AN ALTERNATE TALE OF THE STAR FORCE...
STAR BLAZERS-- Trade Winds
By: Frederick P. Kopetz
with note to the following:
STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright (c) 1998 by Voyager Entertainment, Inc. and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
NOTE: This story and its successors represent an Alternate Reality that may or may not coincide with the events portrayed in the STAR BLAZERS and SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO series and movies.
Special Thanks to Gail R. Kopetz & Derek C. Wakefield
I. GOOD MORNING
Earth Federal Preserve
Portsmouth House Rest and Recreation Facility
December 27, 2201
1050 Hours: Local Time
The dazzling light of the tropical morning shone in through the bedroom window of the bungalow in which Nova and Derek Wildstar were staying in on their honeymoon. Nova, who had borne her husband's name for less than twenty-four hours, awoke in a wide, comfortable king-sized bed in the bedroom, smiling a little as a warm breeze came in through the screened window.
She yawned, stretched, and fell back into the soft bed, savoring a multitude of new and wonderful sensations as she woke up. Nova gazed tenderly at Derek's sleeping form. The light topsheet they shared was down to the middle of his chest, which moved up and down with each peaceful breath. Nova smiled at him as she ran a hand through his dark hair, which was a tousled mess.
Of course, Nova's hair didn't look much better. She paused to brush a stray blond lock out of her brown eyes as she softly kissed Derek on the forehead and snuggled up to him. She held him close, and her slender form quivered with excitement as memories of their long, blissful wedding night poured back into her mind.
Derek awoke a moment later. The very first thing he saw was his Nova's dear face, framed by a pretty mess of honey-blond hair and a pair of soft shoulders that looked lovely in their simple bareness.
"...good morning, Nova..," he whispered, greeting her with a tender kiss, and then putting his arms around her to pull her so close that he could feel her heart beating inside her chest. With that, Nova shut her eyes, sighed, and placed her head on his chest, discovering that he made a wonderful pillow.
Illustration:"Hyogen" (c) 2000 drawn by "Meixiang". Illustration appeared on Japanese Yamato WWW site:
"mm...good morning, Derek," she whispered back. She kissed him, and found again that waking up beside him, right in his arms, was even more beautiful than she had dreamed it would be.
But now, they were very happy that they had the right to be together at last. As they woke up, they savored the togetherness, knowing that for the next ten days, they wouldn't have any shipboard schedules to keep or any work to worry about.
They had nothing but each other, and to them, it was wonderful. After a long silence, Derek asked Nova a very silly question.
"Hey...are you happy?"
Nova gave him a surprised little look, as if to say what else would I be right now? but then, she looked into his eyes, and the slow, impish smile that Derek loved so much came to her face. Nova held Derek close and replied, "...yes...of course I'm happy, my love. And I can tell you're happy, too."
Nova snuggled him and then murmured a very intimate endearment.
"Hmmm...so what do you propose to do to make me even happier, Nova?"
"Guess, silly. And, if you're awake enough, make ME happy, too?" whispered Nova as she curled her left leg up against him under the sheet.
Derek nodded, adding a grin that made his new bride blush with delight. Nova kicked the covers off the bed and awaited him with a playful light in her eyes....
Soon, their lips met, and their conversation ceased as they spoke in an even older and more universal language...the language of newlyweds discovering joys that were new, beautiful, unique, and tender...responding to longings that they had enjoyed for the first time only last night. Nothing more need be said, save that they were alone, and sleepy as they still were, it was good...very, very good.
Later, the morning crept on in a timeless, slow haze that was, of course, quite unnoticed by Derek and Nova as they lay in each other's arms, tired, but utterly happy and at peace.
"What, Captain?" Nova replied impishly as she lay sprawled like a lazy cat , still unclothed, on Derek's stomach. "Are you going to ask me if I'm happy again?"
"No, I was wondering about something else."
"About...well...what we spent half the night doing?" asked Nova playfully. "You liked that?"
"Yes. Did you? Was I, uhh?"
"Derek, you were marvelous" said Nova. "But...well...you told me there were others in your life. How was I?"
"Different. VERY different," said Derek. "In a good way...of course...."
"What do you mean, Derek?"
"Well...in different ways...the others I was with...seemed to see that sort of affection as something furtive...something dirty...something nasty."
"It's not," said Nova firmly. "How it is...depends upon the circumstances, like whether you're married or not. Whether or not, under such a commitment, two have truly become one."
"Yes," said Derek. "Those other times...the circumstances were different. Not like this...not like you becoming a part of me, and me becoming a part of you...here on our Earth, our beautiful Earth...just like when I promised you when you were ill...when..."
"Shh," said Nova. "We don't need to bring back any more of those sort of memories right now, darling. We're together, and that's all that matters. Did you want to ask me something else, Derek?"
"Yeah. Are you hungry?"
"Yes, sort of. And I think you know why, Derek Wildstar."
They both chuckled, because they knew why. Given the circumstances, Derek would've been pretty dense not to know why they were hungry!
In spite of the fact that Derek was nice and warm, and the breeze coming in through the window felt so nice, Nova guessed that she ought to get up and make some breakfast. She kissed Derek on the cheek, and said, "I think there's a light terrycloth cover-up out there in one of our bags, Derek. You go throw it on while I rustle up something light to wear and go cook us some breakfast."
"You don't need to get up, Nova. Stay there and I'll tuck you back in. Then, I'll do my best impression of "Cookies" on the Argo and make us our breakfast."
"Derek, I'm perfectly capable of doing it!"
"Nova, do you think I'm going to have that pretty, mussed-up little head of yours over a hot stove on the first day of our marriage?" replied Derek with honest love in his eyes as he tousled Nova's sweat-dampened blond locks. "You are going to get under that sheet and rest while I cook for us!" Derek got up as Nova moved away just a little. Then, he got the topsheet and threw it over his wife, smoothing it over her back, down her legs, and all around her as she continued to lie on her tummy. He finished up by finding the bottom of her foot and tickling the tips of her toes. When Nova laughed and pulled her foot in, he covered it up with the sheet. Then, Derek said, "I'll see you in a bit with breakfast!" He kissed Nova on the forehead after she turned over, and then he bounded out of the room to the combination kitchen-living room, making lots of noise as he went.
Nova lay back and shut her eyes. She couldn't help smiling at her sweet (and almost comical) new husband. As she thought of Derek, she swore to herself that she'd enjoy his breakfast, even if it was a complete disaster...
Earth Federal Preserve
Portsmouth House Rest and Recreation Facility
December 27, 2201
1145 Hours: Local Time
As it turned out, Wildstar's breakfast was a complete disaster! When Derek, clad in only a terrycloth wrap that covered his waist, brought the tray in a few minutes later, Nova smelled a faint whiff of smoke wafting up from under the cover that was over the tray. Nova wondered what she'd find under the round cover when Derek undid the legs on the bedtray and set it on her blanketed lap. With a flourish, Derek pulled up the cover...
...and poor Nova began coughing when a massive cloud of smoke wafted up from the food!
"Uh...DEREK," gasped Nova with a cough as she looked at the food. "Let's see what it is," she said as she tried to fan the smoke away.
The smoke blew all over the room as Nova tried to look at the food, but she was interrupted by a sudden BUZZ from around the ceiling. A red light came on, and something began to bleep incessantly like a ship's klaxon.
Derek's breakfast had set off the smoke alarm!
"DAMNIT! I'd better cover it up!" yelled Derek as he slammed the lid back down over the breakfast. He coughed and grabbed up the tray.
"I'm sorry, Nova! The food will be outside on the (hack)...deck! See you there!
He flew out of the room just as the smoke began to disperse.
Nova lay there shaking her head, and put a hand up to her mouth and began giggling.
POOR Derek! she thought as she lay in their bed laughing, praying that he didn't hear!
A while later, Nova sat outside at a patio table on the deck. She had put on a very short white caftan-like robe trimmed in pink. It had the type of scoop neck she liked in a lot of her dresses, and it came all the way down to her feet, clad in a pink pair of surfer thongs that she liked to wear as slippers in warmer weather. Of course, since Derek and she had never had the opportunity until now to relax together like this in the morning in truly warm weather, Derek found his first sight of Nova in warm-weather bedroom wear to be a rather nice revelation, to say the least.
She lifted the cover on the breakfast tray to examine what Derek had made. There were two plates, both of which were covered with the following items of food: two servings of sausage (shriveled and overdone), two servings of blackened toast, two cups of black, thick coffee, two glasses of orange juice, and two bowls of frosted flakes with strawberries. The frosted flakes and the juice were the only things that looked fairly undamaged. As for the rest, Nova wondered if poor Derek had hit the burn rather than the cook button on their food processor! God love you... she thought. I really need to have Chief Rawlings show you how to run toast and sausage through a food processor. At least now, I'm not really hungry anymore... she thought as she finished off the cereal and looked at the food. What I am is nauseous.
Derek appeared at the glass doors just a moment later, wearing a t-shirt, white shorts, thongs, and a very sheepish expression. He looked rather ill.
He watched Nova trying to take a bite of his toast and felt terrible. He came up behind her and tentatively kissed her on the cheek, sort of like a little boy fearfully kissing his mother when he thinks she's mad at him.
"I'm sorry, Nova. I never botched a breakfast like that before. I never brought anything out of the oven smoking like that before...I used to just burn the toast, especially when I was based on Mars. You can ask Venture if you don't believe me...he was there. I'm so sorry, honey. I really am."
"Don't be depressed. I know you tried...and the thought is what counts. Sit down like a good boy while I talk to you."
"Okay," said Derek, who felt worse, somehow, because his conscience was flashing YOU SCREWED UP, CAPTAIN in nice big neon letters.
"Please don't look so sad," said Nova with a little pat against Wildstar's cheek.
"Derek, you know that we have tons of wedding presents back at home."
"All of them are beautiful, and they all cost a lot of money. But face it, we'll never use some of them-and what good are a lot of gifts in a place where two people aren't happy?"
"Nova, what are you getting at?" asked a rather anxious Derek.
"You see what's here on this table? You see all this awful...yes...awful food that's sitting here?"
"That," said Nova as she held Derek's hand and gazed at him with happy tears in her eyes "...that...is the best wedding present I could've gotten from anyone, because it came from you, as a sweet, simple little gesture of love. That's why this gift will probably outlive everything else we got, Derek. Thank you. You're very sweet!"
An extremely relieved Derek gave Nova a nice, big bearhug. He was very glad she wasn't mad at him. He also knew that if he made her breakfast in bed soon, he'd have to check the cooking time on sausages!
So, they sat there on the deck, laughing as they ate Derek's botched breakfast. While they ate, they looked out at the sky, which was nice, clear, and sunny. The strength of the sun made Derek think of something.
"Nova...did you put on sunscreen?"
"Not yet," she said. "I should be all right for a while longer; I have something on...and my bare legs are under the table."
"But part of your shoulders are out...and you've got nothing on your arms. Your skin's so fair..."
"I think I'll survive for five more minutes here in the shade under the eaves," she chuckled. "Then, you can smear sunscreen on me...after I put on appropriate swimwear, of course."
"You'll see," said Nova with a smile. "Derek, it's a shame you only took up that standing offer to spend some time with me in the sunroom on the Argo once or twice...you know?"
"You know we had work to do...and...well..."
"May I ask you to elaborate?"
"I...well...I didn't feel right about being around when you were lying there in a swimsuit..."
"Even my one-piece?"
"Yeah...being admired by all the guys..."
"And... Go on...?" she teased.
"Well..." he stammered. "I always thought you were cute...and...even though I love the sight of you in a swimsuit...I...I...
Derek couldn't say anything else. He had turned as red as a beet.
Then, Nova giggled. "Oh! I know why NOW, Derek! Bashful, hmmm?"
"Derek, we have no need to be ashamed of such things now, all right?"
"Keep on looking," said Nova dreamily. "And..."
At that, she knelt down before him and they kissed again. Then, they looked into each other's eyes again and began to think of many, many other things...and...the morning stretched on.
Later that morning, the two of them were snorkeling out near an anchored speedboat in the ocean not far from shore.
Their equipment was quite minimal.
True to her word, Nova had put on a swimsuit that Derek liked (even though it surprised him, given that she was conservative and usually wore one-piece suits); it was a pink sports bikini, brief, but not so brief that it didn't leave something to the imagination. With it, she wore a black diving mask with a pink snorkel and pink and black swim fins.
Beside her, Derek swam along in a dark red set of bikini briefs, with his own black swim fins and a black mask and snorkel. Around his neck, he wore a small clear waterproof box that contained his instant camera. Nova hadn't brought hers, but she WAS having fun directing Derek with regard to appropriate underwater sights to photograph. She also noticed that he seemed to have fun getting her into many of the pictures.
Near a large hunk of undersea growth, they stopped for a moment. Derek snapped a picture as Nova looked wide-eyed at the unearthly fronds of seaweed drifting in the current. She stopped to stroke a few of the fronds and didn't even seem to mind much when she kicked up, suppressing a little urge to giggle as a bit of the weed brushed the tips of her toes, left exposed by the light rubber shoe-like part of her swim fin. She didn't mind; the water was so warm that even the seaweed felt nice against her bare skin.
The usually modest young woman (at least given her own usual tastes in clothes) was enjoying more than simply having her toes free to wriggle in the water (even though that was a nice change after all those weeks in her service boots). As Nova felt the currents was over her and watched Derek watching her, she was feeling much more conscious of her body than usual in her bikini, which felt even more non-existent than ever in the water.
A flash made her turn her head. Her eyes went bright at the sight of Derek taking a picture in the shadows, and, again, making sure she was in it. She was tempted to smile, but couldn't, since she'd lose the snorkel she was biting on, and also, incidentally, probably snare one heck of a large amount of water. Too much water, she thought. While I love kissing you, Derek, I'm not in the mood, dear, to get myself in a state where I need to receive the kiss of life after getting seawater forced out of my lungs, thank you.
