Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My name is Alyssia.”

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

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

“Really… what?”

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

“What’s wrong?”

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

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

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

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

“It’s just that,” Alyssia looked up, “many humans have refused to talk to me let alone want to learn anything about me. Most have even gone so far as to flat-out refuse to room with me. I’ve lost count of the number of people who went to the administration of this university and they had me moved.”

Amanda shrugged. “Their loss.” Alyssia just sat there blinking her eyes. “What I mean is that it’s their loss that they don’t want to get to know you. Whereas I,” she put a hand to her chest, “would love to get to know you better.”

“Oh!” Alyssia perked up. “Thank you!”

“Here.” Amanda stood up from the couch. “Let me show you to your bedroom.” She turned back to Alyssia as she walked away from the couch. “It’s not much other than a place to lay your head down at night, a bathroom, a place to study, and little much more than that.”

“Ok.” Alyssia hummed.

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

“Yeah. I just enrolled here as part of the Zaltaen pilot program.”

“Well then,” Amanda turned to hug Alyssia but then remembered that she didn’t like to be touched like that, “congratulations. Welcome to Mars University. I’m assuming that you had your orientation.”

“Oh yeah,” Alyssia sighed, “but I get the feeling that the person giving me my tour did it only because he was told to do so. When I asked questions, he was rather rude in answering my questions.”

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

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

“I can tell.” Amanda leaned against the wall. “But you don’t have to be so nervous around me. Relax.”

“I know,” Alyssia sat down on the bed in the room, “I have to work on that. It’s just that I don’t have much experience dealing with humans but I’m willing to learn.”

“Well, that’s good to know.” Amanda smiled.

“Where were you going before I showed up at your door?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Listen,” Amanda patted Alyssia’s hand, “I understand why you doubt my intentions with you and if I were in your position,” she bit off a piece of the French fry in her fingers, “I probably would have the same kind of doubt as well.”

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

Amanda shrugged. “Why does anyone have to have a reason to be nice to someone?” She picked up another French fry and ate it. “I’ve always thought that if people were nicer to one another, maybe this universe would be a better place to live. If I can make even one person’s life just a little bit better, a little bit easier, then I think I’ve done my job. Besides, you look like you need a friend.” Alyssia looked down at her tray in front of her and closed her eyes and fought back tears as she thought about how this young human woman who barely knew her was reaching out to her like she was and was willing to go to such great lengths for her. “Yeah, you do.” She felt Alyssia squeeze her hand. “I hope that you’d want to be friends with me.”

Alyssia looked up and Amanda saw the tears in her eyes as they dripped down her cheeks. “I’d like that,” she reached for her napkin and wiped her eyes, “I really would.” She breathed in a ragged breath. “Nobody’s been even remotely as welcoming to me as you have. So yes, I’d really like to be able to call you a friend. I barely know anyone here.”

“Well then,” Amanda turned Alyssia’s hand in her hand, “that’s what we’ll be. We’ll be friends from here on out.” She watched as Alyssia genuinely smiled for the first time since she had first met her mere hours ago. “Eat up, we have a tour of this place to go on.”

“Well now,” Amanda put her arm around Alyssia as they walked towards their dorm that they shared, “what did you think of that tour?” Alyssia watched as others around her eyed Amanda for being as sociable and friendly toward her yet it seemed that Amanda paid them no mind. “And yes, before you say anything, I know that a lot of people are eyeing me but see if I give a damn.” Alyssia’s eyebrow rose. “What did you think?”

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

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

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

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

“And how are you going to get any better if all you do is sit in your bedroom?” Amanda put her hand on her hips. “Getting out there,” she pointed at the wall facing the outside hallway, “is the only way you’re going to get better at socializing.” Alyssia hung her head low; she knew that Amanda was right; she was just fearful of how people would react to her if she tried to insert herself into social settings. “As I said, come with me tonight. It’s just going to be a small group, nothing big. So, what do you say? Will you come with me?”

Alyssia nervously bit her lower lip. She wasn’t at all if it was a good idea to go with her.

“I wouldn’t steer you wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was when she had a chance to really look Amanda over. She was wearing a skirt that came down to about mid-thigh and that was when she really began to worry. No Zaltaen would ever show off that much about themselves, they were after all, a conservative society but as she continued to look Amanda over, she noticed that instead of her legs being the color of the rest of her skin they were somewhat black in color and she wondered why.

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

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

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

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

“But we’re not on Zalta, are we?”

“Uh… no.” Alyssia sheepishly replied.

“Alright.” Amanda saw just how nervous and scared Alyssia was about the kind of outfit that she was planning for her to wear that evening for the party. “I get it.” She put the skirt down on the bed and turned back to her. “I should’ve been more understanding of your cultural differences but I think I have a rather simple solution.” She went to her dresser and began looking through it. “Yes, I have another pair.”

