Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 13

Triara stood in the hallway, waiting outside Michael’s suite as per his invitation. He had requested her to wear her traditional Zaltaen robe for the evening, a request that puzzled her. As she waited, a random officer passing by approached her, initially mistaking her for being lost. However, upon realizing it was Triara, the officer seemed taken aback.

“Triara? What are you doing?” the officer asked, glancing at her attire.

“I’m waiting for Michael,” Triara replied, explaining that he had asked her to wear her Zaltaen robe at one point, though she didn’t understand why.

Before long, Michael appeared at the door, and his reaction was immediate. Triara stood gracefully in her Zaltaen robe, reminiscent of the elegant kimonos worn by Japanese individuals. The robe draped around her slender form, its fabric flowing gently with her movements. Its deep, rich color contrasted beautifully with her complexion, enhancing her striking features. Delicate patterns adorned the robe, intricate designs that spoke of her cultural heritage and the stature that she once held in Zaltaen society. The garment exuded an aura of sophistication and grace, perfectly complementing Triara’s natural poise and elegance.

“Wow,” he exclaimed, admiring Triara’s appearance. “Just wow. You look amazing, simply amazing.” With that, the officer took the hint to leave, sensing that their moment was meant to be private. “I always imagined what you would look like in your traditional Zaltaen robe,” Michael continued, “but really, this is beyond anything I imagined.”

“Thank you,” Triara smiled. “But why did you want me to wear my Zaltaen robe? Don’t you prefer me dressing like a human?” she asked, recalling how he had liked her attire the last time they went to the officer’s lounge.

“I wanted to see you wear it,” he confessed, guiding her into his suite with a hand on her back. “I’ve always imagined what you would look like in your Zaltaen robe, so I finally got the courage to ask you to wear it. And as I said before, wow,” he stepped back, admiring her, “you look stunning. Simply stunning.”

“Thank you,” she said, feeling her cheeks flush, “I’m glad you like it. Honestly,” she looked down at herself, “I haven’t worn this in a long time because it reminds me of something I’ve lost…” He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. “But you know what?” she shook her head. “You look beautiful in it.” He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her. “Then again, you look beautiful in whatever you wear.”

She blushed with embarrassment at his abundance of compliments, considering that Zaltaens typically didn’t prioritize outward beauty as much as humans did.

“Anyway,” he guided her into the living room, “I’m glad you decided to come this evening.” As he made his way to the kitchen, she caught a whiff of something cooking in the air. “Do I smell something cooking?”

“Why yes,” she watched him open his oven and another strong whiff of food came towards her, “I decided that instead of going out for our eight-month anniversary of our first date, we’d,” he looked up at her, “stay in and have something in a little more of a private setting.” She once again blushed at the idea that he wanted to spend a private evening with her. “You know, something a little more… intimate.”

“Oh,” she murmured, intrigued by the idea of spending more time with him in a private setting. “So,” she looked up at him, “I figured I’d cook for the two of us. But if you don’t mind,” he gestured toward a drawer, “can you get me the temperature thermometer?”

“Sure,” she walked over to the drawer he had indicated and retrieved the electronic thermometer, handing it to him. “Alright, time to find out if the lasagna is done.” He pulled out the oven tray and inserted the tip of the thermometer into the lasagna, checking the temperature. “Not yet, still not up to temperature.”

“You made lasagna?” she asked, surprised by his efforts for the evening.

“Sure!” he exclaimed. “Since I wanted us to have some private time together, I thought we’d, you know,” he stepped away from the oven, “that’ll,” he gestured toward the oven, “take about fifteen minutes more.” Seeing her confusion, he added, “Why not?” Then, he approached her and pulled her into a warm embrace. “Nothing’s too good,” he kissed her forehead, “for you.”

Her heart fluttered in her chest as he lavished her with attention. The past eight months of their relationship had been somewhat tumultuous. He had been temporarily transferred to the space dock due to staffing issues, leaving her alone for about a month. Although they stayed in touch through video calls, it wasn’t the same as having him close by.

At the time, she couldn’t help but think about Richard’s situation with his wife living in the Alpha Centauri colony while he resided on the station. She marveled at how he coped with the distance, finding it to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Fortunately, Michael’s stint on the space dock was only temporary, and when he returned, they spent the entire weekend together. First, they enjoyed dinner at a new Italian restaurant that had recently opened on the station. Afterwards, they visited the newly opened arboretum, which showcased plants from all over human space and even some from Zalta, Triara’s home planet. It was a nostalgic reminder of her home world.

The following day, they caught a movie at the newly opened theater before heading out for another round of bowling. It was a whirlwind of activities that she eagerly embraced, especially after enduring a month of separation while he was stationed at the space dock.

Not only that but the last few months of their relationship had seen a significant increase in physical intimacy between them. They found themselves touching each other more often, expressing their affection through hugs and kisses that were now imbued with a newfound passion. For her, it felt like everything she had ever wished for, especially witnessing the fulfilling family life of her friends, Rachel and Richard.

As their relationship deepened, thoughts of starting a family began to occupy her mind. She had longed for children ever since she had seen how having children brought a sense of joy to Rachel’s life, but the realization dawned on her that he might have reservations, given that he already had a child, Jessie. However, she hesitated to broach the topic, fearing that it might unsettle him. So, for now, she decided to shelve that question and focus on nurturing their growing bond.

Lost in her thoughts, the sound of her name snapped her back to reality. “Triara?” he asked, and she hummed in acknowledgment. “I love you.”

She gasped at those three simple words that carried such powerful emotions behind them.

Drawing him closer, she initiated a kiss filled with passion and in that moment, she made a conscious decision to let down the mental walls she had expertly constructed in her mind, allowing herself to be fully vulnerable to him for she knew he would never hurt her. And for the first time, they shared a level of unbridled intimacy, second only to the act of physical intimacy itself.

As the kiss ended, she licked her lips, a smile creeping across her face as she touched his face. “I love you too, Michael.” She enveloped him in a tight hug, now understanding just how much of her strength she could use without hurting him. She drew in a deep breath.

“I know,” his voice echoed in her mind across their telepathic link, “I know you’ve been longing to hear those words from me for a long time.” She nodded silently against his shoulder, overwhelmed by his admission. “I’ve loved you for some time now,” he continued, and her eyes shot open in shock. “I’ve just been waiting for the right time to tell you.” As he released her, she too let go but held onto his hand, maintaining their telepathic connection. “That’s why,” he glanced around the room, “I invited you to my suite for a private evening and why I asked you to wear your traditional Zaltaen robe.” Bringing his gaze back to hers, he added, “I wanted to see you as you truly are, the real you.” He looked down at her, a softness in his eyes. “And I’ve never seen you so beautiful before.”

She shuddered and blinked her eyes, tears falling down her face at the depth of emotion in the moment.

“I love you, Michael. I love you so much.”

He embraced her tightly once more. “I love you too, Triara. You have no idea…” He paused in thought, a gentle chuckle escaping him. “Then again, I suppose you do know how much I love you.”

“Yeah,” she smiled through her tears, nodding. “I do.” She met his gaze with affection. “Telepathy does have its perks, there are no secrets between us.”

“Indeed,” he concurred, a soft smile gracing his lips as he released her hand, marking the end of their telepathic connection, a connection they both now missed. “Anyway,” they shifted to verbal exchange, a stark contrast to the intimacy of their previous form of communication, “I should check on the lasagna.”

“Yeah,” she smiled, reaching up to wipe her eyes, “I wouldn’t want it to burn.”

She watched as he once again checked on the oven, wrapping her arms around herself as tears continued to trickle down her cheeks. Everything felt like it was falling into place for her.

“And done,” he announced, pulling the lasagna from the oven. Her enhanced Zaltaen sense of smell kicked in, and the aroma was heavenly. Her mouth watered at the thought of enjoying the meal he had lovingly prepared for their evening together. “I’d like you to know that this is my mother’s recipe, although I did,” he chuckled, “tweak it a bit to my taste.” He grabbed a spatula and cut a piece of the lasagna, placing it on a plate. “Here you go,” he offered, holding out the plate to her, “tell me what you think?” he asked, handing her a fork.

Taking the fork, she cut a piece of the lasagna and savored it, closing her eyes and sighing with contentment as a smile spread across her face. It was delicious, beyond delicious; it tasted like he had poured his love for her into every bite.

“It’s,” she found her voice, “delicious.” Setting the plate down, she hugged him once again. “I appreciate all of this.”

“And this isn’t even the highlight of the evening.”

“No?” she asked. “What is?”

“Oh no,” he wagged his finger teasingly, “some things have to be waited for.”

“Oh, you’re bad,” she chuckled, injecting a bit of humor into their romantic moment.

“But you know you’d never have it any other way.”

“Damn straight,” she chuckled again, enjoying their playful banter.

“Anyways,” he turned to her, “can you get the salads out of the fridge?” She promptly retrieved two bowls as requested. While inside the fridge, she noticed a large tray covered with foil, suspecting it held a surprise. Respecting the secrecy, she left it untouched.

“Here they are,” she returned with the salads, seeing him holding two glasses of wine. “Wow,” she remarked, setting down the bowls, “you’ve really thought of everything.” Feeling a pang of uncertainty about her own ability to create such a romantic evening, she sniffled softly.

“Yes, I did,” he affirmed, handing her a glass. “It’s a nice, well-rounded, soft red.” He observed as she took a sip, then another, before asking, “Well, what do you think?” She swirled the wine in her mouth, savoring the taste.

“I like it,” she replied, setting the glass aside. “I really appreciate all of this.” She looked about once again. “No one’s ever made me feel this special before.”

“Well,” he reached for her hand, his eyes reflecting sincerity, “that’s because you are special; you’re special to me.”

Her smile widened at his words, feeling a warmth spread through her. Imagining life with him, she pondered the possibility of sharing every day with him.

“Anyways,” he picked up another plate from behind him, “let’s eat before it all gets cold.”

“Right.” She chuckled. “We wouldn’t want that to happen.”

As they sat down across from each other, she reached for his hand and gave it a slight squeeze. Looking up into his captivating blue eyes, she saw the depth of his love for her. Simultaneously, he gazed into her mesmerizing purple eyes and found the same depth of affection reflected in them.

She was about to pick up a fork and begin eating when he stopped her. “I want to say something first.” She nodded as she watched him make the sign of the cross over their food. “Lord, thank you so much for sending Triara to me. I have no idea what I’d do without her; she’s been my rock during some of the most troubling times in my life. Please bless this food that we’re about to receive through thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

She couldn’t help but sniffle at the idea that he regarded her so highly and saw her as his rock, the foundation upon which he had built a new life after losing so much.

“Do you have anything to say?” he asked.

She bowed her head. “Oh, Great Maker, I thank you for sending Michael my way. I never thought I’d find love after losing so much.” Her voice choked with emotion. “It’s been so difficult these past few years, ever since I lost my… family. But with Michael, I finally feel truly loved.” Michael smiled, understanding her pain all too well. “Please bless this food that we’re about to receive from your bountiful harvest.” Then she uttered a word that Michael imagined was some kind of Zaltaen term used at the end of a prayer, similar to how “Amen” was used by humans.

“That was beautiful, Triara. Thank you.” Michael expressed his gratitude warmly.

“You’re welcome, Michael,” Triara replied, equally appreciative. “Expressing gratitude for our blessings is essential.”

“Indeed,” Michael nodded, returning her smile. “Shall we start eating?” he suggested, indicating the food before them.