Suddenly, Nova noticed Derek kicking towards the surface. She followed. They broke the water together at about the same time, clearing their snorkels by reflex before taking deep breaths.
"How was that?" she asked, as both of them treaded water for a moment before taking a few kicks back to the boat with their masks partly up over their brows.
"Nice," said Derek. "But I've always liked diving," he said as he hung on to the gunwale of the boat's stern for a moment before gently putting the camera back on a seat. He climbed up onto the access ladder, against which he leaned while removing his fins.
"Well, if you did...you really should've gone with me to that planet we checked out on the way to Iscandar," said Nova while Derek climbed back into the boat and got a towel to quickly dry his tousled wet mop of dark brown hair.
"Which one?" he asked as Nova climbed up onto the ladder, holding on as one fin came off, followed by the other.
"It was the one we checked out between the time...uhh...we used to explore Beemira and Balan, remember?" said Nova as she shook her head rapidly to get rid of the water.
"Hey!" cried Derek. "I'm getting WET!"
"What's wrong with that?" cried Nova. "It's hot out!" she giggled as she shook her head again.
"My wife, the Irish Setter," chuckled Derek as he watched her shaking herself.
Nova frowned at that one, until she got a look at her wet hair. Well, she thought. It is about the right color, especially when it's WET. In response, Nova tiptoed up to him, shook her hair harder, and let out a merry attempt at a bark.
"Why are you doing that?" he cried.
"You wanted me to be a dog," she said with an innocent grin. "Besides, my family once owned a beautiful Irish Setter. She was named Princess."
"What happened to her?
"Lost her in the bombings," said Nova with a sniff. "Of course...you lost more than I did. Now, what were we talking about?"
"A water world," said Wildstar after he tossed Nova his towel.
"Let's see...what was it named?" asked Nova as she innocently stretched out a long leg to dry it off. "Oh! I remember what we named it now!"
"Thatcher's Planet...after that guy in the Navigation Group who found it...remember?"
"Oh, that one," said Wildstar. "The one where you came back with the starfish?"
"The new species we discovered," said Nova as she clambered over into the boat with a dancer's grace. She walked past two of the seats, gave Derek a quick smooch, and doffed her mask. Then, not looking at all serious, but looking just like her mere twenty-three years, she sat down on the starboard side beside Derek, put on a pink pair of sunglasses, and merrily put her bare feet up on the dashboard of the boat. "Oh. I've got a dumb question."
"Why are we back in the boat?"
"Ran out of film... that's why..."
"Do you have another cartridge?" she asked.
"I think so," he said. "Let's see..." he said, rummaging around in a storage bin. "Yeah...I've got one."
"Great," said Nova as she stretched before bending down. "What else are you looking for?"
"Film," he said. "We'll be hitting land as soon as we weigh anchor on this vessel."
"Oh. Is the film in your camera?"
"Uh-huh. Found my new cartridge. Why?"
Nova kissed his stomach as he put his arms around her. "Oh...I don't know," she said in all innocence. "Oh! LOOK!" she cried.
"What? Where?" said Wildstar as he looked around, taking his eyes off Nova for a moment.
Good boy... thought Nova with a wicked little grin as she pushed him into the water.
"HEY!" he yelled when he came up, treading water and sputtering. "Why'd you do that?"
He found out why a moment later. Nova was snapping away with the camera and giggling.
"You're mean!" he protested. "No; you're incorrigible! You'll never stop doing that!"
"Setting me up to look stupid in pictures. I swear...every other picture that you have of me will make me look like an utter idiot!"
"But you look so cute that way," cooed Nova. "Come over here while I set up for another shot, and..."
"Okay," said Derek, waiting for Nova to put down the camera.
At just the right moment, he grabbed her hand and pulled her screeching into the ocean.
"Why'd you do that?" snapped Nova when she bobbed up.
"No reason...except maybe to cool you off a little," chuckled Derek. "I'll race ya!"
"Oooooohh...challenge accepted!" snapped Nova as she splashed him and swam off.
They declared their race a tie when they got near shore. Nova smiled as she looked at Derek's muscular young form piercing the water. He looked a bit younger than his twenty-three years when wet, and he looked as if he was having the time of his life. They swam together for a bit, holding hands, and exchanged a smooch in the water before parting again as a wave came up.
Suddenly, Nova's gracefulness disappeared for a second as she screeched and began to splash around. Panicked, Wildstar began to swim over like a madman. Thoughts of barracuda, sharks, and poisonous jellyfish ran through his mind, especially when he noticed the look of apprehension on her face.
But a moment later, Nova's expression turned into one of joy. By the time he got there, she was actually smiling as she treaded water again.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Something bumped me," she giggled.
"Him," said Nova as Derek noticed a fin running through the water and yelled, "NOVA! Shit! That's a..."
Then, the creature surface right before Wildstar and began to chatter at him, as if to chide him.
"Derek...he's just a dolphin," giggled Nova as Wildstar stared the little blue-grey sea mammal in the face. "Hello," she said softly as the mammal chattered at her.
"Uhh...can't they bite?" said Wildstar.
"No, well at least he doesn't want to. He wants to play, I think!" chuckled Nova as she splashed at the animal, and had her splash returned a second later by a fin.
"Why are you looking at him like that, Derek?"
"I don't believe it...that's all," said Wildstar. "Hey...you ARE friendly," he said as the creature nuzzled against his leg. "Nova, I guess those old mariners' tales are right."
"The tales about dolphins," said Derek as he swam along beside his wife and her friend. "Nova, wasn't it said they that they sometimes used to help swimmers and divers in distress in the old days when there were more of them?"
"They did," said Nova, who was stroking the dolphin and looking him over for a moment. "Hmm...This one's pretty small, and he doesn't have an ident-tag in his dorsal fin from the breeding program! That means he was born in the wild...and by his age, he must have survived Zordar's attack without any problems."
"Wonderful," said Wildstar, who was grinning himself.
"We should document this," said Nova as she continued to pet the creature with a big smile. "Otherwise, they'll never believe our story back home."
"Right. I'll get the camera...good thing I put film in it...before..."
"Before I pulled you in for a swim," giggled Nova.
"Right. I'll be right back," he said as he swam over to Nova and gave her a smooch on the shoulder.
Wildstar found it didn't take long to swim back to the boat. When aboard, he found his camera, back in its enclosure after he had changed the film. He hung it around his neck and ran back into the ocean with Nova, who was having the time of her life with her finny friend.
He dived back into the ocean as Nova splashed and played with the dolphin. Wildstar swam out to them and stood treading water as Nova hugged the dolphin.
A wave came up, and Nova swam back a little, facing the dolphin's snout. As the dolphin came up a little out of the water and chattered again at Nova, she kissed him right on the snout.
At that moment Wildstar snapped the picture. Then the dolphin swam back, and Nova called, "Goodbye!" as she waved. Derek joined her, calling out "Goodbye!" as the sea creature swam back out into the edge of the lagoon and disappeared into the open sea with a splash of its tail fins.
Derek and Nova hugged in the water for a second, and then Nova said, "Let's swim back to the boat, Derek. I'm getting a little tired out here...and let's get the boat near shore, okay?"
"Okay," said Wildstar. When they reached the boat, Wildstar sat on the deck opening the camera enclosure while Nova went for the anchor. Using the windlass, she weighed anchor, and sat down in the pilot's seat.
While starting the boat, and putting a bare foot on the accelerator, Derek smiled to himself. Wet, or dry, in her current state, she was quite a sight for sore eyes. Soon, the boat was running, heading back for the little dock near the bungalow. Wildstar opened the enclosure, withdrew the instant picture of Nova with the dolphin, and handed it to her.
"Oh, that's so CUTE!" she said. "Thanks for getting that picture, Derek."
"It'll look so cute in our honeymoon album after we get a copy made," said Nova. "Won't it?"
"It sure will," he said, smiling at the rather pretty picture of Nova giving the dolphin a little hug and a very big smooch, looking quite carefree with her wet hair going all over the place. "You know, with those bare shoulders, you sort of bear a resemblance to a mermaid in that picture?"
"Sure," said Nova, affectionately slapping him on the arm. "Mermaids had fishtails. I have legs. See?" she grinned, bending them for a minute.
"I'll tell you one thing."
"What?" sang Nova as she turned the helm hard to port while letting up on the boat's throttle as the dock approached.
"You look MUCH better at the helm than Venture."
"YOU!" she said, giving him a playful slap on the arm. They both laughed at that as the boat slowed down and Derek clambered up onto the dock with the rope to tie her up.
They got out of the boat, looked at each other, and then looked at the beach.
A minute later, Wildstar grabbed a somewhat wet towel while Nova went back and felt a large beach towel (emblazoned with the logo of Coors' Brewing Co.) that was in the boat.
"Darn...it's still wet," she cried.
"So?" asked Wildstar.
"Derek...I think we should have SOMETHING under us when we lay on the beach...the sand will be hot...and...and," she stammered as Derek came up behind her...
...and literally swept her up off her feet with a giggle.
He placed her on the beach, giving her a kiss as he spread out the towel.
They kissed again. Then, both of them stopped for a moment, glancing at each other with smiles on their faces. Derek gave his wife a questioning look with raised eyebrows, and she responded with a tender smile and a kiss.
Later, much later, Nova lay beside Derek on a sunny spot between two folding chairs on the beach (on a fairly dry towel), rubbing sunscreen on his back.
Their snorkeling gear and fins hung on a palm tree branch some distance back, drying in the sun. So was Nova's swimsuit. She had, however, found the sarong she had worn on their wedding night and had dressed again in that, after quite a long period out of her swimsuit connected with her private time with Derek, of course. Nova blushed a little as she remembered some of what they had been up to. We could only act like this by all by ourselves on a desert island, she thought with a smile.
"So, what else do you want to do, today?" asked Derek.
"First, Derek, stop making agendas," said Nova as she adjusted the top of her sarong, making sure it was more or less on right. She wanted to make sure it was on right, being all that was between her and the world right now, although she had a passing thought that Derek wouldn't complain if it just fell off.
"It's a honeymoon. You don't make agendas on a honeymoon, Captain."
"What do you do, then?" asked Derek.
"Enjoy it," she said with a little smile. "I think we need some music, so, I'm going to wade back out to our vessel and get the tape player."
Derek looked on in admiration as Nova skipped back out to the boat and got a portable tape player. She smiled at him, aware that she was being watched, as she ran back with the tape player and a towel.
Nova took a moment to spread the towel out neatly on the sand, plopping down on her stomach as she did so. "Want it on now?"
Nova then turned on the tape player. Some nice, soft but sprightly calypso-flavored guitar and piano music was soon wafting across the beach. Nova was tapping her toes on the towel to the rhythm of the music as Derek sat down, crawled up beside her, and affectionately stroked her leg.
Nova smiled back at her young husband, and shut her eyes, enjoying the feel of the sun on her skin. "This is comfy. Derek...?"
"I've got an idea. Do you know where the camera is?"
"The camera?" he asked. "Err...why?"
"I'd like you to take a picture of me."
"Like that?" he asked, looking at Nova in her blue, scanty sarong. She had also gotten the idea to stick flowers in her hair, and she went barefoot. Derek thought she looked like a pina colada...tropical and simply gorgeous.
"Like this," she said softly as she put down her canteen and got up, running over to a seawall at the edge of the beach that had the ocean in the background. After looking it over, she turned to him, striking a cute pose with one leg up.
"Okay...but...why?" he asked as he picked up the camera. and ran over towards the tree.
"Derek," she said tenderly. "It's going to be for you, and you alone."
"I want you to have a little reminder of me with you so that when we're apart, you'll always have a little bit of me with you. Okay?"
"Okay, but I'm not sure I feel..."
"Derek...it's just for YOU," she said softly. "Okay?"
"Okay," he replied softly while kissing Nova on the forehead. Afterwards, Wildstar stepped back and took the picture.
(Picture, Below, "Sarong" © 1997 by Ken Mayes. Prepared for Visions site on commission, and used by permission--
When it came out, he admired it with a very pleased expression on his face. "You look so cute like that," he said as the subject of his picture came up and hugged him, nuzzling playfully at his neck.
"Thanks," whispered Nova. "You'll pardon me...but I like the attention."
"You're blushing again," sang Derek.
"I am?" cried Nova. "Oh! I guess I am," she giggled, looking down at herself to notice that the blush went down quite far. "I never knew I did that before...I'm sorry."
"Why are you apologizing?"
"Because I blush so much that it even shows when I'm...not quite dressed," whispered Nova shakily. "Funny...never noticed that before."
"Nova...you look extremely cute like that. Really!"
Nova smiled again, unsure of what to say. Finally, she gave her husband a kiss as she got another idea.
"You look cute in the your little swim briefs, too," whispered Nova as she came up and nibbled at his ear. She snatched away the camera, jumping back before Derek could react.
"Nova?" he asked. "Where are...?"
"SMILE!" she sang as he turned towards her, quite exposed, and obviously, quite happy. Before he could react, Nova pushed the button and captured her husband...in (almost) all of his glory in his extremely brief Speedo trunks.
"NOVA!" he called out as she giggled away. "Why'd you do that...?"
"Easy," she said with a sinister little grin as she took the picture. "You know what I said about keeping mementos of each other?"
"I want to keep one of YOU, for when we have to be apart, too. After all, you look very, VERY nice like this... Derek," she said with a giggle. Then, she smiled. She wasn't blushing any more.
However, Derek was blushing. All over. Boy, is she cute about this..., he thought. I wonder what ELSE she's got in mind for today?
