Selected Log Entries V - The Humbardo Incident

Part 1: The Tragic Planet of the Quoompa Loompas

Nifty Bar
Stardate 18709.03
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

Our return to Casual was marked by an uneasy grief among the survivors…most of whom were none too comfortable with some of the things they had done while under Protocol 197’s influence.  Flynn left them alone and brooded in his quarters, where he played awful music and drank cheap liquor in what appeared to be a shot at atonement.

Alex and I made apologies for the former Relax crew to Captain Smithwell, who was sympathetic in a condescending sort of way.  To pass the time, I gathered the rest of my officers together to plan the wake.  By the time Hornet arrived at the Hotel Gemmorah, we had sixteen pages of dangerously entertaining ideas (eight pages of which might actually be survivable).

During our little sojourn to try and save Relax, Commander Hardemann had moved the Casual into a makeshift spacedock (built from discarded liquor crates and recycled beverage cans) for repairs.  Crews were lazily floating about the ship in work bees and EVA suits, occasionally drifting close enough to the hull to do a spot of work before bouncing off on their tethers again.  Entire sections of the hull were removed to allow access to many of the systems damaged during the brief residency of Protocol 197. The “old” computer had accessed several automatic repair protocols to try to purge our modifications from Athena, resulting in a number of fused systems and lots of very annoyed engineers.  Present estimates for repairs were between six months and six decades, depending on how much alcohol was being distributed to the repair crews.  Figuring that I might actually want my ship repaired sometime soon, I authorized additional liquor rations.

When we arrived on the Hotel, an amazing cheer went up from the waiting crowds as we entered the large open atrium.  Although I personally felt that our trip had been a complete disaster, that didn’t stop me from soaking up the adulation of the masses as we took a few bows and a few drinks before heading to Flaming Moe’s for a bit of relaxation.  I had Jasmine announce that a wake for Relax would be held in two weeks, and told her to begin informing the various governments and organizations that the invitation was open to all.  With luck, the crowd for the wake would be even more unmanageable than the one for Relax’s launch.

As the day ended, I sent word to the senior staff that we might have a meeting or something tomorrow…it depends entirely on the way I feel in the morning after allowing our nearly resident Romulan twins to help me forget all about Protocol 197 and the loss of my second-favorite ship.  I made sure that Flynn was similarly occupied, then retired to my quarters with enough supplies to get an Orion pirate arrested in his home system.  Big forgetting requires elaborate preparations, I always say…

Stardate 18709.05
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

I never did get out of my quarters yesterday, which unofficially postponed any possible meeting until late this morning.  I awoke feeling refreshed and sticky, in an edible lubricant sort of way.  My faithful companions had left sometime during the night to attend to other needs, but I was unconcerned; after the last 24 hours, I would require time in spacedock myself before certain equipment could be expected to function reliably again.

It took about an hour for the shower to penetrate to my actual skin layer, and another hour to remove the sticky feeling I had in some dangerously hard-to-reach places, but eventually I climbed out and ordered up a fresh Class B uniform.  Grabbing a cup of dangerously strong Irish Coffee, I took a seat at my desk and decided for some unfathomable reason that I really should do something productive today.

“Alden, are all of the senior officers aboard?”

“Good morning, Commodore.  No, not all of the senior staff are aboard the Casual, but those who are not can be found in the Hotel.  Shall I summon them?”

“Yeah, why not.  We’ll have a staff meeting at 1300 or so.  I need status on repairs along with some planning for the wake, so have Fugit get an update from his staff.  And if you could prepare a concise report on our total losses from the Relax, that would be great.”

“Concise?  How concise?”  Alden’s voice seemed to contain a hint of apprehension.

“Oh, I don’t know…trim it down to 30 seconds or so, okay?”

“Bu…30 sec…um, sir, that really isn’t sufficient time to present a clear picture of our losses.  Perhaps 10 hours would be…”

“Alden, Alden…we don’t need a clear picture; a fuzzy and poorly defined one will do fine for the moment.  And you know full well that a complete report might put several of the officers, including myself, into a deep coma.  At the moment, I need everyone at least marginally alert to get things put back together, so prolonged periods of unconsciousness are straight out.  Okay?

There was a long pause.  “I…understand, sir.  I will endeavor to be as brief as possible.”  He sounded hurt, but I knew he would recover when I told him how much he was going to contribute to the wake.

I took up my favorite tumbler, filled it with my morning snakebite, and proceeded to the bridge.  Along the way I passed several engineering teams working on the reconstruction of the Casual’s delicate innards, most of them hanging out of jefferies tubes or lying tangled in massive snarls of cable in corridors.  I greeted them with a smile and a toast, occasionally stopping to get a drink for a crewman too busy to reach for one himself.  (The corridor dispensary stations had, of course, been the highest priority item on the repair list.)

The bridge was still a shambles, but Fugit and Havoc were busy in the tiny access corridor behind the stations getting at least minimal functionality back.  Their progress could be measured by the smoke trails coming from the access covers on the bridge stations, each of which was heralded by an “Oh, shit!” from Havoc or a “That can’t be good” from Fugit.  The main viewer had been repaired, and now displayed a lovely pastel wireframe image of the repairs…mostly done in reds and yellows.  The bridge turned out to be too depressing, so I headed back down to the conference room to await the staff.

At 1400, Candy awakened me in her usual friendly manner.  I sat up to see almost the entire staff assembled for the meeting.  I thanked our handy medical assistant appropriately, then freshened my drink.

“Good afternoon, folks.  How is everyone?”

There was a communal grunt of sentiment.  It may have been good or bad; it’s so hard to tell with those unintelligible sounds my officers usually make.

“Good enough.  Let’s start with the repairs.  Commander Fugit, how’s the ship?”

Fugit had a pile of papers almost six inches thick on the table before him.  He shuffled through them for a minute and came up with a sheet he liked.  After studying it carefully, he announced, “Commodore, she’s fucked.”

“I see.  Care to be a bit more explicit?”

“Sure.  Most primary systems have been in some way compromised by Protocol 197.  Further damage occurred during Alden’s flush of the core.  The computer under P197 attempted to auto-repair all of our modifications simultaneously, resulting in cascade failures across the board.  At this time, only secondary life support and dispensary systems are fully operational, although we should have the primaries repaired by 2200 tomorrow.  After that, we’ll be drawing systems from a really big hat to determine what happens next.”

“Great.  Any idea how long it may be until we can navigate?”

“That depends entirely on the navigator, sir.  As soon as he learns how to read a chart…”  Down the table, Chief Navigator Axon continued cheerfully working on a Bugs Bunny coloring book.

“No, no…how long until the ship is at least marginally able to, you know, fly around and shoot things and stuff?”

“Oh.  Well, given the additional rations authorized by yourself, we are currently working on a nine week timetable with an 18 month fudge factor.”

“Swell.  And there’s nothing we can do to speed up the process?”

“Not without an army of skilled laborers or a real spacedock, sir.”

“Okay.  I’ll see what I can do.  Alex, how’s the crew?”

My XO had a much smaller stack of reports on the table, and had already thrown out the least entertaining ones.  “Commodore, they ain’t good.  Most of the crew are suffering from the psychological impact of losing Relax…some of them had friends or lovers aboard Relax that were not saved.  In addition, the thought that Mallory has actually been able to do significant damage to us in this way has weakened morale and confidence across the ship.  The wake should help some of them, but what we really need is a massively cool thing to happen that makes them happy and smug again.”

“Wonderful.  Okay, see if you can set something up in one of the Hallucinodecks for the really bad ones.  I’ll see what amazing and morale-boosting mission I can dream up.”  I took a long hit of tequila and listened to reports from medical, communications, tactical, and the Party Marines.  None of the news was any better.

Finally I got to the part I had most dreaded.  “Alden, please tell us exactly what we lost with Relax.”

Alden’s disembodied head appeared over the holo emitter in the table.  “Commodore.  Other than a fully operational and fully stocked Bar Ship, we have lost 137 personnel, complete party supplies for a month of operations, seven shuttles, 12 work bees, 300 metric tons of high-grade samples from Cannabis Major, complete logs and astrometric data from the last goodwill mission of the Relax, a number of promissory notes and tax exemptions from several non-aligned governments, and Commodore Flynn’s personal effects.  We have recovered Relax’s Battle Bar and log recorders, but it is highly unlikely that any further useful salvage will be found.”  As he spoke, the displays around the table lit up with detailed lists and charts of the actual lost materiel.  A list of lost crew passed by…a list that seemed infinitely long.  For a painfully silent moment, none of my officers seemed able to speak…or even drink.

I cleared my throat.  “One way or another, Mallory is going to pay.  Once Casual is fixed, we can…”

Flynn, who had remained silent so far, jumped up and pounded the table so violently that several drinks were momentarily in grave danger.  “We can what?  We can’t do a damned thing!  We’re stuck here again without warp drive!  Unless you want to keep paying tugs to drag us around, we’re stuck in the Star Desert.  So unless Mallory just waltzes up and starts shooting at us again, we can’t do a goddamned thing!”

