Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 10

Richard tried to put out of his mind any thoughts of his wife as he busied himself with cleaning his stateroom. He usually found that keeping busy like this was a good way to distract himself from how much he missed his wife, Rachel. And besides, his stateroom needed cleaning. While it wasn’t what any civilian would call dirty, the Sailor in him insisted that it had to be tidied up. And besides, he was having company over and he didn’t want to give Triara the impression that he had become a slob while being away from his wife.

He cleaned out the mug he’d been using to drink coffee and disposed of the ration bar’s wrapper. The chute he put it in took nearly any solid waste that the human and Zaltaen crew created and recycled almost every bit of it. What happened to the trash that couldn’t be recycled, he didn’t know but he intended on asking Triara one day. He supposed that it was turned into fusion reactor fuel but he had no definitive facts to back that theory up.

After that he attacked the surfaces of his stateroom with a cleaning cloth and other supplies. He busied himself for about half an hour cleaning surfaces that to any civilian would’ve appeared clean. Even after that he went into the small bedchamber and found a set of white cloth gloves.

Putting them on he ran his gloved fingers over one surface or another. If even the smallest particle of dust or dirt appeared on his gloves, he made sure to reclean whatever offending surface it came from. By the time he was finished he supposed that his stateroom could pass a senior chief’s inspection. Or perhaps not. Senior chiefs were notorious for their exacting specifications and not even an officer could pass inspection in some of their minds.

He didn’t know how much time had passed before there was a chime coming from his stateroom’s door. Looking at a datapad he saw through its UI that Triara was standing outside the door. He didn’t understand why she was so early. She’d said that she was going to take the time to change out of her duty uniform and into more comfortable civilian clothes. Although the Space Force Working Uniform (SPFU) was designed to be as comfortable as possible, Richard couldn’t see himself wearing it all the time if he didn’t have to while aboard.

And hadn’t she said that she was going to be bringing food? A quick look at the door’s camera through his datapad’s UI didn’t show any bags in her hands or even takeout boxes. She wouldn’t have forgotten, that was for sure; she just wasn’t that kind of person. He had to wonder what she had in mind for their evening together.

He tapped the button to unlock his door on the datapad’s screen. He rose from his chair and set the datapad down on the nearby table as the door opened. Triara moved swiftly into the room and grabbed hold of him in a bearhug so fierce that he could barely breathe. “Triara, I can’tbreathe!” he said between gasps for air that he had managed to breathe in for she had him in a vice-like grip that when combined with the size of her chest and her people’s natural strength, it was difficult for him to draw in a proper breath.

“Sorry,” she nervously laughed as she let go of him and stepped back. “Sometimes I forget my own strength.” She nervously ran her hand through her blue hair. “I keep forgetting that humans aren’t nearly as strong as Zaltaens are.”

“Yeah,” he coughed as he rubbed his chest. “Don’t remind me,” he said with a slight rasp that brought a concerned look to her face. She’d been so excited to see her friend outside of work in a non-professional environment that she may have allowed herself to overdo it.

“Don’t worry about it Triara,” he enfolded her in another hug that wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. “I’ll be fine. Just be more careful next time. Not all humans come from the bottom of a stronger gravity well like Zaltaens do. Now,” he stepped back, “I thought you said you were bringing food with you and I don’t see any bags.”

“Oh, that,” she said with a wave of her hand. “It’s being delivered. I hope that you saved room because I ordered us up a feast!”

“You didn’t have to, you know me; I’ve never been one for special occasions. In fact, I hate them.”

“Nonsense!” she exclaimed. “It’s been months since we were able to hang out together outside of work. Besides, I know that you’ve been messing on what the wardroom calls ‘food’.” He chuckled as she said that; she wasn’t wrong. The wardroom’s food was better than some of the stuff he’d gotten aboard warships, but that wasn’t saying much of anything. Occasionally they managed to serve something somewhat decent during lunch and dinner, but those times were few and far between. But at least they managed to not screw up breakfast. He didn’t know what he’d do if they did.

That’s why, despite the cost, he often partook of the various civilian restaurants aboard. It might’ve been eating a hole into his Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) payments, but at least the food they made was far and away so much better. Particularly the Korean and Tex-Mex restaurants. At the Korean barbecue place, he could get good kimchi with his meal and, if necessary, try and forget his troubles with enough soju.

Then there was the diner that reminded him of the stories that Rachel had told him about how a diner in her hometown made milk shakes the old-fashioned way with real ice cream along with what was colloquially called American cuisine. And finally, there was a whiskey bar that had a Prohibition-Era American speakeasy vibe to it that served some of the best Old Fashioned and Manhattan drinks he’d ever sipped. That and one of the barkeeps was a very pretty redhead, though he’d never say so out loud. The barkeeps there dressed exactly how they’d be in said Prohibition-Era speakeasys, complete with long-sleeved white shirts and vests.

Triara stepped back and looked down at herself. “But enough about that… what do you think?” She turned about to give him a better look at what she was wearing. “With Rachel’s help I’ve been putting some effort into looking and dressing like a human. As one of my best friends, I want your opinion. Tell me, what do you think?

“It’s taken me some time to get used to dressing like humans. As I’ve told you before, Zaltaens are far more conservative in our dress, so I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be with this but I have to admit that these last few months I spent with Rachel in Tau Ceti, I’ve gotten a whole lot more comfortable doing so.”

“I don’t think, it’s safer.” He often found that commenting on how a woman looked could have two outcomes. If she liked the comment, it was good; but if she didn’t like the comment, not even God, himself, could help you. He really wanted to stay far away from that conversation as he could. The day was going so well, he didn’t want to ruin it with something that she may not like.

“Richard,” she rolled her eyes, “come on.” She raised an eyebrow. “You’re my friend, I value your input on things like this.”

“True,” he looked down at the floor, “but you know me. I don’t know a damn thing about fashion and you know it. I can hardly dress myself some days.”

“I know that, but it doesn’t take actual knowledge about this kind of stuff to say if you like something, right?” She questioned. “Quit beating around the bush already, it’s not a difficult question to answer.”

She was becoming rather insistent that he give some kind of answer and he knew it. Why that was so? He didn’t know. “Well, I do have to admit that if it weren’t for your purple skin, blue hair, and pointed ears I’d think you were just another human. As for the outfit itself,” he looked her up and down, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it. It looks rather good on you. It makes you look rather attractive.”

“Now,” she paused for what Richard thought was dramatic effect, “was that so hard to tell me?” She asked. “Thank you, Richard, I’m glad you like it. Rachel told me that you’d probably like my outfit since it’s similar to what she often wears.”

“Yeah,” he looked her over again and could sense the similarities between how Rachel dressed and how she was dressed, “I can see how Rachel had a hand in putting your outfit together. However, didn’t you say that you ordered food? I’m starving!” His stomach started growling after which he patted it. “Sorry about that, I didn’t eat all day except for a ration bar,” he told her, which invited a wince from her. She knew how awful those things were herself.

