Act Three--Afternoon in the Dancehall
I. THE FIRST
December 26, 2201
Denver Megalopolis--Boulder District
The Flagstaff House
The procession did not need to go that far to reach the place where the reception was being held. The Flagstaff House was a large rebuilt Boulder restaurant that had been famous for many, many years. It was located on the same street as the church, but far to its west up the side of Flagstaff Mountain.
There, in one of the restaurant's large dining rooms, the members of the wedding party could look out the large picture windows and see all of Boulder stretched out before them, three hundred meters below.
Outside, in one of the restaurant's lobbies, Derek and Nova stood under a wooden trellis that was covered in poinsettias and other Christmas decorations as they posed for pictures with the rest of the wedding party. "Okay!" said the photographer. "Just you two! Everyone else, clear off for a minute!"
The rest of the wedding party moved aside, leaving Derek Wildstar and Nova standing alone under the trellis.
Even though the wedding party was obliged to wait around until after the photo session, no one really had any objections. The sky was wonderfully clear, and the view was nice. However, there were a few exceptions. Eager happened to be fidgeting. "Ah wonder when this is gonna be over with? Y'know, I'm gettin' hungry?"
"You're always hungry, if what Homer tells me is true," chided Natalie Fisher, who was standing off to one side near Homer. "I wonder, do you have a certain special someone waiting for you back home?"
"Uhh…Yeah! Mah girlfriend Lisa."
"What does she look like?," asked Natalie..
"Well…she's blonde, short, kinda cute...likes gingham dresses," said Eager.
"Does she like to surf?" asked Angie Hartcliffe as she came up.
"Nope! Far too traditional for that sorta thing," said Eager.
By the trellis, the photographer was still fiddling with her equipment, pulling cameras and light meters out of her bags at random.
"Hey!!" yelled Dash. "When are you going to be done?"
"Cool your guns!" snapped the photographer with a smile. "I only have a few more shots. My clients deserve a nice wedding album, right?"
"Snappy, huh?" whispered Hardy. "Good thing I ain't goin' out with her."
"Well, who WOULD you like to go out with?" asked Mio Hoshiyama as she came up beside her escort.
"Certainly not HEH!" said Hardy with a laugh. "Hey, Rosstowski? Who do you wanna go out with?"
"I'm thinking about that one," said Rosstowski darkly.
"Surely it's gotta be someone," said Hardy. "Boy, this place is FILLED with cute females. Only one ah know for SURE is claimed is the little lady up thah in the white gown an' the veil."
"What can you say, Hardy?" shrugged Buzz. "Women. You can't live WITH 'em..."
"Thank you very much!," snapped Rebecca Falworth, who was standing near Hardy and Buzz. Buzz had been talking with her a few minutes ago, hoping that he could get to know her a little better afterwards, especially because Rosstowski seemed about as interested in her as in last week's fish. Buzz's reasoning was simple; he thought she was cute…even if she wasn't a blonde.
Hardy thought Becky was something of an item as well, but his eyes had been focusing on the young lady he had been designated to "escort" during the reception, namely, Mio Hoshiyama. Besides, Buzz had first dibs on Becky, as he had seen her first (aside from Rosstowski), even if he seemed to be striking out. Becky was glaring at Buzz with her hands on her hips, and she didn't look especially happy.
"Becky...I was just talking. If you were listening to me, it was meant to be a compliment about..."
"Really? It didn't sound like a compliment, Buzz! It sounded like a sexist complaint! Remind me not to talk to you again! Ninety percent of you pilots are alike! You'll all like that idiot Hartcliffe! You're all conceited and stuck-up! GOOD DAY!" At that, Becky stormed off with her nose up in the air, leaving a depressed Buzz in her wake.
"Strike two," said Buzz glumly. "Y'know, Hardy, I was trying to talk to Nova's friend Ronnie a little earlier?"
"Why aren't yuh walking' around here with her, then?"
"She told me to get lost, too. She was a bit nicer about it, though."
"Yuh never know, " said Hardy. "Y'know, you could learn a few tricks from that boy Hartcliffe."
"What?" muttered Buzz. "How to get really bad luck, strike out with females and get slapped in the bargain for being crass?"
Hardy and Buzz laughed at that while watching Derek and Nova, who were standing around between shots looking bored and hot. "Patience, you two," said the photographer. "We'll be done soon. I want just one more shot; a picture of you two dancing on that red carpet over there."
"Dancing?" said Wildstar with an amused grin.
"I know what she means, Derek," said Nova. "She wants a shot of me in your arms. How sweet!" She gave Derek a little peck on the cheek and he agreed to it. They began walking towards the rug, but stopped when Nova caught her reflection in a mirror. "Oh!" she said to herself.
"What's wrong?" asked a concerned Wildstar.
"No major catastrophe, Derek. My veil looks a little crooked, that's all. I..."
At that, Nova stumbled against the edge of the rug for a minute.
"I'm fine. My toe just caught the edge of the carpet...that's all," said Nova who reached down to pull the corner of the rug out from under her toes. As Nova walked, she clasped Derek's hand for support.
"You sure you're all right?"
Nova nodded bravely, but the photographer motioned her aside about five seconds later. Derek heard something about taking off her slippers for a moment to stretch out her ankles (which was quite logical under the circumstances). He assumed that it would take only a moment and that adjusting her veil would take only another moment until he heard the photographer mention something to Nova about the obscure female rite of 'freshening up.' Wildstar groaned inwardly, because he guessed that would add a great deal of time to a rather short process...something on the order of twenty minutes or so.
"Derek, what are you thinking about?" asked Nova as she came back beside Derek.
"Oh, nothing in particular."
"Okay--I guess you won't mind if…"
"You go off to fix your veil and powder your nose before she snaps the picture, right? Maybe add a bit of lipstick while you're at it, and check your mascara?"
"How'd you know that?"
"A wild guess?"
Nova gave her husband a very peculiar look, but her face softened when she noticed Derek was smiling. She returned the smile and chirped, "See you in a minute", before going off with her little white satin purse.
"Where's Nova goin?" asked Eager as the young bride tiptoed barefoot across the rug in a graceful swish of white satin, stopping for a moment to stamp down the offending corner of the rug like a insect. For some reason, the thought, Here's a bug...I'm gonna SQUISH it! ran through her mind. Then, after she realized she had squished the imaginary "bug" with her unshod little foot, the additional thought Ewwww...Yuk! also ran through her mind. Nova wasn't sure why she was thinking that way...it seemed rather silly.
"She has to take care of some business before we finish the pictures," said Wildstar.
"Hey…couldn't she wait 'til we get in the hall to go?" began the ever-subtle Eager. He was about to add an unnecessary elaboration when Becky walked up with a rather subdued Rosstowski and asked," Eager, I was just wondering...could you tell me a bit more about Texas? What's it like in your neck of the woods?"
"Well...ah remember mah daddy's ranch. There was grass all over the place, and he had a pretty good herd---'til the Gamilons showed up and bombed everything. We just barely made it into the Greater Southwest underground city 'fore they turned alla Earth to a cinder…and"
"Son, this is the better state!" said Jane Forrester as she came up, followed by Sandor. "In the old days, the beef was better, the mutton was better, and the grasslands were better, too."
"Better than Texas?" asked Eager.
"Better," said Jane.
"Have to argue that one out with yer cousin sometime on our next mission," said Eager in an affable yet annoyed voice. "In the meantime, hon, don't MESS with Texas! Got it?"
"Only if you don't mess with Colorado," snapped Jane.
"Or Georgia," said Hardy. "Let me tell yew…one'a these days.."
"Yeah...the South'll rise again," sighed Jane.
"Got a problem with that?" asked Hardy affably.
"What if I do?" asked Jane.
"Welll...given that you're a young lady, and that we treat our women raight in the South..." said Hardy.
"Oh?" said Samuel Josiah as he came up. "What about that time I came up your six when we were in the Red Dragons, Hardy? Huh? Want a rematch on the way back to the Megalopolis tonight?" he grinned.
"You and what Group?" asked Hardy.
"Yeah? How will things be if the Argo gets called up in the next year and you end up running the group if old Pete Conroy doesn't get out of the hospital by then?" grinned Josiah.
"I'll fly circles around your Dragons, son," said Hardy. The good-natured argument between Hardy and Josiah went on like this for several minutes. Derek, like everyone else, was having a good laugh as he listened to the two of them posture, pretending that they hated each other's guts when, in fact, there was a mutual respect that went back over a year from their assignment together to Saturn-Titan before the Red Dragons had been broken up in squadron rotations in May of the past year.
As a matter of fact, Wildstar was enjoying the argument so much that he missed a series of taps on his shoulder from Nova. He wasn't aware she was right behind him until she grabbed one of his arms and snapped, "Derek-we've just been married for an hour! Did you forget I exist?"
Everyone guffawed at this, and Hardy asked, "What's this, Wildstar? She's pushin you 'round already?"
"She's done it for years," chuckled Derek. "But, it's the sort of thing no sane man would complain about." Derek looked into his new bride's eyes and gave her a gentle smile.
