Mike looked up from the twenty-one inch color monitor attached to his Macintosh Quadra 950 computer just in time to see two figures pass by his office door. The second figure was unfamiliar, though quite unusual in appearance, but the first one—that guy was unmistakable.
Mike got up from his desk and walked over to the doorway, leaning out into the hall to look in the direction the two men had walked. His view was partially obscured by another head sticking out of the doorway of the office next to his. His colleague Rick had obviously seen the men too.
Rick turned around to look at Mike. “Did you see—?” he asked haltingly.
Mike nodded his head. “Sure did,” he replied. “Was that—?”
It was Rick’s turn to nod. “Sure looked like him.”
“What do you s’pose he’s doing here?”
Rick shrugged. “Damned if I know.”
Mike pulled the rest of his body out into the hall. Rick followed suit. The two looked at each other for a moment.
“Let’s find out!” they said in unison, and took off down the hall.
“Well, this is a pleasant surprise, Bill,” Berman said as he came out from behind his desk to extend his hand.
Bill took Berman’s hand and shook it firmly. “Good to see you,” he said. “Allow me to introduce Lucien DeVille, my new accountant.”
Berman extended his hand to DeVille, who took it warmly. “Mr. DeVille,” he said, “it’s good to meet you.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Berman,” DeVille said, in as smooth a voice as any man ever possessed. “I’m a big, big fan of both your shows. You and Mister Piller are creative geniuses as far as I’m concerned.”
“Well, thank you very much,” Berman said, somewhat uncomfortably. “Please, have a seat.” He indicated chairs opposite his desk.
Bill and his companion seated themselves.
“So,” Berman said, returning to his chair behind the desk, “what can I do for you?”
“Well,” Bill replied, “let’s just say I’ve suddenly come down with a severe case of wanting to know what’s new.”
Berman looked puzzled.
Bill put up his hands. “Let me explain. Lucien here and I have been going over my finances quite thoroughly over the last few days and, frankly, I had no idea how much money I have invested in Paramount. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to have a major investment in the company that made me famous. I just want to know how my money is being put to work. Lucien advised me to—stay on top of things, as it were.”
Berman nodded. “Well, Bill, I’ll be happy to fill you in on what’s going on here, but this really isn’t the big picture. Paramount has a lot more pots on the stove than just Star Trek, you know.”
“Absolutely. And I want to check them out too. But Star Trek is the biggest of all the pots, to continue your metaphor, and it’s also the nearest and dearest to my heart. Plus, it happens to be one of the biggest money machines in the industry.”
“It’s incredibly exciting,” Bill continued. “With all this Deep Space Nine stuff happening now, and the talk of another new show when Next Generation goes to the big screen, it’s almost too much to take in. The merchandise is coming out faster than you can catalog it. I’m thinking very seriously about purchasing more stock, and I want to be informed. I want to be up on things.”
“I understand, Bill,” Berman said, still nodding, “and I think I have just the thing for you.” He looked at his watch. “There’s going to be a meeting of the licensing group upstairs in just a few minutes. A company we haven’t dealt with before is going to be pitching a new product to tie in with Star Trek. You might be interested in seeing how the process works.”
“Excellent,” Bill said, glancing at DeVille, who gave him an approving nod.
“All right,” Berman said, getting up and coming around the desk. “Follow me.”
Bill and DeVille got up and followed him out of the office and down the corridor. They didn’t notice the stout, bespectacled Asian man and the taller, bespectacled, mustachioed Caucasian man who were standing by the water cooler and glancing furtively around.
Mike and Rick watched Berman, Shatner, and Shatner’s black-suited companion pass by on their way to the elevators. They waited a moment, until the threesome had passed out of earshot, then looked at each other.
“Berman didn’t look too happy,” Rick said.
“I wouldn’t be either,” Mike said. “What do you s’pose Shatner’s up to?”
“I don’t know,” Rick said thoughtfully, “but it seems kind of weird for him to have all this interest all of a sudden.”
“Do you think we should tell Piller?” Mike asked.
“I’m sure Berman will fill him in.”
They both turned their heads at the sound of rapid footsteps coming down the corridor. Around the corner sped Berman’s colleague Piller, heading for the elevators.
Mike and Rick looked at each other.
“This is getting good!” they said in unison, and took off after Piller.
Berman ushered Bill and DeVille into a meeting room, where a number of nattily-attired individuals were talking amongst themselves around a large conference table. At the front of the room, a tall, angular woman with short blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses stood near an easel, talking with three men in blue pinstripe business suits that were almost identical in every respect to every other business suit in the room. Bill was certain that he would be hard pressed to describe any of the men present two seconds after he departed.
