Other times, it made for a good distraction, especially when one had too much time to think.
Leave it be. Enjoy your time here while you can. You have only two days-a day and a half, realistically speaking. Will you spend your holiday pining for someone you cannot have?
He and Hoshi had agreed to stay friends and nothing more. This should have settled the problem once and for all. Then why was his heart so sore at the thought?
“More tea, love? I made a fresh pot of Earl Grey, if you're interested.”
Malcolm smiled as the waitress placed a tea pot-along with a tea cosy-in front of him. Her Welsh accent made him a little homesick for his grandmother's scones and cucumber sandwiches. What were the odds of finding a fellow Briton on Risa?
“Thank you. I do appreciate your kindness.”
“No worries, love. What's an Englishman doing so far from home, hm?”
“Taking a well-deserved holiday from my job, actually. I don't mind surgery, but I've been finding myself doing it a lot lately.”
Rihann's eyes widened in surprise. “Surgery? You're a surgeon?”
“Well, not mainly, but I do that and other things, here and there.” He extended a hand. “Doctor Malcolm Reed.”
She shook it with a broad grin. “Rihann Davies, part time tea shop girl, part time dancer, part time pastry chef, all spit and fire.”
He chuckled at the introduction and said, “Pleased to meet you, Miss Davies.”
“Call me Rihann; all my friends do.” She picked up his empty plate and winked. “I'll be off work in a few hours, if you'll be around then.”
“I might be.”
“Good.” She winked again and sauntered off to another customer.
Malcolm watched her go, then resumed his watch over the crowd. Rihann seemed to be a nice girl, friendly and cordial, but--
He squashed that thought. But? What's wrong with you, man? You've never had any reservations about a possible liaison before. Yes, he was no longer at the Vulcan Medical Academy and limited in his romantic choices. He wasn't currently on Enterprise and risking a conflict of interest by becoming involved with a possible patient.
At least that was what he told himself.
Damn it all.
His PADD beeped and he drew it out of his pocket. A message scrolled onto the screen: Hey, I switched shore leave rotations with Crewman Taniel; he wanted to be on the same one with his gal. Heard about this bar on the strip...wanna come along? Lemme know. Trip.
“Trip Tucker in a pub? By himself? God forbid,” he murmured. “Someone has to keep him out of trouble.” Malcolm tapped a short reply.
So, when and where shall I meet you, Mister Tucker?
The Gypsy Moon wasn't exactly what Trip expected. The database described it as a popular place for all kinds of people from many worlds. When he stepped inside, he quickly realized he was the only male in the entire establishment. Normally, that wouldn't have bothered him-the more the merrier, he thought-but no one batted an eyelash in his presence. When the 'entertainment' started in the main lounge, he finished his beer and escaped out the side door.
It was going to take more than one beer to scrub the memory of an orange-skinned female troll cavorting around the stage with only a smile.
“Note to self, update the database when I get back to the ship,” he muttered. He rubbed his eyes and sternly told his stomach to behave itself. “God Almighty, that's enough to make me consider bein' a monk.”
Trip consoled himself with a beer at the local sports bar. He watched a vid of the Terran World Cup, England versus Brazil, and suddenly thought, I wonder what Malcolm's up to this shore leave. I bet he's moping about Hoshi or catching up on the latest medical journals. What's the fun in that?
So he tapped out a message on his PADD and sent it. Midway through the second period, he received an answer: So, when and where shall I meet you, Mister Tucker? Trip gave the location and the coordinates of the sports pub, then settled back for Malcolm's arrival.
Twenty minutes later, he saw the doctor enter the bar. “Hey, Malcolm, over here!”
“I see you've been behaving yourself so far,” Malcolm said dryly, as he slid into the stool next to Trip. He signaled the barman for a stout, then glanced up at the vidscreen. “Tied, 2-2. It looks like I've arrived just in time for the ending.”
“Go Britannia and all that.”
A slight smile appeared on his face. “Of course. A two-year streak, with a third to go.”
