Lucien DeVille stepped off the runabout a few moments after Shatner, Okuda, and Sternbach. He watched and listened as the threesome moved through the large circular doorway and were greeted by Commander Sisko. DeVille rubbed his chin, intrigued. How could this be?
DeVille had boarded the runabout just moments before Sternbach had closed its main hatch. Being a demon, he could choose exactly who could see and hear him and exactly when. He had chosen, for the duration of the trip, to remain undetected by anyone, including his “client” Shatner. He didn’t mind the length of the journey at all. The chairs were comfortable, and the plot developments most entertaining. He hadn’t had this much fun in decades.
Still, this business with the space station was unsettling. He wasn’t sure exactly where in the universe he was, but he could see for himself that all this was real. His boss, Lucifer, who seemed to know everything about everything, obviously didn’t know a thing about this place. That in itself was cause for concern. Big concern.
The boss had been antsy ever since Roddenberry’s soul had escaped his clutches. This latest discovery would only add to Lucifer’s dark mood.
DeVille thoughtfully rubbed his chin again. Could this somehow be related to Roddenberry’s escape? Was this Roddenberry’s handiwork, perhaps?
Something was afoot, and DeVille was determined to find out what it was. Cautiously, he moved closer to the circular doorway.
Bill stared blankly at the uniformed man before him. A moment passed before he was able to get his brain to channel syllables to his vocal cords.
“You’re—you’re kidding, right?” he finally spluttered. “I mean—” he looked back at Okuda and Sternbach, “—this is all just an elaborate prank, right?”
He turned back to Sisko, who was at that moment giving Sternbach and Okuda a concerned glance. At Bill’s renewed attention, Sisko turned his eyes back to look at him.
“Mister Shatner,” he said apologetically yet firmly, “I apologize if this all seems somewhat—overwhelming. I’m sure you must be very tired after your long journey.”
“On the contrary,” Bill muttered. “I slept like a baby.”
Sisko appeared uncomfortable, but he persevered. “Perhaps after some refreshment you might feel a bit more comfortable.”
“Not if it’s like that last one,” Bill said tightly.
Sisko’s eyes darted off to Okuda and Sternbach, narrowing slightly as they did so, then back to Bill. He let out a hissing breath through his nostrils, and allowed his shoulders to drop slightly, a gesture of reluctant resignation. He took a half step back and turned fractionally back towards the people behind him.
“Allow me to introduce my senior officers,” he said.
Bill looked at the next person in line as Sisko gestured towards her. This was the woman with the unusual uniform. He hair was severely short, her manner and demeanor brisk and focused.
“My first officer, Major Kira Nerys.”
The major stepped forward, a study in economy of motion, and extended her hand. “Mister Shatner,” she said, her voice the perfect match for her movements.
“Major,” he said, taking her hand and shaking it.
“My science officer, Lieutenant Jadzia Dax,” Sisko continued.
The next officer, a tall, exquisitely beautiful young woman in a blue Starfleet uniform, stepped forward. A total contrast to Kira Nerys, this woman’s movements were graceful, smooth, and elegant. Her demeanor suggested someone completely at ease with herself. She smiled a sweet, genuine smile as she extended her hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister Shatner,” she said. The voice was as smooth as the movements, as sweet as the smile.
“Lieutenant,” was all Bill managed to get out.
“And my chief medical officer,” Sisko continued, “Doctor Julian Bashir.”
Bill practically had to pry his eyes away from Lieutenant Dax as the last entry in the pageant stepped forward.
This dark young man, also in a blue Starfleet uniform, was another intense individual, but it was an intensity of quite a different sort from Major Kira’s. This was not focus, but rather excitement, pure and simple. Whether he was excited about just being on the station, or about meeting the alter ego of Captain Kirk, Bill wasn’t entirely sure.
“Welcome aboard, Mister Shatner,” Bashir said enthusiastically as he gripped Bill’s hand and shook it vigorously.
“It’s a pleasure, Doctor,” Bill replied.
Sisko stepped forward again. “I’ll have Doctor Bashir show you to your quarters,” he said. “Then, if you like, he can show you around the Promenade. Just in case you change your mind about that refreshment.” He managed a tight smile.
“Thank you,” Bill said.
Sisko nodded, and gestured towards Doctor Bashir.
“Right this way, Mister Shatner,” Bashir said, practically grabbing his arm.
Bill looked around to see what had happened to Okuda and Sternbach. They were standing quietly, just behind the spot where Bill had been a moment before. Sisko stepped ponderously towards them. Bill couldn’t see his face, but he was certain it bore a frown.
“Gentlemen,” Sisko said to them quietly, “if you please—” and bade them follow him.
“—an incredible opportunity to speak with someone from your century,” Bashir was saying as he near-dragged Bill down the corridor. “I mean, we have historical records and audio and video recordings, and all that sort of thing, but there’s no comparison to having an actual, living, breathing resident of that era here with us. Well, you can just imagine my excitement when I heard you were coming—”
Bill didn’t have to imagine a damned thing.
