The Human-Joozian Cultural Exchange Program
Chapter Fourwritten by Snackysmores - illustrated by Kennymcshamrock and Paramécie
Kyle was in bed, with Stan looking down at him. It felt like he had traveled back in time to the night before, but there were a number of conflicts between his memory and his present surroundings.
"Kyle. Are you alright?" Stan looked relieved of some great worry.
This was new for Kyle. His brain felt like it had been shut down improperly and rebooted in safe mode, missing unsaved date. What he remembered was roaring dark, a glimpse of annihilation. "Was it PGS?"
He needn't dwell on the memory any more, but it proved a struggle to let go. "How long have I been out for?"
"That's an unusually long amount of time." Kyle tried to remain calm, looking at the wall, squeezing Stan's hand, becoming more aware of it in his grasp. "Were you worried?"
"Yeah." Stan bowed his head a moment, thankful for the wait to be over. "Are you having trouble remembering anything?"
"Besides the names of most of the people on this ship, I think I remember everything. Did anyone else on the ship go under?"
"I should have let him do the syncing his own way." Kyle murmured under a weight of guilt. He'd disturbed the ritual and brought bad luck. "I thought I could make it less stressful for him. What now?"
After a basic physical check-up, during which Stan remained professional, despite Kyle's goading to indulge otherwise, the two of them took the turbolift to the ship's small gymnasium. Original alien schematics reserve the space for water tanks, preferred sleeping space for the architects. Kyle asked again about the bath aboard the ship, and if there were any water tanks. The one proper bath on the ship was in the Captain's private quarters. Extra water tanks were being used to cycle coolant, collect specimens, or run medical tests. The rest of the crew used shower stalls. Seeing Kyle's disappointment, Stan hoped to raise his spirits with a game he enjoyed.
On request, one of the stewards had cleaned and waxed the wooden flooring, made to respond to running shoes with cheery squeaking, reflecting light off its polished surface. Stan and Kyle greeted Kenny and Cartman, who were already dribbling a basketball to produce a thunderous, echoing percussion bouncing off the walls.
"No way." Cartman divined Stan's intentions right away. "Joozians can't play basketball!"
"Why not?" Kyle asked.
"You've got four arms! That's bullshit!"
"Like I need them."
Stan cut them off from arguing further. "We're just going to play horse for now. Kyle needs to take it easy."
"Horseplay, huh?" Kenny reached for the innuendo. "Like, Stan puts on a saddle, and Kyle puts on a ten-gallon hat?"
"Joozians can't be cowboys either!"
The banter continued late into the game of horse. Half of the fun of the game was trying to mess up each others' shots by screaming whatever obscenities came to mind. Late into the game, they were interrupted by Wendy and Bebe, checking in on the court from their game of racquetball a room over. Bebe challenged Kenny to three minutes of one-on-one, leaving Wendy to speak to Stan and Kyle.
Wendy said the obvious, "Kyle, I am so relieved."
Kyle didn't want to dwell on it. "I missed that survey while I was out, didn't I? I was looking forward to it."
"There will be another tomorrow, if you're of good health." Wendy offered, "We could use your expertise."
"I'm fine to go, really. Tell her, Stan." Kyle needled at Stan with two elbows at once.
"He should be fine," Stan winced.
Behind them, during their conversation, Kenny's smoking habit caught up to him, with Bebe outpacing and dunking on him to the sound of Cartman's jeering. Wendy moved to the next point of order. "Are you two ready for your interview concerning your relationship?"
"Interview?" Kyle struggled to recall.
"Normally you just have a word with HR going over your formal request to have a workplace relationship, but the Principal at the Academy has decided he wants to be involved. Please call him from the holodeck adjoining the bridge as soon as you can. I'll leave you to it."
Wendy then left Stan and Kyle to establish a two-on-two pick-up game. Since she and Bebe against Cartman and Kenny would result in a steamroll, they'd have to put Cartman on Wendy's team and Kenny on Bebe's.
Figuring that it would be best to get it over with, Stan and Kyle went at once to the bridge to use the holodeck and hail the Academy's Principal for a short-lived interview, navigated by smiling and nodding when appropriate. Charles walked himself through it for the most part. Stan did end up redacting some of the more embarrassing details from the document with a thick black marker before sending it in, leaving little for the principal to comment on; not that that kept him from talking at length until he was satisfied.
"Kyle, Stan, thank you for joining me on this holo-conference. All of the paperwork is in order. Though, it looks like it was filed two days ago. We've had some trouble reaching you. Is this still in good-standing?"
Both Stan and Kyle affirmed, "Yes, Principal Charles."
"Well, on behalf of the Academy I just want to applaud you two for your bravery and wish you the best. That said, we don't have much medical data on a relationship like yours- have either of you experienced any side-effects as a result of bodily contact or exchanging fluids?"
Stan and Kyle looked at each other. Kyle answered, "no."
"Alright, thank you, Kyle. I apologize if my asking made you at all uncomfortable. I hope to keep in touch. Bye for now."
The de-saturated, pixelated hologram of the principal and his desk blinked away, leaving the officially-sanctioned couple alone in the bare, dimly-lit holo-conference room.
Stan asked Kyle, "you don't think getting PGS was worth mentioning?"
"No, there's no way that's related." Kyle was so quick to deny he hadn't fully considered it. He crossed his arms and chewed on his bottom lip, deep in thought.
"I think you ought to rest some more," Stan suggested.
"That's fine," Kyle consented. He picked his battles, but he had a way of winning even when he surrendered. "Rest with me."
