The plant in the containment vessel looked a lot like paeonia parnassica to Ensign Serrano, the hand-sized bloom bearing a brilliantly-orange center. He had no idea why it would be behind a centimeter of transparent aluminium, though, and he reached out to touch the container without much thought. The bloom hit the side of the tank with a thud, making Serrano jump. The petals struggled to pull back, revealing sticky residue.
“Holy shit!” Serrano exclaimed.
“That’s the Delta Quadrant for you. They found it a few planets ago… Took them weeks to un-paralyze Lieutenant Harrison,” Ensign Belvedere replied, hopping down from the nearby lab bench he was sitting on.
“That’s so cool!”
The other ensign grinned. “The word ‘paralyze’ didn’t scare you off?”
Serrano laughed. “Well, you said ‘un-paralyze,’ so, I’m going to stick with ‘that’s so cool’ as my scientific appraisal of this specimen,” he said, as he thought about how evolution could take enough turns to lead to such an organism.
A few moments later, the door to the botany lab opened to admit yet another ensign in a blue sciences uniform, this time a Trill with sharp features and a square jaw. He rushed over to where Serrano and Belvedere were standing, pulling up the PADD projection from his WRIST and hurriedly flipping through the recent scans.
“You’re not messing with my plant are you? What are you even doing in the botany lab, Matthew?” the other man said, clearly agitated.
“Your plant, Corvol?” Belvedere challenged. “I’m on liaison duty today. This is Santiago Serrano, an actual, factual botanist,” he said, clapping Serrano on the back.
“Pleased to meet you,” Serrano said, offering a handshake.
“Corvol Taom, general biology,” the Trill replied, with a smile, accepting the handshake very gingerly. “Sorry, but if this thing gets out, I’ll be on the line for it,” he explained, blushing a little.
“Wait, what? It’s a plant. How is it going to get out?!” Belvedere asked.
“Well, it can hop. It’ll jump up to grab prey and then replant itself in situ until it can absorb the nutrients,” Taom said.
“That’s badass,” Serrano replied, circling around the tank to look at the specimen.
“No, it’s insane. Kill it. Kill it with fire,” Belevedere insisted, noticeably moving back from the containment vessel and putting himself behind Ensign Taom. “Why would they bring something like this aboard?”
“We needed it to develop the antidote. Now we’re studying it,” Taom replied with a shrug.
“Wait, wait, wait. What makes this a ‘plant’ anyway? It demonstrates predatory behavior and it’s mobile,” Belvedere asked.
“Cell walls,” Serrano and Taom replied together.
“Nature doesn’t make it all that easy to make a distinction between flora and fauna sometimes, but that’s generally the distinction we use, yes. It’s also largely stationary and photosynthesizes,” Taom elaborated. “Whether it goes into the zoology lab or the botany lab is often more about whether it can be planted or not.”
“Got anything else like this?” Serrano asked, still staring at probably the most dangerous organism he’d ever encountered in person. “Like, amazing, freaky stuff?”
Taom grinned. “I’m pretty sure this is the most impressive specimen on the ship. We haven’t done a lot of planetary exploration. Mostly first contact type stuff,” he explained. “And archaeology,” he said, nodding towards Belvedere.
“Corvol here is on one of the hazard teams, which makes him some sort of interstellar ninja hero,” Belvedere said, miming some karate moves and earning a roll of the eyes from Taom. “He’s been places. Seen things. All very, very impressive,” he drawled.
“What’s a hazard team?” Serrano asked, wrinkling his nose at the unfamiliar term.
“They get special training and then get to strut around in dangerous situations in exoprene bodysuits, which absolutely lift and separate,” Belvedere said, which didn’t really help Serrano understand at all. “Like away teams, but with bigger guns and bigger muscles.”
“Doesn’t sound very Starfleet,” Serrano noted, as he tried to wrap his head around the idea.
“I’m the team medic and science specialist. We are usually sent in first to make sure a planet or a ship is safe for the senior staff to visit. I’ve never actually had to fire my phaser at all,” Taom explained.
“Yes, yes. But those suits. They turn twinks into twunks, twunks into hunks, and hunks into gods,” Belvedere replied. “The captain changed into one during our mission on Eta Torrensis. It was extremely distracting.”
Taom shook his head. “Don’t sexualize the captain.”
“Why not? He’s sexy, in a kind of terrifying, authoritarian way,” Belvedere replied, eyes glinting. “And you know what I’m talking about.”
“It’s disrespectful. He’s the captain,” Taom said, looking genuinely scandalized. “Don’t you have a boyfriend anyway?”
“That’s what I was getting to: I know something that’ll really put a spring into you two nerds’ steps,” Belvedere replied, making a show of checking his nails. “Austin is best friends with Luca Sheppard, the captain’s husband, and he told me that we’re going to be lingering in this next system long term. You’ll get to do a full planetary study.”
