Chapter Three (continued)
Upon arrival at their hotel suite, Rebecca threw down her duffel bag and took quick paces towards the large balcony. She was absolutely mesmerized by the scenery outside. The balcony provided a great view of a mountain covered in lush trees and foliage. The face of the mountain was dotted with steep waterfalls, all interconnected and flowing into the top of a large waterfall very near the bottom.
“Isn’t it amazing?” Rebecca gasped. She pointed to the right and downward at the large central waterfall. “The real Janaran Falls is down there.”
Sara took slow steps across the balcony, basking in the brisk mountain breeze and the bright blue sky. Crashing waves filled the air, as did the distant sounds birdcalls. “Can’t wait till tomorrow to see how accurate the holodeck recreation is,” she said of seeing the real Janaran Falls. “That’s quite a breeze,” she remarked while slowly inhaling through her nose.
“Reminds you how much a starship’s air can feel very artificial,” Rebecca added while leaning on the balcony railing.
Sara nodded in agreement. “Oh, yes. Absolutely.” She nudged Rebecca on the shoulder and pointed out the interior of their suite. “You notice how much smaller the room is than the balcony?”
Rebecca smiled brightly. “That’s because Betazoid society has traditionally been an outdoor society.”
“Even when so many other humanoid races have spent so much time perfecting indoors?” Sara asked with a teasing grin.
“It’s been like that here for millennia. It comes as a result of a whole planet having tropical or temperate climates.”
“How do you know so much about Betazed?” Sara wondered as she rested her head on Rebecca’s left shoulder.
“I did a year abroad here,” Rebecca explained, wrapping her arm around Sara’s shoulder. “I hated to leave once it was over.”
“That’s one tradition that does seem to make practical sense,” Sara mused. “And there are some that don’t. Like kids getting the summer off from school.”
“Ah,” Rebecca said with an agreeing nod, “but that goes back to the pre-industrial days when families needed extra help in the farms during growing seasons. It’s still practiced on farming colonies throughout the Federation and Earth’s neo-transcendentalists.”
“Not to judge them, but I prefer a little bit of everything in moderation. Modern technology does make life a lot more convenient, but sometimes a little too convenient.”
Rebecca arched her body while coaxing her arm off Sara’s shoulder and looked into her lover’s eyes while clasping both her hands. “Having experienced both Starfleet and the Maquis, I couldn’t agree more. Maybe we should head out and enjoy more of that tropical breeze.”
Sara accepted Rebecca’s suggestion with a smile and a kiss on the lips.
As Rebecca had suggested, she and Sara visited the resort’s beach. The proximity to the lake created a soft breeze that was slightly stronger than the one felt from the balcony of their room, and offset scorching heat generated by the midday sun. The water was remarkably clear for a natural body of water surrounded by sandy beaches. The idyllic and tropical setting was surely one to behold.
What caught Sara’s were the people in varying states of undress. Some men and women who were laying out in the sunlight, walking along the lakeshore, or frolicking in the water were dressed in conventional swimwear that concealed their upper bodies down to their thighs. A few others, male and female, were bare-chested. Numerous other people throughout the beach--men, women, and even children--were fully nude. It didn’t seem so unusual for non-humanoid species--an iguana-like Selay, three bipedal feline Caitians, and a birdlike Ornithian. Individuals of those races only wore clothing during highly formal occasions or in off-world settings. And Sara had also heard on multiple occasions that traditional Betazoid weddings called for all participants and guests to be nude. Yet seeing humanoids naked in such a public setting still didn’t seem right, probably because of the humanoid tendency to conflate nudity with sexuality.
“Is this another one of those long-standing Betazoid traditions?” Sara rhetorically asked.
“Betazoid society is one that values complete honesty,” Rebecca explained. “Everybody’s anatomy is mostly the same, so it makes no difference how one dresses at public beaches.”
Sara nodded while forcing a grin while setting down a cloth bag. She removed a beach towel hanging out of the bag and spread it out on the sandy ground. She then removed her polo shirt and knee-length shorts, revealing a two-piece swimsuit consisting of a pair of briefs and a spaghetti tank top. Rebecca followed that same sequence, but she also stripped off her undergarments as well. Sara held her mouth agape, trying to hold in her surprise while she and her paramour lay on their separate towels face down.