Minding protocol less now that their relationship was a documented thing, Stan excused Kyle from work and then excused himself to 'look after Kyle'. Specifically, Stan looked after a faceful of red hair, spooning with Kyle in bed. Stan was the big spoon because the age-old problem of the big spoon's arm going numb under the little spoon was twice as bad for Kyle. They hadn't turned the light on once from the point they entered Stan's room to the point they were under covers in bed. What Kyle had seen, when light from the hall briefly flooded through the opening door before closing again, had been piles of 'personal rubbish' that Stan seemed at once acquainted with and oblivious of. He knew where to step around the dirty clothes and exercise equipment, where to transfer the reams of paper littered on his unmade bed, but seemed unaware that this was a strange way to keep house. Kyle said that Stan ought to pick up, and kept Stan to his word when he sleepily mumbled 'in the morning' before falling asleep.
All of the junk in Stan's room made for something of an archaeological project for Kyle. You can learn a lot about someone when they don't curate their possessions, letting otherwise ephemeral physical memories accumulate. From the start, Kyle had to be shooed away from the client-confidential year-old papers Stan filled out as a counselor. Stan preferred writing with pen and paper, but had long run out of filing space in his office. Those papers were set aside. Suspicious arts & crafts materials were set aside; paint-fouled toothbrushes, a zip-loc bag of wine corks, rocks, pressed leaves, and a staggering amount of wood-backed rubber stamps for every occasion. Three different guitars in various states of repair had to be put aside. Most everything was set aside.
"Guess there's not much we can do," Kyle shrugged.
Stan felt a bit guilty. He threw out the bag of wine corks and sent along his dirty clothes for the stewards to clean. Kyle was glad at that minor victory and Stan was relieved.
What had Kyle learned?
"You have a hard time letting go," Kyle summarized, getting pop-tart crumbs on Stan's bed as Stan reset the mangled strings of a pale tan guitar.
"Yeah," Stan conceded. "But it's easier now."
"How's that...?" Kyle asked Stan, getting goosebumps watching him pluck at his instrument.
"I'm holding on to you now."
Kyle moved to hug Stan. "Is that a song?"
"Not yet," Stan said promisingly.
Personal Log of Captain Wendy Testaburger Year 14 (2030), Month 10, Day 28.
It's just as well that Kyle missed the first day of the survey. Planet IX is mostly ice, largely barren of surface flora and fauna. Evidently, it was one of the choices for humans to settle to, but as it turned out, it was only hospitable to humans in the warmest three months of the year, and only at its equator, so it's gone unexplored. We'll be doing a second survey today, blasting and drilling to collect samples under the ice, leaving before the night chills. I am grateful to see snow again, as I had wished, but I am finding it hard to settle myself in the moment and truly enjoy it; all I can think of is that it will soon be gone again.
Bebe nudged Wendy, crowded onto a shuttle departing from the Streisand for the surface of Planet IX. "Captain, maybe we should bring more people on the 'survey'. You're not the only one who wants to play in the snow."
"It's not playing!" Wendy tapped into Communications. "Nicole, we're surveying the Earth-like Winter planet today. If anyone wants to join us they can report to Security for an escort down."
Among them already on the shuttle was Kenny acting as pilot, Kyle as xeno-biologist, Stan as geologist/nurse to Kyle, and Leslie as the engineer responsible for the drilling equipment.
Nicole reported to Wendy, "There's a strong turn-out for volunteers looking to join you on the surface."
"Send them down, but leave at least one shuttle in the bay," Wendy instructed.
Communications had become something of a problem in the area around the downed satellite. Enormous encrypted signals regularly overwhelmed their equipment. Kyle and Leslie each suggested that it could be of purposeful alien design, but the system was supposed to be free of such signal pollution. They sent word to the Academy hoping to clear it up, but they had yet to respond. Aside from gathering rock samples, Wendy intended to divine the origin of the signal herself.
The shuttle settled at the base of a great and gently sloping snowy mountain, an inactive volcano according to Stan. It formed the highest point of a mountainous continental island in the center of an ice floe oceanic in scale. Wind played hums and whistles down the crags of the mountain like a needle dragging in the pits of a spinning vinyl record, scoring the light show of electrons shifting energy states above them in the planet's atmosphere, releasing light photons that danced in swirling ribbons of sea-foam green. This captured everyone's attention, save for Stan and Leslie. Leslie moved to attend to the drilling station at once, and Stan moved to block Kyle from exiting the shuttle.
"The atmosphere is breathable, but it's a very dry cold, you'll want to keep your helmet on or else your skin will crack."
"Thanks, Mom," Kyle laughed, sealing himself up in his suit with a helmet. "you must be reading the Joozian biology book I gave you after all."
Wendy rolled her eyes, thinking of all the books Stan had received from her that went unread, "It's a miracle."
Bebe laughed, but caught a look from Wendy, because she was just as bad as Stan about not reading the books lent to her.
As additional volunteers landed to join the survey team, far from frolicking in the snow, they broke thick ice with explosives and drilled through the breach, bringing up fragments of strata to be sorted. In one of the drill sites, Stan identified a breach that could potentially lead to a cave system under the mountain, but Wendy opted to save its exploration for another day, allowing for the crew to take in the nostalgic sight of snowfall.
Stan scooped his hand over the powdery ground. "I used to eat snow a lot when I was younger. Then I found out it was mostly polluted. Is it safe to eat here?"
Kenny reported, "Yeah, it's good," helmet off and tongue out.
Kyle looked up a bit bitterly as the fanciful patterns of individual snowflakes landed on his helmet and melted.
Escorting the volunteer crew, Cartman ribbed Kyle. "Looks like the Joozian can't eat snow."
Kyle told Cartman that he could eat all he liked, and lobbed a handful of snow in his face. Cartman vainly returned fire, only to have the snow spatter against Kyle's helmet. Like human wars of old, the conflict spread. Stan threw at Cartman, Kenny threw at Stan, Bebe threw at Kenny, Kenny threw at Bebe but missed, hitting Wendy instead, who mistook Bebe as her attacker and retaliated. The entire company became engaged in the gaiety of a free-for-all snowball fight without having known what started it.