"I think you've finally got your priorities right," replied Nova. "You know how it is, silly! I'm standing here barefoot in an expensive wedding dress for a reason. I'm going to waltz with you for that photographer, Captain Derek Wildstar, and we're going to have the time of our lives doing it! After all, we're both in the Star Force, aren't we? With all we've been through, you know we can't mess around when we have a chance to have a good time!" At that, she stood up on tiptoe and gave him a long kiss and hug, which Derek returned as a few people said, "Awwwwwwww...!!!"
A minute later, Derek and Nova linked arms and ran up towards the photographer. They began waltzing across the rug to mass applause while the camera whirred away. After the photo session, Nova gracefully walked towards the reception hall with Derek.
"Well, the lady got her shot," muttered Dash.
"Now we can go and eat," said Eager. "After all, ah'm hungry."
"That's after they form their line, say hi to the guests as they're let in, and then make the toast, and THEN they'll let us eat," said Buzz.
"That'll make me even MORE hungry!," said Eager.
"So what else is new, man?" muttered Hartcliffe as Angie giggled at him. "Okay…let's go."
"Okay," snapped Venture. "All members of the bridal party...get ready for your introductions. The rest of you....line up with the guests."
Derek, Nova, Nova's parents, and the maid of honor met near the doors to the dancehall and went in first. Then, a moment later, as their friends went off down a short staircase to the reception hall, joining guests who were making their way up from a downstairs cocktail lounge, Venture looked at the simulated wooden doors that led into the reception hall and held back a lump in his throat as he read the announcement board near the doors, which, he noted, were guarded by two impeccably uniformed but silent Space Marines. It read, in white, movable letters on a black felt background.
THE FLAGSTAFF HOUSE WELCOMES YOU
TO THE ARAPAHOE ROOM
-- today's event --
THE CELEBRATION OF THE MARRIAGE OF
CAPTAIN DEREK WILDSTAR--UEDF
LT. NOVA FORRESTER--UEDF
reception commences at 1 PM
PRIVATE--invited guests only, please.
So it begins , he thought. I wish you both the best.
December 26, 2201
Denver Megalopolis--Boulder District
The Flagstaff House
At 1 PM, or, more properly, 1300, the invited guests streamed in, led, first, by the Honor Guard and the bridesmaids. As they entered the hall, they passed the long cake table before the stage, where a large formal dance orchestra was playing soft music. Nearby, on the same stage, a neo-rock band was also setting up. The neat-looking members of the orchestra, in their white dinner jackets and black slacks and skirts, occasionally turned their heads every now and then. They were looking disdainfully at the neatly dressed (for them) but rather rowdy-looking long-haired members of the rock band, which was called (according to the head of the drummer's bass drum) "The Scarabs".
Derek and Nova stood in front of their cake, with Nova's parents standing to Nova's right, with Teri closest to the doors. Wildstar stood to Nova's left, and Natalie stood to his left.
As the Honor Guard and bridesmaids entered, they first passed Teri, who greeted everyone politely as they then passed on to wish Nova happiness with a handshake (and an occasional hug) and to congratulate Wildstar, who then introduced each person to Natalie. After a few minutes of this, Natalie began to feel as if this was a trial by torture; she knew that Nova had thought that the idea was as stuffy as all get-out as she had just wanted to greet everyone at their tables. But, she also knew that Teri had insisted upon it...and had gotten her way after a long argument.
Natalie glanced at Nova. During a pause in the guest flow, their eyes met, and they nodded to each other in commiseration before more guests showed up.
However, when Nova, Derek, and Natalie recognized who was coming next, all three of them sighed.
"Nova?" asked Karl in a whisper. "What's wrong?"
"Weiner," said Nova quietly.
"Nova…he's a General," whispered Karl.
"He doesn't like us," said Wildstar.
"Also, he's a member of the Boy's Club to boot," whispered Nova through a half-smile right before Weiner came up to greet Mrs. Forrester.
After Teri greeted the lone General, he shook hands with Karl and then passed on to Nova. "Congratulations!" he said warmly.
"Thank you, sir," said Nova with a winning smile as she extended her right hand.
"You look gorgeous," he said.
"Thank you, sir," said Nova softly, feeling rather uncomfortable as Weiner looked her up and down with his small, deep-set, dark eyes. For a moment, she felt very uncomfortable being looked at like that.
"You're a lucky man, Wildstar," said Weiner with a grin as he put Nova's hand down...and took just a little longer than necessary to do so. "I bet she'll make a wonderful home for you..."
"Oh, she will, sir... when our duties permit us to BE home," said Wildstar softly as he took Weiner's handshake...while he seethed inside.
"Duties?" said Weiner innocently.
"Duties," said Nova charmingly. "Some time after our honeymoon, sir...the work will be beginning again...for both of us. After all, sir, I'm still an officer."
"Well, how nice to hear about your dedication to the Service," said Weiner warmly as he thought, Fifty credits says you'll be barefoot and pregnant soon, dear...
"Thank you, sir," said Derek. "Can we talk shop another time?"
"Of course," said Weiner, who then turned to Natalie and said, "You look beautiful today. Think you'll get the bouquet?"
"I'd like to..." she said innocently, "...but if I do...I hope my intended won't mind my getting my MD as Mrs. Wildstar's classmate some time in the future."
"MD?" said Weiner with raised eyebrows.
"Of course," said Natalie with a giggle. "Nova and I have had a running bet going about that for years, haven't we?"
"Sure have," said Nova with a wink.
"Well...we'll see," said Weiner complacently. "Good luck to all of you," he said as he left.
As the greetings went on, the guests took their places at their round tables, chatting away as the music played on. Red- jacketed waiters and young waitresses in mid-length jumpers with black boots prepared the soon-to-be open bar and the buffet table near the large table holding the wedding cake as the last of the guests sat down.
When the hall was full, the band stopped as the receiving line broke up and Natalie, Nova's parents and the newlyweds themselves went back outside. In the silence, a young, sandy-haired man with a mustache came up beside the band. He was wearing a black tux with a red bow tie.
"Hello," he said in a deep voice into the microphone. "I'm Richard Kinney, your proprietor. I'd like to welcome you to the Arapahoe Room on behalf of your hostess, Teri Forrester, just one day after the best Christmas we've had in quite a long time. At this time, I'd like to take a moment to introduce the members of the wedding party. Would you kindly stand for the introductions?"
After the guests stood, Kinney signaled the band, and the piano player began to play a jazzy, syncopated version of the Star Force march, accompanied by soft bongos, a few woodwinds and an electric guitarist.
"To begin, I'd like to introduce the first of the bridesmaids, the lovely Miss Veronica Davis, escorted by the bride's cousin, Commander Samuel Josiah, the first member of the bride's military honor guard."
Ronnie and Samuel made their appearance arm in arm to the sound of some applause, stopping in front of the cake table.
"Next, I'd like to introduce the second of the bridesmaids, Miss Rebecca Falworth, escorted today by Mister Paul Rosstowski of the Star Force."
There was some more applause, but Rosstowski felt as if he wasn't even there, in spite of the fact that Becky was holding his arm quite nicely.
"Now, I'd like to introduce the third bridesmaid, the lovely Laurel Hartmann, escorted by Mister Neville Royster, also of the Star Force."
A VERY nervous Royster came up with a quietly beaming Laurel on his arm. To his surprise, she occasionally gave his hand an affectionate pat as they came up to more applause and a few deep catcalls of "Royster, Royster, ROYSTER!," from the back of the hall. One of the voices had a pronounced Anglian accent.
As the music played on, the MC said, "And now, the flower girl, Miss Kristin Forrester, a cousin of the bride, escorted by the ringbearer...IQ-9," said the MC, hesitating for a moment, "A...survey and analysis robot, and also a member of the Star Force."
"Must we go up?" burbled IQ.
"C'mon, silly," giggled Kristin as she playfully pushed him forward. "And if you decide to tease ME, I'll knock you over, you silly robot!" she giggled gleefully.
"You're too young for me," chirped IQ. "How humiliating!" he squeaked as they came out to both laughter and applause, taking their places at the bridal table.
"Next, I'd like to introduce the fourth of the bridesmaids, Miss Mio Hoshiyama, escorted by Mister Jefferson Hardy of the Star Force."
More applause came as Mio and Hardy made their appearance to quite a few cheers. Commodore Ryu Hoshiyama noticed with a mixture of delight and dismay that Mio seemed to be rather taken with this fighter pilot...and that he seemed to notice.
"And, now, the fifth of the bridesmaids, Miss Jane Forrester, the eldest cousin of the bride, escorted by Lieutenant Commander Stephen Sandor of the Star Force, a winner of the Sunburst of Honor in the late conflict."
Many cheers came up as Jane and Sandor made their appearance together, walking politely together as if they were brother and sister.
"Next, I'd like to introduce the parents of the bride, namely, Mrs. Teresa Forrester, escorted by her husband, Mister Karl Forrester, Esquire."
More applause came up. The music went down rather low for a moment, playing the strains of "Scarlet Scarf" as the MC said, "The bride and groom would look to ask you to take a moment to honor some of those who cannot be here today, such as the parents of the groom, Mrs. Angelica Wildstar and Mister Theodore Wildstar. They ask you to remember that they are with us today in spirit, as are her Highness Queen Starsha of Iscandar and the groom's brother, her consort Mister Alex Wildstar, without whom this day would not be possible."
