Today was much more monumental than yesterday.
First off, the UBS Relax set forth on her inaugural mission at 0437. This was accompanied by no fanfare, no pomp; the Relax slid quietly from her position near the Hotel and crept away in darkness, trying desperately not to awaken the senior officers from their much-needed post-drunk sleep. They eventually maneuvered far enough away from the Hotel, and snapped into warp at 0505.
That was the boring part. In fact, Flynn hadnít even been awake for the departure. This was appropriate, since I hadnít been either; in fact, most of the interaction between the two vessels had been handled by Alden, who was showing no signs at all of strain as he simultaneously existed in three separate locations and performed three totally isolated sets of functions. I had heard last week that there were times, usually late at night, when entering the computer interface bay of either ship was the surest way to cure insomnia. Alden had developed a habit of discussing the various mysteries of the universe with himself in a hallucinographic round-table format, which was on constant display in the interface bays when Alden became bored.
I shudder to think that anyone would voluntarily enter into the area of such a terrifying phenomenon. Sure, you might get to sleep, but how could you live with the nightmares?
At any rate, the departure of the Relax was not the most engrossing thing to happen today. I canít record the thing that was, but I can recount a few other things which come close.
I finally awakened at around 1034, feeling like a used paper towel and looking somewhat less than alive. There next came the morning ritual of crawling to the head, staring at myself in the increasingly unfriendly mirror, and performing those morning duties that become habit after a few iterations: Brushing, flossing, washing, shaving, and primping. Looking at myself, I decided that I had developed a few too many habits lately, and decided to try kicking some by ignoring several bits of personal hygeine. Hey, youíve gotta start somewhere. I should probably try kicking my Altoids habit first, but what the hell.
Looking like I felt, I found a clean bathrobe and set of trunks and ordered up some coffee. "Alden, is there anything going on?"
"Good morning, Commodore. Sir, there is nothing going on that demands your immediate attenion. All shipís systems are functioning within acceptable Barfleet tolerances and all passengers and crew are reasonably assured of continued existence for the immediate future."
"Thatís nice. Howís Sulleven holding up?"
"Commander Sulleven has completed his 133rd consecutive hour as Watch Commander with little incident. During his 127th hour, he made numerous attempts to sleep, but all were denied through the proscribed electroshock method. During the 129th hour, he repeatedly begged and cried out for someone else to take command, even offering his services to Chief Engineer Fugit should he agree to take over for a short while. Commander Fugit declined, pointing out that Commander Sulleven would be ill-suited to the task that Fugit required assistance with."
Hmmm...I really should try to keep better track of time. I had wanted to give Sulleven an endurance test, but...
"What did Fugit need help with?"
"He was looking for something to block the shuttlebay doors open with while he performed repairs on their gap stepping motors."
"Hmmm. Would have been fun to watch, but way too bloody. Go on."
"Commander Sullevenís 131st hour was rather interesting. He became quite agitated and appeared convinced that the ship was under attack from a fleet of giant invisible white rabbits. He attempted to order the bridge crew to attack them, depart at high warp, or self-destruct the ship, but they politely refused to. Sulleven eventually began jabbing at the viewscreen with a crayon, and after a few minutes returned to the conn wearing a grin and mumbling ĎThat showed Ďem!í under his breath. During this past hour, he attempted to appoint a new Chief Medical Officer."
"Any idea why?"
"Sir, I believe that Commander Sulleven hopes to be relieved of duty due to mental incompetence. As we presently have no CMO and no replacement has been presented, this is impossible."
"Still, it took some thinking to come up with that after 133 hours. Okay, I guess itís time I called a staff meeting. Get all the department heads to meet me in the briefing room at 13ish."
"And Alden, please forget to inform Commander Sulleven. I want him to finish out B shift."
"Of course, sir."
"Just out of curiosity, Alden, whatís the record for a single officer holding the conn?"
"The previous record was 96 hours, 22 minutes, and 8 seconds, set by an Ensign Whitehook of the USS Bastille six years ago. He was the only survivor of the Bastille, and remained awake through the use of concentrated stimulants and a painful and unidentified rash on his...privates."
"Why did he do it?"
"After he finished killing all 244 members of the Bastilleís complement, he wanted to see what would happen if he flew the ship into a black hole. Unfortunately, he was trained in laundry service, not astrogation, and was unable to locate a black hole outside the vessel. He did, however, spend a while searching."
"What happened to him? How come I havenít heard this story?"
"Ensign Whitehook was apprently discovered, upon capture, to be simply a figment of his own drug-enhanced imagination. When he realized this, he ceased to exist and left no physical trace behind, save for a ship with a dead crew and several empty stim injectors. Starfleet officers on the scene decided that they had all been working too hard with no time off, and quickly destroyed almost all records of the Bastilleís existence. Her crew were listed as Ďmomentarily misplacedí and their families were sent canned hams."
"Amazing. So Sulleven has the record by...hell, more than 30 hours. Whatís a couple more?"
By the time the staff meeting was scheduled to begin, I had broken down and made myself presentable. I arrived at my suitably late time, 1327, to find that the rest of the staff had decided that fashionably late was to be the theme. I took my seat at the head of the table and ordered up a drink from the built-in wet bar.
As the hour neared 1430, the last of my staff officers arrived. Most were showing aftereffects of the sendoff celebration, and more than a few of them were wearing sunglasses. Havoc was shaved bald, and there were traces of yellow lipstick on the back of his scalp. I decided that I really didnít need to know. Besides, I was much more interested in the new Medical Assistant who had come aboard from the Potempkin. She had spent a few minutes aboard the Casual and had promptly abandoned her desire to attend Starfleet Medical Academy. We had signed her up just last night, at around midnight, in a very well-attended ceremony. Her name was one of those monikers that bring to mind the characters of the great Ian Fleming...her name was Candice Filling. (Go on, guess what she likes to be called...) She had gotten into the Barfleet life in grand style, and at the moment was a walking testament to the beneficial effect that a really good Class "D" uniform can have on morale.
As my staff found their seats and drinks, I shuffled a stack of blank papers and pretended to look captainlike. This meeting did involve official Barfleet business, after all, and I had to make sure that the recorders got the impression that I was a least a little bit prepared. As my officers shared glances of curiosity, I cleared my throat.
"Good afternoon, people. Glad you could make it." The voices raised in response sounded unhappy, but were mostly unintelligible. I continued.
"As you are all undoubtedly aware, the Casual has recently developed a rather dangerous staff shortcoming."
Fugit turned to Candy. "You promised you wouldnít say anything!"
Candy smiled and looked innocent, which was all the more alarming because she was...in this case.
"Commander Fugit, please sit down and have a drink. The shortcoming I am referring to has nothing to do with you personally, although Iím sure the others here might want to raise the issue. Iím talking about our current First Officer shortage. Weíre here to discuss Commodore Flynnís replacement."
There was a sudden chill in the air as Fugit relaxed, then realized what had been said and quickly caught up with the other staff members, all of whom were putting on their best "Oh My God!" looks. My loyal officers began searching for blunt objects next. Before the meeting turned dangerous, I ordered up a new carafe of Romulan Ale and resumed the discussion.
"Yes, folks, we need an XO. One of the senior staff members will become my exec before we leave this room."
The room became a cacophony of irate incredulity. It went like this:
"Never! Iíll die first!"
"I canít do it! Iím no good at this officer thing! Iím a fake!"
"Better you than me! Iím a vegeteble!"
"Big deal! Iím from Detroit!"
"I have no idea how to handle a starship!"
