Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pikers and Rikers and Jazz, Oh My...

Note: This post is an entry into the Friday Challenge, which can be found here.

Deep inside the bowels of the Starfleet Personnel Division, Ensign Quackenbush bounces his head in time with the Martian speed metal blasting through his Ipod 2e37. The cybernetically implanted music station allows him to listen to any music he likes, without disturbing his neighbors, and his assignment is so tedious that he needs the jams just to get through the day.

His printer ("printer" was a misnomer, since it didn't actually print anything; what it did was use transporter and replicator technology to create a full blown paper report from raw molecules) spit out a fresh set of orders, and he pulled it to read while another set was printing. Temporary duty assignment, he read, for someone named "Piker."

The music in his head reached a crescendo, and in his chair-dancing escapades, he dumped coffee in his lap. Cursing in Romulan, he dashed off to the head, cleaned up the mess, and returned to his duties. He grabbed Riker's transfer orders off the printer, stamped them with all of the proper military approvals, and delivered the stack to the transporter that would then deliver them to the admiral's desk for a signature.

"Stupid way of doing things," he mumbled. Most would agree with him, but that was "the way things were done" in a military organization, and probably would always be the way they were done.

He then grabbed Piker's paperwork, quashing a sudden sense of deja vu, and stamped the approval for his assignment to the
Rachmaninoff, a deep space research vessel.

William T. Riker strode purposefully through the long curving corridors of Deep Space 17, working his way to the transfer to his temporary post. Lieutenant Schmidts, a short, blonde man from Deneb 3, struggled to keep up while waving a sheaf of important looking papers in the air.

"So, you see, Commander, there's been some kind of mixup..."

"Yeah, I got that part," Riker said, without slowing down. The ship that had gotten him this far has been a rickety Altairian transport, with nothing on the menu except Altairian stew and Klingon chili, and the chili was threatening to make a re-appearance, so Riker was moving at a pretty fast clip.

"You know Starfleet uses a personality test to help staff ships, right?" Schmidts said, dodging around a crowd going the other way.

"Yes," Riker growled. "Since the ships are away from base for so long, finding shipmates with something in common just makes sense. You use the Captain's profile as a starting point, and assign the rest of the crew with that in mind. Basic personnel stuff there."

"Um...yes. Exactly. That's my point. Someone screwed up your results, and you've been assigned"

"Spit it out. Get to the point."

"Um. Yessir, you're assigned to the Van Halen."

"Van Halen? You mean the guy who found the radiation belts around the Earth?"

"No, sir, um, that's Van Allen." Schmidts dodged around another cluster of people. "You see, this ship, it''s ROCK MUSICIANS. Plus some Country, they seem to fit in."

Riker came to a dead stop, and gave the man a glare that would have melted the rings off of Saturn. "Excuse me?" Schmidts handed over the stack of paper and swallowed hard.

Looking at the signatures that made everything official, Riker sighed. "I think I'd rather do another month with the Klingons."

Riker's sense of dread increased with each step. The docking bay to the Van Halen was just ahead, and the closer he got, the further away he wanted to be.

ROCK musicians? How in the name of W. Maynard Ferguson was he going to function aboard a ship full of fans of...of...he could barely bring himself to say it.

This was going to be the most miserable month of his life, he knew that.

Captain Simmons met him at the door with a firm handshake, and before Riker could get past the traditional "permission to come aboard, sir" Simmons was already talking about the situation. "You can dispense with the false pleasantries, Commander. Schmidts called ahead; I know you're not where you want to be. Let's get your gear stowed and see if we can make this visit as painless as we can manage."

Two hours later, after making the rounds and eating a light dinner by himself in the mess hall, Riker stretched out on a barely comfortable bed. The Van Halen was an old ship, recently refitted but still with the thin walls of its generation. As Riker closed his eyes and drifted, he was jolted by what sounded like a screaming baby. After a few moments, Riker identified the sound as an over-amplified guitar, screeching and whining like a scalded Tiberian feline.

...then the room on the other side added a discordant bass drum beat to the mix. Riker's com badge bounced a bit closer to the edge of the nightstand with every beat. He reached under the bed for the spare pillow, and clutched it over his head. After three minutes, the main pillow joined it. Still the shrill whine of vibrating strings made his teeth rattle against each other and the heavy drum beat bounced his head from one side to the other.

Finally, he gave up. He threw on civilian clothes and went for a walk.

The New Orleans bar wasn't the same as the one he had customized on the Enterprise, but it would do. He added a small audience and a band, and ordered the computer to change out the bandmembers with historic figures on a frequent basis.

One of his strengths was his ability to "fit in." He had carved a niche for himself on a Klingon cruiser. He would do it again on this ship.

...he had no clue HOW to do that...perhaps he could replicate himself some earplugs...? Or, better yet, a sensory deprivation tank...

There had to be some common ground.

Riker dozed off in a booth, with the computer alerting him an hour before his shift was due to begin.

That became his habit for the first week of his assignment--leaving for the holo New Orleans every time the evening serenades began. There had to be a way find his niche in this...gaggle.

Captain Simmons went out of his way to assign Riker solo tasks--stuff that would allow him to stay away from the general crew. Riker understood the sentiment, but he also knew that this wasn't the way to fit in.

Finally, he ordered the computer to replicate his trombone, a Bach Stradivarius. And, with two minutes to go before his neighbors started their traditional evening noise, Riker started his. He started off with some Miles Davis, drifted into Maynard Ferguson, and threw in some T'Krell flourishes for good measure. Then he paused for a moment or three, and started up again with some blues--straightforward stuff.

After ten minutes of solo playing, Riker noticed the bass beat was keeping time with the blues. And three minutes later, the guitar started improvising on the same beat.

Not once on the entire cruise did Riker ever meet his bandmates, but every night became a blues/jazz improv session among the three of them. And the attitudes from the crewmen around him slowly changed, to the point where Riker almost felt like he might actually be able to fit in there.

...then the Andorrian science officer broke out with the refrain from "I know she's out there somewhere" during dinner, and Riker knew he would never really fit in among this crew.

After his tour was over, he was almost sorry to leave.


Riker was back where he belonged, on the Bridge of the Enterprise, right next to Captain Picard.

"Captain," Worf announced, "we are receiving a request for assistance. It's from the Rachmaninoff."

"Yes, Mr. Worf? What's the nature of the emergency?"

Worf's voice was filled with surprise and puzzlement. "Sir, the text of the message is 'come and get this idiot off of my ship before I throw him out the airlock."
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