“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 5/7

“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 5 – “Three on a Date”

LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Danny heaved a sigh and shook his head in disbelief. “What was I thinking? I can’t believe that I thought Fenton Marsh was the right girl for you.”

“We all thought so, Danny.” Rafe slapped his friend’s back. “Hell, I even wanted to marry her.”

“At least you had doubts about her.” Once again, Danny shook his head. Then he noticed one of the nurses, a pretty redhead with glasses, staring at them. “Uh Rafe, I think we’ve rested long enough. That nurse is staring to give us the bug-eye.”

Rafe frowned at Danny. “Wha. . .?” Then he spotted the nurse. “Oh. Gee, I wonder how long she’s been staring at us?”

Danny shrugged. “Who knows? You know, she reminds me of someone. I . . .” The pilot paused, as memories of a restaurant in Manhattan came back to him. He recalled another pretty redhead, only this one had green eyes. Danny also recalled something else – Rafe’s nervous behavior whenever she was around.

The two friends walked over to the station where the red-haired nurse awaited them. “Say Rafe,” Danny began, “do you remember that girl you used to date over a year ago. What was her name? Uh, Julie . . . God, what was her name? Julie . . .”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. Julie Fisher. Yeah, I remember her.”

“She had seemed like a nice girl,” Danny continued. “Why did you two break up?”

Both Danny and Rafe reached Station 2, and joined the other patients in line. Danny noticed that same nervous look from the past year. “Rafe? You okay?”

“Danny, the story I am about to tell, you will find too incredible to believe. And when I finish, I don’t know if you’re going to be pissed . . . or relieved.”

* * * *

MANHATTAN ISLAND, NEW YORK; MAY TO AUGUST 1939 . . . The five pilots emerged from Grand Central Station and paused in the middle of the sidewalk. “Man-hattan!” Second Lieutenant Anthony Fusco declared with enthusiasm. “It’s good to be home!”

The fair-haired Billy Thompson rolled his eyes. “Home for you is Brooklyn, moron. So please spare us that shit-eating grin. You look like a hick.”

Oh Lord! Rafe heaved an inward sigh. Here it comes. Another fight. How could two men who were the best of friends, argue so damn much? “While you two are busy jawing over Anthony’s birthplace, why don’t we check into our hotel first, so we can find a place to eat? I’m starved.”

The pilots immediately agreed with Rafe’s suggestion and hailed two cabs that conveyed them to the St. Mark’s Hotel. After they checked in, Danny suggested that they eat dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. But the others wanted to go out on the town. Anthony suggested one of Manhattan’s most infamous restaurants – Lindy’s. “It has the best cheesecake ever,” he added. “And other stuff.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Rafe commented. “Anyone got a problem with Lindy’s?”

Billy spoke up. “I do. Isn’t Lindy’s supposed to be a hangout for gangsters?”

“Ga-ga-gansters?” Red Winkle said. He was a gangly redhead, whose nervous disposition usually expressed itself in a stammer. M-m-ma-maybe we sh-should g-g-go s-s-s-som-mmewhere else.”

Anthony dismissed Red’s concerns with a wave of his hand. “Somewhere else? Forget about it! Gangsters or no gangsters, everyone goes to Lindy’s.” The others agreed and decided to accept the dark-haired officer’s suggestion. Still dressed in their uniforms, they headed left the hotel and headed for the nearest subway.

If Lindy’s was a hangout for gangsters, Rafe did not see any signs of them – much to his relief. He really did not relish the idea of eating dinner in the company of hardened criminals. But as an officer and gentleman of the U.S. Army Air Corps, he did not feel it was appropriate for him to skulk away from danger. Even if it came in the form of thugs. The pilots found a booth near the entrance and sat down. The restaurant seemed very busy. Fortunately for the five officers, they did not have to wait very long for service. Rafe ordered grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and coffee.

“Where do we g-go from here?” Red asked his fellow pilots. “I mean, it’s only seven fifty-four.”

Billy spoke up. “How about the ’21’ Club? Or the Stork Club?”

“Why don’t we try the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, while we’re at it?” Anthony retorted sarcastically. “Do you have any idea how expensive those places are? Maybe we should try the Savoy Ballroom.”

A nervous Red added, “Isn’t that in Ha-Harlem?”

“So?” Anthony stared at the redhead, who blushed profusely. “Gotta problem with that? I used to there all the time, when I was in high school and college.”

“Y-y-you mean, th-they don’t mind people like us be-be-being there?”

Anthony heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. “If they did, do you think I would have been able to visit there in the first place? Geez Red! Think!” The other pilot’s face now matched the color of his hair.

The waiter finally returned with their dinner. Rafe enjoyed the delicious grilled pork chops, along with the conversation between him and his fellow pilots. They discussed the numerous nightspots in Manhattan, the pilot training course they were enrolled, the political calamities around the world, and the possibility of war. Rafe was among the first to finish his meal. Feeling the pressure to relieve himself, he headed for the restroom. Five minutes later, he left the Men’s Room and bumped into a couple engaged in a heated quarrel.

“The answer is no, Marty! How many times do I have to tell you?” She was a pretty woman in her mid-twenties. Lustrous red hair formed a shoulder-length bob. Her aquiline nose spared her face from the usual bland prettiness. Along with the green eyes that flashed angrily.

Marty, a brutish-looking man of medium height and obviously a low I.Q., sneered at the young woman. “C’mon Julie! Don’t play the shy young thing with me. We both know what you’re really like. Don’t we?”

“You don’t know anything about me!” the young woman named Julie retorted. “So I suggest that you let go of my arm!”

Unfortunately, Marty did not seem interested in releasing Julie. His meaty hand remained clamped around her slender wrist. Rafe, who had been raised to be a Southern gentleman, decided it was time to come to the young lady’s rescue. He stepped forward and tapped the hulk’s shoulder. “Hey buddy,” he said, “why don’t you let go of the lady’s wrist. She’s not interested.”

Both Julie and Marty slowly turned their gazes upon the Army officer. Laughter tumbled out of the young man’s mouth. “The lady? Oh brother! If you only knew!” He eyed Rafe’s uniform with derision. “Now get lost!”

Julie’s face turned pink and Rafe’s sympathy toward her increased tenfold. “I don’t care if she’s one of Polly Adler’s girls! She obviously don’t want you touching her, so let go!” Rafe glared at Julie’s tormentor.

An arrogant and smug smirk stamped on his face, Marty shot back, “Look here, Soldier Boy, I’m gonna count to three. And if you’re not gone, I’m gonna . . .”

Rafe’s fist snaked out and clipped the other man’s chin. Marty sank to the floor like a stone in water. And gave Julie the opportunity to free her wrist from his grasp. Rafe smiled at the fallen man. “Well, I reckon that’s the end of that.” He turned his smile toward Julie.

“I guess so.” Julie smiled back. “Say, do you have any plans for tonight?”

“Well, I’m with some friends at the moment. But we can’t decide where to go.”

Julie paused momentarily, giving Rafe a thoughtful look. “I know this little jazz club on 66th Street. Would you like to . . .?”

Rafe did not even give Julie a chance to finish. “That sounds swell. Let me tell the boys.” He started toward the dining room.

“Oh, wait a minute!” Julie paused. “I was thinking of us going together . . . alone.” Then she added. “If you don’t mind.”

If Rafe had to be honest with himself, he did not mind. Especially if it meant spending time alone in the company of this beauty. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Sure.” He started toward the dining room, with Julie close at his heels. They reached the table, where the other pilots sat. All eyes fell upon Rafe’s new companion. “Hey guys! This is Julie. Julie Fisher.” Rafe then proceeded to introduce her to Danny and the others. When he finished the introductions, Rafe continued, “If you all don’t mind, Julie and me are going out on the town. Alone.”

A sly smile creased Anthony’s mouth. “Hey, we all understand. Don’t we boys?” He glanced at the others, who nodded. Rafe tried not to pay attention to the slight disappointment on Danny’s face.

“Okay then . . . swell,” Rafe said uneasily. “I reckon I’ll see you all, later.” He shot one last glance at Danny and quickly guided Julie out of the restaurant.

* * * *

Miss Julie Fisher proved to be congenial company for Rafe. While they shared a table at a small jazz club in Soho, the couple exchanged life stories. Rafe told Julie about his Tennessee childhood, his friendship with Danny and their decision to become Army pilots. Julie talked about her childhood in upstate New York, her ambition to be a journalist, and her job at LIFE magazine.

“Which is?” Rafe asked. Sounds of Billie Holiday singing “Some Other Spring” filled the background.

Julie smiled. “Copy girl. But one of the editors think I have a chance at becoming a staff writer within a year or two. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Rafe then brought up the subject of Marty. He wanted to know how Julie had met him. According to the redhead, she met Marty at a dance club in the East Village. “He was . . . fun, at first. But I . . .” Her face turned red. “I guess I simply got bored with him. He turned out to be a little too boorish for my taste. If you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I reckon I got a little glimpse of his ‘charming’ personality,” Rafe said with a chuckle. Julie joined in the laughter, and the pair resumed their easy camaraderie. The evening wore on. Rafe and Julie eventually left the club and ended outside Julie’s brownstone in the Village.

The warm May air surrounded them, as Rafe impulsively leaned forward and planted a firm, but light kiss on Julie’s lips. A stunned expression appeared on her face, leaving Rafe to wonder if he had went to far. Until a bright smile stretched her lips. Still smiling, Julie leaned forward, wrapped her arms around Rafe’s neck and kissed him. Hard.

A minute or two passed before the couple finally separated for air. Breathing heavily, Julie seared Rafe with a sultry look and whispered, “So, would you like to come upstairs for a cup of coffee?”

* * * *

The following Monday morning found Rafe, Danny and their fellow squad members, striding toward the airfield at Mitchell Field. “So, how was your date with Julie? Did you have fun?” Danny’s voice radiated forced cheerfulness.

Rafe glanced at his best friend and noticed the tight expression on the latter’s face. “Yeah, uh, it was great. Swell.” He paused. “I see that you’ve finally decided to talk to me.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Well, you know Rafe, I’m trying to forget that you had abandoned the rest of us on Friday night,” he snapped. “So, why don’t you just tell me how your date went?”

“Aw, c’mon Danny! I didn’t mean to abandon you guys! It’s just I couldn’t pass up the chance to be with a girl like Julie!”

Danny abruptly halted in his tracks, causing Rafe to collide into him. “You could have called us, Rafe! Let us know that you would be with her for the rest of the weekend. But you didn’t leave a word or nothing! Just showed up at the hotel, three hours before we were supposed to check out!”

Rafe warily eyed his friend. “Uh, Danny? Not only are you beginning to sound like a jealous lover, you’re also giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

“Goddamit Rafe!” Danny glared at the older man. “It’s not . . . I’m not like that and you know it!” He let out a big sigh. “It’s just . . . well, excuse me for being a worry wart, but you didn’t leave a message, or anything. And by the way, we were all worried.”

Nodding, Rafe said, “Okay, I understand. I won’t do that again. I swear. Besides, Julie would like to get know all of y’all the next time we have furlough.”

“Oh?” The two friends resumed their walk to the field.

Rafe added, “Yeah. We were thinking of all of us spending the day at the World’s Fair.”

“Sounds great,” Danny replied. He paused. “Does Julie know any girls?”

* * * *

Fortunately for Rafe’s fellow pilots, Julie managed to find dates for them. Two weeks had passed since their last trip to New York City. They spent a glorious day at the fair grounds in Flushing, Queens. Later that evening, the group found themselves at the Shubert Theater, which featured the “Streets of Paris” revue and the newest sensation from Brazil, Carmen Miranda. Once the show ended, Rafe and Julie bid the others good-bye and headed for her apartment for more intimate entertainment.

After they enjoyed an hour or two of vigorous lovemaking, the pair laid back on the bed, breathing heavily. A light breeze from the open window cooled their warm and damp skin. “I never said this before,” Rafe said, “but you have a very nice apartment. Sort of big for someone working as a copy girl. LIFE magazine must pay you a nice salary. I wish I could say the same about the Army.”

“Actually, I can’t really afford this place on my own,” Julie replied. She propped herself on her left side, facing Rafe. “I have a roommate.”

Rafe rose into a sitting position. The moonlight beamed through the window and onto his broad chest. “Roommate? Strange, I didn’t know you had one, the last time I was here.”

“Carrie . . . her name is Carrie Menlow . . . is out of town, right now. She’s a secretary for a steel manufacturer,” Julie explained. “She’s in Canada. Montreal, I think. She’s due back in town, next week. I think. She’s . . . very pretty.”

A sly smile plastered on his face, Rafe situated himself on his left side. “Hmm, now I can’t wait to meet her.”

“Oh you!” Giggling, Julie slapped Rafe’s arm. Then she pulled him toward her. “Come here.”

“Yes ma’am,” Rafe murmured. He then lowered his mouth upon hers.

* * * *

Rafe’s introduction to Julie’s roommate came about on the following weekend. And it happened in a manner that took him by surprise. He and Julie were in bed that Friday night, enjoying each other’s company with passionate kisses and caresses, when the bedroom door suddenly swung open.

“What’s this?” a female’s voice asked. Both Rafe and Julie ended their foreplay and stared at the figure standing in the doorway. Rafe had to admit that she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes upon. Shoulder-length blond hair curled into a bob, creamy white skin, wide china blue eyes and full lips. And had never seen so many curves on a figure that small. “Julie,” she continued in a voice that hinted East Coast aristocracy, “aren’t you going to introduce your friend?”

Julie sat up, allowing the sheet to slide to her waist. Rafe wondered if she realized that she was baring all to her friend. “Hi Carrie, this is Rafe. Rafe McCawley. You know, the pilot I had told you about. Rafe, this is my roommate and best friend, Carrie Menlow.”

“Oh yes.” Carrie stepped forward. Her eyes roamed lavisciously over the pilot. “The one from Tennessee. I really must visit the South, one of these days. Well,” a knowing smile touched her lips, “don’t let me interrupt you two. Nice meeting you, Rafe.” The smile still fixed on her lips, Carrie closed the door behind her.

Rafe let out a gust of breath. Julie stared at him. “Something wrong?”

“No, it’s just . . .” An embarrassed Rafe paused. “Well, with her barging in like that, I feel as if my mama had caught me with my . . . you know.”

Julie giggled. Then she pecked Rafe’s cheek. “Silly boy! I’m sorry if Carrie surprised you like that. She does have this habit of barging in. But don’t let it bother you. It’s just Carrie being herself.”

* * * *

Rafe could not help but feel bothered. But he kept his misgivings to himself. And when Julie began planting kisses over his face, he soon forgot about her disturbing roommate, Carrie. Nearly two hours later, the memory of Julie’s roommate struck back with the force of a tornado. Which would be Rafe’s way of describing the impact of a second warm body pressing against his right side. A body that did not belong to Julie.

“What the . . .?” Rafe’s eyes flew open. Shock overcame him, as he noticed Carrie’s body beside his. Her naked body. Jackknifing into a sitting position, he cried out, “What the hell are you doing here?”

His outburst awaken Julie. She sat up and rubbed her tired eyes. “Something wrong?” she asked in a sleepy voice. Then she saw Carrie. “Oh.”

“Julie, honey,” Carrie oozed sweetly, “do you mind if I join you two?”

Rafe protested hotly, “I mind, dammit!” Noting her nude state for the second time, he continued, “And what the hell do you think this is? Some damn whorehouse?”

Carrie assumed a wounded expression. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like me?” She glanced at her roommate. “I thought he liked me, Julie.”

Sympathy and a touch of anxiety mingled in Julie’s green eyes. Her hand reached past Rafe’s body to touch her friend’s arm. “Of course he does, sweetie. He’s just a little surprised. Right Rafe?” Her eyes pleaded with Rafe.

No! The word hovered on Rafe’s lips, but he found himself unable to say it. Especially with Carrie’s hand caressing his inner thigh. “This is wrong!” his mind screamed. By the outcry in his head quickly died down, as Carrie’s caresses became less subtle. And Julie began to kiss his face . . . again.

“Please Rafe,” Julie murmured between kisses, “let Carrie stay.” She gave him a lingering kiss on the mouth. “You won’t regret it. I swear.” Then Julie gently forced Rafe flat on the bed and kissed him once more. A gasp left nearly left Rafe’s mouth, as Carrie’s lips replaced the hand on his thigh. Oh well, he thought, whoever said that surrender does not necessarily meant defeat, knew what he was talking about.

* * * *

“. . . date with Bianca,” Anthony was saying. He and the other members of his squad sat inside the Officers’ Mess at Mitchell Airfield, eating dinner. The Brooklyn-born pilot wore a smug smile on his face. “It seems I got a letter from her, asking me if I was available for next Saturday night.”

Billy looked up at his friend. “Lucky bastard,” he growled. “I haven’t heard from Sheila at all. I’ve left her five phone messages in the last three days and haven’t heard a peep from her. Nothing. I mean, what does she think I have? The crabs or something?”

Anthony’s smile grew even more smug. “Well, do you?” he asked, earning a glared from the blond pilot.

Rafe ignored his friends’ conversation. His mind was fixed on something else. Namely, the last three weekends with Julie and Carrie. Rafe did not know whether to feel surprised or ashamed by the fact that he had not resisted the roommates’ suggestion of a ménage a trios. Did that mean in spite of his parents’ efforts to raise a decent Southern gentleman, they had begat a pervert?

“. . . have to wor . . . worry about a . . . a date.” Red’s voice interrupted the Tennessean’s thoughts. “R-Right Rafe?”

Rafe stared at his fellow pilots with bafflement. “Huh?”

A jab into his side by Danny followed. “C’mon Rafe, wake up! Red’s talking about Julie.” He frowned at the other man. “Something wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, no! Nothing’s wrong,” Rafe protested half-heartedly.

“Are you sure? You seemed distracted.” Danny paused. “You and Julie having problems?”

If you only knew, Rafe silently responded. Instead, he shook his head. “No, uh . . . I was . . . I was thinking of something else. About today’s flight maneuvers.”

Anthony shook his head, while he regarded Rafe with admiration. “Geez McCawley! When it comes to flying, you’re all business. A real ace.” Rafe barely heard him.

While the others continued talking, Danny leaned over and whispered in Rafe’s ear. “Okay – Ace – what’s the real problem?”

“Meaning?” a self-conscious Rafe hissed back.

Danny gave the older man a knowing look and murmured, “Meaning, if you’re really thinking about today’s maneuvers, you would be gabbing away. And not keeping it to yourself.”

Rafe shot his best friend a dark look. There were times he wished that Danny did not know him so well. Like now. “Look, it’s not . . .” He paused, longing to find a way to end this conversation. Glancing out of the window, Rafe spotted a familiar figure walk by. “It’s not what you think. Uh, look Danny, can we finish this later? I have . . . there’s someone I need to see.” He stood up and walked away, ignoring the stares of the other pilots.

Outside the Officers’ Mess, Rafe rushed after the man he was looking for – one Sergeant Lynn Greiger. “Sergeant? Sergeant!” Rafe cried out.

The sergeant paused in his tracks, spotted the approaching young officer and immediately stood at attention. He was a short, wiry man in his late 30s. “Lieutenant?” Greiger’s craggy face remained impassive, as he saluted. “May I help you sir?”

Breathing heavily, Rafe returned the salute. “At ease, Sergeant.” He hesitated, as he contemplated his next words. “Uh, may I have a few moments with you? Privately?”

Greiger frowned. “Of course, sir. Shall we walk?” He indicated the direction of the base’s Administration building. The pair continued walking. “So, Lieutenant, how may I help you?”

Rafe finally asked, “Uh, Sergeant, are you married?”

After a momentary pause, Greiger warily replied, “Divorced, sir. Twice. My former wives . . . they didn’t exactly like being married into the service.”

Nodding, Rafe continued, “Do you hang out . . . I mean, I guess you’re very popular with women. Right?”

“Uh . . . yeah.” Greiger’s frown deepened. “Look Lieutenant, what’s this all about?”

Rafe found himself unable to meet the sergeant’s eyes, when he finally blurted out, “Sergeant, have you ever thought about being with . . . more than one woman? At the same time?”

Greiger’s eyes popped out in shock. He stared at Rafe for what seemed like one long moment. Then a bright smile split his craggy face. “You must have heard those stories about me, Lieutenant. I’ll tell you this . . . they’re true. Hell, not only have I thought about more than one woman, I’ve had this happened to me on several . . .” His voice faded way. Greiger seemed aware that he was speaking to an officer. “What I meant was . . . I haven’t really experienced anything like that, but . . .”

Rafe sighed with frustration. “It’s okay, Sergeant. You have my permission to reveal your deepest and darkest secrets.”

“Yes sir! Anyway, as I was saying,” Sergeant Greiger continued in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’ve experienced . . . sex . . . with more than one woman on a few occasions.” Rafe stared at him. “Okay, on several occasions.”

The young officer urged the sergeant to continue. “What happened?”

“Well sir, I met these two women who sort of introduced me to the experience. It was enjoyable for a while. But in the end . . .” Greiger shook his head. “It just didn’t last. Maintaining a relationship like that is damn difficult, sir. With three people involved, one person is bound to feel left out sometime during the . . . uh, . . . you know, act. Soon, jealousies pop up and it’s all over in one messy fight. If you’re gonna have a . . . well, be with two women at the same time, make sure it’s a one shot deal.” Greiger gives Rafe a shrewd glance. “Pardon me, Lieutenant, but are you . . . uh, involved in a . . .?”

