"So much for the romantic dinner out," Payne told Bob as they walked toward his car.
"What?" Bob asked and then flippantly told him, "F*ck it, years from now we can look back on that and laugh, yeah? Not a total loss," she figured with a shrug, sounding upbeat despite her obvious frustration.
"Not entirely, I've got to agree," Payne agreed. But his opinion had more to do with the way the beaded dress was deteriorating thanks to her less-than careful movement, with tiny beads falling off and gaps appearing as the delicate strands were breaking. Only when she'd dropped into his Lexus and he'd gone around and sat down beside her did he really think about what she said. "You're a wise one aren't you," he said while starting his car. Once it started, he sat back and sighed. "Well, John will get out of being arrested somehow and will go home soon enough. Is that where I should be driving you to?"
"Maybe," Bob said. "Not where I want to go."
"Oh?" he asked, going to put an arm along the top of her chair and lean closer to her. Instead, he was reminded that the car's bucket seats and head rests really sucked for trying maneuvers like that. He found himself starting to embrace the seat and had to turn his attention back to recovering from his thwarted plans. "I know some friends who can give a party with whatever you like...." he started to suggest.
"Nno," Bob interrupted, not being in the mood for more pins-and-needles socializing.
"There's a great band playing at the-"
"Nno," Bob repeated.
"I have some vintage Chablis at home-"
"Nno," Bob shot that idea down, while studying the moonroof of his car.
"Wwwell," Payne struggled to think of something, "the view from the bridge-"
"Nno," Bob said and shook her head, while figuring out how to open the moonroof.
"The view of Sydney from a plane-" Payne started to suggest.
Bob pursed her lips, seemingly interested. She watched as a mass of white bird droppings plopped right down onto the shoulder of Payne's suit. She smiled and laughed as he swore at the bird and hurried to wipe up the mess.
"No plane," she said once he'd finished wiping his suit off and was about to return to the subject. "Let's dance. We can dance somewhere, right?"
Payne went to remind her that she couldn't very well go dancing in that dress. But the appeal of certain possibilities were overwhelming, and besides the curious woman had just deflected more suggestions for a date than all the rest of the women he'd ever asked combined. Instead he smiled, shark-like, and said, "your pleasure is my command." He backed up and drove up to where the valet was waiting for his next customer. Payne rolled down his window and asked the young man, "Where's the best place tonight?"
The valet shrugged and answered, "Aquatica, of course."
Payne tossed a tip out to the valet and drove off. Once he had merged into traffic, he turned and asked the woman with the alluring eyes beside him, "You like to dance?"
"Like to do allot of things," Bob said with a smirk. "Hey. Why don't we get together tomorrow and do....something?"
"I know a great place for dinner where The Three Stooges will never find us," Payne started to suggest.
"Day," Bob specified. "I wanna see the beach."
Payne winced. "I'm at the IASA for a team conference for most of the day," he apologized.
"Then Sunday?" Bob asked. "You go to massives?"
"What?" Payne asked. "Oh, Mass?" he asked, laughing at what he assumed was a joke. "No. Are you asking me to? You're not a religious person are you?" he incredulously asked.
Bob stared off distantly, her mind's eye veiled with visions of a beautiful woman of blue, an intricate, gleaming incense holder with twists of incense smoke, and a sensation of divinity she saw only in a golden white light. The reverie parted like smoke away from her and she turned a slight smile to Payne. "In a way," she answered.
Payne was intrigued. "You are a puzzle," he said his thought out loud.
"How about Sunday?" Bob asked.
"Just visiting some friends," he said, with a careful tightness that pricked her interest.
"Then tell them you're busy and let's do something," Bob suggested.
"Oh so tempting," he told her, "but I'm afraid I can't."
Bob's head tilted slightly in her thought. She was sure he didn't have any friends close enough that he'd insist on seeing them instead of being seen with John's girl, the fekkik. So she was convinced he was meeting someone of a business kind. It wasn't for his own financial business either, she was sure, since she figured he'd postpone or sacrifice that kind of business. Her hunches all told her that she just might be hitting pay dirt. All she needed to know from him now was when and where.
"Aw," Bob sighed. "Even in the morning?" she asked.
"Any time after noon," he counter offered. "A special evening?" he suggested.
Bob bit the tip of her tongue and shook her head cutely, then rolled her eyes up. "Got plans."
"Lose the looser," Payne tossed his hand away.
"Didn't say it was him," Bob told him.
Payne made a double-take at her, intrigued. "Why, I'm devastated. Another?"
"Gonna find that out Sunday night," Bob teased.
