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[Round 2] Running Away Part 1 and 2


Toni
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((Four Seasons, Ychlan's Room))

::Hrove hurried to do up his tie, checking himself over once in the mirror. He opted for smart but casual, hoping to impress Hella: a white shirt with a black blazer and a pair of denim trousers. He'd heard they were an old Terran fashion. It had certainly caught on back on Cygnus the past couple of years. They were comfortable but presentable. He slipped on a pair of high-top sneakers, fully aware that he intended to dance until he got blisters and comfortable shoes were a must. He hurried to the turbolift.::

((Lobby))

::He exited the elevator quickly, looking around for Hella. She approached him, smiling and looking him over. Almost unconsciously she straightened his black tie and brushed some lint off his thin lapel.::

HELLA: Where to?

YCHLAN: I was hoping you could tell me - I've never been to San Francisco before. I've never even been to Earth before, not properly. The closest I've ever got is on the THUNDER.

::Hrove smiled nervously. A flaw in his plan.::

HELLA: This is my first time here too. That's why I was in the hotel lounge. I was hoping someone would take me to the best night spots. Didn't you go to the Academy?

YCHLAN: I went to the campus on DS78 - it was the closest to Cygnus. Not one of the most prestigious campuses of the Academy, it's true, but . . .

::Hrove was worried now - what if tonight ended up a big, boring bust?::

HELLA: ::trying to think of what they could do:: We could ask the lobby clerk or try to find one on this street.

YCHLAN: I don't mind, as long as the music's good, and it's not . . . you know, a marine hang out.

::Hella gave him a look, making him immediately regret his words.::

YCHLAN: Uh, I didn't mean to imply . . . or say . . . uh . . .

::Hella grabbed Hrove's arm roughly and marched out of the doors, dragging him behind her.::

HELLA: Don't worry about it. Come on, we'll find some place to dance.

((The streets of San Francisco))

::They went from street to street, searching aimlessly for a decent place, but all they found were some questionable bars, some they knew they could enter but were not too sure they could get out of in one piece. It was a warm evening, at least, but Hrove wondered whether they might have been better served by staying in the hotel. It had been 45 minutes, and still they had seen nowhere that didn't look full of upper-middle-class Humans dancing badly to cheesy music or rough-as-hell dives that looked unhygienic to say the least. They walked on, further from the hotel::

::Eventually, having passed numerous, increasingly dodgy-looking bars and pubs, they stopped by a dark bar on the corner of an alley. Sure, 'slums' as such didn't exist on Earth anymore, but there were still places in every city where one didn't go. Hrove wondered how they had managed to wander into such a district now. The pair looked at each other. Neither was dressed for a place like this, but after an hour of aimless walking, both were a bit fed up and in need of a drink.

HELLA: Looks like places only Marines would enjoy. I suppose we'll have to settle for one of them.

::Hrove stifled an inward groan, and nodded his head.::

YCHLAN: This one looks good. Sort of.

::They started inside, but Hella suddenly pulled up short. Hrove looked over his shoulder to her, raising his eyebrows in a question. She could hear music in the distance, and she tried to hone in on it.::

HELLA: Wait, do you hear that?

::Hrove didn't understand, but strained his ears anyway. The night was quiet, he thought, and-- but wait! Something . . . there was a lively melody just on the edge of his hearing. Something that sounded like it would be fun. Something that sounded like he wouldn't get beaten up.::

YCHLAN: Yeah . . . I can hear something. It sounds like it's coming from . . . that way.

:: He waved vaguely in the direction of the music - which, fortunately, was very much away from the bar before them. Not for the first time tonight, Hrove wished he had any clue about where was where in San Francisco.::

HELLA: ::Giving the outside of the establishment a squint-eyed look:: Given our options, I'd say . . . follow the music unless you're prepared to fight your way out of this place.

YCHLAN: Now, this isn't, of course, admitting any deficiency on my part, but I'm probably going to die if we drink at this bar. You, I know, can handle yourself, but I'm just a modern-day hippie, Hella.