Rafe immediately cried out, “No! I mean . . .” In a calmer voice, he added, “I mean, not yet. But my girlfriend and her roommate . . .” He broke off.

Greiger nodded. “I understand, sir. But uh, if you’re planning to get involved with two women, remember what I had said about those problems, sir. It will happen. I assure you.”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “Yeah. Right. Thanks for the advice, Sergeant.” He gave Greiger a quick nod, dismissing the latter.

“Yes sir.” Greiger saluted the younger officer and walked away.

Rafe watched the older man’s back recede into the crowd. He sighed once more, as his thoughts echoed Greiger’s warning. For the first time, Rafe wondered if he had allowed himself into one hell of a fix.

* * * *

Sergeant Greiger’s warning replayed in Rafe’s mind over the next two weeks. And it played havoc with his life. The Tennessee-born officer became more distant with Danny and the other pilots in his squad. In early July barely paid attention to his flight lesson one afternoon and nearly collided with Red’s plane the following morning. The incident resulted in a chewing out by Major Doolittle, the pilots’ commanding officer. By the time the next furlough arrived, Rafe decided to break it off with both Julie and Carrie. No matter how the two women made him feel, Rafe realized that he did not have what it took to be sexually adventurous.

The day of reckoning finally arrived on a wet Friday evening in mid-August. Upon arriving at their Manhattan hotel, Rafe and his friends were surprised to find Julie, Carrie and four other girls waiting for them in the lobby. “Rafe!” Julie jumped up from her seat and rushed toward the pilot. Carrie remained behind, regarding the couple with a benevolent smile.

“Julie,” Rafe replied in a stunned voice, “uh, wha . . . what are you . . .?”

Planting a kiss, Julie said, “Carrie, myself and the rest of the girls thought we would surprise you. There’s a nightclub Carrie and I had stumbled across it, last Wednesday. We’re here to escort you there.”

Rafe summoned up a wan smile. “Sounds great.” A long pause followed.

Then Billy asked, “Who’s Carrie?” Upon mention of her name, the blond-haired woman rose from her chair and joined the group at the lobby’s desk.

Suppressing a sigh, Rafe said, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. You guys never met Carrie, did you?”

“Hi,” Julie’s roommate greeted with a smile, “I’m Carrie. Carrie Menlo. I’m Julie’s roommate.” She said to Billy, “And you are?”

Rafe introduced his four friends to Carrie. He noticed how the blond woman’s eyes roamed appreciatively over Danny. The latter’s face turned red over Carrie’s close scrutiny. “Uh, hi. I’m Danny. Lieutenant Daniel Walker. Ma’am.”

“And I’m Carrie. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand. Danny shook it. Reluctantly.

Rafe decided to quickly step in. “Uh, listen, we need to check in and get ready. So why don’t y’all continue to wait here in the lobby?”

“And go to this nightclub?” Red asked, frowning. “Aren’t we going to eat, first?”

A sigh left Anthony’s mouth. “Yes Red,” he said in a long-suffering voice. “We’ll have dinner, first. Geez!” The last word came out as a whisper. Red overheard him, anyway.

Julie agreed to Rafe’s suggestion. “We’ll be waiting for you.” She pecked Rafe’s cheek one last time. Then she and Carrie joined the other girls in the waiting area, while the desk clerk proceeded to check in the pilots.

* * * *

The evening started on a pleasant note. The pilots, along with the five women, had dinner at a cheap, but clean restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Then Julie and Carrie led the others to a Cuban nightclub on 63rd Street. Decorated with a tropical theme, the club featured a Cuban band that performed songs like “The Peanut Vendor” and “Perfidio”.

Around one-thirty in the morning, the party finally left the nightclub, weary and slightly drunk. While the other pilots headed back to the hotel, Rafe accompanied Julie and Carrie to their apartments. The moment that the three young people entered the bedroom, Sergeant Greiger’s warnings immediately left Rafe’s mind. Instead, he allowed himself to enjoy himself with the two women, as they indulged themselves on Carrie’s large bed. But the pleasure of their early morning orgy did not last, thanks to a simple suggestion from Julie.

“Rafe?” Julie’s voice sliced through the heavy silence that surrounded the satiated trio.

The pilot heaved a slight sigh. “Yeah?” He lay between the slumbering Carrie and Julie, whom he faced.

“Carrie and I were talking, earlier this evening. About Danny.”

Rafe stiffened at the mention of his best friend’s name. “What about him?” Curiosity and suspicion mingled within him.

Julie hesitated. “Well, we were wondering if you would ask him to join us, tomorrow night. You know, as a foursome.”

“Foursome?” Rafe frowned. “You mean like a double date? I had noticed that Carrie seemed interested in Danny.”

A giggle escaped Julie’s mouth. “A double date? Well, I guess you can call it that. But Carrie and I were thinking of something different. Here at the apartment. You know, a foursome.”

Rafe finally understood. Images of him, Danny and the two roommates cavorting in the bedroom with limbs all akimbo sent him into a state of shock. He understood, all right. Julie and Carrie wanted an orgy that would involve Danny. It was the last straw. Rafe shot up into a sitting position and climbed out of bed. He snatched his pair of boxers from a nearby chair.

“What are you doing?” Julie demanded with a frown.

“Leaving,” Rafe shot back. “For good. It’s over.”

An anxious-looking Julie woke up her roommate. “Carrie! Carrie, wake up! Rafe’s leaving.”

Heavy-lidded blue eyes blinked open. “Wha . . . aa . . . at?”

“Rafe’s leaving. Now!”

The two women stared at Rafe, while he continued to dress. “What’s going on?” Carrie demanded. “Why are you leaving? It’s not even three, yet.”

Resentment tinged Julie’s voice. “It’s about his friend, Danny. Apparently, Rafe doesn’t want him to join in the . . . festivities.”

“Damn right,” Rafe added, as he knotted his tie.

Carrie sat up. “What’s the matter, Rafe?” she said in a condescending voice. “Afraid that we’ll like him better?”

Rafe reached for his jacked and put it on. “Nope. I’m afraid that Danny will like your new . . . arrangement. Or even worse, be disgusted with me. And I’m not ready to lose him as a friend.” He grabbed his cap.

A sneer formed on Julie’s lips. “I should have known. Underneath that uniform, you’re just another hick unable to handle life in the big city. Maybe you’re afraid that your friend might be different.”

Squarely facing the two nude women, Rafe coolly replied, “Trust me, Julie. Danny is as much of a hick, as I am. And I aim for both of us to stay that way. If you want an orgy that bad, why don’t you get in touch with your old friend, Marty. I’m sure he could supply you with another partner or two. Good-bye ladies.”

Rafe turned smartly on his heels and marched out of the bedroom. For the first time in over two months, he felt good about himself. Despite Julie’s cry of “Self-righteous bastard!” ringing in his ears.

END OF PART 5

Advertisement

“The Helmsman’s Logs – 2372” [PG-13] – Part II

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

_________________________

“THE HELMSMAN’S LOG – 2372”

Part II

STARDATE 49406.28 – Oh shit! What the hell has Tuvok got me
into? And why in the hell did I agree to get involve in his
crazy plan? Okay, I know why. There’s a spy aboard Voyager.
Someone aboard ship may be in contact with Seska and the Kazon.
And the Captain and Tuvok have asked me to help me flush out
this spy. The plan calls for acting like a malcontent – being
late for duty, submitting incomplete reports, tweaking
regulations. And all this would mean coming into conflict with
the ship’s First Officer. Namely Chakotay.

A part of me does not really want to take that step backward. I
don’t want to be that man who first boarded Voyager just over a
year ago. But if it means flushing out that spy . . . Damn! I
only hope that a lot of people will forgive me when this is
over. End personal log.

STARDATE 49415.19 – Operation . . . hell, I don’t know. Bad Boy?
Well anyway, it has commenced. The operation to flush out the
spy.

I began with a little something that was bound to get me into
trouble – an illegal gambling operation. Unfortunately, the plan
called for using Harry. Allow him to win a game of pool to
bolster his ego. Then challenge him and a few others with
another game of chance – namely, predict the daily radiogenic
particle count at the price of one replicator credit per bet.
And I would get to keep a small percentage of the proceeds for
operating the game. This ought to grab Chakotay’s attention and
get me into trouble. End personal log.

STARDATE 49417.21 – Murder aboard Voyager. This morning,
B’Elanna told Harry and me that she found Crewman Frank Darwin
inside an ESP conduit – apparently murdered. Tuvok has already
found the culprit. Namely Lon Suder. I’m not really surprised.
I didn’t know Suder that well in the Maquis. That’s because one
glance at those creepy peepers of his had encouraged me to stay
away. Can you blame me? There seemed to be a violent and
bloodthirsty aura about him. And to think he had killed Darwin,
because he didn’t like the way the other man looked at him. I’m
glad that he never caught me staring.

B’Elanna seemed really shook up over the whole thing. She
complained that Tuvok made a big thing over Chakotay’s failure
to inform him and Janeway about Suder’s character. I replied
that I didn’t blame Tuvok. If everyone knew about my “criminal”
past, why should Suder be exempt? B’Elanna, loyal as always,
didn’t respond well to my remark.

Tonight, the radiogenic sweepstakes will resume. I wonder who
will win the pot. My guess is no one. End personal log.

STARDATE 49420.49 – It has finally happened. The first steps of
the operation to flush out Seska’s spy ended when Chakotay found
out about the sweepstakes and shut it down. And it only took him
two days. He tried to give me the old “I thought-you-could-do-
better”
 speech, but I shot him down with a nasty comment. I
must be honest. I really enjoyed getting Chakotay’s goat like
that. It’s as if this whole mission has given me carte blanche
to express my true feelings.

What I don’t like is earning the other crewmen’s antipathy.
Especially Harry’s. He is my closest friend on this ship. And
ever since being captured by the Vidiians, the crew has slowly
begun to accept me. I only hope the spy will make him or herself
known before I can piss off anyone else.

As for the brains behind this operation – I haven’t seen Tuvok
lately. Instead, I’ve been reporting to Captain Janeway.
According to B’Elanna, Ayala told her that Tuvok had mind
melded with Suder in order to learn the latter’s motives for
killing Darwin. I wonder what happened that led Tuvok to disappear
like that? End personal log.

STARDATE 49458.08 – The operation to flush out Seska’s spy
continues. At Tuvok’s request, I was late for the senior staff
meeting, regarding the latest crisis, looking disheveled. The
problem is that I wish I hadn’t – considering what was being
discussed.

Voyager encountered . . . would you believe this? We encountered
a Cardassian missile here in the Delta Quadrant. And it arrived in
the same manner as we did – via the Caretaker’s array. What made
this situation even more bizarre is that the Maquis had captured
the missile and reprogrammed it to strike a Cardassian target –
namely a fuel depot in a sector far from here. The missile
apparently believed it was still in the Alpha Quadrant, and that
an M-class planet called Ralorka IV was the Cardassian fuel
depot.

B’Elanna confessed that it was she who had reprogrammed
Dreadnought (the Maquis’ name for it) without Chakotay’s
permission. Apparently, the Big Guy made his disappointment known
after he found out in that “damn soft voice of his”.
Typical Chakotay. But I didn’t say so to B’Elanna. Our conversation
eventually switched to my recent “discipline” problems. She
had heard about my recent altercations with Lieutenant Rollins,
regarding my navigational reports. What could I say? That I’m
pretending to be a pain-in-the-ass, so that Tuvok can flush out
a spy? Instead, I lied and told her that Rollins had over-
exaggerated the situation. You know, I almost chucked Tuvok’s
crazy little scheme after that conversation. I don’t know.
Manipulating Harry was bad enough. But for some reason, I really
felt like a heel after lying to B’Elanna. End personal log.

STARDATE 49459.81 – She did it. B’Elanna stopped the Dreadnought
missile from striking Ralorka IV. And not a minute too soon. At
first, we all thought she had deactivated the missile – until I
noticed that it had resumed its course to the planet. Hearing
its voice – B’Elanna’s voice – over the Comm system nearly gave
me the creeps. It sounded so unemotional. So unlike B’Elanna.

After we lost contact with B’Elanna during her second trip to
Dreadnought’s interior, the Captain decided to evacuate Voyager
and detonate it in front of the missile to divert it from
Ralorka IV. I wanted to stay behind and help, but she insisted
that Harry and me follow Chakotay and the others to the escape
pods. Only Tuvok remained behind. Fortunately, B’Elanna
destroyed the missile and we all returned to the ship. It just
hit me. If Voyager had been destroyed, I would have been left
with the messy task of informing Chakotay about the mission to
find the spy. And considering our recent hostilities, I would
have found myself in a sticky situation. End personal log.

STARDATE 49499.09 – It’s been over a month since I began this
mission to trap the spy and I’m getting nowhere. I haven’t been
approached or anything. So, the deception continues. Once again,
I was late in reporting for duty on the Bridge. I must say that
I came up with some pretty lame excuses – like helping Sam
Wildman give birth. Unsurprisingly, no one bought them. And
naturally, Chakotay raised a fuss. The only other action that
occurred was an encounter with a Vidiian ship. It didn’t turn
out that big of a threat. We only found one lifesign aboard – a
female who was seriously ill. Talk about a dull and frustrating
day. End personal log.

STARDATE 49501.45 – Chakotay and I had a fight in the Mess Hall.
A spat, really. And for once, it wasn’t my doing. Okay, maybe it
was my fault, since I was the one who became hostile. But I have
to admit that Chakotay presented me with the perfect opportunity
in his attempt to play the Good Samaritan. He wanted to talk
about my recent problems. Perhaps help me. You know, I almost
laughed in his face. But I didn’t. Instead, I sneered at his
concern for me and accused him of never taking my contributions
to the ship, seriously. I even brought up my suggestion of
investigating a recent nebula. Actually, I knew it was a dumb
idea that Chakotay would surely dismiss. And give me the opportunity
to express my hostility.

Poor Chakotay. I will really feel sorry for him when he learns
About this deception. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like the guy,
but the shit is really going to hit the fan when he realizes that
the Captain and Tuvok had decided not to include him in this
little scheme. I finally asked Tuvok why he didn’t want Chakotay
to know. He replied that he suspected a former Maquis of being
the spy and he wanted to spare our first officer of any personal
conflictions, considering the latter’s tendency to jump to the
Maquis’ defense whenever one of them encounter any discipline.
Seemed plausible. Somewhat. Okay, it was pure bullshit. I may be
wrong, but I have the oddest feeling that spite and dislike
played a part in Tuvok’s decision. As our indomitable security
chief has stated repeatedly, Vulcans have emotions. They only
suppress them. Yeah, right. This decision to keep Chakotay in
the dark is a sure sign of emotional suppression. End personal
log.

STARDATE 49503.51 – The Doc is in love! Who would have believed
it? Well, I already knew that he harbored some feelings for Kes.
I just never thought he would fall for someone else. Namely, our
Vidiian visitor. I’ve only met her briefly, inside Sandrine’s,
last night. When the Doc told me about her reactions to his
overture, I realized that my original estimation of Denara Pel
had been right. She was shy. Even B’Elanna, who had every reason
to hate the Vidiians, developed a sympathetic regard for her.

After the Doc’s failure with Denara, he asked me for advice. Me,
Tom Paris. Of all people! I guess he doesn’t know about my
rapidly declining reputation. Anyway, I told him about my old
Academy girlfriend, Susie Crabtree, and how she dumped me at the
end of our first year. After word of Caldik Prime got around, I
guess she finally realized that she had been right to dump me.
Anyway, I agreed to help the Doc win Denara Pel back. And I just
came up with an idea. End personal log.

LOG SUPPLEMENTAL – Just paid a visit to Tuvok’s office. He
informed me that it was time to take our deception a notch
upward. A step that should either bring me in contact with the
spy or Seska. I have to create some kind of physical altercation
with Chakotay that will get me in the Brig. Oh great! This
should look good on my record. Sigh! I hate to say it, but Tuvok
is right. So far, the Big Man has barely reacted to my
insubordination. I’m beginning to suspect that he’s a stick of
wood in disguise. Maybe what Tuvok has in mind will finally do
it. Push the situation beyond control. And the sooner I end this
charade, the better. End personal log.

STARDATE 49509.03 – Well, it finally worked. Tuvok’s plan. I
reported on the Bridge yesterday morning, late as usual.
Chakotay coolly informed me that he has found someone else to
replace me at the Helm. Namely Baytart. I know this was supposed
to be an act, but for some reason, I felt a surge of anger. I
really wanted to hit the bastard. Instead, I insisted upon
reporting for duty and that was when Chakotay gave me the
opportunity. He touched me on the arm, but I purposely over-
reacted and shoved him. I have to be honest. It felt good. The
pleasure disappeared when the Captain ordered Tuvok to escort me
to the Brig. For a brief moment, I felt a sense of déjà vu. It
brought back the time when Starfleet captured me after three
weeks with the Maquis. The feeling ended when Tuvok led me to
his office. He assured me that this little stint to the Brig
will not appear on my record.

After twenty-four hours in the Brig, I was released. No one had
come by to visit me. Not even Harry. I guess I don’t blame them.
That reminds me, I have to find out how the Doc’s date with
Denara Pel went. End personal log.

STARDATE 49520.59 – This will be my last log entry, until my
return to the ship. That is, if I ever return. Since my little
spell in the Brig, I have become persona non gratis aboard
Voyager. Only the Doc, Harry, Kes and Neelix seemed willing to
talk with me. The Captain and Tuvok decided it was best to take
the deception to the next level. Leave Voyager and offer myself
as bait to Seska. Tuvok contacted a Talaxian freighter that was
looking for a new pilot. He figured that once the crew learn
about my departure, the spy would contact Seska. I only hope
that . . . (door chimes) Enter! Got a visitor. End personal log.

STARDATE 49526.06 – I am so glad to be back! And to be honest, I
really didn’t think I would make it. Especially after Seska
caught me using the ship’s computer. But it was too late. At
least for her. I managed to discover the spy’s identity before
she could stop me. It was Mike Jonas. Now that I think about it,
I’m not really surprised. There was always something about him
that I didn’t trust. Even back in the Maquis. Too quiet and too
sneaky. And I also remembered that he and Seska used to be quite
chummy back in those days. Well, he’s dead, poor Mike. I don’t
think anyone will mourn him.

Now that I’ve succeeded in my mission, I’ve become very popular
aboard ship. Both Neelix and me. I think that little spot on the
“Breakfast With Neelix” show must have done the trick.
Personally, I found it embarrassing, but Neelix insisted that he
interview me. I don’t know why. He was just as responsible for
stopping Jonas and Seska from luring Voyager into a trap. And he
was the one who killed Jonas.

Most of the Maquis are pretty upset over the revelation.
Especially Hogan. I haven’t seen such embarrassment since Seska
was revealed to be a Cardassian spy. I think the embarrassment
was worse for Chakotay. Not only was he the one who had
originally recruited Jonas, but he also found out about Tuvok
and the Captain’s scheme. I don’t know if he has forgiven those
two for making a chump out of him, but judging from the silent
treatment I have received since my return, he certainly has not
forgiven me. I guess things are back to normal. End personal log.

STARDATE 49537.58 – The Doc’s lady love, Denara Pel, left
Voyager today. We delivered her to a Vidiian colony without
being detected by her people. Both seemed upset, but resigned. It
seemed that the little matchmaking scheme Kes and I had devised,
worked. Good. At least he had a nice romance.

Chakotay has begun talking to me again. Somewhat. At least when
the topic of ship’s business come up. But it’s worse with
B’Elanna. She hasn’t given me the silent treatment, like
Chakotay. Nor has she been hostile. But she seems to make sure
that we’re never alone, together. And during off duty hours, she
usually sticks to Harry like glue. Or remain in her cabin –
alone. I’m beginning to suspect that once again, our friendship
is in serious trouble. End personal log.

STARDATE 49547.7 – God! This has been one bizarre day! Harry .
. . and I mean by Harry Number 2 . . . Hell, I better start from
the beginning!

It all started during Alpha shift. Sam Wildman went into labor,
while we all anxiously awaited news of Voyager’s first baby. It
wasn’t long before I spotted Vidiian ships on the sensors.
Voyager eventually hid inside a plasma cloud to avoid detection.
Once the ship left the nebula, all hell broke loose. The warp
engine stalled, the antimatter supplies began to drain and
proton burst caused a hull breach. We had no idea where the
proton bursts came from, since B’Elanna had not begun to start
our own bursts to stave off the antimatter drain. Then our
situation became worse. The Doctor reported that Sam’s baby had
died, due to the ship’s power drain. And . . . shit! It’s all in
the past and I’m still shaking. B’Elanna . . . B’Elanna reported
from Deck 15 that Kes had disappeared into a mysterious void.
(Pauses) And that Harry had died after being sucked into space.
(Pauses) That news really floored me. I mean . . . Harry was gone.
Permanently. But I didn’t have time to digest that at the time.
None of us did. Before we knew it, another hull breach occurred
on Deck 1 and we had to abandon the Bridge.

What happened? A divergence field had caused sensor reading to
double and every particle on the ship to duplicate. Two Voyagers
eventually formed and there wasn’t enough antimatter to sustain
both vessels. We also discovered that the proton bursts that
were damaging our ship, came from the second one. The Captain
Janeway from the other ship visited ours and explained
everything. I don’t know what plan the two captains had come up
with. To be honest, we didn’t have time for an explanation. The
Vidiians had returned and began firing upon our ships. I mean,
the other Voyager. Captain Janeway #2, in an effort to prevent
the Vidiians from a successful organ harvest and detecting our
ship, initiated the self-destruct button. Both the second
Voyager and the Vidiian ship were destroyed.

