Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 10

Richard tried to put any thoughts of his wife out of his mind 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 cleaned the surfaces of his stateroom with cleaning cloths 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 chamber 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 again clean 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 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 (SFWU) 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 of air that he had labored to take in for when combined with the size of her chest and her people’s naturally increased strength, it felt like she had him in a vice-like grip.

“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 stepped forward and put his arms around 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 eating what the wardroom calls ‘food’.”

He chuckled as she said that because she wasn’t wrong. The wardroom’s food was better than some of the stuff he’d gotten aboard warships, but that wasn’t exactly a high bar to get over. Occasionally they managed to serve something somewhat decent during lunch and dinner, but those times were few and far between. 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 ate in 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 a Prohibition-Era speakeasy, complete with long-sleeved white shirts and vests.

Triara stepped back as he let go of her 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 more 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 the way we dress. 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 put her hands upon her hips which served only to bring his attention to her very trim and feminine figure. “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,” he pointed at her, “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.

That’s when he took the chance to really look at what she was wearing. She had on a fitted blouse that clung to her body, accentuating her curves, most notably her ample chest. She had playfully left a few buttons at the top of her blouse undone, revealing a tasteful amount of cleavage. It was just on the edge of what he considered appropriate, yet undeniably alluring.

Her outfit was completed by a very short light-purple pleated miniskirt, which he found barely tasteful. He often thought that women’s fashion was pushing the boundaries too far, but it seemed that the world of fashion was determined to push those boundaries as far as they could and then a little further.

To top off her outfit, she wore black dress shoes with a modest five-centimeter1Two inches. heel. Her blue hair was tied up in a ponytail with a purple hair tie, showcasing her pointed ears. He also noticed she was wearing makeup, something he had never seen her do before. A touch of purple blush, purple lipstick, and blue eyeshadow highlighted her features, drawing attention to her striking purple eyes, which he found incredibly beautiful, much like Rachel’s stunningly blue eyes.

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 alien 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 have been an alien, but she was still a woman and an awfully attractive one at that. He may have very well thought of her as sexy even and the outfit she had chosen for the evening only made her appear to be that much more physically attractive.

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 have 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 reinforced 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 did want to help him with his sexual needs, it was the same part of her that wanted it too. In reality, 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 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.

“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 if I do say so myself.”

He hoped to God that she accepted that kind of answer because he didn’t exactly want her to know that she looked sexy. Little did he know, she already knew that.

“Now,” she paused for what Richard thought was a 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 see 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 positively 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. “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 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 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.”

“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 often feed 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 work; Humans aren’t as sexually repressed as your species generally 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 for the service members to visit legal brothels rather than violate 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 as she put her hands upon her hips, which did nothing to help Richard’s imagination for it brought his attention back 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 to 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 so than she had intended. “Don’t you dare,” she pointed at him, “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 genetically modified Humans so most Humans would find themselves in a very bad situation.”

“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 Rachel and 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 someone is 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 take care of 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 carpet 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 leaned forward 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 regularly.”

She picked her shoes up and put them off to the side and pulled her legs up onto the couch. Once again, he stole a look at her long, sexy and shapely legs and thought about how it would feel to have them wrapped around his waist in bed. He shook his head and 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 for perhaps there would always be some kind of sexual tension between the two of them no matter what.

It was then that she began to think about why she had dressed the way she had while knowing the kind of reaction she would get from Richard. She mentally shook her head at the thought of how wrong it was to tease her friend like that knowing how long he had been without his wife in an intimate way but another part of her actually liked the kind of attention he was paying her.

That was when she thought back to how she thought when Human males looked at her when she had first started dressing like she was dressed. Because of her mental abilities, she was able to pick up on the thoughts of men and many of those thoughts were rather dirty in nature. Back then she had been rather disgusted yet as she thought about how she had thought back then, she had to laugh for she now found such thoughts to be rather exhilarating. It was then that she thought that perhaps that was why she had chosen to wear such a provocative-looking 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. 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.

“The Zaltaen government is putting a lot of resources into this station. They plan on turning this place into a 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 businesses 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 large 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, only 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. “For a Zaltaen, especially one who comes from such a high stature, there are several ways that one can serve our society. Because I come, or rather, came… from one of the noble Houses, I have a few more options to choose from than our commoners.

“All people of my world can join the Royal Zaltaen Navy but if you come from one of the noble Houses like I did, one starts off as an officer.” As she said that, he thought about how officers in the Space Force often became officers; most officers were sponsored by those in the government, or they were family of politicians. He, however, rose up through the ranks on his own merits. “As for being a member of one of the more noble Houses, one can serve their House in any number of different ways, like taking 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 me can be used to gather intel on rival Houses and otherwise blackmail them into siding with us in the House of Lords.

“Because I came 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 for 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. They said that 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, and 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 tried their best to make Humans look quite bad in the eyes of our people to keep up the illusion that Zaltaens were the superior species.

“However,” she put her finger up, “being that I knew the truth about humanity, I, including others like me who had served on Human ships or were in deep undercover assignments, participated in a political rally of sorts and unfortunately, I was arrested and detained. The next morning, I was brought before the matriarch of my House, and it was then and there that she cast me out of my House to avoid any shame or dishonor all to quietly get rid of the problem. I’ve since lost contact with just about everyone that I once held dear.” He was about to ask what happened to her commission when she continued. “Thankfully, I was still able to maintain my commission in the Royal Zaltaen Navy despite me no longer being part of a noble House of my world.”

“But Triara, your people aren’t entirely wrong about Humans,” he said 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 can’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 on that world 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 Human Federation that they didn’t even deem to give it a proper name, just a designation in the jumpgate network.

“It was the most rundown place I’ve ever seen. Broken windows, broken streets, and potholes, the likes of which 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. Often times, 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,” Richard sighed, casting his gaze upward. “I wouldn’t be so quick to disagree with that. Some humans can control their sexual desires better than others. Some even choose to live chaste or celibate lives. I know a couple of friends who’ve never married, perhaps dated a few times, yet maintained a healthy, non-sexual friendship with women. They’re making that choice for themselves.

“Then there are those who indulge in promiscuity,” he admitted, “living lives without moral direction, seeking pleasure without commitment. They find willing partners, but it’s a shallow existence. And it’s not just men; women engage in similar behaviors, so the criticism cuts both ways.

“I’d like to believe most humans fall somewhere in between,” Richard continued, including himself in that assessment. “Case in point, I’m looking at you and, well, at what you’re wearing,” he confessed, his voice faltering slightly. “And, being a telepath, you might’ve picked up on my thoughts.”

“Yeah,” Triara nodded, scratching the back of her head with a chuckle. “I can see how your body was reacting. It doesn’t take a telepath to know what you’re thinking when…” she gestured toward his pants.

“Sorry about that,” Richard said sheepishly, grabbing a pillow to discreetly cover his arousal.

“It’s okay,” Triara reassured him, her smile putting him at ease. “Honestly, I’d be more worried if you hadn’t reacted. I’d be wondering if you were dead inside if you didn’t respond to my… choice of dress. Besides, I kind of enjoy your reaction in a rather perverse sort of way,” she admitted with another chuckle.

“Well, as a married man, I shouldn’t…” Richard began, but Triara gently interrupted him by placing her index finger on his lips.

“Stop,” she said softly. ‘It’s natural for your species. You don’t need to apologize for it. Besides, I know how much you miss Rachel’s physical presence in your life.”

As Triara observed Richard’s frown, she sensed the depth of his longing for his wife. It wasn’t merely the physical intimacy he missed, but the entirety of Rachel’s presence in his life. Richard and Rachel shared a bond that extended far beyond mere physical attraction; they found comfort and joy in each other’s company, even in the most mundane moments like cleaning the kitchen or cooking together.

Their connection ran deep, built on a foundation of mutual understanding and respect that Richard hoped was a hallmark of every married couple. It was clear to Triara that Richard’s love for Rachel encompassed every aspect of their relationship, and the absence of her physical presence weighed heavily on him.

“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 to do so. But the more that he thought about it the more he realized that he couldn’t do that to Rachel or 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 picked up on those thoughts from him. She completely understood why he felt that way and greatly respected him for it. He loved and respected his wife, Rachel, far too much to do that to her and then there was how he respected Triara too much as well to get involved in some sort of sordid, even if permitted, affair. And that’s exactly what it would be. Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice didn’t permit open relationships and adultery was punishable under the same article.

“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… Honestly, some days I struggle just to put an outfit together. But, in my humble opinion, a touch of modesty wouldn’t hurt,” Richard remarked, his eyes involuntarily drawn to the tantalizing display of Triara’s thighs and legs beneath her daringly short miniskirt.

“I’m not suggesting we go back to Victorian England styles,” he chuckled, recalling images from history books during his time on Terra. “I just mean leaving a little something to the imagination, you know?” Triara nodded knowingly, understanding his point.

“For example, take that skirt you’re wearing,” he glanced once more at the revealing garment, feeling a familiar pang of desire. “It doesn’t leave much to the imagination, especially when you’re sitting down like that.”

