2266 "...you home again, Kathleen!"
Sweet Gods! Kevin! Shut up! Riley - cocky little Bridge Bastard - thinks hes a singer. Always has. He told me once after about three hours of pretty serious drinking on Tau Ceti III that he thought he had a voice that could "make the angels weep." Well, its about to make me weep, thats for damned sure, and I bet the rest of the crew is ready to march into a real serious case of the blues and cry big purple Xartheb Bear tears right along with me if all this weird shit doesnt stop soon.
I pull my phaser up to my chest and turn into the rec room door. It swishes open. Curious crewmen and crewwomen look my way. Some of them. Some of them are doing other things. Odd things. Like drawing solar systems on the rec room walls. Like kick-boxing. Like doing a strip-tease on the table usually reserved for three-dimensional chess. Like ordering up popcorn out of the servers there. All of em. And there are fifteen. Popcorns blowing out of them like plasma blows out of an Orion plasma cannon.
...like doing a strip-tease? A strip-tease? And good sweet galaxy, its Ensign Angela Moretti. Angela "Angel-face" Moretti. Its a wet dream come true. There she is, big and blonde and bumping and grinding her brains out, all to the howls being provided by somebody I dont know, somebody from Life Sciences, somebody who obviously believes hes the Emperor of Soul, the Praetor of Swing. Whoever he is, hes at least better than Kevin "I-can-sing-Danny-Boy-in-seventeen-different-languages-(Klingon-included)" Riley.
And thats what I have to do, like the good redshirt that I am: find Riley and any other crazy people running around the Enterprise. And I dont think that that includes watching Angel-face shake her substantial booty. I back up and let the doors swish closed.
Of course, whos to say whos crazy and who isnt? What Id just seen looked pretty damned crazy. And pretty inviting, too. And I hadnt had a direct order from my superior since Id heard "Get to Riley and stop him." Obviously, I hadnt done that yet, and Id heard from another redshirt that Id met in the corridor that Riley had locked himself away somewhere, and they were gonna burn him out. Since that first order, my communicator had blown out a lot of static, some warnings about Sulu, and high-pitched laughter that made the hairs on my arm stand straight up and salute.
"Ill take you home again, Kathleen...."
"What the hell is happening to this ship?" I mumble aloud.
I tighten the grip on my phaser, turn from the door and head away, the smell of fresh popcorn and idle thoughts about Angela Moretti following me down the corridor as I go.
Somebody in science blues tears around the corner and nearly knocks me right on my big Italian butt.
"Hey! Watch where youre going!" I yell at his retreating figure. I briefly consider giving him a little stun in the derriere just on general principles. Jerk.
So sue me for being a little on edge. So sue me for being raised on the wrong goddamned side of a planet. Say what you will about moonbase brats, but it does make you tough, gives you a little testosterone boost, pumps up that Y chromosome, makes you a perfect Starfleet redshirt. Yep. Thats me. A perfect big dumb shit, a fighting machine, a great target for any crappy thing that can happen during planetfall and usually does.
Just arm me and point me in the right direction.
If there hadnt been so many rug rats in the family, I might have had a fighting chance. "Fighting" chance. Ha. Get it? Thats how I got through school. With my fists.
Now my little brother, he was the ones with the brains. Not my next brother down, or the one after that. I mean my little little brother, the baby. Little pasty-faced, cry-baby, whine ass. Honest to God, I dont think his feet hit the ground until he was three. Got carried everywhere, like some pompous little king. Scared of his own shadow. Cried at the drop of a hat. He got the schooling. He got smart. He got out.
Me? I just plodded along. I survived.
"Signor Sotello!" I spin to the voice.
Its Sulu, and I find myself staring at the business end of something that looks sharp enough to cut my grandmothers God-awful, homemade, brick-hard salami with no problem at all.
"Signor Sotello!" he says again with a grin that makes my stomach turn. "I am a man of honor, and I demand satisfaction."
I swallow and feel my trigger finger tremble. My phaser is useless, down at my side. What a rookie mistake.
