Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 12

President John Renault looked up from a report that he was reading on his datapad that his chief economic advisor had handed him five minutes ago, shook his head, and sighed. He had asked for a report on the issues facing the people of his nation ever since they had broken away from the Human Federation and her people.

There were dire reports in the news about shortages of just about everything from basic food ingredients to clothing to raw materials. Back before they had broken away from the Human Federation and became the ACF, they had stockpiled for months but those stockpiles were running low and there was worry that unless trade agreements were established, the economy of the newly formed Union of Free Stars would fail.

Already stocks across the small star nation were seeing downturns and there was talk that the economic recession that they were already experiencing would become an economic depression.

“You wanted the truth, Mr. President,” his advisor looked him in the face, “and there you have it and it’s not good.”

“Yes, I did Melissa.” He sighed yet again as he put the datapad down on his desk and got up from his desk to look out the window of his office and out onto the cityscape below. “Yes, I did tell you to do that.” He turned back to Melissa who was still sitting down in front of his desk. “It’s been almost a year since the war ended and as my report has indicated, the stockpiles that we had established before we broke away are nearly depleted.

“Industries are working as fast as humanly possible to get production lines up to speed but even the best projections indicate that we’re at least a year away from those production lines being able to produce in a quantity anywhere close to being able to supply our nation and her people.”

Without turning around. “And what about trade deals?”

“Many are still being hashed out and what with the economic recession that we’re in, many companies in the Human Federation space are apprehensive to establishing trade deals out of fear that we may not be able to pay our debts.” John closed his eyes. “It’s one of those ‘chicken or the egg’ problems. If we can’t import products to keep our economy alive, we’ll default on our loans. However, if we can’t agree on trade deals because companies are fearful of us defaulting on our loans, it’ll result in us defaulting on our loans because we can’t import products.”

“I know,” John sighed, “I have an economics degree.”

“And then there’s the stigma that we’re still a rogue state even though we are, in fact, a recognized sovereign state.”

John rolled his eyes. It was nearly a year after the war had ended and they were still fighting the stigma that they were nothing more than a rouge state that had broken off from the Human Federation.

“Have we talked to the Corporate Republic of Sirius?”

“We’ve reached out to them but like a shark, they can sense blood in the water and are only too willing to help us but at drastically inflated prices.”

John balled up his fist and hit the glass pane of his window. “Damn it!” he cursed. He came back down to sit down at his desk and put his head down. “Have we tried to talk to the Zaltaens? They’ve come to our aid before.”

“We have, but as the Zaltaen ambassador has already told us, even if they do buy on the commodities market on our behalf, there’s only so much that they can do for us. They have their problems what with their war and there’s only so much freighter capacity to move product. They’re moving as much product as they can but again, there’s only so much they can do.

“I’ve not had a good cup of coffee in weeks, there are people in the streets who haven’t had a good meal in months. We’re having soup lines like what was pictured in the history books that covered The Great Depression back during the early 1930s on Terra.

“And then there’s the shortage of clothing. Look at me,” she unpinned the button of her suit jacket and showed her president the inside lining of it, “most of it is threadbare. I can’t tell you how often I’ve washed this suit.” She looked down at her shoes. “And then there’s the condition of my shoes. I’ve had to superglue the heel of my shoes twice just to make them last and I’m down to my last pair of tights. Department stores are practically out of damn near everything and what little they have, even I can’t afford it with my wages.”

“I know,” he sighed, “my wife has said the same thing.” He picked his head up from his desk and looked off into a corner of the room. “And I don’t even want to talk about the state of my liquor cabinet. I can’t even get a good bottle of Scotch. If you take away a man’s booze, what else does he have?”

“I think we have more important problems than buying booze.” Melissa looked at her president with a deadpan look on her face at the idea that he would bring up the condition of his liquor cabinet at such a time.

“I know that.” He sighed. “I’m just adding to the obviousness of our situation.” He stood up from his desk. “What are we going to do? If things don’t start looking up soon, the people are going to string me up and they’d have every right to do so.” He looked up. “What about going back to the days when we used everything from trap doors in the cargo holds to straight-up pirates.”

“You know we can’t do that Mr. President, that’s what rogue states do and we’re not a rogue state anymore.”

“I know,” he sighed once again, “I was just throwing out an idea no matter how bad it might’ve sounded.” He looked back up at Melissa. “We might’ve been under the boot of Terra but at least we were fed. Maybe breaking away wasn’t such a hot idea.”

“I know,” Melissa sighed, “I was thinking that way too, sir.” She looked down at her lap. “We just need to catch a break. I’ve often thought of using the warships to transport goods, but I doubt our soldiers and sailors would be keen to being overdressed freight haulers.”

“If that’s what we need to do, then that’s what we need to do.” John stood up from his desk. “Bring in my Secretary of the Space Navy. I’m sure she’s going to love this.”

Melissa stood up from her chair. “Yes sir, I will send her in.”

With that, Melissa walked out of his office while John once again leaned against the outside window of his office and pounded it with his fist.

Meanwhile, back on Terra, things weren’t looking too good for President Christina Crow. With the war with the then ACF over, she thought that things would finally get back to normal where they could rebuild the economy and the infrastructure that had been destroyed during the war, but her political opponents had other plans. Her name was being raked through the mud with advertisements showing her as a weak president on account that it was her administration’s policies that were responsible for them losing the war and that if they were in power, they would’ve won that war and pounded the then ACF into the ground.

That was pure folly, and she knew it, her generals knew it, but that didn’t stop her opponents from making her out to be a weak leader and it was affecting her ability to push forward her political agenda.

“Damn it,” she pounded her fist on her desk as her Chief of Staff, Sarah Spencer, came walking into the room. “I don’t know why you even turn that damn thing on these days.” Sarah picked up the TV remote as The Seven came back on. “You know all that it does is get you angry.”

“But it’s things like that,” Christina pointed at the now blank TV screen, “that prevents me from doing my job. I can’t even get one damn piece of legislation through Congress because of stuff like that. And it doesn’t even matter if the legislation is good for The People, Congress is stopping me at every turn.”

“I know,” Sarah sat down in front of Christina’s desk, “we need to revisit the Zaltaen Citizenship Act. We need to start developing the next generation…” Christina interrupted her. “And you know damn well that the hosts of The Seven are going to have a field day if I sign that into law. I can just hear them now… ‘Christina Crow thinks we can’t even flush a toilet without the help of the Zaltaens to tell us when to flush. The Zaltaens are coming for our jobs!’”

Sarah had to chuckle at how Christina had made a very good impression of Ted Gutenfeld, host of The Seven.

“And it isn’t even just my political opponents that are attacking me!” Christina threw her hands in the air. “My political allies are attacking me! People who I used to think of as my allies, my fellow party members, are attacking me saying that this policy is a disgrace to those people who support the Labor Party.” She tapped the datapad on which the text of the Zaltaen Citizenship Act was on. “We wrote this bill together.” She tapped the datapad again. “Together!” she exclaimed. “And now they’re choosing to attack me on something that nearly every political party agreed on?”

She stood up from her seat and began to walk about the room and once again threw her hands in the air.

“We wrote this bill specifically with guardrails in it to prevent that from happening!” she exclaimed. “Only the Zaltaen that could help us rebuild and otherwise adapt their technologies faster would be allowed citizenship.”

“Yeah,” Sarah said without getting up, “but you know what they say, right?” Christina looked back at her. “Don’t waste an opportunity to throw politics into the mix.”

“You’ve heard the news!” Christina exclaimed. “Companies are chomping at the bit to hire people but are there people to hire?” She threw her arms aside. “No!” She sat back down behind her desk. “We don’t have enough qualified people for our companies to hire! We have to rebuild if we’re going to have even a snowball’s chance in Hell of standing up against the Vonosh!”

“And as Ted Gutenfeld even says,” Sarah coughed to try her best Ted Gutenfeld impression, “it’s always the Vonosh with Christina Crow. Vonosh this, Vonosh that. What boogieman will she trot out next week?”

Christina Crow chuckled. “You made an even better impression than I did.”

“But you knew this was going to happen, this is politics as usual.”

Christina sighed heavily as she reached for the datapad, her mind spinning with the weight of the decision before her. The bill in question must have been a contentious one, evoking strong opinions on both sides. She couldn’t help but feel the burden of responsibility resting squarely on her shoulders.

With a resigned expression, she tapped the screen to bring up the details of the bill once more. As she read through it, her thoughts swirled with the potential consequences of her actions. Signing it into law could have far-reaching effects, both positive and negative. Conversely, vetoing it might appease some but alienate others, potentially sparking backlash and political fallout.

Taking a deep breath, Christina steeled herself for the inevitable backlash, whichever path she chose. In moments like these, the weight of leadership felt particularly heavy. But she knew that indecision was not an option. With a decisive nod, she made her choice and pressed the button to cast her vote, steeling herself for the storm that was sure to follow.

As Christina picked up the datapad, Sarah observed her closely, her eyes reflecting a mix of concern and understanding. She had been by Christina’s side through thick and thin, through the darkest moments of their shared history. From the chaotic aftermath of the devastating attack on the Human Federation government to the rebuilding efforts that followed, Sarah had been a steadfast presence, supporting Christina every step of the way.

She knew Christina better than anyone else, having witnessed her resilience in the face of unimaginable challenges and her unwavering commitment to serving their people. Sarah could read Christina like an open book, recognizing every subtle nuance of her expression and every nervous twitch.

Despite the weight of the decision before them, Sarah remained by Christina’s side, ready to offer her support and guidance. She knew that whatever choice Christina made, it would be in the best interests of their people at heart. And no matter the outcome, Sarah would stand by her, just as she always had.

As President, Christina and her Chief of Staff, Sarah, shared a bond forged of collaboration and trust. Facing a pivotal decision, Christina’s shoulders felt the weight of leadership, but Sarah stood beside her, offering unwavering support.

Christina’s fingers hovered over the screen of the datapad, her resolve unwavering despite the opposition from within her own party. With a nod from Sarah, a silent acknowledgment of the challenges they knew they would face, Christina pressed the “vote” button.

Prompted for her fingerprint scan, Christina provided it without hesitation. The confirmation screen appeared, sealing her decision with her digital signature. As she reclined in her chair, a mix of relief and anticipation washed over her.

“And done,” Christina sighed, her gaze meeting Sarah’s. “Now, it’s time to brace for the storm.”