III. SHADOWS OF THE PAST: Derek
Earth Federal Preserve
Portsmouth House Rest and Recreation Facility
December 29, 2201
1312 Hours: Local Time
The next two days passed for Derek and Nova Wildstar in a romantic haze of sun-drenched happiness. They played volleyball on the beach, swam, went boating, took a few hikes in the jungle, and spent time getting to know each other better in the bungalow. Throughout it all, there was only one rain shower. The rest of the time, the weather remained nice, warm, and sunny, encouraging them to run around in swimwear, shorts and t-shirts, and, naturally, when the mood for romance struck, little or nothing at all. After all, it was just the two of them on this particular island...with no other humans around for quite a few kilometers. Also, as a result, they were getting some nice, light tans.
Now, today was another one of those pleasant, dreamy days. Wildstar was in cutoff shorts and a t-shirt, and Nova was running around in white shorts and a sky blue bikini top. They had just finished lunch in the kitchen with the windows open, and now, they were in the living room of the bungalow, curled up in two of the wicker chairs. To enjoy the living room rug, they were both barefoot; their sandals rested forgotten on the deck outside.
Soon, Nova tiptoed up to sit on Derek's lap for a moment. They snuggled for a while, exchanging a good number of kisses, before Nova said, "When I unpacked some stuff before, I left my guitar out. Would you like me to play you something?"
"Sure," said Derek as Nova gave him a last smooch and flew off to get her guitar. She emerged a minute later carrying a Gibson six-string acoustic guitar with a little flower sticker on the upper part of the guitar body, just to the left of the last few frets of the fingerboard.
She plopped down on the love seat, crossed up her left leg as she adjusted the guitar and strummed a few chords, humming softly to herself as she prepared to go into a song. Derek sat down across from her since, having played a little guitar himself when he was younger, he knew that trying to snuggle her right now would interfere with her playing.
"Derek? What would you like to hear?"
"Well, considering we just had some old Beatles on the stereo a while ago and considering how that guy at the reception massacred that song, how's about you try something by them?"
"Okay," said Nova as she sat with her brow furrowed a minute as she strummed chords. Finally, with a smile, she turned her brown eyes straight and began to play "Here, There, and Everywhere," a rather pretty love song that suited her sweet singing voice quite well. When she was done, she got a little round of applause from Derek that made her blush.
"You were great!" said Derek as he ran over and smooched her.
"No...uhh...I'm not that good, Derek. Really."
"C'mon...you are! Let's hear another one."
"Okay...mind if I do a sad one from the same album? It's just sort of...going through my head right now."
"It's okay...let's hear it," said Derek as he went back to his seat. With a little smile, Nova began to sing a piece written by Paul McCartney that went:
Your day breaks: Your mind aches:
You find that all her words of kindness
linger on when she no longer needs you....
She wakes up, she makes up....
Wildstar suddenly looked very, very sad as Nova played on. She looked up, noticing his face, and stopped with a discordant twang as she released her chord. "Derek! What's wrong?"
"What's wrong with it, Derek?" asked Nova as she ran up to his chair with concern showing in her large dark brown eyes.
"Nothing...you sounded like an angel, Nova. It's...well...it just brings back some bad memories."
"Not about us, I hope?"
"No...they're about Diane Henson. I told you about her in 2200..."
Nova sighed. "I know you told me that she used you and dumped you, but you never told me exactly why."
"Well...I didn't want to delve into that part of my past; and, also...I acted like a jerk then, Nova. I was just nineteen, and all I wanted was...well..."
"Most people act like jerks at times when they're that age, Derek. I...well...I did a few jerky things myself at that age. And...well...you were still growing up, even when we met at twenty-one."
"Boy, do I know that," he chuckled. After that, he took a deep breath, and said, "Nova...I know you. You've always said we don't keep secrets. I...guess I won't keep this one, either, " sighed Wildstar. "Nova, do you mind hearing about Diane and I?"
"Not at all...that is...if it won't hurt you too much to tell your story...I think you told me about the breakup once before, but..."
"I never told you all the gory details. All right," said Wildstar as he swallowed hard, motioning Nova over to the love seat. They sat down together, and Derek began with: "It all started in...."
"...The winter of 2197.... It was some time early in the month of December . It was basketball season then, and Venture got me to come out to see the game with the University of Colorado. You know...the big matchup that still draws people like crazy each year, even today. I don't know if you were into sports or not when you were in college, but it was a really big game, and everyone was really enthusiastic about it. Everyone except me. Just wondering...did you ever make it to one of those games, Nova?"
"Let's just say that we'll get to that point later, Derek," smiled Nova. "Go on."
"I will..." he said, continuing....
Well, again, it went like this...
"Derek," said Venture. "Why are you just sitting there moping?"
"We're up in the nosebleed seats," I replied. "You know you can't see anything from up here."
"We only had to sit up here because we got here so late,"
"YEAH?" I replied. "Well, who told us about the game so late?"
"Well, we argued about it for quite a long time..."
"Mark," I yelled back, "I told you, I didn't want to..."
Then, I remember that a familiar voice yelled, "Hey, what's up, guys?" from the aisle.
"Conroy!" chuckled Venture. "Would you join our little group?"
We both knew Pete Conroy, then, of course. He had been through quite a few classes with us. When he came up to our seat level, he sat down beside us, and grabbed my hand, demanding, "Why so gloomy tonight? Looks like your best friend just died..."
"He didn't," I snapped back. "But if he keeps up this crap, he might be dead before the night's over."
"Boy, aren't you charming tonight?"
"Conroy, leave me ALONE!" I yelled. By this point, I remember that I was getting miffed and just wanted to go back to the dorm.
"What's your problem?" said Venture. "Wildstar, can't you unwind for a while?"
"NO...Not with an astrophysics final coming up..."
"But we have two more weeks to study for it, and I thought you could use some thing to take your mind off classwork. Besides, I thought you liked basketball!" added Venture.
Oh, he was trying so HARD to get me to loosen up! But I just wasn't buying any of it!
"I don't know if he likes basketball or not," smirked Conroy. "But, I'll bet he likes the cheerleaders! Hey, Wildstar..."
"Yeah?" I snapped back.
"Take a look down there," he said. "Now, if you get tired of watching our star Maybank beat the tar out of Colorado, there's always the Comettes to watch...or the Frontierettes."
I groaned. Now, from where we were, we could barely see the game. We could just about see our team, in gold and blue, running around kicking Colorado's butt; Colorado's players wore white with black numbers and gold trim. It was even harder to see the cheerleaders...for our side, or for theirs... Ours wore blue and gold...theirs wore black, white and gold. Because their colors were strange, theirs were closer to us than our own girls were. I know there were about six or seven of them, and they had their backs turned to us, since they were jumping around facing the team to cheer them on. That was one reason I groaned, you see....
"Derek?" said Nova, interrupting Wildstar's story for a moment. "What were the other reasons?"
"What other reasons?"
"The other reasons you groaned when Conroy mentioned the Colorado Frontierettes, silly!" said Nova with a funny little look on her face. She seemed to have something on her mind.
"Well...." he said, pausing while he thought, Wonder why she's so curious? Then he continued.
"...as I was saying, the first reason I groaned was due to the simple fact we couldn't see any of the cheerleaders' faces, since they had their backs turned. There was also a second reason, but it was rather personal. However, Conroy got it out of me when he asked, of course, "Hey Wildstar? Why the long face?"
"I can't see any of them," I replied.
"I know you...that's not the reason," said Venture.
"Yeah, c'mon," said Conroy. "What is it?"
"I've been having horrible luck with females lately," I replied.
At that, Nova shook her head sadly in commiseration. However, she let Derek continue.
"YOU?" chortled Conroy. "Hey, we've all heard about you...hotshot! What's a hotshot like you doing having problems like the rest of us mere mortals?"
"I've been hearing that you've been having problems, TOO, Conroy!"
"Yeah? But what about you? What's your love life been like, Wildstar?"
"You don't wanna know, all right?"
"Are you chicken or something?"
"Hey! Grow up!" said Venture, coming unexpectedly to my defense. "He's been through a lot of stuff this week. For one thing, he 's been having a hard time with astrophysics, like half of us, and for another thing, he's had his parents on his mind. In case you don't know, Thursday would've been his mother's birthday!"
"Oh, sorry," said Conroy. Like many of my classmates, he knew all about my parents, of course.
"Also, if you want to KNOW," I added sarcastically, "I just asked this cute girl to go out with me, and she refused."
"Who?" said Conroy.
"Samantha Packwood: one of the few girls in our major," said Wildstar. "You know her, a hot-dog Firstie. Loves to fly. "
"What line did she give you?" asked Conroy.
"The usual. She said she already had a boyfriend. End of romantic discussion."
"She's right, Wildstar," said Conroy as another set of footsteps came clomping up the bleacher steps. I should have recognized them, but I didn't , all because I was sitting there with my head down.
"She's right?" I said as I vaguely heard the two-minute warning go off to signal the approaching end of the first half. Down below, the first notes of "Chasin' the Angels" came up on the PA to accompany the Frontierettes as their side grabbed the ball again, being behind a few points at the moment.
"Yeah. She does have a boyfriend."
"This guy we know over in Bravo Company: Rob Leslie. He's a senior, too. So, you see, she wasn't lying to you. Besides, there's other fish in the sea..."
"They all tell me that," I said.
"He's right," said Venture. "Derek, why worry about a Flight or Combat major? Lots of other girls look much better, for one thing."
"Yeah? Do you think I'd ever get one of those stuck-up science majors you hang around with to look at me? I'd have about as much chance with one of them as I'd have with a nurse...or...with one of those cheerleaders down there...on either side... which is the other reason I don't want to look at them! For me, they're totally unattainable!" I said as I stopped for a minute.
Now, in the background, "Chasin' the Angels" was still playing. The Frontierettes sounded chirpy and cute singing that piece, but it changed a little when it got to the instrumental bridge in the middle of the song. I remember that all of those cheerleaders, who were just singing along, decided to improvise and add some harmony to the guitar part, Nova. Some of them were just going, "Ooooooo...oooo...OOOOHHH," like usual, but, one of them, and I could never figure out who, because ,as I told you, you could barely see those cheerleaders from the nosebleed seats, sounded very different. She, whoever she was, was going, "Aaaaahhh...aaaahhhh," over the others, and she sounded rather lonely at that moment, almost as lonely as I felt.
"Wildstar?" said Venture.
"Nothing," I said. "Just that one girl who was singing for a minute. She sounded like an angel, and she'd probably never even look at me, much less...."
"Hmmm..." said Nova with a smile on her face, interrupting Derek again for a moment. "So, Derek, you felt that girl would never go out with you?"
"Yeah, and for all I know, we've never even met. I wonder who she was?"
"I know who she was," said Nova softly. "And, well...I've got some news for you."
"Was she one of your friends or something?" said Wildstar, whose heart suddenly went cold at the thought that he had hurt Nova by inadvertently insulting an unknown friend of hers. "Or, did she die in the war?"
"Nope. Let's just say I can tell you who she is when you finish telling me about how you met Diane...and how things ended. Okay?"
"Okay. Now, I guessed..."
"...this girl would never go out with me, whomever she was. I didn't have much time to think about that, of course, especially because the owner of the footsteps that I should've recognized came bounding up the steps to us."
"Derek, how are you?" he called.
"ALEX?" I yelled back, surprised that my brother should show up here, of all places. "Alex, what are YOU doing here?"
"I came to see the game, Derek," he replied. "How are you doing..?"
"We're not sure, sir," said Conroy with a laugh, because I had introduced him to my brother before. "A little while ago, he wasn't in such a good mood."
"Conroy," I said through my teeth. "Alex, don't pay any attention to him. He's..."
"It's all right. I've got a suggestion, little brother."
"Well, I'll tell you all about it around halftime, when..."
And, at that, the buzzer went off, ending the half. I looked up, and noticed the score was tied.
Everyone began to leave the stands to get drinks, munchies and the like. Venture and Conroy dragged me along, but once we reached the big concession stand, I was separated from the group.
When I got on line, I ran into Alex, who was waiting near a railing. As soon as he saw me, he dragged me off to one side.
"How are you doing?" he asked.
"Great," I replied, lying my can off. "I haven't seen you for a while, and..."
"Derek," he replied, knowing that I was spouting bull. He's always been good at spotting that. The only person in the world who's been able to spot when I'm lying better than my brother Alex was just happens to be you, Nova."
"Thanks," grinned Nova, as she gave Derek a playful little shove.
"Why'd you do that?"
"Do what?" asked Nova with all innocence.
"I'm just teasing you," said Nova in a typically appealing little voice. "Go on," she said, smiling as if she was sitting on some secret.
Wildstar gave a sheepish little grin before he continued. "As Alex was saying...I mean...he said, "I know there's something wrong. What is it?"
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"That look on your face. It's not you. Now, I know this is about the time we commemorate Mother, around her birthday, but I know that's not everything, and I know your friends are...pretty damn observant, even if you try to tell me they're lying. Now, what's up?"
"Alex, I don't have a girlfriend, all right? With those guys razzing me about it, and the way I feel about Mother, and exams coming up, I feel like..."
"I think we can solve that problem in a hurry," said Alex.
"HUH?" I said.
"Now, do you see that girl over there in the line, fifth one up...?"
"The one with the dark hair? I know her, and she's never talked to me, her name's..."
"Her name's Diane, and she was asking about you earlier," said Alex with a smile. "Funny, she seems to know I'm your brother. How, I don't know...but, she was asking me a few things about you."
"I think she wants to meet you. But she's a little too shy to go up and talk to you on her own. How's about it, Derek? How's about going for it?"
"Well, okay," I said. Feeling like an idiot, and knowing that Alex wouldn't play a joke on me, I inched up forward in the line. After a minute or so, when some guys cut out of the line, I found myself behind Diane.