“Confident in the home team, huh?” Trip chuckled and took a swig of his beer. “At least it isn't the cricket finals. We'd be here all month.”
“The ODI Championship was last week. The English team is ranked second, behind The Republic of India.”
Trip cocked an eyebrow at him. “You keep tabs on the sports scores? No offense, but I didn't peg you for the type to be an avid follower of sports.”
Malcolm responded with an eyebrow of his own. “I don't spend all my time with medical journals, Mister Tucker.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, I'm 'Trip' off duty.” He hid a smile behind another sip of his beer. “So...cricket fan, soccer fan-”
“It's football, thank you very much.”
“Football for me involves a pigskin, an end zone, and uprights. I guess rugby's your equivalent.”
“Rugby's not like your 'football'. We don't resort to bulky pads and helmets. Besides-” Malcolm paused, then went on, “I heard your University of Florida lost a title last autumn.”
Trip rolled his eyes and winced. “On a controversial call. I still think the other side cheated.”
They spent a few moments discussing all matters of sport from both sides of the Atlantic ocean, then a few more moments celebrating England's spectacular 3-2 win in the World Cup. The bartender awarded a free pint to any Englishman in the house, and Malcolm definitely qualified. Trip got one too, just on general principle.
Trip watched as Malcolm chatted with the barman; the doctor was definitely in his element, and it gladdened Trip's heart to see him so relaxed. He's a bit homesick, Trip thought. I oughta remember this place the next time we come back here.
By the time they left the sports pub, the moon was high in the sky. They walked along the main boulevard towards the city center. Despite the late hour, the Risan parties were just getting started. Trip couldn't help but notice the various states of dress...and undress. A blue Andorian walked by in little more than a wraparound skirt and a bandolier across her chest.
"At least she's still armed to the teeth. An Andorian feels naked without some kind of weapon."
Trip's mouth quirked upwards. "And you would know that...how?"
Malcolm's tone was completely deadpan, but there was a mischievous sparkle in the blue eyes. "One of my specialties is xenobiology, remember?"
"Ah. Charting new territories in interspecies relations?"
"Something like that." At Trip's snort of amusement, Malcolm asked, “So..this bar you mentioned in your message. Where is it?”
He jerked a thumb at the nearest intersection. “Just a couple of blocks over. Highly recommended by the natives. Oh, that reminds me...skip the Gypsy Moon.”
He frowned at the non sequitur. “The Gypsy Moon? All right, but why?”
“Let's just say the entertainment isn't exactly to your taste.”
Malcolm sighed and shook his head. “And you would know that...how?”
“Trust me on this one. Unless you want to swear off women for the rest of your life.”
“God forbid. I'm not a monk.”
Trip grinned at the uncanny echo of his thoughts from earlier in the afternoon. “Didn't think so.”
Malcolm muttered something under his breath that Trip didn't catch. The tone of it reminded Trip of a conversation he'd had with Jon Archer in the Armory, during the trip between Altarra and Risa. At least he isn't mooning over Hoshi. Maybe this bar-hopping will be good for him, make him forget for a little while.
To Trip's utter relief, the Blue Tide was nothing like the Gypsy Moon. Pulse-pounding music roared from the dance floor; the eight-legged Spinderis in the music booth changed discs with ease. Couples gyrated in all sorts of strange positions, with single dancers along the perimeter. A few of those couples up a flight of stairs to private rooms, but more took their places.
Trip spotted a three-eyed, three toed Mirasian, a blue-skinned Bolian and a lizard-like Vastran among the patrons. There were even a pair of Vulcans, sitting alone at a back table. It reminded him of the cantina in Star Wars, without the band. This place was a virtual melting pot.
Wonder if T'Pol's enjoying her shore leave, he wondered. With an effort, he put that thought aside. She was a Vulcan; she probably spent most of her time in meditation.
Trip refocused his attention on his surroundings and noticed a purplish-red smoke from the hookahs set up on the tables. Those hookahs looked ancient, but he guessed they'd been bought from the bazaar down the street.