"Yeah? I have no idea what a starship is!"
"Well, I have no idea what I am!"
"Youíre a better choice than me, thatís what!"
"I drool a lot!"
"I have spasms!"
"I canít even dress myself!"
"I canít take bras off one handed!"
"I still wet the bed!"
"Is THAT what that was? Damn..."
"Is there a lot of potty humor on this ship or what?"
"I like synthehol!"
"I donít even like to drink!"
That comment, at least, caused a temporary lull. I slammed my tankard onto the table and waited for the assemblage to reclaim their seats. They continued casting furtive glances at each other, and all of them suddenly became living poster children for some strange and debilitating disease as each one started drooling, suffering from various twitches and spasms, falling over, pouring drinks into their eyes, and making curious gurgling noises. I waited a minute for the roomís recording devices to capture the moment for posterity, then burst their collective bubble of apprehension.
"Look, guys, thereís nothing to worry about. In case you havenít noticed, Iíve already chosen Flynnís replacement; heís been doing the job for a while now, and Iím certain that Iíve made the right choice. Iím naming Sulleven as the new Executive Officer."
The room became considerably quieter as the number of gibbering, slobbering idiots was reduced to one; Lieutenant Commander Ogg decided that the best way to exercise his duties as Insecurity Officer was to take pity on the absent Sulleven and sprawled on the deck bonelessly in sympathy.
"Okay. Now that your IQís have again reached the double-digit range, we can get this over with. Sulleven has been on continuous duty for..." I checked my chronometer, "...5 days, 18 hours, and about 7 minutes. This beats the previous Starfleet record by more than 41 hours. During that time, the ship has suffered no adverse effects or breakdowns, and Sulleven himself has only left his post to visit the little officersí room and the peep show device. This is a staggering achievement, and one which Iím sure nobody in their right mind will ever try to surpass."
There were appreciative and amazed expressions passed around, and great deal of head-shaking. Candy, doing some quick scribbling on her cocktail napkin, raised her hand.
"Um, sir, according to some quick figures, Commander Sulleven should no longer have any real framework left to separate fantasy from reality. In short, by now his mind should be producing complex conscious hallucinations to make up for his extended REM deprivation, and his sanity is most certainly just a dim memory."
"Yep, thatís the idea. I fully expect him to react pretty much like Ogg there is doing for him, so I decided on this endurance test to properly prepare him for his new position. With luck, when I break the news, heíll interpret it as simply another delusion, and will take the oath without any real opposition. Get it?"
"Oh...of course, sir. An excellent plan!"
"I thought so. Alden, could you please inform Commander Sulleven that weíd like him to join us?"
"Certainly, Commodore. I must tell you, however, that there may be a slight delay before the Commander can comply."
"Why is that?"
"Sir, the Commander is presently dangling from the bridge overhead support struts screaming something about figs and petroleum jelly. As soon as he can be coaxed down and cleaned up, I will have him report to the briefing room."
I stifled a keen desire to call up the bridge monitors on the screen. Perhaps Iíd gone too far...
About twenty minutes later, Sulleven was escorted into the room by a pair of Medical lackeys. He was dressed in a formless Sickbay smock and kept looking upward and saying, "Of course I know that!" every few seconds. The medicos waited while I stood up and moved to my proper place, then brought Sulleven before me and got him to kneel by kicking him. Gently, of course.
"Commander Alexander Daniel Sulleven, Chief Security Officer of the Uncontrolled Bar Ship Casual, you have been brought before me today in answer to a great need. You have..."
I droned on for a while in what was basically a repetition of the ceremony I had used on Flynn, just less well attended. As he repeated the oath, Sulleven kept looking over my head and smiling, and muttering between reciting his part in a language that sounded suspiciously like Gorn.
Finally, as I finished my bit, Sulleven stood and looked around the room. Then, as the assembled staff began a roaring round of applause (except for Ogg, who was by now curled into a fetal ball and being used as a footstool), the new XO of the Casual smiled. Then he giggled. Then he laughed. Then he tilted his head back and bellowed with a laughter of such a malign nature that even I was momentarily taken aback. When he eventually stopped, he looked at each face in turn and winked. In a single quick motion he leaped onto the table.
"Fools! Incompetents! Do you think I didnít see it?" His voice had taken on a rather menacing note as he crouched in our midst. "You are all so pathetic! Your tiny minds have no concept of the puddings that I have beheld! There is no place that my power cannot find you, destroy you, laminate you! I will tighten you all! I am unstoppable now! You had your chance, but your stupid minds have again refused to see the symmetry and have instead been bloated by the infinite fractals of the neutronium coordinates within the jello matrix! I have the keys, the keys to the Ferrarri!, and I shall use them to liberate the geese! There will be no justice for polynomials while I live! I am alone, but I am always wet! I need a piece of gum! You are all..." His voice became a whisper, then a snore as he passed out on the table, asleep at last.
The staff and I quietly left the room, leaving Ogg and Sulleven sleeping in what must have been the most uncomfortable positions ever assumed by bipeds.
They were, however, smiling.
Things have been pretty quiet lately...well, as quiet as we let them get aboard the most heavily armed cruise ship in space.
Business for both the Casual and the Hotel has been a little off, owing to the information that we might soon be relocating. Several vessels from a number of races are postponing their scheduled visits, waiting to see when and if the Casual makes the move to the Star Desert. As a result, the crew and employees have had an unprecedented opportunity to get everything nice and shiny.
Unfortunately, the personnel required to keep both of our entertainment facilities both fun and impeccable are usually not of the same cloth. Fun people, it seems, just aren't much into neatness; the more anal types who are just don't seem to gravitate towards positions menial enough to do the job. In other words, if we want a neat fun ship, we need neat, boring people. This simply will not do. I would much rather be inebriated and a slob than immaculate and a virgin.
The Relax has been keeping us informed of her progress daily. So far, they have met no serious difficulties within the Star Desert. Several of the crew have been training on the ship's more unconventional systems, and there were some reports of unneeded probing and excessive engorgement during weapons excercises. Those exercises were quickly repeated several times.
Commodore Flynn reports that the Relax will arrive at Gothos proper in six days, after investigating several anomalous readings near the periphery of the Star Desert. We are all anxiously awaiting their arrival. (Okay, we're really not, but if we tell the Relax that, they'll likely get into a bad mood and pout, and nobody will ever leave Alden's chamber, and the weapons guys will stop firing at each other...)
For myself, I have had a few new uniforms prepared for my wearing pleasure. It's not so much that I've become vain or anything; it's just that the ship's tailor is an amazingly attractive four-armed brunette who has to keep rechecking her measurements...
Ah, well, it's time for another fitting...
The klaxon sounded its usual annoying as hell sound, derived, I'm, certain, from the mating cry of a frustrated Klingon during the height of a kidney stone passage. As usual, it had two separate and distinctly unpleasant effects.
First, it woke me up, along with everyone else within a twenty meter radius. Second, it caused my voluptuous companions to vacate my quarters with extreme haste. Ah, well. At least they didn't bother with clothing as they ran for the corridor.
The alarm stopped, as usual, when I slammed into it with a large paperweight made almost entirely of dilithium. It uttered a further wounded-sounding chirp, then expired, going to the same end as the dozen or so of its siblings lying nearby that I really should get around to sending back to materials fabrication.
I pulled myself to a sitting position and downed the last of my Blood Wine from the night before.
"What's up, Alden?"
"Commodore, we are receiving a priority communication from Commodore Flynn. He sounds rather agitated."
