24
Jul
10

Shore Leave in Crystal City


MAY-JUN 2398, Aldebaran Sector

Sal was tired. He had spent much of the last 16 months updating UFP databanks with the myriad of differing planetary systems and astronomical phenomenon that they had encountered while touring the Aldebaran Sector. He had led a team of 16 navigational engineers and so a lot of icon pushing was involved. His office walls were closing in on him and he needed to get away from the techno-titanium world that he called home. Captain Cumings had promised the crew shore leave as soon as they reached the Aldebaran System. Many had requested leave on Aldebaran IV which was the home world of the native Aldebaranese race. To Sal, this was simply more of the same and so he had made plans with four other crew-mates to take an adventure on Tartessos.
Aldebaran III was known to the natives as Tartessos. Originally it was categorized as a class K planet back in the 23rd century when Aldebaran membership to the federation was established. Since then there had been terra-forming on Tartessos however the planet is nearly twice the size of Earth and much of the planet is still quite arid and barren. Outside the terra-formed areas the average surface temperature was 75 degrees C and the atmosphere was still only at about 65% O-N standard.


Crystal City was not the oldest settlement, only 80 years in development, but it was still too highly developed for Sal and his band of explorers. The newer sections of the Green River Valley and Lake Beane were still under restricted access, but they offered a more rural environment where they could get back to nature. Terra-forming had been underway there for only 30 years and although there were a couple of small villages these areas still depended on much of their commerce and support from Crystal City and its intergalactic spaceport.
Sal walked up to Lt. Celia Johns quarters and pressed the entry chime. He heard a voice respond that sounded muddled,
“I’m in the shower, Sal. Come on in and make yourself a drink.”
Lieutenant Johns worked in security and Sal had befriended her two years ago when she came onboard. They both had a fascination for old 2D visual entertainment records. Celia even liked the ones that were monochromatic but Sal couldn’t justify it, too artsy for him. His mother had liked this form of entertainment and so it was passed onto Sal as a child.
Sal entered Celia’s quarters and found the replicator. Usually Sal would drink some kind of ale but he was officially on leave now and so he selected high ball. After taking a sip he called out,
“What are you drinking?”
“Sal, you know I only drink Tequila! I think there’s a good starfire mix. Make it a double!”
Sal heard laughter from the other room and called up Celia’s request.
“Are you all packed?”
“Yeah, I’ve already had my bags beamed down to Crystal City. We’ll be there for two days, right?” She answered as she finished getting dressed. She came into the room wearing the smallest dark green shorts that Sal had ever seen. Celia was very attractive but Sal had sensed little physical attraction to him. They were just really good friends in his mind.
“So, where are we meeting them?”
“In Crystal City at three o’clock. The shuttle to Happersville doesn’t leave until 5. We’ll have time to get a bite to eat.”
“I thought we had a couple of days in Crystal City?”
“We do. Happersville is where the nightclub that Tony and Kris wanted to go. It should be a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, I was thinking I might drag you out on the floor.”
“You don’t wanna spoil the whole evening, do you?”
They both chuckled and Celia led Sal to the sofa where they sat and continued to chat. Celia seemed especially delighted that Sal had asked her along and she in a very light mood. They laughed and finished their drinks and then left to the transporter room so they could meet up with the rest of the group on the surface.
—————————————————————————————————————