Sarah’s reassuring smile spoke volumes. “We’ll face it together, just as we always have.”

As they prepared to navigate the fallout and scrutiny that would inevitably follow, Christina and Sarah drew strength from their partnership, knowing that their shared commitment to their star nation’s well-being would guide them through whatever challenges lay ahead.

Back on Genesis, Triara was preparing for her date with Michael, Richard’s long-time friend. While she was rummaging through her closet for an ideal outfit for what she thought was going to be a relaxed first date, she was interrupted by the sound of her door chime. Cursing softly in her native tongue at the fact that she had taken so long to find an outfit, she grabbed her datapad from her dresser and accessed the door app which revealed Michael standing outside in the hallway. With the tap of a button on the screen of her datapad, she unlocked the door inviting him in.

“I’ll be out in a few moments,” she shouted all while hoping that he would believe it; hell, she didn’t even believe it herself for she was still in her nightie from when she was still lounging around her suite that afternoon. And it wasn’t from a lack of trying, she had looked at just about everything in her closet and now with him in her living room, time was running out. She had to choose what to wear and fast.

She softly cursed again in her native language as she looked down at her bed and on the bed was a pair of jean shorts and a sweatshirt that jokingly had the phrase ‘Property of the Space Force est. 2300’ printed across the front of it.

“I guess this will work,” she mused to herself, glancing at the outfit laid out before her. Poking her head out of her bedroom, she called out, “I won’t be long.” Hoping he would believe her, she thought about the impression she was about to make as she sat down on her bed.

She went to her dresser and pulled out a pair of black tights and white ankle socks to go with them. After doing so, she sat down and began to carefully put them after which she stood up and put one leg up on the bed at time while taking the time to meticulously adjust them for a perfect fit and look. After ensuring they were just right, she pulled the waistband up over her stomach before sitting down again to slip on her white ankle socks.

Glancing to her left, she picked up the pair of jean shorts and smoothly slid into them, fastening them securely at her waist. With her outfit nearly complete except for her shoes, she walked over to her dresser, where she reached around to the back of her head, gathering up her purple hair in her hands. With practiced ease, she secured it using a white scrunchy in a style she had learned was called a ponytail by humans. She then sat down on the bed again and began to put her shoes on.

She walked over to her full-length mirror, twirling about to inspect her outfit from every angle. “I hope he likes it,” she murmured to herself, nerves fluttering in her stomach. Satisfied with her appearance, she made her way out of her bedroom to find Michael sitting on her couch with a bouquet of flowers in his hands. He jumped up as she entered her living room.

“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long,” she said, a hint of apology in her tone. “I was trying to decide what I was going to wear on our date all afternoon.”

As he looked her over, she sensed his appreciative and approving gaze, which filled her with a sense of validation. His expressions and the thoughts she could sense from him made it clear that he indeed liked what he saw.

“Wow,” he exclaimed, stepping closer to her. “I must admit that I like it. You look,” he trailed off, his eyes roaming over her once more, “amazing.” He continued to admire her outfit, clearly impressed. “Casual but a tad bit playful,” he concluded, his words sending a sense of satisfaction through her, echoing her own thoughts.

“Thank you,” she replied, a smile spreading across her face at his words. “I’m glad you think so.” His description of her outfit as ‘casual but a tad bit playful’ resonated with her, and she couldn’t help but feel a surge of relief and confidence at his positive reaction to her outfit. After all, she knew exactly what he meant by ‘playful’, he meant ‘playfully sexy’, and the thought brought a smile to her lips. With his approval, she felt ready to go out on their date together.

Oh!” he exclaimed, holding out the bouquet of flowers to her. Her eyes widened in surprise as she accepted them, taking in the beautiful arrangement. Upon closer inspection, it was evident that he had done some research and put serious thought into the bouquet for it featured a mixture of flowers from both Terra and her home world of Zalta, a thoughtful gesture that given how long she had been away from her home world, it touched her deeply.

“Thank you,” she murmured, gently sniffing the flowers. “I really appreciate it. I’ve not,” she inhaled the fragrance of the flowers again, “seen these for a long time.” She looked back up at him, her heart swelling with gratitude at his very thoughtful gesture. “I like them.”

“I was hoping you would like them,” he replied, a warm smile gracing his lips. He reached for the bouquet, carefully pushing aside a flower. “As you can see,” he continued, “these come from your world of Zalta. I thought they would make a nice touch.”

As he had said that she felt a surge of emotion as she once again looked down at the delicate blooms, a connection to her home world that she had sorely missed. His consideration touched her deeply, and she couldn’t help but feel a growing fondness for him at that moment even though they hadn’t even gone out yet.

However, worry crept over her once again. Would he accept that she was a telepath? She knew that she had to tell him about her special mental abilities, regardless of the outcome; he deserved to know before their relationship progressed any further.

“Aren’t you going to put your flowers in some water?” he asked, breaking the moment.

She shook her head, realizing she had forgotten about the bouquet in her moment of worry. “Yeah, that’s right,” she replied, walking away to attend to the flowers.

As she walked to the other side of the suite, Michael’s gaze lingered on her, drawn once again to her shapely backside. Despite being an alien woman, there was no denying her sex appeal, and the thought crossed his mind that taking her to bed would be reminiscent of Captain Kirk’s legendary escapades.

Meanwhile, she chuckled softly to herself as she sensed Michael’s thoughts. The comparison to Captain Kirk brought back memories of Richard, who had made the same reference years ago. It was a humorous reminder of the quirks of human culture that never failed to amuse her.

“Alright,” she said as she returned to where Michael stood. “I’m ready.”

“Great,” he replied, placing a hand on the small of her back. She nearly flinched at the gesture, but she reminded herself that it was something human males often did. “Let’s go have dinner together.”

With a smile, she nodded in agreement, allowing him to guide her as they made their way out for their date.

As they approached Murray’s Steakhouse, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of worry once again. The place was bustling with activity, and she began to wonder if they would even manage to get a table amidst the chaos. However, Michael appeared unfazed by the crowd as he confidently walked up to the hostess station.

“Party of two for Michael,” he stated calmly, catching the attention of the hostess.

The hostess glanced down at her datapad and confirmed his reservation. “Right this way,” she said, leading them through the throng of people seated at tables in the restaurant.

As they walked through the crowd of other diners, she couldn’t help but notice the curious stares from some of the other patrons. Not only that but she could sense their thoughts of them wondering why Michael was out with her, an alien, thus she couldn’t help but feel self-conscious. Determined not to let their judgment affect her, she focused on building up mental walls in her mind, shutting out the intrusive thoughts of the crowded restaurant.

“And here’s your table, sir,” the hostess announced before walking away.

“Thank you,” Michael nodded appreciatively as the hostess departed. Turning his attention back to her, he gestured towards the bustling restaurant. “So, what do you think?”

She glanced around, noticing the curious gazes of the other diners. “Well,” she began, feeling a bit self-conscious, “people are looking at us.”

“So?” he shrugged. “I caught them looking as well, but do you see me worrying?” He met her gaze with a reassuring smile, hoping to put her tension at ease. “That’s because I’m not. I don’t care if they look.” He reached for her hands. “I’m out on a date with a lovely woman, and that’s all that counts.”

She couldn’t help but smile at his words, feeling a sense of comfort wash over her. With Michael’s reassurance, she felt more at ease, realizing that the opinions of strangers were insignificant compared to the enjoyment of their time together.

However, a new worry came to her, or rather, an old worry; the worry of revealing her true nature crept back into her mind, casting a shadow over her thoughts.

“Aren’t you going to look at the menu?” his question snapped her out of her reverie.

“Right,” she nodded nervously, reaching for the menu and pretending to peruse its contents.

Moments later, a waitress arrived to take their order, and Triara quickly rattled off her choice, her mind preoccupied with the weight of her secret. She knew that she had to tell him and that he deserved to know, however nervousness came over her once again.

“Michael?” she asked. “There’s something I have to tell you, something that you should know about me before we go deeper into,” she breathed in a haggard breath, “a possible relationship.”

He could see the fear on her face so he smiled, hoping that it would calm her fears of whatever she wanted to tell him and that he’d understand. “Of course, Triara,” he replied, his voice calm and steady. “You can tell me anything.”

He watched as the tension in her shoulders relaxed slightly at his words. Drawing in a deep breath to steady herself, she met his gaze with a mixture of vulnerability and resolve.

“I,” she stuttered, “I’m not like everyone else,” she began, her voice wavering slightly with fear. “I have abilities that,” she stuttered once again, “that might seem strange to you.”

He furrowed his brows slightly, curiosity piqued by her cryptic words. “Abilities?” he echoed; his tone gentle but puzzled. “What do you mean?”

She hesitated for a moment, searching for the right words to explain. “I… I can sense things,” she ventured, her voice barely above a whisper. “Thoughts, emotions… I can feel them as if they were my own.”

A look of realization dawned on his face as he processed her revelation, the pieces of the puzzle slowly falling into place. “You mean… you’re a telepath?” he asked, a hint of recognition of what that meant in his voice.

She nodded, relief flooding through her at his understanding that he even knew what a telepath was. “Yes,” she replied, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips, “I’m a telepath.”

“Like what’s portrayed in an old television show called Babylon 5?” he asked at which she looked at him confused; it was obvious that she didn’t know what he was talking about. He then went onto explain many of the topics that were in Babylon 5 including telepaths and ultimately, the Psi Corps which consisted of a group of individuals that policed those who had telepathic abilities including a person named Alfred Bester portrayed by Walter Koenig.

“I see,” she responded, her expression brightening with understanding. “That’s intriguing to think that such concepts were explored even in science fiction entertainment back on Terra.”

He nodded, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Yes, it was quite ahead of its time in many ways. But what’s fascinating is that your abilities parallel those portrayed in the show.” He continued. “Your ability to sense thoughts and emotions, to be able to connect with others on a deeper level; it’s reminiscent of the telepaths depicted in the show.”

It was then that he reached for her hand, at which her eyes met his with a mixture of relief and gratitude. “And I want you to know that even though you told me this about yourself, it doesn’t at all change what I think of you. Not one bit.” A glimmer of hope sparked within her as she watched him nod slowly in response to her unspoken question. “Yes, Triara,” he affirmed softly. “I want to reassure you that I still want to date you, I still want to get to know you; nothing has changed in that regard.”

