think they just realized that two days of Sean’s suffering were better than one.”
“They do seem to be picking on him,” Morales said.
“Nonsense,” Fonn said, standing behind the others. “Klingons will be Klingons. It’s in their nature to test our limits. To challenge us.”
“Sir,” Beck said. “Respectfully, I think we need to call this thing off. I don’t feel comfortable watching Russell get stabbed with the Spinning Blades of Endurance tomorrow.”
“The w-what?” Russell asked.
“It’s, of course, Russell’s decision if he wishes to withdraw from the contest,” Fonn said, turning a steady gaze on the security officer. “What do you say, Sean? Want to go in tomorrow and tell the Klingons you quit?”
Russell looked at Beck and his friends, then at Fonn. “Absolutely not!”
“You might want to reconsider that,” Porter said. “Tomorrow isn’t going to be any prettier than today. As a matter of fact, it could get uglier.”
“I highly doubt that,” Russell said, leaning back and rubbing his head.
“Could we have the room for a minute?” Fonn asked, stepping forward.
Beck nodded. “Of course, Admiral.” She glanced at Porter, Morales, and Nelson, who followed her out of the room.
Once they were gone, Fonn stepped closer to Russell, leaning over him. “We have an opportunity here, Sean. We can beat them.”
“Why do you want this so bad, Admiral?” Russell asked, leaning up on his elbows.
“Why any of us should want this. To put behind us decades of hostilities.”
“Aren’t we friends with the Klingons?”
“Not all of them! And not when I was in grade school. When we made a field trip to the targ farm on Kronos Three!” Fonn turned, clenching his fists.
“I sense a flashback,” Russell muttered.
“Not necessary,” Fonn said. “There’s not much to tell. There was another group of students at the targ farm that day. Klingon youth. I was beaten mercilessly…my jewel-encrusted headdress stolen…”
Russell tried to push past the bit about the headdress, fully unable to process that. “Sir! A group of them? You’re lucky you got out alive. It must have been quite a fight!”
Fonn shifted from foot to foot. “Kindergartners. Couldn’t have been more than five or six years old.”
Russell suppressed a laugh. “I’m told Klingons reach maturity a lot faster than humans. Or Efrosians, for that matter.”
“Yeah,” Fonn said. “Still, I never forgave them. For the theft of my jewels…”
“Forgiveness is a tricky thing, sir.”
“No it’s not,” Fonn said, slapping Russell on the shoulder. He winced. “Not when you don’t give it. It’ll be just like me and those toddlers out there tomorrow. Except this time, it’ll be the Klingons who run screaming. You hear me? We’re seeing this through, Mister Russell. We’re winning back the pride of the Federation!”
“Toddlers, sir? I thought you said…”
“I meant toddlers. Okay? They were toddlers!”
Russell wondered idly if this were all just a very bad dream.
THE NEXT DAY
“Tickle him more! Tickle him more!” somebody screamed from the audience.
Beck glared. It was Krilik, the station’s Klingon dressmaker, and an apparent fan of The Price is Blood.
Russell, meanwhile, was at the center of a group of nameless Klingon foot soldiers wielding big, fluffy, feathers on sticks. He was naked. And he was being tickled.
“No morrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre!” he giggled, falling to his knees.
“Yes,” Porter said, covering his eyes. “No more is right. In more ways than one.”
“Tickling doesn’t even seem very Klingon,” Nelson said.
“All right then. That’s enough!” Krinok announced as Russell wailed in panicked, tickle-driven laughter. “Time for our next challenge!”
“Wait,” Morales said, sitting up in his seat next to Beck. “Aren’t they going to do the tickle thing to anybody else?”
“I can’t believe I’m missing the Price is Blood for this,” Tina Jones said glumly, sitting in her customary chair in the classroom, facing a silent and stone-faced Admiral Nakahashi. “Sir?” she asked. “If you’re not going to say anything, can I just be dismissed so I can watch my friend in the game show?”
Predictably, Nakahashi said nothing.
Tina sighed and leaned her head down on her arms. “Wake me up when it’s time to go.”
