It is said that all things must have a beginning. Unfortunately, most of those beginnings take place in the morning.
The first thing I remember about the day everything went to Hell is the klaxon. Installed roughly 30 centimeters from my head in order to quickly rouse me from sleep, it was easily the loudest and most painfully obnoxious klaxon aboard Athena, and it was protected with three separate force fields and a small replica of a pit bull just in case I decided to look for a snooze button. As I rolled out of the bunk, my brain began its slow boot-up procedure, but halted mid-process when it came to the "drink coffee" subroutine. Hours later, I would take the time to wonder just how long I stood in front of the replicator before I realized that not only was it not replicating, but the damned klaxon had not stopped.
Something was probably wrong, I mused, wringing the mildly coherent thought from my as-yet-still-stagnant mind as the klaxon continued pouring out its 900db banshee wail.
"Shut the hell up and get me some coffee!" I screamed at the bulkhead mounted alarm. Abruptly, the klaxon died, and I had the terrifying sensation one gets from being tossed out an airlock into the cold silence of space during a shipboard wedding just because you tried to kiss the Captain full on the lips while dressed as a Romulan...not that I would know anything about that, of course. The silence, however, was apparently not as good at holding me upright as the klaxon had been, for I fell flat on my face as soon as it stopped shrieking at me. Looking up from the deck, I watched in pained admiration as the replicator churned out a mug of coffee.
"OK, computer, what's up?" I asked. After all, that wasn't the ordinary "Get the fuck up right now!" klaxon that had awakened me, but the "Holy shit you'd better haul your sorry ass outta bed before something really, really bad happens!" klaxon, and I was starting to wonder what kind of emergency the ship was facing.
"As per your coded instructions during your tour of duty as Chief Security Officer, you are hereby informed that the self-destruct sequence has been initiated."
I tripped over a chair, fell onto the floor of the head, and splashed coffee across the fresh towels and nifty replica toilet paper I had stolen on Memory Alpha. "Umm...excuse me, computer, but could you repeat that? It sounded like you said 'self destruct,' but you probably really said 'synthehol manufacturing still,' right?"
"I am sorry, Commander, but I did indeed say Self Destruct."
I looked at the floor, for some reason noticing exactly how interesting the pattern of water stains on the decking was. It was really amazing, I thought. Here, at the end of my life, I was finally coming to appreciate the subtleties of deck design.
It took a few minutes, but I finally realized that I wasn't dead just yet. Wanting to fill the remaining moments with something other than my own wonderful thoughts of imminent doom, I asked, "Computer, how long until the ship self destructs?"
"Present countdown stands at 25 minutes, 35 seconds."
That struck me as slightly odd. The normal delay on the SD system was one minute, roughly equivalent to the time I had just spent staring at the deck. Why would someone set the system to such a long period of time? The whole point of the damn thing was to destroy the ship in a godawful hurry. I didn’t even think the timer had any options. Well, you learn something exciting and useful each and every day.
I grabbed my gently worn (fresh two days ago) uniform and headed for the bridge. On the way, I remarked to myself on the apparent vacancy of the corridors. "Look," I said, "there’s nobody in the corridors." To which I quickly riposted with, "Why the hell are you talking to yourself?"
When the turbolift doors opened onto the bridge, I was again forced to consider whether or I not I had chosen the wrong week to give up hard liquor.
The bridge was empty.
Now, this presented a rare opportunity for me; I had often fantasized in my off-duty hours about just such an occasion: An entire Constitution-class starship all to myself. Those bastards from grade school would never see me coming! Why, I could vaporize entire countries that had refused me credit, or carve out my name in thousand-foot letters on the Moon! I could get any moderately intelligent female in the galaxy! I could run naked in circles around the Bridge, chanting nursery rhymes while eating sushi…
I’m sharing too much, aren’t I?
The moment passed. I walked down to the Captain’s chair. "Computer, where is the C Shift bridge crew?"
"No data available for your query."