Before the two ships were destroyed, the second Captain had sent
over her Harry Kim and baby Wildman to our ship. In the end, Sam
Wildman ended up with her baby after all. And we got Harry back.
Sort of. Hell, I don’t know. This is all crazy. Harry #2 – I
guess I should just call him Harry – had repeated the Captain’s
words that weird was all part of the job of being a Starfleet
officer
. If you ask me, I could do without it. End personal log.

STARDATE 49556.69 – We held a christening for Sam Wildman’s new
baby. The good ensign named her Naomi. Very pretty. Neelix has
been named godfather. During the whole, ungodly mess two days
ago, he had comforted Sam, while she dealt with the loss of the
first baby.

Ever since our encounter with the plasma cloud, B’Elanna has
grown even closer to Harry. I guess I don’t blame her. Even if
there were times when I feel that I’m being shut out. Witnessing
the death of a friend can be very traumatic. I know from past
experience. Which leads me to something else. Namely the odd
looks I’ve been receiving from Harry. I wonder what he had
witnessed. My counterpoint’s death at the hands of the Vidiians?
End personal log.

STARDATE 49583.99 – That’s it! I’ve had enough! I asked Sue
Nicoletti for a date and again, she gave me the brush off. I
don’t know what to believe. That she won’t go on one simple date
with me, or that I’ve been pursuing her for six months. I told
Harry that my nickname for her is “Cold Hands, Cold Heart
Nicoletti”
. Great! I’ve been pursuing an iceberg. I can’t
Think of any other woman aboard this ship that I’m deeply interested
in. Well, there was Kes, but I’ve recently discovered that I’m
no longer in love with her. She’s a warm and sweet woman. Like a
sister. And I’m not really interested in incest. End personal
log.

STARDATE 49608.69 – Dick Bennet is dead. He and two other
crewmen were killed in a shuttlecraft crash, during a geological
survey mission on the moon of Drayan II. Only Tuvok had survived.
Both McCormack and Margot Gallagher are devastated. Especially
Margot. I went to her cabin to offer my condolences, but I don’t
think she was in the mood to receive visitors. I hope she
doesn’t do anything drastic. End personal log.

STARDATE 49654.99 – I used to think what I did on Caldik Prime
was the worst I could image. Maybe it was. But what happened to
Tuvix makes me wonder. I still remember standing on the Bridge,
with him begging us to help him, while Security dragged him
away. What could I do? Order the guards to let him go? Free him
myself? The Captain would have won in the end, and we got Tuvok
and Neelix back. So I just stood there like a goddamn coward. I
am so disgusted. Not only with myself, but with the rest of the
crew. The only person who didn’t seem upset over the whole
matter was Kes. She got Neelix back. I wonder if her experience
with the Ocampans had really changed her. The Captain is wearing
one of those “I did the right thing” expressions. Well, no
one will condemn her. Hell, none of us can. We’re just as guilty for
standing by, while she killed Tuvix. End personal log.

STARDATE 49659.92 – While investigating this planet in the Nyras
system, the Captain and Chakotay were bitten by an insect that
infected them with a deadly disease. In order to keep them
alive, the Doc had them put in statis. At least until he can
find a cure. This has left Tuvok has assumed command of the ship
and me, as acting first officer. Great! End personal log.

STARDATE 49744.67 – It’s over. The Doctor was unable to find a
cure for the Captain and Chakotay’s disease. He had no choice
but to return them to the planet’s surface, where they had been
infected. The planet’s atmosphere helps keep the disease benign.
So, we beamed them to the surface, along with equipment and supplies
for a habitation.

Tuvok broke the news to the rest of the senior staff, during a
meeting. He also added that the Captain had ordered the crew to
continue on to the Alpha Quadrant. That meant Tuvok and I would
permanently become the two senior officers. Oh God! This is the
last thing I wanted – being Tuvok’s XO. I can only assume that
serving directly under Chakotay would be worse. As for Tuvok –
he seemed so damn cold about leaving the Captain and Chakotay
behind. What is it with him? Doesn’t he have any feelings?
(Sighs) Of course not. He’s a Vulcan. And a Vulcan is the last
person in the universe who should be in command of a ship. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49704.69 – I never realized, until today, what an idiot
I’ve been. And a bigot. It took Ayala, of all people, to remind
me.

It all started with Harry, who has been continuously bitching
about Tuvok since we left the Captain and Chakotay behind. All
of us were in the Mess Hall, brooding over our present situation
and the new captain. To be honest, Tuvok hasn’t been much of a
problem. But we were all still pissed by his cold attitude about
leaving our officers behind. I thought that Ayala would
understand how we felt, considering he used to be one of
Chakotay’s right-hand men. Surprise, surprise! Instead, he
reminded us that we were not giving Tuvok a chance to prove
himself as a captain and a leader. He reminded B’Elanna and other
Maquis about how Chakotay had to grow as a leader of a Maquis
cell. And he reminded the Starfleeters that Janeway had to do
the same aboard Voyager. Ayala also added that Vulcan starship
captains were nothing new in Starfleet. He had a point. He
castigated us for not giving Tuvok a chance to grow into the new
role as commander of a starship with a crew dominated by Humans.

I don’t think Ayala’s speech had much affect on the others. With
the exception of a handful from the Security Division, Kes,
Gerron, and our resident Vulcans, everyone else continued to
brood over our new captain. I guess I can now consider myself
part of the former. Mike was right. We should give Tuvok a
chance. Hell, I got one. Why not him? I guess I’ve always prided
myself on being tolerant. Mike made me realize that I had
forgotten about the Vulcan security officer who had not automatically
considered me guilty of murder, last year. Shit! End personal
log.

STARDATE 49808 – Trouble on the Bridge, today. Harry had
detected a Vidiian ship some several light years away. Tuvok
acknowledged the new with usual stoic manner and ordered us to
continue our course. Then Harry made a mistake. He insisted that
we contact the Vidiians to seek a cure for the Captain and
Chakotay’s disease. Even worse, he tried to rally support from
the other crewmen on the Bridge. Between Tuvok’s threats of a
trip to the Brig and my warning, Harry finally backed down.

What the hell was the matter with him? I realize that he missed
the Captain. Hell, so do I. But what he did was stupid.
Especially for a man with ambitions for a stellar career in
Starfleet. End personal log.

STARDATE 49810.13 – He did it again. Once more, Harry tried to
convince Tuvok to contact the Vidiians. He had approached Tuvok
in the latter’s quarters, early this morning. Harry had
apologized for his earlier behavior on the Bridge. He even added
that the Doc was willing to contact Dr. Denara Pel and that
B’Elanna was willing to donate a sample of her Klingon DNA. Now
that took me by surprise! And disturbed me, too.

In the end, Tuvok rejected Harry’s request, reminding him of the
destruction of that Vidiian ship, some three months back. And
once again, Harry lost his temper. (Sighs) You know, maybe we
should contact the Vidiians – if that would keep Harry from
starting a large-scale mutiny. And with the Vidiians close by, a
mutiny is the last thing we need. If that happens, who would
save us? Tuvok is the only one aboard this ship with the
tactical knowledge to deal with the Vidiians. And he can’t do
that, while in the Brig. End personal log.

STARDATE 49813.52 – In the end, Kes managed to convince Tuvok to
contact the Vidiians. I’m relieved, but at the same time, I feel
like a failure. As acting First Officer, I should have been the
one to talk to him. It was my job. Just as it was my job to
inform Tuvok about the crew’s morale, without resorting to
Harry’s temper tantrums. Instead, I kept silent. Some XO I
turned out to be. End personal log.

STARDATE 49818.7 – It worked. We got the cure from the Vidiians,
thanks to Dr. Pel’s generosity. And without Tuvok, we would have
never escaped. Looking back on it, he was right to doubt the
Vidiians’ help. If it had not been for his tactics and Dr. Pel’s
help, we would have never succeeded. Now, we’re on our way back
to the Captain and Tuvok. End personal log.

STARDATE 49853.36 – It’s been almost two weeks since our
encounter with the Vidiians. I feel as if I’m on another ship.
Voyager is on its way back to retrieve the Captain and Chakotay
and the crew is happy. I know that Harry is happy. He has
returned to the ideal Starfleet officer that he was before this
whole incident. But his little act isn’t fooling either Tuvok or
me. I didn’t think Vulcans could deliberately act cold toward a
particular person, but I’ve noticed that Tuvok has been giving
Harry the cold shoulder. I tried to point this out to Harry, but
the big idiot replied that Tuvok had promised not to inform the
Captain about his little insurrection. Maybe, but I wouldn’t be
surprised if she found out what happened, anyway. And that Harry
will live to regret it. End personal log.

STARDATE 49933.57 – It’s been a day since the Captain and
Chakotay’s return to Voyager. I wish I could say that everything
is back to normal. But I would be lying. Despite their
gratitude, our two senior officers did not seem happy to be
back. I would give a month’s worth of replicator rations to
learn what happened during those three months on that planet. I
pointed out the Captain and Chakotay’s subdued manner to
B’Elanna and Harry. The former seemed disturbed, while Harry
dismissed the whole idea. I’m beginning to wonder about Harry.
In some ways, I think he has become even greener since leaving
the Alpha Quadrant. Or maybe he just doesn’t react that well to
change. And that’s not a good trait for a Starfleet officer. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49947.25 – Had lunch in the Mess Hall with Harry and
B’Elanna. It turned out to be a disaster. Harry complained about
Tuvok giving him a hard time on the Bridge, while the Captain
and Chakotay were going over reports in the Ready Room this
morning. I told him what did he expect, after the trouble he
gave Tuvok. I also added that he was lucky that Tuvok never
reported him for insubordination.

Okay, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but all the
tension from the past six months had finally got to me. And
Harry’s whining was irritating the hell out of me. He left the
Mess Hall in a huff. B’Elanna demanded that I apologize. Why
should I? Someone had to make Harry realize the consequences of
his actions. He doesn’t realize that he may have screwed up his
Starfleet career for good. Limited as it was, here in the Delta
Quadrant. I said this to B’Elanna and she gave me one of her
death glares before leaving the Mess Hall, herself. Shit! I
really should keep my mouth shut. End personal log.

STARDATE 49950.6 – I apologized to Harry for my remarks in the
Mess Hall and he has forgiven me. We’re friends, again. I can’t
say the same about B’Elanna. She continues to give me the cold
shoulder Not once, during dinner, did she utter one word to me.
I’m beginning to suspect that her attitude has more to do with
the deception I had carried out to flush out Seska’s spy, than
with Harry. At first, I felt frustrated by her attitude. Now,
I’m pissed. I’m getting tired of worrying about what she thinks
of me. It seems as if she can’t make up her mind. If she wants
to be friends again, fine. If not, I guess I can live without
her good opinion. I’ve done it before. End personal log.

STARDATE 49985.91 – Voyager came across a message buoy. From
Seska. It seemed she finally had her baby. Or should I say,
Chakotay’s baby? And Maje Cullah seemed upset by the identity of
the baby’s father. Judging from the expression on Chakotay’s
face, I have a feeling that won’t be going after the child.
Which suits me just fine. If you ask me, this whole thing sounds
like a trap. End personal log.

STARDATE 49987.73 – Chakotay and the Captain have decided to go
after Seska’s baby, after all. Oh God! This would mean heading
for the Kazon-Nistrim stronghold in the Gema system. I had
suggested we contact the Talaxian mining colony on Prema II for
extra help. Even the Doc had a suggestion – use the ship’s
deflector grid as holoemitters in order to project images of
nearby Talaxian ships. Not a bad idea, even though it’s a
deception that probably won’t last. I did consider suggesting
that we call this whole thing off, but I don’t think anyone will
listen. End personal log.

STARDATE 49996.36 – Voyager encountered a Kazon shuttle with an
injured man inside. I recognized him immediately. One of Seska’s
aides – Tierna. Chakotay also recognized him. Personally, I
think we should space Tierna out of the nearest airlock. I can’t
help but feel that we’re being set up. I’ve heard that Chakotay
has his own suspicions regarding our visitor. But as Harry has
continuously pointed out, we are a Federation ship. And that
means giving aid to those who needs it, regardless of our
suspicions. Is it any wonder I never wanted to be a Starfleet
officer in the first place? If the Captain is determined to give
aid to Tierna, I hope she has considered contacting the
Talaxians on Prema II. End personal log.

STARDATE 49999.98 – Tierna has regained consciousness. He
claimed that Maje Cullah had killed Seska, after learning that
Chakotay was the baby’s father. As for the baby – it will be
sent to Gema IV, the seat of Kazon-Nistrim power, to be raised
as a servant. What’s the point of repeating myself? This mission
doesn’t feel right. Besides, I really can’t see Voyager
infiltrating the Kazon-Nistrim stronghold.

Although today is New Year’s Eve, no one is in the mood for a
party. A few of us had gathered at Sandrine’s for a little
celebration. But the party mood died out long before 2373 arrived
and everyone left. Very dismal. End personal log.

THE END

“The Helmsman’s Logs – 2372” [PG-13] – Part I

I am continuing with the saga of Lieutenant Tom Paris’ personal experiences with the Voyager crew, in the Delta Quadrant. This covers Season 2 episodes from “Initiation” to “Basics, Part 1”.

———-

“THE HELMSMAN’S LOGS – 2372”
RATING: [PG-13]
SUMMARY: The second in a collection of Tom Paris’ personal logs during Voyager’s seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Part 2 focuses upon the ship’s second year, 2372.
FEEDBACK: 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

STARDATE 49000.95 – Aaaagh! Shit! I’ve got the worse hangover! I
never thought anyone could get a hangover from synthehol. Hell,
I haven’t had one since my days with the Maquis and that was
with real alcohol. Poor Marie was still unconscious when I left
her quarters, this morning. Oh well. At least we had one hell of
a party. Too bad all of us weren’t able to enjoy it. Tuvok
wasn’t there. And B’Elanna left the party before the New Year.
Too bad. The party became even wilder after she left. In fact, I
have to say this was one of the best New Year parties I have
ever attended. End personal log.

STARDATE 49004.6 – We nearly lost Harry, today. While making a
polaron scan, his shuttle accidentally intersected a time stream.
Harry would have been killed from a warp-core breach, if Torres
had not transported him to the ship in time. After we retrieved
him, he asked if I was aboard the ship. Strange. He said
something even odder after he appeared on the Bridge. “I owe you
one.”
 Now, what did he mean by that? End personal log.

STARDATE 49013.63 – Harry told B’Elanna and me a strange tale,
this evening. Only, it wasn’t really a tale. That time stream
that Harry had intercepted, sent him to an alternate reality. A
reality where neither of us ended up on Voyager.

Harry told us that in the other reality, he served in the
Starfleet Corps of Engineering and lived with his fiancée in San
Francisco. Lucky bastard. It seems my alter ego never made it
aboard Voyager, especially after I . . . I mean, he got into a
fight with that Ferengi bartender on Deep Space Nine. Alternate
Tom was pardoned on Stardate 48702 – three months short of my
full sentence. I, or he ended up as drunken barfly in
Marsailles. When Harry told us this – most reluctantly, I may
add – not even B’Elanna could look me in the eye.

In the end, even Harry ran into hot water after visiting a known
“Maquis sympathizer” – namely me – and accessing classified
files about Voyager. Those idiots at Starfleet Command accused
him of spying for the Maquis. Harry found out about the
time stream accident from an extra-dimensional intelligence named
Cosmo. Assigned to watch over Harry after the accident, Cosmo
eventually gave Harry the coordinates to return to the right
timeline. And Harry would have never accomplished this without
help from Libby and Alternate Tom. I may add that my alternate
ego died in a shuttle core breach just seconds after helping
Harry return to our time. Poor bastard. Makes me appreciate my
life aboard Voyager even more.

B’Elanna asked Harry why he didn’t remain in that alternate
life, when given the chance. It seemed he couldn’t live with his
friend, Danny Byrd, being unnecessarily stuck aboard Voyager. Or
me, wasting my life away at Sandrine’s. Poor Harry. He gave up
so much in the name of friendship. And to right a wrong. That’s
Starfleet for you. I hope he never changes. End personal log.

STARDATE 49045.55 – The Captain has finally approved my
suggestion to conduct flying lessons for members of the crew
outside of the Conn Division. So far, only five crewmen have
volunteered. Harry, of course; Mike Ayala; a Bajoran named Tal
Celes; Sue Nicoletti and Kes. I noticed that my good buddy,
B’Elanna, failed to volunteer. She claimed that Engineering took
too much of her time. Right! Tell me something new. The truth is
that she can’t bear to drag herself out of Engineering for
anything other than meals and sleep.

As for Kes – well, I didn’t really expect her to volunteer. A
part of me felt elated. Another part of me dreaded the lessons.
I mean, c’mon! Kes and me inside a small shuttle, together?
I don’t know if I would be able to keep my hands off her.
End personal log.

STARDATE 49053.37 – I am so pissed! That goddamn warthog! (Takes
a deep breath) Okay, I’m calm. How to start from the beginning?

Well for one, I finally admitted my feelings about Kes – to
Harry, of course! I sure as hell didn’t confess to Kes. Even
when I had the opportunity. It was those damn flying lessons! I
knew those lessons would be a problem. Watching her face lit up
as she attempted to maneuver the shuttle (in Holodeck Two, of
course) through one of the simulations I had created. And then
she fell right into my arms . . . It’s a damn good thing I have
great restraint, or I would have tried to seduce her right there
on the spot.

That little shuttle lesson became the breaking point for me. I
had to tell someone. Who better than my good friend, Harry Kim?
When we arrived in the Mess Hall for lunch, I felt relieved that
he had joined me. We found Kes eating her lunch, all alone.
Unfortunately, Harry was called to the Bridge. Which left me
alone with Kes . . . and Afarian hair pasta. Who in the hell
ever heard of hair in pasta? Anyway, Neelix went green-eyed
jealous over the whole thing and dumped a plate of pasta on my
chest. So, I decided to return the favor. And the next thing I
knew, he tackled me to the floor and we began to wrestle. The
Captain summoned us to her Ready Room for a mission, before I
had the chance to change into a fresh uniform. Needless to say,
she was a little miffed. However, she seemed more concerned with
our mission. Which was? Neelix and I were ordered to fly to an
M-class planet to collect foodstuff. Great! Just what I need! A
day with a jealous, volatile warthog with no fashion sense. Oh
well. At least we didn’t get busted for the fight. End personal
log.

STARDATE 49055.85 – This has certainly been a day of changes.
Yesterday, I wanted to strangle Neelix. But after spending
several hours on a planet together, caring for a baby
reptohumanoid, we’re now best buddies. Who would have thought?
To be honest, once you get past Neelix’s insecurities and
jealous temper, he’s not a bad guy. He’s one of the very few
people I can talk with on this ship. I even told him about that
ridiculous grade Dad gave me in Survival Training at the
Academy.

Now that Neelix and I are friends, I have to consider Kes off-
limits, permanently. I’m still attracted to her, but as I had
told Neelix, she has eyes for no one but him. I might as well
stop fooling myself and admit it.

Shit! This itching is driving me crazy! Damn trigemic vapors! I
hope the Doc has some cordrozine available. End personal log.

STARDATE 49068.04 – Miracle of miracles! Harry and I finally
persuaded B’Elanna to volunteer for pilot lessons in the
Holodeck. Today marked her first day in the classroom. After
insisting that she was already a pretty good pilot, she managed
to crash the shuttle during a flight through an asteroid belt. I
didn’t laugh out loud, but she did order me to wipe that smirk
off my face. What smirk? I don’t recall smirking. End personal
log.

STARDATE 49089.37 – Is it me or is the Captain becoming testy,
lately? I suppose it was inevitable, with everyone demanding her
attention. We’re about to enter Botha space and Neelix has
expressed concern over the matter. Doesn’t exactly do much for
my sense of security, either.

Both Harry and B’Elanna are still in Engineering, trying to find
a way to install holoemitters throughout certain areas of the
ship. They’ve been working on this project for nearly a week,
now and I miss them. New holoemitters would supposedly free the
Doc from the confines of the Sick Bay and the holodecks. Hell!
It’s bad enough dealing with the man, while in Sick Bay. Must we
have him underfoot, as well? End personal log.

STARDATE 49098.27 – If I ever find myself in Botha space again,
it would be too soon. God, what a horrible place! To have one’s
deepest fears and desires exposed like that. I simply hated it!

The Captain was the first to experience these illusions. She
claimed that she saw her fiancé on the view screen. Tuvok saw
his wife and Harry, Libby. Soon, nearly the entire crew ended up
telepathically manipulated by the Bothan. I thought I would end
up facing my old love, Susie Crabtree. Or Kes. Instead, I found
myself facing good ole Admiral Owen Paris, my childhood horror.
There was he was, standing behind my shoulder and spouting those
same hateful words I had to endure during most of my life.
Naturally, I lost it.

Why the Admiral? Why him, of all people? Dammit! It was like
facing all the insecurities and doubts of the past, again. I
thought I had put it behind me, when I ended up in the Delta
Quadrant. (Sighs) Apparently not.

