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[2008: JAN-FEB] *WINNER* One Final Secret


Robert Falcon
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(( Keal's Pub; Starbase 118 - Promenade ))

The clack of wood against wood punctuated the otherwise still air of the pub. It was long after hours, with the usual crowd of patrons sent home. Only two people remained, hovering near the one pool table not yet cleared for the night. One was a human, Natan Keal. He looked like a military man, but had never served a day. Just kept himself in good shape. His brown hair, mid-short length, wore down to a trimmed beard and mustache. His brown eyes carried his joy at his companion, and were able to ignore the fact he'd just scratched...

"Well, your turn, Vera," he said, lifting himself from the table and pulling back his cue stick, giving a tug at his vest to get it back in place.

Vera Yanis pulled away from the column she'd been leaning against, sending a smile Natan's way. Her Andorian antenna remained focused on him as she approached the table. She seemed to know something was up, but hadn't pressed him for details... yet. She wore one of her standard sleeveless jumpsuits. They were more comfortable for her in the relative warmth of the station. She was still adjusting from the cold of Andoria. Unlike Natan, however, she WAS military; a former member of the Imperial Guard. “I know you too well, Natan,” she said, retrieving the cue ball and finding a place on the table to set it, “I think you’re letting me win.”

Natan chuckled. “Was it that obvious?”

She chuckled back, leaning over the table and taking aim at her intended target. “It’s the way you lift you right arm just before you shoot.” Her stick shot forward, striking the cue ball and sending the four ball into a side pocket. She turned and smiled at him again. “You always do that.”

“You like winning. I like to let you win.” He leaned back against another column, lacing his fingers behind his head and closing his eyes in contentment. “Nothing wrong with that, right?”

He heard her stick being laid down on the table, and moments later felt her hands run up his sides, along his arms, and grab his hands. Her lips pressed strongly against his for a wonderful moment, and he finally reopened her eyes to see her beautiful face… showing a mixture of annoyance and amusement, if that were possible. “‘Tan, sometimes I don’t know if I should kiss you, or punch you.”

Natan chuckled again. “Well, seems like it was an easy decision to make this time.”

“You’re right. I decided both.” With that, she gave him a playful punch to his shoulder, laughed, and turned to take her next shot.

He watched her take her next shot, smiling big. It had been a hard couple years, his final chunk of time on Andoria and the first months on the station. Too many secrets, too many lies, and the two of them caught in the middle…

(( Two Years Ago; Andoria – Imperial Guard Headquarters Interrogation Cell ))

“Who are you working for?”

Natan looked up at the Andorian Guardsman with a tired expression. “I’ve told you once. I’ve told you TEN times. The answer isn’t changing. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

It had been going on for days, Natan was certain. He’d been pulled of the street as he’d been walking to work, thrown into one cell after another, and had an endless stream of questions either spoken or shouted at him by an equally endless number of Andorians. It was almost as if they expected his story to change, miraculously. They hadn’t started anything like torture yet; mostly lack of food and water and a couple periods of sleep depravation. This Andorian, though, rather then getting riled up and shouting, gave him a strange sort of smile. “Let’s see if this jogs your memory, pink skin.”

Natan fought to not glare at the man. His family had been on Andoria for longer than he’d been alive. There were times he felt more Andorian than Human. Back in grade school, he’d nearly beat up a kid for calling him that… He’d developed a much thicker skin since then, but it still cut.

The Andorian walked over to a monitor and flipped it on. On the screen was another interrogation cell, a Romulan behind the table. It looked like he’d had a much more difficult time than Natan had gone though. Natan looked at him for a moment, then looked over at the Guardsman. “Who’s he supposed to be?”

“You tell me,” the Guardsman replied. “We traced funds transferred from his account to a new one you created about three weeks ago.”

Now Natan’s eyebrows furrowed. “A new bank account? I haven’t made a new one of those in… years.”

“The records show otherwise.” The Guardsman switched off the monitor. “He claimed, after some persuasion, that you were to assist him in gaining high level Imperial Guard military data. Ship schematics, weaponry, tactics, the works, in exchange for credits and passage off-world.”

Natan could no longer contain his shock, looking at the Guardsman with jaw agape. “That’s a bald-faced lie!”

“It was also the sort of persuasion that’s incredibly difficult to lie through, pink skin. He pointed us to the bank account.” The Guardsman returned to the seat across the table form Natan. “If you cooperate, give us all the information we need to stop whatever that Romulan’s compatriots might be planning, it will look very good for you. Your sentence will be reduced, possibly significantly.”

Natan sighed lightly, his face resuming its forward tired exasperation. “If I had any information to give, you’d’ve gotten it a LONG time ago. I have nothing. I don’t know who that Romulan is. I don’t know what he’s planning. I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to have been getting him. I work for Jorak Falyn, at his establishment, the Ushaan-Tor, in city sector 21-Aleph. I’ve worked there for three years, and have every intention of working there for many more.”

The Guardsman gave a small sigh as well. “I had hoped you’d be more cooperative once you saw we had captured your cohort… I suppose I was mistaken. My controllers will be most… displeased.”

There was a knock at the door. The Guardsman stood, walked over, and opened it. “You’re not supposed to be in here.”

A familiar voice answered. “I’ve got clearance. Get out.”

“Fine… Five minutes.”

With that, the Guardsman left. Vera entered. Much as he wanted to hug her, the restraints he was in kept Natan stuck in his chair. “Hey there.”

“Hey,” she said with a small smile. “How are you holding up?”

“Well enough, all things considered. So, good news or bad news?”

