Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 11

On Mars in the on-campus Starbucks coffee shop, Matt walked in to get his usual coffee fix for the morning but as he walked up to the counter, instead of seeing his longtime friend, Amanda, standing behind the counter, he instead saw Alyssia. He had no idea that she had taken up a job at the campus coffee shop though it did make sense, one had to have some sort of way to make money while on campus.

“What are you doing back there Alyssia?” he asked as he leaned against the counter.

“I needed a job and so Amanda,” she looked over at Amanda who was checking on some other things, “got me a job here. I’m still learning so please be patient with me.”

“That’s alright, honey.” She blushed as he once again used that term of endearment towards her. Meanwhile, he was overcome with embarrassment; he didn’t mean to call her that while in public. However, that embarrassment didn’t last long for she reached for his hand and as he looked up at her, she was smiling, which told him that it was all right. “I’m sure everything will go alright.” He looked about the room and the other customers. “Have the customers been treating you well enough?”

“Yeah,” she shrugged, “some have, not all. Most have treated me well enough.” He watched her sigh. “It is what it is, Amanda told me that it’s the nature of customer service.”

“I get it, I worked customer service in high school so I know what you mean. You can be the nicest person in the world but someone will always have something to complain about.” Just then the person in back of him tapped him on his shoulder. “Would you order your coffee already? I have class to be at in fifteen minutes.” He watched as the person tapped his chronometer on his wrist. “People have places to be. You can flirt later.”

“Case in point.” Matt thumbed over his shoulder. “But anyways, I’ll have my usual hun; a Venti Pike Place, please.” He watched her tap the screen a few times and looked up. “That’ll be four credits.” Matt tapped his CAC against the top of the screen where the card reader was and it took his payment. “There you go.” He was about to walk down to the other side of the counter when she called him. “Matt?” He looked up at her. “Can you drop by my place later this evening?”

“Text me when you get off work and I’ll drop by.”

Meanwhile, the same person who had been impatient with Matt shook his head.

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 (SPFU) was designed to be as comfortable as possible, Richard couldn’t see himself wearing it all the time if he didn’t have to while aboard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she said as she held her hands out for the bags that the delivery person was carrying. “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.”

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

She was also wearing a very short light-purple pleated miniskirt that in his mind was barely tasteful for he often thought that women’s fashion was pushing things way too far. However, despite how he thought about those kinds of things, that was what was in fashion and it seemed that the world of fashion had every intention of pushing things as far as they could get away with and then one centimeter further.

To top her outfit off she was also wearing a pair of black dress shoes that had a modestly high five-centimeter1Two inches. heel along with her blue hair tied up in a ponytail at the back of her head with a purple-colored hair tie that showed off her pointed ears. He then realized that she was wearing makeup which was something that he had never seen her wear before. It was little more than some purple-colored blush, some purple lipstick, and a little bit of blue eyeshadow that served to bring attention to her purple-colored eyes that he often found were incredibly beautiful.

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

“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 with her hands on her hips, which did nothing to help Richard’s imagination for it brought attention to her shapely hips and backside. “We just don’t express it as openly as humans generally do.”

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

“Richard.” She sighed. She knew that he meant well but it almost sounded like an insult 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 than she had intended. “Don’t you dare call me naïve again!” she once again said rather hotly. “Remember, I’m a telepath so if I sensed that a human male, or a female for that matter, was trying to take advantage of me, I’d walk away. And if they pressed the issue, remember that Zaltaens are naturally stronger than even genetically modified humans.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s no problem,” he pointed down, “you didn’t know. That’s why I’m wearing slippers. I only wear my slippers in my stateroom to try and keep the 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 bent over and began to take her shoes off, “but it isn’t a completely closed environment by any means. People and cargo come and go all day every day from places all over Zaltaen and Human space. People are bound to pick up dirt and track it everywhere on the station.” She looked back up from her shoes. “And let’s not forget that much of the station is still technically under construction.”

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

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

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

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

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

She remembered back when she first started walking around humans while dressed like she was and how she had reacted, she had to laugh at how disgusted she had felt back then. However, that was then and this was now. Now she found such thoughts to be rather exhilarating. She thought that perhaps that was why she had chosen to wear such a provocative-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 to herself. But then she thought about if she could make it work. Would a human find her to be physically attractive much like Richard obviously did? She supposed that only time and an actual attempt would tell.

“They plan on turning this place into 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.

“Generally, we can join the Royal Zaltaen Navy and if you came from one of the noble Houses like I did, one starts off as an officer. As for being a member of one of the more noble Houses, one can serve their House in any number of different ways, like 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 otherwise 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.

“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 couldn’t hope to pay off with interest rates that even the worst mobsters would call obscene. I visited one of those colonies, it was there 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,” he sighed as he glanced up at the ceiling. “I wouldn’t be so quick to disagree with that. Some humans can control their sexual desires better than others. Some even go so far as to live chaste or celibate lives. I know one or two friends who’ve never married, perhaps dated one or two ladies, never had sexual relations with them yet still had a healthy friendship with them. They’re making that choice for themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, as a married man, I shouldn’t…” She put her index finger to his lips. “Stop. 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.”

He frowned as she said that. He missed his wife dearly; he missed having her around and Triara could easily sense that. For him, it wasn’t just the physical intimacy they shared. And not just the sex. Just having her close by, even doing mundane things like cleaning the kitchen or making supper together was special to them. He and Rachel understood each other in ways he hoped were common among married couples.

“We, yes, I’m saying we, could’ve acted on those impulses, but we didn’t. And that’s what counts. I could never do that to you, I could never betray Rachel’s trust in me; I’d hate myself if I did. Though I have to admit that she often said that she’d give us something she called a ‘hall pass.’”

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

Triara couldn’t help but smile inside as she felt those thoughts from him. She completely understood why he felt that way and greatly respected him for it. He loved 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. And 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… hell, like I said before I can barely dress myself some days but, in my opinion, a little modesty would be better in some regard.” He looked at how much of her thighs and legs were exposed by her very short miniskirt with nothing more than the thin layer of the nylon of her white tights that she was wearing (if you were to ask Richard) which only served to make her legs look even sexier and he knew that Rachel wore them often for that same reason; she knew that he liked it when she wore them. “I’m not talking like Victorian England styles,” she chuckled as she remembered seeing that kind of stuff in the history books while she was on Terra, “I’m talking about leaving a little to the imagination if you know what I mean.” She nodded in understanding for she knew what he was talking about. “For instance, if you look at that skirt that you’re wearing,” he looked at how much of her thighs were on display because of her short miniskirt and gulped as he once again thought about taking the very attractive alien woman to bed, “it doesn’t cover much at all; especially when you’re sitting down like you are.”