There were nods of agreement among those officers who hadn’t already fallen asleep.  I had to agree myself.  “You’re right, Michael.  But what can we do about it?  Warp engines don’t exactly grow on trees, you know.  Fugit’s plan to steal a pair has led nowhere, and last time we checked, Leeding was backed up three years on FWG-1 units.  And that’s with a bribe big enough to buy a small planet thrown in!”

Flynn snarled and sat back down.  “I don’t know.  I just know I hated being stuck out here before, and I’m going to hate it even more now.”  He poured himself more scotch.

“Sir?  Can I make a suggestion?”  The voice was unexpected; we all turned to stare at Commander Lanchellsi, who was sitting quietly next to Flynn in a subdued robe.  She hadn’t quite recovered from whatever she had experienced during the last hours of Relax’s existence, and even the most potent medical supplies and personal attention had been ineffectual.  The fact that she was here at all, however, was a promising sign.

“Certainly, Commander.  What have you got?”

“Well sir, a few years back the Ticonderoga was sent out to the Turpin system to investigate missing shipments of Starfleet spare parts.  We discovered a thriving commercial community there that specializes in hard-to-find starship components and equipment.  They were just legitimate enough to prevent our shutting them down.”

“You mean there’s a system out there with a…used starship dealer?”

“That’s pretty much it, sir.  In orbit around Turpin 7 is one of the largest spaceborne junkyards you’ll ever find.  There were something like 1300 ships of every possible type and race there when we made our visit, including a few scrapped Starfleet ships.  It’s possible that they may have the parts we need.”

“How intriguing.  Fugit, have the Nonchalant rigged with our warpsled as soon as possible.  We’ll have to run out to this boneyard and see what we can see, eh?”

At this, at least, Flynn showed signs of life.  “Sir, I would like to volunteer for the mission, if I may.”

“Certainly, Commodore.  As soon as the Nonchalant is prepared, pick a crew and get going.  Just make sure you’re back in time for the wake, alright?”

“No problem there, Allan.  We’ll be back.”  He stood up, took his former XO by the hand, and strode out of the room like a man with a purpose.

Now if I could only give the same feeling back to the rest of the crew, we might come out of this thing alright.

Stardate 18709.09
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

Preparations for the wake of the Relax are proceeding well, if strangely.  Representatives from a surprising number of governments have confirmed that they will attend, including three governments we never knew existed.  Ships from numerous trade worlds have arrived with supplies for the party, most of them gratis.  (I did have to turn away the three freighters of Spam from Alpha Centauri, though…I doubt that I’ll ever be able to deal with that stuff again…)  I never knew just how much people cared!

Flynn is due back from his mission tomorrow morning.  He’s been very tight-lipped about his negotiations, claiming that the proprietor he’s been dealing with flatly refuses to allow long-range communications of any sort that mention his establishment to be broadcast from within the Turpin system.  I have therefore told Flynn to wait until he returns to tell us anything.  He did seem fairly excited the last time we spoke, though.

Repairs to the Casual are dragging along.  We simply don’t have adequate facilities to perform the almost complete refit the ship needs right now.  Makeshift tools and jury-rigged equipment are good for field repairs, but if we want our repairs to actually last we’ll need something a bit more suitable.  Fugit is working on building a new spacedock, but he has once again run out of the magic latex needed to build an inflatable one.  According to Alden, in a fully equipped and automated spacedock the entire operation could be completed in just six weeks.

To prevent anyone from taking advantage of our delicate condition during the repairs, I have deployed a ridiculous number of probes to the edges of the Star Desert.  So far they have reported exactly what I expected them to: a whole mess of absolutely nothing.  We’re all hoping that they keep reporting exactly that.

I’ve given some thought to Flynn’s position as Commodore in the absence of an actual ship for him to command.  I hate to take it back, but it’s kind of silly to have a flag officer without a productive job.  We begin doing things like that and we’ll really start looking like Starfleet Command.

Stardate 18709.10
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

Alden woke me up just in time to meet Flynn and his crew of three as they disembarked from the Nonchalant.  I met them on the RecDeck, which was finally returned to a fully operational state just this morning.  I ordered drinks all around and offered Flynn a cigar.

“Welcome back, Michael.  What did you find?”

Flynn and Lanchellsi wore smiles so wide that I expected their heads to pop back and begin discharging Pez at me.  “Everything we need, sir.”

I considered that.  “You found me a six-foot tall buxom brunette nymphomaniac bisexual with the alcohol tolerance of a moose whose tits are filled with Yukon Jack?”

“Errr…I mean, we found everything that the Casual needs, sir.”

Damn!  Foiled again.  I poured another glass of Blood Wine.  “Okay, shoot.”

“We spent a large amount of money and time locating a human named Remington McAllister.  He runs the largest starship scrap yard in the Turpin system, and has a very liberal business policy.  If you’ve got the cash, he’ll do anything you need.  If you don’t, screw you.  No questions asked, no refunds or exchanges, and no credit.  When he discovered that it was officers from the Casual that were looking for him, he made himself available.  We spent three days negotiating for his services and materials.”

“Really.  So what kind of deal did we make with this guy?”

“Pretty straightforward, actually.  We get access to his fully automated Type 9 spacedock for six weeks, all the parts and raw materials we need, and a slightly mismatched pair of Leeding FWG-1 warp engines.  In return, we provide his entire staff of 83 with six weeks free access to all of our facilities, ten thousand credits each in the casinos, run a special Hallucinodeck program that McAllister has in mind, and agree to provide random fly-by weapons testing near his yard.  Oh, and we guarantee non-extradition for his people in case anyone recognizes them.”

I ran the calculations in my head.  Even before the pain began, I knew that we had gotten the best end of the deal by far.  “That’s it?  You have got to be kidding.  You’re a shitload better at making deals than I thought you were, Flynn.”

“Oh, don’t thank me.  Lanchellsi did most of the convincing.”  At Flynn’s side, his former XO turned red and smiled wickedly.  “She’s sort of a piece of the deal.  They actually hit it off terribly well…she’s going to work under him as soon as the repairs are completed.”  Flynn seemed somewhat depressed as he said this, but to his credit he said nothing more.

That would explain a great many things…including the new set of hickeys visible on Lanchellsi’s visible thigh.  “I understand.  Excellent work, both of you.  I’ll be sorry to see you go, Commander, but if it’s what you want…”

“It is, Commodore.  Remy made me a very lucrative offer.”

“I find that difficult to believe, but…”

“Oh, not that kind of offer, sir.  He’s…genetically enhanced.”  She smiled again and let the subject die there.  For some odd reason, I decided to be tactful for once and do the same.

“So when are we supposed to be there?”

“Within a week, sir.  McAllister is sending an old Klingon fleet tug to pick us up.”

“Nifty.  Okay, we’ll put Fugit in command of the ship and send him with her.  You and I should move to our apartments in the Hotel and get cracking on the wake.  We still have a lot of work to do, I’m afraid.”

“Right.  I suppose we could wait until this afternoon for that?”  He was speaking to me, but his attention was all for Lanchellsi.  “Late this afternoon?”

“Sure, why not.  Meet me in the Hotel’s admin lounge when you’re ready.  I’ll go run things down for Fugit and make some announcements.”  I stood up and made my goodbyes.  Behind me, I heard the RecDeck doors lock.

Stardate 18709.11
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

After some heated discussions with our Chief Engineer, the bulk of which addressed my concerns with security (the last thing we needed was some overzealous dockworker appropriating our alcohol stocks), Commander Fugit assumed temporary command of my ship and set course for the Turpin system.  With him went the bulk of the engineering crew and a few poor ensigns who will now miss the wake entirely.  To make up for this, I have provided Fugit with two hundred cases of Guinness to help pass the time.  (He may even share them with the crew…)

Deliveries of potent potables for the wake are piling up faster than our cargo handlers can cope, forcing me to authorize them to dispose of anything they couldn’t fit in the warehouses “in the most appropriate manner possible.”  For the last two nights, every warehouse shift has come off duty barely able to walk and covered in pre-lubricated ribbed apparel.  There’s also a line of self-adhesive, lifelike nipples running from the warehouse level to almost every crew space on the asteroid.

I spent much of the day performing field testing of my new personal shuttle, a replacement for my poor Slack.  In a fit of originality, I have named the new shuttle..Slack.  It may be a while before she has the same orgied-in feel of the old one, but we all have our burdens.  At least now I won’t have to hide the guacamole stains with a throw rug.

Guests for the wake are arriving steadily, and the Hotel’s various actual hotels are almost full.  I’ve requested the services of six civilian passenger liners to deal with the anticipated overload.  In three days, on the eve of the wake, we will be more crowded than ever…and, if all goes well, a great deal more financially solvent.

