UBS Casual NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
[NOTE: Most of the entries for the period 18710.29-18711.04 have been lost due to data corruption, as they were some of the most recent entries on record when the Humbardo Incident took place. These entries deal with Commodores Erickson and Flynn during their journey to the Federation Engineering Conference hosted by the Essex, and the Commodores’ successful attempt to publicly discredit Admiral Mallory.]
Returning home from the conference, Flynn and I were forced to endure days of congratulatory adulation from the crew and many of the guests. As most of those days were spent without any coherent higher brain functions in evidence, I cannot accurately describe the activities here…suffice it to say that the resulting video records are selling like hotcakes on the black market.
Mallory isn’t gone, but now that his credibility with the General Staff is thoroughly down the shitter, we may not be seeing him again any time soon.
And that’s fine by us.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
Alden awoke me this morning, as I regretfully ordered him to, waking me from a most amazing dream. It took me a few moments to realize that I no longer had additional limbs or a foot-long proboscis…
With a heavy sigh, I climbed off my two lovely, comatose companions and made my way to the wall-mounted Gemmorahn replicator. I ordered up several cups of Irish coffee and a few donuts to give myself the proper morning sugar shock, then pulled on a robe and wandered over to my desk. Something seemed odd, but I was nowhere near awake enough to realize just what.
“Report please, Alden.”
“Good morning, Commodore. Glad to see that a dose of high-voltage electricity will not be required to awaken you this morning.”
“Yeah…about that…when exactly did I approve the installation of shock prods in my bed?”
“Three nights ago, during a game of Truth or Dare with Captain Sulleven. You may recall that it was the same game during which you filled his quarters with a non-dairy whipped topping and…”
“Oh, that game. Right.” I really need to be more careful when I’m drinking White Lightning. “Let’s just move on to what’s going on now, shall we?”
“Refit of the Casual is proceeding nicely. Commander Fugit reports that they are almost a week ahead of schedule. There have been a number of difficulties with the warp nacelles, however, which threaten to push the timetable back to the original estimate.”
“What kind of difficulties?”
“As you know, the two nacelles are a mismatched pair. They are from the same production run and contain nearly identical componentry, but they were taken from two separate Starfleet vessels with vastly different service records. One of them has several thousand service hours, while the other – apparently from a Miranda-class frigate that was used infrequently by an older female admiral for materiel procurement missions -- has only a few hundred. Commander Fugit is concerned that balancing the warp field between these two units will prove extremely difficult. In fact, he has some reservations about whether it will be possible at all at speeds above warp 7.”
“How very disappointing. What’s your analysis?” I ordered up a large plate of bacon to add some grease to the sugar, caffeine, and alcohol already present in my system. It’s always good to have nutritional balance, right?
“My primary computer core aboard the Casual is not yet back on-line. However, based on the data provided by Commander Fugit, I believe I may be able to make some adjustments to the field coils that will alleviate the problem. Solving it, however, may be significantly more difficult. As you know, these early Leeding units are notoriously difficult to balance properly even when manufactured in pairs using the same component lots. In this case, balancing their warp field is going to require more luck than engineering skill.”
“But Alden, luck is something we possess in disproportionate quantities.”
Alden shrugged, something only possible when his image momentarily sprouted shoulders. “That may be true, but I am still concerned. Even a relatively minor warp field imbalance could put an effective and permanent end to our long streak of favorable probability.”
“I’m sure you’ll manage. What else? How are the Quoompa Loompas working out?”
“Our new housekeeping staff is doing an amazing job, far beyond Madame Zelda’s expectations. They have taken to their housekeeping tasks with a gusto I have previously witnessed only during one of your power drinking rituals. The asteroid has never been cleaner or better organized. Several governments have made inquiries about them, mainly requesting their services for various official functions. Madame Zelda has steadfastly refused, of course.”
“Of course. They’re free to do as they wish, but there’s no point confusing them with too many choices, right?”
“Surely you are correct, but the point is moot in any case, as Uumpala is fully aware of the inquiries. He has stated that his people will not leave the Casual’s service in the foreseeable future.”
“Man, do I love that guy! Loyal, dedicated, and an excellent work ethic. Remind me to raise his salary.”
“The Goddess-Empress has already made him the highest-paid individual in our employ.”
“Beat me to it, eh? Ah, well. I figure out something nifty for him. Has he selected a housekeeping crew for the Casual?”
“I believe he has. 20 of his people, hand-picked for their ability to work in cramped and chaotic conditions, have been conducting training in Hallucinodeck 3 for two weeks.”
“Only 20?” It seemed too large a task for so small a group. I mean, the Casual is a lot smaller than the Hotel, but we do try to make the most of the space we have.
“He started out with 100. The rest have washed out of the training.”
“I see. So we have a Housekeeping Special Forces Unit, eh?”
“That would be an accurate analogy, yes.”
“This should be nothing if not interesting. I assume he has the rest of his folks getting us ready for the Casual’s homecoming?”
“Indeed. During your brief sojourn with Commodore Flynn, they completed a full cleaning of the Hotel, including the amphitheater, the airlocks, the Hallucinodecks, the hangars, and the outside surface. They also located several new areas that we are evaluating for their future hospitality potential.”
“New areas? How did we not notice those before?”
“You had listed them as ‘chapels’ during the original survey. Once they were so stigmatized, nobody ever went into one to check. And I must admit I was never bored enough to take a second look myself.”
I didn’t really recall that part of the survey; but all things considered, that wasn’t a surprise. I did recall strapping a couple bottles of Jim Beam to my helmet and connecting them to my oxygen feeds, though. “So what are they, then?”
“There is actually some debate over their intended purpose. My search of the Hotel’s original database indicates that they are mostly staff meeting rooms and storage areas. But there are several small chambers spread throughout the Hotel whose function is somewhat…interesting.”
“Your definition of interesting and mine are seldom seen together in public. But go ahead; let’s see if we can at least get them in the same room.”
“Sir. The rooms in question are ‘alcohol reclamation chambers.’ According to the data, they were used to recycle potent potables into the main bar areas for redistribution.”
“Recycle from where, exactly?”
“From inside the guests, Commodore. They contain a very specific sort of Gemmorahn transporter, which scans the guest and removes any trace of undigested alcohol from their system. It then separates it into component beverages and holds it in buffer storage until a quantity sufficient for a full container of a given alcohol is reclaimed. At that point, it delivers it to one of the Hotel bars for redistribution.”
I had stopped eating and was staring at Alden’s head in the monitor as though he had just given me the recipe for one of those delicacies that you absolutely love until someone tells you what’s in it. “You’re kidding.”
“No, sir. There is a very high probability that I am being completely serious. From what I can ascertain from the scant records of these chambers, they were installed near the end of the Hotel’s previous life as a last-ditch cost-cutting measure. They were never very popular, unfortunately, and they were closed off within a matter of days.”
“Imagine that.” I shuddered at the thought of drinking the same snakebite over and over again…talk about an abuse of alcohol! Sure, the replicator system worked by reusing all the Hotel’s waste and recycling it, but that was different. In that case, the waste was broken down into component elements. This, on the other hand, was positively…nasty.
“Has Madame Zelda said anything about them?”
“No, sir. But based on your expressions upon hearing the details, I believe that you are both in agreement on the subject.”
Thank Bacchus for that! There was no way the Hotel was going to serve sloppy seconds of that variety. The very thought of drinking something that had just been removed from the stomach of someone else was only a tad bit more disturbing than the thought of, say, removing my own teeth with pliers. And what kind of reputation would we get if guests ever discovered that the very expensive, non-synthetic beverages we served in our dispensaries might well have passed through several of their fellow revelers before coming to rest in a glass handed to them? It wasn’t exactly evil, but it was something deeply disturbing on a level below even my normal sinking depth. There was no way I would…”repackage” proper dispensary stocks after consumption and try to pass them off as the pristine article.
On the other hand…
“Alden, can the system be modified?”
“In what way, Commodore?”
“Well, could we have it simply combine the output into a single beverage?”
“That would be a relatively simple modification. Quite easily accomplished.”
“Excellent. See to it. Have the end result put into large jugs and sent to all Hotel bars. Label them Horta Restorative.” Not a recycled name-brand drink; a totally original, one-of-a-kind-in-every-bottle bit of swill that only very unscrupulous guests would ever touch.
And we get a lot of those.
“As you wish, Commodore. But I must warn you that it may be a very nasty combination; in some cases, it could even be toxic.”
“Put some disclaimers on the label, along with a warning or two, and make sure that we don’t actually produce a bottle that will kill within the first few shots. I guarantee that the next time somebody walks up to a bar and says ‘Surprise me!,” they’ll definitely be surprised.”
“Indeed.” With a faint smile, Alden’s virtual severed head continued the morning report.
There was nothing much actually going on. The Hotel proper would be ready to resume normal operations in a few days, but Flynn wanted to wait until the Casual’s return to reopen for daily business. Zelda and Sulleven agreed, so I made it unanimous, on the caveat that if the refit delays began to get nasty we would still open based on her scheduled return date. That gave us two weeks to get everything ready for a grand re-opening celebration. The handful of VIP’s we were entertaining during our “closed” period was rather small, easily moved around as the preparations progressed.
It was at about this time that I happened to notice my reflection in the huge mirrors over my bed. The subtle wrongness I had felt earlier suddenly leapt straight into the forefront, and I had to blink a lot to make sure that what I was seeing wasn’t just a trick of the light or my frequently untrustworthy vision.
“Alden, what the hell is wrong with me?”
Alden’s image looked at me in a scrutinizing way for a long moment. Then he did it again. A slightly amused look came over him, which he quickly suppressed.
“Commodore…you are green.”
And so I was. My entire body was now a uniform shade of green, from head to toe. Dropping my garment, I stood and stared in utter disbelief at my own colorful reflection. I grabbed a bottle of rum and hit it hard, but all that did was calm me down. I remained quite inexplicably…green.
“Alden? A little help here?”
“I regret to say that I have no idea what the cause of this pigmentation might be. You certainly scan as otherwise normal; I must admit that I thought my visual sensors in your quarters were simply obscured with lime gelatin again. Shall I request a medical team?”
“YES! I look like a goddamn Orion slave girl, for Bacchus’ sake!”
“Not precisely, Commodore, but…”
“Alden, shut up.”
I sat down on the bed and stared at all the parts of me that should never, ever be green. What the hell had I been doing last night, anyway?
“Alden?” I said, a bit more sheepishly than I normally would.
