“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 10/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Ten

“Sweetie, could you hold this?” Phoebe placed a foil-covered tray in Jason’s hands. She added, “And be careful. It’s one of the hors d’ oeuvres trays.”

Jason replied, “You know, when I had showed up tonight, I hadn’t expected to end up as a waiter.”

Phoebe stood on her toes and pecked Jason’s cheek. “I know, baby. I’m just glad that you could help. Maybe if we leave both parties early, we can spend some time alone, before tomorrow.”

“I don’t see why you have to go this party, in the first place.” Jason paused to stare at Phoebe. “Wait a minute, you were invited?”

Nodding, Phoebe asked, “Weren’t you?”

“Not really.” To Phoebe’s relief, he did not seem upset or disappointed. “And if I had, I doubt that I would accepted. I mean . . . I’m only here because of Olivia.” Who seemed to have an effect upon the men in Phoebe’s life. Or so she thought.

Suppressing a grimace at Jason’s last words, Phoebe merely replied, “Oh. Yeah. Of course. Um, have you seen the . . .?”

“Let’s go people!” Piper barked at the couple, causing them to nearly jump. The oldest Charmed One wore a blue-gray, long-sleeved cocktail dress that looked attractive, yet modest. “I need that food inside the SUV. It’s almost time for the party to start and we need to get out of here.”

“You know, Paige could always . . .” Phoebe broke off, realizing that she had almost exposed her younger sister – along with the rest of them. “I mean . . .”

Jason stared at her. “Paige could always . . . what?”

“Um . . .” Phoebe turned to Piper for help.

The oldest Charmed One immediately finished, “I guess that Paige can use her car to take you and Pheebs to the parties.” She turned to the younger woman. “Right Pheebs? Since there’s a chance there might not be enough room in my car.”

Phoebe inwardly sighed with relief when Jason said, “Oh. Well, that’s not necessary. I can drop both Phoebe and Paige off at P3.” He glanced at Phoebe. “If you don’t mind.”

“No, that’s great,” Phoebe replied just a little too brightly. “Paige and I will meet you at your car.” Again, she pecked Jason’s cheek.

Once the billionaire had left the kitchen, Piper glared at the younger sister. “Phoebe, I understand your reluctance to tell Jason about us. But if you’re really serious about him, you better tell him the truth. Before he finds out the wrong way.” She sighed. “I’m going to say goodnight to Wyatt.”

Phoebe watched her older sister leave the kitchen. A dismaying thought struck her that Piper might be right. Only . . . she feared the consequences of such a revelation to Jason a lot more than what her family might think.

————–

A swing tune from the 1930s blasted from P3’s sound system. Olivia, who sat next to the nightclub’s bar – along with Cecile, Sheila Morris, Nathalie Gleason and her two grandmothers. Piper stood behind the bar, serving drinks.

“Okay, here’s my present,” Sheila said, handing over a white, flat box marked MACY’S to Olivia. Hope that you’ll like it.”

Olivia opened the box and removed the tissue. Then she gently lifted an apple-green silk robe and displayed it to the others. “Oh my God! This is . . . Sheila, this is gorgeous!”

Sheila smiled happily. “Thanks. I’m glad that you like it.”

“Here’s another present, Livy,” her grandmother, Elise, declared. She handed over a package made from blue tissue to Olivia.

The tall, dark-haired Nathalie spoke up. “It’s from me.”

“Thanks Nat.” Olivia carefully unwrapped the tissue paper. Inside, laid a pair of multi-colored silk scarves. “Uh . . . thanks Nat,” she repeated, feeling slightly perplexed. “I guess I can think of an outfit or two . . .”

“Oh, it’s not for wearing,” Nathalie explained, leaving Olivia feeling more confused. “It’s for . . .” She glanced at those guests who were obviously unaware of Olivia’s magical background – like Carlotta Trujillo and Cole’s co-worker, Veronica Altman. “It’s for your honeymoon.”

Olivia frowned. “Huh? I don’t understand.”

“According to this trader at the Anduin Marketplace named Valindal,” Nathalie continued, “this scarf is magical. They can block anyone’s magical and psychic abilities . . . including teleportation and telekinesis.”

Olivia’s Welsh grandmother asked, “You were at the Anduin Market? Heavens! I haven’t been there in quite a while.”

“Are you kidding? It’s bigger than ever,” Nathalie said. “Although some of the customers are a lot ruder these days. This one woman had popped inside Valindal’s tent without any notice. Didn’t bothered to check if there were other customers. Like I said . . . rude.”

Olivia and Cecile exchanged long-suffering glances. Nathalie had a habit of ranting over the smallest thing. “Nat . . . honey? About these scarves?” the redhead continued.

The dark-haired witch’s face turned pink. “Sorry. Anyway, you can use these scarves on Cole. You know, during the honeymoon.” When Olivia failed to respond, she sighed. “For certain . . . horizontal games?”

“You mean bondage during sex?” Bronwyn Morgan exclaimed bluntly. Olivia stared at her. “What? I am adult, you know. In fact, your grandfather and I . . .”

Olivia held up one hand. “Nana? Please don’t. The image is already too disturbing.” Elise opened her mouth. “Please Gran. Not you too!”

“For Pete’s sake, Livy!” Elise retorted. “How did you think your parents were conceived? With your grandmother and I simply laying on our backs and submitting? We had desires as well.”

Rolling her eyes, Olivia moaned, “Oh God.”

“This Anduin Marketplace,” Piper said with a frown, “you say that it’s some kind of marketplace . . . for demons? I thought that Phoebe and I had destroyed the only one.”

Elise replied airily, “Oh honey, that place was probably nothing more than some minor market that catered to daemons. The Anduin Marketplace is much larger. And it’s for all magical beings and practioners.”

“Including demons?”

“Of course.” Elise gave Piper a suspicious glance. “You’re not thinking of making an attempt to get rid of the place or something like that, are you?”

Piper’s eyes widened in shock. “No! Of course not. Unless . . . well, if someone there . . .”

Cecile spoke up. “Piper, I don’t think you or your sisters would be able to destroy that particular marketplace. It’s protected by some major mojo. And I doubt very much that the Power of Three could kill an Anduian. Trust me.”

“Wait.” Piper shook her head. “Are you serious?” Aside from Sheila, who looked as confused as the Charmed One, Olivia and the others responded with knowing looks. Shock replaced the confusion on Piper’s face. “Wow,” she murmured.

Nathalie continued, “According to Valindal, the scarves were made right there in the Anduin Dimension. Which means they should be very effective if you decide to use them on Cole.” Her mouth spread into a wicked grin. “If you know what I mean.”

Olivia could hardly wait to find out.

————-

A long-legged, bikini-clad woman with chestnut hair pranced about the Vornado Club’s stage. Most of the bachelor party’s celebrants regarded her with either admiration or avid lust. The groom-to-be did neither. Instead, he regarded her suspicion.

“You know, I think I’ve seen that dancer, before,” Cole commented. Harry McNeill responded with a leer. The half-daemon rolled his eyes. “No, not like that. I think . . .”

Jack McNeill frowned. “Don’t tell me you think she might be Idril.”

“You never know.”

The half-daemon and the two witches shared a table directly in front of the stage. Whistles and cheers mixed with music from the club’s sound system, as the dancer removed her bikini top. Cole turned his attention away from the stage and signaled a waiter, who stood nearby. Enthralled by the half-naked dancer, the waiter failed to respond. “Hey!” Cole cried out. But to no avail.

Then Harry stared at the waiter for one intense moment. The latter snapped out of his trance and approached the trio’s table with an obsequious smile. “Gentlemen, may I help you?”

“Yes,” Cole replied. “Where is Riggerio?”

“In his office, signor.” The waiter paused. “Would you like for me to summon him?”

“If you don’t mind.”

Over a minute later, the nightclub’s handsomely demonic owner appeared at the table. “Belthazor, is there a problem?” he asked.

Cole pointed at the dancer on the stage. “Who is she? She looks familiar.”

“Her?” An amused smile appeared on Riggerio’s lips. “In Sitri’s name, Belthazor! Your memory must be slipping!”

“Meaning?” Cole demanded with a frown.

Riggerio sighed and rolled his eyes. “You mean to say that you do not remember Arda?”

“Who?” Harry asked.

A new voice added, “Arda. She’s one of the top exotic dancers in many dimensions. Think of her as some kind of daemonic version of Sally Rand or Gypsy Rose Lee. Only, she takes it all off.” Andre stepped forward and sat down in the last empty chair. “Cole and I have seen her perform on at least three different occasions.” He shook his head at the half-daemon. “Man, you really must be slipping! Or is this pre-marital stress? I mean, I can understand, considering the wedding tomorrow, and Idril . . .”

“Idril?” Riggerio frowned. “Is she here in San Francisco?”

Andre shrugged his shoulders. “Might be. You remember Cecile Dubois, don’t you?” Riggerio nodded, as the New Orleans hougan continued, “Well, she had a vision of Cole marrying Idril.”

Disbelief shone in Riggerio’s dark eyes. “Why would you marry Idril? She never seemed like your type. In fact, I had the distinct impression that you thought very little of her.”

Cole heaved an annoyed sigh. Jack asked, “You’ve met this Idril?”

“Of course,” the daemon replied. “In London, over thirty-four years ago. Belthazor and Idril were with Tarkin . . . and some English woman. A witch, I believe. I forgot her name.”

“Christine Broom,” Cole murmured, feeling a brief surge of nostalgia.

Riggerio continued, “Speaking of Idril, why would you . . .?”

In a burst of annoyance, Cole exclaimed, “I wouldn’t! Trust me!”

Andre added, “Cecile thinks that Idril might use a spell to get Cole to marry her.”

“Ah yes,” Riggerio said with a nod. “I understand. With Belthazor at her side, Idril would be able to become Queen of the Source’s Realm. That makes sense.”

An inner sigh of relief filled Cole’s mind. So much for Olivia’s theory that Idril might be in love with him.

Riggerio nodded at the dancer on the stage. Aside from a large, transparent scarf that draped over her torso, she was completely nude. “As for Arda, I assure you that is her.”

Cole sighed. “I never said otherwise.”

“If she’s so famous, why would she bother to dance at a private party like this?” Jack asked.

Riggerio replied, “Simple. I had to pay a high price for her services.” A sly grin slid across his face. “And I had told her that the party was in Belthazor’s honor.”

Cole shot a quick glance at the dancer, before his gaze returned to the club’s owner. “Excuse me?”

“Come, mio amico!” Riggerio slapped the half-demon’s back. “Have you forgotten, already? You’re the infamous Belthazor! The former Source, fiancé of the Aingeal Staff Bearer, and son of the Thorn Order’s leader. Naturally, Arda would be thrilled to perform for you. So enjoy.”

Another sigh left Cole’s mouth. “Yeah. Right.” He and the others resumed watching the dancer. She removed the transparent scarf from her torso and tossed it at Cole. It immediately drifted off the stage and right into the half-daemon’s face.

————-

The plan to summon and vanquish Belthazor’s former lover had failed. Not with a bang, but with an embarrassing whimper. Even worse, when Brion’s brother-in-law had learned of his efforts, Jack nearly went ape. Brion’s ears continued to blister from the heat of his brother-in-law’s words.

For a while, Brion wondered if he would end up at a local hotel, here in San Francisco for the rest of his trip. He had the sneaky suspicion that both Jack and Gwen were tempted to kick him out of the house. At this moment, Brion wished they had kicked him out. He realized that he would have a better opportunity to carry out his plans against Idril, beyond the McNeill estate.

The Welshman sat inside one of the smaller drawing rooms. Although his eyes were glued to the television set, Brion barely acknowledged the images on the screen. He continued to brood over Phoebe Halliwell and Cecile Dubois’ visions regarding Bel . . . Cole. Something had to be done.

Once again, his attention returned to the TV screen. He found himself watching an old 1930s movie from a channel of what the Americans called cable television. Brion did consider changing to the BBC America channel, but an old TV series from the late 80s called “BLACKADDER” was being aired. And Brion had never been a fan. The movie featured some puffed-up character in costume, spouting in an exaggerated English accent, “If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain must go to Mohammed.” Brion rolled his eyes at the ridiculous cliché. Of all the utter non . . .

The witch’s mind froze. “The mountain must go to Mohammed.” Of course! Who would have thought that some silly old cliché would give him an idea? Instead of summoning Idril, he could always use a spell to teleport to her location. And use the potion to vanquish her. He would be unable to summon a daemon from here. Nor could he endanger the public at any hotel. And since he did not know his way around San Francisco, a local park seemed out of the question. No. He would simply have to go to her. And all he would need is a spell that would send his body to her present location.

————

At precisely eighteen minutes past midnight, the lights inside the Vornado Club went dark. Two lamp posts – standing several yards apart – suddenly materialized into bipedal figures.

One of the figures, a chestnut-haired man with a stocky figure, nodded at his companion. “It’s time to make the call.”

The dark-haired daemon named Andros walked over to a telephone situated on the bar’s surface and dialed a number. “Yes?” a female’s voice answered.

This is Andros. Belthazor’s . . . party had just ended some twenty minutes ago. He should be on his way home.”

Idril replied, “Good job. Get in touch with Beren. Have him meet me at my family’s estate in the Kenotês Dimension. You know where. We shall be there, shortly.”

Andros blinked. “We?”

“Yes. Belthazor, the warlock and myself.” Idril paused. Menace crept into her soft voice. “Is there a problem?”

Recognizing the menacing tone in his mistress’ voice, Andros immediately answered, “No problem, Idril. Uh, what about the rest of the clan?”

Idril replied, “Summon them, as well. It shouldn’t take that long. There are only ten of us.”

“Yes, Idril.” Andros hung up and turned to his companion. “Let’s go. We have a priest to find and a wedding to attend.”

The other daemon shook his head in disbelief and the pair beamed out of the nightclub.

END of CHAPTER TEN

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 9/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Nine

“What were you doing at the Anduin Marketplace?”

Idril’s eyes blinked, as they met Artemus’ unwavering stare. “Huh?”

The older daemon continued, “The Anduin Marketplace. You were seen there, recently. By one of my minions. What were you doing there?”

A wave of guilt overwhelmed Idril, as she quickly pondered on the possibility of Artemus becoming aware of her plans. She struggled to maintain a calm façade with a cool shrug. “Shopping, of course. For what other reason would I be there?”

His eyes still fixed upon the young demoness, Artemus continued, “You were seen leaving Valindril’s tent. And she is known as one of the best collectors of rare antiquities throughout many dimensions. You were seen leaving her tent. Empty-handed. I’m curious. Did you sell something to her? Or . . . what?”

Panic threatened to overwhelm Idril. She took a deep breath. “Really Artemus! I don’t understand this third degree.”

“Forgive me, my dear, but let’s just say that I’m very familiar with your shopping habits.” Artemus leaned back into the leather chair, inside his spacious office. “You’re the type who would prefer shopping for expensive clothes or perfume. Not rare magical antiquities. Unless you have some kind of plan.” He paused dramatically, as his stare grew more intense. “And my source had informed me that you didn’t bother to shop at any of the other tents and stalls – before and after your little visit to Valindril’s tent. You didn’t even stop to visit Yavanna’s tent. And she happens to be one of your favorite fashion designers. If you are after something, I’m curious to know what you’re after. And why.”

Clearing her throat, Idril realized that she might as well tell the truth. To a certain degree. “If you must know,” she said in a calm voice, “I was looking for something I could use against Nimue, once you assume the Source’s throne. After all, she might prove to be a powerful adversary.”

“Nimue?” Artemus snorted with contempt. “My dear, I’ll deal with Nimue, once I become the new Source.”