After "Scarlet Scarf" played, the music became more upbeat again, and Kinney said, "And now, I'd like to introduce the last of the bridal party. Please welcome the Maid of Honor, Miss Natalie Fisher, escorted by Lieutenant Commander Mark Venture of the Star Force, a winner of the Sunburst of Honor in the late conflict."
The applause came loud and long for Natalie and Mark, who walked along slowly holding hands. Venture's expression was happy on the outside, but fixed and quiet on the inside. As he and Natalie took their place to the right of the center of the bridal table, Mark's heart began to pound. They had gone over this in the course of the rehearsal, but the realization of what was about to happen came to him rather hard as he took his place in line with Natalie smiling at him to his left, and with Nova's mother to Karl's left across from them. He noticed that tears were flowing down Teri's cheeks as they stood waiting while the band played on, with the piano stopped for a moment.
"And now, last of all," said Kinney, "...I'd like to introduce our new couple, both winners of the Sunburst of Honor!" As the band began to play the Star Force march in a particularly flowing, jazzy version, Kinney said, "Ladies and gentlemen, appearing together as such for the first time in public, I would like to introduce Captain Derek Wildstar and Mrs. Nova Wildstar!"
The hall was filled with an even longer and louder burst of applause as Derek and Nova practically ran in together, the most joyfully arm-in-arm out of all of the couples introduced. After smiling and waving to the guests, many of whom yelled such things as "Bravo!" and, more earthily, "FINALLY!" (the lead voice in that chorus sounded definitively Texan), they took their place between Natalie and Mark and Teri and Karl, with Wildstar ending up, as arranged, with Teri to his left and Nova to his right. Immediately to Nova's right stood Venture, who smiled quietly as Nova glanced at him for a moment with a smile before turning back to face Derek.
"Wildstar," whispered Sandor from down the line. "Remember how we arranged the toast."
Wildstar looked down past Teri and Karl and nodded once as the music ended, to another burst of applause and the glare of many flashes. As the whole party stood in line, the MC, with his microphone, turned towards Venture and said, "The Ring bearer is now being given a goblet of champagne, which he will take to the Best Man for the toast that will open the ceremony."
A waitress (whose skirt looked VERY tempting to IQ for a second) came up with a tray and a goblet as IQ came up. He took it, and rolled up to Venture, who stood behind the microphone stand that the MC had vacated.
Mark took the drink, and said, "I'd like to take this opportunity...to propose a toast to the good health and happiness of two of my best friends...Derek Wildstar, my old classmate, and dear friend, and Nova Wildstar, his sweetheart, and...one of the best friends that I made while serving with the Star Force. May Derek and Nova have many happy years together. In the words of Derek's ancestors...KAMPAI!"
"KAMPAI!" yelled out the guests as about two hundred glasses went up in salute.
Venture drank the toast, followed by everyone else, and then there was more applause.
A few minutes later, after the members of the wedding party took their placard-marked places at the round tables near the cake table, brunch was served.
Nova's mother had spent some time and effort in arranging the brunch, which was almost big enough to be dinner. It came as an appetizer, a salad, and a main course. The meal took quite a while to get down, and as they ate their first meal together as husband and wife, Derek and Nova graciously accepted more congratulations, got more pictures taken by guests, and had some of their wedding presents brought to them by some guests.
Finally, it was time for dessert and the cutting of the cake. At about 1445, Wildstar and Nova stood behind the cake table, looking at delight with the elaborate wedding cake that had been procured for them. It was several tiers, topped a small likeness of the Argo and a tiny pair of bride and groom figures that had been custom-made and painted to represent themselves.
Wildstar had been given Venture's ceremonial sword, and he set it on the table, with the upper half of the blade carefully wrapped in white silk. Finally, they took their positions, and smilingly, slowly, cut the first two slices of the cake together with their hands on the hilt of the sword as the band played Mendellsohn's "Wedding March". After cutting the cake, Derek and Nova fed it to each other to the laughter and applause of the guests. Afterwards, the cake was cut again, and pieces were passed around.
After a while, Derek and Nova began to circulate around the ballroom to informally receive more of the guests and talk with each of them, thanking them in a more personal manner for coming and (inevitably) picking up more of their wedding presents. They were assisted in this task by Venture, Sandor, Hardy, Eager, Rosstowski, Sam Josiah, and Royster. Nova's cousin Jane and her friends Becky Falworth, Ronnie Davis, Mio Hoshiyama, and Laurel Hartmann also assisted their friends and stuck around to keep them company.
As Derek and Nova made their rounds, talking to a number of noted EDF officers who had been invited to the wedding, they were having quite a good time. Derek and Nova felt especially honored when they stopped at the Commander's table, and General Singleton looked over at them and said, "I have something special to say to Captain Wildstar and Mr. Wildstar at this time."
To their surprise, General Hiram Charles Singleton stood up and raised his glass to them. "Gentlemen-ladies--I'd like to make a special toast to Captain Wildstar and Mrs. Wildstar on this, one of the happiest days of their lives. It is my hope that their love and happiness will endure for as long as the stars glitter in the depths of space. Derek…Nova…to your health and happiness!"
"To your health and happiness!" yelled out all the others at the table as they followed the Commander's lead and drank to the newlyweds. After a round of applause, Singleton said, "I'd also like to ask Mrs. Wildstar if she would object to dancing with me a little later this afternoon."
"Not at all!" cried Nova. "I'd...I'd be honored, sir," she said to a round of applause as she blushed while looking at Derek. Wildstar looked back and then, he took a glass and said, "General, we'd like to thank you for your appreciation. However, Nova and I decided you deserve a toast in return-because of your great service on Earth's behalf over the past few months. So, with that in mind, we'd like to drink to you and your command. Without your wisdom, sir none of us would be here today to enjoy our freedom."
"And without your dedication and sacrifice," said Singleton, "None of us would be here to enjoy OUR freedom."
"Thank you, sir," said Nova. "A toast, to General Singleton and the Earth Defense Forces!!"
"Here's to General Singleton and the Defense Forces!" recited the others as Derek and Nova clinked glasses with the Commander before drinking to more applause.
After the second toast, everyone began to talk some more, and Natalie Fisher came up behind Mark Venture. She placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled at him.
"Hi, Natalie," he said softly.
"Hello, stranger." she replied with a smile. Mark returned the smile, noticing that Natalie looked resplendent in her pastel- pink gown.
"I would've said a longer hello before, Natalie," said Venture with a quiet ghost of a smile across his face as he and Natalie walked across the hall together. "but I hope you understand I've been busy. Being Derek's best man is a lot of work."
"Being Nova's Maid of Honor hasn't exactly been a cup of tea either." she grinned. "When I met her at the house this morning, she was so nervous that she kept on dropping her mom's fancy cookies on the floor every time she tried to eat one. Both her cousin Jane and I tried to get her to eat something decent, but it was a lost cause. Then her shoe broke on the way in, and she obviously couldn’t find any others, so she threw them away and decided to go barefoot. Good thing it’s not freezing outside or terribly hot."
"So that's why her mother was bugging her to take a second helping from the buffet table a little while ago."
"Uh-huh," said Natalie." So, how was Derek this morning?"
"Almost as bad as Nova. It's a miracle I got him here. How are you today, Natalie?"
"Fine," she said, "I'm fine, but I'm sort of tired. I think you can guess why though."
"You've been busy, right? I should've guessed it. Sorry," said Venture quietly. "You told me that at the wedding rehearsal the other day."
"I have a question for you, though, Mark Venture."
"Mark, how are YOU feeling?"
"I...well...I'd rather not discuss it," said Venture. "Except to say...no offense to you, I hope...that deep down I'm really feeling a loss. I.," said Venture as he looked at Hartcliffe and Angie running past, laughing to each other over some private joke, "I...well...I'd rather not get into it. I don't want to depress you..."
"Trelaina?" asked Natalie softly.
Mark just nodded.
"I see," said Natalie, who was thinking, What can I do? He's in such a funk...I barely know him...but I consider him a friend...especially after standing around with him the other night repeating the processionals umpteen hundred times. I've got to do something...but what?
Lacking an immediate answer, Natalie just stood with Mark, gazing quietly at the reception hall and the happy wedding guests. The ballroom was located in a corner of the building, and two of the room's walls were actually high windows with magnificent views of the mountains and the Boulder District spread out below them. Mark's attention turned to the center of the room, where Derek and Nova were looking at their wedding cake.
Not far away, also transfixed in like fashion, were Jefferson Hardy and Mio Hoshiyama. Hardy, for once, couldn't believe his good fortune. Mio was definitely attracted to him! If he needed evidence, all he had to do was look at her and notice the shy smile she had for him. He returned the smile with a smile of his own, and a wink.
"We'd better be careful," said Mio in a whisper. "I think Father's watching."
"Who's your daddy? Ah forgot."
"The sight of me drove it out of your mind?"
"Yeh, ah think it did."
"My father, Jefferson Davis Hardy, is Commodore Ryu Hoshiyama, as I told you at the rehearsal."
"Uhh...Ryu is yoah father?"
"Yup," said Mio with a smile.
"He helped train me," said Hardy. "Ohhh...great."
"Yoah father, mah dear, will kill us when he find out we're an item."
