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[2006: JUL-AUG] *WINNER* Before & After the Play


David Cody
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act: v.1. obsolete; 2a. to respond or perform by action especially on the stage b. Feign, Stimulate c. Impersonate; 3. to play the part of as if in a play; 4. to behave in a manner suitable to. intransitive verb: 1a. to perform on the stage b. to behave as if performing on the stage; 2. to take action; 3. to conduct oneself; 4. to perform a specified function; 5. to produce an effect 6. of a play: to be capable of being performed; 7. to give a decision or award.

Act I

Alec felt an electric buzz course through his veins and glanced over the uniform once more. Shouts broke out from behind the black curtain as his fingers felt the starched collar, the three gold pips on one side. ‘Perfect.’ He took a long silent breath, as he did every night right before parting through that black curtain with the fire of the star trails.

“NO!”

He plunged through without thinking. That cry, her utter terror, it moved his feet faster as if driven by some invisible demon. Crashing under bright lights, he saw the silver flash of the eye, the green reptilian skin arcing back some kind of scythe to plunge it into that golden sparkle of hair.

Alec yanked the phaser from his side and took aim. He pressed down and watched the sensor-rigged light streak, dead center back. He flung himself by as the Gorn fell, scooping up Lt. Hethro into his arms and throwing them to the ground out of the way. A metallic thud spun his head around, at the scythe point embedded in the floor.

Hands flew around his neck. Snapping out of his daze, Alec flinched as he looked down on Hethro, breathing hard with those sparkling red ruby lips. He was vaguely aware of thunder clapping around him, until swinging an eye to center front.

A standing sea of faces stood. Clapping hands swept over.

“My hero…” Hethro giggled.

Alec glanced down to her and she pulled him close, landing those perfect lips firmly on his. A thousand and one sensations blasted him. No matter how many times they performed, tonight it felt different… almost real.

“That’s Commander Travine to you,” he replied, smiling.

Act II

He dragged himself through the dressing room door. It hissed closed as Alec dumped himself into the make-up chair, exhausted. Sweating, he wiped a hand across his forehead and marveled, thinking about the moment.

A chime echoed before the door slid back open.

Jumping up, Alec turned and threw his best grin, stopping cold at the sight of polished black boots, sparkling black pants and a red crisp jacket emblazing five pips stroll through the door, accompanied by silver hair worn by age, along with wrinkled brows and a pointed chin that mirrored an older Alec.

Paling, Alec lost the smile. “Dad.” He licked his lips.

Admiral Travine stopped inside and snorted at the décor. He riveted his hawkish gaze on Alec, quivering. “You have no idea what it means to wear that uniform,” he spoke, then spat on the floor.

“Dad-“ Alec started.

“No!” Admiral Travine crackled, striding over to shove his features into his son. “That was nothing but a mockery! YOU! If you had any sense in that head of yours, you could be wearing that uniform and those pips now instead of pretending to be one in that farce of a performance out there! Get your head out of stardust powder and try doing something sensible with your life.”

“I AM!” Alec yelled, nose to nose. “And this is as close as I’ll ever get, okay?! I don’t have your brains or talent. All I can do is act…”

Admiral Travine held Alec’s gaze a moment longer before straightening. “You’re a disgrace,” he whispered, then turned and walked for the door.

Alec clamped his eyes shut. A searing pain of tears ripped from under his eyelids.

-----

“Careful there. Someone might mistake you for the real thing.”

Standing at a view window, Alec jumped, twisting around to catch Lt. Hethro out of costume, strolling over in a plain blouse and slacks. Her real name Michelle, she scooted up to Alec’s side and peered out the window.

Through it, the massive infrastructure of the starbase, the airlock corridors stretching into the space to link with several ships, both large and small, currently in port.

Sniffing, Alec composed himself, still staring at starships. He forgot to change out of costume, still wearing the red and black with those three gold pips shining on the collar.

Scooting closer, Michelle nudged Alec’s side and slid an arm around his waist. “I heard you and your father.”