Sandrine’s was pretty crowded this evening. Even Neelix and Kes
were there. Kes seemed particularly wary of me. I wonder why.
Harry began his usual chatter about Libby. I guess seeing her in
that alternate timeline made his longing for her, even worse.
B’Elanna never told us what she had imagined. She didn’t have
to. The Captain and Chakotay’s appearance told me everything. I
can only imagine what had gone through her mind.

This is just great! B’Elanna is still mooning over the Great
Spirit Guide and Harry still longs for Libby. At this rate,
they’ll end up as the two loneliest people on this ship – after
Captain Janeway. End personal log.

STARDATE 49123.7 – Spent a pleasant Valentine’s Day. The crew
held a party inside Sandrine’s. Harry and B’Elanna arrived
together. I came with Ensign Renlay Sharr. I think B’Elanna
would have enjoyed herself more, if Chakotay had not been there.
She spent most of the evening, shooting discreet, yet longing
glances at him. At least Harry and I were able to distract her
with a dance, each.

I also managed to enjoy a dance with Kes. Again, she seemed a
bit distant and I don’t know why. She has been like this ever
since we left Botha space. When I finally brought up the
subject, she snapped out of it and became the old Kes I know and
love. I wanted to ask what happened, but instinct told me it
would be best to remain silent. End personal log.

STARDATE 49166.03 – Ten months after our encounter with the
Caretaker, we came across another array station, similar to the
one that brought us into the Delta Quadrant. The Captain ordered
Harry to hail the station. To our surprise, we found it
maintained by Ocampans – unfriendly ones, at that. They would
have continued firing upon the ship, if Kes had not asked them
to stand down. Neelix told me that the Captain will hold a
dinner for our Ocampan guests in her new private dining room.
Along with him, Chakotay, Tuvok and Kes have been ordered to
attend. And the food will be prepared by the Ocampans. Lucky
people. End personal log.

STARDATE 49171.76 – We finally made contact with the Caretaker’s
mate and it nearly ended in disaster for Voyager. Her name is
Susperia and she came close to killing the Captain, B’Elanna,
Tuvok and a few others in Engineering. Susperia had no desire to
help us return to the Alpha Quadrant. Instead, she wanted
revenge for the Caretaker’s death. Despite what the Captain told
her, she believed that we had killed him. If it hadn’t been for
Kes, she would have eventually destroyed the ship.

Speaking of Kes, I heard the Ocampans helped strengthen her
telekinesis. Because of this, she nearly killed Tuvok, destroyed
the plants in the Airpondics Bay and weakened Susperia by
attacking one of the Ocampans. Whew! I never realized how
powerful she could be. Then I remember she was the one who had
defeated that Bothan. End personal log.

STARDATE 49179.6 – While delivering a navigational report to
Engineering, I asked Sue Nicoletti out for a date. She said no.
Okay. I’m a little disappointed, but I’ll get over it. I realize
that Sue might not be my type, but neither is Kes. And I ended
up falling in love with her.

Of course, one might ask why Sue Nicoletti? Again, like Kes,
she’s different from the other women I usually date. And quite
frankly, I’m getting a little weary of fleeting romances. Sue is
beautiful, intelligent and seems like someone I would like to
know very much. Unfortunately, she is not interested in me. But
hey! I’m a Paris. And Parises never give up. End personal log.

STARDATE 49201.76 – Voyager took one hell of a beating from the
Kazon-Nistrim, today. We came across a Federation signal from a
nebula cloud. A cloud that hid a Kazon ship, commanded by an old
friend, Maje Cullah. The attack turned out to be a raid,
masterminded by another old friend, Seska. Who now looks
completely Cardassian. The raid resulted in the theft of a
transporter module, a Kazon shuttle stuck in the ship’s hull and
a collapsed warp field. It’s a damn good thing the Kazon were
only interested in a hit-and-run raid. Or we would have been in
serious trouble.

Harry later managed to drag B’Elanna out of Engineering for
dinner in the Mess Hall. We talked about the raid and Seska.
B’Elanna told us that Chakotay felt guilty for recruiting Seska
into the Maquis in the first place. Not really surprised.
Chakotay had never been a good judge of character. Tuvok, on the
other hand, is a pretty good one. Neelix repeated a suggestion
he had made to the Captain. And I quote: “Perhaps Commander
Chakotay could use his intimate knowledge of Seska to manipulate
her in much the same way she manipulated us.”
 (Laughs) Oh God!
(More laughter) I wish I had witnessed that little moment.
(Takes a deep breath) Poor Neelix looked embarrassed when he
repeated Tuvok’s words. So did Harry. As for B’Elanna . . .
hell, she looked as if she could commit murder. Instead, she
stormed out of the Mess Hall in a huff. Probably to offer
comfort to our embarrassed First Officer. End personal log.

STARDATE 49204.06 – We finally managed to rescue Chakotay from
Seska and the Kazon-Nistrim. It seemed Seska had integrated our
transporter module into Kazon technology. She and Cullah
executed three men from the Kazon-Relora by transporting them
into space. This turned out to be the last straw for Chakotay,
who went after Seska and the module in a shuttle, without
Janeway’s permission. He left a message beacon, instructing us
not to rescue him. Tuvok argued that we should heed the good
Commander’s advice. I had no problem with that. However, the
always loyal B’Elanna convinced the Captain to go after
Chakotay. We rescued him by first, kidnapping a group of Kazon,
including Cullah, and insisting on a trade. It worked. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49209.09 – Stunning news, today. Well, first things
first. Chakotay has returned to duty. He and the Captain spent a
few minutes inside her Ready Room. Judging from their
expressions, the Captain must have placed an official reprimand
on his record.

And the big news? Seska left behind a message beacon for
Chakotay. He rejected the Captain’s offer to relay the message
to his office. Big mistake. It seems Seska had used the sample
of Chakotay’s DNA she had stolen to impregnate herself. And now,
she’s carrying his child. Boy! The look on Chakotay’s face was
one I will never forget. He looked absolutely stunned. I can
imagine how B’Elanna will react when she hears the news. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49220.98 – Saw B’Elanna for the first time in four
days. Ever since Seska’s little bombshell, she has been hiding
out in her quarters or Engineering. Harry finally forced her to
show up her shuttle lesson, today. In the end, I couldn’t keep
my mouth shut and asked where had she been for the past several
days. B’Elanna claimed that she had been busy repairing the hull
breach from Seska’s raid. I called her a liar (God, I’m a brave
man!) and told her I knew what was really going on.

“Like what?” she demanded.

I told her. I told her that I knew she was upset over Seska’s
pregnancy. I added that it wasn’t Chakotay’s fault. That Seska
had stolen his DNA, while he was unconscious. And that Seska
used the DNA to impregnate herself. “It’s not like they had
sex,”
 I added.

Big mistake. B’Elanna immediately ended the lesson and started
to leave the holodeck. Determined to make her see the light, I
blocked her way and added that a) I knew about her infatuation
with Chakotay; b) she was wasting her time on a man who was not
the ideal she seemed to believe he was; c) Chakotay never struck
me as her type; and d) that being the case, she should consider
letting go of this infatuation.

Okay, perhaps I had been a little too blunt. My words didn’t
exactly sit well with B’Elanna. In fact, she lost her temper and
threatened to dismember me if I didn’t get out of her way. Well,
a guy usually knows when he’s not wanted and I knew that if I
didn’t step aside, she would carry out her threat. So I moved.
And she left. God only knows when she’ll speak to me, again. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49234.53 – I must be very unpopular with female
engineers, lately. B’Elanna still isn’t speaking to me. I really
must have pissed her off. I also asked Sue Nicoletti for another
date. This time, she responded with an emphatic no. (Sighs) I
wonder if Harry is available for a quick game of pool, tonight.
I might even allow my old snuggle bunny, Ricki, to make an
appearance. End personal log.

STARDATE 49245.06 – Trouble aboard Voayger, today. The warp
field coils are beginning to malfunction. And they’re affecting
the port nacelle. Engineering had to reroute power to the anti-
matter reactor. It’s the only way we can keep moving. Harry and
B’Elanna informed us that Voyager desperately needs tellurium
for the reactor. Fortunately, Neelix knows where we can acquire
a supply. Until then, many shipboard systems will be down. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49250.52 – Ever since the Captain, Tuvok, and B’Elanna
end up missing on the Mokra homeworld, the crew has been in a
state of anxiety. All because of the damn tellurium. Neelix’s
description of the Mokra Order reminded me of the Nazi regime
from 20th century Earth history. In the end, our missing trio
and Neelix ended up dealing with representatives from the
Alsarian resistance movement. Neelix returned to the ship with
the tellurium. Unfortunately, the others ended up either missing
or captured. End personal log.

STARDATE 49253.87 – We got the Captain, B’Elanna and Tuvok back.
Barely. Chakotay sent me and an Away team to rescue them from
the Mokra Order. By the time we found them, they had rescued
themselves. Augris, head of the Mokra, had been killed. I think
the Captain is still upset over the death of that old man. The
Doctor healed Tuvok’s wounds. Never saw a Vulcan look so chewed
up like that. I don’t know about B’Elanna. She has been in her
quarters, since her return to the ship. I think Harry is with
her. I’d join them, but I don’t think B’Elanna wants my company.
End personal log.

STARDATE 49260.43 – I’m running late! The staff meeting
starts in less than 15 minutes and I just finished showering. If
I had remembered, I would have never spent the night with Margot
Gallagher. She and Dick Bennet had finally called it quits some
five weeks ago. Big argument in the Mess Hall. Bennet consoled
himself with Jana McCormick from Engineering. Since Sue
Nicoletti is proving to be elusive, I decided to try my luck
with Gallagher. At least for a while. According to Harry, Bennet
is pissed. Too bad. He should have thought of that before he
took up with McCormick. End personal log.

STARDATE 49278.21 – The crew found and beamed aboard an android
that had been floating in space. Naturally Tuvok, with his usual
Vulcan “doom-and-gloom”, nay-sayed the idea. But the Captain
gave B’Elanna and Harry permission to repair the android. Now,
they have a new toy to become obsessed over. Harry eventually
grew tired and left Engineering. Not B’Elanna. I gather she’s
still there, obsessing over her new toy.

Also, Gallagher asked me over to her quarters for dinner. I
guess I would have preferred Nicoletti, but something tells me
that a date with her would be hopeless. So, I’ll be keeping
company with the lovely Margot, tonight. End personal log.

STARDATE 49281.19 – A hell of a lot has happened, lately. The
android that B’Elanna had repaired, kidnapped her so she would
create a prototype of Pralor druids. The Captain threatened the
Pralor ship with force, in order to force them to return
B’Elanna. Instead, they responded by attacking the ship. The
attack left Voyager with little warp power for half a day. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49282.84 – The Captain, Tuvok and Chakotay finally came
up with a plan to rescue B’Elanna. Thank God! The plan was to
distract the Pralor ship long enough for me to slip inside its
shields by shuttlecraft, beam B’Elanna aboard and fly back to
Voyager. I did suggest getting inside the Pralor’s shields
without a diversion and Mister “Crash” Chakotay had the nerve to
hint that I might wreck another shuttle. This coming from a man
who has wrecked more shuttles than all of the Federation’s
enemies combined!

In the end, another ship filled with androids created the
diversion. They were the Cravic, and were at war with the
Pralor. I managed to slip through a breach in the Pralor’s ship,
caused by the Cravic. I also beamed B’Elanna aboard the shuttle.
Unfortunately, not before she was injured.

Later at Sandrine’s, Harry and I learned from B’Elanna that
there had been a war between the Pralor and the Cravic. They had
created androids to fight their armies. When the two races ended
their war, the androids exterminated them in fear of being
deactivated or destroyed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it
again – we’re too dependent upon technology.

And yes, B’Elanna is speaking to me again. She thanked me for
rescuing her from the Pralor. After Harry left our table for
drinks, she also admitted that I had been right about her and
Chakotay. I don’t think her infatuation is completely over, but
I can see that she no longer puts him on a pedestal. It’s a
relief to know that she is finally on the road to recovery. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49302.85 – Sad news today. Q or Quinn has committed
suicide. According to Kes, he killed himself by swallowing
Nogatch hemlock. A little gift provided by that other omnipotent
being, Q. After the Captain gave him asylum aboard Voyager, I
thought he would readily join the crew. I guess not. Kes said
that she didn’t feel too sad. Not only was Quinn free of the Q
Continuum, he no longer had to deal with an existence in
eternity. End personal log.

STARDATE 49315.82 – The Kazon-Nistrim are back. Dammit! Voyager
sustained damage to several decks and impulse engines, during a
twenty minute battle. We engaged against two Nistrim ships. One,
I’m happy to say, was destroyed. The other, although heavily
damanged, managed to escape. I hope it will be a while before
our next encounter with the Kazon. However, my gut tells me that
we’ll be seeing them a lot sooner. End personal log.

STARDATE 49327.65 – God, I’m tired! Once again, Voyager had
another battle with the Kazon. Don’t these people ever give up?
This time, they managed to take us by surprise, during Gamma
shift. The battle ended in the destruction of the Kazon ship.
Unfortunately, Voyager sustained damage to the starboard nacelle
and Deck Eight. Two crewmen – Larson and Golwat – were injured.
Right now, I need a bite to eat and some rest. End personal log.

STARDATE 49330.11 – Another battle with the Kazon-Nistrim.
Cullah and Seska seemed to be after us with a vengeance. Again,
several decks were damaged, along with the navigational
deflector and impulse engines. B’Elanna had to shut down the
warp engines to prevent a core breach. After the battle, I went
to Engineering to help her repair the navigational deflector.
The place was a mess! Several crewmen had been injured, along
with Kurt Bandera. B’Elanna told me that he died not long after
he had been beamed to Sick Bay. She seemed pretty shaken by the
news. So was I, to be honest. Kurt had been the only Maquis who
had treated me decently, despite being one of Chakotay’s closest
friends.

Kurt’s memorial service was held during Gamma shift. After the
service, Ensign Hogan, another ex-Maquis, accosted the Captain
about trading Federation technology with the Kazon. He saw no
harm in it. Mind you, I have a pretty low opinion of the Prime
Directive, but not even I would consider such a trade. Unless
the situation was desperate enough to call for one. But I don’t
see the harm in forming an alliance with the Kazon.

Thankfully, Chakotay managed to convince the Captain into
considering a Kazon-Federation alliance. Harry was appalled.
Tuvok, surprisingly, seemed to have found logic in the idea.
Tuvok and Chakotay agreeing to the same thing – scary! B’Elanna
suggested we try to make an alliance with the Nistrim. I thought
it was a good idea. Chakotay didn’t. I guess he would have
preferred another Kazon sect. But the Captain told him that he
would have to deal with an alliance with Seska and Cullah. Since
the whole idea was his to begin with. You know, I’m glad the
Captain has finally considered this alliance, but I have a
nagging feeling that she hopes it will fail. End personal log.

STARDATE 49332.42 – Harry is still bitching about the possible
alliance with the Kazon. He said that the latter cannot be
trusted and such an alliance would be a violation of Federation
ideals. B’Elanna coolly asked him if he had felt the same about
the Federation’s treaty with the Cardassians. Harry remained
silent after that.

Neelix has left to make contact with the Kazon-Pommar. I guess
the Captain has plans to establish an alliance with all of the
Kazon sects. Good luck! We should rendevous with Neelix,
tomorrow. End personal log.

STARDATE 49337.71 – The whole alliance between us and the Kazon
has gone to hell, thanks to the Trabe. Funny thing is, I’m not
really surprised. People don’t really change that much, and I
guess one could say the same about the Trabe. A few decades ago,
they had been a highly sophisticated race who oppressed the
Kazon for generations. Turned them into a slave race. The Kazon
eventually rebelled against the Trabe and more or less, have
been hunting them down, since.

The Captain, Chakotay and many others believed the Trabe had
learned some humility over the years. Ha! What a joke! I’m not
saying that I was suspicious of the Trabe, but I don’t think
people change that drastically, no matter what they went
through. And I certainly didn’t think the Kazon would tolerate
the Trabe’s presence at the peace conference. Well, I was right.
The Trabe tried to kill all of the Kazon majes and the entire
alliance fell apart. So, that’s the end of that. And judging
from the Captain’s little “we are Starfleet” speech, I think
she is secretly pleased over the alliance’s failure. She never
wanted the alliance in the first place. But sooner or later, I
suspect she’s going to realize that one day, she will have to go
against Starfleet protocol to ensure our survival in the Delta
Quadrant. End personal log.

STARDATE 49346.39 – Harry, B’Elanna and I discussed an
interesting topic during lunch, today. Warp 10 flight. According
to B’Elanna, the dilithium we had picked up from that dark
nebula about a month ago, has proven to be strong and rich
enough to remain stable at a much higher warp frequency. In
other words, it could be used to allow a ship to travel at Warp
10. Starfleet has always considered it an infinite velocity
unattainable by normal warp drive technology. But with this new
dilithium, Voyager could travel at Warp 10. This would enable
the ship to travel at a speed that theoretically occupies all
points in the universe simultaneous. Perhaps give us the ability
to travel at transwarp speed.

We all agreed it was something to think about. I think B’Elanna
and Harry saw this as an opportunity to quickly get home. I
saw it as an opportunity to make aviation history. Since the
Captain is now in her quarters, we plan to present the idea to
her. I better hurry or I’ll be late. End personal log.

STARDATE 49346.8 – The Captain has agreed to let us work on the
Warp 10 project. (Takes a deep breath) Okay. Warp 10. God, I
hope we’ll be able to pull it off. (Pauses) Boy, wouldn’t that
be something? To be the first pilot to reach Warp 10. I wonder
how Dad would react if I succeed? Would he finally see more than
just an embarrassment to the Paris name? (Pauses) I don’t know.
End personal log.

STARDATE 49357.67 – I didn’t know whether to hug or kiss Neelix
after listening to his little story. Okay, I had settled for a
hug. Harry, B’Elanna and I have been running holodeck
simulations on the Warp 10 flight. And each simulation ended
in failure. We thought it were the nacelles buckling under
pressure of transwarp flight, but it was the shuttle’s hull.
Neelix’s tale (hell, I forgotten all the details) gave me an
idea. We should strengthen the shuttle’s hull with tritanium,
instead. A second holodeck simulation proved that my idea worked.
Harry, B’Elanna and I informed the Captain and Chakotay. And now,
it seems I will be conducting the Warp 10 flight, tomorrow morning.
I only hope . . . (door chimes) Hell, who is it now? End personal
log.

LOG SUPPLEMENTAL – Dammit, I nearly lost the flight! All because
of the Doc. The Captain came by to inform me that the Doc found
a slight enzymatic imbalance in my cerebellum. And that
something that might affect my health during the experiment. And
that Harry will conduct the flight in my stead.

(Sighs) For a moment, I thought I might have overreacted at the
news. I really didn’t realize how much I wanted to make
this flight, until I nearly lost it. Do I want the recognition
that badly? To be known as the one who made the first Warp 10
flight? I mean, what was it going to get me? (Pauses) I don’t
know. I . . . Hell! Who am I kidding? It’s not the name
recognition I want. It’s the respect.

Yeah, I know that some of the crew have begun treating me with
more respect and friendliness, in the past six months or so.
Treat me as part of the crew. But I still see signs of hostility
and disgust in the eyes of many people. Especially people like
Chakotay. Maybe this Warp 10 flight will finally erase their
distrust for good. End personal log.

STARDATE 49359.86 – I did it. I became the first Human or
sentient being to achieve Warp 10 speed.
 It was amazing! In a
breath of a second, I went everywhere in the universe. Other
sectors of the Delta Quadrant, the Alpha Quadrant, in the past
and in the future . . . My name will probably end up in the
History books, with others like Cochrane, Armstrong and Kelly. And yet
. . . I don’t know. I guess I don’t feel as elated as I should.
The Captain certainly did. And so did B’Elanna. Now, why don’t
I feel the same? I don’t know. Maybe earning the respect of
others just isn’t enough. (Sighs) Oh well. Huh, it’s almost
17:00 hours. I forgot that I’m supposed to meet B’Elanna in the
Mess Hall, so we can go over the specs of the flight. End
personal log.

STARDATE 49378.33 – This has all been a surreal dream. I wish it
had been a dream. But it wasn’t. I actually died. And
resurrected as a lizard, a salamander or something. The Doc claimed
that I had evolved into man’s future state. I don’t know if I
agree with that conclusion. How can an amphibian be considered
man’s future form?

The funny thing is that I don’t remember a damn thing that
happened. Well, I take that back. I do remember how awful
Neelix’s coffee tasted. Maybe I can get him to change the name.
And I remember lying flat on my back in the Mess Hall, and
writhing in pain, while B’Elanna stroked my hair. (Pauses) Whoa!
Now why did I say that? Anyway, the Doc happily filled me in on
some of the hazy moments. Let’s just say that he knows a lot
about the history of my sex life. Perhaps too much. He also
knows that I don’t trust people who don’t cry and that I have a
serious inferiority complex. God! What else did I reveal? Oh,
he did add that I asked Kes to give me a kiss. Thank goodness
Neelix will never find out.

The Doctor had a plan to restore my original DNA, using matter
from the ship’s warp core. Only, I managed to escape, kidnap the
Captain, and leave Voyager in the Cochrane, before he could
succeed. The crew found the Captain and I on some swampy planet,
three days later. And we had transformed into a pair of
salamanders. Salamanders with babies. Great! In a space of four
days, I’ve died, resurrected, transformed into another species,
kidnapped the Captain, transformed her, took her to a planet and
knocked her up. I must add that we had three babies. Chakotay
and Tuvok decided to leave them on the planet. Huh. Too bad.
I wouldn’t have minded being a father. I think.