“Umm…any clue as to how I got to looking like a humanoid avocado?”
“I am sorry, but I really have no idea. However, you and Commodore Flynn were entertaining yourselves and several ladies in the transporter buffer for several hours, so perhaps that would be a good place to begin the investigation.”
“No, don’t worry about it. Too much trouble. As long as it comes off, everything will be just peachy.”
“Based on the penetration of the color, it may take a while to remove it.”
“Swell. Can you handle the homecoming planning if I’m out of it for a few days?”
“Alden, I’m gonna let you plan this one. After all, it’s your return as well. And she was your ship – back when you had a body – before she fell into my amazingly dangerous hands. Knock yourself out.”
Alden’s image paused in reflection. He almost seemed to be on the verge of tears. “Thank you, Commodore. You have my word that I won’t disappoint you.”
“I know you won’t, my old and properly flesh-toned friend.”
At about that time, the medical team arrived to remove the stunning greenness from me. I surrendered to their gentle ministrations.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
Feeling soggy, I awoke in a regen tank. The warm, womblike embrace of the thick gelatinous fluid made consciousness more an all-out war than a mere struggle.
Eventually, I opened my eyes to regard Commander Thomas. He was cleaning one of his many Dazer pistols. Presently, he looked up and noticed my dawning consciousness.
“Morning, boss. How’re you feeling?”
I considered carefully before answering. “Like a fish in some kind of nasty sauce. Any idea why I’m in this thing instead of my more traditional very large bed?”
“Yep. The medics had some kind of trouble removing the green-ness. They eventually decided to just scrape off a few layers of your skin and let the tank regrow them.”
“How many layers?”
“Um…all of them.”
“Swell. How long have I been in here?” I reached up and noticed that my beard was a bit more unkempt than usual.
“Nine days, give or take a few hours. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed much. Alden’s been handling the return party details, and Flynn and Sulleven are arranging the work parties and the other details. Casual is doing fine and is still well on schedule for rendezvous in a little over eight days.”
“Great. How did you end up with the babysitting job?”
“I just got tired of drinking alone. Figured you’d be pretty good company, being comatose and all.”
“Good call. Okay, let me get the hell outta this tank and we’ll head down to Moe’s for some serious drinking before anyone notices my wakeful state.”
Thomas helped me free myself from the embrace of the gel, and I stumbled into the shower. A little later, we sneaked out of the hospital toward Flaming Moe’s.
Once safely ensconced in my personal booth, I clicked on the tabletop holo and checked on the preparations. Everything looked great; Alden was really going all out to make me proud. The basic plan called for a three-day welcome back party on the Hotel followed by a week-long cruise around the local systems with the most high-ranking of the attending guests. This would be followed up with another welcome back shindig, then a finale celebration with the officers and crew.
I decided to leave Alden alone and concentrate on rebuilding my tolerance. Nearly ten days in a regen tank can really take that out of you. Within six hours, Commander Thomas and I were feeling no pain, and a bevy of ladies had joined us in our reverie.
It was a pleasant, peaceful evening. If only I’d known what was to come in just a few short days…
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
I awoke without prompting this morning, an event that amused the hell out of my three gorgeous bedmates. They did their best to keep me in bed, but today it was not to be.
Today my true love was coming back to me.
I dressed in my finest toga, with all the proper accoutrements. I holstered my gold-plated Dazer and settled my solid platinum flask in its pocket after filling it with the most expensive single malt Scotch I had. I even checked myself in the mirror before exiting my quarters and heading for Hotel Operations.
As I entered, the assembled crew showed a moment of seriousness and embarrassed the living shit out of me by snapping to attention. I actually had to shout an “As you fucking were!” at them before they lapsed into smirks and resumed their duties.
Sulleven came over to me. He was also dressed in his finest, with a large flute of Dom in his hand.
“Good morning, Commodore. You’re up rather early.”
I motioned to a nearby Barbie for some breakfast. “Can’t sleep through this, Captain. My lady is almost home.”
“Indeed. She’s just 14 minutes out. Fugit reports no problems. The guests are gathered around the observation lounges and the big holo-displays. We have 17 metric tons of confetti ready for release, along with 934 kegs prepared for tapping, several thousand bottles of champagne ready to pop, numerous dancers prepared to do their thing…and then there are the lions.”
I almost bit my tongue on the rum cheese Danish. “Lions?”
“Yes, sir. Alden thought it might be interesting to release a number of drunken lions into the Hotel corridors just as Casual docks. Quite a novel idea, in my opinion.”
Perhaps I should have paid a bit more attention to the details of this little party. “I…see. Out of curiosity, how’s our insurance?”
Sulleven was about to answer when Alden’s head materialized over the large holo plate in the center of the chamber. Even he had risen to the occasion; his sideburns were crisper than ever, and his image included the top half of a body, complete with a dress toga.
“Good morning, Commodore. I am fully linked to my Casual self. She is scheduled to drop out of warp in six minutes. Tugs are standing by to bring her in to umbilical and gangway position within five minutes of that. All arrival parties are fully ready.”
“Excellent as always, Alden. Good work.”
We all watched in the near-silence of the heartily breakfasting as our flagship dropped to sublight speed and approached the Hotel. As she came closer, I was overcome with a deep and overpowering pride. My lady was home.
The screen split, and Commander Fugit’s smiling face appeared. He looked almost as pleased as I felt. I’m sure that it was taking a good bit of his self-control to keep from making that obnoxious noise of his, but he apparently had decided not to spoil the moment with any unnecessary utterances.
“Permission to dock, Commodores?”
In almost-perfect unison, Flynn and I shouted, “Granted!” A cacophony of cheers arose in Ops, and was certainly echoed throughout the entire Hotel. The party was almost ready to begin in earnest.
The Casual began swinging gracefully into docking position, rotating on her axis to line up the hangar bay with the Hotel docking area reserved for the purpose. As she did, we all got a good, long look at her new nacelles.
There was sudden silence. We all stared slack-jawed at the screen, at the long Leeding engines so recently added to our previously warp-deficient flagship. They were beautiful, they were magnificent, they were…
Flynn broke the silence. “Allan, why is one purple and one pink?”
…they were purple and pink.
I glanced to Fugit’s image, still hovering in the display. “Commander? Would you care to comment on the color scheme of our new FTL systems?”
Fugit smiled even wider, if that was possible. “Like it? That was my idea. I figured that since they’re mismatched in every other way, why not color too?”
“Of course. How silly of me not to realize…” I made a mental note to have his limbs “mismatched” at my earliest convenience.
Disturbing colors aside, Casual mated with the docking collar perfectly, triggering a wail of happy sirens throughout the entire asteroid. As the umbilicals were attached, a much larger-than-life hologram of Alden appeared in the large central cavern. “Ladies and gentlemen, and honored sentients of other genders, I declare the homecoming celebration underway!”
And so it began. Flynn, Sulleven and I stepped back from the consoles so that Alden could beam us down to the docking bay, where we would be expected to give the requisite speeches and such. After that, we could finally get aboard and take a look at our refitted ship.
I could hardly bear the waiting.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Stardate 18802.22 - Continued
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
By the time we were finally able to board the Casual, the three of us were well into our cups. We had to endure not only our own (mercifully brief) speeches, but those of a few high-ranking folks who had insisted on praising us, followed by a rundown of the agenda for the next few days. Thus, the Casual had been docked for almost four hours before I could finally set foot aboard my cherished vessel.
Coming aboard in the hangar, I was immediately stunned by the differences. Most of the really bad stains and cigarette burns were gone, and there was fresh paint and trim everywhere. A mini-dispensary had been installed along the bulkhead just inside, and we all stopped to order several drinks before proceeding inward.
We hopped on a turbolift and headed for the RecDeck. A proper inspection of the Main Dispensary was obviously the first priority. I was pleasantly surprised when the turbolift started its journey smoothly, instead of lurching like a drunken blindfolded rhino. It would make meeting new people in the lifts a bit harder, but I had to think it was a good thing in the long run.
As the doors opened onto the RecDeck, our senses were assaulted by a tumultuous cry of “Welcome aboard!” by the assembled crew waiting within. Fugit had gathered up the entire repair crew, along with several folks I had to assume were from McAllister’s shipyard, and stood smiling behind the Dispensary holding a very large glass of something misty and black. To one side, Commander Lanchellsi looked positively gorgeous in a diaphanous peignoir. She was standing with a tall, darkly handsome male dressed all in black and leather.
The RecDeck itself was resplendent in new carpeting and wall art, with wonderful diffused lighting and completely new seats and tables. There was dark wood and brass everywhere, giving the entire place a very warm and inviting look. There was no way for even the most discriminating guest to discover that the wood and brass were actually hullmetal-strong polymers, immune to staining and direct attempts to mar their surfaces. A great holographic hearth ringed with bench seating occupied a section of the starboard side, and the port side held several casino tables and slot machines. An underlit dance floor dominated the central forward area, complete with an enclosed DJ booth and disco lights. The areas were open to each other at the moment, but I could see the retractable faux-wood panels that could turn the area into a number of separate rooms when needed.
We walked towards the dispensary, accepting greetings and drinks as we slowly neared our goal. We finally reached the bar proper about fifteen minutes later. Fugit stood behind it, looking much like a proper Medical officer. So long as nobody let him actually mix a drink, the illusion would hold.
“Welcome aboard, Commodore.”
“And welcome back, Commander. I love what you’ve done with the place.”
“Thank you, sir. Once we got the worst bits taken care of, it was actually a lot of fun. Mr. McAllister and his people were very helpful. I think we may even have a few asking to join the crew.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged. Your staff has been in need of some new blood for a while now.”
“Well, we do lose a lot of it. Speaking of which, I have something for you.” Reaching beneath the bar, Fugit pulled out a cylindrical wooden box. He smiled wickedly as he handed it over.
“What’s this?” As I took it, I could tell that there was a bottle inside. You learn to recognize these things as a Barfleet officer.
“We found it behind a bulkhead in Mallory’s old quarters. As you requested, we completely gutted them; there’s nothing left that has touched any part of him. We were kind of surprised to find this; I had to Dazer three of the repair crew to keep them from opening it themselves.”
Curious, and definitely wary, I rotated the box in my hands. The finish looked to have been quite lavish once upon a time; it and the text on it was now faded to nothingness. It was damn old. I carefully removed the lid and opened up my gift.
I must have stood staring at the contents of the box for several minutes, because when I came back to reality everyone in the room had gone completely silent. I looked slowly around, then back to Fugit.