It took him a moment to respond. “You wish for something so hard… but how can you follow when all you can ever be is a shadow to someone great?”

Resting her head on Alec’s shoulder, Michelle ran her other hand over his chest. “I think you’d make a great Commander,” she smiled.

Bowing his head, Alec shook it. “No… life didn’t afford the opportunity.”

She studied him. “But you want it.”

Alec shivered, feeling Michelle’s hand against his chin. “I can perform it,” he replied, choking a sob. “But I’ll never know what it’s like to command a starship.” He heaved a laugh. “I’ve never even been on one.”

Michelle swept in front of Alec, brushing his hair and smoothing the uniform. “So? Go on board one of them. See what it feels like.”

Alec laughed, grabbing her hands. “Are you nuts? I’ll get arrested.”

Leaning in, Michelle kissed him. Stopping cold, Alec blinked. She never had kissed him off stage. “Go. If it’s something you’ve always wanted, do it. You’ll carry the regret for the rest of your life if you don’t act.”

Before realizing it, Alec brushed strands of Michelle’s hair. She gave a soft smile and tiptoed to kiss him again. “Then come back and be my Commander,” she breathed.

-----

Standing in front of the airlock door, Alec hesitated before glancing back down the corridor, watching actual uniformed officers head for what he was sure was well-deserved shore leave. Between the craziness of it all and the fact he knew just standing here outside the airlock of an actual Starship in this uniform could land him in jail kept him looking back and forth as his own chaotic feelings tore through him. ‘It’s wrong… this is just wrong.’

The tenderness of lips he never dreamed of experiencing brushed his lips again, making him feel ever more the Fool. ‘You better bail me out, Michelle.’ With a deep breath, Alec hit the lock release. A hiss broke the door open.

Stepping through, Alec was assaulted by the immensity of just the entrance. He glanced around, startled, getting a first look at what appeared to be a few officers standing around, checking padds with a long line of other officers in uniform disembarking. ‘Great.’

One of them spotted Alec and frowned. He came striding over to halt, then salute. “I’m Lt. Nathan Peters.”

Alec offered a half-hearted salute before catching himself, shooting his arm down. “Ah,” he stammered.

Lt. Peters broke out a grin. “It’s okay, sir. You caught us in the middle of shore leave. Captain’s expecting you.”

Alec blinked as those words hit home. “Excuse me?” he shot back, picturing his wrists in shackles. A nudge in his feet urged to bolt off the ship.

“Uh, the Captain, Commander…?”

Alec cut his gape before it became transparent. Not even a moment through the door and already he saw trouble. Why the heck did he listen to Michelle? “Uh, Travine. Alec Travine.” He stuck out his hand, inwardly feeling a rise of panic. ‘What do I do?!’

Peters shook it. “Welcome aboard the USS Odyssey, Cmdr. Travine. Permission to come aboard, granted.”

He was sure his smile was plastered. Alec felt the sickly sense of falling down a rabbit hole. Shaking the Lt.’s hand, Alex glanced around the Odyssey, struggling to call up reserves. ‘It’s a stage. Just pretend it’s a stage.’ Slowly, he felt a sense of calm emerge. “Thanks for having me,” he replied. He pointed a finger one way, then the other.

Peters laughed again. “Down the hall to your left. Turbolifts are at the end. Captain Damore is in the Ready Room.”

‘Bridge… Ready Room… oh, man…’ Alec couldn’t seem to muster confidence, slinking past the Lt. and down the line of officers waiting to leave. Almost all of them shot to attention, salutes abound. Alec stumbled, glancing at each and every one as a jerky hand moved into a salute.

A crawling, oily and snake-skinned cringe enveloped Alec as he made it to the end of the line. It felt so wrong. Stepping around the corner, he glanced behind then ahead. Alone, he abandoned dignity and ran for those turbolifts.

-----

The turbolift doors slid open for Alec to peer from the cabin into the bridge, looking around at what was surely senior officer staff currently at station. A convulsion hit him. Dizzy, Alec bowled over, covering his mouth.

