In which a Motel room is actually used for sleeping
Ruth tossed her backpack down on the bed nearest the door. The motel room was decorated just like every other generic motel room she'd been in on any planet, right down to the painting of a sailboat hanging on the wall. What exactly was it with the people who decorated cheep hotels and their obsessions with terrible sailboat paintings? The room was eerily similar to the motel they'd stayed at the night before, and the night before that too. So far their drive had been smooth and quite fun, but their accommodations weren't exactly anything to write home about.
Randall entered behind her, pulling his suitcase. He was followed closely by George, who had begun to quietly whistle to himself.
What an odd group they must have looked like to the heavily pierced girl at the front desk.
Randall sat down on the other bed and pulled out his laptop. Ruth wondered how long he'd been waiting to check his e-mail... Randall appeared to be the kind of guy who hated being disconnected, and here she'd disconnected his whole life.
A pang of guilt hit Ruth's stomach.
Ruth shook her head quickly. There was nothing she could do to fix it right now, so worrying about it wasn't going to do her or anyone else any good. She needed to distract herself from it. Ruth decided to turn to George.
"So, George, you've never said what you're doing on Earth," she said, purposely leaving the obvious question unasked.
George was now seated in an arm chair that occupied the corner of the room. He looked up at her and looked slightly puzzled.
"What do you mean?" he asked back.
Ruth couldn't tell if George was being evasive or just not understanding her implied question. This annoyed her slightly, and she furrowed her eyebrows.
"You're not from Earth, you're stuck on Earth, hence... why were you here to begin with?" she directly asked, politeness be damned.
George looked as though he had instantly been lost, deep in thought. It was as though he was trying to muddle out an answer. Ruth was getting impatient, as she didn't believe this was a complicated inquiry. She had asked a fairly simple question in her mind and it shouldn't take this long for any reasonable person to answer it.
After a minute, George looked back at her and said, "How much do you actually want to know?"
He asked another question in response! Now Ruth was definitely getting irritated. George seemed to sense this and put his hands forward in surrender.
"No no no... I mean, I could tell you the basics and gloss things over," he put his hands back down. "Or I could give you the pure, unedited truth. One is short and you'd likely continue to feel safe in your place in the universe... and the other is what actually happened... but we'll be up half the night with it"
Randall turned up from his laptop. He had finally started to pay attention to the conversation, but she wasn't sure why. Was it because he was curious about what George had to say, or was it because he sensed the growing tension in the room? Ruth just crossed her arms and leveled her gaze directly into George's eyes. She had been told over the years that this was an especially effective look, and it seemed an appropriate time to use it.
"The truth," she said coolly and quietly.
Randall coughed. It was the sort of cough that had meaning behind it. The sort of cough Ruth was fairly certain meant she needed to be reigned in. He'd only known her a few days now, but apparently he was perceptive enough to read her. Ruth found herself liking that.
Ruth sighed, "Okay, the short version."
"I was a Professor at the University of Northern Cargan. I taught in the Political Science department," he started. "I was doing research on the Galactic Senate election about eleven years ago... mostly just basic research on demographics... anyways, when I pulled up the Galactic Studies Institute Election Cumulative Datafile, it kept giving me surprising results."
Ruth flopped down on the bed and exhaled.
"Anyways, one day I found that my research had been locked off," he said. "It was bizarre. I had received an odd message about it, asking me to meet some anonymous source about it on Melchoran Station. When I was on my way, something interfered with my ship's navigation systems and I crashed here. I was afraid it might have been sabotaged, so I laid low... but one can only live in poverty on a primitive planet for so long... no insult intended."
Ruth glanced at Randall, who apparently hadn't taken offense.
"So, you're saying that someone didn't want you to find something?" Randall asked.
George shrugged, "I don't know... whoever contacted me very much seemed to think so. I was probably just being paranoid and it was just a simple malfunction." George chuckled a little.
Ruth wasn't so confident in the man's dismissal though. She was certain now that he believed someone was out to get him. She was also certain he wasn't insane... because it took a shred of sanity to realize other people would think he was crazy for believing so.
"So this was ten years ago?" Ruth asked. "I don't know what Melchoran Station was like then, but as a person who lives there now I can't believe it would be that great a place for a covert meeting."
George shrugged, "I wouldn't know. I didn't make it there, so I've still yet to have a covert meeting."
George was hiding something, and Ruth knew it. She stood by her initial assessment that he was a good person and wasn't any danger to them, but something was off.
This vexed her to no end.
Randall closed his laptop and yawned. "I don't know about you two, but I'm getting tired. And since I'm the one who has to do all the driving, I recommend we all try and get some sleep."
Ruth sighed. She went into the bathroom and changed into the sweatpants she had swiped from Randall's apartment. She had to pull the drawstring as tight as it went and roll up the bottoms, but they were comfortable enough where she didn't care. After the other two took turns getting ready for bed themselves, the lights were turned off and Ruth laid down. She had a hard time falling asleep, and mostly sat there, her eyes open. She wasn't sure when she lost consciousness, but eventually she drifted off.