Payne looked impressed. "Maybe we can do something Sunday," he relented and offered. "There's a fine beach just over a little road, easy to walk to, there's a Duffy's Bar right across the street, even a mall right nearby. You can enjoy yourself until I get the boring meeting out of the way, then I can meet you wherever you'd like. How does that sound?"
Bob pretended to think it over while struggling to keep from smiling, now that she'd wheedled what she needed to know out of him. "Mm I'll think about it," she replied.
"Let us out here!" exclaimed Doug as the cheap taxi pulled up in front of a non-descript warehouse in a very seedy, rundown section of Sydney.
"Are you sure this is the place?" John had to ask as he got out of the taxi and looked around. "What in the hell would a hip, new hangout like Aquatica be doing down in the ghetto?"
"Yeah, I'm sure this is the place," Doug replied, "I've been here before." He gestured up the street and told them, "It's just up around the corner."
John watched as Jack paid the taxi driver, who quickly drove off. "Well, that doesn't bode well," he muttered.
"Don't worry papa bear, everything's fine," Doug replied. "The club's just up there. And for location, don't'cha know that they're all talkin' that this is gonna be the next new and happinin' area."
John looked around skeptically, slowly scanning the deserted streets and the rundown buildings for any signs of trouble. "Yeah, right," he said sarcastically. "Now tell me again, why we didn't just pull up in front of the club?" John kicked at a rusting can lying on the sidewalk. The can flew through the air and landed in a pile of garbage at the mouth of a dark alleyway. There was a flurry of movement and a high-pitched squeal as a moment later a gigantic rat climbed on top of the pile of garbage and glared at him. "Good gawd, would you look at the size of that thing. It's almost as big as Sparky!"
"Yeah, I told you about him," John said. Both men looked at him puzzled. "Remember," John continued, "about yea tall, and this wide," he gestured.
"Is that the creature you described as looking like Kermit the Frog?" asked Jack.
John grinned and nodded. "Yep, that's right. Give the man a cigar. The guy farted helium, had three stomachs, and ate and crapped twice his body weight three times a day. Dirty old toad also liked to cop a feel from Chiana every chance he got, even though the little perv didn't have sex like the rest of us."
"What? Then how...." Doug started to ask him something, then suddenly thought better of it and walked on ahead shaking his head.
Jack followed Doug as John gave the rat one last look. A sudden breeze brought the smell of rotting garbage and stale urine. John held his nose and moved to catch up with the other two. All over the streets were piles of garbage, decaying fruits and vegetable, plastic, wood, and some things he didn't want to speculate as to what they were in a former life. Suddenly John chuckled quietly to himself. This area wasn't all that different from some of the places he'd visited while on Moya, it was just minus the odor of alien urine and alien garbage. Same dren, different planet could even apply to his own home world. John quickened his pace, catching up with Doug and Jack at the corner.
"So where in the hell is this place," John impatiently asked again.
Doug turned to him with a smirk and threw his arms out wide like some kind of circus showman. "Oh ye of little faith," he exclaimed, then John saw what he was talking about. Beyond Doug was a huge sign in screaming blue neon that read:
"Come on, this way," Doug summoned as he headed for the entrance of the club, his eyes wide and his face animated as though he'd become their personal jester beckoning them to mirth or madness. John and Jack stared at the gigantic sign for a second before following Doug. John moved swiftly, catching up and bypassing Doug in his impatience to get to the club. Just as he got to the entrance he was grabbed by a big, muscular man that he hadn't noticed in his eagerness to get to the club.
"Oy, mate," said the man, "What's your hurry?"
"I'm going into the club," John replied, looking at the man, who was obviously the club bouncer, as if he were talking to a slow child.
The bouncer looked at John as if he were the idiot child and said, "Sorry mate, but you'll have to go to the back of the line."
John looked to where the bouncer had pointed and saw something else he'd missed, a line of people that stretched halfway down the block. 'Sh*t,' he thought to himself. If they had to wait in line, there was a good chance they'd never get into the club. Moving closer to the bouncer, John lowered his voice as he spoke. "Isn't there any way you could sneak us in, say for a large consideration?"
The bouncer looked disgustedly at John. "Sorry mate, we're not allowed to accept tips."
"What's going on here?" asked Doug as he and Jack came up to where John and the bouncer stood.
"Hey Doug," said the bouncer in greeting.
"Hi Marv, how's things tonight?" asked Doug as casually as could be.
John pulled Doug around to face him. "You know him? Can you get us in ahead of everyone else?"
Doug smiled smugly and muttered, "Told ya," before looking hopefully at the bouncer he'd identified as Marv. "How about it mate? Can we get in there?" He nodded at the line of people.
