"Captain's log, stardate 3.14159. We have completed the mission on Beta Gamma IV. The colonists are safe and a Starfleet negotiation team has been dispatched to negotiate a treaty with the cockroaches."
Smash snapped off the recorder and leaned back in the command chair. He couldn't help but feel proud of his accomplishment.
"Captain," Lt. BarcoRaptor interrupted his reverie. "Starfleet on channel one niner as you requested."
The screen on the bridge filled with the face of Admiral Rooton.
"Yes, captain, what is it?"
"Requesting new orders, sir. The Beta Gamma IV affair has been completed. We are warping to Galactic Station 30."
"Why are you asking me for orders, Captain Smash? I'm not your Commanding Officer any more. Didn't you get the new org chart?"
Smash looked embarrassed. He punched up the latest chart on his computer console.
"Ah, the newest one I have shows you in command, sir."
"What date was that issued?"
"2576.321 standard star time."
"Hell, man, we've had four revisions since then. The latest one was dated 2576.326. Admiral Galapos is your superior officer now. I'm in charge of shoes."
"No, no, shoes; entertainment and such."
"Oh, yes, of course. Well, congratulations, sir."
Smash exchanged a few more pleasantries and then switched off.
"Captain, Admiral Galopos on line two four."
"Thank you, lieutenant. Well, hello, Admiral. Captain Smash of the USS Surprise requesting new orders, sir."
"Smash? Smash?" the man ruffled through some papers on his desk.
He looked up. "Surprise, you say?"
He ruffled some more, then let out an exclamation. "Ah, yes, here it is – Surprise!" He studied the page muttering to himself ... "Beta Gamma IV... deep space ... cockroaches!" He looked up at him.
"Yes, sir. The colony was infested."
"I see. Well, you're none of my business anyway. I'm no longer your commanding officer. According to the new organization announced this morning, you work for ... hmmmm .... Admiral Oohzdder."
Smash was getting impatient. "Oohzdder?"
"Yes, the little Lamppoonzian. Good officer. I think you'll like him. Well, nice chatting with you, gotta run."
He switched off. Smash was left staring at a blank screen.
"Yes, Joanie," Smash muttered. "The more heads the better, from what I hear. Higher IQ rating or something."
"I hear they make the perfect matrix managers," Greyhawk added.
"Captain, Admiral Oohzdder's secretary is on channel zero niner."
The screen filled with the face of a middle aged lady, nicely kept.
"I'm sorry, but the Admiral is not available at the moment, most of him is in conferences."
"Listen, lady," Smash was angry now. "I'm responsible for the lives of 678 men, women and children aboard this vessel, and ..."
"677, Captain." Steven Den Beste corrected.
Smash turned away from the screen and whispered, "I'm quite sure that it is 678."
"677, Sir. Engineer Goulette is still on Beta Gamma IV."
"You mean we left him there?" Smash’s voice was just above a whisper now.
"It seems so, sir."
Smash snapped back to the woman; "677 men, women and children, and if you think that I'm just going to dead head in space with that kind of cargo, lady, you've got another think coming."
Smash was literally spitting mad. The woman, fearing for the Captain's health said, "I'll see what I can do." Her face was replaced by a music video.
"XO! What is it I hear that we left an engineer on a planet again?"
"Ah ... yes, sir. I ... thought he was right behind me."
"Gosh darn it! We lose more good people that way. This must stop!"
The woman's face reappeared. "I'm terribly sorry, Captain, but three of the Admiral's four heads are in very important meetings. High level hush hush stuff you know."
"Well, may I speak with his other head?"
"I'm sorry, but he's with his therapist. But he did say for you to, quote, take some R&R. You deserve it, end quote."
And with that she broke her connection.
Smash spoke to the terminal on his desk. He had resolved himself to just take the R&R and forget about the organization problems Starfleet seemed to be having. Certainly the crew could use the time off.
He had calmed down. The thought of a few days, maybe a week of vacation had served to clear his head. The fact that he couldn't find anyone in control still tugged at the back of her mind, but it was a small voice now, a very quiet voice.
"Where were you. Didn't you hear me accessing?"
"Yeah, I heard, I heard. What of it. Hey, I've got a lot to do, y'know. What with keepin' everyone alive, and breathin'; makin' their meals, their beds, scrubbin' the toilets. You think I'm just waitin' for you to 'access' me?"
"Yes well, alright. I want a list of the nearest recreation facilities and their qualities."
"That's easy, there's only one in this sector: Omecron IV otherwise known as the Holographic Adventure Landscape. It's a Space Station orbiting Olympus Alpha."
"Tell me about it."
"It's a total simulated environment. Each room can be programmed by the on board computers to imitate more that 500,000 different landscapes and just as many eras. Of course, the most extensive programming has to do with Earth history and geography, but other worlds are included also. A whole level can coordinate their adventure to make almost 5000 acres of uninterrupted simulation. The total programming area combining all levels is nearly 3/4 of the Earth's surface. The only room that cannot be programmed, is the control room where the computer simulations originate.
"Think of it Captain," the computer went on, "basking in the warm sun on a Polynesian island, swimming, sleeping. Or maybe you would like to relive the days of King Arthur, fight duels and battle dragons. This place can do it all."
"All right, all right, you sound like a commercial."
"Just trying to put some life into the facts, Captain," the machine pouted.