As the fight wore on, Kyle and Leslie noticed something strange overtake the rest of the crew. Levels of whooping laughter, rosy cheeks, and stumbling through the snow exceeded acceptable levels. Accuracy of thrown snowballs plummeted. Kenny Mccormick turned away from the others in the middle of the melee to urinate in the snow. Stan staggered and fell against Kyle, bumping his head on Kyle's clear bubble helmet in an attempt to kiss him. Bebe was similarly against Wendy, knocking off her beret, no helmet in her way.
"Stan, are you okay?" Kyle laughed, he'd never seen him quite this jolly.
"Yeah, everything's great...! Isn't it? Are you okay?" Stan clutched with concern before grimacing and puking in the snow.
"Captain." Leslie struggled to shift Wendy's attention from Bebe.
"What...? What is it?" Wendy grumbled, not thinking anyone had been paying attention to her necking with her girlfriend.
"You're drunk," Leslie stated.
Wendy and Bebe squinted up at her.
"You're drunk," Bebe accused in retaliation, only to burst out in snorting laughter.
"Oh, fuck me, we're completely drunk," Wendy realized, sitting upright, buttoning up her winter coat once Bebe had withdrawn her hand from the inside of it. "Everyone's drunk?" Her joy bled from her seeing Stan puking in the snow under a rapidly darkening sky.
"The previous survey's samples of snow are clean, but I believe some natural phenomena infused today's local snowfall with alcohol. As a synthetic, I am unaffected. Similarly, Kyle has remained sober by keeping his helmet on," Leslie explained.
Kyle dragged Stan over to Wendy, "Captain, Stan isn't feeling well..."
"We need to return to the ship for detoxification," said Wendy, putting on her best sober face.
"Detoxification?" Kyle asked with alarm.
"He'll be just fine," Wendy assured. "Please help Stan to the shuttle." Wendy waited for Kyle to leave before asking Leslie, "the shuttle's auto-pilot can take us back to the ship, can't it?"
"Essentially. However, the local signal pollution phenomena has disrupted our communications with the Streisand. Unable to access the home server, the shuttle's on-board auto-pilot functions are limited to assisting in take-off and landing in-dock. I will enter the coordinates of the Streisand manually, and then the shuttle needs to be flown in range of the ship."
Wendy sent Kyle and Leslie ahead, each piloting a full shuttle as designated drivers to the drunken crew. This left Wendy, Bebe, Kenny, Cartman, and Red behind. "We're losing light. How is Kenny?"
Bebe strapped Kenny and the others into passenger seats, shaking her head. "I got him before he could try pulling off his flightsuit, but he's way too out of it."
Wendy took a deep breath and took the controls of the shuttle. "You've got this, Wendy."
The auto-pilot assisted in taking off, and with the end coordinate set, Wendy just had to keep the shuttle level until they were in range for the auto-pilot to be restored. Getting back to the ship turned out to be the easy part. Getting it back under her control would prove more difficult.
Nicole messaged Wendy, "Captain, there's an incoming communication from the Academy for you waiting in the bridge."
Wendy tottered in her boots, stumbled to hold herself against the wall, dragging along it to the turbolift to reach the bridge, commanding over her shoulder, "Bebe! Secure the drunks!"
"Captain!" Nicole rose from her seat upon Wendy's arrival running to catch her mid-stumble. "Leslie told us what happened. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Wendy leaned on Nicole to find her way to her seat, feeling the room tilt and whirl around her. "Open communication with the Academy."
"Hello to everyone aboard the Streisand," Principal Charles greeted. "I'd just like to congratulate you all for your courage to participate in this bold social experiment. You have shown your guest human kindness, hospitality, and camaraderie. Next, for the purpose of the Program, you are to demonstrate human-style democracy with an election for the executive position of Commanding Officer, effective immediately, for a trial term of one month's surveys. Best of luck to you all."
No one is going to entertain this farce, Wendy thought to herself. Much to her dismay, the farce entertained, and so it was entertained in kind.
Bebe, Leslie, Gregory, Nicole, Token, and Kyle were placed on the ballots after collecting the most signatures. One of them would get a shot at ousting the current captain with a vote.
Wendy refused to watch the proceedings. She retreated to her cabin to try and sober up as much as possible, taking a cold shower and draining a pitcher of water. This unfortunately did nothing to abate her drunkenness. She collapsed over her bed , hair soaking wet over her pillow, the towel around her torso coming undone.
She'd have slept through it all if Bebe hadn't come for her, shaking her shoulder, slurring instructions, trying to dress her back up.
"Who's left? Who am I running against?" Wendy asked. As soon as Bebe confirmed that it was Kyle, she tried to lurch out of bed, but had forgotten that she had taken off the prosthesis acting as her right leg below the knee, so Bebe had to catch her from falling and get her to the bathroom in time to heave into the toilet, holding back her hair. The rest of the night faded into a void of black.
Wendy slept half the next day through, waking up in Bebe's quarters. She'd been moved out. Kyle had been voted into her position.
"Someone has to be fucking with me, this isn't real..." Wendy planted both hands over her face, with the digital display of an alarm clock burning her eyes like the fallout of a nuclear warhead. Worse still, Eric Cartman came banging on the door, shouting for her. Wendy did not wish to speak to him, because at this point in time, she was ready to believe in a theory that this was some kind of Independence Day meets the Beer Hall Putsch scenario, and not that her crew had voted her out of captaincy.
"Cartman, fuck off," Wendy croaked.
"What are you going to do about this, Wendy!? I told you this would happen, and you didn't listen to me! The Joozian has taken over!"
"I said fuck off, Cartman!" Wendy writhed and cupped her hands over her ears.
"When you're ready to wrest control back from that slimy xeno, you tell me, I've still got your back!"
"God damn it."
Wendy dressed herself, feeling like she'd lost the captain's seat over her own motor functions, left to the whims of a bunch of buzzing, inebriated bees jabbing at her brain. Remnants of the toxin sloshed in her ears, kept the room tilted like a fun house. She had to find Kyle.