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

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

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

“Yes!” She exclaimed. “As in, out cold.” She waved her hand in the air.

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

“Nope,” she shook her head, “I was walking down the hallway wearing an outfit similar to this when I saw three other Zaltaens walking down the hallway from the other direction. Two of them gasped and the other one straight-up fainted. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life!” She began to laugh. “I actually started laughing in the hallway while the other two Zaltaens wondered why I was laughing like I was at the obvious discomfort that 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 carry on.” He looked at her hands that were resting in her lap, took hold of them while being careful not to touch her thighs (which wasn’t easy) and gave her hands a slight squeeze. “I’m where I am today because of my family and my wife Rachel.”

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

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

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

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

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

“But why?” she asked. “What have I done to deserve this? I’m not human, I’m what some among you would call a xenos or more commonly an alien. I’m the outsider looking in on humanity, which is an appropriate thought when you consider that Zaltaens spent almost four Terran centuries doing just that. There 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 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 carried on 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. “Please never forget that Rachel and I are here for you, now and for always.” She raised her glass while he did the same and then took a drink of 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 beautiful face.

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

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

“I know,” she hugged him tightly, almost to the point of it being painful for him. “I love you, Richard,” she kissed his forehead, “and I suppose that there will always be a part of me that will always love you.” If he was shocked by those words, he certainly didn’t show it. “You were the first human that accepted me and stood up for me while others did everything that they could to make me feel like an outsider.” She backed away from him. “Thank you, thank you so very much. You 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 held her once again, “neither can I.” As the hug ended, he looked at her and noticed how her makeup had become messed up by her crying. “Your makeup is a bit messed up, I’ll let you go get cleaned up in my private bathroom.”

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

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

After a few minutes, she came out of the bathroom to find him sitting on the couch with his drink in his hand and the bottle on the 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.”

“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 Zaltaen Space Navy and at the whim of my government so I must watch what I say and do.”

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

“I’ve not been back to Zalta ever since I started pressuring within the ranks for open contact with humans which based upon my quick math, that’s about twenty 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 as she did so, 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.

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 as he said that, “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 Thruster. 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 as long as they did?”

“Yeah,” Michael sat up straight on his stool. “But I still don’t like it. If they wanted us to like them or trust them more, why hide literally in plain sight as they did? Then they expected us to forgive and forget? Nah, I don’t buy it. And I’m not the only one out there that feels this way. There are plenty of average people who feel… violated. Like, someone was peeping through our window.”

“There’s plenty of them that don’t think they should’ve done that, or for as long as they did,” Richard countered.

“Like whom?”

“Their queen,” he replied dryly and watched in amusement as his friend nearly choked on his whisky.

“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. “Their queen 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.”

“And many of our leaders were just as skeptical as I,” Michael said.

“I remember that.” 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… friend? And I don’t think I need to tell you what I mean by that one.”

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. Stunning really.” 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 got a better look at how the Zaltaen was dressed in the dim light of the lounge. Like the night before, she was wearing a fitted blouse that if one were to have asked Michael and it did wonders for her ample-sized chest and because the top two buttons were unbuttoned it showed off quite a bit of her cleavage. He then scanned down her figure and saw that she was wearing a very short and tight miniskirt that if you had to ask him clung to all the right places. To complete her outfit, she was wearing a pair of black dress shoes that were a whole lot taller than the ones that she wore the night before in Richard’s stateroom along with what looked like pair of white tights much like the ones that she had worn the night before.

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? 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.

“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 the hell 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, finding 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 left, 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 need something, just ask.” Michael looked down at her arms that were wrapped around him, he couldn’t help but feel the kind of solace that he had craved in his life ever since he had lost Mary but never was 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,” she put her hand on his shoulder and looked up at her and he began to feel his heart race.

Why is my heart racing like this? he asked himself. Sure, she was gorgeous beyond words but that didn’t explain why his heart was racing. It wasn’t like he was some hormone-driven teenager that the mere touch of a girl sent his hormones into overdrive, he was a grown man, well past the hormone-driven stage of his life. Yet, there was something about her that made his heart race.

He couldn’t remember the last time his heart raced like that except for the time so long ago that he had gone out on his first date with his Mary so long ago back when they were both still in high school. And it wasn’t just how Triara was dressed that made his heart race, there was much more to it than that. But was he ready for Triara, let alone another woman, to come into his heart like that?

He shook his head slightly at the thought of that happening for he was still grieving the loss of his wife. Perhaps with time, he would be ready for Triara, but he wasn’t ready yet. And he knew that she was interested in him from the way that she was acting towards him, it was plain to see that; it was the same way that his Mary acted towards him so long ago back when they were mere high school sweethearts.

“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 more than I knew.”

“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.

“You know,” Richard turned to him, “you know that 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.”

“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. All I have is a gravestone 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. The counselor even 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. 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 but more so for my daughter than me. 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?”

“He reminds me a lot of you several years ago.”

“How so?” Richard wondered.

“It’s just that you both have similar mannerisms and um,” she blushed once again which once again did interesting things to the color of her cheeks. He had to wonder why she was blushing like that, then it dawned on him. “Oh, no,” Richard gasped, “you’re interested in him. Aren’t you?”

“Would it be wrong of me to say that I am?” She once again blushed. “I don’t see a problem with me being interested in him.”

“Well for one, he’s still mourning his late wife and he’s got a daughter in the situation. If you’re interested in him, you’ll have to play it carefully. You can’t push for what you want from him too hard and too fast, or you’ll only push him away and I’m sure you don’t want to do that. Right?” She shook her head. “He’s lost the woman he loved and not only that, but he’s got a daughter that needs him in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine so you have to play the situation lightly.”

“I’d have to agree with Richard here,” Kelea came up to them as she noticed that he was sitting with another person, not Michael. “And 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.