“Oh, wow! My last assignment was on a starbase, so I’ve never got to do that before. This ship rocks,” Serrano enthused, his attention drawn away from the deadly plant. “What about you, Corvol?”
The Trill shook his head. “This is my first posting, and we’ve never been given the time to really dig into a planetary study. That’ll be a nice change of pace,” he said, with a smile. “Want to feed Seymour?”
“Seymour. The plant. He named it,” Taom replied, pointing to Belvedere.
“What kind of self-respecting homosexual doesn’t get a Little Shop of Horrors reference?” Belvedere said, sucking his teeth. “Wait… feed it? What are you feeding it?”
“Just protein cubes. We don’t have any spare rabbits onboard,” Taom replied, with a laugh.
“No to literally all of this,” Belvedere said, waving his hand dramatically towards the containment tank. “You’re both disgusting, and not in an attractive way. Even still, there’s a show in the forward lounge tonight. Make sure he’s there at 2200 sharp, because I can’t watch this debauchery,” he added, before leaving the lab entirely.
“Is he always like that?” Serrano asked, while Taom went over to a supply cabinet to receive a container of protein cubes. “I’m not going to get paralyzed, right?” he asked, grabbing one when he returned.
“I think he’s just trying to impress you,” Taom said. “And, no, as long as you don’t linger. You need to be about a meter away, though,” he explained. “Ready?”
“Do it,” Serrano said.
Taom tapped a command into the terminal next to to the containment vessel and the top opened up in an iris. Serrano stood back and tossed the gelatin-like protein cube in, jumping when the plant caught it quite easily. The petals folded in over the food source and the two of them watched in fascination and slight horror as it gobbled it up right in front of their eyes.
“Sick, right?” Taom asked, as the vessel sealed itself again.
“Oh, absolutely. Makes roses look quite boring,” Serrano agreed. “What’s the show he mentioned, though? Like, a concert?”
The Trill chuckled. “I’m not giving you any hints, Freshman,” he said, imitating Belvedere quite well. “But it’s a lot of fun!”
Ensign Sam Solomon’s orientation was much more sedate than his boyfriend’s, but at the end of the day he found himself the subject of an enthusiastic retelling of the entire day from Serrano’s perspective, including an interlude with a predator known as Seymour.
“You’re so much, all the time,” he observed, hugging Serrano tight and planting a kiss on his forehead, as Serrano narrated the minute details of Seymour the Plant digesting a protein cube. “But I still love you.”
“Apparently we have a party to go to tonight. It sounded mandatory.”
“My liaison officer didn’t mention it,” Solomon said.
“Mm. Well, mine did, so… Wash your face? Fix your hair?”
Eleven minutes later, Solomon found himself with Serrano in the ship’s forward lounge, which was known as the Plowman’s Tap. The pun wasn’t too difficult to understand: Arcturus was the brightest star in the constellation Boötes, the Plowman, and a Tap was a name for a pub, ergo the Plowman’s Tap. What neither of them were expecting was to walk into a full-on dance show, with multiple drag queens strutting their stuff and lip syncing to the latest pop music.
“This is amazing!” Serrano said, pulling Solomon along by the hand towards the ensign-dominated corner of the room, where he introduced him to his fellow scientists. Ensign Knox was also there, looking a little cow-towed, but not seeming like he was having an entirely unpleasant time.
Before any pleasantries could really be exchanged, the lights went out and a moment later a spotlight was on an immaculately-dressed woman in the center of the stage, who walked towards a standing microphone and waited for the crowd to calm down. At that point, Solomon realized that Captain Lancaster was sitting front and center in front of the stage in a dress uniform, along with a half-dozen other members of the senior staff. What had he walked into?
“Welcome, welcome, welcome! The Plowman’s Tap is the place to be on this ship, so I’m impressed that all of you managed to sneak in an appearance,” the hostess started. “I am Miss Nomer, and this is my bar. Don’t you raise your eyebrow at me, Captain. Your ship, my bar,” she added.
The captain shook his head.
“Folks, I was happy in retirement, but His Majesty made me re-enlist so that I’d still have to call him ‘sir’ running this bar. Dr. Sheppard couldn’t be reached for comment,” Miss Nomer replied, earning a hearty laugh from the captain’s apparent husband. “But making fun of the captain isn’t the full agenda for the evening, sinceI only have an hour. I see we’ve been joined by Commander Alesser, as well. He’s single, ladies. He’s also full of shit, so, you know, make smart decisions,” she added, to a round of applause. “What’s your name, hun?” she asked, moving towards the front of the stage.
“Dorian, huh? No bets on whose team you bat for,” the hostess teased, to a round of laughter. “The Queen clearly has taste, I’ll give her that. But the look I’m getting suggests that I’m about to be beamed into space, so… let’s take a little break? Swarm the bar!”
“This is great,” Solomon said, hugging Serrano from the side. “A drag show 70,000 light-years from Earth? How is this real?”
Serrano chuckled. “The gays find a way.”