As she sank back into her seat as she closed her eyes at which a lone tear escaped her closed eyes, tracing a path down her cheek. It was a tear of overwhelming emotion; a mixture of relief, gratitude, and disbelief at what he had told her. She had braced herself for rejection, yet his unwavering acceptance had caught her by surprise.

“Thank you, Michael; thank you so very much for your understanding,” she whispered, her voice trembling with emotion. Her gaze drifted downward, unable to meet his eyes as she struggled to compose herself. “I really thought you’d tell me you didn’t want anything to do with me after this.” When she finally summoned the courage to look back up, she was met with his warm gaze, filled with reassurance and affection. “I’m happy to know that you didn’t think that way.”

“Of course, honey.” A blush spread across her cheeks at his use of a term of endearment. “I would’ve never told you that I didn’t want to date you. I know this was difficult for you to tell me all of this and I appreciate you being truthful with me.” He looked down at her hands that he was holding. “I very much want to get to know you better, to be able to continue to date you.” She watched as he smiled. “So, cheer up; we’re on a date and we’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves. Right?” She nervously nodded. “Triara, don’t worry.” He patted her hands. “I’m not going anywhere.” He gently rubbed the top of her hand. “I promise.”

She reached out with her abilities; it wasn’t hard to sense that he was finding himself falling for her despite her being an alien from another world with such abilities. It was then that she had hope that one day she would be married much like her friends Richard and Rachel were and that she could be a sort of surrogate mother to his young daughter.

Later that evening, they walked down the hall of Blue Sector together until they reached Triara’s door. Taking her hands in his, he expressed, “Good night, Triara. I truly enjoyed our time together. I’d love to go out with you again sometime.”

She caught her breath in anticipation as she smiled in response, overwhelmed by his admission he indeed wanted to go out with her again. “I feel the same way,” she confessed, heart fluttering with delight. “But I was thinking… maybe our evening doesn’t have to end just yet.”

He hummed inquisitively, intrigued by her suggestion.

Pulling out her CAC from her pocket, she waved it in front of the card reader, and her door opened. “Come in,” she invited, motioning for him to enter her suite. As he hesitantly took a seat on her couch, she approached her liquor cabinet.

“Do you want anything to drink?” she asked. “I have quite an assortment of whiskeys to choose from.” She began to look through her bottles calling out the various names from her collection including that of Johnnie Walker Black, Buffalo Trace, EH Taylor, Makers Mark, Angel’s Envy, Jim Beam, Basil Hayden, Slane, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Eagle Rare, Weller, Jack Daniel’s, and Macallan.

He had to admit that he was rather impressed as she rattled off the names of the various whiskeys that she had in her collection all while knowing that most Zaltaens weren’t into drinking, at least not like humans did.

“I also have a few vodkas like Grey Goose. I even have this,” she held up a bottle and on the label were the words ‘Vernier Thruster’.

“Oh God!” he coughed. “Keep that garbage away from me!”

They both shared a laugh at the idea that she had such a bottom-shelf item in her collection among all her top-shelf items.

“I keep it for laughs.”

“Obviously,” he chuckled.

“So,” she stashed the bottle of Vernier Thruster whiskey near the back of her collection never to the light of day and to collect dust, “what do you want?”

“Um,” he rubbed his chin, “do you have Makers Mark 46?”

She sifted through her collection, her search finally yielding results with an “ah-ha” of satisfaction. With a grin, she retrieved the bottle, exclaiming, “Found it!” Tugging at the tab protruding from the bottle’s cap, she peeled away the signature red wax of Maker’s Mark, cracking open the bottle for the very first time.

Placing the bottle on her counter, she retrieved two whiskey glasses and poured a generous amount of the amber-colored liquid into each. With glasses in hand, she crossed the room to where he was seated on her couch, offering one to him with a warm smile.

She observed with interest as he swirled the whiskey in his glass, allowing it to aerate before bringing it to his nose for a gentle sniff. She watched as he savored the aroma, taking a small sip and letting out a contented sigh.

“Ah,” he exclaimed, setting the glass down on his knee with a satisfied expression. “That’s the stuff.”

She chuckled softly, delighted by his enjoyment of the whiskey. It was moments like that that made her think that inviting him in for the evening was a good idea. She raised her own glass in a silent toast before taking a sip, savoring the warmth that spread through her chest.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” she said with a smile as she settled down beside him on the couch. She noticed the way his eyes followed her movements as she crossed her legs, and a playful glint danced in her own.

Leaning back comfortably, she took another sip of her bourbon, savoring the rich flavor. “So, what do you want to do?” she asked, the question hanging in the air between them.

He considered her question for a moment, his gaze meeting hers. “Honestly, just being here with you is enough,” he admitted, his voice soft with sincerity. “It’s been a long time since I’ve spent some time with a woman in private. However, if you have any ideas… I’m open to suggestions.”

She smiled, feeling a warmth that she had wanted for so long spread through her at his words. She didn’t need anything more than this moment, with him by her side.

“Well,” she began, setting her glass down on the coffee table, “we could watch a movie together.” She glanced at him, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “Or we could simply enjoy each other’s company and see where the night takes us.”

She felt a shiver of anticipation run down her spine as he reached for her hand that was resting on her nylon-covered thigh, his touch sending a thrill through her. She nestled closer to him, feeling the warmth of his body against hers as she uncrossed her legs and shifted to be even closer, and he seemed to enjoy it.

“Computer?” he called out, and she listened as it responded with a prompt tone, awaiting his command. “Give me a list of movies with a romantic theme to it.”

With a soft hum, the computer complied, listing off a selection of movies that fit the criteria. She glanced at the screen, feeling a smile tug at the corners of her lips as she considered the possibilities.

“Any preferences?” she asked, turning to him with a playful glint in her eyes. “Or should we leave it up to chance?”

He looked over the list, his fingers gently tracing patterns on her hand as he considered their options. “Hmm,” he murmured, “how about we start with something classic? ‘Casablanca’?”

She nodded, a smile spreading across her face. “Sounds perfect,” she agreed, feeling excitement at the prospect of spending the evening wrapped up in his arms, lost in the timeless romance of old Terra Hollywood.

Together, they settled in to watch the movie, their fingers intertwined as they lost themselves in the story unfolding on the screen. And as the night stretched on, they found themselves swept away by the magic of love, their own romance blossoming in the soft glow of the holographic screen.

The next morning, she slowly opened her eyes, feeling the warmth of his breath on the back of her neck. She shifted slightly and noticed the intimate closeness between them, a blush rising to her cheeks as she became aware of his body pressed against hers.

“Michael?” she called softly at which he stirred awake, blinking sleepily as he registered their position.

“I… I didn’t mean for this to happen,” he stammered, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment at how they had fallen asleep and at how his body was reacting to the intimate closeness they were experiencing.

She smiled gently, turning to kiss his cheek. “Don’t worry,” she reassured him, “I’m not blaming you.”

She felt his tension ease slightly at her words at which she looked down at his arms that were wrapped around her while she snuggled closer to him which did nothing for how his body was reacting to her. She was more than content to stay wrapped up in his arms a little while longer.

“Say?” she asked. “What do you want to do this morning?” It was then that she heard her stomach growl as he looked down at her stomach. “I guess my Zaltaen metabolism is in full swing this morning,” she joked, feeling a pang of hunger.

He laughed in response, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “You’re telling me!” he exclaimed, still amazed at how she had managed to polish off a porterhouse steak, a salad, a baked potato with all the bad stuff on top, and to top it all off, a piece of cheesecake. “I was for sure thinking that you’d be taking home a doggy bag.”

“That’s the Zaltaen metabolism for you!” she exclaimed. “Zalta, my species’ home world is a high-gravity world so everything about my physiology requires more nutrients than humans do, even human males.”

She continued, explaining, “Everything from my cardiovascular, pulmonary, skeletal, and muscular systems are much stronger than that of humans. And my metabolism is also boosted to maintain my bodily systems. That’s why my normal body temperature is 37.71100 degrees Fahrenheit. degrees Celsius versus 37298.6 degrees Fahrenheit. degrees Celsius for humans.”

He listened with fascination; his eyebrows raised in surprise. “What’s the gravity of your home world?” he asked, almost afraid to know the answer.

“1.5 gravities compared to the 1 of Terra,” she replied.

“Yikes!” he whispered, clearly taken aback. “I know some people who were genetically modified to handle life on higher gravity worlds, but the extent that we’ve been able to achieve is 1.35 gravities, and even that’s stretching things for human biology. I take it that everything is heavier there on Zalta.”

She nodded. “Damn,” he whispered, clearly impressed by the challenges her species faced.

“With that being said,” he continued, shifting the conversation, “how about we go grab some breakfast? I know a great little diner in Green Sector called Steve’s Diner.” Her eyes lit up with excitement. “Then I take it that you know the place.”

“Know the place!” she exclaimed, jumping up from the couch. “I love the place! They make some of the best pancakes on the station!” She exclaimed enthusiastically. “Pancakes are my comfort food; I eat it when I feel lonely.”

“Aww,” she felt him kiss her neck, “hopefully you won’t be feeling so lonely anymore.”

She once again smiled at the idea that she had a shot at the kind of life that Richard and Rachel had that she so desperately wanted. She just hoped to the Great Maker that things would work out between the two of them and that it would ultimately lead to that kind of life.

“But anyways, it’s settled,” he said while rising to his feet. “Steve’s Diner it is. But first,” he headed for the head, “I need to go take a pitstop first.”

“Of course,” she nodded understandingly as he mentioned his need for a pitstop. “Take your time, I’ll wait for you here.

She watched him leave, a sense of warmth enveloping her. With a smile, she settled back onto the couch, patiently awaiting his return. Meanwhile, she glanced down at herself and began to carefully pick at the nylon material of her tights which had become uneven and disorderly from her previous position. As she heard the toilet flush and the sound of running water from the faucet, she rose to her feet, feeling a sense of anticipation for the day ahead. When he emerged from the bathroom and approached her, placing a hand on her back, she felt a rush of excitement. “Come on,” he said warmly, “let’s go grab something to eat.”

As they stepped out of her suite and into the bustling hallway, she couldn’t help but notice the crowd of officers milling about, the atmosphere alive with the energy of shift-change. She felt the familiar scrutiny of her fellow officers as they passed by, their gazes lingering on them.