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

“Another pair of these.” She reached down and caressed her thigh.

“I was wondering what you were wearing on your legs but I was afraid to ask.”

“Yeah,” Amanda carefully pinched at the nylon fabric of her tights and let it snap back which made an audible snap, “they’re called tights and I wear them with some of my outfits for the exact same reason you’re so nervous about. They too give me the feeling of being clothed down there,” she pointed down at herself, “if you know what I mean. They sort of give me the confidence to wear things that I ordinarily, as you said, wouldn’t be caught dead wearing.”

“Ah.” Alyssia hummed.

“Here.” She motioned for her to sit down on her bed. “I’ll show you how to put them on but first, take off your sweatpants.” Alyssia’s mouth dropped open. “Come on Alyssia, I’m a woman too you know. You have nothing I’ve not seen on myself.”

“Alright.” She nervously said as she slipped her sweatpants down and sat back down on the bed.

“Good.”

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

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

“However.” Amanda walked over to her dresser and grabbed a hair scrunchy. “We need to do something about your hair.” She walked up behind Alyssia and gently gathered up her long purple hair and formed a ponytail at the back of Alyssia’s head and tied it with a white colored hair scrunchy. “There.” She turned Alyssia back around to face the mirror. “Now you’re set for the party tonight.”

“I don’t know about this Amanda.” Alyssia sat down on her bed and looked down at herself. The clothing that Amanda had chosen was so very alien to her and not only that but so very revealing as well. The skirt showed off far more of her legs than she was ordinarily comfortable showing off yet as she looked down at herself and the tights that she was wearing with her skirt, she could understand why Amanda wore them and why she had suggested that she wear them as well. They were black, much like what Amanda was wearing, and much like with Amanda, they too covered up and clothed her in ways that made her not nearly as nervous while wearing said skirt.

“Well,” Amanda stood before her with her hands on her hips, “what do you think? Are you starting to feel more comfortable about yourself?”

Alyssia looked up. “A little bit.”

“That’s a start.” She smiled. “You’ll get used to this in time; I promise.”

“Alright.” Alyssia looked up. “It’s just that all of this is so alien to me. I knew that coming to live among humans was going to be a bit of a challenge.”

“I’m sure.” Alyssia stood up from the bed. “But as I said, you’ll get used to it. But anyways, we should get to the party; there’s going to be food there so we shouldn’t be late or it’ll all be cold and that sucks.” She put an arm around Alyssia. “Let’s go. I promise you that you’ll have a good time.”

As Amanda and Alyssia approached a door, they could hear music playing from behind the door. Amanda, of course, confidently walked up to the door and banged on it quite hard at which the music stopped and the door opened.

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

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

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

“Alyssia? What kind of name is that?” She heard someone say inside the room while Amanda came out. “Come on Alyssia, come inside.” Alyssia nervously walked in with Amanda behind her. “Guys, I’d like all of you to meet Alyssia. She’s my new dormmate.” She watched as the people in the room looked on with their eyes wide open.

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

“Nice observation, knucklehead,” Amanda said sarcastically.

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

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

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

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

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

“Alyssia?” Amanda asked. “Emily wants to hug you.”

“Oh.” Alyssia nervously bit her lower lip. “Sorry. I’m so new to all of this, I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“That’s alright sweetie.” Emily stepped forward and put her arms around Alyssia and hugged her at which Alyssia gently hugged her in return. “And this is Stephanie.” Stephanie stepped forward and hugged Alyssia much as Emily did. “And this is Steven, Matt, Heather, and Lisa.” Alyssia waved to all of them.

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

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

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

Amanda led Alyssia over to a table where there was food and other such snacks to be had during the party. Alyssia pointed at one of the bowls. “What’s this?”

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

“Good.” She licked her fingers. “But what are these?”

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

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

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

“They were fine to me.” Alyssia shrugged.

“Then I guess,” Amanda coughed, “I guess Zaltaens can handle spicy foods better than Humans can.”

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

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

Alyssia did as she was told. She loaded up her plate with two pieces of pizza and more jalapeño ranch wings and sat down on the couch. As she sat down, Emily came and sat down next to her.

“Hey there, Alyssia.” She looked Emily’s way. “How are you doing? Are you having fun? Enjoying yourself?”

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

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

“Six months ago. I’m still trying to find my footing here among humans and it hasn’t exactly been easy for me to adapt.”

“Aww.” Emily patted her knee in hopes of reassuring her that she was doing fine. “If you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask. Amanda and I’ll help you in any way that we can.”