Uh huh. There was definitely something wrong here. I had expected a response like, "Preparing for a surprise birthday party," or maybe, "Shrunken to 1/100th normal size by a hostile alien probe." "No data available" would tend to indicate that the guys on bridge duty right now were no longer aboard the Athena. And since I didn’t remember passing a suitable shore leave planet anytime in the recent past, that just didn’t scan. "Computer, tactical display on main viewer."
The screen display showed Athena, the usual collection of undersized data and symbology, and a rather frighteningly large line of some kind directly in our way. As an afterthought, the computer decided to add the Self Destruct timer countdown on the corner of the viewer; obviously, the twenty-six screens displaying it around the bridge and the audible countdown weren’t enough. The tiny legend below the really big line read "Galactic Barrier."
It was that kind of day.
I paged the Security Chief, Commander Sulleven, and the CMO, Doctor Flynn, to the bridge. I knew them both pretty well, and I could be fairly certain that whatever the hell was going on, they weren’t a part of it. In the minutes it took them to arrive, I began to research our predicament. When they both got there, looking exactly like I was certain I did after several hours of neural gas-induced slumber, I had a few answers. This was fortuitous, because they both had a heap of questions. For your sanity, I’ve compressed the conversation into a neat little Q&A thing.
Q: What the hell is going on?
A: The Athena is presently proceeding at Warp 6 toward the Galactic Barrier. 62% of the crew is missing. All communications are out, the helm controls are locked out, and there’s no beer on the bridge. Oh, and we have about 18 minutes until the ship goes boom.
Q: No, really. What the hell is going on?
A: From what I can make out from the few records left, the XO [Commander Mallory] convinced the Captain [Alden Talmain] to dispose of the more undesirable crew members by destroying the ship with them aboard. Not only that, but this gets him clear of that full inspection next month. Anyway, it looks like our missing officers and crew have been beamed to safety aboard the USSEssex, and I think they’re shadowing us at a discreet distance to strengthen their story.
Q: What story?
A: According to some notes I found in the Captain’s pipe tray, they’re going to claim that a linked and unexplained series of systems failures resulted in the helm being locked onto a collision course with the Barrier at Warp. They’ll say that their only alternative was to abandon ship. The Essex was in the area, and came to assist, but the transporters failed with only 62% of the crew evacuated. Without both transporters functional, there was no way for the Essex to evacuate the remaining crew at Warp speeds, and all they could do was watch Athena meet her death. I’m guessing that the self-destruct is just a backup, so we don’t survive the Barrier and become godlike madmen bent on revenge or something.
Q: Why are we still aboard? How come they didn’t take us?
A: Like I said before, all the undesirables would be left behind.
A: Get over it. If we don’t figure something out fast, we won’t just be undesirable; we’ll be unliving.
We pooled our knowledge of the ship and the affected systems, and we came up with some ideas anyway. Flynn began by reviewing sickbay logs for the past few weeks. By a freak twist of luck, Mallory had attended the weekly poker game in Flynn’s office a few weeks back. After getting horribly drunk and losing badly, he had run out of money. To stay in the game, he began throwing important information into the pot. And one of those tidbits had been…the override codes for the self-destruct system!
In the back of my mind, I realized that this was just the sort of thing that never happens in reality; in fact, I decided then and there to pinch myself rather hard. As I stared at the rising welt on my forearm, I gave up that approach and gave in to blind luck yet again.
I set Dr. Flynn to disabling the self-destruct system, and had Commander Sulleven begin rousing the remaining crew for a census. We decided to leave them locked in their quarters until we figured this all out; after all, doesn’t everyone want to die ignorant and in bed? Anyway, it seemed preferable to a morbid and depressing group of unwanted crew wandering the corridors with pointed sticks. I myself took the turbolift to the Auxiliary Control Room, where I began discussing phenomenology with the computer.
With five minutes to go, Flynn disabled the S-D system. Three minutes prior to our estimated time of impact with the glittering Barrier, I convinced the computer that I was God, and changed course. In an uncharacteristic flash of inspiration, I then proceeded to jettison the Warp nacelles and a load of antimatter, along with the week’s trash and one of the shuttles. We coasted down to sublight quickly, and I engaged the Impulse engines at maximum. As predicted, when the magnetic bottles of antimatter lost cohesion in the wash of our photonic Impulse drive, the resulting explosion was quite spectacular. With any luck, the shadowing Essex would think their plan had worked.