During dinner, they shared their experiences from the week, both expressing frustration about the mountain of paperwork they had to tackle. Triara quipped about humans’ apparent affinity for paperwork, joking that she had never encountered so much paperwork in her days in the Royal Zaltaen Navy. Michael, echoing Richard’s sentiments, remarked on the correlation between rank and paperwork, to which Triara scoffed, expressing her disdain for administrative tasks.

As the evening progressed, their conversation shifted to reminiscing about their initial encounter in the officer’s lounge. Michael confessed that he had found Triara stunning from the moment he saw her, prompting a warning from Richard about her friendship. Triara chuckled at the memory, explaining that Richard tended to be overprotective of her. They shared a light-hearted laugh, enjoying the fond recollection together.

Their conversation took a profound turn as Michael broached the subject of their initial encounter. With a piece of lasagna poised halfway to her mouth, Triara froze, knowing what he was about to ask.

“Triara?” he inquired, his voice soft but laced with curiosity. “Did you touch my mind the first day we met?” Her expression confirmed what he suspected; she had indeed reached out to him mentally. “I take it that you did touch my mind that day.”

“Yes,” she admitted, setting down her fork with food still on it. “I did touch your mind. I sensed the turmoil and pain in your thoughts, the anguish from losing your wife. I also felt your darker thoughts, the ones no one should have.” As she spoke, Michael’s gaze dropped, acknowledging the truth of her words; he had indeed harbored such thoughts.

“I reached out to you to try and help,” she continued, her voice tinged with concern. “I didn’t want you to…” She paused, hesitant to voice her unspoken fear. Swallowing hard, she gathered her courage. “You have to know that I’d never manipulate you into…” She stopped as she watched him put his hand up.

“I know that, my love,” he began, his tone gentle and full of warmth. “I know you’d never do that to me. I know my feelings for you are real,” he added, placing his hand over his heart. “I know my feelings come from here, my heart.”

“Yeah,” she nervously replied, still visibly shaken by the close call.

Sensing her unease, he continued reassuringly, “I love you, and nothing’s going to change that.” He maintained eye contact with her, hoping to convey the sincerity of his words.

“In truth,” he continued, his voice gaining strength, “your intervention was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. I was hurting, deeply so,” he breathed in, “and as you already alluded to a few months ago, I was considering actions I now realize are utterly wrong. If it weren’t for you, I might not be here today,” he looked down at the plate of lasagna in front of him and then back up at her, “experiencing this… moment with you.” He met her eyes, his expression sincere.

“If I had gone through with it, my daughter would be without a father. Not only that but I wouldn’t have the kind of life that I have now, I wouldn’t be sitting across the table from one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known having a romantic dinner,” he confessed, his words causing her cheeks to flush with a blush. “It would’ve been the biggest mistake of my life,” he choked, his voice thick with emotion, “and I have you to thank for it. I know that I told you before, but you literally saved my life, Triara; and I can’t even begin to thank you enough for that.”

He rose from the table, prompting her to look up, perplexed by his sudden movement. “Michael?” she inquired, her curiosity piqued. “Where are you going?”

“I need to get something,” he replied cryptically.

Confusion clouded her mind. Hadn’t they already prepared everything for their romantic evening together? Why did he need to fetch something now? Her questions were soon answered when he returned to the table, holding something in his hand.

“I meant to do this over dessert,” he began, his tone sincere. She remembered the covered tray in the fridge and realized it must have contained dessert. “However, things have changed, and I want to give this to you now.” With those words, he revealed a small black box, and she gasped as realization dawned upon her. She knew what lay inside from popular human culture.

“Triara?” he continued, opening the box to reveal a delicate diamond engagement ring. She couldn’t contain her astonishment, clasping her hands over her mouth in disbelief. “I want you in my life, I… need you. That’s why I have to ask. Triara?” he paused, his voice trembling with nervousness. “Will you marry me?”

Overwhelmed with emotion, she whispered, “Great Maker,” her voice was barely audible as tears of joy welled in her eyes and fell down her cheeks. With a heartfelt nod, she added, “Yes. Yes, I will marry you.” With a tender smile, she offered him her hand allowing him to gently slide the ring onto her finger. “With this ring, I will marry you, and we will have a happy life together,” he vowed softly. “Now and for always.”

Tears once again welled in her eyes as she gazed down at the ring, a symbol of the life she had longed for now within her grasp. Overwhelmed by the depth of emotion surging within her, she began to sob, the weight of happiness and love flooding her soul.

Michael rose from his seat and enveloped Triara in a warm embrace, holding her close as she wept against his shoulder and her tears dampening his shoulder, Michael’s heart swelled with affection for her. In her arms, he found solace and joy, grateful for the chance to love and be loved once again. Nothing else mattered in that moment except their shared embrace, a testament to their newfound love.

As Triara’s tears subsided, Michael gently withdrew from their embrace and tenderly wiped her tears away with a napkin. It was a simple yet profound gesture that spoke volumes to her heart. In that small act of care and comfort, she found reassurance of his unconditional love, a love that defied the boundaries of their disparate origins.

To Triara, it was a poignant reminder that their bond was built on something deeper than mere physical differences. Their love transcended the boundaries of their respective worlds, encompassing understanding, acceptance, and unwavering devotion to each other. In Michael’s tender touch, she found solace and affirmation, strengthening their connection even further than even her telepathic connection could.

With a gentle whisper of reassurance, Michael guided Triara back to her seat at the table. “I love you,” he murmured softly, his gaze tender and unwavering. “But maybe we should get back to our food.”

Triara met his gaze with a nod, a small smile gracing her lips. “Yeah,” she agreed, her eyes reflecting the depth of their affection. “We should.”

As Michael cleared the dinner table and headed to the kitchen to wash the plates, Triara couldn’t help but reflect on the evening. Watching him move about with such care and attention, she felt a swell of gratitude and love. It was clear to her that every gesture, every detail of their romantic dinner, even the lit candles, was a testament to his love for her.

Lost in her thoughts, she found herself drawing comparisons to the lives of her friends, Rachel and Richard. Their love and companionship were something she admired and aspired to have in her life. Triara envisioned a future where she and Michael would share that same kind of life, filled with love, warmth, and shared moments.

“Michael?” he looked over his shoulder. “Why did I sense part of your plan for the evening got derailed?” Still washing dishes, he looked back at her. “I have a feeling that you had a different plan for how you were going to propose to me.”

Michael paused, drying his hands on a kitchen towel before turning to face her fully. “I had planned to propose during dessert,” he admitted, a wistful smile playing on his lips. “I was going to set up a little scene where I had delivered your ring atop a piece of cheesecake along with some flowers. You know, something more… traditional,” he shrugged, “I suppose.”

Triara’s eyes softened with understanding. “That sounds beautiful,” she murmured, imagining the romantic ambiance he had intended to create.

“Yeah,” he nodded, a hint of regret in his voice. “But when I saw the worry in your eyes at the table, I realized that I couldn’t let any of your doubts linger. I needed to reassure you of my love and my commitment to you. That’s why I knew that despite my elaborate plan,” he softly chuckled, “I had to ask you right then and there to relieve you of your fears.”

“I know I disrupted your plan, but…” she glanced down at the ring, admiring its sparkle, “I truly appreciate everything you’ve done. I was afraid I had jeopardized our relationship.”

“No,” he stepped closer, dropping to one knee before her and gently shaking his head, “you could never jeopardize our bond. Not ever.” He rose from the floor, extending his hand to her. “Come, my love,” he said, a tender term slipping from his lips, “let’s indulge in some cheesecake.”

She smiled at the endearment, taking his hand as he helped her up. Wrapping her arms around him, she confessed softly, “I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d ruined things between us.”

“Well,” he murmured, gently rubbing her back, “fortunately, you’ll never have to find out.”

She released him and observed as he retrieved the cheesecake from the fridge, deftly slicing two generous portions and placing them on dessert plates. Despite their busy schedules, she marveled at how he had managed to orchestrate such a romantic evening. It warmed her heart to know he had somehow made time for her.

“There you go,” he presented her with a slice of cheesecake, “my own recipe.”

“Not your mother’s?”

“No,” he chuckled, “my mother was a fantastic Italian cook, but when it came to baked goods,” he gestured towards the cheesecake, “she was hopeless. She couldn’t bake to save her life. She burned everything she ever made.”

Triara chuckled at the thought of Michael’s mother struggling with baking, finding it endearing that he had prepared the cheesecake with his own recipe. It was a small yet meaningful touch, reflecting his personal effort and care in their evening together.

She took a bite of the cheesecake, savoring its creamy texture and rich flavor. With her eyes closed, she whispered, “This is amazing. Truly the highlight of the evening.”

“Better than me giving you that ring?” Michael teased.

She laughed. “No,” she replied, glancing at the ring on her finger, “it’s just added to it.”

“I’m glad you like it,” he said, his smile radiating warmth. “I wanted this evening to be perfect for the two of us.”

“And it has been!” she exclaimed. “Everything. The lasagna, the cheesecake, the ring.” She paused, her eyes shimmering with emotion. “Especially the ring! Honey, this is everything I’ve ever wanted in my life. I’ve always aspired to have the kind of life that Rachel and Richard have together, to have that kind of love that they have for each other, the kind that despite how they live apart, they remain committed to each other. I’ve wanted that for so… so very long.” He watched as a lone tear dropped down her cheek.

“Well,” he smiled, “hopefully we’ll never have to be apart, but yeah, I agree; I agree with you wholeheartedly.” He offered her his hand. “Come, let’s go watch a movie together.” She smiled as she took hold of his hand, allowing him to lead her to the living room where he had already chosen a movie: Titanic.

As the movie came to an end, he glanced at the clock; it read 2350 hours111:50 PM.. “It’s getting late,” he remarked, rising from the couch and stretching. She gazed up at him, her expression curious. “Do you want me to walk you back to your suite?”

“Do you want the evening to end?” she inquired, puzzled by his suggestion to conclude their special time together.

“It’s not that I want the evening to end,” he clarified, casting a glance at the clock. “I just thought you might prefer to return to your suite.”

“You know,” she mused inwardly, “I wouldn’t mind spending the night here with you. I understand that in human culture, it’s… customary for couples like us to share… intimate moments.” A blush crept onto her cheeks as she spoke. She noticed the surprise in his expression, realizing he might not have anticipated her suggestion. “What’s with the surprise?”

“I…” he stammered, caught off guard. “I just assumed… Well, I thought maybe you wouldn’t be comfortable with…” she interrupted him with a gentle gesture. “While it’s true that Zaltaens tend to be more reserved when it comes to matters of… physical intimacy,” she paused, sensing his unease, “I trust you, Michael. I know you’d never do anything to hurt me.” She glanced at her ring, a tangible reminder of his love. “I’m ready now.”

He blinked, trying to process her unexpected proposal. “I… uh… I guess I’m just surprised,” he stammered, his cheeks flushing slightly. “I mean, I didn’t want to rush anything, especially since tonight has been so… special already.”

She smiled gently, reaching out to take his hand to bring her to her feet. “I understand if you’re not ready,” she reassured him. “I just wanted to let you know…” He shook his head, interrupting her. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m ready as well. I just figured…” She placed her hands on her hips, waiting for his explanation. “Figured what?” she prompted, beginning to unbutton her robe. “That I wouldn’t be ready for an intimate evening with you?” A mischievous smile played on her lips. “There’s a lot you still need to learn about Zaltaens, Michael.

“For instance.” She continued to unbutton her robe, a process that seemed rather cumbersome to him. “In our culture,” she continued, “it’s customary for women to choose their mates.” He gulped at the implication of what she had said. “We’re not a matriarchal society for nothing. We believe it’s only fair for women to have the final say, especially considering the immense responsibility they bear in carrying and giving birth to children.”

He began to process what she had told him. It was all a shock to him.

