CONTENTS | LR

I don't expect very many people, even Jersey City residents, to get all the references in this story. But if you lived there in the early to mid-1990s, and read the papers, most of this will make sense.

The Next Generation:
The Voyage Home

PROLOGUE
Privacy, the final frontier

Captain's log, Stardate 4991.10. Captain Bert D. Quirk here. We have entered a time warp at the suggestion of Starglob Command. They have asked us to study the effect of past events on future history. They have also authorized some much-needed shore leave for my crew. My home planet has been chosen for this mission; in fact, my very own hometown.

Not all of the crew were pleased with our destination. "We're going WHERE?" most of them asked. But I'm the Captain of the U.S.S.S. Entercontinental. This is not a democracy. And I took an oath at the Academy to boldly go--

"Excuse me, Captain. I didn't realize this facility was in use. I shall employ another."

"Damnit, Socks. Close the door already. I wasn't even aware Vulgans were prone to the more prosaic bodily functions."

"Captain. Vulgans are, as you are well aware, the most logical race to ever inhabit the known galaxy. We emote not at all. We think with computer precision. But we are, in our essentials, biological creatures. I'm sure the Captain is aware of the first rule of computer usage, commonly known as GIGO, or, Garbage In, Garb--"

"That'll be all, Mr. Socks. I'm perfectly aware of the rule to which you're referring. And your complaint about our cafeteria food is duly noted. Now, if you don't mind."

"Of course, Captain."

Quirk introduces his Significant Other
"Captain on the bridge."

Quirk had long since gotten used to his position of power, and so had the crew. Most of them. There was, however, a lone holdout, who longed for the days of the previous Captain. This divided loyalty would prove disastrous in the mission ahead.

Quirk sat. "Estimated time of arrival, Mr. Lulu?"

"Ten minutes and counting, Captain."

"Good." He hit a button on his chair, which immediately began to massage his lower extremities. The boys had done a fine job with the ship refitting he'd recently ordered.

"Life is a cabaret, Mr. Lulu," Quirk mused, apropos of nothing.

"Yes, Captain."

"And we are but players."

"Captain, don't you mean that life is a stage?" queried Socks.

"The Captain means what the Captain means, Socks," Quirk corrected, pressing another button, the intercom this time.

"Crew. This is your Captain, Bert D. Quirk, speaking. Our ETA -- that's Estimated Time of Arrival, for cadets still in orientation -- is ten minutes. I am aware of the profound culture shock many of you may feel. But rest assured that myself and a small party will beam down in advance of the rest of you, who will be allowed to go down in shifts. We'll do our best to ensure that our destination is indeed safe. Stand by for further developments. Quirk out."

Bert swivled in his chair. "Mr. Socks, I'll require your expertise. It might be a good idea if you tagged along too, Ligament, as you're always hanging around the bridge anyway. Mr. Socks, select two expendable crewmen to round out the advance party."

"Captain? May I come along as well?"

It was Yvonne Data, 'Chip', a recent addition to the crew from another version of the show. She was still at that stage of her career where she felt she had to prove herself. Quirk was secretly pleased -- he admired gumption -- but Chip was just the junior finance officer.

"Out of the question, Mister. Maybe next time."

Socks, a well-known softie, intervened. "Captain. Might I suggest that Chip would be most useful to me in the capacity as a secretary. I would appreciate if you would allow her on the mission under my supervision."

Quirk, usually a stickler for protocol, reconsidered. "Very well. I was young once, and gay."

The crew gave him a curious look. This was a surprise. It was stardate 4991, and thankfully everyone was more enlightened at this point, but the Captain was usually more circumspect. One of the deckhands eyed him with speculative interest.

The Captain felt heat rise on his neck. "I didn't mean that literally. I mean I did. I mean --"

"The Captain refers," Socks interjected nimbly, "to a 20th Century earth 'slang' term of which you all seem to be familiar. In its earlier incarnation it simply meant to 'be happy'. I'm sure that was the Captain's intended usage, although I'm not certain as to the Captain's meaning, as such."