I mopped the sweat from my forehead and went for a beer.
Okay, so maybe I was a bit hasty before.
Without Warp capability, we’re stranded out here near the Barrier. The region we’re in is pretty much uncharted; we’re a week from the Meviannios system, which is located a good bit above the galactic plane. That’s where we’re headed.
Commander Sulleven presented his report on the remaining crew when I returned to the bridge and tossed both of my comrades a beer. As I read it, a feeling of uneasiness welled up in my gut. I took care of that with a resounding belch, and went back to the report. It was thus:
As shown, only the three of us standing on the bridge were "real" officers. After all, the only thing that separates a Lieutenant from an Ensign is usually latex. With no time left to lose, and with the ship flying Captainless, we used a tried and true method to decide which of us should assume command. I kept choosing scissors, and I lost. They quickly sat me down in the Chair and laughed their asses off.
I had, of course, aspired to the Captaincy during my career; who doesn’t? But somehow this wasn’t what I had in mind. Well, I raised another welt, shook my head, and decided to make the best of it until whatever drug I had inadvertently taken had a chance to wear off.
I made a brief, heartening statement to my new crew, informing them of our situation and promising to get them through it. I fell into a bit of coughing, after which I called a staff meeting of all remaining officers.
The meeting started poorly, and quickly went downhill from there. Oh, nobody seemed to mind my newly donned rank, or the ship’s present lack of FTL capabilities and communications, or the fact that we were about eight years from the nearest inhabited system we knew about at sublight speeds. In fact, some of them seemed rather pleased. No, what they were most upset about was the new ratio of male to female crew. There were presently 184 persons remaining aboard. Of them, six were women.
Yeah, that’s around 30:1.
I had drinks brought in, and food, and stims, and some other stuff I’d confiscated while I was security chief. I listened with feigned interest to my remaining officers, while Sulleven and Flynn sat at the other end of the table snickering. Then, in a brief conversational lull, Ensign Tremane made a remarkably unreasonable and totally shocking suggestion:
"Hey Doc, can’t ya make some of the useless guys into women?"
All eyes turned to Doctor Flynn. "Sure, no problem. With our equipment, we can make better women than God. More attractive, more…lubricated, more willing to wear those old miniskirts they got rid of a few years back. I can wipe their personalities right out, and let ‘em start fresh. Best of all, they won’t remember being anything else, they can’t get pregnant, and the best surgeon in Starfleet wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Of course, I can’t actually do anything of the sort."
"Well, it’s pretty much against EVERY REGULATION IN THE BOOK!"
The din rose again. The one clear statement, made by almost all present simultaneously, was, "Fuck Regulations! Fuck Starfleet! We’re on our own!"
The germ of an idea formed in my head then, and no amount of antibiotics was going to dispel it. I receded from the clamor of the impassioned officers, formulating a plan so terrifying, so mind-numbingly radical, that it would shake the very foundations of the Federation if I just happened to utter it in the wrong room.
Fortunately, this was the right one.
"Quiet down, ladies and gentlemen. I have a plan."
My newly liberated co-conspirators looked anxiously at me, and I began to describe my fiendish plot. "Okay, folks, here’s what I say we do. First, Dr. Flynn will prepare the regen tanks to build us some cute little sex kittens. Sulleven, prepare a list of all remaining male personnel with a history of sexual abuse, overt criminal tendencies, and sexual harassment. Round ‘em up and send ‘em to Flynn. Second, I want all departments to begin working on converting the ship for entertainment purposes. I think a really big party is in order, to celebrate our reported demise to Starfleet Command. By now, this ship and the remaining crew are listed as officially deceased, so let’s give ourselves the biggest wake in Federation history! Third, I need a computer investigation into the precedent of a Starship declaring itself independent and going renegade. Because that, my friends, is what we’re going to do. Discussion?"