“I know that look, Sara,” Rebecca said with a teasing smile. “It’s not like you haven’t seen me naked before.”
“But what about everyone else?” Sara retorted.
Rebecca chuckled lightly. “I’m okay with my body if that’s what you’re wondering.” She took a deep breath as she felt the breeze on her skin. “It feels liberating almost. You should try it.”
“No, thank you. I’ll keep the swimsuit on for now.”
Rebecca and Sara spent the evening at a dance club, sampling a few different alcoholic beverages that replicators did not synthesize well. They were seated at the bar while loud techno music blared throughout the establishment. The music’s volume made Sara wonder how people were able to speak to each other over such booming noise. Individuals of varying races who were on the dance floor did not appear to mind.
Sara grimaced as she downed a second shot of a very bitter tasting alcoholic beverage. “What do they call this stuff again?” she asked Rebecca.
“Tequila,” Rebecca shouted over the music.
“It’s amazingly potent stuff,” Sara remarked while imbibing what little was left in her glass. “Yet it’s strangely appealing at the same time. Makes replicated synthehol taste like water.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Rebecca agreed. Seeing the bartender pass by, she waved to him, asking about something called lyserdase. Sara was somewhat baffled, as she was unable to find that particular beverage on the menu.
“You sure?” the bartender skeptically asked. “It’s unpredictable with most first timers.”
“Oh, I can handle it,” Rebecca assured him.
The bartender nodded reluctantly. “If you say so.” He reached underneath the bar and handed her two ovular capsules.
Sara’s eyebrows perked up as if she recognized the capsules. “I’ve seen those,” she said ominously. “They’re a very powerful psychedelic agent.”
“Relax,” Rebecca assured. “They’re legal on Betazed.” That did little to assuage Sara’s worries. Rebecca broke open the capsules and lets the powder flow into her drink glass. She consumed the drink in one gulp. Feeling a sudden rush, she leapt out of her chair and towards the dance floor whooping.
Rebecca stumbled momentarily, but quickly regained her balance. The pulsating sound of the music suddenly waned until the whole room became eerily quiet. The other club patrons remained inaudible. She could soon here the distant sound of Jem’Hadar plasma rifles.
“The Jem'Hadar weren't supposed to be here,” she heard a familiar masculine voice say. “No one knew about this base but us.”
Rebecca found herself on Athos Four, where what was left of the Maquis had fallen back as their colleagues were being exterminated by the Dominion. Her late husband Michael Eddington was alongside her, coming to the rescue of her and her surviving colleagues. Clearly, the psychedelics were causing her to relive her spouse’s death, but she was still feeling that same primal fear for her life--the sense that one misstep could cost her life. “They landed three days ago. We tried to fight,” she said rather calmly.
“I know. I saw the bodies,” Michael replied. “I thought for a while there…”
Rebecca immediately knew how much he dreaded the idea that she didn’t survive the onslaught. “I didn't think I'd make it either, but they kept all the leaders alive. They were going to make a present of us to the Cardassian government. Now I guess we'll end up in a Federation prison."
“No, we're not going to prison. Not if I have anything to say about it.”
She started to black out, her surroundings darkening. She could almost feel her life slowly slipping away. But after a quick moment, she was back on Athos with her group under heavy fire from Jem’Hadar troops.
“Go. Whatever happens, don't stop until you get to the runabout,” Michael was shouting. “You, too,” he instructed her.
“I’m staying with you,” Rebecca insisted.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Michael promised. “Now get going.”
Having experienced these events before, Rebecca knew how hollow that promise was. She became extremely lightheaded and she eventually passed out.
Rebecca found herself back in the dance club, drawing the attention of onlookers as she stumbled across the establishment.
“Becca!” Sara cried. She leaned down and felt Rebecca’s warm forehead. “Stand clear,” she told the onlookers. “We need to get her to a hospital.”
Hours later, Rebecca awoke in the bed of a Starfleet hospital. She winced and felt her forehead, still feeling the effects of a lingering and searing headache. She looked around and saw Sara outside her room conferring with an attending physician. Rebecca sighed ruefully and rested her head on the pillow while Sara dismissed the doctor and sauntered into the room.
“The doctor said you probably shouldn’t have taken such a high dose when you hadn’t taken it in over a decade,” Sara explained with grudging sympathy.