“Why do you think I’m wearing these tights?” Triara retorted with a playful smile, pinching the nylon material and letting it snap back with a soft sound. “I get it, and I agree with you. Wearing them is the only thing that makes this miniskirt even remotely decent, if you ask me. I know your wife feels the same way,” she affirmed. “Honestly, these tights are the only reason I’d ever consider wearing this skirt. And to be honest, I’ve come to like wearing them, just like I know your wife likes wearing them.” She ran her hand along her thigh, savoring the sensation of the silky material against her skin.

“And before you ask, it’s not about me being comfortable wearing an outfit like this because the answer is yes. I am comfortable wearing it,” Triara asserted, raising a finger to emphasize her point. “Now,” she chuckled, “if you had asked me a year ago, I might have said something different. But I’ve changed with time,” she continued, laughter bubbling up. “I’m no longer that timid Zaltaen you once knew me to be. Hell, I’ve come to like dressing like this; I even enjoy it.”

Richard raised an eyebrow at the thought that his wife had perhaps influenced this transformation. “You should see how some of the other Zaltaens on this station react when they see me dressed like this, it’s absolutely hilarious,” Triara laughed, recalling the shocked responses. “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.” She waved her hand in the air. “Unconscious even.”

“You have got to be kidding me!” he threw his head back in laughter as he imagined the scene of the Zaltaen woman falling to the floor in his head.

“Nope,” she shook her head, “I was walking down the hallway wearing an outfit similar to what I’m wearing now when I saw three other Zaltaens walking down the hallway from the other direction. Two of them gasped as they put their hands to their chests while the other one straight-up fainted and fell to the floor. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life!” She began to laugh once again. “I actually started laughing in the hallway while the other two Zaltaens wondered why I was laughing like I was at the obvious discomfort they were experiencing.”

“I’m sure,” he 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, but 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,” she stopped him before he could say anything, “and it’s more devious than one might imagine.” His eyebrow rose. “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 that with my time among Humans that the centuries of traditions and morals have been weaponized by the powerful elites of my world to do little more than 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 together,” 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, I find it to be so cold and lonely. I tried to tell myself years ago that 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 prior ones?” 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 truly 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 continue.” 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, you didn’t show the pain; instead, you met adversity with great self-restraint in the expression of emotion. 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 are 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 me or Rachel 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,” he looked up at the ceiling and then back at Triara, “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. Then again, she thought about how those who were part of the noble Houses on Zalta often looked down upon those people of her world that weren’t part of the noble Houses, the common folk, so it did make sense.

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. And I know that family is everything to a Zaltaen, that’s why I’m offering you to be my sister and to be a part of my,” he put his hands to his chest, “family.”

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 continued won out at 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 stuff! 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. “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 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 at 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 each other 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 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 he held her, he felt her cry against his shoulder, and it felt like years (decades even) of heartache and pain began flowing out of her. 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 this doesn’t…” she was interrupted as he held her once again. “There, there, Triara. You don’t 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 let go of him and stepped back and kissed his forehead, “and I suppose 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 embraced him once again. “Thank you, thank you so very much. You have no idea how much of an impact you’ve had on my life. 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 wrapped his arms around 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. “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 that.”

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 lampstand, so she picked her drink glass up off the counter and sat down next to him. As he looked at 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 Zaltaen I’ve met has been a woman. Unless your species reproduces asexually, I have to assume that there are 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 have seen the most degradation in 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 are 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. Zaltaens take relationships very seriously, we mate for life.”

“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 as 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, many conspiracies 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 are 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 and 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 Royal Zaltaen 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 years 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 back 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 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 are 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, and 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 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 call 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.

A few weeks passed and Richard walked into the officer’s lounge and looked about at some of the pretty young female officers flaunting their looks by wearing outfits that he would’ve sworn almost broke the regs and the place’s dress code, not to mention pushing the boundaries of good taste. Not all the female officers mind you. A majority had the good sense not to dress like they were back in college and trying to pick up a date at the campus bar. Aside from that casual look, he tried to pay them no mind. He was a married man after all, and while he could look, he wouldn’t do more than that.

“Hey Richard,” a young female officer walked by and smiled his way. He shook his head to try and get the image of what she was wearing out of his mind for she was wearing a sort of one-piece kind of outfit that had a completely open back along with the shortest miniskirt that he had ever seen. And if that wasn’t bad enough, her whole outfit was so tight he wondered if it was painted on her instead of it being actual clothing.

He looked her over very quickly, seeing that it was Lieutenant Nancy Tuncer from the station’s quartermaster’s office, and wondered just what the hell was getting into young people these days. He didn’t think of himself as old-fashioned, or old, by any stretch of the imagination, but Rachel had taught him that sometimes more was better; or rather, that the less shown the better. He liked seeing his wife wearing less, or nothing at all but that was his wife, not a fellow officer.

She was a pretty enough brunette, he’d give her that. But he was off limits and the crew knew it. That and he didn’t need people thinking that he was being too friendly with his subordinates. And on this station, just about everyone, servicemember, civilian, and contractor was his subordinate. There really was only one woman he could be with, and she was on the planet a few light minutes away.

And if he was honest with himself, seeing his wife naked as much as he could was something they both enjoyed, evidenced by some of the photos and HD video messages or calls they shared where she was in various stages of undress. In fact, he was expecting a call tonight and he was hoping… he shook his head to clear his thoughts. There was a time and place to think of such things.

The XO in him began to wonder if there were any regs in the book he could throw at her for wearing something that was–in his mind – very inappropriate. Conduct unbecoming of an officer, he thought. However, he likely couldn’t make the charge stick and any court would throw it out. There really wasn’t anything in the regulations about what a service member could or couldn’t wear while off duty, as evidenced by some of the swimsuits Rachel had worn while on leave. But that was on leave at a beach somewhere. Time and place after all.

If he wanted to try and bring the younger woman up on charges he could kiss his reputation goodbye, that’s for damn sure! He’d probably be instantly and universally hated by everyone. Yes, he sometimes had to be the hardass, so the captain didn’t have to be, but he didn’t want people using his image on a dartboard behind his back. Thus, he politely ignored the younger officer and kept walking.

The younger officer watched him walk off and she shrugged. Well, he was the XO after all, and he was married. It should’ve been expected that he’d not see her. With a slight chuckle, she moved off to find someone similar in rank and unattached. And on this station that wasn’t exactly a difficult thing to do. Males still outnumbered females in the service something like three to one so she had her pick of whoever she wanted.

When Kelea, the Zaltaen bartender approached his seat at the bar, she couldn’t help but grin and shake her head at him. “I saw what Lieutenant Tuncer did back there,” she watched his reaction but waved it off, “you handled that just fine. She just wanted to be a little playful, but she needs to pick her targets better.”

“You’re telling me,” Richard said with a sigh as he rested his chin in his right hand.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said as she looked around the bar to catch sight of the lieutenant in question. She discreetly pointed her out and said, “if you look now, she’s found someone closer to her rank to chat with.”

Richard did his best to look without making it obvious that he was looking and did see Lieutenant Tuncer speaking with one of the new officers who just rotated in. Seeing that, he breathed a quick sigh of relief and glanced up at his bartender friend. “Give me a shot of Buffalo Trace, neat.”

Kelea chuckled, reached under the bar for a shot glass, and turned to the back wall where the bottles of the better stuff were kept. If he eyed his Zaltaen friend a little closer than he did the lieutenant, it was only natural. Their friendship was strong enough that they didn’t worry about such things.

She returned and set the whiskey before him. “Not only the rank difference, but you’re very dedicated to Rachel and I like that about you.” Even as she said that she couldn’t help but think that Rachel was a lucky woman to have such a wonderful and loyal man in her life for she had seen many “geo-bachelors”, spouses who were separated from each other by distances, make themselves available despite being married.

And it wasn’t just the men that had such relationships for it was known throughout the Space Force that women often did the same thing and were often more frequent in doing so. As the head bartender, Kelea often heard the words “location-ship” or “situation-ship” thrown around quite a few times and being that she had been around Humans for as long as she had, she knew very well what those words meant. She’d heard those words from both males and females, so she knew that it happened either way.

Was it right? No. But some people coped with the separation in whatever way they could. Kelea didn’t know how Richard dealt with the separation from his wife. She knew that he didn’t fool around with the women on the station. She remembered him speaking of the rather spicy messages he sometimes got from his wife and on more than several occasions she had to put her own mental walls up just to block said stray thoughts pouring out of Richard’s mind.

Shaking her head to clear her mind she watched him down the bourbon in one pull. That both amused and disappointed her. While she knew why he was tossing it back like that, she hated seeing good bourbon drank like that. She was used to seeing Richard treat his liquor with more respect than that. At least it isn’t Scotch whisky he’s doing that with, she thought to herself. If it were, I’d have words with him. She thought.

“I’m glad that you’re a little more relaxed than when you first came aboard,” she told him. “When you first got here you were so uptight,” she again watched his reaction and couldn’t help but snort a laugh at his expense. “Yes, I’ll use that word. You were, come on, admit it already.” She waited until he nodded his agreement before going on. “But now you’re more, I don’t want to say open, but at least you don’t look like you want to develop a nosebleed and pass out like those old Japanese anime shows whenever you see a pretty female who tried to be friendly with you.”