I won’t recant the entire debate here. Dr. Flynn was hesitant at first, but a long speech by our only female officer on the appropriateness of making even borderline sex offenders into willing sex objects brought him around. He did insist on reversible alterations, in case we decided to undo the changes later. He also got us to request volunteers from the crew; this turned out to be quite successful. There were an alarming number of guys who thought it might be interesting to reverse roles for a while. I decided to ignore the frightening psychological implications of this, however.
Party preparations were eagerly begun by all the officers; I had to call a halt to that line of discussion after six hours. In the end, I announced promotions to Commander all around, selected new department heads, and ordered them to be creative. I then stunned Commander Flynn by appointing him XO, making him the first Medical Officer in history to hold that post.
By the time that was done, we’d been in conference for thirty-three hours straight, staying awake through chemical stimulation, creative juices, and a total lack of willingness to accept our limitations. Whether the resulting state of awareness is one of blurry judgment or transcendent understanding is beyond my brain’s ability to conclude; however, the most amazing thing happened at this point. As we began our discussion of becoming independent, we entered into a rapture-like state of being unlike any other. Together, we perceived the future of this vessel and crew, plying the interstellar spaces as a mighty force for entertainment, inebriation, and fun. We witnessed a vision of our destiny so profound that it brought tears to our eyes and whimpers to our lips as we sat mesmerized by the insubstantial hint of our role in the cosmic drama.
Unheard, the computer stated, "Attention. Life Support has temporarily failed in conference room three. Oxygen levels are below minimum nominal requirements for human life. Compensating."
As our visions faded, we understood the enormity of our task. We would have to endure much hardship and face a multitude of new challenges, but the resulting potential for party life would surely go down in history as the most ridiculous use a Federation Starship has ever been put to. I looked around at the assembled officers.
"Well, that’s it then. We have a job to do. Some greater cosmic force has arranged this little set of circumstances to give us a unique and valuable opportunity. We have in our hands the clay of a new and original masterpiece. Let’s not wipe it on the wall. Let’s not wash it off before it hardens. Let’s use it to bring total debauchery to the galaxy!"
Looking perplexed, Sulleven asked, "Uh, sir, are you all right? Your eyes are somewhat glazed…"
"Of course I’m all right! I’m fucking fantastic! I’m absolutely one-hundred-percent peachy! We, in this room, will all be all right. You’ll see. I’m sure of it. We can make the Athena…umm, wait a sec. I’m not sure that Athena is right for our new mission profile. How about renaming the ship…the Uncontrolled Bar Ship Casual?"
There was no debate. In fact, most of the others were sleeping on the table in positions that a contortionist might find somewhat uncomfortable. So, by unanimous vote of all conscious, the ship was officially renamed. I issued orders to begin altering the hull markings, and promptly passed out in my chair.
The past week has seen some appallingly frantic activity aboard the newly christened Casual. I will summarize.
Dr. Flynn has completed "modifications" to 95 male crew members. Of that number, 37 were volunteers. Test subjects who performed field testing report that the new…crew women are performing above expected efficiency levels in all tasks tested.
Medical has also produced an anti-hangover pill with no side effects reported. This medication is now mandatory for all on-duty crew.
Engineering has completed modifications to the RecDeck area of the primary hull. The RecDeck now comprises 37% of the primary hull, with further changes planned. All nonessential equipment and furniture has been converted by the ship’s Materials Fabrication plant into suitable party hardware.
Commander Sulleven has had the officer’s lounge converted into an authentic Roman orgy pit. We had to make some changes to the area’s fire suppression system, but otherwise all is well.
Reckless abandon has dictated that we do some reckless things with this ongoing party. As such, I have decided to have the secondary hull switched to zero gravity during A and D shifts.
The lack of large open spaces aboard has presented a challenge, but the crew has responded to it well. Our shuttlebay has been cleared of support craft and converted into a combination dance hall and theater. This was accomplished by stringing our support ships out behind the Casual on monomolecular cable.
