‘Tis Charity to Show
It was just like that other night, after the first incident.
The sharp, vivid, white and amber light of Tijus’ moon projected from drawn window blinds, rolling throughout the darkness of the bedroom.
And just like that other night, Rand lied in bed, watching the light show above her head rise and fall in front and behind her, like a wheel.
And like that other night, Rand was too damned spooked to sleep.
If only the moon patterns were sheep, she thought with weary dread.
She could do nothing but recall the events of the past evening, when Khobran—or something passing for Khobran—came by for a creepy little visit.
Had he been a mirage?
After all, this was a desert planet.
But from what she knew of mirages they were inverted reflections of light from above to create an image below, like when light rays from a blue sky passed down to create an image of water on ground level. So, that idea was ruled out in a big hurry.
And of course, the most obvious rule of mirages were that they couldn’t be touched.
What the hell was that thing that invaded her mouth, her body, her emotions?
Oh, Mother of God.
Rand, like that other night, tossed and turned in her bed under a blanket that felt like a smothering, crushing sheet of steel mesh. So, she kicked the covers furiously away from her, jumped out of bed and started to pace her room, back and forth. Her naked body covered in a sheet of sweat as she struggled to breath within the confines of the stale and leaden air of her room, her long hair sticking to her back, her shoulders, the tip of her buttocks. The epidermal hair from her skin rose and curdled under the dead, humming, unnatural cool of the air. She was suffocating. She wanted to bound, to escape!
Shit! I can’t do this anymore!
Rand frantically reached out for her robe, slung over the chair in the upper corner of her room, snatched it in a whip, flung it over and onto her body, tied the belt around her waist, shakily opened the door, and ran out of the room without closing the door behind her.
The fresh air hit Rand as soon as she entered the hallway, like a rejuvenating tonic to her body. The sweat that sopped over her skin started to dissipate, her lungs began to open up, and her goose bumps receded back into her calming flesh. She was feeling much better, and there were only two more things that would put her completely at ease—company(even Nurse Rose’s) and those incredible almond ball snack morsels that were stored in the kitchen cupboards.
Comfort food, she thought. Indeed, those almond balls were the only good food staple offered on the Enterprise!
Comfort was something that was definitely called for in this situation, that was for goddamn sure.
Apparently, Rand wasn’t the only one in need of a late night comfort snack. When she had entered the kitchen, she saw Begay standing by the serving window while Scotty rummaged through boxes on the other side, the two men looking both pensive and angry.
“We haven’t been on this planet that long for the supply to run that low,” said Begay.
“What do you mean? What’s going on?” asked Rand, puzzled.
Scotty walked out from behind the serving window, carrying a large crate. When he reached the long, white counter in front of the window, he slammed the crate down.
“Luu-lu-loook,” he said, exasperated.
Rand walked over and looked into the crate. She could see that the almond balls she’d been craving for were already halfway finished.
“Aaaeeh cu-cu-caannt im-imm-immmagginnn…”
“Who the hell’s been eating all this,” asked Rand, purposely cutting off Scotty. She felt terrible
about it, but listening to Scotty’s deteriorating speech was simply too much for her impatient ears to bear.
During this time, Dr. Begay had gone behind the serving window and returned, retrieving two more crates of food. He opened them both and looked inside the contents. He shook his head and threw his hands up in the air.
“ Apparently, the almond balls aren’t the only food items disappearing. Someone’s taking all the snacks,” said Begay, incredulous.
Rand looked at the half-full crates of food and then looked around the kitchen. Spock wasn’t here, but he didn’t exactly strike her as a late-night snacker. Riley snacked, but who could credit him for this large an appetite? Rand suddenly shook her head and chuckled to herself while Begay and Scotty looked at her quizzically.
“Who do you think would eat all of the snacks here, guys? Think of the one person whose been stuffing their face ever since we’ve landed on this godforsaken planet. Take a guess!”
The two men looked at each other, clearly at a loss to who it was that Rand was referring to.
“Oh, come on you two! You haven’t seen Hyacinth vacuuming food like it was going out of style? Haven’t you noticed her at mealtimes, how she eats?”
Blank stares were followed by slow, hesitant head shaking.
Was she the only one who noticed Nurse Rose’s increasingly grotesque appetite, or was that a trick of the mind like Khobran’s appearance earlier? Was she going crazy? Rand didn’t much like that prospect at all. The two men stared at Rand, and Rand stared back at them.
A loud, heavy thump, followed by a equally heavy drag, came from the dining area, making Rand jump.