"Great. Pipe it through." I grabbed one of my spiffy new triple-velour bathrobes and headed for my desk. As I sat down, Flynn's slightly imposing visage appeared on the monitor.
"I'm here, Flynn. What's your problem?"
He moved his face closer to the pickup and glaned around suspiciously before replying. "Erickson, I think I have a situation here."
"Yeah, you're gonna go blind sitting that close to the screen."
"No, no...this is serious!" His voice lowered to a whisper. "I think we're being followed."
See what happens? Give a guy his own ship, and right away he starts getting paranoid. "Ummm, Flynn...perhaps you'd better explain yourself."
"Look, we've been getting some weird readings for a few days now. They're always behind us, and always the same distance from the Relax. As soon as we start concentrating scans aft, the readings vanish."
"A cloaked ship?"
"I thought of that, but the readings are to anomalous to be sure. I thought it might be something to do with the lifeform Enterprise reported, but now I don't think so."
"Well, we sent two shuttles down to Gothos yesterday. They reported no sign of any kind of life, but they did locate a single cleared area of the surface at the coordinates recorded by Enterprise. They found nothing but a marble obelisk ten meters long with a single letter on it."
"How amazingly disinteresting. I guess that means that I can begin moving the Casual your way, huh?"
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea. Until we can nail down this anomaly..." He glanced over his shoulder, and behind him Commander Lanchellsi became visible. She was scowling at Flynn and pointing at the screen he was using.
"Sir, I thought we'd agreed not to burden Commodore Erickson with your little theory."
Flynn faced her squarely, towering over her by a good two inches. "Commander, I decided to relate our suspicions to Barfleet Command. Are you questioning my judgement?"
"No, sir. Not at all. It's just that what you're referring to as 'our' suspicions are really only 'your' suspicions, sir. You always seem to be the only one looking at the right indicators when these readings appear. The doc and I think that the proper remedy for those readings is a stiff drink and a long, quiet nap."
Flynn scowled indignantly at her. "Commander, I know that something is following us. I can feel it. And as soon as I can find it, you will all understand." He turned back to my image. "Allan, I would advise waiting until we can nail this thing down. It's only a matter of time before they slip up and then we'll show 'em." The screen blinked off.
Great. Just great. Flynn was obviously losing it out there in the Star Desert. Either the stress was getting to him, or he was mixing his drinks himself again. Nothing could hide for long from the Relax's Gemmorahn sensors; even a cloaked ship would be detected, unless it was of an entirely new configuration. I produced a jaw-popping yawn and decided to play Captain this morning.
On the bridge, I ordered Rum Alert and opened the whole-ship channel. "Attention, please. This is your Captain speaking. All hands make ready for tow. Hangar bay, we need all the support ships reeled back in right away. And this time, could you please try not to hit the ship with them? Jasmine, inform the tugs that we'll be ready to begin our little excursion in three hours."
"Right away, sir." She stuck that terribly uncomfortable-looking steel spike back into her ear and went to work.
Sulleven got off the turbolift in his pajamas and staggered over. "Everything okay, sir?"
"I think so, but what the hell. It never hurts to be prepared." I fingered the Dazer controls on the arm of my recliner and stared at the viewscreen. "I think Flynn may be in some trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"Well, you know what happens when Stromboni loses his medication and starts running around the ship in nothing but a pair of canary yellow boxers and an oxygen mask screaming 'My nose knows what it knows and that's all that I knows' while carrying a two-by-four and looking for termites?"
"I think it's that kind of trouble."
I saw that Sulleven had been practicing his terrified XO look very well.
The Casual must have been an amazing sight as she dropped out of Warp just outside the Star Desert today.
Can you picture a MK IX/A cruiser, conspicuously devoid of nacelles, dropping to impuse with a Tholian tug fastened with that damn webbing to each pylon, and with six different tugs arrayed in a semicircle out front, each one trailing a 1000 meter long strand of holiday lights?
I can't, and I was staring at it for a week.
Once we had detached all the cables, unfastened the Tholians, and spread some bondo over the spots on the hull that the cables had rubbed raw, I ordered 1/4 impulse and Rum alert. We proceeded slowly into the Star Desert, advising our friendly towing crews to wait until we called the Relax at Gothos before following us in.
I was worried about Flynn. Had he snapped? Had command just been too much pressure for him? Had his Yo!Women! been unresponsive? I needed to know, and I wanted to find out before I started Party operations. Besides, I had left the Hotel virtually defenseless (there are only 3 Klingon ships and a Federation merchantman in right now) and I was anxious to send the towing crews back to haul it here. It would be best to find the Relax, talk to Flynn in private, and find out just what the hell was going on.
"Set course for Gothos. Engage at one half impulse." The bridge crew were uncharacteristically sober and enthusiastic this morning. I would have to find out what was in that coffee...
We entered the Star Desert. As we entered the area of the obscuring dust clouds, I felt a strange feeling of dread well up in my gut. Unnerved, I hastily refilled my tankard with Everclear-laden orange juice and slugged it down. I was rewarded with a cessation of the worrisome feeling; obviously, I had been afraid of running out of alcohol.
The Casual passed through the dust clouds and emerged at the edge of the Star Desert. The sight was as odd as I had expected; in every direction was nothing but utter blackness. The clouds of dust surrounding the Star Desert completely blocked out all stars in the neighborhood, and there were no stars at all within the confines of the strange area. I felt very insecure for a moment.
Sensing this, Lt. Commander Ogg quickly uttered a gurgling sound, drooled, and passed out on the deck. I felt much better.
"Hardemann, what have we got?"
"Well, sir, there's a six of Scotch Ale in the mini-fridge, three bottles of Romulan Ale in the wet bar, and a dozen Jell-O Shooters on the comm station."
"No, no...what's outside?"
"Oh." He bent to the peep show device. "Looks like space, boss."
Apparently, the bridge crew was suffering a minor intelligence setback. Never can tell with Andorian coffee. "Commander Hardemann, I realize that you're new here. I realize that you have spent the last few thousand years in cryogenic suspension in a small capsule floating in space. I realize that we have no knowledge of your race or your alcohol tolerance just yet. Nevertheless, we do tend to go for a little more precision in our reports than that, okay?"
He glanced over at me with a little smile and a slightly wounded look. "Oh, sorry boss." He looked back into the viewer. "Okay, I'd say it's really, really dark space."
With a sigh, I gave up. "Alden, consolidate primary sensor data and display tactical, please."
"Right away, sir." The main viewer switched from a featureless black rectangle to a somewhat different featureless black rectangle broken by a few lines of text and a little skeletal image of the Casual. There was nothing else to see.
"Alden, where is Gothos?"
"Oh, it's out there, sir. Although we can definitely see it using RRLR visual, none of our other scanners or detectors are getting any kind of echo from the planet."
"How amazingly boring. Okay, fine. Extrapolate Gothos position based on visual data and add." In the corner of the display, the planet appeared and sprouted a name. Other than the Casual and the planet, a volume of space measuring almost 110,000 cubic light years appeared as black as month-old coffee in an onxy mug drunk at night in deep space with a blindfold on. Well, okay...maybe a bit blacker.
As I considered the total lack of any sort of detail on the display, I had a rather uncomfortable thought. "Hardemann, where is the Relax?"
He glanced down. "I'm just guessing here, boss, in deference to a lack of hard data, but I'm gonna guess that she's...in space."
I avoided causing second-degree burns to my helmsman by blasting Irish coffee at the navigator. "Hardemann..."
