Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 10

At the University of Mars in Syria Planum, Amanda was just about to walk out of her dorm room to go grab a bite to eat in the café. “Oh, who could that be?” She asked as she pressed the button on the side of the door to open it, and behind the door was standing a Zaltaen woman whom she had to admit was a shock to see.

Oh, sure, she had seen Zaltaens before on the vid screen back when Zaltaens had revealed themselves to all of humanity several years ago along with a few who had enrolled in the university, but she had never seen one up close and personal. Amanda looked her over and she had to admit that she was rather cute looking, and she could also see how nervous she was.

“Hi.” Amanda motioned to welcome her in. “Come in.”

“Um.” The young Zaltaen woman hesitated before walking into the room from the hallway.

“Come.” Amanda motioned for her to come in once again. “Come on in, I don’t bite.” She smirked. “Much.” She chuckled but she could see how it had made the Zaltaen woman nervous. “I was joking, I was just trying to lighten the mood.”

“Oh.” The Zaltaen woman sighed. “I think I get it.” As she came in from the hallway and the door closed behind her, she looked about the room and saw how much of a mess it was. “I’m sorry,” Amanda went to pick something up off the floor, “I just moved in, I’ve not had time to organize my things yet. I’m usually not this messy so just pick something up and toss it aside.”

“That’s alright.” The Zaltaen woman picked something up and moved it aside to make room for herself to sit down on the couch.

“Alright then.” Amanda moved something and tossed it on the floor and sat down next to the Zaltaen woman with a couch cushion between them. “What’s your name?” She put her hand to her chest. “I’m Amanda.”

“My name is Alyssia.”

“Well then,” Amanda smiled, “I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve always wanted to meet a Zaltaen. I’ve seen others like you on the news on the vid screen, but never like this. This is quite amazing.”

Really?!” Alyssia had to hold in her enthusiasm at the idea that a human was showing her genuine interest in getting to know her.

“Really… what?”

“Oh.” Alyssia looked down at the floor at which Amanda reached for her hand and Alyssia flinched away.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s just that Zaltaens aren’t used to being touched.”

“Oh.” Amanda sighed as she closed her eyes in embarrassment. “I’m sorry.” She hung her head low. “I don’t know much about your people,” she looked back up at her, “but I’d like to learn.”

“You would?” Alyssia asked, shocked that she, a human, was once against showing genuine interest in getting to know her.

Sure!” Amanda exclaimed. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s just that,” Alyssia looked up, “many humans have refused to talk to me let alone want to learn anything about me. They just see this,” she pointed at herself, “and refuse to get to know me. I just want a chance,” she looked down, “that’s all I ask. Maybe,” she closed her eyes, “maybe this was all a mistake in coming here and that I should go back home.”

“Alyssia,” Amanda touched her hand that was resting on the couch cushion hoping that she wouldn’t flinch away like she had before, “don’t think like that. I’m willing to give you that chance and I know a lot of others like me that’ll give you a similar chance.” Alyssia looked up. “I get it, it’s not easy trying to come to a new world, live in a new society, and try and fit in; but I’ll help you.”

“You would?”

“Of course, I would!” Amanda exclaimed. “I’d love to get to know you and maybe we even can be friends,” Alyssia immediately perked up, “that is, if you would like that.”

Oh!” Alyssia yelped. “Thank you! You have no idea how good that makes me feel. I’ve been so lonely since I came here. It’s nice to know that I have at least someone who wants something to do with me.”

“Good,” Amanda patted her hand, “that’s what I was hoping but come on,” she stood up from the couch, “let me show you to your bedroom.” She turned back to Alyssia as she walked away from the couch towards her bedroom. “It’s not much other than a place to lay your head down at night, a bathroom, a place to study, and little much more than that. But at least you have some privacy and a place to call your own.”

“Ok.” Alyssia hummed.

“Say,” Amanda looked over her shoulder at Alyssia, “I’ve never seen you around on campus. Are you new here?”

“Yeah. I just enrolled here as part of the Zaltaen pilot program. I came here to Mars about six months ago to try and get acclimated though.”

“Well then,” Amanda turned to hug Alyssia but then remembered that she didn’t like to be touched like that, “congratulations. Welcome to Mars University. I’m assuming that you had your orientation and tour of the campus and the various facilities that can be taken advantage of.”

“Oh yeah,” Alyssia sighed as she sat down on her bed, “but I get the feeling that the person giving me my tour did it only because he was told to do so. When I asked questions, he was rather rude in answering my questions and even when he did, he was rather brief with his answers; I could tell that he didn’t want to have anything to do with me or my kind.”

“Well, that sucks!” Amanda exclaimed. “Maybe if you have time, I’ll give you a proper tour and I’d be willing to answer any questions that you have.”

“You would do that for me?” She put her hands up. “Sorry, it’s just that I’m letting my doubts come into the picture. I’ve not exactly had the best experience with humans so far.”

“I can tell.” Amanda leaned against the wall and reached for her knee and carefully scratched it to not ruin the tights she was wearing. “But you don’t have to be so nervous around me. Relax.”

“I know,” Alyssia looked down at the floor, “I have to work on that.” She looked up at Amanda who had a smile on her face, she surmised what she had done was to try and reassure her. “Where were you going before I showed up at your door?”

“Oh,” Amanda looked at the door, “I was just going to go get something to eat. Say!” She exclaimed. “Do you want to come with me?” A look of shock came over Alyssia at how she had invited her to come with her. “Yes, you! I want you to come out with me.” She pointed at her. “Come on, it’ll be nice to have someone to sit down and eat with; hell, I’ll even offer to pay for your breakfast.”

“You would?” Alyssia asked as she followed Amanda out of her new bedroom. “You’d do that for someone who you just met?”

Sure!” Amanda exclaimed yet again. “Why not? Come on.” She put a hand on Alyssia’s shoulder at which she fought the urge to flinch away to not insult the one human that was showing real interest in getting to know her. “Come on, it’ll be fun.” Amanda put her around her and brought her close while Alyssia’s eyes went wide and nervously looked about as the two of them walked down the hallway.

In the university café, Amanda sat down across from Alyssia. “Say,” Amanda took a bite of her meatloaf, “you were saying that you didn’t have a proper orientation. Right?” Alyssia nodded as she sipped at her Coca-Cola. “I’ve got some time before I go to a party later this evening so maybe after we get done eating, I’ll give you that proper orientation that you deserve.”

Amanda watched as Alyssia still couldn’t understand why she was being so nice to her; it was written all over her face.

“Listen,” Amanda patted Alyssia’s hand, “I understand why you doubt my intentions with you, and if I were in your position,” she took a bite of her mashed potatoes, “I’d probably have the same kind of doubt as well.”

“Yeah,” Alyssia nodded, “it’s just a little hard for me to understand why you’re being so nice to me when you have no reason to do so. I mean, you only just met me.”

Amanda shrugged. “Why does anyone have to have a reason to be nice to someone?” She picked up another bite of her potatoes and ate it. “I’ve always thought that if people were nicer to one another, maybe this universe would be a better place to live. If I can make even one person’s life just a little bit better, easier, happier, and less lonely, then I think I’ve done my job. Besides, you look like you need a friend.”

Alyssia looked down at her tray in front of her and closed her eyes and fought like hell to stop the tears that were welling up in her eyes, but they didn’t stop.

“Oh, honey.” Amanda reached for Alyssia’s hand.

“I’m sorry, I just…” Amanda cut her off. “You have nothing to be sorry about.” Alyssia looked up. “I get it, I’ve seen how others have looked at you while we were walking about. It’s sad really. You don’t deserve it.” Alyssia sniffled. “I mean it. I want to be your…” Alyssia cut her off. “Yes,” she sniffled again, “I’d love to be friends with you. You’re the first one that’s ever reached out to me like this. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”

“Yeah,” Amanda gave Alyssia’s hand a squeeze, “I get it. Now come on, finish eating, and I’ll take you on that tour I promised you. I can assure you that you’ll get a proper tour from me.”

“Yeah,” Alyssia nodded, “thank you.”

From that moment on, much of her negative opinions of humanity were beginning to change. No longer did she see all humans as hateful, spiteful, and racist bigots like many of her people told her humans were like and she had Amanda to thank for that.

“Well now,” Amanda put her arm around Alyssia as they walked towards their dorm that they shared, “what did you think of that tour?” Alyssia watched as others around her eyed Amanda for being sociable and friendly toward her yet it seemed that Amanda paid them no mind.

“It was… very informative.” Alyssia turned to Amanda. “Thank you, it was much more enlightening than the so-called official tour that I got.”

“Yeah well,” she rubbed Alyssia’s shoulder, “I’m glad to hear that. But anyways,” she waved her CAC by the door and it opened, “what do you have planned for tonight?” she asked as she lazily fell back onto the couch and crossed her legs. “Classes are beginning in just a few days. Not much time left for fun until it’s study, study, study.”

“Oh,” Alyssia sat down on the couch beside Amanda, “I have nothing planned. I was just going to sit in my room, get my stuff organized, and…” She couldn’t finish her sentence because Amanda piped up. “Then you should come with me! A few of us are getting together for one last hurrah before classes start. You really should come with me.”

“Uh.” Alyssia hummed. “I don’t know about that Amanda; I really don’t know much about socializing with humans.”