I have an idea now of what to do with Flynn, but I can find no precedent in any records from any race that we have access to.  Not that I’ll let something as insignificant as that stop me.  It never has before.  How he’ll feel about it is another matter, but anything is better than having him mope around like a schoolboy who’s just had his mirror-topped shoes confiscated by the principal.  To keep him busy I have given him command of all wake preparations.  This has the double benefit of keeping him occupied while allowing me time to pursue more pressing matters…such as a complete personal evaluation of the Hotel’s female staff, starting with a three-day session with Madame Zelda.

Stardate 18709.17
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

It’s the eve of the Wake of Relax, and I must admit that everything is going dangerously smoothly.  As an occasional student of history, this has me extremely worried.

Fugit and the Casual arrived at Turpin 7 yesterday morning where they threw a small celebration for McAllister’s staff prior to commencing any actual work.  It went so well that McAllister himself has promised to personally expedite the work so that his crew doesn’t have to wait too long to sample the pleasures of our ship when she’s fully operational.

The Hotel and our three “borrowed” liners are full to overflowing, and the number of vessels orbiting Gothos is truly awe-inspiring.  We have actually had to set up a number of navigational beacons and find some reasonably sober crew to man a traffic control station.

The Wake of Relax is scheduled to last seven days.  I have no idea how long the supplies will actually last, though…

Stardate 18709.22
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

Ahhh…perhaps we should lose a ship more often.  Parties like this one need to be experienced more than once in a lifetime!

It would be impossible to go into detail regarding all of the amazing events that have transpired during this extravaganza.  We’ve had profound expressions of grief and joy from artists, performers, and mixologists from all over the known galaxy…impromptu mutual “healing” sessions that make ancient Rome look amateurish in comparison…individual gambling wins and losses that would stagger the mightiest of governments…gifts and donations whose origins I think it best not to inquire about…and enough money flowing in to buy every member of Starfleet a toupee that looks and feels like the real thing.

Flynn and I have been taking turns running things, in order to keep from overexerting ourselves or passing out too often.  This gave me a radical idea that finally offered me a solution to the question of his position and rank.

At around midnight on the fifth day, I made it known to the crew that I had a major announcement to make.  Those who were able to assemble in the Hotel’s main atrium area staggered or were wheeled in to witness yet another of my questionable command decisions.

I waited patiently for them to figure out which direction they should be looking in and for another round of Blood Wine to go around.  When my crew and the inevitable cluster of paying guests were all at least pretending attentiveness, I went for it.

“Commodore Flynn, could you please join me on the stage?”  I looked around for his imposing form in the crowd.  After a few minutes, three attractive Oriental girls in spray-on leopardskin catsuits carried him to the stage.  Realizing that he was unable to stand on his own, they combined to form a giggling seat for him.  He looked up at me sheepishly.

“I think I’ve passed the limits of human endurance, Allan.  I can’t feel anything below my neck…and these three still won’t leave me alone…”

“That’s one of the inevitable perils of command, my friend.”

“But…I’m not in command of anything any more!  Why can’t they go after you for a while?”  He was obviously not too put out by the attention; the smile never left his face.

To his left, one of his beautiful antagonists began nibbling his ear.  “Silly Flynn,” she cooed, “we broke Erickson on Tuesday…”  She winked in my direction before returning her attention to Flynn’s earlobe.

“As for your lack of command…that’s what we’re here to fix.  Since you seem a bit busy, I’ll make this quick.  How would you like to share command of the Casual with me?”

His eyes lit up.  He did not attempt to move, however.  “Share command?  What do you mean?  Put another conn on the bridge or something?”

“No, no…for the past five days, we’ve been alternating the duty of running this party every 12 hours.  I think it’s been working damn well…so well, in fact, that I want to keep doing it even after the wake is over.  I’ll run the ship from noon to midnight, and you get to do it from midnight to noon.  What do you say?”

He appeared to be considering the offer…but knowing those girls, he may have been doing something entirely different.  “What happens when we disagree?”

“Simple.  We just get Sulleven to flip a coin.  Whoever wins…wins.”

“Hmmm…sure, why not?  Sounds like a blast.”  With that, his eyes rolled back into his head and he went limp.  At least, I think he did.

“Ladies, could you get him back to his apartments?  I think he’ll need some sleep and some pretty strong stimulants before he’s ready for another round.”

The girls nodded and picked him up.  “We’ll see him to bed, Commodore.  Then we have to find another officer to play with…”  As they made their way from the atrium, I noticed a line of Commanders and Lieutenants following like overzealous puppies.

I let out a massive belch to regain the attention of the few remaining crew.  “That’s it, folks.  Welcome to the brave new world of Commanding Officer Redundancy.”  They let out a spirited cheer and began to scatter back to their duties.

I’m not sure what will come of this, but I do know that it has all the ingredients of a standard Casual policy:  it’s dangerous, it’s silly, and it’s never been tried before.  In other words, it should work out just fine.

Stardate 18709.25
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

The wake officially wrapped up last night with the departure of the Federation cruisers Lexington and Hood.  Flynn and I spent a while looking at the aftermath in the nearly-deserted Hotel and drinking toasts to every dead bottle we found lying unattended.  (We had to stop when Lieutenant Agloval informed us that we were dangerously close to alcohol poisoning…)

Assessment teams are out surveying the debris, and should have a cleaning estimate sometime next week.  We’re officially closed for recovery until the Casual’s return in four weeks, which should give us barely enough time to bring the Hotel back to operational status.  It might not be so bad if I hadn’t let Havoc hold an Experimental Weapons Demonstration yesterday, but I must admit that his new Wave of Lotion Gun made the final hours much more interesting.  I think we’ll have to put the kibosh on his Regurg-O-Matic Grenade, though.

Flynn seems pleased with his new status, now that he’s able to comprehend it.  We have decided to compromise on the bridge décor so that we can both get what we want…we’ve instructed Fugit to redecorate it in a “Caligula does the Highlands” sort of motif.

We also decided to give Sulleven a perk for having to put up with two completely different C.O.’s every day…in a private ceremony (we didn’t even bother telling him) we promoted him to Captain.  We then found some willing volunteers to find him and attach his new rank to whatever might be available on his person.

I plan to spend much of the time before the return of my ship reacquainting myself with the inside of my eyelids; Flynn has also expressed a deep desire to test out the bed in his apartment for actual sleep-related tasks.  We’ve left the Hotel in Griselda’s ever-capable and fiendishly talented hands.

Stardate 18710.03
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

Early this morning, Alden found it necessary to awaken me.  The methods employed were original, moderately painless, and altogether unforgettable.  Suffice it to say that he began the process using three Caitian females and a box of latex gloves, and ended it with a priority call for a Hotel Housekeeping Emergency Response Team.

As I staggered out of my Gemmorahn suite, the harsh artificial light of morning made me wonder just how long I had remained comatose.  “Alden, what day might it be?”

There was a brief pause before the ancient concealed speakers responded.  “It might be Boxing Day, but it is not.”

“Was that a joke, Alden old pal?”

“Not really.  Just a non sequitur response to your query.  In actuality, it is eight days since you last were seen in a conscious state by any reliable witnesses.”

“And what did the unreliable ones have to say?”

“There was only one.  Ensign Stromboni continues to insist that he witnessed you and Commodore Flynn rewiring Hallucinodeck 2 late in the evening three days ago, after which orange Jell-O and a rather loud moaning leaked from the chamber.  Since Stromboni was accidentally suspended in the transporter buffer at the time, the likelihood of this being true is somewhat suspect.”

I had stopped in my tracks, but now let out a long sigh of relief and sipped my brandied espresso.  “So nobody believes him?”

“No, sir.  Likewise, nobody believes that orange Jell-O is actually capable of sexual relations with a humanoid, or a pair of them.”

Hmmm.  I might have to do something about Alden’s sensor network in the future.

I strolled casually through the relatively deserted corridors of the Hotel.  From time to time I encountered a cleaning crew, a security team, or a carpet burn tolerance recertification task force as I made my way to the Hotel Operations Center.

The Ops Center was likewise deserted.  Madame Griszelda was personally evaluating a new Hallucinodeck program, and apparently most of her staff of young muscle-bound low-IQ peons was working hard to assist her.  The Hotel’s automated maintenance and repair systems were doing an admirable job of giving Alden nothing better to do than beat himself at 953 separate and simultaneous games of Tri-D chess.  The Housekeeping and Repair teams were still working to recover from the Wake, although their pace was somewhat lower than hoped for.  The only vessels presently orbiting or docked were all ours, with the single exception of a Federation cargo tug that was just pulling away.  In all, it was a most uneventful-looking day.

I checked Flynn’s quarters, relieved to see that he was still resting comfortably.  It was almost his birthday, and I needed to make a few preparations while he was still asleep.  I ordered up another bottle of brandy and went to work.

A few hours later, as I was still searching my creative reservoir for something keen to do for Flynn’s birthday, Alden finally found something marginally interesting to bring up.

“Commodore, I have something moderately interesting to bring up.”

“Thank the gods.  What is it?”

