Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“A Dish Best Served Awkwardly”
By Alan Decker
Mr. Auditmi could almost feel Bradley Dillon’s eyes boring into him from across the desk. “I…do NOT…wish…to…discuss it!” Bradley said slowly and firmly, making sure that every single syllable was well and thoroughly pounded into each and every wrinkle on his subordinate’s head.
“But McBaughb’s new breakfast creation has the potential to reduce the Double D Diner’s morning business by a further six percent!” Auditmi protested.
Evidently Bradley had not made his point clearly enough. Perhaps another tactic was in order. He flashed a smile at Auditmi and leaned back into his tall faux-leather desk chair, clasping his hands together as he did so. “I am well aware of the situation, Mister Auditmi,” he said to the Zakdorn. “What I do not understand is why you are taking it so personally. You were so pleased to return to your formal duties when I came back to Waystation, yet, in this instance, you seem quite determined to tell me how to run my businesses.”
“That was not my intention, Mister Dillon,” Auditmi said chastised. “I…I’m sorry.”
“Good,” Bradley replied. “Now would you please allow us to move on?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“So you said.” Whatever was bothering Auditmi, he really needed to get over it. This obsession of his with McBaughb’s activities had been going on for two months now. He seemed to find a way to bring it up every time he met with Bradley. It had long since gotten old. And Bradley had far more interesting matters to consider.
He turned to his personal assistant, Gisele, who was seated in the chair desk to Auditmi’s left in Bradley’s spacious office. “What about our prospects?”
“There are several to consider,” Gisele said, rising from her seat and tapping a control on the small remote she held in her hand. The office lights dimmed, and the hologram of a blue-green world appeared in the center of the room. “This is Wessix Three-A, a Class M moon orbiting a gas giant sixteen light years from Waystation. According to the survey reports, the view is spectacular.”
“I don’t doubt it, but it’s a little farther away than I had in mind,” Bradley said. “What else do we have?”
“Ridalis Four,” Gisele said, changing the view to a different world.
“I’ve heard that name before.”
“The Romulans had a colony there briefly before they moved to Vascilon Two.”
“I’m going to assume there was a reason that their stay was short-lived.”
“There were issues with one of the planet’s indigenous life- forms.”
“Mind controlling squirrels.”
“I see. I don’t suppose we could get them to work for us,” Bradley said with a joking chuckle.
“I don’t believe so, Mister Dillon.”
“A pity. Let’s move on.”
Gisele changed the image to a world dominated with craggy mountains of red rock.
“Perdis. It is Class M; however, the daytime temperatures can reach well above 100 degrees even in the winter.”
Bradley nodded. “A climate controlled dome over the complex is an option,”
“The planet also travels through the system’s asteroid belt once every five years,”
“Have you spoken with the Multeks?” Auditmi asked.
“About what specifically?” Bradley asked.
“A planet. Perhaps they have a Class M world they aren’t using. It would certainly be closer to Waystation than most of these options, and, since it would be in Multek-controlled space, we would be able to establish operations with a minimum of difficulty and risk.”
Bradley smiled. Now this was more like the Auditmi he was used to. Always thinking about the Dillon Enterprises’ bottom line.
“Do you have any prospects more appealing than that one?” Bradley asked Gisele.
“No, Mister Dillon,” Gisele admitted.
“Of course, there is no guarantee that the Multeks have anything suitable or, if they do, that they’d be willing to allow us to use it,” Auditmi said.
“Caveats noted,” Bradley said. “Gisele, please contact Frequoq Wuddle and see about setting up a meeting. Make it clear to him that I am acting in my private capacity rather than my political one.”
“Yes, Mister Dillon,” Gisele said, quickly exiting the office to head back to her desk.
“Excellent idea, Auditmi,” Bradley said once she was gone. “You may just have brought Bradley Dillon’s CasinoWorld one step closer to reality.”
“I hope so, sir.” He was silent for a moment, getting up the courage to speak again. Finally, he said, “If you agree, I would like to run it.”
“Run CasinoWorld?” Bradley said surprised.
“I need to get away from this place.”
“Is something bothering you here?”
There was that obsession again. “We’ll talk about it,” Bradley replied.
“Thank you,” Auditmi said, rising from his chair. “Good day, sir.” He gave Bradley a quick bow then retreated out of the office, leaving Bradley to think. Having someone with Auditmi’s attention to detail in charge of CasinoWorld wasn’t a horrible idea, but someone else would need to handle the public relations side of things. Auditmi and people just didn’t seem to mix.
Before Bradley could start considering other candidates, Gisele returned to the office. “Mister Dillon?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but there’s a Nathaniel Billingsly here to see you.”
“Billingsly? Should I know who he is?”
“He’s with Random House of Penguins in Your Pocket Books.”
“Oh! My biographer!” Bradley said, jumping up from his chair. “Please show him in!”
Gisele nodded and exited, returning moments later with an older gentleman decked out in a suit as impeccably tailored as Bradley’s own. That combined with his salt and pepper hair and tall frame gave him a distinguished appearance that Bradley couldn’t help but envy a bit. Of course, Bradley then remembered that he was outrageously rich and the President of the United Federation of Planets, which quickly dispatched said envy.
“Mister Billingsly,” Bradley said, flashing his most charming smile as he stepped forward to shake the newcomer’s hand. “It’s good to finally meet you.”
“And I am honored to be here,” Billingsly replied in deep measured tones as he bowed his head slightly. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”
“Not at all. It’s not everyday that one’s life is deemed worthy of a book.”