Relieved that the Khorne Order’s leader believed her, Idril continued, “And how do you think that’s going to affect me, if I become the Thorn Order’s new leader?”

“If” Artemus frowned. “Don’t you mean . . . when?”

Idril sidestepped her little faux pas. “No member of the Thorn Order or the new Source’s Council will respect me, Artemus. Especially if you kill Nimue on my behalf. They will all probably assume that I had used sex to acquire my . . . new position. After all, I used to be Raynor’s mistress. I would have a great deal of trouble maintaining discipline. And what about Belthazor? How do you think he’ll react, once he learns of his mother’s death, now they are closer? In fact, how do you plan to protect yourself from him, that McNeill witch, her family and the Charmed Ones?” Idril noted with pleasure that Artemus’ self-confidence seemed to have slightly deflated.

A long silence followed, before Artemus stood up and headed toward the liquor cabinet. “I must admit that you have a point. As for Belthazor, I am working on a solution to the problem. At least my alchemists are.”

“Alchemists?” Idril frowned.

“They’re working on a power-stripping potion, as we speak.” Artemus turned to the demoness. “Drink?”

Idril hesitated. “Um, absinthe, please.”

While Artemus prepared Idril’s drink, he continued, “Yes, alchemists. I realized that if a Charmed One – especially the least experienced one – could create a power-stripping potion for someone as powerful as Belthazor, so can they.” He then handed a small glass of green liqueur to Idril. “And the sooner I use this potion on Belthazor, the . . .”

The moment she saw the stunned expression on Artemus’ face, Idril felt an odd surge of energy within her body. She glanced down and saw an energy circle swirled around her feet. “What the hell?” she cried, as the circle rose higher and higher. The moment it reached her waist, it seemed as if her body was about to pull apart. “Artemus!”

“Don’t worry,” the older daemon declared in a calm voice. His shock had subsided. “You’re not going . . .” Much to Idril’s relief, the energy surge slowly dissipated until it vanished altogether. “Like I was about to say,” Artemus finished, you’re not going anywhere. This office is protected from unexpected arrivals. And departures.” He handed the glass of absinthe to Idril.

The demoness stared at the other demon in horror. “What the hell was that?” she demanded in a shaky voice.

Coolly, Artemus replied, “Apparently, someone has just tried to summon you. However, I cannot imagine why.” His eyes pierced through Idril’s. “Can you?”

Idril shook her head. “No, I can’t. I don’t know. Maybe . . . Maybe it was some idiot magician trying to prove he can summon a daemon. I’ve ran into my share of such morons.”

One of Artemus’ brows rose questioningly. “Perhaps.” He gave Idril a cryptic stare, as he returned to his desk, drink in hand. “In that case . . .” Artemus opened his desk drawer and removed an object. He tossed it over to Idril. It was an amulet.

“An amulet?” Idril said, frowning at the object. “What for?”

Artemus took a sip of his drink. “Protection, of course. To prevent anyone from summoning you against your will, once you leave here.” His eyes narrowed briefly. “Although I’m still curious as to why anyone would.”

Smiling weakly, Idril placed her drink on his desk and placed the amulet around her neck. “Yeah, so am I.” Then she picked up her absinthe and took a sip.

————

“Dammit to bloody hell!” a masculine voice growled.

Cecile, Harry and Paige exchanged startled looks. The two women and the red-haired man had stepped outside of the McNeill house for a breath of fresh air, when the growl took them by surprise. “Who was that?” Paige murmured.

Harry shrugged his shoulders and continued down the terrace’s steps. The two women followed. They found Brion Morgan on the grass nearby, kneeling beside a chalky outline of a circle. Cecile also spotted a small bottle of pink liquid beside him. “Brion?” Olivia’s brother exclaimed. “What the hell are you doing?”

Looking slightly startled, the Welsh-born witch glanced up. “Eh? Oh, um . . .”

“Were you planning to vanquish someone?”

Mr. Morgan stiffened. “Actually, I was meditating. In private.”

“With a vial of potion?” Harry pointed out. “Next to what obviously looks like a magic circle?”

A sigh left Mr. Morgan’s mouth. “Is there a problem, Harry? Because how I conduct my mediation should be none of your concern.”

Harry glared at his uncle. And Cecile regarded the older man with a hard stare. “Are you trying to summon a certain daemon, Mr. Morgan? One by the name of Idril?”

“And what if I am?” Mr. Morgan retorted. “No one, around here, seems to be taking the threat of this Idril daemon, seriously. And if your vision comes true – yours and Phoebe Halliwell’s – if Bel . . . I mean, Cole marries this ex-lover of his, it could mean catastrophe for the magical world at large.”

Cecile replied sharply, “We’re all aware of that, Mr. Morgan. Which is why Cole is now on his guard. But this plan to summon Idril and kill her . . . what the hell were you thinking?”

“She’s got a point,” Paige added drily. “You were actually planning to summon a demon? Without the McNeills’ knowledge?”

Mr. Morgan glared at the Charmed One. “May I remind you, Miss Halliwell that I am . . .”

“Miss Matthews.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Paige sighed. “My last name is Matthews.” Again, she sighed. “God! I sometimes get tired of saying that! Look, what I’m trying to say is that I had once summoned a darklighter without my sisters’ knowledge. It was a stupid move and I got chewed out for my troubles. And I was a novice at the time. What’s your excuse?”

Harry’s uncle snatched the vial from the ground and sprung to his feet. “Now, see here . . .”

“No, you see here!” Harry shot back. “Look, Uncle Brion . . . I realize that you’re concerned for Olivia’s sake. But summoning that daemon in order to kill her is a bad idea. You did it without Mom or Dad’s consent. After all, this is their home, not yours. I think your paranoia is getting the best of you.”

The Welshman’s pale face turned red with embarrassment. For less than a minute, his mouth remained pressed together in silence. Then, “It doesn’t matter, anyway. I wasn’t able to summon her.”

“What a surprise!” Harry replied caustically. “Considering that Dad had cast a protection ward around the entire estate.”

Mr. Morgan hissed in disgust, “Oh bloody hell!” He shook his head and marched away.

The trio watched the older man stalk into the house. “Do you think he’ll try to go after Whatshername again?” Paige asked.

“Are you kidding?” Harry replied with a derisive snort. “Of course he will. The man’s obsessed. Trust me.”

Paige said with a sigh, “Well to be honest, I thought his idea of summoning Idril to vanquish her wasn’t all that bad. Only his timing was off. And choice of location.”

“Maybe to you,” Harry replied, “but to us, killing someone who ‘might’ be a future threat is nothing more than murder.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like this Idril person is a human. She’s a demon.”

Harry retorted, “She’s a sentient being, Paige. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.”

Paige turned to Cecile. “You think I’m right, don’t you?”

A sigh left Cecile’s mouth. She did not want to get involved in this budding quarrel, but . . . She turned to Paige. “May I ask you something? Do you really see nothing wrong with killing any daemon that crosses your path, regardless of whether or not he or she is trying to do anything to you?”

An uneasy expression appeared on Paige’s face. “Well . . . yeah. I mean . . . most of them are evil, right?”

“So, if you see nothing wrong with you and yours sisters killing daemons regardless of what they’re doing, then wouldn’t you say that it’s okay for those daemons to do the same to you?”

“What? No! I mean . . .” Paige broke off and shook her head. “Never mind. I see that I’m going to lose this argument.” She headed toward the terrace steps.

Both Cecile and Harry watched the Charmed One’s receding figure. “Don’t worry,” Cecile said to Harry, “she’ll see the light, one day. Hopefully.”

Harry’s only response was to simply sigh.

————-

A daemon teleported into the middle of Idril’s suite at the St. Francis. His eyes fell upon Gary, who was busy watching television. “Where’s Idril?” he demanded. “I have news for her.”

His eyes still glued to the television set, Gary murmured, “In her room. What’s the news?”

“It’s for Idril,” the daemon retorted in a hard voice.

Gary rolled his eyes and sighed. Daemons could be such a stuck-up bunch! “Right.”

Minutes later, the demoness strode into the suite’s living room. Gary noticed that her outfit – a tight, long-sleeve red dress – accentuated her long legs and exposed her back. She stopped short at the sight of her minion. “Andros, you have news for me?”

“It’s about Belthazor,” Andros replied. “The McNeills are holding some kind of party for him at a nightclub called Vornado’s.”

Gary corrected him, “It’s a bachelor’s party, numb nuts. For the groom. God only knows how long it will be before Turner returns home for the night.”

Ignoring the warlock, Idril said to Andros, “I want you and Cirith to go to Vornado’s. In disguise, of course. Let me know when Belthazor leaves the party.”

“It’ll be a private party,” Gary added. “How would they be . . .?”

Andros shot a contemptuous glare at the warlock. “Don’t worry. We’ll find a way. So do us a favor and mind your damn business!”

Angered by the daemon’s contempt, Gary shot to his feet. “You know, you really need to learn to respect others,” he hissed menacingly. “Some people are not exactly tolerant of bad manners. Like myself.”

“Enough!” Idril cried. She turned to Gary. “Andros and Cirith are chameleon daemons. Shapeshifters. They’ll be fine. Meanwhile, you and I have a priest to visit.”

Gary nodded and sat back down on the sofa. “Mind if I finish my show, first?”

Andros rolled his eyes and teleported out of the suite. Much to Gary’s pleasure.

End of CHAPTER NINE

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 8/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Eight

Both Olivia and Cole stared at the tall and slender, robed figure that stood before them. “Is that it?” the red-haired witch asked. “I mean . . . I guess I had been expecting something a little more . . .”

“Bloody?” The Gimle priest broke into a teasing grin. “Not all daemonic bonding ceremonies require blood, Miss McNeill.” The priest, whose name happened to be Riesen. Ridges around his forehead and nose gave him a reptilian appearance.

Cole added, “The wine represents the blood. Like it does in many mortal religious ceremonies.” His blue eyes gleamed wickedly. “Of course, we can still use real blood, if that will make you feel better.”

Elise McNeill and an elderly, yet affable-looking man of medium height looked on with interest. Olivia’s grandmother commented, “Wine is also used in Wiccan rituals, as well. It’s too bad that many people are unable to see the similarities in many religions. Right Arthur?”

The affable-looking man turned out to be a Wiccan high priest named Arthur McMannus. He replied, “Apparently, the similarities go beyond mortal religions.”

“I suppose so,” Riesen commented. “And there is no need to worry, Miss McNeill,” he said to Olivia. “I assure you that no blood will be part of the bonding ceremony.” He gave Cole a slight, reproving look. “Right, Belthazor?” Cole merely sighed and rolled his eyes.

Olivia glanced at the drawing-room’s door. Paige had arrived, along with two surprising visitors. “Is that Paige with Phoebe and Uncle Brion?” she asked.

Cole’s eyes followed Olivia’s gaze. He frowned. “This doesn’t look good,” he murmured.

“Excuse me.” Olivia flashed a brief smile at Mr. McMannus and Riesen. Then she, Cole and her grandmother joined the new arrivals. “Paige! I see that you’ve finally arrived.”

Warily, Paige nodded. “Yeah, I know I’m late. Uh . . .” She glanced uneasily at Brion. “We were . . . delayed. By someone in particular.”

Cole nodded at his ex-wife. “Phoebe. What are you doing here?”

Her cheeks turning pink, Phoebe answered, “Um, we . . . I mean, I have something to tell you. Both of you.” She took a deep breath.

“You had a premonition last night,” Cole said, taking the two sisters and Brion by surprise. He chuckled lightly. “Yeah, I had figured as much.”

Brion added in a slight supercilious tone, “She had one of you . . . marrying some woman other than Olivia. Possibly a daemon.”

Paige glared at the Welshman. “Dude! Couldn’t you have been subtle? Or at least allow Phoebe to say something?”

Olivia allowed herself an inward chuckle. She had never heard a fifty-two year-old British male be referred to as ‘Dude’. Taking a deep breath, she asked her uncle, “Excuse me Brion, but how did you get involved in all of this?”

“I was there when Miss Halliwell had her premonition. On the terrace.” Brion’s green eyes glimmered with suspicion and hostility, as he stared at Cole. “And I had asked her about it . . . this morning.” Then he rounded on his niece. “I must say, Olivia that you don’t seem particularly upset that Cole might have some other female acquaintance that he apparently has not revealed.”

An equally chilly Cole retorted, “Perhaps the reason why she isn’t upset is that she knows about Idril.”

A long silent pause followed, before Brion frowned at Olivia. “You know about this woman?”

“Yes, I do,” Olivia replied wearily.

“Why did you not say anything?”

Cole shot back, “Because it was none of your damn business!”

Brion’s face turned red with anger. “Now look here . . .” the Welshman began angrily.

“Look here . . . what?” Cole continued. “I have no intention of telling you a damn thing! Unlike everyone else here, I don’t know you!”

Realizing that some semblance of peace was needed before sparks of any kind began to fly, Olivia spoke up. “Brion, Cole had told me about Idril not long ago. Their relationship wasn’t that serious. At least from Cole’s point of view.” The half-daemon shot a quick glance at her. “And if you must know, Cecile had a similar premonition about Cole and Idril.”

“She did?” Phoebe demanded sharply. “When?”

Olivia replied, “About two days ago.”

Brion angrily rounded on his niece. “I cannot believe that you had remained silent about such an important matter! Miss Halliwell has a premonition of him marrying another woman . . .”

Cole rudely interrupted, “Spoiled the impact of your little revelation, didn’t it?”

Olivia shot an exasperated look at her fiancé. “Cole? Please!” When he looked away, she continued, “Cecile had figured from her vision that . . .”

“Is someone using my name in vain?” Cecile appeared before the others. She glanced at Paige. “Oh! You’re finally here. Good. Now we can do the full rehearsals for both ceremonies.”

Brion turned to the Vodoun priestess. “I understand from Olivia that you had a vision of Cole marrying another woman, a few days ago.”

Cecile paused, as she assumed a wary expression. “Yeah, about two days ago. Um . . . when did you find out?” She glanced at Phoebe, who shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. “You had one?”

“About Cole and this other woman?” Phoebe nodded. “Last night. Mr. Morgan had found out about it.”

“And Mr. Morgan demands to know more about this Idril woman, who will end up marrying Cole!” Brion demanded angrily.

Rolling his eyes, Cole heaved an exasperated sigh. “Idril is a daemon I had once dated back in the late 60s. She belongs to my order, the Thorn Brotherhood. And it wasn’t serious . . . at least from my point of view. I broke up with her and she tried to kill me. We had a brief reunion in the late 90s that only lasted a few days. And I didn’t lay eyes upon her, until the party in the Melora dimension, nearly two weeks ago.” He glared at Brion. “Satisfied?”

“And Olivia knows about this . . .?”

Olivia sharply added, “Yes, Brion! I know. I’ve known about her since the engagement party!”

But Brion refused to brush aside the matter. “Nevertheless, until this Idril matter is dealt with, I believe you should consider postponing the wedding.”

“Are you serious?” Olivia exclaimed in disbelief.

Brion continued, “Yes I am, Olivia. I realize that . . .”

Cole interrupted, his blue eyes radiating cold fire. “I don’t give a damn what you think! And apparently, nor do the others. If you continue to insist upon this ludicrous idea that we need to postpone the wedding, I’ll make sure that you will end up under Idril’s spell and married to her!”

Confusion, anger . . . and a touch of fear illuminated Brion’s green eyes. “What the bloody hell did you mean by that?”

“I mean . . . if you continue being such an annoying shit, I just might transform you into me,” Cole continued in a chilly voice, “and make sure that Idril finds you!”