For a moment he stopped the mental songs which allowed Kelea to read his mind. “Okay then,” she said as she performed a brief surface scan, “you had a conversation with your wife.” He slowly nodded his head. “The captain and I told you that, but you didn’t want to believe us. See?” She asked. “We were right! When are you going to realize that women are always right?”

“No comment,” he said with a slight chuckle. “I won’t touch that one even with someone else’s three-meter pole.” Kelea gave him an answering chuckle before Richard went on. “Chalk it up to general male stupidity, I guess. Rachel even told me that she’s seen me look at other women in the past, but she knew that my eyes always came back to her.”

“Right, you are!” Kelea exclaimed as she pulled out a glass from under the bar, set it in front of him then pulled out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black from wherever it was that barkeeps kept their bottles. “Make it two please.”

She nodded and put another glass in front of him and poured out a generous amount of the Scotch in two glasses. He watched her pour a little more into his glass, dropping him a wink and a nod as she said. “Here you go, my friend.”

“Triara’s coming later,” he explained to her, “and I want to have a drink ready for her when she comes.”

“Ooh,” Kelea squealed, “I finally get to meet your other Zaltaen friend.”

Just then a crashing sound rang out in the back kitchen. “Shit!” she exclaimed. “I better go check out what those idiots in the kitchen did.” She walked away and as soon as she passed through the doors into the kitchen, he heard her yell something in an otherwise unintelligible language that he guessed was her native Zaltaen dialect. “Just get a broom already and clean it up!” she yelled in English.

As he turned away from the kitchen door, someone came up behind him and slapped him on the back so hard that he nearly choked. He turned around and raised his fist up in the air but when he realized who it was, he jumped out of his seat to give his old friend from back in the day a similar hard slap on his back.

Michael!” He shouted over the noise of the lounge. “How the hell are you dude? I’ve not seen you since,” he looked up at the ceiling in thought. He really didn’t know. “Fuck, I don’t even know anymore.”

“I think the last time I saw you we were back in the academy together.” Richard looked to his right and saw that the barstool was empty. “Please,” he motioned for him to sit down, “relax and have a seat and a drink with me. We’ve got a lot to catch up on.”

“We sure do good buddy!” he exclaimed as Richard motioned for him to sit on his right side at the bar. “Speaking about catching up, what are you doing in a place like this?”

“This lounge?” Richard asked. He was playing dumb even though he knew that it wouldn’t work on his long-time friend.

“No,” Michael sighed and rolled his eyes. “I’m talking about this space station, you dummy.” Kelea overheard the conversation and couldn’t help but chuckle. “What are you doing in a dump like this? What did you do? What did you do to be sent to the back of beyond?”

“First off,” Richard was annoyed that his long-time friend for saying what he said about the station. “Alpha Centauri isn’t the back of beyond, I grew up in this system. Second, this is one of the core systems and was the first out-system colony from Terra, and thirdly, this station is hardly a ‘dump.’ It’s important to the future of humanity!” Richard’s enthusiasm and the force behind his voice became more apparent as he continued, and Michael had to wonder why. “We need to form a coalition with the Zaltaens and that’s the purpose of this station, to build the future. We need them if we’re going to survive as a species against the looming threat of the Vonosh.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa dude,” Michael held his hands up, “why the hell are you acting all defensive like that? You’re acting like you have a personal stake in the success of this place.”

“That’s because I do,” he tapped the bar top with his index finger. “Do you have any idea who the executive officer of this station is?” He extended his thumb out and pointed at himself with his thumb. “I’m the XO of this place?”

“What!” Michael exclaimed. “You’re the XO?”

“Hey, hey, hey… cool it down a bit,” he looked about the lounge hoping that nobody heard that. “Do you want us to have to buy the whole place a round of drinks or what?”

“Sorry,” Michael calmed down, remembering the rules about such things only after Richard reminded him. He took a look around the bar and could only imagine what the resultant bar tab would’ve been, even if people didn’t order top-shelf. “I heard that the XO of this place was Commander Smith, but I didn’t figure that it’d be you. Like I said, the last time I heard you were on some battleship.”

Richard shook his head. “Nope, I’ve been here on this station since it first came online almost six months ago.”

“So why are you here?” Michael turned to face Richard and leaned on the bar. “I didn’t imagine you to be some pencil-pushing bureaucrat, that’s for damn sure! I didn’t think you’d ever let yourself be tied down to one location. I always thought of you as being more of an adventurer and eventually ending up on one of those new explorer ships that are coming off the production line soon. They laid the keels down six months ago in orbit of Mars. Either that or your own battlecruiser. I just can’t see you tied down to a single orbit about a star for months or years at a time.”

“I always thought that too, but I didn’t want to give up my Active commission and go into the Reserves.” Richard laughed. “When BuPers comes to you with orders, you damn well better say yes, otherwise you’ll never see a promotion for as long as you live!” he exclaimed. “I wasn’t about to kill my career like that, so I said yes. Scuttlebutt has it that I was on a list somewhere that was on the president’s desk,” Michael’s jaw dropped ever so slightly, “to command this place but I don’t have the rank, so I was picked to be the XO instead.”

“Why is that?” Michael motioned for the barmaid to come. “What makes you so special?”

“I have experience with Zaltaens.”

“Speaking about Zaltaens,” Michael said as one of the Human barmaids came up. Eying the cute woman he said, “Hun, I’ll take a double of Johnnie Walker Black, please.” She was about to turn around when he added the word “neat” to which she nodded.

“I see you still are a fan of Johnnie I see,” Richard smiled. “Put it on my tab Holly.” She turned about and nodded.

“Yep,” Michael laughed, “ever since you got me off that swill called Vernier Thruster2Vernier Thruster, the Space 2315 take on Military Special alcohol.. After having the good stuff, that stuff tastes like turpentine.”

“You got that right!” Richard exclaimed. “I had the awful experience of having that shit a few years ago.” Michael gave him a sidelong glance that wondered what the hell was wrong with him. “It was all they had on the bar, and I wanted some whiskey and wasn’t feeling very particular. I regretted it after the first sip.”

“Yeah, I believe it,” Michael responded. The barmaid came up and placed the glass down in front of him with a cardboard coaster under it. He picked the glass up and examined it and he could’ve sworn that the barmaid poured more than a double in his glass, but he shrugged it off. He then took a sip of it. “Ah,” he put the glass down on the bar, “now that’s a proper whisky. I couldn’t get this back on my old ship, apparently, there was no demand for it. The entire ship’s company was a bunch of fools who wouldn’t know good alcohol if they drank it. I couldn’t even get a decent pint either!” He shuddered at the thought of what people aboard his old ship considered beer. “All they had was light beer and regular Labatt.”

“Hey!” Richard exclaimed. “Don’t knock Labatt Blue, it’s good in a pinch.”

You?!” he exclaimed. “A beer snob telling me that Labatt Blue is good?” Michael scoffed. “I don’t buy it for one damn second.”

“If that’s all you have, that’s all you have; you drink it and shut up. And I never said it was good.”

“Good point,” Michael shrugged his shoulders, “I didn’t think of it that way. I managed to get some decent beer when we pulled into port somewhere. Luckily, I was friends with the people who worked in the mess hall, so they let me stash it in the cooler with no questions asked.” He glanced over at the beer tap. “At least they have Mars Ale Olympus Mons Porter on tap here.”

“Thank me for that,” Richard had to laugh, “I convinced them to bring it aboard.”

“Speaking about the Zaltaens, how’s it working for them?”

“First off, we don’t work for them, we work with them.”

“Yeah sure,” he leaned on the bar, “now tell me one I’ll believe.”

“We’re equal in this alliance,” Richard told him.

“Sure…,” Michael said rather sarcastically, “like they don’t see themselves as the senior partner in this alliance that we were very quick to sign. Need I remind you that they spied on us for nearly four hundred Terran years?”

“No, you don’t. However,” Richard tapped the bar, “considering how many of us have treated them, can you blame them for hiding among us as long as they did?” Michael was about to say something when Richard continued. “Besides, not everyone in the Zaltaen government agreed with what they were doing.”

“How so?” Michael asked.

“For instance, I know for a fact that the Queen herself was against the whole thing.”

“The Queen?” Michael asked. “And just how do you know that?”

“I met her.” As Richard had said that Michael choked at which Richard watched in amusement as his friend tried to breathe his whiskey as versus drink it.

“You did that on purpose,” Michael told him with a severe look.

“Why I would never!” Richard replied with mock innocence. “I’m an officer and a gentleman and above such things.”

Michael gave a sniff or two before saying, “Wow, I smell some serious bullshit.”

“Anyways…,” Richard went on. “I had an audience with the Queen herself and it was then that she had expressed not only her government’s sincerest apologies but also her people’s, over the policy of past governments. When she spoke to our leaders in the Zaltaen home star system she said as much.”

“But you know that many of our leaders were skeptical, right?” Michael asked.

