Chapter 18: Trouble
© Lady Owl
Neelix and Heather were already at the workshop for a while when Gale shouted from the back office to get Neelix's attention. He sighed, annoyed and set his tool down as he lifted his goggles and began to walk towards the back.
"Neelix, you have a message." Gale informed him as he entered.
"Oh..?" Neelix replied, interested but felt his gut lurch. As much as he wanted to speak to Muora, it made him extremely anxious. He looked over at Heather who was sitting up on the counter across from him. She was playing with Gale's game again and shared the same look of worry as he did, when their eyes met.
"Yeah... from... the Overseer." Gale replied. He seemed both confused and nervous by this.
"The Overseer? What would he want? We're catching up at a good pace.. I can't imagine he'd be receiving any complaints." Neelix replied, "What did he say?"
"Just says he wants to meet with you as soon as possible.. Damn I hope we're not in trouble.." Gale lowered his ears in worry. Neelix just shook his head with a sigh.
"Well I better just get this done and over with now so I can get back to work." Neelix said as he turned towards the office exit.
"I can't come?" Gale asked.
"No, I need you here. Just let the others know I stepped out for a bit." Neelix replied as he held his hand out for Heather. She slipped off the counter and handed Gale's device back to him before she took Neelix's hand, and they both walked out.
Heather was both curious and apprehensive about seeing the Overseer. She had only heard mention of him on occasion and knew he was in control of everything on the station. She pictured this alien that was larger and more intimidating than Muora. The thought frightened her. Muora at least seemed kind and warmhearted, despite his strong outward appearance, but the Overseer was up for debate.
"Neelix.. what's the Overseer like?" She asked him as they walked down the dingy worn out halls of the station. Dust particles were visible within the light beams overhead.
"Oh, he's alright. A little grumpy because he inherited the position from his father.. and he really didn't want it." Neelix explained.
"Didn't you say he is the reason you're the lead mechanic?"
"His father is the reason. The man's got a bad habit of forcing jobs on people."
"But you like your job?"
"Yes, thankfully. Can't say the same for the Overseer, though. He's very.. mellow when it comes to his work. Anything to keep the peace. He hates conflict of any kind, and would rather avoid it... even going so far as to pay people off, than start arguments. He can't stand being frustrated."
"What do you think he wants?" She asked curiously.
"I really don't know. He can see we're getting our work done. Gale has been sending in daily reports on our status and resource consumption. So all I can assume is, it's something else, which has me greatly puzzled."
"Are you worried it might be something bad?"
"Yes and no. The Overseer dislikes actually having to do his job, but at the same time, if he is calling for me, it would have to seriously be worth his time and effort..."
Heather lowered her gaze to the floor in thought. She slipped her hand into Neelix's and grasped tightly, and felt a warmth inside her when she felt him grasp back.
Aside from the worry they were both feeling, Heather enjoyed the trip down to the Overseer's office, as it allowed her to see more of the station. She found it interesting how often the halls were mostly empty. She assumed since the station had so many different types of occupants on it, and seemed rather large, that people were used to coming and going as they pleased, instead of always a set time for large crowds to gather with people all coming and going at the same time.
They seemed to be headed down through the station, as Heather made note they had taken two elevators and a flight of stairs along with a handful of long corridors to their destination. Eventually there was some sign that they were close, as she could see a large metal door further down the hall that they were currently in, and felt herself tense slightly as they approached. The hall spread out into a large circular opening and Heather could see that the metal door was attached to a domed structure that sat in the center. Like a building within a building.
Heather could make out that the metal door was decorated, though so old and worn that some of the patterns were faded or not visible at all. It was obvious this area of the station was intended for something important, even if the occupants didn't keep up with maintaining it.
As they came near, she saw sparks erupt from the left side of the door as a mechanical object, that had simply seemed apart of the wall, suddenly came to life. It jittered as it had difficulty rotating its snake like body around to look down at them. A large lens on the end of the body seemingly blinked as Heather stared back at their reflection within it.
"A robot?" Heather asked.
"Mmhmm." Neelix replied and nodded to the mechanical being.
"Station resident Neelix. Head mechanic." The old worn out robotic being said through crackled speakers. It then looked down at Heather, curiously blinking the aperture of its lens as it examined her. "Not resident of thi-thi-this station. No residency found. Unknown species. Not identifiable."
Heather glanced up at Neelix, but before she could say anything, the robot turned its attention back to him.
"The Overseer is expecting you. Pl-pl-please proceed." It told him and the door slowly began to open. It was heavy and the awful grinding noise it made as it parted, confirmed her suspicions of its age. It didn't bother to open fully, only a crack large enough for the two of them to fit, side by side.
"Neelix. Ah, good, you brought it with you."
"I'm sorry?" Neelix replied, confused as he and Heather walked into the large domed office.
Heather peered slowly around Neelix to get a good look at the Overseer.. and was surprised at what she saw. Instead of a tall, menacing looking creature, what she witnessed was a short, rather humbled looking alien standing behind an odd structure she assumed must be his desk.
