Space 2315… Peace, Chapter 8

Later that night in the officer’s lounge, Richard sat down at the bar and looked around. It was about 2300 hours, well into the station’s official night. Yet even at that late hour, the Officer’s Lounge tended to fill up quickly. Unlike on a warship, the station had a little bit more laidback atmosphere in its day-to-day operations, thus the crew tended to take a few more liberties. So long as they didn’t party too hard, nobody saw any need to act like the station was a warship.

He knew that if he wanted anything close to a decent seat in the lounge, he’d have to get there early before the place filled up. That and the fact that he generally didn’t like it when the place was too busy. He liked a sort of quiet bar experience and just about now was the best time to visit the lounge. He looked about at the lounge and then back to the bar as the bartender came close.

“Your usual?” Kelea, the Zaltaen that managed the officer’s lounge at this time, asked as she placed a cardboard coaster in front of him that had the Space Force emblem on it. He had the admit that when the lounge first opened on the space station, he was surprised that a Zaltaen was managing it. But sure enough, when he’d looked at the plaque at the door indicating the name and the managers of the establishment, her name was listed as one of the managers, Kelea Meadowbrook.

He was surprised because Zaltaens, as a species, typically avoided colorful or vibrant human communities, let alone taking on managerial roles in such places. The cultural norms of the Zaltaens tended to be quite puritanical compared to humans, with conservative dress and behavior being the norm. It was unusual for a Zaltaen to be comfortable in places like the lounge mentioned. Richard’s only acquaintance who seemed at ease in such environments was his friend Triara, but even she was an exception and only felt comfortable due to Richard and Rachel’s influence. The fact that a Zaltaen was managing such a place was unexpected and hinted at a shift in the younger Zaltaen generation’s attitudes, which contrasted starkly with the traditional values held by the older generation on their home world of Zalta.

The older generations of Zaltaens were in a difficult position. They recognized that attempting to enforce traditional values or restrict the freedoms of the younger generation would only exacerbate the situation. Any such actions would likely lead to further resentment and drive more Zaltaens to leave Zalta for human worlds. This mass exodus was already a concerning trend for the older generation, as it represented a loss of cultural identity and potential economic strain on Zaltaen society. Therefore, despite their concerns about the changing cultural landscape, they realized that attempting to resist or control it would only worsen the situation. Instead, they may have sought alternative approaches to bridge the generational gap and address the underlying reasons for the younger generation’s dissatisfaction.

The officer’s lounge provided not just a space to relax and unwind with a drink, but also offered a menu featuring comfort foods like hamburgers, wings, sandwiches, and other items typically associated with bar cuisine. For Richard, one of the highlights was the pastrami sandwich served with house-cut chips, which he particularly enjoyed alongside a tall glass of beer. This combination of familiar food and drink likely added to the appeal of the lounge as a place where officers could momentarily escape the stresses of duty and indulge in some culinary comforts.

Richard acknowledged Kelea’s gesture with a nod as she placed an empty rocks glass on his drink coaster and poured a generous double of Johnnie Walker Black neat. Upon examining the contents of the glass, he couldn’t help but notice that it seemed to contain more than the standard double pour of Scotch. Meanwhile, Kelea retrieved a mug from beneath the bar and proceeded to draw a pint of beer from the taps. This attention to detail and perhaps the slight overpour of his drink hinted at Kelea’s familiarity with her patrons and her desire to ensure they were well taken care of during their time in the lounge.

When the lounge first opened, its beer selection was rather limited, featuring standard brands like Budweiser and Miller. However, Richard, being something of a beer connoisseur, successfully persuaded Kelea to expand the offerings to include more diverse and obscure brews, including some from his own home colony of Alpha Centauri.

Brands such as Centauri Brews, Mars Ale (which surprisingly offered more than just ales), and even selections from the Corporate Republic of Sirius were eventually added to the menu. While some of the whiskeys from these colonies proved to be exceptionally good, none could quite match the distinctive taste of Terran whiskey. There was an intangible quality about Terran whiskey that set it apart, whether it was the water used, the unique combination of grains, soil conditions, or other factors specific to Terra’s environment. Perhaps it was simply a matter of personal bias, as many people tended to favor products made on Terra.

Despite the expanding variety of beverages available, Richard’s preference for Terran whiskey remained unwavering, a testament to the enduring allure of Terran craftsmanship in the realm of spirits.

As Kelea walked away, Richard found himself momentarily captivated by her appearance. Her outfit, a miniskirt paired with a tight shirt and vest, was certainly eye-catching, and he couldn’t help but notice how it contrasted with the more conservative attire typical of Zaltaens. While he understood that Kelea’s role as a bartender often involved entertaining guests, he also recognized that her choice of attire was ultimately hers to make. If she felt comfortable and confident in what she wore and if it added to the ambiance of the lounge, then it was her prerogative to dress as she pleased. Despite his initial distraction, Richard reminded himself to respect Kelea’s autonomy and professionalism, focusing instead on enjoying his drink and the atmosphere of the lounge.

If you were to ask Richard, he’d admit that Kelea consistently elevated her appearance to another level. “God damn,” he whispered under his breath as he observed her adding an extra sway to her hips while she moved away from him. While his gaze traveled down her alluring figure, there was no mistaking the subtle sheen of her nylons for he knew it from how his wife often wore them along with the seemingly impossibly tall high-heeled shoes she wore. Richard couldn’t help but wonder how she managed to walk in them. Amidst his admiration for Kelea’s allure, his thoughts inevitably turned to his wife, Rachel. “God, I need to find a way to either visit Rachel or convince her to come here, even if it’s only for a few days,” he pondered to himself.

“Ah Richard, looking at the bartender I see.”