“Make this insanity end!” Sean Russell screamed into the raging wind, as he followed a lumbering Ambassador Worf into a swirling wind tunnel, to retrieve some supposedly-antique sword at the end. There was no hope of overtaking Worf’s powerful strides, but Russell didn’t want to give up. He didn’t want to seem weak in front of the Klingons, or Admiral Fonn, who had emerged earlier with a sword of his own. And of course, whoever didn’t capture one of the swords was destined to be impaled on it, so…
Ten minutes later, a triumphant Worf strode out of the wind tunnel, dragging the sword, and a clinging Commander Russell behind.
“Congratulations to those of you who’ve made it to the final round,” Krinok said, surveying the group of contestants. They’d been winnowed down to Russell, Fonn, and Worf. Tartess had been impaled in the previous challenge, and Marek knocked silly by a fall from the Spire of Por’thos. “You’ve made it by cunning, skill, honor, and…in some cases…” he glared at Russell. “Pure, dumb, human luck.”
“I think I take umbrage,” Beck said, shifting in her seat as she watched the proceedings.
“Yeah. Definite umbrage,” Morales said.
“I’ve heard the worst part is coming up,” Porter said. “Something about eating really disgusting food?”
“He’s a goner,” Nelson said quietly.
“You’re kidding,” Russell said, looking down at the platter in front of him.
“Eat it!” Krinok sneered.
Beside him, he heard the sound of Worf dry-heaving.
“It’s overcooked meatloaf,” Krinok announced, turning back toward the audience. “Which we all know Klingons hate!”
“I think I am going to be sick,” Worf said, steadying himself on the podium where his platter was sitting.
“And when you’re done choking THAT down,” Krinok continued. “You can finish it off with a chocolate sundae. And extra helpings of whipped topping!”
That was it for Worf. He turned, gripping his stomach, and spewed his honor all over the stage.
“And another contestant is eliminated!” Krinok announced. “What a blow for the Empire. Worf, a three-time Price is Blood champion…eliminated by too much whipped topping!”
“Ohhh…” Worf moaned.
“What does this mean?” Russell whispered to Fonn.
“Means I don’t have to eat this stinking meatloaf,” Fonn mumbled.
“It means FINAL ELIMINATION!” Krinok announced, and the stage went dark again.
Russell crossed the stage to Krinok as Brak helped Worf off. “Okay, Krinok. Give it to me. Why is it so important for you to embarrass me?”
“I thought you would have enjoyed that last round, human,” Krinok snapped.
“I want to know why you’ve been riding me so hard,” Russell said. “You said you didn’t even recognize me.”
“Oh, I recognized you,” Krinok said, leaning closer. “How could I forget you? How could I forget the man that jeopardized my business in its infant stages?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Yeah,” Fonn said. “What are you talking about?”
“This…this pitiful human…” Krinok sneered. “He made me a laughingstock. He was the only non-Klingon ever to win in any contest of honor on the homeworld. His victory, which I at first took as a lark, a freak occurrence, fast became an affront to all things Klingon. Me and my game show were infamous. We betrayed Kronos, and in front of a live audience no less. Surely you see how damaging such a thing could be…”
“So you’re….getting vengeance?” Russell asked, blinking.
“Of a sort. I swore long ago, in the depths of my misery, that I’d pull myself together and assemble a multimedia empire the likes of which nobody has seen since the days of Ter’nerr. And I’ve succeeded. But I also swore that once I reached the pinnacle of my power, I’d find you. Find you and destroy you for what you did to me.”
“Okay…” Russell said. “So you weren’t after Fonn at all?”
“Who?” Krinok asked, looking at Fonn. “Him? Are you kidding? He’s ancient. What do I care?”
“Hey. Wait one second…” Fonn said.
“It’s a fight to the death!” Krinok announced suddenly, and the lights came up full, complete with cris-crossing rainbow strobes.
Fonn and Russell stared blankly out at the audience, as Brak walked out hoisting two bat’leth’s, handing one to each of them.
“Single elimination. The best warrior wins all. Honor for himself and his homeworld. Glory for his house, and immortality in story and song!”
Russell glanced over at Fonn. “This was all just to get back at me for something I did that I didn’t even realize I did,” he whispered. “He wants me dead. We should end this!”
“Billions of people are watching,” Fonn said, as he stared at the awe-filled crowd and the glaring lights. “We can make this look good. We can show that the Federation is proud of its achievements, and its honor. We can show that we’re better than Krinok, and above petty vengeance. We can prove once and for all that logic and intelligence beat out brute strength every time!”