"Thank you, Socks, That will be quite enough. As you all know, I'm already taken. This ship is my wife. Or significant other, if you prefer. She's more than enough for any man. Mr. Lulu, are we there yet?"

"Not yet, Captain. There are construction delays."

"Very well. I'll be in my quarters enjoying some quality time. Crew may stand down."

To boldly go where you're going to end up anyway
The landing party assembled in the Entercontinental's PATH (Peril And Then Hell) transportation center: Captain Quirk; Socks, who like Oscar Wilde had nothing to declare but his wit; Chip, with her finger-top computer; Ligament, medical bag in hand; and two nameless and extremely nervous-looking crewmen, who the Captain approached.

"Don't worry, lads. There are always residuals. Beam us down, Scampi."

The avuncular engineer twisted some dials, pulled others. "Good luck to yuh, lads. If yuh dun't mind me sayun, Captun, I'm glad it's not me gun dun thur. Sumthing ubut it just makes me blu run culd."

"Mr. Scamp. Have you been taking that language course I recommended?"

"Duh yuh mean thu tapes, suh? Ull 30 uf thm? No suh. I huv me enjuns tuh luk ufter."

"Very well, Scampi. We're ready."

25th Century technology being what it was, Scampi was able to place the party exactly where the Captain had directed. Their forms gradually materialized on the strange world below.

But disaster struck.

The shiny and new BeamMeDown machine, a military subcontract, still had a few bugs not mentioned in the owner's manual. One of these was an unfortunate streak of independence when it came time to rematerialize its charges.

It now tried a random remix of the molecules of one of the nameless crewmen, who mutated.

"Oh my God! What is that thing?" cried the other crewman, who promptly fainted. The mutant licked his face.

"I believe," said the unflappable Captain Quirk, "that he has turned into a dog. A border collie, if I'm not mistaken. It looks healthy. Here, boy."

"Fascinating," said Socks, stirred but not shaken.

"What the hell is a border collie?" asked Ligament, aware of the kingdom but unsure of the phylum.

"A completely harmless 20th Century pet," answered Socks.

"I've never seen this sort of thing before," said Chip.

"Did he have relatives?" the Captain asked no one in particular.

Chip keyed her computer with lightning speed and was able to access the data. "No, sir. He was single."

"Well, I guess now when he howls at the moon on Saturday nights, he'll really howl," mused the Captain.

"He will prove most useful on our mission in this transformed state," replied Socks. "His sense of smell is exceptionally keen. He should prove loyal and brave. I suggest we merely accept the new circumstance and continue with our survey, though to be humane we may want to buy a Hartz three-in-one collar."

"You're a cold-blooded one," retorted Ligament. "Always so logical. What if you had turned into a dog?"

"May I suggest, Doctor, that that is a situation which I would not find without its benefits. For example, I would then be able to bite you in the leg and it would be will within the parameters of my new behaviour pattern."

"A joke, Mr. Socks?" asked Quirk.

The Vulgan raised his eyebrows. "Merely an observation, Captain."

"That'll be all, gentlemen," ordered Quirk. "Let's move on."

The Captain, his officers, the newly revived crewman and the dog (which they had decided to call Warf), tail wagging, took stock of their surroundings.

City on the edge of another city that side of paradise
The group had landed on the concrete shore of a dirty but at the same time wonderful river. It was early evening. Across the way stood a city, which sparkled like a galaxy. To a man, they looked down on their own uninspired ground. There were painted lines spaced about 10 feet apart, with strange-looking vehicles placed randomly between them. One of the vehicles had writing on it: 'Corolla'. Another said 'Camry'.

"What are those, Bert?" asked Ligament.

"I believe those are cars," said the Captain. "Am I right, Mr. Socks?"

"You are correct, Captain. These are examples of transporters utilizing a curious anomaly to the laws of conservation of energy -- internal combustion. If memory serves, humans used these 'automobiles' to 'drive around', 'crash', and 'park at your own risk'. These are two examples of one of the centuries' more popular brands, known as the 'Toyota'."