He may have been as tall or taller than herself, but it was difficult to be sure when his thin framed body was hunched over in a tired, bored expression. Despite his posture, he did not appear old, however. In fact, he may have been in his prime based on his features. He seemed slightly feeble, both in appearance and attitude as if easily intimated as he nervously tapped the tips of his fingers together and turned to face them.
"My... ummm.." Neelix began and nervously looked about the large domed office as he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Don't play dumb with me, Neelix... I have been informed." He replied and Neelix just sighed, now knowing what all of this was about and why he had summoned him. "You know when it comes to the citizens on this station, I like to know what is going on. Especially with those that I trust and have been given high priority occupations. You, of all people, owning a slave, is not something so easily slipped under the radar. You were hired for this job when you had nothing but the clothing on your back. Given the chance to impress... and since my father is no longer here to reap the benefits, you owe me the courtesy of keeping me informed on such... frowned upon activities. When you look bad, Neelix, I look bad. That is all I am trying to say to you."
"Who told you..." Neelix said with a tone in his voice that Heather didn't hear often. He was angry. His fingers fumbled at his sides, anxiously awaiting the answer, as if he already knew what it would be.
"It was a short woman, rather fat and with an attitude." The Overseer replied. Neelix looked surprised, but narrowed his eyes in thought, considering something. He then let out a deep sigh, appearing relieved.
"Complained about being mistreated at your shop, actually. I gave her a certificate for free goods at the markets to shut her up, then sent her on her way. But of course, she had gotten wind of your little situation.. digging about where her stout ugly nose didn't belong. To get you in trouble... a sort of.. revenge, I suppose.. Surprised she didn't get her throat slit in the process." He explained with a roll of his eyes. "You know I don't care about the incident.. but the slave, I do. I looked at your file for information about this slave you were accused of owning, and could find none. This did not sit well with me. I don't take the subject of slavery lightly, and needed to be sure. Confirm whether or not this accusation was actually true. So here we are... and here she is."
Neelix swallowed hard. "Yes.. well...I..."
"If you wish to keep this slave, you must have her properly registered and marked."
"But I-" Neelix began, but the Overseer raised a hand to stop him.
"It's nothing against you, Neelix. You know I wish not to upset my head mechanic. The gods forbid, you have access to this entire station, least I wake to find the station about to explode... You and I have always been on good terms and I'd like to keep it that way. You're a cooperative individual. I trust you, but rules are rules." The Overseer explained.
"It's not like you bother to enforce these rules you're preaching now..." A familiar, deep and intimidating voice said from behind Neelix and Heather, which caused them both to flinch and turn around. The Overseer merely rolled his large eyes yet again, annoyed that the situation had just now been escalated.
"Oh, and by the way," Muora said as he tossed a barely distinguishable hunk of metal onto the floor, "Your robot's broken." The robot twitched and sparked against the fabric rug. "N-n-not.. allowed... permission den--ied..." It sputtered.
"Muora. Why am I not surprised to see you here in all of this..." The Overseer said with a sigh.
"Nevermind my involvement. I'll take care of this issue from here."
"Of course you will." The Overseer said smartly as he turned away, bored with the entire situation.
"Neelix." Muora said, calling them over to him. He glared at the Overseer before directing his attention down as they approached. He then lowered his elongated neck to Neelix's level and spoke softly.
"Not here. We'll discuss this matter later during the privacy our meeting. I'll call for you, but wait to leave this office. We're not to be seen together outside of the club."
Neelix and Heather watched Muora step out and then Neelix turned his attention back to the Overseer, as he felt a sick knot form in his stomach.
"Is... there anything else you need me for?" Neelix asked with hesitation.
"As it seems Muora has already worked his scheming claws around your situation, I guess not. Better him than me anyway. But... actually, yes. There is something I need from you." The Overseer simply pointed a long finger down at the pile of deformed metal and twisted wires on the floor. "Take it with you." He said in an annoyed tone and waved them away.
"Are you ok, Neelix?" Heather asked hesitantly as they began the long walk back to the workshop. Neelix breathed out deeply through his nostrils and looked to the floor as he tightened his grip around the Overseer's security drone, "Yeah, I'm alright..."
"You... were tense when you asked who told the Overseer about me." She stated more so than asked, just in case he wasn't in the mood to talk about it.
"I... I thought Tes.. maybe.."
"Tes? Why would you think she'd say anything?"
"Because..." Neelix paused. He wasn't about to reveal to Heather what had happened between Tes and himself... That she had kissed him. "She's not very happy with me right now." He finally said.
"You.. think she'd do something like that? Out of spite?
"No... and it was wrong of me to even consider the thought..."
"How did she even know?"
"She confronted me, but it's rather obvious, Heather. People are going to question your presence.. it's only natural. People like me don't own people like you... don't own slaves."
Heather just bit her lip and nodded slowly as she kept her pace with Neelix. She didn't know how to feel or what to say. So they continued down the hall and back to the workshop in silence.