But as she reached out with her mind to him, she felt a sense of calm wash over her. His presence beside her was reassuring, and she felt a warmth spread through her as he wrapped his arm around her, drawing her close. It was then that she heard his voice inside her mind, a gentle whisper that eased her worries.

“Stop worrying so much,” he whispered softly, his words carrying a reassuring tone. “All that matters is you.” As she absorbed his words, a wave of warmth washed over her, reassured by his unwavering support amidst the whispers of other officers.

John Renault thought back to the meeting that he had with his Secretary of the Navy, Admiral Moore. The meeting could’ve gone a lot better if they hadn’t let themselves get heated and started screaming at each other.

Both were hard-headed individuals with tempers to match. Both stood by their convictions and although they disagreed, they still respected each other.

“President Renault, with all due respect.” He laughed because he knew that whenever someone said that it was the opposite. “I cannot condone the use of our warships as mere cargo vessels. It goes against every principle of naval strategy and compromises the readiness of our fleet.”

And the thing about it is, she was right. He did have to ask though. He must have gotten lost in his thoughts for he nearly jumped out of his seat at the sound of his name from his personal secretary, Michelle.

“The Zaltaen ambassador is here to see you.”

“Well?” The president said in an obviously impatient tone of voice. It was unlike Michelle to hold things up, she was adamant about maintaining a tight schedule and on more than a few occasions she had ended meetings with him that had gone over the allotted time, yet this time it seemed like Michelle was trying to delay his meeting with the Zaltaen ambassador.

“Sir,” Michelle came forward, “there’s been some… changes.”

“Changes… how?” John inquired, perplexed by Michelle’s otherwise cryptic response regarding the situation.

“It appears that Zalta decided to recall the ambassador and appoint a replacement,” Michelle replied, her gaze shifting towards the door. “And let me assure you, she’s not your typical garden variety Zaltaen.” At that moment, the door to his office swung open, revealing a Zaltaen woman whose attire deviated significantly from the norm.

John glanced over to where the Zaltaen woman stood, her attire strikingly different from the traditional garb of her people, typically characterized by long, flowing robes that swept the ground. Instead, she wore a formfitting white dress that fell elegantly to mid-thigh, reminiscent of his own secretary’s sleek style. The ensemble was completed by sheer black tights and white high-heeled shoes, adding a modern, sophisticated touch. The combination highlighted her graceful silhouette, making her stand out in a way that was both alluring and unconventional for a Zaltaen.

Michelle coughed lightly before addressing John, “John?” She gestured towards the Zaltaen woman in the room. “May I introduce you to Eririn, the new Zaltaen ambassador to Altair.”

Eririn interjected, her tone tinged with irritation, “I do believe it’s customary for individuals to introduce themselves when first meeting. I had hoped to do so myself.”

“Right,” John acknowledged, observing as Michelle discreetly exited the room.

“Anyways,” Eririn strode up to John’s desk, her demeanor now more relaxed. “With that bit of annoyance out of the way, my name is Eririn.” She extended her hand graciously. “I’m pleased to meet you.”

John reciprocated the handshake in a customary manner. “Pleased to meet you as well. I’m President John Renault, head of the Union of Free Stars.” He observed Eririn bow before him in the traditional Zaltaen fashion while maintaining their handshake.

“I do have to ask,” John continued as Eririn settled into a chair across his desk, crossing her legs with human-like ease, “why the replacement of ambassadors?”

Eririn’s smirk hinted at a story. “The previous ambassador found her posting… uncomfortable, shall we say. She requested a transfer back to Zalta.”

“I see,” John mused, rubbing his chin.

“So, my government decided to send me,” Eririn gestured to herself. “As you can see from how I’m dressed,” she looked down at herself, “I have prior experience with humans.”

“Prior experience?” John’s curiosity was piqued. “Were you one of the Zaltaens who spent years undercover among humans?”

“Exactly!” Eririn confirmed with enthusiasm. “As soon as the position opened up for the ambassadorship to Altair, I practically leapt at the chance.” She chuckled with a sense of liberation evident in her laughter. “After nearly a decade among humans, going back to Zalta felt like torture, I tell you!” She composed herself, meeting John’s gaze. “So here I am!” She raised her arms in the air. “Your new ambassador. And trust me,” she pointed at John, “you’re going to have a much better experience with me than with that… how do humans say it? That stick in the mud?”

What Eririn didn’t tell John was that among her people, many regarded the ambassadorial position to Altair as little more than a joke and a bad one at that. Even the Corporate Republic of Sirius held a more favorable standing in the Royal Court than the Union of Free Stars. This was a bitter irony, considering the Zaltaens’ disdain for the rampant capitalism that had engulfed much of Sirius.

That fact, however, didn’t deter Eririn from pursuing the ambassadorial role; anything was preferable to being trapped on Zalta. She felt stifled and constrained among her own kind ever since being recalled back to her home world.

“I can definitely say that I’d welcome a better experience than I did with your predecessor. I really felt like I was getting nowhere with her. No matter what solution I proposed, it was always a no.”

“Yes,” she nodded, her expression troubled. “I can understand why you’d think that way.” Eririn nervously glanced around the room, as if wary of eavesdroppers. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this but,” John waited, anticipation building in his chest, “the Zaltaen government isn’t exactly looking at your government in a favorable light. They believe that ultimately, your government will fail, and the Human Federation will have to come in and ultimately take you and your colonies back.”

“Well, it’s true,” he admitted, his gaze dropping to the datapads spread out on his desk, “we’re having some economic issues but nothing that’ll cause us to fail.”

“Who are you trying to fool? Me? Or yourself?” Eririn’s voice was sharp, cutting through the air like a knife. She watched as John closed his eyes, a heavy sigh escaping him, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “I’ve been briefed on what’s happening on the way here and if you don’t think that the Zaltaen Royal Court doesn’t have access to the same reports you have, well… you’d be wrong. I’ve read them and to put it mildly, it doesn’t look good.”

“You’re not wrong,” John sighed heavily, his frustration evident. “We need supplies to keep our economy afloat, but many companies in Human Federation space are apprehensive about establishing trade deals with us out of fear that we may not be able to pay our debts. As I told my chief economic advisor, if we can’t import products to keep our economy alive, we’ll default on our loans. However, if we can’t agree on trade deals because companies are fearful of us defaulting on our loans, it’ll result in us defaulting on our loans because we can’t import products.”

He stood up from his desk, his movements restless as he began to pace back and forth.

“We’re like a patient on the operating table that needs a blood transfusion, but nobody’s willing to donate any blood.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Eririn interjected, her voice steady with determination. “I’m here to help.”

“No offense,” John scoffed, his skepticism palpable, “but what good will you be able to do?” He fixed his gaze on her, a hint of challenge in his eyes. “The last ambassador told us no at every turn. What makes you think that you can do something that the last ambassador couldn’t, or wouldn’t?”

“Because I have friends in high places,” Eririn replied, her tone firm yet reassuring. “And I’m willing to, as humans say, stick my neck out for you and your star nation.” Her conviction was unwavering, a flicker of determination shining through her eyes.

“And just what is in it for you?” John asked, his hands planted firmly on his hips, his posture confrontational. “Why are you willing to risk everything on us? I mean, you yourself even said it,” he gestured with frustration, “your own government sees the writing on the wall. Why would they lift a finger for us knowing that this nation is on the verge of economic collapse?”

“Because I,” Eririn began, her voice steady, “have some, as humans say, skin in the game.” John sank back into his chair behind the desk, his expression shifting from defiance to curiosity. “I was an officer in your space navy while undercover, so I know the lengths that your nation has gone through to get to this point. The trials, the tribulations; all of it, I experienced it all. How the Human Federation treated its outer colonies is beyond disgraceful, and what they’re doing to you now is just as disgraceful. I’d go so far as to say that it’s even worse than what they did to you before. They’re not using guns, but the tools of economics to bleed you dry.”

John’s skepticism melted away, replaced by a profound sense of understanding and connection. “You’re one of us!” he exclaimed, his voice filled with both surprise and relief.

“In a way, yes I am,” Eririn affirmed, her gaze unwavering as she met his eyes. “I fought side-by-side with your navy to free your nation from the oppression of the Human Federation. I don’t want to see any of,” she glanced around the room, her expression somber, “this die because people in the Human Federation government would rather see your nation fail than lift one finger to help you.”

“Are you saying that President Christina Crow of the Human Federation is behind all of this?” John’s voice trembled with a mixture of disbelief and betrayal, his anger simmering just beneath the surface. “Is that what you’re saying?” His temper flared, and Eririn could see the fire in his eyes.

“I shook hands with her at the peace treaty summit!” He yelled, his voice echoing off the walls of the room. “I,” he pointed at his chest, his finger trembling with rage, “trusted her!”

“I’m not saying that at all, John,” Eririn replied calmly, holding his gaze steady. “And I would never believe for one second that President Christina Crow would stoop to such lows. She’s an honorable woman, and I don’t believe for one second that she would think to do that to you or her fellow humans. She believes in this peace as much as you do.”

John’s jaw clenched as he struggled to reconcile his feelings. The thought of betrayal from someone he had trusted left a bitter taste in his mouth, but Eririn’s words offered a glimmer of reassurance in the midst of uncertainty.

“Then what is going on?” John asked, his voice heavy with frustration as he sank back into his chair behind the desk. “Who’s pulling the strings here? Who’s putting in the roadblocks?”

“I don’t know,” Eririn sighed, her shoulders slumping with weariness. “But I can say one thing. Everything that I can do, that I can muster, will be at your disposal. I promise you that.” Her eyes met John’s, filled with determination and resolve.

“I believe you,” John sighed heavily, his body slumping against his desk in defeat. “It’s just… frustrating. You know?” He looked back up at Eririn, searching her eyes for understanding. “I just want my people, my nation, to be able to succeed.”

Eririn rose from her seat and approached him, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. John met her gaze, and in that moment, he sensed a genuine sincerity that eased the weight on his shoulders.

“John,” Eririn began, her voice gentle yet resolute, “I will do everything within my power to help you and your nation.” She sat back down, a sense of purpose emanating from her demeanor. “First off,” she reached into one of her pockets and retrieved a datapad, offering it to John.

He accepted it, his brow furrowing with confusion. “What’s this?” he asked, turning the device over in his hands to be able to read it.

“Help,” Eririn replied simply, a small smile playing at the corners of her lips.

“Help?” John echoed; his curiosity piqued.