"Why do they both look so much alike, but have two different names?" asked Ligament.

"A marketing blunder, I perceive. Much like General Motor's situation with its 'A' cars in he early 80s. Doctor, step out of the way."

"What?"

"Step out of the way, Doctor. Now."

"Now don't you order me about, Mr. Vulgan--"

Socks's superior alien reflexes came in handy. He leapt between Ligament and the oncoming vehicle, which struck him so forcefully he was knocked unconscious.

Everyone rushed to his side. The driver of the car backed up, then pulled away. "Watch where you're going, Moron!" he shouted, unmollified that the damage to his bumper was minimal.

Captain Quirk was stunned. His old friend! They'd done so much together ... explored so many strange worlds ... enjoyed so many arguments about Vulgan women. He was close to tears.

"Why did he just go away like that? Couldn't he see that he'd hurt Socks?" asked Ligament, who, despite his often gruff manner, was secretly fond of his sparring partner. His hands trembled as he fumbled in his medical equipment bag for a thermometer.

"Liability insurance," said Socks.

"What?" they all gasped. Socks was alive!

"I believe the human in question may have been lacking liability insurance, which may serve to explain his ill-considered behaviour. He may have found it simply too expensive."

"But that's illegal!" exclaimed Chip.

"In Jersey anything's legal, as long as you don't get caught," reminisced Quirk, who'd heard the line in a song somewhere. "Chip, access the relevant computer network and input date necessary to show the driver as a felon wanted in connection with a hit-and-run. While you're at it, you may as well give him a criminal record. Embezzlement would be fine."

"That's highly illogical, Captain," said the science officer.

"So it is. So it is. Up and at 'em, Socks. We have serious work to attend to."

No here, here
Once again they surveyed their barren environment.

"Why does this place look so empty?" asked Ligament, "and at the same time so used? There's a pile of rubble over there. And there. My God, Bert. Think of the promise of this city."

"I must agree with the doctor, Captain," said Socks. "Logic suggests that one cannot construct a few sky-scratchers and call it a renaissance. Much land remains ill-developed, undeveloped and at the same time potentially valuable 'real estate', as I believe the contemporary citizens would call it. This could have the potential to be a highly desirable metropolis. It could be a slice of the heavens, rather than the jejune jejunum it mimics."

The Captain, inattentive and really not that well-read, paced.

"All this constructive criticism would likely be wasted on them, gentlemen," he answered slowly. "There are larger considerations. Warring factions. The feelings of monied interests to be accounted for. It just isn't as easy as you all make it sound."

"So much for change, and hope," sighed the ensign.

The Captain gave him a sharp glance. "I wouldn't worry myself about change and hope, Mister. Those are in short supply for one in your position."

"The crew isn't going to be pleased," said the doctor, "about having their shore leave here. Maybe they'd prefer to recreate over there, on the other side of the river."

"Watch what you say, Ligament," reprimanded the Captain. "I still have feelings for the old girl." He seemed to consider for a moment. "But Ligament is right about one thing. The crew would be happier over there. Unfortunately Starglob Command could only afford to reserve rooms over here. Not that they have any hotels to speak of.

"I'll admit, men, this city couldn't exist without that greater sun to the east. It would be culturally starved. Just the thought of no New York Times makes me--"

"Emotional?" filled in Socks. "I'm sure. But, logically speaking, this city looks as if it was formed primarily as a place of departure for points west. I believe that the institution known as the 'railroad' was a principal means of--"

"Enough with the boring details, Socks," sighed Ligament. "I'm hungry. Let's eat."

The wrath of Brad
"How are we going to pay?" asked Chip after they had walked for a bit and found themselves in front of Pronto Cena. "Just look at those prices."

Captain Quirk handed around some green paper.

"I had the boys make us some folding stuff. 20th Century currency. It's authentic in every detail."

They stepped into the restaurant.