“Are you saying that you have chosen me,” he pointed at himself, “to be your mate?”

“Precisely.” She let her robe fall to the floor, now revealing her naked self. “I want you in a,” she reached out and touched him, sending a jolt down his spine, “very intimate way tonight.” She stepped forward and kissed him, pressing her naked body against his. “I do believe that humans call it… making love?”

“Whoa,” he coughed. “God damn,” he exclaimed.

“Come,” she began to lead him, “let’s make love tonight. I promise you,” she looked over her shoulder at him, “it’ll be like nothing you have ever experienced before.”

As he lay beside her, catching his breath, he marveled at the intensity of their experience. “WOW!” he exclaimed. “That was… wow,” he managed to say between heavy breaths. “That was amazing!” Feeling exhilarated, he turned to her, curious. “Were you using your telepathic abilities?”

“Uh-huh,” she breathlessly hummed.

“I thought so,” he breathed heavily, still trying to process the intensity of the experience. “I’ve never felt anything like that before. It was nothing short of amazing.” He noticed her smirk and couldn’t help but be curious. “What?” he asked, intrigued by her expression.

“While we were making love, we were telepathically connected so you were able to experience what I felt.” He blinked, absorbing her words. “Wait, so you mean… I felt what it’s like for a woman to have sex?” He struggled to wrap his head around the concept, the realization dawning on him slowly.

“Yep.”

His concern deepened as he voiced his worry. “Are you… on any form of contraception?” he asked, his tone tinged with anxiety. “The last thing we need is for you to get pregnant right now.” She began to laugh, which made him feel rather insulted that she was laughing at what was a very serious question. “Just why are you laughing?” he pressed, his worry escalating.

“I don’t want to insult you, but Zaltaens are much further along on the evolutionary track than humans are,” she explained. He stared back at her blankly, awaiting an explanation. “You see, Zaltaens are much more in tune with their bodies than humans are, and so, we can put ourselves into a deep state of meditation, much like how Buddhist Monks can, to control our bodies.”

“Like how?” he asked, still very confused as to what she meant.

“I can put myself into a deep state of meditation and simply turn off my reproductive systems.” His mouth dropped open. “And in doing so, Zaltaens don’t suffer from things like menstrual cramps and periods like human women do.”

“Whoa,” he whispered, “I know several women who would figuratively kill for that ability.”

She chuckled. “Believe me, I’ve heard the same sentiment before. Even Rachel told me.” She smirked, shifting to lay on her side. “That means I can’t get pregnant until, of course, I want to.” She watched as he pondered the implications of her words. “And I do want to have children with you when the time is right,” she affirmed, searching his eyes for a response.

He hesitated before replying, “Uh, yes. Yes, I do want children. I just… I just didn’t think we’d be talking about children quite so early. I mean, we’re not even married yet. I’d like to get married to you before we even begin to think about having children.”

She contemplated his proposal, realizing that maybe she had rushed things. Perhaps he wasn’t ready for such a question just yet, and she respected that.

He reflected on his past. “Mary and I had thoughts of having a second child so that little Jessie would have someone to grow up with, but…” Triara interjected, sensing his hesitation. “Say no more, I understand,” she assured him. “She died before you had a chance to have another child with her.” She sheepishly closed her eyes. “I probably shouldn’t have asked you such a question yet.”

“Perhaps,” he paused. “However, with that in mind… yes, I do want to have children with you.” Her eyes opened as she had said that. “I’d love for Jessie to have a little sister or brother to grow up with.” Her smile reflected relief and happiness, mirroring the weight lifted off her shoulders. The notion of him desiring children with her alleviated a lingering concern she harbored.

She yawned again, feeling the fatigue settle in after their passionate encounter.

“You’re tired too, aren’t you?” he asked, echoing her yawn.

“Yeah,” she admitted, another yawn escaping her lips.

“Do you want to take a shower?” he suggested.

“Together?” she responded, surprised by his proposition. His mischievous grin gave away his intentions. “You know it might be a bit cramped.”

“Oh, I’m sure we can make it work,” he teased.

It dawned on her that she hadn’t packed any night clothes. “Damn,” she muttered, realizing her lack of planning for the evening. “I didn’t plan this far ahead.” Her concern seemed to amuse him, and he chuckled softly. “What’s so funny?” she asked, puzzled by his reaction.

“I had a feeling this might happen, so I came prepared,” he explained, getting out of bed. He rummaged in his closet and pulled out a long T-shirt.

He returned to the bed and handed her the T-shirt. “Here, you can wear this to sleep in. It should be comfortable enough.” She took it from him, feeling a wave of gratitude wash over her. “Thank you,” she said softly, holding it up to her. Sure, it was oversized on her with it reaching down to her mid-thigh, but it was soft and smelled like him, which made her feel comforted.

“So,” he gave her his hand, “let’s go take a shower together.”

“Indeed.”

As she opened her eyes, she glanced over at Michael, still peacefully asleep. A sense of surrealism washed over her, prompting her to pinch herself to confirm that this wasn’t just a dream. But the pinch reaffirmed the reality of the moment.

She reached out to him, gently rousing him from his slumber. “Michael?” she murmured, watching as he slowly opened his eyes. “You’re still here.”

“Why wouldn’t I still be here?” he responded warmly as she leaned in for a kiss, his arms enveloping her in a tight embrace. “Of course, I would be.” He lifted his head from the pillow, returning her kiss with equal affection. “Where else would I be other than with you?” he whispered before kissing her again.

Nestling her head against his chest, she sighed contentedly, feeling his comforting presence. In his embrace, she found solace and security in their newfound relationship.

As moments passed in peaceful silence, Michael broke the quietude. “Triara?” he spoke up, prompting her to hug him tightly. “Don’t want to, I want to stay.” And how could he argue with that kind of logic as they lay in bed together, wrapped in each other’s warmth and affection.

More moments passed as she lifted the covers off them, causing them both to shiver as the relatively cool air of the room touched their barely clothed bodies. He was only wearing a pair of boxers, while she was clad in the long shirt he had given her.

“What are your plans for the day?” she asked, wondering if he had anything in mind for them.

“Well,” he put an arm around her as they sat on the side of his bed, “I was thinking of staying in.” She looked at him curiously. “I mean, we both have the day off, so we have nowhere to go but here.” His idea sounded perfect. He was about to continue when she interjected. “But what about food?” She glanced down at her growling stomach.

“You’re hungry?”

“What do you want?” she chuckled lightly. “That Zaltaen appetite is nearly insatiable.”

“Well,” he stood up from the bed and offered her his hand, pulling her to her feet, “I guess we’ll have to get something to eat.” She was about to ask where when he continued. “And I have just the idea.” Once again, she looked at him curiously. “I’m going to make you breakfast.” The questioning look on her face must have said it all because he continued, “That’s right, I’m going to cook for you again.”

He led her back into the kitchen, where he opened his fridge to see what ingredients he had to work with. He always made sure to keep a fully stocked fridge, and with the station’s commissary being like a fully stocked grocery store, it made it quite easy to do so. He found everything he needed to make breakfast: diced potatoes, eggs, ham, bacon, cheese, sausage, diced peppers and onions, and he even had a loaf of rye bread that he had stored in the fridge to preserve it.

“Yep,” he turned about with a dozen and a half of eggs in his hands, “I have everything that I need to whip up a breakfast that you’ll never soon forget.”

“What are you going to make?” she asked, wondering what his plans were going to be.

“Depends,” he went for the fridge again, “what do you want to eat?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged as she watched him once again go for the fridge, “surprise me.”

“Then surprise you, I will!” he put his finger in the air.

As Michael cracked the eggs into a bowl, the sound echoed softly in the kitchen, accompanied by the occasional sizzle from the stove. Triara watched him with fondness in her eyes, knowing that every movement, every ingredient added, was a testament to his care for her.

He whisked the eggs vigorously, a determined look on his face as he worked to ensure they were perfectly blended. The aroma of frying bacon filled the air, mingling with the comforting scent of diced potatoes sautéing in the skillet.

With practiced hands, Michael folded the ham and diced peppers into the eggs, creating a colorful mixture that promised a burst of flavor with every bite. He poured the mixture into the hot skillet, the eggs sizzling as they hit the surface.

Triara couldn’t help but smile as she came up behind him and wrapped her arms around him and watched him work with ease, appreciating the effort he was putting into making their breakfast. It wasn’t just about the food; it was about the time and care he was investing in their relationship, a gesture that spoke volumes without a single word.

As the omelet began to take shape in the skillet, his focus remained unwavering. He expertly folded the edges over, creating a perfect, golden-brown parcel of deliciousness. She, of course, continued to watch from behind him. With a flick of his wrist, he slid the omelet onto a waiting plate, the steam rising in wisps of savory aroma.

Turning to Triara with a grin, he presented her with the finished masterpiece. Two plates with one half of the omelet that he had made along with a generous portion of fried potatoes.

“Breakfast is served,” he declared, his eyes shining with pride. Triara’s heart swelled with warmth as she thanked him, knowing that every bite would be infused with the love and care he had poured into their meal.

She gazed at the plate before her, the aroma of the freshly prepared omelet wafting up to her nose, tantalizing her senses. The fluffy, golden surface of the omelet beckoned invitingly, a testament to his culinary skill and care.

With a grateful smile, she picked up her fork and cut into the omelet, marveling at its lightness and delicate texture. As she took her first bite, the flavors danced on her palate, a harmonious blend of eggs, cheese, and assorted fillings. It was a far cry from the lackluster fare typically served in the Officer’s Wardroom.

“Michael, this is incredible,” she exclaimed, her eyes shining with delight as she savored each mouthful. “Between this,” she pointed down at the omelet and the lasagna that you made last night, “you have a real talent for cooking.”

His face lit up with pride at her praise, a warm glow spreading across his features. “I’m glad you like it,” he said, his voice tinged with satisfaction. “It’s my way of showing you how much you mean to me.”

She couldn’t help but feel a surge of warmth in her chest at his words. It was moments like these, simple yet filled with love and care, which made her grateful for him in her life. As she continued to enjoy her breakfast, she knew that she was exactly where she was meant to be… by his side, savoring each moment together.

“Was cooking something you often did for Mary?” she inquired, lifting her gaze from the plate before her.

His expression softened at the mention of Mary, his late wife. A wistful smile touched his lips as he nodded in response to her question.

“Yes, I did,” he replied, his voice tinged with a hint of nostalgia. “Mary always appreciated it when I cooked for her. It was my way of showing her how much she meant to me.”

She listened attentively, a sense of empathy welling within her. She understood the significance of sharing meals with loved ones, the bond it forged between them. In that moment, she felt a deeper connection with him, a shared understanding of the importance of small gestures of love and care.

“I’m sure she cherished those moments,” Triara remarked gently, offering her support and understanding. “Cooking for someone is such a personal act… it’s a way of nurturing and showing affection.”

He nodded; gratitude evident in his gaze as he met her eyes. “Thank you,” he said softly, his voice tinged with emotion. “It means a lot to me that you understand why I wanted to cook for you.”

From then on, they ate breakfast in quietude, interrupted only by her occasional murmurs of appreciation for his cooking, her gaze drifting now and then to the ring adorning her finger.

As breakfast concluded, he reached for the dirty plates to clean up, but she gently touched his hand. “Please,” she paused, “let me handle it. You’ve already done so much for me that it’s only right that I clean up. I want to able to contribute… something this morning.”

“Okay,” he relented, releasing the plate, “go ahead. You may clean up if you want to.”