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

“Aww.” Emily once again patted her knee. “I’m happy to hear that. Isn’t that right,” she looked up at Amanda as she sat down on the other side of Alyssia so that she was sitting in between the two women, “Amanda?”

“Yes.” She handed a glass to Alyssia but stopped short of Alyssia’s hand. “You are at least 21 years of age, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s a hangover?”

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

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

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

“I see.” Alyssia rubbed her chin again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lucky you,” Emily muttered. “I’d kill for that. Just this one drink and I’m already feeling myself buzzed.”

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

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

Just then, Matt shouted. “Hey! Who the hell ate all the jalapeño ranch wings?!”

“Oops.” Alyssia clammed up.

“Don’t worry.” Emily patted Alyssia on her shoulder. “Let me handle it.” She got up from sitting next to Alyssia and walked over to where Matt was fuming.

“I ordered them for me!”

“Matt.” Emily walked up to him. “Alyssia kind of went overboard with them, she really liked them.” Amanda came up to the two of them. “Yeah, I swear to God that I was watching her pop those things in like they were candy. She ate them one after another.”

“Fuck.” Matt looked over at where Alyssia was sitting and he could see how nervous she was at how she had been found. “Maybe I should go over there and apologize to her for reacting as I did.”

“Yeah!” Amanda exclaimed. “Look at her!” She pointed in the general direction where Alyssia was sitting. “She’s nervous as it is, she doesn’t need anyone to make her even more nervous than she already is so yes, you should apologize to her.”

“Yeah.” He closed his eyes and hung his head low. “I’ll go over and apologize.” He walked over to where Alyssia was sitting and she stood up. “I’m sorry for eating your wings.” He held his hand up. “I’m the one that should apologize. I shouldn’t have yelled as I did, it was wrong of me to do that and otherwise make you feel uncomfortable. I do have to ask; did you like them?”

“Uh-huh.” She hummed. “They’re quite good.”

“Well then,” he smiled, “that’s all that counts. I’ll order up some more and have more delivered and if you want, I’ll order you your own batch.”

“Oh no!” She exclaimed. “I wouldn’t want you to have to do that. That’s alright, I don’t need that.”

He smiled. “I know that I don’t have to but I want to as an apology to you for flying off the handle.”

“Flying off the handle?” Alyssia asked as she shook her head. “What does that mean? I may know how to speak and understand English but I don’t know many of the various idioms and phrases that humans often use.”

He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as he thought about a way to describe what he meant. “It means to overreact.”

“Ah.” She hummed. “Then I accept your apology but you really don’t have to get me more wings, I’m fine.”

“That’s alright hun.” He walked away leaving her stunned once again at how nice they all were to her even though they had only met her. “See?” Amanda came over to her and sat down. “That was rather nice of Matt, he’s even willing to get you your own batch of the wings.” Alyssia nodded. “But here, try this.” Amanda handed Alyssia another glass, this time it was much smaller than the beer glass. “This is something called whiskey, bourbon to be exact.” Alyssia took hold of it and sniffed it and immediately backed away from it. “Yeah, it has a much higher alcohol concentration than beer has. Go ahead, try it.”

Alyssia sniffed it again and took a small sip of it. “Whoa.” She swallowed hard.

“Yeah, that’s some really powerful stuff so I’d watch it.”

Alyssia took another sip of the whiskey, this time it didn’t seem so harsh. “I think I like this. What’s it called again?”

“Whiskey, bourbon to be exact. What do you think?”

Alyssia thought for a moment. “I think I like the beer better; this is too harsh.”

“Yeah well,” Emily spoke up, “bourbon tends to be an acquired taste. Amanda?” She glanced at her. “Get her some Scotch, I think I saw one that she may like better.”

“Right!”

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

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Just asking.”

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

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

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

“Alright,” Amanda sat back down next to her, “try this. This is something called Scotch.” Alyssia took hold of the tiny glass and took a sip of it despite having a higher alcohol content than the beer, it didn’t at all taste harsh like the bourbon did. It was incredibly smooth yet it had a hint of something that she didn’t know but she enjoyed it. “I think I like this. It’s quite good. Can you get me some more?”

“Hold up, girl.” Emily held her hands up. “This is your first experience with alcohol, you don’t want to overdo it; you only want to loosen yourself up, not get drunk.”

“Alright.” She took hold of the now full beer glass that Amanda was holding. “I’ll continue with this.”

“Exactly. Best to cool it.”

Alyssia meanwhile watched on as the party continued and watched the people interact with each other. She must have gotten lost in her thoughts for she suddenly heard her voice. “Alyssia?” She shook her head and looked up and it was Matt standing over her with a contained in his hands. “Here you go.”

“What is it?”

“Open it and find out.”