I had apologized to the Captain for my behavior. She’s really
something. She had suggested that she might have been the one to
initiate our . . . uh, mating. Shit! Now I feel like an
embarrassed schoolboy! As for the Warp 10 project, it looks as
if we might have to find another way for a starship to travel at
that speed – and without “evolving” into another animal.
End personal log.

END OF PART I

“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 4/7

“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 4 – “Daddy’s Girl”

LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Danny sat on what he considered to be a ridiculous-looking chair. Beside him stood a dark-haired, Rubenesque nurse. She tapped his left kneecap for the last time. Danny’s leg shot up, confirming his quick reflexes. “Okay, Lieutenant,” she said in a nasal voice that hinted her origins as one of the five boroughs in New York, “that’s it for today.” She opened Danny’s medical file and stamped it. PASS.

“Thanks,” Danny mumbled, as he stood up. The nurse handed him his file and he joined Rafe, who stood nearby. The pair resumed their conversation on Ellie Conway. “So, you knew all along that she was using you to become Homecoming Queen?”

Rafe grunted. “Hell, Ellie was always pretty easy to read. And when she asked me to help her campaign for Homecoming Queen, I knew.”

“When did you finally decided to break up with her?” Danny asked.

The two friends found empty seats for a few minutes’ rest. Rafe took a deep breath. “It was after you brought up Lila, I reckon. I just got tired of pretending that I cared for her, after that. In fact, I think I simply got tired of Ellie, period. And I noticed that I wasn’t the only one. Hell, she went through five boyfriends in one year.”

“Six,” Danny corrected. Rafe’s eyes narrowed. “Becky McPherson and I kept count. It was a hobby of ours.”

Rafe chuckled and shook his head. Danny smiled. It was nice to see Rafe relaxed for once. The older man had been on edge all morning and afternoon. “The only other girl I can recall who went through so many boys was Fenton Marsh,” Rafe continued. “Only she went through fiancés, not boyfriends. You remember Fenton, don’t you Danny?”

A groan escaped from Danny’s mouth. Of course he remembered Fenton Marsh. He had been the one responsible for introducing her to Rafe.

* * * *

KNOXVILLE, TN; OCTOBER 1936 – APRIL 1937 . . . A tall, lanky figure raced across the Memphis campus of the University of Tennessee, oblivious of the others in his path. Rafe McCawley, who sat on one of the steps in front of Ayres Hall, averted his eyes from the book in his lap, as his best friend slid into a halt, before him. “Hey Danny, what’s shakin’?”

“Hey Rafe.” A breathless Danny Walker dropped into the empty spot next to Rafe. Despite his exertion, the younger man’s dark eyes glimmered with excitement. “Say, are you available for Saturday night?”

Rafe shrugged. “Not really. I was hoping you would help me with my English Lit class.” Although Rafe, along with Danny, had managed to complete two years of college and start his third year, English continued to be a major impediment in his education. It was a problem that baffled Rafe, Danny and many close friends and family. Everyone knew that Rafe was an intelligent young man. He had no trouble comprehending his other courses – especially those that dealt with mathematics and science. And he usually excelled in those subjects, as long as someone explained it to him. Or when he read mathematical figures. When it came to reading and writing, he usually encountered trouble. Thankfully, Rafe had Danny to help him. Just as he occasionally helped Danny with more complex mathematical and engineering courses.

Danny promised to tutor Rafe tonight. But he still had other matters to discuss. Like Saturday night. “What’s so special about Saturday?” Rafe continued.

“Do you have a date?”

An exasperated sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “You know the answer, already.” He referred to his latest girlfriend, a fellow Shelby native named Burdetta Foster. They had recently broken up after a summer romance. No hostile words or bad feelings had been involved. Rafe and Burdetta simply grew tired of each other.

“Well, Carrie Ann and I found the perfect date for you,” Danny continued. “Her name is Fenton Marsh.” According to the 19 year-old, he and his girlfriend, Carrie Ann Vogel, had met this girl in their English Literature class. Fenton Marsh. Danny provided a few other tidbits about this prospective date. She was 19 years old, who would turn twenty, next month. Fenton majored in History and her father happened to be a wealthy businessman with investments in coal, steel and cotton. According to Danny, she also enjoyed literature, art, dancing and parties. “She’s really swell,” Danny added in an enthusiastic voice. “The perfect girl for you.”

Perfect girl? Rafe did not believe such a person existed. At least for him. But if Danny thought otherwise (and the younger man rarely liked any of his girlfriends), Rafe decided that he would give this Fenton Marsh a shot.

* * * *

She was perfect. Rafe could not find no other words to describe Fenton Marsh. The moment this beautiful, chestnut-haired girl opened her mouth and laughed at one of his jokes, Rafe fell in love.

“You are so funny!” Fenton’s deep blue eyes sparkled with delight. “I bet you could put Fred Allen and Jack Benny to shame.” She leaned forward, her full lips stretched into a wide grin. “You ever thought of going to New York and performing on radio? Heck, you could probably try one of the stations, here in Knoxville.”

The quartet of college students – Rafe, Fenton, Danny and the latter’s girlfriend, Carrie Ann Vogel – occupied a booth inside a local dance club frequented by many students. A waitress appeared with their drinks. Other patrons filled the dance floor, as they moved to the music of an all-black jazz band.

Carrie Ann, a pretty girl with dark hair and almond-shaped brown eyes, took a sip of her beer. “Rafe on the radio? Well,” she gave him a fond smile, “considering how much he likes to talk, that’s not hard to imagine. But I think he would prefer to fly a plane than be a radio star. Danny too.” She planted a quick kiss on the latter’s cheek.

“A pilot?” Fenton’s brows shot upward. “You two are pilots?”

Rafe nodded. “Yes ma’am. I’ve been one for the past four years. Danny got his license three years ago. But we’ve both been flying for at least six years. My daddy taught us.”

Fenton asked, “And what does your daddy do for a living?”

“He’s a crop duster pilot,” Rafe replied. “And he also owns a flying school. He used to be an Army pilot during the War. You know, like Buddy Rogers and Dick Arlen in “WINGS”.”

Fenton turned to Danny. “And your daddy?”

The younger man’s face hardened momentarily. Before he could open his mouth, Rafe answered for him. “Danny’s pa was a farmer. He died of a heart attack a couple of years ago. Danny’s been living with my family ever since.” Rafe acknowledged his friend’s grateful smile with a small nod.

Meanwhile, Fenton continued to express interest in the boys’ career plans. “So you both plan to be pilots. Doing what, exactly? Flying crop dusters or one of those new Pan Am clipper ships?”

“No ma’am,” Rafe replied calmly. “Army pilots. Danny and I plan to join the Army Air Corps when we finish college.”

A smile touched Fenton’s lips. “How very patriotic.” For a moment, Rafe wondered if she was being patronizing. But her expression seemed genuinely sincere.

The band began to play another tune. A popular Irving Berlin tune called, “Let Yourself Go”. The band’s female vocalist began to sing:

“As you listen to the band don’t you get a bubble?
As you listen to them play don’t you get a glow?
If you step out on the floor
You’ll forget your trouble
If you go into your dance
You’ll forget your woe
So – come, get together
Let the dance floor feel your leather
Step as lightly as a feather
Let yourself go.”

Rafe stared at Fenton. “Well, you heard what the lady said. Shall we?” He eased out of the booth and stood up. Fenton gave him a happy nod, as she allowed him to help her do the same. Then the pair joined the others on the dance floor.

* * * *

“You were right about her, Danny,” Rafe declared later that night. The two friends entered the dormitory building, where they resided. “Fenton’s perfect.”

A triumphant grin appeared on Danny’s face. “What did I tell you?”

“She sure talked a lot about her daddy, though,” Rafe added reflectively.

Danny frowned as he paused near the staircase, inside the foyer. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“Her daddy. Fenton talked about him. A lot.”

Danny’s frown deepened. “And that bothers you? Maybe they’re close. From what Carol Ann told me, Mr. Marsh seems like a swell guy.”

The pair began ascending the staircase. “Well, if you say so. I reckon there’s nothing to worry about.”

* * * *

The more Rafe became acquainted with Fenton Marsh, the more enchanted he became. He felt that she was wonderful. The couple grew close over the next several months. When they were not engaged in the great college social whirl, both helped each other with their studies. Fenton tutored Rafe in reading and writing, making it easier for him to comprehend the lessons in his textbooks. And Rafe helped her tackle the Geometry course she needed to complete this semester.

“I swear,” she declared in a frustrated voice one chilly evening in early December. “If I ever have to read another science book again, I’ll go mad.”

The pair sat inside the study hall of one of the university’s libraries. Rafe reached across the table and brushed away a strand of chestnut hair away from her forehead. “Just consider this – if you pass Geometry this semester, that will only leave you with Physics for next spring. And then, you’ll be free to sign up for the courses that interest you during your senior year.”

Fenton grunted, which produced a smile from Rafe.

The Christmas holidays arrived in late December. Rafe, Danny and Carrie Ann received invitations to spend the holiday with Fenton’s family on their plantation in Tipton County. Carol Ann accepted, but Rafe and Danny had to decline. “I wish we could go,” Rafe said to his girlfriend, “but Danny and me had promised my folks that we would be home for Christmas.”

Fortunately, Fenton understood. “My daddy always said that Christmas was an important time of the year for family.” Rafe remained silent. He usually did whenever Fenton discussed her parent. Which was often. “But what about next April? During Spring Break? My family and I are usually in Florida during that time. Would you like to join us, there?” Both Rafe and Danny promised they would consider the suggestion.

Christmas and the New Year came and went. The students returned to the campus to tackle mid-year finals, before commencing on the second semester. Rafe did not realize how much he missed Fenton, until they reunited for a Saturday night date at the end of his first week back. The moment she joined him inside his car, Rafe drew her into arms and captured her mouth with a kiss.

“Hmmm,” he moaned, as the couple remained locked in a deep embrace. “I sure missed you a lot.”

Fenton began to nibble his left earlobe. “Oooh and I missed you too,” she murmured. “Even Daddy noticed that my attention was elsewhere. Christmas and New Year’s wasn’t the same without you. And I don’t know how I’m gonna get through the Easter holiday. Or summer.”

Rafe gently pushed her back against the car seat. “I don’t know about the summer,” he whispered, “but maybe I can do something about Easter vacation. Because right now, Florida is sounding very appealing.” He brushed his lips against Fenton’s cheek. “How about that?”

Another moan left Fenton’s mouth. She grabbed the back of Rafe’s head and drew it toward hers. “That . . . sounds like a wonderful idea. Just grand.” She captured his mouth for another deep kiss.

* * * *

When Rafe broached the subject of spending Easter vacation with the Marshes to his parents, he was surprised by their easy acquience of the idea. In fact, they seemed unusually thrilled.

“Maybe they like the idea of you being serious about a girl, for once,” Danny suggested. Rafe had just told him about the McCawleys’ reaction. The two friends sat inside the older man’s Cadillac convertible, as it sped toward the nearest airfield, where they planned to spend an afternoon of flying.

Rafe dismissed the idea with a wave of the hand. “What are you talking about? They’ve never met Fenton.”

“True, but you gabbed about her during the whole time we were home. Your mama practically ordered me to tell her everything I knew about Fenton.” Danny shrugged. “I reckon she liked what I told her.”

Rafe shot his best friend a grateful smile. “You know what, Danny? You’re a true friend. But I’ll tell you something you don’t know.”

“Like what?”

The airfield loomed ahead. Rafe steered his Cadillac to one of the hangars. He put on the brakes and faced Danny. “I plan to ask Fenton to marry me. I’ve already bought an engagement ring.”

Pure shock lit up Danny’s dark eyes. “Marry? But Rafe, you’ve got one more year of college to finish before we join the Army. Isn’t this a little soon?”

“Yeah, it is,” Rafe said. “However, if Fenton says yes, I plan to suggest a year long engagement. Wait until we graduate.”

Danny remained silent. Rafe began to wonder if his friend regretted introducing him to Fenton. “Look Danny, I still plan to join the Army Air Corps after graduation. If you’re worried about that. And if Fenton doesn’t agree . . . well, I reckon that would be it for us.”

“I’m sure that Fenton won’t mind being an Army officer’s wife,” Danny finally said. Rafe detected a note of doubt in his friend’s voice. But he remained silent. Only time would tell.

* * * *

The following weekend, Rafe took Fenton to a formal dance being held inside a ballroom, at a local Knoxville hotel. To his delight, she accepted his marriage proposal. She even agreed to a year-long engagement, along with a wedding after graduation. And she did not seemed to have no qualms about becoming an officer’s wife. “I suppose it will be difficult at first,” she admitted, “but I’ve always loved a good challenge.”

“I reckon that’s what I’ll be facing when I meet your folks. Especially your daddy,” Rafe responded with a chuckle.

Fenton let out a squeal of delight. “Does this mean you’ll be coming to Florida for spring vacation?”

Rafe nodded. “Yep. You don’t mind if I bring Danny along, do you?”

“Of course not! Heck, I plan to invite Carol Ann, as well.” Fenton threw herself into Rafe’s arms. “Oh Rafe! This is gonna be just wonderful! I can’t wait for you to meet my folks! Daddy’s gonna love you! You two are a lot alike.”

Rafe remained silent, while his fiancé continued to ramble on. Despite the delight he felt over his engagement, Fenton’s words about her father reverberated in his mind. He did not know whether to feel complimented by the comparison. Or alarmed.

* * * *

Spring vacation finally arrived. After Rafe and Danny spent the Easter holidays on the McCawley farm, they met Carol Ann in Memphis and began a bus trip to Florida. After a connection in Atlanta, the trio finally arrived in St. Augustine, on the following afternoon.

A uniformed chauffeur conveyed them to an elegant, three-story villa located not far from the beach. Upon their arrival, they found Fenton waiting for them inside the foyer.

“Rafe!” She threw herself into her fiance’s arms. Rafe responded with a long kiss. Danny, Carol Ann and the Marshes’ servants pretended not to notice. Fenton broke away with a sigh and added, “Everyone’s upstairs, changing for supper. You might as well freshen up, as well. Supper will be ready in one hour.”

House servants escorted the guests to their rooms. Rafe noticed that Fenton had made sure that each had his or her own room. To guarantee a little late night privacy? Rafe did not have time to wonder. Instead, he showered, changed into one of his nicer suits and joined Danny and Carrie Ann, downstairs. The trio found the Marsh family sitting around a dining table on the verandah. Beyond it laid the beach.

Fenton shot out of her chair to greet her guests. “Hey everyone! I’m glad that you could make it.” She grabbed Rafe’s hand and dragged him toward the handsome, middle-aged man who occupied the seat at the table. “Rafe, I’d like you and Danny to meet my father, Hunter Edward Marsh.”

Like his daughter, Mr. Marsh possessed chestnut-hair and deep blue eyes. Only his hair was sprinkled with gray and lines stretched from his eyes. He stood up to shake Rafe’s hand. A tall man, but not as tall as Rafe or Danny. “So, you’re the young man who’s captured my girl’s heart,” he boomed in a deep voice.

A grin split open Fenton’s mouth. “Oh Daddy! This is Rafe McCawley, your future son-in-law. And this is his best friend, Danny Walker. You already know Carrie Ann.”

While he shook Rafe’s hand, Mr. Marsh gave the other two a polite nod. “Nice to meet you all. This is my wife, Delphine Fenton Marsh.” He nodded at a handsome, dark-haired woman with pale skin and dark-brown eyes, sitting opposite him. “And that young snapper over there,” Mr. Marsh pointed at a young boy who seemed to be the spitting image of Mrs. Marsh, “is my son, Putnam Hunter Marsh.”

After the introductions were made, the three guests settled into empty seats around the table. The meal, Rafe had to admit, was delicious. Crab, shrimp, rice pilaf, green salad, roast duck, corn chowder and sourdough bread. He found himself growing comfortable, while Danny and Carrie Ann described the trip from Tennessee. Rafe would have added to the conversation, but he was too busy observing Fenton’s family.

It amazed him on how much Fenton resembled her father. And not just physically. Both daughter and father seemed to possess the same gregarious nature – talkative and at times, almost opinionated. Father and daughter also shared a taste for company, especially parties. Mr. Marsh seemed more excited than everyone else about the party he planned to hold in honor of Rafe and Fenton’s engagement. “We can also celebrate your birthday as well, Rafe. Fenton tells me that you just turned twenty-one.”

“Yes sir,” Rafe replied with a nod. “Just over a week ago.”

Mr. Marsh nodded. “Twenty-one, huh?” He sighed. “Why I remember when I was twenty-one. Going to college. I’m afraid that I spent more of my college years indulging in leisure, instead of my studies.”

“But you still managed to turn out perfect, didn’t you, Daddy?” Fenton crowed. She smiled indulgently at her father. A smile that left Rafe feeling very uneasy.

Mr. Marsh smiled back. “If you say so, darling. If you say so.” Rafe’s eyes focused first upon the father, and then the daughter. Finally, he stared at Mrs. Marsh, who merely rolled her eyes in disgust. That uneasy feeling now formed a tight knot in Rafe’s stomach.

* * * *

“Danny, you ever get this feeling that you’re about to make a mistake? Or have already made one?”

Rafe’s question pierced the silence inside his bedroom. Danny had joined Rafe for a late night snack of chiffon cake that had been served for dessert. The younger man stared at the older one. “Rafe, what the hell are you talking about? What mistake?”

Sighing, Rafe rolled over to meet his friend’s eyes. “I’m talking about Fenton. I got this feeling that marrying her might turn out to be a big mistake.”

“What?” The word came out of Danny’s mouth like a deep whistle. He lowered his voice. “What do you mean? You and Fenton are perfect for each other. It’s not like you two plan to get married right away.” After a moment’s pause, he added, “Or have you simply changed your mind?”

Rafe took a deep breath. “No, we still plan to get married, next year. It’s just . . .”

“What?”

Another paused followed before Rafe added, “I don’t know. It’s Fenton and her daddy. Don’t you think that they seemed a bit . . . close?”

Danny’s eyes flew open with alarm. “Wait a minute! Are you saying that Fenton and Mr. Marsh have some kind of . . . that their relationship is more than . . .”

“I’m not talking about incest, Danny!” Rafe retorted. Then he sighed, while the other young man’s shoulders sagged with relief. “It’s just . . . well, I think Fenton is what one might call a ‘daddy’s girl’. You know what I mean.”

Danny nodded. “Oh.”

Rafe continued, “Jesus Danny, I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life competing against my father-in-law for my wife’s attention! Or even worse, agreeing to everything he says.”

“Don’t you think you might be exaggerating? So, Fenton’s close with her daddy. Hell, you’re close with both of your folks.”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “I don’t have some mutual admiration society going on with either of them. Then again . . .” he sighed, “I don’t know. Maybe I am imagining things.”

Danny smiled. “Does that mean I can leave and finally get some sleep?” He slid off Rafe’s bed and headed for the door. “See you later, Rafe.” And he left.

* * * *

Perhaps Danny had been right after all, Rafe decided two days later. Maybe he had seen too much in Fenton’s relationship with her daddy. Since that first evening in St. Augustine, neither daughter or father have shown any signs of what Rafe feared. In fact, he has barely seen Fenton or Mr. Marsh together – except during meals.

On the fourth evening, Rafe, Fenton, Danny and Carrie Ann returned to the Marshes’ villa, after spending a day visiting some of St. Augustine’s tourist spots – including the famous Castillo San Marcos. The quartet found the household preparing for an early supper. They quickly headed for their bedrooms to change into less casual clothes.

Dinner started on a pleasant note. The young people enthusiastically described their day about town. Rafe had found his mood growing steadily positive since his late night conversation with Danny. But the good mood finally disappeared when Mr. Marsh decided to change the subject that evening.

“Say Rafe, mind if I ask you a question?” the older man said.

The hairs on the back of Rafe’s neck began to rise. There seemed to be a hint in Mr. Marsh’s tone that gave him a foreboding air. Rafe smiled dimly at his future father-in-law. “Yes sir?”

Mr. Marsh coughed slightly. “It’s about your plans for after college. I understand that you and Danny plan to join the Army, following graduation. The Army Air Corps. Is that right?”

Oh oh, Rafe thought. Trouble. He answered, “Yes sir, that’s right. Danny and me have been planning this for a long time. Ain’t that right, Danny?”

The younger man nodded, warily eyeing their host.

“Uh huh.” Fenton’s father speared a piece of roast chicken and popped it into his mouth. He chewed. Slowly. “You know, it’s fine thing that you want to serve your country,” he added, after swallowing the chicken. “Only, why now? We’re not exactly at war with anyone right now. And I can think of a better way to utilize that fine education of yours.”

Rafe glanced at Fenton. His heart nearly sank at the hopeful expression, imprinted on her face. “Exactly what do you have in mind, sir?”

Mr. Marsh went on to explain that he had contacts with the Lockheed Company, located in Los Angeles. “I told them about you and Danny. And the good news is that they would be more than happy to hire you two boys as civilian test pilots. And once you earn your Masters, you can become aviation engineers. Now, how do you like that?”

How did he like that? It almost seemed like a dream come true for Rafe. To become a top test pilot at a prestigious company, along with the chance to design new aircraft seemed like a great opportunity. Well, almost. He still longed to be an Army pilot above anything else. Nor did he care for the idea of getting ahead in the world, due to marriage with Fenton. So, he had only one answer. “Thank you, Mr. Marsh, but I’m gonna have to say no thanks. I can’t speak for Danny, but I’d prefer to go ahead with my own plans.”

