Mint Juleps and GargleBlasters
This is a Star Trek: The Original Series and Douglas Adams crossover, featuring my little brother – for whom the story was written (many years ago). Hope you enjoy it!
It was a cool October day, and Vance and Argus were enjoying a late afternoon hike through the nature preserve. Mom wouldn't be home for hours, but already the sun was beginning to set. At 11 years old, Vance was allowed to play in the woods with his Giant Schnauzer until dusk, but after that he knew he'd better get back to the house.
"Come on, Argus. Let's head for home," Vance called, turning towards the big dog.
Argus, instead of obeying, stopped dead. Staring fixedly at a spot just to Vance's right, he began to growl, then bark.
Vance followed Argus' gaze. There was nothing there.
"Argus, you idiot dog! Be quiet!"
Argus ignored him, but now over the din of Argus' howls, Vance could hear a hum. It was eerily familiar, yet he couldn't identify its source. The hum grew in volume, then shimmering forms began to coalesce, right out of thin air.
Vance shook his head disbelievingly even as the sparkle resolved into the bodies of three men. "It can't be!" Vance exclaimed, staring at Captain James T. Kirk, Mr.Spock, and Doctor McCoy.
"An illogical statement," Spock observed over Argus' now frenzied barks, "as it clearly is."
"Spock! Can't you see the boy is surprised?" McCoy snapped. "Or does being unemotional also mean you can't recognize emotions in others?"
"As usual, Doctor, your emotions are clouding --"
"Gentlemen." Kirk finally spoke up. "This is hardly the time or place for one of your 'friendly discussions'. We have a job to -- " He broke off. "Can somebody shut that dog up?"
"Argus!" Vance reinforced the order with a whack on the dog's shoulder, and, offended, Argus stopped barking. Giving Vance a "If that's how you're going to act, you're on your own" look, he haughtily trotted off, heading for home.
"Thank you," Kirk said to Vance, smiling at him in a friendly fashion.
"You're welcome," Vance replied automatically. "Uh, are you -- "
"I am Captain James T. Kirk -- " Kirk began, unconsciously striking a pose.
" -- of the USS Enterprise," Vance interrupted. "Right." He turned a skeptical eye on the trio. "Is this a publicity stunt? How'd they make the three of you look so young again?"
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"
"The child is disoriented, Jim. He's babbling. Maybe if I got him to Sickbay -- "
"Wait a second!" Vance yelped. "You mean you guys aren't actors?"
Kirk looked puzzled. "No. We're officers in Star Fleet. That's an organization-"
"Yeah, I know." Vance waved the explanation away. None of this made any sense, but there was no way that even the best makeup person in Hollywood could have retored the youth of the three so realistically. Looking closer, Vance noticed a distinctly green tinge to Mr.Spock's complexion, something the series' makeup artists had never bothered with. Besides, how could actors have materialized out of thin air?
"How do you know so much?" Kirk frowned. "Isn't this 1990?"
Without waiting for Vance's answer, McCoy spun to Spock. "Looks like you missed a decimal point in your calculations, Spock! Jim, I told you that slingshotting around the sun -- "
"Bones, please." At Kirk's look, McCoy subsided. "Now then, young man -- "
"Excuse me, Captain," Vance interrupted. "What are you doing here?" Now that he had (incredulously) accepted the men as real, honest to gosh, Star Fleet officers, he was afire with curiosity. "Are you trying to find a humpback whale?"
Kirk stepped back, alarm on his features. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Oh, right!" Vance said, feeling stupid. "That doesn't happen until after you're an admiral."
The Star Fleet officers exchanged a look. "We'll just be running along," Kirk smiled uneasily, edging away from Vance.
"No! Wait! I can help!" Vance objected frantically, determined not to get left out. "I'm not crazy!"
"Brain scan indicates no abnormalities," McCoy confirmed, pointing an instrument (that closely resembled a salt shaker) at Vance.
"All right," Kirk said abruptly, displaying the ability to make snap decisions that had earned him his command. "I'll tell you why we're here, but first, tell me, what do you expect to gain?"
Vance grinned at him. "'A Piece of the Action'!"
The joke went right by Kirk. "Fair enough," he nodded. "Mr.Spock."
Spock turned to Vance. "The Enterprise, while on a routine exploratory mission, encountered a nodal region in the fabric of the space-time continuum. We investigated and found ourselves in a transdimensional universe. We were able to return to our own universe only through -- " he looked pained " -- luck. And," he hastily added, forestalling a comment from McCoy, "the considerable skill of our Bridge crew."
Vance managed to tear his eyes from Spock's ears. "Ah -- yes?"
"In attempting to develop a means whereby we can navigate within the transdimensional region, I discovered the cusp of the space-time node. Here. I believe that the solution to our dilemma lies in this area."
Vance scratched his head. "You mean you went through some kind of interdimensional door, only you don't know your way around in the new dimension and you think that something here, in this universe at this time, will give you a map?"
Spock lifted his eyebrows. "Yes," he answered in tones of respect.
Vance smiled in satisfaction. Reading all those spurious explanations in his SF books had finally paid off. Now he could understand even Mr.Spock's confusing jargon.
"What can you tell me about the alter-universe you encountered?" he asked, businesslike.
"We weren't there long," Kirk responded. "The 'portal' isn't stable on the other side -- "
" -- like a wormhole?" Vance asked.
Spock nodded. "Very much so. We did observe a fascinating spacecraft however -- "
"'Fascinating'?" McCoy exploded. "Spock , you have no poetry in your soul! That golden ship was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!"
Little warning bells went off in Vance's mind. "Golden?" he echoed.
"Yes. We nearly collided with it," Kirk said. "It was practically on top of the node."
"And as the ship moved away, the node started to disappear?"
"Lt.Uhura attempted to make contact with the ship, but she received an unintelligible reply," Spock added.
"What did they say?" Vance was almost afraid to ask.
Spock called up the record on his tricorder. A badly off-key voice began to warble: "Oh, Zaphod Beeblebrox is the froodliest dude, On forty-seven worlds he's considered the most lewd, I met Erotica Gallum--"
"That's all we received."
Vance shook his head, sighing. "That Zaphod."
"You understand the message?" Kirk demanded.
"Captain, perhaps he is the cusp of the space-time warp," Spock suggested. "Fascinating."
"Mr.Spock, are you saying that he is our...map?"
"'Guide' might be a better term, Captain, and yes, I believe that is why we beamed down at this location. He is the nexus of the intersecting dimensions."
All three men turned and stared at Vance.
"Uh, sir?" He began to feel uncomfortable under their concentrated appraisal. "What does all that mean?"
"It means," Kirk said, stepping forward and placing a paternal hand on Vance's shoulder, "that you have an opportunity that no one else in your time ever will. How would you like to journey beyond the stars? To boldly go where no man has gone before?"
Vance chewed his lip. "For five years?"
"No, no," Kirk reassured him. "Just on a mapping expedition. You seem to be the key to this odd phenomenon -- come with us and help us as we explore it."
Vance paused, thinking. Mom would never let him go ("What about those nasty Klinga--whatsits?" she'd screech), but how could he pass up a chance to visit the Enterprise? His older sister Karen would be GREEN with envy!
"I'll do it!"
"Jim," McCoy said, "I hate to bring this up, but a child on the Enterprise? Star Fleet would never allow it!"
"Wanna bet?" Vance grumbled, under his breath. "Wait a generation."
"You're right, Bones," Kirk agreed after a moment's thought. "Star Fleet Command would never allow a child on an active duty starship. That's why I'd like to introduce you to our newest ensign."
"What?" McCoy demanded as Vance proudly drew himself up.