“Sir.  The probe ring that you emplaced to monitor the edges of the Star Desert has apparently begun malfunctioning.  Either that, or they have discovered a previously unknown planetary body resting just within the dust cloud at the periphery of the region.”

“No shit?  A new planet?”

“Well, sir, that is the least likely explanation.  The data currently coming in is highly suspect.”

“Don’t burst my bubble yet, Alden.  This might be the only thing that keeps me awake for the rest of the month.  Please display the relevant data in a nifty, colorful holographic fashion, okay?”

Alden did so.  The giant holo display in the center of the chamber fired up, showing the collected data in garish pastels.

Basically, the probes along a section of the Star Desert’s edge furthest from any possible traffic routes had begun detecting a gravity well…once in a while.  Every 46.2 hours, a 9-probe array recorded a jump in gravity field readings for a 3-second period.  The probes also recorded a jump in a number of other readings, all of which were consistent with a small, terrestrial planet.  Unfortunately, there was no sun to go along with it, making the brief readings that seemed to indicate a class-M environment highly suspect.

After some deliberation with my own reflection in a nearby mirror, I decided to send out one of the science shuttles to take a look.  Commander Hardemann was delighted at the chance to do something in the absence of the ship.  He hand-picked a female crew and set out almost before I had explained the mission to him.

After a long yawn, followed by a complete lack of interest in anything, I availed myself of the Goddess-Empress’ in-office bedchamber and promptly fell asleep.

Stardate 18710.04
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

The Goddess-Empress decided to awaken me the next morning with her own pleasant variation of “breakfast in bed.”  The fact that portions of my anatomy functioned as the main course made the experience all the more pleasant.

Eventually, we moved on to more customary breakfast fare.  I ordered up some Irish coffee and 40-proof donuts.

“And how are you this morning, Commodore?”  Griszelda had moved over to her giant mahogany desk, and was doing her best to appear busy with daily Wake recovery reports.

“All things considered, pretty damn good.  Unfortunately, I see another boring day ahead.”

“Um-hmm.  Until we re-open or the Casual returns, things are likely to be far too quiet around here.  Still, that gives us plenty of time to catch up on some things.”  She grinned wickedly in my general direction.

“I think…”  I was interrupted in mid-thought by Alden.

“Sorry to break in Commodore, Empress…but I have an urgent message from Commander Hardemann aboard the shuttle Somnolent.  He seems fairly agitated.”

Hardemann always seems fairly agitated, even when he’s sleeping, so I figured it might be a Maytag-level agitation if Alden deemed it necessary to mention.  “Put him through, Alden.”

The holo display swirled and resolved itself into the interior of the Somnolent, a Federation Type-V science shuttle that had been traded to us for a three-week leave by the crew of the USS Curie.  Hardemann was sitting at the main sensor console with two huge beakers of something steaming and green in front of him.  He was sweating heavily, and his neck showed evidence of a rash.

“Commander.  What have you found?”

He turned to face the pickups.  “Ahhh, Commodore.  Good.  Really good.  There’s something extremely perplexing going on over here.”  He waved at the displays, which were busily displaying.  Of course, I had no clue whatsoever what any of the displays were trying to tell me.

“I see what you mean.  I can’t make any of that data out, either.”  I hoped that my response was appropriate to the statement.

“Actually, that’s not the problem, sir.  Oh, I can understand your not being able to decipher the base-93 fourth-order recursive data graphs I have up, but the real issue here is the planet.”

“What planet would that be, Commander?”

“Hang on and I’ll show you, sir.”  He spun back around and proceeded to send a chunk of sensor data through the datalink.  Alden obligingly opened a second holographic display.

The scene was a simple one.  The Somnolent floated peacefully amid the absolute blackness of the dust clouds, her Warpsled holding station some 2 megameters away.  Gradually, the interpolated imagery of the scene changed, losing the artificial “realness” created by the computer and switching instead to a wireframe model of the data.  As I watched, the blankness of the cloud behind Somnolent flashed and a small planetary body flickered into view.  Just as the sensors began pulling in data, however, the planet flickered out again, leaving the area it had appeared in just as blank at empty as it had seemed mere moments ago.

“That’s our anomaly, Commodore.  Definitely a planet, M-class, about .35 Terran in mass.  I recalibrated the sensor array and used an artificial time dilation sequence within the subspace acquisition array to accelerate sensor data collection by a factor of 74, giving us the following planetary data.”

He sent through another data block, and the secondary holo filled with the image of a very pleasant looking little planet.  Planetary specs scrolled by slowly, indicating a variety of carbon-based life and a very healthy ecosystem.  In all, a veritable cornucopia of information on a planet that could not possibly exist.

Looking at the topographical images, I quickly noticed that there was something of an anomaly about the continental layout.  (As if anything about this moon-sized planet wasn’t…)  There was a single large landmass that covered about 60% of the surface.  Within the confines of this landmass there was a large body of water, and within that was another landmass.  The ocean, if it could be called one, was in a relatively curious shape.

The shape of the letter “Q.”

“Well that’s just grade-F wonderful.  Yet another toy of the Squire’s?”

“Ahh…I see that the significance of the landforms has not been lost on you, sir.  Yes, that would certainly be my first, second, and subsequent 95 guesses.”

I stared in quizzical wonder at the continued flow of data scrolling by.  “Hardemann, the geography thing is about as much of this data as I’m going to assimilate quickly.  Could you just…sum it up for me?”  I closed my eyes and reached for another drink.

“Not a problem, Commodore.  Basically, what we have out here is an apparently artificial planetoid with a class-M biosphere that is presently supporting a small number of carbon-based life forms.  The planetoid has no sun, but is obviously receiving solar energy from some source that we have been unable to ascertain.  The planetoid seems to exist in an isolated extra-dimensional pocket, except for a three-second window every two days.  It is plausible that the planetoid has some sort of sun that is also contained within the extra-dimensional space.  The planetoid itself is geologically stable and shows signs of a benign climate.  In all, a fairly pleasant little planet that cannot possibly exist.”

“Simply wonderful.”  I closed my eyes again.  If I kept them closed, maybe it would begin to make some kind of sense.

“Commodore?  I have a request.”

“Sure, Hardemann.  What do you want?”

“I would like permission to land on the planetoid when it next appears.”

Nope, keeping my eyes shut was having no discernible effect on outward reality.  “Are you saying that you’ve gone completely fucking bonkers?”

Hardemann probably looked either hurt or confused, but I was still trying to deny the existence of the entire universe behind my eyelids.  “Not at all, sir.  I simply wish to explore this perfectly serendipitous opportunity to visit a planet that cannot conceivably be real.”

No, he wasn’t going insane.  He had already been there and had moved beyond it towards greener pastures of instability.

“First of all," I blindly began, "landing a shuttle seems like a pretty bad idea.  Not only is a three-second window a nearly impossible piloting situation, but Federation shuttles have a nasty tendency of making far more landings than takeoffs where unexplored worlds are concerned.  Second, without the Casual there’s no way to use even the Gemmorahn transporters of the Hotel across a 7 light year distance.  Finally, nobody in Barfleet or our employ has ever shown any desire to be placed in high-risk situations, making the choice of a landing party just a tad difficult.”

There.  That should keep the universe stable for a while.  Unfortunately, Alden had other ideas of stability.

“Sir,” Alden interposed, “there is a way.  If we were to gut one of the large shuttles and configure it as a subspace transporter repeater, we could transport directly to the surface from the Hotel during the next window.”

I decided to surrender and opened my eyes.  “Are you losing your marbles too?  This seems like a pretty dangerous little mission with no tangible material gains.  Other than the concept of knowledge for it’s own sake, why bother?  We can’t use the place; it doesn’t exist long enough to be economically viable as a tourist spot.  The data here,”  and I quickly scrolled the display back to confirm the lie, “indicate no large deposits of any precious or useful minerals.  So, I ask you, what do we get out of it?”

There was a moment of silence.  Even Zelda, occupied as she was with her paperwork, stopped typing to let the moment swell.  Finally, Alden spoke again.

“Commodore, it is possible that the planetoid has forms of alcohol or other recreational drugs that we are not currently aware of.”

I sensed defeat on the horizon.  “Hmmm.  That would change things.   We can’t pass that up, can we?”  I let out a sigh and finished my coffee.  “Okay Hardemann, you win.  Get back here and set things up.  Alden, begin modifications to our least popular shuttlecraft.  I’ll see what I can do about arranging a landing party…”  And at that moment, the meaning of that term rotated in my mind a full 180 degrees.  “Yeah!  A Landing Party…for Flynn's birthday!”

Within minutes, I had begun to work on this amusingly deranged concept with something akin to interest.