“Oh yes,” she said as the door dinged, “that would be our food.” She walked over to the door and pressed the button on the side of the door to open it.

As the young delivery man who couldn’t have been older than sixteen Terran standard years of age looked at Triara, his jaw dropped as he took in her appearance. “Triara Moonbeam I suppose?” he asked as he once again looked her up and down with his eyes. He’d met other Zaltaens on the station but none of them dressed like she was dressed and he was completely unprepared for it.

“Yes,” she said as she held her hands out for the bags that the delivery person was carrying to which he handed them to her. “What do I owe you?”

“That’ll be… um,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out his datapad. He knew what her total was but when he saw Triara he completely forgot the total. Triara couldn’t help but to smirk, she knew that she took the young man by surprise. “Um,” he stuttered as he tried to look at anything other than her. “That’ll be… one hundred Human Federation credits or ninety Zaltaen credits.”

She handed her Space Force CAC over and he blushed as he took hold of it and ran it on his datapad as he desperately tried to not look at her and how the top of her blouse was playfully unbuttoned showing off some of her cleavage. Inside of his mind she could hear him screaming not to look at her, but he couldn’t help himself, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her.

“And if you would please confirm the payment,” he handed her the datapad as he desperately hoped that she wouldn’t notice the effect her choice of dress was having on his poor, young male psyche. She took hold of the datapad and let the software visually confirm that she was the authorized user of the CAC and after she applied a rather healthy tip for the young man. She then handed the datapad back over and as he noticed what his tip was, his jaw dropped again. “Oh my God, thank you Miss Triara! Thank you!” he said with a quick bow at the waist, then promptly left. As soon as the door closed, she couldn’t help but to break out into laughter.

“What are you laughing about?” Richard asked as Triara came over and put two huge bags on the kitchen counter. “Oh nothing,” she began to take the plastic containers out of the bag, “the young delivery guy couldn’t keep his eyes off me. He tried so hard to hide his um,” she laughed again, “well, you get the idea. The young man couldn’t have been more than sixteen Terran years old and his hormones were raging.”

Richard began to laugh. “He probably was just completely surprised much like I was when I first saw you dressed like you are.”

It was then that he really looked at what she was wearing. She was wearing a fitted blouse that clung to her body and did a fantastic job of accentuating her curves, most notably her rather ample chest. It was then that he noticed how she had left a few buttons at the top of her blouse playfully unbuttoned which showed off much of her cleavage quite nicely. All-in-all, it was just this side of what he considered appropriate for her to wear.

She was also wearing a very short light purple pleated miniskirt that in his mind was barely tasteful for he often thought that fashion was pushing things way too far. However, that was what was in fashion and it seemed that the world of fashion had every intention to push things as far as they could get away with.

In reality, the only thing that made her miniskirt close to being decent was the fact that she was wearing tights that matched her skin color which gave the impression that she wasn’t wearing any. However, having often seen Rachel wear much the same kind of tights with similarly short miniskirts, Richard could tell when a woman was wearing them just by the look of a woman’s legs. That and sound they made as a woman walked.

To top her outfit off she was also wearing a pair of black dress shoes that had a modestly high five centimeter1 heel along with her blue hair tied up in a ponytail at the back of her head with a purple-colored hair tie that showed off her pointed ears. He then realized that she was wearing makeup which was something that he had never seen her wear before. It was little more than some purple-colored blush, some purple lipstick, and a little bit of blue eyeshadow that served to bring attention to her purple-colored eyes that he often found were incredibly beautiful.

Then he began to think about how Rachel often wore the same kinds of outfits which only made him wish that he could be with her that much more for it’d been so long since he’d been with his wife that he hoped that Triara wasn’t picking up on some of his more amorous thoughts that he had for his female Zaltaen friend.

He, of course, knew that those kinds of thoughts were the kind that he shouldn’t be having for someone who was just a friend. Triara may’ve been an alien but she was a woman and an awfully attractive and beautiful one at that and the outfit that she had chosen to wear that evening served only to accentuate just how physically attractive she was.

If he was being honest with himself, he’d have been more surprised if he hadn’t felt any physical attraction to her. He tried to mentally stomp on said thoughts but he couldn’t help it what with the way she was dressed. He was a man after all, married though he may’ve been. He could look, as Rachel and even the captain had told him, but he didn’t dare touch or try something with her. Her presence only reenforced how much he missed his wife and that he needed some alone time with her as only a married couple could have.

Unbeknownst to him, Triara had picked up on his amorous thoughts about her. She could sense how much he missed being with his wife, never mind being with a woman in general. Part of her really did want to help him with his sexual needs, it was the same part of her that wanted it too. In fact, she ached for it. She wanted it so badly that it hurt inside like a dull ache that just wouldn’t go away no matter what she tried to do.

However, she knew that even though they’d have a lot of fun in bed they’d both be doing something they’d later regret. She wouldn’t do that to him, to Rachel, or to herself. Because of that she raised the mental barriers in her mind, shutting out his thoughts. She built the wall in her mind, brick by brick, until there was just the sound of the room in her mind.

“Something like that,” she chuckled. “Truth be told, he couldn’t stop thinking about how hot I looked.” Richard frowned slightly. “Not only because of how I’m dressed,” she looked down at herself, “but because I guess some humans can’t get over how Zaltaens look. The elven features we have feeds into the imaginations of some of your peoples’ fantasy fiction like Lord of the Rings and role-playing games.”

“And this is what I’m worried about when it comes to you and all of your recent… changes,” he looked her over again and once again had to figuratively tear his eyes away from her, “that you’ve made about yourself. You’re not used to how human sexuality and attraction works; humans aren’t as sexually repressed as your species is.” He once again looked her up and down and not for the first time he thought that if he weren’t married to Rachel, he’d likely be married to Triara (and wouldn’t that be so Captain Kirk of him?).

The thought that he might want to take her to bed right now despite his marriage was a source of irritation for him. A part of him tried to rationalize it away by saying that he’d been without sex for so long and Triara was such a good friend, it’d be better doing such things with her rather than one of the whores in one of the station’s legal or illegal brothels. Those weren’t run by the government or the Space Force, but they were seen as a necessary evil for single, unaccompanied Marines and Sailors. Better that servicemembers visit the legal brothels than violating good order and discipline by fraternizing with fellow servicemembers.

And much like Triara thought, Richard knew he wouldn’t do such things to Rachel, to Triara, or to himself. Thus, he resolutely fought down the idea of bedding the beautiful alien woman who looked altogether too much like a space elf.

“I wouldn’t say that Zaltaens are sexually repressed, no sir!” she exclaimed with her hands on her hips which did nothing to help Richard’s imagination for it brought attention to her shapely hips and backside. “We just don’t express it as openly as humans generally do.”