Olivia allowed herself a quick smile, as her uncle’s face turned sheer white. Cecile surreptiously directed her gaze elsewhere. Paige smirked at Brion, while Phoebe regarded Cole with a shocked expression. Brion blinked momentarily. “I see,” he finally said in a stiff voice.

Cole shot back, “And it’s about damn time!”

Brion’s jaw twitched momentarily, before he gave a stiff nod. “Will you all excuse me?” And he then marched away.

Silence fell between the small group. Then Paige broke the silence, as she turned to her sister. “Now that he’s gone, don’t you think that you should be heading for P3, Pheebs?” The older sister stared at the youngest Charmed Ones with confused eyes. “You’re supposed to help Piper decorate the club for tonight. Remember?”

“Oh!” Phoebe gave her head a slight shake. “Yeah, of course. Um . . . I guess I’ll see you all later.” Her face slightly pink with embarrassment, she turned away from the others and left.

Cecile nudged Paige’s arm. “Let’s get ready for the rehearsal.”

The couple drifted to an isolated spot near the fireplace. Olivia regarded her fiancé with curious eyes. “Would you have done it?” she asked. “Carry out your threat to Brion?”

Cole responded with a direct look. “Let me put it this way, he either would have ended up in Idril’s clutches or I would have incinerated him on the spot.”

Olivia added, “Unless Dad had beaten you to the punch and blow up Brion, instead.”

A satisfied smile curved Cole’s lips. “Now that would have been a pleasant sight.”

With a sigh, Olivia patted Cole’s arm. “Listen, I think you should know that this isn’t about you. Brion’s . . . hostility. It’s about me.” Again, she sighed. “As far as my uncle is concerned, you’re just another example of me fucking up by endangering the family. Richard is another. And I don’t think he still hasn’t forgiven me for Dafydd.”

Cole frowned. “Who?”

“One of my Welsh cousins. He, uh . . . after Richard and Aunt Rhiannon’s deaths, Dafydd had came here to escort Rhiannon’s body back to Wales. We were at the Orchid Hotel, when Dafydd made a disparaging remark about Richard. I, uh . . .” She broke off to ask Cole a question. “Do you remember that time when we had meditated together on your birthday, and tapped into each other’s memories?”

“Sure,” Cole said with a nod.

Olivia hesitated, before she continued, “And do you recall seeing some guy fall out of a hotel window?”

A pause followed before Cole nodded again.

Taking a deep breath, Olivia added, “That was my cousin Dafydd. He, uh . . . had ended up in one of the hotel’s swimming pools, after I had flung him out of the window, using my telekinesis.” She paused. “Only, I didn’t know about the swimming pool.”

“I see.” Cole let out a gust of breath. “I suppose this little incident is one of the reasons why your grandfather didn’t show up for the wedding.”

Olivia’s mouth twisted into a smirk. “What do you think? Most of them are convinced that I might be the next Briana Morgan.”

“I think . . .” Cole hesitated. “I think that Brion and some of the other Morgans need to get their heads out of their collective asses. And out of the past. I can only imagine what your uncle might do, next.”

If she had to be honest with herself, Olivia realized that she would rather not.

————

Ignoring the sounds of activity from downstairs, Brion sat inside his guest bedroom, brooding over his niece and future nephew-in-law. He sighed. It galled him that once again, Olivia had become involved in someone with a dangerous past. Only Cole Turner aka Belthazor happened to be a more dangerous kettle of fish than the late Richard Bannen. And this extremely dangerous and powerful creature is set to marry his niece within twenty-four hours. What the hell had Olivia been thinking?

And now it seems that Cole might end up forming a dangerous union with someone other than Olivia. Both Cecile Dubois and Phoebe Halliwell had visions of the half-daemon marrying some demoness – an ex-girlfriend. Brion did not know whether to accept Cecile’s claims that a spell might be the reason for Cole’s possible marriage to this demoness. At first, he had viewed this theory as a desperate attempt on Miss Dubois’ part to divert any suspicions from the half-daemon. Now, Brion began to suspect that the Voudon priestess might be right. Cole did seem contemptuous of his former lover. But how can he prevent this potentially dangerous union from becoming a reality? Killing Cole seemed out of the question. The half-daemon was too powerful and neither the McNeills or Nimue would forgive him.

Several minutes of pondering led Brion to realize that the solution to the problem would be to kill Cole’s ex-lover. He could examine any books on demonology or the supernatural inside the McNeills’ library for information on Idril. Or perhaps any of the personal Books of Shadow that each member of his sister’s family possess.

Brion left his room and slipped downstairs. Avoiding the activity inside the large drawing-room, he headed straight for the library on the other side of the foyer. After searching the bookshelves for nearly ten minutes, the Welshman came across a book titled PARRISH’S ENCYCLOPEDIA ON THE COVENSORDERS AND SECTS OF THE SUPERNATURAL. Brion could not imagine where the McNeills had discovered this book. He noticed that it had been published in 1975.

It did not take Brion long to come across a chapter titled “The Brotherhood of the Thorn”. He recalled Cole mentioning that Idril belonged to the half-daemon’s former order – the Thorn Brotherhood. The chapter provided detailed information on the daemonic order’s origins and its more infamous deeds. It also listed the Order’s top members. Brion found entries on both Belthazor and Nimue. It also included Cole’s uncle, but mentioned that the former assassin had left the Order for the morally superior Gimle Order back in the 19th century . . . and had been killed by his nephew in the late 1960s. It also struck the male witch odd that the Thorn Brotherhood’s members had not been listed alphabetically. Perusing the chapter even further, Brion discovered that the Order’s members had been listed chronologically, based upon the year of their births. And how this Parrish person managed to discover this seemed like a miracle to the witch.

According to the book, Marbus had been born in 1760, Nimue in 1779 and Belthazor in 1885. Brion examined a few pages, until he came upon an entry on Idril. Born in 1911, Cole’s former lover had come from a race of daemons that originated in the Kenotês Dimension. Recruited into the Thorn Brotherhood by its leader in 1949, Idril’s specialty became acquiring the souls of those involved in the entertainment business. As a high-level daemon in the Thorn Order, it would take a blood-based potion, or very powerful magic practitioner to vanquish Idril. Or one could also consider using a potion based upon a resin from trees and shrubs called amber. Apparently, daemons from the Kenotês Dimension seemed to be susceptible to amber – no matter how powerful they happen to be.

Brion paused. Hmmm. Amber. An excellent possibility. It should not hard for him to find any. Once he acquired the amber resin, all he had to do was make the potion, find Idril and use it against her. Finding Idril, he realized, might prove to be difficult. Brion concluded that he would have to use another spell to summon the daemon. And he would have to do it as soon as possible.

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT

“The Helmsman’s Log: 2371” – 2/2

Here is the sequel to the personal logs of Tom Paris, set around Voyager’s first year in the Delta Quadrant:

“THE HELMSMAN’S LOG – 2371”

Part II

STARDATE 48671.28 – Just came back from a date with Megan
Delaney. Alone, this time. We had an intimate little dinner
at a romantic restaurant on Gerdi Prime, inside Holodeck Two.
After supper, we enjoyed a walk along the beach, followed by a
nightcap inside my quarters.

Ah, Megan! Such a nice, calm person, in compare to her sister,
Jenny. There were times when she almost reminds me of . . .
Shit! What the hell is wrong with me? I just enjoyed a
pleasant night with a beautiful and intelligent woman and all I
can think about is our cook’s girlfriend. Kes. God, will I
ever stop thinking about her? Or better yet, will she ever
dump Neelix? End personal log.

STARDATE 48695.34 – I nearly lost Harry, today. While enjoying
his Beowulf holonovel, Harry was captured by a photonic being
that had been accidentally brought aboard the ship. Apparently,
while we were gathering energy from a photostar. The being took
refuge inside Harry’s Beowulf program and later captured him.
It also captured Tuvok and Chakotay, after they had been sent to
investigate Harry’s disappearance. In the end, the Captain
sent the Doctor to rescue our missing officers. Thankfully,
the Doc succeeded and received a special commendation for his
troubles. Now, if only the Captain could order Torres to do
something about his personality subroutines. End personal log.

STARDATE 48733.51 – Voyager had a strange encounter with
something out of one of those old “B” movies that I usually
enjoy. While investigating some dark nebula, Tuvok and
Chakotay’s shuttle was attacked. Tuvok only sustained minor
injuries, while the good Commander ended up brain dead. His
bio-neural energy had been removed from him.

It turned out worse than we thought. Some trianic energy being
had possessed Tuvok, in an attempt to convince the Captain to
investigate this dark nebula matter. The being belonged to a
race called the Komar, who wanted the crew’s bio-neural energy
as substance for his people. Meanwhile, another entity began
invading the minds of other crewmen – including mine – in an
attempt to prevent Voyager from entering that nebula. This
second entity turned out to be Chakotay’s bio-neural energy,
displaced by the Komar’s attack. Just great! My brain nearly
became food for a bunch of non-corporeal beings and was twice
possessed by the Great Spirit Chief, himself. Oh well, at
least we managed to escape the nebula and the Komar. End
personal log.

STARDATE 48736.53 – This afternoon, Neelix had decided to hold
a little celebration in honor of Chakotay’s recovery and our
near escape from the Komar. Jesus, this guy would just about
hold a party for anything. Not that I mind. The more parties,
the better. I suspect that this was Neelix’s way of
celebrating Kes’s recovery from an attack by the
Komar-possessed Tuvok. Hmmm. Certainly not a bad reason to
celebrate, in my book.

Captain Janeway and the Maquis seemed to be the only ones
really celebrating. I guess they need something to celebrate
after Seska’s humiliating revelation. Well, most of the Maquis
seemed happy. I noticed B’Elanna Torres, sitting by herself
and shooting jealous looks at the very chummy Captain Janeway
and Chakotay. My God! Is that little infatuation of hers,
still going on? Doesn’t she realize that Chakotay is not her
type? Too bad Harry is still mooning over his lost love,
Libby. Quite frankly, he would make a better choice for
Torres. Of course, I don’t exactly relish sharing Harry’s time
with her. (Beep, beep) That must be Megan. I forgot that she
was coming by for drinks, tonight. End personal log.

STARDATE 48766.73 – Not much happened today. Voyager
investigated a Class J nebula – one of many we have encountered
since our arrival in the Delta Quadrant. The only interesting
thing that happened was a minor conversation with Kes in the
Mess Hall. We discussed some our favorite foods. One of hers
happens to be something called Lokar beans. I told her about
tomato soup (something those damn replicators still haven’t got
right) and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. My ultimate
comfort food. By then, even Neelix got into the conversation.
I don’t know if this was his way of keeping an eye on Kes and
me, or merely just genuine interest. At least we managed to
exchange a few words without any hostility or suspicion from
him. End personal log.

STARDATE 48777.42 – Another dull day in the Delta Quadrant. I
guess every day can’t be an exciting encounter with a new
species. Voyager stumbled into the Avery system. It seemed to
consist of several Class M planets. The Captain, in one of her
bouts of “science exploration”, decided she wanted an
investigation of magnacite formations on some of the planets.

I was assigned to explore the planet, Avery III with Pete Durst
and B’Elanna Torres. Voyager should rendezvous with us in two
days. I guess it won’t be that bad. Pete’s okay. He was one
of the few crewmen who had been friendly toward me from the
beginning. And as for Torres – well, we have managed to strike
up a cordial relationship in the last five or six weeks. Hell,
it’s a lot better than spending two days with Chakotay or
Neelix. End personal log.

STARDATE 48790.33 – Oh God! I simply don’t know where to begin!
I feel as if I had taken part in some bizarre horror vid from
the 20th century. Sigh! Might as well get it over with.

While investigating magnacite formations on Avery III with
Durst and Torres, we were captured by Vidiians. That’s right.
The same species who had stolen Neelix’s lungs, three months
ago. These Vidiians didn’t simply steal our organs. They
forced Pete and myself to become part of their slave labor. I
had no idea what happened to B’Elanna. Until the following
day. It seemed some Vidiian doctor named Sulan had extracted
her Klingon DNA, leaving her completely Human. How gruesome!

I still remember the shock of seeing B’Elanna completely Human
for the first time. Oddly enough, I was too surprised by the
change to notice her looks. I must admit that she looked
beautiful. But then, I’ve always thought she made a beautiful
Klingon/Human hybrid. Not only had her looks changed, but her
personality, as well. Gone was the tough and temperamental
woman and in her place, an emotional and sad woman, driven by
fear. I guess the trauma of her situation drove her to be a
little more open about her past. She told me about her
childhood on Kessik IV and how she blamed her Klingon side for
driving her father away. She has not seen him in nearly twenty
years. If that’s true, the man is an idiot. (Pauses) I think
I’m getting a little personal, here. Anyway, I tried to
comfort her with a little revelation of my own. I told her
about the haircuts Dad used to enforce upon me, at the
beginning of every summer. I don’t think it worked. Then
again . . . she did smile a little.

Then everything went from bad to worse. The Vidiian guards
took Pete Durst away. That was the last time I saw him. I
tried to prevent the guards from taking him, but they didn’t
want me. Can’t blame them, I guess. Who would? I later
found out that they didn’t want Pete to send a message to
Voyager. Instead, that monster, Dr. Sulan had Pete’s face
grafted upon his. The guards came back for B’Elanna, leaving
me feel even more useless. God only know how long I would have
remained part of the slave labor force, if Chakotay hadn’t
shown up, disguised as a Vidiian. Too bad we couldn’t take
the Talaxian with us, but the guards were even reluctant to let
me go. We found two B’Elannas being confronted by Dr. Sulan,
with Pete’s face plastered to his skin. I don’t know what
shocked me more – seeing both a Klingon and a Human B’Elanna at
the same time, Dr. Sulan, or witnessing Klingon B’Elanna’s
death after she saved her counterpart’s life. Too bad she
died. I would have liked to have known her. End personal log.

STARDATE 48791.56 – I still can’t help thinking about that Away
mission on Avery III. To me, it’s a reminder of my failure as
a Starfleet officer. I can’t help but wonder what I could have
done to avoid capture or save Pete. I had a dream about it,
several hours ago. At one point, Human B’Elanna’s face
transformed into the dying Klingon B’Elanna’s, and eventually
into Dr. Sulan, with Pete’s face. I woke up in a sweat, after
that. Unable to sleep, I decided to head for Sick Bay to pay
B’Elanna a visit. She still looked Human. Unfortunately,
Chakotay was also there. And since they seemed to be sharing
a tender moment, I didn’t want to interrupt. Oh well. Perhaps
I can read myself to sleep. End personal log.

STARDATE 48799.76 – I finally spoke with B’Elanna. She came to
my table, while I was eating a late dinner in the Mess Hall,
last night. We were the only ones there. She looked normal.
Her Klingon traits had returned, ridges and all. B’Elanna
told me what happened to her on Avery III. Apparently, Dr.
Sulan had used a genetron to remove her Klingon DNA, creating
two B’Elannas in the process – one Klingon and one Human. He
fell in love with the Klingon Human and used Pete’s face to woo
her. He must have been a sick man. Sulan also needed a
full-blooded Klingon to test his theory that Klingon physiology
was resistant to their phage. As it turned out, he was right.

B’Elanna told me that after her Klingon couterpart’s death, she
had assumed she would remain completely Human. I guess the Doc
ruined that dream when he informed her that he needed to
restore her original genetic structure, using Klingon
B’Elanna’s DNA. She seemed disappointed that she would never
be completely Human. I’m not. Although I found both her Human
and Klingon selves to be beautiful, she seems more interesting
as a hybrid. I even told her so. My little remark managed to
produce a small smile, but I could tell that she didn’t draw
much comfort from it. I hope that one day, she will learn to
appreciate her true self. She can really be fascinating. Now,
if only I can learn to do the same about myself. Hmmm, fat
chance of that ever happening.