"You'll have to leave the dog outside, sir," said the maitre d'.

"Warf?" asked Ligament.

"Yes, well, whatever his name is. He'll have to remain outside. We don't allow dogs in the restaurant."

Chip tied Warf to a 'No Parking' sign on Sussex Street as the others were seated inside, where Harry Chapin's 'Dance Band on the Titanic' played muted in the background. "My favorite song," offered Quirk.

The meal was good, but as Ligament said, "It should be, considering."

When it came time to pay, Socks asked their waiter for "An itemized bill showing the prices of all nourishment and the appropriate governmental tax stated as a percentage of the net total, for our accountant."

When the waiter, whose name was Brad, looked uncertain, Quirk said "The check, please," and they made their way down to the cashier.

"Will that be cash or charge?" asked the cashier pleasantly.

"Cash," said Captain Quirk. He handed over a bill.

The cashier examined it closely. "Well, it's been awhile since I've seen actual cash--"

"Us too," interjected Ligament.

"--but I don't remember a $100 bill having a picture of Donald Trump on it. Perhaps you could give me some real money now."

"What?" asked the Captain, snatching the bill from his hands. "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure," said the cashier, a little less pleasantly now. "Will you be paying with a major credit card, then?"

"I'm sorry. I must have left my wallet with my Magellanic Express back on the ship," said the Captain. "Will you accept a promissory note from an intergallactic taxpayer?"

"I'm afraid not, sir," said the cashier, who picked up the phone and dialled a few brisk numbers. "Security. Code blue."

Suddenly their waiter appeared, face a shade of Horsehead Nebula vermillion. "My tip!" he shrieked. "Look what they gave me as a tip!"

He was waving a bill with a picture of George Steinbrenner on it. "I want my real tip NOW."

Two burly off-duty cops were approaching them. Warf, outside, started to bark.

"I'm sorry about this, boys," said Quirk. "I respect the uniform, on or off the man, but I'm afraid we're going to be leaving now. Ensign, set your phaser to 'stun'."

"Aye-aye, Captain."

"You may fire when ready."

The crewman took out the entire restaurant. A couple loitering over their cappellini were finished allegro.

"Was that really necessary?" asked Ligament, his medical compassion rising like indigestion.

"Have you ever heard the expression, 'Happiness is a warm phaser'?" asked Quirk.

"No, I don't believe I have," said Ligament.

Socks, a Vulgarian example of the Peter Principal when it came to correcting humans, said "If the Captain is referring to the popular song by the musical group 'The Insects', I believe he may be mistaken--"

"Never mind," said the Captain. "We had no choice, doctor. I've been in this type of situation before. Once, at Casa Dante, near the Square, when I was a guest of--"

"Captain. Look outside."

Interlude: Dog Day Afternoon, starring Al Pistachio
They all rushed outside. A public servant was putting Warf into a van that said 'Animal Control' as well as a listing of some local politicians on its side.

"We'll take the dog," ordered Captain Quirk.

"No way, man," said the city worker, Al Pistachio, who had been named after his mother. More recently he'd trekked to Woodstock '94 and was still bummed out, which may have accounted for his less-than-mellow mood. "You were ignoring her. She was howling piteously. We'll find her a better home."

"Are you sure you're qualified? If you're referring to Warf, she's a 'he'. You can tell by the markings," said Ligament knowlegably. "Don't you thing you're overdoing things?"

"And besides," Al Pistachio continued, "she wasn't wearing a license. That's illegal."

"How much does a license cost?" asked Chip.

"I dunno, man. $5 maybe. $10."

"We might have some small change with Christie Whitman on it," said Ligament sarcastically.

"No dough, no dog," Al Pistachio concluded, and prepared to leave them.

"Mr. Socks, why don't you talk some sense into this gentleman?" asked the Captain mock-casually.

"Certainly, Captain. Sir. Are you referring to the small matter of sec. 4:21-1 in the New Jersey Code?"

"Wha--?"