The actual party has met with great success, and there is no point in stopping it now. The Casual is still on course for the Meviannios system; we should enter the system’s inner planetary shell in 34 hours. Sensors indicate no Class M planets, but a vast supply of raw materials we’ll soon be needing. If we’re lucky, we might even find some aliens to invite over.
The Casual is in orbit around Meviannos IV, a lifeless world with a spectacular ring system and several deposits of critical minerals, including Dilithium. I have ordered landing parties to sober up and prepare for some mining.
It was during these preparations that we made a most startling discovery. The transporters had last been used by the escaping crew, and Commander Mallory and Captain Talmain had been the last to leave. With all the partying going on, nobody had bothered to check out the transporter rooms since the Event. When Commander Fugit began routine system checks prior to our away missions, he noticed that there was still something in the pattern buffer in Transporter Room One. There was, of course, no chance of rematerializing whoever it was, but he checked it out anyway.
It was Captain Talmain.
Apparently, Commander Mallory had fooled him, too. He had left his Captain in the transporter, never to realize the conspiracy against his fine ship and crew. The pattern had degraded seriously, and there was almost nothing left of Talmain’s physical pattern. But the electrical impulses making up his mental signature were another matter; they were still 87% intact in the buffer. Fugit, having little experience with transporter emergencies, attempted to store Talmain’s neural pattern in the Casual’s computer. This, of course, was futile; without a body to inhabit, the signal should have dissipated into noise once removed from the buffer.
That’s not what happened.
Seconds after the attempt, systems all over the ship went crazy, but almost nobody noticed. Then, from the Bridge speakers, there came a most unexpected announcement.
"This is Alden Talmain. I seem to be integrated into the computer. Will someone please tell me what is going on, and why Commander Erickson is receiving oral sexual gratification in my chair?"
Well, it was an interesting conversation after that. In the end, Talmain seemed to accept his new state of being, and agreed to continue performing the duties of the ship’s computer, provided we find a way to include him in the party. We’re working on that.
All modifications to the ship are proceeding as planned. With new ones popping up each day, it’s impossible to keep a schedule, so I won’t report on actual progress. Let’s just say that the construction and the ongoing shipwide party make interesting counterpoints to one another.
Commander Fugit and Chief Stromboni have been busy reworking our weapons systems with our new mission profile in mind. They get drunk each night, wander the Jeffries tubes at high speed, and then whack themselves on the head with spent Dilitium. After this ritual, they sit down and conceive new weapons; the next day, they get drunk again to build them. So far, they’ve built some amazing things:
DAZER: Replacing the Phaser, this weapon has three settings: Tickle, Probe, and Penetrate. Mark I and II hand units are already deployed; ship-mounted versions are in the works. In an emergency, Fugit promises the ability to Probe an entire city block from orbit!
YUKON TORPEDO: Rather than waste precious antimatter, Fugit and Stromboni have harnessed a rare form of Anti-Sobriety as the reactive agent in this wonderful weapon. Should we ever encounter sentient beings to fire it at, we will be able to even the combat odds by reducing their crew to the same drunken stupor that we’re operating at.
PUSH ME-PULL YOU BEAM: Replacing our standard Tractor beam, this is a combination unit which can, obviously, both pull and push. The two functions can be cycled at a rate of 30 times per second, allowing for rapid fine-focus push-pull forces. Resolution enhancement will enable us to target an object as small as 20cm long from orbit and cycle push and pull forces through a 30cm travel. We’re not sure what to use it for yet, but we’re working on it.
DEJECTOR SHIELDS: With our mission of partyment and entertainment, we don’t expect to be attacked any time soon. If we are, however, we’re ready. The Dejector Shields, replacing the boring old Deflector Shields, cause incoming weapons of both solid and energy states to become very dejected and wander off in another direction, without focus.
Further developments are promised, and I eagerly await them.
Ship and party status is excellent. Consumable party supplies are becoming scarce, however, and we’re having to resort more and more to synthetic or replicated items. I‘m sending the shuttles Nonchalant and Placid out to check the nearest planets for possible supplies. Because the Athena was never equipped with a Warpsled, this will take several weeks. Hopefully, the party can survive until then.