“As I believe we are both aware, you are not just anyone. I also imagine that you are more than aware that mine will not be the first book to be written about you.”
“It will be the first one with my authorization,” Bradley replied.
“This is true. And we do thank you for that. Anyone can do the research to create a basic biography, but ours will be the only one to include your own perspective on events. We will be able to combine the best elements of biography and autobiography, creating what I hope will be the definitive account of your life until this point.”
Bradley’s smile widened. “Who could refuse such an opportunity? Particularly when it is offered by a writer of your reputation. I found your biography of Gul Dukat to be quite engrossing.”
Billingsly bowed again slightly. “I appreciate the compliment. I did regret not being able to interview the man himself; however, insanity and death can be something of impediments.”
“I imagine so. How would you like to get started?”
“Just observing at first, if you’ll allow it. I prefer to get the feel for my subjects in their natural environments. I find it helps me to shape my interview questions, then we can talk this afternoon, if your schedule allows.”
“Of course. You are more than welcome to observe. I will, naturally, have to ask you to leave should anything sensitive come up.”
“I more than understand.”
“Good. Then let’s get to it.”
“By all means,” Billingsly said, helping himself to the chair across from Bradley’s desk as he pulled out his notepadd. “Just pretend I’m not here.”
“Very well,” Bradley said, sliding back into his desk chair. He tried to focus on the reports waiting on his desk console but couldn’t help stealing a glance at Billingsly.
“I’m not here,” Billingsly said.
Later that morning at a completely different desk, Captain Lisa Beck was also having a hard time concentrating on the reports scrolling in front of her. She could not blame her distracted state on the watchful eyes of a biographer, though. Actually, someone staring at her right now might have been welcome. Then she would have an excuse to shout, scream, and generally pound the crap out of said someone. Not that she was in a particularly violent mood at the moment. She was just…edgy.
“I need to get out more,” Beck muttered to herself.
And it was the truth. She hadn’t been spending nearly enough time in The Gravity Well or any of Waystation’s other recreational facilities of late. Mostly because she was tired of going alone. Sure she could hang out with Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter or some of the other members of the command crew, and they usually had fun. But lately that just hadn’t been satisfying for her. And her best friend on the station, Marine Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges, was usually spending her free time with Commander Walter Morales. Nothing against Morales, but Beck didn’t exactly enjoy doing things with an established couple. It made her feel decidedly third-wheel-ish. She couldn’t hold that against Hodges, though. If anything, this was probably some kind of karmic payback for the time Beck spent dating Phillip Harper and virtually ignoring Steph.
“That’s it!” Beck exclaimed finally to her empty office as she slapped her hands against her desk and hopped up from her chair. She didn’t know what she was going to do, but dammit, she was going to do something that was fun and didn’t involve staring at screen after screen of Starfleet-issue bureaucratic gibberish.
She managed to take three strides toward her office door when her desk comm chimed, signaling an incoming hail on her private channel. No one ever commed her on her private channel. Not anymore anyway. Those comms had stopped when she and Phillip broke up. No good would come of this. Her determination deflating, Beck turned and trudged back to her desk to see what crisis no doubt awaited her attention.
“Beck, here,” she said, plopping back into her desk chair as she activated the monitor in front of her. Beck’s mood instantly lifted as she saw the face of Dr. Amedon Nelson smiling back at her. Maybe the universe wasn’t ending after all.
“Lisa!” Nelson said happily.
“Well well. If it isn’t the newlywed,” Beck replied, returning the smile.
“Not so new anymore. It’s been almost four months.”
“Bah. You’re still a babe in the marital woods. Things are still blissful…I hope.”
“Yes, they are,” Nelson replied, unable to keep herself from beaming. “And I’ve got great news!”
“Please don’t tell me you’re pregnant already.”
“NO!” Nelson said, a bit too firmly. “We’re coming to the station.”
“Really? That’s great. When?”
“Now. We’re already on our way. Bradley Dillon’s office commed about some business Bradley wants to discuss with Wuddle.”
“What kind of business?” Beck asked darkly. Bradley had not told her about any dealings the Federation had planned with the Multeks…not that he was required to, but she was accustomed to him consulting her whenever the Multeks were involved. She was considered to be the Federation’s expert on the subject…not that she was particularly comfortable with that title. Still, if Bradley was planning to…
“It’s nothing official, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Nelson said, cutting off Beck’s train of thought. “He said it’s a business matter, so Wuddle and I thought we’d come, talk to Bradley, and see everyone. I’ve already talked to Tina and reserved VIP quarters for us. We expect everybody to come for dinner tonight.”
“I think we can do that.”
“With a date.”
From the somewhat stunned looks on their faces as they stared blankly off in the distance, Yeoman Tina Jones got the impression that Lieutenant Commanders Craig Porter and Sean Russell had recently received the same news that she had.
“Get any interesting comms lately?” she asked, setting her tray of lunch down as she took a seat at their table in the food court of Starfleet Square Mall.
“Uh huh,” Porter mumbled.
“She hates us,” Russell said.
“No she doesn’t,” Jones replied. “Amedon just…”
“Wants us all to suffer?” Porter offered.
“No. She’s…” Jones trailed off, unable to come up with a good answer. “She’s meddling in our personal lives,” she said finally, defeated.
“See. She hates us,” Russell said.
“We could skip dinner,” Porter said.
“You wouldn’t seriously do that,” Jones said.
“No. I want to see her too. It’s been months.”