::Hella suppressed a laugh, covering it with a cough. Hrove wasn't sure if she was laughing with him or at him, but he didn't mind. He was just happy to see her smile. He hoped chasing this ethereal music would lead them somewhere they could finally let their hair down and just enjoy themselves. Both of them needed it after that last mission, and so far, this night had been a letdown.::

YCHLAN: Right, that's it! Last one there is targ-manure!

::Hrove laughed as he sped off, looking over his shoulder to make sure Hella had kept up, but he needn't have bothered - she was already beside him. In a moment she was a couple of paces ahead, even in heels!::

((Varnek Memorial Park))

::In 2298, amid much controversy, a man named Varnek was elected to become President of Earth. The controversy was caused by one simple fact: he was Vulcan. His grandparents had emigrated to Earth 150 years prior to Varnek's election, and their daughter was born here. When she grew to maturity and sought a mate for ponn farr, she found a high-ranking Starfleet officer (Human, born and bred) and through the union was born a son - Varnek. Despite the fact that this man was born on Earth, and to one Human parent, he was assassinated after only 18 months in office by far-right Human supremacists (calling themselves "The Terrarists" with a sense of humour that would make a Primus in the Scarlet Brotherhood look away).::

::It was decided that Varnek's life and untimely death would be honoured in that tradition only a Human could have come up with - by building a large grassy area in the middle of an industrial city and naming it after him. It was in the middle of this green and crowded park that Hella and Hrove found themselves now. Some sort of concert was going on, but the music was good.::

YCHLAN (shouting over the music): Hey, this was quite a find, eh?

HELLA: ::grinning:: One of the best kind.

YCHLAN: I don't know what's going on. Who do you think that Varnek guy is anyhow?

::Hella just shrugged, not knowing either. The music was quite loud and conversation was difficult so Hrove resorted to hand-signals, trying to indicate that he had seen a beer tent by the entrance and was going to get them a couple of pints. By the furrowed brow on Hella's face Hrove realised that his wild gesticulations meant nothing to her.::

::Luckily, there was a lull in the music as the song finished. Hrove thought he better seize the opportunity to talk before the band started up again.::

YCHLAN: I'm going to grab a beer, do you want one?

::The run had been a long one, and she was feeling thirsty and was somewhat out of breath.::

HELLA: Yeah, would go down good right about now.

::Hrove nodded, any thought he had of talking cut off by a resumption in the music. He wandered away but was back quickly, holding two plastic cups of brown liquid. He passed one to Hella.::

YCHLAN (shouting): The band is pretty good, wanna dance?

HELLA: ::holding up the cup, laughing and shouting at the same time:: Where are we going to put these?

::Ychlan lifted his cup to his mouth, shouting his answer and challenge.::

YCHLAN: I'll race ya!

::There was a wicked grin on Hella's face that excited Hrove as both started to chug down the beer, trying to beat the other to finish the not-particularly pleasant brew. Finishing at the same time, they laughed, moving into the crowd to find the dance platform. The beat of the music drumming so loudly they could feel the ground vibrating. It was exciting, making their mood to dance even stronger.::

::Squeezing onto the platform, Hella used her hips to bump some of the dancers off so they could have more room. Tonight she was being a lady about it. Had she been in her Marine mode, she could have used the fists to knock them out of the way. She smiled and held her arms out to Hrove, and waited for him to take the lead. He obliged her and they finally began to dance.::

::He was quite an accomplished dancer, one of the best partners she had ever had. And the fast freestyle of his steps was easily followed, from one dance beat to another. Hrove really felt in his element, letting his body respond to his music as he sneaked a look at Hella. She seemed to be enjoying herself, and was certainly a great dancer. Hrove closed his eyes for a second, letting himself get carried away by the crescendo in the music building up. There was a crash of cymbals and some messy guitar-feedback and then--::

HELLA: ::yelling, just as the band stopped, her voice echoing through the park:: Great Band!