“What’s that?” she asked.
Begay and Scotty looked at each other again.
“You two didn’t hear that?”
Blank stares and silence.
“What’s the matter with you two?!”
No answer from either one of them.
Cursing under her breath, Rand stormed out of the kitchen and into the dining room where she saw Riley turning the long dining room table over on it’s side. Rand brought both hands over her eyes and shook her head in a fit of distress.
“Please tell me this isn’t happening,” she said to herself hopelessly.
She rubbed her eyes. She suddenly felt so tired, or was it despair that was taking its hold on her.
When she removed her hands from her eyes she was immediately jolted by Riley’s worsening skin condition; flaring red pustules and angry whiteheads ripped through his skin like an army of termites, leaving grooves and pits in their vicious wake.
Before she could say anything, Riley raised his hand to silence her.
“I’m not listening to you, Janice, so forget about it! You’re not ruining my hard work this time! You don’t understand! I’m gonna…”
“ I know, your gonna make Mr.Russo your bitch! Yeah, yeah! Oh, man! What did they used to call this kind of thing, a re-run?”
She couldn’t believe this. Between Riley, the disappearing food and the blanked-out faces of Begay and Scotty—oh, don’t forget the phantom Khobran—Rand felt like she was in the middle of a lucid nightmare.
“Wait a minute, Riley! Is that gym equipment I’m seeing? Where’d you get it?”
An aerobic step-up, a hurdle, and a small trampoline were wedged between all of the furnishings lined up from the dining room interior to the hallway, creating a haphazard row of clunking madness.
“The equipment closet in the meeting room,” Riley said, irritated.
“But there is no closet in the meeting room,” said Rand.
“Yes, there is! Now will you kindly get out of my fucking way?!”
Riley shoed Rand away and placed himself in front of the reclined dining room table. He surveyed what was in front of him, leaning sideways, checking that everything was where it should be. Then, bending down from the waist and positioning his legs, Riley focused on his obstacle course and began to count aloud.
“One…two…three…go-go-go-go-go-Go- GO!!” he yelled, balancing on the edge of the reclining dining room table like a trapeze artist, crawling under a bench chair, and bouncing off the small trampoline.
Rand stood there, speechless, as Riley flew into the air with his legs leading, his head just missing the rim of the hallway door. Riley screamed, arms waving madly about him when he landed on the other side of the door and out into the hall in a stupefying crash landing.
Rand sprinted for the hallway door, squeezing through the furniture and gym equipment in order to reach Riley, who was sprawled on the floor at the tail end of his makeshift course.
“Hey, Riley! Can you hear me? Are you all right?”
She kneeled down next to him and grabbed his shoulders, pulling him towards her. Riley cursed under his breath and furiously shook himself away from her.
“Get off of me! Don’t you have somewhere to go or something?!”
“I wish I did have somewhere to go! As long as it was off this fucking funhouse planet! What the hell’s the matter with you, Kevin?! What’s the matter with the whole goddamn landing party?!”
Rand looked down at the spot where Riley had fallen, and noticed that her beloved pink and lilac yoga mat was lying right under him. She was without a doubt, quite miffed.
“That’s my yoga mat! Were you sneaking in my room, you little shit?!”
Riley’s eyes went to the stolen mat in a protective manner before he looked straight into Rand’s eyes and spread his body protectively, like a squid, over it.
“I need it,” he said quietly through clenched teeth.
“You don’t need shit,” Rand said with equally quiet fervor. “I want my damn mat. No one said you could take it, least of all me.”
She laced her fingers around the edge of the mat and tightened her grip on it. “I’m taking this back now, so be prepared to hurl on your ass when I pull it out from under you.”
“Janice! I need this for my obstacle course!”
“Fuck your obstacle course,” bellowed Rand.
With a full sweeping yank she violently pulled her mat out from under a yelling Riley, sending him off into a sloppy, buffoonish, somersault. When Riley finally landed, it was with a sputtering thump, right at the feet of Mr. Spock, who stood like a prison guard with his feet wide apart.
Rand froze, her eyes widening while she held her breath. Spock slowly and mechanically lowered his head to Riley, who was looking up at him with an hang-dog face from his tangled position on the floor.
When Spock looked up again at Rand, she reflexively held the mat up against her face and kept it there until she heard his footsteps fading back into the labyrinth maze of the hall. She felt cold, exposed, and she shuddered. She couldn’t help herself; she needed to feel sheltered somehow. Because as long as she lived and breathed, Rand would never forget the quiet contempt that gave expression in Spock’s face.