"Sir," Alden tactfully interrupted, "the Relax would appear to have disappeared."
"Riiighhht. Tell you what, Everett." Hardemann looked anxiously in my direction. "I'm gonna stick with Alden here for this one. Could you maybe pay attention to our little conversation here and try to model your future responses to my inquiries after his?"
"Ummm...sure, boss, but how do I get inside the computer?"
Sulleven, who had been watching the exchange, moved closer to me. "Let me, sir. I can fit him into..."
"Now, now, Alex. Let's be nice. Some people need more breaking in than others is all. I'm sure he'll be fine in a few months." I returned my attention to the screen while Captain Sulleven made rude gestures at Hardemann. "Alden, can we locate the Relax by looking for photonic trace wash from her impulse drive?"
"Yes, sir. It will take me a moment to reconfigure the sensors." There were odd noises from the speakers for about three seconds. "There we are, sir. I will plot all impulse drive trails detectable within the Star Desert for the previous 72 hour period." An amazing latticework of traced lines appeared around Gothos. "Deleting all but the past 12 hours." The lattice diminished only slightly. As I carefully avoided any sort of real work by studiously ignoring the display while I trimmed my fingernails, Sulleven made a little choking sound and pointed at the screen.
"Commodore, look! Another ship!"
I looked. Studying the tracery, I immediately noticed a large greasy stain on the display face. Near this was the very beginning of an impulse trail, one with considerably more residue than the Relax's.
"Commodore, I believe that a second vessel emerged from warp just outside the gravity well of Gothos approximately 10 hours ago. From the impulse trail, I surmise that the Relax took no notice of it for almost 2 hours, after which a set of maneuvers began suggesting that a battle was undertaken by both ships. Evaluation of the impulse wake of the unknown vessel suggests a Constitution II-class heavy cruiser with significant upgrades."
Only one possibility. The Essex, and Admiral Mallory.
I traced the patterns with my finger until I found the ends of both. "They're behind Gothos now, in the planet's sensor shadow. We're too damn far away! Helm, increase to full impulse!"
"Nav, how long to Gothos at full impuse?"
"Oh, no time at all, really. About seven and a half years."
Sulleven smiled at me in a way that he MUST have learned from Flynn. "Gee, sir, we'll be there in plenty of time to help out."
Swell. "Senior officers to the conference room, on the double! And nobody drink my OJ!"
As I entered the conference room, I was amazed to see that not only were all of the senior officers present, but a large number of lower-ranking types as well.
We were still short a Chief Medical Officer, but Lt. Filling was doing her part to make everyone forget about that by showing us a new way to wear a Barfleet uniform. Small bits of them make really wonderful pasties, apparently.
The officers were actually a bit tense, and a few had gone so far as to pop a detox capsule before the meeting. I didn't mind; this time, a few clear heads might actually come in handy. I noticed that Hardemann, the new alien Science officer, was guzzling Blood Wine like a ravenous, savage Klingon warrior looking for a mate. (Yeah, I know, that's pretty much a good description for the entire Klingon race.) I figured he was in some way trying to compensate for his earlier abysmal performance on the bridge through a demonstration of his amazing alcohol tolerance. We would see.
I took my seat and ordered up some Blood Wine for myself. It was, after all, a good day to drink.
"Okay, people, let's get to work here." There were actually nods and some agreements around the table. Obviously, they were worried about the current situation. They were counting on me to provide leadership and direction in this, the Casual's first really serious crisis situation. They looked at me with confidence, hope, and trust.
The poor bastards.
"You all know the situation, but for the benefit of those who are only now regaining a lucid mindset, I'll run it down.
"The Barship Relax is presently engaged in combat with an unidentified Starfleet vessel in Gothos' sensor shadow. We have reason to believe that the Starfleet ship is the USS Essex, commanded by our former XO, Adam Mallory. Our sensors indicate that Essex has been upgraded from standard configuration, but we are unable to ascertain the extent of her modifications. We must therefore assume that Relax is in deep shit, and that she needs our help.
"Unfortunately, due to our rather inconvenient lack of Warp capability, by the time we reach the battle the only thing left to do will be to scrape the remains of the Relax into a brandy snifter and sprinkle it over a salad. What we need are some ideas on how to get into the fight before we run out of alcohol and stain remover. Suggestions?"
Hardemann looked up. "Sir, maybe we could go really, really fast!"
Sometimes being Captain is very taxing. "Okay, Everett, that's good...how should we do that?"
"Well...we could all line up on the hangar deck and run really fast until we get to the forward bulkhead, where we could push really hard! If we do it enough times..."
Sulleven reached over and gave Hardemann what looked like a Vulcan neck pinch. Hardemann slumped over instantly and began snoring.
I was shocked. "I never knew you could do that, Alex."
He grinned. "I can't."
"Then why's he out cold?"
"He doesn't know I can't."
"I see..." I made a note to look into the crew's increasing gullibility. "Any more ideas?"
"Why not just reattach the towing ships and move in with them?"
"Unfortunately, Jasmine, they're unarmed and low on condoms. I can't ask them to go into a high-tension situation unprotected. Besides, it takes too damn long to get all that cable unmoored."
Candice was doing something with her foot under the table to get my attention. "How about having them tractor us in?"
"No good, Candy. Our spaceframe has been too heavily modified to survive a multi-beam tractor, and there are no ships handy with enough power to do it alone. The closest one, other than the two presently involved in a death struggle over a lifeless planet just a Pon Far away, is the tug Kohlschutter, two weeks from here. If we were conducting party ops, we might have ships enroute already, but..."
"Sir?" It was Fugit, attending the meeting vicariously from Engineering via the wall display. "We could try using the Push Me-Pull You beam."
"To do what, exactly? Give Mallory a long-range handjob?"
"Not quite, sir. See, I made the PMPY beam a subspace grappler and repulsor. It draws most of its energy from a hole that it punches through subspace during operation. The greater the range, the more power it draws. Theoretically, it could lock onto a large enough target at any range we can detect it at."
"Surely you aren't suggesting we could target Essex from this range?"
"No, of course not, sir...and I just love it when you call me that." I coughed and reached for my glass. "But, sir, there's a good chance that I could target Gothos itself from here, and drag us there."
"Exactly what good is that, though? It will still take seven years." I looked at Hardemann. He was drooling a bit, but he was smiling. Every few minutes one of his legs would thump the floor a few times.
"Commodore, that's not exactly true. In fact, I believe that it will work much better than standard drive systems."
Most of the assembled staff rolled their eyes and made twirly motions with their fingers. Putting on my A Good Captain Must Be Tolerant of Reality-Challenged Officers smile, I asked, "Are you eating the acid-spiked Twizzlers again?"
"Not yet, sir. See, I've been doing some research, and I think I've stumbled across just the lucky coincidence we need right now."
On the screen, Fugit's image was replaced by a replay of an old Starfleet sensor log. "When Enterprise visited Gothos, the planet apparently moved at FTL speeds without any outside power source." We watched as a curiously model-like sphere hurtled across the vast blank expanse of the Star Desert. "My own research into the Enterprise sensor logs has made some rather startling discoveries. Did you know that Admiral Kirk routinely shaved his armpits?"
"What's wrong with that?"
We all turned to momentarily stare at Havoc. "Go on, Fugit."
"Sir. Well, the logs include some traces of data that would have been of little value to a crew of that era. I have found trace evidence of a pulsed subspace field emenating from within the planet's lithosphere which I believe was the source of the planet's movement."