"Hi," I said after a long minute. "Uhh...aren't you in the other astrophysics section? I hear...he covered the formation of black holes in your class just a little better than Captain Harrison did in our section..."
"Oh?" she said. "I think he did, too...so?"
"Would you like to get together...after the game...to discuss the notes?"
"Sure," she said. "And, I think I'd like to sit down and talk with you, too...you know...talk...about a few other things?", she said with a wink.
"What other things?" purred Nova as she interrupted again.
"Uh...you'll see," said Derek with a blush.
"Oh...I think I 'm starting to get it," said Nova softly. "What happened?"
"Well...to make a long story short, we went to her brother's apartment together right after the game. She had a key, and she said that he wasn't there at the time, given that this was the beginning of a weekend."
"We...started discussing those notes...but that wasn't all we discussed...let's say. To put it delicately...uhhh...errr...we ended up talking about our personal lives. I remembered that she asked me about every person in my astrophysics class, even the ones I didn't like, such as Lance Stovall. a senior everyone hated. The rest of the details aren't important, right now. She...let me kiss her, she kissed back, and soon we were touching like crazy. I felt like I fell into...some kinda Venus Fly Trap or something. Then, she let me...uh...touch her all over the place..."
"What do you mean?" asked Nova softly.
"You know," Wildstar stammered as he gestured at his upper body for a minute. "Uhh...err..."
"I'm sorry," said Nova softly, but with a tiny smile. "I think I understand. It's something I didn't let you do on our first date several years later," said Nova with a smile. "Let me guess. Did she...?"
"Uh-huh," said Wildstar with a deep blush. "It was like the story of Samson and Delilah all over again, stupid and sinful me. When that evening was over...I wasn't inexperienced in that sense anymore. Not at all. You know...all the way? And it happened in her brother's apartment, too. I...I..."
"It's all right," said Nova. "It has to happen to everyone sometime...Too bad it happened that way, though..."
"Yeah," said Derek sadly. "Like I said, I was a jerk, then."
"No...it's too bad it happened that way for you, and Diane, Derek. Go on. How and when did she break it off with you?"
"Are you sure you want to hear this?"
Nova nodded, but then said, "If it's too painful, you don't have to..."
"No, it's...ancient history," sighed Wildstar. But, Nova, it still HURTS... he thought. And it's the last thing I thought I'd ever be discussing with you on our honeymoon.
Then, before he began again, something struck him: namely, the idea that the honeymoon was supposed to be, among other things, a period during which newlyweds got to know each other better...and not merely in the most obvious sense. Nova, you're a counselor, he thought. You've counseled me enough, and we both know that. You must have a REASON for doing this...
"OK, it was like this," continued Wildstar after a long pause. "I kept on seeing Diane until about May of 2198. Sometimes, it was an off-and-on kind of thing, as we didn't always have time to get together: an old story, as you know. You might know how hard it was in the Space Fighters' Training School to get off-campus for weekends, and how hard it was to find a place to do things, which is why we kept on using her brother's place. She said he had some important job that required him to travel a great deal, so he wasn't often around then. However, she was the kind who always resented it if we couldn't have time together, and it was "my fault", as she put it.
It was as if I didn't have a life...and she was someone who controlled me a great deal, besides. It was always, "You're doing this..." and it was for her own reasons."
There came a night and a time when I wanted to go out with a bunch of people, a bunch of my friends. You know, Venture, Conroy, Hardy...a few others. She didn't want me to go out. It wasn't as if I was breaking a date or anything, because we hadn't made any plans for that night. Finally, I asked her, "What do you want?" and she asked me, "Do you know Lance Stovall?"
I groaned all over again, and not for the first time. For months, she had been mentioned him. And, as you might guess, we never got along. He and his stupid friend Randy Parmon were always riding me during plebe year. Now, these guys were about to graduate, and they still acted as if they were the hottest thing in the world. Of course...well...so did I, then..."
Nova just smiled at him, knowing all too well that many, many people happen to misstate their bad side at times. Right now, she was, as before, more than aware that Derek was engaging in some reconstructionism regarding his own psyche, and she just grinned softly at his understated comment, knowing all too well what he meant, as he had still been that way at twenty-one when SHE had met him, and he was still the prototype hotshot in many aspects even to this day. However, what Stovall and Parmon didn't have, and what Derek possessed in spades, was an something of a basic sense of honor and decency, and Nova certainly knew that.
Derek paused, stammering as if he knew the trap he had fallen into.
"I...well...you know I was pretty bad, then..."
"Go on, Derek. I'm wondering why she was asking about Stovall so much if she was supposed to be dating you."
Wildstar sighed deep within himself, knowing that his rather perceptive newlywed spouse had just hit the nail on the head. "That's the whole point," he said after a long moment. "That's...the whole point of my story, as a matter of fact...Diane..."
"...Was in the habit of asking about Lance Stovall like crazy. They were both engineering majors, and she always wanted to know his whereabouts, and wanted to know...did I ever talk to him, that sort of thing. I'm surprised I didn't catch it then, but a lot of people are dense at seventeen. I sure was.
At any rate, that night, she took me up to her brother's place again, after calling to make sure he was out. The place was in a little apartment building at the edge of the underground Megalopolis, not far from the SFTS grounds, so it wasn't hard to get to. That was always the way of it. She put on this Beatles tape, and we...well...you know. To her, sex was sex, and I didn't know the difference. For both of us, partly because we were in a rush, and partly because she didn't seem to like it all that much. She said it...was like some kind of engineering procedure.
She was nothing...nothing like you. In that respect, you're entirely different. And...boy, did you demonstrate that the past few days," said Derek in a soft voice as Nova turned her face away and blushed, but with a little smile on her face. "And, boy, was she different than me. It was heading for a crash, but it was just the way she did it that hurt, and that's why that song hurts me."
"So, we...were together., right? After we were done, she had me hurry up and get dressed. Then, after all that, the last song on the tape was coming on. It was "For No One," and it began with the words you sang. Then, she got dressed, and she began to just sing, as if she was joking around..."
"She wakes up...she makes up....she takes her time and
doesn't feel she has to hurry, she no longer needs you..."
"And then, I remember she stopped the little tape player at that point and grinned. It was an evil grin. I remember that, Nova. You know, with you, even your "evil" grins are cute. Diane's grin wasn't cute. It was...just evil. Sadistic...that's the word. It was a sadistic grin," said Derek with a downcast look on his face before continuing.
"Diane?" I asked. "Why are you grinning at that song? That's not funny."
"I've got my reasons, Wildstar," she replied tartly. "And the reason I played that...if you'll pardon my French...that sentimental piece of crap was to give you a message."
"What KIND of message?" I yelled back, both angry and hurt.
At that, a knock came on the door. "Hold on, Lance, dear, I'm coming...," she said as I stood there flabbergasted. She opened the door, and standing there, at the doorway of her damned brother's apartment, with flowers in his damn hand...was Lance Stovall.
"What do YOU want?" I asked.
"Hey, Willdstah," he said. "Yuh get any?"
"What is it to YOU? She's my girlfriend...!!!"
"Not any more," she said laughingly. "I used you, Derek. I used you to get me the man I wanted. And now, I'm done. Goodbye.," she laughed, blowing me a stinking kiss. "And you've got five seconds to get OUT of here, flyboy!"
"And she means it, dumbhead!" said Stovall.
"Who's gonna make me?" I said. "You and what army?"
"How's about my buddies?" taunted Stovall as he yelled, "YO!"
Around the corner of the corridor came two morons I'll never forget...Jim Dangill, who, I hear, died at Pluto... and his best buddy Parmon. They grabbed me by both arms, and Stovall threw a punch into my gut that made me double over like a ruler. Then, Diane, my darling girlfriend, booted that knee of hers into my...you know where..."
Derek paused again as he wiped at his eyes. Nova just sympathetically glanced at a certain part of Derek's form and softly said, "There?"
Wildstar nodded. "Yeah, THERE."
"There?" said Nova with a sympathetic, gentle look. "That was HORRIBLE! You didn't give her any reason to do anything THAT drastic!"
"Well...why didn't you turn in the whole bunch of them for assault?" asked Nova. "They could've been kicked out for that, couldn't they?"
"Nova, they had me, too. I once told you that fraternization regs existed for Midshipmen then, as did PDA, namely, Public Display of Affection, even if the whole thing took place off-campus, there were witnesses, and we were caught in the act, so it made it PDA. They told me that if I talked, I walked, too. And, you know something? Those creeps were RIGHT. They had me dead to rights, Nova. And...well...that was why I don't like that song much. Okay?"
"Derek," whispered Nova tenderly as she stroked his hair and he shut his eyes and tried to shake out the memory of his humiliation. "I suffered at the hands of people like them, too. I once told you about those two idiots who liked to ride me horribly when I was a plebe in RTC, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did, Nova."
"Beast Barracks summer with those guys was horrible. I almost resigned RTC because of them and their games...but...that's another story, for another time. At any rate, what I went through at University of Colorado was nowhere as bad as what you went through at the SFTS."
Wildstar's eyes widened, knowing that he had met...and married...someone else who had suffered at the hands of fools like his old enemies. "So, you believe me...."
"Of COURSE I do!" cooed Nova. She kissed him tenderly on the check and said, "Derek...this makes me think of something else. You remember that I was asking you those questions about the Mountaineers?"
"Yeah...why did you do that?" said Derek in a depressed voice. "Did I say something bad about one of them? Was one of them one of your friends or something?"
"No, Derek...there's another reason. Stay there a minute: I'll be right back!"
"Nova?" he asked.
"Just wait," she said as she put down her guitar and left, heading for the bedroom.
Wildstar, still in a morose mood, sat there and waited for a while. Finally, Nova called, "Derek, close your eyes until I say you can open them. Okay?"
"Okay," he said, sitting back again, wondering what Nova was up to. To his surprise, he felt a book being placed in his lap. Then, he felt pages being turned.
"What's that?" he asked.
"My old 2198 yearbook from Colorado, " said Nova. "You have to look at this page first before you look at me again. Just bend down and look at the page when I tell you. Okay?"
"Well...okay," he said, wondering what Nova's elaborate game was. He opened his eyes.
He found himself staring at a color picture of the 2198 Frontierettes cheerleading squad. There were seven cute, perky-looking girls, posed in one of the quads of the underground headquarters of the University of Colorado.
There were a number of names printed below the picture in script, and a number of girls' signatures around the picture. Wildstar read in shock, one of them read, "Nova, sorry you had to leave the squad-Kristin". Another one read, "Now you're going---have a good time and good luck in your endeavors--Sheri."
Derek's eyes fell upon the third girl in the pyramid-like pose. There, smiling a cute smile, and looking as big as life, was Nova at twenty as a member of the squad. As if to confirm this, her name was below the picture in that script type.
Then, Nova said, "You can look up now," and, Derek did so, looking into her big brown eyes, which were just as beautiful on the current twenty-three year old Nova as they had been on the twenty-year old version of her.
"Whoa...you looked just as cute then as you do now," said Derek with an appreciative glance at his beloved.
"I've still got my cheerleader uniform, if you ever want to see me in it."
"How about now? I think you could use some cheering up, couldn't you?" asked Nova. Before Derek could object, she jumped up and ran off again, shutting the bedroom door behind her.
Wildstar sat with his mind running back down the halls of memory when, a short time later, Nova reappeared in virtually the same classic-looking University of Colorado cheerleader outfit she had been wearing in the school picture. Once again, Derek's eyes went wide as he watched Nova standing there in her white sweater, trimmed with black and gold (complete with her name monogrammed in script on one breast), and short pleated skirt. She struck a cute pose at the doorway , wiggled her bare toes up and said, "Sorry, I forgot to pack the pompoms and saddle shoes," as she grinned shyly at him before sitting down on the rug near his chair.
"Boy, you sure were cute, then." said Derek. "Maybe if I had been able to meet you then...?"
"Well, maybe it's because you weren't looking in the right place?" teased Nova. Then, in a more serious tone, she said, "We weren't meant to meet in school, Derek. You know that. We were just from different worlds then. Destiny brought us together at just the right time for each other...for you, when you needed a friend to help you get over Alex's apparent death, and for me, when I was ready to fall in love with someone who...really needed me. Still, isn't it funny how things work out?"
"Yeah, it sure is," said Wildstar. "But...I can't get over the fact that you were standing down there all along on the night I met Diane."
"Derek, you know that song you were talking about?"
"You mean "Chasin' the Angels?""
"Well, I was the one who was singing that night," said Nova.
"Singing?" said a flabbergasted Wildstar.
"The one whose voice you remembered," said Nova. "I was the one going "ahhhhhhhh!" instead of "Ooooooo..." Like that?"
"I...I love that!"
"Good! Derek, get up."
He did so, putting down the book. Then, Nova pulled him down onto the floor beside her. There, they began to hug. Then, Nova looked him straight in the eye and said, "You were wrong, you know."
"About...what?" asked Derek.
"Well...before, you said that you thought you'd never get a cheerleader, Derek Wildstar. When you're done, I expect you to eat those words, Mister! Okay?"
"Believe me, I sure will," said Derek. Wildstar laughed again. And...that's an idea I DON'T mind at all , he thought as he took Nova in his arms.
With a giggle, they fell back down onto the carpet, this time, side by side. Needless to say, Nova had a nice hour proving Derek wrong...and, for once, he didn't mind that at all, thank you very much...
Earth Federal Preserve
December 30, 2201
1529 Hours: Local Time
Over the cries of exotic birds, a young brow was currently furrowed as its owner faced an interesting little problem.
"Hmm...Derek...how can I get your camera to point up there for a good shot?" whispered Nova as she aimed Derek's camera up into a tree.