As Kelea looked down at the bar, she noticed that their glasses were empty. “Do you want more?” They both nodded at which Kelea refilled their glasses with more Scotch. “Based upon what little I overheard of your conversation, I’d have to say that Richard’s right. Going too fast with this Michael is going to result in the opposite effect you are looking for, you’ll only push him away. You’ve got to let him deal with his grief in his own time. You have to wait until he’s ready to let someone else into his life.”

“But how will I know that he’s ready for someone else in his life? How do I reach out to him to let him know that I want to help him? Perhaps even be with him?” The more that Triara asked things like that, the more Richard began to realize that maybe she had seen a spark of something in him. What that was, he didn’t know; all he knew was that he wanted his friend to find some happiness in her life, and if his friend Michael could bring her the kind of happiness that she wanted, far be it from him to stop her.

“Oh, honey,” Kelea patted Triara’s hand that was resting on the bar top, “you’ll know it. He already finds you quite attractive,” Triara looked up from the bar top, “so I can only imagine that when he is indeed ready, he’s going to approach you.”

“But when will that be?” Triara wondered. “When will he be ready?”

“I’ve been inside his head all evening.” Richard shot her an angry glance. “Hey,” she raised her hands up, “I was only gently poking around in there and I was careful while in there to not disturb him. Suffice it to say,” she turned back to Triara, “even after all that I learned while inside of his mind, even I don’t know that. It could be days, weeks, or even months.” Triara frowned, she wanted to help him and his daughter. “You have to let things play out inside his mind; you can’t hurry it along. As Michael already told us, his counselor told him that it’s a process.” She then turned back to Richard. “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 your people 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 when Triara had touched his mind so many times 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.”

“Yes,” Richard took hold of Triara’s hand and gave it a slight squeeze, “I know it sucks but again, you can’t push things with Michael no matter how much you want to help him and his daughter.” Kelea nodded in agreement. “I think it’s commendable that you want to help. It lends credence to the kind of person that you are,” again she couldn’t help but smile, “you want to help people much as you’ve helped me,” he pointed to himself with his thumb, “so many times over these last few years I’ve known you.” She nodded in agreement. “This is one such situation that you just can’t fix; at least, not right away.”

“I know,” she thought about Jessie, Michael’s daughter, and how much pain she was in from having lost her mom, “I just want to take her into my arms and hold her and let her know…” She looked back down at the bar.

“And I’m sure that you will hold her like that someday,” Richard squeezed her hand again, “just not now. If and when Michael decides to let you into his life, I’m sure that you’ll have that opportunity. But for now, you have to let things play out.”

“As much as you don’t want to admit it Triara, you know it to be true.” She nodded. She may not have liked it but as Kelea had said, she knew it to be true. “I know,” she looked down at her glass of Scotch on the bar top and took a sip of it. Richard put an arm around her. “Now enough with the sad thoughts, we’re here,” he extended his other hand in the air, “we’re in a happy place. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry.”

“For tomorrow we die?” Kelea laughed.

“Well hopefully not that last part,” he laughed. “Come on Triara,” she looked at him and tried to smile but it just didn’t form on her face, “we’re here. Let’s enjoy the rest of the evening until we both have to be on duty tomorrow morning.”

Later that night Richard got up from his barstool and stumbled at first, he hadn’t realized just how much he had drunk. All he knew was that Kelea had kept refilling his glass, so he had no idea how many shots of Johnnie Walker he had had. That was when Triara had noticed him stumble a bit.

“Are you going to be alright?”

“Yeah,” she shook his head, “I just didn’t know how much I drank. Damn,” he put his hand to his forehead and shook his again. He stood up straight and breathed in deeply but then decided to sit back down at the bar. “Kelea.” That was all he had to say for she had a glass with water in it ready for him to drink. “Ah,” he said as he took a sip of the water, “maybe after this and a little bit of time I’ll be able to walk without stumbling.”

“You better be,” Triara put her hands on her hips as she turned to face him, “or I’m not going to let you walk out of this lounge.”

“What are you? My mother?” he asked in a sarcastic tone of voice. “You know I’m an adult.”

“True,” she rolled her eyes, “but the last thing you as an officer need is to be seen stumbling about the station. What will people think?”

“I ain’t going to be the first officer to stumble out of here and I ain’t going to be the last,” he watched another officer stumble out of the lounge, “that’s for damn sure.”

“Again, true,” she rolled her eyes once again as she shook her head, “but he’s,” she pointed at the officer who nearly took a faceplant into the floor, “not you.” She was trying her best not to use rank or anything for she knew the house rules; no talking about rank or you buy the whole house a round of drinks. She may’ve had a lot of credits stashed in her account but that didn’t at all mean that she wanted to buy everyone in the lounge a round of drinks.

“And you worry too much!” He took a rather large gulp of the water from the glass in front of him. He could already start feeling the water start clearing his head, and the nanomachine treatment going to work in breaking down the alcohol in his system. “See?” he said as he turned to Triara, “I’m already starting to get better.” He took another sip of his water until he felt the urge to go to the head. “I’ll be back,” he stood up from the barstool still a bit wobbly but otherwise he was much better than a few minutes ago before he had drunk the water.

“Kelea,” she cocked her head to the side, “you know humans have a much lower alcohol tolerance than us Zaltaens have. You can’t be giving him so much. I can handle it, you can handle it, but he,” she thumbed towards the head, “he can’t.”

“He didn’t say no, did he?” Kelea asked. “If he didn’t want anymore, he’d tell me; he’s told me as such.” Triara shook her head. “That’s beside the point Kelea, sometimes people don’t know how much they drank.”

Richard walked out of the head and sat back down at the bar and continued to drink the glass of water that was before him. Kelea reached for the water pitcher and refilled his glass. “Thank you,” he nodded as he continued to drink the water and while doing so, he felt better and better as the minutes went by. Sure, he was still quite a bit buzzed but no longer was he nearly falling over.

“Well, girls.” He stood up and leaned over Triara’s shoulder and turned to kiss her on her cheek during which she smiled at his obvious show of affection towards her during which Kelea smirked. “It’s 2300 hours and I’ve got to get going. I have an early duty shift in the morning. Good night you two.” He then walked away leaving Kelea and Triara sitting at the bar.