“And how are you going to learn if all you do is sit in your bedroom?” Amanda turned to her as she brought her legs up under her. “Getting out there and interacting with people,” she pointed at the wall facing the outside hallway, “is the only way you’re going to get better at socializing.” Alyssia hung her head low for she knew that Amanda was right; she was just fearful of how people would react to her if she tried to insert herself into social settings. “As I said, come with me tonight. It’s just going to be a small group, nothing big. So, what do you say? Will you come with me?” Alyssia nervously bit her lower lip. She wasn’t at all if it was a good idea to go with her. “I wouldn’t steer you wrong.”

“Ok,” Alyssia nervously replied, “I’ll go with you. But I do reserve the right to leave if I choose to do so.”

Fine!” Amanda exclaimed. “However, I don’t think you will leave.”

“What should I wear? Do you think what I’m wearing now will be ok?”

Amanda looked her over and what she was wearing. She was wearing a sweatshirt that had the phrase “Property of the University of Mars” and a pair of sweatpants and athletic shoes. She looked like she had just walked out of the university’s gift shop but she didn’t want to laugh and make her feel bad so she kept that little joke to herself.

“Uh,” Amanda rubbed her chin as she looked Alyssia over, “not really.” She began to think. “What size do you wear?” Alyssia shrugged. “OK, don’t worry. Come.” She stood up from the couch and motioned for her to follow her into her bedroom. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Alyssia watched as Amanda went to her closet and began to rummage through it looking for anything that would be suitable for her to wear. She pulled something about and shook her head and muttered ‘Not this’ and shoved it back into her closet. She continued to rummage around until she pulled out a blouse and walked over to her and held it up against Alyssia. “Take your sweatshirt off and try this on.”

“OK,” Alyssia nervously took hold of the hanger that Amanda was holding out to her and began to take her shirt off as Amanda went back to rummaging through her closet to give her a little bit of privacy. A few moments later, Alyssia called her. “I have it on.”

Amanda turned around and looked her over. “Better.” She nodded. “Much better.” She came over to her and caressed the sides of her arms. “You’re looking better already.” She turned back to her closet. “Now for something to replace your sweatpants. One thing’s for certain,” she looked over her shoulder, “you and I are going to have to go shopping.” She went back to rummaging through her closet. “You need a new wardrobe if you have any intention of fitting in here on campus.”

Meanwhile, Alyssia began to worry about if she put her into something that she wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing. After all, she was a Zaltaen, and she even admitted that she didn’t know much about Zaltaens or their rather unique culture and ways of thinking.

That was when she had a chance to really look Amanda over. She was wearing a skirt that came down to about mid-thigh and that was when she really began to worry. No Zaltaen would ever show off that much about themselves, they were after all, a very conservative society but as she continued to look Amanda over, she noticed that her legs weren’t the same color as the rest of her skin which was a rather pale white that she imagined was because of a reduced amount of natural sunlight what with how far Mars was away from the star of the Terran star system. They were, instead, somewhat black in color and she wondered why. She thought that maybe Amanda had lost her legs in some kind of freak accident and was using some kind of advanced prosthetics, but she was afraid to ask for any details out of fear of offending the one human that had reached out to her and befriended her as she had.

“Alright.” Amanda turned around with a skirt that was hanging from a hanger. “I think I have it.”

Upon seeing what Amanda had picked out for her to wear, Alyssia put her hands up in the air. “Oh no,” she exclaimed, “I can’t wear that!”

What?” Amanda asked as she looked at the skirt that she was holding in her hands. “What’s wrong with it?” She looked down at herself. “It’s the same one I’m wearing now.”

“You have to understand Amanda, no Zaltaen would be caught dead showing off that much of themselves. We’re a rather conservative society. We’d never show off so much skin.”

“But we’re not on Zalta, are we?”

“Uh… no.” Alyssia sheepishly replied as she looked to the floor.

“Alright.” Amanda saw just how nervous and scared Alyssia was about the kind of outfit that she was planning for her to wear to the party that evening. “I get it.” She put the skirt down on the bed and turned back to her. “I should’ve been more understanding of your cultural differences but I think I have a rather simple solution to this little conundrum.” She went to her dresser and began looking through it. Meanwhile, Alyssia thought about the word ‘conundrum’ and looked up the definition of the word in her English-to-Zaltaen translation app on her datapad; it meant a problem. “Yes, I have another pair.”

“Another pair of what?” Alyssia asked while wondering what she was talking about.

“Another pair of these.” She reached down and carefully picked at the material covering her legs revealing that Amanda was wearing something on her legs thus eliminating her idea that Amanda was using prosthetic legs.

“I was wondering what made your legs a different color than the rest of you. I had figured that you were using prosthetic legs.” That was when Amanda began to laugh. “Oh no, our prosthetics are good but,” she raised her leg in the air and flexed her ankle with ease, “but they’re not that good. But no,” she reached down and once again carefully pinched at the nylon material of her tights and let it snap back which made an audible snap, “what I’m wearing on my legs are called tights and I wear them with many of my outfits for the exact same reason you’re so nervous about. They too give me the feeling of being clothed down there,” she pointed down at herself, “if you know what I mean. They sort of give me the confidence to wear things that I ordinarily, as you said,” she pointed at Alyssia, “wouldn’t be caught dead wearing.”

“Ah.” Alyssia hummed. It was obvious to Alyssia that she had much to learn about humans.

“Here.” She motioned for her to sit down on her bed. “I’ll show you how to put them on but first, take off your sweatpants.” Alyssia’s mouth dropped open. “Come on Alyssia, I’m a woman too you know. You have nothing that I’ve not seen before. Right?” Alyssia shook her head as she began to slip her sweatpants down, sat down on the bed, and allowed Amanda to help her put the tights on.

Moments later, Alyssia stood before a rather tall mirror and looked at herself. She was still quite nervous and Amanda could tell.

“Why are you so nervous?” Amanda asked as she looked at Alyssia’s reflection in the mirror. “You look great, and I can tell you one thing, with the way you’re dressed you’re going to have to beat back the men with a stick.” Alyssia looked over her shoulder. “What I’m saying is that you look pretty damn hot if I do say so myself and not only that, but I think I’ve outdone myself.”

“Hot?” Alyssia asked as she looked down at herself. “What do you mean by that?” She looked back up at Amanda. “My temperature hasn’t changed.”

Amanda stifled back a chuckle for she didn’t want Alyssia to feel bad. “My God, you have the damnedest gaps in your vocabulary.”

“I’m sorry.” Alyssia sheepishly looked down at the floor. “I learned English but I’m afraid that I didn’t learn any of your colloquialisms and slang.” She suddenly started feeling even more self-conscious about herself. “Maybe I should just stay here and not go to this party.”

Nonsense!” Amanda exclaimed. “Honey,” she gently touched Alyssia’s shoulder and hoped once again that she wouldn’t mind, “I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.” Alyssia looked up. “Honest.” She smiled to try and reassure Alyssia. “How long have you been here on Mars?”

“Only about six months, I really don’t have much experience in social situations with humans.”

“Oh,” Amanda patted Alyssia’s shoulder, “that just means that you have to come to the party tonight.”

Alyssia then thought about her promise that she had made to her mother about not socially interacting with humans yet at that moment, she didn’t care. Amanda was being nice to her, nicer than she had ever imagined a human being towards her and she didn’t at all want to insult the first human to come along who showed genuine interest in being her friend.

“How come? Why?”

“Because if you don’t at least try and socialize you’ll never get comfortable. And you do want to become more comfortable socializing with humans, right?” Alyssia sheepishly nodded her head still unsure of herself. “Then you need to come with me. That’s the only way you’re going to get better at this and besides, no one will expect you to know everything. Showing that you’re at least trying will go a long way in convincing people that you want to fit in here.”

“You do have a good point.”

“So, come on,” Amanda put her hand on Alyssia’s back, “come with me to the party. I promise you that you won’t regret it.”

“Ok,” Alyssia shrugged.

“However, we have to do one more thing.” Alyssia watched as Amanda once again rifled through her dresser drawer and came back with some kind of white thing in her hands. “There we go,” Amanda began to bunch up Alyssia’s hair at which she began to protest, “hold still. Let me do this.” She bunched her hair into a ponytail and tied it with the hair scrunchy. “There we go, better.”

Alyssia looked at herself in the mirror and turned her head to look at the back of her head.

“It’s called a ponytail, a type of hairstyle that humans often wear.”

“Oh,” Alyssia tugged at the ponytail at the back of her head, “I see.”

“Now come on,” Amanda put a hand on her back, “let’s go. They’re expecting us.”

As Amanda led Alyssia into the hallway, Alyssia turned to her. “What did you mean by hot? I’m assuming that you’re not talking about my temperature.” Amanda chuckled. “No,” she chuckled again, “it has nothing to do with that. To describe someone as hot,” Amanda made an air-quotes gesture with her fingers, “is to say that someone is physically attractive.”

“I see.” Alyssia pondered what Amanda had said about her. “Zaltaens don’t put nearly as much emphasis on physical and sexual attraction as humans do.”

“I see,” Amanda rubbed her chin, “I guess that’s a cultural difference. Human men and women generally try to make themselves look attractive to the opposite gender to attract a mate.” She then muttered. “Or for a one-night stand.”