Stardate 18710.05
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

I spent most of today making preparations for Flynn’s Landing Party.  All of the senior staff who were not with the Casual in drydock were informed.  Most of them had to be helped back to consciousness with smelling salts after I told them the details, but in the end Alden’s contrived reason for the mission won them over.  The Hotel’s automated shuttlebay systems worked diligently to convert the Mirth into a flying transport repeater, which would be remotely deployed later tonight to the region of the mystery planetoid.   And Madame Griszelda had hand-picked some of her finest ladies (and a few men) to accompany the mission.  No matter what reservations the crew might have, Flynn’s Landing Party is proceeding nicely.

Hardemann has put together a number of kits for the actual exploratory segment of the mission, which might actually get done if the party itself slows down.  We know that we’ll only have 46 hours on the planet, so we have to make each minute count.  To make sure that we aren’t stuck down there past the window deadline, everyone involved will be required to wear a Transporter Orgy and Communication badge (or ‘commbadge,’ as we’ve taken to calling them) at all times.  When the window “opens” in 46 hours, Alden will lock on to the entire Landing Party and beam them home.  This may prove inconvenient, but it may also prove to be our salvation in case things go horribly wrong at some point.  And just in case we get into some serious shit and need to be beamed out without the commbadges, we’re taking along a set of pattern enhancers that can be set in a triangle around any number of people in order to pull them out.

As a final worst-case strategy, we have prepared a boatload of emergency supplies of alcohol that will be beamed down to the landing site in the event that no lock-ons can be established.  This will at least ensure the survival of the Party until the next window opens.

Sulleven and I spent the remainder of the day coming up with interesting party games for the expedition.  Of course, the potential entertainment value of most of them will be dependent upon what we find once we reach the surface, so we’ve tried to provide a wide variety of ideas.  So far, we’ve produced basic rules for:  Run Like Hell, It’s Gonna Eat You!; Which Plant Won’t Kill Me; Fun With Rishathra; Body Part Scavenger Hunt; Frighten the Natives; Slave Auction; Guess Which God I Am; and What Ate Him?

Because of the nature of the mission, and because there is a small possibility of one of those pesky First Contact situations, new Class-B through Class-D uniforms have been issued to the Landing Party members.  The bathrobes for the attending Security guys are an especially fetching cherry red color that I must say looks smashing on them.

Our window of opportunity will be at exactly 0813 hours tomorrow, somewhat before any sane Barfleet officer should be up, but doable with a carafe of espresso and a tube of stims.

As the day drew to a close, I bid Sulleven good night and went back to my quarters.  I actually fared well, but Candi’s accuracy with coins proved devastating to my continued consciousness.  I staggered to a couch in the area of the game and promptly passed out.

Stardate 18710.06
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

Now I remember why I never volunteered for away missions in the past.

At the appointed hour, the members of the Landing Party were assembled in one of the Hotel’s transporter lobbies.  We numbered 23, including Hardemann, Sulleven, Havoc, Candi, Thomas, Ogg, Agloval, and Von Matic.  There were 10 “support” folks, most of whom were from Madame Griszelda’s staff, and 4 Security guys to keep us ostensibly safe from the perils of the unknown.  As we milled about checking our gear, Flynn walked in.  Alden had told him there was a possible Tribble sighting in the area, so he was loaded for bear with a Type 3 Dazer rifle and a handful of olives.

“What the…”

“SURPRISE!  Happy fucking birthday, Flynn!”  Sulleven and I, sneaking up from behind, clapped him soundly on the back, causing him to discharge the rifle into the crowd.  This pleased the assemblage and pissed off Flynn, but he quickly recovered once he understood that we were all there to celebrate his birthday.

With 2 minutes until the window, I handed Flynn a huge flask of scotch and explained the concept to him.  For a moment, his face became so white that it seemed to be internally illuminated.  He used his scotch for the intended purpose, that of a calming restorative, and closed his eyes.

“That won’t work, old friend.  I’ve tried it myself.  I suggest you simply resign yourself to the inevitable and get ready for the trip of a lifetime!”

“That’s what worries me,” he muttered.  “I’d kind of like to have a long one.”

I looked at him quizically.  “Trip?”

“No.  Lifetime.”

And as he took a final pull from the flask, a high whine signaled that Flynn’s Landing Party was officially departing for its destination.

Stardate 18710.06 - Supplemental
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

There’s nothing quite as stimulating as materializing on a strange and utterly unexplored world with no foreknowledge of exactly how dangerous the local flora and fauna might be…unless, of course, you’re possessed of a brain and even a hint of self-preservation.  Being just so possessed, it would not be false to say that I was pretty much numb with apprehension as Flynn’s Landing Party materialized on our as-yet-unnamed worldlet.

Our molecules came back together in the midst of the party supplies themselves:  Eighteen crates of liquor, food, recreational chemicals, period costumes, large rubber balls, and other sundry entertainment items.  Oh, and the small box of exploratory gear was there as well.  It seemed terribly dark as we arrived.

Almost immediately, the darkness was replaced with warm and pleasant sunlight.  A soft breeze was blowing, and the hinted smell of a not-too-distant ocean carried along it.  The aromas of fresh honey and soft perfume seemed to cling to the breeze like moonlight on water, and colorful birds announced our arrival to each other in songs of subtle complexity and simple joy.  The atmosphere had all the proper ingredients for a perfectly idyllic pastoral setting of the kind Terran renaissance painters had only dreamt of.

Except for us, of course.  Looking around, I had the feeling we would fit in here about as well as a Kzin at a vegetarian restaurant.

We had arrived in a small clearing surrounded by fairly normal-seeming trees and other vegetation.  The local grass equivalent was short, almost as though something had trimmed it recently.  A ridge of mountains stood to our backs, perhaps 10 miles distant, while before us was more forest.

Although there were small animals and tracks in evidence, only the songs of the birds and the buzz of insects were readily apparent.  If there was anything more in the area, it wasn’t showing itself just yet.  We quickly set up a Party Center complete with wet bar, tables, food, audio system, and a number of props for later games.  Commander Thomas deployed his security team to the perimeter of the clearing, an order that was only followed when he passed out tall beer thermoses to each of his men.

We spent about an hour enjoying drinks and breakfast stuff with the guest of honor.  We then cranked up the music, tapped the first six kegs, and settled down for some early-morning games.  Hardemann wandered off to take some samples or readings or some such un-partylike thing.  When he returned he seemed rather excited.

“Commodores!  I have amazing news!”

Flynn and I looked at him sadly, hoping that his concept of amazing and ours might actually mesh just this once.  Flynn nodded to me, so I took the situation.

“What news, Commander?  Something of an entertaining variety, I hope?”

He nodded his head in a most spring-loaded fashion.  “I believe so, sir!  Proof of an intelligent race on the planet.  I’ve located what appears to be a town!  Just 2 kilometers east!”  He was waving his arms in a generally eastern direction, in a manner so energetic that I felt real concern that they might detach themselves and head off that way on their own.  “It’s a very entertaining looking place, Commodore!”

I had my doubts.  “Why do you say that, Everett?”

“From the edge of the forest I could clearly hear singing.  Lots of singing.  That surely implies an entertaining place, sir.”

Obviously, Hardemann had never heard of Country & Western.  Still, he might just have a point.  “Could you tell what the inhabitants look like?”

“Yes.  They’re dwarfish and very humanoid.  I’d say average height of slightly over one meter.  And they’re blue.”

That alone sounded entertaining.  A few passengers had been dying to see a good dwarf toss.  And a smurf/dwarf toss…  “Sounds intriguing.  Any idea what they were singing about?”

Candy, who had snuggled her way into the conversation, made a little giggly noise.  “How could he possibly know that, Commodore?  They can’t be speaking any known Federation language, can they?”

I smiled tolerantly down at her.  “Candy, my dear, surely you didn’t sleep through your classes on Coincidental Linguistic Serendipity at the Academy!”

“No, I was awake.  I was just…busy most of the time.”  She leaned over to demonstrate.  A bit later, she resumed the discussion.  “Either way, I must have missed the good bits.  Could you explain it to me?”

“Sure.  There’s a little axiom that Starfleet has come to call Taylor’s Law.  If we discover a race that’s intelligent and humanoid, it invariably includes at least one language that’s disturbingly close to English.  Landing parties to planets with humanoid life don’t even bother to carry a Universal Translator these days.  It’s one of those things that no anthropologist has ever been able to explain; in fact, lots of them have changed fields because of it.  The only real exception is the Klingons, but they’ve been very accommodating enemies.  Most of them can speak pleasantly accented English just perfectly.”

“Why is it called Taylor’s Law?”

“It’s a reference to a very old Earth movie called Planet of the Apes.  Guy named Taylor crashes on what he’s certain is an alien world, ruled by apes that just happen to speak, read, and write in perfect English.  Somehow, this poor guy manages to ignore that fact completely and keeps on believing that he’s on another world, when in fact he managed to land on Earth a few thousand years in the future.  Tragic, really.”

“What?  This Taylor guy?”

