Disclaimer: Star Trek belongs to Paramount/CBS. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Tom and Harry are bored, but their day is about to liven up. An episode addition for 5x01 "Night".
A huge thank you to Delwin: for beta-reading, for the title, and for the encouragement I needed to get this finished.
Any mistakes are entirely my own.
Harry had been pleased, at first, when the artificial gravity had cut out on the bridge. Four weeks into the most desolate part of the Delta Quadrant that Voyager had yet encountered, the boredom was becoming intolerable. To think that they had, according to Seven's latest projections, another two years in this 'void' - without the prospect of shore leave or even any interesting astronomical phenomena to study - was a miserable prospect. As anomalies went, a vast empty region of space was about as uninteresting as it could get.
Captain Janeway hadn't visited the bridge in over a week. The lull in alien encounters was a prime opportunity for her to catch up on some administrative reports and reading in her quarters. Chakotay had been covering her daily bridge tasks and the senior staff briefings, but today he too was absent, holding evaluations in his office.
The only glimmer of excitement on the horizon was the unveiling of Tom's latest holodeck creation. Tom had been working on it for weeks, from an idea he'd had in mind for a couple of years, and today Harry would finally get to see the results. The program's development had all been very hush-hush, Tom not wanting to "spoil the surprise" by letting Harry help with the design. With his best friend occupied, Harry had had to come up with other ways to alleviate his off-duty boredom - like composing the clarinet concerto he'd had ambitions towards ever since his time in the Juilliard Youth Symphony, but had never yet got around to writing. Inaudibly humming the first few bars of the clarinet part – he'd have to organise a holographic orchestra when the accompanying instruments were scored (and keep it under the Doctor's radar, lest he want to conduct) – he'd been setting up a routine, but early diagnostic on the ODN relays, when the yellow alert warnings had flashed on.
The odd, but not unfamiliar feeling of his stomach rising up from its resting place on his bowels, had been accompanied by a brief, but disorienting sensation of falling. He forced his limbs not to flail about as he grew accustomed to the feeling, his inner ear doing battle with his eyes in an argument as to which way was up. A little nauseous, he was grateful now that he'd been scheduled to take his break on the later lunch slot. But the affliction soon subsided, and he began to enjoy the freedom that came from microgravity.
A quick glance at his console told him that it was a drill; artificial gravity on deck one had been switched off by Tuvok's authorisation. Everything that wasn't fixed to the floor or the bulkheads began to gradually drift in an equal and opposite reaction to any force applied upon it. On Voyager's bridge, such unfixed objects were limited to a couple of PADDs resting on the helm console, currently manned by Crewman Grimes, and the crew themselves - at present only Grimes, Tuvok, Ayala, and Harry himself.
Tuvok, in charge of Alpha shift today, had initiated the micro-g drill from his position in the captain's chair. It was a routine, unannounced exercise, carried out on a regular basis to ensure that the bridge crew were kept well-versed in manning their stations if the gravity plating or generators were to fail. Luckily, at no point during all the chaos of the previous four years had the artificial gravity failed on the bridge. It was quite a miracle. Almost unbelievable, in fact. Through all the battles with the Kazon, the Vidiians, the Borg, and the Hirogen, not once had the crew had to contend with a loss of gravity whilst taking evasive manoeuvres or engaging in phaser fights with a boarding party.
So Harry continued to run his diagnostic, with the added novelty of having to carefully control his movements so that each finger push on the control panel didn't launch him across the bridge. Tuvok remained facing forwards, seeming to exert little effort in remaining seated. Grimes appeared to be coping well at the helm. Ayala flashed Harry a sly grin and performed a backwards somersault at tactical – that did cause Tuvok to turn and offer a sharp rebuke to his deputy.
It was after about twenty minutes that Grimes lost his lunch.
And it was all Tom's fault.
As he arrived back from his break, exited the turbolift into the micro-g environment, and gracefully propelled himself across to the conn, Tom had decried that Neelix had "really gone too far this time". When he elaborated as to the exact contents of the "dish of the day", the pasty-faced Grimes who was hovering (literally) at the conn, and who had unknowingly ingested the offensive ingredient an hour or so earlier, promptly retched a few times and then went into full-blown anti-peristalsis. A torrent of brown vomit propelled outwards; unfortunately for Harry (fortunately for Tom), Grimes had been facing away from the helm at the time of the expulsion, and the stream of perfectly spherical globules headed straight in the direction of ops - in a surprisingly slow and stately procession given the ferocity with which they had been ejected.