Alyssia opened the container and found a batch of jalapeño ranch wings. “Oh no,” she tried to hand the container back to Matt, “I wouldn’t want to…” She watched as Matt put his hands up. “There’s more than enough for the both of us, take what you want. I told you I’d get them for you.”

“Thank you.” She smiled as she took one of the wings and began to eat them at which she smiled.

“You really do like them, don’t you?” he asked as she ate another one. “Oh yeah,” he watched as she ate another one, “you definitely do.” She nodded. And then something happened that she didn’t expect to happen, he sat down next to her and took one of the wings, and ate it. “Are you having a good time with all of us here?”

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

“That’s good to hear.” He continued to eat the chicken wing in his hand. “You know, I’ve never seen you before. Are you new here?”

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

“Is Amanda your dormmate?”

“Yeah, I just moved in this morning.” She looked up at Amanda who was standing across the room with Emily. “She’s been a great help to me. I’ve not even known her for more than a day and already she’s helped me more than I ever thought possible.” She looked down at herself and tugged at her skirt. “Amanda even helped me get dressed for this… party.”

“I had a feeling that she did.”

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

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

“Thank you.” She smiled. “I’m still a little bit nervous about dressing like this.” She once again tugged at her skirt. “Amanda said that I’d get more comfortable in time.”

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s true.” Alyssia watched as he hung his head low. “I know nothing about your people or your culture.” Alyssia closed her eyes, and she began to understand that she wasn’t the only one in the awkward situation. “I didn’t want to insult you or say something stupid. And then there’s how you’re, and please don’t take this the wrong way but you’re gorgeous, dare I say attractive looking.”

“Thank you.” She blushed. “I’ve never had anyone say that about me.”

“Now it’s my turn to find that hard to believe.”

“It’s true!” She exclaimed. “My people don’t put the same emphasis on outward beauty that humans generally do.” She watched as he looked away. “Oh no, don’t.” She touched his hand at which he looked back at her. “See?” he asked. “I hardly know anything about your people or I’d have not said that.”

“Oh no!” She exclaimed. “I appreciate the compliment, especially coming from you.”

“Why is that?”

“I,” she began to nervously stutter, “I don’t know, I… I guess that I can sense that you genuinely mean it.”

“I do!” he exclaimed. “You don’t seem like the other kind of girls that I’ve met that I felt like I didn’t have a chance with. I don’t want to sound insulting, but you don’t seem to have an ego about you.”

“Ego?” She asked. “What’s that word mean? I’m sorry, I don’t know the meaning of that word.”

“Ego.” He began to think of a way to define the word for he didn’t even know the definition of the word, he only knew how to use the word in a sentence. “It usually means to have a rather over-inflated self-esteem or self-importance about oneself.”

“Oh.” She looked down at her drink. “I see. Maybe that comes from how I grew up on my world.”

“How did you grow up on your home world? That is if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Um,” she began to think, “Zaltaen society is based around a ridged caste-like system, we call it a House-based system. Powerful families back during the formation of the Zaltaen Monarchy came together to form what is now known as the powerful political Houses that hold the political power of my world. I didn’t come from one of these powerful families, my father is but a simple merchant on the streets of Zalta’s capital city.”

He was about to say something when she continued.

“If one doesn’t come from one of those powerful political Houses like I didn’t, there’s very little chance for upward economic mobility. My family, upon hearing about how human society isn’t so rigidly structured, saved up and sacrificed to be able to give me a shot at a better life and so here I am.” She looked about the room and then back at Matt. “Here I am on Mars among you humans.”

He was again about to say something when she continued.

“Though I know that my family has sacrificed much to send me here so that I can have a chance at a better life, I miss my mom, my sister,” she hid her face in her hands, “and my father.” He watched her as she began to cry and he couldn’t help but feel sorry for her as his heart broke for her. “I miss them so much.”

He wasn’t sure at all if he should do what he was about to do but he simply threw caution to the wind. “Oh, honey.” He took her into his arms and held her as she cried. “I miss them.” She cried as all he could do was hold her in his arms.

As she stopped crying, he let go of her but continued to gently caress her back.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to burden you with this.”

“That’s quite alright honey.” She gasped as she heard him refer to her using what she knew was a term of endearment among humans and was shocked even more so as he took hold of her hands. “You miss them, nobody would blame you if did. I certainly don’t.” She tried to wipe her eyes with her hands. “Here.” He reached for a nearby box of tissues. “Use this.” He handed a tissue to her.

She graciously took hold of the tissue and wiped her eyes.

“Thank you.” She continued to dab her eyes with the tissue. “But why?”