"Captain to Bridge," Wendy grumbled into her Commlink. Silence. She'd lost Comm privileges. Pacing in the dark of Bebe's room, she tried again. "Communications, connect me to Officer Stevens."
Bebe excused herself from the bridge to meet with Wendy. "Wendy, you're awake. How are you feeling?"
Wendy felt a fresh wave of vertigo, moving like a riptide to send her sprawling back over the bed. "Awful."
"Maybe you should rest? You sound hungover."
"Absolutely not." Wendy stepped tentatively through the dark of the room to find the lights in the bathroom, bringing them to a low dim to adjust her eyes and find a pain reliever to swallow. "What became of the survey?"
Bebe was hesitant to answer. "There was an accident while exploring the cave. Clyde was injured. Some of the drilling equipment was lost." Clyde had wrenched his foot between some rocks while moving through the caves and bawled all the while he was carried back out.
"I need to talk to Kyle immediately."
Bebe peeked out onto the bridge at the new acting captain pacing and frowning over his commlink, trying to negotiate with someone. "He's...Not taking calls at the moment."
"What else is happening out there."
"Half of the Stewards are refusing to clean up the mess the drunks made during the election."
"Send him to me, Bebe. Tell him I can solve all of this for him."
Wendy rehearsed what she would say. A firm approach would be best. She needed clearance as Captain to investigate the circumstances of the election to her satisfaction. Moving from Bebe's quarters with a painful squint against the light in the hall, she found the turbolift and waited for Kyle to arrive, stepping in with him and holding it between floors to talk to him.
Wendy summed up her best plan of action for Kyle. "Give me back my ship. It's what's best for the crew."
One set of arms folded, one set akimbo, Kyle closed himself off and stood confidently. "I have the command."
They each mirrored the others' glare. Wendy straightened herself up, fists clenched. "I'm taking it back before anyone else gets hurt."
Kyle tried to absolve himself. "One accident-"
Wendy advanced closer. "That's more than enough. Go out there and tell them. Laugh it off. Don't wait for a second accident to realize you don't have the experience to keep my crew safe."
"As the captain, you should consider what the members of your crew want, shouldn't you? Who they voted for? If you are feeling upset, you should talk to Counselor Marsh. Excuse me."
Kyle excused himself from the lift without Wendy's say. She wasn't ready to accuse him of anything without evidence, but why did he want to be the captain in the first place? She took the lift down to Medical to find the counselor.
"Wendy, what do you want to talk about?"
Stan drank from a glass of water fizzing with an antacid, the lights dimmed down low. Where did his loyalties lie now? After just a few nights, he acted as if he'd always known Kyle somehow. Wendy crossed the room to lean against the guest armchair. She needed to ask about a way to get her back into power, but something else came to mind.
"If Kyle leaves at the end of this tour, would you go with him?"
"I don't know," Stan mumbled.
Wendy let out an explosive breath and sunk over the armchair. "You would, wouldn't you?"
Stan shook his head. "I can't choose."
Wendy pressed again, "What would you choose?"
"Why are you making me choose?"
"I'm not," Wendy said defensively, "but you'll have to someday soon."
"Only if Kyle leaves."
Wendy's eyes flitted away dangerously. She could make him leave if she wanted to, just as soon as she was Captain again.
Stan defended his position. "Kyle's been an asset to this ship, and he has people that matter to him here too."
A piercing ring made Wendy feel like the sutures of her skull were vibrating, scraping over each other. She clutched at her temples and bowed over in her seat, lashing, "If you would choose him, I'm not sure that I would still want you here."
Stan rose from his desk, pleading, "Wendy."
Wendy rose from her seat, trying to cross the room for the door before Stan could block her. "I'm leaving now. This session's over."
Stan caught her arm."Wendy!"
Wendy clenched up. "Get your hand off me."
Stan let go. "I'm sorry."
Wendy held her face in her palm and sighed. "I'm not feeling right."
"Maybe taking a break would be good for you."
"No one puts me on break but me," Wendy insisted upon her principals. "I'm going to get to the bottom of how that farce of an election came to be."
Being the Captain meant a lot to Wendy. She'd trained the hardest out of any of them for it. Kyle's reasons for taking the position were decidedly not as noble, but he couldn't bear to tell her the truth why. "Did you try just asking Kyle for your job back?"
"Yes," Wendy glared and crossed her arms. "He said no."
"Wait for the crew to come around," Stan advised. "At most it will take a month for the trial period to end, and you can get voted back in."
Wendy tapped her boot impatiently. Wait an entire month? "I'll ask again tomorrow."
It was awkward goings for the crew of the Streisand. After something of a bender, they'd elected an alien to captain their ship. The stewards, particular the night-shift stewards that wore black uniforms even off-hours, refused to clean the previous night's damage. Banners, ballots, confetti, beer bottles, apple pies, articles of discarded clothing- the campaign trail left devastation in its wake, and the only trace of the stewards tasked with cleaning it were butts of clove cigarettes and stained cups of coffee, a single defiant message scrawled in black lipstick. 'Xeno-conformists: clean up your own mess for once!'
Kyle had to lean heavily on Bebe's know-how with Wendy refusing to speak to him further. Unfortunately, Bebe had her own department's issues to deal with. Eric Cartman, and the few people that took him seriously, raided the armory and blocked off the terminals in Security. Tweek Tweak and Craig Tucker had quarantined themselves from the drunks the night before, but the door to their quarters was now stuck, and it couldn't be unstuck without access to the terminals in Security. At this point, Kyle went to the counselor for the third time that day. Bebe defused the situation by going to Engineering, getting Jimmy to re-route the flow of air vents, funneling clove cigarette smoke and 80's darkwave music into the Security terminal room until Cartman and his rebel band were smoked out. With access to the Security terminals, she could unlock the door to Craig's quarters, but it turns out that had been a ruse to skip work and fool around. A "Steward Appreciation" event was declared, recruiting volunteers to clean the election messes. At the end of such a long day, everyone needed a chance to relax.