Anyway, B’Elanna thanked me for supporting her during our
captivity. We also discussed Pete Durst, whose face is now
grafted upon that mad bastard’s own face. When I asked if she
would like to accompany me to Sandrine’s, she declined.
B’Elanna told me that she needed more rest. Oh well. At
least we’ve finally buried the hatchet between us and can
finally become good friends. I guess that’s one thing I can be
grateful about Avery III. End personal log.

STARDATE 48804.91 – God, I’m exhausted! Not a surprise, since
I had my sleep interrupted by a call from the Bridge. Crewman
Henley failed to show up for Gamma shift. Again. This is the
third time in two months. I had to give her a personal
reprimand the last two times. Last night, I personally roused
Henley from bed and ordered her to report to the Bridge. Or
consider herself on report. After a fifteen minute debate,
which ended with me threatening her with the Brig, she
complied. I really don’t know what to do with her. I can’t
threaten her with the Brig, forever. I also realize that she
resents being stuck on a Starfleet vessel, thousands of light
years away from home. But one day, she will have to realize
that she has very little options. End personal log.

STARDATE 48837.63 – Voyager stopped at an M-class called
Napinne. Pleasant little place. And the inhabitants were also
pleasant. Harry, B’Elanna and myself visited the surface for a
few hours, while the Captain, Neelix and Chakotay set about
obtaining food supplies. With the fruits and vegetables now
growing in the Hydropondics Bay, hopefully Voyager won’t be so
dependent upon food supplies from other planets, stations and
ships in the near future. End personal log.

STARDATE 48840.42 – Once more, Crewman Henley failed to appear
for her duty shift. This time, I put her on report. Not long
after I finished Alpha shift today, Chakotay requested my
presence in his office. To discuss Henley, unsurprisingly.
He wanted me to reconsider my decision to put Henley on report.
Give her a chance to fit in with the crew. Then he bored me
with some speech about Starfleet officers learning how to lead
subordinates. Something that already bored me to tears during
Command school. The big hypocrite! I can’t believe this is the
same man who had gave me nothing but grief since we first laid eyes
upon each other. Hell, I’ve been giving Henley a chance for
six months! At least until now. Like it or not, both she and
Chakotay were going to have to live with that reprimand on her
record. Being an ex-Maquis, I doubt that Henley even cared.
End personal log.

STARDATE 48845.9 – After Tuvok’s encounter with Ken Dalby, the
Captain has ordered Henley, Dalby and a few others to undergo
basic Starfleet training, under Tuvok. Poor bastards!
Meanwhile, various ship malfunctions have plagued the crew,
since leaving Napinne. Something to do with the bio-gel
packs. End personal log.

STARDATE 48854.3 – Life aboard Voyager has returned to normal,
thank goodness. No more malfunctions for the time being. The
Captain ordered the ship’s systems to overheat, in order to
kill the virus that had infected the gel packs. My God, the
Bridge almost felt like a furnace! For a while, I wondered if
I would ever be able to breathe again. All thanks to that damn
cheese Neelix had purchased during our stay on Napinne.

Henley and the others are still undergoing their field
training. Must be working, since Henley has reported for duty
without any problems. She also requested additional training
in shuttle maneuvers in the holodeck. We’ll probably never be
friends, but thank goodness I no longer have a troublemaker on
my hands. End personal log.

STARDATE 48892.4 – Harry told me an unusual tale. The Doctor’s
programming and the holodeck systems had malfunctioned, thanks
to the kino-plastic radiation from a anomaly that Voyager came
across. While stuck in one of the holodecks for six hours, the
Doctor believed he was a real person named Lewis Zimmerman and
that Voyager and the crew were all a holographic simulation.
He even thought Kes was his wife. Sigh! I knew it. I’ve
always suspected that the Doc had eyes for our favorite
Ocampan. And this only proves it. Kes is quickly becoming
quite the little heartbreaker on this ship. She has already
captured mine. End personal log.

STARDATE 48921.4 – This has certainly been a day to
remember! I’ve just spent hours at the Helm, dodging a swarm
of . . . hell, I don’t what they were! Some kind of life forms
that resembled a . . . Okay, they resembled human sperm.
There! I said it. I only hope that Starfleet Command never get
a hold of this log. Although the creatures resembled sperm, they
had mistaken Voyager as some kind of sexual mate. Even worse, they
began draining energy from the ship’s systems, in their attempt
to procreate. More problems appeared when a large creature
appeared also began to regard Voyager as a mate. Jeez! I
didn’t realize the ship looked that desirable! Both Torres and
Tuvok wanted to destroy the creature, but Chakoay suggested
that Voyager mimic the smaller ones, giving the impression to
the large creature that we have no interest in procreation with
space born creatures. Ha! Sex in the Delta Quadrant!

Speaking of sex, the Captain made a joke to the Commander about
referring to expertise whenever the subject of procreation
appears. It wasn’t the joke that caught my attention, but the
way she said. I do believe our captain was flirting. The look
on B’Elanna’s face was certainly memorable. She seemed
completely shocked. When I brought up the topic in the Mess
Hall, she gave me a death glare that rivaled the mighty Janeway
herself. I see that she still has that crush on Chakotay.
God, when will it ever end?

Then again, who am I to complain? I still have feelings for
Kes. In my case, I can say that it’s more than a crush.
Before our encounter with the swarm, I helped her gather
Oblissian cabbages from the Hydropondics Bay. On our way to
the turbolift, we encountered Chakotay, along with Ensigns
Bennett and Gallagher. It seems the good Commander caught
them “fraternizing” in the turbolift. Hmm, perhaps the
Captain was right about him being the right man to solicit advice
about procreation. End personal log.

STARDATE 48925.38 – Plenty of surprises awaited me, when I
found Kes in the Hydropondics Bay, following my shift. First
surprise – Ensign Sam Wildman from the Science Division is
pregnant. It seems that Ensign Wildman, who happened to be a
very nice lady, had left behind a Ktarian husband on Deep Space
Nine. Considering how flat her stomach looked, my first guess
was that she sought solace in the arms of a crewman, here on
board Voyager. After all, Voyager has been in the Delta
Quadrant for over seven months, now. But according to Kes, the
embroyo is definitely half-Ktarian. Perhaps Ktarians have
a longer gestation period.

The other surprise? Kes informed me that the electrophoretic
activity from the swarm, yesterday, had sped up her elogium.
Namely, the sexual maturation for Ocampan females. They
usually go through this phase between the ages of four and
five. And since this elogium would have been Kes’ only shot
at conception, she asked Neelix to mate with her.

Neelix and Kes as parents. Good grief! Now there’s an image that
makes me shudder! At first, Neelix felt reluctant. Hell, if I
had known, I would have offered Kes my services. However,
Neelix eventually agreed to mate with her, but she changed her
mind, after realizing that she was not ready for parenthood.
Kes’ elogium ended when Voyager left the swarm behind. I
thought she had lost her chance at motherhood and was prepared
to console her. But Kes assured me that her elogium was false
and the real phase will probably return after her fourth
birthday. I only hope that she and Neelix are no longer a twosome
by then. I realize it’s a rotten thing to say, but I can’t
help feeling they’re wrong for each other. End personal log.

STARDATE 48946 – God, I must really be pathetic! While
playing pool with Harry and B’Elanna in Sandrine’s, last night,
I spotted Kes and Neelix cuddling around a corner table, happy
as pie. Depressing sight. In typical Tom fashion, I decided
to hide my disappointment by flirting with nearly every female
in sight. Except with B’Elanna, of course. One doesn’t
flirt with a close friend. I guess the old Paris charm must
have worked. Later that night, I ended up in bed with Yoshi
Kyoto. After I “subtly” sneaked out of bed this morning,
Yoshi caught me. She assured me that she wasn’t looking for a
permanent relationship. I’m relieved . . . but now, I also
feel like a complete shit. End personal log.

STARDATE 48964.07 – Today was Kes’ birthday. Sigh! Kes’
birthday. Huh. All I can say is that it certainly didn’t turn
out the way I had expected. Not long after we surprised her
with a party inside Sandrine’s, Voyager encountered a
distortion ring that transformed the ship into a labyrinth.
First, the Captain, Chakotay and I got lost, while searching
for the Bridge. We ended back inside Holodeck One. Later,
Torres and I used the turbolift to reach Engineering. To my
surprise, we were fortunate. Thanks to the distortion ship,
B’Elanna almost walked in on Crewman Nozawa inside his
quarters, dressed only in his skivvies. Let’s just say it the
first time I ever saw a Klingon woman blush. A sight, I
suspect, I’ll never see again.

The distortion ring proved to be the third or fourth
non-corporeal life form we’ve encountered since our arrival in
the Delta Quadrant. And all it wanted to do was greet us and
exchange information. Hell of a way to say hello. Both
B’Elanna and Chakotay nearly came to blows with Tuvok on how to
stop the distortion ring. In the end, Tuvok had the best
suggestion. Do nothing.

Kes’ birthday party turned out to be a disappointment. I gave
her a gold filigree locket as a present. She seemed stunned by
it – much to my delight. That delight didn’t last. After our
encounter with the distortion ring, the party eventually
resumed. Kes, who had been worried by Neelix’s disappearance,
declared that she wanted a photo of him, inside her locket.
Great! Just great! A photo of Neelix’s mug will be inside
the locket I gave her. Even worse, I had to stand there on the
Bridge and hold Kes’ birthday cake, while she and Neelix locked
lips.

Sigh! I’m beginning to think that my feelings for Kes are just
as hopeless as B’Elanna’s feelings toward Chakotay. But I
can’t help it. All I can do is hope that she realizes one day
that Neelix is not the man for her. End personal log.

STARDATE 48972.4 – Voyager came across an old 1936 Chevy truck,
here in the Delta Quadrant! Being a connoisseur of anything
20th century Earth, my heart nearly leapt with excitement at
the sight of that old vehicle. I even got a chance to
demonstrate how the truck’s engine worked, once Harry tractor
it to Voyager. I don’t think he, the Captain and the others
appreciated the noise or the carbon monoxide.

The truck also emitted an old S-O-S signal that led us to an
L-Class planet not far away. The trinimbic interference in the
planet’s upper atmosphere made the shuttles and the
transporters, ineffective. So, the Captain ordered me to land
Voyager on the planet’s surface. All I can say that it was
one of the most thrilling moments in my life. And I did it
without a hitch.

The Captain, Harry and members of the Away team not only found
a Lockheed Electra aircraft (which I would have loved to get my
hands on), but several Humans in cryostasis. Kes and I later
joined the Captain and Harry for a closer inspection. Would
you believe it? Among the Humans were the legendary pilot,
Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. It seemed she,
Noonan and the other Humans had been abducted from Earth by
aliens over 400 years ago, during the late 1930s. Voyager has
discovered the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance. If only
the Alpha Quadrant knew. Noonan proved to be a paranoid who
managed to hold us hostage. The Captain eventually convinced
him and Miss Earhart that we meant them no harm. Also, a group
of aliens had fired upon Tuvok, Chakotay and another Away team.
Harry told me that after the Captain disarmed them, she
discovered that they were also Humans. Boy! Things really
seemed to be heating up! End personal log.

STARDATE 48974.55 – I did it. I decided to remain aboard
Voyager and continue the journey to the Alpha Quadrant. I’m
probably the only crewman, who has a good reason to remain on
New Earth. Well, it’s not really called New Earth, but that’s
what most of the crew has decided to name the planet.

It seemed the planet’s original inhabitants, a race called the
Briori, were the ones responsible for abducting Amelia Earhart,
Noonan and 289 other Humans from Earth. They brought the
Humans to this planet to serve as slave labor. However, the
slaves revolted, killed the Briori and established a new
civilization. Hence, New Earth. I even managed to visit one
of the cities. It really surprised me on how it closely
resembled San Francisco. Maybe that was the reason I had decided
not to remain behind. It simply reminded me too much of Earth.
Too much of the bad times I had endured. But I must admit that
Kes’ decision to remain aboard Voyager played a part in my
decision. Along with the feeling that I could not abandon the
Captain. Not after all she has done for me.

I also got a chance to show Miss Earhart, Voyager’s helm. I
don’t know about her, but I got a big thrill. Miss Earhart,
Mr. Noonan and the other “37s” (the original ones abducted),
decided to remain on New Earth. I wish them all the luck in
the world. Meanwhile, not one member of the crew decided to
remain behind. Hmmm. I thought at least the Maquis crewmen
would consider. I guess not. End personal log.

STARDATE 48999.17 – New Year’s Eve. Huh. I can’t remember the
last time I celebrated the New Year. Oh yeah, it happened two
years ago and I was at this casino on Perdon Gel. With that .
. . Gods, what was her name? Damn! I don’t even remember.

Anyway, the Captain gave us permission to celebrate the arrival
of 2372 at Sandrine’s. Neelix has even volunteered to create a
few delicacies to entertain the crew. In defense of our
stomachs, the Conn Division pooled their replicator rations to
provide refreshments not cooked by Neelix. I’m sure the crew
will thank us. Meanwhile, I have to shower and change for the
party. I’m suppose to take Marie Kaplan and I’m already
running late. If I don’t return until tomorrow, Happy New
Year! End personal log.

THE END

“The Helmsman’s Logs: 2371” – 1/2

I had recently read J.A. Toner’s marvelous
“Log Entries”, a collection of B’Elanna Torres’ personal logs
from Season 1 to mid-Season 5. For a while, I had hoped she
would write a similar story from Tom Paris’ viewpoint, but, so
far, it has not happened. In the end, I decided to take on
that task myself. This story is a collection of Tom’s logs
during Voyager’s years in the Delta Quadrant.

Also, Season 2 episodes like “Projection”, “Twisted”, “Elogium”
and “The 37s” were originally supposed to air in Season 1,
after “Learning Curve”. Therefore, the incidents featured in
those episodes will be covered in Part One.

———-

“THE HELMSMAN’S LOGS – 2371”
RATING: [PG-13]
SUMMARY: The first in a collection of Tom Paris’ personal logs
during Voyager’s seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Part 1
focuses upon the ship’s first year, 2371.
FEEDBACK: lee66132000@yahoo.com. I would appreciate constructive
feedback. Thank you.
DISCLAIMER: Tom Paris and all other characters related to Star
Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom, Rick Berman, the
Roddenberry family and other Trek producers.

PART I – 2371

STARDATE 48316.7 – I’m back on a Starfleet vessel. I can’t
believe it! If only Dad could see me now. I can imagine how
he would feel. Then again . . . maybe not. I never understood Owen
Paris. Nor has he ever understood me. I have met the person
whom Dad could relate to. And probably did. Captain Kathryn
Janeway of the Federation starship, VOYAGER.

God, I’m regressing. I better start from the beginning. It
all began two days ago. I was serving my eighteen month
sentence at the Federation Penal Settlement in New Zealand –
otherwise known as Club Fed. While repairing a power generator, when a
throaty voice called out my name. I looked up and there stood
this red-haired goddess in a Starfleet uniform. Maybe goddess
isn’t the right word. The good Captain is what one would
describe as diminutive in height. But despite that, she did
have presence.