The buzz in the air was the Andorian Miracle Cure. Sal didn’t know much about medicine but Frank Donnager did. Frank was with Tony and Kris when they arrived on the plaza transport pad in Crystal City. Celia knew Frank from a previous assignment and he was the newcomer to the group that Sal was known to hang around. Frank had some theories about the Zencarian metabolism and its unique strain of antibodies. Sal was certain that he’d hear all about them over dinner. Celia kissed Tony on the cheek and grabbed Kris’ arm. The women were in good company. The guys would be lucky to see them after that evening. They had other plans in Crystal City. This was the first real port that the El Paso had seen in four months.
“Hey Kris… Tony”, opened Sal, “Did you get everything off the El Paso okay?”
“Yeah”, Kris responded, “We’re all set for this wild adventure you got planned. I even had Tony pack an extra portable LSU. We’re staying inside the terra-formed regions, right? I don’t think any of us are equipped to venture outside. Besides, we’re on vacation! That would be too much like work for me!”
Kris, Lieutenant Commander Kristina Flanningan, was a senior environment specialist on the Science Team. She had been dating Tony now for four years. Sal & Celia had teased that they were never going to take that step. Tony, Lieutenant Anthony P. Hurtus, worked for Sal. He was a bright engineer and had helped Sal out of a couple of fixes. They became friends soon after Sal had joined the El Paso crew. Tony wasn’t as ambitious as Sal, though. So even though they were of the same rank when they met, Sal had advanced further and taken over the department when Chief Peterson was transferred. Tony didn’t mind. He preferred not to be in the spotlight, as it were.
“Hey Frank! Did you remember to bring that Capellan brandy of yours? That should go down smoothly when we’re roughing it on the Green River.”
“Yeah Sal, I did. Also brought an extra-thick EV bag since I’ll be flying solo this trip”, Frank laughed and Sal returned an appropriate smile knowing that he too was in a similar situation. Celia and he would be sharing a tent on the river but other than that it was separate but equal billing.
Everyone got settled into their hotel rooms and Sal caught back up with everyone on the Plaza Deck that overlooked Crystal Bay. It was late afternoon and Baran-6 hung quietly on the blue-within-blue sky. This was a unexpected feature of Tartessos because the skies of the other worlds of the Aldebaran System all had deep red hues. Aldebaran was 40 times the size and 150 times as bright as Sol. It dominated the sky with its off-red glow but the oxygen-rich atmosphere of Tartessos overpowered its energy. It was still quite warm and everyone had opted for short pants and sleeves. Even the doctor who had extremely white calves wore a pair of low contrast gray shorts. The girls wore swimwear though Kris had a light wrap around her shoulders.
The special was Kansas City Barbeque which was always a favorite on a Human colony. Everyone sat down and grabbed menus from the holder that was centrally located.
“Well, I’m having ribs. Haven’t had real meat in several months”, popped Celia as the server approached the table.
“Can I start you off with some refreshing Aldebaran Tea?” asked the server.
They all looked at each other, nodded and stated in unison, “Stiffer!”
Sal pointed to a particularly potent liquor on the menu called gPuk and said, “Neat.”
“I’ll have a planetary nebula… with whipped cream”, exclaimed Kris in her soft-spoken voice, “Hun. You want a beer?”
Tony nodded and Frank waited for the server and then spoke, “I’ll have a whiskey and soda. Celia. What are you having?”
“I think I’ll have that tea you mentioned. Someone’s gotta get these boys back to their rooms.”
The table laughed and the server smiled, “I’ll get those drink right away.”


Dinner was much quieter. Frank didn’t once mention medicine and Sal thought that made everyone feel more at ease. Kris and Tony kept on about this new entertainment group who used real instruments. They had seen them before and knew the group was in for a treat.
Sal couldn’t help noticing a Vulcan sitting in the shade alone. He had an iced tea that he had not touched and several times Sal had caught him looking in their direction and taking notes of some kind. If he was fleet then he was out of uniform. Celia told him that it was some form of diplomatic attire. Frank disagreed and said that it looked more civilian than anything. Regardless, it was unsettling for the entire table and so when everyone was satisfied they all left together. As they left, Frank motioned, “This one’s on me.”
—————————————————————————————————————


Everyone went back to their rooms to change into their evening attire. They would not have much time for primping. Sal entered his room and found his suitcase, opened it and quickly hung the items that needed to be hung. He then selected the jet black suit with a brightly colored tunic. He got dressed and pulled a comb through his hair, did the usual masculine primping which wasn’t much and dashed out of his room. He tapped his lapel and nothing happened. His personal communicator was lying on the nightstand. Frustrated with himself, Sal returned to his room and grabbed it and tapped again,