“I know.” Richard said with a sigh as he picked up his glass again to sip. “I also remember reading the reports on what the Midas delegation did. So, if we want to talk about dickish ‘superior behavior’ there’s plenty to go around.”

“That’s fair,” Michael conceded. “Aside from that, how are you handling them?”

“Very well in fact,” Richard tapped the bar top, “that’s why I was ordered here. I have a lot of experience with Zaltaens. It’s like I know how and why they think and act. Some of them have even,” he chuckled, “have come to call me the Zaltaen Whisperer. Scuttlebutt has it that my name is circulated in the Zaltaen Royal Court and that I have favor with them.”

You?!” Michael had to laugh. “You have favor in the Zaltaen Royal Court?!” he laughed again. “Now you’ve got to tell me how you managed to get that kind of prestige. Surely you must be pulling my leg here.”

“Well for one, I befriended a Zaltaen and during the time that I had gotten to know her, she taught me how and why her people act the way they do and how to interact with her people. It’s why I’m here,” he looked about the lounge, “I’m here to help us build a coalition with the Zaltaens so that we can survive the coming Vonosh war when they come for us.”

“Speaking about your Zaltaen friend, can I meet her one day?” Just as Michael had asked that question the whole lounge went silent except for the sound of high-heeled shoes on the hardwood floor of the lounge. The silence only lasted for a few moments until the lounge’s patrons returned to their previous conversations after getting over the initial shock of seeing another Zaltaen here, and not one employed by the lounge. “Now would you look at that over there, my God,” Michael put his hand to his chest, “despite what I was saying about Zaltaens, she’s a looker!”

Richard shot Michael an old-fashioned look. “Please don’t refer to my friend that way.”

“Your friend?” Michael asked. “That’s your friend?”

“Uh-huh,” Richard hummed, “she’s my friend alright.”

“Friend?” Michael leaned against the bar as he continued to watch the woman walk through the crowd of people in the lounge. “Do you mean friend, or do you mean… friend? And I don’t think I need to tell you what I mean by that.”

Richard shook his head. “She’s just a friend, honest.”

“Buddy,” he looked the woman over, “ok then. Sure, I believe you.” She may’ve been an alien and all but that didn’t stop Michael from thinking of her as being attractive.

“No. Seriously. We’re just friends.”

Michael scoffed. “I have no idea how you can be just friends with her because… if the circumstances were different in my life right now,” he looked her over again, “I’d seriously be chasing after her. Alien or not, she’s beautiful. Sexy even.” Once again Richard found himself annoyed that he was talking about his friend like that but then as he watched his friend continue to walk across the floor of the lounge, he had to admit that she was very attractive. Only a blind man wouldn’t see that.

As Triara came closer, Michael couldn’t help but admire the details of her attire, the dim lighting of the lounge casting a subtle allure over her figure. Her fitted blouse clung to her curves, drawing attention to her ample chest, with the top buttons left undone to reveal a tantalizing glimpse of cleavage. The fabric seemed to hug her form perfectly, accentuating her natural elegance and confidence.

His gaze traveled downward, taking in the sight of her short, form-fitting miniskirt. The skirt hugged her hips and thighs with precision, leaving little to the imagination and highlighting her shapely silhouette. Each step she took showcased the skirt’s snug fit, enhancing her feminine allure.

Completing her ensemble were a pair of sleek black dress shoes, their higher heels adding a touch of sophistication and elongating her legs. Michael couldn’t help but notice they were noticeably taller than the ones she had worn the previous night in his stateroom. His eyes flickered back up, noting the familiar white tights she had worn before, which added a subtle yet striking contrast to her overall appearance. The tights not only provided a sense of modesty but also complemented her outfit with a touch of refinement.

Hello! CIC to Michael!” Richard jokingly said to his friend as he waved his hand in front of his face. “Come in Michael.” Michael shook his head and then turned back to his longtime friend. “The reason I’m not after her is the fact that,” he pointed at his finger, “I’m married.”

“Wait,” Michael slapped the top of the bar, “you’re married?!” Richard nodded. “When the fuck did that happen? And why the fuck am I just hearing about this now?” he asked as he hit the top of the bar with the tip of his index finger to add emphasis.

“I got married about a standard year ago.”

“And you didn’t tell me?!” Michael scoffed as he slapped the bar top again.

“It… just… never came up,” he shrugged.

“It never came up,” Michael said very dryly, giving him a very old-fashioned look. “Sure… it was only the biggest event in your life besides graduating from the academy. And you’re really going to try and tell me that it wasn’t worth mentioning? Come on! Don’t try that kind of bullshit with me, you know it won’t work.”

“Well,” Richard shrugged, “you never asked.”

“I… never… asked,” Michael said with that same tone of voice. Kelea, who’d been trying not to listen in, sighed on the inside but otherwise stayed out of that conversation.

“Getting married isn’t something you hide from your best friend!” Michael exclaimed. “These are the kinds of things you tell your friends and family! I would’ve sent you and your wife a card or something. You know, something to congratulate the two of you on probably the most important day of your life. Maybe I would’ve come to your wedding if I had the leave and were close enough to do so. I could’ve been your best man!”

“It was a rather small ceremony, nothing special.” He thought back to how they had gotten married in the chapel of the Human Federation Consulate on Zalta 4-B. “All we had were three of us; myself, Triara, and my Rachel. And of course, the priest who married us. It may’ve been small, but it meant so much to us knowing that we were going to be apart.”

“I take it that you two got your orders while off on some planet?”

“Uh-huh,” Richard hummed, “we were vacationing on Zalta 4-B when we got our orders. We were going to be separated and we just knew that we had to get married. It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. I turned to Rachel and said… let’s get married. She, of course, reacted like you probably would’ve thought.” Michael nodded, not really needing to be told. “I, however, insisted; I said there was no way that the two of us were going to leave Zalta 4-B before the two of us were married. That very day we said our vows to each other and that was that.”

“So, it was a kind of quick thing to solidify your life with her. Right?”

“You got it. It means so much more than that, but I guess if you get right down to it, yes.”

“Alright,” Michael lowered his head, “I’ll give you a pass on that one. Sometimes in the military you need to do things on the spot and marriage is up there on that list of things to do quickly. But I must ask, where is she? Where is Rachel? Can I see her?”

“Sadly,” Richard shook his head, “no you can’t. She’s living in one of the orbiting colony clusters of this system.”

“Oh,” Michael looked to the floor of the lounge, “I’m sorry. You probably miss her a lot.”

“Yeah, yeah I do.” As he said that Triara came up to the bar he stood up from his stool and embraced her and while she was in his embrace, she gave him a quick kiss on his cheek which caused the volume of the bar to drop a few decibels. She then took a seat next to Richard on the barstool after which she crossed her legs and gave her skirt a bit of a tug that really didn’t do a damn thing because of just how short her skirt was. “Thank you for saving a seat for me. It was nice of you to do that for me considering how busy this place is. I’m sure that this place fills up quite fast at this hour.”

“Yep,” he patted her hand that was resting on the bar as he looked about the lounge, “it sure does! Here,” he looked down at a glass with some Scotch in it and gently pushed it over to her, “I bought you a drink. I know how you like Johnny Walker Black.”

As he watched the two of them interact, Michael was stunned. He’d never known Richard to be as comfortable around women as he was now. He was talking with her, embracing her, and otherwise being rather friendly with her, which was nothing like how his friend used to be back when he had first gotten to know him. He supposed that perhaps his wife had a lot to do with that.

“Thank you,” she smiled as she picked the glass up and took a sip of the drink. “I do sense that you were worried that I wouldn’t come to join you tonight.”

“Well yeah,” Richard turned on his barstool to face her, “when you left my stateroom last night you weren’t exactly in the best of emotional conditions.”

“Yeah,” she put the glass back down on the bar, “but I’m alright now. I told you that there were going to be some uncomfortable things that needed to be talked about and sure enough, I was right. You, however, deserved answers as to how my people treat one another on my world and why I came to live among Humans.”

“Wait,” Michael spoke up, “you were in his stateroom last night?”

Sure!” Triara exclaimed. “We’re friends, good friends in fact. I’m Triara, Triara Moonbeam.” She extended her hand to shake Michael’s hand. “And my name’s Michael, Michael Whitfield.” He graciously accepted her handshake and while they shook hands, he noticed the look Richard gave him; it was the kind of look that told him to tread carefully.

“How did the two of you meet?” Michael asked.

“Well, it was some time ago,” Triara began to explain how the two of them had met, meanwhile Michael nodded as he listened to show that he was engaged in the conversation while he observed Richard’s reactions to Triara’s choice of dress. “It was some time ago that three of us, meaning myself,” she put her hand to her chest, “along with Richard and Rachel, his wife, went to one of my worlds, Zalta 4-B, and the two of them got married.”

“Yeah,” Michael nodded, “Richard told me about how he had gotten married on one of your worlds.” He paused in thought. “Speaking about Rachel, can I see her? Do you have a picture of her?”