The officer at com caught Alec, half bent and covering his mouth. Her jaw dropped. “Sir! Are you alright?!”

Alec’s head shot up, staring frozen as several heads snapped around, officers stopping on the bridge to look directly at him. His skin felt weak, his lips dry. What in the universe was he doing here?! “J-just a bit of indigestion,” he croaked. What a lame excuse!

The com officer stood, coming over to extend a hand. Alec waived her off. “No, that’s okay. I’m alright, really.”

She stopped, staring at him as her eyes crinkled. Alec knew. ‘She knows.’ They stared at each other a moment before she suddenly stepped back, nodding to her left. “The Captain’s expecting you,” she said with a smile.

Alec pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “You know, I should go down to the doctor and get looked at.”

The com officer pointed out the door. “Captain first, ‘Commander’.”

Words of doom. Alec glanced at the com officer, then stuck his head out the turbolift door. Gulping, he stepped out into the one place he only knew from the stories his father told at the dinner table. Nodding at other faces, some clearly skeptical, others questioning, he managed to find some kind of masterly gait and approached the Captain’s Ready Room doors. Reaching over to that shiny, tiny button, he scrunched his eyes and pressed it.

That voice, both authoritative and welcoming, boomed. “Enter!”

The doors slid open and closing his eyes one last time, Alec straightened his spine, threw his shoulders back, and marched through the doors. Guillotine time. His eyes snapped open as he crossed the unforgivable barrier.

Act III

They swept around what was a very militaristic but with a soft touch room, comfortable temperature, and in spite of circumstance, cozy.

Captain Eileen Damore sat at her deck, reviewing a padd. Her eyes glanced upward at Alec, who suddenly remembered to come to attention. Flashing on that row of officers below, he threw the snappiest salute he could muster. “Captain,” he spoke, getting some wind back.

She studied him before setting down the padd to relax in her chair. Her lips pursed, a scientist studying a new species. “You’re my new Commander?” she let hang.

What was the right thing to say? “I think there may have been a mistake,” Alec began. Not a bad way to start, not good either. “I really should—“

“Start by using the proper form,” Damore cut in. “I prefer ma’am or Captain while on duty.” Standing, she regarded Alec and crossed for a replicator. “Hot Chocolate, and I mean hot!” Turning her head on him, “And you?”

Alec held up his hands. “No thank you, uh, ma’am.”

Her back was already to him. Alec could hear Captain Damore loud and clear, despite her muttering. “Why Starfleet can’t let me decide who’s my first officer with all these last minute replacements… can you believe it?! Very last second they tell me my First Officer got killed in a shuttle accident on his way over.” Taking a steaming mug, she turned around, moving back. “Well, at least they managed a quick turnaround time.” She stopped mid-stride, closed her eyes, and swung on him to smile. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even get your name.”

It took every ounce of effort Alec had not to give in to his feet’s impulse and bolt out those doors. He covered a cough. “Alec,” he responding, inwardly bracing for the worst. “Alec Travine.”

Damore’s eyes flew wide. “As in Admiral Travine? You’re Gerald’s son?”

Alec held out his shaking hands. “I-I can explain, ma’am—“

Damore barked a laugh. “They didn’t tell me I was inheriting the Admiral’s son. You’re not going to report me, right?” She winked, heading back to take a seat and drink.

Alec stepped forward, rigid. He was in enough trouble. “Ma’am, I really need to explain—“

Damore covered her mouth as her throat bulged. Hitting her chest as her skin turned red, her eyes popped out. She suddenly hunched over clawing at her throat and gargled.

Without thinking, Alec leapt. “Captain!”

Everything blurred. Not feeling, not realizing, he jumped the desk and hauled Damore up from behind. Locking his arms under hers, he snaked his hands met just above her navel. Heaving, he heard the choke cutting off. He heaved again, moving his hands slightly up for one last Heimlich.