To make a long story short, Captain Janeway asked me to help
search for a particular Maquis ship that had disappeared in the
Badlands. It seemed her security chief had joined the crew –
as a Starfleet spy. And guess who commanded this particular
crew? My old ‘buddy’, Chakotay. I can imagine that bastard’s
reaction when learns that I helped Starfleet hunt down his
precious ship. Did I say when? That’s right. Despite the
fact that helping Janeway locate her missing officer seemed
like a hopeless task, I decided to accept her offer. And why
not? I certainly have no loyalty toward Chakotay and his
bunch. Hell, they made my life miserable during my few weeks
in the Maquis. And Janeway has offered to add a word or two during
my next parole review. Who could resist that?

So, here I am, aboard VOYAGER. I must say that she seemed like
one hell of a ship. God, I would give my right leg to sit at
the helm. But it would never happen. Caldik Prime and my stint
in the Maquis made sure of that.

Speaking of Caldik Prime, it seems to have followed me here to
Voyager. The ship’s doctor brought it up the moment I
introduced myself to him. He had been the chief medical
officer at the base on Caldik Prime, at the time. The First
Officer didn’t say a word. At least not with Janeway looking
on. But that sneer on his face and his hesitation to shake my
hand said a thousand words.

If it weren’t for Harry, this damn trip would have been a bust.
Ensign Harry Kim. They don’t make Starfleet ensigns greener
than him. I had to save him from a Ferengi barkeep on Deep
Space Nine, bent on cheating him out of a few latinum. A few
years on a Starfleet vessel should rid him of that naivety.
And I’m sure that once Cavit or Dr. Fitzgerald tell him about
the real Tom Paris, he’ll wise up to me. Damn! Harry is one
of the few people on this ship I really like. Just as well.
I won’t be around very long. End personal log.

STARDATE 48324.61 – A lot has happened in the past few days.
Hell, I don’t know where to begin. VOYAGER got flung 70,000
light years into the Delta Quadrant by some entity on an array
station. This little journey cost the ship several key
officers – including Cavit, Fitzgerald, the chief engineer and
the lovely Lieutenant Stadi. What a shame about Stadi. I
rather liked her.

The crew was beamed to the array, disguised as some Midwestern
farm. Some holographic beauty punched me. We also found the
Maquis crew in a state of unconsciousness. And we ended up in
the same position for three days, while the entity poked and
prodded us. Even worse, I had a ‘pleasant’ little reunion
with Chakotay on the Bridge. The poor bastard was surprised to
learn that his Vulcan weapons man turned out to be a Starfleet
spy. And embarrassed when Janeway prevented him from beating
the tar out of me. I would have enjoyed his embarrassment
even further, if it wasn’t for Harry’s disappearance.

It seems that the being on the array had failed to return a
Maquis engineer and poor Harry to their respective ships.
Which has made me worried. About Harry, I mean. He was the
first person I could truly call a friend. Even after Cavit and
Fitzgerald told him about the three people I killed at Caldik
Prime, and how I got cashiered, he still wanted to remain my
friend. What did he say? “I prefer to choose my own
friends.”
 What a friend! And now, he’s missing. I only
hope that Captain Janeway can get him back before something
happens to him. End personal log.

STARDATE 48327.97 – It looks as if VOYAGER is stranded in the
Delta Quadrant for good. I don’t mind. Ever since the ship
got lost, life has . . . well, it has turned out for the
better.

I don’t have to return to prison. We found Harry, along with
the Maquis engineer, on some planet a few light years away from
the array. I saved Chakotay’s butt in the Ocampan tunnels and
earned myself a bodyguard. I’ll need one now that the Maquis
has joined the crew, after Chakotay destroyed their ship during
a battle with a warlike race called the Kazon. The crew has
also acquired a couple of hitchhikers – a funny-looking joker
named Neelix. He’s a Talaxian. Our other hitchhiker is an
Ocampan woman named Kes, whom we had saved from the Kazon.
She’s very beautiful.

Best of all, Captain Janeway has given me a field commission,
the rank of lieutenant junior grade . . . along with the Conn Division.
Which means that I am now VOYAGER’s chief pilot. Isn’t life
grand? I only hope that I can make up to Janeway for all she
has done for me. End personal log.

STARDATE 48339.17 – Life aboard VOYAGER isn’t bad. Well . . .
not that bad. I have to keep an eye out for the Maquis
crewmen. Just in case they decide to use me as a punching bag
for helping Janeway track them to the Badlands. I suspect that
a good number of the Starfleeters might want to do the same.

There is the Conn Division. On one hand, being head of the
division entitles me the position of chief pilot. So far, none
of them have been openly hostile – except for Henley, the lone
Maquis. And yet, they seemed reluctant to seriously pay
attention to the training I have devised for the division.
I’m trying to be thrilled about my new position as VOYAGER’s
chief helmsman, but it’s damn difficult to command a group of
people who consider me a criminal that deserves to spend the
next 70 years in the brig. How do you lead people like that?

It finally came to a head when I tried to give them a pep talk
about learning new piloting maneuvers. “We’re Starfleet
pilots,” Jon Hamilton had said. “Which means that we were
trained at the Academy, just like you. At least none of us had
killed anyone in a shuttle crash. And later lied about it.

For that remark, I assigned Hamilton to the Beta shift for the
next two weeks. Hey, I never claimed to be a saint. Vindictive,
yes, but not a saint. After my little disciplinary action
with Hamilton, the other pilots have ceased questioning my
piloting skills.

Chakotay certainly doesn’t make life easy. Now that he is
Voyager’s First Officer, he seems more interested in acting as
my tormentor, instead of bodyguard. If I’m two or three
minutes late on the Bridge, he doesn’t hesitate to point it out
in front of everyone. Even worse, I’ve been summoned to his office on several occasions regarding tardiness and Starfleet
procedures. Mind you, all of this is coming from a man who once
dropped out of Starfleet to join a terrorist group.

At least I have Harry’s friendship. I just don’t know how long that will last. Especially, since he has become friends with that
half-Klingon he was trapped on the Ocampan homeworld with. Her
name is B’Elanna Torres and she works in Engineering. I never
met her during my stint in the Maquis. I had only been with
Chakotay’s cell for a few weeks before my capture, and she was
on a top-secret mission at the time. I must admit that I find
her very beautiful, although somewhat temperamental. She has
made it clear that like her fellow Maquis, she dislikes me.
Not that I care. I’m not exactly fond of her. I don’t mind
her bad temper, but I find her self-righteousness a little hard
to take. A taint she had obviously picked up from Chakotay,
while they were both in the Maquis. I only hope that she
doesn’t come between Harry and me. End personal log.

STARDATE 48443.01 – Nothing much happened recently. VOYAGER
got trapped into an event horizon. Which brought on the sticky
subject of temporal mechanics. God, I hate dealing with that!
It was one of my worst subjects in the Academy. One good
thing came out of it. The pilots under me wanted to know how I
flew VOYAGER out of that horizon. Even Hamilton. To be
honest, I did nothing spectacular. Especially since Janeway
ordered me to use the ship like a battering ram for our escape.

The event horizon brought about another change. Joe Carey is
no longer VOYAGER’s Chief Engineer. B’Elanna Torres, Harry’s
half-Klingon friend, has become the new chief. Despite
breaking Carey’s nose in three different places. If that’s how
one can become chief engineer, how does one become the first
officer? Or the captain? Chakotay must be thrilled that his
little protégée has joined the senior staff.

One last little tidbit that hasn’t exactly made my day.
Because of a course in biochemistry I took at Starfeet, I am
now the new medical assistant and have to work with that
holographic egomaniac in Sick Bay. Sometimes I think the gods
must hate me. End personal log.

STARDATE 48533.7 – God, it’s been one hell of a day! VOYAGER
came across a new race called the Vidiians, while searching for
a supply of dilithium.

These Vidiians are a race, who have been inflicted by some
deadly virus called the phage, for the past millinium or two.
To keep their race alive, the Vidiians have engaged in
stealing organs from other humanoids. Ugh! While on an Away
mission with Harry and Chakotay, Neelix had his lungs stolen by
two Vidiians.

If one ever thought that doctors made lousy patients, try
dealing with an annoying Talaxian. I would have removed those
holographic lungs the Doc had created for Neelix, just for a
little peace and quiet, if it weren’t for Kes. She seemed very
concerned about Neelix and I had to assure her that he would
make it through this crisis. I just don’t get it! What does
Kes see in a guy like Neelix, anyway? Gratitude for saving her
from the Kazon? Fortunately, VOYAGER managed to capture the
two Vidiians and one of them turned out to be a physician. He
found a way to alter a donated lung to match Neelix’s
physiology. Guess who turned out to be the donator? That’s
right, Kes. Sigh!

Speaking of doctors, our own chief medical officer is turning
out to be a real pain in the ass. I could understand the
little lecture about holographic matter and so forth. But did
the bastard have to slap my face to prove his point? If you
ask me, the man is a sadist. Perhaps I can find a way to change
his personality subroutines. I’ve always been pretty good at
holoprogramming. There is one thing to be thankful. Kes has
just become the new medical assistant. Which means I won’t
have to hang around Sickbay – unless necessary.

Oh, I forgot. Neelix has converted the Captain’s private
dining room into the galley. And now, VOYAGER has a genuine
mess hall. Now that we have a cook, the crew can save
replicator energy. I don’t know about the rest of them, but I
think I’ll stick with replicated food. End personal log.

STARDATE 48549.92 – How can I put this in a nutshell? VOYAGER
explored a nebula, still searching for a supply of dilithium.
The nebula turned out to be a living organism that we damaged
during our little exploration trip. With a little fancy flying
from me, along with the Doctor and Torres’ expertise, we
managed to repair the damage to the nebu . . . uh, the life
form. Of course, all of this resulted in VOYAGER being
drained another 20% of energy.

Anything else? Oh yes. Neelix decided to entertain the Bridge
crew with a few selections of Talaxian hors d’erves. Which I
declined – naturally. I also discovered that Harry remembers
being inside his mother’s womb. What a shame there isn’t a
ship’s counselor on board. I think Harry could really use
one.

I also introduced Harry to my new holoprogram – a recreation of
one of my favorite spots in the universe, Sandrine’s. It’s a
tavern I used to frequent, when I spent my second year in the
Academy at a Starfleet base in Marsailles, France. This
prompted Harry to remark that I miss Earth. Hell, if Earth
only consisted of Sandrine’s, I would. By the way, I believe
that Sandrine, herself, has developed a little interest in my
good buddy.

After our encounter with the nebula/life form, the rest of the
crew decided to try out my program. Including the Captain, who
turned out to be quite the pool hustler. If only Starfleet
knew. The only person who seems to dislike Sandrine’s was
Lieutenant Torres. One of my characters, Gaunt Gary, tried to
proposition her. She, in turn, called us both pigs. You know,
I’m beginning to suspect that Torres really lacks a sense of
humor. If the Captain could tolerate a few innuendos with good
grace, why couldn’t she? End personal log.

STARDATE 48558.22 – Ran into Kes in the Mess Hall, this
evening. Since Neelix was busy preparing dinner for the crew,
I decided to offer her a little company. I learned a lot about
Kes. About her parents, her childhood on the Ocampan
homeworld, and her captivity by the Kazons. We spent so much
time talking about her that we barely touched on my background.
Which suited me just fine. Besides, with a certain Talaxian
cook giving us the evil eye every now and then, we decided to
end our little conversation. What the hell is wrong with
Neelix, anyway? Did he honestly think I would steal Kes from
him? Or ravage her? Hell, the worst anyone could accuse me of
is introducing Kes to my favorite drink – spinach juice, with a
touch of pear. End personal log.

STARDATE 48579.93 – We came so close to returning to the Alpha
Quadrant. Too close, if you ask me. Thank goodness for bad
luck.

Harry had discovered a wormhole that might lead back home.
Although I joked about the Federation (science institute)
naming the wormhole after him, inside I was filled with dread.
Home? Who wanted to go there? As far as I’m concerned,
VOYAGER is home. In the end, we discovered that the wormhole
was too small for the ship to travel through. The Captain
ordered Lieutenant Tuvok to launch a probe through the
wormhole, anyway. I suspect that she had hoped to make contact
with Starfleet. The probe got stuck in some eddy, thanks to
some phase variance. But we managed to eventually make
contact with a Romulan. Fortunately, this Romulan refused to
talk and cut off communication. But that didn’t deter my good
buddy, Harry. While the rest of us slept, he decided to
continue attempts to re-establish contact with the Romulan.
Exactly what does he hope to accomplish? End personal log.

STARDATE 48582.31 – The wormhole turned out to be a bust and
boy, I am relieved! Hell, a return to the Alpha Quadrant would
mean only one thing for me – a reunion with my fellow convicts
at the Federation Penal Settlement in New Zealand. And that’s
a fate I would like to avoid, thank you very much.

For a while, it seemed that the Alpha Quadrant awaited us. Not
only did Captain Janeway managed to re-establish contact with
the Romulan, Torres found a way to transport both objects and
people through the wormhole. Our Romulan contact, a scientist
on a top secret science vessel, became the first humanoid to be
transported through a wormhole, from one quadrant to another.

Then fortune finally stepped in when Tuvok discovered that the
phase variance caused us so much trouble, because the wormhole
not only lead to the Alpha Quadrant, but also twenty years in
the past. Also, our Romulan visitor will not live long enough
to send our messages to the Federation. I realize that the
others are upset, but as far as I’m concerned – all’s well that
ends well. End personal log.

STARDATE 48588.21 – It’s been difficult containing my glee over
our failed attempt with the wormhole. I must be the only
person aboard VOYAGER – aside from Neelix and Kes – who isn’t
disappointed. Although I suspect that our Delta Quadrant
natives are disappointed on behalf of the crew..

Harry has been in a funk, over the past two days. I tried to
cheer him up with a trip to Sandrine’s. Instead, he accused me
of being glad over the whole debacle. How could I deny the
truth? Right now, he’s in Torres’ quarters and both are
probably weeping together over lost opportunities. Do
Klingons weep? I have to look that up.

I can understand why Harry, the Captain and other ‘Fleeters are
upset. But why are the Maquis? Don’t they realize that a
return to the Alpha Quadrant meant a few years in prison for
them? They sure as hell can’t return to fighting Cardassians.
After all, they’re now officially Starfleet prisoners.

At the moment, Kes is the only person I can talk to. While
helping her in the Hydropondics Bay, I explained my feelings
about the wormhole to her. She seemed to understand. What a
relief to find someone I can be honest with.
End personal log.

STARDATE 48604.37 – How could I have been so stupid? What the
hell was I thinking?

Once again, I’ve gone ahead of myself. This is what happened.
VOYAGER encountered a race called the Baneans. They offered
to help repair VOYAGER’s busted collimator. The Captain ordered Harry
to the Banean homeworld, to confer with their top scientist on
the repairs. And since they were at war with another race
called the Numeri, guess who had to fly Harry to Banea? That’s
right! Me.

If only Captain Janeway had sent another pilot. If only
Doctor Ren had been married to an older and less attractive
woman. Hell! If only I had listened to Harry and Liddell, I
would not be in this mess! Liddell Ren. The moment I laid
eyes upon her, I fell in deep lust. Very beautiful and
obviously very bored with her marriage. And since I was bored
listening to Harry and the Doctor discuss engineering, I
decided to focus my attention on the gorgeous mistress of the
house.

Poor Doctor Ren ended up murdered – stabbed in the heart. The
Baneans accused me of the deed, claiming that the good doctor’s
memory engrams clearly showed that I was guilty. Only, I don’t
remember stabbing the man. Nor do I remember kissing Liddell
in the Arterium. Unfortunately, the Baneans didn’t believe
me, thanks to those memory engrams. And now, they have
convicted me of murder and punished me by grafting Doctor Ren’s
engrams with my own. Every fourteen hours, I have to relive
the memory of the murder through his eyes. Something is not
right. The murder couldn’t have happened like this!
Fortunately, the Captain and Tuvok arrived on Banea to
investigate and return me to VOYAGER. I only hope they can get
me out of this mess. End personal log.