"Well, that was unexpected," Tom remarked, spellbound it seemed. Ayala, at tactical, was equally transfixed. Tuvok had turned to follow the course of the ejecta and raised an eyebrow in disapproval. Whether the Vulcan's censure was at the reactions of the other observers, or the inability of the unfortunate Grimes to keep down his lunch, was unclear.
It had been a most uninteresting morning for Tom. With nothing to navigate around, not so much as a patch of interstellar dust, he had passed the time running through new operating procedures with Grimes, the relief gamma shift helmsman, a competent, if unimaginative pilot, fifth in the line of succession to chief conn officer. Tom was literally counting down the time until his next holodeck slot: six hours and fifty-five minutes until he could enjoy his newly-created Captain Proton holoprogram.
He left Grimes in charge of the helm whilst he headed down to the mess hall for lunch. The dining area was much quieter than usual for the time of day. Many of the off-duty crew, at least those with adequate replicator rations, had taken to lunching in holodeck two, where the Paxau resort program was currently scheduled to run for twelve hours a day. But still, he'd have expected to find more people in the mess hall than merely Chell, Golwat and Neelix.
"Tom!" Neelix exclaimed from the galley. "How are you today?"
"Bored," Tom replied, peering over the counter to see what was on offer. Some kind of stew or broth by the looks of things.
"Ah." Neelix nodded. "That's what everyone's been saying."
So, it sounded as if the mess hall had seen some heavier traffic earlier in the day. Neelix gestured to the long windows on the far side of the room, sheer blackness unbroken by the warp trails of stars, a flash of uncharacteristic anxiety crossing his features. "I don't suppose there's anything new on the long-range sensors?"
Tom shook his head. "Zilch." Neelix stared back blankly. "Something Captain Proton might say," Tom explained. "It means 'nothing'."
"The title character from my new holodeck program. It's a science fiction adventure serial. You should come and take a peek at it sometime. Harry's lined up to play my regular sidekick, but there's always room for another good guy in the fight against intergalactic evil." Tom sighed. "I just wish I could get into the holodeck now instead of an afternoon of bridge duty." Even a shift in sickbay was tempting at this point. His stomach gurgled. "You know, I get really hungry when I'm bored."
"Well, I have the remedy for that," Neelix assured him, perking up a little as he picked up a giant ladle and filled a bowl from the cauldron that was bubbling away on the stove.
Tom's eyes narrowed as he scrutinised the bowlful of thick, steaming brown sludge that Neelix presented to him. The surface was punctured by a powdery white residue as well as, in places, a thin film of olive-green reminiscent of pond scum. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't uninteresting. Sam Wildman and her team in xenobiology might have a project to work on, if he took a sample down to the science lab.
"What is this exactly, Neelix?" Tom enquired politely. He glanced over at the two Bolians. They seemed to be enjoying their meal – they each had an extra large serving, in fact. But the absence of other diners was ominous …
The Talaxian smiled. "Hlaka soup."
"It doesn't look like the usual hlaka soup."
"Ah, well," Neelix explained with growing excitement, "I added some Alfarian hoof shavings to this batch."
Tom plunked the bowl back down on the counter, splashing some of the contents over the side and onto the countertop. "Hoof shavings?!" Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that neither Bolian had reacted to his outburst.
Neelix's spotted brow crinkled. "They're quite a delicacy, you know."
Tom's eyebrows raised even higher, his stomach roiling as he watched Neelix sweep up the spilled liquid with a finger, taste it and smile.
"I found them in a jar at the back of a cupboard," Neelix continued. "I was so pleased. They're leftover from a trade with the Tokrarians. You remember, we encountered one of their merchant convoys not long after we left Sikaris."
Tom nodded, remembering the Tokrarians, a tripedal race of space-faring farmers, but if hoof shavings had been mentioned at the time, he was sure he'd not have forgotten. "But that was over three years ago. Don't they have an expiration date?" he asked hopefully.
"Oh, no. Hoof shavings keep for years. They were probably a decade or so old when we acquired them. Tokrarian ships are only capable of low warp, and the convoy was a long way from home. Did you know that every winter on Tokra Prime, they bring the herds of Alfarians down from the grazing pastures in the hills for hoof clipping?"
Tom shook his head, unconsciously pushing the bowl further away from him.
"It's quite an event. There are parties and parades. It's an even grander affair than the hair harvesting in the fall. Anyway, the top layers of the hooves usually have some ingrained . . . well, dirt, shall we say, especially the rear ones, so that gets separated out, and they do screen for fungal infections before the clippings enter the food chain. They're very high in calcium, and they add a real zing to the flavour of virtually any dish. I only wish I had more, but unfortunately there were only enough to garnish this one batch of soup." Neelix's gaze turned wistful. "I doubt we'll find any Alfarian products again now that we've left their native sectors so far behind us. Make sure you take this opportunity to try them. You won't get another."