“Tony? You guys about ready?”
“Just about Sal. We’ll meet you downstairs.”
Sal tapped it again,
“Celia?”
“Yes, Sal. I’m on my way.” There was an attitude attached to her voice but Sal knew her well enough as she knew him. She would probably beat him to the lift but would be there when he arrived. And she was.
Dressed in a tightly fitted shimmering blue frock, Celia smiled as Sal approached. She looked like a million credits and Sal could hardly imagine how she was able to pull that off in 30 minutes. Celia took note that Sal’s mouth was on the floor and allowed him a moment’s opportunity to pick it up before they entered the lift.
“Nice jacket”, she commented, actually meaning it as she sized up her escort for the evening.
“Thanks. That dress is something else too.” Sal replied with a smile, “Wow.”

As expected, Frank was at the lobby bar and saw them exit the lift. He was wearing a green pin-striped suit with a subdued tunic and tie. Celia grabbed his arm and they trotted off to the shuttle stand at the far end of the lobby area. There were several cabs available and so they stood away from the crowd and waited for Kris and Tony to arrive.
Kris was in a long black formal pantsuit and heels. She had put her blonde hair up in a swirl, letting one strand fall freely across the side of her face. Tony was in white and they approached from the left in a near panicked state. The women instantly started chatting while Tony located an appropriate cab.
Happersville was about 5 kilometers outside of the city complex. Aldebaran had disappeared over the horizon and so everyone’s sense of direction had been slightly skewed. Sal knew from the map he had reviewed that their destination was west of the city and that Crystal Bay lied just to the north. The buildings were sparse outside the complex but they still hugged the edges of the street. The few that were set back were most likely residences or facilities that depended little on the commerce of tourism.
Celia and Kris were sitting next to each other in the back with Tony. Celia was pointing at this and that but there wasn’t very many street lights outside the complex and things were hard to see. Sal, who was sitting next to Frank in front looked ahead at a soft glow and then nodded back to Tony,
“Happersville?”
“Looks like it. The Trapezium will be set back from the other buildings.” Tony looked at the brochure in his hand which had a rough map of Happersville on its back page. There were just a few side streets off the main highway that criss-crossed in a twisted grid pattern. All of them were on the north side of the highway filling the space between the road and the waterfront.