“Commander…I don’t know what to say. This is…incredible.”
“I thought it would be something you might appreciate. Is it good stuff?”
I looked back down to box’s cargo, the bottle that had been nestled within. A bottle of Macallan 51-year-old Scotch, casked in 1948, bottled in 1999, and numbered 333. Only 366 bottles like this had ever existed, numbered for each of the 366 days in 1948.
“Commander Fugit, this is one of the finest gifts anyone has ever given me. Anyone. Ever. I don’t know what to say.”
During my absence from reality, Lanchellsi and her companion had made their way over to my side. “You could say thanks, Commodore.” She smiled broadly, but I didn’t think it was because of the gift. Glancing over, I noticed that she looked very…happy.
“Of course. Thank you, Commander Fugit. For this, you can have anything you want. Just name it.”
He seemed taken a bit aback by the offer, but recovered quickly after only a couple of quacking noises. He looked at Sulleven for a minute, peering past me to where my XO was trying to catch a few minutes of sleep on a table. “How about a solemn oath that I will never, ever be promoted to XO?”
“Done,” I replied without any trace of hesitation, unwittingly setting a very important precedent. I shook Fugit’s hand and returned my attention to the bottle. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a new feature of the Main Dispensary: The Relax’s Battle Bar had been installed behind it, cleaned up and looking good as new. I stepped behind the bar and opened the Maximum Alcohol Survivability Chamber on the Battle Bar’s side. Placing the box within, I activated the Gemmorahn stasis field generator within the chamber and locked the compartment. The Macallan was now as safe as it could possibly be. Well, almost…
“Alden, I have an order to give you.”
Alden’s entire body appeared next to me behind the bar, shocking the hell out of me and scaring one of the Barbies so badly that she nearly spilled a drink. “Yes, Commodore?”
“I had some holographic improvements made to the entire RecDeck,” Fugit offered. “They’re not as good as the Hallucinodeck units, but they are convincing.”
I had to agree. If Alden’s projection were any more lifelike, I would be hard-pressed not to offer him a drink.
“Alden, I need you to ensure that this chamber can only be opened by myself, and only when I’m sober.”
“That would mean that it has been closed forever, Commodore.”
“Maybe. But if I were to wake up one morning after a particularly successful drinking binge to discover that I had run out of cheap stuff and opened that baby, I would probably toss myself out the nearest airlock without a suit. This order could probably save my life.”
“As you wish, Commodore. Consider it done.” Alden’s projection bent over the Battle Bar and, with a little flourish, made the chamber door vanish into the surrounding metal. Gotta love holography.
Stepping back from behind the bar, I walked back to Lanchellsi. “So, Commander…who’s your friend?”
“Commodore Erickson, this is Remington McAllister. He’s been very anxious to meet you, sir.” McAllister took a step forward and put out his hand, into which I placed a very large drink. Unfazed, he clinked glasses with me and took a healthy swallow.
“A pleasure to finally meet you, Commodore. I’ve heard a lot of things about you, mainly from my lovely fiancée here.”
“Fiancée, is it? Well, congratulations. You’ll have to let the Casual host the reception, of course. And as for what you’ve heard…believe every word.”
We wandered over to a corner table well away from my sleeping XO and discussed the refit, the Federation, the Hotel, and a great many other things. Somewhere in there, I learned that MacAllister had once been a Starfleet officer himself, the chief engineer of the Potempkin before he decided to go into business for himself. He had become a very wealthy man since then.
I called Flynn and Sulleven over to tell them the news about Lanchellsi’s impending matrimony, after which the three of us excused ourselves and headed back to the turbolift. The party was great, but there was someplace we needed to go, and it couldn’t wait any longer. We politely asked those waiting for the lift to catch the next one, then looked around at each other in an awkward silence as the doors closed. Finally, as if on cue, we spoke our destination together.
We said nothing to one another as the turbolift swiftly complied, holding our collective breath as the doors hissed open onto our newly repaired and redecorated nerve center.
It was magnificent. Fugit had found somebody to blend Scottish and Roman into something truly, frighteningly unique. I slowly walked down the stairs towards the Chair. Even from behind, the new seat looked pleasantly inviting.
Flynn put a hand on my shoulder, gently. “Sorry, Commodore. It’s my shift. I’m afraid I get to sit down first.”
I knew that idea would come back to bite me. I stepped back, and Flynn sat down in the black-leather-upholstered chair. A temperature-controlled drink holder and a self-cleaning ashtray immediately sprang out, waiting for action. A small panel with heat and massage controls lit up, and an upholstered footrest slid silently out. “Now this is more like it, Allan. This is what every proper Commanding Officer needs.”
I nodded agreement, and continued my look around. All the seats were comfy and apparently attached to the deck magnetically, with controls to release them if needed. They also each sported seatbelts, which were deployed at the moment but were obviously designed to retract into invisibility if so desired. The consoles all featured padded edges and integrated drink holders. Low couches were installed around the central pit, which could be retracted into the deck at the push of a button. The viewer had obviously been upgraded to Gemorrahn holo-tech, and the current display of the ship itself looked so real that I thought I could step through and touch it.
It was a beautiful bridge, indeed.
After Flynn finished getting acquainted with our new seat, he reluctantly surrendered it to me. And I had to agree with him: This was one fine place to set my ass. I couldn’t wait to use it for our little shakedown cruise in three days.
Eventually, we let Alex have the seat for a while. Within 10 seconds, he was sound asleep and snoring like a Mugato. Given the nature of the day, Flynn and I decided to let him sleep for a while. With a silent toast to our XO, we quietly left the bridge to explore the rest of our refitted flagship.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
Flynn and I, along with several other officers, completed our “official” tour this morning. Everything looks (and smells) perfect. We were all quite anxious to begin the week-long shakedown party cruise.
After a hasty breakfast party in the Hotel, we all went back to our various quarters to dress for the occasion. Rather than a toga, I decided to don my finest smoking jacket and silk pants. This was a very special day, after all. No ordinary Barfleet uniform for me!
I considered having a meeting before the castoff, but thought better of it once I realized that I’d rather have my officers asleep at their posts than in the conference room. As the moment of departure loomed, the invited cruise passengers settled into quarters and the newly-formed Casual Housekeeping Squad (nicknamed The Busy Blue Berets by Sulleven, a name which seemed destined to catch on no matter how may times I hit him with a stick) started clearing off the hangar deck so that the clamshell doors could actually be closed.
I settled into the oh-so-comfy Command Chair and looked around at my bridge crew. Fugit sat ready at the Engineering console, which looked somewhat strange now that the charred hole from the Subspace Rubber-Band device was missing. Havoc had taken the weapons station himself, and was smiling drunkenly at the new console and its very attractive blinking lights. Von Matic stood behind him, ready to seize weapon control should Horatio have a sudden attack of not wanting Otto’s customary seat. Ogg was looking positively…well, positive…and was reclining on one of the new bench seats along the starboard curve of the pit. Dr. Agloval, our unofficial temporary CMO and brutally reckless shuttle pilot, was across from him on the port side. He hadn’t said anything, but I was pretty sure that he had chosen that spot in order to take over the helm in case an opportunity to do so presented itself. Hardemann sat at his science station, staring into the improved (and obviously functional) peep show device. I had no idea what improvements had been made to it, or what its present function was, but it did seem to radiate a much nicer shade of blue.
Flynn stood to my right, and Sulleven to my left. Alden’s face was displayed on several monitors, each one independent and with a different background, giving the overall impression of a horde of disembodied formerly human Captains staring into the bridge through the windows. Several scantily-clad Barbies and Kens stood ready to deploy drink trays with a celebratory champagne toast the moment we were officially under way. Candy was near the Battle Bar, ready to handle my drink order personally.
“Alden,” I asked, “are we ready?”
Instead of replying with one of the dozen or so images already present, Alden decided to once again enjoy his new holo-emitters and appeared, full-bodied, standing near the main viewer. His image was dressed in a formal Greek toga, and came complete with the simulacrum of a golden tankard. Apparently, he didn’t want to miss the toast either. He had discovered that his image caused some distress to those who couldn’t tell he wasn’t real, and had decided to appear with a slightly insubstantial look instead.
Great. The ghost of the late Captain Talmain was on my bridge.
The ghost swept an arm across the viewer, and the Master Systems Display appeared. “All starship systems are nominal, Commodore. We are ready to depart.”
I took one final glance around. The time had come.
“Captain Sulleven, take her out.”
With a smile, Alex began issuing the requisite orders. Within a few moments, all connections to the Hotel were detached. Maneuvering thrusters gently nudged Casual away from her ass-first berth against the asteroid, putting enough distance between us and our hotel to allow proper maneuvering. As our multicolored nacelles slipped free of the deep channels recently cut into the rock to accommodate them, Alden announced that the ship was free and clear to navigate.
Alex looked over at me. “Where to, Commodore?”
An excellent question, and one I probably should have given some thought to before this moment. As I sat pondering it, Hardemann offered an answer of his own.
“Commodore, if I may, I suggest we head back to the Meviannos system.”
“Why is that, Everett?” Not that I had any real objection to our birthplace as a shakedown destination, but I was curious as to why our Science Officer suggested it.
“Sir, it’s one of the few courses we could set that we have proper astrometric data for. We have accurate calculations of warp factor variance and subspace density along the route, which will allow us to perform proper testing and calibration on our new warp engines. Alternately, we could head for Sector 001, since there exists a well-traveled Warp Highway not far from our present position which would also allow for testing.”
I had no intention of heading for Earth, even if we did turn around before we got there. Meviannos seemed like a much better choice for a renegade Earth starship. Even with tacit Federation approval of our existence, I saw no reason to take stupid risks with our continued – and very enjoyable -- existence.
“Very well, Commander. Alex, make for Meviannos.”
“Aye, sir. Navigation, plot course for the Meviannos system. Helm, standby to engage at Warp 2.”
As my uncharacteristically competent bridge crew went about their duties, drinks were passed out all around. In less than a minute, the course was laid in and everyone was ready to celebrate our first official entry into FTL under our own power. Alex struck an almost-dramatic pose near the helm, with one arm partially outstretched towards the viewer and the other holding his Midori Sour at the ready.
With the touch of a panel, Casual accelerated to superluminal speed.
Tears that I had not expected suddenly welled up in my eyes. My ship was a Starship again. For the first time in a very long time, I sat and savored the moment without bothering to savor a drink.
As Casual settled in at Warp 2, Alden opened a window on the main viewer and displayed warp data. “Field integrity is nominal. Warp envelope is stable to well within acceptable tolerances.”