Neelix's sales pitch wasn't working. Tom looked at the powder again. It was beginning to congeal into lumps as the surrounding liquid cooled. He leant forwards to chance a sniff. It smelled like hlaka soup, but he couldn't displace from his mind the image of fouled hooves being scraped clean. The hair pasta had been bad enough. Tom clamped his mouth shut, not wanting to get into conversation about the follicular matter and remind the Talaxian about the thrown food incident over which they'd long since reconciled. As for the origins of the algoid layer, he decided that as he had no intention of eating it, that could remain a mystery.
"Don't you have any Alfarian steaks or burgers or something instead?"
"Oh, the Alfarians are far too valuable to be slaughtered for their meat," Neelix said. "They're only reared for their non-flesh products. Besides, they do tend to suffer from drug-resistant parasitic nematode infections, and even though cooking at a high temperature usually neutralises the risk, well, I wouldn't want to be responsible for anyone on the crew getting food poisoning."
Tom admirably swallowed the caustic comment that was on his tongue and said in his most diplomatic tone, "Well, no offence, but I think I'll go straight to dessert." Neelix shrugged and moved the soup bowl to one side, eyeing it up for his own consumption by the looks of things.
"What is that today?" Tom pressed.
"A lovely, sweet and extra large Corellian tart," Neelix informed him, "with lashings of sauce."
It sounded like one of the hookers from whose clutches Tom had rescued Harry during Voyager's layover at the Entharan colony, but, on inspection, it was a lot better presented. Tom shook his head. If he'd known what was going to be on the menu today, he'd have made sure to keep back some replicator rations, instead of using them all up on his Captain Proton costume. He could have managed without the 20th-century-style replicated lambswool socks, the imitation Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, and the Mae West life preserver for the time being. They were a little superfluous. Maybe B'Elanna had some to rations to spare. On second thoughts, Harry might be a better bet at the moment.
Accepting a double-helping of the gelatinous pink frosting-topped pastry that oozed a neon blue syrup (surmising that the sugar overdose should help keep him alert throughout the long and tedious afternoon), Tom headed for an empty table, congratulating himself that he'd seen fit to ascertain the exact contents of the modified soup before sampling. Hoof shavings, indeed.
Tom hadn't expected to be reacquainted with the hoof shavings quite so soon, or ever, in fact. The regurgitated soup had the same vile appearance as it had in the galley, but now it smelled a lot worse. Thankfully, Tuvok's drill had not included disabling the atmospheric cleansing filters.
"Just how much longer is this drill going to last, Tuvok?" asked Tom, the sickly sweet dessert feeling suddenly, impossibly, heavy in his stomach.
"I have scheduled a further thirty-nine minutes for microgravity operations," the Vulcan intoned from his seat in the captain's chair. With typical stoicism, Tuvok was unflustered by the disturbance at the helm, letting his subordinates deal with the incident as he no doubt evaluated their performance to be recorded in a report later.
"Couldn't we reschedule given the circumstances?" Tom reached under the helm console to pull a vomit collector out of the emergency equipment locker and handed it to Grimes, who accepted it with thanks, still gamely trying to monitor his post.
"The point of this exercise, is to ensure that all crewmen are practised in dealing with such contingencies," Tuvok explained. The first globules of vomit were arriving in the vicinity of ops, having conveniently bypassed the captain's and first officer's chairs. Harry, having fetched his own emergency collection equipment, was lining up his aim. He did not look pleased. "Besides," Tuvok informed, "it would be easier to contain the debris before reinstating the artificial gravity. Cleaning it from the floor and consoles would be an onerous task."
"I'm very sorry, Sir," Grimes mumbled to the security chief. "I've never been space sick before."
Tom clapped the young crewman on the shoulder to console him, a movement that sent both men into a spin, Grimes losing his grip on the collection apparatus as he floundered around trying to steady himself. He failed spectacularly and vomited again.
Tom being more adept at moving in microgravity, managed to control his spin and, thinking quickly, turned to address Tuvok. "If this situation were to occur during an actual failure of the artificial gravity, wouldn't we send a crewman who was taken unwell down to sickbay?"
The Vulcan tipped his head a millimetre to one side and nodded his assent. "That is a logical assumption, Mr. Paris, assuming that said crewman could be spared from his or her duties."