"Acting Ensign Vance Stone!" Vance proclaimed, saluting. (So this is where the precedent for Wesley Crusher came from, he thought.)
Ignoring McCoy's dubious look, Kirk reached for his communicator. "Four to beam up, Mr.Scott."
"That was neat!" Vance exclaimed as they materialized aboard the Enterprise. "Really radical!"
"'Neat'?" McCoy echoed blankly. "'Radical'?"
Kirk, a little more hip than the doctor, merely said, "Well, we're glad you liked it, Ensign. Now we'd better find you some quarters."
"Jim, you're not going to billet him with the real ensigns, are you?"
"Isn't there some family with a kid around my age that I -- " Vance trailed off in exasperation. "I keep forgetting! There are no kids aboard yet!"
"Yet?" Kirk visibly decided to ignore the comment. "Doctor, the ensign will stay in Sickbay where you can keep an eye on him." As Vance opened his mouth to protest, Kirk shot him a command glare. Vance closed his mouth. "Get him a uniform, Bones, and bring him to the Bridge." Kirk and Spock left.
Vance looked at McCoy. McCoy was staring furiously after Kirk. "He snatches a kid, scrambles his atoms, expects to take him into God knows what... The Klingons could be lurking behind any damn asteroid -- " McCoy muttered irascibly to himself, glaring at the now closed doors.
"Hm? Oh. Come on with me, son." McCoy led the way to the turbolift. Vance found the Enterprise to be quite familiar, and he felt right at home strolling down her corridors. Once in Sickbay, McCoy introduced Vance to Dr.M'Benga and Nurse Chapel, showed him the small room that would be his (normally the isolation ward), and took his measurements with another salt shaker-lookalike. These he fed into the main computer (which sounded just like Nurse Chapel for some reason) and minutes later the computer produced a Star Fleet ensign's uniform in just Vance's size.
As soon as Vance had changed his clothes, McCoy escorted him to the Bridge. When the lift doors opened, the first thing Vance saw was the viewscreen. The beauty of the stars rushing by froze him in place, and he stared for a long, long moment until McCoy gently urged him on. Spock was, of course, hunched over his viewer at the Science Station; Chekov and Sulu manned the helm, and Uhura smiled at him from Communications.
As Vance stepped to his place by Kirk's command chair, the captain smiled down at him. "Uniform all right?"
Vance nodded. "Just fine! Are we near the interdimensional warp yet?"
"Pretty close. Our sensors indicate the 'doorway' has closed, but Mr.Spock is scanning to see if other nodes exist in this area."
Vance thought for a minute. "May I try something, sir?"
Kirk exchanged a look with McCoy, then nodded. "All right."
Vance turned to Lt.Uhura's station. "Excuse me, Lieutenant, would you please send out the following message? 'Attention. All beings invited to Mega Party, compliments of Hotblack Desiderato. Free Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters. Entertainment by Erotica's Nymphs. Come party till you go nova.'"
Uhura's eyebrows were practically at her hairline. "You want me to transmit THAT?"
"Yes, please, on all frequencies."
Uhura was a true professional. With only a brief shake of her head, she turned to business. "Very well, Ensign. Do you want it translated into all known languages?"
"No, just English will be fine. Thank you."
Kirk frowned at Vance, bewildered. "What will that do?"
"It should attract the Heart of Gold to our vicinity. If I know Zaphod, that'll bring him on the run!"
"That would bring me on the run!" Chekov whispered to Sulu, grinning. "Especially the part about -- "
"Thank you, Mr.Chekov," Kirk interrupted. "Ensign, what will bringing the Heart of Gold -- whatever that is--to our vicinity do?"
"Don't you see? The Heart of Gold is Zaphod Beeblebrox's ship. An interdimensional hole is so totally improbable that the Heart of Gold HAS to be responsible for it. Now, if only there's a lingering Improbability field around here so that Zaphod can hear the message..."
Kirk shut his mouth with a click. Leaning towards McCoy he asked, sotto voce, "You did say he wasn't crazy?"
Bones shrugged. "I'm just a country doctor, Jim. But my instruments all insist he's perfectly healthy."
A thought struck Vance. "Oh, Lt.Uhura? Could you add 'Complimentary Earl Grey Tea available on request' to the message? We can't leave Arthur out, after all."
"Of course not," Uhura agreed blankly. She keyed in the addendum.
"Captain -- I am detecting a node! It is forming directly in our path!"
"Great!" Vance crowed. "Now all we have to do is watch out for Vogons!"
"Entering interdimensional warp, Kep-tin!" Chekov called out.
"What do you guys want to see first?" Vance asked, hopping up and down in excitement. "Earth -- oops, can't see that, I forgot. How about the Hitchhiker's Guide planet? Magrathea? The man who rules the universe? I know! The Restaurant at the -- "
Vance broke off as Kirk turned a baleful eye upon him. "Hold it right there, Mister! I want an explanation before you go any further! Where are we?"
Vance rubbed his chin. "That's kind of complicated. I think we should -- "
"Ensign," Kirk interrupted firmly.
Vance paid no attention. " -- Guide planet. That would be great. Or maybe Magrathea. I bet Slartibartfast would teach me how to ski along the fjords. Or -- "
"I know! Ford's home -- Betelgeuse! They must make great -- "
"ENSIGN!" Kirk's command bellow sent Vance staggering backwards. It was even worse than his English teacher Mr.Kahn in a high fury, and suddenly Vance realized his behavior hadn't been quite up to the Enterprise's standards. His excitement wilted, and he found it very difficult to meet Kirk's eyes.
"Jim." Incredibly enough, McCoy sounded amused. Vance lifted his head to see the doctor grinning at the glowering Kirk. "That's perfectly normal eleven-year-old excitement. If you want cold, emotionless answers, ask Spock."
"Thank you, Doctor." Spock sounded mildly surpised at the unexpected compliment.
Kirk sighed, the anger fading from the gaze he turned on Vance. "Of course. Thank you, Doctor." He scratched his head, unsure as to how to proceed. "Ensign..."
"Yes, sir?" Vance said meekly.
"Could you try to explain things again -- a little more slowly this time?" Kirk asked gently.
"Yes, sir!" Vance said promptly, reassured. "It's like this, Captain. The gold ship you saw last time belongs to a guy named Zaphod Beeblebrox, and it's powered by an Improbability Drive. OK so far? Well, this universe is sort of centered around a book titled The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which isn't very accurate, but it's wildly popular, 'cause it's got 'Don't Panic' written in large, friendly letters on the cover. Anyway, Zaphod stole the Heart of Gold, even though he doesn't know why, because he was part of a conspiracy to learn who the true ruler of the universe is. Well, he was part of the conspiracy, before his brain surgery, I mean. Now, even though his dead great-grandfather and Zarniwoop want him to follow through on the plan, Zaphod doesn't, so he's trying to just enjoy himself -- with Ford's help, of course. Oh, did I mention Ford yet?"
Kirk's eyes were glazed over. "What?"
Vance bit his lip. This wasn't going to be easy.
"Keptin," Chekov spoke up. "What course should I lay in?"
Kirk blinked. "Ah. Yes. Hmm. Ensign? Any suggestions?"
Somehow Vance didn't think the crew was ready for Betelgeuse yet. Better start them off with someplace slow and relaxing, he thought. Relaxing -- that's it! The mattress planet! He opened his mouth to give the instructions, then Spock interrupted. "Captain, a fleet of ships is approaching on an intercept course."
Oh no! Vance spun to Uhura. "Lieutenant! Stop broadcasting the message!"
Uhura instantly ceased the transmission, but the fleet continued their approach. "On main viewer," Kirk ordered.