He settled back into his seat, quietly observing her as she diligently washed the dishes, pans, and utensils used during breakfast. Despite the ratty T-shirt of his she wore, which had certainly seen better days, and her slightly disheveled hair from sleeping, he couldn’t help but find her appearance captivating. Even in such casual attire, she exuded a natural beauty that he couldn’t overlook.

“You know,” she glanced back at him over her shoulder, “I understand that we both originate from different worlds.” She returned her attention to the dirty dish in her hands. “However, I can’t help but wonder…” She allowed the dirty pan to slip back into the water and rinsed her hands off. He was about to continue when she interjected. “You’re thinking about how we’re remarkably alike.”

“Well, it’s a valid question,” he remarked, reclining in his seat. “We both possess two arms, two legs, five fingers and toes on both hands and feet; we both walk upright in a bipedal fashion. And then there are other similarities in our physiology. You have breasts and wider hips, for instance. Even our reproductive anatomy is compatible.” He chuckled. “How?” he pondered. “How can two species, hailing from worlds light-years apart, be so strikingly similar?”

“Well,” she began, “there are two theories rooted in science. The first one is that in our galaxy’s very distant past, an alien species from another galaxy came to this galaxy and found it to be devoid of sentient life.” He nodded, indicating that he understood what she had said. “And so, they planted the seeds of life throughout the galaxy in hopes that one day sentience would arise. This is referred to as the progenitor species theory.

“Then there’s the second scientific theory that states that somehow an asteroid or comet that had the primordial makings for DNA sailed through both of our star systems depositing the makings for DNA on our respective worlds.” As she finished that sentence, he shook his head.

“I don’t buy that one,” he replied. “Because for one, even if an asteroid or comet did seed a star system with the makings for life, wouldn’t that asteroid or comet have been destroyed in the collision?” he questioned.

“You have a good point,” she conceded, pausing as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “It’s a bit of a fringe theory so yeah, I agree.”

“But I take it that there’s another theory since you mentioned something about two theories rooted in science,” he prompted.

“Yes, there is another theory; a religious-based theory namely one that involves the idea that both of our species were created by the same God figure,” she explained. He was about to comment on that when she continued, delving into her research and experiences among humans.

“In my time among humans, I did some research into human religions. With that being said… Zaltaen faith is, if I were to compare it to that of an Earth-based religion, it’s similar to that of Judaism. I even had a chance to sit down and discuss religion with a Jewish rabbi.

“We have our Holy Book along with a series of rules and laws that were handed down to us by a great prophet many eons ago. And much like what happened with Christianity and Catholicism over the eons, the rules were a bit watered down to adapt to a more modern age.

“Obviously we have our most important ones such as what your Ten Commandments indicate which is, now that I think about it,” she mused, looking up at the ceiling, “is very similar to that of the commandments that were handed down to us on Zalta. You know, what with don’t kill, don’t steal… that kind of thing.”

She brought her eyes back down to look at him. “Many Zaltaen religious scholars believe that because of such similarities between our two peoples, it might lend credence to the religious-based theory.”

He nodded. “I’ve heard the same thing on the station.”

“With that being said, unlike with Christianity and Catholicism, we never had a savior come to us from our Great Maker. As I said before, we’ve had great prophets and well,” she shrugged, “lesser prophets over the last few centuries come to us to help guide us in the ways or being more faithful to our Great Maker. Not that that did any good.” She cursed in her native language. “Most of the teaching of our great prophets have fallen upon deaf ears among those of Zalta.”

“No surprise there,” he said, shrugging, “even the teaching of the greatest prophet of all, the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, is ignored by a great many humans. I have to wonder if we stayed true to the teachings of Christ, perhaps humanity wouldn’t have nearly exterminated ourselves.”

“Hard to say. If I recall correctly,” she shifted her weight again, “there were a great many things that ultimately led to World War Three on Terra.” She turned back to the sink. “But anyways, let me finish cleaning up so we can do something else.”

As she pondered his inquiries, a troubling thought emerged: was he harboring doubts about proposing to her? With concern brewing, she pivoted to confront him. “Why are you bringing up these questions?” Anxiousness tinged her voice.

Her question caught him off guard. “Well,” he shrugged, “you admitted last night that you want children. Right?” It dawned on her that this was why he had been asking those questions. “Can we even have children together? Because I want to. I wasn’t lying when I said that I wanted to have children with you.”

“Yes,” she once again leaned against the kitchen sink, “we can indeed have children together.” She saw how his face lit up with that answer. “With that being said, do you know how many differences, or rather… how few differences there are between our two species?” He shook his head, indicating he had no idea. “When it comes to genetics, we’re 99.9999999 percent compatible.”

“That’s nine nines.” He was astounded by the magnitude of that number.

“Exactly,” she nodded. “We’re that similar. You yourself even said, there’s a lot of similarities between our two species.”

“Yeah,” he said, admiring her unique features, “if it weren’t for your purple skin, purple eyes, blue hair, and of course your cute, pointed ears,” she chuckled softly at his words, “I wouldn’t have even known you were from another world. So yeah,” he stood up from his chair and took her into his arms, “I just want to know for sure.” He kissed her tenderly. “Because I do indeed want children with you. I love you, and I want a family with you. I want this kind of life with you. And most importantly, I want to be able to give you the kind of life that I know you want.”

“Yeah,” she smiled, her eyes filled with affection as she kissed him again, “I understand.” Her heart once again swelled with warmth as she hugged him tightly. “I love you too, Michael.”

After a brief moment of silence, she turned from the dishes to face him. “What are your plans for the day?”

“Nothing,” he repeated, a hint of mischief in his tone. “I mean, I have a plan to do nothing,” he clarified, noting her confusion. “And I can’t imagine anyone better than you to sit around and do nothing with.” He glanced up at the ceiling. “Computer?” It chirped in response. “Set the door on do not disturb mode until further notice.” It chirped once again, indicating that it understood his command. “So now, until the morning, everyone can buzz off,” he said with a chuckle. “This is our time, and nobody can take it away from us.”

Meanwhile, out in the hallway, Richard found it rather odd for his friend to have Do Not Disturb mode enabled on his suite at 1200 hours212 Noon.. He pressed the button repeatedly, and the computer informed him that Do Not Disturb was enabled.

“Hmm,” he hummed to himself, contemplating the situation. “I mean, I could do a wellness check since I am the XO. However,” he reasoned as he walked away, “I’d have to have serious reasons to do that, or I could even be brought up on charges.”

Later that week, Triara sat in Michael’s living room while he was in the shower. During her weekend stay with him, she made sure to bring some of her personal clothing to have better options than the old T-shirt he had lent her. Not that she minded him giving her that shirt but was temporary. She glanced down at her datapad, indicating a call to Rachel, but it hadn’t been answered yet. Just as she was about to give up, the video call connected.

“Sorry about that,” Rachel’s voice came through as the camera shifted, “I just put the baby down to sleep.” Triara watched as Rachel adjusted the camera until her face appeared on the screen. “Sorry about that, I was kind of busy when you called.”

“It’s alright,” Triara waved it off, “if you’re too busy, I can call back later.”

“I’m never too busy for you, Triara,” Rachel reassured her. “So, what’s up?”

“I want to show you something.” Triara put her hand up in view of the camera so that Rachel could see the ring on her finger. “As you can see…” She couldn’t finish the sentence because Rachel let out an ear-piercing scream as she saw the ring on her finger. “Oh my God Triara!” Triara watched as Rachel clasped her hands over her mouth. “You’re engaged! I’m so happy for you!”

“Uh-huh,” Triara hummed, “yes, I am.” She looked up as Michael came out of the bathroom and walked into the bedroom they had shared for the last week. “Michael,” she said, her gaze returning to the datapad in her hands, “proposed to me last weekend. He even made me a wonderful meal to go with it. He made lasagna; he said it was his mother’s own recipe.”

“Aww,” Rachel exclaimed softly, “that was incredibly sweet of him.”

Triara hesitated, her words weighed down by remorse. “Rachel, there’s something I need to tell you.” She began, bracing herself for the potential strain on their friendship. “I know it was wrong, and I had no right…” She stopped short as she saw Rachel raising her hand.

“I already know, Triara,” Rachel interjected softly, her voice laced with empathy. “I sensed your unease whenever Richard and I were together.”

Triara’s shoulders sagged with relief, gratitude washing over her. “I was afraid you’d be upset,” she admitted, her gaze drifting upward.

Rachel offered a warm smile, hoping to ease Triara’s apprehension. “I could never fault you for being honest with me,” she said, her tone gentle yet firm. “Our friendship means more to me than any fleeting jealousy.”

Triara met Rachel’s gaze, her eyes reflecting a mixture of gratitude and remorse. “Thank you,” she whispered as she felt the weight of her feelings lifting off her chest.

“But you know what?” Rachel asked, catching Triara’s attention. As Triara shook her head, Rachel continued. “You’re now closer than ever to what Richard and I have.” Triara was about to say something when Rachel continued. “Even when I came to see you on the station a few months ago, I saw it in how he looked at you; in how he treated you. Even back then, I saw how much he cared about you.” Triara looked up at the ceiling as she heard Rachel’s words. “So, for him to ask you to marry him, it means that he loves you very much and that he wants you in his life.”

“But what about his daughter?” Triara asked.

As she asked that question, Michael walked into the room. “It means that I trust you to be around my daughter,” he affirmed with a warm smile.

“Michael,” she looked up at him from the datapad in her hands, “I know I can never truly replace…” Her words trailed off as his comforting smile reassured her. “Triara,” he said softly, sitting down beside her and enveloping her in his embrace, “I have no doubt you’ll be an amazing mother to my daughter. I can see the love and care in your eyes, and you don’t even know her yet.”

Rachel recognized the need for a private heart-to-heart conversation, so she silently ended the call, leaving Triara with Michael.

“But do you think little Jessie will accept me?” Triara voiced her doubts, her heart heavy with uncertainty. “I mean…” Michael gently silenced her with a finger to her lips. “Shh,” he whispered, his voice tender. “I know she will.”

“But how?” Triara inquired, her confusion evident.

“Easy, I’m her father,” Michael replied, a smile gracing his lips as he thought of his daughter. “I know her. I know that once I introduce you to her and you show her that she can trust you, she’ll embrace you just like I’ve embraced you as my fiancée and future wife. She’s been wanting a new mommy for some time now, and I know that you’ll be that perfect new mommy to her.”

He rose from the couch, glancing at her datapad. “But we better get to work. It’s almost 0800 hours38 AM., and we both have our duty shifts at 0900 hours49 AM..”

“Yeah,” she replied, rising and enveloping him in a hug. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Triara,” he murmured, gently stroking her back. “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. I know it.” Yet, in the recesses of his mind, he contemplated how his sister would handle their situation. He recognized the need for delicate handling when discussing marriage and his desire to have his daughter live with them on what is a military installation.

As they stepped out of his suite, he turned to her with a determined expression. “Put in some leave for the end of the month,” he instructed. She glanced at him, a hint of curiosity in her eyes. “I’m taking you to see my sister and my daughter in the Alpha Centauri colony.”

Later that night, after Michael finished his work shift for the day, he swiped his CAC by the card reader of his suite and glanced around. “Triara?” he called out, momentarily forgetting she wouldn’t be there. He realized she would be in her own suite, likely waiting for him.

Despite their engagement, granting her access to his suite violated the uniform code, as Richard, the XO of the station, had made clear to him. He emphasized that, despite their friendship, he had a duty to uphold the regs and that if Michael had given her access without his presence, both he and Triara could face charges.

He pulled his commlink out of his pocket and pressed a button on it. “Triara?” he asked. Moments later, he heard her voice from the little speaker. “Where are you?”

“In my suite, silly,” came her reply, laced with a chuckle. “I’m waiting to go out with you tonight so hurry up and we’ll go to the Officer’s Lounge for some drink and some food.”

