Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
By Alan Decker
With an amused arch of her eyebrow, Captain Lisa Beck looked across the table at her dining companion. “You know, that’s usually supposed to happen before the meal. Not directly after,” she said to Dr. Amedon Nelson as the pair sat in the food court of Starfleet Square Mall, having just finished what Beck thought was an ample lunch. “Did you not get enough? I can grab you that new UltraMunch from Sandwich or What. Another 3,000 calories ought to hold you, don’t you think?”
“I’m not hungry,” Nelson snapped back just before her abdominal region emitted another long, low growl.
“Ooooookay. Is everything all right?”
“Fine. Just fine.”
“Come on, Amedon. It sounds like your symbiont has taken up the bagpipes in there. What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing,” Nelson said.
“Uh huh,” Beck replied with a smirk. “This nothing wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that your parents are due any minute now, would it?”
“Condescending isn’t cute. You know that, right?”
“I just don’t see the big deal. It’s not like they haven’t been here before.”
“Yeah, but last time they weren’t meeting the man their daughter is marrying.”
“Okay. I can see there being a little bit of nerves there, but you and Wuddle have been together for a few years now. They already know all about him.” Beck saw the uncomfortable look on Nelson’s face. “They do know about him, don’t they?”
“Yes!” Nelson shot back.
“See. No problem then.”
“I told them last week.”
“Just a little.”
“How’d they take it?”
“You think?” Beck said. “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Oh by the way, I’m getting married and running off to live on the groom’s planet. Did I mention he’s the head of their entire civilization? Bye now. I can’t imagine why any of that would surprise them.”
“You just wait until you get married, Beck. I’m going to be all over you,” Nelson scowled.
“All the more reason for me to never marry.”
“Oh, it will happen. And when it does, POW! I’ll be there. One false step. One wisp of hair out of place, and I will strike.”
“You use this bedside manner with all of your patients?”
“Oh thank the Great Bird,” Nelson said relieved, as she leaned back in her chair.
“What?” Beck asked confused.
Nelson pointed off over Beck’s shoulder. “The cavalry is here to rescue me.” Beck turned and saw Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell heading toward their table, tossing a padd casually from hand to hand as he approached.
“Hey, Captain. Doc,” Russell said by way of greeting. “Can I interrupt the girl talk for a second?”
“Nelson will probably kill you if you don’t,” Beck said. “What’s up?”
“I just need you to sign off on this,” Russell replied, putting the padd into Beck’s hands. “It’s my justification for having Olivia sent off to a rehabilitation colony.”
“Are they still giving you a hassle about this?” Beck asked.
“Yeah. They still say she should go to a juvenile facility.”
“But she’s in her 30s.”
“And in the body of a ten-year-old,” Russell said.
Beck sighed. “I’m this close to telling you to just release her. No one should have to spend a month in our brig.”
“I could have her assigned quarters,” Russell said. “But then we’d need to assign an around-the-clock guard detail.”
“No. Let’s skip that,” Beck said, signing the padd. “If they give you any more trouble, I want to talk to them myself.”
“Thanks, Captain. See ya, Doc.” Russell shot Nelson a wink, then strolled off down the concourse.
“Ever since he caught that gang of thieves, he’s been insufferable,” Nelson said.
“They weren’t a gang,” Beck said. “And it was a major bust.”
“What was? His cousin gives him a bunch of information, he uses it, then arrests her as well. He brought in a ten-year-old girl. Big deal.”
“She was a grown woman in a ten-year-old’s body.”
“I don’t care!” Nelson shouted.
“You’d be more convincing if you weren’t screaming at me,” Beck said as Nelson huffed on the other side of the table.
“Sorry,” Nelson said, calming down. “It’s just…”
“Yeah. And Wuddle. Here. Together. Would you be mad if I stole a runabout for a couple of days?”
“It will be fine,” Beck said. “Your parents are good people. Wuddle’s a good person. They’re going to get along great.”
“Morales to Doctor Nelson,” Nelson’s commbadge announced suddenly. Nelson’s eyes widened in alarm, but she didn’t respond. “Morales to Doctor Nelson,” Commander Walter Morales’s voice repeated again.
“You going to answer that?” Beck asked, amused. Nelson shook her head emphatically.
Beck reached across the table and smacked the doctor’s commbadge. “Doctor Nelson is being a big baby at the moment, Commander. What do you need?”
“Her parents’ transport is arriving at Docking Arm Four. And Frequoq Wuddle will be here within the hour. I thought she’d want to know.”
“Not so much, but I’ll pass it along anyway. Beck out.” She slapped Nelson’s chest again, closing the channel. “You going to go meet them willingly, or am I going to have to have security escort you down there?”
“I’m going,” Nelson said. “But would you meet Wuddle when he gets here?”
“You don’t want to do it?”
“Not with my parents in tow. I’m not going to do that to him the second he arrives on the station. I told him we’d meet for dinner.”
“In a safe public place.”
“Exactly. And he wanted to talk to you about something anyway. Hopefully you two will be done being all leader-y and stuff by the time he has to meet us.”
“Fine. I’ll babysit,” Beck said. “Say hi to your mom and dad for me.”
“That means you have to get up and go see them,” Beck said.
“All right,” Nelson groused, pulling herself up from her chair. “I’m going. I’m going.”
“Yeah yeah,” Nelson replied, trudging off to face the inevitable interrogation to come.
“So where is he?” Harriet Nelson demanded as she looked up and down the corridor outside the airlock leading from Docking Arm Four.
“He’s not here, Mother,” Dr. Nelson said, wrapping her arms around Harriet and giving her a tight hug. Midon picked that moment to shift positions, causing Harriet to flinch reflexively.
You did that on purpose, Nelson thought.
Prove it, Midon thought back.
I don’t have to. Our thoughts are one.
Damn. Forgot that part.
Yeah, sure you did.
“Come here to Daddy,” Oswald Nelson said, opening his arms wide for his daughter. Nelson embraced the bear of a man and realized in that moment that she was actually happy to see her folks. “Now seriously,” Oswald said. “Where is he?”
Of course, she’d be happy when they left, too.
“Wuddle hasn’t gotten here yet,” Nelson explained. “And when he does, the first thing he has to do is meet with Captain Beck.”
“That tops seeing the woman he’s marrying?” Harriet asked.
“Now now, dear,” Oswald said. “They’ll have plenty of time together for the rest of their lives. These Multeks do marry for life, don’t they?”
“Yes,” Nelson said. “Of course, they only live for five years before they enter a cocoon and hibernate until they transform into a winged lizard. I’m not sure if we’re still married at that point.” Nelson stopped and reveled in the shocked expressions on her parents’ faces for a few moments. “Kidding,” she said finally.
“Don’t do that!” Oswald said chuckling. “You’re going to give your mother a heart attack!”
“Me?” Harriet said, slapping her husband playfully on the arm. “I saw that look on your face. You were picturing scaly grandkids.”
Nelson froze. Grandkids? They weren’t really going to bring that subject up already were they?