Marv shook his head. "Sorry Doug, I'd really like to, but there's a news crew coming to do a story on the place and it's pretty crowded, so I can't. Maybe if you'd called ahead, but sorry mate, I can't. Management orders."
Doug nodded sympathetically and shoved his hands into his pockets. "That's okay Marv, we didn't know we were coming here tonight. It's kinda spur of the moment. We'll go wait in line." He turned to go, then noticed Marv staring hard at Jack. "Something wrong Marv?" Doug asked.
"Do I know you?" Marv asked Jack.
Jack shook his head and said frankly, "I don't think I've ever met you and I've never been to this club before."
Perplexed, Marv first looked at Doug, then at Jack, then at John. Suddenly his normally dour face lit up in recognition. "Hey, hey, I do know ya, mate," he said excitedly. "You're that- ....that-"
"Famous astronaut," Doug supplied helpfully.
"Yeah, that famous astronaut," Marv completed.
Jack held out his hand to Marv. "Jack Crichton," he said. Marv grabbed Jack's hand and shook it vigorously. "Marv Chambers, this is so cool. To actually meet one of the men who walked on the moon." Marv grinned as he continued to shake Jack's hand. "I'm not gettin' any moon dust on my hands here am I? I watched you walk on the moon when I was a kid," he said.
"Really," Jack replied, as if he hadn't heard that for the 10th, 20th or 200th time, "I thought only my wife and kids saw that by the time I walked on the moon." Marv continued to grip his hand, grinning like a kid. Jack looked down at their clasped hands and asked, "Could I have my hand back?"
"Oh sorry, mate," said Marv, finally letting go of Jack's hand. "It's just that it's such an honor to meet a real celebrity, even if he's an American."
"Thanks for overlooking that part," Jack quipped dryly, "but I'm not really a celebrity."
"Sure you are," insisted Marv. "You're a real celebrity, you're a real-life hero, not like those no talent actors and musicians who get paid a million dollars to pretend. They've never actually done anything, not like you sir, you're the real thing."
Jack's face began to turn red in embarrassment at Marv's gushing and he would have stammered something and left quickly to go stand in line if John hadn't interrupted them impatiently. "I hate to interrupt your fan club meeting dad, but that line ain't getting any shorter and the sooner we get in there, the sooner we can haul Bob's scrawny ass home."
"You're here to get into the club?" asked Marv. Jack, Doug, and John all looked at him. "Yes, we are, as a matter of fact," replied Jack. "A good friend of ours is in there with a real jerk, and we've come to get her and take her home."
"Bob?" Marv asked. "Like Roberta? Petite little thing, moon tan, black hair, black bedroom eyes?"
"That'd be the one," Doug started to say.
"Oy mate," said an unknown voice, one filled with impatience. "Is this bloody line ever going to move? Me and my sheila's been standing here for an hour and we'd like to get in sometime tonight."
All four men turned as one to look at the source of the voice, a short, scrawny man with a long neck, a big nose, a shock of dirty blond hair and a wall's worth of tattoo. Next to him stood a slightly taller, skinny, blond woman with even more decoration. She looked embarrassed at her companion's outburst. Marv smiled thinly at the man. "Of course sir you'll get in." Marv unhooked the velvet rope and motioned to the man and his companion. "Sir, if you'll just step out of line and wait over here," Marv indicated a roped off area just on the other side of the club entrance, "I'll make sure you get special treatment as compensation for waiting so long."
"It's about time," the man said grabbing his companion and dragging her over to the area Marv had indicated.
Marv patted Jack's shoulder as he went past him, unclipped a small walkie talkie from his belt and spoke into it. "Matt, I've got a celebrity out here who needs an escort to a private room."
"That isn't necessary Marv," protested Jack.
"On my way," said a disembodied voice that Jack could only assume was "Matt."
"Sure it is, and glad to do it," insisted Marv.
"Thank you Marv," said Jack. He moved closer to the bouncer and lowered his voice. "Why did you make them stand over there? Are you going to let them into the club?"
Marv laughed. "Course not mate. That area's roped off cause they're cleanin' up above. Didn't quite finish during the day so they're finishing up some area of the roof tonight. That area is where the water and sh*t from the roofs been falling." He pointed to debris and the water on the ground in that area. "See what I mean mate?"
Jack laughed. "You are evil. Remind me not to ever get on your bad side."
"No problem mate, its been an honor," Marv said, sticking out his hand once more for Jack to shake. "Here's your escort, have a good time inside." Marv nodded to the young man that appeared at their side. "Matt, take these gentlemen to one of the private rooms."