“We could just not take dates,” Jones said. Porter and Russell stared at her. “Okay. You’re right. Dumb idea. If she was that specific, she’s going to expect us to do what she says.”
“She hates us,” Russell said again.
“Oh just stop it,” Porter snapped, suddenly springing to life. “I don’t know what the hell you’re even worried about. You’ll just waltz into The Gravity Well, pick up some woman you’ve never seen before, and show up with her draped around your neck. It’s no big deal…for you!”
“Do you think it’s that easy for me?”
“You sure act like it. Some of us don’t have that kind of luck!”
“I make my own luck!” Russell shot back. “Do you know how many rejections I get for every single yes? The only way to get a yes is to risk the no, which means you have to talk to women. You ever tried that?”
“Don’t bring her up. She came after you.”
“And she was also a psycho who wanted to use you to help her blow stuff up,” Jones added.
“Yeah!” Russell said.
“Thanks for the help, Tina,” Porter said.
“Sorry,” she said with a weak smile.
“The point is that you are never going to get a date if you don’t start asking people,” Russell said.
“So who are you asking?” Jones said.
“Don’t know yet, but I’ll find someone. What about you?”
“Er…no clue. Craig?”
Porter mumbled something under his breath.
“What did you say?” Jones asked.
“I don’t know,” Porter repeated, only a little more audibly. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Russell was right. He was going to have to ask someone to this dinner. He might also have been right about Dr. Nelson hating them. It sure felt like it at the moment.
“Now then,” Bradley said as he sat across from Billingsly in his private dining room inside the Dillon Enterprises complex after the pair had finished their lunches. “What would you like to know? A bit about my parents perhaps?”
“No need. I’ve already interviewed them,” Billingsly replied.
“You were indisposed for several months, Mister Dillon. I was able to get a good deal of research done ahead of time. Basic biography, comments from your friends and family…most of them anyway. I just need a few things clarified.”
“Where is your brother?”
“Yes, Mister Dillon. Your brother. No one has seen him for over two years. Your parents don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”
“And neither do I.”
“So it is simply an interesting coincidence that he should vanish so soon after your ascension to the office of President.”
“If you’re attempting to imply that I had anything to do with it, I assure you that you are beyond mistaken,” Bradley said, attempting to keep the growing anger he felt out of his voice. “I couldn’t care less where my brother is. His whereabouts are no concern of mine, and I wouldn’t bother to expend the effort it would take to order his disappearance even if I wanted to. He’s more than welcome to live his little Starfleet life as he sees fit as long as he stays the hell away from me.”
“Starfleet just says he’s on special assignment.”
“Then it sounds like they know where he is, which is exactly what I told my mother the last time she asked me about him. And quite frankly I don’t see what any of this has to do with me or my life.”
“So you did not order your people to make your brother disappear?” Billingsly said, finally getting around to the direct accusation.
“No, I did not,” Bradley replied firmly.
“Oh,” Billingsly said deflating. “Very well. We’ll move on.”
“The promotion of Kathryn Janeway to admiral…”
“Oh no! I had NOTHING to do with that!” Bradley shouted defensively.
The schedule said he would be here, so where was he? Captain Beck pulled up the comm system on her desk console and put a comm through to the Kirothan Merchant Authority.
“Hi. This is Captain Lisa Beck of Waystation. According to our records, the Nysilt was supposed to dock here this morning and….no, I don’t usually check up on late ships. It’s just that Captain Gerith and I….Black hole, huh? Really?….Yeah, I guess it could happen to anybody….Well, thank you….And please let him know I asked about him if he manages to return to normal space. Goodbye.”
Beck closed the comm channel and cursed softly…and then again a bit louder. Gerith was her one sure way out of this mess. They’d had a few dates when his ship had passed through Waystation previously, and it was just perfect that Nelson and Wuddle’s dinner lined up with one of his visits.
Too perfect evidently.
Okay. Who else did she know?
Who did he know?
Lieutenant Commander Porter stared blankly at the readout on the status board in the upper saucer engineering section, not paying a bit of attention to the plasma flow rates scrolling by.
Porter had far more pressing issues to worry about. Like who the hell was he going to ask to this dinner? Desperation was quickly starting to set in.
He was close to asking Joan Redding to go.
No. He still had a little dignity. There had to be someone else he could ask.
Wait. There was someone he could ask.
Oh, and there was a dangerous plasma buildup near the lower core. Porter quickly prevented the station from blowing up then headed off to see about a date for the evening.
“Oh come on, Susan!” Lieutenant Commander Russell shouted at the doors which had just been slammed shut in front of him (How she’d managed to get the doors of her quarters to do that, he’d never know). “It’s just one dinner!”
“That’s one more than you’re ever going to get out of me!” Susan’s angry voice shouted back through the closed doors.
“Is this still about the lingerie I bought you?”
“Aren’t you over that yet? That was years ago!”
“OVER IT!?! You think I should be over it?”
“It’s not like it was my fault? How was I to know XAXXRVKOKXX was Breen for giant penetrating impaler of erotic agony?”
Somehow this interview was starting to feel more like an inquisition, Bradley thought as Billingsly looked through his notes for his next attack…er…topic of conversation. The grilling he underwent from the Federation Council after his return from the past hadn’t been this bad. Of course, then Bradley had known what would be coming at him and had been prepared. Billingsly was coming from everywhere, though. How had he found about that playground scuffle when Bradley was in third grade? Why did he even care?