Bebe entered her cabin to find Wendy spread across her bed in black lingerie; sheer thigh-high stockings, garters, hip-hugging lace panties, and padded brassiere. "Wow." Bebe crossed the room and joined Wendy in bed with her uniform still on, climbing on top her, kissing a line down her collar to her chest. "I could sleep for days on these perky tits, let me tell you."
"No, don't sleep!" Wendy struggled under Bebe's weight, tugging at her shoulders. "I've been waiting all night for you!"
"I'm so tired after a long day, you know?" Bebe feigned a yawn and nuzzled Wendy's bust, picking up the scent of lavender oil and freshly-laundered unmentionables.
Wendy cast her eyes aside scornfully at a trio of dripping white candles on the nightstand. "Don't tease me."
"Where's the fun in that?" Bebe cooed, cast in intimate shadow.
"It makes me feel foolish, going to all this effort."
"Wendy, you look so gorgeous. Like one of those designer cakes from the magazines we used to read."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I want to have my cake a while...Don't worry. I'll eat it too."
Wendy scoffed, rolled her eyes even. But her stomach fluttered and she writhed over the bed as Bebe delicately touched her. Fingertips grazing from hips to bust, nails picking and scratching over black lace. Wendy submitted herself completely, arms above her, held against the bedpost by some imaginary restraint. Bebe tickled over the grooves of her ribs, traced around their curvature, up between her shoulder blades, she unfastened her bra with the utmost of ease, easing the straps from her shoulders. Bebe cupped and palmed Wendy's bare breasts, kissing up from beneath them at faded scars, thumbs dragging and pinning down the stiff peaks of her pink nipples. Rising up higher, claiming her open mouth, swallowing her heated sighs- painted, waxen lips docked in an exchange of weaving tongues.
Captive hands fell from their place against the headboard. Thin fingers and purple nails clicked over golden buttons- peeling off a red coat, a white shirt, tan pants, a red bra- losing patience to scramble behind shoulders and squeeze into an embrace, chests pressing and sliding to bring their thudding hearts as close as could be.
Mutually rolling hips and tugging hands eased off stifling panties. Bebe crawled down Wendy's body, lips stamping over flesh, mapping out constellations. Wendy let her head drop back onto the mattress, clutching at the sheets and closing her eyes to divert the focus of her senses to Bebe's knowing touching and tasting of her body. She clasped her thighs about Bebe's cheeks, releasing the sheets to rush for a hold on Bebe's dense blonde curls, breathlessly pleading for mercy- but she was afforded no such thing, Bebe crooked and nudged past Wendy's defenses to find her fountainhead, assailing her with the flicking tip of her tongue until Wendy thrashed with her back arched up off the bed and moaned- not the sweet, syrupy sort of moan she once fed to boys that didn't know any better, but the sort of moan that pitched from a hoarse cry to a splitting shriek, interspersed with expletives.
Panting, sweating across her brow, Wendy peeled her thighs away from Bebe's cheeks, hands dropping to her sides. Bebe posed her as she liked; moving to a seated position, leaning back, propped up on her right hand, her left holding at Wendy's hip, adjusting to bring the junction of their legs together. Wendy kept her phantom limb pinned at the bottom of the heap, affirming the position of her raised and intact left leg with a squeeze around Bebe's waist.
Digging heels into the bedspread, scissoring their legs together wrought breaking waves of turbulent pleasure; jerking and undulating with fluid velocity, quickly rising toward a synchronized crest, steepening until they could rise no more, brought to ruinous relief, jerking and shuddering.
Bebe untangled herself and crawled up the bed to reach for the magic wand massager from her nightstand. She tended to herself at first, with Wendy tucked in against her, kissing her ear and neck. It wasn't until Wendy's hand joined her own in firmly pressing the buzzing wand on herself that she reached the summit she had been craving. Bebe's trembling fingers fell from the wand, but Wendy fed her some of her own medicine, keeping here there at that peak, locked in the rigor of the wand's sensual spell until she had learned her lesson and made a mess of the bedsheets.
As soon as her erotic vapors cleared, and she could stand again without risking her knees buckling underneath her, Bebe fetched a full glass of water for the both of them. They drank in silence, holding hands.
"I could have been doing that all break," Wendy realized.
"Yeah, you could have. Always next year. Right?" Bebe squeezed Wendy's hand and gulped down a mouthful of water.
"Right." Wendy looked far and away, up at the ceiling.
"You've got your 'planning for the future' face on." Bebe hummed, looking at her soft frowning lips and the bitter stitch of her eyebrows.
Wendy ran her nails over Bebe's knuckles. She had a clearer view of the future in mind. Who would be there, who might not, and why. "I'm ready to let go of Stan. For good this time."
"Pushing away isn't the same thing as letting go," Bebe commented. "Stan being with Kyle seems to bother you more than you'll admit."
"After Earth was destroyed by the Joozians...Every little piece of my world was blown away." Wendy rolled onto her side, pulling along Bebe's hand to cross over her shoulder and hold her from behind. "The crew of this ship is all I have left of home. Asking me to entrust any of it to...To Kyle...I don't trust him. And I don't think I'll ever like him."
"Give it time." Bebe snaked her other arm around Wendy to clasp her hands into a firm hold. "You said it yourself to Cartman; Stan and Ike stand by him. They know him. I think he has good intentions. You don't have any proof that he's conspired to act against you."
Wendy huffed and shifted to get comfortable. "What if I do?"
"You'll do what's best for your crew. Like you always have- Captain." Bebe pressed her lips to the nape of Wendy's neck. "Even if you're not technically captain tonight. Does that mean I'm your superior?"
"You're my number one."