"I see. I thought Enterprise's report stated quite clearly that the 'source of the planet's movement' was a bratty little omnipotent kid playing with his new toys."
"Well, sure. I'm cool with that, sir. But I think that little kid was, in fact, playing with a toy when he slid Gothos around like a really big billiard ball. I think he had the planet set up with a high-tension, inherently elastic subspace Moebius strip which he used to propel the planet using selective tensioning movements applied over the entire surface area of the strip, then released at a predetermined interval to provide violent and abrupt motive force."
Candice glared at his image with a beautifully perplexed expression. "Could you repeat that in Drunken Medical Assistant, cutie?"
"Sure. There's a giant subspace rubber band inside the planet."
I almost swallowed what was in my mouth, which was curious, because I wasn't eating at the moment. "You're kidding."
"No sir, but I am an engineer. It is exactly the sort of thing I would kid about."
I resigned myself to the possibility. "Okay, so Gothos is just a big wind-up toy. How does that help us get there this decade?"
"It's simple, sir, once you have enough amphetemines in you. Using a modulation of the PMPY beam, I can wind the so-called rubber band inside the planet and direct it, effectively moving Gothos wherever we want. We can therefore bring the planet here, to us, and then put ourselves within the subspace envelope it must be generating to keep from breaking apart into lots of little Gothoses during movement. Then I just send it back to where it was, and Voila, we're in the fight!"
"Damn, Fugit, you're really out there this time. Alden, will this work?"
"I'm very sorry, sir, but my mind is incapable of suspending reality to that extent. Sounds quite terrifying, really."
Wonderful. But what choice did we have? Besides, if we failed, how much damage would be done? Only Fugit's reputation and confidence seemed at risk...and with so little to lose, I figured we might as well give it a shot.
"How long to prepare, Fugit?"
"Oh, I'd say two or three hours. Tops."
"Set it up, Commander. Everyone else get a few drinks and resume your stations in two hours."
I shakily stood and dismissed the staff with a sweeping, wavelike gesture. I got Candice's attention with a subtle wink followed by some graphic hand motions. She smiled and waited for the others to depart.
"Lock the doors, Alden. I think I'll stay close to the bridge...in case someone needs me."
"Of course, Commodore. I'll inform the crew you're in conference."
Which, of course, I was.
At the appointed hour, I sauntered back the the bridge with a decidedly weary gait. To my astonishment, the entire duty crew was at their stations, following the standard Rum alert protocol and with several large mugs of potent potables ready at hand.
The Casual was ready for battle...assuming, of course, that Fugit's insane plan didn't turn us into compost first.
The Chief Engineer himself was seated at his bridge station, where a terrifyingly complex pattern of diagrams was displayed. As I watched, he made several adjustments to his consloe, resulting in a loud popping noise and several wispy contrails of smoke flowing from the screens. Miraculously, the console was still functioning.
"Fugit, what the hell are you doing to my ship?"
He kept playing with the knobs as he spoke. "Sorry about that, sir. Most of the circuits were never designed to operate in this mode."
"Reality denial mode, sir."
Of course. "Well, what's the status on your Gothos yo-yo?"
"All set, sir. Just give the word and we'll be on our way." The slight tremor in his voice should have given me reason to pay closer attention to my mortality, but I was already too far into this mess to turn back now. Besides, it was all we had.
"Let 'er rip, Commander." I hastily leapt for my chair and fastened the fur-lined leather safety harness.
Fugit opened the whole-ship channel. "All hands, now hear this." He paused. "Captain, why do we say that? Hands can't hear. Shouldn't it be more like, 'all ears, now hear this' or something? I mean, the best you could get with 'all hands' would be 'now feel this' or maybe..."
"FUGIT! Are you nervous, or do you just need a boot to the head?"
"Oh...sorry about that. Right." He turned back to the console. "All hands and other attached sensory organs, now perceive this in the manner best suited to your design parameters. In a few moments, the ship will be undergoing some rather severe motions and may get shaken around a bit. For your own safety, I suggest that you refrain from walking around, drinking, or operating heavy machinery for the duration of the maneuver. All those involved in intimate physical operations may find themselves experiencing sensations that may never be reproduced. That is all."As he finished, he twisted a large knob on his console that I had never seen there before. "Here we go!"
I turned back to the main viewer. "Alden, let's see this."
The display filled with blackness, split down the center into a combination tactical and visual display. As the bridge crew and I sat sipping our drinks, a slender beam that looked suspiciously like a string of strawberry licorice erupted from the Push Me-Pull You emitter below the secondary hull and crossed the seven light-years between us and Gothos. Our Gemmorahn sensors were compensating for the temporal delays, allowing us to watch the stupefying event in real time.
The beam stabbed into Gothos. For a minute or two, nothing happened. A glance at Fugit showed him spinning his knob clockwise at high speed.
My attention was drawn back to the screen when Ogg passed out and Jasmine uttered a piercing scream that would have awakened the dead (but left Ogg just lying there). Slowly at first, then with increasingly more terrifying velocity, the planet Gothos was coming over to say hi.
Fugit had assumed a very painful expression. His gloved hands (where had he gotten sequined work gauntlets?) were gripping the knob with all his strength. As Gothos loomed ever closer, I became absolutely convinced that this was an extremely stupid idea.
On the tactical display, the range to the planet was ticking down faster than a Klingon's libido in a tribble farm. Around the bridge the officers sat in varying states of terror, ranging from complete denial (Hardemann was playing a version of solitaire that appeared to require him to speak sternly to each of the face cards) to paralyzing fear (Axon was sitting in his seat holding a tumbler of Jaegermeister to his lips which had been empty for several minutes) to fetal longing (that would be Ogg). I wondered for a moment what the two ships out there must have thought when the planet they had been behind suddenly fled the scene as though it had a pressing nature call to answer.
Well, no use worrying. We'd either be there in a minute, or we'd be a greasy smear on Gothos' inhospitable surface.
I forced myself to watch the rogue planet's approach, my drink momentarily forgotten in my left hand. Luckily, I remembered the one in my right, and hit it hard just as Gothos came close enough to us to blot out the entire visual display. As I carefully considered why gods had been forgotten in a universe where things like this could happen, I noticed Fugit in my peripheral vision. With a cry like a repaired eunuch at a strip poker tournament, he released the knob. It immediately began spinning so quickly that it vanished from the visible spectrum.
On the viewer, Gothos slowed, then stopped. As we watched, the range display began to tick back in the opposite direction. I had the strange sensation of momentary free-fall, followed by a growing acceleration.
We were being pulled along by Gothos, back to it's last position. Fugit had done it!
"Well done, Fugit! We're gonna make it!" I looked over to his station. I was expecting to see him sitting there with a shit-eating grin and a smoking work glove; instead, I saw a smoking hole where the knob should have been and my chief engineer lying prone on the floor with about three gallons of his own sweat. I decided to make sure he was properly rewarded once we had arrived in position.
Wait a second. Gothos was dragging us along at speeds that would make Zephram Cochrane puke inside of a theoretical subspace envelope that kept the velocity from turning my crew and I into a thin sticky sheen on the rear bulkheads. The knob that Fugit had used to accomplish this, undoubtedly some sort of subspace rubber band tensioner, was conspicuoulsy missing from our plane of existence. This brought up a somewhat disturbing question.
"Alden? How do we stop this ride when we get there?"
"What a fascinating query, Commodore. I'll be sure to give it some thought when you are all ex-lifeforms...which, by my calculations, should be happening in just under forty seconds."