“No, the sequels.”  I guzzled my beer.  “I suppose we should get around to introducing ourselves to the locals, before they notice us and decide we might look good as stuffed museum displays or something.”  I looked to Flynn.  “Well, my co-Commodore, it’s your party.  How would you like to proceed here?”  I personally made my vote on the topic by tapping another keg of Guinness and topping off my armored survival tankard.

Flynn pondered the question for a few minutes, rubbing his beard and sipping his beer.  Around us, the sounds of the forest were strangely silent as the audio system blared forth a blend of Reggae and Klingon opera.  “How about if you take half for the First Contact while the rest stay here with me and prepare a little welcoming reception.  If you can do it, invite the locals ‘round for a drink or two.  Sound good?”

There were nods of assent.  Flynn had most everyone line up at random and assigned him or her an alternating 1 or 2.  He then had Sulleven produce the coin that is now a requirement of his position and used it to choose group 2 as the lucky expeditionary team.

Group 2, through some agency that must be like luck (only far less desirable), included Sulleven, Hardemann, Thomas, Ogg, two Security guys, Candy, and myself.  (We had allowed anyone genuinely disinterested in the locals to bow out of the choosing.)   With a sigh of resignation and a refill of my survival tankard, I joined my non-lucky companions at the equipment crate and outfitted myself with a few handy scientific items.  I also grabbed a Type 2 Dazer, just in case the locals needed a bit of stimulation before becoming hospitable.

As we prepared to follow Hardemann our little group waved at the remaining partygoers, most of who were laughing uncontrollably and pointing at us.  Flynn composed himself and came over.

“Good luck, Allan.  Try not to die or anything.”  He tried hard to stop it, but a giggle escaped his throat.

“Hey, don’t be too concerned here.  I’m sure you guys have the more dangerous assignment.”

He lost his stupid grin for a second.  “Why would you say that?”

I pointed with my Dazer.  “You guys have to try and keep Madame Griszeda happy without us.”  With that, I fired a couple of shots at her, set to high Probe, and quickly lost myself in the tiny crowd of would-be ambassadors.  Flynn waved and headed back to the tent.

And we set off towards destiny…or perhaps just another period of blackout.  Who can say?

Hardemann ostensibly led the little expedition, but two of Thomas’ men were out front with Type 3’s, just in case something big, nasty, and in serious need of arousal happened along.  They both chatted happily with each other, blissfully unaware (as their kind have always been) of the dangers inherent in their position…or at least in their choice of clothing.

Within a few minutes we could see the village itself.  We approached to within half a kilometer before motion in the main street caused us to pause.  We all stopped and stared in a single, simultaneous reaction of the type that is usually reserved for hideous deformities or acts of startling audacity.

There before us was the perfect picture of a quaint little German village, full of charming houses, cobbled streets, and a whole lot of other stuff that few if any of us recognized.  It was slightly less than full scale, undoubtedly owing to the smallish nature of the inhabitants.  Speaking of which, a large crowd of small blue…people…was standing in the street, looking in our direction.  A whole lot of other small, large-headed blue folks were scampering about, apparently cleaning everything in sight.  All of them were dressed identically in lederhosen and the required accoutrements, and they were all seemingly male.

The crowd was looking our way and singing loudly.  It took a few seconds for my mind to realize that the singing was not only comprehensible, but also obviously directed at us.

It went like this:

“Quoompa Loompa doompety dee,
Look over there friends, what do you see?
There’s a big group of aliens there
In a whole range of size, shape, and hair.

It’s been some time since we had any guest,
Since our obnoxious creator left.
Can’t say we’ve missed it but it has today beat,
At least then our lives were long and sweet…
Not at all like these days.

Quoompa Loompa doompety do,
If you’re defenseless, you’ll die quick too.
You can live in terror then, too,
Like the Quoompa Loompa doompety do.”

Sulleven and Thomas shared a look of confused concern, which they then decided to share with me.  I simply shrugged.

“This doesn’t sound too promising, sir.”  The two security guys were looking warily about, seeking targets for their potent Dazer rifles.

Ogg was strangely calm as he listened to the song.  “At least they seem happy.  Maybe they’re not really singing about us?  Or maybe…”  He was suddenly struck with an attack of duty, and promptly passed out.

As we stood there looking at the village, wondering what to make of the little people and their song, a lone figure that was dressed differently strode out toward us.  His skin was not the uniform shade of blue that characterized the others, but instead appeared to be a natural tan color.  He wore what looked like a business suit in cobalt blue.  He smiled warmly as he approached.  When he got within 10 meters, he stopped and spread his hands in greeting.

“Hello, alien guests!  I am Uumpala, designated leader of this community.”  His voice was much fuller and deeper than his size suggested.  He smiled in a friendly, unthreatening manner at the security men.  “May I approach, friends?  I assure you that I mean you no harm.”

The security guys, as expected, turned to their CO, who looked to Alex, who looked to me.  I shrugged again.  “Why the hell not?  That’s what we’re here for, right?”  With that, the security men stepped back, allowing the little ambassador through to the center of our expeditionary group.  At a motion from me, my officers and crew all removed collapsible comfy stools from our gear and proceeded to make a drinking circle.

Close up, Uumpala seemed very dwarflike.  His hair and eyebrows were extremely bushy, reminding me of a particularly hirsute girl I had known aboard Athena.  His head, like those of his people, was quite large for his body, implying either a huge brain or a massive racial sinus problem.  His massive cliff of a forehead was unmarked by age or worry lines…in fact, for a dwarf, he looked remarkably free of the ravages of age.  In all, a strangely comical yet serious looking little guy.

I started off the First Contact in proper Casual fashion by offering our small guest a drink.  He smiled sadly.

“I am very sorry Commodore Erickson, but we are extremely resistant to alcohol…or any other form of chemical stimulus.  It is a sad thing, as I am sure you will agree.”

There were shocked sounds from around the circle.  Candy actually began crying.  “Why that’s…terrible!”

“Sure is,” I offered.  Still…“May I ask how you know my name?”

Uumpala shrugged.  “All of us are racially telepathic.  It is our normal mode of communication, and one of our only forms of entertainment.  I can extract concepts, words, or references directly from your memories.  In most of our race, that power is limited to our own kind.  I was…designed…rather differently.  I suppose you might call me an ambassador.”

Hardemann had risen from his stool and was casually scanning the little alien.  “Sir, this is fascinating!  I think that he’s a genetic construct!”

“Hardemann, could you please refrain from scanning our guest while I’m trying to talk to him?  It’s rude.  And put that anal probe away!”

Uumpala laughed.  “Oh, it is no problem.  I fully expected it!  And I assure you that you will find the results much more interesting than you expect.”   He smiled condescendingly at Hardemann and sat still while our overexcited Science Office completed a preliminary analysis.  Hardemann’s expression started out as a combination of curiosity and wonder, but ended as perplexed.

“Commodore, our guest is not only a genetic construct, but a very old one.  He is also not exactly a he…there are no overt sexual characteristics of the standard variety in evidence.  In fact, there is also an alarming lack of any major reproductive system…and although the brain has pleasure centers, they are mostly atrophied.  He also has only a rudimentary digestive system, possibly capable of only simple bland food and water processing.  And, if I’m guessing right, there’s a series of glands that make sleep unnecessary for him.”

Uumpala again smiled politely.  “All these observations are accurate, Mister Hardemann.  And I assure you that the rest of my race is similar.  As for my age, I am close to 1000 of your years old.”  He paused to accept a cup of water from Sulleven, who had been carrying some for purely sanitary purposes.  “Our existence is long, tireless, and extremely boring.  Well…except for the monsters, of course.”

Ogg, who had recently reacquired consciousness, grew pale.  “Monsters?  MONSTERS??”  He took off at a run back towards the party area.  I motioned to Thomas to send one of the security guys with him.

Uumpala continued, apparently nonplussed.  “Yes, monsters.  Our creator was a creature of whim, and filled this small world with many strange and diverse things.  We were the most complex, but there are many other creatures here that are larger, deadlier, and less intellectually inclined than we.”

As if on cue, a huge beast the size of a house dropped from the sky towards Ogg and his escort.  It was a massive, chunky thing, covered in scales the color of blood and possessed of multiple appendages and an indeterminate quantity of heads.  Looking at it made me feel vaguely ill.  It was impossible see exactly what it really was; it seemed to shimmer and pulse as it pounced on the running Security ensign and swallowed him whole.

“Oh dear!” exclaimed Uumpala, who had risen to his feet and was turning towards his home, “a Vernicious Knid!  They’re the worst!  Quickly, we must find shelter!”  Without waiting for a response, he began running at a pretty good clip back towards the village.  The inhabitants had also noticed, and were leaving the open streets in one hell of a hurry.  Meanwhile, the Knid was climbing back into the sky, probably getting up speed for a pass at Ogg.  Fearing for his life, Ogg found a largish rodent hole and crammed his head into it.

Still trying to form a clear image of the monster in my mind, I was also trying hard to form some plan of action that would keep us alive with minimum party disruption.  These two conflicting thought processes were tying up a lot of my brain’s well-liquored power.  Just as a shadow of a concept began to form within the Yukon haze, we were all suddenly spared any further need to worry.