Danny’s shoulders sagged with relief. Mr. Marsh looked at Rafe as if the latter had gone mad. Even worse, Fenton’s expression seemed to crumble with disappointment. “Look here boy, I’m handing you the opportunity of a life time!” Mr. Marsh cried. “And you’re turning me down?”

Rafe shrugged. “Like you said, sir, I want to serve my country. Besides, some of the best pilots have received military training. And there’s a good chance that we might be at war within the next few years.”

“With whom? Hitler? I suspect that Roosevelt and his cronies tend to make a big deal out of nothing. Hitler’s no danger. He’s only trying to help his country.”

“By taking over the Sudenland, in Czechoslovakia?” The outburst came from Carrie Ann, who immediately blushed after everyone stared at her. “Excuse me,” she mumbled.

Mr. Marsh’s eyes lingered upon Carrie Ann for a moment. Before they returned to Rafe. “Now listen, boy. You better grab this opportunity, while you can. I’m not about to stand around and watch my daughter become some Army wife. She deserves better than that. So, I suggest that you accept this offer. Or . . .”

“Or what?” Rafe’s voice assumed a slight, belligerent tone. “Look here, Mr. Marsh, I love your daughter very much. And I hope to make her my wife. But I also have every intention of leading my life in the way I see fit. Fenton has known about my plans to join the Army, since we first met. And she has no problems with it. Right Fenton?” Rafe faced his fiancée. To his shock, she turned pale. Then she let out a slight sob, slipped out of her chair and fled the dining room.

* * * *

“Why in the hell didn’t you tell me that you had problems with me joining the Army?” Rafe bellowed at Fenton.

Following her flight from the dining room, Rafe found Fenton on the back veranda, sitting on the wicker sofa and staring at the ocean, beyond. Now the engaged couple faced each other, wearing grim expressions.

Fenton replied in a defiant voice, “I didn’t mind. At first. But after Daddy and I talked, I realized that I didn’t want to be an Army wife. Why can’t you accept his offer?”

“Because I don’t want to work for Lockheed! Not if your daddy arranged the whole thing.”

“What’s wrong with Daddy getting a job for you?” Fenton shot back. “You should be grateful!”

Rafe wondered if he had heard his fiancée right. “Grateful? Why the hell should I be grateful? If I give in to this, he’ll be running our lives forever! Even with us in California and him in Tennessee!”

“You’re just jealous! That’s all. Like the others before you! You’re jealous that he’s a lot smarter. And you just can’t bear the thought of him knowing better than you on what to do with your life! Our lives!”

At that moment, Rafe realized that he had fallen love with the wrong woman. A daddy’s girl. He stared at her in disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re saying this to me.”

Nodding furiously, Fenton added, “Well, believe this. If you want me, you’ll have to give up the Army. You can’t have both.”

“I’m only surprised that your daddy doesn’t come with the deal,” Rafe replied sarcastically. The moment those words came out of his mouth, Fenton’s slim hand slapped him hard across the face. Rubbing his cheek, he added, “I reckon that tears it, then. Good-bye Fenton.” He turned his back on his now former fiancée and returned inside the house.

The following morning, Rafe, Danny and Carrie Ann packed their bags and left the Marsh house for good. The trio boarded the first Greyhound bus bound for Tennessee.

END OF PART 4

“Blinded By the Heart” [PG] – 1/1

“BLINDED BY THE HEART”

RATING: PG
E-MAIL: lee66132000@yahoo.com

FEEDBACK: It would be nice to receive some. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Voyager celebrates its first Valentine’s Day in the Delta Quadrant. Tom Paris plays matchmaker and Sandrine proves to be a wise woman.
DISCLAIMER: Sigh! All characters and etc. pertaining to Star Trek Voyager belongs to Paramount, Viacom and . . . well, you know who.

————–

“BLINDED BY THE HEART”

St. Valentine’s Day. Tonight, Voyager’s crew celebrated that particular holiday for the first time, since their arrival in the Delta Quadrant, nearly a year ago. Despite its Terran origins, Valentine’s Day had become popular throughout the Alpha Quadrant and not only did the Human crewmembers gather inside Sandrine’s to celebrate, so did many of the ship’s small percentage of non-Terran occupants. In celebration of the holiday, red streamers and pictures of hearts and Cupid decorated the tavern. A buffet table set against the far wall, groaned under the weight of delectable dishes and drinks.

Since many of the celebrants had arrived as couples, it came as a surprise to many when three members of the Senior Staff arrived at the same time. Dubbed the ‘Three Musketeers’ because of their close friendship, Tom Paris, Harry Kim and B’Elanna Torres were usually seen together during their off-duty hours. Voyager’s journey through the Delta Quadrant had begun with a friendship between Paris and Kim, and another friendship between Kim and Torres. Ever since Paris and Torres’ incarceration by the Vidiians four months ago, Kim had finally succeeded in forging his friendships with the pair into one shared by all three. They did everything together – eat their meals inside the Mess Hall, relax inside the holodecks or simply enjoy each other’s company inside private quarters. However, tonight was Valentine’s Day, a holiday for romance. It seemed incongruous for a get together between three friends.

“God, we must really look out of place, tonight,” Tom Paris commented. After B’Elanna eased into one of the booths, he sat in the seat opposite her. By sitting near the edge, he forced Harry to occupy the seat next to the half-Klingon engineer. “I bet we must be the only ones without a date.” He glanced at the pair opposite him. “I stand corrected. I must be the only one.”

Tom’s last words drew a glare from B’Elanna. Harry’s face turned red with embarrassment. “B’Elanna and I aren’t . . .” the latter began. His flush deepened. “I meant . . .”

“What Harry is trying to say, Hotshot, is that we’re not on a date,” B’Elanna retorted. “We’re only here . . . as friends.”

“Right.” Tom nodded.

B’Elanna continued, “Besides, weren’t you suppose to have a date, tonight?”

Tom shrugged his shoulders. “Megan couldn’t make it. She learned that she had duty during Beta shift, and I couldn’t find anyone else to replace her.” He referred to Ensign Megan Delaney, one half of a pair of twin sisters assigned to Stellar Cartography. Tom and Megan had been dating on and off for over six months. Neither really considered the other as a serious love interest. Merely convenient companionship for a lonely night.

“Too bad,” B’Elanna replied with an insincere expression stamped on her face. “I was really looking forward to her company.”

Tom bit back a sigh. For some unexplainable reason, B’Elanna seemed to regard Megan and Jenny Delaney as a pair of nymphomaniacs, cutting a wide swath throughout the ship’s male occupants. “B’Elanna, Megan is not the type of person you seem to think she is. She’s a very nice person.” B’Elanna snorted. “And rather quiet, I may add. Right Harry?”

The Operations Chief nodded. “Tom’s right, B’Elanna. You’ve got Megan all wrong. She is nice. And sweet.” A soft expression crept into his face. Tom stared.

“And the other sister?” B’Elanna added sarcastically. “Is she also . . . nice?”

Tom quickly came to Jenny Delaney’s defense. “Hey! Jenny’s all right. Maybe a bit too outgoing for your tastes, Torres. But she’s certainly is no slut, if that’s what you think.”

“I never said she was a . . .” B’Elanna paused under Tom’s hard stare. “Okay, maybe I had misjudged Jenny. And Megan.”

Harry smiled and nodded at Tom. “It wouldn’t be the first time.” B’Elanna scowled, much to Tom’s delight.

An attractive, middle-aged blond woman appeared before the trio. It was Sandrine, the holographic proprietress of the tavern. She jovially greeted the friends. “Ah! Mes amies! Bonsoir and welcome to our St. Valentine’s celebration!” Her blue eyes swept over the three friends and her smile transformed into a frown. “What’s this? Only three of you? Today is Valentine’s Day! A day of romance and passion! You’re supposed to be with a loved one. A mate. Not with friends!”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes. Tom explained about his aborted date with Megan Delaney. Sandrine’s eyes focused on the two engineers. “And you two? Are you here as a couple?”

Before Tom could answer, B’Elanna sharply replied, “No!” And in a softer tone, continued, “No, Harry and I are here simply as friends. I don’t have a . . . loved one here on the ship.”

“Neither do I,” Harry said.

Tom gave Sandrine one of those “See what I’m up against?” looks. Then he ordered the drinks. “Saurian brandy for all three of us.” B’Elanna opened her mouth to protest and he added, “It’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t think Scotch whiskey neat is an appropriate drink for this holiday.”

“Ah Thomas! Good taste as usual,” the Frenchwoman said with a smile. “Pardon. I’ll be back.” And she walked away to fetch their drinks.

B’Elanna leaned forward, a slight scowl fixed on her face. “I happen to like Scotch whiskey neat, Paris. A lot. And I don’t like others selecting my drinks without my permission.”

Tom dismissed her protests with a wave of his hand. “C’mon B’Elanna! It’s Valentine’s Day. There’s just something unromantic about drinking Scotch whiskey on an evening like this.”

“Romantic?” B’Elanna turned to Harry. “Can you believe this guy, Starfleet?”

Harry shook his head. “Don’t look at me, Maquis. After nearly a year, I still don’t understand how the man’s mind works.”

Sandrine returned with their drinks. After she served them, she spotted a couple entering the tavern and excused herself. Tom glanced at the newcomers. “I can’t believe it!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t that Jenkins and Hamilton together?”

Both Harry and B’Elanna looked, while the couple was being escorted by Sandrine to an empty booth. “What about them?” the latter asked.

“Look at them! They’re together! On Valentine’s Day! I can’t believe they’ve been seeing each other all this time and I never even noticed. After all, they’re both in my division. And I can usually tell when two people are interested in one another.”

Again, B’Elanna rolled her eyes. “Tom, has it ever occurred to you that Jenkins and Hamilton are together for one date? And since when did you develop empathic powers when it came to romance?”

Slowly, Tom returned his gaze to the engineer. A cynical expression masked her exotic looks. “And since when did you become such a cynic, Torres? What’s the matter? Don’t you believe in romance?”

The doors to the tavern swung open, heralding the arrival of Voyager’s command team. All eyes fell upon the ship’s auburn-haired captain and her swarthy First Officer. Tom noticed how B’Elanna’s eyes lit up at the sight of Chakotay. And how her olive skin flushed with a tinge of pink.

Good God! Tom thought with a slight shake of his head. Is that infatuation still going on? He had never known B’Elanna during his brief stint with the Maquis. Either she had joined Chakotay’s cell sometime after his capture by Starfleet. Or Chakotay simply kept the pair apart. Yet, the moment he saw the former Maquis captain and the Klingon/Human hybrid together, Tom quickly became aware of the latter’s feelings toward the former. Surprisingly, Tom had disapproved. He never considered unrequited love and hero-worship a healthy mix. Something he now knew from personally experience. Tom believed that B’Elanna could do a lot better for herself. Someone who would suit her – like a certain Operations chief.

“Not the romantic type, huh Torres?” The knowing tone in Tom’s voice drew a glare from B’Elanna. He turned to his other friend. “What about you, Harry? Is there a true love in your life?” The moment the question left his lips, Tom knew the younger man’s answer. “Wait! Let me guess. Libby.”

A deep flush colored Harry’s cheeks. “What’s wrong with Libby?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” Tom answered, his blue eyes wide with innocence. “Except that she is 70,000 light years away.”

Harry protested. “There’s still a chance we might return home in less than 70 years! Right B’Elanna?”

“Huh?” The half-Klingon tore her eyes away from Janeway and Chakotay. Tom rolled his eyes in exasperation. “What did you say, Harry?”

Tom spoke up. “He thinks we might get back to the Alpha Quadrant in less than seven decades. Tell me Harry, how long are you willing to count on that?” A retort seemed to hover on the Ops chief’s lips, but not a sound came out. “Thought so.”

Her attention no longer focused on the First Officer, B’Elanna returned her gaze to Tom. “What about you, Paris? Do you have a true love?”

Years of emotional turmoil had taught the pilot to keep his feelings and secrets to himself. The Paris mask usually came to the fore whenever asked a too personal question. Or got too close. But this was Harry and B’Elanna. The first two people Tom could truly call his friends. And they did not deserve the Paris mask. “Susie Crabtree.”

Both B’Elanna and Harry cried, “Who?”

Tom continued, “You asked about my true love. Her name was Susie Crabtree.”

Confusion appeared on Harry’s face. “That’s funny. I thought you were in love with . . .” A swift kick in the shin by Tom closed his mouth. The pilot knew exactly whom Harry was about to mention. He did not want anyone else to know about his current feelings for the ship’s assistant nurse.

The half-Klingon’s brows formed a frown. “Who are you two talking about? Certainly not this Susie Crabtree. Sounds like a name for a Starfleet admiral’s daughter. Or one of those social butterflies in the diplomatic circles. Which one was she?”

“Neither,” Tom replied, annoyed by B’Elanna’s condescension. “Susie was . . .” Memories of a beautiful young woman from his youth popped into his head. “Well, actually, she was a fellow cadet I had dated during my first year at the Academy.” He sighed from sheer pleasure, producing a smile from Harry and a grimace from B’Elanna.

Harry asked, “What happened?”

“Huh? Oh, uh we broke up.” Tom paused. The not-so-happy memories replaced the happy ones. “Actually, she dumped me.”

“Why?”

A smirk appeared on B’Elanna’s lips. “She got to know the real you, huh Paris?”

Tom did not bother to acknowledge the engineer’s smirk. Or the slightly insulting tone in her voice. “Nope. Just the opposite,” he said quietly. “Susie claimed I wouldn’t let her.”

Silence fell between the trio. Harry took a swallow of brandy. B’Elanna’s gaze slowly shifted back to Chakotay. And Tom quietly observed his two friends. Starfleet and Maquis.

“God, what a pathetic bunch we make when it comes to romance!” he said with a slight laugh. “Here I am reminiscing over a failed romance. Harry is still pining for a girl he probably won’t see in a long time. And you, B’Elanna . . . apparently you don’t have a romantic bone in your body.”

B’Elanna shrugged her slight shoulders. “So sue me. What can I say? It’s the Klingon in me.”

“Don’t shit me, Torres. I may not know much about Klingons, but I do know they happen to be among the most passionate species in the Alpha Quadrant. Maybe they’re not the types to express themselves in poems or romance novels,” Tom failed to notice the slight quirk of B’Elanna’s lips, “but I do know they are very romantic. So give me another excuse.”

B’Elanna heaved an exasperated sigh. “How about this one? I haven’t found the right man and I probably . . . never . . . will.”

Tom detected the longing in her words, but decided not to comment upon it. Instead, he gave the engineer an understanding smile. “You never know, Torres. The right man may be closer than you think.”

Someone at the piano began to play, “La Vie En Rose”. Several couples headed for the dance floor, including Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. Aware of the intense scrutiny toward the pair, Tom commented, “I must say. Those two really look good together. Don’t you agree?”

B’Elanna’s sharp gaze fell upon the pilot. Harry’s eyes remained glued to the dance floor. “I don’t know,” he said in a wary tone. “I guess. I mean they do make a pretty good command team.”

Tom chuckled. “I wasn’t talking about work, Harry.” His words produced a startled glance from the young ensign. B’Elanna looked away. Tom decided it was time to make a suggestion. “That sounds like a nice tune,” he continued. “Say Harry, why don’t you give B’Elanna a spin on the dance floor?”

Two pairs of dark eyes stared at the pilot as if he had made a far out suggestion. Then they stared at each other. A red flush crept up Harry’s cheeks. To Tom’s satisfaction, he proved to be a brave soul and stood up. “Uh, would you . . . um, would you like to dance, B’Elanna?”

The engineer hesitated momentarily. After sparing another glance at Janeway and Chakotay, she nodded. “Sure Harry. Why not?” She stood up and allowed Harry to lead her to the dance floor. Soon, they were in each other’s arms, gliding around the room. Tom sat back into his chair and smiled.

“What are you smiling about, cherie?” Sandrine slid into the booth, opposite Tom.

Tom nodded at his two friends. “Them. Don’t they look great together?”

“Hmm.” The proprietress barely acknowledged the pair with a glance. “I suppose so.”

“You suppose?” Tom almost felt outraged. “Of course they do! Look at them. Starfleet and Maquis. They’ve practically been joined at the hip since we first entered the Delta Quadrant. Now if Harry can only put Whatshername behind him and B’Elanna end her crush over Chakotay, they can take their relationship to the next level.” Tom smiled. “With a little help from me, of course.”

Sandrine glanced at the two friends once more and responded with another lackluster, “Hmmm.” She surreptiously studied the table’s wooden surface.

“What?” Tom demanded.

“Nothing cherie, except . . .”

“Yeah?”

A sigh left Sandrine’s mouth. “I’m sorry, Thomas, but I suspect you might be making a big mistake. I just don’t . . . I really cannot see your two friends as lovers. Friends perhaps, or siblings. Definitately not lovers.”

“Wha . . .” Tom glanced at Harry and B’Elanna. Despite the prudent amount of space between them and B’Elanna’s occasional glances at the First Officer, he saw a couple with a great potential for romance. All they need to do is overcome a few roadblocks. Tom had always prided himself on being able to spot a potential romance. A trait that made him a matchmaker at heart. “Are you trying to say that you don’t feel any chemistry between B’Elanna and Harry?”

The Frenchwoman shrugged. “Well . . . perhaps there is some chemistry between them.”

“Aha!”

“But not of the romantic kind,” Sandrine continued. Tom’s face fell. “I’m sorry, cherie, but I think you’re wasting your time. I cannot see your friends as lovers. Besides, I believe your B’Elanna may have just a little too much bite for young Harry.”

Tom struggled to hide his disappointment. He was sure that Sandrine, a matchmaker herself, would agree with him about Harry and B’Elanna. Apparently not.

The music stopped. Harry, B’Elanna and other couples disengaged. B’Elanna headed back to the booth, while Harry surged toward the buffet table. “Cherie!” Sandrine greeted the half-Klingon. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

B’Elanna gave the holographic woman a polite smile. Although she had grown used to the tavern’s odd characters, she still regarded them with little enthusiasm. The pianist began playing another song. “La Mer.” It was one of Tom’s favorite 20th century songs.

“Thomas, why don’t you dance with B’Elanna?” Sandrine said to the pilot. “That sounds like a lovely song.”

A doubtful B’Elanna opened her mouth to protest. “I don’t know. I just finished dan . . .”

Realization hit Tom Paris like a wet glove. Sandrine did not know it, but she had just given him the opportunity for a private talk with B’Elanna. Without any interruptions from her or Harry. “That sounds like a great idea,” he replied, gently grabbing the Chief Engineer’s hand. “C’mon B’Elanna. A little dance won’t hurt.”

“But . . .” Before the half-Klingon could further protest, Tom steered her toward the dance floor. He glanced past B’Elanna’s shoulder toward Sandrine and winked. The ‘Great Kim/Torres Matchmaking Scheme’ was about to commence.

* * * *

Sandrine caught Tom’s wink and smiled. Ah Thomas, she thought to herself. Such a big heart behind that cynical mask. The dear boy possessed a heart so big that it blinded him from the obvious – that his matchmaking scheme for his friends will fail. Or end in some kind of disaster. Young Harry Kim and that B’Elanna were not made for each other – at least not romantically.

On the other hand, Sandrine already had a candidate in mind for Lieutenant Torres’ heart. And she was dancing in his arms at the moment. Sandrine admired the way Thomas lead the engineer across the floor. Such a graceful dancer. And unlike young Harry, he held B’Elanna close in his arms with an intimate and easy manner that expressed his personality. Not only that, the half-Klingon had failed to spare Commander Chakotay one glance since joining Thomas on the dance floor.

Sandrine looked at the young couple once more. Then Thomas made a comment that produced a mixture of amusement, exasperation and fascination on Lieutenant Torres’ face that the hologram found beguiling. Ah yes! Sandrine nodded. They certainly do look well together.

THE END

“Thomas likes his women with a little bite.” – Sandrine to Ricki (“The Cloud”)


“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Fifteen

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

Chapter Fifteen – Fort Kearny

May 31, 1849
The wagon train finally arrived at Fort Kearny, during the late afternoon. Two weeks ago, I would have welcomed our arrival. But not now. Something disturbing has happened. Mr. Wendell has been detained, due to Mr. Goodwin’s accusation that he was the fugitive slave.

Not long after our arrival, Mr. Goodwin approached the fort’s commander, a Lieutenant Woodbury, and accused Mr. Wendell of being the fugitive slave wanted back in Franklin, Missouri. The odious man had kept a copy of the handbill with the fugitive’s description. And it nearly descri

bed Mr. Wendell to a T.

Mr. James immediately protested against Mr. Goodwin’s accusation, claiming that he has known Mr. Wendell for over a decade. Both Benjamin and Mr. Robbins backed him, recalling how the two men had greeted each other back in Missouri. Mr. James also added that when he had first met Mr. Wendell, the latter was already a freedman from Maryland. And he pointed out Mr. Wendell’s knowledge of the Plains and the trail, something no Missouri slave would have any knowledge of. None of the members of our wagon train could deny this. But when Mr. Wendell produced a piece of paper, declaring his status as a free man from Maryland, the matter was settled. Lieutenant Woodbury dropped the matter, much to Mr. Goodwin’s embarrassment.