“Yeah,” Richard pulled out his datapad and pulled up a picture of Rachel and gave it to his friend. “There she is,” he pointed at his datapad that was in Michael’s hands, “the love of my life.”

Michael looked down at the picture of Rachel on the datapad and much like Triara, Rachel was beautiful beyond words. He couldn’t believe that his longtime friend managed to have such a woman in his life, let alone two. There was no way he would’ve been comfortable being in the situation he was in years ago. Meanwhile, Triara could pick up on his thoughts about both her and Rachel and smirked for she found it quite amusing.

“Richard,” he put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “it must suck to have to spend so much time away from each other. I can tell that it hurts.” Richard didn’t reply, letting the silence speak for him. “When was the last time you saw her? You mentioned something about her living somewhere else in this solar system.”

“About a month ago but as you may’ve guessed, it’s not easy. Between her new career and me being the XO of this place, I don’t get much time to see her.”

“Oh, I get it,” Michael looked down at his drink and remembered how he had felt when he was married to his high school sweetheart. It was then that he remembered how much he missed her. They’d had many happy years together until…

Triara picked up on the sudden burst of emotions from Michael but chose not to say anything yet for she didn’t want to scare him away. It was up to him if he wanted to talk about it. She wouldn’t pry and reveal that she was a telepath.

And to her relief, he did say something. “I miss my wife as well,” he said.

“You’re married too?” Triara asked while trying not to sound too disappointed because she found Michael to be rather intriguing.

“I… was married,” Michael looked down at his drink, “some time ago, but she died.”

“Your wife died?” Richard asked. “What happened to her? That is if you don’t mind me asking.”

“During the last battle of our stupid war with the then ACF, I lost my wife.” Triara’s jaw dropped ever so slightly as she heard that, she wasn’t prepared to hear that kind of story. She figured that they had had a divorce like so many other Humans often did when their marriages went bad. “She was aboard the HFS Cromwell, she died when the ship went up.”

Richard thought about the ship for a moment and that’s when he remembered that his captain told him about it. “Wait, the HFS Cromwell? I’ve heard of that ship.”

“Yeah,” he paused as he saw the shock on Richard’s face, “what about it?”

“The captain of this station lost her husband too aboard that ship, she said that the ship took a direct hit to the fusion reactor; she said there was no time to get to the escape pods before the whole ship went up in the heart of a miniature sun.”

“Yep,” he put his elbows on the bar and looked down at his drink all while trying not to start crying over the loss of his wife while in front of Richard, Triara, and the rest of the lounge. “My Mary died that day.” He started to tear up, so he blinked a few times after which Richard could’ve sworn that he had seen a tear fall to the bar top. “We were married for five years and now I can’t help but think about how my six-year-old daughter will now have to grow up without her mom in her life.”

Triara’s heart sank in her chest as she heard that, no young child should have to grow up without their mom; it absolutely broke her heart to know that Michael’s daughter had to live her life without her mom during what she knew that Humans often referred to as their formative years.

“Ah shit,” Richard whispered hoping that Michael didn’t hear him. “Where’s your daughter now?” Triara asked out of morbid curiosity. “Does she know what happened to her mom?”

“She’s living with my sister on the Alpha Centauri colony, I plan on going to see her as soon as I have leave, and I plan on bringing her to the station to live with me. She’s been asking why her daddy has to spend so much time away from her. I can’t help but think that she’s feeling abandoned by me.”

Richard didn’t quite agree with that idea, he didn’t think that the station was the right place for children to grow up on. With the fact that he was her only parent, he understood why he was thinking of bringing his daughter to the station; she needed him in her life. But then he thought about how there wasn’t even a school or a daycare onboard the station, though there was talk about how one was going to be started, what with how more civilian families were coming aboard to find work on the station. Perhaps with some pressure from a member of the Space Force such a school would finally be started.

“But where will she stay when you’re on duty?” Richard asked. “This place isn’t exactly conducive to raising a family, at least… not yet.”

“There’s no daycare onboard?”

“No,” Richard shook his head to which he could see Michael’s shoulders slump. “Though scuttlebutt has it that one will be started soon what with how many more civilians are coming aboard as support staff. This place is really turning into one of the most important military bases in this sector of space and for several sectors surrounding it. We have more cargo being transported through this station than I ever thought possible, it’s become more important than the transfer point at Io. So, who knows,” he shrugged his shoulders, “maybe it’ll happen.”

“Yeah well, even if we don’t have one, God knows that she needs her daddy in her life more than anything right now.” As he turned to the two of them, somehow, they both knew what he was going to ask them. “Maybe one of you two can watch her when I’m on duty. Either way, she needs her daddy in her life.” He looked up to the ceiling with visible tears in his eyes as he remembered telling her that her mom had died.

“And yes, before you ask, I sat down with her and told her that her mom was gone and that she’d never see her again.” He looked back at the two of them as he wiped his eyes. “You have no idea how hard it was for me to tell my little Jessie. All I could do was hold her as she sobbed against my shoulder and cried out for her mom after I told her that she died.”

All the two of them could do was sit there. There was nothing to say. What could they say? Neither of them had anything remotely close to what happened in his life.

“Great Maker,” Triara whispered. Both of them had heard of others who had lost sons, daughters, wives, and husbands in the war against the ACF, but it was another thing altogether different to personally know someone who had lost someone in their lives and to hear about how some young girl who now had to live her life without her mom; it hit both of them in ways they weren’t at all prepared for.

Minutes passed and they just sat there sipping their Scotch until Triara managed to find her voice again. “I’m… sorry for you and your daughter’s loss.”

“Yeah, me too,” Richard put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for you and your daughter’s loss too. My captain was telling me about how her kids now have to grow up without a father, but I suppose it’s different when the mother was the one that was lost.”

“Yeah,” Michael shook his head as he wiped his eyes again, “it’s different when the mother is gone. It somehow hurts more, especially for a young girl.”

“Michael?” Triara asked as she got up from her barstool and came around to him and put her arms around him from behind. “If you need anything, the both of us,” she looked to Richard out of the corner of her eye, “are here for you. If you need something, anything, just ask.” Michael looked down at her arms that were wrapped around him, he couldn’t help but feel the kind of comfort and serenity that he had craved in his life ever since he had lost Mary but was never able to find it. He didn’t know why it suddenly came to him, but he welcomed it with open arms.

“I don’t want to seem ungrateful to you,” she let go of him and he turned around to face her and as soon as he had done so, he found himself face-to-face with her chest and blushed as he looked up. “But how? And for that matter… why?” She looked at him questioningly, she didn’t know where he was going with his question. “Why are you acting this way towards me?” She continued to look at him questioningly. “Most of your people that I’ve known have been rather cold and unfeeling yet here you are displaying anything but that and not only that but towards someone you hardly even know. Why? I’m not saying that I don’t welcome it because I do.”

“Sadly, I know that my people are generally known to be rather cold and unfeeling. It comes from being at war for such a long time. But as for me,” she paused in thought for a moment, “I suppose that humans have rubbed off on me.”

“Either way,” Michael stood up from his barstool and embraced the female Zaltaen during which once again the sound of the lounge came down a few decibels, “thank you. Thank you for your kindness. It was much appreciated.” It was as she held him that she sensed some seriously dark thoughts from him, the kind of thoughts that he tried so hard to keep buried deep down inside where he hoped no one would find them.

“You know,” Richard turned to him, “you know there are programs available to help people like you that have experienced this kind of loss in their lives. Have you attended them?”

“Yes,” he picked his glass of Scotch up and took a sip of it, “I’ve gone to the programs, more so for my daughter than me. I sat down with a counselor and explained how I had a young daughter that was looking to me now and it was her, my counselor, who helped me find a way to break it to her and how to handle her grief.”

“But what about you? What about your grief?”

“As I said, I’m still learning to cope with it.” He once again began to tear up. “Mary was my high school sweetheart; we had been dating all throughout high school. We were meant to have a happy life together and then the war broke out, and like everyone else, we signed up for our patriotic duty to defend the nation that we both loved. We didn’t know that one day we’d have to say goodbye to each other,” he wiped his eyes again. Triara couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of sadness in him. “And the bitch of it all is, I didn’t even have a body to bury or even ashes to have on a mantle. All I have is an empty grave marker to lay flowers at.”

“As I said, the Space Force has programs to help people like you deal with that kind of grief and pain.”

“And as I said, I went to them. Melissa, my counselor, told me that dealing with this kind of grief is a process; you can’t just turn your pain off for a lost loved one like one does with a light switch. It takes time.”

“I guess I wouldn’t know,” Richard reached over and rubbed his friend’s back, “I’ve not had to deal with that kind of pain in my life.”

“And let me tell you this Richard,” he pointed at him with his index finger, “you better hope you never do.” He put his hand to his chest. “It hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt before, it feels like my heart was ripped out of my chest.

“I knew something was wrong when my captain called me into her office and at once told me to sit down. I still remember how I just walked out of her office as she tried calling to me, went to my stateroom, and sobbed into my pillow. I wouldn’t wish that kind of grief and pain on even my worst enemy.”

“I get it,” Richard frowned, “I don’t know how it feels.”