“You want to see your quarters?” she asked quickly, snatching the travel case from her father. “Right this way.” As Nelson shot off down the corridor, Oswald and Harriet exchanged a quick glance, shrugged, then followed their daughter.
“The Wuddle Wuv Express is now arriving in Docking Bay Five,” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter’s voice announced over Captain Beck’s commbadge as she stood in the aforementioned Docking Bay Five watching Wuddle’s private vessel touch down on the deck.
“How much did you have to pay Commander Morales for him to let you do that?” Beck asked, stifling a laugh.
“Actually it was his idea. He just didn’t have the guts to do it himself,” Porter replied.
“Morales’s idea, huh? Further proof that I need to watch out for that guy.”
“It’s always the quiet ones.”
“We’ll see what Steph has to say on the subject.”
“Captain!” Morales’s voice interjected.
“Relax, Walter. Steph only tells me what she wants to…which is everything. You two behave up there. Beck out.” She slapped her commbadge, closing the channel, then gave her uniform a quick, straightening tug as the hatch of Wuddle’s ship slid open revealing the Multek Frequoq.
“Captain Beck!” Wuddle said warmly.
“Come on, Wuddle. We’ve known each other long enough that I think calling me ‘Lisa’ is in order.”
“All right…Lisa. I’m still Wuddle, though.”
“Handy thing about those one word names.”
“Yes…I suppose. Although, it’s become a little confusing as our population has grown and expanded. Do you have any idea how many parents have named their babies Wuddle in the years since I became Frequoq? There are going to be two or three in every classroom!”
“The burdens of fame,” Beck said with a smile.
“Well…it is flattering. But I’m sure many children have been named after you.”
“Oh there are lots of girls named Lisa out there, but I’m pretty sure that not a single one is named after yours truly.”
“I could change that, if you’d like. I’m sure there are many parents-to-be in the Enclave that would love to name their child after the woman who saved us from the Collectors and opened us up to the rest of the galaxy.”
“Er…thanks, but no,” Beck said uncomfortably.
“You’re sure? It would not be a problem.”
“Really. No. Amedon said you wanted to talk to me about something?” she said, quickly changing the subject.
“Yes, I did. I do. You know that our Grand Opening Celebration is coming up soon.”
“It’s on my calendar, particularly since I have a wedding to officiate that day,” Beck replied.
“It is nicely symbolic, don’t you think? The Multek Enclave opens its worlds to the rest of the galaxy on the same day that the Frequoq marries an alien.”
“I wouldn’t phrase it to Amedon in quite that way.”
Wuddle thought about it for a moment, then smiled. “No, I suppose not.”
“Back to the Grand Opening.”
“Right,” Wuddle said. “This will be the first time that we’ve catered to the vacation needs of non-Multeks. The help your crew gave us several months ago has been invaluable, but still we’d feel more comfortable if we were able to…test ourselves before the Grand Opening.”
“Makes sense,” Beck said.
“So you’ll help us?”
“Um…what do you want me to do?”
“Try Multos! Take my ship.”
“Wait. You mean now?”
“Yes! You’re expected. Actually you and three others. It wouldn’t be very relaxing for you if you had to try everything we have planned by yourself.”
“Okay. Let me make sure I’ve got this. In order to help you, you need me to take a vacation.”
“It’s just for one night, I’m afraid. We still have much to do, but yes, that’s what we need. Will you help us?”
“I think I can swing it. Let me check with my staff and see who’s free this evening. I get the feeling they’ll be more than happy to lend a hand.”
“I do appreciate it, Captain…Lisa. It will be a big night for both of us. You get to see Multos, and I get to meet the parents of the woman I love.”
“Yep. Big night,” Beck said, unable to shake the feeling that she was getting the far better end of this deal.
By the time Beck had led Wuddle up to Ops, she knew exactly who would be taking this little excursion with her. Normally, Steph Hodges and by extension, Walter Morales, would be high on her list, but she couldn’t exactly have the captain and first officer of the station waltz off on an all-expenses-paid vacation while the rest of the command staff stayed behind to grouse about things. Also, Steph didn’t have all that much experience with the Multeks. She’d just have to stay on the station to keep her boyfriend company while Beck and the others went off to enjoy themselves.
“Good afternoon, Frequoq Wuddle,” Commander Morales said stepping over to shake Wuddle’s hand after the Multek Frequoq and Beck exited the turbolift into Ops.
“Commander,” Wuddle said with a nod. “I hope you are well.”
“Very well, thank you,” Morales said. “I guess you’re getting close to the big day.”
“That we are. It just won’t be the same without you there to chauffeur us off on our honeymoon, though,” Wuddle said with a smile.
“Oh no. I am done with taking you and Doctor Nelson anywhere. Every time I do, I end up in trouble.”
“Actually, I think it’s all Nelson’s fault,” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter said walking over with Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell in tow. “You’d better watch yourself, Wuddle. She’s dangerous.”
“I’ll take that risk.”
“Lighten up, fellas. You’d think the man was marrying a quantum torpedo,” Beck said.
“We’re just making sure he’s prepared,” Porter said.
“Well, stop it and go pack,” she said.
“Pack?” Porter asked confused.
“You too, Russell. And find Jones. We’ve got plans for the evening.”
“We do?” Russell asked.
“Wuddle?” Beck said, gesturing for him to take the floor.
“We would like you to be our guests on Multos”
“They need us to test out their facilities before they open the planet to off-world visitors,” Beck explained.
“I was just going to go to The Gravity Well and get drunk tonight to celebrate getting Olivia out of my hair, but this sounds even better,” Russell said.
“So the rehab board finally listened to you?” Beck said.
“No, they listened to you. Evidently, your name carries some weight with them. Well, President Dillon and Admiral Fonn’s names have weight, but they know you know them. In any case, she’s on the next transport to Earth, and I don’t have to listen to her whining at me every single day. Thank you for your help, Captain. I really mean that. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Next thing you know people are going to start naming their kids after you,” Porter said.
“Don’t even start that,” Beck snapped.
“She’s so modest,” Porter said.
“Move it!” Beck said. Porter and Russell mock-saluted, then rushed into the turbolift to get their gear.
“Sorry, Commander,” Beck said to Morales once Porter and Russell were gone. “Somebody’s got to be in charge here while we’re gone…somebody other than Admiral Fonn anyway.”
“I understand,” Morales said. “You go have fun.”
“I’m planning on it,” Beck replied. “You’re welcome to stay here with Commander Morales until your dinner with the Nelson’s,” Beck added to Wuddle. “Unless you’d rather meet the parents early.”
“Amedon was very firm in her instructions,” Wuddle said. “I should probably follow them.”
“I would,” Morales said.
“Enjoy your trip, Captain,” Wuddle said. “My assistant, Faddle, will meet you at my office and see to your accommodations for your visit. Thank you for doing this for us.”
“We’re happy to do it. And just let Commander Morales know if you have any problems.”
“I’ll be with Amedon. What problems could I possibly have?” Wuddle asked.