“Let’s come back closer to the present,” Billingsly said finally, giving Bradley a slight feeling of relief. At this point, he’d half-expected Billingsly to ask him about his refusal to sleep through the night as an infant.
“You first came to Waystation about seven years ago, correct?” Billingsly asked.
“That’s right. I was looking to get into a new business venture, and the unexplored reaches beyond the station seemed like just the opportunity I was looking for.”
“I see. Could you describe for me then the influence of Fraak Porcig on that decision?”
Fraak Porcig. Fraak Porcig. Why did Bradley know that name? And more importantly, should he even admit to knowing that name.
“You look confused,” Billingsly said. “Perhaps a small memory jog is in order. During your tenure on Alpha Centauri, you sold her mother a used starship, a ship she was quite displeased with evidently.”
Ohhhh. That’s why Bradley knew the name. She was that blasted Tellarite.
“I sold many ships during that period of my life,” Bradley said, covering. “I cannot be expected to remember each and every customer; however, I will say that the attitudes of several customers did influence my decision to change my line of work. Starship sales was becoming increasingly unsatisfying.”
“I can see how a Tellarite death warrant would make you feel that way.”
“I was never given a death warrant,” Bradley snapped.
“Possibly not, but my research does show that it was made abundantly clear to you that your presence was no longer desired in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri. Is that not true?”
“I did have a difference of opinion with the planetary authorities,” Bradley admitted. And I thought all record of it had been destroyed, he added to himself.
“Your ships were confiscated and you were ordered out of the system. You have an interesting definition of ‘difference of opinion.’”
“Yeah, well, if that Tellarite understood the definition of ‘as is,’ we wouldn’t be having this conversation, now would we?” Bradley shot back angrily. He instantly regretted it. How could he let this man get him riled like this?
Billingsly just smiled and jotted notes into his padd.
McBaughb’s was fairly empty when Captain Beck entered, which was pretty much what she was expecting…and hoping for. She had no desire to fight the lunch crowd when all she wanted was a bite to eat.
Okay, that wasn’t all she wanted, but that was a start.
“Captain!” Baughb exclaimed happily, rushing through the doors from the restaurant’s kitchen to the front counter just as Beck approached.
“Are you keeping tabs on me, Baughb?” Beck said.
“I’m sorry?” Baughb asked confused.
“You knew I was here almost before I did.”
“Oh yes. That. I had cameras installed recently, and I watch from my office. Just in case.”
“I don’t think anyone from the Double D Diner is going to attack your place, Baughb.”
“You are of course correct, Captain. I know you would not let that happen to me. Still, by Andorian custom…”
“I get it,” Beck said, holding up her hand for Baughb to stop. “I just don’t want to see anything escalate, okay?”
“You have my word on it. Now please, sit. I will create something special for you and bring it to you myself.”
“You really don’t have to do that.”
“I know, but I want to. Please allow me the privilege….”
“Okay!” Beck said quickly. Baughb was sweet, but there was only so much adoration she could take.
“Very good. Please enjoy a beverage from our fountain,” Baughb said, handing Beck a cup the size of a small cargo container. “ I just added Diet V’haspr’kr…not that you need anything diet, of course.”
“I’ll be over there,” Beck said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes as she pointed at a table in the corner.
Less than ten minutes later, Baughb approached her table with a tray containing a steaming plate of something that smelled absolutely delectable.
“I don’t know what that is, but I think I’m already in love,” Beck said as Baughb put the meal down in front of her.
“Beef tenderloin in k’akivti sauce with mashed grinoks. I felt like trying something a bit more…upscale. I don’t know that I’ll add it to the menu, but I wanted to make it for you.”
“Itf vonnrfu,” Beck said, through the massive bite in her mouth.
“Thank you,” Baughb said with a slight bow before turning to go.
Beck quickly swallowed and called out to him. “Baughb!”
“Do you…um…are you busy for dinner?”
“Usually, the restaurant is quite busy. Thank you for asking.”
“No, I mean are you free for dinner. Dr. Nelson is on her way back to the station with her husband, and they’re having this dinner party, and we’re supposed to bring dates, so I was wondering, if you were free, if maybe you would want to go.”
Baughb suddenly started coughing. “Captain,” he said after recovering himself, “I am very flattered by your invitation, but I can’t. You have been a very good patron and I value your business, but you really aren’t my type. I am sorry.”
He bowed again and retreated back to the kitchen as fast as he could without breaking into a run.
“That’ll do wonders for the old ego,” Beck muttered, before shoving another fork-full of beef into her mouth.
Porter hovered near the entrance of the Waystation Welcome Center, perusing a brochure about the Hotel Xenocacian on Multos. Russell had given the hotel a glowing review after his stay there the previous year, which immediately made Porter suspicious. Any place Sean liked that much had to have something untoward going on, but the brochure just made it look like your average luxury hotel.
Finally the family of Nausicaans who had been standing at the Welcome Center’s reception desk talking to Yeoman Jones finished getting whatever information they were after and headed toward the exit with big grins on their faces, which was more than a little disconcerting. At least they were smiling, though. He rather not deal with angry Nausicaans considering that even the child they had with them, who looked to be no more than four or five, looked perfectly capable of snapping Porter in two without much effort.
With the Nausicaans gone and the Welcome Center empty at the moment, Porter strolled up to the large circular reception desk as casually as he could manage.
“Hi, Craig,” Tina said warmly. “What brings you here? Nothing’s broken is it?”
“Nope. I was just in the area and thought I’d drop in to say hi and see how your day was going.”