“So,” Kelea put her hands on her hips and began to speak in their native language, “you really do like Michael?” Triara nodded. “Why is that?” Triara was about to speak when Kelea began again. “And don’t tell me that you want to help his daughter because that’s a pack of lies and you know it.”

“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 really like Michael?”

“Yeah,” Triara looked at her glass of Scotch that was nearly empty and took a sip from it. “Yeah, I do. Why? Is there a problem?”

“No,” Kelea poured some more Scotch into her glass, “but I do have to wonder why? What is it about Michael that you find so interesting to want to date him?”

“He’s much like Richard is, he exhibits a lot of the same qualities and mannerisms that Richard had when I first met him. In a lot of ways, both of them are nothing like our own people; namely cold and distant.” Kelea nodded in understanding, she knew all about how their people could be towards each other, and often it was the one thing that she hated about her people. “And then there’s the fact that he doesn’t care that I’m an alien while most humans still have that bit of a hang-up. Michael talked to me like I was just another person, and he didn’t flinch when I took hold of him as so many other humans do.”

“Oh, I get it,” Kelea put the bottle of the Scotch back under the bar, “I very much get it. I’d just be careful. I’d hate to see you get hurt.”

“I will,” Triara picked her glass up and tossed back the rest of the Scotch. “No more Kelea, close Richard’s bar tab. I don’t want him to wake up in the morning wondering why he’s got a two hundred credit bar tab to pay.” And with that, she stood up from her barstool and walked out of the lounge leaving those who were still there in the lounge wondering what was going on between the two of them.

As Triara walked out of the lounge, a woman called to her. “Hey Triara,” Triara stopped walking when she heard her name, “it’s Triara. Right? Is that your name?”

“Yes,” Triara began to wonder why this woman was talking to her but she didn’t want to be rude so she at least wanted to respond. “What of it?”

“You may not know who I am…” Triara shook her head for she didn’t know who the other woman was. “I’m Amanda, Lieutenant Amanda Gibson. 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 rather 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 could see all of their eyes open wide as she 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 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?”

“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.” 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 is a Zaltaen without a House and a Zaltaen without a House is effectively no Zaltaen at all. 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? 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 I was cast out of my House. 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 is certainly in the right place.”

“Oh,” Chelsea spoke up, “so nothing is going on between you and Richard? No hanky-panky?”

Triara laughed at her choice of words, it sounds so… childish. “No,” she smirked, “there’s no 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,” she put her palm to her chest, “and in a way, I love him like a brother. Richard and Rachel are the only family that I have in my life. Besides, I wouldn’t betray Rachel, my best friend, like that.”

“How did you all meet?”

“Well,” Triara thought back, “do you all remember the day that Zaltaens dropped their disguises?” They all nodded. “Well anyways, I was aboard the ship that Richard and Rachel were on and Richard was the first one that I showed my true self. 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 how she was silently crying in the mess hall as she took dinner. She tried to hide it, but 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 the Zaltaen woman crying into her food 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, “she’s here on the station and we talk every so often and I invite her over sometimes but we’re not like you and Richard.” The others shook their heads as well. Amanda spoke up. “The Zaltaen that I helped that day went back to Zalta, we email each other from time to time. We 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.”

“Speaking of which,” another woman who hadn’t spoken up yet, “I’m Zoey Higgins.” Chelsea let go of her. “Do you have many other friends?” Triara shook her head. “Maybe you can hang with us, maybe we can… you know.” Amanda spoke up. “Yeah, girls. Who wants to have Triara in our little group?” Triara was rather surprised at the thought that maybe she might have a chance at having more than a few people in her life. “Yeah!” Zoey exclaimed. “Why don’t you join us Triara? It’ll be fun.”

Triara dropped her mental walls and did a passive scan on the six women in front of her and she could sense no hostility or malice towards her. “I guess so. I don’t really have a lot of people to be friends with besides Richard on the station.”

“Aww,” Chelsea put her arm around her, “that’s too bad. But now you have us.”

“Yeah,” Amanda spoke up as they all started walking away from the lounge, “it’ll be fun. Say,” she looked down at Triara’s choice of dress, “I really like your outfit. As you can see,” she looked down at herself and at the other women with her, “we’re all dressed much like you are. Who helped you put your outfit together?”

“Rachel helped me as I said before… Rachel has really been a great friend to me. She helped me become more comfortable wearing stuff like this. In fact, I have to admit that I like dressing like this. I find it to be quite fun to go out on the station looking like and dressing like this.”

“Why is that?” Amanda asked. “I don’t know many, if any, Zaltaens that dressed like you are right now. It’s nothing but those robes that most of your people wear.”

“To be honest, I find how my people react to how I dress to be absolutely hilarious.”

“Why is that?” Zoey asked her. “What could possibly be so funny?”

Just then another Zaltaen passed by and looked at what Triara was wearing, and she gasped as she collapsed against the wall in shock. “See what I mean? Did you see how that Zaltaen took one look at me and gasped? I find it to be absolutely hilarious I tell you.”

“Oh right!” Zoey exclaimed as they all began to laugh. “That was funny.”

“I 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 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.”

Meanwhile on Mars, Matt walked out of his bedroom after getting dressed.

“Hey there,” his dormmate looked over his shoulder, “where you off to?” Matt looked down at himself and nervously brushed his pants. “Are you going out on another date with that Zaltaen chick?” Matt looked over his shoulder at his dormmate. “Right.” He held his hands up. “You don’t like me talking about her as if she’s some chick.”

“That’s right, I don’t.” He turned to a mirror on the wall to look at himself. “And we’re not dating, we’re just friends. We’re going out as just two friends. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Sure.” His dormmate hummed. “Now tell me something that’s I’ll believe because that’s the biggest crock of bullshit that I’ve ever seen and you,” he pointed at Matt, “know it.” Matt sighed. “You like her, don’t you?”

“Well yeah,” Matt turned around, “what’s there to not like about her? She has a wonderful personality; she’s warm, kind, endearing,” he sighed, “and she’s gorgeous.” He looked up at his dormmate. “What’s there not to like about her?”

“Dude,” his dormmate put his hands on his hips, “you’ve got it bad for her.” He watched as Matt sighed once again. “How long have you two been… together?”