"Will do. Gentlemen, if you'll follow me," the tatooed, bald-headed and ear-ring laden Matt said in a very polite voice, looking curiously at Jack, John and Doug. Turning, he led them through the small, black door into the club. Just then there was a loud splash of water and an unearthly shriek. Jack smiled and chuckled as he followed the others into the club.
The contradictory man called Matt led them into what looked like a small lobby area. It was small and dimly lit, reminding Jack of some of the clubs he and Leslie went to in their courting days. He smiled as he remembered some of those tiny clubs, dark, intimate, the ones where you could hear the coolest jazz. He'd taken her to a lot of those clubs when they were courting, and before the kids and his career of course. Jack sighed. God he missed her.
"Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me for a minute," Matt said with a bow, "I'll go see which of our private rooms is available. I'll just be a minute."
Jack nodded at the young man. Once he'd left, Jack remarked, "there's some proof to the addage about judging books by their covers. You wouldn't guess he'd be a polite host from the looks of him."
"Dude," Doug said with a laugh, "you judge people by their looks too much around here at your own peril."
Jack looked around the small lobby and noticed a coat check room on the other side. Yep, it definitely reminded him of those days, all that remained was to have a cigarette girl walking by. Cigars, cigarettes? A door opened, allowing the raucous beat of some unidentifiable music through the doors. 'Music's sure changed,' Jack thought as he winced at the decibel level. John and Doug, however, seemed unaffected by the loud, throbbing beat, which mercifully died down as the door swung closed. 'Must be deaf already,' he thought wryly as their escort reappeared.
"This way gentlemen, we have a room ready for you."
John and Doug immediately followed as him, as Jack winced at the thought of going into the noisy interior. 'Shoulda brought my earplugs,' he thought as he took a breath and followed the other two.
Jack stopped short in amazement as he gazed at the interior of Aquatica. The smallness of lobby certainly belied the enormity of the interior. Jack looked up and up and up, three floors up. Everywhere he looked, on all three levels, there were writhing churning bodies, dancing to the loud beat of the music. That, however, wasn't the most amazing thing. Everywhere there seemed to be water, flowing through the walls, running down in great sheets from the rafters to the floor. "Is that fish I see?" Jack mumbled as he saw what looked like a fish swim by on the second floor.
"Come on dad," John said impatiently. Jack shook himself out of his reverie and followed John and Doug. Their escort took them down an aisle that ran along the outer wall of the club to the far wall. Matt swiped a card through a slot there and Jack finally noticed an elevator. While they waited for the elevator to arrive, Jack looked at the walls of water, one of which was located next to the elevator.
"It's translucent," said a voice behind him. Jack turned and saw their escort, Matt. "The walls, they're translucent he repeated over the noise. "They're also plastic. It's lighter than glass and cheaper too, although many of the fish tanks are still made of glass." There was a ding as the elevator arrived. "This way gentlemen," Matt said, shepherding them into the elevator.
A moment later the doors opened and their escort led them from the elevator down a dimly lit corridor that had a number of doors along it. Matt led them to the one marked 7 and ushered them inside. Jack had had no idea what to expect when Marv had told Matt to take them to a private room, so he was pleasantly surprised to see a comfortable, cozy room. To the one side of the room was what looked like a fully stocked bar, on the other were several couches and chairs, obviously arranged for conversation. Jack then saw that the wall opposite the door was covered with black curtains. Before he could ask what they were for Matt whisked the curtains back flooding the room with eerie blue light from the club. Jack went to the windows and looked out. He gasped. Gazing out the windows, Jack could see all three levels of the club.
Doug chuckled behind him. "Impressive isn't it?" he asked, "although I've never been to one of the private rooms before." Jack merely nodded in agreement.
"If there's anything else you need, gentlemen," said Matt, "just use the phone over on the bar and someone will be here shortly." With a final nod he left the room, closing the door behind him.
Doug left Jack's side and went over to the bar. He looked at the liquor a moment before finally choosing a bottle of Jack Daniels. "Jack, my old friend, how nice of you to drop by," he said grinning at his own joke. He poured himself a glass. "Do you want some?" he asked John, who had come to stand by the bar.
John shook his head. "Don't get too comfortable, don't forget we're here to rescue Pip from Payne."
"Or Payne from Pip," quipped Doug.
John gave Doug a glare then walked over to his dad. "We're going to have to get down there," he indicated the dance floors, "so we can look for her."
Jack turned and looked at John. "Or we could look from here. You can see all three dance floors from here."
John practically plastered himself against the window as he looked out, intently searching for Bob. Just then the door of the room open and a broad-faced man walked in, followed by several others.