STARDATE 48607.42 – Thank goodness for Tuvok! If it weren’t
for him, I would have spent the rest of my life, reliving false
memories of Doctor Ren’s murder, every 14 hours. Considering
how those engrams were frying my neural pathways, I would not
have lived very long.

Tuvok discovered that I was being used as a courier between the
Numeri, and a Banean doctor and Liddell, who were both traitors and
spies for the former. Great! Just what I always wanted to be.
As for Doctor Ren’s memories – it turned out that other Banean
doctor planted altered memories onto my neural pathways.

Harry told me that he would never do what I did. Fool around
with the wrong woman. But he will. One day. And I told him
so. Okay, maybe Harry’s comments did irk me a bit. But I was
serious when I told him that one day, he could meet the wrong
woman. It happens to a lot of guys. Including straight
arrows like Harry.

I found Lieutenant Tuvok in the Mess Hall and thanked him for
clearing me of murder. In his usual Vulcan fashion, he claimed
that he would have otherwise if I had been guilty. But I
thanked him, anyway. Perhaps for being himself, for once.
Others would have naturally assumed the worst and not bother to
investigate the matter. Tuvok had approached the case in his
usual objective manner, thank goodness. As for the rest of the
crew – well, they had all assumed I was guilty, until Tuvok
proved otherwise. With the exception of the Captain, Harry,
the Doctor and Kes. Thank goodness for friends. And the
Doctor. End personal log.

STARDATE 48635.01 – Will miracles cease to exist? I don’t
think so. Especially after I was approached by one of the
Delaney sisters for a favor. It seems that Jenny has developed
an interest in a certain Operations chief and would like me to
arrange a date. Knowing Harry’s devotion to a certain
fiancée, 70,000 light years away, I realize it would be
difficult to arrange this date. I’ve already tried it once and
it didn’t work. Maybe I can try bribery. Or blackmail. Hmmm,
then again, Ensign Eager isn’t the type to succumb to bribery.
And he hasn’t done anything worth blackmailing over. Oh
well. Perhaps I’ll just pester him to death. End personal log.

STARDATE 48638.27 – What do you know? Pestering him to death,
actually worked! In the end, I finally got that double date I
had wanted. Harry, Jenny, Megan and I had the date in
Holodeck One, enjoying the charms of Venice. Well, Megan and I
were able to enjoy Venice. I can’t say the same for Harry and
Jenny. They went for a ride in a gondola and in her enthusiasm
to seduce Harry, poor Jenny overexerted herself and both ended
up in the Grand Canal – heads first. If I didn’t feel sorry
for Harry, I would have laughed. (Pauses) Okay, I did
laugh. But only after Megan laughed first. Her laughter can
be very contagious. So full of life. As for Harry and Jenny –
I have a feeling they won’t be dating for quite a while. End
personal log.

STARDATE 48643.26 – The whole ship knows about the date with
Delaney sisters. Heck, even Torres and Seska were discussing
it, while the former oogled the ship’s Marble Model. I’m
referring to, of course, Ensign Murphy. Actually, there are
two Ensign Murphys. The other Murphy serves under Tuvok in
Security, while the Marble Model is in the Science Division. I
wonder what Torres sees in a man who resembles a Starfleet
recruitment poster, anyway?

At least I’m no longer on the Maquis’ shit list. Harry and I
actually managed to enjoy a conversation with Seska and Torres.
Our little camaraderie didn’t last very long. Chakotay
summoned the Senior officers to the Bridge. It seemed Voyager
came across a ship emitting a distress signal. The ship is
from a nearby planet called Sikaris. And its inhabitants have
invited the crew to spend a few days there, and partake in its
pleasures. Sounds interesting. End personal log.

STARDATE 48643.38 – Ah, Sikaris! I must say it was a beautiful
planet with riches and food, galore for enjoyment. Many of the
women seemed very attractive. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of
the planet was nearly spoiled by my best friend.
After befriending a Sikarian woman named Endana, Harry
discovered that the Sikarians possessed some kind of trajector
that permitted folded-space transport. This trajector could
shorten Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant by 40,000 light
years.

I could only imagine Janeway’s reaction when she heard the
news. Excited. Relieved. To be honest, I didn’t feel the
same. The further Voyager remained from Earth, the better for
me. Thanks to Harry’s discovery of the trajector, the Alpha
Quadrant had loomed pretty close. Too close. Thankfully, the
Sikarians had a canon of laws similar to the Federation’s Prime
Directive. Their laws prevented them from introducing their
technology to other cultures. You know, I usually have a dim
view of the Prime Directive. I mean, what is the point of
non-interference in an alien culture, when Starfleet is suppose
to be about exploration? You can’t explore unknown worlds
without some kind of interference or influence – however
unintentional. The Captain plans to approach the Sikarian
government about making Voyager an exception to their rule. I
hate to say this, but I hope she fails. End personal log.

STARDATE 48648.68 – What a goddamn mess! Who would have
thought a visit to a pleasure-seeking planet would end with
Voyager nearly being destroyed by a warp core breach? And its
Security Chief and Chief Engineer ending in deep shit with the
Captain? Frankly, I’m just glad I’m not the one who messed
up.

The Sikarian Council had rejected Janeway’s request for Voyager
to use their trajector technology. Thank goodness! She had no
choice but to abide by their decision. But it didn’t end
there. Harry’s friend, Endana, introduced him to a Sikarian
man named Jaret Otel, who was willing to break his world’s law
by trading the trajector technology for a library of Federation
literature. Harry, Seska, Torres and I discussed it. I more
or less told the others that they were wasting their time. The
Captain might consider Otel’s offer, but in the end, she would
never go against Federation principles.

Of course, I was right. But Janeway’s decision did not stop
Tuvok and Torres from making the exchange with Otel. And when
Voyager finally left orbit, the trajector proved to be
incompatible with Federation technology and nearly caused a
warp core breach. I learned from Harry that Seska and Joe
Carey were also involved in this scheme, but only Tuvok and
Torres got chewed out. If she had done worse, Voyager would
have ended up with Rollins or Pete Durst as Security Chief.
And Sue Nicoletti as Chief Engineer. I’m just glad that damn
trajector never worked. End personal log.

STARDATE 48662.6 – Will the Universe ever cease to amaze me?
It certainly didn’t, today. Who would have thought? Seska, a
Cardassian! Not only was she a Cardassian, but an agent of the
Obsidian Order, assigned to infiltrate the Maquis! What can I
say? I’m shocked. (Pauses) Then again, knowing Seska’s
character, perhaps not.

Thanks to encounter with a damaged Kazon-Nistrim ship, we
learned that someone aboard Voyager had been trading Federation
technology to the Kazon in exchange for their protection.
Suspects came down to two people – Seska and Joe Carey. Not
surprisingly, most of the ‘Fleeters suspected Seska and the
Maquis, Carey. My choice was Seska. When I told Harry, both
Torres and Ayala overheard me. “Starfleet to the end, right
Paris?” Torres had said with her usual sneer.

I had told her that my Starfleet background had nothing to do
with my opinion. “I don’t know Carey that well,” I said, “but
I know Seska. I don’t trust her within an inch of my life.
She has the brains and imagination to pull something like
this. And you all know how she feels about Federation
principles.” To everyone’s surprise, Ayala agreed. It seemed
he never really trusted Seska, either.

After Seska’s escape to another Kazon ship, most of the Maquis
walked around, either in a daze or looking humiliated.
Especially Chakotay. He was, after all, Seska’s loudest
defender and former lover. Poor Chakotay. He was always a
lousy judge of character. End personal log.

END OF PART I

“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 1/6

“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

RATING: PG-13
E-MAIL: lee66132000@yahoo.com
FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Just before meeting Evelyn for the first time, Rafe and Danny recall the former’s past love life.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, “Pearl Harbor”, belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.

—————–

PART 1 – First Love

MITCHELL FIELD, LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Lieutenant Daniel Walker stood in line behind his best friend and fellow Army pilot, Lieutenant Rafe McCawley. He noticed how the older man shifted from one foot to another, almost like a jackrabbit in flight.

“Godalmighty, Rafe! Simmer down!” Danny hissed into his friend’s ear. “You act like a man trying to run from his own hanging.”

Fearful brown eyes bored into those that belonged to the twenty-three year-old pilot. “You can call it that,” Rafe shot back. “Jiminy cricket! A physical! Dammit Danny! Why didn’t you tell me there was gonna be one?”

“I just found out about it, yesterday,” Danny explained. “And you didn’t return to the base until lights out. What took you so long in getting back?”

Rafe sighed. Both he and Danny moved a step forward toward the nurse. She was about to stick a needle into Anthony Fusco’s bare bottom. The two friends squirmed at the sight of their fellow pilot’s plight.

“Claudia,” Rafe finally answered. “We broke up.”

Danny tried not to express any jubilation over the news. He loved Rafe. Both had grown up together in Shelby County, Tennessee. They started out as best friends. And when Danny moved in with the McCawleys following his daddy’s death, they virtually became brothers. The pair had gone through a lot together – childhood, love of flying, high school, college and now, the Army Air Corps. There was a lot about Rafe that Danny admired. However, the former’s love life did not happen to be one of them.

“Oh, hey Rafe! I’m sorry to hear about you and Claudia.” Danny tried to sound mournful over his friend’s romantic mishap. Apparently, he had failed, judging by Rafe’s scornful expression. “What?”

Rafe’s scorn deepened. “Did you know that you were a lousy liar, Danny?”

“You never fail to tell me, if you must know.”

“Well, I was right,” Rafe shot back. Anthony cried out in pain and moved on, rubbing his behind. The two friends took another step forward and watched another man bend over before the nurse. Rafe continued, “I’ll bet that you’re jumping for joy over what happened between me and Claudia.”

Danny tried to sound innocent. “Of course not!” he protested. Rafe gave him a hard stare. As usual, Danny wilted. “All right, maybe I am. I never liked her anyway. Big deal!”

“You’ve never liked any of my girlfriends,” Rafe accused.

“What are you talking about? What about Fenton Marsh? Or Julie Fisher? I liked them!”

The soldier at the head of the line walked away, rubbing his rear end. Everyone else took a step forward. Only Billy from the two friends’ squadron, stood between Rafe and a shot in the behind. Which Danny felt temporarily grateful.

Rafe whirled on the younger man, his eyes shining with suspicion. “Oh yeah?” he countered. “What about Mary Jo Burnett? From grade school? Did you like her?”

* * * *

SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE; OCTOBER 1926 TO APRIL 1927 . . . The final bell at Shelbyville Elementary School in Shelby, Tennessee, announced the end of another day. Scores of children poured out of their classrooms and rushed toward the exits. Among them were ten year-old Rafe McCawley and his best friend, nine year-old Danny Walker.

The pair paused in front of a large oak tree in the schoolyard. The older boy dug into his pockets. “Look what I got!” He triumphantly produced two shiny blue marbles and showed them to Danny.

The younger boy’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Hey! Don’t those marbles belong to Carl Jordan? How did you get ’em?”

“A bet.” Rafe flashed his usual cocky smile. “I bet Carl that I could beat him in a bike race on Shelby Road. I won, of course.”

Danny declared breathlessly, “I reckon Carl must be pretty sore. Those marbles must have cost him a fortune.”

Rafe sniffed. He had never harbored a high opinion of Carl Jordan, the younger son of a local merchant. “Fifteen cents. Course, I would have never bet anything this valuable. Carl, on the other hand, never had much sense. Much like his daddy.”

Admiration shone in the younger boy’s eyes. “Yeah, that’s Carl alright. Did you know that he once . . .?”

A scream from the other side of the schoolyard interrupted Danny. Rafe’s eyes immediately shifted to the sight of two boys around his age, trying to wrestle a paper bag from the clutches of a girl. The other kids in the yard seemed determined to ignore them. Not Rafe.

The moment the ten year-old became aware of the situation, he became a knight in shining armor. The Southern gentleman who always saved the honor of a fair damsel. With a roar reminiscent of the Rebel yell, he charged at the girl’s tormentors. Rafe knocked one to the ground and punched the latter a few times to ensure that the boy remained down.

The other boy, whom Rafe recognized as Carl Jordan, stared at him with baffled eyes. Before Carl could react, Rafe snatched the paper bag from the former’s clutches. A snarl left Carl’s mouth and he tried to rush Rafe. Fortunately, the latter proved to be quick. Rafe avoided Carl’s fist with a duck and responded with a better aimed blow to the other boy’s face. Carl fell to the ground with blood gushing from his nose.

“Rafe!” Danny rushed forward, obviously prepared to come to his friend’s defense. “Rafe, are you okay?”

The older boy shot back, grinning, “Just fine and dandy!” Rafe glanced at the paper bag in his hand and remembered the girl standing nearby. When he turned to face her, Rafe found himself staring into a pair of dark brown eyes. He forgot about Danny, Carl Jordan and just about everyone else. “Uh,” he began nervously, “I reckon this uh . . . this belong . . .”

The girl smiled. “Thank you,” she said in a soft voice that could melt butter. “Thank you for returning my bag to me.” She held out her hand.

Rafe blinked. “Huh? Oh.” He handed the bag to her.

“May I know the name of my rescuer?”

He gave a slight cough. “Rafe. My name is Rafe McCawley.”

“And mine is Mary Jo Burnett.” A smile curved her generous mouth. Groans from the ground interrupted the conversation and Mary Jo’s smile transformed into a frown. Carl Jordan and his friend slowly scrambled to their feet.

A groggy Carl began, “Wha . . .?”

Rafe grabbed the boy’s arm. “You get out of here, Carl Jordan. Both you and Orwin. And if either of you ever bother . . . uh, Mary Jo again, both me and Danny’ll whup you good. Or I just might do it myself. You hear?”

The two boys gulped nervously and raced away. Rafe turned to Mary Jo with a smile. “May I see you home, Miss Burnett?”

Her smile dazzled Rafe. “Of course.” Mary Jo nodded at Danny. “Both of you can.”

“Huh?” Rafe turned and saw his friend standing next to a tree stump, squirming with discomfort. He had forgotten about Danny. “Oh! Danny. Well, yeah. Sure.”

Still looking uncomfortable, the nine year-old murmured, “That’s okay. You two can go ahead. I gotta get home, anyway.”

Rafe knew that Danny had lied. For the latter, home meant a broken down two-room shack off Horton Road, with a drunken brute of a father still recovering from the war. Danny usually delayed going home after school, as long as he possibly could.

“What are you talking about, Danny?” Rafe protested. “You usually . . .”

But the younger boy quickly bid Rafe and Mary Jo good-bye and ran off, leaving behind a bewildered Rafe. A soft hand touched the latter’s arm. “Rafe? You ready?” Ah yes, Mary Jo.

Danny quickly forgotten, Rafe offered Mary Jo his arm. She accepted it and the pair strolled away from the schoolyard.

* * * *

Mary Jo Burnett. From the moment Rafe first laid eyes upon the nine year-old girl, he could not get enough of her. In fact, it did not take long for the pair to become a romantic twosome.

Rafe developed a habit of escorting Mary Jo home, after school. In doing so, he missed the school bus that usually conveyed him to his farm. But he did not care. Especially since either Mr. Burnett or his dad would give him a ride home.

During his growing romance with Mary Jo, Rafe learned that the Burnetts originally came from Arkansas. Little Rock, Arkansas. Mary Jo’s daddy happened to be one of those men who helped local farmers with their crops. Mr. Burnett was one of those what Daddy called an agriculturist, who worked for the Federal government.