He took her response as an invitation for a night out together. Rushing to his bedroom, he quickly changed into something more suitable for an evening at the Officer’s Lounge with his fiancée. As he dressed, he couldn’t help but wonder what kind of slinky outfit she would wear; she often opted for such attire when going to the lounge.

Meanwhile, in Triara’s suite, she meticulously put the finishing touches on her outfit. Satisfied, she settled onto her couch, crossing her legs as she relished the sensation of the silky material of her tights against her skin as she patiently waited for Michael to come to her door.

It didn’t take long for Michael to arrive because moments later she heard a beep at the door. She picked up her datapad to check the visitor at the door, confirming it was Michael. With the press of a button, she unlocked the door, welcoming him inside.

As he walked in, his face lit up with a smile upon seeing her rise from the couch. There she stood, draped in a sleek, black, form-fitting dress that gracefully fell to mid-thigh, accentuating her generous curves and drawing attention to her ample chest and shapely backside. His eyes trailed downward, admiring her dazzling white tights enveloping her long, slender legs, adding an extra layer of allure to her already captivating presence. Completing the ensemble were a pair of delicate heels, subtly enhancing her statuesque height of 2.13 meters57 feet tall., further amplifying her poise and confidence.

He watched as she moved toward him, her steps flowing with a grace and fluidity reminiscent of a dancer on stage. It seemed as though she floated across the floor, each movement exuding an effortless blend of elegance and allure. In that moment, he realized she had reserved this particular outfit for a special occasion, perhaps anticipating their growing closeness. Her attire radiated an undeniable sense of sexiness, injecting an exciting element into their evening together.

“Wow,” he murmured, closing the distance between them and placing his hands gently on her hips before pulling her close for a tender kiss. “You look amazing.” Stepping back slightly, he took a moment to admire her appearance. Part of him couldn’t help but wonder how he ever came close to deserving her, especially after she had told him that she had claimed him as her mate.

“Thank you,” she replied, a blush gracing her cheeks, the contrasting hues of purple and red adding to her undeniable charm.

“Did you buy this outfit because of our recent change in our relationship?” he inquired, curious about her choice of attire for the occasion.

“Yes,” she replied, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck, “I did. Now that we’re engaged, I wanted to show you a bit more of myself to you.” Closing the distance between them, she leaned in for a kiss, feeling his arms encircle her and draw her closer and as he held her, it was evident that her choice of outfit was having a tangible effect on him. “Do you like it?”

“Oh, I do,” he smiled, leaning in for another kiss, captivated by the intoxicating scent of her perfume. “Are you ready to go, my love?”

“Yes,” she replied, reaching for her CAC and handing it to him, recognizing that he was the only one with functional pockets in his outfit. “Let’s go, shall we?”

“Yes, we shall,” he smirked, taking her hand as they headed out together into the hallway.

As they stepped into the hallway, it seemed as though all eyes were drawn to them. Despite the whispers and glances exchanged between the station’s occupants, they remained unfazed, focused solely on each other as they made their way down the corridor. Some passersby remarked on Triara’s attire while a few keen observers noticed the ring adorning Triara’s finger and couldn’t help but to express envy at Michael’s fortune. However, the opinions of others held little significance to them as they continued on their path, their destination clear in their minds… the Officer’s Lounge.

As they approached the Officer’s Lounge, Triara found herself having to filter out the cacophony of noise that assaulted her heightened senses. Amidst the booming music and animated conversations that filled the space, she focused on maintaining her composure and her attention on Michael. After all, the lounge was renowned for its vibrant ambiance, characterized by a blend of laughter, chatter, and occasional outbursts.

However, as they walked into the lounge, the noise of the lounge dropped noticeably. The noise level remained high by typical standards, but there was a distinct shift in the room’s energy as all eyes turned to the newly arrived couple.

“Do you want to sit at the bar?” he asked, raising his voice to be heard over the din of the lounge.

Triara scanned the crowded lounge and spotted two empty seats at the bar. Taking his hand, she led him to the vacant spots.

At the bar, Michael pulled out a chair for her with gentlemanly grace, allowing her to seat herself before taking his own seat. As he settled in, he couldn’t help but notice the subtle yet alluring way she crossed her legs. It was clear she was aware of his gaze, and perhaps even inviting it. She gave her short dress a bit of a tug, but it was a rather futile attempt.

“Well now,” Kelea approached the two of them seated at the bar, “welcome back.” She glanced over at Triara, nodding in approval as she placed drink coasters in front of them. “I must say, I very much like your outfit.” Triara responded with a subtle nod of her head. “What’s the occasion for the two of you to dress up like this? And why do you both seem happier than I’ve ever seen before?” Kelea inquired with curiosity evident in her voice.

Triara’s hand slinked across the bar, drawing attention to the glittering ring adorning her finger. Kelea’s eyes widened in shock as she saw it, her reaction punctuated by a low whistle. “Well, I’ll be damned,” she muttered under her breath, a smirk playing at the corners of her lips. “Is that what I think it is?” Triara nodded subtly, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Holy shit!” Kelea exclaimed, her voice booming over the raucous noise of the lounge. “Attention everyone! We got ourselves a couple of lovebirds getting hitched!” The music abruptly cut off, leaving the room in stunned silence.

The patrons erupted into a chorus of cheers and wolf whistles as they crowded around the bar, eager to offer their congratulations. The women bombarded Triara with questions about their relationship: how they met, how they started dating, what she thought of Michael, and the details of his proposal. It didn’t take a telepath to sense the envy in their voices as they probed for details.

The men, on the other hand, took a different approach with Michael. They made lewd comments about Triara’s appearance, asking if he had seen her naked or if they had slept together yet. Their jokes were crude and disrespectful, much like what any sailor would say, and despite Michael’s attempts to shut them down, they persisted with their inappropriate remarks about her.

Triara and Michael exchanged a knowing glance, their faces flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and amusement at the sudden attention. Amidst the chaos, Kelea leaned back against the bar, a devilish grin spreading across her face as she enjoyed the uproar she had incited.

Thankfully, the commotion didn’t last long, and the crowd dispersed, leaving Michael and Triara thoroughly irritated with Kelea.

“Why the hell did you do that?” Triara demanded. “We wanted to keep things low-key.”

“Here?!” Kelea scoffed. “That’s about as likely as expecting people in this place not to get drunk.” She gestured towards a stumbling patron who narrowly avoided falling over. “You know as well as I do that this station is small, and people were bound to find out anyway.”

“Yeah, but did you have to draw that much attention to us? Did you really have to announce our engagement to the whole damn lounge?” Triara’s tone dripped with anger, disappointed that Kelea hadn’t shown more discretion. “We were hoping for a quiet celebration.”

“Oh, come on now,” Kelea retorted, placing her hands on her hips. “You knew this was coming. We’ve done it before, remember?” She watched as both Michael and Triara rolled their eyes. “It’s kind of a tradition in the Officer’s Lounge to give newly engaged couples a hard time. After all, marriages in the military aren’t often a thing that happens.”

“She does have a point,” Michael interjected, “and then there’s how the rate of divorce among service members are four times higher than the normal average.”

Triara sighed heavily, her voice dripping with venom. “Whatever. Just leave us alone for the night. That’s all I ask.” Kelea’s expression faltered, hurt evident in her eyes. “Please, get one of the other bartenders.”

“If that’s what you want, I’ll arrange it,” Kelea replied, her tone subdued.

“Yes,” Triara snapped, her frustration palpable.

“Okay,” Kelea muttered, turning away and leaving them be.

Michael observed from a distance as Kelea approached another bartender behind the bar, gesturing and exchanging words with them. He couldn’t discern their conversation, but he noticed the bartender nodding along. Turning back to Triara, Michael leaned against the bar. “Triara,” he began, “did you really have to do that?” He sighed. “You hurt her feelings.”

“Are you defending her?” Triara retorted, her frustration evident. “She embarrassed the hell out of both of us. And don’t even get me started on that so-called tradition.”

Just then, two figures approached from behind. “Hey,” one of them greeted. Triara and Michael turned to see Lieutenant Vincent Watson and his wife, Lieutenant Sara Watson. “You may not know me, but I’m Lieutenant Vincent Watson. I work down in reactor control,” Vincent introduced himself. Sara added, “And I’m Lieutenant Sara Watson, Vincent’s wife. We just got married.”

“Well then,” Triara smiled, standing up to greet them. “Congratulations.” The two women exchanged a hug before Triara returned to her seat and crossed her legs. “But I have to ask, what brings you two over here?”

“We wanted to let you know that you’re not the only ones who’ve received that treatment from Kelea,” Vincent explained. The other bartender Kelea was conversing with joined them, affirming, “Yeah, you’re not the first two who’ve been embarrassed by what Kelea’s done.”

Triara felt a pang of guilt for being too harsh on Kelea. “Yeah,” Sara chimed in, “she did it to Vincent and me a couple of months back. So don’t feel like you were singled out for this.”

“I’m not,” Triara started, “it’s just that I called her out on her behavior and now Kelea’s sulking.”

“Triara,” Michael interjected, his tone firm, “you didn’t just call her out, you yelled at her. As Sara said, we’re not the only ones who’ve been embarrassed like that. I think you owe her an apology.”

“I suppose,” Triara sighed wearily. “But now, I’d rather not talk to Kelea. Perhaps in a few days,” she mused, shrugging lightly, “I’ll be more open to talking to her. But for today? Not a chance.” She shook her head, her frustration evident.

“Fair enough,” Michael conceded, understanding her reluctance. “We can deal with it later. For now, let’s just enjoy the night together, alright?” He offered her a comforting smile, hoping to ease her frustration.

“Thank you,” Triara responded graciously, her smile radiating warmth as Vincent and Sara walked away, leaving Triara and Michael at the bar. “So,” the bartender leaned against the counter, “my name’s Kate. It’s a pleasure to meet the two of you. And again, I really do apologize for what Kelea did; there was no call for it.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Triara began, but Kate stopped her. “Oh, but I feel like I must. In fact, your first drink is on the house because of that incident.” Michael and Triara exchanged surprised glances. “But anyway, can I see your ring?” Triara extended her hand to allow Kate a better look at her engagement ring. “Ooh, wow,” she whistled, “that’s some rock you have there.”

“Nothing’s too good for Triara,” Michael chimed in, smiling as he reached for Triara’s hand and gave it a slight pat. “She’s been wonderful, she deserves it.”

“May I ask how the two of you met?” Kate inquired, her curiosity piqued by the unusual pairing of a human and a Zaltaen. As Michael and Triara recounted the story of their meeting and blossoming relationship, Kate listened attentively, nodding in understanding at every little detail.

“And then came the time that I told her that I loved her,” Michael continued, turning to Triara and gently taking her hand in his. “I invited her to my suite and asked her to wear her traditional Zaltaen robe because I wanted to see her as her true self, not what she thought she needed to be in order to fit into human society. And she was stunning, truly beautiful.” He watched as Triara blushed, a fond smile tugging at his lips. “I prepared a romantic dinner for us, and then, of course, I proposed to her that evening.” He looked at her, a fond smile gracing his lips. “She’s been wonderful. She’s been there for me in some of my most difficult times just like how I’ve been there for her.”

“Well, I think it’s sweet how the two of you came together. You’ve been there for each other, that’s how it’s supposed to be. But anyways,” Kate said as another bar patron yelled for service, “what do you guys want?”

Triara spoke up. “For now, we’ll both take some…” She paused, recalling Kate’s offer of a complimentary drink. “Do you have Glenfiddich? Maybe the 18-year?” Kate’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, perhaps expecting a less expensive choice for a free drink.