“About six months.” His dormmate was about to say something when Matt continued. “I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want more from my relationship with her, but I know I have to play it carefully. After all,” he shrugged, “her people have no concept of dating; at least not as humans have it. I can’t push her too hard, or I’ll scare her away.” He closed his eyes. “She’s really starting to open up and to show more signs of affection, so I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize what we have.” His dormmate was about to say something again when Matt continued. “I have to play it cool.”

“Have you asked her what she wants? Maybe she wants the same thing you want and is getting frustrated that you won’t give it to her.”

“No.” Matt sighed. “Again, I’m afraid that by asking her I’ll,” he sighed, “scare her away.” He shook his head. “I knew that this relationship wasn’t going to be easy and that it was going to be challenging.”

“Are you sure that it’s going to be worth it in the end? I mean, you could…” Matt cut him off. “God no!” He exclaimed. “I could never hurt her like that. I know she’s trying so I have to give her some credit. This is just so new to her. This is very much out of her comfort zone. So no,” he headed for the door, “I wouldn’t leave her. I just have to… be patient with her.”

With that, he walked out of his dorm leaving his dormmate shaking his head. “You know Matt, you can be a real idiot sometimes.”

Meanwhile in Alyssia’s dorm, Amanda watched as Alyssia walked out of her bedroom wearing a rather short denim miniskirt that came down to a little bit higher than mid-thigh and managed to bring emphasis to her very feminine figure for it clung to all the right places including her hips and her shapely backside. She did wish, however, that the skirt was a tad bit longer as she tugged at the bottom hemline but in the end, she took comfort in how the tights she was wearing helped make the skirt a tad bit less risqué in appearance.

It didn’t hurt that ever since Amanda had first introduced her to tights back when she had first met her, she had come to like wearing them and often wore them with many of her outfits much like Amanda often did. It didn’t hurt that she knew that Matt liked it when she did wear them, but she knew that he’d never admit it. Why? She didn’t know but she knew not to press the matter with him for she didn’t want to embarrass him.

She paired the denim miniskirt with a pair of high-heeled boots and a white blouse that if you asked her, it revealed a little bit too much of her ample sized chest for it had a plunging neckline along with her hair tied up behind her head in a ponytail much like Amanda had shown her many months before.

She had been looking forward to going out with Matt that night ever since they had run into each other that morning at the coffee shop while he ordered his coffee. He had mentioned that they were once again going out that night as friends just like the many times they had gone out in the past. They had often gone out to dinner, a movie, and maybe a dessert afterwards at his favorite ice cream shop. This time, however, he didn’t tell her where they were going that night.

“Hey there,” Amanda looked Alyssia’s way, “where you off to all dressed up like that? Have a hot date tonight?” She smirked.

Alyssia looked over her shoulder at Amanda who was sitting on the couch. “It’s not a date.” She then turned back to the mirror and began to slide her hands down her hips and her shapely backside at which Amanda smirked behind Alyssia’s back.

Amanda couldn’t help but think back to how Alyssia often said that Zaltaens didn’t put nearly as much emphasis on outward beauty and physical attraction yet here she was making sure the outfit she was wearing looked good on her. She even wore makeup with the outfit and as she sniffed the air, she could’ve sworn that she was wearing perfume.

“You know, you’re acting more and more like a human by the day.”

“How so?” Alyssia asked as she turned around on the back of her heel.

“Look at you,” Amanda pointed at her, “you’re checking yourself out. When I first met you six months ago, you’d never have done that yet here you are,” she watched as Alyssia looked down at herself, “checking yourself out to make sure your outfit looked good. And hell, you’re wearing makeup too!” She watched as Alyssia touched her cheek. “You’re wearing lipstick and mascara and whoa,” she noticed how she was wearing eyeshadow to bring attention to her eyes, “eyeshadow as well.” She bit her lower lip. “You’re really pulling out all the stops tonight so, I ask again, are you going out on a hot date tonight?” She once again smirked.

“Matt and I are just going out. That’s all. We’re going out as just friends.”

Sure,” Amanda chuckled, “now tell me something that I’ll believe.” Amanda looked at her with a deadpan look on her face. “I don’t buy that for even one damn second and I’m insulted that you’d think I’d believe such a story.” Alyssia was going to say something when Amanda continued. “You wouldn’t be stressing out about how you look this evening if you weren’t going out on a date tonight.”

“But Matt hasn’t ever called what we go out on as a date, he always says that it’s just two friends going out together and enjoying our time together.” She was about to continue when Amanda spoke up. “Have you ever thought that the only reason why Matt doesn’t call it a,” Amanda made an air-quotes gesture with her fingers, “date… is because he knows that your people don’t have a concept of dating? He probably doesn’t want to call it a,” she made an air-quotes gesture again, “date… because he doesn’t want to scare you away.” Alyssia reached up and touched her chin as Amanda continued. “I mean it’s obvious that Matt likes you and that he’s interested in you,” Amanda once again made an air-quotes gesture with her fingers, “in that way.

“Firstly, he wouldn’t want to go out with you and spend time with you so often if he wasn’t even the slightest bit interested in you in that way.” Alyssia nodded in agreement with her. “Secondly, I’ve watched how the two of you interact with each other. It’s obvious that he cares deeply about you, everyone can see it. So now you have to ask yourself, do you also like him in that way as well?”

“I mean,” Alyssia paused in thought, “I do like spending time with him and he does make me happy. He’s made me forget how lonely I feel at some of my loneliest times. He makes me feel appreciated in ways I never thought possible when I first came here to live among humans.” Amanda motioned for her to continue. “So yeah,” she sighed as she closed her eyes, “I do like him; I like him a lot. And yes, I do care about him; I care about him a lot.”

“Then tell him that! For God’s sake girl, tell him that!”

“You really think I should?”

YES!” Amanda shouted much to Alyssia’s dismay. “The guy is practically waiting for you to give him permission to take things to the next level. To use a human phrase, the ball is in your court.” Just then there was a knock at the door. “It’s time to take your shot, Alyssia.”

Alyssia breathed in deeply and thought. “I will.” Alyssia walked over to the door and just as she reached for the door button, she turned to Amanda. “Wish me luck.”