"Yes, yes. Display the coordinates to the helm."
"Aye, aye sir!" The computer spat. "See if I'm ever nice to you again. Next time you can just get your own travel folder. I'm out of the tourist trade."
With that, the terminal went dead. Smash wasn't sure exactly what type of programming the ship's computer had, but he was sure going to have it checked out.
The Holographic Adventure Landscape sounded pretty good, he had to admit. It would be just the kind of thing he and his crew needed.
"You have the coordinates for Qmecron IV on your console."
He punched some buttons.
"Aye Sir, I do."
"Good. Please be so kind as to lay in a course that will take us directly there. Warp 2."
Smash sat back and fantasized.
In the day and a half it took to get there, Smash had the crew informed as to their destination. The computer was accessed many times by many crew members looking for more detailed information. The computer reluctantly fulfilled all their requests.
At last, they had Olympus Alpha, and it's attendant satellite, Qmecron IV, in sight.
"Lt. BarcoRaptor, Please make contact with the Qmecron station and request docking instructions."
"Yes Steven, what is it."
"I'm getting some very strange readings from the station, sir."
"We are receiving docking instructions, now captain." BarcoRaptor reported.
"Very good. Request permission to dock."
Den Beste rechecked his scanner then moved beside Smash.
"There doesn't appear to be any life forms aboard the station at all, captain."
"Then who is ..."
"Permission to dock, granted, captain."
Den Beste and Smash looked at each other.
Who was issuing those instructions?
"Incoming message, sir."
"On screen." Smash snapped as he once again took his seat on the bridge.
BarcoRaptor moved efficiently to make it happen.
The view screen directly in front of Smash flickered and the view of the approaching space station was replaced by an image of an old, yet spry looking man standing in a forest clearing. He was tall, with long white hair and an enormous white beard. He wore a finely adorned robe and well worn yet sturdy sandals.
"Welcome, sons and daughters of Adam and Abraham. You have returned from your wayward journey and are ready to take your place in my kingdom. I have no doubt that you will prove worthy. Your trials will begin as soon as you arrive."
Smash was astonished, speechless.
"Excuse us for one second," he said.
"Lt. BarcoRaptor, off screen."
The screen went dead.
"Mr. Den Beste, XO. Come here please."
Blackfive stepped up beside the command chair. Den Beste took another reading from his console and did the same.
"Analysis. What have we got here?"
"Sensors still indicate no life forms on the station, yet the transmissions are originating from it," Steven reported.
"This must be a computer generated message," Blackfive said.
"Is that possible? It seems so detailed."
"Theoretically, yes," Den Beste answered. "But this type of creative generation is especially sophisticated."
"Yet we know that this station has very sophisticated computers," Blackfive said.
Smash was confused. "But you're telling me that this message is being generated by computers which have no human operators, is that correct?"
"It would seem so," Den Beste said.
"Maybe it's a preprogrammed greeting, triggered by the remote sensors," Blackfive suggested.
"In that case," Smash said, "it should not be able to respond dynamically, correct?"
"Well, we can test this. Resume communications, please."
The screen flickered again and the scene returned. The old man spoke.
"No need to test me, Captain. I am not a computer. Yes, we have computers here, but they are at my command."
"Who is the 'we' you mention? Our sensors show no indications of life forms on your station."
"Never mind that, Captain. You will understand all in due course. I await your arrival."
The view of the space station returned to the screen.
"He cut off communications."
"Mr. Den Beste. Mr. Blackfive. Let's go to the conference room. Bring the executive staff."
"Well, it's not a pre programmed message, that's for sure." Smash recounted.
"But it most certainly is a computer, no matter what it thinks," Den Beste stated flatly. "My latest analysis confirms this. That was a computer generated conversation."
"But the old man, the forest ..."
"Holography. Remember, this is a recreation station whose equipment was designed to be able to create images just like those, and to do it with a high believability factor."
"He's right," Blackfive concurred. "What I think is most important, Captain, is that this ship not dock with that station. We can beam down an away team to find out what is going on. But there is no telling what will be done to the crew if we dock."
"I agree, Captain."
"You are absolutely correct. XO." Smash reached for the comm unit on the table. "This is Captain Smash. Full Stop. I repeat, Full Stop. Do not dock with the space station."
"Aye, aye, sir," Donovan responded. "Full stop."
"Now, speculation. What has happened to that station? Where is the crew,and what has happened to the machines?"
"It is quite possible, given the information that we have, that the main computer system has developed autonomous behavior and that its 'personality' has developed a deep psychosis." Dr Sondra Kay said.
Suddenly the ship rocked and shook. Alarms sounded throughout the deck, and everything was bathed in red.
"Captain Smash, you are wanted on the bridge. Captain Smash ..."
They all ran to the bridge.
When they arrived, the view screen showed the same old man. This time, however, he did not look benevolent. In fact, the word "wrathful" popped into Smash’s mind.
"How dare you attempt to prevent my people from coming home to me!"
"Sir," Donovan reported. "We are caught in a powerful tractor beam originating from the Omecron IV station. It seems that Full Stop was not in his plan!"
"Yes, but who is HE!" Smash demanded of no one in particular.
"I am a wrathful God," the old man was thundering, "I am a jealous God. I am the Lord your God!"
And the forest behind him burst into flames.
To be continued