Not so far away from Bebe's room, in the private bath of the Captain's quarters, Kyle let out a deep sigh. The election for captaincy remained as a whirlwind of a memory. Not exactly a glowing representation of human democracy. Drunk young rebels hoisting someone who has no idea what they're doing on their shoulders, debating with hip-fired insults and then being too hungover afterwards to carry out the radical changes they demanded. The ensuing drama had consumed his whole day. It was only in the sanctified privacy of the bathtub that Kyle had a moment to better observe Stan; too lethargic to hold up his own head, sighing like a dog looking out at a clear day from the inside of an empty house.
"Stan, what's wrong?"
Stan resisted the urge to say 'nothing'. "I relapsed," he began, and gave it a pause to frame the rest of what he had to say. "Because of the survey yesterday, I got drunk. Before I realized what it was, I felt so happy. Like I was a kid again, before I'd ever been depressed. Now I feel like shit, because that feeling didn't come from just being, it came from alcohol." The realization made him feel broken; wiring in his brain had been irreparably frayed or crossed from repeated abuse, resulting in a machine that came to depend on poison.
Kyle did his best to drive Stan away from those mental ledges, shifting and displacing water around him in a move to shift closer in the tub. "It wasn't your fault that it happened. What you're feeling now is just withdrawals. You can be that happy again, I'll show you."
Stan felt thankful that he was able to believe Kyle's words. They were close and warm but he remained rigid in posture.
"What else is wrong?"
His talk with Wendy still weighed on him; in digging for paydirt in her conflict with Kyle, Stan was getting caught in the hail. Wendy's suspicions were too canny to the ones Cartman harbored, and that was typically a good indicator of being in the wrong. One thing she was right about was knowing where he stood with Kyle. "What will you do once the program is over? If we're together."
Kyle wanted to say 'make Ike your brother-in-law', but opted to say instead, "we could visit Fognl over the break. I'd introduce you to my parents."
"What about after the break? Would you come back to the Streisand?"
Kyle's time aboard the ship had ping-ponged between extremes of bawdy gaiety and palpable anxiety. Highly unpredictable, with only an outward appearance of professionalism; that was the character of humanity he had been warned about, but he'd been swept up in it all the same.
"I would, to be with you. But it won't be my decision. Would you leave? To be with me?"
Contrary to his showing in front of Wendy, Stan replied at once, "of course." However, just after that, hesitation caught back up to him. "I just...What will I do?" Stan held out his hands in front of him as if holding an empty set of infinite possibilities. "My entire life since the resettlement has been training for the Academy, with all of my friends."
Kyle caught Stan's hands. They had pruned up from sitting in the bath for so long. If one of them had to leave everything they knew to be together, Kyle was prepared to be the one to do it. There was just one thing in their way. "I need to make peace with Wendy."
"Me too," Stan mumbled.
The night hours passed to a new day. In the morning, Stan arranged another meeting with Wendy in his office, to mediate some resolution between her and Kyle. The three of them were too tense to sit down.
"Are you still mad at me?" Kyle asked Wendy.
Wendy had crossed her arms, then became aware she was crossing her arms, shifting both hands to her hips. She made a poor job of convincing, insisting, "I'm not mad at you."
"I don't think we get along," Kyle grimaced, wringing his hands together.
Wendy saw the apology on Kyle's face, but she only forgave wrongdoing once it was righted. "It would be easier if circumstances were different."
Kyle looked to Stan, who nodded from his standing position, behind the safety of his desk. "What can I do?"
"Please, give me my post back." That would be her one concession, asking for what was rightfully hers, drunken coups notwithstanding.
Kyle bowed with humility. "Alright, Wendy."
"Really?" Wendy didn't care to gloat. If, after her investigation, she found that there had been no impropriety at the election, she'd have to make her own apology.
"Yeah, I'm sorry, this is too much for me." Kyle crossed behind Stan's desk to be in the reach of Stan, who consoled him with a pat on the shoulder.
"Why did you run to begin with?"
Kyle hesitated. "Leslie told me to?"
Her name had popped up again, given as the source for another conflict that had to be mediated. She hadn't been with the crew long, but she'd never meddled and played politics like this- she just didn't seem the type to enjoy causing drama. So why did this keep happening? "Leslie...Is that really the only reason?"
"There's another reason, but you're not going to like it." Kyle and Stan averted their eyes bashfully.
"What is it."
Kyle took a pause. As much as could be afforded with Wendy's stern glare upon him. He had to tell the truth. "Only the Captain's quarters have a bathtub."
Mercifully, Wendy was ignorant of the Joozians' mating habits. "You enjoy taking baths that much?"
Before she could expose any more details, Kyle tried leading her off the trail by offering, "I'll have the stewards move our things as soon as they can," clearing himself from duty and re-assigning Wendy as Captain. He gave Stan a quick peck on the cheek and all but scuttled out of the counselor's office, heading back to his original post in Engineering.
Wendy was already standing up straighter with assumed authority, furiously tapping away at her commlink, only briefly glaring up to ask, "Stan, you supported Kyle taking over my position for the sake of a private bath?"
"I support him in general."
"So you thought he'd make a better captain than me?"
"Not necessarily!" Stan put up his hands, less in defense and more in plying for mercy. "I just didn't want him to think that I thought he wouldn't make a good captain."
"Oh, Stanley." Wendy shook her head. Back in charge, she found Leslie next to continue her investigation, asking her on sight, "What about you, did you run because you wanted my bath, too?"
Leslie, as always, was doll-like and unflappable. "Submerging myself in water for a prolonged period of time would be problematic for my synthetic dermis."
Leslie's replies always came promptly, in a monotone cadence of eerily consistent pacing. "I thought it might make you happier, to lessen your burden."
Wendy wasn't buying it. "Not in the least."
"My apologies, Captain."
"Why did you encourage Kyle to run?"
Leslie paused. That served as something of a tell, that she had to process something elaborate in her complex programming before responding. "I cannot say."
Wendy closed Leslie off from the rest of her crew, speaking softly but severely."I am the Captain again, so you do need to say."
Leslie steeled herself behind synthetic veneer, ceasing the simulated communication gestures of her facial features. "I simply cannot say."