"Hello," he said, "I'm Mick King, the club manager." He looked at Jack and John, obviously puzzled. "I was told that we had some new celebrities here."
Doug came out from behind the bar. "Mick!" he greeted. The two men shook hands.
Mick looked at Doug, surprised. "Doug? What are you doing here?"
"I'm here with my friends," Doug said with beaming pride, or enough pride that it was easy to make it look as if he were beaming. "This is Jack Crichton and his son, my best friend, John Crichton. Remember I told you about them. Jack, here, never did the Moonwalk, he like, walked on the Moon."
Recognition finally lit up Mr. King's thick face. He energetically shook Jack's hand, accompanied with the sound of his Rolex clanging against some gold wrist bands. "I remember you," he jocularly said, "I watched you walk on the moon when I was a kid! No moon dust rubbing off on me at the moment is there? Jack Crichton!"
"Thank you," replied Jack and he mildly laughed with practiced ease. "This is my son, John Crichton, he's an astronaut too."
"The wormhole guy?" Mack said, pointing at Jack.
John smiled wryly. "Yeah, that's me, the wormhole guy. It's won me intergalactic notoriety," John darkly quipped. He turned away from Mr. King and went back to the windows, peering intently through them.
Jack smiled apologetically at Mr. King. "You'll have to excuse my son's rudeness, he's just worried about a close friend who's here with someone she shouldn't be with."
"His fiance," chimed in Doug. "Uh. John's, I mean. Is here. With um. Wrong dude."
Mr. King looked at Jack, concerned. "Is there anything I can do to help? We can help you find them. Who is the bloke?"
"Son of a bitch!" John yelled, evidently catching sight of them. "I'm gonna kill her," he exclaimed.
Jack smiled weakly at Mr. King and mumbled an apology as as John burst out of the room, and repeated the mumbled apology again as Doug rapidly followed John out of the room.
"Huh!" Mr. King said. "Kids."
Payne pulled Bob closer to him, trying to maintain body to body contact as he tried to impress her with one of his dirty dancing moves. Bob just smiled seductively at him with her big black eyes and pulled smoothly out of his grasp. 'The little tease,' he thought. The girl seemed to anticipate his every move. Every time he tried one of his sure-fired, guaranteed-to-have-'em-begging moves, the little tart just smirked and danced away, then she'd come back and rub against him or grab him, setting his blood on fire.
Of course, her blatant disregard for the condition of the dress wasn't making things any cooler. The hard part was managing to keep from embarrasing himself. From the moment he saw her getting out of his Lexus with most of one side of her rear bare, he'd been struggling to keep a clear head.
Not that it was easy to see much in the strobing Disco lights, but what he could make out was amazing. The doomed dress was losing more of the tiny beads than actually tearing, although there seemed to be more gaps each time he looked. Most of both sides of her rear were bare now. Patches were also showing through in front, giving glimpses of the skimpy thong underneath, which in turn let onto the detail that she colored her hair white. That was a new one to him. Best of all, to him, it was becoming obvious that the distorting top was just barely being held up by two remarkable nipples. The little quail had more surprises than a blind trans-cultural date.
'Crichton's a fool,' he thought as he watched Bob moved sinuously over the dance floor. He grinned to himself. If that little harlot was his, he'd never let her out of his sight, much less his bed. Payne tore his attention away from Bob's swaying body for a second and looked up toward the private rooms arranged in a row along the fourth level of the club. If he'd had enough money to bribe his way into a private room, he'd be in one with her this very minute, making her forget all about John Crichton. He smirked to himself as he danced around to give her a view of his butt in his tight pants. Once they had a taste of Payne, they never went back to what they had before. But this time Payne turned around and stopped dead in his tracks. Bob was gone.
Payne quickly scanned the crowd, looking for her. He heard her first, even over the music, before he saw her. Standing on his toes, he looked in the direction of where he heard Bob's voice and saw the protesting girl being dragged out by none other than John Crichton. Obviously she wasn't the only one that was going to be full of surprises tonight. 'That bastard!' he breathed as he started pushing through the crowded dance floor after them.
"What in the hell were you thinking?" yelled John as he dragged the struggling Bob behind him. She squirmed in his grasp, but he had an iron grip on her arm.
As soon as they made it out of the mob on the dance floor and neared the parimeter, Bob finally kicked at his shins, tripping him and forcing him to ease his grip on her arm. She wrenched her arm out of his grasp, then lunged at him, throwing him off balance. "Me? You freller! What in the frell are you doing!?"
John got into her face. "I'm taking you home," he told her.