As I dried my eyes, I noticed that the entire bridge crew was looking my way. In the sudden surge of emotion, I had almost neglected my sacred duty.
I took care of that immediately. Raising my glass, I hit the shipwide commo push and did my duty. “To the Casual!”
“TO THE CASUAL!” The celebratory toast was followed by a cacophony of cheers, whistles, belches, and other noises that would have been extremely disturbing in other circumstances. As things quieted down to their normal din, Captain Sulleven made himself heard.
“Helm, maintain course. Coordinate with Science and Engineering for speed increases based on warp field integrity.”
We all sat and drank as our XO handled the slow process of determining just how far we could trust our new engines. Hardemann and Fugit worked tensely to make precise modifications to the Warp field as our present helmsman increased our speed one fraction of a warp factor at a time.
By the time we achieved Warp 4, almost 30 minutes into the voyage, both Fugit and Hardemann had consumed heroic quantities of champagne. This meant that Hardemann was as sober as a judge, while Fugit was probably closer to falling out of his nice new seat. Still, his calculations seemed to be working fine, so I saw no need to admonish him for enjoying the moment. According to reports, the guests were enjoying the new amenities with gusto. The SHS was on standby alert, waiting for someone to hit one of the newly-installed “Housekeeping Emergency” buttons.
As I accepted my ninth Snakebite from Candy, we were accelerating to Warp 6.6. I felt the subtle vibration of the engines…falter. Everything seemed to suddenly slow down, and the image on the main viewer changed from a pleasant warp-shifted starfield to a nasty-looking tunnel of sickly yellow. It took me a moment to realize that the change was noticed by everyone, and not just a product of my own well-liquored brain.
“What’s happening?” I tried to ask…but it came out more like “Wwhhhaaaaatttssss hhhaaaappppennnniiiinnnnnggggg?” To myself, I sounded like an amazingly drunk walrus whose voice was being heard through several layers of cotton.
This was not good.
The ship shuddered violently, and I noticed that Ogg had fallen from his seat onto the deck, where he promptly commenced to drooling. Around the bridge, the new drink holders had engaged their emergency systems, gripping the glassware in their care with soft rubber fingers. The main lights slowly flickered, to be lazily replaced by the emergency panels in their no-nonsense shade of red. Alden’s hologram vanished, and several crewmembers seemed far too panic-stricken to do anything but stare at the viewer open-mouthed.
Through the strange roar that had taken the place of all other sound, I heard Hardemann’s distorted voice. “Thhhhe wwwaarrrrrrrrrpppp fffffiieeeeellllllddddd iiiisssss ddddeeeeeessssstttttaaaaaaaabbbbbiiiiillllliiiiiiiiiiizzzzzzzziiiiinnnnnggggggg!!!!! Wwwweeeevvvvveeee ggggootttt aaaa wwwwwoooorrrrrrrmmmmmhhhhhooooollllllleee!!!!! Wwwwwweeeee nnnnneeeeeeeedddddd tttttooooo ddddrrrrroopppppp ttttoooo iiiiimmmmmmmppppuuuuuuuuulllllssssssseee!!!!!!
Fugit looked around at him, a kind of twisted excitement on his oddly echoing face. “Nnnnnnoooooo!!!!! Wwwwwweeeeee cccccaaaaannnnnn mmmmmaaaakkkkkkkeee iiiiiittttttt! Eeeeeeaaaaaatttttt ttttthhhhheeeee ddddaaaammmmnnnnn wwwwwooooorrrrrrrrrmmmmm!!!!!!!”
A strangely difficult glance at the master chronometer showed that time had somehow slowed down. A lot. The seconds ticked along at a positively glacial pace. On the viewer, a nasty-looking hole had appeared at the end of the yellow tunnel, writhing with energy and appearing alarmingly hungry.
Some part of me knew what had happened. Our warp field had drifted into instability, and the engines had created an artificial wormhole directly ahead of us instead of shutting themselves down. Under normal conditions, ships in this situation either found a way to drop out of warp or were lost forever. But knowing what the deal was didn’t help my arms, which felt like they were encased in molasses, to move towards the command panel on the armrest. I felt like I was sinking in syrup, without all the pleasant things usually associated with that experience.
The helmsman and navigator were paralyzed, staring into the new hole in space-time as if expecting nude dancers to suddenly erupt from it. I couldn’t turn around to look at Hardemann, but I heard his drawn-out mumbling as he tried to explain the situation. It’s difficult enough to understand him without temporal distortion; as it was, I had no chance to figure out what the hell he was saying.
Fugit turned back to his console, followed by dozens of afterimages. With a high-pitched cry of “Eeeeeaaaaattttt tttthhhhheeee wwwwwooooorrrrrrrmmmmmm!” he stabbed multiple index fingers at the Warp speed controls on his Engineering master panel. As the last of the fingers connected with the button he was aiming for, the ship abruptly surged forward, and the image of the ravenous anomaly onscreen rushed to meet us.
It was about then that everything went mercifully black.
Someone was shaking me, none too gently. I opened my eyes and looked into the face of Ogg. As soon as our eyes met, the Chief Insecurity Officer let out a long sigh of relief and slumped to the deck near my feet, his duty performed.
I slowly looked around and took stock of the situation. Noticing a drink still gripped in the holder, I grabbed the glass and downed the contents to steady myself.
All around the bridge, things were a mess. Officers and crew were lying about like mannequins after a holiday sale. Most of the displays, including the main viewer, were dead. Smoke drifted from dropped cigars and overstressed consoles. A pulsing white glare told me that we had shifted to Everclear Alert status at some point, which had never seemed more appropriate.
Releasing the embrace of the seat harness, I staggered to my feet…and promptly fell over Ogg’s sleeping form. I found myself face to face with Flynn, who was still snoring around the unlit cigar in his mouth. I carefully got into a kneeling position.
“Alden? Are you there?”
There was a flickering near the main viewer as Alden’s holographic form materialized. “Yes, Commodore. I am back online.”
“What the hell happened? I remember that time went crazy, then…nothing.”
“We appear to have passed through an artificial wormhole created by a warp field instability created by our nacelles. I am currently conducting a shipwide diagnostic. Most lifeforms aboard are presently unconscious.”
“Ahhhh…yep, I seem to recall something like that. Did Fugit actually say ‘eat the worm?’?”
“I do not know, sir. My systems were badly affected when the wormhole formed, and I have no actual record of the event from bridge monitors.”
“I see. Great. Well, get the diagnostic done and report. In the meantime, see what you can do to rouse people around the ship. I’ll take care of the bridge myself.”
Alden disappeared, and I commenced to wandering around the bridge shaking the crew until they came to. After about twenty minutes, we were all back in our plush seats, feeling a good bit worse for wear. Candy and the Barbies began cleaning up spilled drinks and serving new ones. With groans and moans, the bridge crew resumed their duties.
Hardemann brought up an external display on the main viewer…but there was something most definitely wrong.
“Commander Hardemann,” Flynn asked as he relit his stogie, “what are we looking at?”
“It’s space, Commodore. And space around here seems to be very, very dark.”
And so it was. It looked a lot like a typical view from within the Star Desert of the Gothos region, but with a handful of bright spots sprinkled around for decoration.
I walked over to the Navigation console, and put my hand on Axon’s shoulder. “Any idea where we are, Justin?”
“Sorry sir, no. The inertial navigation system is still offline, and I can’t locate any nav beacons.” He sounded scared, and rightly so.
“No problem, Justin. Keep at it.” I turned to Lt. Agloval, who had taken the helm upon being roused. “Assuming we can figure out where we are, can we maneuver?”
“I don’t know, sir. I’ve got thrusters and impulse showing green, but everything that touches the Warp drive is dark. I don’t think we’ll be going too fast for a while.” Like the rest of us, he wasn’t exactly sure if he should be terrified or calm. He settled for concerned and looked around for a margarita.
Several tense minutes passed. The bridge was unnaturally quiet, with only the low hiss of the Life Support systems and Ogg’s occasional mumbles penetrating the heavy shroud of dread that was firmly settling in.
Finally, Alden broke the silence. Several bridge officers actually winced when his voice began, tearing them back from whatever precipice of despair they had been peering over.
“Commodore, I have some news. None of it is particularly good.”
“Let’s hear it. How bad can it be?”
“Quite bad, I’m afraid. In fact, I suggest we convene in the main briefing room before I continue.”
A heavy sigh escaped my lips. “Alright.” I hit the shipwide push. “All senior officers please report to the briefing room. Quickly, folks.” I closed the channel and slowly climbed to my feet.
Not exactly the kind of day I was hoping for when I got up this morning. Ah, well.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Stardate 18802.24 - Continued
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
There was a definite sense of dread in the air as my officers filed into the room. Ignoring my drink, I pretended to be interested in my fingernails so I could avoid looking into their eyes. It’s bad enough to see despair on the faces of Casual’s officers; it’s much worse to let those same officers see it on mine. Finally, Alden informed me that the entire Senior Staff was present.
I put on my best “everything’s gonna be fine” face and looked around. “OK, folks, we have some problems. But I’m sure there’s nothing too bad. We’re alive, which puts us one up on most ships that lose warp field stability in such a big way. We’ll be fine, no worries.” My reassurance helped a little, with at least Hardemann and Von Matic showing that they weren’t too far gone to drink. I joined them. After a moment, most of the others joined in.
I gave them all a minute to let the alcohol do its job, and then began the bad news. “Alden, please report.”
Alden appeared full-body, dressed in a subdued robe and slippers. “Yes sir. I will do my best to be brief.
“I will begin by mentioning that I know of only one case in which a warp-capable vessel entering the artificial wormhole created by a warp field instability survived the experience. All available data suggest that the normal outcome of such an event is the destruction or complete loss of the ship.”
Sulleven pondered this. “Are the data from the one ship that did survive helpful to our situation?”
“Not really, Captain. The ship in question is the Casual.”
“Ah. Right. Let’s move on then.”
Alden nodded, and a holographic projection of the Milky Way appeared over the table. A blue dot appeared along one spiral arm.
“This is where we were before the Incident.” The capital “I” was obvious in his voice, and he looked straight at Fugit as he spoke. “Had we elected to drop to sublight speed at that point, there is a high probability that we would still be in this vicinity.”
He paused. Above the table, the Milky Way shrank quickly and slid to one side. Across the table, another galaxy winked into existence.
“This is the galaxy known as M31, or Andromeda. It is located roughly 2.5 million light-years from our own galaxy.” This wasn’t exactly news to those present, but we waited for Alden to continue.