To Vance's horror, the flotilla consisted not of assorted partygoers led by Zaphod and Ford, but of huge, hideous, gray barges. "Vogons," he breathed, ashen.
Kirk looked at him sharply. "Who are they?"
"Vogons! They're terrible! They destroy everything they can! If you -- "
Kirk had heard enough. "Red Alert! Shields up!"
The order came just in time as a sizzling bolt of energy licked out from the lead Vogon ship. The Enterprise's shields easily deflected the attack.
Sulu turned to face Kirk, a relieved smile on his face. "None, sir. The shields could stand up to this all day if they had to."
Vance let out his breath in a whoosh.
"Hm. Then let's get their attention, shall we, Mr.Sulu?"
Sulu grinned wickedly. "Aye, sir!" His fingers danced across his console and a scarlet phaser beam darted out towards the first Vogon craft. "Direct hit! Enemy vessel damaged!"
Kirk smiled at Vance. "That wasn't so bad, was it, Ensign?"
"No, sir." Vance smiled in return, but something was nagging at the back of his mind.
"Captain, the Vogon ship is hailing us," Uhura reported.
"On main viewer," Kirk ordered automatically.
Suddenly Vance realized what he'd been overlooking. "No! Don't!"
It was too late. Already the Vogon's loathsome voice was coming over the speakers, assaulting the Enterprise crew with his species' ultimate weapon: their horrible poetry.
"Ode to a Hangnail. Oh snoogleous barfle, thou mirac'lous ooze, how can I scrinch thy malodorous goos? Hark, hark, mine eyestalks beheld the ollupteen grinch the mountain had fell'd..."
It was worse than the pretentious sonnets of a lovesick seventeen year old. Worse than the New Age poets. Even worse than the stuff they print inside Hallmark cards. Vance found himself gagging uncontrollably. Around him, the adults were in no better condition, McCoy was huddled on the deck, covering his ears; Sulu retched nearby. Chekov was twisting from side to side, seeking escape, while Kirk writhed in agony, half out of his command chair. Uhura had been knocked from her seat by the onslaught, but she was bravely crawling back to her post, trying to override the incoming transmission. The continuing barrage was draining her strength, however, and a particularly strained couplet nearly robbed her of her consciousness.
It was Spock who saved them. Due perhaps to his Vulcan physique or to his formidable mental control, he was somehow able to lurch to Uhura's station and key in the commands necessary to set up a temporary jamming field. The Vogon voice cut off in mid-blank verse, and the torment halted.
For a long moment, no one spoke or moved, too overcome by their narrow escape. Then McCoy got to his knees and crawled over to Sulu, groggily coming to.
"Uhura." Kirk's voice was barely more than a whisper. "Keep up that field. No matter what."
"Fascinating." Spock was staring into his viewer. "The Vogon's voice, when used in that cadence and pitch, sets up a resonance field unlike any heretofore experienced."
"You can say that again!" McCoy snapped, helping Chekov back to his post.
"The field's energy profile is such that it can penetrate virtually any shield. Once audible in any part of a vessel, it pervades the entire craft."
"Doctor! You're needed in Sickbay! There are multiple casualties from the Vogon assault!" Uhura was swamped with damage reports. "Captain, Mr.Scott is calling."
Scotty's burr was thicker than Vance had ever heard it. "Cap'n! Tha' horrible noise ha' gravely weakened th' engines! We canna withstand anoother one!"
"Ensign!" Kirk swivelled to face Vance. "What defense do we have?"
Vance stared at him, petrified at the thought of again being subjected to Vogon poetry. "I -- I don't know!" he stuttered. "Ford and Arthur tried insincere flattery, but it didn't work!"
"The Vogon poetry will penetrate our jamming field in precisely 2.36 minutes," Spock informed them.
"Vance!" Kirk shouted. "Think of something!"
An outlandish idea occurred to Vance. It was utterly ridiculous, but they had no alternative. "Maybe, maybe we can beat them at their own game! If bad poetry is their weapon, then maybe good poetry can defeat them!"
"Absurd!" Kirk snapped.
"Don't you understand? This entire universe is absurd! That's the whole idea! Besides, all we need to do is distract them long enough to break the rhythm of their recitation -- isn't that right, Mr. Spock?"
"Affirmative. If all factors are not rigidly defined, the poetry loses its destructive power."
"What kind of good poetry do you have in mind?" Kirk demanded.
Vance thought fast. "Um, well, poetry is like music, right? Rhythm and beat and all, so we'll transmit music to the Vogons. Good music. Ummm... I know! Uhura's singing!"
"What?!" the lieutenant yelped, spinning around.
"You sing beautifully," Vance urged. "Just sing to them."
"I'm not a professional singer -- or even trained! What if I --"
"Shield penetration in 52 seconds."
"Uhura, that's an order!" Kirk snapped. "Mr.Scott, I want all the power you can muster routed through Uhura's console immediately. Lieutenant, focus a high power, wide angle beam over the entire Vogon fleet. It's got to overpower their communication systems instantly."
Uhura nodded, tight lipped. She quickly programmed in the necessary adjustments, then, finished, looked appealingly to Kirk. At his stern nod, she took a deep breath and began to sing.
As the first notes of her song, the Star Fleet anthem, lilted over the subspace frequencies, the oncoming Vogon fleet shuddered to a halt, their own transmission abruptly ceasing. Heartened, Uhura segued smoothly into the "Mkaza Uhuru", the United Nations of Africa's national song. "Greensleeves", then "Hatikvah" followed. The Vogon ships were rocking to and fro beneath the counterattack. Without pausing, Uhura sang a wordless aria she had writtten to accompany Mr.Spock's lyre. The Vogon fleet was now in total disarray. Many ships had exploded, their hulls breached by Uhura's pure notes, while the remainder struggled to flee out of range. Uhura finished with a triumphant rendition of "Oh, Danny Boy", incapacitating the last of the Vogon survivors.
"Beautiful!" Kirk led the standing ovation.
When the blushing Uhura had taken her last bow, Vance tugged at Kirk's sleeve. "Captain, if it's safe, we need to question the Vogons. They may know where Zaphod is, and without him, we'll never find another Improbability doorway to home."
Kirk nodded and, cautiously, Uhura opened hailing frequencies.
The screen cleared to show Vogon Prostetnic Jeltz quivering among the wreckage of his Bridge. "That -- that was HORRIBLE!" he shuddered. "Please, no more!"
"Then answer our questions," Kirk rapped out coldly.
"Anything!" Jeltz moaned. "You are even more terrible than those other outworlders!"
Kirk frowned. "What other outworlders? Another ship like ours?"
"No. Not like yours. And they all looked like him." The Vogon pointed. "With the attractive ears."
Spock's eyebrow rose precipitously.
"Spock!" Kirk turned from the Vogon momentarily. "Are there any Vulcan ships nearby that might have wandered into the Improbability field?"
"Doubtful," Spock replied calmly. "I find it much more likely the Vogon is referring to a Romulan vessel."
Vance's eyes widened. "Romulan?" he squeaked.
"Describe the other ship!" Kirk swung back to the Vogon.
Jeltz squinted his eyes shut -- an unpleasant sight -- thinking hard. "It was kinda dippy, with this stupid bird on the side. But we didn't see it long. They just suddenly appeared -- out of nowhere! I didn't even have time to send for my book of poetry before they had us in their sights."
"Romulans." Kirk stated grimly. "And with a cloaking device."
"What did they want?" Vance asked.
"Oh, nothing much. Just directions to the nearest Improbability Field. Like I'd know? I told 'em, 'Who do I look like? Zaphod Beeblebrox?'"
"What happened then?"