He tried to grab her arm again but Bob evaded his grasp, then got right up into his face. "Nyuh, I'm not going anywhere yet. I was havin' fun."
"Too much fun!"
Bob reared back and looked at him, then laughed. "You're jealous."
"Am not," protested John. "I'm just here to make sure you don't blow your cover, Miss 007, you know both our lives may depend on this."
Bob laughed again then gave him a seductive smirk before sidling up to him. "You know that isn't the reason, Crichton. Admit it, you're jealous." She ran her hand down his chest and across his abdomen. "I'm not gonna frell him Crichton, if that's what you're worried about."
John's eyes narrowed and he looked at her unconvinced. "Is that why you're acting like a slut then?" Suddenly his head rocked back from the punch he hadn't seen coming.
Bob stood there, eyes blazing in outrage, shaking the hand she'd used to punch him. "You bastard," she breathed furiously, "you, you talk about me, with all the tralks you've been f*cking while I've been at the cabin. And yeah Crichton, I do know the human word for frelling, I'm not stupid, like you think I am."
"Say, where are the other two Stooges?" asked Payne as he finally caught up with them. Bob and John were faced off against each other, with John rubbing his face where she'd struck him. Payne had seen her strike him just before he reached them. "Am I interrupting something here? A little trouble in Paradise?"
Bob turned to him with a bitter smile. "No, you're not," she said. Bob turned, jerked her head oddly, and looked straight at John. "Not anymore." She grabbed Payne's hand. "Come on, let's go dance."
Payne turned around as Bob led him back to the dance floor and gave John a triumphant look before disappearing into the crowd.
John stood on the edge of the crowd, chewing on his lip, as he watched the couple disappear into the crowd. Suddenly as if having made a decision, he plunged into the crowd of writhing bodies after them.
Bob pulled Payne behind her as she wove her way through across the crowded dance floor, determined to get as far away from Crichton as possible. It hurt, it hurt a lot to have him call her a slut, especially after the way he acted. He had no right to call her that just because he didn't like the way she got information, information meant to save his oh so nice eema with. It wasn't like she was gonna frell Payne, besides her methods always got results, unlike his. Faputah, probably was just tinked that she was getting somewhere and he wasn't. Bob was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she ran into one of the dancers. She gave the guy a weak smile and mumbled apologetically as she pulled Payne over to the far edge of the dance floor.
Payne could see Bob's troubled face quite well as she pulled him onto the rim area circling the sunken dance floor, he assumed heading toward one of the many long bars. She seemed more than a little troubled, and she urgently dabbed her eyes a few times.
Distracted for a moment, Payne looked around trying to find the source of the illumination in the rim area, since he didn't see any lights right overhead. The entire dance floor was lined by aquariums full of colorful tropical fish. The illumination came from the soft blue glow of the lights of the aquariums, but was somehow arranged so most of it shone into the rim area. The aquariums went from the floor to about shoulder height to the people on the sunken dance floor.
A long flat bar placed atop the aquariums kept the water inside and the people out, as well as serving as a flat surface for drinks and whatever. Payne followed Bob by chairs that lined the entire length, with people seated in them smoking, drinking, laughing, and watching the dancers. Some of the people sitting at the tables also watched Bob going by, and Payne saw it causing more than a couple of accidents. He took a vicarious delight in knowing that his date was the one getting attention.
The light was still quite dim but it was enough for Payne to see Bob's face plainly when they stopped at a bar in front of a bartender. She looked toward Payne but didn't make eye contact or say anything. Payne ordered two drinks, and wasn't entirely surprised when the bartender served them without so much as a doubtful glance over Bob's apparant age.
Payne felt a momentary and quite unexpected concern for Bob as he looked down at the silent girl and handed her a drink. "Are you okay?" he asked her.
"Mmm fine," Bob replied, not looking at him. Instead, she looked around and sipped her drink through the little pink straws. She began to move, trying to get back into the groove.
Payne took a swig of his bitters. He was a bit surprised at the confrontation between Bob and Crichton, and even more surprised when Crichton called her a slut. That was definitely out of character for Crichton. As far as he could tell, the jerk was usually always a gentleman, even with the sluts he hung out with these days. A thought sprung to mind. Maybe that was why the @#%$ scored so much with the babes. Payne smiled fleetingly. 'Well if that's what it took,' he thought, 'I can do the gentleman act too.'
"Let me get a picture of you in front of the aquariums there," Payne gestured. Bob perked and half-hopped over to stand in front of the aquariums. She struck a pose and watched as a guy watching her knocked his drink over onto the lap of his date. Things went badly for the distracted klutz, but Payne was glad to see the picture appeared to turn out ok.