"I think he already has," giggled Mio. "Oh, LORD, is he watching us."
"Okay...that means just one thing."
"I hope ya catch the bouquet today, Mio," said Hardy in a soft voice. "Ah'll be rooting for you...and Ah think you can guess why," he said with a wink.
"I know what you mean," she said with a smile. "Let's sit down."
Then, they heard Wildstar, Nova, and many of the others coming up; obviously in the middle of a conversation.
"It's a shame about Captain Josiah," they heard Dash saying, "but maybe it's better, after all, that his Nova's aunt Yvona didn't come today."
"Why's that?" asked Royster.
"Haven't 'cha heard some of the scuttlebutt about HER?" asked Eager. "His wife Yvona's supposed to be touched in the head, and is supposed ta be some kinda religious fanatic."
"Fortunately, Eager, the rest of my family is much nicer than her," said Nova.
"You're right about that, Nova." Derek smiled and gave Nova a reassuring little hug. "I like the rest of your family…especially your parents."
"Thank you, Derek."
"I just wish my parents could've been here today." Derek shook his head and took in a deep sigh. Hardy didn't notice, because he spied a familiar officer at the table and began to walk over, followed by Dash, Royster, and Mio. Nova was left alone with Derek for the moment, and she couldn't help noticing that he was trembling.
"Derek, would you like to step outside with me for a bit? You look terrible."
"No…I'll be all right. It's just...when I think about Mother and Father, it's still like an open wound."
"Then we shouldn't have said anything at the introductions?" asked Nova softly. "Derek, I'm sorry..."
"Nova, it WAS my idea to mention them with Starsha and Alex, remember?" said Derek. But...sometimes it still hurts almost as much as it did back in 2199…or as much as it did when I lost them."
"...Derek..." whispered Nova a second later. As she gently stroked his hand with her ungloved left hand, her new gold wedding band glittered like a tiny flame under the bright lights. "I don't quite know what to say to help, except to tell you that I'll always be here for you. Because we're together, you'll never have to be alone again. That's what this whole funny, wonderful day is about, Derek…us."
"For what in particular?" said Nova with a gentle smile.
"Thanks for marrying me."
"I'm happy I did." Nova softly kissed Derek on the cheek and then slipped an arm around his waist. "Now, let's go see what everyone over there has to say to us and accept their congratulations."
Nova noticed that Derek and Natalie were talking to a staff officer known as General Remsenberg. When he noticed Nova, the general stood up to greet her, and he handed the newlyweds a beautifully wrapped package that turned out to contain a pair of crystal goblets. Wildstar and Nova were both grateful to the general and his wife for their gift. They spoke to both of the Remsenberg for a while, with Nova complimenting Mrs. Remsenberg on her lilac-colored gown. The older woman graciously accepted the compliment.
"You'll have enough room in your house for those glasses, won't you?"
"We will," replied Nova as she looked over the goblet, which was quite beautiful.
"I couldn't help noticing that you've had one of the most beautiful weddings I've been to in years. We're so happy for you."
"Thank you. We're going to unpack these glasses first thing late next week when Derek and I come home from our honeymoon. They'll look beautiful filled with some white wine, with the lights of the Great Megalopolis glittering in the distance as we have a little drink all alone late at night on our balcony. It'll be a wonderful start to the rest of our lives together," said Nova as she laid her head against Derek's shoulder.
"It sounds very romantic."
Eager looked a little amused at Mrs. Remsenberg's last comment. He stood up with a stance that gave away the fact that he had really enjoyed the champagne a great deal today.
"''Scuse me, everybody." Eager looked over the bunch, waved goodbye (which made Natalie and Nova giggle for a moment), and then he staggered off to talk with Buzz and Ryder. Venture noticed Eager's boozy departure with some distaste. Knowing him, he thought, he's probably going to go off in the corner and make rude jokes about Wildstar and Nova. It never fails-get a few drinks into that guy and he becomes a total clod! GOD!
Another guest was silently chuckling at Eager, namely, Commodore Ryu Hoshiyama. After Eager left, Hoshiyama stood up and introduced himself to the newlyweds. Captain Wildstar began to salute, but the weathered Japanese officer stopped him with an upraised hand.
"Today's your day, Captain," said Hoshiyama. "No need to salute me today, even if the staff people there promoted me to Commodore to command one of the new warships they are now building, namely the new Andromeda-class battleship Perseus. If you consider that we need people with experience commanding those vessels, I'd have to say I had no choice. But, in a way, I'm glad she's still being constructed, since I was able to accept this young lady's invitation," said Hoshiyama as he smiled at Nova. "Nova, your mother has a great caterer, and I was glad to come for the two of you! Let's all have another drink to the bride and groom! KAMPAI!!" barked Hoshiyama in his deep voice.
Everyone at the table drank to Derek and Nova's health and happiness. The newlyweds seemed a little embarrassed at all the attention, but they were really flattered. As Hoshiyama had said, it was their day. After the toast, Ryu Hoshiyama turned to Natalie and Ronnie Davis. "Now, Ladies," he said. "I think I should give the Wildstars my wedding present. After all, I can't be rude now, can I?"
"Sir…are you sure about this?," asked Natalie with a sidelong glance at the box Hoshiyama was holding. "Are you sure they'd like this? Especially since I caught you and Doctor Sane in his office on Wednesday looking at this."
"We were looking at it, and that was ALL we were doing!" blurted Dr. Sane. "But wouldn't this be a bit strong for the Captain and?"
"Let them be the judge of my gift, Doctor," chuckled Hoshiyama as he handed a gift-wrapped box to Nova.
Nova gingerly unwrapped the package and discovered she was holding a teakwood box. She shook the wood case and commented, "Derek, it must be some wine or something! I hear a bottle rolling around in here!"
"Uh oh," muttered Hardy. "Buzz, ah think ah know what's up. Y'guys remember that night years ago back at the Trainin' School? The night after ah first flew a Black Tiger?"
"You mean the night he said we were finally real fighter pilots? The night when he got out a box of stuff just like that?", said Buzz.
"Oh...are ya talkin' about that party it took you a day to recover from?," asked Jefferson.
Derek opened the box and pulled out a large dark green bottle. He held it up, carefully examining the white and gold label, emblazoned with Japanese characters. "Okay...a bottle of Gekkikan Imperial Sake... made in (huh?)" Wildstar set the bottle down with wide eyes. "Sir! This is the OLD stuff! It's almost impossible to find this particular production year anymore! Thanks... Just how strong is that stuff, sir?" asked Wildstar.
"Strong enough to put you two up into low orbit sans a plane. Of course, you two won't be trying my stuff tonight, I would presume. Especially since...this is not exactly...conducive...to...err, roma…"
"The sort o'...docking maneuvers of the sort you'll most likely be attempting this evening, Wildstah!" chuckled Hardy.
"I think we ...uh... understand, Hardy," said Nova rapidly as a fierce blush washed over her face while everyone began to laugh. "Thank you, sir. The gift is very much appreciated, for...uh...later on in the honeymoon." At that everyone laughed some more.
"Now, there's my gift," said Captain Josiah. "It may not quite have the high-octane sort of kick that the good Commodore's mix has, but it should come in handy. Open it in good health!"
Josiah handed Derek an ornate envelope. In the meantime, Royster, Wendy, Dash, Eager, Sandor, Jane, and Laurel came back from the bridal table, where they had taken some of Derek and Nova's latest acquisitions, except for Ryu Hoshiyama's box. Nova had refused to let Eager take it away, afraid that she might lose a little Japanese 'fighter fuel' to him. As weird as it sounded, Nova was dying to sample some of the stuff during their honeymoon.
Wildstar opened up the envelope and found that it contained one thousand credits. "Thank you…sir," said Wildstar with a gulp as Nova's eyes went wide with disbelief.
"I didn't know what to buy you two, so please feel free to make use of that right after your honeymoon, if you have the opportunity. Where are you going?"
"We're going to the United Earth Federal Government reserve on Dominica in the Caribbean for our honeymoon." replied Nova happily as she discreetly pushed the box of sake' under the table with her toe. Then, she looked at Derek and said, "We'll have a wonderful time...once we're alone..."
"Well, then, I have a gift for you," said Samuel. "I think you'll find this stuff…useful..," he said with a blush as he handed Nova a big gift-wrapped box. "My Significant Other suggested it for you two.."
Derek and Nova unwrapped the package, and found out they had just received a set of white satin bedsheets. "Considering...uhhh…what we were just talking about, I hope you find them…uhh...practical," stammered Samuel as everyone began to laugh like crazy. Derek was almost helpless with laughter, and Nova turned as red as a beet and sagged against her husband with such a severe case of the giggles that tears came to her eyes.
After they stopped laughing, General Weller said, "He IS a fine young man, isn't he, Lieutenant?" while flashing Nova a warm smile. "You married the right person, Mrs. Wildstar. You hang onto him!"
Nova smiled at Weller and said, "If I didn't hold onto him, it'd make life pretty difficult for us when we had to go out on the Argo again, wouldn't it?"
"It certainly would," said Weller. A moment later, Nova felt warm and guessed she was blushing again. She hadn't quite expected to be referred to by Derek's last name quite so soon, and, needless to say, it felt both...different...but nice, all at the same time.