“And I wouldn’t want you to feel it.” He picked his glass up and threw back the last of his Scotch. “Sorry, you two, but I have an early morning department meeting to head up in the morning. I got to get going to bed if I’m going to wake up for it and I’m still trying to get used to my stateroom.”

“Why is that?” Richard had to wonder. When he came to the station, he took to his stateroom rather quickly. He loved the amount of room that he had versus onboard a ship.

“I’m not used to all the room that I have!” he exclaimed. “I’m still wondering what the hell I’m going to do with it all and worst of all, it feels so… so empty.” With that, he stood up from his barstool and came up behind the both of them. “See you two some other time.” With that, he walked away leaving the two of them sitting alone at the bar.

“Well,” Richard took a sip of his Scotch, “what do you think of Michael?” Triara looked at Richard. “Knowing that, you know… you’re a telepath and all. What’s going on in his mind?”

“He’s in a lot of pain, a lot more than he lets on.” She shuddered as his thoughts of self-harm came back into her mind. “He’s thought about taking his own life with the false idea that his daughter would be better without a broken father.” As she said that, it was a good thing that Richard didn’t have anything in his mouth at the time for he probably would’ve spit it out all over Triara. “With that being said, he’s definitely hurting a lot more than he wants others to know.”

Damn,” Richard whispered, “then we need to keep an eye on him.” He watched as she pointed at herself. “Yes you!” He pointed at her. “You would be better equipped than I would be to know if he’s, well… you know. And besides, having another friend would go a long way in helping him know he’s not alone.”

“You have a point.”

“So,” Richard took another sip of his Scotch, “we’re going to have to include him in more of these kinds of outings to show him that despite how much he’s hurting inside, he’s got people to lean on.”

“Richard’s right,” Kelea came up to the two of them sitting at the bar, “Michael’s a mess inside and that’s putting it mildly. He needs people to know that they’ve got him and that they’re there for him. And as for you,” Kelea pointed at Triara, “you must be the Zaltaen that you talked about before, right?”

“Uh-huh,” Richard put his arm around her and kissed her cheek, “meet my friend, Triara Moonbeam.” Meanwhile, the whole lounge once again dropped a few decibels as he kissed her cheek.

“And you must be,” Triara looked her over, “the Zaltaen bar manager that Richard often speaks of.”

“Yep,” Kelea said as she put a glass down after she was done wiping it with a towel. “I’m one of three managers in this place. I mainly run the bar and the kitchen while the other two managers handle much of the ordering, bookkeeping, and various other business-related things that I couldn’t give a damn about dealing with. I’d rather be out and among the people serving up food, drinks, and fun instead of behind a computer screen dealing with numbers all day.”

Richard knew that to be the truth, he hated dealing with numbers and reports but that was part of his job as the XO of the station. All of the reports went to him for him to deal with so that nothing but the most important of things ever showed up on the captain’s desk just like what a good XO was supposed to do. It was often said that if a ship or a station had a good XO, the captain wouldn’t ever have to leave his or her stateroom. Thankfully, Captain (Danielle) Byrne didn’t think that way and often took a far more active role in the command of the station than other captains that Richard had experience with.

“But enough about that,” Kelea paused, “do you want to see what his daughter looks like?”

“How do you know what his daughter looks like?” Richard asked.

“He was thinking about her the whole time, that’s how.”

“But how can you show me?” Richard asked. “I’m not a telepath like the two of you are.”

“True,” Kelea took hold of his hand, “if you open your mind to me, I can project the image of his daughter into your mind. Just relax and let me touch your mind for a moment.” Richard began to relax and suddenly he felt Kelea touch his mind much like he had felt before when Triara had touched his mind in the past. It was then that he could’ve sworn that the image of Michael’s daughter began floating in the air; it was as if someone was superimposing the image of Michael’s daughter over the visual input from his eyes.

Upon seeing his friend’s daughter, Richard couldn’t help but smile. “Aww,” he leaned on the bar, “she’s such a beautiful angel.” He looked down at the bar with her still in his vision. “Too bad that poor little angel is going to have to grow up without her mom during a time in her life when she needs her mom the most.”

“Can I see?” Triara asked.

“Sure,” Kelea let go of Richard’s hand and simply looked at her and projected the image of Michael’s daughter into her mind. Unlike Richard, she didn’t need direct physical contact with Triara to telepathically transmit the vision of Michael’s daughter to her.

“Aww,” Triara too couldn’t help but smile as she saw the image of Michael’s daughter in her mind. “Oh,” she put her hand to her chest, “she’s beautiful. I hate knowing that she now has to grow up without her mom. It sucks.”

It was then that Richard yawned. “Well, you two,” he stood up from the barstool, “I’ve got an early shirt in the morning.” He came up behind Triara and leaned over to kiss her on her cheek as she closed her eyes and smiled. “Good night Triara.”

As Richard walked off, Kelea smiled. “You like him, don’t you?” She asked in Zaltaen as she pointed at Triara. “And don’t sit there and deny it, it was written all over your face the moment he kissed your cheek.”

“I thought our people agreed to speak English around Humans.”

“Do you see any humans with us right now?” Triara looked about the nearly empty lounge and shook her head. “Exactly.” Triara rolled her eyes. “I figured we can talk in our native language with no humans around. Anyways, back to my question. Do you like Richard?”

Triara sighed as she slumped against the bar. “Is it that obvious?” She looked up at Kelea as she hummed. “I can’t help it,” she looked back down at her glass, “he was the first human that I showed my true self to, and he accepted me for who and what I really was without any reservations.” She looked back up at Kelea. “And you’re right, I do like him; I like him a lot. A lot more than I should, I even,” she closed her eyes, “love him.”

Kelea was stunned, she was about to say something when Triara continued.

“But he’s married to my best friend Rachel, and I know that despite everything, his heart belongs to her.” She looked back down at the bar as her eyes began to tear up. “And after seeing the two of them together…” Kelea spoke up. “You want the same thing in your life. Right?” Triara looked up at her as tears dripped down her face and nodded.

Kelea sighed as she watched Triara look back down at her glass again. “You know what that means, right?” Triara looked up at her. “You need to get yourself out there.” Triara just blinked her eyes. “Find someone!”

“Easier said than done.” Triara looked at Kelea with a deadpan look on her face. “Do you see a lot of humans willing to be in a relationship with a Zaltaen?”

“How do you know if you don’t try?” Triara was about to say something when Kelea continued. “It’s the same thing that humans say to each other, you need to get out there and try!” Agan, Triara looked at Kelea with a deadpan look on her face. “You have to make yourself available, make yourself open to be in a relationship.” She watched as Triara hung her head low again. “You’ve closed yourself off to the idea of having a relationship with someone else because of some kind of vain idea that Richard will come around to the idea of wanting you instead of his wife.” Triara looked up at which Kelea put her hands upon her hips. “Well, it’s not going to happen, and you know it. Richard is married to Rachel, get over it. As humans say, that ship has sailed.”

Triara sighed. “You’re right.”

“And you know what Richard said, right?” Triara shook her head. “The two of you need to include Michael in more outings like this so who knows, when Michael is ready for someone else in his life, he may turn to you.”

“You can’t guarantee that.”

“You’re right, I can’t!” Kelea exclaimed. “To use another human phrase, the only things that are guaranteed in life are death and taxes.” Triara chuckled. “If you want something like what Richard and Rachel have, you need to work to make it happen. And if Michael does turn to you, you need to be open to it and stop with this… oh woe is me attitude,” she pointed at Triara and waved her hand in the air, “because that’s only going to push him away.”

Triara once again sighed. “You’re right.” She wiped her eyes.

“And stop with that teary eyed bullshit,” Kelea pointed at her, “nobody wants a sad sack.”

“A what?” Triara asked.

“I don’t know!” Kelea exclaimed. “I don’t know what it means.” She shrugged. “I just heard someone say it and I thought it was funny. But anyways,” she brought up a bottle from beneath the bar, “do you want more?”

“Nah,” Triara held her hand, “I have work in the morning, and I don’t want to wake up hungover.” She stood up from the bar and handed her CAC3Common Access Card. to Kelea. “Put Richard’s bar tab on my card.” Kelea took hold of her card and ran Triara’s CAC to pay for the bar tab. As Kelea handed her CAC back to her, Triara stood up from the bar. “Good night, Kelea.”

“Good night to you as well Kelea.” With that, Triara walked away from the bar and as she was walking out of the lounge, there were three or four women standing about talking about something. What it was they were talking about, she didn’t care; it was none of her business. Most of the time she thought that humans talked too loudly. However, as she was about to walk away one of the women called to her. “Hey Triara.” Triara stopped walking when she heard her name and turned about on her heel. “It’s Triara. Right? Is that your name?”

Triara wondered why the woman was calling to her, but she didn’t want to come off as rude by not at least confirming that it was her name. “Yes, my name is Triara. What of it?”