Socks grasped Mr. Pistachio's stand-in between the legs and squeezed until he passed out.

"Whatever happened to the Vulgan neck hold?" winced Ligament, the doctor in him again briefly in attendance.

"The stand-in had no neck, doctor."

"Ah. Logical," mumbled Quirk.

The trouble with trifles
They strolled down the new Washington Blvd. extension, which pleasantly surprised them except for that stretch in the warehouse district. Then they entered the Newport Mall.

"A curious artifact," observed Socks. "A marketplace which is devoted to the sale of a large variety of consumable goods -- often mere trifles -- at a retail mark-up sufficient to allow for a profit to reinvest for the purpose of expanding the base from which to continue this activity."

"Sounds like a cancer," suggested Ligament.

"It's called the free-enterprise system, and it worked pretty well for its time," said Captain Quirk, unable to muster much authority on the subject.

"This 'free enterprise system', as you term it, also resulted in a class of wage slaves who often were paid so little they could not even afford to buy the very goods they were selling without help from so-called 'credit cards' which often enslaved them still further. And may I suggest, doctor, that the Citibank kiosks are the true cancer."

The Captain was wearying of this, but said nothing.

"And they often didn't have health insurance," finished Socks, a juggernaut of jelled opinion.

"That's barbaric," said Ligament, with real emotion.

"Quite," agreed Socks.

"Yes, well, I didn't invent it," said Captain Quirk, a little hurt. "Let's go in and look around. Ensign, stay out here with Warf and try not to get into any trouble. We'll buy him that collar Socks suggested, and maybe a toy or something."

As it happened they had beamed down on the same day Stern's was having its semi-annual white sale. They were swept into the store with the crowd.

"Well, I could use some new sheets for the sick bay," murmured Ligament.

"The battery capacitator on my finger-top computer is running a little low," chirped Chip.

"Logic tells me that we could all use some new clothes, perhaps less 'futuristic', or maybe a little more so, come to that," said Socks.

"All right," sighed the Captain. "Crew may stand down. Go ahead and shop."

They regrouped a bit later near My Favorite Muffin. Socks had hypnotized a cashier to obtain some spending money, so they were flush. On the way out they passed Victoria's Secret.

"Yowsa," said Ligament. "Get a load of those uniforms. Permission to purchase that little red number for my colleague Dr. Cruiser, Bert?"

"Well... I suppose the requisition would take awhile. Permission granted," said Quirk. "As long as it doesn't bias her next performance review."

"Bert, that's a low--"

"A bit of humor, Ligament. Just a bit of levity."

"Most women, even back in this century, wouldn't appreciate your 'humor', Captain, said Socks. "The glass ceiling was still a very real phenomenon."

"Can't any of you take a joke?" snorted Quirk irritably. "Just a quick in-out, Ligament. I've got something I want to show you boys."

Journey to Babel Hall
They joined Warf and the crewman outside. Chip had got Warf a cardboard collar and an epoxy bone. "The set was on sale," she explained. Nobody had gotten the ensign anything; they had remembered that he was expendable.

They took the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train to Grove Street. "An illogically tortured acronym," commented Socks.

As they were walking down Grove the ensign was slowed by Warf, who needed to do his business.

"You'd better get a paper for that, Mister," said the Captain sternly.

"Huh?"

"I believe the Captain is attempting to inform you that in this day and age it has fortunately dawned on the populace that litter, in all its forms, is frowned upon. He wishes you to 'do as the Romans do' and purchase a 'newspaper' as an efficient means of avoiding undue disregard for the environment." Socks, of course.

"Huh?"

"Where did you go to school, Mister? Ronald Reagan High?" snapped Quirk. "Chip, buy a Daily News. The editorial page should be sufficient."

They approached Babel Hall, which was a beehive of activity. "What's this, Bert?" asked Ligament. "Another barbaric custom of your hometown?"

"Not barbaric, Ligament," said Quirk. "It's called a press conference. It's worthy of study."

They followed the reporters and the photographers inside, where an official was already surrounded by a crowd.