Richard was taken aback as he heard the woman’s voice, causing him to choke momentarily. He turned to find his captain, Danielle Byrne, standing before him. He started to say “Captain,” but caught himself before completing the word. He remembered the House Rules about leaving rank at the door, which meant refraining from using formalities like “ma’am” or “sir” and avoiding discussions about rank or official business in the lounge. It wasn’t about forgetting one’s identity or the hierarchy, but rather maintaining a relaxed and informal atmosphere within the space.

Richard couldn’t help but recall a previous incident where some poor bastard had forgotten the House Rules and inadvertently breached the relaxed atmosphere of the lounge. The unfortunate individual had ended up having to buy a round of drinks for everyone present as a consequence. The memory served as a reminder for Richard to remain mindful of the informal environment and to adhere to the established etiquette to avoid similar embarrassment.

“Danielle Byrne,” Richard greeted, quickly recovering from his initial surprise. “I didn’t expect to see you here of all places.” He kept his tone casual, adhering to the lounge’s informal atmosphere while acknowledging his captain’s presence.

“And why not?” Danielle asked as she settled onto the bar stool beside him. Richard glanced her way, noting her change from the formal suit she wore earlier to a more relaxed attire, baggy sweatpants and a sweatshirt adorned with the Space Force emblem.

“It’s just…” Richard began, searching for a tactful explanation. “I suppose I didn’t expect someone of your rank and position to mingle with, you know…” He gestured vaguely across the lounge, indicating the diverse crowd officers of various ranks. “Everyone else. I figured if you wanted a drink, your steward could arrange something far better in your stateroom than what they have here. I can’t recall the last time someone like you came to the lounge for a drink.”

“I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I do have a rather well-stocked wet bar in my stateroom for when I have officers over for working lunches or dinners. But tonight, I just wanted to be out among people,” Danielle explained, her tone genuine. “Yes, my steward will share a drink with me, but sometimes I just want to be out and not be the Old Lady, if you catch my meaning.”

Richard nodded understandingly, empathizing with Danielle’s desire for a change of pace. “I get it,” he replied. “Sometimes it’s nice to just blend in and relax without the weight of rank and expectations.”

Kelea returned with a sizable mug of beer in hand, setting it down on the bar in front of Richard. “Mars Ale Olympus Mons Porter. Will you be starting a tab tonight?” she inquired.

Richard contemplated for a moment before shaking his head. “Nah,” he replied, “though I will put in an order for a half-pound of the boneless hot Cajun wings.”

“Coming right up!” Kelea responded cheerfully before walking over to the computer terminal to punch in Richard’s order along with the drink items.

As they waited, Danielle turned to Richard with a curious expression. “You’re a regular here?” she inquired.

Richard shrugged lightly. “Often enough that she knows what I like or what I might like to try, but it’s not like I’m in here all the time,” he explained, lifting his mug of beer and taking a quick sip.

Danielle shrugged nonchalantly. “Me too, I’m a bit of a regular since neither I nor my steward can make a Martini worth a damn,” she confessed. “She’s tried,” Danielle scoffed, shaking her head, “God, has she tried, but damn… she just can’t do it. So, I come here and have Kelea make it, and damn does she make a good one.”

“You like Martinis?” Richard inquired as he took another sip of his beer.

“Yeah,” Danielle confirmed, her expression brightening as Kelea returned with a napkin and placed a Martini in front of her. “Kelea here knows just how I like my Martinis, dry and strong,” she said, addressing Kelea with a nod of appreciation. Kelea acknowledged her with a nod before walking away, leaving Richard and Danielle to continue their conversation.

Richard chuckled at Danielle’s remark about vodka. “I can’t stand vodka,” he admitted.

“You’ve just not had top shelf,” she countered, wagging her index finger at him. “Now, if you made this drink that I have with what’s in the well,” she gestured toward the bottle of Vernier Thruster1Vernier Thruster, the Space 2315 take on Military Special alcohol. Vodka, “then of course you’re not going to like vodka. About the only thing that’s good for is cleaning electrical contacts. Now, Grey Goose is another thing altogether different; that stuff is so smooth you’d swear you’re drinking water. That is, until you go to stand up,” she laughed.

She then turned her attention to the glasses in front of Richard. “What are you having?” she inquired.

“Johnnie Walker Black. Neat. And a glass of Mars Ale Olympus Mons Porter,” Richard replied, then hesitated before adding, “I will, however, take soju as an alternative to vodka.”

Danielle chuckled at his choice. “That stuff can get dangerous, really quickly,” she remarked before continuing, “I’m strictly a martini and wine lady. I can’t stand whiskey or beer.”

“Whiskey in all its forms is an acquired taste, but as far as beer is concerned, that’s just because you haven’t been introduced to the good stuff,” Richard countered. “If you’re drinking the fizzy yellow swill, then of course you’re not going to like it, just like you said about vodka.” He gestured to his beer glass. “Take this beer, for instance. It’s got chocolate and coffee notes to it.”

“A beer snob, I see,” Danielle chuckled, amused by Richard’s enthusiasm for his drink choice.

“Most definitely,” Richard admitted with a grin. He then signaled for Kelea. “May we get a taster of what I’m having for her?” he requested, gesturing to his captain.

“Sure,” Kelea responded with a smile as she walked away, heading to the beer tap with a small glass in her hands.

“If I do recall from your personnel jacket, you’re married. Right?” Danielle inquired, her tone casual but observant.

“Yes,” Richard confirmed, taking another sip of his beer. “What of it?” he asked, curious about where she was going with the question.

“But you’re looking at Kelea,” Danielle pointed out, her observation causing Richard to sigh inwardly. He hadn’t anticipated being called out on his wandering gaze. Sensing his discomfort, Danielle continued in a reassuring tone, “Look, there’s nothing wrong with that, Mister Smith.” She raised an eyebrow at her use of his surname with the word ‘mister’ in front of it, a subtle indication of her formality. “As I once told my husband, you may be married, but you’re still a man. There’s nothing at all wrong with looking at another woman, just as long as all you’re doing is looking. But in the end, your heart stays with your spouse. Your honor isn’t damaged by looking; it’s only if you act on an improper impulse that your honor would be stained.”