“Your father isn’t standing for this,” she said. “He’s pulling all the strings he can to get you out of here. He knows you had no part in this, and neither do I.”

“Dad knows what he’s doing…” Natan trailed off for a moment. “At least, I hope so… I wouldn’t want him to get in trouble for something I never did.”

“He’ll be careful.” Vera smiled. “He’s got an Andorian sense of paranoia.” She leaned in close, giving him a kiss. She paused by his ear as she retreated. “And if his ideas don’t pan out, I’ve got a couple hidden up my sleeve.”

“Like what?” Natan whispered back.

She finished retreating, giving him another smile that really helped to warm his heart. “It’s a secret.” With that, she turned and retreated out the door…

(( Present Day; Starbase 118 – Keal’s))

To that day, Natan had no idea what she did, but it had worked. The Guard backed off on their charges. Death was no longer on the table, just exile. Luckily, the place that would become his pub opened up at the right moment, and Starfleet held the slot for him until he could arrive and get it set up. It had been a rocky start, but the place survived.

He’d made friends among the crew, and his tendency to have almost any drink a patron could name helped make his pub pretty popular with the various transients on the station.

Natan looked over at Vera again as he prepared his next shot. He’d sunk a couple shots to it didn’t look so much like he was ‘letting’ her win. “Hey, Vera. Could you do me a favor?”

“What’s that?” she replied.

“There’s a bottle behind the bar. Green bottle, silver foil at the top. Mind grabbing it and a couple glasses for me?”

Vera chuckled. “No. I’ll get it.” As she turned, Natan shot. The cue ball scratched, and he made a mock exasperated noise. Vera turned back to look at him. “‘Tan?”

“That one wasn’t on purpose.” Mostly true. He hadn’t really cared where the ball went that time. He’d really planned to scratch it the NEXT hit.

She gave him a beady-eyed mock glare. “I’m watching you, pink skin.”

Natan chuckled. Vera could get away with that name. She never meant it in the derogatory sense. “Just grab the bottle, blue skin.” As she turned to grab the bottle, though, he reached over and grabbed the cue ball. From his pocket, he fished out another one. Within moments, the two were switched and the original cue ball was in his pocket. He was committed, now. It was time for a little secret of his own…

(( Two Months Ago; Starbase 118 - Natan’s Apartment ))

It had been a long, hard day, but Natan was finally getting to a good, happy point again. His pub was doing well, the station hadn’t tried to blow up in a few days, and his shipment of Bloodwine, Scotch, and Kanar had made it in safely. Now, if he could only get everything restocked before business started in the morning after getting some real sleep…

But sleep would be delayed. The computer beeped. “Incoming message.”

“From whom,” Natan asked, pulling off his vest.

“Unknown.”

That caught his attention, the fatigue leaving him for a moment. “Put it up.” The room’s computer terminal came up, showing a dark, distorted figure. Natan walked over, leaning over a chair to look at the screen. “This is Keal.”

“Mr. Kael,” came an equally distorted voice, “I am to inform you that you will be seeing a friend in two days time.”

Natan paused, raising an eyebrow. “And who might that be?”

“It’s a secret.” And with that, the screen blipped off.

Confused, tired, Natan just tired to shake it off and go back to his original focus. Shower, followed by sleep. Maybe it would make sense in the morning?

(( Present Day; Starbase 118 – Keal’s ))

In hindsight, he shouldn’t have been surprised when Vera showed up at the door to his pub two days later. She’d finally separated from the Guard and came looking for him. It had been the happiest day he’d had in a long time.

She worked there now, helping out however she could. He knew the adjustment couldn’t have been easy on her, but it was about time for it to pay off.

Vera returned with the bottle and glasses, handing them off to Natan and picking up her cue stick. Natan set the bottle and glasses onto a table, turning to watch. ‘This should be good…’ he thought.

She aimed carefully at a ball on the far side of the table, edged for a perfect drop into a nearby pocket and, with a good angle off, would leave the cue ball in perfect position for another drop next shot. Vera slowly pulled the stick back, and ran it forward for a perfect strike…

And, moments after the ball started to roll, it fell away in two halves…

A small object was launched from the ball, rolling and bouncing along the path the cue ball would have taken. It made it all the way to Vera’s target, bouncing off and spinning to an eventual stop.

It was a ring, either silver or white-gold. It had a number of small diamonds on it, two offset rows of them all along the ring.

For the first time in all the years he’d known her, Vera looked completely shocked.

“Huh,” Natan said, “would ya look at that?”

“That’s…”

Natan grabbed the ring from the table, holding it in his left palm and running his index finger around it. He looked at Vera, giving her a beaming smile, then walked over to her and gently took her left hand. “Vera, I’ve loved you for many years, and you were my best friend for years before that. You know me better than anyone out there, and I like to think I know you the same. Between us, there are no secrets… at least not anymore.” He looked up at her eyes, trying to gage her reaction. Vera was still surprised, her antenna shifting around as if giving a double take, but she seemed to be adapting quickly. He again smiled. “I don’t want lies to come between us anymore. I want to spent the rest of my life with you.”

With that, he slowly dropped to one knee and slid the ring onto Vera’s left hand. “Vera Yanis… Will you marry me?”

She looked from the ring, to him, and back… and back again. Slowly, the shock became a smile. Vera dropped to her knees before him, taking both his hands in hers. “Yes, Natan Keal. I will.” She pulled him toward her, and their lips again met in a kiss.

He’d given her his last secret. ‘May it be the last one I keep.’

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