“What is a one-night stand?”

“Damn,” Amanda chuckled, “I can’t whisper anything around you.”

“No.” Alyssia reached up and touched her ears. “Zaltaens have exceptional hearing, at least when compared to that of humans. I can hear a whisper across the room.” Amanda winced. “So yes, I can hear so much more than humans.” Amanda nodded. “Good to know. But anyways, don’t be surprised if a guy at the party hits on you.”

“Hits on me?” Alyssia asked. “That would be a big mistake on his part. I’m twice as strong as any human male.”

“Wait. What?” Amanda asked as she stopped in her tracks. “What do you mean by that?”

“My home world of Zalta is a heavy gravity world so everything about my physiology evolved to live on that world. Everything from my cardiovascular, pulmonary, skeletal, and muscular systems are much stronger than that of humans, even human males. My metabolism is also boosted to maintain my bodily systems and because of that, my normal body temperature is 37.7 degrees1100 degrees Fahrenheit. Celsius versus 37 degrees298.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Celsius for humans.”

She watched as Amanda’s eyebrow rose.

“What is the gravity of your home world?”

“1.5 gravities as versus the 1 of Terra.”

Yikes!” Amanda whispered. “I know some people who live here on Mars that were genetically modified to handle life on higher gravity worlds but the extent that we’ve been able to achieve is 1.35 gravities and even that’s stretching things for human biology. I take it that everything is heavier there on…” Amanda tried to remember the name of Alyssia’s home world. “Zalta. My home world is Zalta, Zalta 4-A to be specific.”

“4-A?” Amanda asked. “You mean to say your solar system has multiple planets in the same orbital slot around your star?”

“Uh-huh,” Alyssia hummed, “I take it that you know something about this.”

“Yes,” Amanda nodded as they continued walking, “I’m studying astronomy and astrogation.” Alyssia nodded. “How many other planets are in your home world’s orbital slot around your star?”

“Two.” Alyssia held her hand up with two fingers on it. “The second planet is, for lack of a more creative name, is,” she chuckled, “Zalta 4-B. It’s a much smaller planet, not nearly as massive as Zalta 4-A which is why it doesn’t have as heavy a gravity as Zalta 4-A has. I’ve not seen it myself but I’ve been told that the well-to-do and higher-class people of my world like those who come from the powerful political Houses of my world use it as their vacation world. It only has a gravity of 1, much like Terra.”

“Political Houses?” Amanda asked. “Are they anything like the old political families that once ruled much of Europe during the mid-second millennium AD of Terran history?”

“If you’re referring to the years between 1000 AD and 1700 AD of your calendar, then yes.” Alyssia nodded. “The political Houses of my world would be akin to those powerful families of Terra and they control everything.”

“Do you come from a powerful political House?”

“No.” Alyssia shook her head. “In fact, my family is quite poor.” Amanda suddenly felt bad for Alyssia, she wanted to take her into her arms and hug her but she didn’t think that she would take it well. “My father is but a simple street merchant while my mother is a maid for a powerful political House. As you can probably imagine, the House that employs my mother doesn’t pay her nearly as much as she should.” Amanda shook her head.

“My family sacrificed much to allow me to come here to this university. They wanted me to have a shot at a better life for on my world it’s very hard for one to rise up the ladder of society unlike in human society where if you work hard, you can make something of yourself.” She watched as Amanda bit her lower lip. “On Zalta, there’s no opportunity to do that. You are what you start off as no thanks to those in the powerful political Houses of my world that want to maintain their political power in every way possible.”

“Fuck.” Amanda swore as she pointed at Alyssia as they walked down the hallway. “Remind me to never go to your world besides the heavier gravity.”

“Yeah,” Alyssia continued, “the only way for the average Zaltaen to rise up in society is to either join the Royal Space Navy or hope to The Great Maker that a powerful political House sees fit to take pity on your family and absorb your family into their own.” Amanda pressed her lips together and blew through them which made a whistling sound. “So yes, my family sent me here to have a better life and more opportunities than my family would normally be able to give me back on Zalta.”

“Aww,” Amanda cooed, “you must miss them.”

Alyssia stopped in her tracks but Amanda continued walking until she noticed that Alyssia wasn’t by her side, at which she turned about to see that Alyssia was standing with her head down. “I’ve only been away from them for about six of your months,” she said at a volume barely above that of a whisper, “but I already miss them quite badly.” She closed her eyes and Amanda watched as a tear dropped down her face. “I miss my mom and my sister the most.”

Amanda walked up to her and despite worrying if Alyssia would take it badly, she took Alyssia into her arms and hugged her. At first, Alyssia stood stone still in Amanda’s arms not knowing how to react but as Amanda hugged her and gently rubbed her back, she let herself put her arms around Amanda.

“Alyssia, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how badly you miss them.”

“Yeah,” Alyssia sniffled as she hugged Amanda however in that moment, she didn’t realize that she was hugging Amanda too hard. “Alyssia,” Amanda gasped, “stop. You’re hurting me.” Alyssia immediately let go of her and stood back afraid of what Amanda would do but instead of yelling at her, walking away, or doing anything negative towards her, she put her hand on her back and bent back. “Damn,” she rubbed her back, “that actually helped.”

“Helped?” Alyssia wondered. “How so?”

“My back was hurting me.” Alyssia shook her head in confusion. “I slept wrong last night. The beds that we have leave a lot to be desired. You’ll find out before long. But anyways, when you hugged me too hard you made a vertebrae bone in my back pop and suddenly my back no longer hurts.” Alyssia just stood there blinking her eyes. “In a way, you helped me. That’s been nagging me all damn day.”

“OK,” Alyssia replied, dumbfounded.

“But you really do have to be careful about hugging humans, we’re a little more fragile than Zaltaens.”

“I’m sorry.” Alyssia looked down at the floor. “I won’t hug you again.”

“Oh no, honey.” Amanda came up to her and lifted her head up by putting her hand under her chin. “That’s not what I’m saying at all.” She could see that Alyssia was still looking down because her eyes were cast down. “Look at me.” She watched as Alyssia’s purple eyes came up to meet hers. “Just be more careful, that’s all I ask. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t hug me or anyone else for that matter, all I’m saying is that you just need to be more careful next time.”

“I will.” Alyssia nodded.

“Good.” Amanda smiled as reached up and touched Alyssia’s shoulder to reassure her that things were fine between them. “Now turn that frown upside-down and smile already. We’re about to go to a party.” Alyssia tried to smile. “There you go, you look better already. Now come along,” she put her hand on Alyssia’s back, “come. We can talk more as we walk.” A few seconds passed. “Can you contact your mom and your sister?”

“I get messages from them but not nearly as often as I’d like.” Amanda looked her way. “Zalta hasn’t been connected to the Human Federation Galactic Internet yet so getting messages from home isn’t easy as you can probably imagine.” Amanda nodded in understanding. “Then factor in how my parents aren’t exactly well off and you can imagine that things are even worse. They’re lucky they can send me a message every two weeks considering how much it costs to send a message to me since it costs ten credits to send about twenty kilobytes of text using diplomatic back channels. They say that Zalta will be connected to the Galactic Internet soon but even then, I’m sure it won’t be cheap to connect to it for my family.”

Ouch.” Amanda winced. “That sucks.”

“Indeed,” Alyssia nodded, “it indeed… sucks.”

“See?” Amanda smiled as she rubbed her back. “You’re already using slang. You’ll get the hang of this.”

“You know Amanda,” Alyssia looked at her, “I’m happy to have met you and I’m even happier to be able to call you a friend.”

“You know Alyssia,” Amanda put her arm around her and brought her close which made Alyssia a little nervous, “I’m happy to hear that, I really am.” She looked up as others around them in the hallway looked at how the two of them were interacting with each other. “In fact, I think we’ll be great friends.” Alyssia smiled as Amanda rubbed her shoulder. “Yes indeed, I think we will.” As Amanda looked at her, she was practically beaming as her eyes lit up. “You’re happier already, I can see it in your eyes; they’re so much brighter now.”

“Thank you; Amanda; it’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me since I came here.”

“Aww,” Amanda hugged her, “that’s too bad. Everyone needs a friend. And as I told you before, I’ve always thought that if people were nicer to one another, maybe this universe would be a better place to live. If I can make even one person’s life, your life,” Alyssia smiled at how Amanda had put emphasis on her life, “just a little bit better, a little bit easier, then I think I’ve done my job. God knows that we need more people like that in this universe.”

“Yeah, I think it does.” Alyssia hugged Amanda but this time, she didn’t hug her quite so hard. “There you go.” She let go of Alyssia. “Now come on you, let’s get going; we’re expected at the party and we’re late.”

After a few more minutes of walking, they approached a door and Alyssia could hear music playing from behind the door thanks to her enhanced Zaltaen hearing. Amanda, of course, confidently walked up to the door and banged on it quite hard at which the music stopped and the door opened.

“Hey there Amanda. Come on in.” Alyssia, meanwhile, was standing off to the side while Amanda walked in and the door closed. She once again opened up her enhanced hearing and listened in on what Amanda was saying. “Guys, I have a friend waiting in the hallway and I brought her here because she’s new here. She barely has any friends much as I did back a few years ago when I first came from Alpha Centauri.”