“Did you really think that I’d come into your hallowed office empty-handed?” she retorted, nodding toward the datapad. “Read it. Tell me what you think.”

John took a second look at the datapad, his eyes scanning the contents intently. As he continued to read, a sense of astonishment washed over him, evident in the widening of his eyes.

“Am I reading this correctly?” he asked, his voice tinged with disbelief. “Are you saying that you already have five cargo vessels ready to launch at a moment’s notice?” He looked up at Eririn, searching her face for confirmation.

Eririn nodded, her expression calm and assured. If it were any other person, John would have been questioning their motives, but with Eririn, he felt an innate trust in her. She had given him no reason to doubt her sincerity, and her unwavering dedication to help was palpable.

“Wow,” John sighed, a hint of relief coloring his tone. “This is a great start.” The weight of their economic woes felt a little lighter knowing that they had a tangible solution within reach, thanks to Eririn’s proactive efforts.

“And that’s not all,” Eririn began, her voice carrying a hint of excitement. “My House is willing to front the bills for another five cargo vessels.”

“Your House?” John’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “But why?” he asked, genuine curiosity etched on his face. “Why would your House be willing to do this? Won’t this hurt your House’s political standing on your world?” he inquired, studying Eririn’s reaction closely.

Eririn shrugged with indifference. “It’s not like my House has any serious amount of political power on my world. We’re not a powerful House at all. However,” she added, a note of caution creeping into her tone, “I do have to admit that there will be some… future payments involved.”

“And here comes the other shoe,” John remarked, a wry smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He leaned forward, intrigued to hear the terms of Eririn’s proposal.

“As you can probably imagine, my House is taking a great risk here; we’re putting forth a serious amount of political and economic capital,” Eririn explained, her tone measured. John nodded, acknowledging the gravity of the situation. “With that being said, we do expect to be compensated for our efforts.”

“What does your House expect for payment?” John asked, almost afraid to know the answer.

“Scroll down on the datapad,” Eririn replied simply, indicating for John to delve deeper into the contents of the device.

He did as he was told and scrolled down to the bottom of the document on the datapad. There, he found the stipulations of the agreement. Land. And it wasn’t just any small request for land; they were asking for a very large amount of land — the whole southern tip of the continent they were sitting on.

“You do realize that this is a large ask, right?” John asked, his voice tinged with incredulity. “You’re asking for hundreds of acres of land here.” Eririn nodded solemnly. “But why? What’s in it for you and your House? Why the request for this much land?”

“Because my House wants to get off Zalta,” she said matter-of-factly. “We too have our own issues on Zalta, and we feel that this agreement can benefit the both of us. We help you and your nation while we get a chunk of land to build and expand our House. We could be partners.”

“You know,” John began, “I will have to bring this up to Congress to vote on. I can’t unilaterally agree to such terms.”

“I know that.” Eririn replied calmly, standing up from her chair. “I didn’t expect that you could.” She made her way to the door, pausing for a moment to look back at John. “My House feels like it’s a fair bargain. We both win.” With that, Eririn walked out of the room, leaving John to contemplate the weighty decision that lay before him.

“So,” John looked up at the sound of a voice in his office, “what did the new Zaltaen ambassador have to say?”

“This,” John handed the datapad to Melissa, his expression serious, “she proposed this plan to me.” Melissa accepted the device and began to read. “Be careful to read to the very end of it, it’s a real doozy.”

He observed as his economic advisor settled into her seat, her brows furrowing in concentration as she perused the contents of the contract. As Melissa reached the section outlining the Zaltaen House’s request for land, her eyes widened in surprise.

“Uh-huh,” John nodded slowly, his mind drifting back to his initial reaction. “That’s about the same response I had.” Melissa glanced at him, sensing the weight of the situation. Together, they faced the daunting challenge ahead, determined to navigate the complexities of diplomacy and negotiation.

“Whew,” Melissa exhaled sharply, her lips pursed in thought. “That’s quite the contract. I would’ve considered signing it right away if it weren’t for that,” she gestured at the datapad, “part of the document.”

“Tell me about it,” Melissa echoed, her expression reflecting the gravity of the task ahead. With a shared understanding, they began to strategize, determined to navigate the complex negotiations ahead and secure the best possible outcome for their nation.

“What did you tell her?” Melissa inquired; her tone tinged with anticipation. “Please tell me that you’d have to consult your advisors.”

John paused, considering his response carefully. “Better,” he finally replied. “I told her that Congress would have to approve it.”

“Good call,” Melissa nodded in agreement. “Stall this as long as you can.” She sighed heavily with frustration evident in her tone. “The frustrating part is, we need this. Damn her,” she cursed Eririn, her voice tinged with resentment, “for inserting this condition. They have us cornered and they know it.”

“It’s the art of doing business,” John remarked with a wry smile. “Always ask for something in return for a favor. It’s the oldest rule in the book.” He shook his head.

“Perhaps they’ve learned more than we give them credit for. They’re not stupid, you know.” John nodded in agreement. “They may not necessarily approve of how we do business and govern our people, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not willing to take advantage of it.”

John sighed, the weight of their situation pressing down on him. “Well, it looks like we have our work cut out for us. Let’s get started on drafting a proposal to present to Congress.” He glanced at Melissa. “We need to play our cards right if we’re going to come out of this with a favorable outcome.”

Back on Genesis, Triara was once again getting ready for another date with Michael. He had been adamant about dressing casually for their date because he was going to take her bowling.

“Bowling?” she asked herself as she was looking through her closet. “What’s bowling?” She thought once again. “Why would he want to take me on a date where you put stuff in bowls?” She shook her head in dismay at the idea that she once again found herself in a situation where she didn’t know much about human culture.

She sighed as she stood in front of her modest wardrobe, contemplating her limited options once again. The familiar dilemma of what to wear for a special occasion weighed heavily on her mind. She knew she needed to expand her wardrobe but finding the time for shopping seemed like an impossible task amidst her busy schedules.

As she rifled through her closet, her mind drifted back to that unforgettable first date with Michael. She remembered the effortless yet enticing ensemble she had worn; denim shorts, a cozy sweatshirt, a pair of black tights paired with socks and athletic shoes. He had described it as playful, but she knew there was an undercurrent of flirtation in his words.

“Alright,” she declared to the empty room, her decision made. “I’m going with that.”

With a renewed sense of purpose, she set out to assemble her outfit, eager not to keep him waiting again that she had the first time when she was fussing over what to wear. As she carefully selected each piece, memories of her first date with him flooded her mind, adding a touch of nostalgia to her preparations.

First came the tights for they had become a crucial part of her various outfits that not only added a touch of style but also provided her with the confidence to push the boundaries of her usual attire. Despite the cultural beliefs that had previously constrained her wardrobe choices, the comfort and empowerment she found in wearing the tights allowed her to explore human styles that she wouldn’t have otherwise been comfortable wearing. However, this time instead of wearing black tights, she opted to wear purple ones instead.

She sat down on the side of the bed and began to put them on and after meticulously adjusting them for a perfect fit and look, she pulled the waistband up over her stomach before sitting down again to slip on her white ankle socks.

Next came the denim shorts which snugly hugged her curves and the sweatshirt that subtly concealed the size of her ample chest, allowing her to feel confident by not sacrificing her Zaltaen sense of modesty.

After she was finished getting dressed, she got up and looked at herself in the mirror and at the sight of herself, it brought back the excitement of that memorable evening of her telling him that she was a telepath and that he accepted that aspect of her. She couldn’t help but take it as a sign that perhaps things would work out between the two of them.

Startled by the familiar sound of the door chime, her heart skipped a beat. With a muttered curse in her native language, she hastily reached for her datapad, momentarily pausing her outfit adjustments.

“I’ll be out in a minute,” she called out, her voice laced with a hint of urgency, as she pressed the intercom button on her datapad to relay her message.

She was about to walk out of her bedroom when she remembered that she wanted to put one final touch to her outfit, a few sprits of her favorite perfume.

“Here goes nothing,” she whispered under her breath as she stepped out of her bedroom, her hand hovering over the door panel. With a momentary pause to gather her courage, she took a deep breath and pressed the button to open it.

As the door slid open revealing Michael standing on the other side, a warm smile spread across his face. He had waited patiently but as she appeared in the doorway, his gaze met hers with a sense of anticipation of the evening that awaited them.

“Hi there,” she greeted him warmly, her eyes lighting up with delight as she closed the gap between them. With a gentle smile, she wrapped her arms around his neck, drawing him into an embrace similar to how she had observed human women do with their male partners.

“How are you doing this evening?” she inquired, her voice infused with genuine care and warmth, eager to engage in conversation with him.

Surprised by her swift embrace, he momentarily hesitated before responding. “Aren’t you going to hug me back?” she asked, her gaze meeting his piercing blue eyes. “I thought it was customary among humans to return a hug when one receives one.”

Caught off guard by her observation, he stammered a reply as he reciprocated the hug, pulling her closer. It had been a long time since he had held a woman in his arms like that, the memory of his late wife haunting his thoughts as he held her. Yet, in that moment, he found himself not wanting to let go of her.

Unbeknownst to him, she sensed his inner turmoil despite the mental barriers she had erected inside her mind. The flood of emotions emanating from him as they held each other spoke volumes, transcending mere friendship. Though she had been embraced by Richard countless times in similar ways in the past, this hug with him felt different; it was more profound, more intimate. And just like him, she had no desire to let go.

But like all good things, the hug eventually came to an end as he reluctantly let go of her. Sensing the fleeting moment, she reached out and gently touched his chest, wanting to prolong their physical connection for just a mere moment longer.

“Thank you,” he sighed, “I needed that,” he whispered, his voice breaking the profound silence that enveloped them. She nodded in agreement, her own emotions mirrored in his words.

“I needed it as well, Michael,” she replied softly, her voice filled with sincerity and understanding. In that brief exchange, they found solace in each other’s presence, a silent acknowledgment of the unspoken emotions that they had exchanged in that embrace.

“Are you ready to go?” he inquired, his gaze sweeping over her outfit. “Didn’t you wear nearly the same outfit the last time we went out on a date?”

She glanced down at herself, a hint of uncertainty flickering in her eyes. “Well, yes,” she admitted, meeting his gaze once more. “I did. You seemed to like it that last time I wore this, so I thought that I’d wear it again.” She fidgeted nervously with the hem of her sweatshirt. “Do you want me to change into something else?”