“Nice place,” Malcolm commented.
“You readin' my mind again?”
Malcolm smirked; it was becoming a running joke between the two, and Trip was one of the very few whom he didn't take offense. He answered, “Not on purpose.”
The bartender poured them both a tropical Risan Sunrise, and they leaned against the bar. Trip kept an eye on the various goings-on all around them. Everyone seemed cordial to each other, despite the varied members of the crowd. Malcolm, he noticed, also settled back to enjoy the atmosphere.
A glimpse of rainbow-colored cloth caught Trip's attention. He craned his neck around to see where it came from. The way that cloth draped itself around its wearer was the next thing to register. Good Lord, that fabric's practically see-through! He found it hard to tear his eyes away from the flawless porcelain skin, and the long, slender legs.
“Trip, one eighty mark zero.”
“Huh?” he blurted out.
Malcolm made a noise of exasperation. “Behind you.”
“Yeah, I see her.” Trip tried to act nonchalant, but judging from Malcolm's grin, he wasn't too convincing. “She's cute.”
Malcolm snorted. “'Cute'. I was referring to the one next to her.”
“The flame-haired one with the skimpy bathing suit? She's lookin' at you, Malcolm.”
Rainbow leaned toward Flame-Haired and whispered something to her. After a short conversation, they got up from the couch and headed towards the men's direction.
“This'll be interestin',” Trip commented with a wide smile.
The Pier Restaurant was even better than Jon Archer expected. It was located at a prime spot in the Risan ocean, with a stunning view of the moon upon the water. Not only was the food superb, so was the company. Turania Bel was also a traveler, an archivist for her people. She did remind Jon of a winged fairy, dainty and small-framed, but there was no extra ounce of fat on her. Her diaphanous wings shimmered in the moonlight and matched the fabric of her dress. It fitted her so perfectly that Jon had thought she wasn't wearing anything at all.Turania laughed at the mistaken impression. “A common misconception, Jonathan. Unlike some of my rebellious sisters, I do not show off my body to just anyone.”
He laughed along with her, even as he blushed clear to his hairline. “Ah. I'm sorry-”
“No offense taken. I was raised with slightly different standards. Change is not unwelcome to me. It is refreshing to find a man who is circumspect in his dalliances.”
Jon nearly choked on his wine, but he managed to cover up his surprise at her bluntness. “In my line of work, it's almost an unspoken rule. The last thing I want to do is cause an interstellar incident.”
Turania leaned her elbows on the table, her thin lips curving into a smile. “Understandable. Your self-control is admirable. Most Iarian males wouldn't bother with the niceties.”
There was something about her tone that tugged at Jon's heart. From what he knew about Iarian culture, it was patriarchal, with strict rules on social behavior, Some, like Turania, had broken free from the tradition, and paid for it by lonely isolation.
He gave in to the impulse to cover her frail-looking hand with his. “I'm not an Iarian male.”
Her smile softened as she replied, “No, you aren't.”
She asked him about Andoria and Vulcan, about Earth and Alpha Centauri, then returned the favor by telling him about her childhood on Iaria Prime. Jon sat back and listened to her sweet voice as it chimed like bells.
“We've had disagreements with other planets in the sector, Jonathan. Have you encountered the Tandarans?”
He nodded. “I've heard of them, but I haven't met them directly. They aren't exactly friendly to other cultures. One of my friends had a nasty encounter with them. They basically took his people prisoner and tortured him for information.”
Turania shuddered. “Your friend...did he survive?”
“Yes, he managed to get himself and his people off Tandara. It took some diplomatic maneuvering from Ambassador Soval of Vulcan to get a formal apology.” Jon decided not to get into too much detail about Matt Hayes's encounter while Hayes was captain of the Montana. Travis Mayweather had been Hayes's science officer at the time, but Travis had never told Jon the whole story.