June 1, 1849
Due to the late hour of our arrival, yesterday; my fellow travelers and I did not get a decent look at the fort until this morning. If I must be frank, Fort Kearny is a dismal affair. I had expected a citadel on the prairie. Instead, it turned out to be nothing more than a collection of adobe huts grouped together. Did the Army really expect Lieutenant Woodbury and his men to repel hordes of Indians from this place? Perhaps I had expected too much. After all, Fort Kearny has only been in existence for a year. And according to one of the troopers, its still being constructed.

Fort Kearny does have one thing in its favor. It has plenty of supplies for westbound emigrants . . . and at decent prices. According to Lieutenant Woodbury, our wagon train was the fourth one to arrive in the past three weeks. Benjamin and I purchased more cornmeal, coffee and other foodstuff for the journey.

I also noticed that both Mr. Wendell and Mr. James have been maintaining a cool distance from the Goodwins, especially the elder Mr. Goodwin. I cannot blame them, especially Mr. Wendell. But I still have questions about his strong resemblance to the fugitive slave that was being hunted . . . and why he had been wearing the very waistcoat that I first saw on one of the slave catchers.

End of Chapter Fifteen

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Fourteen

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

Chapter Fourteen – A Fine Romance

May 29, 1849
Today proved to be an exceptionally pleasant day. More than pleasant, if I must be honest . . . but I will touch upon that matter, later. After several days of rain, our wagon train encountered bright sunshine and blue skies. The positive change in the weather seemed to have improved everyone’s mood and led to good behavior. For once, Benjamin was able to spend all day without complaining about any unladylike behavior I might display – well, most of the day. Even Clive Anderson and Marcus Cross managed to spend the entire day without exchanging one hostile word or glance. A miracle indeed.

I might as well confess. The weather, the scenery and the lack of conflict made the day pleasant for me. But what made this day more than pleasant were the hour or two spent in Mr. Wendell’s company. Mr. James wanted to spend some time with Benjamin – to reminisce about old Mr. Whitman, I suspect. Our intrepid guide lent me his horse, a handsome chestnut gelding named Spirit. Frankly, I welcomed the chance to ride Mr. James’ horse. The latter reminded me of the mare I had left behind in Cleveland. And sitting on a wagon buckboard for hours could be strenuous on my lower back.

No sooner than I found myself on Spirit, Mr. Wendell appeared by my side and asked me to ride with him, as he scouted the trail ahead. A deep suspicion appeared in my mind that both Mr. Wendell and Mr. James had arranged this. We soon found ourselves cantering several yards ahead of the train. I told him about the Flemings and my childhood back in Cleveland. He told me about his childhood in a town called Frederick in Maryland. Mr. Wendell’s parents had been slaves before their emancipation just weeks before the outbreak of the second war against England. He was the youngest son and the fourth child in a family of five. After meeting Mr. James and Mr. Whitman, Mr. Wendell left his family at the age of sixteen to head West.

Mr. Wendell’s family background seemed very intriguing to me. But I remained curious about whether he had been the runaway slave being hunted back in Missouri. I meant to question him on the matter, but Mr. Wendell suggested that I follow him, as he rode further ahead of the wagon train. Although reluctant to follow him at first, a feeling washed over me that he could be trusted. So, we both rode further ahead, until the wagon train disappeared from our view.

The handsome scout led me to a small bluff just southwest of the wagon train, where we dismounted from out mounts. The bluff overlooked a sight that left me completely breathless. Not only was I able to spot our own wagon train rambling westward, I also saw several other trains that traveled ahead and behind us. The entire horizon seemed to team with canvas-topped wagons. I exclaimed that all of North America seemed to be traveling west.

“Maybe,” Mr. Wendell replied. “I’ve never seen this many wagons on the trail. Not in the twelve years I’ve spent out west.”

As we continued to eye the view below us, I spotted what seemed to be a wide stream or narrow river in the western horizon. Mr. Wendell informed me that was the Platte River. It did not strike me as an impressive body of water. Mr. Wendell added that the water tend to be brackish. “With all of these trains using the water, I reckon it must be a lot worse, now.”

Mr. Wendell remained rooted in the same spot for several minutes. Before I could control myself, I leaned back against his chest, finding the contact warm and very reassuring. I finally realized what I had done and quickly removed my head from his chest. Mr. Wendell gently grabbed hold of my shoulders and turned me around to face him. A languorous settled between us and I felt certain that he would kiss me. Instead, Mr. Wendell merely stared into my eyes before suggesting that we mount our horses. As we rode back to the wagon train, I felt a sense of disappointment that he did not kiss me.

Later that evening, Mr. Wendell informed everyone else that we should be reaching the Platte River within days. No one said a word about my early afternoon excursion with Mr. Wendell . . . except for Benjamin. My dear brother lectured me about being alone with a man, claiming that it was improper for a young woman like me to be alone with any man other than himself. Benjamin also ordered me never to leave the train alone with Mr. Wendell or any other male member of the train. I did not respond, for I promised myself that I would disobey him the first chance I got. At least as far as Mr. Wendell was concerned.

End of Chapter Fourteen

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Thirteen

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

Chapter Thirteen – New Experiences and Friendships

May 21, 1849
The wagon company has spotted its first buffalo herd, today. Contrary to popular belief, they struck me as docile creatures. Quite like cattle. They quietly gaze on the prairie grass, seemingly oblivious to the dozen wagons that rolled by. I must say that their appearance seemed nothing like a cow or bull – especially with their short shaggy fur, small eyes and little horns that protrude from the top of their heads like little devils.

“They can be quite the devils, Miss Alice,” Mr. Wendell commented. “Try facing one of them creatures while it’s stampedes toward you. Steam comes out of their nostrils and their eyes turn red.”

Personally, I found his description of the buffalo slightly difficult to accept. But I remained silent. Instead, I asked Mr. Wendell about the beast’s meat. I wanted to know how it taste. “You’ll find out,” he answered. “When Hadley returns with a bull or two.” Mr. James, Warren Palmer and Joel Moore had left the company for a buffalo hunting expedition. Ben had been invited to accompany the three hunters, but rejected their offer. Apparently, he considered me incapable of driving the wagon. Nor did he want to leave me alone to . . . fend for myself.

Mr. James’ little expedition resulted in two buffaloes, both shot by our intrepid guide. After he and Mr. Wendell had skinned and butchered the beasts, they distributed the meat to each wagon. Buffalo steaks became the main course this evening. Compare to regular beef, it had a rich . . . almost gamy flavor. Mr. James and Mr. Wendell also consumed the buffaloes’ intestines. Watching them pull and stretch the tube-like entrails over a fire seemed disgusting. But when each man took an intestine, threw back his head and swallowed them whole, I had to turn away.

May 24, 1849
High winds and heavy rain battered our wagon company today. Despite all of this, we managed to travel at least fifteen miles before finally camping on a bluff above the Big Blue River, high above the threat of the flooding water. Mrs. Robbins had invited me to join her inside her wagon, while her husband and Ben helped guard the camp tonight.

Thanks to a little brandy Mrs. Robbins had stored with her other provisions, I learned a great deal about the Kentucky couple. They had two grown sons who owned farms in Illinois. Albert J. and Dorcas Robbins had already buried two other babies during the early years of their marriage. The Robbins belong to that unknown society that consisted of abolitionists from the Southern states. Mr. Robbins’ hatred of the slavery institution stemmed from the years he had been raised on his uncle’s tobacco farm somewhere in Harrison County, Kentucky. Mrs. Robbins’ family – the Beeches – originally hailed from Delaware and were originally indentured servants.

Just last November, the Robbins had helped two runaway slaves cross the Ohio River into freedom. Unfortunately, a neighbor discovered their actions and informed the local law. The couple managed to cross the Ohio, with the law close on their heels. Fortunately, they eventually evaded their pursuers and ended up outside of Jonesboro, Illinois – where their sons had settled.

“How exciting!” I exclaimed, while sipping brandy. “But why did you not remain with your sons?”

Mrs. Robbins replied that news of James Marshall’s gold discovery had convinced the couple to move further west. “Albert doubts that we will ever find any gold there. But he would like to start his own farm or ranch.”

“I wish I could say the same for Ben,” I said. “Gold seemed to be his only motivation.”

“And you?”

The Kentucky woman’s question threw me off-balance momentarily before I decided to be honest. I told her of my desire to see the West and California. I also told her of my troubles with my family – especially with my parents – over my decision to reject Charles Marshall’s offer of marriage. After a moment’s pause, Mrs. Robbins brought up the topic of Elias Wendell. “Do you believe he was the runaway that those Missouri catchers were searching for? I do.” She then revealed what Ben and I had already noticed – namely the blue waistcoat that one of the slave catchers and later, Mr. Wendell had worn. “Of course, he ain’t wearing it now.”

I had also noticed the disappearance of the waistcoat. I suspect that Mr. Wendell had rid himself of the piece of clothing after our arrival in Independence. “Why . . . I mean, do you suspect that the Goodwins might say anything about Mr. Wendell?”

Mrs. Robbins assured me that the Tennesseans had lost their chance to expose Mr. Wendell, now that we were on the trail. However, she pointed out that their chances would be renewed either in Fort Kearny or Fort John on the Laramie.

End of Chapter Thirteen

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 13/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Thirteen

Olivia, Nimue and Nathalie found themselves sprawled on the McNeills’ front lawn, upon their return from the Anduin Dimension. The demoness muttered something under her breath, while Nathalie cried out, “Goddamit, Livy! You could have at least warned us about the protection spell around the house!”

“Sorry,” Olivia mumbled. She struggled to her feet. “I forgot. It shouldn’t take us long to reach the front door.”

Within minutes, the three women arrived at the manor’s front door. Breathing heavily, Nathalie glared at the redhead. “I won’t forgive you for this.”

“You’re actually out of breath from walking across the lawn?” Olivia exclaimed in disbelief.

“It was uphill!”

Nimue sharply interrupted. “Ladies! Please!”

After murmuring a quick apology, Olivia unlocked the door. The three females entered the manor and found the others inside the library. An altar that featured a silver chalice had been set up in the middle of the room. “What’s going on?” Olivia demanded.

“Divination altar,” her father explained. “To find Cole.”

Andre asked, “Did you guys get any information on that stone I had told you about?”

“It’s called Evendril’s Amulet,” Nimue replied. “The sapphire in the center of the amulet is used for telepathic manipulation.”

“Now, why does that sound familiar?” Andre murmured. He turned away from the others and headed toward one of the bookshelves.

A very anxious Olivia hugged herself. “Okay, who’s doing the spell?”

Mrs. Dubois spoke up. “I will. We’ve all discovered that I’ve had more experience in this than anyone else.”

“Even more than Cecile?” a dubious-looking Nathalie asked.

The older Vodoun mambo stared at the dark-haired witch. “Believe it or not, yes. Cecile may be a natural-born seer, but I have more experience in this form of divination.” She paused. “Uh, did anyone find something of Cole’s?”

Nimue sighed. “Why don’t you use a drop of my blood?” Everyone, except for Mrs. Dubois, stared at her. “What? I can only assume that there is nothing in this house that belongs to him.”

“She has a point,” Mrs. Dubois added. She glanced around. “Does anyone have a knife or something?”

Olivia disappeared from the library. A few minutes later, she returned with a dagger in her hand. She handed it to Cecile’s mother. “This should do. Don’t worry, I’ve cleaned it.”

Mrs. Dubois took hold of Nimue’s wrist and pricked a finger. Several drops of blood appeared on the blade’s tip. Then she carefully placed the dagger on the altar’s table and began to chant in the Fon language. Then she poured water into the chalice and added:

“I call upon Yemaya to reveal Cole Turner’s present and future. In your name, Yemaya, I offer this blood to guide me to his whereabouts.” Mrs. Dubois picked up the dagger and allowed the blood on its tip to drop into the chalice.

The surface of the chalice’s water turned murky from Nimue’s blood. Everyone began to lean over the altar, as the water’s surface rippled for several seconds. “Hey!” Mrs. Dubois exclaimed. “I can’t see!”

The moment Olivia and the others leaned back, images appeared on the water’s surface. The redhead saw Cole put on a black, collar-less jacket. The images then transformed into a wedding scene, in which Cole and Idril faced a bearded man in a black robe. Other figures – Idril’s minions, Olivia surmised – half surrounded the couple. “Bloody hell!” Nimue hissed. “Beren! I haven’t seen him since Raynor and Avara’s wedding, over thirty-four years ago.”

“Where is that place?” Olivia demanded. She noticed the red boulders that dotted the landscape. “Looks like some kind of rock garden.”

Nimue added in a tight voice, “Idril’s estate in the Kenotês Dimension. That’s where she’s from. The others with her must be members of her clan.”

Gweneth frowned. “You’ve been there before?”

“Once,” the demoness replied with a sigh. “Not long after Raynor’s death. When Klea was head of the Thorn Order. I believe that Idril had wanted Klea’s permission for a special operation. All of the Order’s sect leaders – myself included – had been invited.”

Andre approached the others, holding a book. “I found some information on Evendril’s Amulet. It was created eight hundred years ago by a wizard named . . .” He shrugged. “Well, you know, Evendril. The amulet seems to be a sigil, judging by the markings on the surface. And the sapphire in the center is used . . .”

“. . . for telepathic manipulation,” Olivia finished. She nodded.

Pointing at the images within the chalice, Andre added, “And that guy probably has it. The blond man standing behind Idril.”

Olivia and the others peered at chalice’s water. “That’s Gary Wheeler?”

“Is that his name? He had introduced himself as Gary Whalen to us.”

Jack spoke up. “Whatever his name is, someone has to get that amulet from him in order to use it on Cole.”

“I’ll do both,” Cecile said. “After I stop Cole before he has the chance to harm us.”

Nimue frowned at the mambo. “Pardon me for asking, but what exactly do you plan to do to my son?”

“Just put him to sleep,” Cecile replied lightly. “For a few minutes.”

Gweneth turned to the demoness. “Does Idril have any more . . . minions under her?”

Nimue shook her head. “Just those whom were shown in the chalice. And most of them are fellow kinsmen from her clan. I suggest that we allow a few ‘companions’ of mine to help us.” An uneasy expression appeared on the face of Olivia’s mother. “Don’t worry. These minions are trust . . .”

Jack lifted a hand. “We understand. I think it’s time that we left. Olivia, Cecile? And Gwen, of course.”

“And me,” Andre insisted.

Nana patted Andre’s arm. “I don’t think so, love. You need to recover from those stab wounds. And the loss of blood.”

“I feel fine!” Andre protested.

Olivia’s grandmother patted the houngan’s side. He grimaced in pain. “Like I said, you need to recover. I don’t heal as completely as a whitelighter. A few hours of rest and the pain will disappear.”

Andre’s shoulders sagged in defeat. Too bad, Olivia thought. Andre’s help could have been valuable.

———— 

Idril allowed herself a brief sigh of relief, as the dark priest, Beren, conducted the marriage ceremony. She shot a quick glace at the groom. Her heart fluttered at the sight of the tall half-daemon. He looked handsome in his all-black outfit. And so damn virile.

The bride hoped that her own gown looked appropriate for the occasion. She wore a long-sleeved, lilac gown that exposed her shoulders. The gown had been purchased at the Anduin Marketplace. At least Belthazor . . . or Cole seemed impressed by it.

Images of her gown and Belthazor’s suit on her bedroom floor filled Idril’s mind. Along with images of their bodies intertwined on her large bed. Idril could hardly contain herself. Nearly five years had passed since the last time the half-daemon had touched her. And now she could hardly wait.

Beren’s droning voice broke through Idril’s thoughts. “If there is anyone with just cause who believes this couple should not be joined, speak now or be silenced forever.”

A husky female voice cried out, “I HAVE JUST CAUSE!”

The bride, the groom, the priest and the guests whipped their heads around. The demoness gasped at the sight of eight figures standing on the terrace. Including a very furious Olivia McNeill.

———— 

“I SAID I HAVE JUST CAUSE!” Olivia’s throaty voice rang clear with anger. Then using her telekinesis, the redhead flung the dark-haired demoness against one of the red boulders that dotted the garden. The so-called bride’s body hit the ground with a thud.

Cecile’s eyes briefly lingered on the fallen demoness. So that was Idril. The latter’s flamboyant looks reminded the Vodoun priestess of a Vegas hustler. Her eyes then focused upon Cole. “Idril!” he cried out in anguish. His blue eyes narrowed dangerously.

Time to act, Cecile thought. She quickly sent a telepathic message to the half-daemon. “Sleep.” He immediately crumpled to the ground.

One of Idril’s fellow daemons, a lean, dark-haired male with odd pale turquoise eyes cried out, “Kill them!” At his command, the demoness’ minions went on the attack.

A daemon flung a fireball in Mr. McNeill’s direction. The middle-aged witch quickly stopped it in mid-tracks with his molecular combustion ability. The he used the same power to kill the daemon that had attacked him. Olivia hurled another daemon toward a tree, causing the latter’s chest to be impaled by a large branch. One of Nimue’s minions killed an attacking daemon with an energy ball. Then Cecile glanced to her left. She saw another Idril minion and the priest teleport out of the garden. Cecile allowed herself a wry smile. Apparently, the two had decided to . . .

A strong arm snaked around the Vodoun priestess’ throat, causing her to choke. Before her attacker could cause any further harm, Cecile sent the daemon a telepathic message – “Pain”. The daemon immediately released her neck, clutched his head as he cried out in agony. Seconds later, he dropped to the ground – dead.

Cecile heaved a sigh of relief. Then she glanced up in time to see both Mrs. McNeill and Nimue kill two of Idril’s minions or cousins with electrokinetic balls. A quick glance to Cecile’s left revealed a fair-haired man attempting to unobtrusively leave the battleground. It was Gary Wheeler. “Hey!” Cecile cried. She rushed toward the warlock. He spun around and lifted one hand. Cecile immediately recalled Andre’s revelation that Wheeler was a warlock. She quickly raised her own hand and cried out, “Deflect!” in Fon. Wheeler’s body flung back onto the ground. Cecile rushed toward him.

Unfortunately, the warlock scrambled to his feet and a fallen dagger zoomed into his hand. He growled in a menacing voice, “Bitch!” and made a swipe at Cecile. She blocked his attack with a few Wing Chun moves, turning the knife on him. The blade’s tip sank into the warlock’s side. He cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Cecile knelt beside Wheeler’s fallen body and reached inside his jacket. She eventually found an amulet with a sapphire gem in its center. Evendril’s Amulet.

Before the Voudon priestess had time to relish her triumph, she rushed back to Cole’s side. A few yards away, Olivia incinerated one of Idril’s minions before joining her. “How is he?” the anxious redhead asked.

Cecile replied, “Still sleeping. I just need to wake him up.”

“Huh?”

“I’ve got the amulet.” Cecile held up the object. Then she focused her attention upon the dozing half-daemon and sent him a message. “Wake up.”

Cole’s eyes snapped open. A gasp escaped from his mouth, as he sprung into a sitting position. “What the . . .” he began. The confusion in his eyes cleared, as he regarded both Cecile and Olivia with hostility. “You!” he growled.

Cecile flashed the amulet in his face. His eyes went blank and she began to chant:

“With this stone will soon be linked,
Your mind to mine shall finally sync.
Follow my voice and so it will be,
Arnemetia’s power be invoked here.”

She continued:

“Your memories of your true self and feelings will return to you. Arnemetia’s hold upon you will erase as soon as you awaken.”

Cecile snapped her fingers and Cole slipped back into an unconscious state. “Great!” Olivia muttered. “He’s asleep again.”

“Not for long.” For the last time – she hoped – Cecile sent a telepathic message to the half-daemon. “Wake up.” She snapped her fingers and blue eyes fluttered open.

Cole regarded the two women with confusion. “Wha . . . what the hell is going on?” he muttered. “Olivia? Cecile?”

The two friends exchanged relieved smiles. “Looks like someone is finally himself, again,” Cecile commented.

Slowly, the half-daemon struggled to his feet with the two women’s help. “Where the hell am I? And why does this . . .?” His eyes grew wide, as if a horrible thought had struck him. “Wait a minute. I almost became Idril’s husband, didn’t I? Oh shit!”

“Rather horrible to contemplate, isn’t it?” Olivia added.

Noises from near one of the garden’s boulders revealed Idril being forced to stand up by Nimue’s two minions. “Get up!” one growled.

Her voice filled with terror, Idril protested. “Nimue! Please! You don’t understand! It’s not like I . . .” She broke off at the sight of Cole glaring at her. “Belthazor!” For the first time, Cecile felt a stirring of pity toward the young demoness. “Belthazor, you have to help me!”

“Just as you had helped me by hiring someone to place a spell on me?” Cecile could barely hear Cole’s deadly whisper.

Nimue fixed the younger demoness with a regal glare. “Take her to Altec,” she instructed her minions. “He will know what to do with her.”

Idril’s eyes widened in horror. “Altec? No! No, I won’t . . .” Taking one of her captors by surprise, she stepped on his foot. He immediately released her arm. Then Idril jabbed him in the gut, before kicking the other minion away from her. Her eyes turned deep red, as she directed them at Cole’s mother.

“No!” Cole cried out. He quickly shook off Olivia’s grip and flung an energy ball at Idril. Cries of pain filled the garden as the dark-haired demoness disintegrated into a ball of light and fire.

Olivia released a gust of breath and turned to Cole. “Well! It looks as if you finally got her after all these years.”

“No shit,” Cecile mumbled. Then she glanced behind her and noticed a disturbing fact. Gary Wheeler had disappeared. “Oh no!” she cried. “He’s gone!”