"How did it go? Are we in trouble?" Gale asked anxiously and walked up to them as both Neelix and Heather entered the workshop. He gave an odd look as he noticed the robot in Neelix's arms.
"Here." Neelix replied with no emotion as he shoved the robot at Gale, who slumped forward from the unexpected weight of the thing. Harold quickly grabbed it for him and held it out in his arms as Sniffs lept up onto Gale's shoulder to get a better look.
"What this? Don't have time for this! No time to fix robot... many ships! Too many ships! This low priority.. not even repair worthy!" Sniffs said in a panicked tone.
"Repair... repair... repair." The robot repeated as it flickered back to life, barely able to move.
"It not even shut down properly!" Sniffs shouted in shock as he lost his balance and slipped backwards off Gale's shoulder. Despite Sniffs clinging to his back to catch himself, Gale turned his attention back to Neelix for the reply to his unanswered question.
"Everything is fine." Neelix said sternly and to the point as he noticed Gale looking at him.
"Well, what did he want?"
"It's personal, we'll leave it at that."
Gale hunched his shoulders as he drew back and lowered his ears submissively. He knew Neelix was not in a good mood and would not test his patience, but glanced at Heather, hopeful maybe she would fill him in. However, she only made eye contact for a moment before looking away and heading into the back office. Gale sighed, as he was once again dismissed from knowing anything of Neelix and Heather's personal life.
Neelix moved himself around the work tables and picked his tool back up as he walked behind Tes. He touched her shoulder and rubbed gently with an encouraging, friendly grip as he passed by. "I'm sorry, Tes." He said but kept his gaze to the floor.
"For what?" She asked with a confused look on her face, but Neelix just shook his head as he walked off away from her.
It was late in the evening when Muora finally called for Neelix.
Both he and Heather were silent as they walked down to Muora's club. Neelix was extremely uneasy as thoughts continued to run through his head: worry and doubt. He wondered why Muora had randomly come to the Overseer's office.. but then realized he must have known the Overseer wanted to see him. But how? Maybe he was wrong to ever doubt Muora, for if he was able to intercept a message from the Overseer, he really was efficient in his deals. But what did that mean, exactly? Was the workshop rigged? What about his very home? Could Muora see every message sent and received on his private console? What else did Muora know about? Had he given up his own privacy? How was he even able to do such things?
His mind raced with a million questions and he took a deep breath as they approached the club entrance. Everything seemed calm and normal: Thumping music, crowds, lights.. except as he walked forward, one of two bouncers that stood at the entrance way of the club, stepped in front of his path.
"This way, Neelix." The thick bodied and deep voiced reptilian bouncer said as he turned about to lead the way inside. Neelix glanced at the other bouncer who smugly rubbed his claws against the long tusks that protruded from the corners of his mouth. He nodded his head in the direction of his buddy, indicating to Neelix to follow, and be quick about it. Neelix returned the stare with an unamused look; this day already was too stressful for him to have any effort left in him to care about the arrogance of a club bouncer. Heather felt Neelix's large fingers tighten around her hand as they followed the first bouncer into the club.
"Hey! Hey Neelix! Over here!" A familiar voice shouted from the crowd.
"Just a moment.." Neelix said to the bouncer, who looked extremely annoyed as Neelix quickly moved through the crowd with Heather, over to Veeno.
"Hey, what are you doing here..? Are you in some kind of trouble?" Veeno said with wary curiosity as he eyed up the bouncer escort, "He looks pretty pissed..."
"Nevermind that, I need you to keep an eye on Heather for me." Neelix said with desperation.
"Ah man... I mean hell, I'm kind of in the middle of things here..."
"I'm not asking..." Neelix said as he glared down at him.
"Geez.. calm down, I'll keep an eye on her... Your meeting with Muora, huh?"
"No... I punched a guy out front and the bouncer is taking me to the back to teach me how to behave in a club.."
"Ha ha...Man, don't fuck with me when I've had a few. I might actually believe you..."
"Neelix... why can't I come?" Heather asked with a disappointed look on her face. "I mean look at him, he's already on his way to becoming drunk." She said with a concerned look as she glanced back at Veeno. Neelix sighed and reached out, grabbed the drink from Veeno's hand and dumped it out on the floor."
"No more!" Neelix said as he slammed the glass on the counter.
"That shits expensive... "
"I'm not fucking about, Veeno... Have you eaten anything? I bet you're drinking on an empty stomach.."
"Haha, I would have been eating something if you hadn't put me on watch duty."
Heather let out an annoyed groan in response to Veeno's statement.
"I'm serious, Veeno!" Neelix snapped.
"Hey hey hey... I'll behave, I promise! You know I wouldn't let anything happen to her." Veeno said with a grin as he reached out and put his arm around Heather's shoulder and pulled her to him so she was scrunched up against his side.
"Ugh... you wreak of alcohol." Heather muttered in disgust.
"This is going to be a disaster..." Neelix sighed as he ran his hand from his eyes down the length of his snout.
"Lets go..." The bouncer had finally had enough and grasped Neelix's arm, "You would do best not to keep the boss waiting..."