A blue dot appeared, almost directly between the two swirling galaxies.
“Based on the limited data we have collected so far, this is our approximate current position.”
The silence was palpable. The revelation hit us like a kick in the balls. Nobody moved; they just sat staring at the image as though it would make some kind of sense if they studied it intently enough. Finally Hardemann broke the silence, answering the question that we had all been thinking but were simply not brave enough to ask.
“Almost 600 years from home. And that’s with a functioning warp drive running at warp 9 the whole time.”
Alden cleared his virtual throat. I nodded to him to continue his report.
“Warp capability will not be an option. The dilithium crystals have suffered catastrophic degradation. They sustained the warp bubble through the wormhole, but the cost of doing so has reduced them to component elements. There is not enough material left to attempt recrystallization. We are not presently carrying spare crystals. The warp core is therefore offline. In addition, the warp coils themselves have sustained damage, and will require realignment.
“Impulse engines and auxiliary generators are nominal, and all primary systems that are not directly dependent upon the warp core are fully operational. However, given the current output levels needed to sustain party operations, auxiliary power will be exhausted in approximately nine weeks.”
Flynn spoke for us all. “My friends, we are well and truly fucked.”
As the initial shock of the gravity of our predicament wore off, glasses were again remembered. This time nobody set down a glass before finishing the contents. Remembering their duties, the single Barbie and Ken in attendance moved to get us refills.
I tried to put a positive spin on things. “Cheer up, guys! This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip! We’ll figure something out. We have plenty of time to just drift through intergalactic space while Fugit figures out a way to keep me from killing him by getting us home.”
Fugit had gone pale during Alden’s announcement. Now I saw that his hair had somehow gone from brown to white. I looked again; it was no trick of the light. My chief engineer was terrified out of his skull. I turned to Candy and asked her to get him back to his quarters and administer a sedative before he lost what little mind he had left.
Alden waited tactfully until they had departed, then went on. “Actually, Commodore, we don’t have as long as you might think. Given the additional guests currently on board for the shakedown, we will run out of critical supplies within 192 hours. Without the warp core, our Gemorrahn replicators are limited to simple conversion mode, and we will deplete our stores of convertible biomass very quickly. Our Life Support systems are also operating beyond maximum capacity, but those systems will remain within acceptable parameters for at least 2 months at current output levels. I am very sorry, Commodore.”
“Me too, old friend. Me too.”
I wanted to get up, pound my fists into the bulkhead, and run screaming down the corridors, but I knew from experience that it wouldn’t really help. Instead, I glanced down at the gleaming rank bar on my chest and considered how much heavier it had gotten in the last few minutes. My officers were looking at me, hoping against all logic and reason that I had some brilliant idea that would save our collective asses once again. I didn’t, but even so, I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of insanity. There was work to do.
“OK. We need some options, and we need ‘em quick. Horatio, you’re in charge of Engineering until Fugit’s back up and around. I want you and Everett to sit down and do some brainstorming. Flynn, reassure the guests that everything’s fine and that this is just a minor delay. Sulleven, you do the same for the crew. Nobody mentions that we’ll run out of booze and food in a week; the last thing we need is a riot. Everyone else, back to normal shifts, but try to think of something that’ll help. Anything. Questions?”
There were none. How could there be when all the answers would be the same?
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
After 3 days stranded between galaxies, most of the officers and crew are finally getting back to some kind of normal. Now that most of the shock and dismay have passed, the creative problem-solving has started creeping back and with it some truly inspired survival ideas.
Von Matic found a shuttlecraft warp core somewhere and we’ve hooked it up to the replicator systems in the galley. Thanks to that, we can convert non-organic matter into decent food again, at least on a limited scale. Why Von Matic had a shuttlecraft core in the first place is a discussion that can wait until we’re safely back home.
Yesterday, Flynn came up with a way to extend our biomass supplies by at least a few days to keep the other replicators going. It’s a bit unsettling, which is why the only ones privy to it are Flynn, Alden, and myself. He calls it “involuntary assisted weight-loss,” and we’ll play it up as a free service for our more corpulent guests should the need arise. Basically, anyone more than 25 kilos overweight will find themselves a few kg lighter each morning, until they get down to a more healthy weight. Alden assures us that the Gemmorhan transporters can do the job safely and effectively, and the replicator matter tanks will have a little more bio-material to turn into something edible. Only problem is, using the transporters – even in this limited way – eats a lot of our remaining power. We’ll save it as a last resort.
Flynn also suggested that we begin adding a mild sedative to the evening meal tonight, hoping to keep the guests sleeping for as long as possible.
Havoc and Hardemann are still locked in the Engineering conference room, where they’ve been for 52 hours. We keep sending in supplies of booze, food, and women; every once in a while they’ll send out a few empties or a very tired girl. Hopefully, they’re coming up with something useful and not just throwing themselves a private wake.
The crew has done a fantastic job of keeping the guests happy and ignorant of the true state of affairs. We’ve told them that we’ve simply had to stop and make some adjustments before continuing the shakedown, and most of them have fallen for it. The few that suspect the real situation are a handful of Starfleet officers and a Klingon General named Kozak. I’ll be briefing them later today and asking for their help.
In the meantime, Alden has picked up some odd sensor readings at extreme range. The readings alternate between a possible object and some kind of unknown energy field. Given the glaring lack of hard data on extragalactic phenomena, we have no idea what it might be. If it moves closer, maybe we’ll find out, but I’m not about to waste resources chasing down something unless it’s guaranteed to increase our odds of survival.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Stardate 18802.27 - Continued
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
Things have definitely gotten much, much weirder.
I called a dinner meeting for our “special” guests tonight, to enlist their aid in figuring out how to get us home. Not that I have any illusions that regular Starfleet personnel will be able to come up with something more creative or insane than my own crew, but sometimes a fresh perspective helps. Flynn and I joined our dinner party in the sumptuous new Officer’s Mess, behind and below the bridge.
There were four Starfleet types: Lt. Commander Renee Darvis and Lt. Serge Liqourbetter, both from Starfleet Medical; and Major Valharicus and Captain York, both Starfleet Marines. Also in attendance was General Kozak, a decorated Klingon warrior who seemed more amused than anything else. I was initially concerned that there would be tension between the Starfleet officers and the General, but the common goodwill that always pervades the Casual’s guests kept the group amiable. The fact that everyone was in personal clothing rather than uniforms – excepting Flynn and I, of course – probably helped.
As we enjoyed the opening course, I laid out the situation. I saw no reason to leave anything out, and by the time the main course arrived I had shared as much as I thought they could properly grasp. I took a large drink of my wine and sat back to await their reactions.
Major Valharicus, an intense and stocky young man with a decidedly Roman look, stared at me for several long seconds. I had the impression he was waiting for the punchline. When none was forthcoming, he shrugged and reached for the Romulan Ale.
“So,” he began, “as I understand it, we’re stranded a million light years from anywhere with no way back, dwindling supplies, limited power and zero chance of survival. Have I got that right?”
“Pretty much.” I moved to refill my glass. “But I should point out that we’ve been in plenty of situations with zero chance for survival, and we’ve gotten rather proficient at beating the odds.”
General Kozak let out an astonishing belch. The Starfleet officers looked at him with distaste, but I smiled approvingly. “From what I’ve heard, Commodore, you’ve simply been very lucky. Perhaps that luck has finally run out. In any case, depending on chance to smile on you – in battle or in life – is a sure path to defeat.”
“Quite true, General…but we don’t so much rely on luck as create our own. In any case, I’m open to any suggestions you may have.”
After a few seconds, Darvis spoke. “Have you considered closing down the dispensaries and other guest areas and switching over to a more survival-oriented routine?”
I sighed. Starfleet types. “While that may well gain us a few extra days’ of survival, it will also give us a ship full of guests who are unhappy, sober, and afraid. Aboard this ship, that’s completely unacceptable. We will keep our guests entertained for as long as possible, no matter what emergency we’re dealing with behind the scenes. That’s who we are, and that’s what we do.”
“So, it’s ‘eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,’ eh?”
“That’s pretty much it. I take it you object.”
Darvis smiled. “Actually, I don’t. If we have to die, we might as well die happy.” Maybe she did get it.
Kozak nodded vigorously. He also seemed to appreciate my position.
Valharicus was dubious. “So, what happens when the supplies run out and your guests suddenly have nothing to keep them happy? You’re gonna have a major shitstorm on your hands.”
“At that point, or rather just before we get to that point, Narcissus gas will be introduced into the guest cabins. It’s an advanced sleep gas we’ve developed that can be used for several days. If we can find a way back while the guests slumber, we go home and wake them up. If not…” I trailed off, looking out the window; my eyes drifted to the impossibly small dot of the Milky Way.
“If not, we’ll let everyone dream while we set off the self-destruct,” Flynn finished for me.
The room was quiet. After a few minutes, the next course arrived.
By the time dessert was finished and the brandy and cigars were brought out, the tone had made it back to pleasant. The four Starfleet officers would be temporarily added to the Casual’s crew, working to assist in any way they could. General Kozak would have the few Klingons with him ready to perform any less-than-pleasant duties if any were required. The idea that we were fully prepared to destroy ourselves and our guests in a blaze of fiery destruction rather than suffer a slow, pathetic death by privation seemed to appeal to the Klingon more than the rest, but all agreed that it would prevent the situation from degenerating into barbarism before the inevitable end.
As we sat in overstuffed leather chairs amid the pleasant smell of fine cigars and the flavor of exquisite brandy, something very unexpected happened. The windows filled with a brief but powerful glow that seemed to be emanating from outside of their field of view. Seconds later, Alden’s image flickered into being.
“I must apologize for this intrusion, but I must speak with the Commodores. We have a situation that requires your attention.”
Never a dull moment. “Go ahead, Alden. We’re all on the same page here.”
“As you wish.” Alden’s image stepped to one side, and a large virtual screen appeared. On the screen, a very large and very unfriendly-looking vessel appeared. “29.7 seconds ago, a large starship of unknown design appeared directly off our bow. It immediately began scanning us. So far, we have not been hailed using any communications protocols that we can detect. The ship is roughly five times our mass and is emitting residual radiation of a type that we cannot yet identify.”
Flynn and I looked at each other. We both got to our feet. “I guess this means we should get to the bridge.”
Alden’s nonexistent shoulders relaxed a little. “That would certainly make me feel more comfortable with the situation, sirs.”