A moment later, Teri came up to the group with a somewhat brawny-looking young brown-haired man and a thin, young, blond- haired woman with glasses in tow.
"Nova, I'd like you to meet someone."
"Hello!" Nova said graciously. "Didn't I meet you two in the receiving line?"
"I'm sorry, but our flight was a little late; takeoff conditions in the Great Megalopolis weren't good this morning," said the young man formally in a voice that carried a flat Midwestern accent. "As I see you don't recognize me, permit me to introduce myself to you and Captain Wildstar. My name's Dwayne Tucker; and I've worked with your father in the past."
"What do you do?" asked Nova as she looked over at the young woman who was with them. Even though she was pretty, her golden- blonde hair was cut in a somewhat unusual style, and there was something of a semi-amused sneer in her dark eyes behind her wire- rimmed glasses. Somehow, Nova felt something like an instinctive dislike for this woman.
"Well, I'm an architect," said Dwayne. "I helped design parts of the underground Denver Megalopolis, and parts of some of the other underground cities. Your father helped advise my firm in the past when I received those government contracts. I've just gotten married, too," he said. "If I may, I'd like to introduce MY wife, Clarissa."
"Well," said Nova softly, wondering where she had heard the name before. "How are you?"
"Fine," she said. "I have a baby...from a previous marriage. She's bein' watched by a relative," she said in a somewhat strong New York accent.
"If I may ask, what became of your husband?" asked Teri Forrester in all innocence as something clicked within Nova and she shot her a warning glance.
"My first husband and I divorced last year," she said snappily, looking at some of the assembled ushers. Your dress is beautiful. Like mine?" she asked, smoothing down her crushed velvet hot-pink minidress. "You don't want to KNOW what it cost!" she laughed while cuddling against Dwayne. "He's great, and, most importantly, he's always around. Not like my ex," she said, laughing.
Then, she paused. "Oh, Paul!" she giggled as she looked straight at Rosstowski. "Didn't know you were here! Oh...sorry."
"Why are you apologizing to this man?" asked Dwayne softly, puzzled.
"Umm...you've never met him, before. Paul, this is Dwayne...my new husband. I mentioned him in my last letter. Dwayne...this is...Paul Rosstowski. Uhhmm...he's my ex," she said quickly, but with all the enthusiasm of someone sucking a lemon. "See you in a minute, Dwayne," she said with a giggle as she went off to the bar.
"Sure." said Dwayne with a plastic smile. "Sorry," he said as she left and he and Paul went off to the side for a bit. "Sometimes she has this tendency to...be impolite at times."
"That's all right," said Rosstowski. "Believe me, I'm all too familiar with it. When did you two get married?"
"In the spring...I've known her for...about a year."
"I see," said Rosstowski as he ran a time sequence through his head. October...2200...I left again. She wasn't happy. Then, she filed for divorce. I learned about it in January 2201. Tried to raise a defense...but couldn't. She made sure she'd take me for as much as possible...still is. She planned this all along, I bet. Get rid of one...get what she wants from another. You used me as a stepping-stone until you met Mr. Moneybags. Nice, Clarissa. Real class act. Did I ever mean anything to you?
"Your...your little girl's nice..." said Dwayne awkwardly. "Sorry...though. I'm really not in a good position. I make a fair amount of money...but..."
"Well..." said Dwayne with a little more confidence as Teri showed up for a moment, with Nova and Derek close behind, "...hmmm...Nova..." he said, quietly, looking at her. "Haven't we met somewhere?"
"Not before today, I think," said Nova with a sense of mystery.
"You probably didn't remember," laughed Teri. "But...well...do you remember when we spoke on the telecommunicator right before the Argo slipped out of communications range? That time when you said we had five minutes to talk?"
"Yes," said Nova, who suddenly held Derek's hand and thought, Oh, No...this CAN'T be. MOM!
"I tried to set the two of you up a long time ago," laughed Teri as she rested her hands on Dwayne and Nova's shoulders while smiling. "Remember...those...pictures I had?" laughed Teri.
"Yes, Mother," said Nova with quite a bit of annoyance. "I remember those."
"And ye thought WE were an item," laughed old Patrick Orion as he came up beside them. "Ah think she chose well, on her own, didn't she, now?"
"I sure did," said Nova as she affectionately stroked Derek's hand.
"I did all right on MY own, too," said Dwayne Tucker with a shake of his head. "If you'll excuse me...let me talk to Mrs. Forrester for a minute. I'll see you later...and...congratulations to you both."
Some more conversation ensued with Orion, Rosstowski and Nova's mother, and, afterwards, Derek and Nova went back to their table with the wedding party and enjoyed themselves while more well-wishers came up to offer more congratulations and support.
In the meantime, Dwayne motioned Mr. and Mrs. Forrester away for a moment.
"If I may ask, Mrs. Forrester...why did you invite Clarissa and I here?"
"Well...you and your father have always been close friends of ours. We wouldn't have asked you to consider marrying Nova over two years ago if you weren't."
"Thank you," said Dwayne warmly. "But, why did you have to tell Nova I was being considered as one of her suitors? I thought that was water under the bridge...although you should've seen the laugh Clarissa and I had when she moved in and found her picture lying around with my stuff...and I had to explain Nova away as an old girlfriend that I had never met. Funny...but why'd you have to mention that to Nova?"
"I thought it'd give her a laugh..." stammered Teri.
"At her own wedding?" asked Karl softly, but with a smile. "She looked far from amused, shall we say? You know I never thought much of your trying to set Nova up with every Tom, Dick and Joe we knew as associates. You went positively crazy over it, Teri."
"Well, we can thank the Lord we GOT her to the altar," laughed Teri.
"And, about that," said Dwayne. "If I may ask...did you know Clarissa's ex would be here as an Honor Guard member when you invited us?"
"I'm...sorry," said Teri. "Paul never mentioned his ex-wife's name to me...and I never made the connection when I had the invitation addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Dwayne Tucker." What a terrible coincidence..."
"It's okay," said Dwayne. "I..."
"Dwayne," sang Clarissa as she came up. "Can we go in a while, love?"
"Yes," said Dwayne. "If you don't mind...Mrs. Forrester...it might be a good idea."
Eventually, the dancing began. Of course, Derek and Nova were the center of attention as they shared their traditional first dance snug in each other's arms. They danced to a contemporary ballad played by the orchestra; the famous Gamilon War tune known as Scarlet Scarf, sung by a very pretty young vocalist in pink and blue. Since the song had been popular when Derek and Nova had met in 2199, they considered it "their" song, in the classic fashion of many young lovers who had enjoyed favorite songs of their own throughout the ages.
Then, as the band played on, Derek and Nova danced through two more songs as others began to gravitate towards the dance floor. Eventually, Venture reminded them (with a whisper) that they had to separate and dance with some of the others for a little while--the rather obscure customs of large-wedding etiquette demanded it.
So, Nova was claimed by her father for a dance, and Derek got to dance with his new mother-in-law. Then Venture danced with Nova, and Derek danced with Natalie Fisher.
As Venture danced with Nova, he said, "I'm glad you two finally took my advice and got married today."
"So am I," she whispered in reply, looking first at Mark, and then looking over at Derek, who, he noticed, was waltzing carefully with Natalie, holding her in just the right way, but not holding her TOO closely. "Mark...thank you for everything you've done for us today. I know it must be terribly hard for you..."
"...it is," said Venture softly.
"Are you all right, Mark?," asked Nova.
"Oh...I am..." he said. "Yeah. I am." At that, a shiver went down his spine as he felt Nova's arm around his waist. For a moment, he came close enough to smell her light violet-scented perfume, and he squeezed her hand. Then, he looked away to look at the others twirling about on the dance floor, knowing again, with an even deeper burst of sadness, that Nova now belonged forever to Derek...and that he could...and would...have it no other way.
But still...there were memories lingering in his mind...memories of a time when, perhaps, Nova might have chosen him.
He forced back those memories as Nova whispered, "Mark...you're trembling."
"I miss her," he said. "Oh...I miss her so bad..."
Nova didn't need to know any more. For a moment, as they danced, she embraced him tightly, as a dear friend. Finally, she said, "Mark...I don't know what else to say...except...maybe, to say this...would Trelaina want you to remember her by spending your whole life in misery?"
"I don't think so...but...right now...well...that's the way I feel! Can't I mourn her?" he said in a husky whisper.
"Yes...but some day, Mark...some day...you'll have to live again. Just remember that."
The dance ended, and Nova and Mark separated. Nova smiled a little as Mark seemed to regain a little of his sense of humor by bowing to her. She shut her eyes, curtsied a little, and walked off with Natalie for a moment.
"Natalie?" she said softly as her friend and Derek separated.
"Yes?" said Natalie while Derek asked, "Nova?"
"Derek...may I just speak with Natalie for a minute, please?"
"It's Mark...isn't it?" said Wildstar in a low voice. Nova just nodded. Derek said, "Okay, your mother said I had to dance with your cousin next, anyhow. See you in a few minutes."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Nova with a smile and a wink before they snuck a quick kiss and separated...with Nova walking off with Natalie, and Ronnie walking up to Derek with a "hello" sort of smile.
"You're going to be dancing with Mark in a moment...aren't you?" asked Nova as she and Natalie sat down for a minute at a table.