Ruth awoke around three in the morning.
George had fallen asleep in the chair, and was snoring quietly. She didn't know how anyone could be possibly comfortable sleeping like that, but shrugged it off. She turned to Randall's bed and noticed it was empty. Ruth pushed off the covers and got up. She checked the bathroom, to find it dark and unoccupied. Ruth was getting curious and just a little concerned.
She opened the motel door and stepped barefoot outside onto the cold cement sidewalk. Randall was leaning on the back of his car, looking up at the stars. Ruth sneaked up behind him as quietly as she could and poked him in the shoulder.
Randall jumped slightly and yelped. Looking at her he sighed in relief.
"Someone's a bit jumpy," she said. Ruth leaned back on the car next to him, nudging him in his upper arm with her shoulder. Ruth wasn't short by any means, but he was still a good head taller than she was. "Looking at anything in particular?"
Randall looked skywards again, "Just realizing how different the universe was since I last looked up at it." He laughed quietly and shook his head, "Y'know, I used to make fun of Star Trek since all the aliens looked like humans..."
"And now you come to find out the aliens are humans," Ruth replied, chuckling. She paused for a second, "Bet you can't spot where I came from."
"Trick question," responded Randall, grinning. "You said the space station you lived on... Melchoran Station you and George called it... you said it was near Proxima Centauri, right?"
"Well, I've took a bit of astronomy in college, and if I recall that's near Alpha Centauri... and not visible in the Northern Hemisphere," he said.
Ruth mock-pouted, "You spoiled my game."
Randall elbowed her gently and chuckled, "Well, some of us did pay attention in school."
Her feet were getting cold on the concrete, so she pulled herself up onto the trunk of the car. "So, you couldn't sleep then?" she asked, "I don't want you driving exhausted tomorrow." With that she stuck out her tongue at him.
"Well, there's a point where you realize you're trying to sleep in a motel room in the middle of nowhere with two people from another planet that keeps one's brain from relaxing," he said. Randall had sounded a little far away with that sentence.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with being from another planet," she said, kicking him gently in the leg.
"So, did you grow up on the space station, or did you grow up somewhere else?" he asked after a moment.
Ruth looked upwards. "I grew up in stereotypical suburbia," she said, looking up. "The planet was Hargras, the country was Elgar, the city was North Liston, the actual suburb was, I'm not kidding, called East North Liston."
"There is a planet named Hargras?" Randall asked, looking bemused. "That's kind of a silly name."
Ruth looked at him and stuck out her tongue again, "So are names like Earth and America if you just sound them out." She looked back up at the sky, "Not everything in the universe has a cool sounding name."
"So... if the stars are so full of people, why stop by Earth in the first place?" he asked.
Ruth thought about for a minute, "Well, mostly it's close by. It's the closest inhabited planet to Melchoran Station... that and my old friend Nick lives in London, which means if I don't feel like flying back I have somewhere to crash."
"Who is this Nick?" Randall asked. He almost sounded a little jealous in his tone, which was incredibly cute. She contemplated teasing him, but instead decided to reassure him with the truth.
"Nick's an old friend of mine. We used to go to concerts together all the time... and then he met his boyfriend Doug here on Earth and they decided to settle down together," she said.
"Ah," replied Randall, now getting a much different picture of the situation.
"I go to a few other planets... and I keep up with the music scenes on half a dozen others just for something to do," she continued. "No one ever performs at Melchoran Station, so it's the only thing I can do if I want to hear anything good."
"No good venues?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. Clearly Randall had a very different idea as to what space stations were actually like.
"There's a single bar. Just the one. And they only book Candrallian Country Hop bands," she said shaking her head.
Randall laughed, "I have no idea what that is."
"Be very glad you don't," she said with a smirk. "But my point is, it's a mall in space with a fueling station, docking facilities... which just means parking lot really... and staff quarters. It's a small, enclosed town, and like all small towns... nothing ever happens there."
He smiled at her, "I get that. I grew up in a small town."
Ruth perked up at that, "Yes, you did... and we're going to be there tomorrow." She thought about this for a moment, "Does anyone even know we're coming?"
Randall nodded, "Yeah, I e-mailed my mother saying I was going to be visiting with a friend while you were out shopping that first morning. I didn't know about George at the time though..." She nodded at him. "I figure, I'll just get a Motel room for George and he can wait it out though... watch some HBO or something."
Ruth smiled, "Sounds like a plan."
Randall narrowed his eyes at her. Ruth could tell he knew there was something she was leaving unsaid. Ruth was sane though, and she knew not to tell other people things that would make her sound crazy.
Hopping back to her feet, she poked Randall in the chest, "Now you need to get some sleep so you can drive in the morning." With that, she kissed him on the cheek and walked back into the motel room. Climbing back into bed, she quickly fell asleep.