"Yes.. yes, I'm sorry. I'm coming... Watch her!" Neelix hissed back at Veeno before being tugged by the bouncer away from them.
Veeno made a gesture with his hand along with a wide grin back at Neelix that Heather could only assume was the equivalent of a thumbs up or an 'ok' sign... and then she dropped her forehead down on the counter and grumbled.
"We're gonna have fun, Heather. You wont even notice Neelix is gone!"
Neelix felt his heart race as he left Heather with Veeno and was escorted into the back of Muora's club. The bouncer stopped and, just like Ala had, accessed a lock on the door. They soon entered and the bouncer stepped aside and bowed before Muora and Ala.
Muora was sitting on a large couch that lined the far corner of the room. Slouched, arms resting behind his head, completely relaxed as Ala sat crossed legged with arms folded, on his lap. Their attention was directed to a pair of dancers that were up on a platform in front of them. The atmosphere within this private section of the club was cool and calm with a soft, slow repetitive beat in the music, compared to the loud, fast, and warm contrast out in the main area.
"She's very lovely. Extremely flexible." Ala said.
"Yes, she is, but the other, no. I don't care for her dancing." Muora grumbled with boredom. "Perhaps that type of dance would be acceptable in a lower class club, but not mine. Out."
Neelix watched as the girl, who appeared upset, possibly on the verge of tears, stepped off the platform and ran into the back, out of sight.
"Ah, Neelix." Muora said as a new girl entered to replace the last. He did not give Neelix the courtesy of looking at him, continuing instead, to keep his eyes focused on the dancers.
Neelix nervously approached. He was uncomfortable seeing the dancers. Not because he couldn't enjoy looking at such things, or even because of his feelings for Heather, but instead, it reminded him of what could have been. Either if he had not purchased Heather and she ended up as a slave dancer, or if Muora had decided that would be his payment in their deal, instead.
"Where's Heather, Neelix?" Ala asked, with concern.
"I.. left her out with Veeno." Neelix replied uncomfortably.
"He can't be sober..." Ala gave him a look of disapproval. "You could have brought her in with you."
"No, he's a little funny, on the verge, but not quite there yet. I told him to behave himself. And well, I didn't think I should... This didn't seem like something Heather should be involved in."
"Understandable, however, you might trust him, but I don't. I'll keep an eye on things from time to time." Ala replied.
"So Ala tells me, Neelix, that you're not satisfied with our agreement." Muora interrupted them.
"Oh no.. no no, I didn't mean to imply that. I just meant that... it's been well, quite some time and I just thought that I would, well, notice something different. But.. I guess after this morning.."
"We're watching Neelix. We're always watching."
"Yes, I noticed." Neelix said sarcastically, referring to earlier that morning in the Overseer's office. Muora just chuckled.
"Do you still have doubts?"
"I... no. Not anymore, I guess..."
"Neelix, walk with me."
Neelix watched Muora sit up and grasp Ala. He playfully slipped his large clawed hands around her tiny waist and lifted her effortlessly up so she would not slip off his lap as he stood. He then carefully set her back down in the spot he had been sitting in.
"I think this morning was a good enough demonstration of my end of the deal, but I do understand your concern. We never did get much of a chance to talk in depth about things. I think it's time I showed you around." Muora said with a grin.
"So did you tell him yet?" Veeno asked her.
"Tell him what?" Heather asked.
"Tell Neelix that you were checking him out last night."
Heather immediately froze up. Veeno chuckled as he leaned across the table to her.
"Please don't tell him..." She whispered.
"Don't worry, your little secret is safe with me. I'm was just waiting to see if you were gonna tell him or not." He said with a smirk.. but rolled his eyes when he saw she looked like she might have a panic attack.
"Hey... " He moved his hand up and rubbed her shoulder. "Relax... you really are nervous about this whole inter species thing, aren't you? If it makes you feel any better, he feels the same way about you, ya know... you both are so shy about admitting how you feel for one another that you walk around tense and anxious all the time."
"Believe me... I know.." She said with a gulp as she was reminded of the little incident in bed that morning, that for her, had truly confirmed Neelix's feelings for her, too...
"Hmm? Well then if you know how he feels and you know you feel that way too, why not just tell him already?"
"It's not that easy... He... he doesn't know that I know... and I don't even know how to tell him how I feel.. or if I can.."
"Oh come on. Anyone can see you have feelings for him. Don't tell me he never realized it."
"Huh? No.. I don't know.. I just meant, something else..."
"I get the sense you're not gonna tell me."
"No.. I'm not.." She said as she lowered her gaze and Veeno just laughed.
"So you're concerned because of a lack of visible, physical security? Feeling as though our agreement is pointless and not even in progress, I would presume." Muora said.
"I guess when you put it that way.. " Neelix replied.