He heard a spluttering, and a splash. A gasp of air filled his ears as Alec held on, breathing hard. Moments passed before he zeroed in on his hands, and faster than lightning, plastered against the wall. Images of chains, bars, armed guards, and his own legs braced with those electric things seared his vision. “I’m sorry!” he yelled. “I just acted without thinking!”

Damore wiped her mouth. Her skin was peaked red and white. “W-wrong pipe,” she gasped. A faint trace of a smile ghosted her lips. “Not bad for a first day, Cmdr. Travine. I think I’ll keep you.”

Alec stared, struck by the emptiness inside. He couldn’t… bowing his head, Alec shuddered. “W-would you believe me if I said I don’t have the first clue what to do?” Why did he do this? “Ma’am?”

Damore sat on her desk, nodding. “Every single Commander has uttered those same words. I’ll tell you what I’ve told them. You conduct, you act, you behave in the manner suited to your uniform, perform, produce, decide and reward. Think of it as acting. The best Commanders are actors and directors.”

Alec stared, and slowly shook his head.

A twitter broke the pause. Turning, Damore hit something on the desk and an image popped up on the monitor screen.

Not just any image. A frozen bolt rammed Alec into a pillar. Eyes wide, pasty, he gaped past Captain Damore.

Admiral Travine folded his hands on his desk on screen, addressing Damore. “Captain Damore. I apologize for the delay. I’ve dispatched another Commander who should be arriving…”

“Just now,” Captain Damore replied, massaging her chest.

The elder Travine’s eyes riveted and locked, flaring open. His mouth parted, meeting…

…Alec’s own wide, terrified eyes. ‘Oh gods… why did it have to be dad?’

A pregnant pause descended.

Alec swallowed and stepped from the wall, placating his hands. “Dad,” he croaked, feeling the ten judges descend. The disgrace he just delivered to his father…“Dad, let me explain-“

That famous crunching jaw worked as Admiral Travine’s eyes formed daggers. “Captain,” he spoke, anger seething, “I apologize. There will be a ‘new’ Commander arriving shortly.”

Damore slammed her hands on her desk, leaning for the monitor. “No!” she cracked. “I’ve had it with these last minute changes. Commander Travine here is perfectly capable of filling the role and he’s already performed it admirably, as you might have been replacing me if he hadn’t just acted!”

The world collapsed. Alec moved his hands to cover his eyes. Why didn’t the Captain believe he wasn’t an actual Commander?! She wouldn’t even let him tell her!

Admiral Travine stared, silent, motionless.

Alec dropped his hands, shedding the last of whatever dignity he might have wished with his father.

The elder Travine bobbed slightly. “You want him?” he commented acidly.

“Just because he’s your son doesn’t mean he’s exempt,” Captain Damore snapped. “With all due respect, Admiral, son or not, he’s now under my command and I request that you stop these last minute changes. Send your next replacement packing. I’ve got my first officer!”

It hit with the blast of Martian storm, swaying Alec. The immensity of it all, recalling his father’s words, “You have no idea what it means to wear that uniform.” The sting blinked his eyes as the first of the tears fell, finally understanding what his father meant.

Licking his lips, “I’m sorry,” Alec whispered. Louder, “I’m the one who made the mistake, ma’am. I’m really—“

“Not used to a starship,” Admiral Travine cut in, smiling. “He’s been station-side his whole life.”

Alec riveted his eyes on his father, then narrowed them. “Don’t even—“

“That’s ‘don’t even, Admiral’ while on duty, ‘Commander,’” Admiral Travine growled, grabbing a padd to scribble. “I’ll recall the replacement, Captain.” Shooting his head at Alec, “And when you get yourself settled, ‘Commander’ Travine, I expect a call at your ‘earliest’ convenience to discuss this matter.” He glared at Damore. “I will personally transfer Alec’s files within the hour. Travine out.”

The screen went dark. Alec felt it mirrored the closing of the stage curtain, locking him into a façade. ‘He hooked me. My own father hooked me….’

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,”

- William Shakespeare

As You Like It” 2/7

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