"Yes. He's seems so down today, and he's been like that all day. Nova, could...?"
"Natalie, you could never know how the loss of Trelaina affected Mark," said Nova softly. "I don't even think I could know. But, as his friend, I had to try to comfort him. Could you do the same for the rest of the day?"
"Sure...I'm escorting him...or is he escorting me?" chuckled Natalie. "But how could I help more than I already have? He's nice...I like him... but..."
"Natalie, you know when I met Derek, he was in mourning, too."
"But...he's...in such a shell...and he doesn't want to open up to anyone, let alone me."
"Just be a friend, Natalie," said Nova. "Be there for him. Stay by him. Don't be blatant or anything...he wouldn't stand for that right now He's not the type to like that sort of girl in the first place. Just...be his friend. He needs one. Okay?"
"Okay, Nova," said Natalie with a smile and a wink as the music began again. She got up, busy looking for Venture as Nova took off for a dance with Sandor, who looked a little embarrassed by the spectacle. Then, as Derek danced for a bit with Becky Falworth, Nova danced with her cousin Sam, switching to Hardy after a while, while Derek danced with Mio Hoshiyama.
When Nova and Jeff and Derek and Mio passed each other for a moment on the dance floor, Ryu was amused to find that the newlyweds weren't the ONLY two making eyes at each other. Welll...it's possible that Mio may have found herself a pilot. Although of course, we can't let it build too fast, especially given that Jefferson Hardy...Kamisama, I'd better hope you don't catch that bouquet TONIGHT, Mio-chan! Let the young man take SOME time to get ta know you first...I think...
Afterwards, Nova switched over to dance with Paul Rosstowski. "You look like one happy woman today, Nova," said Rosstowski with misty eyes as they danced.
"I am…" said Nova in a soft voice, looking over at Derek, who was currently dancing with her cousin Jane. As he passed, she winked at him, and she smiled when she saw him winking back over Jane's shoulder.
"You're looking at him," chuckled Paul.
"Sorry...I can't help it!" said Nova breathlessly. "I'm so happy today...that's all."
"You look gorgeous," continued Rosstowski. "I wish I could be as happy again. It'll never happen, though."
"Paul Rosstowski," snapped Nova in a rough whisper. "I'm convinced you're about as wrong as you could ever be! Have you ever heard of wishing upon a star?"
"Once, on the Argo, I sent my wishes towards the Wishing Star of Voton. Today, I KNOW they found a much better star to fly to and make them come true. Your star is out there, Paul, if only you'd look up to the heavens and wish on it..."
"Nova, you know how this society is. Who'd want a divorced man who failed once already? You saw the way Clarissa was looking at me, didn't you? She was looking at me like I was trash. Who the heck would want someone like me?"
"More people than you'd know," said Nova softly. "Maybe it was destined to happen this way. Maybe, there's someone out there, somewhere in the Cosmos, who will need you more...far, far more...than Clarissa EVER needed you. No offense, Paul...but there's much better fish in the sea than Clarissa! I almost feel sorry for that poor architect who got her."
"I guess...guess you're right," said Paul with a fixed smile like a death mask. "Thanks, Nova."
"Paul, I'm sure of it. On the day you get married again, you owe me the second dance after you dance with YOUR new bride. Okay?"
"All right. Nova...?"
"You too...in ALL your endeavors," said Nova with a squeeze of his hand as she twirled off to face a very nervous Royster.
"Hello, Neville." said Nova in a soft voice.
"Nova! Heh, heh...gosh...uh...you look...great!"
"Thanks," said Nova with a smile as she danced with the much shorter man, guessing after two seconds that she'd have no choice but to lead (which she was unaccustomed to, as she usually expected her partner to lead). Step back, up, right, left, twirl...just like Mom taught, thought Nova as she went through the steps perfectly, watching poor Royster trying to follow her lead.
"How am I doing?" he gasped.
"Just fine," said Nova reassuringly as they faced each other, stepped back, and then stepped close again.
As he came up, Royster mis-stepped just a little, and placed the tip of his right toe on the tip of Nova's big toe; which made him stumble. It made Nova grimace a little before daintily and deftly sliding her bare foot back a few centimeters, while gently flexing the toe up to make certain Royster hadn't knocked it out of joint. Nova had been a high school and college gymnast, swimmer, and cheerleader, and she was used to competing or performing barefoot, but this was an ordeal.
"Ooh," she said softly. "Ouch."
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," replied Nova. "Have you danced very much?"
"I'm a little out of practice," replied Royster. "The last time I danced with a girl was when I was in the Space Fighters' Training School."
"Oh, that's nice. When was that?"
"Quite a while ago...even though I was in the class after your college class. It was at the Ring Ball in the spring. Did you make it to your RTC Ring Ball at the University of Colorado?"
"Yes, I did."
"Who'd you go with?"
"A boy Mother set me up with," said Nova. And he was a chowder head, she added to herself.
"A pretty girl like you needed help getting a date?"
"In my last year...yes. I was very busy then...what with my schoolwork and the cheerleading at the end of basketball season and all that."
"Did you ever see the lucky guy again?"
"No...it was just that one time," said Nova. Thank God, she added again to herself.
"Did your mother ever try to set you up with someone else?"
"Yes...on the way to Iscandar that fall," said Nova with a smile. "I...OUCH!" screeched Nova.
"Royster...I'm so sorry," said Nova softly, "but...you HAVE to learn not to step on a lady's toes when you're dancing with her...especially when she is barefoot."
"I'm sorry..." said Royster as he stepped back and stopped for a moment. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," gasped Nova as she flexed her toes for a minute. "There...I think I'm okay. Whew!"
"I'm a terrible dancer, Nova."
"No, you're not," said Nova. "I stepped on your boots about twice, too..."
"You didn't me..."
"No...but I'll wager I ruined your spit shine. At least I can clean my toes a little more easily than yours," said Nova, adding, to herself, and I could use some cold water on them to numb them for a minute, too! Arrrrgggh!
"Do you think Laurel likes me?" asked Royster.
"She could," said Nova.
"I think she does...and some of the guys have been ribbing us."
"Like who?" asked Nova....
"Like Hardy...Eager, Ryder, and Orion's son," said Royster as they twirled about again...this time, with Nova being careful not to let her tootsies get too close to Royster's boots. "What does it mean when people laugh at a couple and kid them?"
"I think it means people are recognizing they're together. On the first journey to Iscandar, the Black Tigers seemed to love kidding Derek and I."
"Every chance they got," said Nova with a smile. "You know, things like "Maybe Wildstar should go on the field surveys with Nova more often," said Nova, trying to imitate the inflections of Pete Conroy while saying it. "Things like, "You two okay?", she said in a reasonable facsimile of Eager. And..."
"Well...suggestions that make me blush when I think of them," said Nova as she recalled a few of the more suggestive (if not downright lewd) suggestions/observations that people had made about them, or around them. Nova blushed harder as she realized that, within a few hours, she and Derek would be as busy as bees carrying out as many of these lewd suggestions as possible in splendid tropical isolation with the blessing of the EDF, her parents, and her church.
"Well...heh...heh...guess what they've already been saying about...Laurel and..."
"I think I can guess," said Nova with a nervous smile as the music ended.
As they separated, all that Royster could think about was some of the ribbing that he and Laurel had taken together from the guys.
Nova was somewhat relieved when the dance with Royster ended, although she tried not to show it, and she began to look for Derek.
Of course, Nova was too ladylike to tell Royster that her toes were aching from their dance, and she didn't feel like having them stepped on any more for a while. A moment later, Nova wilted into a chair next to Derek's place at the bridal table.
I wonder where he is? thought Nova. I hope he comes back soon.
In the meantime, as the dance music ended, Wildstar found himself finishing up a dance with Laurel Hartmann, and found himself on the other side of the dance floor, near the left side of the band, wondering where Nova was.
"Whoa!" said Laurel as they sat down. "Sir, you must dance Nova's feet right off when you two get together!"
"Sometimes," he said. "Although, most of the time, we've been dancing nice and slow with each other."
"Didn't you say you were out of practice?"
"I did," said Derek. "But, for the last month, Nova and I were practicing at her apartment, and then at our house before moving in. Funny...everything my parents taught me about that sort of thing came right back."
"Your parents..." said Laurel. "I know the story from Nova...don't worry. Mine went out the same way."
"The same way?"
"Yeah," said Laurel sadly. "A bomb landed right on top of them in Quebec when they were visiting their relatives. To top it off, while I was visiting my uncle halfway across the country, another bomb took out our house in Massachusetts. Hmmm...wonder where Royster went?"
"My escort," said Laurel pointedly.
"I didn't see him."
"Hmm, he'll turn up," said Laurel as she extended her ankles out, yawned, and flexed all of her toes in her sandals. "Couple of nicks down there...so what?"
"Yes. From when Neville steps on my toes."
"That's Royster, sir. He DOES have a first name, you know. Funny. Never quite caught on what Nova's last name was until about 1210 hours today. Then, she has to go and get it changed on us," chuckled Laurel. "Not that you mind, of course."
"I sure don't!" said Wildstar.
"Although, you know...when everyone says "Wildstar", from this day forth, we won't know for sure which one of you two they mean. Interesting. Just like how everyone reacts when I call Royster "Neville".