Muora and Neelix had entered deeper into the former's dwellings. Behind a closed door and now down a long large corridor. A place on this station even Neelix himself had not been to before. Muora had his arm up on Neelix's shoulder as if directing him forward and showing a sense of dominance towards the entire situation. It made Neelix extremely uncomfortable. His attention, however was caught by the events taking place on the other side of the windows that were built into the walls of this hallway. His eyes widened in surprise by just how large this place was, and seeing several things that made him uneasy. He took a deep breath as Muora directed him out of the corridor and into a large storage room.
Muora followed Neelix inside and circled around him slowly as he spoke. "Do you know what these are, Neelix?" Muora asked as he pushed one of the large crates within the storage room, towards him, with little effort. The lid was already loosely on and Muora shoving the crate had caused it to slip off and fall to the floor, revealing several weapons within. Neelix's eyes went wide.
Neelix had never personally encountered weapons before, and witnessing them in front of him now left him stunned. He was just a civilian, and even if this station didn't have the best reputation around, it still bothered him to physically see what was going on behind the fake illusion of security. It was a smack to the face, or at least it felt like one to him. The seriousness of his predicament had just been escalated...
"I can see the look of horror on your face, but more importantly, the stench of fear within my nostrils, emanating from you." Muora said calmly. It didn't seem to phase him at all. "I level the playing field. Keep everything fair out there in this world where people take what they want by force, with no care for anyone else but themselves. I allow the victims the means to defend themselves. I believe in equality, Neelix, so if people request weapons, I make them available, under certain conditions, of course. Preconditions must be met."
"D-does the Overseer know about this?" Neelix asked in a stutter with his eyes still transfixed on the guns within the crate. His chest rising and falling rapidly.
"The Concord, more specifically, the Overseer, is very aware of what I do. Aside from the fact that the Concord could give a shit about what goes on out here, the Overseer wouldn't dare bother with something so out of his comfort zone. I keep the station under control. More than that pathetic excuse of an Overseer ever could, or would. He is a joke... but though he may not like me or what I do here, even he can see that I'm a respectable figure and a protector, of sorts, of this station. To put it bluntly, Neelix," Muora said as he moved dangerously close to him and looked him straight in the eye, "No one fucks with me."
Neelix swallowed so hard he could feel the lump of saliva painfully push down his throat. Muora grinned and pulled back away from Neelix with a deep chuckle. Both satisfied and amused with Neeix's reaction.
"You've gotten yourself mixed in with the right people. I can assure you of that and hope you do not doubt me again. You request my protection. You do as I ask and you receive it. But since I can smell it on you, that you are not satisfied with just the mere knowledge of what I've done for you, then I can provide a more physical, false sense of security to ease your mind."
"T-that.. wont be necessary.." Neelix replied.
"I just.. want to know she will be safe. Seeing this.. seeing all of this... I.." Neelix closed his eyes, utterly defeated and Muora's hard expression turned to one of sympathy.
"Well for one, you're not fooling anyone by not having her chipped like that, Neelix." Muora continued.
"I'm sorry?" Neelix asked.
"Did Veeno not explain this to you? Should I have my bouncers escort him here for a little chat?"
"No.. no..." Neelix gulped. "I... removed it."
"Fine.. I convinced Veeno not to do it."
"Why would you do something so foolish?" Muora said with a grumble, but then shook his head. "No matter, it's good that you did. As bad as it is that we cannot track her, neither can anyone else. I would have actually kept it going for awhile longer, but now that the Overseer is aware, there is no longer a choice in the matter. Always out for his own ass, that one."
"I don't understand?" Neelix said as he looked up at him.
"You know every slave must be identified. Chipped. Registered. This is the legal proof that a slave belongs to an individual. That they are property and to steal property, a slave, is a very large offense. It is illegal to own a slave without this, which is why the Overseer bothered to care in the first place. Curious, though why you didn't have her chipped?"
"I, well... I hate slavery. It hurt to know what she would be officially to me. My slave. I never wanted a slave.. I never wanted the one I-" Neelix paused.
"The one you love." Muora finished his sentence for him and Neelix closed his eyes.
"Yes... the one I love..." Neelix repeated the words.
"You can continue, Neelix." Muora told him in a comforting tone.
"At-at the time, we had no way of communicating with her." Neelix continued. She was frightened enough without Veeno shoving large chip implant tools in her face." He explained.
Muora paused for a moment as he considered Neelix's words, and his emotions. "Fair enough." He finally said. "Do you think I like knowing the one I love, is my slave? No I don't. Their status, their title, is irrelevant. It's how you treat them, that matters. What they are to you, in your eyes, Neelix. Sometimes things need to be done in order to keep those we love, safe. She chose me, but she had to give up her freedom to be with me. I own her. She is my property. They can't touch her anymore; taking her from me is stealing. Just as it is if someone took your Heather from you. But it is what it is, Neelix. Slave or not, she has no identification. We're all given chips, not having one is like throwing meat to a stray pack of beasts. She's completely unmarked. Free for the taking and if someone stole her, we'd have no way of tracking her."
"I guess then, it is time I get her chipped..." Neelix replied as he lowered his head.
