“Get it done.” Captain Bridger snapped his communicator shut and turned to Lieutenant Varash. “On screen.”
“Yes, captain.” The Spolonian gunship flashed into existence as two glowing beams bored into its hull, blowing the ship to smithereens with a bang.
“Why did they always use that noise?” muttered Tucker, turning off the TV and catching his reflection in the blackened screen. He barely recognised Captain Bridger in his wizened face and sure as hell couldn’t fit in the spandex uniform anymore. He’d outlived Varash though. That brought him some comfort.
Tucker meandered over to his desk, switched on the computer and started scrolling through his Cameo requests, where fans could pay for personalised video messages from him or any number of C-list celebrities. Quite why a birthday greeting from a 68-year-old would be worth $337 of someone’s money was a mystery to Tucker, but if it meant he didn’t have to do those tedious conventions he certainly wasn’t complaining. Nor could he deny the smug satisfaction he got from comparing his price to those of Jonathan Frakes ($187.50) or Sylvester McCoy ($75). He thanked his stars that William Shatner didn’t know how to use a computer and opened up his latest request.
“Hello Mr Tatum, my name’s Webster and my buddy Gavin and I are huge fans! His birthday is coming up and he’s always quoting the line where you threaten to kill Kurtwood Smith’s character. He’d love it if you could do the line and use his name.” Tucker got requests like this every now and then and usually obliged through gritted teeth since he hated the line in question and still resented Kurtwood Smith ($224.25) for parking in his space that day in 1989. No wonder people loved that particular death threat; Captain Bridger had never sounded more convincing.
Tucker flicked on his front-facing camera and boomed: “Get it done Gavin, unless you want your space funeral to take place on Blorgon 4!” He stopped the recording and cringed a silent scream. A wave of shame guided his finger over the delete button but he thought of the amount of Cuban cigars $337 could buy and sent off the video with a sigh. He thought no more of it until he went to bed, when his dreams replayed the episode where Bridger was court-martialled, except the admiral was his ex-wife, and his uniform was Ewok pyjamas.
He was awoken by the violent vibration of his phone. He pawed and squinted at its screen as scores of unread messages and missed calls blurred into focus. The last text was from his lawyer: “Turn on the news now.” He fumbled for the remote, switched on CNN and was greeted by a big picture of himself leaning on a plastic control column accompanied by the chyron: “Murder: the final frontier?” Still half asleep, Tucker scoffed at the reference to the wrong show but felt relieved they’d used an old photo from when he still had all his hair. Then he realised Anderson Cooper ($562.50) was calling him a murder suspect, and in that picture his flies were undone.
The jogger ($18.75) who had found Gavin Giraldi’s dead body in the early hours of the morning was sweating into the camera.
“I was on my usual run through the Hollywood Hills on the way to my job playing Leonard on The Big Bang Theory when I spotted a man lying on the side of the road. I thought there’d been a bear attack!”
They cut back to the studio where Cooper continued: “But bang went that theory when the cause of death was found to be a gunshot – unless we’re talking a right to bear arms!” The anchor collapsed in a fit of giggles. Tucker heard a knock on the door as Cooper regained his composure. “But here’s the weird part – the last thing Gavin Giraldi shared on social media was a video where sci-fi star Tucker Tatum appears to threaten his life. So much for live long and prosper!”
“That’s Star Trek you giggling little Whitewalker!” Tucker yelled at the TV. Another knock on the door. “What?!”
“LAPD. Open up Mr Tatum.”
Tucker fondled his cold coffee cup and jiggled his bad leg; it hadn’t been the same since Captain Bridger fought Kelsey Grammar’s ($875.50) villain on the side of a mountain. At least he’d had the last laugh by marrying Grammar’s girlfriend ($22.50).
“Let me do the talking,” said Sid, “We’ll be out of here in time for poker night.” Tucker felt a surge of reassurance. Sid had been his lawyer for 25 years. If he could get him out of the incident where the actor was caught on McDonald’s drive-thru CCTV drunkenly yelling “Do you know who I am” at a clown’s face, he could help him out here. Two cops strolled into the interrogation room.
“Holy Spolonia! Mr Tatum, I am such a fan,” enthused the younger officer. “Get it done!” Tucker smiled graciously. “Can we get you any more coffee? I’d offer you a Blogonian ale but I’m afraid I’m on duty!” Tucker’s smile twitched.