::Hrove was startled by her voice, but the crowd began to roar their agreement that save Hella a blush from the embarrassment. He laughed, not mockingly, but playfully.::

YCHLAN: They are really good! So are you, Hella; not many people can keep up with me, usually.

::Hrove immediately felt a bit embarrassed by his words, worried he might have come off as arrogant.::

YCHLAN: Hey, let's get another drink and go sit down on the grass somewhere after this next song. I'm pretty sweaty right now.

::The band started up again with a slower but very lo-fi sounding song, and Hrove smiled as he slipped into a slower step and took Hella's hand.::

YCHLAN: Well, maybe in a couple of songs . . .

::Hella smiled and stepped toward him, placing her hand on his shoulder. She was tired, but she couldn't resist his invitation. She was curious to see if he could slow dance as well. Hrove felt a bit self-conscious dancing so close to Hella. He had only met her that afternoon, and she had saved his life then. She had also been a completely different person - indifferent and cold, almost sadistic, when dealing with their attackers. But . . . somehow, he felt relaxed around her. She was open and honest, which was a rare trait in a lot of the people Hrove had known throughout his life.::

::The melody of the song flowed along, with a slight electronic hum thrown in. It was very eclectic music, but interesting, playful, and very easy to dance to. Hrove pirouetted the purple-haired Hella in his arms before pulling her in close. The music was quieter than before, so they could talk a little easier.::

YCHLAN: I'm having a really good time tonight, Hella. Better than the first hour, certainly.

::She looked up into his eyes and smiled, impressed that he had been responsible for making her forget all about her problems for even just a little while.::

HELLA: I am too, Hrove. I haven't had this much fun in more months than I care to remember.

::They danced on for a few more songs, slipping into an easy rhythm together. They made good dance partners, each feeling very fluidly the mood of the music and the mood of each other. Hella had her head rested on his shoulder, and Hrove's own head was gently resting on Hella's fashionably coiffured hair. After the last track the band had decided to play another fast and loud one, spoiling their relaxed and contemplative mood.::

YCHLAN: Do you want to get that drink now?

HELLA: Yes, I don't think I could take another fast one right now. Why don't we get back away from the crowd where it's not so loud and rest awhile? I don't know about you, but I'm getting a slight headache.

YCHLAN: Yeah, I know what you mean. It's been a long day.

::Pushing their way back through the crowd, Hella held onto his hand as he led them out. She felt strangely protected when she was with him. She had chalked it up to him being taken by her Boslic heritage earlier, but there was more to it than that. She liked this man . . . thought of him as a friend already. Stranger still, she felt she could trust him, but true to her cautious nature, she would wait and make that judgement later.::

::The pair was finally out of the heaving crowd of dancers, all still partying the night away to the raucous but talented band.::

YCHLAN: You know, I want to find out who that band is.

HELLA: Yes, I was thinking the same thing; surely they have a holograph of a concert that could be purchased for holodecks. oO It would be great to use it to train the Shadows . . . If I were going back. Oo.

::Hrove smiled warmly at Hella, squeezing her hand in his. The stars were bright tonight, despite San Francisco's light pollution. A little further away, deeper into the park, Hrove could see a small wooden gazebo with a couple of benches inside.::

YCHLAN: Shall I fetch us some water? The tent's only a little way back?

HELLA: Please, yes, I'd like that.

YCHLAN: OK, wait here, I won't be a second. There's a place to sit up there.

::Hrove disappeared again, but was back quickly with a small bottle of mineral water in each hand. He undid the cap of one and handed it to Hella, watching her drink it down. Hrove opened and took a gulp of his own.::

YCHLAN: Oh, it's not even cold.

HELLA: ::laughing:: I didn't even notice.