“That’s what I mean!” he exclaimed. “You wouldn’t know how to handle it. I could imagine many situations where human men would take advantage of your naiveté and I don’t want that to happen to you. I care too much for you to have that happen to you.”

“Richard,” she sighed. She knew that he meant well but it almost sounded like an insult unto her. “I might not know everything about human sexuality and how your people perceive such things, but that doesn’t make me an idiot,” she said a little hotly, perhaps a little more than she had intended. “Don’t you dare call me naïve again!” She once again said rather hotly. “Remember, I’m a telepath so if I sensed that a human male, or a female for that matter, was trying to take advantage of me, I’d walk away. And if they pressed the issue, remember that Zaltaens are naturally stronger than even that of genetically modified humans.”

“Okay, I’m sorry,” he frowned as he looked to the floor. It certainly wasn’t his intention to insult her or anything like that but now that he looked back on what he said, perhaps she was right; he had insulted her intelligence. He simply wanted the best for her since he saw Triara as a good friend and he was rather protective of his friends, some would say that he was overprotective of them at times.

“Good,” she said before she smiled, putting his mind at ease. “You worry too much about me but in a lot of ways, I thank you for that.” She reached for his hand. “I’m sorry if I came off too harsh.” Triara was about to continue when Richard spoke up. “Don’t worry, I understand; I’m way too overprotective of you. I have to learn to let you learn and you can’t learn if I shelter you.”

“Exactly,” she nodded as she squeezed his hand which put his anxiety over what happened between them to rest. “Though I do have to admit that it’s nice to know that there’s someone watching out for me. I really do appreciate it and everything you and Rachel have done to make me feel welcome among humans.”

After dinner Richard gathered the plates up and was about to begin washing them when Triara came up from behind him and gently nudged him away. “Don’t worry about these. Don’t you remember that it’s a Zaltaen custom for the guest of the house to clean up after a meal? Let me handle this for you.” He raised his hands up in the air and backed up. “I’ll clean up.”

Richard, meanwhile, went to go sit down in his living room and sat down on the couch while she cleaned up. He picked up his datapad and started going over a few reports that were in his email Inbox from that morning. He sorted through the ones that needed his immediate attention, the ones that could wait for a few hours and the ones that could wait until much later. Luckily, there weren’t many that needed his immediate attention, which was strange all by itself. He was the executive officer, so a lot of what happened on the station went through him before it could ever find its way to the captain. To see so little in his queue that demanded his attention now was strange enough all on its own.

“Alright, now that I’m done cleaning up, maybe we can have some time to talk since it’s been some time since we’ve seen each other and talked.” She sat down on the couch and sighed as she leaned back, crossing her legs at the knees. If she had noticed how he had taken a moment to admire her legs, she didn’t say anything. “Oh, this is nice,” she sighed again as she fidgeted and otherwise made herself comfortable.

“I’m glad you approve of the couch, it’s the one thing that I changed about this place. The old couch was about as comfortable to sit on as a wooden park bench; it seriously lacked good cushions. What do you want for standard Space Force furniture?” he asked her, to which she nodded as she sank into the cushions of the couch.

“Oh, I could seriously get used to this. I can imagine that I could fall asleep very easily on this couch. I’ve got to look into getting one for myself when I get the chance.”

As she began to pull her legs up onto the couch he exclaimed “Hey!” which startled her. She wondered what was wrong until he pointed to her shoes. “Watch the couch! It’s new!” He patted the couch cushion. “I just got this couch two weeks ago and I don’t know where your shoes have been. I’d like to at least keep it clean for the first month or so.”

“Oh,” she blushed, which did interesting things to the color of her cheeks for her skin was purple and her blood was red just like human blood. “I didn’t think about that. I’m sorry, I’ll take my shoes off.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” he pointed down, “you didn’t know. That’s why I’m wearing slippers. I only wear my slippers in my stateroom to try and keep the carpeting clean. It’s bad enough the carpet in front of my door is rather dirty,” he pointed over at the door. “I’ve no idea how that happened. I plan on getting a small rug to put in front of the door for people to step on to take their shoes off along with having station services come in and clean that area of the carpet. At least if the rug gets dirty, I can just replace it.”

“It may be a space station,” she bent over and began to take her shoes off, “but it isn’t a completely closed environment by any means. People and cargo come and go all day every day from places all over Zaltaen and Human space. People are bound to pick up dirt and track it everywhere on the station.” She looked back up from her shoes. “And let’s not forget that much of the station is still technically under construction.”

She looked back down at her shoes as she went back to undo the small strap that went across the top of her foot. “The outer hull may be done but construction inside the station isn’t. With that work comes dirt, dust, and other debris. And that doesn’t even count any plans to expand the station in the future. Space stations like this tend to grow in an almost organic fashion, so who knows what the station will look like in two or three standard Terran years. We’re just going to have to keep up with cleaning the corridors on a regular basis.”

“The Zaltaen government is putting a lot of resources into this station.”

She picked her shoes up and put them off to the side and pulled her legs up onto the couch. Again, he might’ve stolen a look at her sexy and shapely legs and once again thought about how it would feel to have them wrapped around him in bed but he once again tried his best to not think of her like that; she was just his friend after all.

Meanwhile, she once again picked up on those amorous thoughts of his and like him, she too had to stop thinking about wanting to take him to bed even though a part of her wanted to have that kind of fun with him. That only reinforced the idea that perhaps it was time to try and find someone so that if such a private meeting like this were to happen again, there wouldn’t be nearly as much sexual tension between them. Then again, she supposed her having a significant other really wouldn’t change much. She supposed that there would always be some kind of sexual tension between the two of them no matter what.

So why did she dress like she did knowing the kind of reaction she would get from Richard? She mentally shook her head at the thought about how wrong it was to tease her friend like that knowing how long he had been without his wife but another part of her actually liked the kind of attention he was paying her.

She remembered back when she first started walking around humans while dressed like she was and how she had reacted, she had to laugh at how disgusted she had felt back then. However, that was then and this was now. Now she found such thoughts to be rather exhilarating. She thought that perhaps that was why she had chosen to wear such a provocative outfit that evening.

However, the more she thought about it the more that emptiness in her life came clawing its way to the surface. Being in Richard’s presence only made it that much more obvious to her that she needed someone in her life. I really need someone myself, she thought to herself. But then she thought about if she could make it work. Would a human find her to be physically attractive much like Richard obviously did? She supposed that only time and an actual attempt would tell.

“They plan on turning this place into major diplomatic and trading hub between the Human Federation and the Zaltaen Star Kingdom. That and this place has the room to transship cargo from all over the Alpha Centauri Star System and points beyond.”