Payne took another picture and moved in for a close up. Bob swayed, and kept swaying even when a break came in the music. The place was still very noisy from the crowds, but he could just hear some beads falling from her dress while she swayed, when they clattered onto the hard, shiny floor they stood on. He suspected much of it was from the skirt area, which was getting very patchy. Payne had to take a nice deep breath, sigh and grin. Bob stopped in the middle of a sip and looked around for the source of the noises.
"Shall we?" Payne asked, distracting her and gesturing toward the dance floor when a slow number finally came on.
Bob nodded and started to turn toward the nearest steps to the dance floor. Suddenly she snapped her attention back to the aquarium. Payne was busy admiring the nice lean thighs leading up to her buttocks, until he snapped out of it to wonder what she was looking at. Bob then suddenly dropped to a seat on the floor with her back against the aquarium, seeming to be hiding behind the neon decorations at the bottom half of the tank.
"What is it?" Payne asked.
Bob whipped an arm up and pointed into the tank at an odd angle. "Like that spiny fisshh."
Payne wasn't buying it. "That idiot son of Jack?" Payne asked, sloshing his drink. "Let him come up here. I'll feed him to the fishes."
"Stick it in your fraju and get down here," Bob growled and waved him.
Payne snapped out of his arrogant gloat and got down near to her. She craned her neck, and seeing John going up to the next level to look around, Bob suddenly popped back up onto her feet. She barged past a few people and onto the floor. Payne followed and soon caught up to her.
"What did I do now?" he asked.
Instead of being angry with him, she sighed, leaned her head on his chest and began to dance slowly with him. A guy soon tapped at Paynes shoulder and started taking Bob's hand. "Beat it," Payne told the guy.
"Come on bitch," the guy told Bob, thinking he was being pretty smooth.
"Yeea!" Payne heard from Bob, and the next thing he knew, the guy was pretty unconscious on the floor. Dancers kept stumbling over the guy as Bob and Payne continued to dance.
"Thanks," Payne said.
"Nno problem," Bob simply said.
He looked down at Bob, still leaning against him, and still looking bothered. Maybe this little fight between John and Bob could work to his advantage. Arranging a look on concern on his face he asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Bob looked up at him and opened her mouth to reply when he felt a tap on his shoulder. "Go away," he tossed over his shoulder, ignoring whoever it was behind him, hoping the person would get lost. There was another, more insistent tap on his shoulder. Bob's eyes widened a moment before he was suddenly yanked away from her.
"I'm cutting in," John said, wrapping an arm around Bob and whirling her away into the crowd.
Bob was so surprised by John's actions that she let him drag her away through the crowd. He stopped as they reached the other side of the dance floor, pulled her to him, and began to sway in time to the music. Bending his head he brushed her lips with his in a soft, remorseful kiss. "I'm sorry Pip," he whispered.
His words penetrated the shock she was in because of his actions, and Bob began to struggle. "Whoa, Pip, stop it," he said, and shook her a little. "Pip, stop it, I'm sorry," John said frantically as he tried to calm down the increasingly agitated girl. He looked around and saw that they were beginning to cause a scene. "Knock it off Chiana," he said sharply.
John's use of her real name brought Bob up short but she still twisted out of his grasp with ease. She stood there, breathing heavily, watching him warily. "I'm sorry," he said again, holding his hands out in a placating gesture.
Bob looked at him, the glimmer of unshed tears in her eyes and said, "Then why'd ya say it?"
"I-" John started to explain, but came up short.
"Here you are," Payne said, announcing his unwanted arrival. "I found you. I'm cutting in, Crichton, if you don't mind," he said, grabbing Bob. "Even if you do," Payne added, whisking her away with him.
John immediately went after them. He grabbed a hold of Bob's wrist before Payne could get too far and yanked on it. Payne suddenly came up short, nearly tripping. He turned and saw Crichton standing there, a big smirk on his face, holding Bob's other arm. Payne gave her arm a tug but Crichton tugged back. For the next few moments, the two men tugged Bob back and forth between them until the frazzled girl had had enough.
Bob twisted away from both men. "Enough!" she yelled. Bob gave John a shove. "Stop acting like a couple of immature dredgenauts. I'm not a zuba band."
"Come on Bob," John cajoled. "Let's ditch this place, go grab some brews and go someplace private and talk." He punctuated his little speech with his best lop-sided grin, the one he knew Bob couldn't resist. Bob looked at John, then at Payne, as though considering. Then she spotted Jack, looking at them from the rim. Bob looked back at Jack, as if for guidance.
Suddenly, Payne's temper snapped. He roughly grabbed Bob's wrist making her cry out in pain. "F*ck off Crichton, the little slut is with me," he snarled.