“Yeah.” Alyssia heard another person speaking. “I remember. You came to our school a few years ago because your dad got a new job.”

“Yeah, I was taken away from everyone I knew.” As Alyssia heard that, she began to understand why Amanda was so nice to her; she knew how it felt to be in the situation that she was in. Amanda continued. “I had no friends and yet each and every one of you reached out to me and helped me feel welcome.” Alyssia heard several people humming in agreement. “So, I’d like all of you to welcome my new friend, Alyssia.”

“Alyssia? Isn’t that a Zaltaen name?” She heard someone say inside the room while Amanda came out. “Come on Alyssia, come inside.” Alyssia nervously walked in with Amanda behind her. “Guys, I’d like all of you to meet Alyssia. She’s my new dormmate and friend.” She watched as the people in the room looked on with their eyes wide open.

“But Alyssia is a Zaltaen.” A person who Alyssia didn’t know the name of said.

“Nice observation, knucklehead,” Amanda said sarcastically.

Alyssia wondered why Amanda had called one of her friends what she could only imagine was some kind of insult, yet the person didn’t at all seem angry; in fact, he was quite the opposite of angry for he began to laugh.

“So, you’re telling me that this,” he looked Alyssia over, “this Zaltaen girl is your new roommate?”

“Uh-huh,” Amanda hummed, “and as I said before, I brought her here in hopes that all of you will accept her much as all of you accepted me when I first came to all of you four years ago. Don’t make me look like a fool for bringing her here to this party of ours.”

“Alyssia.” One of the young men stepped forward and extended his hand. “Welcome. My name is Michael and this is David.”

“And I’m Emily.” A young woman stepped forward and opened her arms to her.

“Alyssia?” Amanda asked. “Emily wants to hug you just like I hugged you.”

“Right.” Alyssia nervously nodded as she gently hugged Emily. “That’s alright sweetie.” Emily let go of her and pointed at another girl. “And this is Stephanie.” Stephanie stepped forward and hugged Alyssia much as Emily did. “And this is Steven, Matt, Heather, and Lisa.” Alyssia nervously waved to all of them. Meanwhile, the one named Matt looked her over from across the room and because of her enhanced hearing, she heard him whisper something along the lines of her being beautiful.

It was then that she thought back to how Amanda had told her that perhaps she would have a guy at the party hit on her and couldn’t help but think that perhaps that was an example of such a situation. However, she didn’t know much about that kind of stuff so she kept those kinds of thoughts to herself.

“See?” Amanda came up behind Alyssia and put her hand on her back. “I told you these people were cool. I told you that they would accept you.”

Alyssia hung her head low. “I’m sorry I doubted you, Amanda.”

“Hey,” Alyssia felt Amanda rub her shoulder, “don’t be so hard on yourself. If I were in your place, I’d have the same doubt.” She looked up at the others in the room. “Right guys?” They all hummed in agreement. “But come on,” Amanda led here along, “come join the party. We have lots of food, drinks, and wonderful people here to spend our time with.”

After everyone introduced themselves to Alyssia, Amanda led her over to a table where there was food and other such snacks to be had during the party. As Alyssia was looking at all of the food, she pointed at one of the bowls. “What’s this?”

“These are boneless chicken wings, barbecue to be exact. And these.” She pointed at another bowl. “These are honey mustard. Go ahead, try one.” Alyssia reached her hand into one of the bowls and carefully took hold of one of the boneless wings while not touching the others and ate it. “Well?” Amanda asked as she watched Alyssia eat it. “What do you think?”

“Good.” She licked her fingers. “But what are these over there?” She looked at a bowl with boneless wings that were somewhat white in color versus others that were either brown or yellow in color.

“Those?” Amanda picked up the bowl that she was talking about and sniffed it. “These are jalapeño ranch, they’re rather…” Amanda watched as Alyssia picked up a piece. “Be careful, they’re…” She watched as Alyssia not only ate one but ate another and then another and then another, before long she was popping them in like candy. “I take it that you like them.”

“Uh-huh,” Alyssia hummed as she ate yet another one. “They’re a little spicy but I like them.”

“Oh hell.” Amanda took one and ate it and immediately regretted it as her face turned red. “Damn girl, you could’ve warned me they were that hot.”

“Sorry.” Alyssia shrugged. “They were fine to me.”

“No reason to be sorry. I guess,” Amanda coughed, “Zaltaens can handle spicy foods better than humans can.”

“I guess so.” Alyssia shrugged again. “It tastes like a plant called hospot back on Zalta. Depending upon the age of the plant when harvested and how you cook it, it can range from mild to quite simply intolerable.” She walked down to the other end of the table where there were several closed boxes. “And what are these?”

“Those?” Amanda opened one of the boxes. “These are pizzas. Go ahead, try a piece.” Alyssia reached in and picked up a piece and bit into it and nodded her head slowly as she ate it. “Then am I to assume you like this stuff too?” Again, Alyssia nodded as she ate it. “Good.” She handed her a plate. “Load up and go sit down. I’ll be along shortly.”

Alyssia, of course, did as Amanda had told her. She loaded up her plate with two pieces of pizza and more jalapeño ranch wings, sat down on the couch, and as she was becoming comfortable, the young woman who she had learned was Emily came and sat down next to her.

“Hey there, Alyssia.” She looked up from the plate that was in her lap. “How are you doing? Are you having fun? Enjoying yourself?”

“Um.” Alyssia hummed as she finished chewing. “Yes. I am. Thank you for asking.”

“When did you first come to Mars from your home world?”

“About four of your months ago. I’m still trying to find my footing here among humans and it hasn’t exactly been easy for me to adapt. Our two cultures are very different.”

“Aww.” Emily patted Alyssia’s hand all the while not knowing that Alyssia didn’t like being touched like that but she did so anyways to try and reassure her that she was doing fine. Alyssia, meanwhile, was rather nervous because of how Emily had touched her like that but she didn’t want to offend her since she, like Amanda, was trying to be friendly with her for, as far as she thought, was for no good reason. “If you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask. Amanda and I’ll help you in any way that we can.”

“Thank you.” Alyssia couldn’t help but smile at how gracious Emily was acting towards her despite how she had only just met her. “This whole experience has been great. Being here with all of you, that is. I didn’t think I’d be so readily accepted as I have been.”

“Aww.” Emily once again patted her hand, much to Alyssia’s nervousness but again chose to hold it back to not offend her. “I’m happy to hear that. Isn’t that right?” She looked up at Amanda as she sat down on the other side of Alyssia so that she was sitting in between the two women. “Amanda?”

“Yes.” She was about to hand a glass to Alyssia but stopped short of Alyssia’s hand and she wondered why. “You are at least 21 years of age, right?”

Alyssia, of course, began to do some quick math in her head to convert Zaltaen years to standard Terran years. “Yes, by Terran years I’m 22.”

Excellent!” Amanda handed the glass to Alyssia. “Here, you’ll like it.”

Alyssia sniffed it and immediately smelled alcohol in the drink. “Uh.”

“What’s wrong?” Amanda asked. “Are Zaltaens allergic to alcohol?”

“It’s not that.” Alyssia shook her head as she thought about how she knew that things like this would come up because she knew that coming to human space and adapting to more human customs was going to be hard at first but she wanted to fit in, she desperately wanted to fit in. “It’s just that Zaltaens usually withhold alcohol for official parties, gatherings, or other such special occasions. We don’t partake of alcohol as humans do.”

“Well.” Emily nervously bit her lower lip; she had hoped that what she was about to tell Alyssia wouldn’t offend her. “If you have any plans to partake in more social situations with humans, you’re going to have to change your thinking when it comes to alcohol. Humans generally use alcohol as a sort of social lubricant for it tends to loosen up and otherwise drop one’s normal inhibitions.”

“So, it can help enhance a social experience?”

“Yes, and no.” Amanda began and began to think of a way to describe it to Alyssia. “In small quantities, it can. For instance,” she pointed at David who had been quite shy when they had first arrived, “David over there was quite shy but now that he’s had a drink or two in him, he’s opened up and become more sociable with Heather.” Alyssia looked up and watched David interact with Heather and it was true, he was like a whole new person. “That’s not to say,” Alyssia looked back at Amanda, “that one should drink heavily because that’s not at all a good thing. One, it’s not healthy, and secondly, drinking too much will get one drunk and ultimately lead to what humans refer to as a hangover.”

“What’s a hangover?”

“It’s usually something that one experiences the morning after drinking too much that involves being sick to one’s stomach, having a headache, and otherwise feeling like shit.” She shook her head. “Trust me, you really don’t want one of those. I’ve had more than my fair share of hangovers and they’re no fun at all.”

“I see.” Alyssia rubbed her chin. “But if you know that a hangover is no fun, why did you let yourself drink so much?”

“Uh.” Emily was dumbfounded. “I don’t know. I guess I just let myself go overboard.”

“I see.” Alyssia rubbed her chin again in thought.

“But I digress,” Amanda continued, “drinking a little bit can help socially open a person. What one would want to get is what’s normally referred to as a slight buzz. Just enough alcohol to open oneself up but not so much to get one drunk.”

“Ok.” Alyssia looked at the glass in her hand that Amanda handed to her. “What is it?” She continued to study the liquid in the glass; it was dark in color.

“It’s called beer, Olympus Mons Porter.”