“They are?” He was surprised that the Zaltaens would do that, after all, they tended to have rather negative thoughts about how human business worked. That and they were on a near total wartime economy, so how could they afford to pour even as much as they had into the station? Especially a station that they didn’t own or fully operate? “That’s the first time I’ve heard of this.”

“That’s because a lot of the plans are still in the early stages. It’s said that they want to turn this place into a central trade and commercial outpost along with being an official place to meet and do business with human and Zaltaen diplomats, business owners and other various government officials. Being the XO of this place is going to be putting you into contact with a lot of officials and if you play your cards right,” she wagged her finger at him, “you’re going to be on a fast track for promotion to flag rank.”

Richard couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of him making flag rank. When he saw Triara’s serious look he knew that she’d somehow picked up on that thought. The fact that she didn’t comment on it said everything that she thought of that.

“Speaking about this space station,” she nodded for him to go on, “is one like this being built for the other Human powers such as the Union of Free Stars, the Corporate Republic of Sirius, and the Genetic Republic of Midas?”

“Yes, there is one being built for the Union of Free Stars, however, theirs is not going to be nearly as expansive as this one. That’s because the Human Federation is the largest of the four human star nations. The Corporate Republic of Sirius turned us down on the offer, the Great Maker knows why though.” She rolled her eyes, she figured that they’d jump at the chance to have more trade with Zaltaens. “As for the Genetic State of Midas, well,” she began to laugh, “after their leader, Supreme Chairwoman Dianora Sottosanti pretty much blackmailed the Queen of Zalta, diplomatic channels with the Midasians have been strained to say the least. It doesn’t help that the Queen of Zalta herself isn’t exactly happy with the chairwoman. Word has it that the chairwoman is persona non grata in Zaltaen space.”

“Yeah, I heard about that,” he chuckled. “We’ve never been able to get the exact details about what was said between them. Other than whatever words were exchanged between the two, it’s been one of the worst kept secrets in all Human Space that they’re not on good terms. That and the Midasians got access to all your databases, including the classified ones. The Human Federation and the other human powers are looking at Midas with even more envy in their eyes, as if we weren’t already. I just hope it doesn’t lead to a cold war.”

“Oh, that’ll be explained in time,” she said, “we’ve got a lot to talk about this evening. Some of which I’m going to admit that I’m not going to like talking about.”

“We can skip over that kind of stuff if you so wish, I wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

“Oh no,” she shook her head, “I think you should know even if it’s going to be difficult for me to tell you. There’s a lot of dirty laundry that my people have that I feel needs to be aired. Someone needs to inform your people of what’s really happening on my world and it sure as hell won’t be the Queen of Zalta or anyone from the Royal Court or the House of Lords. Your people deserve to know the truth of what my people do to one another. When it comes to your questions, and I know that you have a great many of them,” she tapped the side of her head, “don’t hold back even if I find your questions uncomfortable to answer.”

“As long as you’re okay with it,” he replied to which she nodded.

Alright, here goes nothing! He thought to himself. “Kelea, the head bartender and manager of the officer’s lounge here on the station, told me that you come from a noble House. Is this true?” He wasn’t all that surprised to see her nod in reply, he had a feeling that she was considering how she carried herself. That and he didn’t think that Kelea would lie about something like that. Besides, what would she gain by lying about Triara’s societal status?

“She also told me that you came from probably one of the most important and powerful of the noble Houses of your world. If that’s the case, why would you be here slumming it among us,” he made the air-quotes gesture, “lowly humans? Why are you part of the military? Not that I don’t appreciate you being here though,” he smiled as he patted her hand that was laying on the cushion beside her.

Triara sighed. “Going right for the gut punch I see.” She paused for a moment or two, took a breath and continued. “When a Zaltaen is growing up on my world, there’s a number of ways that we can serve our society and House. Because I come from one of the noble Houses, I have a few more options to choose from than our commoners.

“Generally, we can join the Royal Zaltaen Navy and if you come from one of the noble Houses like I do, one starts off as an officer. As for being a member of one of the more noble Houses, one can serve their House in any number of different ways, like take up a place in the House of Lords or in the Royal Court. Being that I’m a telepath opens even more doors for a Zaltaen like me. Because of the usual political maneuvering between the Houses, telepaths like myself can be used to gather intel on rival Houses and otherwise blackmail them into siding with us in the House of Lords.

“Because I come from one of the higher noble Houses, I was expected to carry on the lie about humans in that they’re a threat to the purity of Zaltaen society and to the power of those in the upper echelons of society such as those of my House and others like it. They did so by spreading all kinds of lies about humanity.”

“What did they say about us?” He already had a feeling of what she was about to say. It wasn’t a secret that Zaltaens didn’t think very highly of humans. He remembered back when they were on Zalta 4-B, not many Zaltaens wanted to talk to them and many of them gave them wary looks even though they saw them spending good times with one or two other Zaltaens.

“We were told that humans were barbarians. And by that they meant filthy, stinking barbarians. Humans were adversarial, oversexualized, greedy, hate-filled, selfish, ruthless, violent, bigoted, racist,” he winced with every word that she said but it didn’t end there. “Two-faced, willing to turn on their own kind if it meant they could make a profit, prone to beat their chests, too proud for their own good, willing to whip out guns at the slightest provocation. I could go on and on with all the negative attributes that they used to describe humanity, but I won’t,” she chuckled, “because honestly, I’d be here all day listing them off. They really did make humans out to look quite bad in the eyes of our people.

“However,” she put her finger up, “being that I knew the truth about humanity I, including others like me, participated in a political rally of sorts and unfortunately, I was arrested and otherwise detained. The next morning, I was brought before the matriarch of my House and it was then that she cast me out of my House so as to avoid any shame or dishonor all in an effort to quietly get rid of the problem.

“It was only because I was in the military that I didn’t lose everything that I had. Unfortunately, for a Zaltaen of my stature, there’s no greater insult because a Zaltaen without a House is no Zaltaen at all.”

“But Triara, your people aren’t entirely wrong about humans,” he spoke in a flat voice. “Just look at how we treated some of the Outer Colonies and Fringe Worlds.” Triara nodded her head as he continued. “Many corporations saddled those colonies with loads of debt that they couldn’t hope to pay off with interest rates that even the worst mobsters would call obscene. I visited one of those colonies, it was there that I met Rachel on the local Space Force base. The planetary designation doesn’t matter. Yeah, the place was considered so unimportant to the wider Federation that they didn’t even deem to give it a proper name, just a designation. I don’t think they even named the star, just kept the astrographic designation.

“It was the most rundown place I’ve ever seen. Broken windows, broken streets, and potholes the likes of which that I can’t even begin to describe to you. And we’re not even talking about the people yet. I’ve never seen such abject poverty in my life. A good friend of mine from back in the academy told me of how he’d grown up on a world like that. Oftentimes people joined the military just to get away from situations like that. As he put it, if you had the choice of living there for fifty or sixty years and blowing out your brains, you’d really think hard about picking up a gun. A lot of them then embrace the opportunities that the military can give them. The Human Federation has problems and we paid for them with the One Year War that might’ve only served to weaken us against the Vonosh.