Wendy asked abruptly to shake up Leslie's logic gates, "why wasn't Kyle's PSG reported to the Principal?" Even if Kyle chose discretion in the matter, the report should have been forwarded around the same time as Kyle's application for a workplace relationship, and yet Charles had never mentioned it.
Looking down at her boots, eyes fluttering and glowing, there came an acute sound of whirring from Leslie's central processing unit. "Captain, these events are not connected-"
Wendy pressed the attack. "On the night of the welcoming party, why did you invite Cartman, knowing he might start a conflict with Kyle?"
Leslie executed an attempt at deflection with light humor. What Wendy presented thus far remained circumstantial, and she put an easy smile back on her face. "It sounded entertaining."
With access to the computers, Wendy reviewed the one file that supposedly did make its way back to the Academy recently. "In Kyle's workplace relationship form, he described dating a synthetic lifeform in the shape of a human female. Was that you?"
"Yes," Leslie admitted. "We met briefly when I escorted Ike to Joozia's moon one year ago. Kyle seemed to show some interest in me. Because he flattered me, I flattered him in turn."
"What's this in the file about you leading him on? Was there another reason you met with him privately?"
"The bitter words of a jilted suitor, that's all."
The investigation hit a wall. With the Chief Engineer in charge of many of the data consoles, there was a chance that other relevant evidence could be edited or deleted. Nothing less than a confession would do. "Would you act against me, Leslie? Lie to me?"
"No, Captain. All that I have done, I have done to advance the missions you have set for us. To make humanity visible on the intergalactic stage. To distinguish the crew of the Streisand. To improve Human-Joozian relations."
"-and the things you did for entertainment. Was that just for you?"
"I cannot say."
Wendy continued to press Leslie, damning each of her omissions with another question for her to refute, trying to stick her to admitting anything. "Why didn't you mention that you knew Kyle before the welcoming party? Were you not aware that the snowfall of Planet IX could intoxicate the survey crew? Was the election staged? Did you rig the results?"
Leslie grew weary, as much as a synthetic could get weary- conflicting protocols running exhaustive loops that overheated her. Leslie could beat Wendy in a game of chess nintey-nine times out of one hundred, but she could not deceive her. In the end, she had been built to help humans, and during the time she stalled for, no predictive model offered her a solution to help Wendy while continuing to deny her. "Captain, if you continue this line of questioning, it will bring ruin to our mission."
Wendy reached out and grabbed Leslie's shoulders, looking into her dimly-glowing green eyes. She wanted to believe that the AI was still on her side, for the sake of something like honor or loyalty. Not everyone believed that synthetics were capable of those virtues, or of true human empathy. Maybe Wendy had been projecting onto Leslie; saw her as someone intelligent but ignored, someone who put others before oneself, someone attentive but often acting cold and blunt toward people she cared about. Someone like herself. Did they really value the same things after all? Wendy had to know. "Our mission is independence, and our accomplishments are meaningless if we're manipulated into them. If we are being manipulated, it cannot be allowed to stand; it is a violation of the Galactic Federation's Prime Directive, the guiding principle by which we mean to be seen as equals, not as lesser beings! If you have loyalty to humanity, to the mission of the Streisand, to me, you will answer my questions truthfully. Understood?"
"Yes, Captain Testaburger." The image of Wendy looking at her so intently remained buffered in Leslie's quick access memory. She could not lie any longer, after being looked upon as a friend that had done wrong, and not as a machine that disobeyed orders.
Wendy took her hands off Leslie's shoulders, asking again, "was the election real?"
"Spoofed, from the holo-conference to the vote tally. Due to the local signal disturbances, the Academy Administration has no knowledge of the majority of recent events on-board the Streisand."
Wendy felt pitiful to be so relieved that the votes had been false, that her crew wasn't secretly hoping for anyone to succeed her role. There were still more questions to answer. "Who put you up to all of this?"
"FOGNL Networks' Television Producers and Advertisers."
Wendy's eyes opened wide as she remembered the day that the truth of Earth was revealed to humanity. There was no miracle behind their creation, but instead a boardroom meeting of television executives. Once they found out, their home was destroyed. Ever since, humanity worked tirelessly to resettle, to be seen as equals. And they'd been lied to. It was all happening again. She was speechless, leaving Leslie to explain further.
"When I escorted Ike to the moon of Joozia, I was approached by an agent of FOGNL network. Through the recently installed Academy Principal, the synthetic human designated as Phillip Charles, the Human-Joozian Cultural Exchange Program was introduced. I interviewed Kyle Broflovski under the pretense of a date, and delivered instructions for him to attempt to romance a member of our crew. Once he arrived, on behalf of the network, my prerogative has been to improve the viewer ratings of the program by introducing conflict into your daily lives. They had so much planned for the Streisand...Unfortunately, now that you know the exchange program is staged, the show will be canceled. To prevent this information from spreading, this ship will be demolished by military drones. There is but scant time to prepare our defenses. I will help, if you will have me."
From the word 'canceled', Wendy jumped out of her seat in a panic, sending a ship-wide alert. "Enemy drone ships are converging on our location- all combat personnel to their posts, all non-combat personnel retreat to the central decks. Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski, report to the bridge." Wendy ran for the turbolift, shouting over her shoulder at Leslie. "See us through this alive and I'll forgive you!"
Word spread fast. The Program was another Joozian ruse. Now that it was canceled, now that they knew, they faced annihilation for the second time. The crew scrambled to their positions. Kyle swore again and again he didn't know what was going on, didn't know why this was happening, hiding against Stan on the run for the lift to the bridge, taking the immediate brunt of hate for the Joozians bubbling to the surface amongst the humans all around him, passing in the hall from their stations to the relative security of the central decks. Some of them glared and even swore at him, and they swore at Stan for standing by him, shoved past them in the hall.