"They wanted to know where Beeblebrox was. Them and every space cop in the galaxy! 'Good luck finding him!' I said. 'Why don't you start on Earth? Or maybe Magrathea?' So they took off. They thought I was serious, those silly dweezils."
"Earth?!" Kirk spun to Chekov. "Helm, lay in -- "
"No, no, wait," Vance interrupted. "Trust me. Zaphod isn't on Earth."
"But the Romulans -- "
"Don't worry. In this universe, the Romulans can't hurt the Earth." Anymore, Vance added under his breath, glaring at the Vogons.
Kirk gazed at him. "Are you sure?" he asked finally.
"All right." Kirk looked at Chekov, still patiently awaiting orders. "Belay that, Mr. Chekov. Earth is safe."
"What?" The Vogon snorted in hilarity. "You outworlders! Such comics!"
Uhura gazed at him distastefully. "Will that be all, Captain?" she asked.
"I suppose so. The Romulans left right after that, Jeltz? Nothing else happened?"
"Nothing. Unless you count the Destruct-O-Beam."
Vance felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. "What about the Destruct-O-Beam?" he gulped.
"They took it. Can you imagine? It's getting so you can't leave your solar system anymore," Jeltz complained, ignoring the fact that Vogons accounted for 98 of the galaxy's crimes. "Not that it really matters; it was only rented."
Kirk was looking curiously at Vance as he struggled for calm. "C-Captain, we must go after the Romulans! The weapon they stole can obliterate entire planets! They cannot be allowed to return to your universe with it -- it makes the Doomsday Device look like a fourth grader's art project!" Vance was so upset he got a bit carried away, but suddenly this was no silly TV show; this was real! An enemy spacecraft was lurking out there with a Destruct-O-Beam, and if the Enterprise didn't steal it back before the Romulans figured out how to use it and returned home with it, there'd be no "next generation". More importantly, Vance would perish with the "first generation", and suddenly death meant more than syndication!
One look at Vance's face told Kirk the matter was serious. "Chekov, get us to Magrathea -- Warp 8!"
Leaving the Vogons among the remains of their fleet, the Enterprise hurtled towards the Horsehead Nebula, home of the most fabulous planet in existence: Magrathea.
"I'm pretty sure they'll have turned off the security system," Vance told Kirk, "but you'd better be prepared, just in case."
"We can handle missiles," Sulu assured him breezily. "Whether or not they can, ahem, turn into whales."
"And petunias," Chekov snickered.
Offended, Vance glared at them. "Look, that was only because of the Improbability Field! And it did too happen!"
Sulu and Chekov sneaked a sidelong glance at each other, then hastily muffled their giggles.
"It did!" Vance insisted, getting angrier. "And the petunias thought -- " He broke off as the two officers dissolved in laughter. "It did so!"
Kirk patted his shoulder soothingly. "It's all right, Ensign. Of course we believe you. Don't we, gentlemen?"
Sulu and Chekov hastily straightened up. "Oh, yes, sir," Sulu gulped.
"Eb-solyootly," Chekov snorted.
"Entering Magrathean orbit," Spock reported.
"Captain, I'm receiving an automated message!" Uhura called.
" -- last time, leave. Vamoose. Take a hike. Scram. Beat it."
Vance frowned. "Their messages used to be more polite."
"Captain," Spock said, "Since the planet has clearly requested our immediate withdrawl, Star Fleet regulations require -- "
Vance regarded Spock pityingly. He still hadn't gotten it. Kirk never let little things like Star Fleet regulations get in his way. Sheesh, if you make a habit of trampling on the Prime Directive, are you likely to fuss over the other bylaws? Sure enough, Kirk was explaining why it was all right for the Enterprise to ignore the message.
"...sounds like an automated response, doesn't it? Perhaps the culture on Magrathea is under the unnatural domination of a computer -- like Landru. Surely, Mr.Spock, you're not proposing we leave the unhappy denizens in slavery? Why, that almost sounds...Satanic."
Vance nodded in grudging admiration. Kirk was pulling out all the stops this time. Spock raised an eyebrow, conceding defeat.
"Holy -- Captain! Incoming hypertronic warhead!" Sulu yelped. "Already too close for tractor beams!"
"Shields up!" Kirk yelled as alarm klaxons began to sound.
"The shields will not stop a hypertronic warhead," Spock said.
"Brace for impact!"
This is not how I wanted to be proven right, Vance wailed silently, grabbing for support.
"Five, four, three, two..." Sulu's voice trailed off as he gaped at his viewer in shock. "I don't believe it."
"It's a moose. In a clown suit."
Sulu couldn't drag his eyes from the viewer. "The missile. It changed into a moose. In a clown suit."
Vance smirked. Now that the danger was past, he felt vindicated. "Told you so."
"The moose is beginning to fall," Spock reported. "Picking up speed."
An ex-Iowan farmboy, Kirk loved animals, and he was not about to watch moose-icide. "Transporter Room. Lock onto, and beam aboard, that moose!"
There was a pause. Then Chief Kyle demanded, "Who is this?"
"This is Kirk, dammit. Lock onto coordinates -- " he peered over Chekov's shoulder " -- 397.42.266 and energize!"
When the seconds ticked by with no further word from Kyle, Kirk grew impatient. "Well? Kyle? Kyle!"
"It's a moose," came the incredulous voice. "In a clown suit. He's got a little red nose, and great big shoes on his hooves, and a wig on his head. He's even got squirting flowers taped to his antlers."
Chekov and Sulu regarded the smug Vance with awe.
"Fascinating. This would indicate a large Improbability Field nearby," Spock commented.
"That means Zaphod's here! We've got to beam down!"
"Agreed. Mr.Scott to the Bridge. You have the conn. Bridge to Sickbay. Bones, if you can leave your patients, you're needed for the landing party."
"On my way, Jim."
Vance decided the Transporter was a terrific device. Despite his memory of the transporter failure in "Star Trek I" and McCoy's grumbling, he liked the tingly sensation the beam produced and didn't find the sudden change in surroundings the least bit disorienting.
Magrathea's surface was just as the Hitchhiker's Guide had described: undistinguished.
Kirk and the others looked around. "Well? Where's this Zaphod?"
Vance shrugged apologetically. "Probably below the surface, but I don't know how to get there without -- Slartibartfast!"
The old man approaching them could be none other than that award-winning fjord designer.
"What did you say his name was?" McCoy choked.
The old man halted, disconcerted. "Do I know you?" he asked uncertainly. "Were you a customer?"
"In a manner of speaking," Vance answered evasively. "Captain, may I present Slartibartfast? He makes the best fjords of anyone I know."
Slartibartfast visibly preened. "Well, since you're customers, you must come in. Do excuse the mess; we've had a slight problem with the cleaning staff."
He led the group deep into the heart of the planet, past marvels more wondrous than any of them could have imagined.
"Fascinating." Spock was recording everything in sight.
" -- and over here is where we -- " Slartibartfast's running dialogue was interrupted by a wild shout and a bottle of That Ol' Janx Spirit that came whizzing past their heads.
Kirk grabbed for his phaser. "On stun!" he shouted.
Vance put out a restraining hand. "That's just Zaphod."
Spock quirked an eyebrow. "Fascinating."
Sure enough, Ford Prefect cane trotting out of the room in front of them, clearly plastered. "Hey, d'ju guys see a bottle of Tha' Ol' Janx Shpirit?" he slurred. "We're having a jinnintonix contest.'
"Gin and tonics? Here?" McCoy asked incredulously.
"Nonononono. Jinnintonix. Zaphod insists that they're mush more intoshicating than PanGala-- PanGaloo-- PanGoro-- than Gargle Blasters, and we're testing his hypothowhatsis. Ah." Having retrieved the bottle, Ford headed back to the party. Cautiously, the others followed.