“It’s been fine. Traffic’s kind of light today. We haven’t had too many arrivals. I’ve actually had time to get some studying done to get ready for class tomorrow night, since I’ll be losing tonight to the dinner party…not that I consider it a loss or anything. I can’t wait to see Doctor Nelson.”
“Me too. And since you brought it up, I was just thinking that we’re all getting upset about this date thing when we don’t have to. I mean, why don’t we just go together? It’d save both of us the hassle of finding someone to take, and we wouldn’t be stuck trying to keep our dates entertained during dinner.”
“That’s a really good idea,” Jones said.
“I thought it made sense.”
“But I already asked someone else.”
“Ah. Well…that’s okay. It was just a thought.”
“It really was a good one,” Jones said consolingly. “Thanks for asking.” A thought suddenly struck here. “Oh, did you send me the flowers?”
“It wasn’t you then, huh?”
“Maybe your date sent them?” Porter said, offering the obvious answer.
“No, I got them before I asked him. Oh well. It’s not important.”
“Okay. I’ll let you get back to work.”
“Thanks. And good luck. Not that you need luck. You’ll find a date in no time, I’m sure. Luck won’t even come into it.”
“See you tonight,” Porter said, giving Jones a forced smile and a wave before he headed back out into the mall concourse. A new plan was in order. Hmmm…would anyone notice if he installed a hologram projector into the dining room? A computer-generated date would solve this whole problem.
“What?” Dr. Diantha snapped as Russell poked his head into her office in Waystation’s Infirmary.
The avian doctor just glared at him with her large round eyes.
“So that’s a ‘no,’” Russell said with a grin, sliding the rest of the way into the room.
“What do you want?”
“Just to talk. How are you liking the station?”
“It is fine.”
“Any fun medical emergencies today?”
“Lieutenant Commander, is there some specific thing I can do for you?”
“Have dinner with me?”
“What?” Diantha demanded.
“It’ll be fun. The captain will be there, and you can meet Doctor Nelson.”
“That’s her. She’s going to be here tonight with her husband, and there’s going to be a dinner, and I thought you might like to go.”
“How many people did you ask before me?”
“What kind of question is that?” Russell said.
“A legitimate one, judging by that response.”
“Please, Doctor. It will be fun. I promise.”
“I would like to speak to Doctor Nelson about a few issues,” Diantha said, considering the idea.
“Great. I’ll be at your quarters at 1850 hours sharp. See you then.”
“I didn’t officially accept,” Diantha said, but Russell had already bounded out the door.
Despite her hopes for a private car, Captain Beck found that the turbolift that had opened for her as she waited on the mall’s upper level after her late lunch at McBaughb’s was already occupied.
“Afternoon,” Porter said with a slight nod of his head.
“Don’t sound so happy to see me,” Beck replied, stepping in beside him then ordering the lift to Ops.
“No need to apologize. I’m right there with you.”
“Are you blaming your mood on Dr. Nelson too?” Porter asked.
“I could definitely assign some blame there.”
“This date thing was her idea.”
“That it was,” Beck said. “We should just go together.”
“Good,” Beck said as the lift slowed to a stop and the doors opened into Ops. “I’ll see you later.”
“Yep,” Porter said, heading over to his console as Beck made her way to her office. Obviously, he’d been making this whole thing a lot harder than it needed to be.
“How much longer do you plan on continuing this?” Bradley asked, resisting the urge to put his head down on table in front of him. Lunch had long since gone and they were now rapidly closing in on dinner, yet Billingsly’s questions kept coming. Bradley’s patience, meanwhile, was rapidly going.
“Until I have the answers I need for the book,” Billingsly replied. “Now then, how would you describe your business philosophy?”
Finally, a question Bradley could get into, he thought, perking up.
“Business is about more than profit,” Bradley said, going into speech-mode. “I am no Ferengi, not that the Ferengi are even the Ferengi anymore, but the point still stands. I run Dillon Enterprises with an eye toward the effect the businesses under our corporate umbrella can have on the citizens of the galaxy. We can provide goods and services for just about any activity and lifestyle you can imagine, which, considering the variety of beings in the Federation, is quite an accomplishment in itself.”
“So if you could sum up your business style in one word…”
“One word?” Bradley said thoughtfully. “Hmm…”
“Ruthless, perhaps?” Billingsly offered.
Bradley’s expression instantly darkened. “I don’t believe I have indicated anything resembling that.”
“John Simms, Junior might disagree.”
Bradley leaned back in his chair and sighed. So this was where Billingsly was headed this time. “Surely an experienced researcher such as yourself knows enough to understand that one’s rivals tend to have a distorted view of subjects.”
“So it is a distortion to say that you used your resources to cut off the expansion of commerce at a Starfleet facility?”
“I did no such thing,” Bradley said.
“Simms Ship Lines at one point planned to construct a large docking and retail facility at Waystation, did they not?”
“I do remember the proposal.”
“But it never happened.”
“Because of you.”
“I think you’ll find that Simms canceled the project. I did not put up any obstacles.”
“You wouldn’t consider your purchase of the station’s naming rights to be an obstacle?”
“I fail to see how the events are connected. And, again, if you research the matter, you’ll find that my attempt was rebuffed.”
“Only because enough money was raised to counter your offer,” Billingsly said. “I cannot believe that you do not know where those funds came from.”
“A telethon. I watched it.”
“Now you’re just being combative.”
“I haven’t so much as raised my voice.”
“No, but you know exactly what I’m talking about, and you refuse to acknowledge it.”