“I don’t think you’ll need it.”

With that Alyssia pushed the button and the door opened revealing Matt standing behind the door. Immediately upon seeing Alyssia dressed like she was, he looked her up and down. “Are you ready?” she asked as she came up close to him, wrapped her arms around his waist, and pressed herself against him. “Are you ready to go?” Matt gulped hard. All he could do was muster up a nod as she pressed herself against him and he felt her ample sized chest against his. She had never done that before, after all, she had never been comfortable doing so before. “What do you think?” she asked as she stood back once again giving Matt a view of how she was dressed.

“Whoa,” he gasped, “what’s the special occasion? You’ve never dressed like this before.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she put an arm around his shoulder, “I thought I’d dress up nice for our evening tonight since you know, we’ve not been out together for some time.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” He put a hand on her back. “Come,” he began to lead her, “I hope you brought your famous Zaltaen appetite tonight because we’re going to Murray’s.”

“You know I always do.” She smirked. “I’ve been looking forward to spending time with you tonight.”

“You have?” he asked.

“Uh-huh,” she hummed. “I’ve missed you.” She turned to him. “What with class work, homework, and studying, and of course, your work and my work, we’ve not had time to go out lately other than spend a little bit of time either grabbing breakfast at the campus café or getting coffee on our way to class.”

“I know,” he let his hand slide down her back, “we haven’t.”

“I wanted to make this evening a bit more special so that’s why I,” she looked down at herself, “wanted to get a bit more dressed up. You know, to look nice for you.”

“You know that I wouldn’t ask you to do this for me.”

“I know,” she brought him closer as two people walked by them in the hallway, “but I wanted to.”


Meanwhile, she began to think of a way to ask him and to tell him that she wanted more from their relationship than just being friends, but she knew that she didn’t want to do so until they were seated at their dinner table.

Later that evening, the two of them were seated at their table at Murry’s Steakhouse and instead of her sitting across from him at the table much like she had done so in the past, she sat down next to him which surprised him for she had never done so before. And it wasn’t just beside him that she sat down, she sat down much closer than he had ever imagined she would be comfortable with. Why that was so, he didn’t know yet he didn’t question her motives either; in fact, he welcomed and enjoyed the relatively intimate contact and affection that she was paying him.

“Well now,” she looked about the restaurant, “this is nice.” Matt looked about and looked down as she took ahold of her hand that had taken ahold of his. “Don’t you think?”

“Yeah.” He looked about and then back down at her hand as she interlaced her fingers with his. “It is nice.”

She breathed in deeply and steeled herself for what she was about to talk about. She knew that she wanted to talk to Matt but at that moment, a sense of worry came over her and Matt knew it; he could sense it in the look on her face.

“Honey?” he asked as he reached over with his other hand and patted her hand. “What’s wrong?”

“Matt?” She asked with hesitation in her voice the likes of which he had hadn’t heard from her in a long time. It was like she had taken a step back to when he had first met her at the party. Why she was acting like that all of a sudden, he didn’t know. “Matthew?” She hesitated while he wondered why she had used not only his nickname but his whole name. “What are we? What is this?” she asked as she looked down at their hands.

“Whatever do you mean?” he asked.

“Amanda and I got to talking before you came over to pick me up this evening for our,” she paused, “evening out tonight and it got me thinking. What are we? What is this… that we’re doing tonight?” He began to think about her words and was about to say something when she continued. “Amanda seems to think that we’re….” Matt interrupted her. “Dating? Is that what she said?” She nodded. “It’s true, what we’re doing right now could be seen as dating by a lot of people, including Amanda.

“However, I know that your people don’t have a concept of dating; at least, not as humans have it. That’s why I was so hesitant to call what we often do together dating.” He turned to her. “You have to understand,” he took ahold of her hands, “I like you; I really do.” He watched as Alyssia blushed as she closed her eyes. “I even care about you, care… for you.”

As he said those words, she thought about what that meant for her, an alien from another world. When she first came to Mars, she had no idea that a human would ever say that about her.

“What we have together is a wonderful thing,” he looked away from her leaving her wondering why, “and I didn’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want to scare you or chase you away.” She was about to say something when he continued. “I’ve developed… feelings for you.” Her mouth dropped open slightly. “I don’t know what they are yet, but I know one thing, I want to explore what those feelings are with you. I hope you understand.”

“Matthew.” She managed to find her voice. “You wouldn’t have ruined anything between us, and you certainly wouldn’t have chased me away. Not at all.” She paused as she watched him sigh as he closed his eyes. “I like you too Matthew, I like you a lot. I too have, as you say, developed… feelings for you and much like you, I don’t know what they are, but I want nothing more than to be able to explore these… mutual feelings with you. And like you, I also care about you; even care for you. Deeply even.”

She watched as Matt mouthed the word ‘wow’.

“You’ve made me happy, happier than I ever thought possible since I first came here to Mars to live among humans. As I told Amanda, you’ve made me forget how lonely I feel sometimes.”

“I understand,” he took ahold of her hands, “and I’m happy to know that I’ve made such an impact on your life.”

“Yes, you have.” She gave his hands a gentle squeeze. “More so than you’ll ever know. I don’t know what I’d do without you in my life.”

“Me too Alyssia, me too.”

“So, what do you say?” she asked as she let go of his hands. “Do you want to call this evening that we’re spending together a date? Do you want to call this our official first date?”

“Alyssia,” he took ahold of her hands and held them in his hands, “I would love nothing more than to be able to call this evening out with you tonight a date and to officially start dating you. I will, however, promise to take things slow with you and if you feel even slightly uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to tell me and I’ll slow things down.”

“Matt, I don’t want that.” He looked at her confused. “I don’t want you to feel like you need to hold back with me. I’ve watched other humans interact with each other. I’ve seen people touch each other, kiss each other,” she watched as Matt’s cheeks turned red as he looked down at the table in front of him, “even be… intimate with each other. And I… want the same thing with you. I want us to grow closer.”

“Whoa,” he whispered. He wasn’t at all ready for her to say that. “But what about how your people are generally more conservative in your thinking?”

“I knew that entering into a relationship with a human would be challenging and that it would challenge much of the way I think and feel about things like intimacy and, of course, sexuality.”

