Mike was almost panting with excitement by the time he found Shatner. It wasn’t often he and Rick got to do this, and he couldn’t wait to get started.
Considering the possibilities in hindsight, Mike realized that this was probably the first place he should have looked. Shatner was sitting—imperiously—in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise-D bridge set. Mike descended the ramp, shaking his head and chuckling silently to himself.
As he approached the big chair, Rick, who had been searching the other end of the building, entered from the corridor to the conference lounge, which of course really didn’t lead anywhere except to the back of the set. Seeing Mike, he started down the ramp.
“Mister Shatner,” Mike said as reverently as he could manage.
Shatner looked at him blankly as he approached.
Mike stuck his hand out. “Mike Okuda.”
Shatner frowned. “Yes,” he said, “I remember you. You worked on Star Trek V.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mike replied, smiling, keeping his hand outstretched.
Finally, Shatner took his hand, shook it briskly, and disengaged. “What can I do for you?” he asked bluntly.
Mike indicated Rick. “This is my colleague Rick Sternbach,” he said to Shatner. “Mister Berman suggested we show you our newest set.”
Shatner’s stony visage took on a slightly more animated aspect.
“Fine,” he said. “Lead on.”
Okuda and Sternbach ushered Bill onto a sound stage. It was not what he expected, however. He felt more like he had just entered an aircraft hanger. The room was immense, but totally bare except for the huge vehicle that stood in the middle of the floor. It looked somewhat like a shuttle craft from The Next Generation, but it was bigger, much bigger. It was also complete. There were no cutaway sections or holes or obvious gaps anywhere. It looked like a real spacecraft rather than a set. It was almost eerie in its completeness.
“This is the new runabout for Deep Space Nine,” Okuda said. “Thanks to the Next Generation episode ‘Timescape’ we were able to build the entire craft. Before that, all we had was the cockpit. Next Gen has more money in pocket than DS9, so we had to rely on that show to commission the set construction.”
Bill looked the craft up and down. Impressive. Most impressive.
“We even gave it a new name,” Okuda continued. “Since the Yangtze Kiang was destroyed in the episode ‘Battle Lines,’ we’re going to commission a new ship to replace her.”
Bill looked at the side of the runabout and saw the name Saint Lawrence emblazoned upon it.
“Where do the cameras go?” Bill asked. “I don’t see any gaps for cameras.”
Okuda and Sternbach looked at each other. Bill thought they looked both excited and conspiratorial.
“There are cameras mounted at various positions inside the craft,” Sternbach replied.
Bill frowned. He had never heard of anything like this in all his years in the business. Then again, the technology was moving fast enough to make just about anyone’s head spin. And these two characters—he stole another glance at his hosts—they were always on the cutting edge, what with their high-powered Macintosh computers and graphics workstations and all the other toys he wished he knew how to use. He shook his head. It was all too much sometimes.
Bill watched as Sternbach approached the runabout and tapped in some sort of code on a keypad by the main hatch. With a hissing whoosh of air the hatch opened, revealing the illuminated interior of the runabout.
Bill frowned again. When had they started automating the doors? Even on the sets of The Next Generation, stagehands still stood behind the walls to pull the doors open. This Deep Space Nine thing was beginning to look like a different kettle of fish entirely.
Sternbach turned back to face Bill, grinning.
“Let’s go in, shall we?” he said.
Lucien DeVille stepped onto the main bridge set as if he owned it. He glanced around, taking in the surroundings for a moment, then frowned. Shatner was not there.
DeVille strode down the ramp and surveyed the set from another angle, wondering if he had missed something. No, Shatner was definitely not there.
DeVille crossed his arms and tapped his foot on the floor for a moment, pondering. This was the designated place and time. They had agreed to meet here after splitting up to examine as much of the Star Trek operation as possible.
There was no sign of Shatner. DeVille narrowed his eyes as possibilities began to present themselves. Perhaps Shatner was thinking to evade him, to try and escape his duty by mere physical absence. Perhaps he was hiding somewhere, hoping that DeVille would lose interest and go away.
DeVille chuckled at the thought. Perhaps Shatner needed a little reminder of just who he was dealing with. Yes, that might be in order.
At any rate, there was no point in speculating. He would find out what Shatner was up to soon enough. All he had to do was close his eyes, reach out his senses ever so slightly and—
There! Shatner was not far away at all. He was on this floor, on another sound stage, accompanied by two other mortals.
DeVille looked forward to finding out what Shatner’s game was. It was always so much more entertaining when his “clients” showed signs, however minimal, of defiance. He stroked his mustache thoughtfully, then strode up the ramp and off the set, formulating his next move.
Bill stepped into the runabout, Okuda right behind him. Okuda and Sternbach took their places in the pilot and copilot seats like they belonged there. Bill took the seat behind and slightly to the right of Sternbach. It was comfortable, quite a bit more comfortable than he had expected.