Alyssia looked at the glass and sipped it and swished the liquid in her mouth to get a good taste of it at which she took another sip. “Hmm.” She hummed as she looked at the glass again and took a rather large gulp of the beer.

Whoa there!” Amanda exclaimed. “Slow down there Alyssia! You don’t know how fast the alcohol will affect you.”

“Zaltaens have a higher alcohol tolerance than humans, it would take about double the amount of alcohol to get me, as you say, buzzed.”

“Lucky you,” Emily muttered and because of her enhanced hearing, Alyssia heard every word. “I’d kill for that. Just this one drink and I’m already feeling buzzed.”

“That’s good to know, knowing your limits is a good thing to know when it comes to drinking.” By then Alyssia had finished off the drink. “Would you want some more?”

“Please.” Alyssia handed her glass to Amanda. “More.”

“Alright,” Amanda got up, “I’ll get you some more.”

Meanwhile, Emily looked Alyssia over. “Let me guess,” she rubbed her chin, “Amanda helped you get dressed for this little shindig.”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Just asking.”

“Honestly,” Alyssia looked up at where Amanda was pouring something into a glass, “you look like she dressed you.” Alyssia looked at Emily. “Not that that’s a problem. It’s just that you might want to start creating your own look. That’s all. Find your own style.”

“I guess I understand.” Alyssia looked back at where Amanda was. “She helped me and without her, I don’t think I’d be here at this party with all of you here right now.”

“Yeah.” Emily patted Alyssia’s hand. “Amanda is a great friend to have, she’s fiercely loyal to those who she’s chosen to call a friend. If she really has chosen to call you a friend of hers, she’ll always have your back no matter what.”

Alyssia meanwhile watched on as the party continued and watched the people interact with each other. Some of it she didn’t understand, like when someone punched someone in the shoulder or insulted someone over something stupid the person had said; however, regardless of what transpired between many of the people at the party, nothing happened. No fights, no arguments, just laughing and more… laughing. She figured that it was all part of the social aspect of humans.

She must have gotten lost in her thoughts for she suddenly heard her name. “Alyssia?” She shook her head to bring herself out of her thoughts and looked up to see Matt standing over her with a rather large bowl filled with wings in his hands. “That’s your name, right?”

“Yes, yes… it is.”

“Amanda told me that you liked the jalapeño ranch wings.” Alyssia nodded. “I put another order in and they arrived a few minutes ago and I thought maybe you’d want some more.”

“Oh,” she reached for the bowl in his hands, “thank you.” However, instead of handing the bowl to her, he sat down next to her and took one of the wings out of the bowl and ate it after which he handed the bowl to her to allow her to have some.

“Are you having a good time with all of us here?” he asked as he ate his chicken wing.

“Yes.” She ate another wing. “Yes, I am. Thank you for asking.”

“That’s good to hear.” He continued to eat the chicken wing in his hand. “You know, I’ve never seen you before. Are you new here?” He could’ve smacked himself for asking such a stupid question; of course, she was new on campus.

“Yeah.” She stopped eating and began to wonder why he was so sociable towards her when he had just met her, yet she could feel the alcohol otherwise suppress her inhibitions. “I just arrived here on Mars four months ago from Zalta, I came here for better opportunities than I could get back on Zalta. As you can imagine, I’m so new to all of this.” She looked up and around at all the people in the room. “I very nearly didn’t come to this party but Amanda insisted that I come.”

“Is Amanda your dormmate?”

“Yeah, I just moved in this morning.” She looked up at Amanda who was standing across the room with Emily. “We hardly know each other yet she’s already been a great help to me, more than I ever thought possible. She even took me on what she called a proper tour of the campus after I told her that the person who gave me my official tour did a rather…” Matt spoke up. “Piss poor job?”

“Piss poor?” she asked. “What does that mean?”

“It means… shitty, less than adequate, bad, horrible, etc. That kind of thing.”

“Oh,” she nodded her head slowly, “I think I get it. Yes, he did a rather,” she hesitated, “piss poor job. The person who gave me my official tour of the campus was less than enthusiastic about giving me the tour.”

“That’s too bad, I’m sorry… you had that kind of experience.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about, you didn’t give me the tour.”

“No,” he struggled for a way to describe what he thought, “what I mean is that I’m sorry that you were treated that way. Nobody should be treated that way regardless of what you are and where you came from.”

“Oh,” she looked down at the chicken wing in her hand, “I get it now.” She looked back up. “Then yes, I understand. But that’s why Amanda,” she looked over at where Amanda was with Emily, “gave me what she called a proper tour. It was much more informative.”

“That’s good, I’m happy that she was able to help you in that sort of way.”

“Oh yes!” she exclaimed. “As I said before, Amanda has been a big help to me. She’s made me feel far more welcome than I ever thought possible.” She looked down at herself and tugged at her skirt. “Amanda even helped me get dressed for this… party.”

“I had a feeling that she did.”

“How so?” Alyssia asked as she sipped at her beer.

“It’s the way that you’re dressed, your whole look screams Amanda’s fashion sense.” He saw the disappointment on her face. “Not that that’s a bad thing,” she looked back up at him, “because you look good. Honestly, you do.”

“Thank you.” She smiled. He was about to say something when she spoke up. “Though I have to admit that I’m still a little bit nervous about dressing like this.” She once again tugged at her skirt. “Amanda said that I’d get more comfortable in time.”

“I,” he looked down, “I sadly don’t know much about your people. Honestly, you’re the first Zaltaen I’ve ever had a chance to sit down and really talk with. How do your people typically dress?”

“My people typically dress in long flowing and intricately designed robes. The higher your status in Zaltaen society, the more fanciful your robe is. I believe that it’s a running joke among humans that unless you hear a Zaltaen’s voice, you wouldn’t be able to tell if a Zaltaen was male or female. I’ve also heard that my people generally make even the most conservative of Evangelicals and Mormons look positively liberal by comparison.

“As you can imagine, when I first came here six months ago to try and acclimate to human society before coming to this university, I saw how human women dress and I damn near had a heart attack.” He tried not to laugh because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. “Add in how I don’t know how to socially interact with humans and how I don’t know much about your culture, it makes things even more complicated for me.”

“Well, you’re not doing too bad in the sociability department.” He paused. “And I’m not saying that just to make you feel better about yourself. You really are giving yourself far less credit than you should.” He watched her blush at which he had to smile. “Really, you are. Quit being so hard on yourself. I’m not Mr. Sociable. I had to work up a lot of courage to come and talk with you.”

“You did?” she skeptically asked. “Why do I find that hard to believe?”

“It’s true.” She watched as he hung his head low. “I know nothing about your people or your culture.” It was then that she began to understand that she wasn’t the only one in an awkward situation. “I didn’t want to insult you or say something stupid. And then there’s how I’m not exactly good at talking with women, I’ve,” he sighed, “never been good at it.”

“So,” she wondered, “why come talk to me?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “You just seem like you needed someone to talk to, someone who you could…” She spoke up. “Yeah, I did. I did need someone to talk to while Amanda and Emily are…” She looked up and watched as they were drinking, “drinking. Thank you.” She reached for his hand and he nearly gasped. “Can I ask you something?” He shrugged. “Did you really mean it when you said that I was… beautiful?”

“Excuse me?” He coughed. “How did you hear that? I whispered that.”

“So, you did say that about me.” He nodded and she could see the embarrassment on his face; she hoped that by bringing it up it wouldn’t chase him away. “As for how I heard you whisper that,” she reached up and tapped her ear, “my species has enhanced hearing when compared to humans. I can hear a whisper even across the room. But again, I have to ask, did you really mean that? You said and I quote… My God, she’s beautiful.” She watched as Matt blushed once again. “Matt, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“No,” he looked up, “it’s alright. You did nothing wrong. And yes, I meant what I said. You are quite beautiful.”

“You know, my species doesn’t put nearly as much emphasis on physical attraction and outward beauty as humans often do but I still really do appreciate it. It’s the second nicest thing I’ve heard since coming here to Mars.”

“What was the first?” he asked.

“That I want to be your friend.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, “that would probably be the nicest thing for you to hear.” He looked about the room at the other people. “To be honest, I think you found the best people to hang out with. I’ve been part of this close-knit group of people for years, I can’t imagine any better people to be involved with.”

She looked about the room, especially at Amanda and Emily. “I can see that.”

Just as she said that she saw Emily walk up with Amanda and she was practically holding her up. “Hey there.” Amanda stood over Alyssia with her arm over Emily. “I’m going to take Amanda back to her dorm, she had a little bit too much to drink.” Alyssia was about to stand up. “Oh no!” Emily put her hands up. “That’s alright. You can stay here with Matt.”

“Are you sure?” Alyssia asked.

“Yeah!” Amanda said, obviously slurring her words. “Emily will get me back. You just… have… fun with Matt.”

“And I’ll get Alyssia back as well.”

“Please do so Matt.” She watched as Matt patted Alyssia’s hand at which she looked at him. “Have a good time with Matt.”

The two of them watched Emily and Amanda stumble away.

“You do want to stay, right?” Matt asked.


He sighed. “Good.” He patted her hand again. “I was hoping you’d say that.” He smiled. “Now where were we?” She smiled because she had hoped that their conversation would continue.