“Why… what?” he asked, confused as to what she meant.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” she asked. “I’m not saying that I’m not grateful because I am. I am grateful! It’s just that…” She felt him squeeze her hands. “You’re confused as to why I’m being so nice to someone who I just met. Right?” She nodded. “I don’t know.” He shrugged. “You just seem like you needed someone to talk to, someone who you could…” She spoke up. “Yeah, I did. I did need someone to talk to. And what makes it all that much worse is that I hardly know anyone other than Amanda and even with her, I hardly know her; I just met her today.”

His heart broke for her once again. Here she was, an alien, an actual honest-to-God extraterrestrial alien from another world trying so hard to fit in yet was obviously having a lot of difficulties doing so.

“You know me.” He smiled to try and reassure her. “And of course, you know Amanda and you’ve met Emily. You at least have that going for you. Right?”

“Yeah,” she looked down at his hands that were holding hers, “I suppose that I do.” She then began to wonder why he was holding her hand like he was yet she didn’t want to ask him out of fear of embarrassing him. In truth, she liked it.

“Hey there.” Amanda stood over Alyssia with Emily by her side. “I’m going to take Amanda back to her dorm, she has a little bit too much to drink.” Alyssia was about to stand up. “Oh no!” Emily put her hands up. “That’s alright. You can stay here with Matt.”

“Are you sure?” Alyssia asked.

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

“And I’ll get Alyssia back as well.”

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

The two of them watched Emily and Amanda stumble away.

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

“Yes.”

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

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

“Well, here’s your place.”

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

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

He was about to turn away from her when he heard his name. “Matt?” He turned back to her and she hugged him. “Thank you, thank you so much for making me feel welcome. It’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”

“You’re welcome,” he returned her hug and caressed her back, “you’re quite welcome, Alyssia.”

She let go of him and smiled. “I hope that we can,” she blushed as she looked down at the floor, “talk again sometime.”

“I’m sure that we’ll find the time to do just that.”

With that, Matt turned around but at the very last second, he turned back to face her and waved. “Good night.”

Alyssia shivered as she thought about Matt. He was so kind to her even though he hardly knew her and he seemed genuinely interested in getting to know her.

“Good night, Matt.” With that, she walked into the dorm to find Amanda passed out on the couch with a stream of drool going down her cheek and the sound of her snoring at which she chuckled. “Good night, Amanda.”

The next morning Alyssia walked out of her bedroom to find Amanda still laying on the couch exactly where she was the night before. She walked over to the couch and leaned over Amanda and nudged her yet she only raised her arm in the air and waved and muttered something about wanting her mommy to leave her alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Late.” Alyssia simply said at which Amanda motioned for more. “I didn’t come back to the dorm until around 0200 hours12 AM..” Amanda’s eyes went wide open after which she groaned about not doing that quite yet. As she recovered, she looked back at Alyssia. “For a girl who didn’t want to go to the party last night, you sure had a good time.” Alyssia shrugged. “Think about it. You met some great people that welcomed you and you even met a guy that might be interested in you.”

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

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

“Ugh.” She groaned. “I had way too much to drink last night.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what about you?” Alyssia tried to protest. “You’re still sick. Don’t you need me? I could…” Amanda pointed at the door. “I’ll be fine. Matt, however, isn’t going to wait all day. Now go!” Amanda shouted. “Go with Matt before I shove you out that door and you wouldn’t want that, now would you?” Alyssia shook her head. “That’s right, now go and stop making the guy wait.”

“Alright.” Alyssia turned for the door and at the last moment, she looked back at Amanda. “GO!” She felt Amanda’s hand on her shoulder after which she felt a gentle push.

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

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

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

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

“What are you thinking about?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah!” he exclaimed. “I am! That’s why I’m trying so hard to not screw this up with you, wherever this… whatever this is, goes.” He watched her smile at which this time she reached for his hand which surprised him, he didn’t think that she was ready for that. “I’m interested in you as well. You’re one of the few people who’s been able to look past what I am,” she pointed at herself with her other hand, “as I said before, an honest-to-God extraterrestrial alien from another world. But I have to ask, why?”

He was about to say something when she continued.

“You have to know that I know nothing about how all of this works, dating and human relationships that is. There’s no such thing as dating on Zalta.” She was about to continue when he spoke up. “You’re asking me why I would take a chance on you with all of that being said, what with how you don’t know how any of this stuff works.” She nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

“Like, what’s your world like? I know you mentioned that you have family back on Zalta. What are they like? Do you have a mom and dad? Siblings?” She thought back to her world, her mom, dad, and sister, and began to tear up at the thought of how much she missed them. “Oh honey, I’m sorry.” She looked at him and it seemed like he was genuinely sorry. “I didn’t mean to dredge up those memories.”