Mrs. McNeill frowned. “Who, dear?”

“The warlock! Wheeler! He’s gone!” Cecile shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t undertand. How did he get away?”

Mr. McNeill shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe he’s a teleporter.” He walked over to Cecile and indicated the bauble in her hand. “At least he doesn’t have the amulet. So, let’s go home.”

A groan escaped from Cole’s mouth. “God, how many hours do we have left until the first ceremony? With all of the messing about in my brain, I think I’m going to need a long rest.”

Nimue stroked her son’s cheek. Surprisingly, Cole did not resist her gesture. “Why don’t you stay at the Berisa Resort, in the Melora Dimension?” the demoness suggested. “Time moves much faster there than it does here in the mortal world or where the first ceremony will be held. You will be able to acquire a few extra hours of sleep.”

“I think that all of us can use a little trip to the Berisa Resort,” Mr. McNeill added. “I’m exhausted.”

Cecile felt tempted to accept Nimue’s suggestion, but decided against it. But after nearly losing Andre, she realized that she would rather keep company with him for the rest of the night.

END OF CHAPTER THIRTEEN

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 12/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Twelve

“Oh my God! Andre!”

The moment Cecile, Olivia and Nathalie had arrived outside Cole’s penthouse, the Vodoun priestess’ name flew from her mouth. She noticed that the penthouse’s double door had remained open. The three women rushed inside.

“Goddess!” Olivia exclaimed. Cecile’s heart nearly rose to her throat at the sight of Andre’s body sprawled on the floor. A small pool of blood had formed underneath. Olivia asked, “Is he all right? Where’s Cole?”

Before Cecile could answer, Nathalie cried out, “Hey, there’s another body, here! Behind one of the doors.” The dark-haired witch gasped. “Livy, it’s your uncle!”

Olivia rushed to Nathalie’s side. “Oh God! It is Brion! What was he doing here?”

“Looks like a bruise on his forehead,” Nathalie added. “What about Andre?”

Cecile carefully examined her fiancé’s body. She discovered two stab wounds – one in the right side of his back and the second between his ribs. “Stabbed,” the New Orleans priestess declared tightly. “And he’s bleeding heavily.”

“I better call an ambulance.” Olivia turned to the third woman. “Nat, can you call . . .?”

“Never mind an ambulance!” Cecile retorted. “We need a healer! Like a whitelighter or something!”

Olivia shot back, “Neither of us have a whitelighter! Remember?”

Cecile shot another worried look at Andre’s wounds. “Olivia, please! For once, forget about your low opinion of whitelighters and summon one!”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “All right.” She threw back her head and cried, “Chris? Christopher Perry!”

“Why don’t you call for Leo?” Nathalie asked.

“Because he’s now an Elder.” Again, Olivia yelled, “Christopher!”

At that moment, a loud thump emitted from the opened doorway, followed by an “Ow!” Seconds later, Chris Perry strode into the penthouse, rubbing his forehead. “God! Did someone cast a ward over this place?” He glanced around. “Hey, isn’t this . . .?”

“Chris?” Cecile interrupted in a sharp voice. “We need your help. Now! Andre’s been stabbed and needs healing.”

The whitelighter warily regarded the fallen houngan. “I don’t think I can,” he murmured. His face turned pink.

Cecile glared at him. “What? What do you mean? I’ve seen whitelighters heal others than their charges! I’ve seen Leo do it.”

“No, you don’t understand. I can’t . . .” Chris let out a gust of breath. “I can’t heal. Period. I don’t have the ability . . .”

Cecile stared the whitelighter in disbelief. “Are you shitting me? You’re a whitelighter!”

“Half-whitelighter,” Chris corrected, taking Cecile by surprise. “And I can’t heal . . .”

Nathalie spoke up. “What about Paige?”

Olivia shook her head. “Her healing powers are a bit limited.”

“Why don’t you get Harry?” Chris suggested. The others stared at him. “You know, your brother? He’s a healer. Actually, he’s also a life taker.”

The redhead rolled her eyes. “Excuse me? Harry’s a telepath, not a healer. Where on earth . . .?” She broke off, as her eyes widened in realization. “Wait a minute. Are you saying that will be Harry’s second power in the future?”

Chris shrugged his shoulders. “Well . . . yeah.”

“Nat!” Olivia turned to her fellow witch. “Go back to P3 and get my grandmother. My Welsh grandmother – Mrs. Morgan. Bring her back here.”

The dark-haired witch nodded and left the penthouse. Cecile frowned at her friend. “What was that about?”

“If what Chris says about Harry is true, then it means my little brother will inherit his second power from Nana, in a few years.”

Now Cecile understood. “You mean to say that your grandmother Morgan can heal others?”

“Yep. She’s a biokinetic. And I had told you about this, some years ago.”

Chris frowned. “A what?”

Olivia sighed. “A biokinetic. Someone who has the ability to manipulate organic and biological . . .”

Nathalie returned with the elderly Mrs. Morgan, with Cole’s mother in tow. “What happened?” Olivia’s grandmother asked. Then she glanced to her side. “Oh Goddess! Brion!” She rushed to her son’s side. “What happened to him?” At that moment, Olivia’s uncle groaned out loud. She helped him to his feet. “Brion? How do you feel? You have a rather nasty bruise on your forehead.”

“Nana,” Olivia said, as she called to her grandmother. “Nana, we need your help, over here. Andre has been stabbed.”

The elderly woman strode over to where the houngan lay. “Bloody hell!” she exclaimed. “What happened?”

“And where is Cole?” Nimue demanded. Her eyes scanned the penthouse living room.

Cecile felt Andre’s pulse. It had slowed down considerably. “Please, Mrs. Morgan! I think Andre’s dying.”

“Oh dear. I don’t think I can bend down,” Mrs. Morgan began.

“Here.” Using her telekinesis, Olivia lifted Andre’s body from the floor and placed him on the sofa.

The elderly witch sat next to Andre. After a brief examination of his wounds, she placed her hands over them. Cecile inhaled sharply as she saw the wounds automatically seal, before they completely disappeared. The whitelighter’s eyes widened in marvel. And envy. Andre’s eyes flew open. He gasped out loud, before he sprang into a sitting position.

The first word that came out of the houngan’s mouth happened to be, “Cole!” He glanced at Olivia’s uncle, who strode toward them. “You!” he exclaimed. Hostility replaced the confusion in his dark eyes. “You stupid son-of-a-bitch! This is all your fault!”

Mr. Morgan responded with a loud groan.

————–

A commotion awakened Jack McNeill from a deep sleep. He jerked upright and glanced around, noticing that he remained inside the library. The noise grew louder. He realized that it came from the foyer.

After a quick stretch, the witch left the library and discovered the women, along with Andre and Brion lingering in the foyer. And the Vodoun houngan seemed to be very irate with Jack’s Welsh brother-in-law. “What’s going on?” he demanded, catching the others’ attention. “Everyone seems . . . tense.”

Gweneth sighed heavily. Jack noticed the anxious expression on his wife’s face. “Cole is gone,” she said in a terse voice. “Apparently, Idril had hired someone to help her kidnap him.”

Jack could barely believe what he had just heard. “Wha . . .? How in the hell did she manage to do that?”

“They had used some kind of stone,” Andre replied, casting a dark glance at Brion. “Some kind of sapphire, I think. I nearly had . . . my hands on it, until Super Witch over there,” he tersely nodded at Jack’s brother-in-law, “had rushed in and ruined everything.”

“Say that again?”

Cecile, who seemed to cling to Andre’s arm, eyed Brion with deep contempt. “Someone working for Idril had cast a spell on Cole, using some kind of amulet with a stone. Andre managed to trap them behind a magical shield, but Mr. Morgan . . .” Her contempt deepened. “It seems that Mr. Morgan had rushed in and accidentally freed them, using some kind of potion. I guess he didn’t realize that Idril and this man had already been trapped.”

“I was trying to vanquish Idril or whatever the hell her name was!” Brion protested. His face nearly resembled a beet.

“The only thing you had ‘vanquished’ . . . was my force field!” an angry Andre retorted. “And I ended up getting stabbed in the back!”

Jack’s mother-in-law quietly added, “I managed to heal him.”

Feeling slightly confused, Jack said, “So, what you’re saying is that Cole is under some spell and might end up marrying Idril, after all.”

His mother sighed. “It certainly looks that way. Livy, Nimue and Nathalie have went to the Anduin Marketplace to find more information on that stone.”

“And what about Cole?” Jack asked. “How do you plan to find him?”

Vivian spoke up. “Divination, of course. Unfortunately, I don’t have my divination tools.”

Elise added, “You can use my chalice. I had bought it in Oslo, several years ago. It should be in the library.” She started toward the room. Jack and the others followed his mother. Only Brion remained behind. Jack did not blame him.

————–

Chris faced the three Charmed Ones inside the manor’s Solarium. They had just finished telling him about Cole’s abduction. “So what do you plan to do?” he demanded. “About Cole?”

“What can we do?” Piper protested. “Olivia and Cole’s mother had already left to find information on this stone that Cecile was talking about.”

Paige added, “And Cecile’s mom said that she knew a way to find Cole and Idril.”

“And why didn’t you go with them?” Chris continued. “You’re supposed to be the Charmed Ones. You know . . . defenders of the innocent.”

Phoebe sighed. “It’s protectors of the innocent. And I wanted to go with Olivia, but she turned me down.”

“Phoebe, she didn’t need your help,” Piper insisted. “What could you have done?”

“I could have scried for Cole.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “Had it ever occurred to you that he might no longer be here in the city? Besides, the McNeills have every base covered.”

“But what if they don’t stop Cole from getting married?” Chris protested. “Only you three are powerful enough to do anything about him.”

Paige snorted with derision. “Where did you get that idea? Aside from stripping his powers, there’s nothing we can do.” She paused to give Chris a penetrating stare. “And why are you so upset over this, anyway? Are you saying that the McNeills won’t be able to stop Idril?”

“I don’t know!” Chris retorted. And he had been truthful. He could not recall anything about a possible marriage between Cole and this Idril. “My memories of this whole matter are at best, fuzzy. In fact, I don’t recall anyone telling me about this, in the future.”

With a sigh, Piper added, “Look, I realize that you and Phoebe hate to accept this, but there is nothing we can do.”

“Piper . . .” Phoebe began.

But Piper interrupted. “I’m sorry Pheebs, but this is a matter that concerns Olivia. Not you.” Chris noticed the resentful glare that Phoebe had shot at her older sister. The latter continued, “I mean, let’s face it. The McNeills and Cole’s mom are in a better position to help him.” She sighed. “You know, it feels good not to have the fate of the supernatural world on our shoulders for once. Don’t you think?”

Phoebe merely rolled her eyes and marched out of the Solarium.

Piper turned to Chris and Paige with innocent eyes. “What did I say?”

—————–

Another trio of females teleported in the middle of the Anduin Marketplace’s bustling main road. The dimming sunlight and orange streaks in the sky hinted the approaching dusk in this part of the dimension. Olivia glanced around and sighed. “You know, I really should come here more often.”

“Yes, you should,” Nimue commented. “Now that you have that little shop in Union Square.”

Nathalie paused in her tracks. “Wait a minute. Are you saying that Olivia’s new shop had once catered to magical creatures?”

Nimue shrugged. “Of course. Kostopulos’s Antiquities used to be a very popular place for magic practioners in San Francisco. Why, I used to be a regular customer when I was married to Belthazor’s father. The shop had a different owner in those days. I don’t believe that Belthazor had ever known about the shop. We had left San Francisco by the time he was nine years old.”

The demoness’ words stunned Olivia. She had no idea that she had purchased a shop with such a strong history in the supernatural.

The three women finally paused before a green-and-white stripped tent. “Here we are,” Nathalie announced. “Valindal’s tent.” The trio entered and found the tent free of customers. “Valindal!” Nathalie announced.

Olivia goggled at the pink-skinned humanoid female, with golden curls. “Nathalie Gleason? What are you . . .?” Suspicion flitted across her face. “You’re not returning the scarves, are you? All transactions are final.”

Nathalie shook her head. “Don’t worry. I’m more than satisfied with the purchase. I’m here . . .”

“Who’s your friend?”

Olivia stepped forward. “I’m Olivia McNeill. It’s nice . . .”

“Of course!” Valindal’s green-blue eyes glittered with excitement. “The new Bearer of the Aingeal Staff! I don’t suppose you’re willing to part with it?”

A thin smile touched Olivia’s lips. “You would be right. I’m not willing. Besides,” she shrugged, “no one else can use it, anyway.”

Valindal sighed. “You’ve got a point.” Her gaze fell upon Cole’s mother. “Nimue? Well, this is a surprise. Apparently, my little establishment has become very popular with members of the Thorn Order, lately.”

Nimue responded with an arch smile. “Yes dear. That is the reason why we are here.”

Valindal’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry?”

Nathalie continued, “We’re here to ask you about a customer who was here, a few days ago. The dark-haired woman who had interrupted us?”

“Oh! Idril.” Valindal sighed. “What about her?”

Olivia said, “We would like to know what she had purchased from you.”

“I see.” Valindal’s mouth became a thin line. “You want information. Uh, you do realize that it requires a price?”

On cue, Nimue held out a small, black velvet box. She snapped it open. “You remember Raynor, don’t you? One of my predecessors? This used to belong to him.” Inside the box, a small silver ring with a snake wrapped around a staff imprinted in the middle, rested on the box’s white satin interior. “This ring is his sigil.”

“His personal sigil?” Valindal asked. She hungrily eyed the ring.

Nimue replied, “His clan’s sigil.”

Disbelief replaced the greed in Valindal’s eyes. “You mean to say that you’re willing to sell the Thorn Order’s sigil for information?”

“Don’t be daft, woman!” Nimue retorted. “This is the Folner Clan’s sigil. Raynor’s relations from the Tiburon Dimension.”

“Oh. Of course.” Valindal hesitated. “How did you . . .?”

Nimue smiled knowingly. “Let’s just say that I found it on the very spot where my son had killed him.” Aware of the demoness’ antipathy toward Cole’s former mentor, Olivia realized that Raynor’s death must have been a particularly joyful moment for Nimue.

“The Folnar Clan’s sigil.” Valindal continued to eye the ring. Then she sighed. “What do you want to know?”

Olivia took a deep breath and asked, “Did you sell some kind of amulet or stone with telepathic powers to Idril?”

“If you’re referring to Evendril’s Amulet,” Valindal quickly replied, “then no.” Olivia’s heart sank at her reply. The sorceress continued, “If you must know, I had provided Idril with information about the amulet. I told her that I had sold it to a warlock, some six months earlier. A mortal.”

Heartened by this information, Olivia continued, “Was this warlock named Gary Whalen, by any chance?”

“Wheeler. His name was Gary Wheeler.” Valindal shook her head. “From some strange place called Baltimore.”

“Could you describe him?”

As it turned out, Valindal’s description of Gary Wheeler matched Andre’s description of Cole’s latest client. The Anduian also included that a person using the amulet would need to get close to his or her target. “Now, I understand why Idril did not kill this warlock,” Nimue commented. “She needed him to use the amulet. Is there a way to counter the spell?”

Another sigh left Valindal’s mouth, as her eyes flickered at Raynor’s sigil. “One moment.” She strode toward an ornate desk and sat down. Minutes passed, while the Anduian shuffled a few rolls of parchment paper. Then she made a few scribbles on a piece of paper, before returning to her visitors. She handed the paper to Olivia. “That . . . is the counter spell. And for it to work, you’ll need the amulet.”

“I have a friend who happens to be a strong telepath,” Olivia said. “Would she be able . . .?”

Valindal shook her head. “Not without the amulet. You need the sapphire stone to counter the original spell.”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Great! This is obviously going to be difficult.”

Nimue handed over the ring to the pink-skinned sorceress. “Thanks for your help, Valindal.”

A smile of pure satisfaction curved the Anduian’s lips. “I’m more than happy to oblige. And if you need anything else – an amulet, a ring . . . information, you know where to find me.”

————-

Idril entered the sitting room, inside her private home, in the Kenotês Dimension. Her eyes fell upon the muscular body that stretched across the divan. “Hmmmm,” she murmured to herself. “Still magnificent as ever.”

“Looking forward to the honeymoon?” a man’s soft voice asked. Idril whirled around and found Wheeler standing behind her. Smirking.

Ignoring the warlock’s taunt, Idril fixed him with a tight smile. “Tell me, Mr. Wheeler, when will Belthazor wake up? It’s been nearly a half hour and we have a wedding to attend.”

“It won’t be long,” Wheeler replied. “Depends upon the individual. For mortals, it takes nearly two hours for them to wake up.”

Idril sighed. “I certainly can’t wait an hour. Beren has just arrived.”

“Who?”

“The priest I’ve summoned for the wedding!” Idril retorted. She fell silent, as her gaze returned to the slumbering half-daemon. Then she sat down on the divan, next to his body. Her fingers brushed slightly across his bare chest.

Wheeler broke the silence. “Why marriage?” he asked.

Idril quickly withdrew her hand. “What?”

“Why marry Belthazor? Why not strip him of his powers?”

With a sigh, the demoness explained, “Because it would take a special potion to do the job. And no one has been able to create such a potion . . . except one of the Charmed Ones. Besides . . .” Her shoulders rose for a brief shrug. “I see nothing wrong with marriage. Even daemons get married.”

“You really are in love with him!” Surprise and disbelief mingled in the warlock’s voice.

Idril glared at him. “Is there a problem?”

“No! Uh . . . I just . . . I guess I never realized that daemons were capable of . . .” Wheeler’s voice nearly dropped to a whisper. “. . . of falling in love.”

Idril’s hostility ebbed. Realizing that none of her minions were in earshot, she replied softly, “I used to believe that. Until recently. Many of us from the Source’s Realm were taught that daemons could not love, because we accept evil. Someone,” Artemus flashed in Idril’s mind, “had recently told me that it’s all bullshit. I’ve finally realized that he’s right.”

A groan emitted from the half-daemon. “Looks like Belthazor is finally awake,” Wheeler commented.

Idril leaned down. “Belthazor?” She helped the groggy half-daemon into a sitting position. “Are you okay?”

Belthazor’s blue eyes blinked momentarily. “What happened?” he murmured. “Where am I?”

Both Idril and Wheeler exchanged wary looks. Then the demoness replied, “Actually . . . you’re at my place. In the Kenotês Dimension. You . . . had passed out.”

A frown appeared on Belthazor’s handsome face. “Wasn’t I . . . at my place in San Francisco? I think someone had paid me a visit.”

“That would be me.” Wheeler stepped forward with a smile. “We had just returned from your bachelor’s party. Remember?”

Belthazor’s frown deepened. “Bachelor party?”

A nagging feeling struck Idril that the half-daemon had not remembered Wheeler’s suggestion. “For the upcoming wedding, of course,” the warlock added. “Between you and Idril.”

Idril closely observed Belthazor. At first, he seemed confused as ever. Then to her relief, the confusion in his eyes finally began to dissipate. Love and passion replaced the confusion in his eyes. “Of course! The wedding! How could I have forgotten?”

A wry smile touched Idril’s lips. “A case of cold feet, perhaps?”

“I can never see myself getting cold feet over you,” Belthazor gushed. Then he took Idril by surprise and forced his mouth upon hers. Hard. A hot flush spread from within her breast to all over her body. Something she had not experienced since their last night, together.

The kiss grew longer and more passionate. Until Idril remembered that Gary Wheeler stood behind them. She reluctantly extracted herself from the half-daemon’s embrace and turned to the warlock. “You can leave now,” she ordered.

“Huh?” The warlock continued to stare at them.

“Leave!” Belthazor growled. “Now!”

“Right!” And the warlock turned on his heels and walked out of the room.

The half-daemon returned his attention to Idril. “Now, where were we?” He began to nip one of her earlobes.

“Um . . . Belthazor?”

“Cole.”

His lips now caressed the side of her neck. “Huh?”

“You can call me Cole,” the half-demon continued. “It’s also my name and it’s easier on the tongue.” His lips moved to Idril’s jaw.

The demoness sighed. “Oh. Okay. Uh . . . Cole . . .” A moan escaped from her mouth, as his tongue flickered in and out of her ear. “Um . . . Cole? We, uh need . . .” She took a deep breath and leaned back. “I’m sorry, but we have a priest waiting for us.”

Belthazor . . . or Cole slipped one arm around Idril’s waist and drew her closer to his chest. “We can deal with the wedding later,” he mumbled. “But not now.”

Footsteps clattered across the polished floor. Idril gently shoved Bel . . . Cole away and turned to find Cirith staring at them. “Yes? What is it?”

The daemon shot a quick glance at Cole. “Uh . . . Beren wants to know when the ceremony will begin.”

Idril sighed. “Soon. Right now, I want to you escort Beren to the garden. Serve him a drink, if you have to.”

“Well, I’ve already . . .”

Cole stood up and glared at the minion. “Idril and I need time to prepare for the ceremony. So, if you don’t mind . . .”

A long stretch of silence followed before Cirith responded with a nervous nod. “Yes. Of course. Uh . . . excuse me.” To Idril’s relief, he bowed quickly and left.

Cole offered his arm to Idril. “I guess we have a wedding to attend. Shall we go?”

With a smile on her lips, the demoness locked arms with the half-daemon. Together, the pair sauntered out of the sitting room to prepare for their upcoming wedding.

END OF CHAPTER TWELVE