Later that evening, Matt and Alyssia walked up to her door. It was well late into the evening, or early into the morning, depending upon how one wanted to interpret it.

“Well, here’s your place.”

“Yeah.” She looked at the door. “It is.” She turned back to him. “I had a great time talking with you.”

“Me too.” He reached for her hand. “Good night, Alyssia.”

He was about to turn away from her when he heard his name. “Matt?” He turned back to her and what surprised him the most was how she had taken him into her arms and hugged him. All he could do was stupidly stand there, solid as a rock, as she hugged him. “As I understand it, most humans return a hug when they receive one.”

“Oh yes… right.” He nervously nodded against her shoulder. He slowly put his arms around her and gently returned her hug. As the moments passed, she kept holding on but he didn’t question her. A few more moments passed and she finally spoke. “Thank you, thank you so very much for making me feel welcome like Amanda and Emily did; I really do appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” he began to caress her back, “you’re quite welcome, Alyssia.”

She then let go of him and took hold of his hand and held it as she backed away. “I hope that we can,” she blushed as she looked down at the floor, “talk again sometime.”

He looked down at her hands that were still holding his. “I’m sure that we’ll find the time to do that.” She let go and with that, Matt turned around to walk down the hallway but at the very last second, he turned back to face her and waved. “Good night, Alyssia.”

Alyssia shivered as she thought about Matt, though she didn’t know why. As she watched him go into his dorm room across the hall, she whispered “Good night, Matt.” With that, she walked into the dorm to find Amanda passed out on the couch with a stream of drool going down her cheek and the sound of her snoring at which she chuckled. “Good night, Amanda.”

The next morning Alyssia walked out of her bedroom to find Amanda still laying on the couch exactly where she was the night before. She was still wearing the same clothing and shoes, everything just like she had been when she had gone to the party the night before. She walked over to the couch and leaned over Amanda and nudged her yet she only raised her arm in the air and waved and muttered something about wanting her mommy to leave her alone, after which she chuckled.

Amanda!” Alyssia yelled, which made Amanda immediately open her eyes and yelp. “AH!” She sat up and leaned forward and put her face in her hands. “Ow, my head.” She groaned. “It feels like people are playing the bongos inside my head.”

“I take it this is what humans call a hangover.”

Yes.” Amanda groaned. “And would you please stop yelling?”

“OK.” Alyssia lowered her voice. “Is there something that I can possibly help you with?”

“Body Armor.” Alyssia was confused and she saw the look of it on Alyssia’s face. “It’s a drink, I have a bottle of the stuff in the fridge for situations like this.” She thumbed over her shoulder as she hid her face in her hands again. “And get me some antacids.”

Alyssia went to the fridge and found that bottle of Body Armor that Amanda had mentioned along with a bottle of antacids and read the bottle, it indicated that it was good for settling an upset stomach which she imagined was one of many unpleasant side effects of drinking so heavily the night before.

“Here.” She handed the bottle of antacids to Amanda at which she poured four of the small tablets out and popped them in her mouth and chewed them up before swallowing after which she muttered something about the bottle of Body Armor in her hand. She opened the bottle and handed it to her at which Amanda promptly drank the whole bottle in a short amount of time.

“Give me about five minutes and I should be fine.” Amanda looked up at the concerned look on Alyssia’s face. “I’ve done this before more times than I can count.”

“But you told me that one shouldn’t drink heavily.”

“That was one of those times where I’d have to say that you should do as I say, not as I do.” Alyssia nodded as she sat down on the couch beside Amanda. “Say,” she turned to Alyssia, “how late were you out?”

“Late.” Alyssia simply said at which Amanda motioned for more. “I didn’t come back to the dorm until around 0200 hours32 AM..” Amanda’s eyes went wide open after which she groaned about not doing that quite yet. As she recovered, she looked back at Alyssia. “For a girl who didn’t want to go to the party last night, you sure had a good time.” Alyssia shrugged. “Think about it. You met some great people that welcomed you and you even met a guy that might be interested in you.”

“You don’t know that. You have no idea if Matt is interested in me.” Amanda looked at her with a deadpan look on her face, it was obvious that Alyssia didn’t know much about how human relationships started. Just then there was a knock at the door.

“Who could that be?” Amanda asked as she begrudgingly got up off the couch and walked to the door and opened it, and standing behind the door was none other than Matt from the party last night. “Hey there Amanda. How are you doing?”

“Ugh.” She groaned as she covered her face with her hands at the sight of the light from the hallway for the inside the dorm room was still rather dark. “I had way too much to drink last night.”

“No shit, Sherlock! It’s a wonder that Emily was able to walk you back to the dorm last night, you were a hot mess last night.”

“Thanks a lot, what a thing to tell a girl.” She stood before him with her hands on her hips.

“I take it that you didn’t even get changed last night.”

“No.” She shook her head as she looked down at herself with a disgusted look on her face. “I basically collapsed on the couch and slept there which,” she reached around to the back of her neck and rubbed her aching neck, “hindsight is telling me that perhaps that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But enough about me, what brings you here?”

“For one, I wanted to check up on you and see if you were OK but really, I came to see Alyssia.” She looked over her shoulder at Alyssia who was still sitting on the couch. “I came to ask her if she wanted to go out with me this morning and continue where we left off late last night over,” he looked down at the floor, “and oh, I don’t know, maybe get some breakfast. It’d be my treat.”

“Oh… Alyssia!” Amanda smirked as she looked over her shoulder again. “Matt’s here for you and he wants to take you out this morning.”

“Wait. What?” Alyssia stood up and came over to the door where Amanda was standing and much to her surprise, Matt was standing in the doorway. “Matt? What are you doing here?”

“I came here to ask if you wanted to go out for breakfast with me this morning.” Her eyes went wide and she coughed as Amanda jabbed her in her side at which she shot Amanda an angry glare. “We had such a good time last night talking and I thought that maybe we could continue where we left off. You know, get to know each other more.”

“Can I talk to Alyssia?” Amanda asked as she motioned for him to step out into the hallway. “I want to talk to her in private so please step out into the hallway.”

“Sure.” He shrugged as he stepped out into the hallway.

See!?!?” Amanda put her hands on her hips. “A guy typically doesn’t come back the next morning if he’s not even a little bit interested in you. Go.” She pointed at the door. “Go out with him.”

“But what about you?” Alyssia tried to protest. “You’re still sick. Don’t you need me? I could…” Amanda pointed at the door. “I’ll be fine. Matt, however, isn’t going to wait all day. Now go!” Amanda shouted. “Go with Matt before I kick your ass and don’t,” she pointed at Alyssia, “put it past me to do that. Now go!!!” She began to shove Alyssia towards the door which she found to be surprisingly more difficult to do than she had initially thought it would be like. “GO!” She shouted. “Go and stop making the guy wait.”

“Alright.” Alyssia turned for the door and at the last moment, she looked back at Amanda. “GO!”

As the door closed behind Alyssia, she saw Matt waiting for her. “Hey there Alyssia, are you ready to go?” She shrugged. “I figured that maybe we could pick things up from last night over some breakfast. It’d be my treat.” She nervously bit her lower lip. “That is if you would want to go.”

“Oh yes!” she exclaimed. “I’d love to go out for breakfast with you and talk some more with you. I had a great time with you.”

“I had a really good time with you as well, Alyssia.”

As she was walking beside him, she began to think about what Amanda had said about how Matt might be interested in her but she didn’t want to come right out and ask him out of fear of scaring him away. He was, after all, the first human guy to come along to show a semblance of some interest in getting to know her, and she didn’t want to ruin things between them.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, nothing.” She lied and Matt knew it but he decided to not press the matter, it was obvious to him that she was still quite nervous and didn’t at all know what she was doing and he didn’t want to scare her.

As they were sitting down in a diner, she looked about. Unlike the hall of the café on campus, the diner was much more private. Tables had dividers between them to allow for a semblance of privacy for individual tables that she imagined allowed for more private conversations.

“So?” He sat down across the table from her. “What do you think?”

“Well,” she turned to him after looking about, “it’s definitely a lot more private than what we have at the café on campus where all the tables are open.”

“That’s usually the case with places like this.” He looked behind him and knocked on the piece of plexiglass behind him. “It gives people a chance to be able to talk with each other without others overhearing what you’re saying. It also cuts down on the general background noise.”

Just as he said that a waitress came to the table and what shocked her was that the waitress was a young Zaltaen girl much like she was except that she had to be at least four years younger than she was but she decided to keep it to herself, she didn’t want to make the young girl nervous. “What will you two be having?”

“I’m going to have a meat lover’s omelet with cheddar cheese, rye toast, and coffee.” He turned to Alyssia as she looked up at the waitress. “And I want a big stack of pancakes, butter, and lots of syrup. Oh, and sausage and some poached eggs as well. And of course, coffee.” As the waitress walked away, he looked at her. “Pancakes? Why?”

“Yeah.” She chuckled. “I had them when I first came to Mars and have loved them ever since. I call them my comfort food. Whenever I feel down and sad which as you can probably imagine I often do, I get some pancakes and they always seem to cheer me up when I need it the most.”

“Hey,” he reached for her and patted it, “I know. Everyone needs some comfort food that’ll cheer them up when they need it.”