“And then there’s the oversexualized part,” he sighed as he glanced up at the ceiling. “I wouldn’t be so quick to agree with you on that. Some humans can reign in their sexual desires. Some even go so far as to live chaste or celibate lives. I know one or two friends who’ve never married, perhaps dated one or two ladies, never had sexual relations with them, and still had a healthy friendship with them. They’re making that choice for themselves.

“Then there’s the types that do sleep around a lot,” he admitted, “the kinds of people that most decent people would say are living morally rudderless lives. That they’re just indulging in sin because they think it’s fun to be with this woman or that woman with no sense of commitment forming. And they’re able to find the women out there that’ll let them indulge in such things. And there’s women who act much the same way, so the same criticism goes both ways.

“I’d like to think that most humans fall somewhere in-between all of that. I’d include myself in that category. I mean, case in point, I’m looking at you and of course, what you’re,” he gulped, “wearing,” and here came another admission on his part, “and with you, being a telepath, might’ve noticed how I looked at you and what I thought about you.”

“Yeah,” she said as she scratched the back of her head with a chuckle. “That and I could see how your body was reacting, it doesn’t take a telepath to know what you’re thinking when that’s,” she pointed at the front of his pants, “going on.”

“Sorry about that,” he said with an answering chuckle as he picked up a pillow and put it across his lap to hide his obvious erection.

“It’s okay,” she said with a smile that put him at ease. “Honestly, I’d be more worried if you hadn’t!” She finished with another chuckle. “I’d be wondering if you were dead inside if you didn’t react that way to my shall we say… choice of dress. Besides, I kind of enjoy your reaction in a rather perverse sort of way.”

“Well, as a married man I should…” She put her index finger to his lips. “Stop. It’s natural. You don’t need to apologize for it. Besides, I know how much you miss Rachel’s physical presence in your life.” He frowned as she had said that for it was true, he missed her dearly; he oh so missed the feeling of her sleeping next to him in bed and Triara could sense that. “We, yes, I’m saying we, could’ve acted on those impulses, but we didn’t. And that’s what counts. I could never do that to you, I could never betray Rachel’s trust in me; I’d hate myself if I did. Though I have to admit that she often said that she’d give us something she called a ‘hall pass.’”

The thought that his wife would give them permission to play around, even if only once, caused him to laugh. Glancing over at the elf-like woman sitting next to him he could only imagine what it’d be like to take her to bed. It’d be a hell of a lot of fun for them, they’d likely thoroughly enjoy the experience, and it would be oh-so Captain Kirk of him. But the more that he thought about it the more he realized that he couldn’t do that to Rachel or to Triara. Permission or not, it’d be cheating on his wife and there was no way in Heaven or Hell that he’d do that.

Triara couldn’t help but smile inside as she felt those thoughts from him. She completely understood why he felt that way and greatly respected him for it. He loved his wife too much, respected Rachel and herself too much, to get involved in some sort of sordid, even if permitted, affair. And that’s exactly what it would be. And Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice didn’t permit open relationships and adultery was punishable under the same article. It was one of many offenses that could get a servicemember involuntarily separated.

“But you say you included yourself in that middle ground?” she continued.

“Well, yes,” he told her. “I’ve been with other women before, but at least I was dating them in a mostly committed relationship. So, thus I couldn’t be angry with Rachel when she told me that she’d done the same. It’d be the height of hypocrisy to be angry at her for something I’ve done as well.”

He then looked back over to her and once again looked at what she was wearing. He may have liked her outfit and how it made her appear to be incredibly attractive and how it very much reminded him of his own wife what with how her outfit was even put together by her, but that still didn’t take away from the fact that he thought that some fashion was taking things way too far.

“I’m certainly no expert on women’s fashion… hell, like I said before I can barely dress myself some days but, in my opinion, a little modesty would be better in some regard.” He looked at how much of her thighs and legs were exposed by her very short miniskirt with nothing more than a thin layer of nylon covering them. “I’m not talking like Victorian England styles,” she chuckled as she remembered seeing that kind of stuff in the history books while she was on Terra, “I’m talking about leaving a little to the imagination if you know what I mean.” She nodded in understanding for she knew was talking about. “For instance, if you look at that skirt that you’re wearing,” he looked at how much of her thighs that were on display because of her short miniskirt and gulped as he once again thought about taking the very attractive alien woman to bed, “it doesn’t cover much at all; especially when you’re sitting down like you are.”

“Why do you think I’m wearing these tights with this skirt?” She looked down at her thighs and carefully pinched the material and let it snap back which made an audible sound. “Yes, I get it and I agree with you. If you ask me, they’re the only thing that makes this miniskirt even close to being decent and I know for a fact that your wife thinks the same way. I swear to the Great Maker that wearing these,” she caressed her thigh, “with this outfit is the only way I’d wear this skirt, that’s for damn sure.

“And before you ask, it’s not a question about me being comfortable wearing an outfit such as this because the answer is yes. I am comfortable wearing it.” She paused as she put a finger up. “Now,” she chuckled, “if you asked me a year ago, I’d have said something else. But I’ve changed with time,” she began to laugh. “I’m no longer that timid Zaltaen that you once knew me to be. Hell, I’ve come to actually like dressing like this.” He raised his eyebrow at the thought that his wife had created a monster. “You should see how some of the other Zaltaens on this station react when they see me dressed like this, it’s absolutely hilarious.” She laughed. “I even had one faint right on the spot when they saw me.”

“She actually fainted?” He began to laugh. “As in, she fell to the floor out cold?”

“Yes!” She exclaimed. “As in, out cold.”

“You have got to be kidding me!” he threw his head back in laugher as he imagined the scene in his head.

“Nope,” she shook her head, “I was walking down the hallway wearing an outfit similar to this when I saw three other Zaltaens walking down the hallway from the other direction. Two of them gasped and the other one straight-up fainted. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life!” She began to laugh. “I actually started laughing in the hallway while the other two Zaltaens wondered why I was laughing like I was.”

“I’m sure,” he too began to laugh as he began to wonder why. “But why? Why did she faint and why did you find it so hilarious?”

“Because Richard!” she exclaimed. “It’s because it’s finally dawned on me that my people’s puritanical sense of modesty and morality is nothing more than a bunch of bullshit.”

“I wouldn’t say that, I suppose there is a reason for it.” He ran over all the many reasons why a society that was based upon morals could be a good thing.