“Very well.” Another new problem, in a week that had been chock full of them. I felt the initial stages of despair welling up. I turned to our dinner guests. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you will excuse us, there’s another crisis to attend to. Feel free to remain here for as long as you like; we’ll rejoin you once we’ve dealt with it.”
Liquorbetter took another draw from his pleasantly aromatic Orionus Magentus. “Do situations like this happen often in Barfleet?”
I stopped on my way to the door, turned. “All the time. Why?”
“Seems a lot more interesting than Starfleet. Must be fun.”
“I can definitely say that there is fun involved. So long as you don’t take things too seriously, it’s always fun.”
I suddenly realized that I was breaking this very rule, and I was probably bringing the entire crew down by doing so. I was taking our current dire straits far too seriously. Just because death was certain didn’t mean we needed to dwell on it. Death is always certain. Today could always be our last day. The only difference right now was that I was pretty sure the end really was nigh; I knew we only had a few days left. But in the end, how was that any worse than the alternative?
Right now, right here, we were alive and well and in good company. As soon as we were done checking out our new arrival, I fully intended to stop and smell the roses.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Stardate 18802.27 - Continued
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
The bridge was far from active as we stepped off the turbolift. Not surprising, since there had been little need for bridge-related activity during the last three days. Von Matic was at the weapons console and Agloval at the helm, and Candy was mixing by the Battle Bar, but the bridge was otherwise deserted. I was just about to ask where Sulleven was when he stepped out from the small corridor near the main viewer.
I took the Big Chair and motioned to Candy for a snakebite. This wasn’t exactly a high-traffic area; maybe they’d stopped by to offer assistance. Drink firmly in hand, it was time to see who had come calling.
“Alden, let’s see it.” The main viewer switched to external, and there was the ship…if you could properly call such a floating monstrosity a ship.
Displayed on the screen was a vessel that was part ziggurat, part cathedral, and part lawn ornament. Its underlying stepped pyramid shape was adorned with spindly towers and ornate domes, each more glittery than the last. The towers and domes were crusted with massive gems and plates of gold. Between the towers were what looked like dioramas, each depicting the same oddly familiar scene, but each time involving a different variety of creatures. Huge concealed floodlights illuminated the ship’s surface, scattering light across the dioramas and giving the gems and gold a harsh gleam.
Flynn stepped closer to the screen, squinting. He finally nodded and pointed. “Alden, please magnify this set of figures.”
The screen zoomed in on one of the dioramas. As it loomed larger, I understood why they all looked so familiar. The diorama showed a moment from Terra’s history, or at least a moment from what had once been regarded as history. A tall man with flowing white hair and beard stood on the side of a mountain, holding two carved stone tablets in his hands. Below him, a mass of people waited anxiously for him to speak.
Moses and the Ten Commandments. Ancient mythology. An icon of a past long outgrown.
Flynn was looking at me. “You see it, right?”
I nodded. “Alden, show us some of the other displays. Keep a section of the screen focused on this one as well.”
The main viewer became nine discrete views, each showing a different diorama on the visitor’s stepped hull. Each one was different, but each was also the same: No matter the creatures, no matter the terrain, each one depicted a single being carrying huge stones carved with symbols and a crowd of his race in anxious attendance. Most of the races were unknown, but two were not. Among the dozens of truly alien creatures were displays showing Tholians and Zorn.
Flynn whistled, low and long. “Unbelievable. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“If you’re thinking that as artists, these guys are one-trick-ponies, then yeah.”
He gave me a rather unpleasant look, which I decided to ignore. “That’s not exactly where I was going. I was wondering if all these displays might be depicting actual events. I’ve never read anything about Gorn history, and the Tholians are about as alien as you can get, but if these are accurate perhaps we have more in common than we thought.”
I gave it some thought. “So, if you’re right, each of the races shown has had a set of divine laws handed down to them from on high at some point in their past?”
“That’s how I see it, Allan.”
“Alden, what’s your take on this?”
Our former captain turned artificial sentience appeared translucently. “Sorry, Commodore, but I’m a bit preoccupied just at the moment. The visitor is attempting to gain access to my databanks. So far, I have been successful at fending off their probes.”
“How rude of them. Can you tell what they’re looking for?”
“Not precisely. They seem focused on the universal translator subsystem and the historical deep-archive data, but they are attempting to probe other areas as well.”
I pondered. “Tell you what. Go ahead and let them have access to the translator. Let’s see if they want to talk.”
“As you wish, Commodore.” Seconds passed. “They seem to have gotten what they were after from the translator. Incoming transmission.”
“Onscreen.” I hastily adjusted my robe and refilled my drink from the in-chair stocks.
The nine-screen montage dissolved into a single display. An image appeared, first fuzzy, and then growing more and more distinct as the seconds passed. As it sharpened and became recognizable, I was sure that this must be a very bad dream. There was simply no way that this was happening. No goddamned way.
On a holographic display screen carried aboard an interstellar spacecraft floating in the emptiness between galaxies, we beheld a burning bush.
Like I said: things have gotten much, much weirder.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Stardate 18802.27 - Continued
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
So no shit, there we were…stuck halfway to Andromeda on a crippled ship with dwindling supplies and no hope of survival…when a giant space ziggurat shows up and a burning bush rings us up for a chat. No matter how hard I tried, I could not recall any single moment of my life that had seemed more surreal.
The few of us on the bridge sat in awkward silence as the bush burned smokelessly on the display. After what seemed like hours, I decided to break the silence.
“Um…hello? This is Commodore Allan Erickson of the Barship Casual. Can I offer you a drink?”
The bush shuddered and then brightened. The bridge speakers came to life and a deep, resonant voice erupted from them. “Mortal creatures, we are the Humbardos. You are in need of guidance. We shall provide it to you.”
That didn’t sound so bad. “Greetings…Humbardos. Yes, we are in need of some navigational guidance, perhaps to the nearest stable wormhole that leads to…”
The bush brightened again, to an angry shade of bright yellow with flickers of blue. “We are the Lawgivers. We will provide you with guidance to live your lives and fill your existence with purpose. You need not fear us, unless you resist our teachings.”
Hmmm. Bit of a step backward, I suppose. I decided to try again. Maybe hardball was the way to go here. “Yes, well…you see, we have some pretty good laws and a purpose we’re fond of already. What we really need is a way home. Can you assist, or should we consider you hostile and take what we need from the smoking remains of your vessel?”
The bush flared completely blue. The voice, when it spoke again, was definitely furious. “FOOLS! You anger us at your peril! We shall see who and what you are!”
Everything went suddenly white. I closed my eyes, but the unbelievably bright light was only slightly dimmed by my closed lids. It lasted a few seconds, and then was gone as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving us temporarily blind.
In the darkness, I heard Alden’s voice. “Commodore, they have penetrated the archive areas and accessed them. Their scanning beam has also damaged multiple systems. Significant corruption to holographic data storage has occurred.”
“Damn it all. Everclear Alert! Load Yukon Torpedoes and prepare for combat maneuvers!” I was ready to dish out some serious kick-assery. Nobody fucks with my data storage. That’s where my porn lives.
Before my orders could be carried out, however, a most disconcerting thing happened. Yes, even disconcerting in light of the rather depressing state of affairs we were already in. As I finished speaking, I suddenly felt very, very sleepy. Before my brain could make the rather tiny jump from “Hey, I’m sleepy, what a comfy chair” to “I can’t be sleepy on this much caffeine, it’s an attack,” I was unconscious.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Stardate 18802.27 - Continued
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
I awoke instantly, something I am not really familiar with. I was also a bit shaken by the apparent replacement of my favorite bathrobe with a coarse and scratchy robe. But the change of venue was the biggest shocker. The last thing I remembered, I was sitting in my chair on the bridge. Now, by all appearances, I was standing in the middle of a desert.
The air was hot and dry, and the sun was high overhead. The sky was a painfully brilliant blue that you’d never believe possible in nature unless you’d seen it. In the distressingly harsh light, I could just make out an oasis or something similar off in the distance. There was sand in my hand-tooled leather sandals, and a rough wood staff rested on the sand in front of me. To my horror, there was nothing even remotely resembling a beverage anywhere.
There was no way this was real. Either it was all in my head, or I had been transported from the bridge into something like the Hotel’s Hallucinodecks. If it was in my head, then perhaps I could exercise some control over this.
I tried wishing a drink into existence. Nothing. I tried whistling up a light breeze. Nada. I tried changing the color of my robe. It stubbornly remained beige. So much for control.
I reached into my robe to look for my commbadge, which was normally attached to my underwear. To my surprise, I found that more than my surroundings and outer garments had been changed. Instead of the silk boxer briefs I had stepped into this morning, I found a linen loincloth that was fastened with a knot I was sure I would never be able to duplicate. This was not turning out to be a good day.
I tried something else. “Alden, are you there?”
The only reply was the sound of the wind whispering across the barren sand.
Right. Time for a little walk. I picked up the staff and set out in the direction of the oasis. Unless my estimate was completely off, it would take me several hours to get there. I suddenly realized that there was a sort of scarf covering my head and neck, held in place by a braided cord around my head; I imagined I looked every inch the desert nomad as I began my trek.
Time passed, and I plodded on. As the hours passed, I noted that my body was slowly moving towards dehydration and all the wonderful things associated with it. By the time I was halfway to my destination, my head was pounding and my mouth was as dry as the surrounding wasteland. I began taking short breaks, which helped a bit. I briefly thought about waiting for dark to continue, but the place I was in had other ideas: After what must have been four hours of slow trudging, the sun was still directly overhead. So much for that.
After a while, I must have drifted into a semi-delirious state. The next thing I knew, I was on my face in the sand. I might have stayed there for however long my life lasted, but I got lucky: My right hand landed in water. At the touch of my second most favorite magical life-giving liquid, my mind returned to full function long enough to consume a few double-handfuls of cold salvation before passing fully into unconsciousness beneath an (amazingly convenient) palm tree.
I have no idea how long passed before I came to; time may or may not matter in this desolate little pocket of hell. When I did, I noted that the sun – or whatever passed for it in this nightmare of privation – was still directly overhead, apparently unaware of the proper behavior of such stellar bodies. I looked around the tiny oasis I had found, and was only slightly relieved that there seemed to be ample supplies of both water and shade. I took a few minutes to slowly drink as much water as I could handle just in case I was suddenly transported again.
Finding the staff next to me, I levered myself up and took a better look. I instantly regretted it. Just on the other side of my little watering hole was a bush…and it was calmly, silently, and smokelessly burning. Ah, hell.