“Fine then. Yes, I know that John Simms, Junior put up the money to counter my offer. That was his decision.”
“Which made it impossible for him to build a facility here.”
“Also his decision.”
“You maneuvered him into it.”
“I took actions to benefit my business, and he stopped me.”
“You were willing to use a Starfleet facility and its residents as pawns in a game of one-upmanship with a rival. And now, as President, you are supposed to be the leader of those same people as well as the Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet,” Billingsly said, rising from his seat as his voice grew louder with each passing word.
“Is there a point you’re trying to make?” Bradley snapped back, rising from his chair as well.
“You’re only out for your own glory. The presidency is just another acquisition to you.”
“Is that what this so-called biography is going to say? Was that your entire goal, Mister Billingsly? To write a hatchet job of me?”
“You don’t belong here!”
“This is my damn complex!”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Then be clear!”
“You have no business being President!”
“So you want the Ferengi back!”
“Don’t give me that benevolent citizen crap. You only bought Earth back so you could take control of the Federation. You don’t really care about it or its citizens. If you cared, you wouldn’t have run off for a year!” Billingsly shouted.
“Not this again.”
“You’re a disgrace!”
“I think we’re finished here.”
Billingsly whipped what looked like a pen out of his suitcoat and aimed it at Bradley. “We’re not finished!” The “pen” suddenly fired a beam just over Bradley’s shoulder that seared into the center of the genuine Monet adorning the rear wall of the private dining room. “Not by a long shot.”
Considering all the anxiety Porter had felt earlier about finding a date, he was surprised to be having such a good time at dinner. Actually, though, when he thought about it, there really wasn’t a reason to be surprised. He was among friends and enjoying a pleasant meal and fun conversation. Sure, Commander Morales and Marine Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges were all over each other, but Porter chalked that up to the Multek spirits Wuddle and Nelson had brought with them for the occasion. Porter had had more than a couple himself, which was making the sight of the disgustingly happy couple sucking face across the table from him all the more palatable. Nelson and Wuddle, meanwhile, seemed to have the wedded bliss thing going, but they were thus far avoiding any incredibly public displays of affection. But if Morales and Hodges got any more affectionate, they’d be publicly displaying a few other things.
Also brightening Porter’s mood was Russell’s choice of date for the evening. Porter fully expecting his friend to show up with some gorgeous woman on his arm that he’d just met that afternoon. Instead, Russell had brought Waystation’s new Chief Medical Officer, and neither of them looked quite happy to be with the other.
Yeoman Jones, meanwhile, had brought along one of her fellow students from the station’s Starfleet Academy Annex, whom she had introduced as Ponfrero.
“I broke his wrist during our unarmed combat class a few weeks ago,” Jones whispered to Porter. “I didn’t mean to. And I felt really bad about it, so I invited him to dinner to kind of make it up to him.”
“That was nice of you,” Porter said. Considering he and Captain Beck had decided to dump the date idea and come with each other, he was more than over Jones’s rejection of him earlier.
“Are you having fun, Ponfrero?” Jones asked, suddenly turning to her date.
“Auuggh!” Ponfrero cried startled as he flinched back from Jones. “I mean…y-y-y-yes. I’m fine. It’s fun. Very fun.”
“Good,” Jones said. “Another drink?”
Ponfrero protectively cradled his left wrist and watched Jones’s every move as she refilled his glass with a dazzling purple Multek wine.
“I think he’s still a little worked up about his arm,” Jones whispered to Porter with a slightly-intoxicated giggle.
“A little bit,” Porter said before letting out a loud snort.
“So how’s the hospitality business?” Beck asked Frequoq Wuddle.
“Going very well,” Wuddle replied with a relaxed smile. “There were a couple of bumps in the first few weeks, but our people have really come a long way. The Travel Section of Klingon Warrior Weekly even said that our tour guides have honor.”
“Good for you,” Beck said, finishing off the last of her glass of wine. Before tasting Multek wines, she’d never been a fan of the drink, but she had to admit that the Multeks had a way with grapes…or whatever fruit they were fermenting over there. She looked over at Nelson. “And what about you? Do you miss us?”
“Everyday. But I love Multos.” She gazed over at her husband. “And someone there.”
“I certainly hope so,” Wuddle said, leaning over and kissing his bride on the cheek. Beck couldn’t help grinning at their happiness. They were so sweet together.
“I would like to discuss Betsy Greer,” Dr. Diantha announced suddenly (and rather loudly).
“Who’s Betsy Greer?” Russell said.
“A patient Doctor Nelson should be familiar with.”
“I remember her,” Nelson said.
“Do we have to talk about her now, though?” Russell said.
“You said that I should come so that I could speak to my predecessor,” Diantha said, turning on Russell. “I am trying to do exactly that.”
“Okay,” Russell said, holding his hands up. “Didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers.”
“That was a bird joke.”
“I am offended.”
“Then you should drink more.”
Diantha let out a low hiss from her beak, then looked back to Nelson. “Betsy Greer.”
“What about her?”
“According to your notes, she came to you approximately eighteen months ago complaining of eye spasms, sensations of heat in her lower back, and excessive fingernail and toenail growth. At the time, you diagnosed her with Nesticat’s Syndrome.”
“The symptoms fit, and she had been exposed to an irradiated dopulat spleen shortly before that, which is the primary cause of Nesticat’s.”
“Why would anyone be near a radioactive spleen?” Russell asked. “And how did it happen enough that it got its own syndrome?”