“I didn’t know you were married; it’s not in your personnel jacket, and I certainly don’t see a wedding ring,” Richard remarked, noting the absence of any visible indication of her marital status.

“I was married, Richard,” Danielle replied somberly, her tone carrying a weight of sorrow. “My husband, Michael,” she continued, biting her bottom lip, a sign that discussing the topic was difficult for her, “died in battle aboard the HFS Cromwell with the then ACF at Tau Ceti toward the end of the war. She was lost with all hands. Direct hit to one of the fusion plants; there wasn’t time to get to the escape pods. It went up so fast there was no chance for the failsafe to engage or for the crew to get to the escape pods.

“It’s not like I gave you any reason to look. Besides, I’ve gotten over it,” Danielle remarked, her tone tinged with a mixture of resignation and acceptance. “For the most part. At least my kids are safely at home with my sister while I’m here running this station.”

Richard listened attentively as Danielle explained her situation. “And before you ask why I don’t bring them here, this place isn’t exactly conducive to raising children just yet, at least not until it goes fully online,” she continued. “And even then, running a station like this is a full-time job. I wouldn’t have the time I’d need to be a proper parent to them, and that wouldn’t be fair to them.”

“True,” Richard nodded in understanding, absorbing the information. “I didn’t know you had kids either. How old are they?” he inquired, curious to learn more about his captain’s personal life.

“My oldest, my daughter, is sixteen Terran-years old. She has dreams of being just like her mom; she wants to join the Space Force. My youngest, my son at twelve, thinks he wants to be a Marine. I’m doing my best to dissuade him of that notion,” Danielle shared with a brief chuckle.

“Why not let him?” Richard asked, mirroring her chuckle.

“Our whole family has served, Richard, going back generations. Air Force, Navy, and within the last hundred years, the Space Force. Not one Soldier or Marine. Call it not wanting to upset our ancestors by letting him be a ground pounder,” Danielle explained, revealing a glimpse into her family’s proud tradition of service.

Richard couldn’t help but chuckle at Danielle’s explanation of her family’s tradition. “Did your sister serve?” he inquired.

“Yes,” Danielle confirmed with a nod. “She did ten years in the Air Force and got out of the Active Service as a tech sergeant. She went into the Reserve and has been there since.”

Richard paused, taking a moment to sip his beer before continuing. “If I lost my Rachel,” he began, his tone somber, “I don’t know what I’d do. She’s the light of my life.”

“Some are better at dealing with loss than others,” Danielle replied, her voice softening as she shared her perspective. “Besides, there are programs for us to take advantage of to help us deal with loss. I took every advantage I could, and I’m better now. Not good,” she added with a shrug, “but you know… better. I suppose it’s the kind of loss that one doesn’t completely get over, if you know what I mean.”

Richard glanced at Danielle out of the corner of his eye, relieved that she hadn’t tried to claim she was completely recovered from her loss. He then turned his attention to his glass, raising it in the air.

“Danielle,” he began, waiting for her to raise her glass as well, “to the success of this station and her mission. May it always be as successful as it has been so far. And, of course, to friends and loved ones that we’ve lost.”

She smiled as she clinked her glass against his. “I can definitely drink to that!” Danielle declared before taking another sip of her martini and setting it back down on the bar top.

Just as she did so, Kelea arrived with the taster of the beer Richard was drinking. He pointed at it, urging Danielle to try it. She picked up the small glass and held it up to the light, only to discover that no light shone through it like most beers she knew.

“Alright,” Danielle said nervously, bringing the glass closer to her mouth and sniffing it. She didn’t know what to expect from the scent of the beer, but immediately, as Richard had noted, she caught a hint of those chocolate and coffee notes that he had talked about. Tentatively, she took a sip of the beer, bracing herself for the usual feeling of revulsion she experienced with most beers. However, to her surprise, it wasn’t hoppy, overly carbonated, or any of the other things she couldn’t stand about beer.

“Whoa,” she whispered, taken aback. “Now I hadn’t expected this.”

“Expected what?” Richard inquired.

“It’s… it’s smooth, creamy almost,” Danielle replied, still processing the taste. “Not at all like what I often think of when I think of beer.”

“That’s because what you just had isn’t just beer; it’s the premium stuff; dare I say, art in a glass,” Richard explained, noticing her eye roll in response. “I know I sound like a beer snob with that last comment, but it’s true. This isn’t just produced to get you drunk; this stuff is produced for those of us who want some taste with our beer.”

He paused, then shifted the conversation. “But enough about the snob stuff. What do you think of it?”

“Well,” Danielle began, taking another sip of the beer as she examined the glass in her hand, “it’s definitely not like anything I’ve ever tried before, I’ll tell you that.” Richard motioned for her to continue.

“It’s not fizzy, it doesn’t make me want to immediately burp,” she remarked thoughtfully. “It definitely doesn’t leave me wanting to violently convulse at the taste. No, this stuff,” she took another sip, “this stuff is definitely some good stuff.”

“See?” Richard asked with a grin. “Not all beer is bad, just that mass-produced stuff made for mass consumption.

“Yeah,” Danielle agreed, setting the empty glass down on the bar. “What’s it called again?”

“Mars Ale Olympus Mons Porter,” Richard replied. Danielle nodded as she mentally noted the name.

“If you need a way to remember what it’s called, just think about that volcano on Mars. Most bartenders will know what you mean if you simply call it ‘Olympus Mons’,” Richard added, offering a helpful tip.

“I see,” Danielle nodded, acknowledging Richard’s explanation. The two of them sat in companionable silence for a moment until Danielle picked up her martini, finishing it off, and stood up from her seat.

“Well, Richard, I’ve got the watch in the morning, so have a good night,” she said, offering a farewell before walking away. However, she paused and turned back as a last thought crossed her mind.