“I do have to ask,” she looked at his hand that was holding hers, “and I don’t want to scare you away by asking you this.” He shrugged indicating that she could ask her question, he had a feeling what question it was but he chose to keep it to himself. “Amanda and I were talking about it and I want to know. Are you interested in me?” She watched as he shrugged his shoulders. “Amanda seems to think that you are.” She watched him sigh and look down at the table. “What’s wrong? Did I say something that upset you? Great Maker, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s not that at all.” He said without looking up. “It’s just that,” he looked back up at her, “like I told you last night, I’ve never really been good at this.” She looked at him questioningly. “Talking to women, that is.” She just sat there. “I’m trying so hard; I really don’t want to screw this up.” Again, she kept looking at him. “So, to answer your question, yes,” she smiled, “I am interested in you. I’ve never met anyone quite like you.”

“I am an alien, an actual extraterrestrial alien, therefore no, you wouldn’t have until now.”

“That’s not what I mean.” He looked back down at the table and blushed. “You have such a warm personality. You’re such a kind person.” She closed her eyes and smiled as he said that about her. It was clear to her that he was, in fact, interested in her. “I really don’t want to screw this up with you.”

“Wow,” she whispered as she recovered from her shock. “You really are interested in me.”

Yeah!” he exclaimed. “I am! That’s why I’m trying so hard to not screw this up with you, wherever this… whatever this is, goes.” He watched her smile, at which this time she reached for his hand which surprised him, he didn’t think that she was ready for that. “I’m interested in you as well. But I have to ask, why?” He was about to say something when she continued. “You have to know that I know nothing about how all of this works, dating and human relationships that is. There’s no such thing as dating on Zalta.” She was about to continue when he spoke up. “You’re asking me why I would take a chance on you with all of that being said, what with how you don’t know how any of this stuff works.” She nodded.

He tried to think of a way to describe it to her as he looked down at the hand that he was holding.

“Dating, even among humans, is all about taking a chance on someone. You put your heart out and you hope that the other person reciprocates your feelings from them. It’s always a chance that the other person will reject you and leave you; either way, you have to take a chance.

“As for why I want to take a chance on you,” he shrugged, “as I said before, I’ve never met anyone quite like you and it’s not just because you’re an alien from another world. As I said before, you have such a warm personality. You’re a kind person.” He watched as she closed her eyes and smiled once again. “I want to get to know you and I know you want to get to know me as well. Right?” She nodded. “So, let’s do just that. Get to know each other and see where it takes us.”

“OK.” She began to think about the prospects of dating a human. What would her parents think about it? Would they accept the idea of her dating a human? Would her mother be angry with her? Would she demand that she break up with him? Then the thought that maybe perhaps she wouldn’t tell her crept into her mind until there was no backing out, until after she, as a Zaltaen woman, claimed him as her own.

“And I know, you don’t know a lot about this kind of stuff, but I’m willing to be patient with you as you learn. It’s really not that hard. You’ll get the hang of this in no time. But for now, we’ll just enjoy each other’s company. Get to know each other. That kind of stuff. We’ll just be friends with none of the titles for the time being.” He watched her smile. “Because there’s so much more that I want to get to know about you and I’m sure you’d like to get to know more about me.

“Like, what’s your world like? Do you have family back on Zalta? If you do, what are they like? Do you have a mom and dad? Siblings?” Matt asking those questions of her thought her thoughts back to her world, her mom, dad, and sister, and once again she began to tear up at the thought of how much she missed them. “Oh honey, I’m sorry.” She looked at him and it seemed like he was genuinely sorry. “Did I say something wrong?” Inside his head, he was beating himself up for saying something stupid.

“Oh no.” She wiped her eyes with the napkin. “It’s not that at all, you said nothing wrong. It’s just that I miss them. I miss them a lot. I haven’t talked to them since I arrived here on Mars.”

“Why? Can’t you call them? Video chat?”

“First off, how much do you know of my world?” He shook his head. “OK, as I told Amanda, much of my world is controlled by what we call Houses, powerful political Houses that are similar to that of powerful political families that ruled much of Europe on Terra between the years of 1000 AD and 1700 AD of your calendar.”

“Do you come from a powerful political House?”

“No.” Alyssia shook her head. “As I told Amanda, my family is quite poor.” Matt, like Amanda, suddenly felt bad for Alyssia. “My father is but a simple street merchant while my mother is a maid for a powerful political House. As you can probably imagine, the House that employs my mother doesn’t pay her nearly as much as she should.” Matt, like Amanda, shook her head at hearing about her family.

“As I told Amanda, my family sacrificed much to allow me to come here to this university. They wanted me to have a shot at a better life. There’s a lot less opportunity to rise up in Zaltaen society no thanks to those in the powerful political Houses that want to maintain their political power in every way possible.”

“Damn,” Matt whispered.

“As for communicating with them, it’s not easy at all. As I told Amanda, I get messages from them but not nearly as often as I’d like.” Matt squeezed her hand. “Zalta hasn’t been connected to the Human Federation Galactic Internet yet so getting messages from home isn’t easy as you probably imagine.” Matt simply sat there looking at her, his heart broke for her as she explained the predicament that she was in. “Then factor in how my parents aren’t exactly well off and you can imagine that things are even worse. They’re lucky they can send me a message every two weeks considering how much it costs to send a message to me since it costs ten credits to send about twenty kilobytes of text using diplomatic back channels. They say that Zalta will be connected to the Galactic Internet soon but even then, I’m sure it won’t be cheap to connect to it for my family.”

Ouch.” Matt winced. “That sucks.”

“Indeed,” Alyssia nodded, “it indeed… sucks. I have to be in the right frame of mind to be able to read them. I have one in my Inbox right now and I’m waiting because I know that I’ll tear up right on the spot as I read it.”

Matt suddenly felt so incredibly bad for her. He couldn’t imagine not being able to talk to one’s family daily like he could. His family lived in another dome on Mars and so a video chat with them was easy and cheap.

“As for my family.” She took out a picture from her pocket. “Here they are. My family gave it to me as a reminder of them.” She handed the picture to him at which he took a hold of it and looked at it. “Oh, they look like such wonderful people. I’m assuming that this is,” he pointed to a small child in the picture, “your sister.”

“Uh-huh.” She hummed. “And this is my mom and this is my dad.” He continued to look at the picture. “I know it seems hard right now and that you miss them terribly but they must love you if they’re willing to sacrifice so much to be able to give you a chance at a better life. Right?” She nodded as she wiped her eyes. “In the end, once you have that better life, maybe you can give back in some way. But until then, know that they love you and that they care about you, and that they only want the best for you.”

“I know.” She looked up at him and sighed. “As you said, it’s hard.” She choked up at which he once again smiled and squeezed her hand and somehow it made her feel not quite so bad. What was it about the touch of his hand that made it so? She didn’t know but she knew one thing, she liked it. “I’m happy to have met you, Matt.”

“Me too, Alyssia.” He caressed her hand. “Me too.” Just as he said that the young Zaltaen waitress came back with two coffee mugs in her hand. “There you go you two. I’m sorry I was so long but I waited for a good time to bring this over to the two of you. I didn’t want to ruin such a touching moment between you.”

“Thank you, miss. Thank you for being so considerate.”

“Did you two just meet?”

“We met last night at a mutual friend’s party on campus. Why do you ask?”

“Nothing,” she shrugged, “nothing. You just… look cute together.” They both blushed as they looked down at the table. “But I’ll check on your order, it should be coming up soon.”

“Well then,” he looked over his shoulder at the waitress and then back at Alyssia, “maybe she knows something that we don’t know yet.” He shrugged. “Now that I know so much about your family, is there anything that you’d like to know about mine?” He watched her shrug. “First off, my family lives here on Mars.”

He watched her shoulders slump. “I envy you in that regard. It must be nice to be able to simply pick up your datapad anytime you want to and call them.”

“Yes,” he shrugged, “but I wanted to get away. That’s why I came here to this university. To have some freedom. I wanted to set out on my own, build my own life, have privacy. You see,” he pulled out his datapad and brought up the picture of his family, “have a sister.” He handed the datapad to her. “As you can imagine, having a sibling doesn’t make for much privacy.”

“Oh wow.” She looked at the datapad with the picture of his family on it. “What are their names?”

“My mom’s name is Marissa, my dad’s name is William,” he pointed at his sister, “and my little sister’s name is Emily.”

“Oh.” She sniffled as she looked at the picture. “It must be nice to have a family like this, a family you could go and see whenever you want.”

“Yeah, it is but, in some ways, it can be rather annoying too. As I said before, I rarely had privacy so I came here to this university to get a semblance of my own life. Do you think I’d be out with you this morning if I were back home? My mom would be giving me the third degree before she even let me out the front door.”

“Third degree?” she asked. “What’s that mean? As I told Amanda, I may know English but I don’t know many of your…” He put his hand up. “I’m sorry.” He reached for his cup of coffee and took a sip while he thought of a way to describe it to her.

“Anyways, it means that I’d be interrogated for hours before I was let out of the house to meet you.” She chuckled. “I’d be told a whole list of rules to follow. Things to do, things not to do, etc.” She shook her head and he knew that she was confused. “You know, things like don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t touch her inappropriately and don’t have sex after the first date.” He watched her eyes open wide as he mentioned the word ‘sex’.

“Oh, I get it.” She sighed. He was about to ask what was wrong when she continued. “Men of my world act very differently than men of human society.”