“Oh no!” he exclaimed, stepping closer and reaching for her shoulders. “I think you look wonderful,” he reassured her, his voice filled with genuine admiration. “It’s perfect for an evening like this.”

It was then that he caught a subtle scent in the air, prompting him to take a curious sniff. “Are you wearing perfume?” he inquired, his interest piqued.

“Uh-huh,” she confirmed with a soft hum. “Do you like it?” she asked, a small smile playing on her lips.

He nodded in response. “I do,” he admitted.

“I thought I’d add it this time around as an added extra for the evening,” she explained, her eyes twinkling with anticipation. “I was hoping you’d like it. And to answer your question… yes, I’m ready to go,” she affirmed, pressing the button on her door to close it behind them. “Although, I’m rather confused as to what you plan on doing with me tonight. What’s bowling?”

“You’ll see,” he replied with a smile, his hand finding its place on the small of her back as they began to walk down the hallway. Together, they made their way towards the transit train that ran the length of the space station, offering fast transportation from one end to the other.

Luckily, at that hour, the transit train wasn’t busy, allowing them to board immediately and find a seat without delay. As they settled in, she couldn’t shake off the feeling of unease as she noticed the curious glances from other passengers, similar to their experience at the restaurant the weekend before.

Sensing her discomfort, he reached for her hand and gave it a reassuring pat, a silent gesture that spoke volumes. His actions conveyed his indifference to the scrutiny of others, offering her a sense of confidence. With a sigh of relief, she crossed her legs and leaned in closer to him. Taking hold of his left hand, she interlaced her fingers with his all while others looked on.

As they entered the bowling alley, her gaze swept across the diverse crowd of patrons. People of all ages and backgrounds filled the space, creating an atmosphere buzzing with energy and excitement. Among them, she noted officers, enlisted personnel, and civilian families alike, all enjoying a leisurely evening out together.

The sound of laughter and the clatter of bowling balls echoed through the air, adding to the lively ambiance of the scene. And she couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation building within her as she took in the sights and sounds of the bustling bowling alley.

“So, this is bowling?” she inquired, her curiosity piqued as she observed the gameplay around them.

“Uh-huh,” he confirmed with a nod. Placing his hand once again on the small of her back, he guided her through the bustling crowd. Meanwhile, she couldn’t help but notice the lingering gazes from some of the other patrons, but this time, she found herself less affected by their scrutiny.

As they approached a counter adorned with rows of shoes, he explained, “First, we need to get some shoes.”

Confusion flickered across her features as she glanced down at her own athletic shoes. “But I’m already wearing shoes,” she remarked, furrowing her brow in puzzlement. “What’s wrong with them?”

“Regular shoes will mark up the special floor of the bowling lanes,” he explained patiently, understanding her confusion.

As they waited, an attendant approached them, ready to assist. “I’ll take a men’s size 12 and a half,” he requested, and within moments, the attendant returned with the appropriate shoes.

He gestured towards the shoes, showing her the bottom of the shoe. “See?” he pointed out, demonstrating the smooth, non-marking sole designed to protect the lanes.

She nodded in understanding at his explanation, realizing the necessity of the specialized shoes for bowling lanes. She then turned to the attendant and addressed them directly, “I’ll take a ladies size 10, please.”

Within moments, the attendant returned with her shoes and placed them atop the counter alongside his.

“Alright, you two, that’ll be ten credits each,” the attendant informed them.

She began to reach for her CAC to pay for her shoes when he intervened. Pulling out his own card, he tapped it against the card reader, initiating the payment process. A beep indicated that his payment had been accepted, sparing her the need to pay for her own shoes.

“Alright,” he said as he stepped away from the counter, leading her further into the bowling alley. “Now we get to find an empty lane to play at.”

Scanning the area, his eyes settled on an empty lane, labeled as lane 22. “There,” he pointed off in the distance, gesturing towards their chosen destination.

As they reached the lane, he settled down and began the process of swapping his shoes for the special bowling footwear. She followed suit, slipping off her own shoes to make way for the bowling shoes.

Observing her actions, he couldn’t help but notice the socks that she was wearing, a thoughtful addition considering the circumstances. He glanced down at her feet and remarked, “It’s a good thing you’re wearing those socks.” He pointed to them, acknowledging their importance. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to wear these bowling shoes without them.”

“Absolutely,” she affirmed, knowing that he meant that she was wearing socks with her tights. “I often pair them with my tights when wearing athletic shoes so yeah, you’re right.”

“Ah,” he nodded. He had often wondered about why she wore tights, especially when most human women didn’t wear them. Not that he minded; in fact, he found them quite appealing on her, adding an elegant touch to her attire. However, he refrained from asking her about it, not wanting to make her uncomfortable, particularly at such an early stage in their relationship. Meanwhile, Triara couldn’t help but smile inwardly as she picked up on his thoughts, noting their similarity to Richard’s perspective on the matter.

“Now,” he announced, rising from his seat, “we now need to go get a bowling ball if we’re going to play the game.” She followed suit, leaving her regular shoes behind as she walked over to the racks of bowling balls. On one side, there were lighter balls that tended to appeal to human women, while on the other side were the heavier balls that were usually favored by men.

With her enhanced Zaltaen strength, she naturally gravitated towards the heavier balls. As she reached for one, his voice broke through her concentration. “Triara,” he began, caution evident in his tone as he grabbed a ball to test its weight, “those balls are rather heavy. They might be…” He trailed off, his words faltering as he watched her effortlessly lift one of the heaviest balls with ease. “My mistake,” he admitted, a hint of awe in his voice, “I forgot about how much strength you actually have.”

“Yeah,” she confirmed, lifting the ball up and down with the ease of someone curling a dumbbell, “I easily have twice as much strength as even a human male seeing as how Zaltaens come from a higher gravity world.” Her words held a touch of pride, emphasizing the extent of her physical abilities compared to those of humans.

“Remind me never to get into a fight with you,” he joked, pointing at her with a chuckle. “I have a feeling that you’d wipe the floor with me.” His tone was light-hearted, acknowledging her formidable strength when compared to even him in a playful manner.

“I’ve learned the limits of what I can do with humans,” she admitted, her gaze briefly drifting upwards before returning to him with a chuckle. “Though I do have to admit,” she continued, “I sometimes forget my own strength when I get too excited. For instance…” Before she could finish, he interjected, “Let me guess, when you’re hugging someone.”

She slowly nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” she recalled a moment when she had hugged Richard, “when I went to hug him, I overdid it a bit. He let me know when he told me that he couldn’t breathe.” She nervously rubbed the back of her neck. “I’ve been trying to keep my enthusiasm under control.”

“Hey,” he said, coming up beside her and patting her on the back, “I like your enthusiasm. It’s why I asked you if you wanted to date me. I’ve never met anyone like you.” His words carried sincerity, reflecting his genuine appreciation for her, and it once again filled her with a sense that their relationship would be successful.

“So,” he began, leading her back to lane 22, “I’m going to show you how to play the game.”

As they returned to lane 22, he stepped up to the lane. “Now,” he looked back at her, “you stand back here and line yourself up to knock down those pins all the way down there.” He gestured towards the ten pins at the other end of the lane. “You then pull the ball back like this,” she watched his demonstration intently, “and you step forward like so.”

She observed as he walked gracefully forward and smoothly threw the ball down the lane. The ball struck the pins, but only six fell. “Oh no,” she said with concern, realizing the objective was to knock them all down.

“That’s why you have a spare,” he explained as his ball returned. “And now, I’m going to try again.” With poise, he stepped up to the lane once more and skillfully launched the ball down the lane, successfully knocking down the remaining four pins after which he celebrated his achievement with excitement.

“And now it’s your turn.”

Nervously, she approached the lane with her ball in hand, attempting to emulate his actions. She released the ball down the lane, but only managed to knock down four pins, leaving six standing.

“Hey,” he came up beside her, “don’t feel bad. This is your first try. This game requires both skill and chance.” He watched as her ball returned. “Try again, but this time plan your play.” He positioned himself behind her, placing his hands on her hips to help her line up better. “There you go, you’re lined up better.” Stepping back, he watched as she brought her ball up and gracefully launched it down the lane.

She watched intently as the ball traveled down the lane, holding her breath in anticipation. Finally, the ball struck the remaining six pins, knocking them down. She screamed in excitement and rushed to him, enveloping him in a bearhug, unaware of her own strength until he struggled to breathe.

“Triara,” he gasped, “I can’t… breathe.”

Realizing her mistake, she quickly backed away, horror evident in her expression. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized, her gaze fixed on the floor below.

“Hey,” he reassured her as he took her into his arms, “it’s alright. I’m fine.” Despite his discomfort, his voice remained soothing. “Just don’t let your excitement get the better of you, okay?” He patted her shoulder reassuringly. “I’m fine,” he repeated, noting her worry.

Sheepishly, she approached him again and hugged him. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she whispered, her voice tinged with regret. He heard her sniffle, sensing her genuine remorse.

“Hey,” he gently rubbed her back, “no harm done. Now wipe that frown off your face, we’re on a date after all.” She drew in a haggard breath and nodded against his shoulder before letting go of him and stepping back. “Now let’s continue to have fun, okay?”

“Yeah,” she replied softly.

Despite her fears of having nearly hurt him, he didn’t seem overly concerned about the incident. In fact, his reaction was the opposite of what she had expected. Part of her, the more insecure part, had anticipated him calling off the date right then and there. However, as he retrieved his ball, he looked back at her with a reassuring smile as she settled back into her seat behind him.

“I’m fine,” he assured her once again, turning back to face the lane. With practiced skill, he launched his ball down the lane, and unlike his first try, he successfully knocked down all ten pins in one shot. “YES!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms in the air and jumping up, providing tangible evidence that he was indeed unharmed, putting her fears to rest.

From that point on, the two of them played one round after another until the game concluded.

“What’s going on?” she asked, observing the computer display the final score for the game in what appeared to be rather archaic-looking graphics compared to the more advanced graphics she knew the computer systems aboard the space station could produce. “Is the game over?”

“Yeah,” he replied, taking a seat beside her, “but that’s just one game.” He glanced back up at the computer screen. “And it looks like you beat me.”

“I beat you?” she asked, surprised at her victory in a game she had never played before. Confirming it with a glance at the screen, she had indeed surpassed him by six points, making her the winner of the game. “Wow,” she whispered, “that was fun.”