And said crewman could be. With the redundant Grimes despatched to sickbay, a series of acrobatic manoeuvres ensued, turning out to be excellent practise in liquid retrieval in micro-g, albeit with only partial success. The atmospheric quality sensors, detecting that something unpleasant and potentially toxic had polluted the air, produced a subtle shift in air currents that resulted in the globules disintegrating into smaller units and spreading out around the bridge, yet still somehow managing to avoid the vicinity of the conn – another lucky escape for Tom. Despite the best efforts of Tom, Harry and Ayala, it had proved impossible to retrieve all of the floating vomit before the end of the drill, and when the gravity was punctually restored, splatters littered consoles, bulkheads and the floor alike.
Damn Tom and his need to know exactly what he was eating.
Harry had spent all afternoon scrubbing his workstation and scraping the bulkheads clean. Grimes had returned from sickbay having been dosed with an anti-emetic and had spent the rest of the shift on his hands and knees with a sponge and bucket. Tuvok had deemed it logical that, as Harry had nothing important to do, the clean up would be left to the more junior ranks. And Tom had got away scot-free.
The drill and the subsequent incident had certainly livened up the day, but it hadn't been quite what Harry would have wished for to break the monotony. And, to make matters worse, the maudlin melody he'd had stuck in his head all morning, so evocative of the void on the viewscreen, had slipped from his mental grasp before he could transcribe it. He'd racked his brain to get it back and eventually had.
The hour after the end of his shift passed quickly, and he had to sprint down the corridor to meet Tom at his quarters. It wouldn't do to be late for their much anticipated holodeck slot.
"You can't play dressed like that!" Tom proclaimed upon seeing that Harry was still in uniform. Tom himself was clad in a stylish, dark leather jacket with some kind of control panel on the front of it, and carried in his hand a strange phaser-type facsimile weapon.
"I haven't had time to change," Harry explained. Again, he didn't add, having already had to get a fresh uniform mid-shift after it was impacted by vomit.
"But you went off duty the same time I did," Tom argued.
"I had some inspiration for the first movement of my clarinet concerto. I had to get it on file before the tune went out of my head." Again.
"Well, I guess you'll do for now, but you'll have to replicate a costume. I'm thinking safari shirt, cargo pants, knee-high boots, utility belt . . ."
It sounded like something a Victorian jungle explorer might have worn. Certainly nothing like the cool outfit Tom was wearing.
"Jet pack?" Harry asked hopefully.
"No jet pack. You'll be flying in the rocket ship."
"Please tell me this rocket ship has artificial gravity."
Tom smirked. "Of course."
"And who do I play again?"
"His name's Buster Kincaid. I based him on you, well, partly. He's loyal, eager, good at following instructions."
Harry was both flattered and a little insulted. Kincaid sounded somewhat. . . insipid.
"Tonight we're playing episode two. It's called 'Captain Proton and the Wrath of Chaotica'."
Harry frowned. "What happened to episode one?"
"Oh, I'm really not happy with the script for that one. It didn't look like it'd play out well. Not enough action. We can skip it. It's not really essential to the ongoing story line anyhow."
They strode down the corridor to the turbolift, Susan Nicoletti giving Tom a long, appreciative look as she passed by, calling back over her shoulder to compliment him on his jacket.
"Hey, any chance I could borrow some replicator rations?" Tom asked as the lift began to descend.
"Something to eat."
Harry shot him a dirty look. "You're kidding, right?"
Tom shrugged. "It was worth a try."
They reached deck six to find the Delaney sisters loitering outside holodeck one.
"Are you joining us?" Harry asked. Tom hadn't mentioned that there'd be other participants in the program. No doubt this was another set-up attempt, but whilst Harry had no objections at all to Megan's presence, he didn't want to come up against Jenny with a ray gun.
"They'll just be observing," Tom interjected before either twin could speak. "Their characters don't appear until chapter five: 'Captain Proton and the Twin Mistresses of Evil'."
Harry raised his eyebrows, something he'd done a lot of today.
"How did your evaluation go?" Megan asked her twin. The holodeck doors swished open and the foursome headed into the monochromatic interior of what, Harry assumed, was Proton's rocket ship. Their clothes and skin desaturated to match the set, prompting exclamations of surprise from all but Tom.
Then Jenny huffed, remembering the question. "OK, I guess. Though Commander Chakotay did say I need to be a little less aggressive when dealing with others." She stopped dead in her tracks and turned back to address Harry, glowering. "You don't think I'm aggressive, do you, Harry?"
He halted in his stride and swallowed hard, fighting an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. "Uh, no . . . no, of course not," he lied, sighing with relief as she grinned and turned back to her twin, asking her with concern, "You didn't eat in the mess hall today, did you?"
Megan shook her head. "No, I replicated a salad in my quarters. Why?"
"Did you hear about the lunch menu?"
Tom nudged Harry with his elbow and smiled knowingly as they awaited Megan's reaction to the recipe revelation.
"You'll never guess what Neelix put into the Corellian tart."