“Oh no.” She wiped her eyes with the napkin. “It’s not that at all. It’s just that, as I told you last night, I miss them. I miss them a lot. I haven’t talked to them since I arrived here on Mars six months ago.”

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

“I called them when I first arrived here to tell them that I arrived safe but,” she looked down at the table, “I haven’t talked to them since. Communication between here on Mars and Zalta is still quite expensive due to the distance. Rumor has it that in the next couple of months, the Zalta star system will have a link to the Human Galactic Internet but I’m sure that the price to get connected on Zalta is going to be hideous and my family wouldn’t be able to afford it. All I have are the messages that we often exchange but those take at least twenty-four hours to be delivered and the length of them is limited due to cost. My family isn’t well-off by any means.”

“That must be hard to deal with.”

“It is. It’s very hard. I have to be in the right frame of mind to be able to read them. I have one in my Inbox right now and I’m waiting because I know that I’ll tear up right on the spot.”

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

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

“Uh-huh.” She hummed. “And this is my mom and this is my dad. As I told you last night,” he continued to look at the picture, “my family sacrificed a lot to allow me to come here and make a better life for myself. My dad is but a simple merchant on the streets of Zalta while my mom is a maid in a mansion owned by a powerful and wealthy family yet despite that, they don’t pay her what she’s worth. We’re a relatively poor family.”

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

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

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

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

“Did you two just meet?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m still trying to get used to being comfortable among humans. Add in how I’m still trying to get comfortable dressing like a typical human woman would and things are even more complicated for me.”

“Oh, I know.” He touched her hand. “I saw how nervous you were last night. Let me guess, Amanda dressed you last night.”

“Did it show?” she asked as she picked up her cup and took a sip of her coffee and smiled as she enjoyed the warmth of the liquid.

He began to chuckle. “Yeah, it did. You had Amanda’s fashion sense written all over you with how you were dressed last night.”

She closed her eyes. “Emily said the same thing.” She looked back up at him. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Oh no, honey.” He touched her hand. “It’s just commentary on how you looked last night. I saw how nervous you were last night, you often unconsciously tugged at your skirt. You seem more comfortable now than you were last night.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked up at her and nodded.

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

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

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

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

As they finished eating she thought about how she wanted to spend more time with him. He put his CAC down and paid for the meal just like he had said that he would.

“Hey.” He took a hold of her hand as they walked away from the table. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s just that.” She sighed. “Part of me doesn’t want this time with you to end quite yet.” Others began to watch the two of them, some of them Zaltaens much like she was yet they didn’t seem to pay them any mind as to how they were together much to her surprise. She half-expected them to tell her to stop hanging out with Matt yet nothing of the sort came up. “Amanda wants to take me shopping.”

“Well then, where would you want to go?” He looked back at her. “Anywhere you want to go, we’ll go. And if Amanda throws a fit, we’ll just say that we kind of got lost.”

“That’s the thing!” She exclaimed. “I hardly know anything. I’ve not really explored much beyond the university. I’ve kind of been rather fearful.”

“Well.” He shrugged. “You have me with you so there’s nothing to fear. Come on Alyssia, I’ll be your tour guide to the rest of the colony.”

Later that afternoon, Alyssia walked into her dorm to find Amanda fuming on the couch. “And just where have you been?” She looked at her chronometer. “It’s almost 1400 hours22 PM. and we were going to go clothes shopping for you.”

“Do we really have to?” Alyssia whined.

“How else are you going to get used to dressing like a human if you don’t do so. And besides, not everything is going to be like what you wore last night. Not everything I’m going to dress you in is going to involve a skirt.” Alyssia breathed a sigh of relief. “For instance, I’m wearing a pair of leggings.”

Alyssia looked her over and shuddered as she turned around and showed off how her leggings seemed to mold themselves to every curve of her body including her shapely thighs and her backside. Just about everything was on display for her to see.

“How can you wear those?” Alyssia pointed down at her. “Do they have to be so skintight?”

“These?” Amanda looked down at herself. “These are called yoga pants and yes, they’re usually that formfitting.” She looked back up at Alyssia and saw the absolute horror that was on her face. “Alright, I get it. You don’t want anything that tight on you.”

Alyssia shook her head. “No, not at all.” She shuddered. “I have no idea how you wear them. There’s no way I’d ever wear something that revealing.”

“OK.” Amanda came up to her and put her hands on her shoulders. “I’ll keep that in mind. Not all clothing is like this.” She looked down at herself.

“Then why do you wear it if you don’t have to?” Alyssia asked as they walked out of their dorm. “Why don’t you wear clothing that’s more sensible. Less… revealing.” Alyssia looked back at Amanda’s backside and her jaw dropped.