“I’m happy to see you having so much fun,” he said, reaching for her knee and giving it a reassuring pat, hoping she once again wouldn’t find it too presumptuous. The genuine smile on her face indicated her appreciation for his affectionate gesture.

She placed her hand over his that was resting on her knee, turning to look at him. There he was, smiling genuinely at her. “Can I?” she asked softly.

He simply nodded, and she closed the distance between them. Their lips met in their very first kiss, a moment charged with the sweetness of newfound affection.

“Wow,” she backed away from him, and there he was, his eyes still closed. When he didn’t open them, she wondered if she had done something wrong. “What’s wrong?” she asked softly.

“Oh, nothing,” he opened his eyes, a smile playing on his lips, “nothing’s wrong. In fact,” he closed in for another kiss, “everything is so very much right.” Their lips met again, this time with more intensity, a surge of passion that he hadn’t felt in years, not since his late wife had died. For her, it felt like a dream come true.

As the kiss ended, they lingered with the tips of their noses touching. “Come on,” he whispered, “let’s go get something to eat and play another game together. We have all night.” He stood up, extending his hand to her. She graciously accepted it, allowing him to pull her to her feet before embracing him. “I’m having a great time with you,” she whispered, her voice filled with emotion, “thank you. Thank you so very much. You have no idea how much this evening means to me. You have no idea how much it means to be truly accepted like this, despite what I am.”

“I know,” he replied, his voice soft and genuine. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time.” He took a moment to let the sentiment sink in before continuing. “Come,” he urged, his eyes shimmering with excitement. “Let’s grab some drinks and food, and spend the evening enjoying ourselves,” he proposed, his gaze holding hers with a touch of warmth. “Together.”

Together. As she heard that word, her heart began to flutter in her chest, a feeling of excitement and possibility at truly having what her friends Rachel and Richard had together washing over her. She had been so lonely since she had lost everything back when she had been cast out of her House, but when she was with him, she felt a sense of companionship that she hadn’t experienced in a long time. It was a feeling she never wanted to let go of.

Sure, she had Richard, who had claimed her as his sister from another mother, but being brother and sister was one thing. And then there was Rachel who was her best friend.

However, what she was looking forward to having with him was different, something deeper and more intimate; a connection that went beyond familial ties and friendships, something romantic and fulfilling. It was a prospect that filled her with hope and excitement for the future.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, Richard and Rachel observed from a distance as the two of them interacted with each other. For Rachel, witnessing Triara’s genuine happiness was a heartwarming sight. She understood that Triara longed for the kind of connection she shared with Richard, and now she could see that Triara had a chance at experiencing that kind of joy. For Richard, it was a moment of shared happiness. He couldn’t be happier for the both of them, seeing his friends finding happiness together.

“Hey,” Richard looked to Rachel, a smile playing on his lips, “I think they make a cute couple.”

“Me too,” she replied, taking hold of his hand, her expression softening with emotion. “I can’t help but feel happy for her, my love. Triara’s been through so much, lost… so much. To see the joy on her face, it’s almost…” She paused as she felt him squeeze her hand, and she met his gaze, seeing the love for her reflected in his eyes.

“Say no more, my love,” he said as he leaned in to kiss his wife. “I know exactly what you mean.” He smiled, a warmth spreading across his features. “I’ve missed this, I’ve missed this with you so very much.”

“I know,” she began to tear up, her voice soft with emotion. “Me too.” She leaned in closer to him, cherishing the intimate closeness that they hadn’t been able to experience for months due to life’s circumstances.

The night air was filled with laughter as the two of them exited the bowling alley, relishing the joy of their time together. Suddenly, Triara spotted Rachel standing nearby.

“Rachel!” Triara exclaimed, rushing over to her and enveloping her in a hug. “When did you get here?” she asked, stepping back to admire her longtime friend. “Why didn’t you and Richard join us? We would have loved to have you as part of our game,” she added, stealing a glance at Michael who was standing nearby.

Rachel smiled knowingly. “Oh no,” she waved a dismissive hand, “and spoil the fun you two were having? Not a chance! The two of you needed some alone time together,” she explained, turning to her husband, Richard. “Isn’t that right, my love?”

Richard nodded, his own smile reflecting his happiness for Triara. “You and Michael looked like you were having a blast. We didn’t want to intrude.”

“But…” Triara began, only to be stopped by Rachel.

“You needed some time with Michael,” Rachel interjected, and Triara couldn’t help but agree. She did need this time with Michael.

“Come on, Michael,” Richard said, pulling him aside. “Let Rachel and Triara have some girl time together.” As they stepped aside, Richard turned to his friend. “So, what do you think of her? What do you think of Triara?”

Michael sighed wistfully. “She’s wonderful,” he replied with a smile. “She has such a warm and inviting personality. I can’t help but want her in my life.” His gaze drifted to where Triara was conversing with Rachel. “You know, Richard,” he continued, “when my wife, Mary, died, I never thought I’d be capable of loving again. I thought that part of me died with her. But with Triara, she’s taught me that I can love again.”

“Do you love her?” Richard inquired, curious about Michael’s feelings for Triara for the part of him that saw Triara as a sister didn’t want to see her get hurt.

“I’m not sure, we’ve only been on two dates,” Michael admitted, taking a deep breath. “But I know one thing for sure… I’m falling for her.” He shook his head wistfully, a mix of uncertainty and longing evident in his expression.

Richard clapped him on the back, a wide grin on his face. “I couldn’t be happier for you, buddy. You deserve some happiness in your life, and so does she,” he gestured toward Triara. “Just promise me you’ll treat her right. She deserves it.”

Michael’s expression softened as Richard spoke. “Richard, I could never hurt her,” he vowed earnestly, his voice filled with sincerity and determination.

“Just make sure to treat her right. She deserves it,” Richard reiterated, his tone firm but supportive. “She’s been through so much, lost so much. She puts on a brave face but underneath that mask she wears, she’s…” Michael interrupted him, his concern evident. “I know,” he gave Richard a reassuring look, “I can see it in her eyes when she thinks I’m not looking. She’s so insecure about herself.”

“You would be too if you lost as much as she did. She lost everything, everyone she ever knew and loved,” Richard explained, going into the magnitude of Triara’s losses. Michael listened, absorbing the gravity of her past experiences. “She was cast out of her House,” Richard continued, seeing Michael’s confusion. “It’s like being disowned by your family but for a Zaltaen, it’s so much worse than that. For a Zaltaen, especially one who once came from a noble House of Zalta like she did, a Zaltaen without a House is no Zaltaen at all.”

And when Michael thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

“Worst of all, nobody she once knew, her brothers and sisters, none of them will take her call. Not even her own mother.”

Michael’s heart sank as Richard revealed the depth of Triara’s isolation and rejection. The weight of the revelation hit him with a crushing force, dispelling any remaining illusions he held about the challenges they might face together.

“Yikes!” Michael whispered a quiet acknowledgment. “No wonder why she’s so insecure. She’s afraid of losing me, the single brightest source of light in her universe,” he mused, a mixture of empathy and concern washing over him. Richard nodded in understanding. “Damn,” Michael sighed, “we’re like two peas in a pod. We’ve both lost so much.”

“And in a way,” Richard smiled knowingly, “I think that the two of you are good for each other. You both know how it feels to lose the people you love.” Michael glanced back at Triara, seeing her in a new light, filled with a renewed sense of compassion and commitment for her. “Be there for her just like I know that she’d be there for you,” Richard advised. Michael simply nodded, his resolve firm.

“I understand, Richard,” Michael replied, offering his longtime friend a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “So, I should just let her know I’m here for her without prying?”

“Exactly,” Richard affirmed, pausing for emphasis. “Let her come to you when she’s ready to talk about what happened to her. It took years before she opened up to me about what happened. Trust me, she’ll appreciate your support without the pressure of having to discuss it.” Michael nodded, absorbing Richard’s advice. “Got it. I’ll be there for her when she’s ready.”

Meanwhile, Rachel asked in a hushed tone, “Did you tell him what you are?” She glanced around, hoping Michael wasn’t looking their way, so he couldn’t read her lips. “You know…” Triara interrupted her, aware of Rachel’s implication. “You mean that I’m a telepath?” Rachel nodded. “That was the first thing I told him on our first date. I knew he had a right to know that about me if we were to go any further in our relationship.”

“Well?” Rachel waited with bated breath. “What did he think?” Triara reminisced about the moment she disclosed her telepathic abilities to him, feeling anxious about his reaction. “You know,” she smiled wistfully, “he was okay with it. In fact, he was fascinated by the whole subject. He even compared me to being a telepath out of an old television show. I believe it was called Babylon 5.” Rachel nodded, familiar with the show from her time with Richard.

“Well, that’s encouraging,” Rachel thought, a smile playing on her lips. “Do you like him?” She asked, curious about Triara’s feelings towards Michael.

“Yeah,” Triara’s heart fluttered at the mere thought of him. “I do, I like him a lot.” It was evident from her expression that Triara was developing strong feelings for Michael.

Triara glanced over at Michael, who was conversing with Richard nearby. “I just hope,” she turned back to Rachel, “that he feels the same way that I feel about him.”

“Oh,” Rachel’s smile widened, “I think you’ll have no problem with that.”

“How?” Triara inquired, her confusion evident. “How do you know that?” She couldn’t fathom how Rachel could be so sure. “Last time I checked, humans don’t have extra sensory abilities.”

Rachel chuckled, finding Triara’s confusion amusing. “Girl, I don’t need extra sensory abilities to know that he likes you, that he cares about you.”

“How so?” Triara pressed, still perplexed. “How can you tell?”

“The look,” Rachel gestured with her thumb towards Michael. “I can see it in how he looks at you whenever he casts a glance your way.” Just as Triara was about to turn to look at him, Rachel stopped her. “Don’t look.”

At that moment, Michael approached from behind, wrapping his arms around Triara in a warm embrace. Rachel simply winked at Triara, confirming her earlier assessment.

Triara smiled as she felt Michael’s comforting presence. Perhaps Rachel was right about him after all.

“But anyways,” Richard joined them, standing beside his wife, “Rachel and I are going to turn in for the night. We both had an early morning flight.”

“Are you going to be here long?” Triara inquired.

“Only a week,” Richard replied.