Despite his new relationship with Mary Jo, Rafe made sure that he spent some time with Danny. He had hoped that his best friend and his best girl would become close friends. Mary Jo seemed willing. Whenever she invited Rafe over to her house, she always included Danny in the invitation. The latter usually had an excuse not to join them. Only when Mary Jo became unavailable, did Rafe spend time with Danny.

Rafe enjoyed those increasingly rare times with Danny. However, any time spent with his best friend could not deter his feelings toward the lovely Mary Jo. He realized that he had found the love of his life. Okay, he was only ten year-old and would turn eleven in April. But Rafe recalled that his mama once told him that she and Daddy had once been childhood sweethearts. If his parents could end up married, he decided, so could he and Mary Jo.

———

One Saturday afternoon in late March, Rafe expressed his desires to Danny. “I’m gonna marry Mary Jo, one day,” he announced. The two friends stood in the middle of a field behind the McCawley barn, tossing a baseball back and forth.

Danny’s arm paused in mid-air, after catching one of Rafe’s tosses. He stared at the older boy with an expression Rafe could not fathom. “Marry?” A frown darkened Danny’s countenance. “You’re in love with that girl, or something?”

“Her name is Mary Jo. And yeah, I’m in love with her. I plan to make her my wife.” Rafe spoke with his usual self-assurance.

Disbelief now shone in Danny’s eyes. “What you talking about, Rafe? You’re almost eleven. You’re too young to get married!”

“Not now, dummy!” Unbeknownst to Rafe, Danny winced. “Later. When we’re grown up. I plan to marry Mary Jo, just like Daddy married Mama. They also used to be childhood sweethearts.”

Danny’s eyes focused on the large, red barn, beyond. “Oh.

Rafe noticed his friend’s lackluster response and frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t you want me to get married?”

Danny shrugged his shoulders. “Sure. I reckon. Only . . .” He sighed.

“Only what?” Rafe demanded.

“What about flying? I thought we were gonna join the Army, together. Become pilots, like your daddy did during the war.”

Rafe retorted, “Of course we are! That don’t mean I can’t get married. Army officers get married too, you know!”

“Yeah.” Danny tossed the baseball at Rafe. Who neatly caught it.

At that moment, Rafe decided that he had enough of Danny’s tepid attitude. Every since he met Mary Jo, his friend seemed to be in a snit. Which led Rafe to wonder what Danny had against her. “You don’t like Mary Jo, do you?” he said, as he rushed forward to confront the younger boy. “Well?”

Danny’s face turned red. He mumbled, “Course I like her.”

Rafe could usually tell when his friend was lying. Like now. “Oh yeah?” he continued, “Then why do you always have something else to do when Mary Jo invites you to her house?”

A resentful tone resonated in Danny’s voice. “Hey, she’s your girl, not mine!”

“What’s that suppose to mean?” Rafe thrust his face just inches away from Danny’s.

The other boy scowled. “Back off, Rafe! I don’t feeling like arguing with you!”

“That’s too bad! You should have thought of that before you made those scurrilous remarks about Mary Jo!”

“What are you talking about? You don’t even know what ‘scurrilous’ mean!” Danny shouted back.

Rage gripped Rafe. If there was one thing he hated, were insults about his reading and spelling inabilities. He dropped his mitt and the baseball and tackled the younger boy. The two friends wrestled for a few seconds, before Rafe managed to pin Danny to the ground. “Now what was that you said about Mary Jo?”

“I didn’t say nothing!” Danny shot back. He squirmed to free himself from Rafe’s grip, but to no avail. “But if you must know, I don’t like her! Not one bit! I hate that she gets to spend more time with you, than I do!”

Danny’s frank confession shocked Rafe. Dazed, the older boy released his friend. “What are you saying, Danny?” he asked quietly.

“What do you think? You spend every chance you can get with Mary Jo! I hardly get to see you anymore! How do you think that makes me feel?”

Rafe calmly replied, “Mary Jo has asked you over, a couple of times. You always turn her down.”

“Because it’s obvious that you wanna be with her and not me! You’ve made that quite clear, ever since you met her! You always walk her home! And you two always spend time together, either during lunch or any other time. I want it to be the way it used to be, Rafe! Before Mary Jo, we used to be like brothers! But now . . .” Danny struggled to his feet and glared accusingly at Rafe. “Now, I don’t know what we are, anymore!” He quickly raced away.

Rafe called after his friend. “Danny? Hey Danny!” Unfortunately, the other boy did not hear. Or simply ignored him, leaving behind a stunned and bewildered ten year-old.

———-

His argument with Danny plagued Rafe’s thoughts over the next several days. To the point that it created a schism in his relationship with Mary Jo. The day following the argument, Rafe did not bother to escort her home. He excused himself on the grounds of an emergency at home. After that first day, he did not bother to make any more excuses. Rafe simply boarded the school bus without saying a word. For a while, Rafe wondered why he even bothered. Especially since Danny usually subjected him to the silent treatment during those bus rides home.

One blustery Friday, Mary Jo finally confronted Rafe during the lunch period, in the schoolyard. She demanded to know why he avoided her for nearly a week. When Rafe failed to give her an adequate explanation, Mary Jo accused him of growing weary of her. Their subsequent argument spelled the end of the romance.

Later that afternoon, Rafe boarded the school bus for home. Just seconds after he sat down, a second figure filled the empty seat next to him. It was Danny.

END OF PART 1

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Nine

The following is Chapter Nine of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Nine – Independence and Westport

May 2, 1849
Independence at last! After nearly six weeks on the road, Alice and I have finally completed the first stage of our journey to California. Only twenty-five years old, Independence had developed from a crude, frontier town into a rich metropolis filled with dry goods stores, barber shops, grog shops, harness shops, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and emporiums. Whatever an emigrant needed for the overland journey, Independence provided it.

Alice and I visited a livery stable that provided new stock to pull our wagon. Both Mr. James and Mr. Wendell had suggested we trade my horses for mules. We met a Negro named Hiram Young, who happened to be the best wagon maker in this part of the country. At least according to Mr. James. What supplies we could not find in Independence, we came upon in a meadow that stretched from the city to the little Missouri River port of Westport. Nearly every inch of that meadow was filled with tents, huts, sheds, and lean-tos. And from them, merchants, farmers and other workmen provided goods and services to the emigrants.

Traveling across that meadow, our little caravan seemed trapped by a sea of humanity, buildings and animals. Kanzas Landing, which was located at the edge of Westport, seemed no better. White, black, olive and bronze faces had assembled there. Mountain men of every color, the Mexican drivers for the Santa Fe Trail, soldiers, Indians,, merchants, river men and emigrants. Especially emigrants. There was a moment when I feared I would not be able to breathe.

We finally halted near the edge of a high bank that overlooked the Missouri’s brownish-gray waters. People, wagons and freight were disembarking from a two-deck sternwheeler. Our Pennsylvania companions finally bid the rest of us good-bye. It was time for them to search for an Oregon-bound wagon train. And not many of them were departing Western Missouri this year. Instead of searching for a wagon company bound for California, we decided to form our own company right there, with Mr. Robbins acting as president, Mr. James as our guide and Mr. Wendell as scout.

Two wagons joined us within three hours after the formation of the wagon company. Two brothers from Vermont – Richard and Warren Palmer – owned the first wagon. They were a gregarious lot who were talkative, inquisitive and always had a joke on their lips. Tall, burly and freckled, the sandy-haired Vermonters seemed quite a contrast to the staid image of New Englanders. The second wagon joined our little company at the end of the day. Unlike the Palmers, Horace Bryant and Joel Moore of Evansville, Indiana did not talk that much. I could almost say that they were not very social. During our first night at Westport, they remained inside their wagon, while the rest of us listened to Mr. James’ tall tales and the Palmers’ jokes.

Our newcomers had one thing in common – they possessed plenty of equipment for mining gold. They had picks, shovels, patent tents, some new-fangled machine for purifying gold (I do not have the foggiest idea what it was called) and believe it or not, mackintosh boats. A mackintosh boat in the gold fields? Whatever for? What the Palmers, Mr. Bryant and Mr. Moore lacked was food. In fact, they hardly had any room in their wagons for food. And both parties continued to use horses to pull their wagons. Mr. James announced his intentions to rectify their situation.

May 3, 1849
Two more wagons joined our company. The first wagon belonged to a Tennessee dry goods merchant named Ralph Goodwin and his twenty year-old son, Jonas. There were not exactly a friendly pair, but they seemed more approachable than the two friends from Evansville. The Goodwins seemed slightly uncomfortable by Alice’s presence and mine. Yet, they regarded Mr. Wendell with suspicious eyes. They had obviously heard about the runaway near Franklin. But since the town was clear across the state and the wagon company was scheduled to depart Westport tomorrow morning, they could do nothing.

The second wagon belonged to a family named Gibson from Western New York. Mr. James pointed out that this was rare for wagons heading for California this year. Most wagon parties with children were bound for Oregon. California may have been fine for families in the past. But with the Gold Rush, the former Mexican province seemed like the last destination for children, let alone women. I found myself wondering if I had been wise to bring Alice along on this journey.

End of Chapter Nine

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Eight

The following is Chapter Eight of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Eight – New Franklin, Missouri

April 23, 1849
Two weeks have passed since our departure from St. Louis. Five days have passed since our encounter with the slave catchers. Despite failing to find a fugitive slave, Mr. Whiskers continued to follow our wagon company. I am beginning to realize that he might be a very stubborn and determined man.

“Ignore him,” Alice advised. “He is only trying to rattle us. He has failed to find his prisoner and needs something to bolster his self-esteem.” Deep contempt rang in her voice.

I wish that I possessed her nerve. But a running fear continued to nag at the back of my mind that sooner or later, the fugitive will appear. And our bewhiskered lurker will have an excuse to toss us – especially Alice and myself – into the nearest county jail. We nearly met that fate upon our arrival in New Franklin.

According to Mr. James, the old Franklin used to be the first jump-off site of the Santa Fe Trail, the first of many overland roads that led west of the Mississippi River. This lasted from 1821 – when a freight driver from Virginia named William Becknell led the first wagon caravan to Santa Fe – to 1828, when the flooding Missouri River finally engulfed it in 1828. The residents resettled their town on higher ground and renamed it New Franklin. I must say that the latter is a very pleasant community with numerous schools, churches and even an attorney’s office.

Alice, myself, Mr. James, the Robbinses and our two Pennsylvania families did not have much time to enjoy New Franklin. No sooner had we arrived, the law appeared with Mr. Whiskers in tow. They demanded to search our wagons. By now, I began to suspect that Alice had been right. Mr. Whiskers’ failure to find his fugitive slave had turned into harassment against our wagon company. Mr. James and Mr. Robbins insisted that we were not harboring a fugitive slave. But the lawmen insisted – backed by a show of force – upon searching our wagons. Again, we had no choice but to comply. And like before, no fugitive slave was found.

Our wagon company had intended to linger in New Franklin and purchase a few supplies. But the ladies, led by Mrs. Robbins, felt affronted by the community’s greeting and demanded that we continue our journey. Understanding how the women felt, the rest of us agreed and the company quietly left New Franklin.

May 2, 1849
Tonight is our last night before our arrival at Independence, tomorrow. Finally! I have had enough of Missouri to last me a lifetime. It is a beautiful state. But I would have enjoyed it more if did not have slavery within its borders.

Mr. Whiskers had continued to trail us, following our departure from New Franklin. Then two days later, he suddenly disappeared. Perhaps he had finally realized the futility of the chase.

Mr. James informed us that many wagon trains should be organizing in Independence by now. Surprisingly, Independence was not the only jump-off spot for the western trails. Rival sites had form in both nearby St. Joseph and Council Bluffs in Iowa. Both towns were easily approachable by a Missouri River steamboat. And an emigrant would save four days on the trail by departing from either town, since both were north of Independence. Despite all of this, our company voted to head for Independence.

Our little caravan has just received a late night visitor. His name is Elias Wendell, formerly of Baltimore, Maryland. He is on his way to Westport. And he is also a fellow Negro. At first, I wonder if he was the fugitive slave that half of Missouri had been searching for. In the end, I dismissed the idea for Mr. James seemed quite familiar with him. And yet . . . this Mr. Wendell happened to be wearing Mr. Whiskers’ royal blue waistcoat. Or something similar. Interesting.

Since he happened to be Mr. James’ old friend, our party welcomed him into our camp. I noticed that Alice exerted good deal of energy to prepare a plate of beans, roast quail and cornbread for our guest. Elias Wendell had been the apprentice of one of Mr. James’ old colleagues – one Thomas Ford. The name struck a familiar note.

Minutes passed before I realized that Mr. Whitman had once mentioned this Ford fellow. Apparently, the latter had been killed in a barroom brawl in St. Charles, a year ago. Since then, Elias had been roaming the state working at odd jobs. When he had learned about the gold found in California, he decided to try his luck and get himself hired to a wagon company.

His story seemed above board. Yet . . . why was Mr. Wendell wearing a waistcoat similar to Mr. Whiskers’? I decided to remain silent. Why create any suspicions that he might be the runaway Mr. Whiskers had been searching for? I had no desire to bring trouble upon his head. Apparently, neither did anyone else. After all, if I had noticed his waistcoat, surely some of the others had.

End of Chapter Eight

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Seven

The following is Chapter Seven of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Seven – Missouri Plains

April 16, 1849
Traveling through Missouri, I finally received my first glimpse of what a prairie looked like. I had imagined flatter land with no grass . . . not this rolling land filled with long tufts of grass. “You should see this land in full bloom in about a month from now,” Mr. James commented. “The grass becomes just as high as your knees.”

No wonder most emigrant guides insist that wagon trains depart at least by early May. Judging from the amount of prairie grass that now grows, I could see that it was not enough to sustain teams of oxen and mules during a 2,000-mile trek . . . let alone 200 miles.

Mr. James decided that it would be best for us to follow the Missouri River along the bluffs just north of it. Since it happened to be early spring, the river would be subjected to floods, which could be deadly due to its fast currents. Casting my eyes upon the Missouri below, I spotted a steamboat with a stern wheel churning westward. A brief longing to be aboard that boat rose within me. I still long to reach Independence as soon as possible, and finally begin the journey across the continent. Oh, the impatience of youth!

April 19, 1849
The wagon company experienced a chilling moment, early this afternoon. A group of riders appeared from the south and interrupted our small procession at a crossroads. Judging from their hostile expressions, along with the shackles and ropes they carried; a suspicion came to me that these men might be bounty riders or even worse.
Unfortunately, I proved to be right. The riders had turned out to be a group of lawmen and slave catchers searching for a black fugitive. One fellow, a swarthy creature with black whiskers demanded a search of our wagons. And considering that he and his companions were better armed than us, we had no choice but to comply.

It came to no surprise that the slave catchers had lingered around our wagon longer than the others. That same bewhiskered gentleman who led the bunch demanded to see Alice’s and my papers. Mr. James’ face turned red and insisted that we were free people of color. “And how would you know that for sure, Mister?” our tormentor demanded. “How long have you known these nigras?”

“Almost two weeks,” Mr. James replied. “They happen to be from Ohio.” The whiskered man shot back, “They could have said that. Maybe they’re lying.” This did not bode well for Alice and myself.

Fortunately, Mr. James never relented in his defense of us. “And how would you know?” he replied scathingly. “Can you recognize an Ohio accent when you hear it? And why are you harassing these two? Surely, you know who you’re looking for?”