“You do not have the medical knowledge necessary to participate in this discussion, so remain silent,” Diantha snapped before returning her focus to Nelson. “I am not disputing your diagnosis. Your treatment, however, was worthless.”
“Doctor,” Beck warned, leaning forward in her seat. She moved a bit too fast and found her head swimming. “Woah now.”
“I can handle this, Lisa,” Nelson said.
“Good,” Beck said, settling back in her chair. “I’m going to be really still for a minute or two.”
“Drink?” Porter offered.
“Are you questioning my competence?” Nelson demanded angrily.
“Yes,” Diantha said flatly as the two doctors glared at each other.
“Is Diantha about to start pecking people?” Jones asked Porter.
“Auugghh!” Ponfrero cried, jolting back in his seat so hard that he toppled to the floor. “Owwww.”
“Let me help you up,” Jones said.
Bradley cooly eyed the tiny weapon pointed at him. As far as assassination attempts went, this one was fairly mild. On the downside, Bradley was now trapped in a room alone with this man. Once this was all over, he needed to have a word with the management of Random House of Penguins in Your Pocket Books about the mental stability of their writers. Obviously this one was a tad bit on the unhinged side.
“We seem to have moved beyond tarnishing my character,” Bradley said calmly, locking his eyes on Billingsly’s.
“Character? Do you honestly think you have any?” Billingsly said with an unhinged laugh.
“If you’ll pardon my saying so, this all seems to be rather personal to you. Do you believe that I have done something to you in the past that warrants my death?”
“You’re an insult to me and every single one of my ancestors.”
Bradley mulled that one over for a moment. “Ah…well…that’s…that’s completely insane actually, now that I think about it.”
“Insane? Insane is the idea that you in any way deserve to be President of the Federation. Who are you? You’re just some guy who got lucky and ended up rich enough to buy the Presidency. You have no political background, no breeding…”
“Breeding?” Bradley interrupted. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Your parents are nobodies. A psychologist and a teacher. Your family is nothing but a bunch of people with unremarkable lives.”
“I wasn’t aware that famous ancestors were a prerequisite to become president,” Bradley said flatly.
“Greatness is in the blood!” Billingsly exclaimed. “And it must not be denied. I can trace my ancestry back to three Federation Presidents, fifteen different Presidents of the United States of America, two British Prime Ministers, and the English Royal Family! What do you have? A couple of Starfleet Officers, none of whom did anything exceptional. You’re all average. History has forgotten every single member of your bloodline, and it sickens me that my words are going to help ensure that you are remembered.”
“Because it should be you in my job instead.”
“You’re damn right it should!” Billingsly thundered. “I’ve worked. I’ve studied. I’ve strived. I’ve run for office on Earth and three separate colonies. You, meanwhile, have never even had to face a voter.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t do the job,” Bradley said. “And as for the voters, we’ll see what they think next year when I’m up for reelection.”
Billingsly snorted. “So you found out you can’t buy your way in again?”
“I wouldn’t if I could. I’ve had my shot and done my best. If I get another term, I want it to be because the citizens of the Federation feel I’m the right person for the task. Why don’t you run against me? Tell the galaxy about your great breeding and see if they care. They won’t, you know. The Presidency is about getting results. They want to know what you’ve done.”
“No they don’t,” Billingsly said. “You know as well as I do that these things are about playing to the holocams. You can have the best skills in the world, but if you don’t have looks and charisma, you’re sunk.”
“Fortunately, I have those too,” Bradley said.
“That’s not the way it should work.”
“I don’t like your way any better.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing I’m the one with the laser.”
“Killing me won’t make you President.”
“No, but maybe the next one will be someone worthy of the title,” Billingsly said, aiming the laser pen at Bradley’s head.
“Possibly, but why don’t you start working to position yourself to run someday instead?”
“I told you. I’ve already tried.”
“But not from the right starting point. You’re on the outside. You need to get inside the political world and start making a name for yourself. I could help you.”
“Are you…offering me a job?”
“Why would you want to put out a biography of me now when my Presidency isn’t over yet? You could become my official chronicler. With that kind of access, you could speak to Federation Councilors, the Vice-President, anyone. You would become known inside the halls of power, and then, when you’re ready, you could move up to a Press Relations position to start getting your name and face out to the citizens of the Federation. What happens after that will depend on you, but I can give you a start.”
“In exchange for me not killing you.”
“I’m worth more to you alive than dead,” Bradley said with a smile.
“Yes, but how do I know I can trust you?”
“What’s the alternative? You shoot me and end up in prison for the rest of your life? Presidential assassins don’t get to go to cushy rehabilitation colonies. And from now on your relatives and descendants will be known for having you in their bloodline. Maybe someone will look at their breeding and assume they must be criminals too.”
“So Official Biographer and PR Secretary then?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Then I’d be pleased to accept your offer of employment,” Billingsly said, abruptly putting the laser pen back in his coat pocket and grabbing Bradley’s hand to shake.
“That’s good news.”
“I guess I should be off, then,” Billingsly said jovially, rising from his seat and certainly not acting at all like someone who had just threatened the life of a major galactic personage. “I have to tell my current employers that there’s been a change in circumstances then get home to pack.”
“An excellent idea,” Bradley replied, standing to see him out. “My office will be contacting you with the details.”
“I look forward to it. Good bye, Mister President.”