"To begin with, stop squirming?" whispered Wildstar upon whose T-shirt-clad shoulders Nova was standing on top of!
"I am not squirming!" whispered Nova fiercely.
"No, you're just digging your toes into my shoulders," he chuckled.
"It's all right. It could be worse. You could've climbed up onto my shoulders with your heaviest jungle boots on for this shot, Nova."
"I don't have ANY shoes on," whispered Nova. "My sandals are off in the bushes someplace. Shh. There he is."
Nova was currently helping Derek stalk down and photograph a now-rare butterfly. The colorful creature was sitting in the foliage of a small tree, just a little out of the camera's range as it was currently encased in a small plastic case to protect it from tropical humidity and enable it to be used underwater on dives, and hence was unable to accept a zoom lens in its current state.
Nova and Derek were in the jungle a few kilometers away from their bungalow on the island. It was even warmer than usual here in the interior of the jungle, and their light garments were quite thoroughly soaked with sweat. As they had been on the beach earlier in the day they were lightly dressed. Nova wore a light, short white cotton sundress with short sleeves, while Wildstar wore a dark blue pair of swim trunks and a light blue Space Fighters' Training School T-shirt that Nova had sent him as a birthday present last July while he had been out in space with the Argo on his one-year tour.
They felt safe enough here in their light state of dress. Unlike some of the other tropical islands on Earth, preliminary exploration had ascertained that pre-Gamilon-War snakes, insects, and poisonous plant life weren't much in evidence here on Sunrise, as the tropical environment was still recovering from the Gamilon War. Fortunately, the same went for the pre-War crocodiles that had once been common on this island.
The reason they were in this slightly crazy position was due to a mutual hobby of theirs, combined with an unwritten imperative they shared to just investigate any forms of life they found in the redeveloping ecology of the island.
Namely, BOTH Derek and Nova Wildstar happened to like biological field trips...particularly when they included a chance to photograph insects or other local examples of flora or fauna.
Wildstar grabbed Nova's bare ankles again to steady her as she stood up on tiptoe to extend her camera just a little more...
"Well?" he whispered.
"Almost..." whispered Nova. "I've GOT him in the viewfinder..."
Wildstar looked up, in just enough time to see Nova releasing the shutter release on the camera.
Then, chaos reigned as she stepped back just a little too far.
"Whoa...whoa...WHOA!" yelled Wildstar as the two of them bobbed around like a teetering tower. Nova's weight shifted back, and Derek grabbed hard at her ankles...
Then, they both fell back with a scream. Derek fell hard enough for the wind to be knocked out of him as he toppled backwards with Nova's feet still on his shoulders for a moment.
The ground came up in a big green blur and hit Wildstar with a hard body-slam that made him feel as if he had been kicked by a loco mule. He hit the ground and blacked out for a second. Finally, he regained his breath, noticing that he had fallen onto his butt into a thicket of some green plants just a few meters behind the tree.
He looked up, and then remembered Nova with a start. "Hey!" he yelled as an adrenaline rush went through him and Nova was nowhere to be found. "Where are you! NOVA?"
"Oh, God!" he cried, looking around. For a moment, nasty images of a maimed, paralyzed, or even dead Nova ran through his mind, until he was relieved by the sight of the top of a head of hair bleached a very light honey-blonde by several days of tropical sunshine popping up above a thicket that was very thick.
"Derek?" cried a little voice.
Wildstar jumped into the thicket, finding Nova lying there with a few little nicks on her bare arms and legs but apparently no worse for wear.
"Are you all right?" he yelled.
"Uh-huh...I think so," said Nova querulously.
"Nova? You're sure?"
"I'm fine! Look," said Nova as she raised her hands. "I've still got the camera, too. I had the neck strap on, and it just fell against my body when I went down. OUCH! And...the picture's inside the enclosure."
Wildstar immediately ran over to their gear bag (groaning a little at HIS scratches), and took the camera and the picture from Nova. "Wow," he said. "What a nice shot!"
"Thanks. Isn't he BEAUTIFUL?"
"Yeah. I'll bet he got away safely," said Wildstar. "He must be the only one of us who didn't get any scratches."
"He didn't," said Nova. "Look, there he goes!"
They both looked up at the tree and smiled as they watched the butterfly flying off to do whatever butterflies did here in the tropics.
"A Monarch," said Wildstar, as he looked at the picture. "Isn't it a little unusual for such a creature to be here? Aren't they usually indigenous to more temperate climates?"
"And...what would such a butterfly be doing here THIS time of year?" mused Nova as she rubbed a bleeding scratch on her leg. "I know it's a tropical climate here, but shouldn't butterflies of this type normally be in their larval stage as caterpillars now?"
"Yeah...it is weird," mused Derek. "Is your leg all right?"
"Just got a nasty nick here, that's all," she said. "That's it! Next time we go in this stuff, we're digging out our uniforms and wearing them," said Nova as she pulled her brown sports sandals out of the thicket and began to put them on. "With these, of course...unless we know we're going really deep in the thickets."
"Shouldn't you put something on that, Nova?"
"Why do you think I'm looking for my pouch?" she laughed, looking on the ground until she found a little macramé' pouch she had made for herself a few months ago; she had been wearing it around her waist on a pink belt when she fell. She opened the pouch and pulled out a tube of antiseptic, putting some on her scratches. When she was done, she tossed the tube to Derek, who was in the middle of buckling on his hiking sandals, which were similar to Nova's.
"That butterfly's beautiful," said Wildstar, looking at the picture again. But, y'know, there's gotta be a reason for it to be here. I just can't put my finger on it."
"Maybe...it's a mutation?" Nova said as she wiped her hand across her brow. "Whew, it's hot. I'm sweating like a sieve!"
"Remember, we almost broke our necks about ten minutes ago," said Wildstar, whose suntanned brow was also quite sweaty. He brushed some of his hair (which was turning a lighter shade of brown than was usual for him) out of his eyes. Nova undid her canteen of water and began to drink while adjusting her dress a little, exposing more of a usually creamy-skinned neckline that was showing just a little bit of tan, which was a little unusual with her fair complexion. Derek had never seen her looking like this until now, and he was fascinated by the way she looked.
"How did you do that again?" asked Derek as he undid his canteen and drank.
"Do what?" gasped Nova as she caught her breath.
"Get your skin like that without getting a sunburn?"
"It's like I said the other day. I've been putting on a slightly lighter SPF sunscreen level each day, and getting myself used to it. I'm surprised you haven't noticed by now," she said, extending one of her bare legs for a minute after checking the Velcro strap on her shoe. "Especially considering well...what I've been wearing much of the time when we go swimming...and...you know..."
"I know," he said, kissing her on the brow.
"You look better like that, Derek. You should get out in the sun a little more often and spend a little less time in the cockpit of that Super Starfighter of yours," said Nova. "When did your hair last look like that?"
"I think when I was eight or ten, maybe twelve..." grinned Derek. "Back when I used to go out in the hills around our house on the outskirts of Yokosuka on Great Island to work on my insect collection." He paused, looking rather thoughtful. "Of course, that was a long time ago. It was in the wonderful days I told you about when we were on our way to Iscandar...back before the Gamilons bombed the Great Island of Japan...back before that planet bomb landed on the Miura Peninsula in the late summer of 2190 and killed my parents. It was right after Alex graduated from the SFTS and got his first squadron assignment...it was a terrible time."
At that, Derek paused with a sigh. He was looking far off beyond Nova, beyond the jungle growth, back into the past.
"What were your parents like, Derek?"
"Well, they were...both nice. There was my father. He was a heavyset man with a mustache and sort of a mildly receding hairline. I don't think I have any pictures of him left. He was named Theodore. He was a very serious sort of man. Kind, at least when he bothered to speak to me. I remember he was always fighting with Alex."
"Well... he didn't think much of Alex's joining the Earth Defense Forces. He said that he was too valuable to the family to 'throw his damn life away in the military.'" Derek sighed, looking up into the sky. "He wanted Alex to carry on the family business, but Alex didn't want to be 'chained behind an office chair', as he put it. So, Alex and my dad were always at odds with each other. Alex wanted to do his part for Earth...at least he did, as far back as I remember, while Dad wanted him to take over the family import-export business. Of course, when they fought, Mom always took his part, and she always looked after him. I always thought that she cared more about Alex than me. I told her that to her face once, and..."
"And...I never really got to take it back," said Derek regretfully. "The bombings really picked up a few weeks later, and after my mother held me and told me she loved me, while I was holding my insect collection, we never talked about it again. We never had time to."
"What was your mother like?"
"She was named Angelica...and, well, she looked a little like an older version of you, with those wide eyes and all, but she had dark hair, and she always wore it up in a tight bun. She was very kind. I mean, she was very kind. She was patient, always there for Alex and I...up until the end, when she spent much of the last few weeks of her life volunteering to help victims of the bombings in our town, where they turned part of the high school into an emergency hospital in early July of that year. When I last saw her, she was on her way to the hospital, to help more people out, and I was on my way back from visiting Alex at one of the United Nations Space Defense Force bases in the area. Needless to say, I never saw her again, or Dad. I might have a very old picture of her in my personal effects at home. You know...I don't have much left...from my childhood. I wish I did."
"Derek..." whispered Nova, stroking his arm gently.
"Thanks for understanding..."
"I try. It's a little hard to understand exactly what a loss like yours is like when your parents are both still alive."
"But you've suffered, too, Nova."
She just nodded. "I used to collect insects, too. Or I did...until the Boulder, Colorado that I knew slowly disappeared. There's nothing left of it now. My old house from before the bombings is gone...along with my old room and...my insect collection."
Derek just kissed Nova on the forehead to try to comfort her. She appreciated the affectionate gesture and cuddled back into his lap for a minute. Then, they exchanged a gentle, searching kiss.
"I like what the sun's done to your hair, Nova," remarked Derek after a moment of playing with the stray locks that seemed to always fall across her forehead. "When was the last time it's really looked this blonde?"
"All the time," huffed Nova. "I AM a natural blonde."
"No...I mean...that light," he said. "It looks like new honey."
"I think about eight," said Nova. "And..." she said as Derek came close. She stopped when he saw how he was looking at her. She smiled softly and allowed Derek to affectionately stroke her chin for a bit. Before long, they were edging towards a kiss, which came a second later. When they were done, Nova released her right arm from around Derek's shoulder. "Derek...I think we can think of better places to do that sort of thing."
"Too hot here...too many mosquitoes," she whispered dreamily as she fought an urge to just lay down in the foliage and take a nap. "Are you tired?" she asked.
Derek replied with a yawn.
"Oh, heck," she grinned, plopping down into the foliage.
As an afterthought, she dragged Derek down on top of her.
As they lay there, Nova affectionately pulled up his t-shirt and ran her finger down his chest for a minute. A certain urge was going through her, but her eyes were just getting droopy.
"Look at us," yawned Derek. "We're supposed to be having a wild honeymoon, and what are we doing? Taking a damn siesta!"
"Derek, don't you know taking a nap together can be just as interesting and romantic as other things...even with our clothes on?"
"Why's'zat?" he slurred.
"Silly...it's with you."
"Yeah," nodded a sleepy Derek with his eyes closed. "And face it...we can't just crash out like this together anywhere on the Argo."
"Uh-huh. So that's what makes it special," whispered Nova after a long yawn.
He didn't answer. Worried for a second, Nova then placed her head on his chest and was reassured by its steady, regular rise and fall.
"And to think you had THAT on your mind while you were this sleepy," she whispered affectionately. "Well..." she yawned. "Recharge your power cells, my darling. I think I've got a few ideas for later..."
Then, Nova laid her head on his chest, snuggled up to him, and joined her husband in dreamland for a while right there in the middle of the bush. Her last thought was a hope that the mosquitoes wouldn't torment them too much in their sleep because, after all, neither of them had very much on....
When Derek Wildstar finally woke up, he found that Nova was already awake, stretching and opening her canteen again. They shared some water, and then Derek got up.
"You packed up already?" he asked as he looked at their knapsacks.
"Uh-huh. Complete with our picture and the camera," she said as she patted her pack. "Let's break camp."
"I'm teasing you," she said.
Wildstar took his knapsack and pushed off through the bush beside Nova. Before long, they were back on the sandy path that led towards the bungalow.
The walk was long, but it wasn't by any means quiet. After a while, Wildstar began to whistle, and Nova joined in. They went along like that, while Derek mused that Nova would sure be a great companion to have along on a long training hike. Even though he was still tired, something about her brisk little walk had a way of picking one's spirits up.
"You know?" she said.
"This'd be even more fun on horseback," she said.
"Horseback," he asked. "But I don't know how to ride a horse."
"Well, I'll have to teach you sometime," said Nova. "It's fun, and it's a great way to keep in shape."
"When you last go galloping off into the sunset?" asked Derek.
"Last year, when you were in space," said Nova. "I was very blue one day, and my friend Natalie dragged me off to a riding stable around Jamaica Bay, forced me onto a mare, and took us off down some trails along the shore."
"Forced you? I thought you just said it was fun? Why would you need to be forced to do something that's fun?"
"Derek, I was just a little...rusty," said Nova. "After all, I hadn't been on a horse since before the bombings."
"Well, I got used to it again, and then , one day, just about a year ago, right after Christmas, I got to go riding again. It was right before I was sent off to the Fiji Islands on a survey mission on an odd day when we actually saw snow in the city. Natalie and I went out east onto Long Island, where there was just a bit more snow, and we took Ronnie Davis with us. We had a great time, and gave her a good laugh when Natalie and I got into one of our famous snowball fights. Then, to top the day off, after we turned in the horses, we stopped at a bar on the way home for some burgers and beer, and some drunk tried to hit on all three of us in succession!"
"You'd better be careful about stopping in bars for burgers and beer like that, Nova. You don't know where it could lead you."
