I. Riker was head of my class at Starfleet Academy, but I was Boothby’s favourite because I never crashed the shuttlecraft. Riker had a tiny butt and unhurried pace — what would he run from? Not me, hiding from the other boys during recess, reading Journey to the Centre of the Moon.
Riker told me he was named after his father’s first wife, who’d fallen down a mineshaft and disappeared. He had a sunken chest and skinny waist, even though he was four months and four days older than any other student. Every morning Riker plucked his beard; he claimed it was required by his religion, although he never said what that was.
Riker crashed the shuttlecraft thirteen times, but he had spirit, and could do math without looking at the paper. There was no denying his spirit. Only Riker could stand up to the class bully, Data, an android with a spit curl who wore tight-leather pants and thought it was fun to stuff a Klingon Targh into the exhaust port of a shuttlecraft about to take off. Even Geordi — the only Academy student who could shave with his eyes closed — was scared of Data. Everybody knew Data had set the Academy flower gardens on fire after peeing in the alley, but no one would turn him in.
Except Riker, who stood up to Data no matter what he did. His left eye twitched when Data made fun of humans. “Talking crap” is what Riker called it. He’d spit into his coffee and mumble Bible verses. He wasn’t dumb. He’d read Journey to the Centre of the Moon, which is probably why he and I got along so well. He said his pelvis hurt. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but it sounded exciting. A person can go eight days without sleep. By Federation Day, his lies were catching up with him.
That was Stardate 5002135.7. The dorm caught fire, so we hurried down Andorian Drive, across the tracks, looking for Synthehol, our eyes threaded with blood. I was falling asleep when Riker jabbed me in the ribs. “Let’s head to the Klingon district. I can stuff forty-nine tacks in my mouth.” We ran.
Sitting cross-legged on some Klingon’s rumpled bed, chasing Synthehol shot with Synthehol shot, I reminded Riker that Klingons have tiny persons in their stomachs who make them do bad things, like bite stubs. The Klingon who owned the room had a crush on Data, and begged Riker to give the android a nude self-portrait that he had painted. Riker would agree to anything if you offered him cheap Synthehol. Later we saw Geordi spying on us, recording everything we said through his visor. After several hours we smelled musty and yeasty, and were panting, like we had the Levodian Flu. Maybe we did. The ceiling sloped down on one side.
The Klingon’s Targh traps fixed us up. Riker unbuttoned his pants. His nipples were hard as pebbles. “What do boys see when they look at us?” he whispered. The next week, cheap and unsanitary, he couldn’t recognize his own name. He wouldn’t come out. Then he disappeared.
Light years later I still wondered about what had happened to Riker. Not until I ran into Geordi in a Vulcan café did I learn the rest of the tale.
Geordi had served with Riker on the Starship Enterprise, the most impressive ship in Starfleet. Geordi worked on the engines, while Riker worked on fixing cups of tea; mostly he shot lusting glances at alien ladies. They’d flown into Borg Space and back, and danced a striptease with albino Orion slave girls. They’d Indian wrestled with Q. Data was their science officer. After Academy he’d settled down, and was as fine an officer as any captain could want. When the rest of the crew caught their death from sunstroke while naked at a wedding on Betazed, Riker and Geordi and Data were left stranded, trapped in a shuttlecraft, their bodies aching, unable to stop their mouths from moving. Geordi still had blisters. He said he couldn’t fully understand Riker or Data until trapped in a shuttlecraft with them, but now they were as close as men could be. I asked him to explain but he said it was impossible because I hadn’t been there in that shuttlecraft. Then he was gone, riding his bike through thick patches of shade, grinning his sly crooked grin in my direction.
II. A hot wind blew across the plains. I couldn’t breathe. Naked, exhausted, I crawled across the rocks and burned my knees. I knew somebody would die. Vomit sprayed from my nose and I could feel the pounds slipping from my frail body, until I fell down drunk. I must have passed out because later I woke up stretched out on a biobed in Sickbay. The Doctor explained that I was the only member of the Away Team to make it back. I’d always known that Away Missions could be dangerous, but I never thought I’d outlive the senior officers. I needed some R and R. The doctor agreed and suggested I should also meet with a counselor.
My ship’s counselor was a beautiful woman named Troi. She was from Kentucky or West Virginia, or some other Southern state with fields of sweet corn and tomatoes, and Christmas trees strung with cranberries and lights. She had a heart-shaped face and shifting eyes riddled with light. She swept her long hair behind her ear and spoke about sublimation and repression and compensation — words I’ve never really understood — words that reminded me once more of Riker. I thought of incest of course, but even incest didn’t explain him. At least I didn’t think so.
One session, Troi asked me what I was thinking about, and I was thinking about Riker and told her so. When I said his name she grew quiet, mashing out her cigarette and sinking back in her chair. I asked her what was wrong and she said she’d served with Riker on the Enterprise. I hadn’t known Troi had been a counselor on that ship. She said she’d served on it for seven years, until there had been a strike when the contract came up. The Federation wanted to move the ship to Borg Space, but most of the crew hadn’t wanted to go. Riker and Geordi and Data wanted to, and said some harsh words it was later hard to forgive. Eventually a settlement was reached but there was too much bad blood, and Troi couldn’t focus on her work. At night she just tossed and turned. A bunch of the crew died of breast cancer, and some others died of the mumps. Finally Troi couldn’t take it any more, and although she didn’t entirely want to do it she requested a transfer off the Enterprise. For a while she moved around from ship to ship, and eventually ended up on ours. She said she was a licensed therapist now, and an evangelist, of all things. Don’t ask me. Of course she also had early Alzheimer’s.
I wondered what she looked like as a baby, and what Riker’d looked like. Troi wanted to hear what Geordi had told me in that Vulcan bar café. She shook her head when she learned what had happened to the rest of her former crewmates, but was glad that Data and Geordi and Riker had survived. I began to sense there had been something between her and Riker, but decided it wasn’t my place to ask questions. We sat in silence for a while. Then Troi told me that the ocean in West Virginia is the same colour as Riker’s blue-green eyes. She wondered if he was still pear-shaped and I said I didn’t know, but I’d be surprised. Troi showed me a topaz ring she wished she’d given him, and it sparkled in the starlight of her cabin.
After that session I felt better and decided I didn’t need any more counseling, but Troi and I still meet every afternoon at the ship’s bar. We stare at the stars and wonder where the unpredictable, mysterious, memorable people in our lives are now. Sometimes we talk about “primal childhood figures.” Who will miss us when we’re dead? We say the bedtime prayer four times. Sometimes the bartender, Guinan, wipes her hands on her apron and joins us for a drink. The cheap Synthehol makes us misty but none of us says a word. There isn’t any need. Everything has already been spoken.