“I’m sure my client will be happy to sign his CD for you once you let him go.” Sid never missed an opportunity to bring up the novelty album Tucker’s agent Giles had convinced him to do after his first divorce. Tucker fired Giles in the liner notes. “You can’t seriously suspect Tucker Tatum of murdering this guy?”
“We’re not ruling anything out at this point,” the older officer said softly. “Mr Tatum’s Cameo video is currently all we have to go on.”
“You really think I’d leave a message on a public forum saying I was going to kill someone?!” Tucker splashed his coffee in rage.
“What Mr Tatum means is this is all a big misunderstanding,” Sid reasoned. “The man wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“What about on that fly planet?” Officer fanboy chipped in.
“That was fiction,” Tucker rubbed his temples. “You know, like your girlfriend.”
“Ok let’s all calm down,” said the other cop. “Can you think of anyone who might want to set you up, Mr Tatum? Made any enemies in this town?”
Tucker looked up at the detective. “How long have you got?”
Sid threw a pile of poker chips into the middle of the table. Tucker examined his pair of twos and accidentally grimaced. He was distracted. Grammar’s alibi had checked out. So had his second wife’s, who’d had it in for him ever since she got remarried and he gave her a signed headshot as wedding present. He’d once called Anthony Daniels ($225) a “toffee-nosed Tin Man“ at a party but friends assured him that if Daniels had taken offence he’d have killed Tucker on the spot.
“Raise,” he bluffed, pushing his tokens into the pile.
“You’re a crummy actor,” said Marina Sirtis ($150). She called and won the hand, tossing Tucker a chip. “You’ll need that for cigarettes on the inside.”
Tucker groaned and turned up the TV’s volume. Rachel Maddow ($550.20) was calling him “the moribund face of white privilege.” The Concerned Women for America were demanding the cancellation of all sci-fi shows. Jimmy Kimmel ($912.50) was wearing pointy ears, though this turned out to be irrelevant. Tucker’s phone buzzed. Webster MacKenzie, the user who had sent him the incriminating request, had finally replied.
“Sorry for the radio silence, I was in police custody. Come over to the house,” followed by his address.
“Give me your car keys,” said Sid. “You are not going over there.” Tucker handed over four sets of keys.
Cars honked as Tucker took a sharp left and cursed the lack of indicators on his Blorgon Speeder, its spluttering fumes choking and blinding the driver as he sped through the streets of Hollywood. The producers had allowed him to keep the poorly disguised motorbike after he directed their first feature instalment as compensation for never asking him to direct again. He’d kept it in working order assuming he’d need to sell it the next time Sirtis cleaned him out at the poker table, but now found its old sub-regulation engine suitable for his situation if not the environment. He pulled up to the address in a plume of smog, dismounted and squinted at the familiar figure moving eerily into view.
“Captain Bridger?” Tucker asked in disbelief, then froze in shock as the TV character grabbed his hand through the fog.
“Captain Bridger,” replied the captain, “it’s an honour.” The smoke cleared and Tucker realised the man in the captain’s uniform was Webster MacKenzie.
“What’s with the getup?”
“It goes with the decor,” Webster smiled and led him inside. Tucker felt a rush of dread when the front doors slid open by themselves.
“Holy Spolonia,” he gasped as he stepped onto the bridge of the starship where he used to work. It was a perfect replica, more perfect in fact than the show’s cheap set held together by gaffer tape and the collective suspension of disbelief. Tucker didn’t know whether to be scared or impressed. There was the turbolift where Kim Cattrall ($686.75) had slapped him on the show, and the communications panel where Claire Danes ($55.50) had slapped him in real life. Everything from the viewscreen to the top window were in place, though Tucker’s rap version of Holst’s The Planets had never been played on the bridge before, nor anywhere else for that matter. A thought occurred to him: “Where do you sleep?”
“The captain’s chair is reclinable,” smiled Webster.
“The captain’s chair wasn’t reclinable.”
In the blink of an eye Webster’s face turned to thunder, his fists gripped into tight balls, eyes bulging as he snapped in rage: “You’re not the captain anymore, Bridger!”