“Thank the Gods. Your friend was very lucky, then. The Tandarans do not usually show mercy.”
Jon raised an eyebrow at her flat tone. “You know from experience, I take it?”
“Yes. I choose not to dwell upon that time. It is long past.” Turania made a sweeping gesture with her right hand. “In any case, the guilty ones have been punished.”
“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said-”
“No, it is I who must apologize. I was the one who asked about the Tandarans.” She smiled slightly and squeezed his hand with a firm grip. “Let us talk of other things now, if that is acceptable.”
He nodded and replied, “Of course.”
Jon insisted in paying the bill for dinner, then they took the boat back to shore. The clouds parted to reveal the Risan moon in its glory. He gaped at the sheer beauty as the light bathed the beach in light and shadow. He'd never seen anything so beautiful.
“Wonderful, isn't it?” she whispered, her soft breath full of promise. “I never tire of seeing the moon rise.”
“I can see why, Turania. It's breathtaking.”
Her blue-violet eyes crinkled at the awe in his voice. “It is. When the moon and the stars and the ocean are aligned just perfectly, magic happens. Do you believe in magic, Jonathan?”
He gave her a wry smile. “My parents were scientifically and practically-minded. Magic wasn't an issue in my house.”
“That's a pity.” She ran her fingertips up and down his arm, and he felt a definite warmth. “I would be willing to show you some of my magic, if you are so inclined.”
He thought for a moment, then murmured, “I'd like that.”
They lapsed into silence as they walked up the path to the hotel. Jon held her hand as he took her up the East stairway to his room. Unlike Hoshi's on the West side, his was a smaller suite, overlooking the hotel courtyard. A band played a selection of raucous tunes amid the cheers of the dancers. Jon reached over and activated the sound dampeners by the windows.
Turania reached up and gently touched his face. He turned his head and brushed his lips against her palm. She placed her other hand against his broad chest and smiled up at him before finally kissing him.
It was like nothing he'd ever experienced. His lips tingled, and that tingle spread all over his body. Another gentle tickle began at the back of his mind, then it expanded to encompass all of his senses. Jon drew her close to him, responding by instinct, painfully aware of his own body's reaction. It was almost like a Vulcan mind-meld, but instead of their thoughts melding, it was their sensations.
It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. He held on to any shred of rational thought, but he was quickly lost.
“Jonathan...” she murmured against his lips.
He picked her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom.
“Thank you for inviting me to come with you to the Fabric and Jewelry Show, Commander. I'm honored that you thought of me,” Kov remarked.
Phlox smiled at the young Vulcan Healer. “My wife Feezal collects taharu brooches, Kov, and they have a wide selection of them here. Many of them show their beauty only when it's dark, so that's why they have a night version of the Show.”
“So there are two, a Day and a Night Show. Logical.” Kov regarded the huge Risan Coliseum with more than a touch of awe. “This is impressive.”
“Yes, it is. It's easily the size of a trade market back on Denobula, and those are considered small.”
“Indeed?” Kov raised his eyebrows at that detail. “Some day I would like to visit one of them.”
Phlox's smile spread from ear to ear as he replied, “If we ever go to Denobula, I'd be honored to have you as a guest, Kov. And please, since we are both off-duty, you may call me Phlox.”
The Risan Coliseum was about the size of three football fields put together. The building and its accommodations took up a whole quarter of the capital city. The Fabric and Jewelry Show was a blazing rainbow of texture and color, even more so than the Market. Traders from all over the sector came to see the wares of the Risan artisans. Phlox grinned at the cacophony of trade tongues and languages as buyers haggled over prices.
“It's a pity that the captain and Lieutenant Commander Archer aren't here. This is the sort of event that they would enjoy immensely.”
“Yes, but who knows...perhaps we may still meet one or the other of them. It is a large event.”
“Perhaps.” Kov consulted a map on his PADD. “The jewelry booths are lined up along the north side, Phlox.”
“Lead the way, Kov. Allons-y!”