“How so?”

“Men of my world are more docile whereas women are the more aggressive gender.” His eyes opened wide in worry as he heard that. What did she mean by that? He had to know. “Zaltaen society is a matriarchal society, meaning ruled by women. For a long time, there was a genetic issue among the men of my species that has since been fixed thanks to a gift from the Midasians.” He rolled his eyes when he heard the name ‘Midasians’. “I take it that you know of them.”

“Yep, arrogant sons of bitches, that’s what they are. They’re always claiming that they’re better than us,” he put his hand to his chest, “naturals. We’re better than humans, we’re Human version 2.0.” She could hear the anger in his voice as he continued to explain what the Midasians were. “Give me a damn break. Hubris the likes of which I’ve never seen before.”

“I see.” She paused. “But they did give us a genetic cure so I can’t be too hard on them. Without it, my species would’ve died off in another couple of generations. But anyway, one of the symptoms of the genetic issue was that most males didn’t survive infancy and even if they made it to what humans call the teenage years, they weren’t trouble-free; some even died then.” His eyes once again opened wide. “For hundreds of years, those few males that we have on our world were protected and I don’t think I need to tell you why.”

He chuckled. “Did your father have this genetic issue?”

“Thankfully, no.” She sighed. “It seemed to really be an issue among the elite of my world, those of the powerful political Houses.”

He chuckled once again. “Reduce the size of your gene pool and what do you expect? The same thing happened to many of the once powerful political families of Europe, some of them were so damn inbred that they looked damn near like monsters.” She winced. “So yeah, that probably was a major contributing factor to how your society had those issues with your men.”

“Some think that way on Zalta as well but try telling that to the people in power, that would require them to give up some of their power and they can’t do that.” She mirthlessly laughed. “They’d rather die than have commoner blood mix with those of the elite.”

“Sounds like what happened in Europe, many of those powerful families died off only to be replaced by newer ones.” He blew through his lips. “The more things are different between our two peoples the more things are similar. I guess the old saying goes, once you have power you never want to give it up.”

“Right.” She pointed at him. “But anyways, to get back to how males of my world act, they act nothing like human males; they’re more docile than human males probably because of centuries of being held down by the women of my world.” He nodded in understanding. “With that being said, being here, even for the six months that I’ve been here, has made me see the wrongs of my society.”

“Getting an outside perspective often does that.”

Alyssia watched as a human woman walked by wearing what looked like a sort of one-piece outfit that was very formfitting that consisted of a very short skirt, even shorter and tighter on her than the one that she and Amanda wore the night before at the party, and up top it barely covered her chest. One look at it and Alyssia shivered.

“Great Maker.” She whispered. “I have no idea how the hell that young woman wears that.”

“Wears what?” Matt asked.

“That.” She thumbed over her shoulder at which Matt quickly glanced up, saw what she was talking about, and then quickly brought his gaze back to her. “I was uncomfortable wearing what I was wearing last night and the skirt I was wearing was nowhere near as short as that! And I was wearing something that Amanda called tights with my skirt and I still felt rather uncomfortable. She,” she thumbed over her shoulder in the general direction of the woman who walked by, “wasn’t.” She visibly shuddered. “No Zaltaen would be caught dead wearing what she was wearing.”

“Oh, I know.” He touched her hand. “I saw how nervous you were last night, but you seem more comfortable now than you were last night.”

“Yeah.” She looked down at herself as she took another sip of her coffee. “As I alluded to before, Zaltaens don’t show off nearly as much of themselves as humans often do. You can imagine what my reaction was like when I first came here to Mars,” she chuckled, “I nearly had a heart attack similar to how I just reacted. As for what I’m wearing now, I do feel more comfortable wearing these sweatpants and this,” she picked at her shirt, “sweatshirt. Amanda says that I’ll get used to it in time, but I don’t know.” She looked down at her shirt. “I may never get used to dressing like that.”

“Like everything, I’m sure that you’ll get used to it. As I told you last night at the party, I thought you looked nice last night. Beautiful really.” She blushed at the idea that he was so honest about his thoughts about her. “Think about it, when you first came to the party last night, I saw how nervous you were. You were constantly looking down at yourself but as time went on, you started to open up more. You had something to eat, you loved my jalapeño ranch wings. I even overheard you talking about how Zaltaens generally don’t drink alcohol, yet you tried some and you found that you liked it. And then after I came over to you with the batch of chicken wings that we shared last night, you really opened up; you became more sociable much like you are with me right now.

“Alyssia.” He patted her hand. “As with all things, it just takes time. Perhaps Amanda needs to slow things down a bit. Ease you into dressing like a human and eventually you’ll get used to dressing like one. Maybe she just needs to slow down.”

“I suppose you’re right. And you’re right about one thing,” she sipped at her coffee again, “I believe it was the alcohol that helped in that situation. It, as Amanda said, allowed me to drop some of my inhibitions.”

“But you don’t have any alcohol in you right now, yet you seem comfortable talking with me now.”

“True.” She put her cup down. “I am comfortable talking with you right now and I don’t know why.” She looked up at the young Zaltaen waitress as she came to the table with a tray in her hands. “Here you go you two, I hope you enjoy it. And I’ll be sure to come around with some more coffee.”

He looked up at her and nodded.

“Perhaps it’s because I’m not trying to push you into doing something that you don’t want to do or feel comfortable doing or maybe it’s just that you see me as a friend.”

She pressed her lips together and thought about him. It was true, he was awfully nice to her and understanding and for no other reason than to be nice to her. He didn’t seem like he had any ulterior motives, he simply wanted to get to know her. And she wanted to get to know him as well.

“Yeah.” She looked down at the table and took hold of his hand. “Something like that. I’m really enjoying my time with you. Nobody’s ever done anything like this for me and I’m enjoying my time with you.”

“I’m glad you like it because I too am enjoying my time with you.” Just then the waitress came back to fill their cups up and the two of them sat and ate together and otherwise enjoyed their time together while every so often looking up at each other and a smile came to both of their faces.

Later that afternoon, across campus, Matt found David sitting in the coffee shop. “Hey there David,” he sat down across from him, “what’s up?”

David looked up from his datapad with a bit of an annoyed look on his face but it quickly faded when he realized that it was his friend. “What’s up?”

“I was hoping you’d be able to help me.” David put his datapad down and locked it. “I know you’re in that Zaltaen cultural program.”

“It’s the xenobiology program but yes, I know some things about Zaltaens. What do you want to know?”

“Well,” Matt nervously rubbed the back of his neck, “I was hoping that you know something about…” He sighed. “About what?” David asked.

“I was hoping that you knew how I could better approach a Zaltaen woman.”

“Wait.” David looked at Matt with a shocked look on his face. “You? And Alyssia? That hot Zaltaen chick we met last night at the party? The one you were chowing down on chicken wings with last night. That Alyssia?” Matt nodded. “Holy shit man! You’re not even that good at picking up human chicks and now you want to try your hand at picking up an alien chick?”

Matt looked at David with an annoyed look on his face. “I’d prefer that you don’t refer to Alyssia as a chick. That’s rather offensive to her and me.”

“Ok man,” David held his hands up in the air, “whatever you want.” Matt’s expression softened. “But anyways, you’ve got gumption. But I have to ask, why? Why her?”

“She seems nice, I was hoping that I could get to know her. I think I like her. We went out this morning to continue our talk from last night, I took her out to have breakfast with me and she seemed to have enjoyed it. She was rather nervous though.”

“You’re not kidding about this, are you?” Matt shook his head. “Well then, of course, she was nervous! Dating, as we humans know it, doesn’t exist on Zalta, her home world; it’s an alien concept to her.”

“Yeah, she told me as much.”

“So, if there’s any advice that I can give you, it’s that you need to be real patient with her. There are going to be a lot of things,” he pointed at Matt, “and I do mean a lot of things that she’s not going to be comfortable doing with you. She may not even want to be touched by someone of the opposite gender and she’s definitely not going to want to have sex with you until much later than humans generally do.” A woman nearby looked over as David mentioned the word ‘sex’. “Zaltaens are that conservative when it comes to the interaction between the genders.”

“What’s this about not having sex?” Matt asked.

“Zaltaens are, shall we say, a rather sexually repressed people. They don’t call us humans a bunch of sex-crazed lunatics for nothing.” He laughed. “I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be surprised that she doesn’t want to have sex with you, it’s just not in their nature. But I digress. The best piece of advice that I can give you is to just take things slow because honestly dude, you’re in uncharted space here. Even I, and I’m enrolled in the classes I’m in, wouldn’t try.”

“I get it but I want to at least try.”

“I give you a lot of credit man. I mean it, as I said before, you’re in some truly uncharted space here buddy; it’s not going to be easy at all for you.”

Matt began to wonder if it was worth it trying to start a relationship with Alyssia, she, after all, didn’t know a thing about human relationships. But at the same time, he didn’t want to hurt her either and he had already committed himself to some kind of relationship with her and he didn’t want to break her heart by telling her that he wasn’t up to the challenge.

“Thanks.” He stood up from his seat.

“Good luck there, buddy.” As Matt walked away, he whispered. “You’re going to need it.”

Continue to Chapter 11…

Last updated on Monday, September 18th, 2023 at 11:24 AM by trparky.

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