The night had been rough. Captain Clerk almost never slept well, but having to leave his mildly villainous brother stranded -- again -- was nerve-wracking, and for a guy whose nerves tend to stay in a constantly wracked state, it meant another long night of playing Tetris until his eyes could no longer stay open... which happened around 4:48am, coming within 6 minutes of his all-time record.

Still, Clerk had never been late to a shift in his life, and today was no exception, though it took 2 cans of Red Buranga® to make it happen.

Stepping off the elevator onto the Bridge, he moseyed on over to Lt. Whatsisname, who was already busy doing... whatever it was he did all day.

"I've just had the strangest dream, Lieutenant," he muttered.

"It wasn't another one about time travel and aquatic creatures was it?" Whatsisname asked, not even turning his head from his station.

"No, not that. It was really short, but in it we were all fictional characters, and the author had decided to end the story. Only, it really felt unfinished, more like an outline of what was going on than the event itself."

"An unfinished dream? Now I've heard everything."

"Glad Admiral Nezbomb isn't here, or he'd go on about it being another example of me having no ambition."

"You mean the old Nezbomb," Whatsisname corrected.

"Yeah," sighed Clerk, scratching his head. "I still can't get used to this new version of him. I'm getting Holomark® cards like every other day from him. He's on extended vacation, touring the galaxy." Kinda wish I could go with him, now that I think about it.

"Incoming transmission, Captain!" said Ensign Tolstoy.

"Wow, you're still at Communications," said Clerk. "You've been there for three whole weeks now. Figure you'll stay there?"

Tolstoy shrugged. "I dunno. I really want to get into Navigation, but the waiting list is measured in parsecs."

"Stick with it, kid. I think you'd make a great navigator. So, who's calling?"

"It's Captain Safeway."

Ahh, Kathy. A real firebrand, that one. "What's she doing out here? I thought she was taking that job at the movie theater, investigating some Marquees or whatever."

"Beats me, sir. She just said it was urgent--"

"Okay, put it on the screen."

"--and private."

I hate it when she does this. Drama queen. "Fine, I'll go to the Ready Room."

Like nearly every other room on the Secondprize, the Ready Room never seemed to get used for its intended purpose (though, in this case, nobody seemed to know what it was). Clerk tried to come up with a clever nickname for it, but "Unready Room" was all he could think of, and it never got any laughs. At least there was a chair in it today.

"Clerk here," the Captain wearily spoke.

"Jimi, I'm so glad you're here!" Safeway began, out of breath and obviously under duress. "I don't have much time! He's on his way right now!"

"If you're needing me to wire you some cash, you're--"

"No, it's not the landlord this time! This is serious!"

I'll bet. "What trouble have you gotten into this time?"

"Why do you always respond to me like that?"

Clerk sighed. "Computer, bring up chat logs between me and Captain Safeway, from Stardate--"

"Okay, okay, I get it. Look, I know this sounds crazy, but--"

"Nothing you say can top anything I've encountered in the last two months."

"Listen! I was on my way to my new assignment on the Traveler when I started being followed by some unknown assailant in an unidentifiable vessel."

"Look," Clerk interrupted. "If you're trying to make me jealous, it won't work. I broke up with you for a reason."

"What?! Now when have I ever done that?"

"Computer, bring up chat logs--"

"Alright, alright. Just that once. This is different. This guy was shooting at me!"

"So it's an ex-boyfriend."

Safeway facepalmed. "Will you just shut up and listen for a minute?"

"Fine, whatever. Tell me your tale of woe."

With a look that said next time I see you I will kill you, Safeway continued. "This guy -- whoever he is -- began shooting at my shuttle, and I crash-landed on Alpha Beta IV 1/2, about two days ago. I managed to bargain my way into this garbage scow so I could get out of there before he found me."

"Do you have any identifying information about him?"

"No," Safeway continued. "He was masked, and dressed all in black--"

"If this is leading up to a 'tall, dark and handsome' joke, you can just hang up now."

"No, you idiot! Anyways, he--"

"Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!" the scow's computer blared.

"Oh no!" Safeway exclaimed. "He's beamed on board. Help!"

Suddenly, Clerk felt the sinking feeling that for once, she was serious. "Kathy! Hold on! We're--"

Whatsisname and Wharf burst into the room.

"Captain!" shouted Wharf. "What's going on?"

Just as Clerk was about to speak, the shadowy figure shot Safeway, who collapsed out of sight. Sure enough, he was masked, all in black, and looked at least marginally dangerous.

"Who are you?" shouted Clerk. "What are you--"

"What I am doing is of no consequence to you, Mr. James Clerk," said the dark figure. "But if you must know my name, it's Hanger. Cliff Hanger."

"No... not you..."

Wharf and Whatsisname looked at each other. "There goes the season."