He gave Phlox a quizzical look. “Excuse me?”
“It's French, one of Earth's many languages. Doctor Reed introduced me to a series of televids a while back, about a man who explores time and space. He uses the phrase quite often. It means, 'Let us go'.”
“An interesting phrase to know.”
They found a cluster of booths that sold the taharu brooches. The tiny gemstone animals sparkled under the bright lights. A whole row of tables sat in shadow; those pieces of jewelry seemed to glow with an otherworldly light. As Phlox surveyed the merchandise, Kov examined the gold and silver chains.
Phlox found several Risan firebirds carved out of ruby and thalassi blossoms made of blue sapphire. He picked three out of the group, then carried them to the jeweler. After a short conversation, the jeweler heated his solder and other metals to mount them into gold settings.
“He will be finished by daylight,” Phlox said. “In the meantime, shall we explore the rest of the Coliseum? You may find a souvenir to your liking.”
Kov nodded as they went through the rows of vendors. Rings, earrings, bracelets, anklets, hair chains and ribbons...the possibilities were endless. Most Vulcans dismissed such excess as unnecessary and frivolous. The priestess of Mount Seleya wore gold and silver as part of their religious garments. Most of the wealthier Vulcan clans owned heirloom jewelry, but the sheer variety of creative expression thrilled him.
He wondered if T'Pol would have appreciated such fine craftsmanship. I wish we had enough time to show her this. I believe she will appreciate the aesthetics. Perhaps next time we are here, I will suggest it to her. He found several gifts for other crewmembers: a phoenix bird hair pin for Captain Sato, an iridescent IDIC symbol for T'Pol, and an image of a winged lion for Doctor Reed. Kov allowed himself a wave of satisfaction at a successful search.
He and Phlox crossed into the second part of the show, the fabric booths. The sheer number of bolts of cloth amazed him. Red Triaxian silk, ivory cotton, paisley-colored spider-thread... it was a definite feast for the senses.
Kov's sharp hearing caught a familiar laugh. His eyes widened as he identified the source of it. Thinking quickly, he put his hand on Phlox's shoulder and pulled him around the corner.
“Kov, what is it?” Phlox demanded. “Is something wrong?”
“I heard-” He broke off, then peered around the corner. Farther down the alley stood Captain Hoshi Sato at a fabric stall. A translucent gold fabric had caught her eye and she ran her fingers on it. Phlox also craned his head around to see what all the fuss was about.
“It's Captain Sato,” he said. “Why are we hiding from...oh.”
The captain was not alone, but a tall, exotic alien male accompanied her. Sato asked a question in Risan, and he chuckled. He reached over and draped the edge of the gold material over her arm, as if comparing the warm hue with her skin. Obviously, the captain enjoyed the man's company.
Phlox and Kov traded looks. It wasn't Doctor Reed, and it certainly wasn't Captain Hayes of the Columbia. Who was her companion, then?
“I had thought the captain was...attached.” It took a moment for Kov to find the appropriate word.
“Lieutenant Commander Tucker described her relationship with Captain Hayes as 'complicated',” Phlox reminded him. “As for Doctor Reed...neither are exclusively partnered to the other.”
“Indeed. But still-” Kov knew that Phlox had no qualms against multiple relationships, since that was the norm for Denobulans. As a Vulcan, the idea made him uncomfortable. Had he misinterpreted the signals between Captain Sato and Doctor Reed?
Again, Phlox read Kov's thoughts. “It is possible that we all were mistaken, but-”
“-you don't believe that to be the case.”
Phlox hesitated, then said quietly, “Perhaps she is in denial. Or him. Or both of them.”
If Kov were Human, he would have rolled his eyes. Instead, he blew out a silent breath. “The possibility exists that Captain Sato's companion is merely an acquaintance and there is no romantic involvement.”
“That may well be the case. Still, I wouldn't breathe a word of this to anybody, Doctor Reed included. The captain's liaisons are her own business and not ours.”