“You’re a sweet guy. You know that?” Beck said, patting Wuddle on the arm before she entered the turbolift and ordered it to take her to the lower saucer.
“Did I miss something there?” Wuddle asked Morales once Beck was gone.
“Well…in human and many other cultures, meeting the parents of your significant other for the first time can be…stressful,” Morales said. Which is exactly why he had no interest in meeting Stephanie Hodges’ parents anytime soon. Meeting her brother was stressful enough.
“Why?” Wuddle asked. “I am not marrying them.”
“You just keep telling yourself that,” Morales muttered.
“Excuse me?” Wuddle said.
“Never mind. It’s not important.”
“Oh.” He was silent for a few moments. “Could I fire the station phasers?”
“Um…yeah sure. Why not.”
“Does this feel a little weird to anyone else?” Russell asked as Porter steered Wuddle’s yacht toward the Frequoq’s private docking bay at the top of the Multek Central Administration Building. The capital city of the Multek Enclave stretched out before them looking much as it had before except…
“Did they add more roller coasters?” Porter asked.
“I think so,” Captain Beck replied. “I don’t remember that thing with the loops running along the south end of the city.”
In the seat behind Beck, Yeoman Tina Jones was practically giddy. “I can’t wait to see this place!” she exclaimed, bobbing up and down in her seat. “This is going to be SOOOO much fun!”
“Um…yeah,” Beck said unable to come anywhere near Jones’s enthusiasm. Sure she was looking forward to relaxing as much as the next person, but Jones obviously needed to get off of the station more.
“Sorry, Captain,” Jones said. “It’s been a loooong semester.”
“Those Academy classes can wear you down,” Russell said.
“I know!” Jones replied. “I don’t know how you got through them!” Her eyes widened in horror as she realized what she’d just said. “I mean, not you specifically. Anyone. Because they’re hard. But you can do them. Because you did. I mean…because you’re here.”
“Don’t worry about it, Tina,” Porter said. “I don’t know how Sean got through them either. Oh wait. Yes I do. I got him through them.”
“No you didn’t!” Russell snapped.
“Uh huh,” Porter said, starting the landing sequence.
“Well you didn’t!”
“Are we there yet?” Beck groaned.
The yacht softly touched down in the docking bay, and immediately the open roof of the building began to shut, enclosing the vessel in a large chamber painted in a variety of pastels.
“I see Wuddle didn’t change the decor,” Beck muttered, looking out the ship’s viewport. She’d been in this docking several years earlier under very different circumstances. The previous Frequoq ended up taking her prisoner and trying to ship her off to have her mind wiped at a Recovery Ranch before Russell mounted a rescue with Wuddle’s help. “All right,” she said, standing up. “We’re here to relax, but we’re also here as representatives of Starfleet and the Federation.”
“So we have to be brave, thoughtful, courteous, hygienic, and all that other stuff,” Porter said.
“Exactly. Let’s see what they have to offer and try to give them the most constructive criticism possible. Because after us, they get real tourists, and we all know what they’re like.”
“My soap isn’t foamy enough!” Porter whined.
“Give me more towels!” Russell demanded.
“Do you have any onions that are less oniony!” Jones cried.
“Er…yeah. You know.”
The group stepped out of the yacht and quickly spotted a very sharply dressed Multek striding in their direction. “Welcome to Multos,” he said, addressing the quartet of Starfleet Officers. “My name is Faddle, and I will do everything in my power to make your stay with us as pleasant as possible.”
“Lisa Beck,” Beck said, stepping forward and shaking Faddle’s hand. “This is Tina Jones, Sean Russell, and Craig Porter. We’re happy to accept the invitation.”
Faddle’s eyes widened slightly upon hearing Beck’s name, and he let out a little gasp. He quickly recovered himself. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I knew you would be coming, but still…meeting you in person. You’re a hero to our people, Captain.”
“I’m starting to figure that out,” Beck muttered.
“Please follow me,” Faddle said to the group. “Others are waiting to take you on your excursions.” He quickly spun on his heel and headed off toward a door at the side of the docking bay. As the human officers followed, Porter slid up beside Beck.
“When are they unveiling the statues?” he asked.
“Don’t give them any ideas,” Beck shot back.
“Come on, Captain. After all you’ve done for them, isn’t it nice to get a little bit of recognition?”
“I didn’t do anything. Starfleet offered assistance to the Multeks. I was doing my job.”
“This is really making you uncomfortable, isn’t it?” Porter said seriously.
“Yes! What is it with people trying to worship me this year?”
“If it’s any consolation, we don’t worship you.”
“And you’re the ones who should,” Beck said unable to stop a grin.
“Just relax. I’m sure it will pass once the Multeks adjust to their new standing in the galaxy.”
“I hope so because if I see one statue, I’m launching the torpedoes myself.”
Faddle led the group to Frequoq Wuddle’s office, where they were able to get a better look at the city skyline out off the office’s floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Across the office complex, a tram exited the upper floors of a building then plummeted down a rapidly-dropping track only to smooth out at the bottom before the track turned sharply and curved around the building taking the tram out of view.
“What was that?” Jones asked in shock.
“That is a Quickie Travel Tram,” Faddle replied. “We’ve increased the number and frequency of the trams running in anticipation of the influx of visitors to the Enclave.”
“So that’s…mass transit?”
“Yes it is,” Faddle said, stepping over and pressing a control on Frequoq Wuddle’s desk. A moment later, four other Multeks filed into the room. “We have four different areas of the city that we would like your opinions concerning,” Faddle said. “I suppose it would be best just to list them and allow you to decide among yourselves where each person would like to go.”
“Wait. We’re splitting up?” Russell said.
“What’s the big deal?” Porter said.
“I just…I thought we’d be hanging out together.”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure the Multeks won’t let you get lonely,” Beck said before turning to Faddle. “What are our choices?”
“First, we’ve expanded the offerings of the Mudelonya Spa…”
“Mine!” Beck said, shooting her hand up.
“I did not finish my explanation.”
“Doesn’t matter. You said spa. I’ll take it.”
“Very well. Next, we are aware that some people enjoy activities outside of settled areas, so we have prepared an outdoors excursion to a forested region of the planet.”
“I think that’s yours, Craig,” Russell said. “You’re camping guy.”
“Nice of you to let Tina have a say in this,” Porter said.
“That’s okay,” Jones said. “I didn’t come here to rough it.”
“Okay then. I’ll hit the woods,” Porter said.
“Good. Next, we have spent a great deal of effort on creating an area of the city to serve as an entertainment district for visitors. Granted, most of the city…and the planet really, is entertaining, but this is more focused on providing fun to off-worlders.”
“Ooooh! I wanna go!” Jones said as Russell started to raise his hand. “Oh…did you want this one, Sean?”
“No. That’s okay. You go. I’ll take what’s left.” He focused on Faddle. “What’s left?”
“The Hotel Xenocacian.”
“Is that even a word?”
“It’s the name. We felt it sounded both sophisticated and welcoming to non-Multeks.”