As Berman led him and DeVille to the front of the room, the woman caught sight of them out the corner of her eye and turned to look. Smiling, she excused herself from her conversation and came towards them. A moment later, two of the men with whom she had been speaking followed her, leaving the third standing by the easel, shifting back and forth on his patent-leather wing tips.
“Mister Berman,” she said, beaming as she took Berman’s hand to shake it vigorously. “I’m glad you could come.”
“Good to see you, Brenda,” Berman said pleasantly. “Let me introduce my guests.” He turned to Bill and DeVille. “Gentlemen, this is Brenda Vickers, head of our licensing division. Brenda, this is Bill Shatner and his accountant Lucien DeVille.”
Brenda reached out eagerly and took Bill’s hand.
“Mister Shatner needs no introduction to me,” she said, almost giddy with delight. “I’m a big fan.” She shook his hand energetically. “It’s a great pleasure.”
“Thank you,” Bill said, feeling more pleased with himself by the second. He sucked in his gut slightly as he said, “The pleasure is all mine.”
Brenda turned to DeVille and took his hand as well.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mister DeVille,” she bubbled.
“Delighted, Miss Vickers,” DeVille replied. “Absolutely delighted.” He smiled that dazzling smile of his. Brenda’s face reddened ever so slightly as she smiled back. Bill was certain that if the demon had held her gaze more than a moment longer, she would have melted into a puddle of willing hormones.
“How do you guys do that?” Bill muttered to DeVille as Brenda ushered them towards the conference table.
“The boss gives us extensive training,” DeVille replied enigmatically.
Bill grunted. “There’re a lot of guys in Hollywood who’d do anything to enroll in a course like that.”
“Oh, some of them have, Bill,” DeVille said smoothly. “Some of them have.”
Before they sat down, Brenda introduced the two men who had followed her from the front of the room.
“Gentlemen, I’d like you to meet Tom Collier and Carl Jennings, two of our legal whiz-kids. Tom and Carl, this is Bill Shatner and Lucien DeVille.”
More handshakes and saccharine platitudes were exchanged. Finally, they got to the serious business of setting their butts in comfortable chairs.
The door at the back of the room opened again, and a man entered, out of breath. Bill recognized him as Berman’s colleague Piller. Berman noticed him too, and waved him up to where they sat. Piller sat down beside Berman and the two began muttering conspiratorially to each other.
After a few moments, Brenda breezed to the head of the table and executed a rather impressive drum roll on its lustrous surface using just a couple of her knuckles. All eyes in the room swung towards her. She smiled a combination of embarrassment, self-deprecation, and appreciation. Her expression seemed to say that she really wasn’t quite sure how little-ole her got to be in such of position of raw, unmitigated power, but she sure did love it and she sure did appreciate everyone paying attention to her.
“Gentlemen,” she said, an undercurrent of breathless excitement running through her throaty warble, “I’m very pleased to introduce to you a representative from a company we’ve not dealt with before. It’s always very gratifying to strike up new relationships and forge new ventures. We’re particularly excited this time, because this company represents an industry we’ve not even touched up to this point: The pharmaceutical industry.”
Murmurs of confusion rose around the table. Phrases like “Pharmaceutical industry?” and “What the hell?” could be heard from several quarters. Bill’s mind spun as images of Kirk and Spock multi-vitamins danced through his head.
“Gentlemen, from Tri-Con Pharmaceuticals, I give you Mister Winston Takemura.”
Brenda seated herself, and the man standing by the easel stepped forward. Mild applause accompanied the change of speaker.
“Thank you, Brenda,” Takemura said. He paused a moment to look around the table. “We at Tri-Con Pharmaceuticals have a vision,” he began. “Our vision is a world where people don’t think of sterilized walls and cotton balls soaked in alcohol when they think of the pharmaceutical industry. We want people to think of us as companies with something to offer beyond the little necessities and the supplies needed to clean up after an accident.”
He paused again.
“We want our products to be things that people want to buy, rather than have to buy.”
He nodded in agreement with himself, and looked around the table again.
“With this in mind, we have come up with several product ideas, and several themes. One of our most exciting concepts, at least to me personally, is the idea of tying in some of our products with Star Trek. There’s a lot of stuff going on now, especially with Deep Space Nine on the air, and the opportunities are virtually limitless.”
Yes, Bill thought, this man believes he is in harmony with the fabric of the universe.
“To start with, however,” Takemura continued, “we want to deal with what’s happening right now. What’s current. What’s hot.”
He moved to the easel and gripped the edge of the drop cloth that covered it.
“To this end,” he continued, “we have come up with—”
He whipped the cloth off the easel, revealing the image of what looked like a tube of ointment with a starship on it. The shape of the saucer indicated the ship from The Next Generation.