I strode through the shallow water to stand in front of this anachronistic apparition. Given my limited options, I supposed that talking was my only way out of this place.
“OK, bush,” I began with as much confidence as I could muster, “you’ve got me. I’m literally a captive audience. What do you want?”
The flaming foliage grew brighter. “We have studied your records. Your kind is known to us. But you have strayed from the path we set down before you, and you must be brought back to it. Only through the Law can your kind be allowed to survive.”
I stifled a guffaw. “I think you’ve made a mistake. Mankind followed your laws for thousands of years, and in the end they brought as much bloodshed, hatred, and intolerance as they did good. They were too specific, too…ethnocentric, I suppose. Sure, there were some pretty good bits in there – a law against killing one another is a fine thing – but between repeated misinterpretations and constant editorial license, they weren’t all that much better than we probably would have come up with on our own. Did come up with on our own, in fact, some time before you folks decided to stick your noses into our business. But you’ve probably never heard of Ur-Nammu”
My burning companion burned brighter. “You are a fool. Without Our Law your race would have perished in flames. No race can survive long without The Law. So it has been for millennia, on countless worlds and in countless languages. We bring order to chaos, rules to the unruly. Law and Fear are required. So it has always been.”
“Seriously? I mean, I can understand telling a primitive desert-bound nomadic people that stealing from one another is a bad thing and that obeying their parents has merit, but do you really believe that tacit approval of slavery and the objectification of women are proper foundational principles for an enlightened civilization? Yeah, I realize that there is some irony there based on what my crew and I wake up to every day…but we only do such things consensually…and certainly not because some non-combustible talking shrub told us to.”
A moment of silence. Then the bush brightened again. “Your records show that our Laws were corrupted by your people to serve their own ends. We give Law to the lawless and direction to the misguided. Your history shows that our gift of the Law to your people was misused.”
This time, the laughter just had to flow. “You’re trying to tell me that you were misquoted? Taken out of context? That’s a riot. Take a deeper look. We got over all of that, and managed to work out our own laws without any outside interference, thank you very much. If anything, your meddling kept us from doing that for far too long, and cost a lot of good people their lives. Didn’t you ever think that maybe a return visit once a century or three to codify your lovely Law would be a good idea?”
More silence. As it dragged on, I wondered how many other Starfleet officers had ever had to argue ethical questions with a burning bush wearing a robe in the middle of an illusory desert.
Finally, the silence was broken by my smoldering companion. “You are a fool, but your words bear a hint of wisdom. Your kind requires a new set of Laws. We shall prepare them. An Emissary shall be sent among you to learn those things that your records cannot show us. She will aid us in crafting a new Law for your kind. In this, she will be our Muse – to use a concept from your own mind. Return to your people and prepare for her arrival.”
And just like that, I was back on the Bridge of the Casual. Spilled drink and all.
The Bridge crew looked at me as though I had just appeared out of nowhere. Which, apparently, I had. So much for illusion; whatever had just happened to me, I still had the sunburn and the sand in my underwear. The fact that it was now my normal underwear was secondary. The sand, at least, was real.
Von Matic walked over to my chair. “Sorry sir, but Alden has been offline since about the time of your disappearance. We’ve been unable to bring him back. We’re on backups – the original issue systems, if you will.”
I shuddered a bit in the suddenly cool air. “How long was I gone?”
“Almost 12 hours. We were beginning to get quite worried.”
Great. “Well, Otto, it’s not over yet. We’re about to get a new guest.” I sat back in my seat, and wondered how long we would have to wait for this new development to take shape.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
As it turned out, the wait was short. Less than an hour after I returned, there was a swirl of incandescent vapor on the Bridge, just in front of the main viewer. Normally, that would mean that Alden was making a grand entrance. This time, it was something completely different.
As we watched, something took form in the mist. It began as a whorl of vapor and color, but it quickly coalesced into the shape of a woman. A short, dark-haired, extremely attractive woman. Her skin was a bit pale, her eyes were dark and intelligent, and her clothing was more revealing than I would have thought our friends were willing to tolerate. As the last hint of vapor dissipated, she looked straight at me and smiled.
The Humbardo Emissary had arrived. Damn it all, why did she have to be my type?
She took stock of her surroundings and looked back to me. “You are the Commodore? You lead your people?” Her voice was both entrancing and commanding.
“Yep, that’s me. Welcome aboard the Casual. Can I offer you a drink?” What the hell else was I going to say?
She smiled again, and her smile was playfully evil with just a hint of condescension. She may have been small of stature, but this was not a woman to be taken lightly…if at all. “I think not, Commodore. We have a lot of work to do. You may call me Muse. Shall we begin?”
I sighed. “Of course. Where do you want to start?”
“I think that we can begin right here. Tell me about yourself, Commodore. We need to get to know you…and all of your people.”
And so began the strangest set of interviews I could have imagined.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
The Muse asked for the use of a conference room, and quickly set up a schedule for my officers and crew. Over the next two days, she spoke to everyone on my crew as well as many of our human guests. She had little interest in our alien guests and none at all in the modified Kens and Barbies. I can’t say what she talked about with anyone else, but with me her questions were pleasant and direct. She wanted to know about us, about the important decisions we had made in our lives, and most of all about how we felt about God. I think that many of my crew went into those interviews thinking it was some kind of a joke, but came out more confused than ever. The Muse had a way of turning around anything they said, confusing them as to the nature of their own beliefs and deeply-held ideas. I have no real idea what she was looking for, but after two days, she was finished.
Of course, during those same two days, my crew was pretty busy as well.
Three hours before the Muse’s interviews ended, Hardemann and Fugit finally opened the door they had been locked behind and came out among the living again.
Alden had been back online for about a day at that point, although he was still suffering badly from his rough treatment by the Humbardo data probe. He was primarily keeping to himself in his primary core, trying to reconstruct as much of our data as possible…along with his own mind. We were leaving him alone, so it was Ogg who informed me of the news, staggering into the RecDeck where I was lounging and staring at the alien ziggurat that had moved astern of us.
“Commodore! They’re done!” He looked positively…positive.
“Who’s done, Ogg?”
“Hardemann and Havoc! They need showers like nobody I’ve ever smelled, but they’re done!”
I finished my Tequila Sunrise and got to my feet. “Lead the way, Commander.”
I found the pair in one of the heavy decontamination chambers. Apparently, they had been so foul when they exited the room they were in that an automatic emergency call had been placed to the Special Housekeeping Service. The Busy Blue Berets took one whiff of them and ordered them into the chamber, where their clothes were destroyed and the top layers of their skin removed in desperation. As I arrived, they were donning uniform bathrobes and asking for drinks.
I would find out later that the room they were in had been sealed off and was scheduled to be ejected from the ship at the first opportunity.
I waited patiently for the two of them to dress. Hardemann looked at me and smiled, and luckily it was his more-intelligent-than-anyone-in-the-room smile, and not his I-like-pie smile.
“Ah, Commodore. Good news! We have a solution!”
“Yes, and I hope it’s managed to penetrate your pores. You two were in danger of setting off several biohazard systems.”
“No, sir…I mean, yes, sir, we did neglect personal hygiene for a bit there, but we have a way out of this mess and back home!”
This sounded like the best news I’d heard in days. “OK, what have you two come up with?”
Hardemann was positively beaming with pride as he pulled out a sealed plastic bag from his pocket. In it was a grubby-looking cocktail napkin covered with math, with a tiny diagram thrown in for good measure. He handed it to me triumphantly.
I must have stared at the indecipherable equations and the strange diagram for several minutes before I turned back to him and admitted that it was gibberish to me.
“No problem, sir. We understand it.” A glance at Havoc made me wonder if that was actually true; he threw up his hands and made a swirly gesture next to his head with his forefinger.
Hardemann quickly launched into expository mode. “It was Havoc’s original idea, but it took me some time to actually figure out the math…and how to construct the device. But now that we have those, it should take less than half an hour to fabricate the necessary components and install them.”
I turned back to Havoc. “What idea, Horatio?”
Havoc was a bit subdued as he replied. “Well, sir, we were getting nowhere, and I simply mentioned that this whole experience has been like a really bad trip. Like when you mix a few things wrong in your glass and the whole world just stops making sense, with the walls turning plaid and the carpet growing tentacles. I was just making a comment, but Dr. Hardemann took it seriously and just started pounding rum and scribbling like a maniac.” His expression was almost timid; he really hadn’t thought he would find a solution at all. I decided then and there that if his unexpected solution worked, he would be in line for whatever job he desired in the future. Luck, as much as skill, simply had to be rewarded in this strange and unconventional Fleet I was building.
“I…see. So what have you invented, Everett?”
“I call it the Flashback Drive. I realized that Horatio was right…this does seem like a very bad chemically-induced hallucination. So…what if we could use that? What if we could convince everyone aboard – completely, utterly – that reality was unreal? What if we could absolutely convince everyone that we aren’t, in fact, stranded between galaxies with no hope of survival, but are still right where we were before the wormhole formed? If everyone thinks that we’re back, we would be back!”
“Ummm…what? That’s fucking ridiculous. Reality isn’t based on a majority vote.”
He looked at me quizzically. “Actually, sir, that’s not quite true. Based on the theory of…” He was cut off by Havoc whacking him on the back.
“We have work to do, Everett. Might be best to show the Commodore instead of trying to explain it.”
Hardemann looked startled, then thoughtful. After a moment, he nodded and smiled at me. “Mister Havoc is quite correct, sir. It might be better to build the device…which will take me approximately 28 minutes…than to try and explain such concepts as superstring theory, quantum entanglement, and phenomenology to you. That might take…somewhat longer.”
On another day I might have been just a little insulted, but that day was a long way back…and I trust my officers as implicitly as I trust myself. Well, OK, probably more. Probably a LOT more.
“Go for it, gentlemen. You’ll let me know what we need to do when the time comes?”
Havoc grinned at me, that impish grin that I know means he’s planning something impossibly clever. “Absolutely, sir. Absolutely.” And with that, they headed off to the materials fabrication lab.
I was wondering what to think of what I had just heard when someone cleared their throat behind me. An attractive yet authoritative clearing, I thought as I turned…to see the Muse standing in the corridor.
She was a vision in blue. From somewhere in our stores, she had found a stunningly appropriate corset and heels, and a robe over it so diaphanous that it was more a hint of vapor than a piece of clothing. She wore makeup, something I was sure that her creators had not intended in her conception, and it was absolutely perfect. To me, at least, she was the absolute vision of my perfect ideal of a terrestrial human woman. I was utterly, completely, spellbound.