::The couple headed toward the cupola, walking at a leisurely pace. They could still hear the pumping bass of the concert, but were far enough away now that the figures on stage looked tiny and it was easy to talk. Creeping over the trellis sides of the structure were lots of flowering vines, although now all the flower buds were closed tightly, and they looked strangely colorless in the night. Once inside, they saw that even from the roof trestles little vines wound down.::

::Hrove took off his blazer and folded it to form a makeshift pillow, placing it on the hard bench to make a seat for Hella. It had been a long time since a man had been so thoughtful toward her, and she hesitated to seat herself. ::

HELLA: ::sitting:: Why thank you, Hrove. How kind of you.

::Hrove blushed a little, which was luckily hidden from Hella by the dim light. He took another swig from his bottle of water and sat down next to her. Looking down, he noticed his shoes were damp. He looked out to the grass over which they'd walked and saw it glistening in the moon light. It must have been the early hours of the morning now; dew was beginning to form, creating a sparkling carpet for the Varnek Memorial Park.::

YCHLAN: This is a really nice location. I can see why Humans like this city so much.

::Hella followed Hrove's eyes to the glittering grass.::

HELLA: ::quietly:: Yes, too bad they don't reserve more places like this.

::Quietness descended on them as they watched the concert continue in the distance, the crowd thinning now the hour was late. Hrove had something on his mind since they'd left the concert, but didn't know whether to spoil the moment by asking. It was an awkward subject, to say the least, and he didn't want to offend his companion. He struggled with it internally for a few minutes before finally taking a sip of his water and turning to Hella.::

YCHLAN: Hella?

HELLA: ::turning to look at him:: Yes?

YCHLAN: How . . . how do you do it?

::Her expression was one of the quizzical child's::

HELLA: Do what?

::Hrove realized he was being very unclear. He felt tongue-tied for a moment, trying to think of the right words.::

YCHLAN (hesitantly): How do you kill like you do and still stay, well, sane? How do you keep it together?

::Hrove caught her eyes for a second, but then they both quickly looked away. Neither said anything for what seemed to Hrove to be a long time.::

YCHLAN: Look, I'm sorry, forget it. You hardly know me. I didn't mean to--

HELLA: No, it's just . . .

::She trailed off, stunned, not really knowing what to say and feeling he had stepped over the line of friendship to ask such a question; but then she thought, who better to ask than a friend. After a long silence, she spoke quietly, thankful that he had allowed her time to collect her thoughts.::

HELLA: ::plucking one of the flower buds off the vine:: Who says that I'm sane? Insanity is the best answer I have for your question. I don't enjoy the killing, but I can't stop to think about it or I'd be killed. I suppose it's survival . . . the fear of death, that makes it come so easy. ::She held up the bud:: See this, it had the potential to become something beautiful, but now, I've killed its chances. In the same respect, enemies who try to kill children like the Brotherhood did, had already met their potential in becoming something ugly . . . proven killers of the innocents. Eliminating them was preservation for not only myself, but for the Federation too. See all those people down there ::pointing to the crowd:: Had the Brotherhood not been eliminated, those people would be dead right now.

::Hrove was struggling with the same dilemma in his head, but found he couldn't follow Hella's logic. He didn't know whether to argue the point with her. The guilt of all those he killed today hung heavily on his shoulders, suddenly crippling him. This evening had been but a few hours respite.::

YCHLAN (quietly): That just can't be right . . .

::He had said it before he had even realized he'd thought it.::

::She gave him a look that oozed contempt for his disputing what she knew as truth::

HELLA: What do you mean, it can't be right? They tried to kill the Colonel's children didn't they?

YCHLAN: Did each one of those who died today kill a child? Of course not! I... I don't know how I'm going to live with myself after today, Hella. Most of those people were just brainwashed social misfits looking for answers in the wrong place. They didn't deserve to die. They needed help. Most had probably not even been privy to the plan they were carrying out, nothing more but free labor to those really responsible, and yet all of them are equally dead now. I destroyed two ships today, killed all the people on them. Those people had parents, too - to their parents, I'm the child-killer.