"That must be the current mayor," explained Quirk. "Quiet. Let's listen."

The self-important looking man was in full stride.

"I just wanted to say to my critics, and that includes an unnamed former unelected mayor who seems to have a lot of spare time on his hands, could you do any better? DID you do any better? Do you call aerobics for the homeless innovative?

"All this carping is ridiculous. Why this relentless barrage of innuendo about my person for no purpose other than to try to embarrass me? Wise up; it won't work. I'm a politician. I'm beyond embarrassment.

"It should be transparent to all of you that my moving to Jersey City and away from my credentials as a Democrat were no happy accident. You're going to serve as my stepping stone to higher office."

"What are we, foreplay?" a reporter asked, apparently rhetorically.

The mayor didn't break stride. "The pure novelty of my election was enough to ensure notoriety of a sort, and dissemination of my ideas through the feckless national media: many things old, nothing new, mostly borrowed, trite, it's true. Even so, I have much I want to accomplish before I move on. There is waste to be cut. There are services to be streamlined, consultants to be hired. Did our former unacting mayor do all this for you?"

He cleared his throat significantly. "I say, ask not what you can do for him, ask what you can do for me.

"Remember the Golden Rule: What's healthy for me is healthy for you.

"Every day and in every way my head is getting bigger and bigger.

"I hope to live long and prosper. You can be part of my plan." He waved, his fingers oddly parted. One of the reporters scribbled "Appears to be flipping us off" in her notebook.

Captain Quirk was amused. He turned to Ligament.

"Boy, the only way he'll get integrity is if he wins it in the Lotto."

But the doctor wasn't there.

The search for Ligament
"Where's Ligament?" Quirk asked his crew at large.

"Perhaps he just stepped outside, Captain. He was looking a bit peaked," suggested Socks.

But Ligament wasn't outside. The Captain couldn't find him anywhere. He called a little meeting. "Mr. Socks. I want you to check the upper levels. Chip, you go to the basement. Ensign, you take Warf and see if you can't sniff Ligament out of the bushes outside. Maybe he's just taking a nap. I'll--"

"You'll what, Captain?" asked Socks.

"I'll go and see what he's doing up there. On the podium. With the mayor. And that short guy."

Is there in truth no beauty? In heaven no plot structure?
There was great confusion.

The mayor appeared to be trying to wrest control of the microphone from both Ligament and a city councilman.

"Give me that!" he shouted. "I paid for that! I mean, it's mine!"

"Not anymore," Ligament was threatening.

"Not another one!" the councilman panicked, with reason. "I've waited too long for this!"

"I said, give it back!"

"No!!"

"Both of you give it up! It should be mine!"

"Take that!"

That last exclamation actually came from Ligament, but the mayor, confused, shot a horrified look at the councilman. "Et tu, Jaime?" he cried unintilligibly before he collapsed unconscious.

"What was that, French?" somebody asked.

"It's all right, everything's all right, he's insured," said Ligament. "He's just 'asleep' for a bit. I injected him with some sodium chromate, a distillate I made from a local soil sample."

"Police! Arrest him!" squealed the councilman.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Ligament warned. "I said the mayor would be fine, and he will be, except for a light rash when he wakes up." He held up a vial of colladium trioxide in an algobarium solution, the generic brand. "He just needs this antidote, to be administered by a doctor such as myself."

The councilman made a grab for the vial but then he, too, collapsed. Ligament brandished the hypodermic.

"He wasn't a doctor. Any other takers?"

"Just me," came a voice from the crowd. "Captain Bert D. Quirk, of the U.S.S.S. Entercontinental."

"Bert, stay out of this," cried Ligament.

"You're a doctor, Ligament, not a psychopath, What's gotten into you? Are you ill? Come on down. I'll have you admitted to sick bay immediately."

Meanwhile Socks had slipped unnoticed into the crowd, and was edging closer to the podium from behind.