"Oh, we took care of ourselves," giggled Nova. "Boy, did we ever." She stopped abruptly and grabbed Derek by the arm. "THIS way."
"That's not the way back home!" he said.
"I know that!" whispered Nova with a wink. "C'mon."
The walk took them down into a hollow, filled with foliage of all kinds that Wildstar didn't recognize. They went a bit more, and descended down into a deep valley; the path leading out went uphill and it was a little bit rough.
They got out of the dell, and Derek noticed the growth changing.
He looked down, and noticed that they were now on a reed-lined path. He also heard a familiar roar in the distance.
After a few hundred meters more, Nova stopped and abruptly sat down on the side of the path. She dropped off her knapsack and tossed Derek a granola bar and a packet of beef jerky, following it up with her own.
As they began to munch out for a second, Derek noticed Nova undoing her shoes again.
"Hmmh?" he asked.
"You didn't come here before?" she asked quizzically as she pulled her shoes off.
"Well...you'll find out why in a bit," she said as she kicked her sandals off. "Get rid of yours, too...c'mon."
"Okay," he said as he took off his footgear and crammed it in the pack in the same manner as Nova had. While she stood there playfully kicking up some of the warm sand with her toes, Derek did admit that Nova seemed to have a good idea after all, because the soft, sandy path seemed to feel a quite a bit better in bare feet. A minute later, they were off again, plowing through the sand up a hill.
Then, Derek recognized where they were when he noticed a long line of palm trees up ahead, in conjunction with some beach grass in the distance.
"We're going home THAT way?" he asked with deliberate denseness.
"Yes, after a detour," said Nova as they went up the path
"What kind of detour?" he asked.
"A nice, wet kind," she smiled as they reached the top of the ridge and went through a gap in the tall grass.
Stretching out before them was a nice, wide, beautiful sandy beach that looked untouched by human hands.
"Ooooh," he said. "I think I see what...Nova?"
"Just getting comfortable," she said as she shrugged her knapsack off her shoulders again. She grabbed a small bottle out of it and then merrily kicked it aside into the grass.
Nova turned around on her toes and affectionately stroked the tip of her husband's nose as he dropped his pack. "Ready?" she said.
"Ready for what?" he asked with a grin.
"Oh, nothing," said Nova nonchalantly as she took a few deliberately slow steps forward...while devilishly undoing her belt and then reaching behind her back. Then, she turned to him and said, "Derek?"
"Last one in's a rotten space turtle!" she cried as she tore off, dropping her belt and dress in a quick motion as she ran off in only the sky-blue bikini she was wearing under her clothes.
"NOVA!" he cried. "That's a dirty trick!"
She didn't look back. She was giggling as she ran, taking a deliberate zig and zag through the sand to try to "lose" her husband.
Looking back to see if Derek was gaining on her (he was) and to see if HE was following suit (he was down to his swim briefs, a VERY good sign), Nova ran across the wet sand, leaving a nice little trail of footprints as she tore into the lagoon like an impish child to enjoy her cooling swim.
"Oh, YEAAAHHH!" yelled Derek as he followed Nova into the clear blue tropical waters. "Surf's UP!" he whooped as he splashed down underwater in a dive. When he surfaced, he found he was treading water right near Nova. "Whoa, that felt good!"
"Well, Derek," she cried over the pounding surf. "How'd you like THAT?"
"FUN!" he responded. With a big grin on his face for a second, he got back onto his stomach and swam along a bit further, with each stroke and each warm wave knocking sleepiness out of him as the sheer adrenaline of a nice, vigorous swim began to run through him.
Then, just as they had the other day, when they had gone swimming with the dolphin, they enjoyed a long swim, spending a long, playful time splashing each other, showing off with backstrokes, dives, and treading water while sneaking kisses. It was a lot of, literally, good, clean fun in the warm ocean. The only thing that disappointed them a little was that no dolphins showed up, even though, in one of their dives, they thought they could see some fish, but they weren't sure, because even though the water was clear, their view was blurred because they had no face masks on.
Finally, Derek and Nova hugged in the water for a second, and then Nova said, "Let's swim back, Derek. I'm getting a little tired out here..."
"Okay," said Wildstar. When they reached the shore, Wildstar sat on the sand while Nova went to their packs to get a beach towel for them to lie on. When she came back and spread it out, Derek soon had sunscreen going on his back after he and Nova dried off with another towel.
"When should we get dressed?" asked Wildstar after a long moment.
"Let's wait a while," said Nova with a smile and a wink. "Okay?"
"Okay," said Derek. "Hmm...," he said. "Hey! Look over there!"
"Where?" cried Nova, who looked around, only to find, a second later, that Derek was snuggling up to her, making funny beeping noises.
"Derek? Hey. Why are you doing that?"
"My energy level's at thirty percent," he intoned. "And, my safety lock's off. "
"Uh-oh," said Nova. "Uh-hmm..." she said. "What's the target going...to...be...?"
"Guess," whispered Wildstar.
"Oh, YOU!" chuckled Nova as they went on, forgetting all about wave motion guns about two or three minutes later as the surf rolled on behind them. This time, they didn't get wet, but they had a wonderful time anyhow as the warm, gentle afternoon crept on....
V. CONFESSIONS OF THE PAST (II. Nova)
Earth: Dominica/Sunrise Island
December 31, 2201
1740 Hours. Local Time
Derek and Nova finally arrived back at the bungalow after a slow, romantic walk home, during which they carried their packs on their shoulders with one hand and held hands with the other. They had dressed again, but in only their swimsuits. When they arrived home, they took the shower they had meant to take and dried off. Wildstar then changed into a pair of white swim briefs decorated with a red arrow similar to that on his Star Force uniform and a t-shirt.
Nova put also put on a white swimsuit, but hers was a one-piece tank suit. However, it was trimmed in black with a stripe extending from the bodice to the neckline as the upper part of an arrow exactly like that on her Star Force uniform, with the motif continued down around her legs just as it was on her uniform.
"Who designed that?" he said when she finished pulling it on in front of him in the bedroom while he put on a white tank top.
"I don't know," shrugged Nova. "But I think it's adorable. Don't you?"
"I sure do."
"I like that arrow on your briefs, too, Derek. But...we don't need either of these arrows."
"Yeah. We KNOW where to look!"
Both of them laughed.
"I'm hungry," commented Derek.
"I think I am, too," said Nova. "Since I don't think we'll be swimming any more today, like to have some dinner?"
"Okay," he said.
"Good. You get the plates while I grab up some food."
Wildstar went for the reusable plastic plates that were the standard there while Nova began to cut up some roast beef from another one of the roasts she had taken out of the freezer and cooked the previous day. When combined with some tomatoes, lettuce, Swiss cheese, and mustard, the beef made some good sandwiches, accompanied by some macaroni salad, which had been Derek's contribution to their feast yesterday.
They ate outside in a contented manner on the deck, exchanging some rather nice small talk about things they were going to add to their house when they got back. Derek smiled at this, noting to himself that Nova, like many a young wife in these postwar days, was clearly in a nest-building mood.
After their dinner, and after they cleaned up the wreckage, they made their way down to another part of the beach, where Derek had spent some time putting up their volleyball net.
Nova made the first serve, and the two of them spent a good hour chasing the volleyball around, making last-minute saves to keep it in play (quite a few of which involved falls in the sand) and they had a great time.
When the volleyball game petered out, Nova spread out the beach towel she had brought with them, taking a can of beer from the cooler Derek had hauled down as she awaited him. He was standing nearby, shaking the sand out of his shirt after having stripped it off for a moment.
"Damnit, it's getting so hot again!" yelled Wildstar.
"I know..." he said as Nova gave him a mildly "annoyed" look. "I've been saying that all day."
"Derek, grab a can of beer from the cooler, lie down and let me get some sunscreen oil on your back, because you're not putting that shirt back on yet."
Wildstar got his brew and replied, "I remember you sort of took your time about this when we were about two kilometers down the beach earlier."
"We were distracted. VERY distracted." she smiled as she rubbed more lotion into his back. "Good thing we got a lot of this stuff," she said while reaching for their portable cassette player. She found it, and flicked on a tape. A guitar and piano-based rendition of "Scarlet Scarf" began to play in the background.
"Nova, look at you," said Derek. "I think you should get this on first."
"But I've got more on than you do."
"Ah...but your skin's lighter. Even with that tan, you might still get a burn."
"Okay, Derek, I give up," sighed Nova as she capped the glass bottle and left it in the sand near one corner of the towel. She laid down on her stomach, baring much of her back to the sun in the process, since her suit had a rather low-scooped back.
Wildstar began at Nova's back as she hummed away to the song. When he approached her bottom, he ran his fingers down her legs, enjoying the peaceful look on her face as she looked up at him.
Then, the song changed. Wildstar had made up the tape one day when Nova hadn't been home, and he had put selections on it that he thought she would enjoy. The tape changed to the first notes of Beethoven's familiar "Fur Eloise". Wildstar looked gently at Nova with a quizzical look to see how she'd like it.
Her reaction surprised him. She abruptly sat up, reached over to the tape player, and flicked it off rather clumsily, hitting the fast-forward button as she pushed it aside and said, "Excuse me, Derek...please."
Then, at that, she left, tearing off down the beach as fast as she could go, disappearing over the dunes.
"Nova?" he asked. "NOVA?"
Wondering what had happened, Wildstar flicked off the tape player and took off after her. He couldn't see her at first, but the trail of her bare feet in the sand wasn't too hard to pick up.
Soon, he had her in sight. Nova was running down the wet part of the sand again, holding one hand against her eyes. When he got closer, he could see she seemed to be crying as she ran.
"Nova!" he called. "Nova?"
She didn't answer. All she did was cried and ran faster.
"NOVA!" he yelled. "What...what did I do?"
At that, she stopped. She didn't turn to face him. "Nothing," she said brokenly. "Nothing...Derek. It's my fault. That's all. Please...leave me alone for a while. You...don't want to deal with a crying, crazy woman on our honeymoon. Go back...and...let me join you after I compose myself."
"Nova...you said there weren't to be any secrets between us. What happened? Was it something I did? Something I said?"
"Damnit, I said NO!" she yelled. "It's not you! It's something that happened in...happened in the past, that's all."
"Well, what?" he asked with concern in his eyes.
"I...well...I don't like Beethoven. At least...not that particular piece. You know how it bothered you when I played that one Beatles song? Because of what Diane Henson did to you?"
"Well...because of an old scar ...I don't like Beethoven's "Fur Eloise" very much."
"A...SCAR?" he asked. "Where? I...I've seen every square centimeter of you by now, and I've never seen a scar on you..."
"You can't see it. It's in here," said Nova as she turned around to face him, with her hands on her chest. "Right in my heart...on the inside. "Fur Eloise" was playing while it happened."
"Was it an old boyfriend you had?" he asked. "If it was...he'd better not ever run into me. I'll..."
"No, Derek. It's not from a boyfriend. You were the first serious boyfriend I've ever had, as a matter of fact. It was from a member of my family. I...well...It's just...one of those things. And?"
"If you'd rather not talk about it, I'll understand."
Nova took a deep, shivering breath and sat down in the sand, not caring that there was no beach towel, not caring about the fact that the surf had taken some of the sunscreen off her legs all over again as she had ran, not caring about anything at all for a moment as she paused to collect her thoughts. She almost wanted to cry again before she gritted her teeth, beating her fists angrily into the sand for a moment in a gesture that frightened Wildstar because it was so uncharacteristic of his usually gentle wife.
"Nova...if you want...we can make an exception to our rule about no secrets between ourselves. We can just go back, and---"
"NO, Derek!" said Nova with some heat in her voice. "I...I think we'd BETTER talk about it. NOW!!"
"Because... sometimes... I still have nightmares about this, okay?" she said. "Derek, I decided that you'd better know what I'm yelling about if I ever wake up from one of those dreams screaming...like you do when you dream about the planet bombs. The only other person who knows about this is Ronnie."
"Why? Natalie Fisher's your best friend...didn't you ever?"
"Derek, there are some things that I know you don't tell Mark about. The same goes for myself and Natalie. Ronnie Davis only knows about this...because, when we lived together, I awakened her at 0300, screaming out the name of THAT WOMAN in my sleep."
"Listen. You'll learn. Just listen...okay?"
"Well...okay. But...did you have an accident in training?"
"No. It happened to me when I was a child. It was done QUITE deliberately, too," said Nova with downcast eyes, as if recalling an old and very bitter memory.
"Who would DO something like that?"
"It's a long story, Derek...but I guess I'd better tell you...even though...I don't like to talk about it. "
"...any more than I like talking about Diane Henson."
"Right. But...you'd better know. Especially because some day...you might MEET the woman who put this mark in my psyche."
"Who did it?" hissed Wildstar with fire in his eyes.
"The person is a member of my family, Derek...it's not a nice story." Nova shut her eyes before going on.
"Derek , as you know," said Nova, "I was born in Boulder, Colorado, and I spent my childhood there in the Rockies until the great planet bombing attack of 2190 that ruined Earth; the same raid your parents died in. However, we also traveled a bit every now and then to visit other family members."
"My mother," continued Nova, "...had four sisters and a brother.
My mother was only the third-eldest girl of her family. Her two oldest sisters, and my two oldest aunts, are named Louise...and...Yvona. You didn't get to meet my Aunt Louise, who's the oldest of the two, at the wedding because she was ill, but my mother did say she wanted to come. You didn't get to meet my Aunt Yvona...for other reasons."
"This whole thing was the result of a visit to Aunt Yvona's place in Pennsylvania when I was ten years old..."
"Pennsylvania?" asked Wildstar. "Your aunt lived on the East Coast?"
"Actually, both Louise and Yvona lived there. Now, only Louise lives there...all alone. Her husband died from radiation sickness in 2196."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah," sighed Nova. "My Uncle George was a nice old fellow."