“Thanks for introducing me to that beer,” she expressed her gratitude. “I’ll have to see about getting some at the Class Six.”

Richard shook his head with a chuckle. “Trust me,” he replied, “after having it on draft, you’ll not want it in the bottle or can. Draft is so much better. You’re much better off coming here to have it.” As if to emphasize his point, Kelea nodded in agreement from behind the bar, holding a basket of food that was likely for Richard.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Danielle said with a smile before finally walking away.

“Alright Richard, one order of wings,” Kelea put the basket down on the bar in front of him.

“Thank you, Kelea,” Richard acknowledged with a nod of gratitude. He eagerly picked up a wing and took a bite, savoring the flavor. “I can never get enough of this sauce,” he commented, gesturing to the wing in his hand.

“And here I thought you came here for the scenery,” Kelea quipped with a playful smile, tossing her purple hair back.

Richard laughed at Kelea’s remark. “Well, the scenery is nice; I’ll give you that,” he admitted with a smile.

Kelea then picked up the bottle of Johnnie Walker Black from under the bar and refilled his glass without him asking. “I didn’t order that. Are you trying to get me drunk?” Richard teased.

“Maybe I am,” Kelea smirked, her tone playful. Richard rolled his eyes in response.

“Maybe I’m just trying to get you to open up,” she continued, her expression turning more serious. “As humans say, you need to open up for God’s sake. Hell, this is the first time I’ve ever seen you be sociable and actually talk to someone here. You usually sit at the bar with a datapad or some other kind of personal computing device while you bury yourself in it. You’re always so closed off. Even when I try a surface scan of your mind, all I can sense is your focus. You close off everything.”

Richard couldn’t help but smirk as he thought about what Triara had taught him about keeping Zaltaens like Kelea out of his mind. “That’s because a friend of mine who is also a Zaltaen taught me how to keep other Zaltaens out of my mind,” he explained. “She taught me to keep my thoughts jumbled or sing songs in my head, for a noisy mind is difficult to read without additional effort. That, or maintain a tight focus on something, thus why I’ll be as focused on something like a book or a HD show.”

“Oh, really?” Kelea exclaimed excitedly, leaning back over the bar and resting on her elbows, bringing her face so close to Richard’s that he could feel her breath on his nose, along with catching a whiff of her divine perfume. As he inhaled her perfume again, he realized it was the same scent his own wife often wore, which only served to make him miss her even more. “Who’s the Zaltaen? Maybe I know her.”

Richard shook his head, doubting that Kelea would know Triara. After all, Triara was in the Space Force, while Kelea was just a manager and bartender. “You probably don’t know her,” he replied, hoping to drop the subject.

But Kelea pressed for more. “Alright,” he sighed, relenting, “her name is Triara Moonbeam.”

“Moonbeam,” Kelea repeated as she pondered, then chuckled. “If my memory serves me correctly, the House of Moonbeam is one of the oldest and most prestigious of all the Zaltaen noble Houses. It’s obviously not as powerful as the House of Greenfeather.”

Richard looked at her with a puzzled expression. He wasn’t well-versed in the names of the noble Houses on Zalta. “The House of Greenfeather is the House from which the Queen of Zalta comes from,” Kelea clarified.

“Ah, yes,” Richard nodded in his buzzed state, trying to follow along.

“Anyways,” Kelea continued, “the House of Moonbeam is pretty high up there. Probably in the top five of the most important and powerful noble Houses on Zalta. To tell you how powerful they are, they have several members in the House of Lords and the Royal Court. Having as many as they do is highly prestigious.”

Richard’s eyebrow raised as Kelea mentioned this information, realizing he had no idea about Triara’s prestigious background. “I take it that Triara never told you that little bit about her,” Kelea remarked, observing his reaction.

Richard shook his head slightly. “No, she didn’t.”

“Is she also a telepath?” Kelea inquired.

Richard nodded in confirmation. “Yes, she’s a telepath much like you are.” He took a sip from his glass, and Kelea promptly refilled it, giving him a much larger portion than usual. He idly wondered what her intentions were for pouring him so much Scotch, besides perhaps increasing his tab. “Where did you meet Triara?”

“The Human Federation Space Force, where else?” Richard replied.

“Oh,” Kelea began to laugh, seeing Richard’s puzzled expression. “The ultimate form of rebellion for a member of a House as old as hers.”

Richard gave her a questioning look, wondering how and why such an action would be considered rebellious. Kelea continued, shedding light on the situation. “For a House as ancient as the House of Moonbeam, it’s expected of a Zaltaen of her stature and abilities to serve the House, whether by taking up a position in the Royal Court, sitting in the House of Lords, or engaging in other noble duties, including serving in the Zaltaen Armed Forces as a military telepath. For her to break away from tradition and pursue her own path must’ve been scandalous to her House. More than likely, she was disowned and cast out of her House. That, after all, is the only way for her House to save face. It’s one of the things that terrifies the older generations of my people, the idea that one can defy tradition and pursue their own desires, challenging the old ways.”

“I take it that she joined the Royal Zaltaen Navy and signed on for service to Terra as a way to tell her family, as humans put it, to go fuck themselves,” Richard inquired, his tone reflecting a mix of admiration and curiosity.

“Got it in one, Rich!” Kelea exclaimed, pointing to him with her index finger. “Most Zaltaens of her societal stature wouldn’t volunteer for Terran service. Most of the noble Houses are full of the same types that wanted to prevent formal contact with your people.”

Richard nodded, absorbing the information. “Um, that’s rather…” he began, but Kelea interrupted him, waving an apology as she did so. “Condescending? Unfeeling?” he suggested, his eyebrows raised.