“You may not know who I am…” Triara shook her head for she didn’t know who the woman was. “I’m Amanda, Lieutenant Amanda Gibson; I work in Receiving and Logistics. But anyways, I saw you with Richard at the bar and I have to say, you were rather friendly with him, and yet he showed no hesitation with you.” Triara looked at the other women with her. “Yeah,” another woman spoke up, “you were friendly with Richard, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Richard be as friendly with a woman as he was with you. He even kissed you, twice even.” Yet another woman spoke up. “You know he’s married. Right? He’s got a reputation for being loyal to his wife which if you ask me,” she shrugged, “I wish more men were like that these days.”

“Yes,” Triara paused, “I know he’s married. He’s married to a very good friend of mine.” She watched as their eyes opened wide as she had said that. “In fact, Richard and I are also friends. Very good friends in fact. I’ve known Richard and his wife, Rachel, for nearly four and a half years. And recently,” she couldn’t help but pause and smile at the thought of him inviting her into his family, “I’ve become part of his family.”

“Family?” Amanda asked as the other women with her gasped. “What do you mean by that? Why would he do that for you?”

“I’m a Zaltaen without a House.”

“What does that mean?” Amanda asked as another woman in the group came forward. “Hi, I’m Chelsea, Lieutenant Chelsea Porter and I work with Amanda.” She turned to Amanda. “I take it that you don’t know much about Zaltaen culture.” Amanda shook her head in response to Chelsea’s statement. “What Triara means is that she’s a Zaltaen without a House and for a Zaltaen who was once part of a great House, it’s like being disowned by your family but for a Zaltaen, it’s even worse. In Zaltaen culture, Triara is a nobody. And more than likely everyone she once knew, be it friends or loved ones, have turned their backs on her.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what happened to me. I have no family, no House, and no status on my world except my rank and I’m working to change that.”

“Wait.” Amanda was shocked. “Zaltaens do that to each other?” Triara nodded. That’s some really fucked up shit right there. I can’t imagine how much of a blow that was to you.”

“You have no idea,” Triara bit her lip as she thought back to the day that it happened to her. A sense of sadness and grief threatened to come back to her, but she fought it back; she refused to show how much it affected her to people she hardly knew. “It happened to me twenty or so standard years ago and it still feels as raw as it did the day it happened. It still hurts even to this day.”

“I’m sorry.” Amanda was floored. She couldn’t believe people could do that to each other. “But that doesn’t explain what’s happening between you and Richard. What did Richard do for you and why are you so friendly with him?”

“Richard invited me into his family. He said and I quote… if I couldn’t have a Zaltaen family, I could at least have a human one.” The looks of shock on their faces said it all. “Richard cares about me and in a sibling sort of way, he loves me.” Their jaws dropped and she said that. “Richard sees me like the sister that he never had and he’s rather protective of me because of that. Sometimes a little too protective.” She stopped to smile as she thought back to when he, himself, admitted that. “But his heart’s certainly in the right place.”

“Oh,” Chelsea spoke up, “so nothing is going on between you and Richard? No hanky-panky?” The look on Triara’s face instantly told her that Triara didn’t know what she meant by that but didn’t bring attention to Triara’s gaps in her vocabulary. “What I mean is, are the two of you having sex?”

Knowing what the words ‘hanky-panky’ meant, Triara laughed at Chelsea’s choice of words for it sounded so childish. “No,” she chuckled, “there’s no, as you say, hanky-panky going on between me and Richard. We’re just really good friends that happen to care for each other. Richard loves me like a sister and,” she sighed, “and part of me loves him more than I should considering he’s married to my best friend.” The other women instantly picked up on what she meant by that by the look on her face. “He was the first one that I showed my true self to back when Zaltaens dropped their disguises and showed humanity that they weren’t alone in the galaxy.

“With that being said, I was aboard the ship that Richard and Rachel were onboard, and Richard was the first one that I showed my true self to. When the rest of the crew found out who and what I was, you can probably imagine that I received a less-than-warm reception. Yet Richard and Rachel accepted me as one of their own, right from the beginning. We even had a good laugh about how I looked like something straight out of a Tolkien novel, specifically Lord of the Rings.”

“Oh,” Chelsea spoke up, “I remember. I had a Zaltaen on my ship too. My crew treated her awful, just awful. I still remember the day that I found Melynn silently crying in the mess hall as she ate dinner. She tried to hide it, but as a woman, I knew.” The other women in the group nodded, they had seen the same thing. “The rest of my crew made her life a living hell and of course, nobody wanted to sit with her. Many walked by her and often sneered at her and told her some rather nasty stuff that I, as a Colonial, often heard myself. They told her to go back to where she belonged in some… not very nice ways.”

“Did you do anything to help her? Did you show her that not all humans are… well, you get the idea?”

“Yeah.” Chelsea thought back to what she did that day as she watched Melynn crying that evening. “Yeah, I did. I walked up to her as she sat there silently crying, sat down next to her, and hugged her. She tried to resist at first, but I kept holding onto her until she…” Amanda interrupted her. “It’s the same thing that happened on my ship too. My God, it’s a story that mirrors mine.” The other four women in the group spoke up saying something similar. “I remember holding onto her,” Chelsea continued, “and she just broke down and sobbed into my shoulder as I held her. We’ve been friends ever since.”

“Luckily, I didn’t have such an experience, but I know many of my people who did. Richard and Rachel were there for me right from the very beginning. They stood up for me, defended me, and otherwise helped me adapt to living among Humans. They really are the two best friends that a disgraced Zaltaen could ever have in her life, and I thank the Great Maker for sending them to me. Anyways, are you all still in contact with the Zaltaens that you helped that day?”

“Yeah,” Chelsea nodded, “Melynn’s here on the station and we talk every so often. I’ve been over her place in the Zaltaen section of the station a few times and, of course, she’s been to my place but we’re not like you and Richard. Maybe I should try a little more.” The others shook their heads as well. Amanda spoke up. “The Zaltaen that I helped that day, Aera, went back to Zalta; we email each other from time to time and sometimes even video chat. She really wants me to come to Zalta 4-B to meet up with her one day, she told me that she wants to show me her world and of course, meet her family.”

“Good, I’m happy to hear that.” Triara slowly nodded. “I’m glad to know that there are a lot more people like Richard and Rachel among humans and that they are open to,” she reached up and wiped her eyes, “I’m sorry. I usually don’t get like this.”

“Oh honey,” Chelsea hugged her, “don’t worry about that. You’ve been through a lot; nobody would blame you if you got emotional. And yes,” Chelsea rubbed Triara’s back, “we get it. There’s not a lot of humans who’d want to befriend a Zaltaen. But have you tried to look for someone? Have you tried dating someone?”

“I wouldn’t know where to begin. You see, on Zalta there’s no such thing as dating; at least, not as humans have it.”

“So,” Amanda began, “how do Zaltaens, I don’t know… hook up?”

“We don’t hook up as humans do.” Triara began as the other women looked at each other. “For most Zaltaens, especially those Zaltaens who come… or rather came from the noble Houses of Zalta, are often paired up by the matriarchs of our respective Houses mostly for political reasons.” She watched as the four women’s eyes went wide open. “You see, for those of the higher noble Houses, maintaining their political power is the name of the game and that’s done by creating political alliances between the Houses. The noble Houses of Zalta often use those political alliances to push through whatever political agenda they have in the House of Lords.”

“So,” Chelsea began, “I take it that there’s no love or emotional attachments in those relationships.” Triara shook her head at which Amanda whispered the word ‘fuck’. “Damn.” she whispered. “That… sucks.”

“It’s the way things have been done on Zalta for centuries.”

“But now that you’re not on Zalta,” another woman in the group spoke up, “you don’t have to do that. You have far more autonomy now. You can do whatever you want. Be with whoever you want. Why haven’t you? Why haven’t you tried?”

“As I said before,” Triara shook her head, “I have no idea how dating works. I wouldn’t know what to do.”

Just then, a male officer walked by, and it was obvious that he was checking Triara out.

“See?” Amanda pointed the guy out. “He was checking you out.” Triara looked up and watched as the guy walked by. “He wouldn’t have checked you out if he wasn’t at least a little bit interested in you.”

Triara dropped her mental walls and concentrated on his thoughts that like most humans, they were broadcast at the top of their heads. Immediately she could tell from his thoughts that he found her to be rather attractive, or rather, by his words… hot, and she blushed at the thought that he thought that way of her.

“What?” Chelsea asked. “Why are you blushing like that?” she asked as she pointed at her face. “Your cheeks are turning red despite your purple skin color.”

“I was just thinking that you might be right about that guy.”

Chelsea chuckled. “I’m always right when it comes to the matters of love.” Chelsea smirked while the three other three women of the group rolled their eyes. “But anyways, you need get out and try. Daring isn’t easy even for humans, even we have to try at it.”

“That’s what Kelea,” Triara thumbed over her shoulder at where Kelea was busy cleaning the bar for the night, “told me as well.”

See?!” Chelsea exclaimed. “You need to get out there and try!”

“But in the meantime,” another woman who hadn’t spoken up yet came forward and shook Triara’s hand, “I’m Zoey Higgins. Do you have many other friends?” Triara shook her head. “Then you can hang with us.” She turned to the rest of the women in her group. “Isn’t that right, girls?”