“I knew that as well…” he was about to continue when she put her hand up.

“However.” She took ahold of his hand and put it on her nylon-covered thigh and began to caress it with his hand, which completely shocked him for he didn’t at all think she was ready to do so. He certainly wouldn’t have touched her in such an intimate way without her permission to do so. “I’m ready for that. I want to start exploring intimacy and sexuality with you because I know that you’d never hurt me.”

“Alright.” Matt blew out a breath of air through pursed lips while he continued to caress her nylon-covered thighs and found the material to be so incredibly silky-smooth and sensual to the touch. Meanwhile, she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply as he touched her like that; she found it to be exhilarating to feel him touch her in such an intimate way and she didn’t want him to stop. “Alyssia?” he asked. “Are you alright? Do you want me to stop?”

He was about to take his hand off her thigh when he felt her hand atop his stopping him from doing so.

“No, please don’t stop.” She opened her eyes. “And yes, I’m alright. It’s just that I’ve never felt this way before, I’ve never felt this kind of exhilaration before. I like the feeling.” He, of course, continued to caress her thigh much to her delight.

Later that evening, Matt and Alyssia were walking towards her dorm room and stopped at her door and then looked into those oh-so-beautiful purple eyes of hers. “Good night, Alyssia.” He caressed the sides of her shoulders. “I hope you had a good first date with me.”

“I did, I really enjoyed our… date.” She looked at her door and concentrated on what was going on inside her dorm, she didn’t hear Amanda, only silence. “I know it’s getting late, but you know, it doesn’t mean we have to end things for the evening. We don’t have to end our date. Right?” she asked as she came up to him and pressed her ample-sized chest against him sending a chill up and down his spine. She may not have been human, but she knew how to toy with him.

“What are you saying?” he asked as he gulped.

“Well,” she reached into her purse and pulled out her CAC2Common Access Card. and waved it in front of the card reader, “I was thinking that maybe you could come inside.” As the door opened, he raised his eyebrow; he didn’t expect her to welcome him inside her dorm. He had never seen the inside of her dorm, at least, nothing past her doorway.

Meanwhile, she walked in and looked about. “Good. Amanda’s asleep.” She looked over her shoulder and saw how Matt was standing just short of walking into her dorm. “What? Are you a vampire that needs explicit permission to walk in?”

“Uh… no,” he laughed, “I’m not. It’s just that,” he reached up and nervously rubbed the back of his head, “it’s not polite to walk into a girl’s room unless a guy has permission to do so.” He pointed at her. “And how do you know that about vampires?”

“I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. According to the show, a vampire cannot enter a dwelling unless they’re invited to do so.”

He pressed his lips together and blew air through them while he thought that she was acting more and more like a human by the day after which he walked in and looked about while nodding. “Nice place, I can see Amanda’s touch.”

“Yeah,” she said as she sat down on the couch, “a lot of the décor was her idea.” She leaned over and unzipped the side zipper of her left boot. “She worked on, as she said, giving this place some life.” As she pulled her left boot off, she let out a rather loud sigh of relief. “I have no idea why human women choose to wear such ergonomic monstrosities.” She leaned over to do the same to her right boot. “Damn, it’s nice to finally get them off.” She handed the boots to him. “Be a dear and put them in my room so that we don’t trip on them while walking about.” She watched as Matt looked between the two bedrooms. “Mine is the door on the left.” She pointed at it.

He leaned over to pick her boots up and while he had done so, he looked at how much of her long and sexy legs were on display because of how she was sitting on how her rather short miniskirt was leaving very little to the imagination. The only thing that was covering them was the rather thin layer of nylon of her tights that if one were to ask him, made them look that much sexier.

“My boots?” She chuckled. She knew exactly what he was looking at, she had caught him taking a glimpse of her legs in the past while she wore such articles of clothing yet never brought it up.

“Right.” He coughed as he picked them up and walked over to her bedroom door, found that the door was unlocked, opened the door and set them by the wall right inside her room and closed the door while trying not to peer into the room while the lights were on.

“I was thinking that maybe we could watch a movie like we’ve often done in the past.”

“Now?” he asked as she nodded. “Wouldn’t that wake Amanda up?”

“Nah,” she waved her hand in the air, “Amanda says that you could have the Olympus Mons Philharmonic Orchestra walk through here and she wouldn’t wake up. When she sleeps, she’s dead to the world.” She chuckled. “I do have some beer in the fridge so maybe we can have some while we watch the movie.”

“Sounds good to me.” He walked over to her fridge and sure enough, he found six bottles of Martian Ale Olympus Mons Porter and grabbed two of them and opened it with a bottle opener that he found magnetically attached to the fridge.

“There you go.” He leaned forward at which she reached up and took hold of it. He sat down next to her after which she cuddled up close to him and watched as she sensually crossed her legs while she took a sip of her beer. “This is nice.”

“Yeah.” He took a sip of his beer while he caressed her nylon-covered thigh. “That it is.” He looked up at her. “Now, how about that movie?” She laughed as she snuggled up closer.

The next morning, Amanda woke and walked out of her bedroom and looked around the room. Her eyes went wide open as she saw Alyssia and Matt sleeping on the couch. Matt was lying against the cushion with some drool slipping down his cheek while Alyssia was lying against his chest, and he had his arms around her waist. “Now, I have to admit that I’ve never seen anything more touching than that. I really hate to ruin such a touching moment but… Alyssia? Matthew?” she poked the two of them as she stood over them. “Wake up, it’s time to wake up you lovebirds.”

“Mommy,” Matt muttered, “leave me alone; I want to sleep some more.” He hugged Alyssia tighter as if she was some kind of pillow, yet she didn’t wake up.

“First off,” Amanda laughed, “I’m not your mommy and you aren’t hugging your pillow.”

That snapped his eyes open wide. “AH!!!” he yelled at which Alyssia flung her arms up in the air and screamed. “What happened?”

“You two fell asleep.”

“We… we did?” Both Matt and Alyssia asked in unison.

“Looks like it.” Amanda smirked. “I take it that you two came back from your date last night and the two of you decided that you didn’t want to end the date quite yet.” Alyssia looked over her shoulder at Matt. “And then you two fell asleep together on the couch.”