"Ah. This could just put a damper on the rest of the day." I considered just letting things proceed along their course, but at the last minute I remembered that I was an intelligent life-form, and was therefore genetically compelled to fear death rather than welcome it with open arms and a shot ot bourbon. I decided I'd better do something before someone even less qualified did.
"Helm, put us into a tight orbit over Gothos, pronto! Nav, I need a slingshot hyperbolic orbit that will send us back along our approach vector as soon as the planet gets into position. We'll need to bleed off some pretty serious speed or the inertial dampers will take an unexpected holiday and leave us in an uncomfortable liquid state. NOW!"
My officers managed to reunite their terrified minds and their saturated bodies long enough to carry out my orders. As the distance to Gothos normal resting place decreased, the Casual began maneuvering into a survivable orbital path. As we came around, the tactical diaplay became infinitely more interesting; Essex and Relax became visible. Relax was running at full impulse directly away from the space formerly occupied by Gothos. She was being pursued by Essex,which was pouring phaser fire into the Relax's OEM deflector grid at a stupefying rate. I began to wish we had made Relax stay at the Hotel until she was fitted with Dejector Shields; only the Gemmorahn reinforcement of her deflector grid was allowing her to absorb Essex's punishment.
Gothos arrived at her parking spot with all the grace of a Peterbilt. "Grab something! Watch your drinks!"
The Casual shot around the last minute of her orbit and plunged out of Gothos' gravity well. "Helm, how long until it's safe to maneuver?"
"Sir, we should be safe to turn in ten seconds."
"Okay! Hey, folks, we're still alive! Not bad, eh?" I remembered that I still had a drink in need of a brain to help destroy, and put it to work immediately. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
Alex poured himself more rum. "Depends on what we're comparing it to. I mean, compared to a tribe of Gorn females during mating season, I suppose this was okay."
I smiled anyway. We had done something right for a change. Now to deal with Essex. "Hardemann, what's going on out there?"
His face awash with blue glow, Everett replied, "Well, sir, there are some extremely curious subatomic organisms performing some sort of sexual ritual approximately three light-years distant, and..."
"No, you sober fool! What about the battle?"
"Oh, that...well, Essex is chasing Relax and Relax is running away. They're both going very fast, and it's still really, really dark out there."
What did I expect? "Alden, since we're still alive, give me some answers." Around me the bridge crew were busy coming to grips with their survival; most found a quick way to celebrate.
"Sir, our sensors are still hazy from the subspace envelope, but I do have a preliminary report.
"The USS Essex appears to have been modified to perform much better in maneuvers at space-normal velocities. Her impulse drive has been significantly upgraded, and she is equipped with an additional 12 phaser emitters along with what appears to be an aft discharging photorp launcher.Her drive emissions indicate a significant increase in maneuverability at the cost a a much noisier impulse plant. My readings indicate minor damage to the Essex's primary hull and starboard warp nacelle, although those hits appear to have been caused by poor calibration of the ship's own weaponry. I see no evidence of damage from Relax.
"The Relax herself has been damaged, and her shields are at 12%. Her weapons and warp core are off-line, and she will suffer shield failure in approximately 94 seconds followed by almost immediate catastrophic hull collapse if the Essex continues to fire on her."
Uh-huh. No pressure on us or anything.
"Nav! How long until we can get into weapons range?"
"2 minutes, sir." His voice sounded grim; perhaps he had left a bottle of gin on the Relax.
"Best possible speed, Helm. Get me into that battle as fast as you can." I would just have to give Mallory something better to play with.
"Comm, open a channel to Essex."
"Open. On viewer." Jasmine imposed a display over the visual of Gothos receding behind us. As the screen swam into focus, I was altogether unastonished to see Adam Mallory in the center chair of Essex's bridge.
His grin would have made even the most dedicated alcoholic swear off the juice for eternity. Screwing up my resolve, I forced myself to take a drink anyway. Mallory's burning gaze considered me for a moment.
"So glad you could make it, Erickson. I was getting so very bored with your lackey." The display flickered out, cut from his side.
On the tactical, the Essex broke off its pursuit and aimed itself like a tasseled toothpick seeking an olive straight for us. For me.
That put him right where he wanted us.
"Okay folks, this is it. No more foreplay. Admiral Mallory wants the main act, and I'm all outta lube." From the looks on the faces around me, I must have had a pretty good grin too.
It was party time. Our chance to either avenge ourselves on our old XO or to provide the Casual with some decompression-related tidying up was now upon us, and we had no idea whether or not we were even remotely close to ready.
At least the Battle Bar was well stocked. That could easily make a big difference in the bridge crewís capacity to fight. Checking the quantity, I decided we had enough raw materials for...
"Everclear Alert! Helm, take evasive action...see if you can execute some maneuvers to confuse their targeting."
"Ummm...Sir, Iím not real sure how to do that..."
"Itís simple. Just fly like you usually do and weíll be just fine. Weapons, prepare a full Dazer sweep on probe across their primary hull. Maintenance, prepare to eject our trash when weíre close enough to the Essex. Alden, get Havoc up here to man the Engineering console."
As Essex finished her turn and bore down us, my mind did its best to consider what alternatives we had to a stand-up fight with a ship which outgunned us in the extreme. Failing miserably, it tried something else. "Suggestions, people?"
Axon considered for a moment. "What about that Command Code thing? To let us take over their consoles? Wouldnít that end this real fast?"
I had to grip my drink very tightly to keep from splashing it all over the Barbie who had just delivered it. My laughter must have seemed quite inappropriate to the rest of the bridge crew, but like good officers they all joined in. "That old gag? Never works. I mean, any kid can change the damn things, and any Starfleet vessel worth a crap changes them before theyíre 10 seconds out of dock. Think about it. It would take an amazingly stupid captain to go into battle against another Starfleet ship...or even a former one...with his codes unchanged."
"Whatís your point, sir? This is Mallory, right?"
I considered that, and my laughter ended with a cough. "You got me there. Alden, are Essexís codes in the file?"
"Sir, our code file has not been updated for 21 months. It is extremely unlikely that any vessel save for those in mothballs would maintain the same code set for anything close to that length of time."
"Try it. Alden, fire Ďem off." On the viewer, Essex maneuvered into weapons range.
Alden made a little sound that might have been a shocked laugh. "Sir, we have full access to Essexís command functions. What are your orders?"
Nice thing about Mallory, heís as predictable as cheap beer...and just as watery. "Weíll probably only get one shot at this before he figures it out and changes his codes, but thatíll take him at least a minute. Itís gotta be something fun, yet it must get him really, really pissed off..." All kinds of exciting ideas flowed through my head, but I wasnít sure how good a contortionist Mallory was, or how much fire retardant foam was available. Perhaps something more mundane for starters? "Got it. Alden, order Essex to eject her warp core. And kindly override all those pesky warnings and klaxons. Things like this are always appreciated more when theyíre a surprise."
"Procedure initiated. Core ejection will be complete in 5 seconds."
Peals of laughter roared through the bridge. Alex was doubled over. "If only we could see the look on his face..." He gripped the faux marble rail for support while his new Yo!Woman! fed him rum through a crazy straw.
"Why not? Alden, open a monitor-only channel from Essexís bridge flight recorder and lock it open so we can still receive the signal even after they change their codes."