“So we jump him and beat the crap out of him with the dull end of the bat’leth on the count of three?” Russell whispered.
“Sounds good,” Fonn replied.
THWAP! THWAP! THWAP! THWAP!
Supplemental. The Klingon delegation has left the station, none the worse for wear, I’m told, except for some lingering nausea on Ambassador Worf’s part, and about a dozen bumps and bruises on Mister Krinok.
Although the incident with the game show did little to hurt or help Federation diplomatic efforts with the Klingons, I’m told that we can expect a very firm policy forbidding Klingon shows of any kind from being taped at Starfleet facilities. I don’t know what anyone else thinks, but it’s a damned good idea to me.
“I was wrong,” Russell said, sitting on a stool at Victoria’s Pub, staring into his beer. “Dead wrong. It wasn’t Fonn he was after. It was me.”
“Should make you feel good, anyway,” Porter said from behind him. “I mean, that someone cares enough to send the very best…in vengeance, that is.”
“I should have realized Krinok was after me from the get- go. Are my instincts getting rusty?”
“If they were before, after the beating you took in the last day, they’re surely dull by now,” Porter said, gulping down the rest of his beer. “In any event, I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Thanks. You’re so very helpful,” Russell mumbled.
“I aim to please,” Porter said, leaned off his stool, and headed for the door. “Don’t stay up too late. You have duty tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Russell said. “Guess I do.”
He heard Porter say “Evening, Admiral,” as he headed out the door. But he didn’t turn around.
“Son,” Fonn said, approaching Russell from the doorway. “Don’t get up. Really.”
“Wasn’t going to,” Russell replied, glancing at him.
“That’s what I like. You’re a tough guy, for a human.”
“That means a lot coming from an Efrosian. Wait. Are Efrosian tough?”
“Not in the slightest,” Fonn admitted, and sat down on the stool beside Russell. “I’ll have what he’s having, barmaid!”
“Do you think we damaged Klingon relations today, sir?”
“We stood up for ourselves. Klingons admire that. Although we did beat a revered gameshow host senseless, so we might want to steer clear of Klingon dining establishments for a while.”
“Smart idea, Admiral.” Russell sipped his drink. “It was a pleasure going into battle with you, sir.”
“Yes. And though my aching joints won’t admit it, I had fun.”
“Huh. I suppose I did too.”
Fonn clinked glasses with Russell and drank. “Then the day wasn’t a total loss, was it?”
“No, sir.” Russell watched a concerned-looking Yeoman Jones walk in, and immediately walk up to him. “What’s the problem, Tina?”
“I’ve been tracking Commander Nakahashi’s movements on the station,” Jones said. “He’s on his way here now, and I’m going to confront him.”
“About him not talking at all during your class?” Russell asked. “Yeah. I heard about that. It’s weird.”
Fonn looked at her. “Did you say Nakahashi?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Do you know him?”
“So you know why he’s been acting so weird in class? You know what’s behind it?”
“I sure do,” Fonn said, slowly sipping his drink.
“Thank goodness,” Jones said, turning as the door to the pub slid open, and Nakahashi ducked in. “Hold that thought.”
She walked up to him, stared him straight in the eye.
“Sir! I demand to know why you’ve been treating me this way in class. I deserve better than the silent treatment!”
Nakahashi stared at her, unblinking.
“Don’t just stand there. Do something! Say something!” Jones cried. “You’re driving me nuts!”
Nakahashi stared at her long and hard. Then, finally, he opened his mouth. He also flapped his arms wildly, like a chicken.
“BAWK-BAWK-BAWK-BAWK! BUCK- AWWWWWWWWWWWW!” he clucked, flapping his arms around, turning on a heel, and skittering out of the pub.
Jones stared after Nakahashi for a moment, waited for the door to close, then turned around and calmly walked back to where Russell and Fonn were seated.
“He’s a mental patient. He’s…crazy.”
“As a Livarian Loon, my dear,” Fonn said gently, patting Jones’s shoulder. “I don’t know how he got out, or how he got here, but he hasn’t taught in twelve years. Not since his nervous breakdown. Poor guy.”
“Yeah. Poor guy,” Jones said. She stood there a moment, seemingly lost in thought.
“Tina?” Russell asked.
“Hold on,” she said, and turned to rush out of the pub.
“Where are you going?” Russell called after her.
“To find out if he’s teaching anything next semester!”