"So were my aunts and uncles," said Derek. "I...I don't think any of them survived the Gamilons."
"Derek," whispered Nova as she gave him a reassuring hug. "Are you sure you really want to hear the rest of this?"
"Nova...you listened to me spilling my guts about something that bothered me the other day, even though I could see it was making you a little upset..."
"...it's because of what Diane and Parmon and Stovall put you through, Derek. No one deserves to have suffered like that."
"well...if you listened to me," said Derek. "I can certainly be patient and listen to you. Go on."
"All right," said Nova hesitantly. "Louise and George...lived in a part of Pennsylvania known as Montgomery County. It was one of the suburbs of the old city of Philadelphia, in a town called King of Prussia. Yvona and her husband Hiram, on the other hand, lived a bit further north, in the Lehigh Valley region, in a medium-sized city called Allensburg."
"Where was that?" asked Wildstar.
"You can't find it on a map anymore, because the Gamilons thoroughly flattened the place," said Nova. "It's near the border with New Jersey, along the Lehigh River, in a little mountainous valley. I once read that it used to be called something else to do with the name "Allen", but the place was renamed quite a few times during the Unification Wars."
"Yeah..." said Wildstar sympathetically, trying to understand, and wishing that he didn't feel so awkward around Nova right now. This was one of the moments in their relationship where he knew...he might have a hard time dealing with what she would have to say...and he wasn't sure how he could comfort her. "What were you doing in Pennsylvania then?"
"Well, in the year 2189, my cousin David, who was Louise and George's oldest son, was getting married. We had to attend the wedding, of course, and my father also took some vacation time. We arrived from Boulder on a Thursday, I went to the wedding with my parents during the weekend, and then, we stayed in Allensburg for a while...in my Aunt Yvona and Uncle Hiram's house. At that time...Uncle..."
"Was that your Uncle... Hiram Josiah?"
"Right. Josiah. My uncle was a fighter pilot then, but he eventually became a Captain, as you know. It's a miracle he survived the battle with the Cometines, you know."
"Nova...this Yvona...your aunt, said Derek awkwardly "I mean...I've heard...is she supposed to be?"
"You've heard the stories, too?" sighed Nova. "Yes. Most of them are true, unfortunately. My Aunt Yvona was, and still is, quite a religious fanatic."
Nova paused again. "As a matter of fact," she said. "It was her fanaticism...that caused all this."
"As you know, we were at Yvona and Hiram's in Allensburg. Before the war devastated the place, parts of it were fairly nice...but other parts of the city...would prove to be fascinating only to a child...even though they were creepy. For some reason... I thought the city...just didn't feel right. I can't describe it. It feels as if...something awakened there. Something...that should have died a long, long time ago. Funny...none of the other towns in the area, like Bethlehem, Easton, and Phillipsburg were quite like that. Just...Allensburg. Maybe it was because a lot of the industry had left long ago, and, then again, maybe it was just something else."
Nova paused again, looking out at the lagoon, away from Derek. "I remember the day well. Yvona and Hiram weren't home, and Mom and Dad had gone off to a museum in town. I didn't want to go with them, because I had become fast friends with my cousin Samuel, Hiram and Yvona's boy, who was just a year older than me.
"It was a late-summer day, " said Nova, "...and we had taken off on an excursion on Samuel's bicycle. We had no trouble sitting together on it: it was one of those kid's bikes with a big "banana" seat and somewhat garish colors. I'm sure you remember those, Derek."
"Yeah. I had one," he said with a smile. "Did you have one?"
"Yes...but it was a pink girl's bike, of course. And it was off in Boulder at the time in the garage," smiled Nova. "I almost wish it hadn't been...because things would've gone a little bit differently that day if I had been riding Sunset."
"Sunset?" asked Derek quizzically.
"That's what I named my bike then. I had this silly obsession with naming things. Now, the only things I'd name would be an animal or a ship; certainly not a bicycle. So, that day, Samuel and I were riding on his bike, heading through the business district of Allensburg and past the courthouse to an older part of town. I remember I didn't like the looks of it..."
"SAM?" I asked as I clung to my cousin on the back of his bike.
"Where are you taking us?"
"It's this really neat place I found, Nova! You'll like it."
"Well, what is it?"
"Long ago, it used to be a railroad station, and then, they made it into a restaurant, then a train museum, and then a little station for a steam tourist railroad that they rebuilt along the highway where the real railroad used to be, or so my dad says. Now, it's just an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere. But it's still neat."
"Why would you like to go to some abandoned building?" I asked.
"To get away."
"To get away from what?"
"Mom. Haven't you noticed? Mom's...kinda crazy," said Samuel as the bike skipped over a crack in the pavement. "Drive over a crack...break your mother's back," he sang as the bike flew over some patched spots in the street.
"Sam? Why are you singing that? That's not nice!"
"What's not nice?"
"Singing about your mother like that!"
"Nova...you don't know what I go through. Didn't you say, when you first met her, that she seemed...?"
"Yes, I said she seemed creepy," I replied. "Why does she wear mostly black?" I asked.
"It's this thing she has."
"And...why does she have all those religious medallions around? She has pictures of saints I've never HEARD of. Like Saint Simon...Saint Cyril...Saint Methodius...and Saint Kularu. Who's he?"
"She's creepy," said Sam, weaving his way around Nova's question. "And she scares me. And she yells all the time. And she drinks too much. And I hate being around her by myself because when Dad's away on missions at the fighter base or an alert comes up, she gets weird and makes me pray weird prayers with her. Prayers about destroying her enemies and prayers that God will make her enemies burn in Hell. And if I don't pray just right...BAM! She hits me. Does your mom ever hit you, Nova?"
"Not much...not since I was little, anyway."
"My mom used to hit me all the time when I was three, I think," said Sam. "No, I take that back."
"Because WHAT?" I asked.
"Just because," snapped Sam.
Then, we stopped at the train station. It was in an old part of town, and you had to go over a bridge to get to it. I still remember it to this day. It was an old orange-brown brick building with a big, high clock tower, a big slate roof, and these curved windows, and someone had put up what surely had to be a reproduction of an old sign that had once been on the building. It was a red sign that read "PASSENGER STATION" and it had the crests of the old, long-gone Jersey Central Lines and Reading Lines on it in white. They were a little hard to see, though...because the sign was filthy.
We walked around to the side where the old, abandoned steam railroad tracks were, sort of running up alongside this boulevard. There was just one track left, and I still remember how my little brown Docksides crunched over the cinders beside the old roadbed as I walked on it behind Sam..."
"ROADBED?" asked Derek quizzically. "Nova, aren't maglev tracks usually built on a concrete foundation?"
"Derek, this was the remains of an old-style steam railroad track, like the sort you see in the history books," explained Nova. "Have you ever seen an old railroad track?"
"No...they didn't have any left in my part of Great Island."
"Okay," said Nova helpfully as she stood up. "This track," she said as she drew a line in the wet sand with her big toe, "had an iron or steel rail on one side, like this, on a wooden crosstie, with another one," explained Nova as she paced out about a meter and a half and drew a parallel line in the sand at that point, "...about this far away. The trains ran on steel wheels on these rails, and there was a roadbed made of crushed rock or cinders holding it all together."
"You seem to know a lot about this. Did you ever see a working excursion line?"
"Yes, in Colorado, when I was small. It was a little narrow-gauge line that was part of the old Rio Grande railroad. They ran it for the tourists. Samuel told me at that time that they used to run this line in Allensburg along the route of the ancient railroad for the same reason. I remember that I had no socks on with my Docksides, and the stones hurt my feet a little through the thin shoes. Anyway, I wondered how Sam was faring walking on that stony roadbed, since all he had on his feet were flip-flops. He had on shorts and a t-shirt, and I had on a little skirt with a sailor top."
"I can just picture it," said Derek with a smile. "You were the cute, well-dressed, neat little one, while he was the grungy-looking one, right?"
"Well, he wasn't quite grungy, but he looked a little less neat than I did, Derek. But he still looked cute."
"So, there we were," continued Nova, "walking up and down this roadbed, looking at these old rusty rails, when Sam said, "Nova, hear that?"
I remember crouching down behind a bush while a set of footsteps crunched their way down the path. Then, I heard a dog barking. Two bigger kids showed up. One was a REALLY-grungy looking kid of about fourteen or fifteen while the other was a younger fellow of about thirteen. They just looked filthy and ugly.
They had a dirty-looking brown dog with them, sort of a mutt.
"Hey, lookit this!" said the older boy. "Ya see this?"
"Do I see what, craphead?" asked the other kid.
"Ya see these damn tire tracks in the dirt? I think there's some little crapheads that rode a bike down here! I"
"I...don't feel right telling this part of it. As you can guess, those boys were using TERRIBLE language."
"Nova, all you said was "Damn", and "Craphead."
"Neither of which are nice. Would you lightly wish damnation on anyone, Derek? I don't."
Derek nodded, not wanting to remind Nova that she had snapped "DAMNIT" before when she had been angry at him. He had never heard her talk like that before, so it had seemed unusual. What she was saying now made sense as she continued with, " I don't think you would...especially because I know your native religion also believes in a Hell of a sort...and now, you also believe in the Biblical Hell."
"Yeah...some of those Buddhist Hells I've heard about sound pretty gruesome. Almost as bad as Dante's version of Hell."
"Let me go on," said Nova. "Even though I may have to gargle my mouth after I'm done. What those boys said...well...if I'm going to be a honest storyteller...I guess I'll have to report it. But I don't like it. Going on..."
"Whatdaya mean, Denny?" I remember the other boy saying.
"Lenny," I heard him saying as my ears burned. "... you got..." and Nova paused again, clearing her throat before continuing with, "he said, "you got...friggin' rocks in your head? YOUR people are the ones that are dumb!"
"There's two kids around here! And they've got a bike!"
"Yeah...if we steal it..."
"Yo, KIDS!" yelled the one named Denny. "Let us have your bike. Then maybe we won't kick your butts!"
And, at that, a rock flew out of the place where Sam was hiding.
It hit Denny square in the forehead.
"YAAAAA!" he yelled...just as Sam showed up to reclaim his bike.
Before Lenny could get his hands on it, Sam had it. At the same time, of course, he was yelling, "NOVA! Follow me! RUN!"
I followed him, running between my bush and the old station building to try to get away from Lenny, who started chasing me.
But, Denny was the smarter one. Even though he was stunned, he had enough brains to call his dog. "YO! NORTON! Get 'em!" he yelled.
A minute later, I screamed, since I had a nasty dog barking, growling, and snapping right in front of me. I was scared...but I didn't lose it.
I noticed that one of the doors to the abandoned railroad station was open, so I ran right inside. Norton caught my scent a minute later, and he was right on my heels. But I ran, tearing my way through that old building towards something that looked like a doorway on the far side, which I later found out faced west.
I got through there and found Sam outside, trying to hold onto his bike. Lenny was pulling on it with one hand, and Sam was pulling on it with the other hand. Then, Lenny slapped Sam with a free hand, and I slapped Lenny right back.
"Hey? What's this?" he said. "Little GIRLS ain't supposed to fight big boys!"
"Well, big boys aren't supposed to pick on LITTLE kids, either!" I screamed back. Then, I said. "And where did you learn to TALK like that? You should be ashamed of yourselves!"
"Weren't you scared?" asked Wildstar.
"Terrified, actually," answered Nova. "I think they had me crying by then. But I didn't give up. I just said, "And if you know what's right...you'd better stop this now! Someone's bound to come along and see you!"
"Ha, ha, HA!" sneered Lenny. "Hey! Look! Norton's comin' for ya! Wanna be stinkin' dog food, little girl?"
Well, I got so mad that I screamed. Then, I kicked Lenny in the shin as hard as I could...."
"Then, what happened?" asked Wildstar.
"Then, Derek, I lost one of my shoes, Norton came out and snapped at me, and Denny threw a rock at us. But, Sam and I were free. Sam threw another rock at the kids, and then he just grabbed me, pulled me on the bike, and sped off."
"By then," continued Nova, "we were both filthy...just as filthy as the other kids, as a matter of fact, and Sam had lost both of his flip-flops.
We sped away to the nearest street, with Norton tearing after us. The street was one that also ran uphill, but it at least curved, so Sam could pedal the bike up it...even though we were swerving up and down that sidewalk like crazy to avoid Norton.
At one point, the dog sunk his teeth into my skirt, which was flying back in the wind. I screeched, and slapped him pretty good, getting nipped in the process...and losing a bit of my skirt. Luckily, Sam swerved at that moment, cutting off into the street. Norton ran over a sewer grating and got a paw caught in it as he ran. It only slowed him down a little but that was the last we saw of him for a bit
The kids were behind us, coming with sticks. We reached the top of the hill a minute later, and Sam yelled, "Nova, hold on! I'm not STOPPING THIS BIKE!"
So, we just tore on downhill, flying like the wind was after us. I still don't know why we didn't fall off that bike and split our heads open on the pavement..."
"Sounds like some of the scrapes Alex and I were through," said Derek.
"Yes, but did you have to get home to someone like Aunt Yvona?"
"I had my parents...especially my Dad, who was terror on you if you were bad."
"But you never had Yvona to contend with, and SHE'S the real point of this story, Derek."
"When we got home," continued Nova, "Sam put his little card-key in the lock beside the old, wooden door, and listened to it buzz before we stepped into my Aunt Yvona's living room".
"Yvona's parlor was a creepy-looking place. It was dark, with a dark red Persian-style rug, and a lot of overstuffed furniture in dark green and red velvet. A big grandfather clock ticked in there all the time, and there were a lot of mirrors around, surrounded by all of those pictures of those saints."