HELLA: Look, Hrove, you can't look at it that way or it will drive you nuts. The Brotherhood members were exactly like us, following orders. We don't go into battle blindly even though we are ordered to go. It's up to us whether we choose to actually do it. Sure, we could be facing a court if we don't, but still it's our choice.

YCHLAN: Yeah, well I'm still not convinced Earth was in as much danger as everyone claims. We still don't even know what this phantom weapon was supposed to be, and it seemed very easy to destroy. It's all such [...], Hella, surely you see none of this adds up? We're not talking about some vast galactic terrorist organization, just a small cult of Bajoran Pah-wraith fanatics. How the hell did they even get so close to Earth in the first place? After the war the Sol system has a security net so tight comets are getting their cavities searched.

HELLA: Well, that's neither here nor there, someone with some weight thought they were a threat, and we were chosen to take them out.

YCHLAN: Yeah, well the Challenger's crew isn't the one floating as atoms around the Kuiper Belt now, is it?

::Hrove immediately regretted his words.::

YCHLAN: I'm sorry, Hella. That was uncalled for. I'm just having a really hard time coping with everything that's happened today.

HELLA: You asked how I keep it together . . . mostly I don't let anyone get close to me. I alienate them before they get a chance. But this time, before the last battle, I failed to do that. And now I find I can't hold it together at all. You don't know this, but I have no intentions of returning to the Challenger. I can't hold it together there anymore. By the time they realize I'm gone, I will be a galaxy away.

YCHLAN: You can't just desert, Hella!

::He locked her gaze with his, but she held him firm with a steely, determined glare. Hrove was the first to look away.::

YCHLAN: So, when you asked earlier today why we were running from our problems, you were talking quite literally?

HELLA: I'm not running from MY problems, I'm running away from the problems that Starfleet rains down on me. Life is much easier without being forced to kill or be killed. I never wanted to go back to the Marines, and had I not been caught pirating, I'd be free and enjoying life like I've been doing tonight. ::

YCHLAN: You know you're going to end up in a hell of a lot of trouble, Hella. Where are you going to go?

HELLA: End up in trouble? Dammit Hrove, have you not been listening to what I've been telling you? I can't be in more trouble than I am in the Marines. So anywhere I go, I'll be far better off than I am now.

YCHLAN: And all because you failed to alienate somebody?

::Something rare appeared in Hella's eyes as she thought of Myers . . . tears. Not a misting, but heartfelt, genuine and unstoppable tears flooding forth leaving her one thing to say in answer to his question. ::

HELLA: Yes.

::Hrove saw tears spring from her eyes. He wouldn't have thought it possible. She didn't sob, she kept composure, but Hrove was immediately driven to compassion for her. He took her in his arms and held her close to him, half-expecting her to resist, but she let herself be comforted.::

YCHLAN: Whatever you want to do . . . I'll help you. I don't know what use I can be, but I'll do my best.

::He looked down at Hella, captured in her silver-white eyes again. He smiled, hoping she would smile back . . . and she did.::

::The horizon gradually turned purple then pink as the sun approached the horizon and the couple sat in silence watching the dawn. The sea gulls of the bay cawed an awful racket, and there was a chill in the morning air, but it was peaceful and restorative. Hrove noticed the wet petals of one of the creepers' flowers shaking slightly, causing the drips to slide off the cusp and into the slowly opening bud. He felt the deep, regular breathing of sleep take over Hella and relaxed a bit into his chair. There was a lot of questions still unanswered in his mind - and plenty in Hella's, too, he was sure - but he couldn't think of a single one at this precise moment.::

::The first crack on the horizon of blinding light signaled the day's true start as the arm of the sun swept across the park, warming the ground and air.::

JP By...

1st Lt Hella

Platoon Leader

(SIMed by Lt Cmdr Toni Turner)

and

Ensign Hrove Ychlan

HCO

USS Challenger

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