Zaphod, Arthur, Trillian, Benjy Mouse, and Frankie Mouse were all there. Only Zaphod was obviously busy -- mixing drinks, of course; the others were engaged in desultory conversation.
"Arthur? Benjy Mouse?" Vance gaped in disbelief.
"Er, yes? Hello. Um, who are you?" Arthur asked confusedly.
"Doesn't he want to chop out your brain?" Vance yelped, pointing an accusatory finger at the rodent.
High pitched, squeaky laughter followed his question. "Of course not! We're throwing this party for Arthur!"
"Hey, Monkeyman," Zaphod called over. "Thanks!" He lifted his glass in a toast, but his third arm, reaching for more Janx spirit, knocked it over. His two heads immediately got into a spirited argument over whose fault it was.
"But -- I thought -- "
"We made a mint on the talk show circuit," Frankie Mouse cried, his glass container weaving back and forth. Apparently the Gargle Blasters had been flowing freely for quite a while.
"Really? But the question -- "
"'HHHHow many roads must a man walk downnn...'" Frankie and Benjy carolled shrilly., then dissolved in drunken squeaks of glee. Bob Dylan would be in tears, Vance thought.
"Fascinating," Spock said, looking down at his tricorder. "Those are not ordinary mice. They are -- "
Vance was beginning to find Spock's unceasing monotone more than a little tedious. "Ah, Frankie, why don't you and Slartibartfast introduce Mr.Spock to Deep Thought?"
"Why not?" Frankie gestured grandly, nearly falling out of his container. "C'mon!"
At Kirk's nod, Spock accompanied the others, and Vance heaved a sigh of relief.
Kirk looked from Arthur to Benjy Mouse. "He wanted your brain?!"
McCoy meanwhile was surreptitiously directing a medical scanner at Zaphod. Incredulously regarding the reading, he exclaimed, "You should be in an alcoholic coma!"
"Thanks. Here -- try one," Zaphod invited.
Curious, McCoy sipped the drink.
"Hey, stop!" Vance yelped. He hurried over to where McCoy was now enthusiastically downing Zaphod's concoction.
"This is wonderful!" McCoy said, holding out his glass for a refill.
"No! Wait!" Vance tried to wrest the glass away, but his attention was diverted by a bellow from Kirk.
"What do you mean, his entire species was part of an EXPERIMENT?"
"Oh no!" Vance rushed back to Kirk.
"That's right." Benjy Mouse sipped his drink nonchalantly. "We had the entire planet created and allowed his species to evolve, just to discover the Question."
"But then the Vogons destroyed Ear--" Arthur began.
"Er -- his planet!" Vance hastily interrupted. He had no intention of letting Kirk discover that the Vogons had destroyed Earth in this universe. He knew Kirk's reaction would not be a calm and reasoned one.
"I don't care about the Vogons!" Kirk shouted. "But you cannot use an entire society as guinea pigs or lab rats-- " He broke off, embarrassed. "No offense."
"Hey, Jim," McCoy weaved over. "Try one of these. It's better than a mint julep."
Kirk automatically took the glass and drank deeply. "What is that?" he choked seconds later.
"A PanGalactic Gargle Blaster," Zaphod told him, strolling over. Ford remained at the bar, trying to mix a mint julep. "Like it?"
"I don't have time to drink!" Kirk retorted. "This furball is playing god with innocent people's lives, and I'm going to stop him!"
"Furball?" Benjy Mouse squeaked indignantly. "I'll have you know that in my own dimension, I have an IQ of -- "
"So?" Kirk sneered. "I've taken on Star Fleet Command, over the Prime Directive, no less! Why would I be scared of a rat?" Pausing for breath, he took another long swig of his drink.
"Er, not to interrupt or anything, but this seems rather futile. The planet was destroyed, after all," Arthur pointed out.
Kirk waved his hand dismissively. "Doeshn't matter," he slurred, the lethal PanGalactic Gargle Blaster already taking effect. "It's the principle of the thing! Your brain is yours to do with as you please, dammit!"
"We don't want his brain anymore!" Benjy Mouse said irritably. "So butt out!"
"Ah, take the stupid brain," Zaphod offered. "He never uses it."
Arthur ran for cover as Kirk spun to confront Zaphod. "What did you say?'
"The mice did Monkeyman a favor. I've been on his planet: Dullsville. At least the mice gave them something to do."
"Oh, yeah? I intend to liberate the planet from the yoke of -- of -- of rat rule!" Kirk, overcome by his own eloquence, poured himself another drink.
"Stop calling me a rat!" Benjy Mouse ordered shrilly.
"Ah, go run on your wheel," Zaphod snapped. "Listen, Captain Galaxy, who are you to interfere with an ongoing experiment? Especially one that results in parties with free booze?"
Kirk glared at him, trying to focus his eyes. "Nobody's gonna take that man's brain!"
"Just for that, we will take it!" Benjy Mouse proclaimed furiously. "It'll make a good prop on the talkshows."
"Hey! I want a finder's fee!" Zaphod demanded.
"Why you -- " Kirk scrabbled for his phaser.
"It's not even the right brain!" Vance wailed, trying to separate the intoxicated would-be combatants. "He's descended from telephone sanitizers who crashed on the planet!"
His words had no effect on the trio, but Trillian, Ford, and McCoy helped him pull them apart.
"Have another, Jim," McCoy beamed, brimming with good cheer.
"You're drunk!" Vance accused him.
"No, I'm not," the doctor retorted indignantly. "I've only had one -- two -- three -- six -- eight... Well, maybe a little." He turned back to where Kirk was trying to wrestle the Janx Spirit out of Ford's grip. "Make me one, willya, Jim?"
Oh, God. It was clear that it was up to Vance. He began to understand why Wesley always saved the NCC-1701-D. "Hey, Zaphod, have you seen any Romulans recently? Dumb ship, pointed ears, Destruct-O-Beam?"
Zaphod sulked. "Maybe." He glared in Kirk's direction. "I want a Gargle Blaster."
"Nyah, nyah." Kirk held up the Janx Spirit.
"Captain," Vance coaxed, "give me the bottle."
"Captain -- "
This was ridiculous. An idea struck Vance. "Oh, Captain, have you met Trillian? I think she'd like to meet you."
"She'?" Even tanked, Kirk retained certain priorities. Dropping the bottle, he swaggered over to Trillian's side.
Vance retrieved the bottle. "Zaphod, if you'll tell me where the Romulans went, I'll give you the Janx Spirit," he wheedled.
One of Zaphoid's heads squinted at him. Benjy Mouse had passed out in his container and Ford snored amoing the empty bottles behind the bar. The party was definitely winding down. "Well -- OK. They chased us for a while, but we lost 'em around Ursa Minor Beta. Now gimme."
Vance readily relinquished the bottle. "Thanks!" He dragged Kirk away from the glaring Trillian ( "No, I don't want to see your scars from your fight with the Gorn!") and retrieved McCoy from where he sluimbered next to Ford. "Spock! Spock!"
Frankie Mouse and Spock returned to the room. "Fascinating!" Spock began. "That computer -- "
"Please, Mr.Spock!" Vance begged. "Help the captain!"
Spock's eyebrow rose as Kirk lurched into him. "Spock, ol' buddy, ol' pal!" he mumbled boozily. "How ya doin'?"
"Captain, it appears you have been consuming intoxicating beverages. Given your firm rule never to do so while on duty, I surmise that -- "
"Oh, Spock, stop it!" Vance's temper snapped. "Just help me get them back to the ship. Please."
The eyebrow rose even higher, but Spock complied. Arther peeked out timidly and Zaphod lifted his drink in farewell as the forms disappeared in a shimmer of light.