Something broke in John as well at that moment. He jumped Payne, yelling, "She's not a slut!" Everyone, including Bob, stood there in momentary shock as the two men fell to the floor and tried to pummel each other. They thrashed about on the floor sending dancers scattering, some screaming, some coming closer to watch the show and urging the fight on.
At one point Payne managed to elude John's grasp and got to his feet. Acting swiftly, he kicked John in the ribs, once then twice. Suddenly there was an unearthly shriek, and a spitting, screeching whirlwind formerly known as Bob landed on Payne's back. She began to pull at his hair and attempted to scratch out his eyes. Payne twisted and jerked, managing to dislodge her and toss her onto the floor. But by that time, John was on his feet and he lunged once again at Payne. The two men fell hard into one of the fish tanks surrounding the dance floor before John managed to push Payne off of him.
"Get him Crichton!" Bob shouted, jumping up and down with excitement. "Hit him into Tormented Space!"
Jack appeared and boldly waded into the fray, trying to separate the two men, while Doug appeared by Bob and tried to get her to calm down and run out with him. Jack got the sparring opponents separated for all of two seconds before they were fighting once more. Payne narrowly avoided John's attempt at a Pantak Jab and managed to push him once more into the fish tank. By this time Jack could hear people yelling that the bouncers were on their way. He tried once more to try to separate the two men, but an enraged Payne pushed him roughly out of the way with a roar. Yelling angrily, John jumped on him, once again sending them careening into the fish tank before crashing to the floor.
Neither man, nor anyone else, saw the crack that appeared on the face of the aquarium or the tiny trickle of water that escaped. A number of bouncers appeared and began to attempt to disperse the crowd while others made their way toward the combatants. Several descended on each man, finally managing to separate them but not before Payne shoved John once more into the fish tank.
John fell to the floor in a heap, but nobody noticed as a deep rumble sounded, blocking out any other sounds in the room. Suddenly the aquarium exploded, sending glass and water flying out over the startled crowd. A support snapped outward, collapsing the outer rim holding an upper level aquarium. People ran screaming as the entire second, then third storey aquariums peeled apart and hundreds of gallons of water poured over the dance floor.
Bob grabbed Doug's hand and disappeared into the fleeing crowd. In the press of people, Doug found himself lost for a moment while Bob just as suddenly darted back to a particular place, as if in an afterthought. Grabbing a large beer glass from someone's table, Bob scurried to the ruined aquarium. Standing on the back of someone who was still braced next to a table, Bob scooped up a glass full of aquarium water from a remaining pool with one hand, snatched up a flopping fish with her other hand, then took off back toward Doug. "Get the drazz outta here!" Bob hissed at Doug while she stuffed the fish into the glass and ran by him. Since Doug just stood there, bewildered, she reached back and pulled him along.
As the panicked crowd rapidly fled the area and the bouncers were busy herding people out, Jack looked around for his missing son. He found John sitting in a wet, bedraggled heap on the floor. With the crunching of glass from under his feet easily heard in the quieting dance floor, Jack gingerly walked across the flooded dance floor to stand in front of John. Glass fragments glistened in his sodden hair, and Jack could see specks of blood here and there on his face and arms, indications that John had been hit by flying glass. Jack nearly laughed as he noticed a brightly colored tropical fish flopping futilely on the top of John's head. He would have laughed, if the whole scene hadn't been so pathetic.
John looked up at them, shook his head, and burst out in hysterical laughter. "Same sh*t, different planet," he gasped out in between fits of laughter. John stopped laughing and looked around as the bouncers converged on them. "Frell," John groaned into his hand.
"It'll be fine in the tank at the penthouse," Doug told Bob as they sat together in the back seat of a taxi and Bob worried about the rescued fish in her glass.
"Good thing the place got ruined," Bob said. "Much longer and Payne woulda really got frelled."
"We are all so screwed, man," Doug moaned.
"If they had the sense to run-" Bob started to say.
"Are you kidding?" Doug interrupted. "IASA's gonna bail 'em in the morning. Do you think the IASA's accident insurance covers collapsing nightclub aquariums over, say, a hundred gallons? Oh yeah, the General's gonna be tickled totally pink."
Bob handed Doug the fish and cuddled against his arm. Doug wanted to be mad at her, but he took one look at her resting against him, looked at the fish in the beer glass and just sighed. Bob's head was ducked down against him like she just wanted to hide in a quiet dark space. There wasn't anything faked about her attitudes now, and he suddenly felt sorry for her instead.
"Okay but you gotta feed the fish," Doug grumbled.