"Satisfaction for what?" I manage to wheeze.
"Your roommate, sir, is a friend of mine," he says, and he flicks his wrist and I watch the sword point make little circles in front of my face. "And you malign him, sir. He is a good and decent man, and I intend to defend him from your crass manipulations and verbal attacks."
"Well, oh yeah?" I say brightly. "You and what Rigelian army?" Its a bluff. He looks pretty damned serious, pretty POd. And he has me dead to rights on the roommate thing. Eugene Hammersmith is a pasty-faced little pencil-necked geek just like my brother, and he makes me nuts, fiddling around on the damned computer in the middle of my night, jiggling his skinny little legs so much that I actually tried to get somebody from one of the labs to wire a seismograph to the floor just to make a point. Little as he is, he still manages to produce rolling quakes, all night long, constantly. Jerk.
Sulus walking around me, looking me up and down. "Sir," he says with a smirk, stopping in front of me again and pushing the point of his sword into my belly, "you are a man of some size. One might think you would be better served picking on someone closer to your own tonnage." I open my mouth to say something and he takes that opportunity to give the sword a little shove. I gasp and suck in my gut as far as I can.
Am I scared?
Do Andorians have blue balls?
But I sure as hell cant show Sulu that, and I vow then and there that Ill smash him to a pulp when this is all over and he doesnt have the drop on me. Jerk.
"No ice cream tonight," Rileys disembodied voice sadly informs us.
Sulu sees someone down the corridor behind me, pulls his weapon back, grabs my face with his free hand, and pulls me closer. "About your roommate. Think about treating him kindly. Remember that, sir," he hisses, and then he pushes me away and laughs, and hes gone up the nearest Jefferies tube before I can even think about stunning him. I can hear him laughing the whole God-damned way.
"Sotello! You okay?" Its Lieutenant Kaplan, another redshirt.
Am I okay? I look down at my uniform shirt. That little bastard has actually made a hole. And in a Starfleet uniform, something rumored to have a weave as tight as Nurse Christine Chapels ass. I think he might have killed me if hed had a minute more.
I look up at Kaplan, planning to crack wise, but I cant get my voice to work. Im sweating like a call girl on Tau Ceti III working overtime. My palms itch. I swallow. "Yeah. Yes," I whisper hoarsely, irritated that Kaplan is seeing me like this.
"I guess Rileys turned off the engines."
"I hear Riley turned off the engines."
"What the hell does that mean?" I ask, knowing that it isnt good.
"Our orbit is deteriorating," Kaplan says, and he licks his lips and looks nervously down the corridor. He turns back to me, pained. "Well burn up before we hit the inner atmosphere."
So this is it, then. I guess Ive always thought Id meet my maker planetside, protecting someone, throwing myself in front of something dangerous. But this ... this is stupid, a really stupid way to die. Riley. What an idiot. Jerk.
Kaplan looks ready to hurl.
I rub my itching palm on my ripped uniform top. Why am I so hot? Are we burning up already? It seems unlikely. Wed been in a standard geosynchronous orbit. We should have, by my calculations, some fifteen or so minutes left before we reach the point of no return.
I may be just a redshirt, but I pay attention to what we do and how we do it.
I look into Kaplans eyes and sigh. He flinches slightly as I reach out for his upper arm and close my fingers on it, gently. "Lieutenant Kaplan, there is nothing for you to do here."
He looks at me, frowning, surprised, then he nods. "Youre right," he says with some surety. "Im gonna go find Angela." He pulls away from me, and I watch him leave.
I do not have the heart to tell him where Angela Moretti is. He will discover that soon enough on his own. Or perhaps he will not be fast enough and will never discover it, and he will die free of the knowledge that his beloved danced the hootchie-koo for everyone in Rec Room Number Five to see. I sigh again and turn down the corridor.
I still have some sense of duty. From the sounds emanating from the intercom, I deduce that Riley has been captured, and I know from Kaplan that his deed has been found out. But I am still a redshirt, and I have pledged myself to defend the Enterprise from what evil might befall her. Unfortunately, I begin to conclude, we are the evil, we are the problem. We -- the crew -- are infected with something, and whatever it is, it is winning.
