What a day! What a marvelous, stupendous, and monumental day!
At 0134 this morning, the Computer/Talmain announced, "Attention, please. We appear to have some company."
I was forced to stop what I was doing and take a drink of beer before I could talk. Barbie 17 looked disappointed, but sometimes duty has to take precedence.
"What is it, Alden?"
"Captain, a Federation Mark VIIA Scout, Monocerous class, has just entered sensor range. They are hailing us. I wasnít sure what to say, so I decided to awaken you."
"Uh huh. Well, I guess itís off to the bridge!" Donning my bathrobe (which has officially been declared Class B uniform aboard ship), I staggered to the turbolift and headed up. I was relieved to find that the Bridge had recently been cleaned, but the stains in the carpet near Communications were still there. Oh well.
"Put the message on screen, Alden." A face formed in the panel, and my mounting apprehension subsided a bit. It was Tony Zapparell, my old dorm mate from the Academy!
"This Captain Zapparell of the Federation Starship Taurus to unidentified vessel. Please respond. Do you require assistance?"
"Hey, Tony, whatís up?" I dropped into the Chair and ordered up some Irish Coffee from the newly installed wet bar.
"Allan? Allan Erickson? What the hellÖ?"
"Yep, old buddy, itís me all right. And thatís Captain Erickson now."
"What? You know, youíre supposed to be dead! And if that hull is the Athena, itís supposed to be gone as well. What exactly is going on here?"
"Itís a bit complicated. If youíd like, you can come over and weíll discuss it."
"Iím not sure, Allan. This seems highly unusualÖ"
"Oh, rest assured, it is. But I think I can explain it. And I still have a half-finished bottle of Romulan Ale in my quarters. What say, old friend?"
"WellÖOh, what the hell. I gotta hear this. Iíll be over in an hour. Zapparell out."
I sat back and thought for a moment. I hadnít expected this to happen so soon, but I knew that it could at any time. Luckily, I had set Alden to preparing plans just in case that time turned out to be early rather than late.
"Alden, itís show time. Go to Beer Alert and put me on shipwide."
A muted and pleasant-sounding alarm began, like a tap filling a stein, and the lights took on an lager-like light.
"All hands, this is the Captain. We are about to have some guests. This is great, since weíve all been getting bored with having the same crowd at the party every day. Iíve sounded Beer Alert, and if the drills have been any indication, I know youíll do your best. After I speak to the captain of the other ship, which is a Federation scout, I think we can go to Rum Alert and really get this thing kicking when they start beaming over. If we have to, we might even go up to Everclear Alert. If that happens, I want Party Marines ready to find the most uncasual guests and get them entertained! Make me proud! That is all."
Tony and his XO, an Andorian named Gulgari, came aboard and began asking lots of probing questions. Flynn and I did our best to explain, giving them the tour of our amazing facilities and allowing them to sample all that we have to offer.
"Wow, Al, youíre really insane. I mean, how will you keep this going? After a while your crew will get bored, restless, and sober, and then what will you do?"
"Iím glad you asked that, Tony. See, we havenít just converted the ship into a flying bar for our own use. With the small number of crew aboard, thereís lots of empty space and more ideas for entertainment than we can use. So, now that weíve been discovered, we plan to offer our services as the finest recreational vessel in the quadrant to any ship that needs it, in exchange for raw materials, intelligent conversation, and utter secrecy about us in any and all official reports."
"Hey, thatís not a bad idea! I mean, even Wrigleyís Pleasure Planet has plenty of rules and such, and itís always crowded when you get to orbitÖYeah, that might work. I guess that means my crew will be your first paying crowd?"
"Yep, thatís the size of it. What do you say? Will you be our guinea pigs?"
He pondered for several moments, stealing glances at my two Yo!Women! as he scratched his chin. "Oh, why the hell not? Itís been 18 months since our last leave, and that was out at that damned K-7."
Flynn trembled uncontrollably for a moment. "The one with those damned tribbles?" His eyes darted back and forth.
"Thatís the one, all right. Nothing to worry about, though. Weíre clean."
"Okay. Alden will prepare a transporter schedule for you. Letís get started!"
And so began our Great Mission.
The Taurus remained with us for a week, and party performance was well beyond projected enjoyment levels. At the end, we were forced to hunt down three of Taurusí crew and give them back to Tony. They were heartbroken, but I told them that they could return as soon as they could manufacture a good story for Starfleet Command about their disappearance. We took on several loads of raw party materials, and Tony sent his ship to scout the system and bring back our shuttles. Iím not looking at the survey data, though, until tomorrow.