“Well, yeah, that’s the noble Houses for you,” Kelea agreed with a sigh. “They may be of high society, but as for the kind of people they are, well… they’re real shitty people, at least in my opinion.” She shook her head, her expression turning scornful. “Just because you’re of high society doesn’t make you a good person. I believe in your society there are those that are the elites and your so-called ‘social betters’ that are some of the worst of the lot, am I right?”

Richard couldn’t help but nod at that last part. After a brief moment, he asked, “Do other Zaltaens feel the same way?”

“Of course, they do!” Kelea exclaimed. “However, most Zaltaens who aren’t of the noble Houses know that trying to change our society would be like trying to herd…” She paused, snapping her fingers on her right hand as she searched for the right analogy. “What are those animals that humans keep as pets that make a meow sound and like to lick themselves clean?”

Richard laughed. “They would be called cats, Felis catus, or better known as the domestic cat.”

“Yeah… those!” Kelea exclaimed, pointing at him with her index finger. “Trying to herd cats would be easier than trying to change the ways of those in the noble Houses. That’s why so many young people like Triara and I took it upon themselves to leave the damn place. Many of us saw that life on Terra, despite your own issues, was better than what we had on Zalta; we could get away from the oppression of the noble Houses.”

She was about to refill his glass when he put his hand up. “If I have any more to drink, I’m not going to be able to walk out of here.” His speech was already slurring, and he knew it. Even though he had a little something to eat, he hadn’t planned on drinking so much that evening. He simply planned to have a little nightcap and a snack, but Kelea seemed to have other plans for him. “I may have the next two days off, but I’d still like to be able to walk out of here without stumbling down the hall. That would look really bad on my part. Besides, who’s going to pay for the extra drink?”

“Well then,” Kelea smiled. “That means you have more time here to sober up. Here,” she reached down under the bar and pulled out a tall glass, filling it with water. “That should help you.” He nodded his head in thanks. “And as for the extra drink, don’t worry about it, darlin’; it’s on me.” He blushed as she called him such a term of endearment, even if he knew that she was only doing it as any barkeep or waitress would.

He took hold of the glass of water from across the bar and took a sip of it as Commander Amanda Shelby of reactor control sat down next to him. Why the short (she was only 152cm2Just a shade under five feet, approximately 4.98 feet. tall) and very pretty blonde had chosen to sit next to him at the bar, he didn’t know. Scuttlebutt on the station had it that Amanda was interested in Richard despite the fact that everyone aboard knew that he was married. Married, though he may have been, he often found that that didn’t at all stop women from looking his way; in fact, it only increased the number of women who looked his way. It wasn’t like he was going to give in to their advances or anything. So why did they bother trying at all?

“What’ll it be, Amanda?” Kelea looked away from Richard. “Your usual?” She simply nodded her head as Kelea put a glass down in front of her on a cardboard coaster, walked to the bar to grab the bottle of Crown Royal, and filled her glass. “Thank you, Kelea,” she said as she waved her CAC above the card reader.

Richard looked at Kelea as she came back from putting the bottle back on the bar. “Anyways, do you come from a noble House?” he asked as he took another sip of the water. Normally, he wouldn’t have sat there and spoken to the bartender at length like he was. She was right about him. Normally, he took his drink to go or had it and left soon after. But something had compelled him to stay tonight. Meanwhile, Amanda Shelby began to listen in on their conversation, for she too was interested in Zaltaen culture.

“I hail from one of the less esteemed or lower-ranking Houses,” she explained, though inwardly she felt as low as dirt. “In my House, there aren’t many opportunities beyond hoping that someone from a higher-ranking House recognizes your worth. Often, our House’s only chance for advancement is through arranged partnerships arranged by the matriarchs of both Houses, seeking to merge our House with a more influential one.”

“A partnership?” Amanda inquired. “What exactly does that entail?” Kelea glanced at her. “A partnership is akin to what humans would call a marriage. However, there are no vows or formal ceremonies involved. It’s primarily about uniting two Houses.”

“So, what brought you to Human Space?” Richard inquired.

“Ah,” she sighed. “As I mentioned, I hail from one of the lesser Houses. For me, coming to Terra represented an escape from the constraints of our Houses and traditions, which typically hinder the commonfolk from advancing beyond their station. Before your civil war, there was a sort of lottery granting the opportunity to journey to Terra. I never imagined I’d actually win, but somehow, I did. And so, off I went.

“Of course, they made sure I was prepared. I had to select a place to reside in human space, and I chose North America. As Triara may have told you, most Zaltaens already learn English, but typically only the basics. As a Zaltaen venturing to Terra, I needed to master far more than that. I had to grasp slang and other human mannerisms to better assimilate into human society. Our English courses teach the language in an academic manner, devoid of the nuances native speakers take for granted.”

“I have to ask, what were your initial impressions of humans when you first encountered us?” Amanda inquired. She wanted to know Kelea’s perspective, as she had heard from other Zaltaens about their experiences going undercover among humans. The prevailing sentiment was often one of shock, particularly regarding human attire and behavior, with many noting that humans were much less reserved than Zaltaens.

“I’m curious about that too, especially since Triara mentioned similar experiences,” Richard added, eager to hear Kelea’s perspective.

“Wait. You’re friends with a Zaltaen?” Amanda’s surprise was evident in her tone. She couldn’t fathom a Zaltaen being so open to forming a friendship with a human. In her experience, Zaltaens tended to keep to themselves and rarely interacted with humans. However, her interactions were limited to those aboard the station, who mostly stayed within the confines of the Zaltaen sector. Richard glanced up from his glass of water. “Yes, I’ve been friends with one for quite some time. In fact, it’s because of our friendship that I’m here on this station. It helped prepare me to facilitate the creation of a joint crew like the one we have now.”

“I can imagine Triara telling you the same,” Kelea exclaimed with a shake of her head. “I, too, was taken aback by how humans dressed and behaved. It was shocking! The clothing that most human women wore left little to the imagination. Everything was so tight-fitting, it made me wonder if there was any point in wearing clothes at all. Every curve, every line was on full display. No self-respecting Zaltaen would ever dare to reveal so much!” Kelea recalled, reflecting on her initial reactions to human society.