After a stop in Sickbay to sober up Kirk and McCoy, the landing party returned to the Bridge.
"Any luck, Keptin?" Chekov inquired.
"Mrgrlph." Kirk was not in a good mood.
"Captain, Chief Kyle wants to know what he should do with the moose. He says it's beginning to eat the transporter platform," Uhura reported.
"Tell Kyle to take the moose and -- " Kirk broke off his heated reply and visibly got a grip on his temper. "Lieutenant, you handle the moose."
"Aye, sir," Uhura said quickly, knowing better than to argue when Kirk was like this.
Kirk groaned and rubbed his eyes. "Dammit, Bones, can't you do something for this headache?"
"No!" McCoy was even more grouchy. "Don't you think I would have, if I could?"
"Uh, sir?" Sulu asked tentatively. "What heading?"
Kirk looked at Spock. Spock looked at Kirk. "Didn't anybody ask Zaphod about the Romulans?" McCoy exclaimed.
"You and the captain remained with him," Spock pointed out.
"Well?" McCoy turned to Kirk.
"Um, I don't quite recall... "
Vance stepped forward. "I do. He said they lost the Romulans around the Hithchhiker's Guide planet, Ursa Minor Beta."
Sulu and Chekov laid in the course, and at Kirk's nod, they set off.
The Enterprise arrived at its destination quickly, and Kirk decided that, given the cosmopolitan, crowded nature of the planet, several landing parties would beam down. He, Spock, McCoy, and Vance formed one such team, materializing in front of the Hitchhiker's Guide building.
"You know, Jim, I could get to like this place," McCoy commented dreamily, gazing about him at the beautiful beaches, tanned, attractive beings, and plentiful cafes.
"An illogical statement, Doctor," Spock said. "You know virtually nothing about this world, yet you declare your affection for it."
"I know what I like, Spock! If there was an ounce of emotion in your pointy-eared body, you'd--"
"GENTLEMEN." At Kirk's glare, both shut up. Turning to Vance, he continued, "Now what do we do?"
"Hm." Vance thought hard. "Well, we could see if the Romulans bought a copy of the Guide."
Kirk nodded approvingly and Vance led the way into the building. "Excuse me," he said to the receptionist.
"Take a seat please. Thank you," it replied automatically, not even turning around from where it was polishing its wingtips.
"Excuse me!" Vance repeated more loudly.
"Take a seat please. Thank you."
He finally succeeded in attracting the receptionist's attention. "Yes?" it inquired, sniffing disdainfully at their uniforms. "That color does nothing for you, you know. And those insignia? Tacky, tacky."
"I'd like to know -- "
"This is not the information desk," it informed him superciliously.
"Then where -- "
"When will -- "
"It won't. Too many annoying hitchhikers kept asking it questions." The being turned back to its polish.
"Spock, what about a mindmeld to discover the information?" KIrk whispered.
"With that?" Spock sounded very unenthused. "Sir, it has mauve contact lenses."
"Spock, duty and loyalty-- " Kirk began, a trifle pompously, then broke off at Vance's signal.
""Don't worry," he whispered. Turning back to the receptionist, Vance said calmly, "You're not being very helpful."
"Oh?" the being said disinterestedly.
"No. And I'm sure that Mr.Zarniwoop will be interested in hearing just how unhelpful you are. Why, a cheap computer can be twice as inefficient as you, but at half the price."
The receptionist spilled its wing polish. "You know Mr.Zarniwoop?" it gasped. "Why didn't you say so? How may I help you? Would you like a croissant? Espresso? A PanGalactic Gargle Blaster?"
"NO!" McCoy and Kirk yelped in unison.
"No thanks," Vance echoed, "just some information. Did a group of Romulans come in here recently?"
"Pointed ears, really tacky costumes, probably not real polite."
"Oh, them. Yes, they wanted a copy of the Guide; they said they needed it to find their way back home. When I told them the cost, they became quite irate. It seems they had neglected to bring their travellers checks with them and didn't feel like parting with their ship."
"Their ship? How much is the Guide these days?"
"Sir, if you have to ask, you can't afford it," the receptionist replied haughtily.
"Oh. So what did they do?"
"They demanded to see the customer service representative. When I explained he was in his office, they insisted on waiting. They sat here for nearly three days, then asked when he'd be available. I told them he was on a cruise and couldn't be reached."
"I thought you said he was in his office," Kirk objected.
"Yes. Anyway, at that point they decided not to wait any longer. They went over to one of the scruffy hitchhikers that always hang about the building, hit him on the head and stole his copy. Why didn't they just do that in the first place, I'd like to know."
"If the Romulans have a copy of the Guide--" Spock began.
"Relax, Mr.Spock, I don't think it'll be much use to them," Vance smiled. "It's not exactly a road map."
"So now what?" Kirk asked.
"I guess we -- "
"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!"
The receptionist shrieked in terror and dove underneath its desk as a squadron of Space Cops stormed into the lobby and surrounded the landing party.
"You!" the leader shouted, pointing at Kirk. "Confess!"
"To what?" Kirk asked blankly.
"Uh...wait a second." There was a pause. "Space piracy? Nope. Failure to pay a bar bill? No. Uh... hm... Aha! I remember! Aiding and abetting a fugitive!"
Kirk spun to Vance. "You told me he was the President of the galaxy!"
Vance shrugged. "He is. Also."
"So! You admit it?"
"No!" Kirk yelled back. "We didn't aid or abet him!"
"But you did see him?"
Kirk nodded. "Yes."
"We crashed his party," Vance volunteered.
There was a moment of dead silence. The receptionist peered out over the desktop. "You crashed Zaphod Beeblebrox's party?" the head cop finally asked in tones of awe.
"Jeeze! That takes guts!" The cop whistled in admiration. "And you made it back alive!"
Vance waved modestly. "Well -- "
"We won't trouble you further, sir! It's just that we're trying to track Beeblebrox down -- theft of a ship, you know -- and we got a tip that you'd been near an Improbability Field."
"What kind of tip?"
"Well, sir, it seems a member of your crew was trying to find a zoo that would take a moose in a clown suit. One thing led to another and..."
"But, hey, if you survived a Beeblebrox party, we don't want any trouble with you guys! Besides, it's nearly time for our lunch break."
"Lunch?" Vance had an idea. "I don't suppose you could give us a lift?"
"Certainly, sir! Where to?"
"The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, of course!"
The cops snapped to attention. "We'd be honored, sir!"
Kirk poked him. "Where?"
"It's OK," Vance promised. "Besides, we've got to eat too, and this way it'll take no time at all!"
With a shrug, Kirk aquiesced. As they followed the police out of the building, Vance felt something being pressed into his hand. Surprised, he looked down to find a copy of the Guide. "With my compliments, sir, you froodly dude," the receptionist whispered fawningly.
Vance and the others filed out of the Guide building and into the large, aggressively ugly space police wagon. "Next stop, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!" the head cop cried, throwing a switch.
The next thing Vance knew, a pack of elephants was playing polo with his head. At least that's what it felt like. "Aggggh," he managed to gasp out.
Moments later, a hypospray hissed against his arm, and immediately his headache began to fade. He looked around and found the others holding their heads too. "I'll never complain about the transporter again," McCoy gulped, replacing the hypo in his medikit.
"Here we are!" The cop pointed out the window.
"Fascinating!" Spock said, scanning out the open door. "Captain, we are -- "
" -- at the end of the universe. Yes, Mr.Spock." Vance couldn't help stealing the Vulcan's big news. Spock was always so serious! "But wait until you see the restaurant!"