Inside the lift, Kyle surged toward Stan for the comfort of embrace, but was pushed away. His mouth fell open in shock. Why? It wasn't fair. Kyle was in just as much danger as everyone else. This was the first time that Stan had looked upon him with anger, the first time he'd raised his voice at him.
"Kyle, you knew about this? That this was all a show?"
"No! I told you, I didn't know!" Kyle pleaded for Stan to believe him, feeling separated, as if an invisible barrier was rising up between them; unable to reach for him, his words not passing through.
Stan didn't believe him. "How could you not know?"
"I had memory loss after the FTL jump, it's a side-effect of PGS- otherwise I would have told you!" Four hands clutching at his own chest, his heart jumping in the grip of a painful vise like a trapped animal.
Stan reacted with cynicism, on defense after feeling deceived. Of course the universe didn't just randomly introduce him to some new and exciting person that made him feel loved- someone was watching him, toying with him to see how he'd react. "So you could have known before the jump, when we first met. How do I know it was real at all?"
Kyle couldn't get Stan's eyes to meet him, craning his head, tense with the desire to bridge the gap between them, but held back, not wanting to be pushed away again. "It was real." He said it quietly, so that Stan would have to listen to pick out out of the ambient noise in the lift. Stan heard him. He looked into his watery eyes and took a tentative half-step forward. "I don't know what I was expecting back then, but I know that I really fell for you when I first saw you! What does it matter why we met..."
"It was programmed!"
"What we have together can't be programmed!" Kyle pleaded, wrung his hands, and cringed with heartache, but Stan was the one who started crying first; stumbling back to the wall, head hanging, hands bracing on knees, gritting his teeth. Kyle moved toward him, arms looping under his shoulders to keep him from sinking to the ground, trying to prove something by vainly mashing their lips together.
Stan's lips drew back at first, but despite what deceit may have occurred, a truth remained in the kisses between them that love could be real, and if they pushed together instead of pulling away it would be real. "Are you going to be the same person to me?" He cried, "once no one's watching?"
"Of course I will."
Stan pleaded to whoever might still be watching them. "Turn it off for a minute, okay?"
As an explorer-class vessel, the Streisand was not suited for combat, and it was pitted against several smaller, unmanned ships suited for just that. Ideally, space combat was decided in an instant after something like a game of hide-and-seek. Trading shots for a prolonged period of time was certain to leave both parties crippled if not outright destroyed, stranded in space.
While the engineers scrambled to locate the cloaked attack drones zeroing in on them, and prepare for a mid-flight FTL jump, the security team remotely piloted shuttle-craft from the dock to act as decoys for the drones to attack, losing multi-million dollar hardware to buy seconds at a time and give fleeting clues to the coordinates of the enemy ships. Leslie warning them of the attack had been her saving grace, and the x-factor in the ensuing dogfight was human pilots against drones; the latter possessing no cunning, acting under clear parameters to clear obstacles to the target, to overcome its defenses, to destroy it.
Fighting for their lives, exhausting a salvo intended to last a full year of surveying unknown and possibly hostile space, the Streisand covered the drones with enough detritus from explosions to render them visible and return more accurate fire.
After the melee, the ship was largely intact, but some of the outer extremities had been blown away, the vessel smoking and bleeding, drifting inertly through debris.
Wendy heaved a terrible sigh and sunk into the Captain's chair. One more drone, or a sentient pilot in any of them, would have been been enough to bring the Streisand down. All she could do was shout commands and watch little lights blink as she lost pieces of her ship. "We're out of the shit, for now. Leslie, what do you think should be our next move?"
A turbolift that had stalled during combat finally arrived at the bridge, doors unsealing to reveal Stan and Kyle. Kyle was a proud sort, he would not meekly limp onto the bridge with his head bowed; but there was nothing to be proud of at the moment, other than the fact that Stan was still holding his hand, so he merely walked, trying to look neutral, dignified even. His acting went unnoticed as Wendy and the bridge staff waited for Leslie's response, the forward display overlaid with a feed showing her in her lab by the FTL consoles.
"I falsified a report that the ship was demolished, that will give us some time. We could make a jump to FOGNL itself, and negotiate a non-disclosure agreement with the network; leveraging our evidence against them as blackmail, offering to continue the program in a more documentary format to allow for our awareness of the program."
Wendy swiveled in her chair, addressing Kyle. "What do you think we should do?"
"Leslie's plan...That sounds good, don't you think?"
"No, I don't. You two are still just thinking about a path of least resistance. Joozian-Human relations are meaningless if they are based on deception. Our mission is equality. We will reveal the program, so that other ships' crews are not put in the same jeopardy mine was. It will be in the interest of the network to have a say in how it is revealed, and that will be the extent of our negotiations."
Stan spoke up, unbidden. "What about Kyle?"
Wendy withheld some disappointment. Stan could be loyal to a fault, but he was loyal toward him now, after everything that had happened? "Do you have anything to say for yourself, Kyle?"
All eyes on him, expecting some kind of speech.
"When the Broflovskis volunteered to take a human exchange, we had no idea that the homeworld was involved...At least until Leslie told me. But, even after she did...I didn't raise any protests. If I did, they would have found someone else that would play along, and I really just...Wanted to meet all of you. I had a year to think about it, but at the end of it, Ike was a member of my family, and I loved him. I wanted to meet you all even more, and when I did, I fell in love again, with Stan." Kyle's dignified composure only lasted until Stan started to cry again, joining him, stammering, "I understand if you don't trust me, if you don't want me here, I'm so sorry..."
The crew of the Streisand stood divided. A decision had to be made. "We will hold a vote. Whether you are allowed to stay, or whether you must go. You may leave the bridge now. Stan, you stay."
They were afforded the time for an embrace. In the end, the vote came to a narrow margin, but Kyle had to go. When they left him behind on Fognl after the negotiation, Stan couldn't bear to look back. He would have liked to stay with Kyle, but outside of the Broflovski family home, it did not seem like a place hospitable to humans.