"Well, it's a little unusual..." mused Wildstar.
"Well, that a hot pilot like you would get so chummy with Royster..."
"Sir, that's not it, and you know it. Neville and Pete Conroy are friends of a sort. Isn't the thing that everyone's surprised about the fact that a female's interested in him...?"
"Well, he never seemed to be interested in much...other than his work..."
"Sir, you're too polite. Someone like a Space Marine would say, "What does she SEE in da JOIK? Huh?"
"What do I see in him?" asked Laurel.
Wildstar just nodded.
"For one thing, he makes me laugh. In a nice way, though. For another thing, sir, he's smart. In case you haven't noticed, most smart males in this Fleet are already taken. Finally, he doesn't think there's anything odd about my career."
"I don't. You know we've flown together," said Wildstar, who was trying quite hard to be chivalrous.
"But what was that you were saying, sir, about not feeling 'right' about the near-miss at Idlewild the other day?"
"That's because it was Nova bringing that ship down, that's why."
"Sir...no further comment from me on that," said Laurel quickly.
"Right. Laurel. If you don't mind, we'll talk shop some other time. Nova's bound to be looking for me."
"Oh, I'll bet she is," smiled Laurel. "Take care, sir. And…"
"Congratulations, hotshot!" she chuckled while raising a water glass to him.
"Thanks!" he said with an honest smile. "Take care."
At that, he left.
While walking over towards the bridal table, going through the middle of a group of couples boogying to a fast song on the dance floor played by the rock band, he spotted Nova looking for him. A moment later, she found him, and with a cry of "Derek!" she ran joyfully into his arms. For a minute, they cuddled and hugged, totally oblivious to anyone else, until Nova laughed, crying, "Oh...I'm so happy!," and jumped back a little, boogying along while still holding hands.
"Wow!" he said. "Nova...that's dancing!"
"Don't ever tell Royster," she whispered, "...but after dancing with him, I wish I had worn steel-toed combat boots!"
"He stepped on your toes?"
Nova just nodded. "And if YOU do that, I'll kick you," she giggled.
They flew on, laughing as they boogied back and forth to the Scarabs' tune, which was an odd cross between classic rock and classic waltz, danced around each other, and a few spats of applause came as Derek even lifted Nova up off her feet and spun her around a bit.
While watching them, Orion looked at Sandor and huskily wiped a tear. "Oh, it's just breakin' me up. Remember the last time they were dancing' like that?"
"When she was ill, on the way home from Iscandar...and she woke up in his arms?," said Sandor.
"Aye. They were dancing' like that on the bridge...and later, Doc Sane told us Avatar died at about the same moment Nova came out of her coma. Wonder if the old Captain had anything to do with that?"
"I don't know," said Sandor thoughtfully.
"Well...I'll tell ye one thing. If old Captain Avatar's watching them now, he must be incredibly happy, Steve."
"I'm sure he is. I'm sure he is."
That song stopped. Sandor and Orion didn't know what was going on as Nova took Derek by the hand, stood near the bandstand, and hurriedly discussed something with him that couldn't be heard over the noise of the guests. Whatever it was, Derek nodded, smiled, and turned to a band member while Nova ran off for a moment. Then, to his surprise, Derek got up on the bandstand, pulling a microphone on a stand over.
A minute later, Nova ran back up, carrying something black under her arm. They noticed the large, thin black case had a big white bow on it.
Then, to their surprise, Nova opened the case and withdrew a new pure-white electric guitar. A Fender Stratocaster 2200 Victory Model, to be precise. It had a little EDF anchor and the initials NW painted on it in gold.
"'ello," said the lead singer for the Scarabs, who was looking myopically at the audience through his Ben-Franklin style glasses. "Hello!" roared back some of the crowd, as Hartcliffe yelled out, "Aye! I can play better lead guitar than you drunk!"
"I'll pretend I didn't 'ear that, mate!" chuckled the lead singer. "Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce our newlyweds...also known as the Nurk Twins...give a big 'and to Derek and Nova Wildstar!"
Everyone cheered and applauded while Derek and Nova looked a little embarrassed, wondering if they were in their right minds for doing this. Derek looked quizzically at Nova. A moment later, she nodded, and began to strap on the electric guitar while a roadie plugged it into the sound system and handed her a pick. She came up to the microphone near Derek.
"Hi!" said Nova brightly over the mike. A few people yelled "Hi!," back, while others cheered and a few good-natured wolf whistles filled the ballroom. "If you wonder why I'm up here...well...it's because my cousin Jane gave me this guitar for a wedding present. Derek wanted to see me play something on it, and I suggested, since you guys were calling for people to join you for a number and sing something...why couldn't we get up here and try singing AND playing? We'll probably be terrible since we're both...sort of uh...out of practice...but we thought we'd try this to a duet...we're gonna try doing this to...Nowhere Fast. Ready? One...two...three..." called out Nova as she tapped a light beat out with her bare foot right before the band came in.
The opening chords began, and, after a few measures, they had to admit that the bride wasn't a bad guitarist...and certainly wasn't a bad singer! The song was a duet, and the guests cheered as Wildstar and Nova attacked the song with a surprising amount of gusto, even if their pitch was a little off here and there. Soon, a good number of the guests were boogying away to the rock band and its two remarkably cute "guest vocalists"...but even as they did so, Derek stood smiling at Nova...while feeling a little bit of deja vu' when she sang some of the high notes in the song. He had never really heard Nova singing her heart out before quite like this, and her singing voice sounded both beautiful and eerily familiar to him...almost as if he had heard something like it before in his past.
If anything mysterious was going through Nova's mind, she wasn't showing it as she shook her head close to Derek's as they shared the mike at the high notes. Nova was pleasantly surprised to find that her husband had a great singing voice, and was happy to notice that he looked both handsome and happy when he sang. When they were done and Nova made the last chord ring out from her guitar, they got quite an ovation. They held hands and gave a bow, and a couple of their friends were actually (and unexpectedly) yelling for more when Wildstar said, "Thanks...but we think that's enough for a debut performance," with a chuckle at the end of his sentence. "We'll meet all of you in a bit on the dance floor, okay?"
At that, they were off to a conference room near the main hall because their friends had just moved the rest of their wedding presents there. Inside, Derek and Nova just looked at the vast pile and shook their heads in sheer amazement.
"We'll have to write a lot of thank-you notes," said Nova.
"We'll be lucky if we find the time to do it, Nova. I think you can guess why, can't you?"
"Yes. We have a lot to do over the next few weeks. A LOT," whispered Nova in a low, husky voice.
Both of them chuckled at that. "Hey, Nova?" said Wildstar as he quizzically examined a blender.
"Think it's getting kind of late?"
Nova glanced up at a clock on the wall and said," You're right? It's almost five! We'll have to go out and start saying goodbye to some of the others soon, since we're scheduled to make our little exit at six."
"Good idea...." Derek set down the blender and smiled affectionately at Nova as she stood before a mirror adjusting her floral headpiece. She noticed him watching, and playfully kissed him on the cheek when she was done.
"Let's go, Derek!"
"Do you remember the way back to the ballroom? This is a pretty big place, y'know."
"Silly, you just follow the music!" squealed Nova in a giggly voice. She did a little light-footed barefoot pirouette on the carpet and walked out the doorway without looking--
---and she literally bumped right into Sandor, who was walking down the hall with his head down.
"Steve!---I'm sorry! Are you all right?", gasped Nova after she regained her balance.
"What about you? Are YOU okay?"
Nova nodded, looking terribly embarrassed as Derek came out of the conference room. "Nova, what happened?" he asked as soon as he noticed his wife standing in the corridor with her headpiece all askew again.
"Uhhh, I bumped into Sandor, Derek"
"Literally," added Sandor in a low voice. "Neither of us was looking when it happened."
"Trouble," said Sandor in his familiar manner. "Although not as bad as last time. You're aware a snowstorm is supposed to hit Denver?"
"Yes, but the last report said it would hit tonight, well after we left," said Derek.
"We had a look outside...it's starting to cloud up already...and one of the bridesmaids remarked on how cold it was getting when she went outside for a minute. Maybe we should speed things up a little so that we don't get socked in by the weather."
"Good idea. Nova...do you think we can get out by 1730 or 1745?"
"I think so," said Nova in a more serious voice, with all of the giddiness gone. "I'll find Natalie and tell her to hurry up and get the bridesmaids together for the bouquet. Derek...could you find Mark and tell him to get the Honor Guard ready...and to tell Mother that the MC will have to announce it?"
"Sure will. We're meeting back at the table?"
"Uh-huh," said Nova quickly. "See you in a bit, darling," she said.
"Right," said Wildstar as he quickly pecked his wife on the cheek before they took off on their respective missions.
December 26, 2201
Denver Megalopolis--Boulder District
The Flagstaff House
All was in readiness as Derek and Nova walked around making their farewells. Finally, after the orchestra played a few appropriate flourishes, a little ritual began near the center of the dance floor. All of the bridesmaids stood around Derek and Nova in a sort of semi-circle, waiting to catch Nova's bouquet after she threw it. Venture, Sandor, Sam Josiah, Hardy, Rosstowski and Royster stood nearby, wondering when Nova would throw the bouquet. She was winding up, getting ready.