“I remember my first roommate on Terra. What she wore nearly made me want to run back to Zalta,” Kelea laughed, reminiscing about her initial shock. “But I made a decision not to return to Zalta, knowing it would mean a life of servitude to some upper House with little chance of advancement. So, I pushed through my discomfort, and with time, I grew accustomed to human fashion. I accepted it, embraced it, and eventually became comfortable with it. That’s when I started wearing clothing that no self-respecting Zaltaen would be caught dead in, although I wasn’t wearing anything quite like this at the time. I can only imagine the shock it would cause the older generation back on my planet if they saw me now.”

She stepped back from the bar to give Amanda a clear view of her outfit. “Take this skirt, for instance,” she said, tugging at the hemline of her short miniskirt. Richard watched with interest while Amanda rolled her eyes, aware that Kelea was putting on a show for Richard’s benefit. “No Zaltaen would ever dream of showing off this much leg, even with these nylons that I’m wearing,” she continued, gesturing to her outfit. “And that’s not all,” she added, placing her hands on her chest, “no Zaltaen would ever dare to reveal this much cleavage.” She pointed at the plunging neckline of her top. “It would be scandalous; absolutely scandalous!”

Amanda interjected, curious. “So why do you wear that kind of outfit if your people would find it so scandalous? Aren’t you afraid of what your people would think of you?”

Kelea placed her hands upon her hips and looked directly at Amanda. “To be quite honest,” she replied boldly, “I don’t give a fuck what my people think of me or what the hell I wear.” Amanda was taken aback by Kelea’s response; she hadn’t expected a Zaltaen to swear so boldly, let alone drop an F-bomb. “It’s my own damn business, after all,” Kelea continued, unapologetically. Amanda’s eyebrow arched in surprise at Kelea’s demeanor, realizing she was behaving unlike any Zaltaen she had encountered before.

“And besides,” she scanned the lounge, “do you see any other Zaltaens here?” They both shook their heads. “No, none of them dare hang out in a place like this. They have their own places where they feel more comfortable. Granted, the ones who volunteer to serve aboard human ships and space stations tend to be more liberal in their thinking and mannerisms than others, but none of them are like me.”

“But you’re living on a station where there’s quite a number of them. Don’t you reside in the Zaltaen sector?”

“No,” Kelea shook her head, “I reside in the civilian areas of the station designated for humans. While I do encounter a few other Zaltaens on my way to work, I don’t have much interaction with them, nor do I particularly care to.”

“Why is that?” Richard inquired.

“Let’s just say I’m not well-liked among my people, and it’s not solely due to how I act and dress. There are past circumstances involved, which is why I say,” she shrugged, “I don’t give a fuck!” Amanda was once again taken aback by Kelea’s language. “Most of them don’t care for me, and I feel the same way about them. But let’s move on from that; I prefer not to dwell on the past.

“Anyway, when I first arrived on Terra, you wouldn’t have caught me dead wearing something like this.” She gestured to her outfit, running her hands down her sides to emphasize her feminine figure, then briefly holding her chest. Richard couldn’t help but stare, his mind clouded by alcohol. Amanda rolled her eyes at Kelea’s antics, recognizing the familiar game of flirting bartenders often played.

“Anyway,” Kelea smirked, leaning over the bar once more. “That’s when I started frequenting local bars and learned a lot more about humanity there than I ever did on Zalta. I’m sure your friend Triara has a similar story. She probably got to Terra and realized just how ill-prepared she really was.” Richard nodded, recalling Triara mentioning something similar.

“What surprised me most about humans was their lack of issue with alcohol. On Zalta, alcohol was reserved for high traditions and other such nonsense. I noticed how alcohol brought people together, made them happy, and allowed them to loosen up. That’s when I asked the barkeep at my favorite spot about becoming a bartender myself. By the end of the week, I had a job there as an apprentice. They were amazed at how quickly I picked up mixing drinks, and within three years, I was the bar manager at The Gold Nugget Casino in Chicago.”

“How did you end up here?” Amanda inquired.

“I had a strong desire to be in space, so when the Space Force sought civilians to manage certain aspects of this station, I eagerly seized the opportunity. Perhaps it was also the longing to reconnect with Zaltaens. I’m not entirely sure,” she admitted, shaking her head. “Despite how critical I may sound of my people, I genuinely care for them. It’s just that I find many of their traditional practices to be outdated and frustrating.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Richard replied as he rose from his seat, steadying himself against the bar. Though he was far from sober, he wasn’t completely intoxicated either. He anticipated a challenging morning ahead. Turning to Kelea, he expressed his gratitude. “Thanks for the enlightening conversation. Good night, ma’am.”

“I could call someone to help you get back to your room,” Kelea offered.

“I’ll ensure he gets back to his suite safely,” Amanda interjected, rising from her barstool. Richard glanced at her, silently questioning her sudden concern.

“You’ve had quite a bit to drink,” she explained. “I just want to make sure you get there safe.”

“Thank you,” Richard acknowledged, appreciating her gesture.

The next morning, Richard woke up feeling grateful for the water he had consumed the night before at the bar. Despite not feeling great, he knew he would have felt much worse without it.

As he moved around his stateroom, he heard the door beep. Curious, he picked up his datapad, accessed the door app, and found Amanda on the other side, dressed in uniform. Wondering why she was there, he shrugged and reached for a housecoat to cover himself. After belting the sash for decency, he instructed, “Computer, open the door.”

“Commander Shelby,” Richard said, blocking the doorway so she couldn’t enter, “what brings you here?”

“Just checking up on you, that’s all,” she replied.

“I’m doing fine, thank you. I just needed time to sleep it off. I’m good now.”

“Good,” she responded before turning around and walking away, leaving Richard thoroughly confused.