“There is a reason and it’s more devious than one might imagine.” His eyebrow raised. “It’s about control, control over the people.” She scoffed. “To tell you the truth, we’re a very repressed culture. I’ve come to realize with my time among humans that the centuries of traditions or morals have been weaponized by the powerful elites of my world to do little more than to maintain the status quo. And not only that but because I’ve been among humans for so long, I’ve seen just how stagnated my culture has become. We’ve not changed in over a thousand Terran years and because of that, to be honest, I see a dying culture. We’ve not even created new art be it music, what humans call movies, or any other kind of art for over a century.”

“I didn’t think about that.”

“A culture that doesn’t evolve and create anew is a culture that eventually dies. My hope is that our recent experiences with humanity will change my people for the better. Now that I’ve lived among humans for so long and I’ve seen how happy you and Rachel are,” she looked down at her lap and frowned, “I want what you and Rachel have together. I want it so badly that it hurts,” she put her hand to her chest, “right here. Every night I go back to an empty suite and I find it to be so cold and lonely. I tried to tell myself years ago that’d I’d be fine living alone on my own but since I’ve come to know you and Rachel, I’ve realized that I only told myself that to make myself feel better since I don’t have a home world or even a home to go back to.”

“But you must be careful, empty relationships aren’t the answer either. Rachel can tell you that, hell,” he looked down at the pillow in his lap in shame, “I can say the same thing.” He looked back down at her. “Rachel has even told me that out of all the relationships she’s had, the one that she has with me is the only one that means a damn to her. All the ones prior?” He shook his head. “She says there wasn’t the right spark to them, not that special something… that she’d been looking for.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “she’s told me that too. You’re the only one that means something to her, the only one that means so much to her that if she lost you, she’d be devastated.”

“What about the fact that you have no House or family to go back to?” He asked, trying to change the subject from relationships to just about anything else. “I know that if I didn’t have my family, I know that I wouldn’t have been able to deal with a lot of what’s happened to me. They gave me the strength to carry on.” He looked at her hands that were resting in her lap, took hold of them while being careful not to touch her thighs which wasn’t easy, and gave her hands a slight squeeze. “I’m where I am today because of my family and my wife Rachel.”

Those words made her realize just how much she missed her mother, brothers, sisters, and cousins back on her world. And what made it all worse for her was that almost none of them would take her call now that she had been cast out of her House. She had a cousin or two that didn’t agree with what had happened to her but even those people she fell out of contact with.

She was deeply saddened and part of her wanted to cry but that wasn’t the Zaltaen way. After nearly a century at war their people had molded into something very much like the British culture on Terra. You didn’t show the hurt, the pain. You met adversity with great self-restraint in the expression of emotion. You carried on. Zaltaens didn’t have the phrase, “Keep a stiff upper lip,” in their native languages, but the sentiment was there.

“With that being said, if you can’t have a Zaltaen family,” he paused to gauge her reaction, “you can be part of mine, a human family.”

“Richard, you don’t have to do that for me.” She shifted on the couch to face him. “Like I said… I’m fine; I’ve accepted it, I’ve moved on.” However, she wasn’t fine with it but like all Zaltaens, she refused to show it.

“But I want to.” Richard squeezed her hands. “Rachel and I will be your family along with my parents. And as for a home? You’ll always be welcome at mine.”

“But why?” she asked. “What have I done to deserve this? I’m not human, I’m what some among you would call a xenos or more commonly an alien. I’m the outsider looking in on humanity, which is an appropriate thought when you consider that Zaltaens spent almost four Terran centuries doing just that. There’s a lot of people who think that we were spying on you, and maybe justifiably so, or that Zaltaens could’ve helped stop some of the worst that humanity did to itself, namely the world wars; that we just stood by while humanity might’ve wiped itself out.

“Even when your people achieved faster-than-light capability on your own, yes, you did, we didn’t help with that, we kept to the shadows, despite how your science fiction writers envisioned FTL as a technologically necessary breakthrough for contact with other, older races. With all that, you’d still welcome the outsider into your family?”

“Have you ever once gotten the impression from Rachel or I that we think of you as an outsider?” As she shook her head, he exclaimed. “Exactly! And I should know something about the feeling of being an outsider.”

“Hmmm…? How so?” she asked.

“Remember, I’m from the Alpha Centauri star system. These stars are my home. I was born in one of the space habitats at one of the Lagrange points,” he explained. Even with it he saw her confusion. To her he’d always be human. What else could he be? Again, she was the outsider looking in and not understanding certain aspects of humans.

He continued. “I don’t know how much you know of some of the pro-Terra groups out there. To them people like me are Colonials. It doesn’t matter that Alpha Centauri is the oldest of Terra’s daughter worlds after Mars and the outer Solarian planets, and even those are looked down upon because they’re not born on Terra. We’re a colony star system. And I’m from a space habitat too, which makes me a Spacer to them. To them, the only thing worse than a Colonial is a Spacer. To them I’ll never be the same as native-born Terrans and should know my place.”

Seriously?” she asked, almost unable to believe that some humans would be that prejudiced against others of their own species.

Yes,” he squeezed her hands once again, “I mean it when I say that I welcome you into my family and that you’ll always have a place with us.”

In truth, she wanted it; she desperately wanted it, but in true Zaltaen fashion she tried her absolute best not to show it. Again, it was that stiff upper lip expression that the British people loved to use so much.

“I know that I don’t need to do this for you,” he continued, “but I want to. I know that Rachel would do the same if she were here. And yes, I know you’ve said that you’ve buried it in your past but that’s beside the point. Please say yes, I’d be greatly offended if you said no, and I know you don’t want that to happen.”

“Thank you, Richard.” She was able to hold her emotions in check like a good Zaltaen should. Richard, however, was surprised that she could be so calm and collected. Inside her, however, was a different story. She wanted to show just how much she was grateful for his kind offer but again, that mentality that you simply carried on won out in that moment.

“By the way, Rachel and I have some plans to take leave together soon, we’re going to be going to the Alpha Centauri colony to visit my parents and I want you to come with us to meet them.” Her jaw dropped almost imperceptibly. “And before you say no, I won’t accept ‘no’ for an answer. If you have the leave, you’re coming with us. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. You’ll be on that shuttle with me and Rachel. I’m absolutely sure that my folks would love to meet you.”

“But where will I stay?” she asked as Richard stood up from the couch and looked down at her while she was still sitting on the couch.

“With us, silly!” he exclaimed. “My parents have a big enough house, there’s more than enough room for the three of us. Besides, I’ve already told them a little bit about you and they’ve already said that they want to meet you.” Her eyes opened wide in shock that his parents would be so welcoming of her and they didn’t even know her yet. “I’ll let you know when to put your leave in.”

“Where are you taking me?” she asked him as she held his hand out to her to stand up.

“We need to make this official,” he led her over to where he kept his bottles of various liquors. He knelt for he was looking for the right one to toast with. After a few moments he found the right Scotch to toast Triara into his family: a bottle of Macallan 18 Year Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch. Her eyes widened as he put it on the table.