“Right. So what else will I be doing?”
“I do not understand,” Faddle said.
“I’m staying at this hotel. What else?”
“You are staying at the hotel…and experiencing its hospitality.”
“Great,” Russell said, forcing a smile. “Sounds like a blast.”
“I’m sure it will be very enjoyable,” Beck said, a hint of warning in her voice.
“Absolutely,” Russell said quickly. “Lead me to it.”
“That’s the spirit,” Beck said. “I think we’re ready, Faddle.”
“Very good,” Faddle said. “Again, I sincerely hope that you all have a wonderful time.”
“We’re definitely going to try,” Porter replied as the group was led out of the office.
Earthly Eats wasn’t exactly the fanciest restaurant on Waystation, but Dr. Nelson felt that perhaps a casual atmosphere would be better for the first meeting between her parents and her fiance. She wanted everyone to be relaxed, herself most of all…not that there was much of a chance of that happening.
“Can you make a burger out of clam?” her father asked confused as he perused the menu selections.
“I’m sure the Bolians will find a way. They are a determined bunch, don’t you think, Amedon?” Harriet Nelson said.
“Hmmmm?” Nelson said, distractedly watching the restaurant entrance.
“I said Bolians are determined.”
“Determined to misinterpret everything they come across.”
“Be nice, dear.”
“Why?” Nelson said, turning on her mother. “They’ve got some bizarre obsession with Earth, like their planet never developed a culture of its own or something. Then they insist on trying to emulate Earth culture and end up creating things like clamburgers and moo goo rye flan!”
“Woah,” Oswald Nelson said suddenly, looking toward the door. “Is that him?”
Nelson whirled back around and saw that Wuddle had indeed just stepped into the restaurant. He spotted Nelson and smiled, giving her a little wave.
“That’s him,” Nelson said proudly, getting up to meet Wuddle.
“He IS pale.”
“Oswald!” Harriet said. “This is the man our daughter plans to marry. We need to be supportive!”
“What? The man is pale. There’s nothing wrong with that. I was just observing.”
Nelson returned to the table with Wuddle at that moment. Oswald got up from his seat to greet the newcomer. “Mom. Dad,” Nelson said. “This is Wuddle.”
“Mister and Mrs. Nelson,” Wuddle said with a nod of his head.
“Nice to meet you, Wuddle,” Oswald said, giving the Multek a firm handshake.
“Yes, it is,” Harriet added, smiling warmly. “I just wish we could have met sooner to give us time to get to know you better before the wedding.”
“I agree,” Wuddle said. “It is unfortunate that you were unable to visit Waystation before now, but I understand that your work must keep you busy.”
“Not that busy,” Oswald said, drawing a glare from his daughter. “Actually, Amedon tells us that you’re in the planetary administration business, too.”
“Dad, he’s the ruler of the Multek Enclave,” Nelson said. “He leads an entire civilization.”
“A bureaucracy is a bureaucracy. Right, Wuddle?” Oswald said.
“That it is,” Wuddle replied. “Do you run your world?”
“No no. I’m Colony Clerk, which means I sit in meetings all day while my subordinates do all the work.”
“That sounds very much like my days,” Wuddle said with a slight sigh. “There are times I miss being more active in events. I was a captain once.”
“Military?” Harriet asked.
“Cruise liner. It was a great honor, but after I learned of the existence of other beings in the universe, I was transferred to the military.”
“And then you were elected leader of your people. Fantastic,” Harriet said.
“Elected?” Wuddle said. “No. Not really. After our previous Frequoq was sent to a Recovery Ranch, I was the only one who wanted the job.”
“No one wanted to be leader?” Oswald said surprised.
“It is a great responsibility, and many Multeks would much rather enjoy the pleasures of our world.”
“You’ll understand when you get there,” Nelson said.
“Oh yes. I’m looking forward to showing it to you,” Wuddle said. “Once we’re open for business, of course.”
“No sneak peak for the future-in-laws?” Oswald asked conspiratorially.
“Wuddle won’t even show it to me,” Nelson said. “No one’s allowed on Multos until the Grand Opening.”
Wuddle nodded. “That is true…except for Captain Beck and her guests who are there now.”
“Now?” Nelson exclaimed. “Beck is there now! You never told me that!”
“I told you that I needed to speak with her. This is why. She and other members of your crew our testing our facilities for us.”
“I could have tested them,” Nelson protested.
“But then we could not have this dinner with your parents. Your captain’s visit to Multos does not affect this at all.”
“I know. But still, you should have told me everything sooner.”
“You’re not exactly known for being forthcoming yourself, dear,” Harriet said to her daughter.
“Mom…” Nelson warned, but it was too late. Harriet was already focused on Wuddle.
“To be perfectly honest, Wuddle, Amedon here didn’t even tell us she was seeing you, much less marrying you until three weeks ago.”
“She never…mentioned me?” Wuddle asked confused.
“Not a peep,” Oswald said. “But then that’s our Amedon. Everything’s on a need-to-know basis with her.”
“But…we have been together for three years. Surely in all that time…”
“No,” Harriet said. “But don’t take it personally. As Oswald said, that’s just how she is. We didn’t find out about her symbiont until we had to take to the hospital for withdrawal from whatever that drug is that keeps her joined.”
“It’s Unlogi,” Nelson snapped. “And YOU took it away from me.”
“You never told us why you needed it. What were we supposed to think? And then to have to have a doctor tell us that our daughter is now a joined being…”
“I didn’t find out until the Collectors captured us and removed it,” Wuddle said.
“You were captured!” Oswald cried.
“The symbiont’s gone!” Harriet exclaimed.
“Yes, and it’s back now,” Nelson said, crossing her arms over her chest and slumping lower in her seat.
“I had no idea such things as joined beings even existed,” Wuddle said.
“It must have been quite a shock,” Harriet said, patting Wuddle’s hand sympathetically.
“It was. To have the woman you love become someone different.”
“We understand completely,” Oswald said. “Only backwards, I guess, since you only knew her with the symbiont. As a little girl, she was different.”
“I would like to hear about her childhood,” Wuddle said, leaning forward.
“Well, first of all, you’ve never met anyone more obsessed with the color pink…”
Nelson inwardly groaned. This would have been less painful if her folks had just hated Wuddle like normal parents. But no, they’d bonded and moved straight into the embarrassing childhood stories.
Let it end!
Beck’s escort left her in the lobby of the Mudelonya Spa, not that Beck really needed to be guided around after that. The spa’s staff was more than happy to take over seeing to Beck’s every need. There seemed to be a veritable army of employees all there to wait on her. Heaven.
Before much time had passed, Beck was seated on the softest fainting couch she had ever encountered, dressed in a luxurious bathrobe as she waited for the real relaxation to begin. Granted, the glass of wine she had been handed was a good start. Normally, she wasn’t much of a wine drinker, and when she did partake, she preferred a nice, full-bodied red wine. This particular vintage was teal. Still, it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. And the bowl of strawberry-esque yellow fruits resting on the table by the couch were the perfect accompaniment.