“Agreed. Even if there is no...involvement...I predict that Doctor Reed in particular may not be pleased by this knowledge.”
“Or Lieutenant Commander Tucker. Or Lieutenant T'Pol.”
“As I said, do not tell anybody without the captain's strict permission. She certainly doesn't need a chaperone.”
Kov shook his head; Captain Sato wouldn't take that suggestion well. “No, of course not.”
But he still wondered.
Hoshi had no idea she was being watched. Her attention was wholly upon the beautiful fabric. This would make a nice evening dress, she thought. The card that accompanied it was written in Risan script.
“What do you think of this one?” she asked Ravis.
He chuckled and pulled the edge of the cloth to compare its sheen with her skin. “This would be stunning on you, Hoshi. It suits you.”
“May I help you?” asked the vendor in English. He glanced between them, then refocused his eyes on Hoshi.
“This fabric is from Andoria, isn't it?” she responded in Risan.
The vendor's eyes widened in surprise and approval. “Andorian spider silk, dyed golden. This just came in with a shipment this morning.”
“Is this the only color you have?”
“Let me show you all the various shades,” the vendor said with a huge grin that rivaled Phlox's on a good day. “Please, this way.”
After examining the various bolts, Hoshi chose a length of gold Andorian silk and an equal length in red. Ravis volunteered to pay for her purchases, but Hoshi insisted on doing it herself. She didn't want to inconvenience him, especially since she was the one who had invited him to come along.
“It's not an inconvenience. In fact, on my world, it's expected that the man-what is the Terran expression?-'picks up the tab',” Ravis said. “I've met women who do not go by that expectation at all. In fact, they are quite...militant about it.”
Hoshi stifled laughter at his nonplussed expression. “I know some friends of mine who would react just like that. It all depends on where you're from and your personality. I consider it a nice gesture, but sometimes not necessary.”
“A male who doesn't at least offer is viewed as rude. At least, my parents insisted on polite courtesy.”
She nodded and remarked, “I do appreciate the offer, Ravis, I really do. Thank you.”
They wandered through the rest of the Fabric and Jewelry Show. Ravis pointed out the items and designs that were native to Risa, and a few from his own planet. He chatted with the stall owner in a rapid-fire, tongue-rolling language. Hoshi listened carefully to the conversation, but she couldn't understand a word.
“What did you say about that woven blanket? I didn't understand.”
Ravis smiled and repeated what he had said, but it was still too fast. Hoshi frowned as she tried to make sense of it. He shook his head and said, “I'm sorry; I can't speak any slower. The meaning is lost if I do so.”
“Your language sounds lovely, almost like a song.”
“It is, in a way. My people have a saying that music is truly universal, and I find that most languages sound like melodies to the ear.” He reached over and touched the Risan rose behind her right ear. “Other languages need no translation.”
She blushed, despite her best efforts. Was he asking what she thought she was asking? “Ravis, my situation is rather...complicated.”
“There is a suitor in your life? Or are you discouraging suitors?” He sounded curious and not offended.
“Well...there is one who would like to be, and another one who considers himself a suitor, but...we are separated by light years, and will be for some time.”
“Ah. If I may venture an assumption...the first one is my'khaalau and the second one is thi'khallau.”
Ravis shook his head and directed her to sit on a marble bench. “My'khaalau is a 'heart-soul', and thi'khallau is a 'brother-soul'. Both are very similar, but the 'heart-soul' is your true one, and 'brother-soul' is your guardian.”
Hoshi frowned as she mulled that over. “Guardian?”
“One who will look after you and watch over you, but cannot share everything with you.” Ravis's smile was wistful and sad. “It is easy to mistake one for the other.”
She heard the emotion in his voice and suddenly realized he was speaking from painful experience. Gently, she placed her hand upon his. “I'm sorry, Ravis.”
“Don't be. I'm confident that my day will come, but until then-” his smile softened, “-allow me to be a ri'khallau. A friend.”
Hoshi squeezed his hand. “I'd like that.”