“ —Star Trek: The Next Preparation!”
Takemura looked at the audience, grinning, then pointed at the lettering on the starship image and proclaimed, “NCC-1701-H.”
Bill put his head in his hands. Stifled groans were heard from around the table. Takemura, for his part, seemed so charged by his revelation that a sackful of hatpins couldn’t have burst his bubble.
Most of the people around the table managed to maintain an air of polite attention. Brenda, however, looked distinctly uncomfortable as she examined the image on the easel.
A older man across the table from Bill elbowed his neighbor and said, “I think we’ve just been made the butt of his joke.”
The other man muttered back, “On the contrary. I think he’s making an ass of himself!”
Both men exploded into laughter. Brenda silenced them with a look that could have skewered a goat.
Takemura smiled as he looked around the table yet again, then put the fingertips of one hand to his temple and closed his eyes.
“I’m sensing—great hostility,” he said, then chuckled as he opened his eyes again. “But seriously, folks,” he continued, “we’re taking a completely different tack with this product. We want it to represent the future of hemorrhoid relief. That’s why we’re going with the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme. We just know that Jean-Luc Picard and his men would destroy these evil venous bulges before they could take over our universe.”
“So folks everywhere can boldly go,” the man across from Bill muttered.
“Next stop, Uranus!” his companion cackled.
They both roared. Brenda glared at them again.
Bill shook his head rapidly to shake out the cobwebs. Looking around, he noted that most of the others at the table were looking at Takemura in utter stupefaction as well. Good, then maybe he hadn’t missed anything.
The two old geezers across from him continued elbowing each other, muttering, and laughing. Brenda just sat back in her chair and sighed.
Bill sat back in his own chair. It didn’t change his view much, but it sure made his back feel better. Considering the situation, he would take all the comfort he could get.
Takemura had started prattling on again, trying somehow to connect hemorrhoid relief with Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. It made Bill’s brain ache just thinking about it. He shook his head again, but Takemura was still there.
Yes, he’d picked a hell of day to drop by.
Later in the afternoon, Berman and Piller sat at the coffee table in Berman’s office, looking at each other glumly.
“Hell of a day,” Piller sighed.
Berman shook his head. “Unbelievable.”
Piller took a sip of his coffee.
“What was the deal with that hemorrhoid guy, anyway?” he asked at length.
Berman shook his head again. “I think we should put him on Next Gen. He could be the next new life form they discover.”
“I’ve never seen Brenda that pissed off at anything,” Piller said.
Berman chuckled. “I thought she was going to call security, “ he said. “Turns out Collier and Jennings had to call security to hold her back. She damn near ripped Takemura’s face off.”
They both took sips of their coffee, and sighed again.
“So where’s Shatner?” Piller asked.
Berman frowned. “He’s still around,” he said. “He’s sticking his nose in everywhere it’ll fit.”
Piller wrinkled his nose. “This is weird,” he breathed.
Berman started to chew on his lip. “He’s asking too many questions,” he said.
“So what do we do?” Piller asked.
Berman shook his head again. “I’m not sure.”
“Do we get rid of him?”
Berman looked at Piller. “You know I’d like to. But he’s one of the originals. He’s got The Blessing. He’s practically a Trek saint, for crying out loud.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, sipping their coffee.
“So what do we do?” Piller asked again.
Berman drew his mouth into a tight line. “You know,” he said, standing up and taking a step away from the table, “maybe it’s not for us to decide.”
Piller looked up at him, puzzled.
“This kind of thing should be looked at by a higher authority than us,” Berman mused.
“You mean Tartikoff?” Piller asked in disbelief.
“No, no,” Berman waved the suggestion away with his hands, “Higher than that.”
Piller looked even more confused. “Higher than Tartik—” Suddenly his eyes widened. “Ohhhhh. You mean—?”
Berman nodded sharply. He paced the room a couple of times, then seemed to come to a decision.
Stepping behind his desk, he leaned forward and placed his hands flat on the surface. He took a deep breath, paused, then bellowed, “Mike and Rick get in here!!”
His shout was answered by a flurry of scuffing out in the hall followed by frantic footsteps. A moment later, Mike and Rick appeared in the doorway, looking extremely embarrassed.
Berman let out a cackle. “Serves you right. Sneaking around with your ears on the walls.”
Mike and Rick didn’t quite know where to look.
“All right you guys,” Berman said. “Since you’re so interested in what’s going on around here, I’ll make use of you.”
Mike and Rick started to look a little more interested in the conversation.
Berman came out from behind his desk, stroking his chin. “I’ve got a little job for the two of you,” he said.
Mike and Rick brightened visibly.
“I want you to take our friend Bill for a little ride.”