The serenity was interrupted by the arrival of one of the spa employees. Actually, interrupted was something of a harsh word for it. The Multek woman entered the candle-lit chamber so quietly that Beck almost didn’t hear her step into the room.
“Pardon me, Miss Beck, but it’s time for your massage,” she said.
“I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Beck said, grinning lazily. “Where do we need to go?”
Before the masseuse could respond, the door opened again, admitting another Multek woman. “Excuse me, Miss Beck. Your mud bath is ready.” The new arrival suddenly realized that someone else was with Beck. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s time for her massage.”
“No, it’s time for her mud bath.”
“I want her.”
“Um…ladies?” Beck said as the two Multeks turned on each other.
The women ignored Beck as their argument about who was going to get their hands on Beck first escalated. Beck reflexively tightened the robe around her body. At the moment, she didn’t really want either of them to lay a hand on her.
Fortunately, they resolved the problem by laying their hands on each other…
…or their fists anyway.
After what seemed like an eternity of riding in the back of a well-appointed hoverlimo, Porter and his escort, a Multek named Jindal, arrived at their destination. At least Porter assumed it was their destination. With these damned tinted windows, who could tell? Jindal had spent most of the drive prying Porter with questions about the galaxy outside of the Enclave. The man seemed both astounded and frightened by the concept, a reaction Porter imagined was fairly common throughout the Enclave. When Earth first encountered the Vulcans centuries earlier, it sent shockwaves through the planet’s citizens, but a significant portion of humans at least already believed in the possibility of alien life. Besides, considering the state of the Earth at the time, humanity was more than happy for the assistance. The Multeks on the other hand, outside of a few highly placed officials, were completely broadsided by the news of alien life.
Jindal pushed his interest in the rest of the universe aside and opened the hoverlimo door, allowing Porter to step outside ahead of him. The hoverlimo was on a narrow road surrounded on both sides by tall verdant trees towering above them. The chauffeur stepped out of the front of the vehicle, opened the trunk, and unloaded their two backpacks of gear as Porter and Jindal headed over to the well-marked trail off to the left of the road.
“What do you think?” Jindal asked eagerly.
“Nice,” Porter said, nodding his head appreciatively. “Are we hiking anywhere in particular?”
Jindal looked at him confused. “On the trail,” he replied, pointing at the incredibly-obvious path in front of them.
“I mean, where does the trail go? What are we going to see?”
“Oh! The forest.”
“Ah. Gotcha,” Porter said, retrieving his backpack as the limo driver returned to his vehicle and sped away. “You can call him back in case of an emergency, right?”
“An emergency? What could happen here?” Jindal asked.
“I don’t know. You tell me. Any dangerous animals around?”
Jindal laughed. “No. This is perfectly safe.”
“That’s what they all say,” Porter muttered as he and Jindal set off down the trail.
“I hate to gush, but this is really exciting for me,” Yeoman Jones’s escort, Kekkie, said from her seat beside Jones on the Quickie Travel Tram they were taking across the capital city. “I’ve never gotten to be the guide for anyone so…prestigious.”
“Prestigious? Me?” Jones said. “No no. I’m nobody.”
“You are from the space station that saved our planet. You were chosen by Captain Beck herself to come here to us. You are definitely NOT nobody,” Kekkie replied, unable to hide the awe in her voice.
“Er…so what are we doing first?” Jones asked, changing the subject. She’d noticed how uneasy Captain Beck had been with the way Faddle had treated her. Now she understood why. This being revered stuff was just strange.
“I thought we’d get something to eat…if that’s all right.”
“Sounds great,” Jones said just before the Quickie Travel Tram dove down another steep hill, eliciting elated cheers of delight from the passengers, then slid to a halt at a station. Kekkie gave Jones’s sleeve a slight tug, then rose from her seat as Jones did the same. Kekkie led Jones off to the train, through the station, then out onto a bustling street lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs all packed with people as their bright and colorful signs beckoned for new customers to enter.
“Wow! This looks great!” Jones said excitedly, unable to stop herself from jumping up and down a little bit. “I want to see it all!”
“All of it?” Kekkie asked.
“All of it!” Jones said firmly. “Let’s paint the town.”
“It’s an old Earth saying. Just forget it. Let’s have some fun!” Jones grabbed Kekkie by the arm and practically dragged her into the nearest restaurant.
“You will be staying in the Frequoqian Suite,” the desk clerk at the Hotel Xenocacian said, thoroughly annunciating each word as he spoke to the human on the other side of the counter.
“Sounds spiffy,” Lieutenant Commander Russell said, unable to get up any real enthusiasm as his attention wandered around the hotel lobby. Marble. Leather-looking chairs. Big plants. Boring music playing. This place would give the Starfleet Suites Hotel a real run for its credits in the Stuffy and Pretentious Derby.
“Tippem will show you to your suite. Do enjoy your stay with us.”
“Is that an order?” Russell asked.
“My apologies, Mister Russell. I did not mean to offend.”
“I’m joking with you,” Russell said, not that it had been much of a joke. No need to torture the guy, though. He was just doing his job. It wasn’t his fault that Russell had been shuttled off to the Hotel Catatonia.
Before Russell could step away from the counter, a bellboy in a crisply pressed uniform was at his side. “Mister Tippem, I presume,” Russell said.
“Yes, sir, Mister Russell, sir,” Tippem said with a bow of his head. He reached for the travel case in Russell’s hand. “Please allow me to take that for you.”
“It’s all yours,” Russell said, handing the case to the Multek, who then gestured for Russell to follow him to the elevator. They rode up to the top level of the hotel in silence, Tippem staring blankly at the front of the elevator all the while. After arriving at their floor, the pair walked down an elegantly patterned carpet to a door at the end of the hallway, which Tippem opened for Russell. “Your suite, sir.”
“Thanks,” Russell muttered, stepping past Tippem into the room.
He almost fell over as his eyes took in the place. It was huge! Gigantic even! This wasn’t a hotel room. It was a mansion! The ceiling alone had to be fifteen feet high. In the center of the room was a flowing fountain. His room had a fountain! Off to the left was a large living area dominated by a holovision screen bigger even than the viewscreen in Ops on Waystation.
“Your bedroom is through the double doors to the left, and the game room is through the doors beyond the dining room,” Tippem said.
“There’s a dining room?”
“Right through there, sir,” Tippem said, pointing off to the right. “Will these accommodations be satisfactory?”
“They’ll be fine,” Russell said grinning.
“Is there anything else?”
“No. Wait. Yes. Does this place have room service?”
“Of course, sir. The Hotel Xenocacian offers a wide variety of in-room meals and services.”
“What kinds of services?”
“All kinds of services.”
Russell’s grin grew a bit wider. “Oh yeah. This will be just fine.”