"Let's just say I've done some research, Bert," raved Ligament. "When you told me where we'd be going I was suspicious and read up on this 'hometown' of yours. That's right, Bert. I know you're really from the suburbs."

There was a disapproving murmer from the assembled crowd. The Captain was uncharecteristically silent. Chip distanced herself almost imperceptibly.

Ligament continued. "You said that this mission to study the effects of past events on the future was a directive from Starglob Command, but I checked the invoices."

"What invoices would those be, Ligament?" asked the Captain quietly.

"There were none!" shouted Ligament triumphantly. "That's right. You fabricated this mission. You wanted to install yourself as the new mayor. And alter history! History, Bert!"

"You're mad, Ligament," said Quirk, almost sadly.

"No, you're mad, Bert! You're--"

But before he could finish his thought, Socks, who had by now slipped stealthily behind him, gave him the old Vulgan hold and it was good night, good doctor.

A Journal reporter glanced at his photographer. "This plot is pretty thin," he sighed. The photographer shrugged.

"Maybe that's why they got cancelled the first time 'round."

The undiscovered Manchurian candidate
Chip was transfixed. She stared at the crumpled Ligament, then at Quirk, who suddenly barked at her.

"Chip! Kill the ensign! And his little doggie, too!"

"Why?" she asked, thoroughly bewildered now.

"You're not in Kansas anymore, Mister. When I give a direct order you don't ask questions. You just carry it out. It should be readily apparent to even a junior financial officer that the he has already lived a long and fruitful life, for an ensign."

Chip looked about wildly for the missing team. "They seem to have escaped, sir."

"Oh, very well," sighed Quirk. "How's the doctor, Socks?"

"He's dead, Captain. I squeezed just a little too hard." The Vulgan looked momentarily vulnerable. "I admit I'll miss him, despite my lack of emotion."

"You'll get over it," said Quirk. "Good job. There'll be a little something extra in your envelope this week."

"Thank you, Captain. But service is its own reward."

"Whatever. You know, it's fortunate that Ligament took care of the mayor for us."

"'Took care of the mayor', Captain?"

"You know, knocked him out. Otherwise you would've had to use the old Vulgan mind melt on him."

"I couldn't have done that, Captain. I need material to work with."

"That's a harsh assessment, Socks."

"I call them as I see them, Captain. I'm sure he was a highly intelligent being, for a politician. 'The call for votes' may well have forced him to hide this fact. A sort of natural adaptation, based on naturalist George Carlin's--"

"Yes. Well... that's be all for now, Mr. Socks. Take some time off. See a show. Get some minor surgery done on those ears. When you return I'll hire you as a consultant."

"I'm honored, Captain."

"Don't be. It's a perk."

"You're the Captain, Captain."

"That's right. And this was never such a nifty democracy, even when the Democrats were in charge."

Captain Bert D. Quirk of the U.S.S.S. Entercontinental flipped open his communicator. "Lieutenant Utopia. Can you read me?"

There was some static, and then: "Just barely, Captain. Awaiting orders." There was another burst of static. "We're having some trouble reading you. What's your frequency." Another burst. "Is it safe?"

"Who do I look like, Dan Rather?" Quirk quipped, not expecting anybody to get the joke or appreciate the set-up. He wasn't disappointed.

"Utopia. Try police band. Any better?"

"Loud and clear, Captain."

"Good. Here are your orders. You are to begin beaming ship personnel down to Hoboken. They should fit right in. Dock the Entercontinental just off Exchange Place. Get it painted. That should create a few jobs for the locals, keep them quiet. You have your orders. Quirk out."

"What about the former mayor?" Chip asked.

"Take him to the medical center," Quirk said without a trace of compassion. "By the time he finds his way out again this city will be under my complete control. And take the councilman back to his office. I have a feeling he's used to this kind of treatment by now; he'll be fine. Oh, and Chip. I'm promoting you. You'll be my budget director. It's what you've always secretly wanted, right?"

Quirk didn't wait for her reply. He turned instead to the reporters, who just wanted a story, any story, and simply said, "Next question?"