"What do ya' think the skipper and Nova are talkin' about?" asked Eager.
"It could be they're talking about their honeymoon," replied young Timothy Orion, Pat's son. "Dad told me that he and Mother talked about that a great deal on their day long ago."
"I wish they'd get it over with," said Dash. "Those young ladies look like they're getting antsy."
"Venture, what're you thinking' bout?" asked Eager. Mark was standing off to one side watching the bridesmaids with a thin smile.
"It's personal, Eager. I'll talk with you later."
"Right, Venture." Eager walked away from Venture, guessing it would be a good idea to just leave him alone. Under his boozy exterior, some of the Texan's common sense was still working.
Natalie stood near Venture, hoping that, somehow, maybe she would be the one to catch the bouquet, and that, maybe, this would draw poor Mark a little out of the shell he had retreated into, because he WAS nice...and she wanted him to, at least for a time...be happy.
"Are you ready, Nova?" asked Derek as Nova gripped the bouquet.
"I am now. I wanted to be sure they were all in ready and in position with their heels off, Derek! We don't need anyone falling," she said as she danced around with barefoot grace. She had also been delayed a little because her mother had insisted upon tying a flower to one of her bare ankles with a blue ribbon for some decoration since Nova had decided to go barefoot.
With a wink, Nova began to turn her back to the bridesmaids. The toss was supposed to be entirely random, of course. According to tradition, Fate was supposed to guide the bouquet after the toss.
"Don't let it get caught in the chandelier like Angie did," chuckled Derek.
"It wasn't my FAULT! Don't make them go through this again!" yelled Angie Hartcliffe from nearby, over a few giggles.
"I won't," giggled Nova. "I only want to go through this once too!" Nova covered her eyes with her left hand and chucked the bouquet over her shoulder with her other hand.
Needless to say, Natalie prayed silently as the bouquet spun through the air. It fell into the middle of the bridesmaids, and all of them scrambled for it like crazy. Derek stood wondering who caught it until he heard a voice raised in a cry of "Omigawd!"
"I wonder who that was, Nova?" asked Wildstar. "Did you hear that?"
"My cousin Jane, judging from that accent and the squeal."
"Well, SHE must've caught it, then," said Derek.
"Nope, she got it!" called out Jane.
"Well, who got it, then?" asked Nova.
A rather pleased Laurel Hartmann emerged from the scramble with the bouquet in her hand like a battle trophy.
"YOU got it?" called out Hardy in amazement. Laurel nodded her head once, smiling an embarrassed little grin for a moment before she regained her cool.
At that, Jane, and Ronnie emerged to congratulate her while Becky and Natalie stood off to one side with rather down looks on their faces...and Mio Hoshiyama stood there with a VERY sour look on HER face.
"Ronnie," whispered Laurel as she ran up to the maid of honor. "You see I caught it. You know the implications, right?"
"Precisely," chuckled Ronnie. "What's more, a weird little variation on the story says that the lucky man who catches Nova's bridal garter after Derek throws it to the guys has to put that garter on your leg."
"My...leg?" said Laurel. "He has to put it on my leg? Wonderful!" she said sarcastically.
In the meantime, Derek and Nova were over by a chair, getting ready for the final part of the proceedings. Nova was standing near a chair with her bare right foot up on it. Derek was beginning to lift the hem of her wedding dress as Eager yelled, "Hey, skipper! Inch that dress up nice and high!"
Eager's comment brought some good-natured laughter, especially because Derek was just beginning to bring up his wife's skirt.
"Hey, Eager!" snapped Wildstar. "If you wanna get on report the next time we got out together, just keep up the stupid comments! I've heard that you simply love to swab down decks!"
More people laughed and applauded. Some people began to blow wolf whistles as Nova stood there helping her husband ease her dress up to just below her knee, exposing the frilly blue garter that Nova wore around her shapely calf.
Derek slipped the garter down Nova's long bare leg as she stood there suppressing laughter. Nova was giggling because the situation was embarrassing, and because the experience tickled. The delicate garter had to be carefully guided down her leg, over her ankle, and off her slender foot. As a result, Nova had to bite her tongue to hold back laughter that might've made her fall right off the chair! A very crazy-looking smile came out later on in the wedding pictures.
"Okay, I got it!" yelled Wildstar when he was finally done. Nova made certain her dress was back down after she got her foot back down on the floor. Derek waited as the rest of his buddies gathered around to catch the garter. Finally, when everyone was ready, Derek turned his head and popped the garter off his thumbs like a big rubber band. Another melee ensued as the garter flew up into the air.
"Hey--we got a winner!" yelled Eager a minute later.
Derek and Nova waited to see who emerged. Their questions were answered a moment later when, to everyone's surprise, Royster emerged grinning with the garter in his hand.
Needless to say, Laurel didn't look particularly unhappy about it.
"You caught it," said Laurel in a calm, unconcerned voice as she walked up.
"Heh...heh...I did!" Royster replied sheepishly as a ton of well-wishers slapped him on the back.
"Why do you look embarrassed?" whispered Laurel.
"Uh...because I normally don't put garters up the legs of ladies I've only known for a few days."
"I'm not concerned, Neville. Really."
"Why not? I am. I...but, well, WOW."
"Neville," sang Laurel. "Nature has endowed me with a nice set of legs. Right now, showing them off is about the least of my worries. I happen to have other things on my mind."
Laurel didn't answer; she only grinned a little. She only stood up, leaning against the table for a moment to unbuckle her sandals. "C'mon, now," she said as she guided Royster along while carrying her shoes. "Do your duty."
"I don't know," said the young lady. "It might be fun?"
Soon, they were back before the others. Laurel just smiled enigmatically at the guests as she slowly put her foot up on the chair cushion. At Mio's prompting, Laurel calmly eased her violet gown up her calf to just below the knee. Nova noticed that Becky and Natalie were standing off to one side, and didn't seem to be enjoying the little game as much as some of the others.
"Nova?" asked Derek. "Do you think Laurel was expecting this?"
"She looks like she was. But just look at Royster! He looks horribly anxious."
"Is it any wonder?" whispered Derek. "She's beautiful."
"Then what does that make ME?" asked Nova with a sour look.
"That's more like it, Derek," replied Nova with a little smile.
"Look...they're all giggling at us!" whispered Royster as he stretched the garter and prepared to put it over Laurel's foot. "Uh, what do you think of this?"
"I told you I have no objections. You can go right ahead!" Laurel whispered in return as she stood there with her long legs showing to about the knee. She savored Neville's embarrassment as the shaking young man worked the garter up over her foot. Unfortunately, her effort at self-control didn't work, and she began to chuckle helplessly as he did the deed.
"Now, YOU'RE, heh…heh… embarrassed," said Royster.
"No, you're tickling me!" whispered Laurel. "Hurry this up before you have me on that floor in a heap of giggles."
"Ohhh...so you have a weak spot, then!" said Royster with an evil grin.
"Please…finish the deed!" she whispered as he eased the garter into place.
Many of the observers were cheering, and they were shouting various things at Daniel and Laurel that they didn't want to hear! The two of them just stood there for a moment, united by mutual embarrassment-and the afterglow of something more. Finally, Royster forced himself to look at Laurel's beguiling face once again. "Uhhh…I'm sorry, Laurel."
"Why must you apologize so much?" she said in a breathless voice.
"Err...uh…" said Royster.
"You did, you know. " she said firmly. "Let's talk about it when we get to the Officers' Club later at the airbase."
"You mean...?" gasped Royster.
"Yes, Neville," said Laurel quietly. "I'm asking you to go out with me. Any objections?"
"No, ma'am! Not at ALL!" he cried as he shook her hand earnestly. She responded by forcefully taking it away and giving him a hug. "Wow!" he cried. "Wasn't that fun?"
"I'll be it WAS, mate!" brayed Hartcliffe as he slapped Royster on the back. "Hey, Hartmann...you gonna marry this shrimp?"
"So what if I do?," snapped Laurel as she turned on Hartcliffe. "Is it any of your business?"
"Well, luv...I think it's funny. A shrimp technical officer and a bird who flies Super Starfighters?"
"Angelica, take him home and HOUSEBREAK him!" hissed Laurel. "Your husband obviously doesn't know how to behave in public!
Royster was happy, but he wanted to get out of there to escape the ribbing. He was able to do just that when everyone's attention turned back to Derek and Nova.
People were beginning to say goodbye to the bride and groom as they prepared to leave.
Finally, to many, many cheers, Derek Wildstar theatrically picked Nova up in his arms and carried her out of the ballroom.
Nova seemed to be enjoying the little spectacle, for she was smiling and blowing kisses at everyone with her free hand as Derek carried her away and the reception, thus, came to its formal end.
But, as Nova was carried out of the ballroom, ironically, past a portrait of Earth and the Argo, she only had eyes for Derek.
Derek looked down at his wife, a picture of grace and sweetness from her head down to her bare toes.
She was smiling at him, admiring his handsome face as she was carried out of the room.
Derek wasn’t sure what Nova was thinking, but he could hazard a guess that it was romantic, thanks to her cute little smile.
Both of them were looking forward to what happened next…
Namely …the honeymoon.
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