Dinner did eventually end, much to Nelson’s relief; although, before it did, her parents managed to get through just about every humiliating event from her childhood…well, part of her childhood anyway. Fortunately, they were not privy to stories from Midon’s childhood, not that there were many to tell. Wuddle seemed to enjoy each and every moment of it, though, and said as much as he and Nelson returned to her quarters after saying good night to her parents.
“Well, that was fun.”
“For you maybe,” Nelson grumbled.
“You didn’t have a good time?” Wuddle asked.
“Sure. I love being the object of ridicule for an entire evening.”
“I didn’t sense any ridicule. Your parents love you very much. It would have been nice, however, to hear some of these stories from you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Only that you’re very secretive.”
“I am not!”
“Then why didn’t your parents know about me three years ago?” Wuddle demanded.
“It was personal. I didn’t want to discuss it with them.”
“Many things must be personal to you.”
“And again I say, what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Nelson snapped.
“And again, let me repeat, you’re secretive. You don’t share important things about yourself, even with those who are supposedly close to you. Forget for a moment that it took you weeks to even get up the nerve to tell Captain Beck that you were moving to Multos with me, you couldn’t tell me or your own parents about your symbiont!”
“You know now!”
“But how much else are you hiding from me? We’re getting married, Amedon. We are supposed to tell each other everything, but I’m sitting here wondering when the next balloon is going to pop.”
“You don’t trust me?” Nelson said angrily.
“How can I?” Wuddle shot back. “And what about you? You obviously don’t trust anyone. Not me. Not your parents. You act like you’re all alone.”
“Well it sure as hell feels like it!” Nelson cried, storming into her bedroom and closing the door behind her.
“Amedon!” Wuddle shouted after her, giving chase and slamming straight into the locked door. “Amedon!”
Beck was starting to wish that she was wearing a bit more than a bathrobe at the moment, especially since it was looking more and more like she was going to have to step in and break up the fight between the two Multek women currently rolling around on the floor in front of her.
Before she was forced to act, though, Beck was relieved to see another Multek woman step into the room. She immediately spotted her colleagues fighting and looked to Beck in alarm. “What is happening here?” she demanded.
“Some kind of scheduling mix-up, I guess. Help me get them apart,” Beck said, reaching for the closest Multek combatant as the new arrival grabbed hold of the other.
“Let me go!” the Multek masseuse cried. “I must have the human on my table!”
“No!” the Multek mistress of the mud bath shot back. “She will be submerged immediately in my mud!”
“Can you settle this?” Beck asked the third Multek.
“Of course, Miss Beck.” She addressed her colleagues. “You’re both wrong. It’s manicure time!”
“What?” Beck exclaimed as all three Multeks turned on her.
“Maniacs!” Beck said, running for the door as the Multeks grabbed for her and barely escaping the room with her robe still on her back. Rushing down the corridor and around a corner, she almost ran headlong into another Multek.
“Are you ready for your facial?” the Multek woman asked.
“I’ll get back to you,” Beck replied, racing off again.
“Wait! It’s facial time!”
Beck ran faster.
“So what kinds of wildlife should I be looking for?” Porter asked as he and Jindal made their way along the winding trail through the forest. Up until this point, he hadn’t seen much beyond a few birds and a couple of things baring a vague resemblance to green squirrels.
“What kind do you want to see?” Jindal asked.
“Um…I don’t know really. I don’t know what you have on Multos. I know you said the fauna we ran into would be safe and all, but I thought that we might…you know…actually run into some fauna.”
“Multos has a great deal of animal life, but much of it lives in the larger expanses of forest and jungle in our Western Hemisphere.”
“Does anything live around here?”
“We have lots of nerrins,” Jindal replied, pointing at one of the green squirrely things running by.
“Ah. Okay,” Porter said. So much for animal watching. No fauna. No waterfalls. No interesting topography. This hike was about trees. Lots of trees.
“The sun is setting. We should proceed to our campsite for the night,” Jindal said.
“We have a campsite?”
“Yes. The clearing is equipped with multi-species compatible facilities, and an eterna-flame campfire. I believe you will be comfortable.”
“Nothing like roughing it, is there?” Porter said.
“Oh I agree. I love camping,” Jindal said.
And when we actually do some camping, be sure to let me know, Porter added to himself.
Night had fallen across the Multek capital city, not that Yeoman Jones could really tell due to bright lights and glowing signs lining the streets of the Alien Entertainment District, as the Multeks had dubbed this area. Of course, considering the number of drinks that Jones had consumed during dinner with Kekkie and through their subsequent bar crawl down Byobbin Street, it was doubtful that Jones had much of an awareness of time at all at the moment.
“Oooh!” Jones exclaimed, pointing into the doorway of the nightclub she and Kekkie were just passing. “Dancing! Let’s go!”
“How can you dance like this?” Kekkie asked, weaving a bit as she struggled to maintain an upright position.
“Just need to shake some of this off.” Jones forced herself to concentrate in order to push through the effects of the synthehol. Oddly, her head didn’t feel any clearer.
“Can’t shake it off.”
“Can you usually?”
“Not me. Need time to deal with the alcohol.”
“Alcohol! This isn’t synthehol!” Jones cried.
“Synthe… Never mind. Must dance.”
“But we…” Kekkie’s protest was rendered useless as Jones stormed (or stumbled really) into the nightclub. “Okay. Dance,” she said, catching up with Jones. “Then what?”
“Drink more. Dance more. Drink more.”
“Hmmmm. Good plan.”
“Yep!” Jones said brightly just before joining the crowd of gyrating Multeks on the dance floor.
“May I feed you another sporf puff?” the fetching room service server asked holding up the oh-so-tasty delight as Russell lay on a massage table in the middle of his suite’s living area getting a good rubdown from an equally fetching masseuse.
“Please,” Russell said, giving the server a wink and a grin. She giggled slightly, then popped the pastry into his mouth. “I’m not keeping you from other things, am I?” he asked, once he’d finished chewing and swallowing.
“Not at all, sir. I’m assigned to you all night.”
“Are you now?” Russell asked.
“Oh yes,” the server replied, popping another sporf puff into his open mouth. “Unless you don’t want me to stay.”
“Of course I want you to stay! Stick around. I’ll try to find ways to keep you entertained.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mister Russell. You’re here to enjoy yourself, and my job is to serve you.”
“I love this planet!”
Wuddle was yanked out of a fitful sleep by someone sitting down on the sofa where he lay. His eyes snapped open, and he saw Nelson sitting on the sofa edge, staring at the floor.
“You’re still here,” she said softly.
“Where else would I be?” Wuddle replied, sitting up beside her.
“I didn’t know…” She stopped as her voice began to waver. “I thought I might have run you off.”
“One fight isn’t going to do that.”
Nelson leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. “I know. I’m sorry. I just…I felt attacked.”
“That’s because I was attacking you,” Wuddle said, running his fingers gently through her hair. “And I had no right, especially considering my reaction when I first found out about your symbiont. I do trust you. I just wish you would be more open with the people who love you.”
“As in my parents.”
“They do love you.”
“Yeah, but if you keep this up, they’re going to love you more than they love me,” Nelson said with a slight smile.