Billingsly bowed, then practically skipped out of the office. Once he was gone, Bradley sank back into his chair and let out a long, slow sigh of relief. Bradley knew he should call his Special Secret Section immediately and have the man arrested for threatening the President, but that would just lead to a showy, messy trial and drum up massive sales for the hatchet-job biography Billingsly would inevitably publish. Hiring Billingsly instead wouldn’t normally be Bradley’s favorite choice, but this outcome did have the benefits of keeping Bradley alive and allowing him to control what Billingsly published about him. Any resulting biography would undoubtedly present a much more favorable view than Billingsly’s current version.
On the other hand, the man was unstable. Instability could lead to unpredictability, which Bradley despised. But what could he do about it, unless…
“President Dillon to Agent Anderson.”
“Anderson here,” the voice of the head of Bradley’s Special Secret Section security force replied.
“Do I have the power to make people disappear?”
“Is there a form I need to fill out or anything?”
“Well isn’t that interesting?” Bradley said, a grin tugging at edges of his mouth.
Wow, the mood in the room had shifted quickly, Porter thought at Drs. Diantha and Nelson glared at each other across the long dining table. Not that Commander Morales and Stephanie Hodges had noticed. They were still too into each other. Way too into each other. Beside Porter, Beck wobbled a bit in her chair. He reflexively reached out and steadied her before going for another swig of his own wine. He’d already hit intoxicated, but if a fight was about to break out in here, he’d prefer to be all the way to drunk.
“My treatment of Betsy Greer followed the protocols for Nesticat’s Syndrome to the letter,” Nelson said firmly.
“That’s exactly the problem. You didn’t think for one moment to vary the treatment for differences in species, and now she is back bothering me with the same symptoms,” Diantha replied, gesturing emphatically as her wings reflexively twitched, forcing Russell to duck out of the way before he was slapped in the face.
“There are no species-specific treatments for Nesticat’s,” Nelson said.
“How would you know? Looking at your logs, the only thing you ever researched was that thing inside you. Betsy Greer is one-sixteenth Eiriposi, but you didn’t look at her records enough to notice.”
“It doesn’t matter with Nesticat’s!” Nelson said, barely keeping her voice below a shout.
“Then how does she have it again?” Diantha demanded, slamming her hands down on the table and leaning toward Nelson.
“Probably the same way she caught it the first time!” Nelson retorted, matching Diantha’s pose.
The two were now mere centimeters from each other, both eyeing the other angrily.
“Another drink anyone?” Frequoq Wuddle said, nervously holding up another bottle of wine.
“Please,” Beck, Porter, Russell, Jones, and Ponfrero all said, reaching for their glasses.
This was it! A new life! A new direction!
Billingsly had only just arrived that morning and put his belongs into temporary quarters on Waystation. Now here he was, packing again, throwing everything back into his travel case so that he could catch the first transport back to…
What was that hissing sound?
Suddenly so sleepy…can’t stand up…what’s happ…
Nelson and Diantha looked about ready to rip each other limb from limb, which, considering her beak and the claw-like nails at the end of her long fingers, gave Diantha a bit of an edge in that arena. Porter sincerely hoped it wouldn’t come to that…well, he kind of hoped it…aw, who was he kidding, at this point he’d had enough wine that it didn’t really matter what happened.
Nelson, meanwhile, continued to stare down her opponent.
And then she suddenly burst out laughing and dropped back into her seat.
“What?” Diantha said. “What is so funny?”
“I just remembered something.”
“I don’t care,” Nelson said before breaking into another fit of giggles. “I don’t work here anymore. Go ahead and treat old Betsy any way your little heart desires.”
“Um…thank you,” Diantha said confused. “I will.”
“So when are you two having kids?” Jones asked suddenly, drawing another startled cry from the ever-flinching Ponfrero.
“Can’t we be married for a while first?” Nelson asked with a laugh.
“No! I want babies!” Jones cried. The entire group stared at her. It was even enough to pull Morales and Hodges out of their marathon make-out session. “Um…I didn’t mean it that way,” Jones squeaked. “I just want to hold someone else’s. And to babysit. And then give the baby back. I promise.”
“Sure, Tina. We believe you,” Beck said before the room dissolved into laughter.
“We will be holding you to that babysitting offer, though,” Wuddle said.
“You’d better believe that,” Nelson said.
As the conversation moved off to other topics, Porter leaned over to Beck. “Crisis averted,” he whispered.
“Thank the Great Bird,” Beck replied. She and Porter looked at each other, then Diantha, then back at each other. “Not that one,” Beck said just before they both started cackling.
It took a good five minutes for them to regain enough control of themselves to speak.
“That was good,” Beck said.
“Yeah. Exactly what I needed,” Porter replied.
“Uh huh. So let’s just sit back, relax, have another glass of wine, and enjoy ourselves,” Beck said, handing Porter his glass, then clanking hers against his. “No more excitement.”
No more excitement? What she should have said was ‘no more alcohol’, Beck thought as she slowly regained consciousness. You couldn’t just shake off the effects of Multek wine the way you could synthehol. Yeoman Jones had warned her about that.
Beck slowly lazily opened her eyes, then closed them.
They snapped open again a split-second later.
Craig Porter was in her bed.
What was Craig Porter doing in her bed?
Why was Craig Porter naked and in her bed?
Why was she naked and in her bed with Craig Porter?
Oh Great Bird, this wasn’t even her bed!
Why was she naked and in Craig Porter’s bed with a naked Craig Porter?
What had she done?
What had THEY done?
Dumb question. She knew damn well what they’d done.
And suddenly the memories came flooding back to prove it.
Oh no. No no no.
Yeoman Jones had warned her about this, too!