“Whatever,” he muttered to himself as the door closed. “Computer, activate do not disturb mode, please.” The computer chirped, and the suite went into lockdown mode.

Walking over to his kitchen, he switched on his coffeemaker. After a few moments, as the machine heated up, he retrieved his favorite mug and placed it in position. Selecting one of the standard coffee pods found on all space stations and space-going vessels for individual use (for space efficiency, they said), he inserted it and pressed the ‘strong’ button. Within a minute, he had a steaming cup of coffee. Sipping at it, he felt a fog lifting from his mind as the caffeine began to work on his still-hazy state.

Picking up his datapad, he opened his emails, found Triara’s name in his contact list, and fired off a message to let her know that he had some time to have her over. After sending the message, he stood up and walked over to his kitchen with his coffee cup in hand. Not feeling up to cooking anything or even going to the wardroom, he found a ration bar in a drawer. They were what the armed forces were trying to use to phase out the centuries-old Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE) and First Strike Ration (FSR) packs.

Most people said they’d rather keep the old stuff, mostly because why try to fix something that wasn’t broken? That, and the modern MREs and FSRs actually tasted quite good. The Bureau of Logistics insisted that the new ration bars were far more space-efficient than an MRE or FSR, and in that, they were correct. BuLog had BuMed’s support, stating that the new ration bars could provide all of a person’s nutrient requirements for a meal in one bar.

A servicemember could carry three of them in a pocket, and that would suffice for every meal of the day, thus freeing up space for something else. They were primarily targeted at Army and Marine units, as they had to carry a lot of equipment and begrudged every centimeter of space and every gram of weight.

Initial reports from most people indicated that BuLog and BuMed could shove the bars into a fusion reactor and forget the whole affair.

Richard grimaced as he read the label aloud, “Southwestern-style omelet.” He tried to ignore the dubiousness creeping into his voice as he tore open the wrapper of the ration bar adorned with a patriotic image of Marines in power armor standing before Terra. Taking a bite, he quickly regretted it, but he soldiered on, finishing it as fast as he could between gulps of coffee. Its sole virtue seemed to be that it filled his stomach.

An alert sounded on his datapad indicating a received email. “Computer?” it chirped. “Where did that email come from?”

“It’s an automated email from the rep…” The computer’s voice was cut off abruptly as Richard dismissed it. “Never mind, computer. I’ll read it later,” he said, feeling a twinge of disappointment that it wasn’t a reply from Triara. Sighing, he took a sip of his coffee and settled into his chair to read the email, which turned out to be just another routine status report.

“Come on, Richard,” he muttered to himself after finishing the report. “She’s a busy woman, just like you’re a busy man. You’ve got to let her have some time to reply to it.” Determined to focus, he delved into another report, determined to finish it before checking any personal messages. As he swiftly worked through the document, his datapad dinged again, signaling the arrival of a new message. However, he maintained his discipline, completing the report and adding his digital signature before turning his attention to the email from Triara.


It’s so good to hear from you! I’m glad you have some time off; I’m looking forward to seeing you. If everything goes according to plan, I should be able to get off work by 1700. Obviously, I’d like to change out of my uniform and freshen up before I come to see you, so give me some time. See you later at around 1830 hours in your stateroom. ❤❤❤

CMDR Moonbeam, Triara
Human Federation Space Force
HFSS Genesis
(The rest of the signature line gave the various comm codes to contact her on different networks)

Richard chuckled at the emoji Triara included in the email. He had always found the use of emojis in text or email a bit silly, but seeing her use one now made him realize how she was adapting to human customs.

I’m looking forward to seeing you too. Do you want to eat in, or would you prefer to go out to one of the many restaurants we have aboard?

(The rest of the email had his signature block).

He closed his email app and glanced around the room. Anticipating that, like the previous email, a response from her might take some time, he was surprised when another email from her popped up in his inbox.

Don’t worry about food, I’ll bring that; I have just the meal in mind for us to share. Just be sure to have a good bottle of Scotch for us to share. 😃

Richard fondly recalled the vibrant experience of exploring Zalta’s cuisine with Rachel and Triara by his side. Triara’s enthusiastic guidance had led them through a culinary adventure, introducing them to the rich and diverse flavors of her people’s cuisine. From savory dishes to delicate desserts, each meal was a delightful journey into Zaltaen culture.

He remembered how Triara had carefully selected dishes that bore similarities to human cuisine, ensuring that Rachel and he would find the flavors familiar and palatable. Despite the differences, Richard found comfort in the shared experience of discovering new tastes and textures alongside his girlfriend and their Zaltaen friend.

However, their vacation on Zalta wasn’t just about indulging in new flavors; it was also the backdrop for a significant moment in Richard’s life, the impromptu marriage to Rachel. Despite the lack of pomp and circumstance, the union held deep meaning for both of them, solidifying their commitment to each other in the midst of their adventurous travels.

After their brief sojourn on Zalta, Richard and Rachel found themselves stationed at different posts, separated by vast distances. Yet, the fond memories of their time together on Zalta served as a beacon of warmth amidst the challenges of their separation. They made the most of modern technology, exchanging holographic messages to stay connected and share the details of their daily lives, cherishing each moment of virtual togetherness.

Richard couldn’t help but smile at the memory of Rachel’s playful holographic messages, her infectious laughter echoing through the holographic transmission as she recounted the events of her day. The intimacy of those moments, shared across the vast expanse of space, brought him a sense of comfort and closeness, reminding him of the deep bond they shared as husband and wife.

Richard reflected on the revolutionary impact of holographic technology, marveling at its rapid adoption and transformative influence on entertainment. Unlike traditional two-dimensional HD displays, holographic technology offered an immersive experience that transcended the boundaries of conventional viewing.

For the Zaltaens, who initially developed holographic technology for communication purposes, its evolution into a medium for entertainment was unexpected. The emergence of a new industry dedicated to holographic art and storytelling surprised many Zaltaens, who had never envisioned such creative applications for their invention.