“Richard!” she exclaimed, “that’s the expensive shit! And not only that but you haven’t even opened it yet.” He ignored her as he continued to pull at the thin metal foil that was wrapped around the bottle’s neck. He took hold of the cork and gave it a slight twist; he often found the first time opening a bottle it needed a slight twist to help it come out of the bottle’s neck.

Still ignoring her complaints about using the whisky on her, he went over to his cupboard and took two rather heavy rock glasses and brought them to the counter. All she could do was just watch him pour the Scotch into two glasses and watch him hand her one. Scotch Whisky like this was only for special occasions, and if you asked him, this certainly counted as one.

“To family,” he said as he raised his glass in the air. “Please never forget that Rachel and I are here for you, now and for always.” She raised her glass while he did the same and then took a drink of the Scotch. They breathed soft sighs of appreciation at the smoothness of the whisky, the faint fire on the tongue and at the back of the throat as they shared in the drink.

“So,” he reached down under the counter and pulled out another bottle, a bottle of Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 Year Single Malt Scotch. “How about this one for the evening? I can imagine that you don’t want to kill a whole bottle of the eighteen-year stuff.” She nodded her head in agreement, not wanting to drink too much of that exceptionally fine Macallan. She looked past him into the cabinet where he kept his stock and found one or two bottles of bourbon, one of them being a Kentucky Straight Bourbon and the other being a Texas Straight Bourbon.

“What do you want to do tonight?” he asked as she watched him pour the Scotch into the two glasses. “Anything you want to do tonight, I’m game.” She looked to him with a sly look on her face. “Except that,” he pointed at her, “get your mind out of the gutter.”

“I know,” she chuckled, “even though the both of us know that we’d have a lot of fun together.”

“And I know that too,” he said as he opened the bottle of the Glenfiddich, “but you know as well as I do, that we’d hate ourselves if we did that and I’d never want to hate you. You’re my sister now.” As she heard those words, she very nearly let her emotional control slip but it was enough for her eyes to begin to water and a lone tear to slip down her beautiful face.

“Triara,” he held his arms out to her, “I know how Zaltaens pride themselves in controlling their emotions but this is me, your best friend, and most importantly, I’m family now. You don’t have to be like that around me anymore.” As he had said that, she embraced him and as she held her, he could for the first time feel her cry against his shoulder. It felt like years, decades even, of heartache and pain began flowing out of her as she cried against his shoulder. As she cried against his shoulder, he rubbed her back and held her like he knew that he would want someone to hold him if he was in the position that she was.

“Thank you,” she backed away from him and wiped her eyes, “I’m not used to showing these kinds of emotions. I hope that this doesn’t…” she was interrupted as he held her once again. “There, there, Triara. You don’t even have to be afraid to show your feelings to me or Rachel. We’re family now.”

“I know,” she hugged him tightly, almost to the point of it being painful for him. “I love you Richard,” she kissed his forehead, “and I suppose that there will always be a part of me that will always love you.” If he was shocked by those words, he certainly didn’t show it. “You were the first human that accepted me and stood up for me while others did everything that they could to make me feel like an outsider.” She backed away from him. “Thank you, thank you so very much. You really are the best friend a Zaltaen could ever have and I can’t imagine my life without you in it.”

“Neither can I Triara,” he held her once again, “neither can I.” As the hug ended, he looked at her and noticed how her makeup had become messed up by her crying. “Your makeup is a bit messed up, I’ll let you go get cleaned up in my private bathroom.”

“Thank you,” she once again kissed his forehead before walking away to his private bathroom to clean up.

“She loves me?” he whispered. “Then again,” he said to no one, “I’m really not surprised by the revelation.”

After a few minutes she came out of the bathroom to find him sitting on the couch with his drink in his hand and the bottle on the sitting on the lampstand so she picked her drink glass up off the counter and sat down next to him. As he looked to her, a nagging question came to mind.

“There’s one question that’s always nagged me lately about Zaltaens.” She looked up from her glass. “Where are the men of your species? Every single Zaltaen that I’ve met so far have all… been women. Unless your species reproduces asexually, I have to assume that there’s males. Right?” She nodded her head to confirm his thinking process. “So, again I must ask, where are your men? I’ve never met one before.”

“That’s a complicated question and one that needs a bit of a history lesson for the answer to make any sense to you.” She took another sip of her drink. “First and foremost, our people have suffered from a genetic issue in which our gender chromosomes have been degrading. The chromosomes that specify if a child is born male or female has seen the most degradation with males. Most male babies die at birth and even those that do survive, most don’t live past eight years of age.”

“Is that why I don’t see men of your species here on this station?”

“Exactly!” she exclaimed. “It’s also why my society is a matriarchy, meaning led by women. Women of my species are the dominant gender since most of my people are women. For every single male, there’s like five or ten females. Men of my species are kept safe on our world because literally… we need them, and I don’t think I need to tell you why.” She chuckled.

“No, you don’t have to tell me. I take it that your species reproduce sexually. And I’m talking about that from a strictly biological point of view and not from a physical one.”

“Yes, we do. And yes,” she nervously laughed, “my people do have sexual intercourse. When it comes to sex, my people are a bunch of prudes. We don’t talk about it in public and we certainly aren’t as open and cavalier about the subject as humans are. As you can imagine,” she nervously laughed again, “we’re not into casual flings like humans.”

“I see,” he took a sip of his drink again, “so how does it all work on your world? How do people hook up?”

“We don’t hook up in the sense that humans do. There are two major types of pairings or partnerships, both of which are arranged by the matriarch of the House. The first type is mainly arranged between the noble Houses to strengthen political bonds between the Houses. The second type of pairing is more of a general type of pairing, they’re based upon whether two Zaltaens would be genetically capable of having strong offspring.”

“Oh my God.” he gasped. Richard was horrified, he couldn’t imagine living like that. “So, I take it that there’s no love in these pairings that you talk about?”

“No,” she sadly shook her head, “there’s no love involved at all. It’s simply something that my people do, something that we must do or literally my species will go extinct. It’s been almost a thousand of your years since the concept of love has existed on my world at least among the nobles. Rumor has it that the lower Houses still have a concept of it, but the upper Houses don’t generally mix unless there’s a political reason behind the partnership.”

“I see,” he thought about it but the more he thought about it, it just didn’t make any sense. How could a people, a whole society not have a concept of love for one another? He just couldn’t understand it, but he decided not to press it.

“I do have to ask though, knowing how many of your people are living among humans, how is it that so few of your people know the truth about humans? Wouldn’t it be common knowledge that we’re not a bunch of, as you say, barbarians?” He did his best to say it exactly like she did which made her laugh during an otherwise sad and depressing conversation.

“You’d think that, but information on my world is very tightly controlled so if someone happened to come forward and say that those in power are trying to hide the truth from them many would just simply dismiss it off as nothing more than some kind of conspiracy theory.”