I saw flashes of anger, resentment and sheer embarrassment in the slaver’s dark eyes. He murmured a quick oath and walked away. The other men continued their search through our wagons with no success. The fugitive could not be found. With no reason to delay us any further, the search party allowed us to continue our journey. However, our caravan had not traveled three miles when Alice noticed a figure in a thicket to our right – a lone rider.

“He looks like one of those slave catchers,” my sister commented. I squinted for a closer look. Sure enough, there was Mr. Whiskers riding by himself. Following our wagon party. If the fellow was so determined to capture this slave, he was surely barking up the wrong tree. Or was he merely determined to prove that we were slave stealers? If so, I pray that his fugitive never seek refuge with our group . . . at least until we manage to put Missouri and slave catchers behind us for good.

End of Chapter Seven

“The Corellian Connection” [PG-13] – Chapter 5

“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”

CHAPTER FIVE

OUTSIDE ALDERA, ALDERAAN

The evacuation of the villa near Aldera Palace continued in an orderly fashion. With the Imperial presence focused upon the palace, Padme and her companions managed to clear the villa of her belongings with great speed. They carted the items to Captain Antilles’ shuttle, parked underneath a nearby grove of trees.

The twins’ nursemaid, Madga finally walked out of the villa for the last time, carrying Luke and her belongings. Padme, who held a sleeping Leia in a baby sling, spotted her mini holoprojector and some data pads on a table. She fetched the objects and thrust them into her traveling bag. After checking on the sleeping Leia, Padme examined her bedroom of eight months for the last time and walked out. Just as she reached the villa’s front door, she saw Madga scuttle hurriedly toward the grove’s edge. Padme frowned. Why would Madga rush . . .?

Captain Antilles’ voice crackled on her comlink. She removed it from her cloak’s left pocket and answered. “Captain, is there a problem?”

“Clone troopers coming from the palace,” Antilles answered. “Just three kilometers from the east.”

Padme inhaled sharply. She glanced to her right and spotted three clone troopers marching toward the villa. Making a run for the grove and Captain Antilles’ shuttle seemed out of the question. Then she heard the clone troopers’ voices. Hoping and praying that Leia would not wake up, Padme quickly rushed into one of the villa’s small rooms.

Minutes passed. Then she heard the troopers enter the villa. She held her breath, as they conducted their search by opening and closing doors. As footsteps approached the small room Padme had chosen as her sanctuary, she desperately searched for a closet where she could hide. She glanced around. Apparently the room lacked a closet. But it did lead to the villa’s second-floor veranda.

Footsteps grew closer to the room. Clutching the baby sling that held Leia and her traveling bag, Padme quickly dashed out onto the veranda. And just in time. She overheard voices inside the room.

“No one’s here,” a trooper announced.

Another one asked, “What about a holoprojector?”

“No sign of one.” The first trooper paused. “I’ll check the veranda.”

Panic filled Padme. Now, she really had no place to hide. She quickly rushed along the veranda, searching for an opened door. Fortunately, one appeared just short of the veranda’s south end. Padme ducked inside, just as she heard voices from the outside. The former senator allowed herself a quick sigh of relief. Then she glanced at her daughter. Leia’s eyes fluttered briefly before they snapped wide open. Padme hoped and prayed to nearly every deity she could think of – along with the Force – that Leia would not cry for food. Several seconds passed, as her infant daughter blinked several times and yawned. Then to Padme’s relief, Leia closed her eyes and fell back asleep. Again, Padme sighed.

Then an idea came to her. With the clone troopers searching the veranda, she saw an opportunity to escape from the villa. Padme rushed out of what used to be her dining room. Without a moment’s hesitation, Padme continued to rush toward the villa’s front door. She spotted Antilles, Madga and Threepio silently urging her to head toward the grove. Which she did as fast as her feet would allow. Once she reached the safety of her companions, Captain Antilles ordered, “Into the shuttle, everyone! We’re leaving now.”

“No!” Padme insisted. “Not yet.” Everyone stared at her, as if she had lost her mind. “The Imperial troopers are still searching the villa. If we leave now, we’ll be spotted.” And so . . . they waited.

Another fifteen minutes passed before the three clone troopers emerged from the villa. Padme overheard one of them said, “We might as well return. There’s no inside. Or a holoprojector.” He and the other two troopers proceeded along the path that led back to the palace.

Once the clone troopers disappeared, Padme, Captain Antilles and Madga all heaved sighs of relief. Threepio exclaimed, “Thank the Maker! They’re gone. When can we leave, Miss Padme?”

“I think it would be best to leave now,” Padme replied. “While we can.”

Magda frowned. “But why should we leave, Milady? The troopers are gone. They won’t be coming back.”

A sigh left Padme’s mouth. “I’m afraid that I’ve outstayed my welcome, Magda,” she gently replied. “It’s time for me to leave Alderaan.” She hesitated, dreading the response to her next words. “I’ll understand if you want to remain. After all, Alderaan is your home.”

To Padme’s surprise, the nursemaid said, “No, I’ll leave. I’ve become . . .” A sweet smile formed on her lips. “. . . very fond of you and the children. And Alderaan has nothing for me. Not anymore.”

The Nabooan woman planted a light kiss on the nursemaid’s cheek. “Thank you, Magda.”

“I believe that we should leave now, Milady.” Captain Antilles led Padme and the others to the shuttle. Once everyone was seated inside, it rose several feet from the ground and sped away. As it zoomed above the picturesque landscape, Padme realized with a pang that she would miss the months spent here on Alderaan.

———-

CORONET, CORELLIA

Solipo Yeb packed the last of his belongings into his traveling valise. Then he glanced over his shoulder and saw his sister staring out of the window. “I’m ready, Thalia. Now, all we have to do is wait to hear from Captain Horus.” When his sister failed to answer, he joined her at the window. “Thalia?”

“I think we’re in trouble, Solipo,” Thalia declared ominously. “Look.”

Solipo glanced out of the window. The usual crowd of sentient beings filled the street below. But Solipo noticed something more disturbing – four human males heading toward the hotel. Two of them wore the uniforms of Corellia’s security force, the third wore civilian clothes and the last man turned out to be an Imperial officer. “Oh no!” he murmured. “I think we’ve been sold out.”

Thalia frowned. “By someone here at the hotel?”

Another candidate loomed in Solipo’s mind. “How about our intrepid Captain Horus? After all, he had recognized me.”

“I doubt it very much,” Thalia replied. She turned away from the window. “Let’s get out of here. Now.”

Grabbing his valise, Solipo retorted, “And go where? We can’t leave Corellia without Horus’ help. And our only alternative is to take a shuttle to another city.”

Brother and sister slipped out of their room. After making sure that the corridor was empty, they made their way to the nearest staircase and rushed downstairs. The pair spotted one of the hotel’s employees near the back door. Once he left, the Andalians slipped outside and quickly rushed down an alley.

“I can’t believe that we’re doing this,” Solipo bemoaned. “We didn’t even pay our bill. And as for Captain Horus . . .”

An annoyed sigh from his flamboyant sister, interrupted him. “For goodness sake, Solipo! He didn’t inform on us! Not Captain Horus.”

“And how do you know?”

The pair merged into a busy street. “Because Captain Horus has a very good reason to avoid the Imperials. Trust me.” Brother and sister continued on toward Coronet’s spaceport.

———–

ALDERA PALACE, ALDERAAN

“Nothing or no one was found at the villa, my Lord,” the clone trooper reported to Darth Rasche. “It is empty.”

Breha heaved an inward sigh of relief. Padme and the children had evaded detection.

Darth Rasche nodded. “Wait for me near the shuttle.” He turned to the queen. “Well, Your Majesty, it seems you had spoken the truth.”

“Of course I had!” Breha retorted. “We do not understand why you would doubt our word.” She paused and added with less asperity, “By the way, when are you leaving?”

“You wish to be rid of our presence so soon?” Breha shot a dark look at the Sith Lord. Who quickly sobered. “If you must know, we’ll be leaving as soon as our search is completed.”

A frowning Breha demanded, “What do you mean? You’ve searched the entire palace and the villa near the lagoon.”

“But not Aldera or Crevasse City,” Rasche added. “The signal from Corellia had been received in this sector of the planet. We intend to learn who had received it.”

Breha heaved a frustrated sigh. So much for getting rid of the Imperials. “Has it ever occurred to you, my Lord, that the Corellian signal had been sent by someone other than Solipo Yeb?”

A long silence followed. Confusion whirled in the Sith Lord’s eyes momentarily, before Rasche glared at the monarch. Then he turned away. Four other clone troopers appeared in the foyer. “No sign of the holoprojector, my Lord,” one trooper announced.

Rasche’s jaw twitched, as he barked, “Fine! Return to the shuttle. I’ll . . .” The Sith Lord’s face turned pale, as he halted in mid-sentence. His dark eyes glazed over for a second, before a frown appeared on his face. He faced Breha. “Excuse me, Your Majesty. I have an emergency message to send.” Breha opened her mouth to respond, but Darth Rasche strode away before she could.

———-

Darth Rasche strode out of the royal palace and halted before the wide staircase. He made his way toward the Imperial shuttle and entered. “Leave,” he barked at the pilot, inside the cockpit.

Once alone, the young Sith Lord sent a signal to Coruscant. Two minutes passed before the shuttle’s holoprojector lit up with his mentor’s image. “Lord Rasche,” Darth Sidious pronounced. “You have news for me?”

“No one within the royal palace had received the message from Corellia, Master,” Rasche reported. “Including Senator Organa. The holoprojector that had received the signal had not been inside Aldera Palace.” Rasche hesitated. “However, I have more important news. I have sensed a presence in the Force.”

Lord Sidious replied, “We both have, my young apprentice. On Kashyyyk.”

“Jedi on the Wookie homeworld?” Rasche paused. “It is possible that Skywalker might be . . .?”

The Sith Master continued, “Whether Skywalker is on Kashyyk or not, there is a Jedi presence on that planet. You will rendezvous with Grand Moff Tarkin in the Kashyyyk System and stamp out any Wookie resistance and hunt down the Jedi. As for the signal from Corellia, ignore it. This is a more urgent matter.”

“Hunt down the Jedi? Including Skywalker, if he is there?”

Lord Sidious’ already hideous face formed a grim mask. “Yes, Lord Rasche. Including him. Hunt them all down and kill them. Kill them all.”

——-

CORONET, CORELLIA

“Good afternoon,” Coronet’s port master greeted Anakin. “Here to schedule a departure?”

Anakin smiled, at the other man. “Yes. I’m Captain Horus of the Javian Hawk.” He spotted the departure schedule on the port master’s desk. Using the Force, he knocked an object off the desk and the port master bent down to retrieve the object. At that moment, Anakin used the opportunity to check the schedule. He saw that two other Corellian freighters were scheduled to depart within the next hour. Perfect.

The port master sat up and shot an embarrassed smile at the former Jedi Knight. “Sorry about that. Um . . . about your departure?”

“I hope to leave between now and an hour from now,” Anakin replied. “If it’s possible.”

The other man glanced at the departure schedule. “Yes, well there is no problem there.” He entered the information in the data pad that contained the schedule. “The Javian Hawk. Okay. I’ve managed to fit you in between the Eureka and the Tawhid. Will that do?

Anakin nodded politely. “Yes, it will. Thank you.”

Smiling, the port master replied, “Glad to be of service. Have a safe journey, Captain.”

After leaving the port master’s office, Anakin headed back to the Javian Hawk’s hangar. He hoped that his Andalian passengers were ready to depart. The pilot contacted the pair through his comlink and ordered them to meet him inside the Hawk’s hangar within twenty minutes. “We should be there within ten minutes, Captain,” Thalia Yeb’s voice replied. “We had to leave a lot sooner than we had planned.”

In other words, brother and sister had encountered trouble. Great.

——-

Captain Hardy and his three companions entered the Selonia Hotel’s modest lobby. They approached a neatly dressed desk clerk. “May I help you?” she asked in a prim voice.

The senior CorSec officer, a dark-haired human named Gil Bastra switched on a small holoprojector. It contained images of the Andalian senator and his sister. “Are these two guests at this hotel?” he asked.

The desk clerk shrugged her thin shoulders. “The man does not look familiar,” she began.

“How can he not look familiar?” Captain Hardy demanded. “He’s Senator Solipo Yeb of Andalia. He’s wanted for treason by the Empire. And his image has been posted on the Imperial Holovision for the past several days.”

“Imperial Holovision?” The clerk frowned. “I’ve never . . .”

Hardy sighed. “It used to be the old HoloNet News Service. It’s now called Imperial Holovision. This man’s face has been plastered all over the news recently. And you don’t recognize him?”

A supercilious smile touched the clerk’s lips. “I do not pay attention to politics.”

“Really?” A pale, dark-haired man with a thin, aristocratic face glared at the clerk. Kirtan Loor happened to be the Imperial liaison to CorSec and an agent for Imperial Intelligence. “I suppose you know nothing about the recent death of one of your senators, Garm Bel Iblis, at the hands of Separatist fugitives?”

The desk clerk stiffened slightly. “He was Corellian. Of course, I knew about him.”

“What about the woman?” Hardy asked, feeling slightly impatient. “Have you seen her?”

“Yes,” the clerk replied. “Her name is Thalia Kor and she’s a guest in Room Eleven. Second Floor.”

Bastra frowned. “She’s alone?”

The clerk checked the hotel’s records. “Not anymore. Her husband became an additional guest, three days ago. I was not on duty when he had arrived.”

Hardy felt a surge of triumph. The Emperor would be quite pleased upon learning of the capture of his new prize. “Take us to Room Eleven,” he barked at the clerk. He and his three companions followed the desk clerk toward the wide staircase.

——-

The moment the Andalians arrived at the hangar, Anakin rounded on them. “Why did you leave before I could signal you?”

Solipo Yeb regarded the former Jedi with suspicious eyes. “Why did you want us to wait for your signal? So that the Imperials would take us by surprise at the hotel?”

Anakin frowned at the senator. “What?”

“The Imperials are here,” Thalia Yeb explained. “My brother and I had spotted an Imperial officer, along with two CorSec officers, approaching the hotel. And we’ve spotted Imperial clone troopers on the streets. We need to get out of here, fast.”

But Solipo Yeb refused to budge. “Wait a minute! Four hours after we met Captain Horus, we nearly encounter the Imperials. I want to know how . . .”

“Are you suggesting that I had turned you in to the Empire?” Anakin demanded, glaring at the Andalian male.

Miss Yeb sarcastically retorted, “My brother has no idea of what he is talking about, Captain. Meanwhile, may we please leave? Now?”

Senator Yeb protested, “But Thalia . . .” His sister marched toward the Javian Hawk’s ramp. He glanced uneasily at Anakin. “Never mind.”

Anakin made final checks on the Javian Hawk’s systems. He noticed that his hypodrive system needed repairs and reminded himself to see to it when they arrive on Averam. Then he boarded the starship and made his way to the cockpit. The Andalians stood behind him. “I suggest that you two strap yourselves in for the takeoff.”

“Why aren’t we leaving now?” Senator Yeb demanded.

Miss Yeb pleaded with her brother. “Solipo, please!”

Anakin retorted, “We’re not scheduled to depart until another ten minutes, Senator. This is not Tatooine, where I can simply take off anytime I want. Despite Corellia’s questionable reputation, the spaceport is operated in a tight and orderly manner. And I refuse to take off at a moment’s whim and attract unwanted attention. Now please . . . take your seat and strap in!”

Thankfully, the senator’s sister managed to convince the annoying man to sit down in one of the passengers’ seats. Anakin turned on the ship’s engines after receiving a signal to depart. He guided the Hawk toward one of the landing pads. Within three minutes, the freighter was airborne and zooming away from Corellia’s atmosphere.

END OF CHAPTER FIVE