“I don’t think that’s possible. You’re their little girl.”
“No I’m not. That’s why I got annoyed at dinner. You’re hearing all of these stories about a girl who doesn’t exist anymore. She’s only a part of me.”
“And I would equally love to hear stories about Midon’s earlier life.”
“They’re mostly about manure farming.”
Wuddle grimaced. “I’m sure they’re…fascinating.”
“They’re really not.”
The couple sat silent for a few moments, just enjoying being with each other.
“Are we okay?” Nelson asked finally.
“Of course. There will be fights. It comes with being married, I think. Actually talking to each other might head a few of them off, though. I have to believe that’s what’s kept my parents together this long.”
“And do they know about me?” Nelson asked.
“Yes…I told them right after the Collectors invaded,” Wuddle said.
“Uh huh. Two years after we started dating.”
“Yes, but in my defense, before that time they would have thought I was insane for believing that I was dating an imaginary being.”
Okay. This has officially become embarrassing, Captain Beck thought as she sat huddled in a supply closet, listening to the incessant pounding on the door and demands for her emerge for her massage/facial/mud bath/pedicure/exfoliation/etc.
Actually, it probably hit embarrassing about six hours ago. Beck just couldn’t believe the stamina of these employees. She originally thought that if she just waited in the closet long enough, the Multeks would give up and go home. But not this bunch. They had camped out in the hallway all night long. And now Beck could see the first streaks of sunlight coming through the small window in the wall. If only it was big enough to crawl out of.
If only these Multeks would leave her alone.
If only she was wearing something more than a bathrobe.
Beck couldn’t just keep sitting here like this. She had to act. She was a Starfleet Officer, a captain no less. She would not be held hostage by a horde of women armed with little more than loofah sponges. Unfortunately, as the last several hours had proven, reasoning with these people was next to impossible. They just wouldn’t listen, and Beck wasn’t about to give in to their demands that she turn herself over to them. She loved her spa days, but something about being worked on by folks who had already proven themselves to be mentally unstable didn’t really put her in a relaxed frame of mind.
No, she was going to have to do this the hard way. Beck looked around the supply closet for something that could help her out of this mess, but all she could find were linens, bars of soap, and bottles of lotions and oils. If that’s what she had to work with, that’s what she had to work with.
Beck scooped as much as she could into a pillow case, then unlocked the closet door and charged out into the corridor, much to the surprise of the horde of employees waiting for her. And it truly was a horde at this point. There were at least fifteen of them by this point.
It didn’t take long for the Multeks to get over their shock and charge Beck, each intent on whisking her away for a nice, relaxing treatment.
The first woman to arrive was met by Beck’s foot slamming into her chest. She collapsed back, knocking into two other women as she fell. Beck didn’t wait around to see the effects of her kick. She was already flinging bars of soap from her sack, sending them hurtling at the women in front of her, who quickly scattered to avoid the incoming projectiles, some too late to avoid having their heads solidly bashed by the flying bars.
Beck kept moving, running ahead and breaking free of the crowd, using her feet and an elbow to forcefully reject a few attempts made to latch onto her. She grabbed a bottle of massage oil out of the bag and squirted it on the floor behind her as she ran, then sent a few more soap missiles winging toward her pursuers for good measure.
As much as she would have loved to watch the results, she didn’t have time. She needed her uniform, and the various screams, moans, and thuds coming from behind her told her most of what she needed to know anyway.
She found her way back to the changing room, snatched up her uniform, and was on the run again in moments. Even so, the detour had given three of the spa ladies time to catch up.
“Let me massage those tired legs!”
“No, you must let me style your hair!”
“Both of you can die! She and her toenails are mine!”
SOAP. SOAP. SOAP.
THUD. SMACK. THUD.
“Keep the change!” Beck shouted back over her shoulder as she barreled toward the exit. The only thing separating her from freedom now was a set of glass double doors…
…which she promptly smashed into when they rudely didn’t open for her.
Beck turned and saw the horde of spa employees limping and shuffling toward her, moaning through swollen faces, their arms outstretched to grab her.
She was NOT going to go down like this!
In desperation, she leapt behind the receptionist’s desk and grabbed the chair, then she flung it with an adrenaline-boosted burst of strength at the glass doors.
The glass shattered spectacularly as Beck raced out from behind the desk and dove through the gaping hole in the doorway, clearing the shards of glass and landing in a tucked roll only to spring to her feet and sprint off down the street.
As Beck fled, she heard a lone voice call out after her.
“Hey! That’s our robe!”
Porter inhaled deeply, taking in the fresh Multos morning air as the sun began to crest over the trees of the forest surrounding the clearing where the campsite was located. Sure it hadn’t been the most traditional of camp outs, what with the climate-controlled tents, luxury inflatable mattresses, hot showers, working toilets and all, but he had to admit that he’d slept rather well. And there was just something about being able to climb out of bed and immediately step out into nature.
Jindal was suddenly by his side. “I’m sorry I slept so long,” the Multek said quickly. “Have you been up long?”
“Nope,” Porter replied. “Just got up myself.”
“Good,” Jindal said relieved. “I can’t have you wandering off without me.”
Porter turned to his escort with a smirk. “Afraid I’m going to get hurt?”
“No. Nothing like that. You can’t get hurt here. Well, I guess you could, but you’d have to work at it. We want to keep our guests safe.”
“I know. You’ve told me…repeatedly,” Porter said. “Why don’t we pack our gear up and get moving.” Porter surveyed the various trails heading out of the clearing. “What about that way?”
“Um…I thought we’d just go back the way we came.”
“Then we’d just see the same stuff we saw yesterday. Why would we want to do that?”
“Because…er…it was pretty?”
“I’m sure there’s pretty stuff this other way, too,” Porter said, heading over to his tent. Thanks to the wonders of Multek technology, packing everything back up into his backpack took all of about twenty seconds. “You ready?”
“Is there a problem?”
“Nothing,” Jindal mumbled, stowing his own gear.
A short time later, the pair was heading off down the trail Porter had chosen with Jindal looking progressively more uncomfortable with each step. Porter had to wonder if it had anything to do with the whirring, buzzing, and humming noises that were growing progressively louder.
Porter suddenly caught a glimpse of something through the trees and understanding struck. He turned to his companion.
“Where are we?”
“What do you mean?” Jindal asked, doing an incredibly bad job of feigning innocence. “This is the woods.”
“And that’s a building,” Porter said, pointing off through the trees. “We’re in a park.”
Porter took a few more strides forward. The trees quickly gave way to a grassy area bordered by a street full of bumper taxis bouncing wildly off of each other, and beyond that several tall buildings.
“Park!” Porter repeated, pointing more forcefully at the line of buildings.
“But it’s a really big park.”
“You took me camping in a city park!”
“You liked it, though, didn’t you?”
“What I would have liked is to actually be out in the wilderness. Wilderness, as in wild. Not an oversized backyard.”
“The wilderness? Like with real wild animals? Are you crazy? We could get hurt out there! What kind of vacation is that?”