Years of conventions had given Tucker a decent poker face in the presence of blind obsession, and if he could survive one of Patrick Stewart’s ($515) hot tub parties, he knew he could get through this nightmare. He calmly unlocked his phone inside his pocket and tried to dial the police. “Put your hands up!” Webster pulled a phaser from his uniform and pointed it at the actor, who hadn’t felt this out of his depth since Giles had made him audition to play the lead in Othello.
“That’s not a real phaser,” he hoped aloud.
“Want to chance it, Bridger?”
Tucker raised his arms and shouted for the benefit of his phone’s voice control: “Call the police!”
“Command not recognised,” a loud computer voice boomed around him. “Would you like to call Mother?”
“No!” Yelled Webster, before fixing his gaze on Tucker. “Your phone won’t work in here Bridger.” He thumped a wall to prove its integrity and a panel clattered to the floor. Like its builder, the place was cracking. Tucker noticed the cheap glass and smeared screens around him and saw the facade more clearly; Webster must be a puppet for someone even crazier.
“Look, Webster…” Tucker started.
“Captain MacKenzie!” Webster thrust the phaser in front of him.
“Captain MacKenzie,” the actor spoke softly, thinking on his feet. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, but believe me when I tell you you’re stronger than the demons that seek to break the bonds of man.”
“You think I don’t know the show?” Webster scoffed. “That’s what you said to Varash when he led the insurrection against you after his mind was infected by Blogonian brain worms.”
“And remember what happened to Varash?”
“He was commended for his bravery and awarded the Medal of Honour.”
“Let me go, captain,” Tucker reasoned, “and I’ll see that your courage and loyalty are recognised by high command.”
Webster MacKenzie looked pensive and slowly lowered the phaser. That was when his head exploded.
His ears ringing from the blast and eyes flecked with pieces of brain, Tucker looked in horror at the gunman who had stepped out from the turbolift, smoke crawling from his revolver.
“Hello Tucker,” scowled his erstwhile agent, sitting himself down in the captain’s chair.
“You set me up. You framed me. You – for god’s sake please stop the music!” Tucker couldn’t bear to hear Snoop Dogg’s ($662.20) guest spot on Uranus on top of everything else.
“I seized an opportunity,” Giles retorted. “That’s all I ever tried to do. And what thanks did I get? Publicly fired and humiliated, laughed out of the industry. I had to work on Family Guy because of you.”
“For god’s sake Giles, two men are dead.”
“Two nerds are dead,” Giles corrected him. “And I didn’t kill them, it was you. You’re going to confess, and you’re going to sound more convincing than you ever managed on screen. For once in your sorry life you’re going to take some responsibility instead of blaming everybody else.”
Muscle memory kicked in and Tucker dropped and rolled across the floor, moving with a swiftness he had seldom mustered on the show but had once summoned when going for the last olive at the same time as Whoopi Goldberg ($620.20) at an awards ceremony. In one smooth motion he grabbed the phaser and fired it at the disgraced agent. It beeped pathetically.
Giles cackled with glee and barely got his words out for laughing: “You think this dweeb engineered a working phaser?! You’re even dumber than you look in spandex.” He regained his composure and crossed his legs comfortably in the chair. “Now, what was the line? Something about a space funeral on Blorgon 7?” He aimed the gun squarely at his former client.
“Recline!” Tucker called out. The chair whipped backwards and Giles fired straight upwards, shattering the top window. A shard of glass plummeted straight into his chest where it jutted out like a silver iceberg. Dropping the gun, his hands grasped at his chest as Tucker had once seen Shatner do at a Chinese restaurant, though he’d made a hasty exit before he could find out if Bill was having a heart attack or entertaining his family with his famous Garfield impression. Tucker stood over the twitching man and shook his head in pity. Giles tried to speak but simply gargled blood, his eyes locked on Tucker with the crazed intensity of a dying lemur.
“It was Blorgon 4,” Tucker corrected the corpse, shoving it to the floor and righting the mechanism before taking up his position in the captain’s chair. Though still slick with blood it felt good, like sitting in freshly warmed soup. “Computer,” he commanded, “I need a full recording of the last 30 Earth minutes sent to the LAPD. Get it done.” He paused. “And shut down my Cameo account while you’re at it.”