I hope fervently that Mister Spock is working on the problem and will arrive soon at a solution.
Mister Spock. There is someone that I could get behind. In actuality, there is someone that I could get in front of. I had decided long ago that I would unhesitatingly take a disruptor blast to the chest to save him. And my roommate, Eugene Hammersmith, reports to him. Of that fact I am very aware. And very envious, as well.
I respect the captain, of course, but I am cognizant of the fact that the captain and I are quite alike. We both wear our armor. We both carry chips on our shoulders. We are both quick to anger. He is, perhaps, less quick in coming to a boil and quicker to forgive than myself.
But Mister Spock. There is someone that I admire.
The object of my thoughts stumbles around the corridor curve ahead of me.
Hes injured! I think as I watch Spock reach out to a wall for support. He is fighting something, that much is clear in his face. I have never seen him grimace before, but there he is, in the corridor, doing just that, and I find myself holding my breath as I watch.
A door to my right swishes open as someone departs. It is the xenobiological lab, and in the back of the lab I can see ... I believe that I can see Ensign Tommy Thompson. And I can see that he is in a dress. A long, flowing dress. It is fuchsia. I am momentarily mesmerized. The door swishes closed and I look back down the corridor.
Mister Spock is nowhere to be seen.
I raise my eyebrows.
I consider searching the labs and briefing rooms between myself and where I saw him last, but I can see no logic in it. Our situation is dire, and our minutes left, few. I have little time.
I turn on my heel and holster my phaser. I will take my chances with my crewmates. We are, as a group, obviously not ourselves, and most are unarmed. I will not shoot unless in defense of myself. Even then, I am not sure that I can do so. We are all victims. I pick up my pace.
I summon a turbolift. Captain Kirk explodes from it when it arrives.
"Have you seen Mister Spock?"
"Yes, Sir, I have," I say, and I point. "I last saw him somewhere near the xenobiology lab."
He says nothing but tears away from me in that direction. I enter the turbolift and call up my cabin deck. When I reach it, when the doors open, Brenda McAllister and Robert Hargrove tumble in, locked in a passionate embrace.
"Excuse me," I say as I step over them. It is unlikely that they hear me. I turn right and nearly run into a kneeling Michael Finn, who is leading a small group in prayer. In five steps I am at our cabin door. It is locked. I feed in the security code and wait for entrance. The door opens and I step in.
At first I believe that Eugene has extinguished all lights. But corridor lighting is notoriously and garishly bright, and within seconds my eyes begin to adapt to the lower level of light in the cabin.
My roommate is standing on a chair in the middle of the room, his back to me. In front of him is the far wall of our cabin, and on that wall is an apparition in amber and red and burnt orange. He has, somehow, coaxed a hazy silhouetted vision of an orchestra and choir out of his cabin computer, and has jerry-rigged something that projects it warmly on the wall in front of him. I turn around. On all the walls, in fact. And full symphonic harmonies surround me as well.
And Eugene ... Eugene is directing the orchestra and the choir. He is masterful and sure in his movements. His back is arched, his head is thrown to the side, his arms wave sinuously at the flickering figures around him.
I come up beside him.
His eyes are closed. On his lips he wears a smile.
Hours earlier I would have kicked the chair out from under him, whacked him soundly on the head, and chided him for wasting his and my time. Now, I clear my throat. "Eugene?" I say.
His smile widens, his eyes remain closed. I am amazed. Usually my entrance to our cabin is met by a cringe. "Yes, Tony?" he says.
"May I watch and listen?"
It does not seem possible, but his smile grows even wider. He opens his eyes, looks down at me, and nods. "Of course," he says, and I feel a warmth pass through my body, and a sense of peace settle into my bones.
I have never felt like this before.
And so I pull up a chair, cross my arms, and quietly and appreciatively watch my roommate conduct the Vulcan Philharmonic in Beethovens Fifth as we await our fate.
It seems, somehow, the logical thing to do.
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