“The kind that some beings like to take,” Porter said. “I don’t know what your people have in mind for your visitors, but you’re not going to be able to control their every movement like this. Some visitors may want to head off into the woods, the real woods, for a hike. And if they do, they know the risks they’re taking. Hand them a communicator if you have to, but don’t think they’re going to accept a manufactured experience under perfectly safe circumstances. That’s not how camping is supposed to work.”
“But there won’t be facilities out there!”
“They’ll manage. Trust me.”
Jindal sighed. “I will give your suggestions to the Department of Hospitality Services, but I don’t know if they will be willing to put our guests in danger like that.”
“They may not have much of a choice,” Porter said. “Not if they want to keep the visitors coming back, that is.”
“I hope this has not ruined your enjoyment of our world,” Jindal said.
“No no,” Porter said with a reassuring smile. “You guys are still learning how this whole hospitality business works.”
“So do you wish to continue our hike?”
“Actually, something smells really good. Is there a restaurant over there serving breakfast?”
“Several, I am sure.”
“Then let’s eat.”
“Is this part of roughing it?”
“That depends on how well I digest Multek food.”
Consciousness was an unwelcome visitor to Yeoman Jones’s sleep party. As much as she tried to fight it off, it would not be denied.
But oh how she wished it would leave her alone.
Too bad. She was awake now…kind of. Actually, more than anything, she was disoriented. Where was she? How had she gotten here? Why did she feel like crap? And did she dare open her eyes?
Jones kept her eyes closed for a few moments as she took stock and tried to recall how she’d gotten to wherever she now was.
She remembered dinner. And Kekkie. And dancing. There was drinking. Lots of drinking. More dancing. More drinking. A blur of passing from street to nightclub to street to nightclub to street again as she and Kekkie moved though the Alien Entertainment District. Then nothing.
Somehow she’d gotten back to a room, though. She was fairly sure of that much based on the soft mattress she was laying on. Jones slowly forced her eyes open, fighting to focus and to will the not-so-gentle pounding in her brain to stop.
A blinding light assaulted her, but after several seconds of furious blinking, she realized it was just the sun shining through a window looking out at the city. Everything was so shiny. If each and every gleaming surface wasn’t adding to her headache, Jones probably would have thought it was pretty.
Soon, it was too much for her, and she was forced to turn over…
…where she came face to face with a naked Multek male laying in bed next to her.
“Hi,” he said with a lazy grin on his face.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ZZ
(Lieutenant Commander Russell is unable to be reached right now. Please try back later.)
Frequoq Wuddle was already waiting in Docking Bay Five with Dr. Nelson and her parents as his yacht sailed through the forcefield covering the open docking bay doors and gently touched down on the deck.
“Nice ride,” Oswald Nelson said appreciatively as the golden craft gleamed in front of him. “Very stylish. You have good taste.”
“It’s not really mine,” Wuddle said. “It comes with the office of Frequoq. Of course, my wife will have access to it as well.”
“They won’t be calling me Snarkleberry, will they?” Nelson asked.
“No no,” Wuddle said. “As my wife, you have the title of Dronquoq.”
“Dronquoq?” Nelson asked, obviously not liking the sound of the word.
“I do like that better than Snarkleberry, dear,” Harriet said. “It’s a little more…dignified. Dronquoq. It’s a word with weight.”
“You would know, I suppose,” Nelson said. Harriet Nelson worked as an editor for Random House of Penguins in Your Pocket Books and spent most of her life dealing with words in one language or another.
“Ah, that reminds me, dear, the publishing house wants to commission an official biography of President Dillon. Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“Um…no. Sorry, Mom.” That response wasn’t exactly a lie. President Bradley Dillon had gone missing a month earlier (a fact that was not common knowledge), so no one knew when he’d be back.
The hatch of the yacht opened, allowing Beck, Porter, Jones, and Russell to step down to the deck. Wuddle quickly approached the group, eager to hear about their trip.
“How was everything?” he asked anxiously. “Did you enjoy yourselves?”
Beck’s eyes narrowed. “I was attacked, Porter was conned, and Jones was traumatized.”
“I had a great time,” Russell said brightly.
“I…I don’t understand,” Wuddle said, distressed. “We’ve worked so hard. How could we fail so badly?”
“You didn’t fail,” Beck said. “I think everyone was just…too eager to please.”
“Exactly,” Porter said. “The planet is really very nice.”
“Oh yeah!” Russell exclaimed.
“Mimmmph,” Jones squeaked, her eyes wide-open and glassy.
“We left you a padd with a few pages of suggestions on it,” Beck said.
“Thank you,” Wuddle said gratefully. “To come this close to the Grand Opening…”
“Everything will be fine,” Beck said reassuringly. “And let me know what hospital the spa employees end up staying in. I’ll send flowers.” She patted him on the arm a couple of times, then headed out of the docking bay with Porter, Russell, and Jones in tow.
“Wait…hospital!” Wuddle said. But Beck was already gone.
“Everything all right there, Wuddle?” Oswald asked as he, Harriet, and Nelson stepped over to the Multek leader.
“Yes…I think so. I suppose I’ll know for sure when I get home.”
“I’m sure Beck left them all alive,” Nelson said.
“That is comforting.”
“I’m sorry you can’t stay longer, Wuddle,” Harriet said. “It’s been a joy to spend time with you.”
“A real pleasure,” Oswald said, shaking Wuddle’s hand. “Welcome to the family.”
“Thank you. This visit has meant a lot to me. I’m looking forward to returning the favor when you come to Multos for the wedding.”
“We’re looking forward to it, too,” Oswald said.
“Just three little weeks,” Harriet said.
“Yep, sure is,” Nelson said, rocking back and forth on her heels.
“Well,” Harriet said, catching the hint. “Goodbye, Wuddle. Come on, Oswald.”
“But the man hasn’t even gotten into his ship yet,” Oswald protested.
“Oh! Right. Bye, Wuddle. See you soon.” Oswald took his wife’s hand, and the couple quickly exited the docking bay.
“I thought they’d never leave,” Nelson said grinning.
“I like having them around.”
“Even when I do this?” Nelson asked before suddenly grabbing Wuddle in a long, passionate kiss.
“No. Not for that,” Wuddle gasped once Nelson finally released him.
“I didn’t think so. Have a safe trip back. I can’t have anything happening to you before the wedding…or after.”
“I’ll be careful,” Wuddle said.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too. Very much.”
“It’s going to be a long three weeks.”
“Yes, but then we won’t have to be apart ever again.”
“I can’t wait,” Nelson said, wrapping her arms around his waist.
“Neither can I,” Wuddle replied, holding her close. “I should go.”
“I know.” She let him go, and he entered his ship. Moments later, the yacht took off, separating Nelson for Wuddle for the last time.
In three little weeks, they would be together.
In three little weeks, she would be starting her life on Multos.
In three little weeks, she would be the Dronquoq.
Ugh. Her mom was nuts. It was a horrible sounding word.