“Yeah!” they all exclaimed. Zoey continued. “So yeah, you can hang with us; we’d love to have you.” They all hummed in agreement with Zoey. It was then that Triara thought that maybe she might have a chance at having more than a few people in her life than just Richard. “Why don’t you join us Triara? It’ll be fun.”

“I suppose so.”

“Great!” Zoey exclaimed, stepping up behind Triara and patting her on the back. “By the way,” Zoey glanced at Triara appreciatively, “I really love your outfit.”

“Thank you,” Triara smiled at how the other women were complementing her.

“Rachel, a good friend of mine, helped me put my outfits together.”

“Then Rachel has a good sense of style!” Chelsea exclaimed.

“I’d have to agree.” Triara watched as a Zaltaen woman walked by and gasped. “In fact, I’ve come to like dressing like this,” Triara chuckled, “it scares the hell out of other Zaltaens, and I find it absolutely hilarious.”

“How so?” Zoey asked as they began walking down the hall. She didn’t need to wait long for an answer as to why Triara found it hilarious for a Zaltaen walked by and immediately upon seeing Triara dressed as she was, she smacked her hand to her mouth and gasped.

“Wow,” Zoey chuckled, “I can see what you mean. That was funny.”

“I even had one straight-up faint, as in out-cold, as I walked by. Great Maker, it was hilarious I tell you! I hadn’t laughed that hard in so long.” The other women began to laugh with her at the thought of watching the Zaltaen faint to the ground upon seeing Triara like that. “Where are you all going? Where do you all live?”

“Blue sector, where else?” Amanda asked. “Where do you live Triara? Do you live in the Zaltaen sector?”

“Nope,” Triara shook her head, “I live in Blue Sector as you all do. I chose to live there since I don’t want anything to do with my people. I even applied for Human Federation citizenship and if what I’ve heard has any truth to it, I’ll have my citizenship by the end of the week and I’ll finally be free to say what I really want to say without being fearful of pissing off some person back on Zalta.”

Wow,” Zoey put her arm around her, “you really are going all out on this endeavor of yours. You really don’t want anything to do with your people.”

“Why should I? They’ve not done a damn thing for me. As far as I’m concerned, they can all fuck off for all I care.” Another Zaltaen that walked by heard what she said, and her jaw dropped. “I don’t care anymore.” They were all completely surprised at how Triara reacted. “Why do you all seem so surprised? Wouldn’t you want a thing to do with your people if they turned their backs on you as they did to me?” They all shook their heads as the train approached. “That’s right. It’s why I say fuck them. I have no use for my people anymore.”

As Michael stood beneath the steady stream of water in his shower, the encounter with Richard’s Zaltaen friend, Triara, replayed in his mind like a movie in his mind. A sense of calm and solace enveloped him the moment she had touched him, a sensation he hadn’t experienced in months, not since the loss of his wife and the mother of his child. It left him wanting more.

“Why?” he asked out loud despite him being the only person in the room. Despite his thoughts on the subject, he couldn’t figure out why Triara had such an effect on him.

“But why?” he repeated; his voice echoing against the walls of his shower as he rinsed the shampoo from his hair. “How was she able to evoke such a feeling in me?” he pondered further, trying to rationalize the inexplicable pull he felt towards her. “Sure, she’s pretty, but…” He trailed off, grappling with the idea that her physical beauty alone couldn’t account for his reaction.

“Could that be it?” he asked aloud once again, considering the possibility before shaking his head. “Ah, hell,” he cursed, chastising himself for entertaining such thoughts. “What am I thinking?” He chided himself, acutely aware of his grief for his late wife.

Pushing aside thoughts of Triara, Michael focused on the practicality of conserving water aboard the space station as he finished his shower. Yet, despite his efforts to distract himself, her image persisted in his mind as he lay down on his pillow, closing his eyes.

“I don’t know if I’m ready yet,” he murmured softly to himself, his thoughts drifting into the realm of dreams, where the captivating figure of Triara lingered at the forefront of his subconscious. Despite the uncertainty and the complexities of his emotions, one thing remained undeniable – Triara’s undeniable allure, despite her alien origins.

In the halls of the House of Moonbeam on Zalta, Nalia entered the bedchamber of the matriarch, Beyana. “Good morning,” Nalia greeted, reaching for the shades of her matriarch’s bedchamber, “it’s time to wake up.” Behind her, a man followed, carrying a tray. “I have breakfast ready for you, your favorite.”

With no response from Beyana, Nalia approached her bed. “My matriarch,” she gently nudged her, but Beyana remained unresponsive. “Are you…” Nalia gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. “Oh no,” she whispered, “get the doctors!” she called out urgently.

The Zaltaen man placed the tray on the bed and hurried out of the matriarch’s bedchamber as instructed. Meanwhile, Nalia checked Beyana’s neck for a pulse, finding none.

Closing her eyes solemnly, Nalia understood the gravity of the situation. The matriarch of the House of Moonbeam had passed away. Moments later, several doctors rushed into the room, examining Beyana for any signs of life.

Despite Beyana’s recent illness, which had shown signs of improvement, there had been no indication that her condition would deteriorate to this extent.

“Nalia,” Enene, the matriarch’s chief physician, looked up from Beyana’s lifeless body, “the matriarch has passed away. We need to inform the matriarchal council and the royal court.”

Nalia nodded with a heavy heart. “I will inform them immediately.” With determination in her steps, she departed from the matriarch’s bedchamber to convene the matriarchal council, initiating the solemn task of selecting and appointing a new matriarch for the House of Moonbeam.

Melora entered Queen Raina’s office solemnly. “Queen Raina,” she began, drawing the queen’s attention away from her desk, “I bring grave news. The matriarch of the House of Moonbeam has passed away.”

Raina looked at Melora for a few seconds and in the privacy of her own mind, she thought… Thank the Great Maker that that bitch is dead. After that momentary pause, she said aloud. “How did it happen? I was aware of Beyana’s illness.”

“She was sick for some time.”

“Well yes,” Raina continued, “I knew that she was sick but I didn’t know that she was…” She trailed off, her thoughts heavy with sorrow.

“It appears that her illness made a turn for the worse,” Melora confirmed, shaking her head in somber acknowledgment. “Beyana lived to be over two hundred and fifty years old, a remarkable age even by Zaltaen standards.”

Raina nodded in understanding. “Indeed, even among our elders, Beyana was considered old.” Yeah, the old bat was too damn old; I swear that the only reason why she hung on that long was to outlive her enemies. Well too damn bad, I’m still here and I have no plans on going anywhere yet. That bitch can rot in Hades.

“True,” Melora agreed. “In the meantime, I will begin the arrangements for a state funeral.”

“Indeed,” Raina said as Melora walked out her office. When the other woman had left and closed the door behind her, Raina rolled her eyes. “It’s about time,” Raina grumbled, “And I bet that old hag is just going to love from beyond the grave that I have to foot the bill for her funeral. Damn her.”

She then thought back to the meeting with Beyana’s daughter, the one that’s said to be the next in line to be matriarch of the House of Moonbeam.

“Yes, my queen,” Kytia nodded slowly, her expression reflecting agreement, “I agree with you that my mother can be… challenging to deal with.” Raina recalled their previous private meeting where Kytia had expressed similar sentiments. “I’ve been attempting to modernize my mother’s views, but she remains staunchly rooted in outdated thinking,” Kytia continued, echoing her frustrations.

Raina remembered their discussion and nodded. “Indeed, change is necessary, but I understand the risks involved,” she acknowledged, recalling Kytia’s concerns about potential repercussions from her House.

“I know,” Raina reflected on their conversation, “I recall another member of your House who faced similar consequences. Her name was Triara.” She snapped her fingers as the memory resurfaced.

Kytia nodded in agreement. “Yes, I remember her,” she replied, shaking her head. “It was a tragic outcome.”

“Speaking of Triara,” Raina paused, curiosity piqued, “where is she now? After her expulsion, I’ve heard nothing of her. We used to play together in the royal courtyards with Melora when we were children.”

“I’m not certain,” Kytia admitted with a shrug, her expression tinged with sympathy. “She was devastated by what happened and the last I heard was that she took a transport to Human space. Sadly, that’s all I know.”

Meanwhile, Raina thought that Triara was probably much better off.

“But you know what?” Kytia’s tone shifted with determination. “When I ascend to matriarch, I intend to rectify that mistake. I will personally extend an invitation to her to rejoin our House and to restore her rightful place in Zaltaen society.”

Raina recalled their conversation and offered her encouragement. “You should indeed,” she replied, “but don’t count on her taking it.” She remembered Kytia looking at her with a confused look. “After all that happened to her, would you take it?” She remembered Kytia shook her head. “I guess not.”

Little did Raina know, Triara was residing on the Genesis space station.

Continue to Chapter 11…

Last updated on Sunday, May 19th, 2024 at 12:28 PM by trparky.

  • 1
    Two inches.
  • 2
    Vernier Thruster, the Space 2315 take on Military Special alcohol.
  • 3
    Common Access Card.