“We’re going to give you a quick demo of how this baby works,” Okuda said, glancing over his shoulder at Bill. He and his colleague were pressing control panels and bringing all manner of lights and displays to life.
Bill was frowning again. He had always thought that the display panels on the sets were static, and computer graphics were used to fill in the gaps later. Again, he guessed he just wasn’t keeping up with the times.
Suddenly he heard a scraping noise above their heads.
“What the hell is that?” he asked nervously.
Sternbach looked back at him. “I just activated a large hatch in the ceiling above the runabout. It’s sliding open.”
“What the hell for?” Bill asked anxiously.
The runabout lurched and creaked in response. Suddenly he felt as if the entire craft were in motion. Okuda and Sternbach were looking at each other in that annoying way again.
“In the show,” Okuda said, “the runabouts are raised to the exterior of the station on large hydraulic platforms. We’ve constructed a real platform here, and there’s a set up above that resembles a section of the outside of the station.”
“This is pretty elaborate,” Bill said. “Why go to all this trouble?”
The two conspirators grinned at each other again.
“We wanted everything to be as realistic as possible,” Sternbach said.
The sensation of motion stopped with a creak and a clank, only to be replaced by a high pitched whine and the sensation of the entire runabout shuddering and shaking. The whine increased in volume, and suddenly there was a deafening roar.
Bill clutched the armrests of his seat. Oh, it was realistic all right.
A damn site too realistic for his liking.
Mike pressed a few more controls, and stole a glance back at Shatner, who was clinging to his chair like it was his only link with sanity. Mike turned to grin at Rick again. Rick grinned back. They were both excited.
“What the hell’s going on?” Shatner cried.
In a moment, the shuddering had ceased and the noise had reduced to a bearable level.
“What do we tell him?” Mike whispered to Rick.
Rick waved the question away. “Leave it to me,” he said calmly.
Rick swiveled his chair to face Shatner.
“We’ve built all the sound effects and motion right into the craft,” he said. “Basically, we want the actors to be able to interact as naturally as possible with the controls and the ship in general.” He paused and looked around the cockpit. “Pretty convincing, huh?”
Shatner did not look amused. “Yeah,” he muttered. “Pretty damned convincing. If we’re done here, I’m going back to the bridge set to meet my accountant.” He started to raise himself out of his seat.
Rick held up a hand. “One more thing before you go, Mister Shatner.”
Shatner looked less amused by the second. “What?” he growled.
Rick turned to Mike. “Mikey?” he said.
Mike took his cue. Standing, he walked to the back of the cockpit, opened up a storage unit, and pulled out three glasses. From another unit he pulled out a chilled bottle of champagne. From a tiny drawer he pulled out a small container. He filled the three glasses, then moved one glass, one that looked ever so slightly different from the other two, to one side. Opening the small container, he removed a tablet and dropped it into the odd glass. While the tablet dissolved, he put the container and the bottle away.
“What’s he doing back there?” Mike heard Shatner growl to Rick.
Making sure the tablet was fully dissolved, Mike took out a small tray, placed the glasses on it, and proceeded to the seats up front.
“Just fixing us a drink,” he said innocently as he approached Shatner.
He lowered the tray to Shatner, ensuring that the odd glass was much closer to him than the other two. Shatner looked up at him, somewhat confused, even a little abashed, and took the glass.
“Thanks,” he said.
Mike and Rick each took a glass for themselves.
“We like to share a toast with everyone we bring onto this new set,” Rick said to Shatner. “We hope you enjoyed seeing it.”
Shatner seemed a little friendlier all of a sudden. “Yes,” he said. “Very much.”
“Well then,” Rick said, raising his glass. “Here’s to new frontiers.”
Mike raised his glass. “New frontiers,” he said, grinning inside and out.
“New frontiers,” Shatner joined in, raising his own glass.
A moment later, Shatner spoke up again. “If you don’t mind, fellas, I’d like to propose a toast of my own.”
“Be our guest,” Rick said.
“All right then,” Shatner said, raising his glass. “Here’s to the guys who put it all together.”
“Hear, hear!” Rick said, raising his own glass.
Mike followed suit.
They all drank again, Shatner polishing his glass off in two gulps.
A moment later, a kind of dazed expression came over Shatner’s face. Rick leaned over to him just in time to snatch the glass out of his hand as every muscle in his body went slack. His head lolled over onto one shoulder, and his eyes drooped shut.
He was out cold.
Mike leaned forward to check. He waved his hand in front of Shatner’s face a few times, then turned to Rick.
“I really hate having to do that,” he said. The adventure was great, but this cloak and dagger stuff was a little out of his league.