“Um.” Matt reached up and nervously rubbed the back of his neck as he looked down at Alyssia who was still lying against his chest. “It certainly looks that way.”

“Do you mind?” Alyssia asked as she looked up at Amanda who was standing over them.

“Why the hell should I mind?” Amanda asked as she put her hands on her hips. “You’re two consenting adults, you two can do whatever you want to. I’m not your parents. And besides,” she looked at the two of them again, “I think it’s great that you two have become so close.” Alyssia looked over her shoulder at Matt at which he hugged her again. “I really enjoyed our date last night and waking up to you in my arms was a nice surprise.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it was.” Alyssia smirked as she felt how a certain part of his body was reacting to how close she was to him. “However, we really should think about getting ready for the day.” She looked down at his hands and took them off of her. “I better go take a shower and get changed.” She got up from the couch and looked down at Matt and his obvious erection yet chose not to bring any attention to it. “Do you want to go out for breakfast? It would be my treat.”

“Honey,” he stood up and took her into his arms and kissed her forehead at which she once again felt him against her, “I’d love to.” With that, he let go of her and walked out of the room leaving the two girls standing in the room.

“Well now,” Amanda folded her arms across her chest, “was I right about Matt?”

“Right about what?”

“About how he was hesitant about telling you that it was a date.”

“Yeah,” Alyssia sat back down on the couch, “you were right. He told me all about how he was hesitant about telling me that we were dating all along because of my obvious cultural differences and how my people don’t have dating as humans have it.” Amanda nodded as she continued. “He told me that he was scared of chasing me away.” She watched as Amanda continued to nod her head in understanding. “He also told me that he cared about me… for me, and that he’s even developed feelings for me.”

“That much is obvious, the poor guy has it bad for you.”

“Bad for me?” Alyssia asked. “Whatever do you mean by that?” Alyssia folded her arms across her chest. “I really do wish you’d remember that though I know and understand English, I don’t know many of your colloquialisms and phrases.”

“Yeah,” Amanda sighed, “I get it, I’m sorry. It’s just that,” she shook her head, “sometimes I forget you’re not human.”

“I’m going to take that as a complement.”

“You should!” Amanda exclaimed. “Alyssia,” she sat down next to her, “you’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, I have to complement you on that. When I first met you, you were so incredibly nervous.”

Alyssia closed her eyes as she thought back to how she was when she had first met Amanda and when she had gone to that party that Amanda had insisted that she attend with her. She remembered how nervous she was and wearing what Amanda had dressed her in made her even more nervous. It was only after she had met Matt that she became more comfortable that night. That and a little bit of alcohol helped.

“You didn’t know what you were doing, and you certainly weren’t as open to talking about things like you are now.” Alyssia nodded; Amanda was right. “You’re so much more confident about yourself. And I can guarantee you the old you, the one I first met, wouldn’t have been nearly as open to having the kind of relationship that you have with Matt.”

“That’s,” Alyssia rubbed her chin, “very true.”

“If it weren’t for the obvious differences like the color of your skin and hair,” Amanda shrugged, “I’d think you were human.”

“Thank you and yes, I agree with you on that I’ve come a long way. I mean,” she looked up and in the general direction of Matt’s room, “when I came here to Mars, I never thought I’d find anything remotely close to the kind of relationship that I have with Matthew. But anyways,” she stood up from the couch, “I better get into the shower and get ready; Matt’s expecting me.” She walked off leaving Amanda standing in the middle of the room.

Meanwhile, in Matt’s dorm, he walked in to find his dormmate sitting on the couch. As he walked in his dormmate folded his arms across his chest and eyed him up and down in disgust.

“Now where the hell have you been? You told me that you were going to play Call of Duty with me last night after coming back from your outing with Alyssia.”

“Something came up.”

“And for that matter,” his dormmate pointed at him, “why are you still wearing the clothing that you were wearing last night?”

“Um,” Matt reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, “Alyssia and I got to talking during out outing last night and we both said that we both needed to say.” His dormmate sat up interrupting him. “About damn time you two actually started dating!” his dormmate exclaimed. “You two have been dancing around the truth of the two of you for too long.”

“I agree, but to get back to what happened last night… we got back to the dorms after we had dinner and Alyssia invited me into her dorm.” He watched his dormmate raise an eyebrow. “We had a drink or two together, two beers each; Martian Ale Olympus Mons Porter and we watched a movie together.” His dormmate nodded slowly to indicate that he was following. “And sometime last night we fell asleep on her couch. I ended up sleeping with her in my arms the whole night.”

“Wow!” his dormmate exclaimed. “Moving a little fast, are we?”

“It was her idea.” Matt shrugged. “She even told me that she doesn’t want me to hold back and that she wants to experience the whole breadth of human intimacy and sexuality.” He thumbed over his shoulder. “Her words, not mine.”

“Ok then. Maybe your thoughts about her have to change.”

“Yeah,” Matt nodded, “I think they may have to. She’s definitely not the same girl I met six months ago, that’s for sure. That, however, doesn’t mean that I’m going to be taking her to bed right away. But, in the meantime,” he pointed at his bedroom, “I have to take a shower and get ready; she wants to take me out to breakfast.”

“Alright then.” He watched as Matt walked into his bedroom. “Have fun.”

Matt stood outside Alyssia’s dorm and knocked on the door. Within a second the door opened and, in the doorway, stood Alyssia. She was wearing a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans that, if you were to ask Matt, clung very nicely to her very feminine figure.

“Well now,” she came up to him and put her arms around him, “are you ready?” she asked as she felt his hands on her shapely backside.

“Uh-huh,” he hummed.

“I was thinking,” the two began to walk down the hallway side-by-side, “that since the two of us are getting serious,” Matt nodded to indicate that she had used the right word, “I’d start introducing you to some of my people’s culture.”

“How so?” he asked as he cupped her backside with his palm as they walked along.

“You know, things like food, mannerisms; that sort of stuff.”

“OK,” he shrugged, “sounds good to me. I’ve wanted to learn more about your culture for a long time.”

“I was hoping that you’d say that.” She breathed in. “Because I’m taking you to have some Zaltaen food.”

Continue to Chapter 12…

Last updated on Monday, September 18th, 2023 at 2:59 PM by trparky.

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    Two inches.
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    Common Access Card.