“What do you mean, ‘my century?’” Bill asked, grappling with what he had just heard.
Bashir stopped dead in his tracks. “Why—the commander told us,” he paused, a look of disappointment fluttering across his face, “that you’re from the twentieth century.” He cocked his head slightly. “Is that not right?”
Bill was starting to feel light-headed.
“Of course,” he replied. “What other century would I be from?”
Bashir frowned ever so slightly. “Well,” he said haltingly, “Here—I mean, now,” he gestured widely, indicating their surroundings, “where we are—This is the twenty-fourth century.”
Something in Bill’s head clicked. The ride in the runabout, the space station, the characters who should be actors, but weren’t. It was all—
It was all real.
Bill closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again.
Bashir was still there.
“All right, gentlemen,” Benjamin Sisko said sternly as he strode behind his desk. “Would you care to enlighten me as to what this is all about?”
Mike glanced over at Rick, who stood a few feet away from him in front of Sisko’s desk. Rick glanced back at him. Both of them were extremely tense.
“Well,” Mike said after a pause, “it was important to Mister Berman that we bring him here.”
“Yes,” Sisko said crisply, sitting down in his chair, “I received Mister Berman’s enigmatic message. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.” He leaned forward and folded his hands on his desk. “I don’t appreciate having my station used for someone else’s whims.”
“It’s not a whim sir,” Rick said earnestly. “Shatner’s been causing a lot of trouble back home and this was the best way Mister Berman could think of to get him out of the way for a while.”
Sisko’s eyes narrowed. “So now we’re a vacation resort for self-important trouble-makers,” he said humorlessly.
Mike swallowed hard. This was not going well.
Sisko leaned back in his chair, glancing back and forth between Mike and Rick. “When you two first arrived here, I was intrigued. You seemed to know a lot about our technology, and I wanted to learn more about you. I was more than willing to cooperate and give you free run of the place, as long as you didn’t let on to anyone else where you had really come from. When you later brought Mister Berman and Mister Piller with you, I was equally cooperative, though it was somewhat more difficult to come up with cover stories for them as well as for you.”
He sighed, and looked at the ceiling. “Then, when you brought Mister Stewart with you, I became concerned. These visits were becoming a little too habitual for my comfort. And it was becoming increasingly awkward to explain to my crew and everyone else just where the hell these people were coming from.”
Sisko got up and strode around to the front of the desk. “This time, no cover stories. He’s a visitor from the twentieth century and you and he can come up with whatever explanation you please for how he got here. I’m not pulling the wool over my officers’ eyes any further. You understand?”
Mike nodded. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Rick nodding too.
“Fine,” Sisko said, perching on the edge of the desk. “Now, would you care to explain the real purpose for this visit?”
Mike and Rick looked at each other again. They shrugged with their eyebrows, and looked back at the commander.
“Well,” Rick said slowly, reluctantly, “Mister Berman wants us to take Mister Shatner into the wormhole.”
Sisko closed his eyes and shook his head. “I wondered when it would come to that,” he said quietly.
Standing again, he glared at Mike and Rick. “If you two think I’m going to just sit back and allow you to waltz through the wormhole, take the grand tour of the Gamma Quadrant, and waltz back again, you have another thing coming. I’m not running a theme park here!”
Mike waved his hands in protest. “No, Commander. We’re not supposed to take him through the wormhole—just into it.”
Sisko’s eyes bored holes into Mike. “What are you saying, Mister Okuda? That you want this Shatner fellow to commune with the prophets?”
Mike shrugged. “I suppose that’s as good a way as any to put it,” he said.
Sisko stormed back behind his desk. “Out of the question!” he spat out, his control barely holding. “The Bajoran provisional government would never stand for it.”
“The Bajorans,” Rick said evenly, “don’t have to know a thing about it.”
Sisko looked death at Rick. “I don’t think so, Mister Sternbach,” he said quietly. His control was fully intact again, but his anger was evident.
Mike was starting to panic. “If you could just understand how important this is,” he sputtered. “We’d be in and out of there in no time. Then we’d be gone. Out of your hair.”
Sisko regarded him for a moment. “For how long, Mister Okuda? For how long?”
Mike stared at the commander, unable to think of another thing to say. Rick was equally wordless.
Sisko sat back in his chair. “I’m of a mind to send all three of you packing,” he said. “But I won’t. Not this time. If this trip into the wormhole is so all-fired important, then Mister Shatner can have his two minutes with the entities inside.”
He leaned forward again, looking back and forth between Mike and Rick.
“But on my terms,” he said tightly. “You two will remain on the station. I’m even tempted to have Odo keep an eye on you. Two of my people will take Mister Shatner into the wormhole. Make no mistake: This will be very, very brief. Understood?”
Mike and Rick nodded.
“Good. Now, when all this is over and done with, you and your guest will get your sorry hides off this station with all deliberate speed. I want this over, and I want it over fast. Got it?”