"Yvona," said Nova after a pause, "was one of those women who was already beginning to look old at a young age. She was about the age my mother is now, but she had her hair pulled in a bun even tighter than the one my mother wears, and she already had a few streaks of gray in it. Also, her hands were already covered with liver spots, and they were wrinkled, and her face looked very thin and drawn, but she was getting a paunch under her dress. Very unusual for our family. She was wearing a little pair of glasses, and she was knitting something when we came in. And, Beethoven was playing on the stereo. She was playing "Fur Eloise," like I said. She really liked that piece for some reason..."
"Sam and I both huffing, puffing, and trying to keep from crying our heads off."
"WHAT do you two think you're doing?" she hissed as we came in.
"Mom, a DOG was after us!" said Sam as she threw down her knitting.
"A dog was after you," repeated Yvona mockingly. "Is that any reason to come tearing in here like a little barbarian, Samuel? HUH?"
"Auntie, I can explain everything," I said. "We..."
Then, she turned her eyes on me. They were dark, and they looked a lot like my mother's, but meaner. She said, "My dear, DEAR niece. You're the older one! Your parents say you're so good, so let's hear YOUR story first!" she said as she got up and turned her Beethoven up even louder.
"All right," I said. "Sam and I were down by the old train station. We went down there to look around at stuff...when these older kids showed up with a dog! They wanted to steal Sam's bike and beat us up, but Sam protected both of us by throwing rocks at these punks, and we got away. While we were running, Sam lost his shoes, and I lost one shoe and the dog bit my skirt," I said, holding out the ripped part of my skirt and my dirty bare foot as proof, "but we got home okay."
"Does he still have his bicycle?" snapped Yvona.
"Yes, and it's out on the porch, Mom," said Sam.
"Shut up! I wasn't talking to you! Whose idea was this?"
"I went down there, Mom, I'm..."
"That's not good enough. Get over here!"
"What?" said Samuel.
"Get over here NOW!" yelled Yvona as she picked up a bedroom slipper of hers from under the skirt of her chair. Sam came up to the chair, and Yvona just pulled him over like a madwoman. He struggled, but she forced him onto her lap and pulled his shorts down. Then, she twisted him around, forced his...behind up in the air...and began flailing away with that bedroom slipper of hers.
I just stood there in shock and watched. She had her hand over his mouth, and she was just...beating him. I never saw anything like that before, and I wanted to just get out of that house! I prayed, "Please God, make mama and papa show up...now...just make them come...make them come and make her stop this..."
Finally, I said, "Auntie...why...?"
"SHUT UP, brat!" she screamed at me as she slapped Samuel while he screamed. I wondered what she was doing to him to make him scream like that, and I wondered if I could call the police or something, when she stopped, slapped him across the mouth, and threw him off onto the floor.
"Get out of here, boy, and go off and ask God to forgive you," hissed Yvona...right as she grabbed me.
She held me back while she went over to her stereo, ran the tape back, and then began playing "Fur Eloise" again, even louder than before while she cracked her knuckles. Oh, what an awful sound she made!
"Auntie!" I cried. "What are you doing?"
"Nova, dearie; does your mother believe in "spare the rod and spoil the child?"
"No...I almost never even get hit."
"Well...she SHOULD hit you, and more often!" screamed Yvona. "Get over here! NOW!"
I was...terrified, but still used to listening to adults. I don't know...maybe I was too good. Maybe, in some ways...I still am...but...well, I came over towards Yvona. Then, she hugged me hard around the waist with her right hand and threw herself down in the chair.
Before I knew it, she had me over her knee. I struggled...not wanting to get hit with that slipper. She just slapped me across the face and snorted, "REBEL! Stay down! Now, we shall begin..." she said as she....pulled down my underwear.
"DON'T!" I screamed as I realized what she was about to do with that slipper.
Before she replied, the slipper slapped my behind with a terrible force. It was a hard-soled slipper, and it HURT when it hit you there," said Nova. "She just went on and on as she reached back to turn Ludwig Von up even louder...and...soon...I found out why Sam was screaming. The slipper, you see, had a nailhead sticking out of the heel...just a little bit. Whenever that nail hit your...rear end...it hit it almost hard enough to draw blood.
Soon, I felt a very, very sharp pain, and I felt some blood running down...down my behind. That was when I was punctured. She...she cut my bottom with it...right here," said Nova as she turned in the sand to lie on her stomach. "It didn't leave a mark...at least...not permanently," said Nova as she patted her posterior. "And...Derek, that's when she stopped."
"She must have stopped when she realized she was leaving marks on a kid who wasn't hers," said Derek. "Right?"
"Right, I guess. She just stopped at that point, and threw me off her lap like I was poison. Before I could react, she pulled me up, and said, "Child, don't you bleed on my rug, you accursed little hypocrite! I never let Samuel bleed on my rug, and you shouldn't do it either. Clean yourself UP, child! Children never appreciate their elders! God knows I had enough trouble having him, and he never appreciated me! NEVER! Six times I tried, six times I lost the issue...and HE came on the seventh try and never appreciated me! Being pregnant isn't FUN, dear! Do YOU want to get pregnant?"
"I...I'm not sure what that is. Is that having a baby?" I said. Remember...I was just ten...and Mother hadn't told me very much about that sort of thing yet beyond the basics, you know, and I hadn't learned much in school at that age, either.
"Well, you'd better learn, or you'll be pregnant before you're fourteen...little whore!" she screamed. "Little trollop! Your mother got lucky! Wham-bam, and out you came! First try, too! I'll bet she had a LOT of fun making you, the little whore! I'll bet she made you to BEETHOVEN, you little worm! How dare she abuse the Master's music like that? You little smarty-pants; think you're so good? Think again!"
"You think again, Auntie! Wait until I tell my mother what you DID!" I screamed back. Then, she slapped me again. Right across the mouth, too.
"You won't tell anyone, Nova!" she barked back. "If you tell, I'll find you, hunt you down, and KILL you. Then, I'll leave your body totally undressed in a ditch by the river for the stray dogs to eat! Then, will you think that's FUN?"
At that, the adult Nova stopped abruptly. She was crying again.
"Nova, that's HORRIBLE!" said Wildstar in amazement. "You never told your mother?" he asked very gently.
"No, I never did!" sobbed Nova. "You're only the second person in the world I've ever had the...courage...to tell this, remember? Ronnie was the only other one...and she had to know, because her crazy roommate woke her up one night screaming, okay?"
"Did your mother ever find out...I mean...from the signs?"
"No. I did a good job at keeping my body hidden from my mother during the rest of the trip, not that she would've looked there, much, anyway...and I managed to treat the little wounds all by myself. I...I also helped Samuel tend to himself when no other adults were around. Also, of course, I changed all my clothes and kept that skirt and underwear hidden from Mother in my little suitcase. When she finally saw it a few days later when we got home, I told her that a dog in Boulder attacked me on my way back from the library. Then, when she popped in on me after I got out of the tub, and she saw...the mark on my rear end...she asked if I got THAT from the dog, too. I lied...I said I did, and it was off to the doctor for shots. God, did they HURT!" sobbed Nova. "Mother never found out that it was really her sister...but I think she suspected something. The two times we went back to the East Coast before the bombings came in earnest, we stayed at Aunt Louise's. We never went back to Yvona's again, and when I saw her again when I was twelve at my Uncle Nathan's place in Texas, she just smirked at me...and I got real quiet. We...we...BOTH knew why. And there was other stuff...like that day, and...."
"Derek...sometimes...well...I told you I still DREAM about that woman! She's horrible! I...well...I'm still scared of her...and..."
"Nova...don't worry about it...don't worry about her...you'll be all right. You'll be fine..."
Nova then fell into his arms and began to cry her heart out.
Wildstar simply held her as close as he could...and stroked her hair as he continued to soothe her and whisper reassurance.
They were like that for quite a while.
Some time during that moment, Wildstar felt so much compassion for her that he thought, Nova...if anyone...ANYONE...ever lays an unwanted hand on you again...so help me...they're...they're going to regret it...
It took quite a while for Derek to finally calm his young bride down. But, he understood. As Nova knew, he, too, knew what it was like to suffer unexpected pain at the hands of a cruel, uncaring world, and just as she had comforted him, so also did he finally succeed in comforting her.
And, in that comforting, the bond between them grew even closer. And, in telling those stories to each other, they became even closer than the run-of-the-mill lovers of that time.
They became, more than ever, their very closest friends. In each other, they knew they had found someone that one could share your darkest, deepest secrets with without any fear of rejection or reprisal.
They knew, then, even more than ever, that if they needed a friend, a comforter, they'd always, always be there for each other...in the good times... and in the bad times.
Finally, later that evening, they were back in the bungalow. The storm had passed, and Wildstar had long since wiped the tears away from Nova's cheeks and listened to the last sob. They had come back inside in a close embrace, and couldn't help making love again in the shower as they began to wash the sand off along with the dark memories of their conversation. They emerged cleansed on the inside as well as the outside and then they dressed, with Wildstar putting on denim shorts and a navy blue T-shirt, and Nova dressing in a white pullover top, black shorts, and her low white sandals. When Wildstar saw Nova putting on her shoes, he added brown Docksides to his apparel and then they both sat in the living room, listening to some music that came up on the short-wave from the Megalopolis.
While they listened, they were reminiscing about everything they had done on their honeymoon trip so far; their explorations of the island, their diving sessions (during which they had captured some BEAUTIFUL underwater photographs), their little excursions on their jet-skis, their moonlight swims, the times they had cuddled on the beach, their little picnics and volleyball games, and all the hours they had just spent talking to each other and snuggling like two teenagers.
"You know, there's one thing we haven't done yet..." said Derek.
"What is it? I can't think of ANYTHING we haven't done..." replied Nova.
"We...haven't opened Commodore Hoshiyama's gift box yet," said Wildstar.
Both of them paused. The dark wood box sat across the room on a shelf, untouched, and, as of yet, unopened.
"Well, we have a while to recover from any ill effects," said Nova with a wink, "So...let's try the sake now. After all...there's no time like the present...and it IS New Years' Eve."
"Nova, are you SURE?" asked Wildstar as she ran over to the shelf and grabbed the box.
"I think Commodore Hoshiyama would be very insulted if we didn't use his gift at least once," said Nova innocently as she opened it.
Nova sat deliberating for a moment, and then she poured it into a glass. "Derek?"
"Yes, for the sake of Commodore Hoshiyama, a bang-up honeymoon, and a great New Years' Eye, let's drink!"
"Good idea," said Nova. They clinked glasses, whispering, "Cheers," at each other.
Then, Nova took her first sip of the unheated sake.
The first taste of the liquid burned her taste buds and the roof of her mouth. Then, it burned its way down her throat. For a second, Nova almost retched the vile liquid right up, but her notions of propriety (one of which was that it just wasn't LADYLIKE to barf in front of your husband) kicked in, and she allowed her stomach to accept the dubious gift.
Immediately, her head began to spin as a warming sensation ran its way straight down to her toes like a wave. Her vision seemed a little bit blurry, and she wondered why, until she looked up at Derek and saw that the commander of the Star Force was sitting there with a very zonked-out look on his face and tears forming in his eyes. He looked rather like he had just been hit by an airbus.
"Whhoooaaa," he said, shaking his head back and forth. "I forgot that this stuff hit you like THIS! Nova...?" he moaned. "You okay?"
Nova was, in the meantime, picking up her glass and sipping at it. She didn't look particularly unhappy. As a matter of fact, she looked rather amused. When she finished her glass, she was wearing a slightly cockeyed smile, and she muttered, "I don't believe this!"
"What?" moaned Wildstar.
"My mouth doesn't hurt anymore! I'm feeling GREAT!" she said in a very slow voice, with her country-girl Colorado accent being VERY prominent at this moment, even MORE prominent than usual. She grabbed Derek's glass (rather shakily) and poured him some more of the stuff. Then, she poured some more for herself, and whispered, "Kampai," before breaking out in giggles.
A few minutes later, Nova was laughing as she ran over to the small piano that was in one corner of the bungalow. She was normally a fairly good pianist, but now, she banged out "Auld Lang Syne" in a terrible, off-key fashion as she giggled, "Happy New Year!"
This is fun, thought Wildstar through a mind that began to feel like cotton candy as Nova tried to play on She's never gotten this giggly before on just one drink!
Nova was sipping at her stuff with a big, wide smile on her face, and she stood up, shaking a little in her sandals. She sat down again and sort of kicked them off, and then got up, finding that navigation was much easier in bare feet. "What time isit?" she asked as she stood by the piano again, banging away off-key before giving up.
"I don't know," moaned Derek. "Is thish shtill New Yearz Eve?"
"Does it matter?"
"You know...I wish Pop had given us this stuff right after we got home? We could've really used it then, Derek...really," said Nova as she struggled over to the short-wave and began to spin the dial around, looking for another station. All she got was noise and static.
"Oh...there's nothing GOOD on the radio!" she said.
"Who needs the radio?" moaned Wildstar as he took a third drink; this time straight up. He was now at the point where he felt no more pain, so it didn't matter.
"Right...let's get a movie on...a New Year's movie!" said Nova as she fished around for a videotape, dropping far more of them than she got. Soon, she forgot about her mission, and bumped her way over to the couch, where she fell into Derek's lap and poured herself her third glass of the vile brew, also straight.
Around the time she was drinking her third glass of sake, her memory began to slide away into some nether state. Wildstar's fell into the same state around that time.
Afterwards, the two of them had no conscious memory of what they did for the rest of that night...except that it can be said they didn't end up in their bedroom...and it took them two full days to recover... in a manner, however, that was not at all inconsistent with their honeymoon objectives!
It was a very good thing that they were all alone on an island and on leave during this period of time.
Otherwise, (in the real world) almost ANYTHING could have happened...
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