The shuttle was an autocab. There was no driver, perse’. They operated similar to the turbolift system onboard a starfleet vessel. Tony had fed in the destination coordinates when they had entered the cab and after everyone was seated, he set them in motion by the simple “engage” command directed to the programming panel. These cabs operated throughout the city complex but also recognized a limited number of destinations outside the complex as well. The brochure had indicated that the Trapezium was included in these destinations.
The cab turned off the main highway and headed down a long drive that was lined with lights. There were personal conveyances parked on either side of the drive and people walking up the sidewalk that lead to the club. The cab pulled up to the main entrance and the door slid open. Kris was the first to get out, quickly followed by Tony and then Frank. Sal waited until Celia was through before he exited. The cab door closed and the cab zipped away into the darkness.
The fanfare was definitely different from life on the El Paso. There were people in every direction wearing a variety of different styles. Most were formal and the group had consciously released a simultaneous sigh of relief. Being underdressed was sometimes fun, especially if it was the intent of the evening. On the flip side, being overdressed usually meant for a cold and uncomfortable time. Celia grabbed Sal’s arm which was not out of the ordinary but pleasantly received by him. He wasn’t going to push it, but he thought that perhaps there was something more to this relationship than he had realized.
They found an open table near the wall and a server quickly took their drink orders. Everyone was drinking this time and Celia had made a comment, “oh just one or two to take the edge off.” The conversation was gay and light-hearted and there was an excitement in the air as the crowd slowly quieted and the main lighting of the room was dimmed. A voice came over the PA system,
“Ladies and gentlemen, Platinum Junction”
There was a brief applause and a steady murmur that continued as a spotlight fixed on a lone guitarist to the left of center-stage. The acoustics of the room had captured the melody and it floated like a gentle breeze. Sal leaned back in his seat and Celia, still on his arm, snuggled closer as they listened to the soft picking echoing through the room. A saxophone soon joined the melody which was followed by a piped instrument called a sentic. It was from the planet Valakis and added a unique stir to the mood of the music. Celia’s eyes were closed but Sal scanned the room in an attempt to share the experience with others in the crowd. Frank was a bit edgy but Kris was in Tony’s arms at the front of the table facing away from Sal. They were obviously enjoying the tapestry being painted.
As Sal scanned he noted an open bar with a variety of patrons in a number of different groupings. Most were duets or trios but there were a couple of people who sat alone. He continued to slowly pan his eyes across the room not fixing them on anyone in particular. Then they stopped abruptly. It was enough for Celia to take notice and she whispered to him,
“What is it?”
“The Vulcan.”
“The wh—“, she looked quickly in the direction he was looking and continued to whisper, “Oh my god, you’re right. It is him.” Celia paused for a moment and then nudged Sal, “He’s probably here to enjoy the concert as well. Come on. We’re here to relax, okay?”
“Vulcans don’t—“
“Shhh”
She scolded him with a smile and squeezed tighter to his arm. Sal lamented and waited patiently for the song to conclude. Celia noted that he had continued to look quickly over at the Vulcan in attempts to catch the Vulcan doing the same but kept it to her self. She tried to enjoy the music and sipped her tequila. Sal was back to drinking ale and he’d finished his as the song ended and the crowd began to applaud. Sal rose,
“I’ll be right back. Nature.”
Celia knew that ‘Nature’ was not calling him but also knew that he wouldn’t relax until he found out who the Vulcan was and what he was doing there. Sal excused himself from the table and looked around for the restroom sign. Not finding it he headed toward the bar. The band started their next number which was very light and fun. The crowd had started clapping and everyone was smiling and laughing. Even the bartender was clapping as Sal approached her. It was noisy and so Sal tried to visually communicate with her. She eventually got his meaning and pointed off to the right with a smile. As Sal walked away he saw out of the corner of his eye that the Vulcan was watching him. He glanced down at something in his hand and then stood and walked toward the exit. They met in the hall.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Sal spoke curtly. “You are watching us and frankly, scaring the women.”
The Vulcan looked cautiously at Sal but did not pause before he replied, “I am Stubin. You are not mistaken. I have been observing you and your party since your arrival on Tartessos. I had to be certain before I approached you. You are Salvatore Rosetto, of the El Paso, correct?”
—————————————————————————————————————
“I could be”, Sal returned a curious stare, “How is it of concern to you?”
“Sir, I work for the Vulcan High Counsel in the capacity of currier. Can we continue this conversation else where. This is not a secure location.”

The music was considerably livelier and drowning out his voice but Sal got the jest of his statement. The two men walked outside and Stubin led Sal to the conveyance parking area. It was much quieter there and while they walked Stubin told Sal why he had sought him out. It wasn’t about Sal at all. Stubin had wanted to reach Donnager. Stubin knew thought that Donnager did not trust Vulcans and so it was logical that Stubin contact a friend and establish trust through Sal. Stubin seemed to have dossiers on everyone that Frank knew. This business that Stubin spoke of was highly sensitive and he knew that it must be approached with the strictest care.

Donnager had to trust that Stubin was who he’d claimed to be without question and without using a mindmeld which would raise Donnager’s total suspicion. It wasn’t that Donnager didn’t understand this Vulcan technique. It was quite the opposite. Stubin knew that Donnager believed that Vulcans could use this to make people believe anything that they wanted them to believe. Through Sal and Celia, Stubin could gain Donnager’s trust and be certain that the information was transferred properly and accurately between Donnager and Colonel DiAngelo.

Sal’s head was spinning. He wasn’t exactly sure that he had followed all that Stubin had told him but he did know from past experience that Vulcans did not lie. It was completely illogical to speak about things that were untrue. Most commonly humans told lies to save face, be it their own or someone with whom they had a bond of friendship. It was to avoid embarrassment. Seldom did he find that another human was truly deviant.