As the group watched, each in varying states of ready-to-panic, the descending creature paused in mid-dive.  A wave of energy pulsed visibly through the monster, beginning at some point in its midsection and radiating outward.

The energy ripple had a profound effect on the Vernicious Knid.  It let out a howl from each of it’s randomly distributed throats which, taken together, sounded disturbingly like a Wurlitzer.  Then it began vibrating, twitching and gyrating in the air like a blob of lime Jell-O strapped to the ponderous left breast of an obliging Andorian lieutenant on an undulating emperor-size waterbed…not that I have any experience with that sort of thing.  Then, with all the grace of a flying cow, the formerly flightworthy creature plummeted to earth just scant meters from Ogg’s buried head.  It continued vibrating for a few seconds, then went limp and still.

We all continued to stand above our seats, drinks in hand, staring in disbelief at the multi-pseudopod monster lying in a heap on the soft grass.  Finally, Sulleven broke the embarassing silence.  “Cheers!” he cried, his tankard raised high.   “Indeed,” I replied, and we drank a toast to the amazingly strange creature and its equally strange death.

Finally recovering my wits enough to recover my seat, I looked back towards the village.  The little people were still out of sight, but Uumpala himself was cautiously returning to the circle.

I turned back to my people.  “Hardemann, do you have even the remotest clue what the fuck just happened?”

He was already removing his modified diagnostic tricorder from his pack.  “Not yet, Commodore, but that animal is definitely outside the normal realm of any xenobiology material I’ve ever studied.”  He clicked an additional sensor module onto the unit.  “I’m going to get a closer look.”

“You do that.”  Perhaps it had simply been some sort of mass hallucination?  Bad dope?  Atmospheric instability?

Uumpala arrived just as I was finishing a full bottle of bourbon in the hopes that it would clear my head.  He wore an expression of astonishment and awe.  There was a definite reverential quality to his tone when he eventually spoke.

“That has never happened before.  Even the Great Liberator of the Orange Ones was powerless against the Vernicious Knids.  What kind of weapons do you possess?”

“Ummm…”  I was thinking of making something up on the spot when my orgy/comm badge vibrated.  I tapped it.  “Yeah?”

“Sir, it’s Hardemann.  I still have no idea what this thing is, but I can tell you what killed it.”

“Oh, do go on.”

“Dazer Rifle overload.”

What?  “But we do that all the time on the ship, and nobody has ever gotten all messed up…at least, not like that.”

“Quite true, sir.  But this creature appears to have no pleasure centers of any kind.  It also seems devoid of a reproductive system.  I think that the creature simply had no way of processing the immense discharge of Dazer energy through the normal pleasure pathways that we possess, and its body reacted extremely negatively.”

Well, shit.  I looked back to Uumpala.  “Looks like we overloaded your monster with simple sexual pleasure.  What kind of a sadistic creator puts together a world where nobody can experience fun?  That Squire of Gothos was a real prick to you guys.”

The blue ambassador smiled wanly.  “That was not our name for him, but I see in your mind that your Squire and our Q were one and the same.  Yes, he was somewhat less than munificent.  And I must say that we have never considered that pleasure could be so…potent.”  Still shaky, he managed to take a seat.  “Although the effects may be negative on me, I do believe I’ll have a drink.”  One of the ensigns handed him a beer, which he studied for a moment before downing it in one long swallow.

I looked around.  Most of the group was watching Hardemann as he probed the Knid with a large bladed instrument.   Thomas was talking to his security team back at the Landing Party site, telling them about the creature and how to kill it.  Ogg was shambling back to our circle, and two of the attendant Hotel girls were running out to greet him with moist towelettes for his dirt-smeared face.  I was about to begin pondering our next move when the singing from the village began again in earnest.

“Quoompa Loompa doompety dee,
If you’re a monster, listen to me.
Our new guests have something for you,
That turns you to jelly, putty and goo.

It’s quite a hoot to kill something with fun,
Rather than laser, big knife or gun.
How does it feel to fall out of the sky,
Twitch a few times then gag and die?
Just because you’re sexless.

Quoompa Loompa doompety do,
If you’re repressed, here’s a lesson for you.
Lack of organs don’t mean you can’t screw
Like the Quoompa Loompa doompety do.”

All of us shared confused stares regarding the nature of the last verse, but nobody seemed eager to press the issue just yet.  Uumpala likewise offered nothing by way of an explanation, although his abilities must have made him aware that we were confused.  After a polite pause, he let out a massive belch and stood up.

“My new friends, we would like to show our gratitude and hospitality to you all.  Perhaps you would care to join us for our evening meal?”  He looked so…hopeful.  That seemed to be the right word.  As though there were other questions unasked that would be affirmatively answered if this one was.

When in Rome, right?  “Sure, why not?  I haven’t had any solid food in hours.  Let’s gather up our gear and see how you folks live.”

Within a few minutes we were once again assembled and ready to move.  Uumpala led us the remaining distance to the little German village filled with strange blue folk, but remained silent until we arrived at the first buildings.  Then he began describing in detail the function and history of the village and the buildings themselves, much to the chagrin of everyone but Hardemann, who had jogged to catch up.

We eventually made our way to a large communal structure near the center of town.  We were led inside and were rather pleased to discover that the tables were already covered with fruit, cheese, bread, and a number of large steaming dead beasts that didn’t smell half bad.  There were a few kindly-faced locals sitting at a separate table, but apparently we were to spend the meal with Uumpala alone.  No big deal.  We lost no time in digging into the feast…although we provided our own beverages, of course.

After the first wave of power eating, Uumpala cleared his throat and stood.  “My new friends.  You have no idea how marvelous it is to us that you have come here to our tiny planet.  There have been no visitors for close to 500 of your years.  If you would listen, I will tell you our tale.”

There were nods and grunts of assent as we started picking at the bones of a bird that looked exactly like a chicken, but tasted like…well, not chicken, that’s for sure.

“Long ago, the one you call the Squire began to tamper with the laws of nature here on the fringes of his domain.  He wanted to make something interesting to play with and to watch, something like an aquarium or an…ant farm, if you will.  So he created this planetoid, and he created upon it a number of competing species.  He wanted to see how they would survive.

“He made two races of sentient creatures.  The orange ones he placed on the larger landmass, and he gave them both male and female genders and allowed them to reproduce and experience pleasure.  Then he placed us here on the ring island, as you see us.   He created a number of smaller creatures for us to interact with…and then he created the Vernicious Knids and the Scnozwangers to terrorize us and shorten our lives.”

He paused, and I tossed him another beer.  This time he took it without hesitation.  After a healthy swallow, he continued.

“The orange ones were mortal, if you will, and could have children.  We, on the other hand, are almost impossibly long-lived, but we are also all male.  He also made the orange and the blue biologically incompatible; even if we had the proper equipment, there’s no safe way for the two races to mate.”

I wondered, as most of us must have, what the unsafe ways might entail.

Hardemann had been deep in thought, and now interrupted, “So the Squire wanted to learn something from all this?  Yes, of course…he wanted to see how the difference in your lifespans and familial attachments would affect the way you dealt with mortality, and he created the creatures to provide a means to trigger a response in both races.  Twisted, but quite ingenious.”

Umpala nodded.  “That has been our deduction as well.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the Squire lost interest in this experiment after 100 years or so and stopped coming here.  We began to understand what we were after that, and only then did the tragedy of our existence become clear.

“When he created this little world, the creator didn’t plan for the long term.  There are almost no resources here, no chance for us to create a technological society that might grant us escape from this prison.  We did not even fully understand what kind of existence we have compared to other worlds until the Great Liberator happened upon us.”

“The Great Liberator?  Didn’t you mention him before?”  I prepared to throw Uumpala another beer.

“Yes.  The Great Liberator came to us by accident, in what would have been your twentieth century.  He arrived in a sort of spatial-temporal capsule. His kind, he said, once used to travel throughout the universe but now remain sequestered on their homeworld, observing but never interfering with what goes on.  He called himself a rebel, and claimed that his craft had landed here by accident on his way elsewhere.  He taught all of us a great deal, and left us a number of educational materials.  When he left, he asked us all if we would like to depart with him…he had a factory somewhere that manufactured some kind of sweets, and was looking for reliable help.  The orange ones decided to depart, while we decided to stay.”

I was shocked.  “Why?  Why would you decide to remain here?  Seems like a fairly boring existence punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”

“Indeed.  But we were sure that the Liberator was insane, and thought it would be safer not to join him.”  He reached out and caught the next beer.  For a rudimentary digestive system, he was sure putting away the brews.  I made a mental note to stay away from whatever he used for a lavatory for at least a few hours.

Sulleven had been studying Uumpala intently during the history lesson.  Now he asked gently, “How long have you regretted your decision?”