Again, they nodded.
Sisko stood again and leaned forward, placing his fingertips on the surface of the desk. “One final item. When you get home, I want you to deliver a message for me. I want you to tell your Mister Berman that this is the absolute last time I will tolerate this sort of nonsense. I will not have my station disrupted in this manner again. If that’s not clear enough, then add this: The next time any of you show up here, I’ll turn the hospitality duties over to Odo. He always has vacancies.”
Sisko sat down again and pressed a control on his desk. The office doors swished open.
“Good day, gentlemen.”
Mike and Rick couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
“—and so you see, there was no other possible conclusion,” Bashir was saying. “The vaccine for Venetarian Sparrow Pox caused a reaction absolutely opposite to the one I had expected, so the only other possibility was the transmutational strain of the disease, which is extremely rare, and can only be contracted on Mitalusus Four, and then only during the mobax harvest season, which as you know lasts only four weeks, placing our man on that planet during the Kibradux insurrection. He hadn’t a leg to stand on. Well, the Girradii don’t actually have legs, but I think you catch my meaning.”
Bill stared at the doctor as if in a trance. The man hadn’t stopped talking since he’d first led Bill away from the docking bay. They were now sitting at the bar in the drinking establishment known as Quark’s.
“Needless to say, we handed him over to Starfleet Security straight away,” Bashir continued. “It was a fascinating case, and I was thrilled to have played a part, however small, in bringing this man to justice.”
Bashir smiled and shook his head. “Life on the frontier. There’s nothing like it.”
Bill smiled vacantly. “No,” he said, “I suppose not.”
As if by magic, the proprietor of the establishment appeared at Bill’s elbow.
“When the good doctor here is through boring you to death with medical mysteries,” Quark said, eliciting a disapproving frown from Bashir, “perhaps I can interest you in some real entertainment.”
“Yes,” Bashir said, recovering nicely from Quark’s insult, “another technological wonder for you to explore. The holosuites. I’m sure you’ll find them fascinating.”
Quark glanced sidelong at Bashir. “I’m sure he’ll find them a good deal more than that,” he said emphatically.
Bashir’s communicator pin chirped. “Sisko to Bashir,” came the commander’s voice, sounding rather tinny over the communications channel.
“Go ahead, Commander,” Bashir said.
“Our other two guests are headed for the habitat ring. Please meet them there and show them to their quarters.”
“Aye, sir. On my way.” Bashir rolled his eyes as he stood. “Honestly. You’d think I was a bell-hop.” He excused himself and headed for the corridor.
“Yes, and an overpaid one at that!” Quark called after him.
“Now,” he said, turning back to Bill, “about that entertainment—”
But Bill wasn’t listening. He was looking at a table across the room, where a dark-haired man in a black suit with red pinstripes was raising a glass in Bill’s general direction.
“Excuse me,” Bill said, getting up and heading for the table where Lucien DeVille sat.
Quark watched the new arrival walk purposefully across the room to the table where the unusually-attired man was sitting.
“When’d he get a chance to meet anyone else?” he muttered to himself, shaking his large head.
“Still driving the customers away, eh, Quark?” came a familiar voice from beside him.
Startled, Quark looked up. Immediately, he frowned.
“Odo,” he spat. “What were you, a piece of the carpet this time?”
Odo snorted. “On the contrary. I just walked through the door. I’m surprised those magnificent ears of yours didn’t pick up my footsteps.”
“What do you want?” Quark snapped. “I’m a busy man.”
“Oddly enough,” Odo replied, “nothing from you.” He nodded in the general direction of Shatner and his companion. “I’m keeping tabs on the new arrivals.”
Quark grunted. “I don’t think this Shatner fellow is going to be throwing any money around.” He looked over at the table. “Seems a little slow if you ask me.” He shrugged and turned back to his racks of bottles. “Probably harmless, which means no new business here.”
“It’s usually the harmless ones that end up causing the most trouble,” Odo said in his usual sardonic tone.
Quark was affronted. He spun back to face his nemesis, open-mouthed in astonishment. “What are you talking about, Odo? I’ve caused you more trouble than just about anyone, and you can hardly call me harmless.”
Odo snorted again. “You, Quark,” he said contemptuously, “have been a known quantity from day one. And you have the dubious virtue of being consistent.”
This was more than Quark could take. He pulled himself up to his full height, which was considerably less than impressive, and hissed full into Odo’s face.
“Virtue!” he spat. “Why, I haven’t got a virtuous bone in my entire body—a-and I deeply resent your implication that I do!”
“I didn’t imply anything, Quark. I said it flat out. Get your semantics straight, will you?”
Quark just snarled and turned back to his bottles.
“Think I’ll have a little listen in on our guests,” Odo said.
Quark turned around again just in time to see Odo melt before his eyes. Glancing over at the table where Shatner and the other man sat, he noticed a new potted plant spring into existence behind them.