“Oh, my God,” Rebecca said with a slow exhalation. “How could I have been so stupid?”
Sara gave a pitied smile and walked slowly towards her lover’s bed. She put her hand on Rebecca’s shoulder saying, “You wanted to experience life with very few responsibilities and obligations. Thankfully, someone with the self-discipline of a Starfleet veteran was there to help. Just don’t do something like this again.”
Rebecca clasped the hand that was on her shoulder while her eyes were brimming with tears. “Thanks for understanding. It’s more than that, Sara. I was so certain I would not survive the war. I was only concerned with avenging the Maquis; making sure Michael’s death wasn’t meaningless. I never planned for a life after the war. Now I don’t know what kind of future I have. I feel naked because of that.”
Sara smirked, realizing Rebecca’s feeling of being metaphorically naked explained how she didn’t mind being literally naked on a public beach earlier in the day. “You have me, Becca. You didn’t exactly plan on falling in love with me so soon after your husband died. But you did, and that’s something to live for. And I couldn’t imagine my life without you.”
Rebecca let single tears escape both her eyes. She held the hand grasping her shoulder with both her hands. She coaxed Sara’s hand towards her face and kissed the heel of the palm. “You don’t know how much that means to hear you say that.”
Sara was becoming teary-eyed as well while brushing the tears from Rebecca’s cheeks with the back of her free hand. “I can make an educated guess,” she retorted.
Both women soon had tears rolling down their cheeks. They giggled, and then shared a kiss.
Sara and Rebecca trudged down a moist trail of the humid jungle that surrounded Janaran Falls. The trees were hundreds of meters tall and were draped in leaves that nearly blocked the sun. Some of the sunlight did bleed through the leaves, creating a blinding brightness. At the end of the trail, the pair carefully descended down a rock face and set down their duffel bags.
The base of that rock face overlooked a lake where multiple waterfalls flowed into it, including one giant waterfall up ahead. Rebecca tapped Sara’s shoulder and pointed to her left. Light shades of yellow, orange, and red filled the bright blue sky. Within an hour of sunset, the rays of the sun reflected off high mountain peaks of multicolored crystal, gradually creating a more prominent and haphazard arrangement of colors. It was exactly like a holosuite simulation of Janaran Falls Rebecca had shown Sara seven months earlier.
“Amazingly beautiful,” Sara remarked. “And a lot more real without the sense of a holosuite wall just a few meters away.”
“And since holosuite and etiquette are hardly ever in the same sentence…” Rebecca said suggestively. She removed her navy blue tank top and tan shorts and flung them aside while tiptoeing towards a line of stones at the lakeshore. She then slipped off her bra and panties and threw them towards Sara, whose eyes widened with embarrassment. Rebecca lowered herself into the lake and submerged herself in the clear water. “Come on. Jump in already.”
Sara kicked her flip-flops off her feet while watching Rebecca move her arms to and fro in the water--her upper body halfway in a floating position, beads of cool water trickling down her shoulders and across her breasts. Sara stripped off her tank top and shorts slowly waded into the lake still wearing her undergarments.
“Really?” Rebecca scoffed. She walked over to Sara and quickly unhooked the front of her bra.
Sara crossed her arms across her chest. But then she didn’t see the point of that when Rebecca had already seen her fully naked on multiple occasions. “What the hell?” she said. If she learned one thing from Rebecca on this trip to Betazed, it was to do something outlandish, like skinny-dipping in a major tourist attraction. She slipped off her bra, then her panties, and hurled them to the shore near the rest of her clothes. She then wrapped her arms around Rebecca’s shoulders and planted her lips on Rebecca’s.
The two women continued kissing as they lowered their bodies further down into the water without any other cares in the universe. Neither of them wanted to let go of this moment. Sara ran her fingers through Rebecca’s hair while Rebecca stroked Sara’s bangs drooping over her forehead. Sara’s fingers then rubbed down Rebecca’s neck and down the center of her back while pecking her lips across her cheeks.
Rebecca stroked one hand down the left side of Sara’s neck and along her shoulders while kissing the right side of her neck. The two lovers’ eyes met in a deep, soulful gaze, and they kissed each other on the lips once more.
They continued holding each other tightly, trying to keep blissful moment frozen in time as long as possible.