"Coming up, Commodore." A quarter of the main viewer, which was still displaying Essexís rapid approach, flickered and opened again with a view of the enemy cruiserís bridge from the forward starboard side. As we looked, a confident-looking Mallory was holding his hand over the weapons controls on his chair; he apparently wanted this particular joy for himself. Around him on the bridge were a number of very young, very idealistic-looking cadets. Obviously, Mallory knew where to find blind obedience and unquestioning loyalty...fresh out of Starfleet Academy. I would have wondered about the crew he had taken with him from Athena, but I couldnít bring myself to remember their names, faces, or sexual orientations. Oh, well.
Just as Malloryís hand began its descent towards firing, his engineer leapt up and screamed something. Mallory gaped at him stupidly, must have realized that nobody would notice the difference, gaped angrily instead, and then switched to an external view of Essex. On his screen as well as ours, a number of bulky metallic and crystalline components was tumbling down Gothosí gravity well towards the hellish surface. Almost simultaneously, Essexís speed dropped significantly and the threat display showed half of her phaser banks--all of the new ones--powering down.
As Mallory yelled orders we couldnít hear, Alden told us what he was doing. "Sir, I no longer have command access to the Essex. However, the visual transmission is fixed open and can only be halted by causing permanent damage to several bridge systems."
"Thatís okay. I expected him to cut us off pretty quick."
Alden wasnít dome. "Sir, I am receiving a transmission. Essex is now trying to access our systems using the Athenaís original command codes."
Havoc had arrived on the bridge just in time to comment. "Is Mallory a mega-moron or what? Our system doesnít even use command override codes anymore!" He paused to look thoughtful for a moment. "Well, okay, it does, but the controlís in my quarters." He stepped gingerly over Fugitís comatose form and looked quizzically at the blurred spot on the Engineering board where Fugitís knob had been.
Although it promised a nasty headache, I began thinking. Could we derive some sick entertainment from this? "Yeah, but Mallory doesnít know that. This could be fun. Alden, send the confirmation signal, and then relay what commands they want to try."
On the screen, Malloryís nav officer looked excited and pointed at his console for Mallory to see. To his credit, Mallory looked rather surprised, but he took it at face value and began issuing commands.
"Sir, they are ordering our ship to lower shields and power down weapons."
"Alden, can they even detect our Dejector Shields or our Dazer emitter power levels?"
"Negative, sir. Not until theyíre in actual use, at least."
"Great. Okay, send a signal confirming their commands." On screen, Mallory again looked triumphant. He turned to his commo officer, and a moment later Jasmine informed us of an incoming transmission.
"Put him on. This should be interesting."
The screen split again, and now we had the slightly disorienting experience of watching Mallory from two angles at once. "Well, Erickson, I see youíre still using dirty tricks instead of actual skill to win your fights. Unfortunately, two can play that game. I donít need my core to peel you open like a banana now that youíre without shields or weapons." He looked positively ecstatic.
I feigned terror and hoped I could hold back the outburst of giggling I felt welling up. "I must admit, Admiral, youíve certainly caught me with my pants down." Well, that was technically true..."What will you do with us now that weíre at your mercy?" I allowed a note of terror into my voice. With my left hand I adjusted our bridge light levels so that all of us would appear to be going pale with fright.
"What do you think, you fucking moron? Iím going to finish what I started with you pathetic incompetents! I'll destroy your ship and every living thing aboard her. When Iím done, Iím going to collect up all the debris and slag it again! When I finish that, I intend to pull in whatís left and make a goddamned ashtray!" His mouth twisted into the kind of smile that only demons and government officials can put on without risking immediate confinement for obvious instability. His crew, on the other hand, had begun to show signs of concern.
Adjusting the environmental controls to provide us with the necessary incentive to perspire like people about to be vaporized should, I pleaded with Mallory, "Can I have a moment to kiss my crew goodbye, Admiral?"
"I...oh, what the hell. I can be as magnanimous as the next Admiral. Iíll give you six seconds." He cut off the signal, and Essex was now in an optimal firing position.
It was party time.
"Weapons, open up on Essex. Full Dazer fire, set to alternate between maximum Probe and Engorge. Then give me a spread of Yukon Torpedoes set for total inebriation. Now! Commo, get me Flynn ASAP. Yo! Woman! Get me a Snakebite!"
With a fierce squeal of glee, Otto let loose with everything he had. He then used his panel to fire on Essex. As one of my nimble and dedicated female companions jumped to the Battle Bar to fix me what I hoped was a celebretory shot, faint mauve and cobalt beams played across Essex in a mesmerizing display of sensual energies. Using every bank that could be focused on Essex, Otto was blanketing almost the entire ship with orifice-seeking diembodied pseudopods and engorgement fields. Simultaneously, a full spread of Yukon Torpedoes was detonating around Essex, showering her crew with an entire Friday nightís worth of booze guzzling in the space of just a few seconds.
On screen, Malloryís crew showed every sign of being completely unprepared for our attack. Cadets began dropping from their seats like empties on a firing range, grabbing their nether regions while portions of their notoriously tight jumpsuits began to exceed the manufacturerís specifications. Many of the female bridge crew were suddenly graced with peek-a-boo uniforms, and their equally distended male counterparts were too busy feeling homophobic to take notice. As we continued to watch, those cadets still standing began moving with a decidedly unbalanced gait, and a few began what appeared to be deep, soul-searching conversations with various bridge appliances and panels.
Mallory, on the other hand, was miraculously showing no sign of distress. Smiling like a child with a secret, he depressed a button on his armrest. Immediately, all of Essexís screens cleared and began to display a series of intensely disturbing images at a frame rate well beyond my ability to discern.
"Alden, what the hell is he doing?"
"Analyzing...sir, Admiral Mallory has initiated a replay of several Starfleet Academy lectures, including Advanced Lint Dispersal in Shuttle Environmental Systems, Microfluctuations in Warp Envelope Homogeneity Caused by Dandruff, The Benefits and Proper Use of Foot Powder, and Vulcan Shore Leave Practices. Sir, heís displaying them simultaneously at a speed which will reach the subconscious of the viewer within seconds."
Unbelievable! Mallory was saving his crew by boring them to tears! Even as we watched, several of the cadets yawned mightily and began climbing back to their stations. They still looked pretty inebriated, but each of them was soon fishing out a small hypospray from their belt kits and injecting themselves. Probably a fast-acting sobriety agent. Meanwhile, baggy overalls were being broken out of EVA lockers to cover some of the damaging effects of Engorgement.
This would simply not do. Quaffing another shot, I considered our options.
We could run like hell. Or we could sit here and see how good the Dejector Shields worked at really close range. Or, best yet, we could have another drink and hope that Mallory went away.
Personally, I was behind the third option. Unfortunately, it was painfully obvious that Mallory had come to this knife fight with one hell of a gun. He had somehow managed to develop defenses to most of our major attack systems. If he had some counter to our shields, we were really gonna get our asses whupped. What we needed was a weapon he couldnít possibly know about...
"Havoc! Is the new weapon ready?"
"You mean the Suc-U-Tron 3000?" He had an evil glint in his eye as he said it.
"Yeah, thatís the one. Can we use it yet?"
"I guess so. We havenít actually tested it yet on anyone but the crew, but they certainly seemed to enjoy it. Itíll take a few minutes to warm up."
Perfect! "Get it ready. Helm, back us away from Essex, best possible speed. Make it look like weíre fleeing in terror or something. Otto, keep hammering them. Switch effects as desired. Make Ďem think weíre getting desperate. Havoc, tell me about..."
Jasmine interrupted. "Commodore Erickson, I have Commodore Flynn."
"Put him on." I turned back to the main viewer. The picture-in-picture swam yet again, and Relaxís bridge appeared. Flynn was looking rather dissheveled in the conn, and shot glasses and what appeared to be olives were scattered everywhere. He seemed rather glad to see me.