Weíre on our way.
The USS Taurus departed this morning at 0400. Tony informed me that their next assignment includes a rendezvous with the tug USS Rittenhouse, which is presently between loads, having just delivered a shipment of materiel to Starbase 11. The Rittenhouse's captain is a good friend of Tony's, and will undoubtedly be in the mood for our special brand of entertainment. They should arrive in a week or so.
I looked over the survey data from Taurus, and was rather pleased. Although the system is, on the whole, pretty run-of-the-mill, with no apparent life forms present on any of the planetary bodies beyond the single-cell stage, there is an incredibly interesting asteroid body orbiting on the outskirts of the system. We have set course to investigate.
We're still on course for the unusual asteroid body, cruising at a lightninglike speed of .45c. We might even arrive this month, if we're lucky.
Six ships have been here so far this month, including another Heavy Cruiser, USS Wasp. The Casual is handling the load well, given the supplies we're trading for. It sure would be nice to have more party space, though. We continue to have such minor difficulties as turbolift shortages (couples keep using the cars as bedrooms of convenience), accidental Dazer discharges, and contamination of the alcohol supply with drinking water. If my suspicions about the asteroid are correct, however, all of these petty problems could be solved overnight.
Captain Haslock of the Wasp brought us a sealed message from the San Francisco Naval Yards. Somehow, they got wind of our continued existence and our rather unorthodox modifications. The message assured us that the survival of the ship will be kept secret; however, due to unauthorized and potentially hazardous structural alterations to the ship, they are forced to revoke our hull's Naval Construction Contract. This information is only distressing to me because it means all of my newly printed stationery is useless. I have ordered work crews to begin modifying the hull markings as soon as enough sober pilots can be rounded up.
Along with the NCC revocation, Captain Haslock also had another message for us. Apparently, Starfleet is aware of our continued existence and operations! They are keeping it all hush-hush, but several key members of the General Staff believe that we're providing Starfleet with a much needed service, and have tacitly agreed to allow us to continue without interference. The biggest kick in the ass to us, though, is this: In order to maintain the secrecy, Starfleet was forced to promote Commander Mallory to Captain of the Essex.
It just proves our point. We decided to abandon Starfleet because of exactly this kind of crap. All those poor sots who believe the Starfleet mystique of incorruptibility and the importance of duty have never met the likes of Mallory. Not only has he gotten away with his treachery against us, but it's been completely buried by the General Staff! If it wasn't benefiting us along the way, I might just be forced to file a complaint or something. Of course, then I'd lose this fine ship, be forced to return to a mediocre existence aboard some normal vessel, and have to wear those stupid pointy sideburns again. I guess I'll let it slide.
Well, today marks the eve of our arrival at the mysterious asteroid. I thought that we would be alone as we made our first landing, but just hours ago a free trader hailed us and came alongside. They brought us several sealed packages, a handwritten letter, and...this is so cool...a Warpsled! Yup, after cruising outsystem for weeks, we finally got a working C+ drive unit to strap to a shuttle. I wasn't sure whether to be overjoyed or amazingly pissed, so I simply opened another bottle of Gorn "Blood" and forgot about the dilemma.
The packages included several rare and intoxicating substances, many illegal in the Federation; a great deal of contraband pornographic material; and six kilos of t'pukkh, a rare Vulcan drug that causes Vulcans of both sexes to become incredibly aroused at a more frequent interval than the customary 7 years. This last came as something of a relief; I was getting pretty sick of having all the Vulcans in a visiting crew remain behind while the rest enjoyed themselves. It didn't seem fair. After all, the Vulcans used to be a pretty wild bunch, from what I've read; this whole logic thing is simply a wall around their otherwise overactive emotions. It'll be interesting to see what happens when we release this t'pukkh into their air supply next time we get the chance.
The personal missive was the real shocker. In long, flowing script, it read: "To a damn fine institution. Morrow." I stared at it for several minutes; eventually, Candi 7 had to get my attention to make sure I hadn't passed out. While she reaped the rewards of her distraction, I considered the signature. The only Morrow I knew of was Admiral Morrow, Commander Strafleet. Had he...naaaa. There must be some other really powerful, gift-giving guy named Morrow out there. Somewhere. Sure.
At that point, Candi finished distracting me, and I drifted off to sleep.