Amanda shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess I like it.” Alyssia meanwhile watched as a guy walked by and it was obvious that they were looking at Amanda and how her so-called yoga pants clung to every curve of her body. “You know, that guy was looking at you and I don’t think I have to tell you what he was looking at.”

“So?” Amanda laughed. “See if I care?” She laughed once again, much to Alyssia’s surprise. “Let them look, I don’t care.” Alyssia watched as a woman walked by and she, like the guy, checked her out as well. “See?” Amanda thumbed over her shoulder. “It’s not just the men who check me out while wearing these yoga pants, women do as well. And I’ll have you know that the woman who walked past me and checked me out only wishes that she had the body that I had to pull it off. I work out all the time; I run, swim, lift weights, exercise, and eat right to get the body that I have. True, I do drink a little bit too much but everyone has to have some vice. But I digress. Why wouldn’t I show off what I’ve worked so hard to achieve?”

Alyssia looked up and saw a man walking down the other side of the hallway wearing an obviously too-small shirt that was showing off his six-pack abs and his muscular arms.

“The same goes for him.” Amanda thumbed over her shoulder. “If he works out like it shows that he does, he too has the right to show off the results just like I do. To say that I can’t do the same would be hypocritical and sexist. Dressing like this is not always about sex or looking sexy though I have to admit that it is part of it.” Alyssia’s eyes opened wide. “Honestly Alyssia,” she put her hands on her hips, “do you really think that humans are nothing more than sex-crazed lunatics?”

Yes!” Alyssia exclaimed. “You should’ve heard what my mom said about humans. Nothing good, I’ll have you know. She told me to be on the lookout, especially with human men.”

“She is partially right about that.” Amanda pointed at her. “Human males, especially younger men, are to be watched and otherwise to be wary of. A lot of them have one thing on their minds, sex.”

“Are you saying that I shouldn’t trust Matt’s intentions with me?” Alyssia asked as she began to wonder if everything that Matt had done that morning was to try and get her to sleep with him as her mom and warned her of back on Zalta.

“I’m not saying that at all!” Amanda exclaimed as she stopped in her tracks. “Matt is a sweet and wonderful guy, I’ve known him for years. If he has a fault, it’s that he’s shy.” Alyssia’s eyebrow rose. “He tends to keep to himself, that’s all.”

“Oh.”

“Do you like him or something?” Amand asked as they continued walking but the silence from Alyssia told her to look back at her and all it took was one look to know all she needed to know. “Yes, you do like him.” Alyssia looked to the floor. “Honey.” She walked up to her and put her hand on Alyssia’s shoulder. “I think it’s great that you like him. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about. As I told you before, he’s a great guy.” Alyssia looked up. “He’d never hurt you. He’d never do anything bad to you. I know that.”

“But I know next to nothing about how dating works among humans.” She shook her head.

“Listen,” Amanda turned about and put her hands on her shoulders, “if he’s as interested in you as you think he is, he’s not going to care. He knew ahead of time that starting a relationship with you was going to have some challenges.”

“He did say something about how he’s going to be patient with me.”

“Well then,” Amanda began walking down the hallway, “you have nothing to worry about. But enough about that kind of stuff, I want to know what your mom said about humans.” Alyssia began to think about how Amanda would react, she didn’t want to insult her newfound friend. “Well, come on, spill it.”

Alyssia began to think about what her mom had told her about humans and what things she had to keep a lookout for. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of negative things that she had to say about humans but after spending as much time with humans as she had, she had become to no longer think that way about them. Sure, there was the oversexualized part but as long as she didn’t adopt too many of their bad habits, she imagined that she would be OK.

“There were a lot of things that my mom said about humans but the one thing that really stuck out was how she told me that humans were oversexualized and that humans often thought about sex far more than Zaltaens do.”

“So your people don’t have a sex drive?” Amanda asked. “How does your species… you know.”

“Have children?” Alyssia asked.

“Uh, that’s one aspect but how does your species find a mate? Is there no sexual attraction between the genders?”

Alyssia thought; it was obvious that Amanda knew nothing about her people. But she was finding it rather difficult to explain things.

She began. “OK, mating as you call it, is usually arranged much like how arranged marriages worked in humanity’s distant past.” Amanda stopped in her tracks. “You mean to say that your families bring people together and you’re just expected to… mate? Have children? You don’t have a choice in the matter?”

“Firstly, when it comes to mating and having children, at first, no.” Alyssia once again thought about how to explain things to Amanda in a way she’d understand. “We’re brought together by the mothers of our families and in time, we’re expected to grow close to and then eventually have children. Zaltaens don’t put nearly as much emphasis on sexual attraction as humans do. Even our clothing, our fashion sense, isn’t nearly as focused on outward beauty and bringing attention to parts of our,” she looked down at her chest and how even the sweatshirt that she was wearing seemed to bring attention to her sizable chest, “anatomy.