"No, it isn't that easy. She is a target, Neelix. It was wise of you to come to me for help. Under my supervision, you will have a chip implanted into her. One of my chips. Untraceable by anyone other than myself. This protects her from being traced by people who may wish to do her harm... but it wont stop it entirely. A chip is merely an easier means to track someone. There is always old fashion tracking methods and I've already gotten wind of her existence from several sources... a few sources that make me rather suspicious."
"What are you saying? ... What do you know?" Neelix asked as worry swept over him and he looked back up at Muora for an answer.
"It's not a matter you need to concern yourself with at this time. If I feel she is in danger, I'll take the necessary actions to insure her safety, and your own. A deal is a deal, Neelix."
Neelix just sighed. Muora knew something. Heather might be in some kind of danger, and he didn't even understand why. The very thought of something happening to her, of losing her... He felt so sick and weak in the knees...
"Speaking of..." Neelix managed to continue, "You've still left me in the dark on my side of this deal... Do you know what it's like? How it feels to know you're in someone's debt? A powerful crime lord at that, every day, and not have any idea what he is going to ask of you? This entire thing has me sick with worry!" Neelix shouted, distressed by the entire situation.
"For one, I am not a crime lord. Lets make that one very clear. Two," He chuckled deeply, "Really now, is that what you think? That I'm going to send you off on some errand to murder someone for me or steal, lie, and cheat? I've already people who do those things for me. You're a mechanic.. not just any mechanic, but the lead one on this station and the best I've ever seen in my lifetime. You're able to keep the shittiest station this side of the galaxy running efficiently with limited resources and teammates. Build a ship of elegant beauty and design that any individual on this station would give his left nut to own, aside from myself of course, as I really do love my own little ship. You should see her sometime, I think you might like her." Muora said with a grin of pride.
"The point is, I've seen what you're capable of, Neelix and your talents are useful to me. You don't send a master chef to assassinate someone; you have him create elegant dishes for you, and I'm not gonna hire the hitman to make me cookies." Muora explained. "I like to have a collection of the very best out there in all professions of interest to me. You just happened to have gotten yourself into becoming my lucky little mechanic."
"What if the hitman makes damn good cookies.." Neelix pointed out, sarcastically with his ears lowered.
"So what are you saying, Neelix? You're damn fine at murdering people? Hmm?" Muora said with a smirk but Neelix just sighed.
"I just mean that... it doesn't mean you wouldn't have me do shady things. You could have me fix a bomb for all I know!" Neelix said as his shoulders tensed up, but Muora just laughed.
"I like you, Neelix. That is why I am so inclined to help you. And your situation reminds me of my own. You do need to calm yourself, however. I don't let just anyone into my circle of trust. It's a huge honor. A privilege. So I would hope that would be enough to settle your suspicions about our agreement. If I intended to do you any harm, I wouldn't waste effort being friendly to you. I'm very direct. Aside from the requirements of our actual agreement, as I have said before, when the time comes, I will call for you and you will come. It will not be a task that you will be unable to handle, physically.. or mentally."
"I don't mean to come off as ungrateful...I appreciate what you're doing for me... for us. Heather and I. It's just something I've never gotten myself into. I'm just an average guy trying to live my life in peace. Trying to find happiness like anyone else." Neelix explained.
"We don't always ask or want the things that are handed to us in our life, Neelix, but sometimes to be happy, we have to do things we're not always comfortable with." Muora explained and Neelix just closed his eyes. "Now, if your concerns have been quenched, let us return, then?" Muora said, "We need to schedule an appointment for Heather to receive her chip."
Heather was tapping her fingers against the bar counter, impatiently awaiting for Neelix to return. Instead of doing as Neelix had asked, Veeno had ordered a couple extra drinks...
"Ya know.. Heather.." Veeno began as he slumped across the counter so he could look at her, his words slurred.
"Nice job there getting yourself drunk, Veeno.." Heather said angrily. She waved away the smell of alcohol from her face as he breathed on her. He just chuckled stupidly in response and continued.
"If you weren't Neelix's.. I'd so ask you to spend the night at my place."
Heather's eyes went wide as he just lazily smiled at her, but she wasn't exactly surprised to hear this as he seemed willing to get into the pants of just about any female he encountered. Why would she honestly be any different...
"Bros before hoes I guess..." She replied with an eye roll.
"Ha! That's a good one! Never heard that before.. but you're not a hoe or anything like that.. wait.. are you?"
Heather made a disgusted but amused face. She couldn't help but want to smirk even though she was trying not to. She shoved him away from her and he just attempted to straighten up in his seat still chuckling to himself.
"Psssst... psst pst.." He said to get her attention, even though he had never lost it. "Don't tell Neelix...k? He'd kick my ass..."
"I don't need to tell him. He knows you better than anyone. If he thought you'd do something so stupid, he'd not trust you around me."
"You're right. And about before, too. Neelix is like a bro to me. He's the only family I've got on this shit station. I'd never betray him or his trust."
"Yeah well, unfortunately you say stupid things when you're drunk.."
"Stupid but true..But not do stupid things when I'm drunk.."