“Yes, we do,” Kate nodded, “and as I promised, the drink will be on the house.” She then walked away muttering about potential repercussions for giving away such a pricey Scotch for free.

Kate approached Kelea, seeking permission for her generous gesture. “I need your permission to do something.”

“Permission for what?” Kelea asked, perplexed.

“I’m taking care of Michael and Triara,” Kate explained, gesturing towards them, “after your screw-up,” she reached up and nervously rubbed the back of her neck, “I kind of offered them their first drink on the house.”

“Okay, that was nice. However, I imagine that they ordered something expensive,” Kelea remarked.

Kate confirmed Kelea’s suspicion. “They ordered Glenfiddich, 18-year.” She observed Kelea’s reaction as she blew out a breath through pursed lips.

“Whatever,” Kelea sighed, “just put it on my bar tab, and I’ll pay it later. I don’t want to be giving away that kind of Scotch for free. Hell,” she shook her head in disgust, “I deserve to pay for that mistake.”

“Alright,” Kate happily grabbed the bottle of the Glenfiddich 18-year and began to pour a very generous amount of the Scotch much to the horror of Kelea after which she tapped in a double for the both of them.

“A double for the both of them?” she questioned incredulously.

Kate shrugged, unfazed. “You fucked up, now you get to pay for it,” she retorted, carrying the glasses back to Michael and Triara as Kelea fumed behind the bar.

Kate placed the two glasses of the expensive Scotch in front of Michael and Triara with a flourish. “Compliments of Kelea,” she announced, her tone tinged with a hint of mischief. “Seeing as how she’s the one that created this mess.” Triara’s eyes widened in surprise. “I can’t just give this stuff away for free,” Kate continued, leaning in conspiratorially. “Someone has to pay for it, and since it’s her,” she nodded in Kelea’s direction, “fuck up, she gets to foot the bill.”

“Alright, but tell Kelea thanks anyway,” Michael responded, lifting the glass to his nose and taking in the aroma before raising it up. “To us.” Triara echoed his sentiment, raising her glass as well.

“May we always be as happy as we are right now,” she added, a soft smile gracing her lips.

“I can definitely drink to that,” Michael agreed, clinking his glass against hers.

They both took a sip of the fine Scotch, savoring the moment and toasting to the new step in their relationship.

As they finished their Scotch, two familiar voices approached from behind. “Triara?” The voice belonged to Nelyssia, and Triara immediately turned, her face lighting up with a smile as she recognized her friend.

“Nelyssia!” Triara exclaimed, embracing the Zaltaen woman warmly. “It’s been too long! Where have you been?”

Nelyssia glanced at Nathan before replying, “We’ve been stationed at the space dock for a while, but we’re back now. And I have some exciting news to share.”

“Please, do tell!” Triara urged eagerly, settling back into her seat.

“With the Zaltaen Citizenship Act that was recently signed into law by the President of the Human Federation,” Nelyssia began, “many of the obstacles to obtaining my Human Federation citizenship were removed.”

“That’s fantastic!” Michael chimed in. “So, you finally got your citizenship?”

Nelyssia nodded, proudly displaying her new ID card. “Indeed, I just got my paperwork in the mail confirming my citizenship. Though unlike you, Triara,” she turned to her Triara, “I’ve opted to maintain my Zaltaen citizenship. I’m now a dual citizen.”

Triara shrugged, offering a supportive smile. “Nothing wrong with that. I, on the other hand, relinquished mine,” she gestured to her chest, “since I have no desire to be associated with Zalta anymore. Everything I need is right here with Michael.” She glanced at her fiancé, who smiled warmly at her words. “I have no need for anything else.”

Nathan and Nelyssia exchanged a knowing look, understanding the depth of the bond between Triara and Michael, as they themselves had found solace and completeness in each other’s company. Continuing with a warm smile, Nelyssia added, “We actually wanted to invite you both to join us tomorrow morning when we meet with the captain. She’s agreed to officiate our wedding, and we’d love for you to witness it.”

“Of course!” Triara exclaimed, her excitement evident. “We’d be honored to be there.”

“Likewise,” Michael began, “we’d love to be able to stand witness for your marriage.”

Nathan nodded in agreement. “And who knows,” he added with a grin, “maybe it could turn into a double ceremony.”

Michael and Triara exchanged glances, sharing a silent moment of consideration before nodding in unison. “That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Michael said, squeezing Triara’s hand. “We’ll be there.”

Michael glanced at Triara, his expression serious. “What do you think? Should we consider getting married?” He proposed. “It would make things official, and we could finally move in together without raising eyebrows.” He squeezed her hands gently, emphasizing his point. “Because right now, if we were to talk to Richard, he’d say that we’re skating on thin ice.”

Richard approached them, his presence unexpected yet unwelcome. “Indeed, you are,” he interjected, his tone stern. “Don’t think I don’t know what the two of you are doing because I do.” Triara’s head fell as he said that. “If I don’t know what’s going on aboard this station… worry. It’s my responsibility to keep track of station affairs and that includes things like this.”

Triara’s heart sank as Richard addressed them. “So, you knew about our… arrangements?” Triara inquired, a mix of disbelief and frustration evident in her voice. “How did you know?” Triara asked, frustration evident in her voice. “Who told you?”

Richard chuckled knowingly. “I don’t need informants to tell me what’s going on. I’m more observant than you think. I’ve seen you waiting outside of Michael’s suite a number of times. And trust me, it’s better that I found out than the old lady.” They, of course, knew that Richard was referring to the captain.

Michael nodded, acknowledging the point. “But why now? Why suddenly enforce the regulations?”

Richard’s expression softened slightly. “Because the rules are in place for a reason, to protect both of you. And unfortunately, they apply to everyone, including you two along with Nelyssia and Nathan.”

Triara felt a pang of guilt. “But they’re getting married soon too. Are you cracking down on them as well?”

“Yes,” Richard affirmed firmly as he put his hand to his chest in mock pain. “And I’m hurt that you’d think otherwise. As for Nelyssia and Nathan, let’s just say they’re expediting their plans for a reason.”

“Damn,” Michael whispered.

“You know,” Triara shook her head, “the regs suck.”

“Understandable,” Richard conceded with a sympathetic nod. “Sometimes they can feel like a burden, but they’re in place for a reason.”

Triara huffed in frustration. “Doesn’t mean I have to like them.”

Richard chuckled softly. “Fair enough. But just remember, they’re there to keep everyone safe, including you two.”

Triara let out a frustrated sigh. “But Richard,” she protested, “we’re your friends.”

Richard’s expression softened, but he remained resolute. “Exactly,” he replied, his tone heavy with regret. “That’s precisely why this is difficult for me. But I can’t afford to show favoritism. My role as XO demands impartiality.”

Michael nodded in agreement, offering a reassuring squeeze of Triara’s hand. “He’s right,” he affirmed. “As much as it sucks, we have to abide by the rules. It’s part of being in the military.”

Triara sighed again, resigned to the reality of their situation. “I guess you’re both right.”

“Looks like someone’s discussing regs,” Kate’s voice cut through the noise as she reached for the oversized bell perched above the bar. Richard winced, bracing himself for what was to come; a hefty bar tab. “Richard’s talking about the regs in the lounge!” she announced with a grin. “You know the drill!” With a resounding clang, she set the bell ringing. “Drinks on Richard for everyone!” The lounge erupted in uproarious laughter and cheers.

“Don’t sweat it, buddy,” Michael offered, giving Richard’s shoulder an encouraging pat. “I’ll cover a quarter of the tab.”

“I’m in too,” Triara chimed in, determined to ease Richard’s burden.

Despite their kind gestures, Richard knew it wouldn’t make much of a dent in the impending financial blow. Even with Michael and Triara’s contributions, he braced himself for the sting of a hefty bill.

Later that night, Triara flopped onto Michael’s couch, exhaustion evident in every line of her body. Michael settled beside her, his presence a comforting weight. As Triara began to fumble with the straps of her high-heeled shoes, Michael offered his assistance. “Need a hand?” he asked gently.

Triara nodded, grateful for his offer. “If you don’t mind.”

Without hesitation, Michael knelt in front of her, his fingers deftly working to undo the intricate straps of her shoes. With the buckles released, he carefully slipped the shoes off her feet, setting them aside with utmost care. Once done, he returned to his seat beside her, and Triara curled her legs beneath her, sinking into the plush cushions of the couch as she leaned against him.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” he asked as he took ahold of her hand. “Do you have doubts about getting married?”

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed, meeting his gaze. “I do indeed want to marry you. It’s just that…” Her voice trailed off, and she glanced back at his hand.

“What is it?” he inquired, concern evident in his voice. “Is it too soon? Please tell me. If you need more time, tell me; I’ll understand. I don’t want to make you think that I’m pushing you into doing this.”

“It’s not that,” she sighed, her eyes returning to his. “It’s just that I wish Rachel could be there for our big moment.” He nodded slowly, understanding the importance of Rachel in her life. “Rachel’s been like a sister to me. Without her, I wouldn’t be here sitting with you like this and let’s not forget, engaged to marry you.” Her voice trailed off as he reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“You want Rachel there.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “I want her to witness our marriage.”

“Well,” he suggested, “maybe we can have her join us via video chat. I know it’s not the same as having her physically there, but at least she’ll be able to see you getting married.”

“I suppose,” she conceded, her expression softening with a hint of gratitude. She leaned against him, seeking solace in his embrace, and snuggled up close. “I love you, Michael,” she whispered softly, her voice filled with warmth and affection for the man that she had found and come to love.

He responded with a tender kiss, his touch gentle yet reassuring. “I love you too,” he murmured against her lips. He looked down and lovingly began to caress her nylon-covered thigh, eliciting a warm smile from her lips. “You know,” he looked up at her with a soft smile, “I’ve noticed that you wear these,” he paused momentarily, “tights quite often.” Gesturing towards her legs, he continued, “I was curious about that. Why do you wear them so often?”

Before she could respond, he hurriedly added, “I hope you don’t find my question inappropriate.”

“No,” she shook her head, “not at all.” She heard him sigh in relief before she continued. “The reason I wear tights so often is rooted in my culture,” she began to explain. “Zaltaen culture tends to be quite conservative in its values and beliefs. So much so that humans often joke that we make even the most conservative of evangelicals look positively liberal by comparison.”

A chuckle escaped her lips, hinting at the irony of it all as she looked down at herself wearing a dress that a few short years ago she wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing knowing how incredibly short it was and how it showcased her long legs.

“Given that background, when I first came to live among humans while undercover, I was positively horrified by what passed as female clothing,” she continued, her tone laced with disbelief. “Every curve, every line was on full display for everyone to see. And then there was how so much skin was being shown. No self-respecting Zaltaen would ever dare to reveal so much of themselves!”

Slowly nodding in understanding, he now understood why she wore tights so often wore. He couldn’t help but agree with her that human fashion tended to push boundaries to the limits of taste, and he had come to appreciate her unique sense of style, which managed to be alluring without sacrificing modesty which added to his admiration for her.

Interrupting her train of thought, he interjected, “So, the tights serve as a bridge between your Zaltaen sense of modesty and human fashion. That’s quite clever, actually.” She nodded, a grateful smile adorning her features at his understanding. “Thank you,” she whispered softly.

“In fact,” he confessed, his voice sincere, “I don’t mind if you wear them. I find your sense of style rather unique and charming.” Meeting her gaze, he continued. “And I must admit, I kind of like it when you wear them. They add an extra touch of allure to your appearance.”

“Oh,” she glanced down at his hand that was caressing her thigh, a playful gleam in her eye, “I already knew that.” She couldn’t help but smirk at the shared understanding between them.