“So, I guess we have to get Celia out here next?”
“This will raise suspicion. In fact, you should return to your table right away. You have been gone much longer than would be expected for a—“, the Vulcan paused in thought, “How do you humans say it? A call of nature.”
Sal smiled and Stubin continued,
“Let us meet back at the hotel tonight at 0130 hours. Bring Lieutenant Johns with you and we shall proceed from there.”

Sal agreed and the Vulcan nodded once, turned and walked into the darkness. On his way back to the table Sal pored over everything the Vulcan had said and realized that he’d hardly said anything. The three major bullets were Vulcan High Counsel, Colonel DiAngelo and Frank. Sal approached the table quietly and resumed his seat next to Celia. The band had taken a short break but the house lights were not raised.

“Everything alright?”
“Yeah, I’ll explain later. How’s the show?”
“They’re pretty good. Kris and Tony went out and danced for one song. I’m dragging you out on the next one.”
“Really?”
“Yes. Really. So put on those taps shoes of yours and get ready mister, cuz I’m ready to cut some carpet”,

Celia smiled at Sal knowing that he would probably try to find a way to get out of it. But she was also building up her own courage with the help of the tequila and was determined that she would be dancing with him before the evening closed.

“How’s Frank holding out? I mean—“
“He’s fine. We have been chatting. He decided to go up to the bar and introduce himself to that Akaalian woman”, she pointed. Sal looked over and saw that Frank looked like he was doing very well. “He may find his own way home tonight”, she added.

Celia smiled and Sal joined her as he reached for his ale. Surprisingly, it had been refilled and not flat. Celia was making brownie points and Sal was beginning to come around to exactly what this two week adventure had in store. He’d never really thought long about how it might be with her; had given up on that many months ago, before they had started their tour of the sector. Sal was now thinking that perhaps he had misread her altogether.

The rest of the concert went very smoothly and Celia did get Sal out on the dance floor for a couple of songs. The canary seemed very satisfied with the kitten that she had cornered and Sal had seen this as a new beginning to his life on the El Paso. Frank never did come back to the table but it had been half expected and hoped that he would find someone with whom to enjoy the evening. It was 1230 by the time they returned to the hotel. Sal and Celia wished Kris and Tony good evening as they stepped out of the lift. As soon as the doors shut again Sal found his lips pressed firmly against Celia’s. He thought to himself, ‘Just add tequila’ and grabbed her into his arms. They barely made it back to his room before she had his jacket tossed on the bar and his shirt wadded in a corner.

Sal awoke a while later sudden and almost panicked. Celia was standing by the window looking down on the plaza below. “What time is it?” he asked. She looked at her chronometer and replied, “Almost 2AM.”
Sal jumped up, pulled his pants on and began looking for his shirt. “We going somewhere?” She asked.

“There’s someone that I want you to meet. I made the arrangements earlier with him. It completely slipped my mind. We were supposed to meet at 1:30…”
“You mean the Vulcan?” she questioned without it being a question and she continued, “Because I think he’s the same one I’m looking at and he doesn’t look like he’ll be meeting with anyone anytime in the future.”
“What do you mean”, Sal replied stumbling over to the window next to her.

They both looked down as the local police had arrived. Stubin’s body laid motionless on the concrete with a visible wound in his lower back. Whoever had done it knew exactly where a shot would be fatal.

The next morning their trip was cut short due to three days of questioning and the five returned to the El Paso to repeat everything to Captain Cumings. In his confidence Sal revealed what the Vulcan had told him. He assured the captain that the authorities also knew what he had just said. Sal really knew very little as to what was going on. He just wanted to put it all behind him.

As the months passed his relationship with Celia waned and she transferred to another vessel when she was promoted. It was a quick good-bye by Sal knew that it was good-bye. He had not seen her since. Frank, too, seemed to disappear from the group. He was always called away on some medical emergency and Sal never found the opportunity to sit him down and explain who the Vulcan was.

Vulcan motivation was still a mystery to Sal.

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