As for having any input on who we’re going to be with? No.” She shook her head. “That’s something that most Zaltaens don’t have, it’s been that way for centuries. It’s even worse for those of the powerful House of Zalta. Marriage, as you call them, is nothing more than alliances between the Houses to strengthen political power.”

Yikes!” Amanda whispered. “That’s… frightening. I could never imagine not being able to choose who I want to be with for the rest of my life.”

“It’s the way things are on Zalta.”

“But what about now?” Amanda paused to let the question set in. “What do you think about that now that you’ve been here among humans? Now that you’ve been out with Matt, that is.”

“You know, I’ve never given that much thought until now. I just figured that once I got my education here, I’d go back to Zalta and be married off by my mom.” Amanda sighed. “What?”

“Listen.” Amanda turned to Alyssia and put her hands on her shoulders. “You have one of the greatest opportunities that someone of your people has ever had, a chance to choose your own destiny and to choose who you want in your life, not someone else. Think about it, if Matt is truly as interested in you as you think he is, then why in God’s name would you want to give that up?” Alyssia began to think as Amanda’s words sunk in. “After having a taste of that kind of freedom, why would you want to go back to letting your mom choose who the hell you’re going to spend the rest of your life with? The choice is yours.”

“But my mom would be angry with me if I don’t do as she told me to do.”

“Fuck your mom and whatever the hell she thinks.” She chuckled as Alyssia gasped. “Well, not literally but… you know what I mean.” Amanda chuckled again. “Alyssia. This is your life we’re talking about here. Your freedom to choose. You could have a chance to be with someone not because someone tells you to be with them but because you want that person in your life. Are you going to give that up?” Alyssia shook her head. “That’s right. This is your life now and nobody can take it away from you.” She paused for a moment. “Listen. Do you like Matt?”

Alyssia thought for a moment, a long moment. “Yeah.” She closed her eyes. “At least,” she rubbed her chin, “I think I do. He was so kind to me this morning for no other reason than to be kind to me. We talked, we ate, and otherwise, we had a great time. I told him this morning that he was one of few people that were willing to look past what I am much like you have.”

“Then do something about it!” She shook Alyssia which startled her. “Get to know him, spend time with him, date him. You might find that in time you’ll even love him.” Alyssia thought about what Amanda had said, how she might find in time that she might love Matt. “And even if in time you don’t and your relationship fails, you’ll have gained valuable knowledge about what you want, and that’s even more important.

“Above all, the best advice that I can give you is to embrace life and what you want from life. This is your life now, Alyssia. You’re at the helm of your life now.”

Alyssia once again found herself conflicted about what she should think. On one hand, she had her people’s customs but on the other hand, Amanda had a very logical thought; the idea that she was her own person now with the freedom to choose. The more she thought about it the more she wanted that freedom.

“I want that,” Alyssia whispered, “I want that kind of freedom. I don’t want my mother to marry me off to someone that I don’t even know.”

“That’s good!” Amanda hugged Alyssia and held her tightly. “You’re now thinking about what you want.”

They once again began walking along, to where Alyssia didn’t know but it seemed like Amanda knew where she was going so she didn’t question her.

“I do have to ask though,” Amanda looked over her shoulder, “do you think I should ask him out on a date?”

“That’s entirely up to you,” Amanda turned back to look in front of her, “you have to decide if you’re comfortable doing that yet. Asking him out on a date will be a big step for you but it’s also a step in the right direction of building the kind of life that I’m sure you want now that you’ve tasted the kind of freedom that you have now.”

“But Matt told me that he wants to be friends, at least for the time being.”

“He probably said that so as to help alleviate your discomfort and make you less nervous.” Amanda kept walking. “I’m sure that if given the chance, he’d love to date you. But again,” she looked over her shoulder, “you have to decide if and when you want to actually go out on a date with him.” She looked forward again. “Only you can make that decision.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, she told me as much.”

“So, if there’s any advice that I can give you, it’s that you need to be real patient with her. There are going to be a lot of things,” he pointed at Matt, “and I do mean a lot of things that she’s not going to be comfortable doing with you. She may not even want to be touched by someone of the opposite gender. They’re that conservative when it comes to the interaction between the genders. So again, be careful; go slow. That’s really the best advice that I can give you but honestly dude, you’re in uncharted space here.”

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

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

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

“Thanks.” He stood up from his seat.

“Good luck there.”

Continue to Chapter 11…

Last updated on Monday, January 30th, 2023 at 11:30 PM.

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