“Telepathy,” he quipped with a chuckle.

“Indeed,” she blushed, “it’s a useful ability.”

“Indeed,” he echoed, his gaze lingering on her. “So, I’m safe to assume you’re not bothered by my thoughts then?”

She shook her head. “Why should I be?” she responded. “Richard shares the same sentiments and we’re still good friends.” He let out a sigh of relief, grateful for her understanding and acceptance.

“Anyways,” she continued, “Rachel, Richard’s wife, was the one who introduced me to tights,” she recounted, her voice soft with nostalgia, “when I expressed a desire to dress more like a human and blend in better. You know, so I wouldn’t stick out like… well, as humans say, a sore thumb.”

She paused, her thoughts drifting through the memories brought forth by the simple garment. “And so, I’ve been wearing them ever since,” she reminisced, a gentle smile gracing her lips as he continued to caress her thigh, relishing in his tender touch. “In some ways,” she added with a touch of fondness, “I’ve even grown to enjoy wearing them. They’ve become more than just a fashion accessory to me.”

“Then,” he murmured, drawing closer for a kiss, “continue to wear what makes you feel comfortable.” Their lips met, igniting a passionate embrace and as she felt his hand glide up her thigh and under her skirt, it sent shivers of excitement through her in ways she had never experienced before.

As the kiss ended, he smiled. “I can’t wait until we get married.”

“Me too,” she yawned, a contented sigh escaping her lips.

“Me too,” he admitted with a yawn, prompting a chuckle from her. “Yawns are contagious.”

As she rose from the couch and began to reach for the zipper at her back, he gently intervened. “Honey,” he said softly, his fingers deftly finding the zipper, “let me help you.”

She smiled appreciatively at his helpful gesture, feeling a rush of warmth toward him.

With deliberate care, he eased the zipper down, allowing her dress to pool at her feet. Standing before him in nothing but her bra and tights, he felt a surge of anticipation, knowing that in a few short hours she’d be his wife and he would be her husband.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she announced, slipping her tights off and tossing them aside, where he caught them effortlessly, as if anticipating her move. Next, she removed her bra and panties, feeling his eyes on her as she made her way to the bathroom, leaving him admiring her naked feminine form.

Richard tapped his desk impatiently, waiting for the communication link with his wife at the Alpha Centauri colony to connect. He hoped she was still awake. Within moments, the video screen flickered to life, revealing his wife nursing their infant child.

“Hey there, honey,” she greeted, looking up from the child at her breast. “What’s up?”

“Is there any way you can make it to the station around 0900 hours?” Richard asked, his tone urgent. Rachel’s expression shifted to one of surprise at his request. “I have a feeling that Michael and Triara are going to get married tomorrow morning.”

“How?” Rachel exclaimed. “And why are they rushing into marriage so soon after getting engaged?”

“Well,” he nervously rubbed the back of his neck, “there’s no easy way to say this, but they’ve been engaging in activities that go against regulations, and you know what I mean.” Rachel rolled her eyes, clearly annoyed. “As the XO, I have to…”

Rachel cut him off, her frustration evident. “And you had to intervene where it wasn’t necessary.”

“But Rachel,” he interjected, “I had no choice. As the XO, it’s my responsibility to address these violations, even if they involve my friends. It’s better that I handle it than the old lady finding out.”

“Damn it, Richard,” she cursed, “you’re right. If the captain got involved…”

“We both know it wouldn’t end well,” Richard finished her thought. “I’ll do what I can to stall, but I need you here. I don’t want you to miss a moment.”

“I’ll be there somehow,” Rachel affirmed, adjusting the baby in her arms. “But I need to get some rest if I’m going to make it. Goodnight, Richard.”

“Goodnight, my love,” Richard smiled before Rachel terminated the call. Meanwhile, Rachel cursed under her breath as she dialed Richard’s parents to arrange childcare for the next day.

The next morning, Richard paced impatiently at the shuttle bay, anxiously awaiting Rachel’s arrival. Her shuttle had just docked, and he knew they were already behind schedule. A message from the captain inquiring about the delay only added to his frustration. All he could respond was that Rachel’s shuttle had indeed docked, but he had no further updates to offer.

“Where’s Richard?” Nathan inquired, growing increasingly impatient for the ceremony to begin.

“Yeah,” Nelyssia chimed in, turning to Triara, “where is he?”

Triara could only shrug, equally puzzled by Richard’s absence. All she knew was that their impatience was beginning to rub off on her.

“Triara, calm down,” Michael urged, his hand gently resting on her knee, which had been bouncing nervously.

“I can’t help it,” she confessed, glancing down at his hand as he caressed her nylon-covered thigh. “I’m nervous.”

She attempted to call Rachel once more, but to no avail. “Why isn’t she picking up?” she muttered, more to herself than anyone else. “She said she’d be free for a video call this morning.”

For the fifth time, the call went unanswered, redirecting to Rachel’s video chat mailbox.

“Sorry, I’m not available to chat,” Rachel’s cheerful voice echoed from Triara’s datapad, “but if you leave a video message, I’ll call you back.” Triara cursed under her breath in her native language, a frustrated expression crossing her features. Nelyssia shot her an angry glare, clearly not appreciating the outburst amidst the tension of the moment.

Meanwhile, Danielle glanced at her datapad and quickly composed a message to Richard, inquiring about his whereabouts. Soon after, three dots appeared on the screen, indicating that Richard was typing a response. Moments later, a message popped up, explaining that he had just met up with Rachel and they were hurrying to catch the train that would transport them across the station.

Danielle nodded, relaying the information to Nathan and Nelyssia. “He’s on his way,” she announced, trying to calm the growing impatience. Nathan’s scoff echoed Nelyssia’s frustration. “We don’t have all day,” he muttered, echoing the sentiments of the group.

“Come on!” Richard urged; the urgency evident in his voice as they dashed through the bustling station. Rachel struggled to keep up, her high-heeled shoes making it challenging to maintain her pace. “You try running in high-heeled shoes!” she retorted, attempting to keep her balance as she hurried alongside him. “I can’t exactly run fast.”

Richard glanced at his wrist chronometer, noting that the next train was due in just three minutes. They still had a considerable distance to cover before reaching the platform.

They reached a set of stairs, and Richard released Rachel’s hand, watching as she skillfully descended the steps, striving to maintain her balance in her high-heeled shoes as she hurried down.

“Phew,” Richard exhaled as they arrived at the train platform just as the train was pulling to a stop. “Just in time,” Richard gasped, leaning over to catch his breath. The train’s doors slid open, and they hurriedly boarded, finding seats as they caught their breath. Richard swiftly pulled out his datapad and sent a message to Danielle, informing her that they had boarded the train.

“How much longer until our stop?” Rachel inquired, eyeing the screen overhead as the next station approached in two minutes.

“We need to disembark at station five,” Richard reminded her. Glancing up at the screen, they had just passed station two. He observed Rachel gritting her teeth, her frustration evident. “Let’s hope there are no unexpected stops or passengers getting on or off, and we can go directly to station five.”

Fortunately, there were no unexpected stops, and the train traveled smoothly from station one, located outside the main shuttle bay, all the way to station five.

“Wow,” Richard remarked as they disembarked from the train, surprised. “That’s a rare occurrence.” Once again, they broke into a run, drawing the attention of several other officers as they hurried past.

“Phew,” Richard exhaled as they came to a stop just outside the meeting room where the ceremony was to be held. “We made it.” Rachel leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath. “Alright,” he said, gently putting his hand on her back, “let’s go in.”

Entering the room, Triara’s eyes widened in astonishment as she spotted Rachel. Without a second thought, she leapt to her feet and dashed towards her, enveloping Rachel in a tight embrace. “Rachel!” she exclaimed, her voice filled with joy. “You made it!”

“Triara,” Rachel gasped, trying to catch her breath, “I can’t breathe.”

“Sorry,” Triara apologized, stepping back. “I’m just so excited that you’re here.”

“Triara,” Rachel pulled her into another embrace, “I wouldn’t miss your marriage for anything in the universe.” She released her, a warm smile spreading across her face. “Richard called me last night and told me about how you were getting married this morning, so I caught the earliest shuttle to the station. I had to be here for you.”

“Thank you,” Triara beamed, her gaze drifting to the floor. “I’m really happy you’re here.”

“Me too,” Rachel returned the smile. “And I have to say,” she paused, her eyes scanning Triara’s appearance, “you look absolutely stunning.”

Triara stood before Rachel, exuding elegance in a sleeveless white dress that hugged her figure with grace, its hemline delicately skimming just above her knees. She complemented it with white high-heeled shoes, their slender straps adding to her poised silhouette. Beneath the dress, barely noticeable yet enhancing her ensemble, were a pair of nearly transparent tights, subtly accentuating the appearance of her legs.

“Ahem,” Nathan coughed, drawing attention. “Now that we’re all here.”

“Yes,” Danielle interjected, her tone brisk. “I’m a very busy woman, so let’s get the show on the road already.”

“Of course,” Triara responded, seemingly unaware of the time she had spent catching up with Rachel.

“Anyways,” Danielle paused, “seeing as how I’ve never done this before, I had to look up the rites and rules of this ceremony. But rest assured, I’ve read up all that I need to know to do this.” She glanced at the two couples waiting to get married. “Who wants to go first?”

“We do!” Nathan and Nelyssia spoke up eagerly.

“Alright, step forward,” Danielle beckoned them closer. “Nathan, do you take Nelyssia to be your lawfully wedded wife? Will you promise to have and to hold her, for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, until death do you part?”

Nathan’s eyes moved from Nelyssia’s hands to meet hers, a warm smile spreading across his face. “Yes, I do,” he affirmed, his voice filled with sincerity. “I very much do.”

“Nelyssia,” Danielle addressed her, “do you take Nathan to be your lawfully wedded husband? Will you promise to have and to hold him, for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, until death do you part?”

“Yes,” Nelyssia responded with conviction, her voice unwavering. “Yes, I do; I wholeheartedly do.”

“Then, by the powers vested in me by the Human Federation Government and by the Space Force Bureau of Personnel,” Danielle announced solemnly, her words carrying the weight of authority, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” A hushed silence fell over the room as Nathan and Nelyssia shared a meaningful glance, their eyes brimming with emotion. Then, with a gentle smile, Danielle continued, “You may now kiss the bride.”

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to be able to kiss you like this,” Nathan whispered as he took Nelyssia into his arms. The two of them shared their first kiss as a married couple, sealing their love and commitment to each other in that tender moment. As they pulled away, the room erupted into applause, celebrating the union of the newlyweds.

“If you don’t mind,” Danielle led them aside, motioning towards a table where a datapad lay waiting. “I need the two of you to sign some paperwork to make your marriage official.” Nathan and Nelyssia followed Danielle to the table.

“Alright,” Danielle continued, her tone businesslike yet tinged with a hint of amusement, “all you have to do is sign it, and afterward, I’ll add my signature to make your union legally recognized in the eyes of the Human Federation government and the Space Force itself, especially considering your recent living arrangements.”

Nathan and Nelyssia exchanged a startled glance, realizing their secret might not be as concealed as they thought. Danielle’s knowing smirk confirmed their suspicions.

“Oh, come on now,” Danielle chided playfully, “I’m not that oblivious. I knew what the two of you were up to these past few months.” She glanced over at Michael and Triara, her expression knowing and amused. “And I’m well aware of what Michael and Triara have been up to as well,” she remarked, her eyes twinkling mischievously as she turned her attention back to Nathan and Nelyssia.

