A-to-Z Challenge — Letter Z
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.
A month had passed since Murphy’s trial. Life on Astraeus had returned to normal, or about as normal as life on a space station could be. There were still the occasional break-downs, odd shipments, and unsavory characters to deal with in the Caverns, but Ananda and Katie had found the time and attention needed to plan the wedding. The doctor’s parents were due to arrive that very evening from Earth and Rourke was more nervous than he thought he would be.
“Stop fidgeting, Jeremy,” Ananda said as she straightened the sash across his uniform. “It’s just Mum and Dad.”
“I am sure there is nothing just about your parents, Ananda,” Rouke whispered as he gently pushed her hands away. His link-in buzzed. “Yes?” he questioned.
“Sir, the shuttle has arrived,” the Docking attendant reported.
Rourke grinned at the doctor. “We’ll be right down,” he said and ended the call.
Ananda tucked her arm in the crook of Rourke’s arm. The two left the room and went down the corridor to the lift. Rourke felt uncomfortable in his “Good Will” uniform, as he called it. Normally, he only wore it for dignitaries and ambassadors, but he wanted to make a good impression on Ananda’s parents. The red jacket was tailored to fit his slim physique and the black pants were freshly pressed and creased. He wore the UCE insignia and the formal sash of his rank. Ananda wore an icy-blue silk sari with black heels, and her hair fell down her back in soft tresses.
When they stepped out of the lift, Katie was waiting for them. Rourke smiled at his daughter and took her arm in his free one. The three of them walked toward Docking with Rourke sandwiched between the two beauties. They stopped in front of Docking Bay 3. Rourke inhaled slowly and exhaled. Ananda glanced over at him and gave him a wink.
A strikingly handsome couple walked down the corridor of the docking bay. The man appeared to be in his seventies, but with the treatments these days, it was hard to tell age. He wore a dark blue suit and his greyish black hair was combed straight back across his head. The woman, who also seemed to be in her seventies, wore a sapphire sari with dark blue embroidery in a flower pattern. Her long black hair cascaded down her back, not a grey strand in her head. Ananda greeted them with open arms and gave each of them a peck on the cheek.
“Mum… Dad… this is Jeremy and his daughter, Katie,” she said as she stood to the side of her parents.
Jeremy stepped forward and extended his hand. “Mr, and Mrs. Agarwal, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Please, call me Darpak and this is Safia,” Ananda’s father said as he shook Rourke’s hand. “There’s no need for formalities among family.”
Rourke smiled at the couple. He felt sweat accumulating under his jacket and took a deep breath. “Welcome to Astraeus,” he managed to say. “We have dinner reservations in an hour. If you would like to freshen up, Ananda can show you to your quarters. Or, if you prefer, we can have drinks before dinner.”
“We freshened up on the shuttle. Drinks would be lovely though,” Safia said, her accent as charming as Ananda’s.
The five of them took a lift up to Blue Sector and entered the Bateau le Calife, a French restaurant modeled after a Paris restaurant of the same name. They went to the bar and took seats at a small table, and Rourke ordered a bottle of wine. Rourke was grateful that Ananda had told him that her parents loved French food. He hadn’t wanted to be presumptuous that they only ate Indian food. Earthlings were, after all, a cultured race. As they drank their wine, questioned the Agarwals about their jobs.
“Safia is the real scientist,” Darpak informed them. “She does genetic research. Her lab is on the cutting edge of the new life-extension treatments.”
Safia blushed. “Yes, but Darpak is helping the Katharsi to develop new travel compulsion.”
And so the conversation went, each of Ananda’s parents talking about the other’s job, instead of their own. Rourke caught Ananda smiling a few times as she listened to the gentle banter back and forth between her parents. This could only be what a lifetime spent with one being created—a perfect pairing of loving souls. Rourke desperately wanted that for Ananda.
After a while, they were led into the main dining hall and shown to their table. They ate, drank more wine, and discussed Katie’s college major and the recent events on the Station. The news of Murphy’s decapitation had shocked the citizens of Earth where the death penalty had been abolished for over five decades. They had prison planets for such outlaws now. Ananda coaxed the conversation to a lighter tone when she noticed Rourke’s furrowed brow.
“Katie and I have made all of the arrangements for the wedding, Mum,” she said as she placed a hand on Rourke’s hand.
“Tell me all about it, dear,” Safia insisted as she smiled at Katie.
For the remainder of the evening, Rourke and Darpak chatted about engine compulsion and the women discussed the wedding details. After they finished dessert, Rourke kissed Katie goodnight on her forehead and then she hugged Ananda and her parents. As he watched his daughter walk out of the restaurant, he couldn’t help but wonder why he had been so nervous before. It was obvious that Ananda’s parents were as kind and gentle as his beautiful fiancée. They wrapped up the dinner with a final glass of wine and then the two couples walked to the lift. Rourke invited them to his quarters for a nightcap, but all three declined. The wedding was the next evening and everyone, including Rourke, needed sleep.
On the morning of his wedding, Rourke was awakened much too early by the incessant beeping of his quarter’s door. He rolled over in his bed, rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock. It was 0500.
“Come in!” he shouted at the door and it slid open.
Davies staggered in, his clothes were rumpled and he wreaked of alcohol. He plopped down on the bottom end of the bed, leaned over and smack Rourke on the leg. “Good morning, ole buddy!”
“Bloody hell, Charles, you are wasted!”
