It was late in the evening when Captain Clerk’s pattern coalesced on the transporter platform. He had been a bit nervous about returning to the ship because he and Kathy Safeway had decided to keep the whole engagement thing on the down-low for the time being. However, upon his arrival, he saw that the transporter operator currently on duty was his least favorite artificial lifeform: the perennially-rusting robot CUL8R.

“Good evening, thir,” CUL8R spoke with simulated cordiality, augmented by his still-never-addressed trademark lisp. Clerk had gotten used to it, but he still wasn't quite comfortable around the robot in general. “I trutht your thore leave wath refrething?”

Clerk knew good and well that he was under no social obligation to interact; after all, this wasn't an android — CUL8R hadn't been programmed to have feelings. Nevertheless, the Captain’s obsessive-compulsive nature prevented him from leaving without at least acknowledging the question.

To his chagrin, of course.

“Uh, well, it was… engaging, that's for sure,” came the awkward response.

“Exthellent. Ith there anything elthe I can do for you thir?”

Maybe it was the exhaustion. Maybe it was Clerk’s residual annoyance at CUL8R re-asserting itself. Regardless, he answered by walking right up to the hapless robot, looking him straight in the optical sensors, and saying:

“Well, you could stop rusting, for starters.”


There was an uneasiness to the next day’s relative quiet that seemed to gnaw at Captain Clerk. It wasn’t last night’s bombshell, he knew that much — he’d broken his mental Panic Button trying to deal with that. It wasn’t until his early afternoon coffee break that he finally put his finger on it, and it hit him like a photon torpedo.

I don't have a First Officer anymore. No wonder I've had time to think.

He emerged from his Ready Room onto the Bridge and walked over to where Lt. Badly, the substitute navigator, was quietly working.

“Set a course for Vulcan,” Clerk said. “Warp Factor 6.”

“Aye, sir,” replied Badly.

As the lieutenant keyed in the coordinates, Clerk turned away to head back to the Big Comfy Chair, and probably would have made it there had he not immediately collided with Head of Maintenance Jed Jenkins, whose presence on the Bridge hadn't up to that point been announced. Jenkins was looking around nervously, an embarrassed look on his face.

"H-H-H-hey Cap'm," Jenkins said nervously, in hushed tones. "I need to ask you a question."

Jenkins speaking quietly? This is a new one. "Sure, go right on ahead," Clerk said, matching Jenkins’ volume level.

The Head of Maintenance leaned in, trying extra hard to make sure nobody but the Captain heard him. "Can I… can I use yer, um… facilities?"

"Say what?"

"You know… yer restroom," Jenkins said, nodding his head in the general direction of the Captain's ready room.

Clerk scratched his head a little. "I know what you mean. Can't you just use the–"

"Everythin's occupied, Cap'm," Jenkins interrupted. "Plus it's really an emergency."

Sigh. Not again. "Look, I'm not really in the habit of opening it up to just anybody. I don't mean to be mean, but–"

Clerk interrupted himself when the look on Jenkins’ face turned to unadulterated desperation, with every bit of please written all over it.

“Alright,” the Captain said after a moment's pause. “But I'll have to let you in. It's got a thumb print identification device on the door.”


Captain Clerk rarely slept well, but the last several days had been particularly bereft of restful slumber. As a result, he had actually begun to nod off just a tad, failing to hear Badly the first time the navigator informed him that they had arrived at Vulcan.

“Oh, yes, yes. Thank you, Lieutenant,” Clerk replied. He turned to Lt. Kato. “Inform Commander Info and Dr. Flüshaht that it’s time to beam down.”

As the Captain got up and began to head for the elevator, a few beeps emanated from the science officer’s station.

“Captain,” Lt. Kazoo spoke up. Honk. “We appear to be picking up some energy readings.”

“What kind?” Clerk asked as he turned around.

Kazoo frowned slightly. “Something we've never seen before.” Honk.

Sigh. Just for once I'd like to encounter a known kind of energy readings. “Uh… just… write them down and we’ll deal with them later.”

Fearing something else might happen in the next few seconds, Clerk didn’t wait for a reply as he headed once again for the sweet relief he knew awaited him within the confines of the nearest elevator.

“Aye, sir,” Kazoo acknowledged with a honk as the elevator’s doors swooshed open.


The majestic halls of the Vulcan Planetary Chamber of Commerce and Welcoming Center bustled with activity as Clerk, Info, and Flüshaht’s atoms descrambled. Commander Klaa’ck stood up straight as the trio descended to the spot next to the control panel where the half-Klingon officer stood, flanked by two gray-robed Vulcan administrators. Their faces showed no traces of mirth.

“Klaa’ck, you old space dog, how are you?” Clerk inquired with a wide smile.

“Excuse me, sir?”

Realizing his colloquialism wasn’t being received well, Clerk waved his hand. “Ask me later.”

Commander Klaa’ck summarily dismissed it. “It is agreeable to see you again.”

Clerk had to suppress a light chuckle at his once-and-future First Officer’s Vulcanization. “Indeed it is,” he replied in kind. “Are you ready to resume your duties?”

“Yes, Captain,” Klaa’ck said with a nod. “It would seem that we are, as the ancient Earth idiom says, ‘getting the band back together.’”

“Well, not exactly.” Clerk took a deep breath, steeling himself for what he was about to say. “Something has come up…”