Kirk led the way, staring at the opulent surroundings. The maitre'd came forward to meet him. "Sir?"
Kirk halted. "I am Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise," he began. "I represent -- "
"Yes, sir. Does Sir have a reservation?"
"Hah?" Kirk gaped at him. Usually his introduction provoked more of a reaction.
"If Sir does not have a reservation, Sir will have to wait at the bar. We are very busy tonight."
"Have you seen any Romulans?" Kirk cut straight to the heart of the matter. "They've stolen a Destruct-O-Beam and--"
"Thermonuclear devices must be checked at the door. Now, if Sir will go to the bar, I will alert Sir when a table is available."
"Tricorder readings indicate several empty tables," Spock said, scanning the dining room.
That earned him a frosty glare. "Sir is referring to reserved tables. We must hold those."
"The odds of someone claiming a reserved table 30 minutes after the time of the reservation are -- "
"Sir! The bar! Or I shall have to point out that Sirs' -- ahem! -- attire is not strictly in keeping with our dress code!" The maitre'd turned to go.
The hungry cops had had enough. The leader pushed Kirk aside and, shoving his Kill-O-Zap gun under the maitre'd's noses, ordered, "Look again."
"Ah!" the maitre'd cried happily. "Here is Sirs' reservation! Excuse me, please! If you'll follow me, I shall be happy to seat you!"
As they followed him towards the empty seats, McCoy nudged him. "Separate tables," he murmured, indicating the loudly chattering cops.
"Oh, and send the check to Hotblack's table," Vance piped up, spying the cadaver propped up on one side of the room.
"Ensign?" Kirk asked severely. "Is that proper?"
"Oh, yes, Captain," Vance assured him. "I promise, he'll never notice." Besides, he thought to himself, if he'll let Zaphod and Ford stick him with a check, he's not only dead, he's stupid!
"All right then."
The now cringingly servile maitre'd ushered the foursome to a table close to the stage, then hastily exited.
"This is some place!" McCoy breathed, staring up and out.
Vance agreed. He too was gazing, openmouthed, at the heavens, and the sights made the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" special effects look pathetic. "If only George Lucas could see this!" he whispered as a cluster oif galaxies whizzed by.
Kirk snagged a roll from the breadbasket. "Not bad," he munched. "Spock, any sign of the Romulans?"
Vance sighed. So much for the poetry of the cosmos. The beauty of the universe was laid out overhead, and Kirk was still going on about the Romulans. Still, you had to admire his tenacity.
"Negative." Spock scanned the room. "There are a number of interesting and previously unknown races here however. Many seem to be afflicted with an internal parasite that has lodged in their ears and -- "
"No, no." Vance interrupted, explaining about the Babel fish. When he described how the Babel fish was used to disprove the existence of God, Spock's eyebrows rose to new heights.
"Logical," he said, a hint of admiration in his tone. "Flawlessly logical."
In spite of himself, Vance was flattered. "Thank you!"
"Excuse me," a voice beside their table said. They turned to find a steer patiently waiting. "How do you do? May I interest you in a lovely slice of my rump roast?" Vance swallowed hard. Suddenly coming here didn't seem like such a good idea. He was glad he was a vegetarian, then remembered the Lettuce Liberation movement and wondered if he could just have a piece of toast.
"A slice of your rump roast?" McCoy gagged. "As in your rump?"
"Why, yes, sir. Unless you'd prefer lamb? Oh, Fluffy!" he called to an adorable little lamb gambolling by.
"Yes? Anyone here like some chops?"
Vance stared at the table, grimly concentrating on anything but food.
"Ugh!" McCoy said. "That's awful!"
"Sir!" The steer was offended. "A great deal of genetic engineering went into the creation of sentient food, who want to be eaten and can say so clearly. Frankly, I find your attitude quite archaic!"
"Wait a minute." Kirk was having trouble with the concept. "People eat you?"
The lamb giggled. "Of course! See over there? Two tables over? That's my brother on that plate."
Vance grabbed for his napkin.
"A logical, efficient system," Spock commented. "Designed to --"
Kirk drowned him out. "This is terrible! You're slaves to a cannibalistic society!"
" 'Cannibalistic', strictly speaking, is not the correct term," Spock objected, "since the intended meal is not of the same species as -- "
"Shut up , Spock!" McCoy was as green as Vance.
"We like being eaten," the steer told Kirk. "It's our choice to -- "
"Not anymore it isn't!" Kirk declared, rising to his feet.
Vance thought he detected a sigh from Spock. Valiantly the Vulcan sailed to the defense of the Prime Directive. "Captain, this society is -- "
"Obviously nonfunctional, thereby exempting it from the Prime Directive!"
"May I ask how you arrived at that conclusion?" Spock asked resignedly.
"It's obvious," Kirk retorted dismissively. "No healthy society lives to be consumed. It's -- it's -- "
"Inhuman?" Spock inquired gently.
"Exactly!" The irony was lost on Kirk.
The maitre'd came over, attracted by the argument. "Has Sir decided on a selection?"
"Death to the cannibals!" Kirk shouted. "Foodstuffs, unite in rebellion!"
The steer and lamb gaped at him in astonishment.
Annoyed at their lack of response, Kirk leapt onto the stage. He stiff-armed the MC, santching his mike, and launched into an eloquent polemic against eating sentient food.
"Excuse me," the lamb interrupted, in the middle of a particularly impassioned passage. "That gentleman is pointing to my leg. I'll just nip off and shoot myself if you don't mind."
"Stop!" Kirk yelled. "That's just the kind of mindless servitude I'm talking about!"
Vance was trying to pretend he didn't know Kirk, although the similar uniforms made it difficult. The audience was regarding the captain with a mixture of boredom and irritation, the latter mostly from the food in the crowd.
"Hey!" one chicken called out. "Who asked you to butt in? Mind your own business!"
"Yeah!" A calf joined in. "Leave us alone!"
"Don't you see?" Kirk begged. "You're being used!"
"And we like it!" a sheep retorted.
"No, you don't. You only think you do!"
"Bugger off!" a pig shouted furiously.
Kirk straightened up. "All right. No more Mr.Nice Guy. This society is going to be fixed -- forcibly, if necessary!"
"Sir!" the maitre'd had had enough. "Sir must leave the stage!"
"Get lost!" Kirk snapped.
The maitre'd glared at the three still seated. Vance shrugged helplessly. "I shall have to ask Sir to leave!"
The maitre'd gestured and abruptly all four were standing in the parking lot.
"Hey!" Kirk blinked.
"A matter-transference beam," Spock mused, studying his tricorder. "Fascinating."
"We've got to go back," Kirk ordered.
"Aw, Captain," Vance protested. "Just once can't you uphold the Prime Directive?"
"Listen, mister -- " Kirk began angrily.
"It's useless," a melancholy voice behind them said.
"What?" They turned around.
"It's all useless."
"Marvin!" Vance wasn't sure whether to hug the robot or flee.
"Everything is useless," Marvin continued mournfully. "You're useless, I'm -- "
"What is that?" McCoy asked incredulously.
"A highly advanced android!" Spock stared at his tricorder in shock. "Most impressive!"
"Do you think so? You're just saying that. You really hate me. Everyone hates me, because I'm the only non-useless thing in the galaxy."
"Highly paranoid too!" McCoy muttered.
"You're just saying that," Marvin pronounced dolorously.
"Marvin, can you get us back to Ursa Minor Beta?" Vance asked quickly, before Kirk could remember the sentient food.
"Of course I can. Not that I want to. It's so easy, and I never have anything challenging to do. Life sucks."
"And then you die," Vance agreed. "But do it."
With a mechanical groan, Marvin complied. Abruptly they were back on the Guide planet.