Seeing that she had my attention, she sauntered over to me. “Who were those two men? I thought I had interviewed every human on the ship by now.” She was being businesslike, but every fiber of her appearance screamed a different message to my brain. Knowing that she represented a power more dangerous than any we had ever encountered, knowing that she held our fate in her tiny, perfectly manicured hands…I nonetheless felt an insane desire for her. I wondered if her makers had installed the full options package, and not just the external appearance of a sexy, voluptuous woman…one who apparently knew exactly how to dress and act to take me fully off-guard. I endeavored to answer anyway…knowing, somewhere deep in my brain, that keeping her in the dark – at least a little bit – was vital to our survival.
“Ahhhh…those are two of my junior officers who are in charge of the engineering spaces.” The best lies, I thought, are always laced with truth. “They’ve been busy trying to repair some of the damage that your people caused with their probe. I’ll be sure that they are made available to you by the end of the day.”
Her eyes told me that she knew I was lying, but that she couldn’t tell about what. “I see. Very well. As it happens, Commodore, I have another avenue of investigation I feel the need to pursue.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or terrified. Ogg, still standing nearby, had no such confusion; he promptly fainted to the deck. Well, he’d done his duty and been terrified; time to do mine and be relieved.
I summoned up every ounce of self-confidence I had left. “And what would that be, my lovely Muse?”
To my utter disbelief, she blushed at the compliment, but her businesslike tone completely belied her facial reaction. “Commodore, I have conducted interviews with almost everyone aboard, with the goal of determining what rules, morals, and social mores your society currently follows. I have learned that you are from a very regimented society, one in which people tend to do the right thing because they have been taught from birth that all lives should be considered equally important, regardless of appearance, age, social standing, wealth, faith, or any other nominally divisive criterion. This impresses me. But I have also found that most of the humans on board this vessel are here because of the lack of rules and regulations that it represents. They consider it a valuable – even necessary – pocket of lawlessness in a society that prides itself on its very socially progressive laws. And they are here because there are some things that your society tolerates but does not openly acknowledge…whereas here, those things are not only tolerated but are firmly embraced. I admit to being somewhat confused by this dichotomy.”
I smiled at her, the warmest smile in my repertoire. “My dear Muse, there are more than a few things that fit that description around here…but I assume you’re talking about sex.”
Again the blush…and again, the lack of any other sort of body language that would normally accompany it. “Well, yes. I admit that I was not…properly briefed on this aspect of human behavior, beyond the simple biological processes. It seems that your people regularly engage in activities that are normally reserved for procreation…but that you do so without that intent. In fact, it seems that you do so for recreational and even self-indulgent purposes. This is outside of my experience. It is not something that the Humbardos understand.”
Her pouting lips and perfectly formed eyes looked askance at me. I felt myself start to lose any objectivity as this emissary of our new enemies stared through me, as though by doing so she could ascertain everything that she needed to know…and at the same time, seeing in those deep pools of her manufactured soul something that sought to understand a concept that was absolutely fundamental to comprehension of us as a race…or at least this small subset of it.
“I…see. And how can I help you to understand it?
She looked at me with those piercing and intelligent eyes, set her arms akimbo in a most demanding way, and said the last thing I ever expected to hear from an emissary of the creatures who took credit for writing the Ten Commandments.
“Commodore Erickson, I demand that you teach me about casual sex!”
I’ve done some difficult things in my time. Figuring out how to cheat on the Kobyashi Maru test so that the Romulan ships were transformed into space whales. (I failed, but it was damn fun seeing the instructor’s reactions.) Losing an eye in an ion storm and learning to live with an artificial replacement. Keeping a ship full of people nobody cared about from turning into a frightened mob and instead giving them a reason to not only keep on living, but to excel at everything they do. Yeah, I’ve been in some tough spots. But the toughest, by far, was keeping a straight face when God’s own representative asked me to teach her about foreplay.
Somehow, I managed it. It took everything I had to voice a reply that didn’t include laughter, or cause my drink to come blasting forth from my mouth like some unholy geyser.
“Certainly, Muse. If you would care to accompany me to my quarters, I will teach you…everything.”
“Of course. Please lead on.” She looked so beautiful, so enticing…and so wanting…that I understood in that moment that her creators had not merely tried to make her human…they had succeeded, completely and utterly. Beneath the programmed questions and artificially implanted morality, she was, in all the ways that mattered, one of us.
And so it was that I took her to my bed, and completed her education in the more intimate forms of human social interaction.
She was a very quick study.
UBS CASUAL NCC-REVOKED
Stardate 18803.02 - Continued
Commodore Allan Cormach Erickson reporting
It was a little more than two hours later when Muse finally passed out, and I only barely managed to avoid doing likewise thanks to a quadruple espresso shot ordered from my cabin replicator. My guest was curled up on my massive bed, a look of absolute contentment on her waifish face. Part of me was absolutely thrilled with my accomplishments of the past two hours; another part of my brain insisted that she was new to this, and that – while pretty damn good – my skillset in this area was not the primary reason for her present unconscious state. At least her makers had equipped her with all the normal human…stuff.
I staggered over to my desk with the intention of calling Alden for a status report. I never got the chance.
Just as my ass hit the chair, the room went…sixties.
All around me, everything changed. The walls were suddenly covered in hideously colored paisley. My furniture began to melt in a rather attractive way. My bones apparently became fluid, because my arms began to dance around my torso in terrifyingly liquid ways. The very lighting changed, and several of my quarters’ lights suddenly became fast-pulsing strobes. Touching my desk, I noted that it tasted blueberry and smelled of tequila, which reminded me that tequila smells pink. To say that I was a tad disoriented would be like saying that a Yukon Torpedo is mildly intoxicating.
It seemed like hours were passing instead of seconds. Time lost all meaning, and space became reckless. I would have screamed, but I no longer seemed to have anything like a mouth with which to do so.
As the world changed around me, my brain struggled to make sense of it. This can’t be happening, it said. Reality doesn’t work this way. Walls and floors aren’t supple and twisted; human limbs don’t detach themselves and float away to the corners of the room; mirror balls don’t suddenly appear in place of computer terminals. Colors don’t have flavor; textures don’t have smells; smells don’t have color. My brain took one look at what was calling itself reality, and rebelled. It cried out in its unconscious way that this could not possibly be real, and tried to force the world back into a template that it could accept.
And somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt myself joining with others who felt exactly the same way. Together, our combined superconscious rejected the massive and contrary reality we were experiencing…and decided that we had a better idea. Our combined view of reality flowed forth, and somewhere deep within the Casual’s engineering spaces, Hardemann’s device locked onto that view, magnified it, and made it real.
There was an enormous ripping sensation, as though the fabric of reality itself was being torn away and replaced with something else. For a brief moment, I was standing in a field of lilies wearing a kimono…and then everything was exactly as my brain said it should be. My quarters were back to their standard, Barfleet-issue self.
As if to confirm this return to normalcy, Alden’s voice spoke from the room’s speakers. “Commodore, are you alright?”
It took me a minute to remember how to speak, and another to formulate an answer. I noted with some relief that I had a mouth again, and figured out how to use it. “I think so. What the hell just happened?”
“Commander Hardemann and acting Chief Engineer Havoc activated their Flashback Drive, with apparently positive results. The Casual is once again safely within the Milky Way galaxy. It appears, however, that the Flashback Drive system itself is no longer in existence.”
Holy crap. They did it.
“Alden, what about the Humbardo ship?”
“There is no sign of it, Commodore. It did not transition with us.”
Well, that was good news. I suddenly remembered the Muse, and looked over at my bed, expecting to find it empty. To my surprise, it was not. The Muse was still there, sleeping peacefully. I got up and went over to her. Stroking her hair, I whispered in her ear, “I think you might be with us for a little while longer than expected.”
She semi-roused, opened one beautiful eye, and murmured, “That’s OK. Just as long as we can do that again.” Then she promptly fell back asleep.
I figure that’s a request I can definitely accommodate.
I left the Muse sleeping in my bed and headed up to the bridge. Somehow, this respite from the brink of disaster just seemed too good to be true, and I needed to be in my comfy place to make it real.
When I got there, only Havoc and Hardemann were in attendance. And Alden, of course, with his disembodied head displayed on half a dozen screens. Havoc noted my entrance and came over to me, his hand in a classic high-five gesture. I returned it, of course.
“We did it! It worked! We’re back!” His enthusiasm was at a new high. If we had, in fact, done the impossible and come home, I would really need to see about promoting him.
I went to the Conn and sat down. “Alden, tactical please.”
The main viewer, which had been displaying screen after screen of gibberish when I arrived, switched to a more normal display of our position. To my confusion and delight, it showed us as being right back where all the trouble started, this time idling comfortably at sublight speed instead of plunging into an unstable wormhole that would lead us into the great void between galaxies.
“Alden, before we get everyone back to their stations…can you figure out exactly what went wrong with the intermix and keep it from happening again?”
“I can, Commodore. I should mention that the majority of those present aboard will have no real memory of what just transpired…in fact, I believe that only yourself, Havoc, Hardemann, myself, and quite possibly The Muse will recall it with any real substance. Everyone else will believe that they had a very vivid drug- or alcohol-induced episode, and will react accordingly.”
Hardemann interjected, “And that is absolutely essential! If the crew or the guests are told exactly what happened, their minds may reject the flashback and the ship could revert to its previous intergalactic coordinates. The truth needs to remain in the heads of just a few, at least until spacetime has had a few days or so to become less…permeable as regards this ship.”
The thought that space and time could even be considered…permeable…was something that I decided not to dwell on. “I can work with that. Alden, please restrict access to any and all data regarding the actual events that occurred since our warp test failed to those in this room. I will work on fabricating a proper cover story for the guests. I will also put together some sort of record for our new guest…I do hope she’ll decide to play along.” I looked at the men who had saved the entire ship from a slow and painful death in the cold void between galaxies, and I was overcome with emotion. They had saved me, saved us all. “Gentlemen…well fucking done.”
They both smiled, and I could see that they both needed sleep more than anything I was capable of giving them as a reward. “Get to your quarters and get some sleep, both of you. Alden, please make sure that they are not disturbed for any reason.”
“Of course, Commodore.”
As Hardemann and Havoc staggered off to their well-deserved rest, I wondered exactly what kind of bullshit story I would need to come up with. I decided to have a drink and let it come to me.
Eventually, of course, it did.
(Further data recovery underway...)
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