"Damn, Iím glad youíre here, Allan. That bastard was pounding the crap out of us! Itíll take weeks to clean all the heads..."
"Not a problem, Flynn. I came as fast as I could find a completely unbelievable and amazingly convenient way to get here. Howís your ship?" Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the tactical display. Essex was dropping back a bit, perhaps to lessen the effects of our weapons. She still had not opened fire.
Flynn glanced at his display. "Itís bad, but not terrible. We lost about twelve cases of tequila, eighty kegs of beer, fifteen bottles of Bloody Mary mix, and a barrel of olives. We may run out of some critical party supplies soon. Oh, and our shields are almost dead, we sustained damage to both nacelles, the core is off line, batteries are running at 66% below capacity, and thereís a hull breach in hangar bay two."
"Want me to send over some damage control guys? There should be a few sober ones."
"Nah. Hang on to Ďem in case you need them yourself. Weíll be okay as long as Essex leaves us alone for a while. How are you holding up?"
"No damage yet. The dickweed seems to have defenses against our toys, though, and that kinda pisses me off. I mean, why would you spend perfectly good R&D time to defend yourself against pleasure?"
"Heís an asshole, all right. Why donít you open up with the EBTís?"
"No can do. This isnít a hostile alien vessel, itís a Federation Starship with kids at the wheel. Using Existential Blue Torpedoes on them would not be in the best PR interests of the Casual."
"I see your point. Bodies of cadets shipped home in a dozen baggies each could have a bad effect on our profit margin."
"Thatís it exactly. Do you need anything? Emergency Rum Rations? A few Yukon Torpedoes detonated near you? Band-Aids?"
"We should manage okay for a little while. Most of the crew is too busy consuming medication to notice the damage anyway."
"Great. Okay, clear out. Get Relax around the other side of Gothos and hide there." Essex was starting to close the gap again. Apparently, Mallory thought he was ready to take us on now.
Flynn shrugged. "Okay, Allan. Weíll run and hide while you soak up some damage. See you soon!" The image blinked out, and the tactical display showed Relax swinging around to hide behind our subspace yo-yo. Meanwhile, Essex had closed to...
"Commodore! Essex has opened fire! Weíre all going to die!" Having performed his duty, Ogg again became comatose.
On the viewer, a dozen brilliant beams of destruction lanced out from Essex. Leftover Starfleet computer subroutines took this opportunity to perform their duty, adding sound effects to the display. Essex was firing every one of her original banks in an attempt to overload our shields. Trying to appear even more unconcerned than I was, I casually offered Sulleven a shot of spiced rum.
The phaser beams were met by energy flares from the dejector shields. Instantly, they began veering off in random directions and winking out in a depressing display of impotence. I noted with some consternation that Mallory had kept Essex just out of dejector feedback range.
After a few moments of this pointless waste of perfectly good energies, Essex ceased firing her phasers and began pumping photon torpedoes at us like tennis balls at a training court where triple doses of amphetamines were standard fare. Passing a pate-coated cracker to Sullevenís Yo!Woman!, I watched as these, too, were licked with long, thin tongues of dejection energy and sent off to explode harmlessly somewhere else.
"How are the shields holding up, Horatio?"
Havoc swallowed a bite of spiked watermelon and hit a display control with a carefully aimed seed. "Not bad, sir. That phaser barrage had me a bit worried, but weíre okay against his dozen emitters. Any more, though, and we might start to spill drinks and blood and stuff."
"Howís the Suc-U-Tron charge?"
"At 92%. Another two minutes and we'll have full power."
"Put the charge meter on-screen." I remembered that there had been something about the weapon I needed to know. "Um, what exactly does this thing do, anyway?"
"Ah, well sir, it kind of gives you a full-blown...ummm...well, it gives you an enormous...errr...Sir, it makes you come. Instantly."
"Really? That's remarkable! Why wasn't I involved in the testing?"
"Sir, the research took forever, and we just didn't know how long it would take to perfect, and..."
"Okay, okay. I'll test it myself later. Can we affect Essex completely?"
"Yep, but it has a 30-second charge time. Anything else just isn't as satisfying. We can vary the actual effect, though, as needed. Depends on a lot of factors."
"I see. This should be a little intriguing. Unless he's surrounded himself with neuters, which is what I'm beginning to think he is, those kids should be incapacitated in no time."
Time passed, and Essex decided to cease wasting valuable munitions. She obligingly held station just within range of our newest entertainment weapon. On the tactical display, the readout for the Suc-U-Tron reached 100%.
"Mr. von Matic, would you please do the honors?" I poured myself another Snakebite in anticipation.
"Yes, sir!" Otto caressed the firing stud of the Suc-U-Tron. From the navigational deflector, a brilliant beam of creamy white bordered in ruby erupted at Essex. We watched in silence as the cruiser was bathed in a pearescent glow.
On the Essex bridge monitor, the entire cadet bridge crew let out simultaneous gasps of extreme pleasure and slumped in their seats. Even Mallory was affected; he began searching for some tissues while several of the cadets began lighting cigarettes. Regaining his composure, the Admiral appeared to order his crew to begin firing again. Unfortunately for him, none of them seemed to be in the mood.
The seconds ticked by. While the Essex drifted in the afterglow of our first shot, the Suc-U-Tron recharged. As soon as the meter hit full power, we fired again.
And, for good measure, again.
Now the monitor showed more satisfying results. Every male on the enemy bridge, save Mallory, was unconscious, and would probably stay that way for days. The male body just isn't designed for that much stimulation in so short a time. The female cadets were in better shape, but most of them were either sprawled across their panels or lying spread-eagle on the deck with extremely wide smiles on their faces. As for Mallory himself, he staggered to his feet and stumbled to the helm. His uniform pants would always remember this day.
"Open a channel, Jamsine." I quaffed my shot and assumed a pleasantly omnipotent pose in the conn.
"You're on, Commodore."
"Admiral Mallory? Are you alright?" I allowed a significant smugness into my voice. "Would you like me to fire on you some more? Your crew seems to enjoy it."
Mallory's face was filled with rage, but it was clear he was having some difficulty staying awake. "You uncouth scum! How dare you violate my crew this way? They'll never be satisfied again!"
"The violation was yours, Admiral. Bringing children to an X-rated battle was your idea, not mine. I can't wait to see how you explain this one to Starfleet Command...not to mention the parents..."
"You've won this battle, you drunken lecher. But I'll be back." He began entering helm commands. Essex swung around and picked up speed, heading away from Gothos at full impulse.
"Flattery will get you nowhere, Mallory. And when you come back, bring some friends. Oh, sorry...that's probably a sore spot."
von Matic looked anxiously in my direction. "Sir! He's getting away!"
"I know. It's okay. He's probably the only coherent member of his crew right now anyway. Let him run away. We'll have another chance at him, and next time we'll have a bigger surprise for him. Right, Havoc?"
There was an evil, childish grin on Havoc's face. "Oh, yeah. Count on it, sir."
As Essex pulled away, Sulleven broke out a case of Dom and began passing flutes around. I hit the ship-wide channel.
"All hands, this is the Captain. Congratulations, people. We did it! We fought off one of the most heavily armed craft in the Federation with nothing but our wits, our stamina, some booze, and a shitload of orgasms! Well done." I turned again to Havoc. "And you, Lieutenant, have really got to give me a personal demonstration of that weapon at your earliest convenience."
"Consider it done, Commodore."
And so it was.