Nathan attempted to interject with a mention of Richard, but Danielle cut him off with a knowing chuckle. “Let me guess,” she teased, “he told you that you had to tie the knot before the old lady caught wind of it?” Both of them nodded their heads. “Yeah, well, it would be the height of hypocrisy if I held you to a standard that even I,” she placed a hand over her chest, “haven’t been following.”

“You?” Nathan asked, surprised, to which Danielle nodded. “When?”

“Since a few months ago,” Danielle replied, her thoughts drifting to her Zaltaen boyfriend. Nathan and Nelyssia exchanged glances as they listened intently. “I started dating this Zaltaen guy who, believe it or not, works as Richard’s counterpart over at the space dock. He’s not part of the military; he’s there in more of an advisory role. But the better question is, why are you two so surprised?” Danielle continued, raising an eyebrow. “What? Do you not think that the captain should have someone in her life?”

“No ma’am, that’s not my intent at all,” Nathan quickly spoke up, trying to defend himself.

“Relax,” Danielle smirked. “I’m just messing with you.” She watched as Nathan relaxed. “But anyways, we’ve gotten close these past few months. It was a bit of a challenge though since as I understand it, in Zaltaen culture it’s up to the woman to make the first move.”

“That’s correct,” Nelyssia spoke up. “In Zaltaen culture, women are the ones who make the first move.” Nathan looked at her, his eyes widening in surprise. “It’s our belief that since women endure pregnancy and ultimately childbirth, it’s our choice as to who we want to be with and who we want to claim as our mate, unlike in human society where the man typically initiates romantic pursuit.”

Meanwhile, Rachel placed her hands gently on Triara’s shoulders, her concern evident in her expression. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” She glanced over at Michael, who had given them some privacy for their girl-talk. “You just got engaged to Michael, and now you’re telling me you’re ready to marry him already?”

“Yes, I am,” Triara affirmed. It was clear that Rachel was thoroughly perplexed. “Listen, Rachel,” Triara began, her touch tender as she rested her hands on Rachel’s shoulders, “I know in my heart that I want to marry him, that I want to spend my life with him. He’s been amazing.” A genuine smile graced Triara’s face as she spoke. “You don’t understand what it’s like being with him. He shows his love for me even in the little things.” She reminisced about the previous night. “When I was about to take my shoes off, he offered to do it for me, out of pure kindness. And then, without any prompting, he helped me take my dress off. That’s just the kind of person he is.” Triara watched as Rachel sighed, closing her eyes briefly.

“And besides,” Triara continued, tapping the side of her head lightly, “I’ve been with him in here.” She tapped her head again. “I know what he feels for me. We’ve shared each other’s thoughts and feelings for each other on numerous occasions.”

“Wow,” Rachel whispered, taking in Triara’s words.

“And I’m not the timid Zaltaen you once knew,” Triara added, a note of pride in her voice. “I’ve grown so much since we first met years ago.”

“I know,” Rachel exclaimed, admiration shining in her eyes as she regarded her long-time friend. “You’ve indeed come a long way. You’re so much more confident now, I can see that.”

“Then why are you questioning my decision to marry him?” Triara asked, a hint of hurt creeping into her voice. “I want this, Rachel. I want to marry Michael.”

Rachel sighed, her concern evident for her friend. “I know,” she said softly, shaking her head, “it’s just… I don’t want to see you get hurt. You’re my friend, my best friend.”

“Rachel,” Triara reassured her with a smile, “I know in my heart,” she placed her hand over her chest, “that Michael would never hurt me. I know he loves me, and I love him deeply.”

Rachel nodded, acknowledging Triara’s growth with a sense of pride. It was undeniable that Triara had transformed into a confident, self-assured woman since they had first met. As Rachel observed her, she couldn’t help but admire the poise and grace with which Triara carried herself. It was as if she had shed her old skin and emerged anew.

“It’s just that,” Rachel looked down, her voice tinged with concern, “you’re not only my best friend, but I love you like a sister.” Triara smiled at the depth of their bond, reciprocating the sentiment. “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I know you don’t,” she gave Rachel’s shoulder a reassuring pat, “but I’m ready for this. I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life.”

Rachel smiled, her eyes reflecting a myriad of emotions. Pride swelled within her for Triara’s remarkable growth, mingling with the joy she felt for her friend’s upcoming marriage. Yet, beneath it all, a twinge of nostalgia tugged at her heartstrings, reminding her of the journey they had traversed together.

“I believe you,” Rachel responded warmly, returning Triara’s gesture with a gentle squeeze of her hand. “You’ve blossomed into an incredible woman, and I have every confidence that you and Michael are destined for each other.”

“Absolutely,” Michael affirmed, stepping closer to Triara and intertwining their fingers. He met Rachel’s gaze with sincerity. “Rachel, I understand your concern. Triara means the universe to me, and I would never want to see her hurt either. Let me assure you, she’s brought light back into my life when I thought it was lost forever.” He turned to Triara, a soft smile gracing his lips. “She helped me heal from one of the darkest chapters of my life, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.” Turning back to Rachel, his expression earnest, he continued, “Triara’s strength, kindness, and love saved me in more ways than one. I owe her everything.”

“Oh wow,” Rachel whispered in astonishment, her eyes widening at the thought that he had thought of taking his own life. “You mean?” she asked to confirm her suspicions. Michael nodded solemnly. “Damn,” Rachel cursed softly, her voice filled with surprise. “I didn’t know.”

“How could you?” Michael shrugged, understanding her reaction. “So yes, we’re more than ready,” he affirmed, his gaze meeting Triara’s with unwavering determination. Triara returned his look with a serene assurance shining in her eyes. “Let’s do this,” she added, her voice calm and resolute, mirroring his sentiment with a gentle smile. “Let’s go get married.”

“Yes,” Triara affirmed, her eyes shining with determination as she glanced at Michael. “Let’s go get married.”

“Are you two ready?” Danielle asked with urgency in her voice, “I’m a very busy woman.”

“Yes, we are, Captain,” Triara replied confidently, her gaze steady as she stood beside Michael, ready to embark on this new chapter of their lives together.

“Alright,” Danielle stood before them, “without further ado. Michael, do you take Triara to be your lawfully wedded wife? Will you promise to have and to hold her, for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, until death do you part?” Danielle’s voice filled the room with solemnity.

Michael’s eyes locked with Triara’s, his love for her shining brightly. “Triara, I do,” he affirmed with unwavering certainty, his voice steady and full of devotion.

“Triara,” Danielle turned to her, “do you take Michael to be your lawfully wedded husband? Will you promise to have and to hold him, for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, until death do you part?”

Triara’s heart swelled with emotion as tears welled up in her eyes. “Yes, Michael, I do,” she whispered, her voice trembling with emotion.

Rachel felt a rush of nostalgia as she looked down at Richard’s hand intertwining with hers, a familiar warmth spreading through her. She glanced up at him, meeting his gaze, and found reassurance in his nod. The scene unfolding before them evoked memories of their own wedding day, a cherished moment they had shared together.

As they witnessed Triara and Michael exchange vows, Rachel couldn’t help but be reminded of their own journey as a couple. The solemnity of the occasion stirred emotions within her, reaffirming the bond they had forged over the years. In this moment, amidst the echoes of their past, Rachel found solace in the enduring love they still shared, a love that had stood the test of time and distance yet continued to grow stronger with each passing day.

“Then, by the powers vested in me by the Human Federation Government and by the Space Force Bureau of Personnel,” Danielle declared, her words carrying the weight of authority, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Triara felt a surge of happiness and relief wash over her as their union was officially recognized. As Danielle gave the final instruction, “You may now kiss the bride,” Triara felt Michael’s arms wrap around her, pulling her close as they sealed their vows with a tender, heartfelt kiss.

As the kiss ended, Michael smiled as he touched her shoulders. “I love you Triara and I always will.”

Michael’s heartfelt words echoed in the room, carrying the weight of his love and commitment for her. Triara’s eyes glistened with emotion as she returned his smile, her heart overflowing with love for him. “I love you too, Michael,” she whispered softly, her voice filled with sincerity and warmth.

As Rachel observed the depth of love between Triara and Michael, a profound realization washed over her. She now understood that her earlier doubts had been unfounded. In this moment, seeing the genuine connection between the two, Rachel acknowledged her mistake. Triara was indeed ready, more than ready, to embark on a journey of marriage with Michael.

“See?” Richard interjected, his tone carrying a hint of triumph. “And you doubted her readiness. Sometimes, you just have to trust.”

Rachel’s smile widened, her eyes glistening with pride and emotion as she looked at Triara. “You’re right,” she conceded, brushing away a tear. “She’s come a long way.”

“That she has,” Richard nodded, “and I can’t think of anyone better than Michael to have by her side.”

As Michael held Triara’s hand, his gaze shifted to her engagement ring. “I apologize for not having a wedding ring to offer you,” he admitted with a chuckle, glancing around. “Things were a bit rushed, but I promise I’ll get one and place it on your finger.”

“I don’t need one,” she said, enveloping him in a warm embrace. “Having you is more than enough.”

“But I insist,” Michael insisted gently.

“Alright, you two,” Danielle interjected, “you both have some leave, nearly four weeks of it if my memory serves me right.” Michael’s eyes sparkled with mischief at the thought of whisking Triara away on a private getaway, a honeymoon. “So, I encourage you to take some time off and savor each other’s company as newlyweds. Consider it a honeymoon of sorts.”

“A honeymoon?” Triara’s curiosity was piqued. “What’s that?”

Michael chuckled. “You’ll find out soon enough. All we have to do is decide where to go.” His mind raced with possibilities for their romantic escape. “How about Zalta 4-B?” he suggested. Triara shook her head. “Why not?” he asked, surprised. “I thought you’d want to visit your home world, especially after your reaction to the bouquet of flowers I gave you with blooms from your home world.”

“First off,” Triara closed her eyes briefly, “Zalta 4-B isn’t my home world; 4-A is. 4-B is more like a resort world for the elite of Zalta.” Michael nodded, indicating he understood, prompting her to continue. “Marrying you marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life.” She paused, about to elaborate, when he interjected.

“And Zalta is part of your past.”

“Yes,” she affirmed with a slow nod, “Zalta is indeed part of my past. I don’t want to dwell on it. I want to focus on the future.”

“Understandable,” Michael nodded in agreement. “So, where do you want to go? Sirius?”

“Are you suggesting The Corporate Republic of Sirius?” she queried, taken aback by his proposal, given the planet’s notorious reputation. “That’s essentially a hub of unbridled capitalism.”

“Yes,” Michael confirmed with a nod. “And you’re right, it’s known for its extreme capitalist culture. But it’s also known for its stunning beaches, extravagant food, fancy accommodations, and vibrant nightlife. I thought it might be an interesting change of pace for us.” As he spoke, Triara sensed a hint of excitement in his voice, along with some rather racy thoughts. “And it’ll just be the two of us.”

“Well,” she smirked, “when you put it that way.” Her laughter filled the room as she felt his hand on her backside, a playful spark igniting between them. With a mischievous glint in her eye, she looked forward to the prospect of turning her reproductive systems back on and surprising him in the most delightful way possible.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” she said, pausing for dramatic effect. “You’ve only experienced half of the pleasure of being sexually active with a Zaltaen.” His eyes widened in surprise. “As I told you before, my reproductive systems are off, which is why we’ve been able to have unprotected sex without the risk of an unforeseen pregnancy. But now that we’re married,” a mischievous glint came to her eyes, “I’m going to turn it all on. And let me tell you, you better prepare to have your mind blown.”

“Ok then.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of him not being remotely prepared for what was to come.

Continue to Chapter 14…

Last updated on Saturday, May 18th, 2024 at 6:38 PM by trparky.

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