The ambassador looked startled.  After a moment, he lowered his eyes and shrugged.  “Almost from the very first.  Once the orange ones left, the creatures that had been the bane of us all were free to concentrate on us alone.  For the last few centuries, they have taken a heavy toll on us.  The creator originally made 4,000 of us.  Now there are only 200 left.”  His voice was barely a whisper.

We all suddenly realized what the unasked question was, and why the ambassador was concerned that we would say no.

I stood and spread my arms wide.  “Uumpala, would your people like another chance to leave this world?”  It was a dignified and uncharacteristically munificent gesture, marred only by my inability to remain upright past the first few syllables.  It had been a very filling day.

Uumpala’s head jerked up, his eyed filled with moisture.  “Oh, yes, Commodore.  Very much so.  We would do anything for that chance, anything at all.”

I felt bad for a moment.  Part of me wanted to be generous and kind and all that crap, and give his people a free ride off this rock.  But the other part, the Command Officer part, wanted something else.

The other part, of course, won out.  “What are you guys good at, Uumpala?  Aside from singing and getting eaten and not having sex?”

“Actually, we’re amazing housekeepers.  Really terribly good at it.  For most of us, it’s a driving passion…an obsession, if you will.”

Serendipity!  “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, Commodore, I assure you.  Our lives, as you might imagine, are almost terrifyingly dull for the most part.  For many of us, keeping things neat an clean is our only release.  And I understand from your minds that you have some current needs in that department.”

“Do we ever,” Sulleven put in.  “If you guys are really into housekeeping, I’m sure we can find a place for each and every one of you!  And I promise you that you’ll never be bored again.”

Uumpala made no pretense of hiding his joy.  He leapt up and danced around the room, spilling beer and knocking over small chairs as he made a curiously hiccuplike sound.   A celebration might have spontaneously erupted if only Uumpala hadn’t smacked his head into a hanging pot at that point and knocked himself unconscious.

With a sigh, Alex and I finished our dinner.  These guys might just be alright.

Stardate 18710.07
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting

Our merrymaking with the locals went well into the night, with more choruses and synchronized dance exhibitions than we cared to recall.  The entire group of us eventually simply ceased being conscious where we sat at the now empty-strewn tables and benches.

When we finally awakened late into the next “day,” the cheerful little Quoompa Loompas were nowhere to be seen.  They had apparently undressed us and placed us carefully in beds spread out across the floor of the large communal building, then retired to their own quaint dwellings to do whatever it is they do while not sleeping, screwing, or otherwise entertaining themselves.  I felt sorrier for them every time I thought about it.

It took a considerable amount of time to rouse my people, but eventually we were all staggering around looking for a drink.  I contacted the Party Base, awakening Flynn and running down the events of the previous evening.  He was almost as excited to hear about the natives as I had been; like myself, he fully appreciated the insane luck of finding a complete housekeeping staff totally by accident, especially one as highly motivated and intrinsically entertaining as these guys.

After the entire expeditionary force was roused and force-fed caffeinated beverages, we went hunting for our host.  We found him just outside the communal structure, polishing a brass railing and looking just a tiny bit hung over.  His suit, so impeccable yesterday, showed just a trace of rumpling, and his eyes had a little less light than they had during his celebratory dance last night.  Still, he looked positively chipper as we hauled ourselves out of the building, and it took all of my diplomatic skills to avoid whacking him with my tankard.

“Ahhh…top of the morning to you, my new friends!  Did you rest well?  I hope the 15 men with shovels and mops didn’t disturb your sleep?”

So that’s why the room smelled so much fresher than my usual resting places do on the morning after…”Um, yes, we certainly did.  Best sleep I’ve had in days.  And yourself?”

He looked sheepish.  “I had a bit of a…stomach problem, you might say.  But that’s all behind me now, in a properly literal sense.”

It was much too early for dwarf humor.  “I see.  Uumpala, we need to get back to our people and plan for the evacuation of yours.  How long will it take you to get everyone ready?”

“Oh, not much time.  Few of us have any possessions that cannot be left behind.  In fact, many of us prefer to begin our new lives with a clean slate, if you will.  I can have my people ready to depart at your camp by tomorrow morning.”

A glance at Hardemann, who nodded, confirmed that the time would be sufficient.  “Perfect.  We’ll be ready.  You know where we’re camped?”

“Of course, Commodore.  Of course.  We have been observing your entire party since your arrival.  And I must say that if your camp is any indication, even our housekeeping skills may be hard pressed aboard your ship and hotel.”

“Ummm…yeah.  I did mention to someone that we should bring a portable latrine…”

With an awkward silence, we left the little village and returned to Party Camp.

There were 26 hours until the window opened and Alden pulled us out.  I called a meeting of the officers, where we put together a plan to get everyone offworld in one quick shot.  We had let Hardemann do some math to make sure it would work, and then we placed the transport pattern enhancers around the Party clearing.    With luck, Alden would figure out what was happening and beam everything inside the enhancer field up.  Of course, he might just as easily encounter a problem with this many unknown life-forms in the beam and merge us all into a single massive blue-and-tan drinking, cleaning blob…but I was trying not to think along those lines.

The bulk of the following day and night were filled with party games, heavy intoxication, and random periods of unconsciousness.  A number of the Quoompa Loompas came by early to either gawk at us or follow us around cleaning.  They quickly became acquainted with a few basic rules:  If it ain’t empty, it ain’t trash; If it’s still smoking, leave it alone, and If the Commodore’s still moving, don’t put him in a body bag.

Eventually, the sun rose on what should have been a scene of immense destruction and chaos…but instead, we awoke to find the camp struck and the area policed, with only the necessary morning coffee, pop-tart,  and liquor containers still standing open.  Standing happily around the area were 200 little blue men in lederhosen, all smiling faintly and humming a communal tune.  Once they noticed our wakefulness, they sang to us.

Quoompa Loompa oompety hey,
Looks like this will be a marvelous day.
Our new friends are setting us free,
To dust, clean, and disinfect with esprit.

It’s quite a shock to get off this dull sphere,
Where every day we’ve been living in fear.
Now we can spend our lives in pure joy,
Washing and drying for girls and boys,
And perhaps even a Klingon.

Quoompa Loompa doompety doo,
If you’re landlocked, here’s a lesson for you.
Just have a skill that will extricate you,
Like the Quoompa Loompa doompety do.

As I looked around the assembled crowd, I had a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.  Here we were doing some real good…I mean, real magnanimous and selfless good…and it felt great.  Sure, we were planning on capitalizing on the skills and enthusiasm of these little housekeeping folks, but we were also saving them from an otherwise endless and dull life, with nothing more to look forward to than the occasional eating of a friend by a hideous monster or the rare spot of dirt to clean up.  We were saving an entire bloody race from extinction, and it felt pretty damn fine.

Commander Thomas’ voice boomed across the clearing, “Fifteen minutes to window.”  Men and women groggily pulled on uniforms and filled drinking vessels.  Commander Hardemann was performing a last check of the pattern enhancers, which were set in a ring enclosing the entire area and had begun emitting a pleasant whine and a soft, purple glow.

Candy joined me with a steaming mug of something warm and invigorating as I sought Flynn out.  He was upending the last keg of Guinness into his mouth.  He dropped it with a satisfied belch.

“Morning, Michael.  Did you enjoy your little Landing Party?”

“I sure think so.  At least, what I can remember was a blast.  Sure wish I could remember when I agreed to let them shave my entire body, though.”  He tried to raise an eyebrow, but the lack of one sort of confused the whole attempt.

“Not to worry, my friend.  We can glue something on, I’m sure.”  I slapped him on the back and turned to see if we were ready.

Around the clearing, Casual crew and Quoompa Loompas alike were waiting with anticipation for the moment of transport.  The little aliens had a pretty good idea what to expect, having read it from our surface thoughts, so there was no point in scaring them with any proper explanations of the amazing dangers involved in the upcoming operation.  A few of the Quoompas had made the mistake of reading Ogg’s thoughts on the matter, and were now lying facedown near his comatose form in a sort of smurfy circle.

Eventually, just as my highly spiked espresso was running out, the enhancers flickered brightly and the world went black.  Moments or a lifetime later, our atoms came back together on one of the Hotel’s industrial-size cargo transporter pads.

“Welcome back , Commodores.  I see we’ll be having some guests for dinner.”  Alden’s holographic head smiled amusedly above the console.  “I am happy to report that I was able to extract all 222 life-forms from within the zone of the pattern enhancers.  Unfortunately , due to power and range considerations, I will have to delay retrieval of your supply and sample cases until the next window.”

“That’s just peachy, Alden.  Swank job bringing us home!  I need you to work with Zelda to get our new friends squared away, and we’ll want a staff meeting in, oh, 6 hours or so.  OK?”

“Consider it done, sir.  Thank you for surviving.  It’s been a very rough couple of days.”

For Alden to say something like that, it must have been pure hell.  Ah, well.  As I headed for the lift, I gently asked, “Tell me all about it, my disembodied artificial friend.”

Nifty Bar

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