Davies laughed. “You went to dinner with the misses’ parents instead of having a stag party with your best man… so me and the boys had one without you!”
Rourke pushed the covers aside and climbed out of the bed. He stood in front of Davies. He wanted to laugh, but he didn’t want to encourage his friend either. “I didn’t have a choice. They couldn’t get here sooner and I couldn’t be rude and not treat them to dinner when they arrived.”
“Yeah… well, you missed a hell of a party,” Davies said between hiccups. “You should have seen the girls,” he muttered as he raised his hands in front of his face and tried to draw curves in midair.
Rourke reached down and grabbed Davies under his arms and tried to lift him up. “C’mon, we need to get you sobered up and then some sleep. Ananda would be mortified if she saw you in this condition at her wedding!”
Davies eased off of the bed and nearly collapsed in Rourke’s arms, but managed to right himself. The two men zigzagged down the hall to Davies’ quarters. Rourke stood by the door as Davies haphazardly undid his clothing and then stumbled into the bathroom. After a couple of loud noises, he heard Davies yell “I’m okay!” and then the shower turned on. Rourke sat down at Davies’ desk and waited while his friend sang drunken songs and whistled as he showered. A few minutes later, a damp towel-clothed Davies returned to the bedroom in slightly better shape than he left.
“I just need a few hours of sleep and I will be fine,” Davies said as he grinned sheepishly at Rourke.
“Ananda will expect you at the pre-wedding festivities at 1500 hours. I will send someone to wake you around 1300,” Rourke said as he turned to leave. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Davies stumbling to pull down his bedcovers and then climbed into bed. “Thanks for celebrating for me, Charles,” he said as he exited Davies’ quarters. Davies was snoring before Rourke made it halfway down the hall.
With the exception of a small skeleton crew, all of the citizens of Astraeus, plus dignitaries and ambassadors from all over the galaxy were in attendance at the pre-wedding festivities. Even Ambassador Amon and Lady Luna were able to join them. The Ambassador had fully recovered from his nephew’s assassination attempt and demanded to attend. Rourke couldn’t refuse after all the trouble from his previous visit. Only the bride and groom were absent, as part of the wedding plans.
The Rotunda was decorated in bright reds and golds and music filled the air. Wine flowed easily among the attendants and the room buzzed with dancing and laughter. Katie caught the eye of the Tech, Antonio Martinez and he kept her busy on the dance floor.
At three minutes before the wedding was to officially begin, the music died and the Chaplin entered the Rotunda clad in a long white robe. Rourke and Davies entered, both dressed in white tuxedos. Katie left Martinez and hurried to the back of the Rotunda, her baby blue satin dress swaying as she ran. At exactly 1700 hours, the music began again, this time a lovely Indian ballad. Safia Agarwal entered, dressed in a full length red, embroidered sari with a long scarf over her head. Katie followed after her and both women took their positions in front of the Chaplin. And then the Wedding March began to play and the crowd turned to face the back of the Rotunda.
Darpak Agarwal led his daughter down the aisle. His white tuxedo matched perfectly with Ananda’s silver and white embroidered gown. Her face was covered with a white sheer veil and she was adorned in her families’ silver pearl and diamond jewelry—necklace, earrings, and headset. Rourke took a breath in and almost forgot to exhale. Ananda was the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes upon. When she finally stood by his side, he flashed her a wide smile.
The music died and the Chaplin took his place before the bride and groom. “Citizens and guests of Astraeus, I welcome you to the binding of these two precious souls—Commander Jeremy Rourke and Dr. Ananda Agarwal. Here, in the depths of space, we are reminded of the eternal grace of this vast universe and of the love shared between these two before us. If we were on Earth, the two would describe this as reaching the zenith of a grand mountain that they have climbed together for over five years. And now, Jeremy and Ananda have written their own vows and will recite them together.”
Rourke and Ananda turned to face one another, each holding a slip of paper. Rourke began to recite:
“Ananda Argarwal, my beautiful bride
I commend my heart to you eternally
For this love we share cannot be denied.”
Ananda joined him as her soft voice drifted through the room:
“Jeremy Rourke, my handsome groom
I freely give to you my heart, my life
As a token of my love for you.”
In unison, they completed their vows:
“We are one, stardust of the Universe
Two souls bound together
Eternal soulmates, espoused to the other.”
The Chaplin took the slips of paper from them, and Rourke and Ananda clasped hands. Then the Chaplin took a red ribbon and wrapped it around their hands. “And it is so. You may kiss the bride!” he exclaimed as the guests broke out in cheers.
Rourke bent his head, lifted Ananda’s veil and lowered his lips to hers. The crowd gathered around and brightly colored confetti fell upon them. Ignoring it all, Rourke picked Ananda up in one full sweep off of the floor and carried her through the crowd of people and out of the Rotunda. “Please enjoy the festivities,” he yelled back to their guests. Rourke continued to hold her in his arms as they entered the lift, kissing her as they ascended to the living quarters, and then released her lips as the door opened. He commanded his door to open when they reached his quarters and carried his new wife over the threshold.
“Welcome home, Mrs. Rourke,” he said as he lowered her to the bed. She reached up and snaked her fingers around his neck and pulled him closer to her. “At last, Mr. Rourke,” she whispered and kissed him.
The Bride’s Gown:
(Check out Baby Makes Three for a teaser on the upcoming new adventures of the Astraeus crew coming in November 2016!)