“Yeah, me too,” Rick said, sitting back in his seat. “But what else can we do? You think he was gonna sit still for five hours?”
Mike shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “He’d be tearing both our heads off after twenty minutes.”
Mike turned back to the control boards and punched up a display. “You’re right on the money,” he said to Rick. “We’ll be there in five hours and thirteen minutes.”
Rick rubbed his hands together. “Great,” he said. “Now I can show you what I’ve put in to help us pass the time.”
Mike turned towards Rick, excited. “You install that new CD-ROM?” he asked.
Rick grinned. “Nope. Better.” He called up a display and pressed a couple of controls.
Mike leaned over to see what Rick was calling up. Animation and sound came to life as he watched Rick’s hands at the controls.
“All right!” Mike cheered. “Super Mario Brothers!”
Bill reached up to pull the giant wad of cotton out of the inside of his head, but found that his skull was in the way. Letting his hand slump back down to his side, he tried to figure out where he was. He couldn’t see anything, but a tiny fragment of his consciousness told him that was probably due to that fact that his eyes were closed. He could hear sounds, but they were muffled and tinny, like an old-fashioned radio that was located a few rooms away.
He could feel vibration, but the nature of the sensation didn’t give him any clue about his whereabouts. As the vibration began to increase in intensity, he had the vague notion that it was familiar, that he’d felt it before. He was just beginning to piece a few things together when—
Whump! There was a loud thumping clank and his entire surroundings lurched. His eyes flew open and he remembered where he was.
He lifted his head to look around, but a wave of dizziness persuaded him to let it back down again. He tried focusing his eyes, but everything was much too bright, and he had to squint to see anything at all. Fortunately, the tinny murmurs of sound were resolving into coherence.
“Docking bay doors are shut,” Okuda was saying. “Platform fully descended.”
“Okay,” Sternbach replied. “Pressurizing. Full atmospheric pressure in one minute.”
Bill’s eyes finally began to adjust to the bright light. He relaxed his eyelids a bit and tried to raise his head. The dizziness was not quite so intense this time. He looked toward the front of the cockpit to see Sternbach and Okuda leaning intently over their consoles.
Through the dense wool inside his cranium, tiny glimmers of suspicion began to wade their way to Bill’s brain. There was more going on here than just hydraulics and sound effects.
Bill hauled himself upright in his chair just as his two companions turned theirs away from their control panels. He shook his head a couple of times, realizing immediately that it was not a good idea.
“Mister Shatner!” Sternbach said cheerfully. “Welcome back!”
Bill took his hands away from his temples just long enough to glare at the two weasels before him.
“Just what the hell—” Bill rasped, suddenly realizing that just about everything was back on-line except his vocal cords. Clearing his throat, he tried again.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” he rasped again, a bit more audibly this time.
Sternbach and Okuda looked abashed.
“We’re really sorry about the way we brought you here,” Okuda said quietly, “but there really wasn’t any other way.”
“Brought me where?” Bill asked hoarsely. “You told me this was a set, for Christ’s sake!”
The two looked at each other.
“Everything will be explained momentarily,” Sternbach said, getting up from his chair. “Are you strong enough to stand?”
“Of course I can stand!” Bill croaked furiously, hoisting himself up out of the chair. The maelstrom of dizziness and nausea that accompanied the move immediately thrust him back down again.
Sternbach and Okuda each grabbed him by and arm and pulled him gently to his feet. He tottered and wobbled for a moment, but finally got his feet under him again.
He brushed their hands off his arms and stepped forward.
“All right,” he said. “What’s this all about?”
Sternbach stepped towards the main hatch and tapped a few buttons on a keypad. The lights by the panel blinked, and the hatch opened with that whooshing sound. Looking out, Bill could see that they were not in the same place they had started.
The room in which the runabout now stood was darker and smaller than the “aircraft hanger” into which Sternbach and Okuda had originally led him. Additionally, a few meters away from the main hatch where he now stood, he noted a large circular door that looked like a gear or cog from a giant wristwatch. Through the clear sections of the door he could see a few people standing on the other side.
Okuda and Sternbach took Bill’s arms again and led him out of the runabout and over to the large door. Okuda pressed a plate on the wall, and the big gear rolled aside, revealing the four people who stood waiting.
All but one wore Starfleet uniforms. The fourth wore an unusual outfit that also had the look of a uniform about it. Bill couldn’t help thinking he’d just walked into the middle of a convention. He also couldn’t help thinking that all these people looked somewhat familiar. The one in front especially, the tall black man with the red Starfleet uniform. He looked very familiar. Unfortunately, the fog hanging around Bill’s brain wouldn’t let him make the proper connections.
The black man took a couple of steps forward and extended his hand.
“Mister Shatner,” he said, “I’m Commander Benjamin Sisko. Welcome to Deep Space Nine.”