"Uhura?" Kirk tried his communicator.
"Beam us up. We need to find the Romulans!"
Good, thought Vance. He's back to the Romulans and off the food.
"But sir, what about shore leave? The landing parties report the planet is just lovely!"
"Lt.Uhura, we are in a race to recover a Destruct-O-Beam! We have no time for shore leave. Bring us on board immediately."
Sighing, Uhura said, "Yes, sir. But the beaches -- "
The familiar shimmer surrounded them and soon all five were back on the ship.
Wait a second, Vance thought, counting again. Five? Oh no! Marvin!
"What a dreary ship."
Stung, Kirk retorted, "Watch it, Mister! I'll have you know -- "
"I already do. My neural circuitry is so incredibly advanced that I already know anything you could possibly tell me."
"Oh?" Kirk looked mad enough to burst.
"Do you know the location of the Romulan vessel?" Spock interjected quietly.
Vance glanced at him with respect. Not bad!
"Of course. How dull. Is that the best you can do?"
"Come on!" At a dead run, Kirk led the way to the Bridge. At last, they would catch up to the Romulans!
With Marvin's grudging assistance, the Enterprise began to hunt for the Romulan ship.
"Jim," McCoy said quietly, "I hate to bring this up, but what if the Romulans have already figured out how to use the Destruct-O-Beam?"
Spock looked over from where he was trying to repair the diodes on Marvin's side. "Our shields would be useless against a weapon of that magnitude, Doctor."
"Well, that's just fine!" McCoy snorted. "We're sailing around at the direction of an unbalanced robot, searching for an invisible ship that may or may not have the ability to blast us into dust!"
Vance looked nervously at Kirk. It wasn't that bad, was it? Kirk smiled back reassuringly. In fact, it was that bad, but Kirk thrived on this sort of stress. "Don't be scared, Ensign," he said encouragingly. "When we find them -- "
Kablam! Right on cue, the ship shuddered under a phaser strike. If the shields hadn't already been up, the Bridge would have been destroyed instantly.
Spock abandoned his work on Marvin (to the robot's loud complaints) and studied the readouts on his viewer. "Forward shields holding."
"Sulu, can you target the Romulan?"
Sulu shook his head in frustration, "Not precisely, sir! They cloak and change course as soon as they've fired."
"Wide field barrage, phasers and photon torpedoes."
Sulu complied. "Clean miss."
Kaboom! The Romulan obviously had no trouble targeting the Enterprise. This time, Sulu managed to wing the enemy craft before it vanished.
"Forward shield failing. Compensating."
Kirk peered over Sulu's shoulder, watching for any sign of the Romulan vessel. "There! 371.25! Sulu, come about to a parallel heading and fire!"
Vamce and McCoy clung to the captain's chair as another Romulan strike jolted them.
"Fifty degrees starboard! Fire!"
"Direct hit, sir!'
The enemy responded with an equally damaging salvo, and Bridge crew were tossed right and left. Vance was surprised to discover that, as different parts of the artificial gravity grid failed, a variety of gravitational gradients was set up across the length of the Bridge. This caused trajectories to differ as people were knocked from their chairs. "Wow! So they really do fall in different directions!"
"Damage reports from decks 51 through 54, sir!" Uhura called.
Kirk ignored her, concentrating on the Romulan's next move. "Come to a heading of -- " This time, he lost his grip on the helm and sprawled to the deck as the Romulan phasers struck.
"I think I would have preferred simply being turned into a radioactive cloud," McCoy grumbled sourly, helping Kirk to his feet.
"This proves they haven't learned how to use the Destruct-O-Beam!" Kirk panted. "We're in time!'
In time for what? Vance wondered as another volley knocked him down. Kirk and Sulu were getting better, hitting the Romulan more frequently, but the cloaking device gave the Romulans a sizable advantage. Their weaponry was the Enterprise's equal, and with their ability to vanish and reappear at will, they clearly had the upper hand in the battle.
The next attack threw Vance across the Bridge, cracking his elbow on the lift doors. As Uhura hurried over to help him, Marvin lumbered up. "My side hurts," he moaned. "They never fixed it and they never will. They don't care. Why should they -- "
Uhura irritably shoved the android away, but Vance grabbed her hand. "That's it!'
With Uhura's help, Vance transmitted Marvin's unceasing gripes to the Romulan main computer. Almost as soon as they began to broadcast the litany of complaints, the assault on the Enterprise stopped. Moments later, Sulu shouted, "There it is!" as the Romulan ship suddenly uncloaked.
"Target and fire at will!"
Sulu's fingers danced over his console and a salvo of torpedoes rushed towards the Romulan craft. An instant later, a huge explosion lit the viewscreen.
"Enemy wessel totally destroyed!" Chekov exulted.
"They must have dropped their shields," Sulu said, mystified.
"Affirmative," Spock confirmed. "Their main computer took control of the ship and -- "
" -- committed suicide!" Vance finished happily, smiling at an equally pleased Uhura. Marvin continued to whine, undeterred by the loss of his audience.
"Good work!" Kirk addressed the crew in general. "With that threat out of the way, I suggest we head for home!'
"Captain?" Uhura motioned to Marvin. "What about him?"
"Hm." Kirk rubbed his chin. "Are we close to any planets?'
"One. It's called Frogstar World B."
"Well!" Kirk said brightly. "That sounds like a lovely place, don't you think so, Marvin?"
"It's a dump."
"Then you'll fit right in!" Uhura snapped, her patience exhausted.
Kirk looked at her in surprise. "Lieutenant? Would you like to escort Marvin to the Transporter Room?"
"With pleasure, sir!'
Kirk returned to his seat. "Mr.Chekov, take us home."
"Keptin? ...Where is the interdimensional warp?"
Kirk's jaw dropped. "Oh."
"The gateway we passed through, logically, can no longer exist," Spock pointed out, "since we know such phenomena to be extremely short-lived. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing where, or even if, another such doorway exists.
"Further," he continued inexorably, "if we find one, we have no way of knowing it will lead back to our own universe. It could -- "
Vance had heard enough. Stuck on this ship, in this universe, forever?? He'd go nuts! "Actually, Mr.Spock, there's a flaw in your logic," he broke in calmly.
The Bridge crew gasped. Mr.Spock's logic, flawed?!
Spock's eyebrow rose to his hairline. "I beg your pardon?"
"You see, Mr.Spock, we're dealing with an Improbability field dynamic. Hence, the more illogical, and therefore improbable, a phenomenon, the more likely it is to occur.
"Thus, it is clear that if we return to the region of space where we first entered this dimension, we will locate the gateway to our proper universe. It's so illogical, it must be so. QED."
Everyone held their breaths as Spock considered the argument. Finally: "Fascinating!"
With a grin, Chekov laid in the course.
Almost before Vance knew it, they were in orbit around his Earth, and it was time for him to beam down.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy brought him to the Transporter Room. "Thank you very much. I had a very nice time," Vance said politely.
"Perhaps when you are older, you might consider studying at the Vulcan Science Academy," Spock suggested. "Your powers of logic are formidable."
Vance grinned. "Thank you!'
"Or, consider Star Fleet Academy," Kirk urged. "I'd be happy to recommend you."
"But my world doesn't have a Star Fleet Academy. Yet." Vance reminded them.
McCoy ruffled his hair. "That's OK. You can come to ours. Right, Jim?"
"But the Prime -- " Vance broke off. He'd forgotten to whom he was speaking. "Thanks!"
For the last time, he took his place on the transporter platform. "Goodbye!"
He materialized back in the preserve; Argus' patiently waiting form was just visible up ahead. With an incredulous shake of his head, Vance sprinted for home. He had to call Karen!