“I see.” He knew that to be true, after all, there were many conspiracies that had spread throughout all of human history.

“Speaking about your people, does the Queen know about what’s happening outside the walls of the Royal Palace?”

“I’m sure she does.” He was about to ask another question before she interjected. “You have to understand, everything moves at a glacial pace on my world. There’s a lot of stuffy old people in places of power that intend to see to it that the old ways don’t change. The Queen herself has been trying her best to improve the lives of every Zaltaen but even she knows that if she goes too far too fast, she can be de-frocked of sorts and a Regent would be put in charge; someone that would be more sympathetic to what they want to do. Raina has to bide her time until the old bastards die off and then she can really push through her new agenda and reforms to move our people forward.”

“Why am I not surprised?” he rolled his eyes.

“Because Richard,” she laughed. “Despite our intention to show ourselves as being superior to humans, we’re just as fucked up as humans are. I’d say that we’re worse but that’s just my personal experiences talking.” She paused as her lips didn’t so much as frown but made a sort of straight line. She wasn’t happy but she wasn’t sad either. “As much I love my people, my society does have its faults. Being among humans has opened my eyes to just how much wrong my society has forced my people to do.” She shook her head, and a sense of sadness came over her appearance. “As much as I miss my people, I cannot willfully participate in things that I know are wrong.”

“What’s your plan from this point on?”

“Um… my next plan?” she chuckled as she bit her lip as she looked to the side. She didn’t know. Everything was still up in the air. “I’ve already submitted my paperwork to become a full citizen of the Human Federation.” Richard’s eyebrow raised at that; he didn’t think that she would do that. “Last time I checked on the status it was going through a whole lot of red tape. Something about me being an actual alien, it’s kind of unprecedented. Until I become a Human Federation citizen, I’m technically still a commissioned officer of the Zaltaen Space Navy and at the whim of my government so I must watch what I say and do.”

“One more question though, if you don’t mind,” she nodded indicating that he could ask it. “How long have you been away from your home planet?”

“I’ve not been back to Zalta ever since I started pressuring within the ranks for open contact with humans which based upon my quick math, that’s about twenty ago. Since then, I’ve not been back to my home planet. There’s no reason for me to go back. Nobody will talk to me, at least nobody I really care to talk to. Like I said before, ever since I’ve been cast out of my House my mother, brothers, sisters, and cousins haven’t talked to me since.”

“Twenty years ago!” She nodded. “God damn,” he whispered, “no wonder why you are the way you are. But I do have to ask… Have you tried to call them?”

“Yeah,” she lowered her head, “I’ve tried. They don’t take my calls. I figure that they’ve blocked me.”

“But they’re family!” Richard exclaimed.

“That’s the thing about Zaltaen culture, a Zaltaen without a House is no Zaltaen at all.”

“But you’ve been able to keep your commission even though you’ve been thrown out of your House, right?”

“Yes, that’s really been my only saving grace.”

“I don’t want to be rude or anything but how old are you?”

Triara smirked and laughed slightly. “Isn’t it considered to be rude to ask a woman how old she is among humans?” Richard was about to say something. “I’m about forty-two standard Terran years old, two years older than the last time that I told you.”

“You’re not much older than me or Rachel.” She shook her head. He could still sense the sorrow on her face. “But enough about that, now onto happier thoughts. Since you’re the guest of the house, you get to pick the movie. OK?” He then commanded the computer to turn on the holovid and to show the video on demand menu. “As you can see, we have a whole selection of things to choose from. Any movie you want to see, we probably have it in the archive.”

She then thought for a moment to when she first revealed her true appearance to both Richard and Rachel. She remembered how Rachel laughed about how she looked like something straight out of The Lord of the Rings. She then laughed as she recalled exactly what she said. “Their ears, they really do look like something out of World of Warcraft or The Lord of the Rings.”

“You remember that?!” Richard laughed as he too recalled what Rachel said back then. At that time in his life, he didn’t know what to call her. Friend? Girlfriend? It didn’t matter. Little did he know that he would be married to Rachel nearly a year later.

“Eidetic memory,” she said as she tapped her head. “It’s a trait that all Zaltaens have. It’s why I learned so much more quickly and with such high precision.” Richard recalled wondering how she, at the time he knew her as Hoshi, was able to recall technical schematics with such accuracy. Now everything made sense. “So, you remember everything you’ve ever read, done, or experienced?” She nodded her head. “Oh, what I would do to have that ability.”

“Believe me, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. There’s things I’d rather forget but I can’t.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“No problem, Richard,” she smiled. “I knew what you meant. Anyways, to get back to what you were saying… Yes, I do remember that.” She looked at the holovid’s menu of movies. “Computer, do you have The Lord of the Rings?”

“There are three movies that carry that title.” The computer responded. “The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and finally The Return of the King. They’re listed in the order in which they are intended to be watched.”

“Three movies!” Triara exclaimed. “A trilogy!” Richard nodded his head. “I do have to warn you, they’re quite lengthy movies. You’d have to spend three evenings watching them. The Fellowship of the Ring’s extended edition is nearly a three-and-a-half-hour movie.”

“It’s only 1900 hours; we have the time to watch it.”

“I’m game if you want to watch it.” She nodded her head. “Computer, play the Extended Edition of Fellowship of the Ring, the first movie in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.”

“Buffering data from main movie archive, please wait.” Five seconds later the movie started playing with the surround sound system that Richard didn’t even know he had.

It was almost one in the morning, 0100 hours, the movie ended. Triara had several questions to ask while the movie was playing so Richard had to pause a few times while playing the movie to answer her questions. What with being a bit of a Tolkien fan, he knew how to answer her questions.

She got up off the couch and looked down at herself. “Anyways,” she said as she looked down at him while he was still sitting on the couch. “It’s been an amazing evening; I had a lot of fun.”

“Likewise,” he said as he looked up at her from his sitting position.

“Maybe we can get together and watch the other two movies.” She secretly hoped to the Great Maker that he would say yes for she enjoyed his company. “Well,” he thought, “it won’t be until the next weekend. I usually get off duty late so that won’t work. If you want, we can do it next weekend.” She excitedly nodded her head, maybe a bit too excitedly. “Alright then,” he said as he held his arms out and hugged her. “I’ll get the food next time. I want to introduce you to something that my people called barbecue. There’s this great barbecue place in Purple Sector, level five.”

“Interesting,” she said as she stepped forward. “See you next weekend.” And with that she gave him one final gentle hug. “Oh,” he said as she looked back. “When you have some time tomorrow, I’d like to take you to the Officer’s Lounge. I want you to meet Kelea. I think that you two will get along great. She’s a lot like you, a Zaltaen that’s living among humans.”

With that Triara walked out of his stateroom for the night leaving Richard feeling sorry for his friend.

Continue to Chapter 11…

  1. Two inches.[]