“Only a week?” Triara’s disappointment was palpable in her voice. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”

“Aww,” Rachel responded affectionately, “but we’ve got a week. We just have to make the best of it. I have work commitments, and of course, I want to get back to my child.”

“Speaking of your child, where is she?” Triara inquired. “I’d have loved to meet her.”

“Oh, she’s with Richard’s parents,” Rachel explained, “they were more than happy to watch over her.” “Anyways,” Rachel continued, stifling a yawn, “Richard and I are heading back to his place to get some sleep. We’re both exhausted.” She watched as Richard too stifled a yawn. “But anyways, good night you two.”

With that, the two of them walked away, leaving Michael and Triara alone in the hallway just outside the bowling alley. She half-expected them to leave, but he surprised her by once again pulling her into his arms for a hug.

“Triara,” he whispered, his voice soft against her ear, “I won’t ever hurt you. You know that, right?” Confusion swirled within her as she nodded against his shoulder. Why was he saying this now? “Of course, I know that.” she replied, her tone uncertain. “What did Richard and you talk about?”

“Nothing,” he answered quickly, hoping she wouldn’t sense any deception in his tone. “We just talked, that’s all.” He released her from the embrace, and they started walking down the hallway together. “He asked me some things,” Michael admitted, glancing at her. “You know, things like what I thought about you. What I felt about you. That sort of stuff.”

She nodded, sensing his hesitation, but she knew he wasn’t being entirely truthful with her. “What did you two really talk about?” she pressed, her voice firm with a hint of urgency. “What did Richard tell you?” Michael stopped in his tracks, visibly conflicted. “He told me not to talk with you about this…” Before he could finish, she cut in, frustration evident in her tone. “Great Maker!” she exclaimed. “Once again, Richard’s sticking his nose where it’s not needed or wanted.”

“I’m sure he means well,” Michael offered, attempting to ease the tension.

“Yeah, well,” she shook her head in frustration, “sometimes he takes things a little bit too far.” Another frustrated shake of her head followed. “He’s overprotective. I’m a big girl, I can take it.”

He sighed, realizing there was no backing out of it. “He told me about your past, how you were…” he watched as she closed her eyes, bracing herself for the conversation. He was about to continue when she spoke up. “Yes, I was cast out of my House. And yes, one might say that I’m a little insecure about myself considering what happened to me.” She reached up and touched his shoulders, a gesture of vulnerability and trust. “I want this to work out between the two of us. This is something that I’ve been wanting in my life for so long.”

“And I understand that, I understand it more than you’d ever know,” he replied softly, his gaze meeting hers with sincerity. “I’ve lost a lot too, you know. The loss of my wife is still something that haunts me to this day. I’ve come a long way, and most of that progress is thanks to you.” She blinked, surprised by his words. “You’ve been there for me; you’ve kept me grounded.” A nervous bite of her lip betrayed her emotions as he spoke. “You’ve been there for me in ways that I,” he looked away briefly, his voice thick with emotion, “can’t even begin to thank you for. Hell, you saved me from making the worst mistake I could’ve ever made.”

She sheepishly looked to the side, acknowledging the truth in his words; she knew that he had contemplated taking his own life after the loss of his wife and that she and Richard had been there for him.

She looked back up at him as he continued. “You’ve been the best thing for me since I lost my wife. I know we’ve been friends, right?” She nodded, acknowledging their bond. “We’ve been friends for nearly six months.” Again, she nodded, affirming the duration of their friendship. “But I want more with you, that’s why I wanted to take the next step with you,” he managed a small smile, “to be able to date you.”

It was obvious that she had been taken aback by what he had told her.

“Wherever this journey leads us,” he spoke earnestly, “I want you by my side.”

“Me too,” she nodded affirmatively. “I want this with you too. That’s why I was so nervous when I thought I had hurt you back on the lanes of the bowling alley.” Her gaze shifted downward, her sincerity evident. “I want this with you so… so very badly.”

“And I know that,” he said, reaching for her hand. “I want it too.” She looked up, meeting his gaze, reassured by the sincerity in his eyes. “So, come on… we have the rest of the evening. Let’s go get a drink together.”

Later that night, as they stood outside Michael’s door in Blue Sector, he turned to Triara. “Triara?” he began, his voice soft with sincerity. “I had a wonderful time with you tonight.” She nodded, a warm smile spreading across her face. “Yes, I did too. You teaching me how to bowl was the highlight of the evening. I’ve never had so much fun before.”

“Me too,” he agreed, his hand reaching gently for her cheek. He paused just before their lips met, his eyes holding hers. “Good night, my dear.”

Triara drew in a shaky breath, feeling the warmth of his touch against her cheek. “Good night, honey,” she whispered in return. Their lips met once more in a tender kiss, fleeting yet filled with longing.

As the kiss ended, they lingered for a moment, savoring the closeness. Reluctantly, they both knew they had to part ways for the night, each with early responsibilities awaiting them in the morning. Triara gave his hand a gentle squeeze before stepping back, walking a few meters down the hallway to her own suite.

As Triara stepped into her suite, she leaned against the closed door and let out a heavy sigh. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered to herself, berating her own actions. “You almost blew it tonight.” She shook her head, replaying the events of the evening in her mind and analyzing her every word and gesture.

“Why did he react like that?” she wondered aloud, her insecurities gnawing at her. “Could he really be falling for me? Could he really be falling in love with me?” The questions lingered, echoing in her mind as she grappled with her doubts and fears.

On Altair, President John Renault had just received a communique from the Speaker of the House regarding a proposal by Zaltaen Ambassador Eririn. They had debated it extensively, with some discussions growing quite heated at times.

The core issue was the government’s plans for a piece of land desired by Eririn’s House. They intended to build an expanded spaceport to manage the rising traffic to and from orbit, directly clashing with the Zaltaens’ desires.

“This can’t be signed,” Admiral Nancy Moore stressed, firmly opposing the agreement with the Zaltaens. “Our people need this land, especially for building a spaceport near the equator. Surrendering it would be detrimental to our plans.”

“I know,” John expressed his frustration, thumping his desk, “don’t you think I know that!?” he exclaimed. “I sat in on the committee that chose that,” he thumped his desk again, “I know just how strategically important it is. It was chosen not just because of its proximity to the equator but also because of the massive network of roadways and highways that would allow for heavy transport.”

Standing up from his desk, John paced about the room. “I get it,” he turned back to the admiral who remained seated in front of his desk, “I can’t sign it. It would represent an even bigger blow to our economic policies than if we were to not sign it at all.”

“Sir?” Michelle, John’s personal secretary, poked her head into the room. “Eririn is here.” She glanced over her shoulder and then back at the president. “What should I do?” John motioned for Michelle. “Send her in.”

Nancy Moore observed Eririn’s entrance with suspicion. While she had developed trust in her Zaltaen personal secretary over time, extending that trust to all Zaltaens, especially considering the proposal Eririn had brought forward, seemed unwise.

“Have you reached a decision regarding my proposal?” Eririn inquired as she took a seat in front of John’s desk, while Admiral Moore simmered with anger beside her. From Admiral Moore’s perspective, Eririn’s presence in the presidential office was a bold move, given her proposal’s perceived betrayal. However, John, always adept at diplomacy, recognized the importance of handling the situation with care.

“Yes, we have,” John stood up, his tone resolute, “and we have to firmly decline, no matter what good it would do for our people.”

“And why is that?” Eririn inquired.

“You know why,” Admiral Moore responded sharply, her gaze piercing. “You know that the land you want is perfect for a spaceport that we need to facilitate more ground-to-orbit transport. How dare you…” John intervened, raising his hand to prevent her from escalating the situation into a diplomatic incident.

“What if I were to sweeten the deal by saying that my House would foot half the bill in building the spaceport, and all your government would have to do is pay up half the cost?” Eririn proposed changing the dynamics of the agreement entirely.

John exchanged a glance with Admiral Moore. The offer sounded considerably more appealing now than it had been initially.

“Why,” John’s voice edged with anger, “did you suddenly bring this into play?”

“I believe that a fictitious alien species known as the Ferengi of Star Trek lore has something to say regarding this situation,” Eririn replied, surprising John and Nancy with her knowledge of Star Trek. “Rule of Acquisition Number Three: Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.” John was poised to respond, but Eririn preempted him. “I’ve been empowered by the matriarch of my House to include this addition to the proposal but as the Rule of Acquisition states,” she paused, gesturing casually, “you get the gist.”

“Indeed,” John started, “but you must have realized that proposing to cover half the cost upfront would have streamlined the negotiation process. I wouldn’t have needed to navigate through Congress for approval. Did you anticipate that?” Eririn simply shrugged. “That said, I require the spaceport cost-sharing proposal in writing before I even consider signing the land deal with your House.”

“Of course,” Eririn smiled. “It’s refreshing to deal with such honorable individuals.” She retrieved a datapad from her purse and handed it to John. “Here it is, all legally binding. My House will cover half the costs of building the spaceport, and it will be a joint operation.”

“Joint operation?” Admiral Moore interjected. “You never mentioned…”

Admiral Moore fell silent as she saw John raise his hand, prompting Eririn to speak. “Did you really expect my House to foot half the bill without having some level of control? Do you take me for a fool?”

“No, Eririn,” John interjected, “it’s just that we’re a bit surprised by this.”

“Surprised how?” Eririn queried. “I’m no stranger to negotiating deals. I’ve brokered agreements between the numerous Houses of my world for decades. You’re no different.” Taking the datapad from John’s desk, she looked up at him with a determined expression. “Do you agree to our proposal? You provide us with the land, and we’ll cover half the expenses for building the new spaceport and we’ll share control over the operation.”

John glanced at Admiral Moore, seeking guidance. However, the admiral, being more accustomed to military matters, appeared uncertain. She shrugged, indicating her lack of expertise in such negotiations.

“Very well,” John replied, reaching for the datapad, “we’ll accept the terms.”

“Excellent,” Eririn said as she handed the datapad to John, who quickly signed the document with his thumbprint. “The matriarch of my House will be very pleased with the outcome of these negotiations.” With that, Eririn left John’s office.

“What do you think?” John inquired.

“Shrewd,” Admiral Moore remarked. “She’s certainly a shrewd negotiator.”

“That’s an understatement,” John agreed, his expression reflecting a mixture of respect and caution.

Continue to Chapter 13…

Last updated on Saturday, May 18th, 2024 at 6:31 PM by trparky.

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    100 degrees Fahrenheit.
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    98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.