"No, just do stupid things while you're sober by getting drunk in the first place." Heather stated, but when he didn't reply, she turned her head to look at him... and saw he had passed out on the counter... She just sighed.
She felt truly alone now and with Neelix taking what felt like forever in the meeting, she was getting tired and anxious for his return. She tapped her knuckle against her bottom lip, considering a thought that came to mind... and then stood up from the bar. She figured it would be ok to pass the time just walking around, and folded her arms as she began to explore the club.
Muora and Neelix had returned to the room with the dancers to find that Ala wasn't there and the dancers relaxing and talking amongst themselves.
"Hmm." Muora said to himself before he moved over to a console built into the wall to access it. "Ala, would you bring Heather back here so we can schedule an appointment."
"Muora... I don't see Heather with Veeno. I don't see her anywhere. I need you and Neelix out here right away..." Ala said with panic in her voice.
Neelix felt a wave of shock run through him before Muora grabbed him by the wrist and shoved him towards the door.
"Go. I'll search for her on my monitors. She is in the club. My bouncers wouldn't have let her leave."
Muora's club was huge. Every new area Heather explored seemed to open up into yet another section. At one point, she came to a quiet exit away from the crowd. A long curved hall in the shape of a giant tube, illuminated by an intense yellowish orange light. Heather looked down the hallway with curiosity as a couple passed her and started heading down it. She then looked back into the main club she had just walked through. She bit her lip, hesitant at first, "I'll only go to the end, peek inside and come back." She reassured herself. "I just wanna see where it goes." Then began to walk down the hall, too.
"Where is Heather?!" Ala snapped at Veeno.
"Huh...?" He replied sleepily.
"You were supposed to be watching her!" She yelled at him.
"But I am!" He twisted around trying to find her. "Was! She was right here?!"
"You idiot!" Neelix yelled before running off to look for her.
"How could you be so stupid! So careless, Veeno!" Ala said but then noticed the glasses on the table and picked one of them up, "Oh but of course... I'm actually surprised you didn't end up taking off with some girl, instead!"
"I only had... five.. three! No... I didn't know it was that strong!"
Ala shouted out in frustration as she clenched her beak down, which caused Veeno to wince. She then leaned over the counter to reach behind it, searching for something. Veeno watched curiously as she leaned back up and shoved her hand against his face to force a small tablet into his mouth.
"Hey--hmmfhff!" He mumbled against her hand, unable to speak.
"Swallow it and then help us find Heather!"
"What the hell did you just make me take...?!" He said but Ala just grabbed his hand and yanked him off the stool.
"Hello, pretty little thing..." A stranger's voice said which startled Heather. She stepped away from a large, rounded alien, who was slightly taller than herself. He was eying her up... and grinned as he watched her back up into his friend. She flinched and quickly stepped away from him, but tensed up as she realized the two, possibly a third, had surrounded her.
"Don't be shy." He continued. "I'm just talking to you.."
She tightened her eyes as she felt his hand caress down her arm and quickly pulled from him, but he grasped her wrist, not letting her leave. "Please don't..." Heather pleaded.
"Please don't what? Don't be afraid, little thing. Where's your man at...? You're way too fine to be here all by yourself..." He said as he ran his large tongue along his lips and reached out to her again. He tugged lightly on the bottom of her outfit and chuckled as she pulled away again.
"Please... stop..." Heather cried. Tears now running down her cheeks.
"Maybe he's at home...?" The other suggested.
"Brave little thing to be comin in all alone... and very stupid of your man..."
"I'm.. I'm not supposed to be here. I-I took a wrong turn. Please let me leave."
"It don't matter where hes at, or how you got here. Once we get through with you..."
"HEY!" Neelix shouted from across the club as he spotted them.
"Oh, this must be him... this is gonna get interesting..."
The alien grabbed at Heather as he watched Neelix approach, and pulled her in close to him, causing her to gasp in panic.
"Neelix!" Heather cried out.
"Get off of her!" Neelix shouted and shoved the alien back as he quickly grabbed Heather and pulled her towards him.
The alien stumbled back into his friends but didn't fall. He growled at Neelix as he bared his teeth. "What the fuck, buddy?!" He shouted as he sized Neelix up.
"Keep your hands off of her!" Neelix glared down at him as he pulled Heather around to his side. Veeno had finally caught up to Neelix but came to a halt several feet back behind him, his eyes wide with panic.
"You should keep a better eye on your little female. Your mate? Not very wise to let something that pretty out of your sights."
"She's not my mate, and it's really none of your business." Neelix told him, then quickly turned his attention down to Heather. "Are you alright? Did they hurt you?"
"So what? She your slave or something?" The alien suggested and started to laugh with his buddies.
"No, of course not!" Neelix snapped without thinking, then quickly realized that wasn't such a smart thing to say.
"So then what do you care?" He replied and shoved Neelix back as he grabbed back at Heather's arm.
"What? No! I mean she is my slave, I just.. I don't.." He didn't know what to say or how to say it, his voice trailing off in confused panic.
"I just.. I don't... Haha!" The alien mocked him, "She either is or she isn't, so what is it, buddy?"
Ala and Muora were watching from the bar. The club itself was shaped like a giant ring, Muora's private quarters being right at the center, which gave him easy access to each divided section of his club. They simply had to exist out the right door to be where Neelix and Heather were now located. Ala had dread on her face and gasped as she watched. She went to take a step forward, wanting to intervene, but Muora stopped her. It was not safe for her to get involved, and Muora signaled to his bouncers to stay back. This was Neelix's fight and he wanted to observe how he would handle it. Regardless of the outcome, Neelix and Heather were safe.
"She is mine." Neelix replied in a stern tone, firmly holding onto Heather's arm. "That is all you need to know."
Heather looked up at him. It bothered her what he was saying, how he was acting, but she understood he didn't really have a choice. She felt like she was a rope in a tug of war game.. wishing this disgusting alien would let go of her arm, for he was hurting her with his tight grip. But Neelix's grip wasn't that much less painful... He started to pull her away from them, wanting to leave, but the alien tugged at Heather's wrist and pulled her back.
"I don't believe you. You're not the type to own a slave.. and you certainly don't look wealthy enough to own one like this.."
"It doesn't matter what you think or believe, she belongs to me and I wont let you sit here and hurt her and treat her with disrespect. Now let go of her! We're leaving!" Neelix shouted.
"Disrespect?" He laughed so hard he almost fell over. "Slaves don't get no respect.. especially not from their masters. But, Ohhh... I see now..." He chucked. "She is more than just your little slave...isn't she.. a sex slave maybe? That you started having feelings for, eh? Hahaha! You love her, don't you? He is in love with his slave!" He mocked, choking with laughter. "What is it, buddy? Too sad and pathetic to find real love, you buy a slave? You're lucky she is your slave cause otherwise, she'd be way out of your league!" This time the alien did fall over in laughter.
Ala gasped, covering her mouth with her hands and shivered as she heard Muora growl.
Neelix felt this overwhelming embarrassment run through him, but he narrowed his eyes as he stared down at the alien on the floor, in anger. He had had enough of this asshole and took a step forward, but felt a hand grab at his arm and tug. He turned to see Veeno.
"Neelix... it's not worth it... just forget about them, lets go..." Veeno pleaded. Neelix stared Veeno down before relaxing the tensed up muscles in his face.
"Yeah.. fine.." Neelix gave in with a deep sigh, and tried to shake off his anger.
Neelix started to turn to leave, but paused as the insults continued. He tightened his eyes and clenched his fists as his ears lowered, but tried desperately to ignore it and keep his anger in check. This day had been nothing but hell and he didn't want to make it worse by throwing punches. He just wanted to get the hell out of there.
Heather stared back and forth from the horrible alien on the floor laughing, back to Neelix who looked utterly defeated. She could see the stress and pain in his face, despite him trying to push it off. It hurt her to see him like this... to see someone hurt him... someone she cared so much about..
She could feel her heart rate increase, a tingle of adrenaline run through her body, her breath quicken as she prepared herself for what she was about to do... She couldn't think about it, just react. Just do it. She had never been so nervous in all her life.
Heather tightened her eyes and took a deep breath as she grasped Neelix's wrist. Stunned, he stopped and lowered his head to look down at her. She pulled down hard on his arm, and not being prepared, Neelix was yanked downward to her, unable to brace himself for such a sudden reaction.
She pushed up, onto her toes for height, and pressed her lips up hard against his...
One of the aliens elbowed his laughing buddy in the gut, which stopped his laughter and him and his buddies just stared at them, speechless.
Neelix's reality spun as he was in complete shock. He stared down at her little face, feeling her warm lips pressing firmly against his own, her eyes closed tight. Without even thinking, he closed his eyes, too and moved his free hand up to her face as he returned the kiss to her. She tightened her eyes as she felt both his lips and his finger tips braze her skin; she felt the goosebumps run from his touch, all the way down her body.
He couldn't believe this... and none of them mattered anymore... he was lost in this moment. In her kiss. He didn't want to dare let go of her. Not wanting this moment to end.
Veeno was just as stunned as the others and stared in shock as Heather finally, gently broke the kiss and slowly came back down flat on her feet, just staring up into Neelix's eyes.
"Heather..." Neelix whispered. He didn't even know what to say as he stared down at her.
Muora stepped through the crowd that had gathered because of this little scene and they quickly moved aside to accommodate his large frame. "You... outside, now." His deep voice brought fear into all those who heard him as he stared down the three individual aliens that had caused so much trouble.
Muora grabbed the three of them and hurled them across his club towards the entrance, and continued to stamper towards them. They tried to get up quickly in fear, but Muora was too quick. He grabbed them again and roughly threw them from his club and followed them outside to take care of the trash, more personally...
Veeno stared at Heather and Neelix, who were both staring at each other, completely oblivious to all that was happening around them.
"Does this mean you're not mad at me anymore?" Veeno asked in a hopeful tone, only to find himself being dragged away by his goatee by Ala.