Human ingenuity propelled holographic entertainment to new heights, with filmmakers and artists harnessing its capabilities to craft immersive movies and high-definition shows. Viewers could now immerse themselves in captivating narratives, feeling as though they were active participants in the unfolding scenes.

Unlike the gimmicky “3D” technology of the early 2000s, holographic displays offered a seamless and lifelike experience, captivating audiences with their realism and depth. Richard couldn’t help but appreciate the technological advancements that had revolutionized the entertainment landscape, offering a glimpse into the future of storytelling and visual artistry.

With a sense of anticipation, Richard approached his liquor cabinet, knowing he had an array of whiskey choices to accompany Triara’s visit. Among his collection were Terran-made bourbon whiskey, Irish Whiskey, and Scotch Whisky, each offering a distinct flavor profile and character.

Deliberately, he reached for a bottle of Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve Fourteen Year Single Malt Scotch. It wasn’t his finest bottle, but he reserved those for special occasions, particularly when Rachel could join him on the station. Despite the uncertainty surrounding her visit, Richard cherished the thought of sharing that particular bottle with her, whenever the opportunity arose.

For now, the bottle remained safely stored in its box, shielded from light to preserve its pristine condition. Richard had made a conscious decision to keep it reserved, savoring the anticipation of sharing it with Rachel when the time was right.

“Okay,” he murmured, crossing the room to retrieve his datapad. “Let’s check if Rachel’s free for a chat.” With a tap on the screen, he launched the video communication app and scrolled through his contacts until he found Rachel’s name. Pressing the call button, he waited as the app initiated the connection.

As the call rang, he braced himself for the inevitable time lag caused by the distance between Alpha Centauri and the Tau Ceti system. Despite using subspace for transmission through a micro jump gate passage, there was still a twenty-second delay one-way. It was a minor inconvenience, but it elongated their conversations.

Finally, Rachel’s face appeared on the screen, seated at her desk in a loose-fitting tee and shorts, her typical off-duty attire. Though simple, he cherished seeing her comfortable and relaxed. “Richard!” she greeted him with a smile. “How have you been?”

“Good, I usually get the weekends off. I have to tell you something. Something incredible happened.” A few seconds passed. “Alright, spill it. I can see the excitement on your face.”

“I met President Christina Crow and Queen Raina the Fourth of the House of Greenfeather yesterday. There was this huge dinner party yesterday with her, some members of the royal court, and the senior officers and enlisted. The queen came aboard because she wanted a personal tour of the station.”

“No way! And you were there?!” Rachel exclaimed. “Oh my God! That must have been an amazing time to be rubbing elbows with people that are that important. You should be honored; I can only imagine that you’ll be going places after all of that.”

“You know me, I hate social situations.”

“I know. Please don’t tell me that you made yourself look like an idiot.”

“I tried not to. I was mostly left alone by everyone, and I spent time talking to the senior most Marine and Space Force enlisted before someone called attention to me.” He stopped talking after that to await her reaction.

When it did come, she simply nodded her head. “In some ways I don’t blame you one bit. I guess if it were myself surrounded by that much braid, I’d find a way to keep quiet too. Sometimes it’s best to be seen and not heard.”

Richard breathed a sigh of relief that his wife hadn’t reacted badly to that. She understood him and his social issues, as well as her own to a much lesser extent than his. While she was the more social of them, he could see how that much seniority around her would make even her nervous. But she probably wouldn’t have reacted like the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights like he did. “I have another thing I have to say though. It’s about Triara.”

“Triara? What about her? She left this place a couple of days ago. Last I heard she was stationed where you are. Obviously not the same command because… obviously, but yeah.”

“Let’s put it this way, she didn’t tell us everything about the Zaltaen culture. I had a rather eye-opening discussion with a Zaltaen bartender in the Officer’s Lounge.”

After the time delay, Rachel couldn’t help but smile and ask, “Is she hot like Triara?”

“No!” he exclaimed as he nervously shook his head. “I mean… yes, yes, she is. But I’m married to you; I try not to think about other women like that.”

A few seconds later Rachel was laughing. “I’ve seen you look at other women, don’t think I haven’t noticed.” Richard’s eyebrow raised. “However, I know that your eyes always come back to me.”

“It’s just that I love you, I don’t want to…” he paused as he looked down, “I don’t want to lose you. You’re the single best thing that’s happened to me in my whole life, I don’t want to mess that up. And if you must know,” he looked back up at the screen, “my captain said much the same thing, except she couched it in terms of honor.”

“She sounds like a smart woman there Richard. You won’t lose me,” he looked up as she said that. “I married you because I love you and I know in my heart that you love me as well. I wouldn’t have asked you to marry me if I didn’t know that about you. And you know that it’s quite rare for the woman to ask the man.” He nodded his head in agreement. “That should tell you something about our relationship and just how important our marriage is to me. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Anyways, what about Triara? What did you learn about her?”

“Well,” he paused. “Let’s just say that there are things about the Zaltaen culture that aren’t so nice. They portray a society that’s so pure and clean, but based upon what I’ve recently learned, nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, what the bartender told me could be biased since she admitted that she comes from one of the lower Houses.”

“Interesting,” Rachel said as she rubbed her chin. “I wonder what all that means.”

“And not only that, but it seems that our friend Triara comes from one of the highest of the noble Houses. Apparently, the House of Moonbeam carries some significant political clout in the Royal Court and the House of Lords.”

“Alright,” Rachel shook her head. “If she comes from such a powerful family, why is she hanging around with humans? Wouldn’t she be on Zalta serving her House or whatever the heck they do on their world?”

“That’s what I’d like to know too,” Richard said. “The bartender seems to think that it may have been because she was cast out of the House so as to allow the House to save face.”

“Oh no,” Rachel said as she slapped her hand against her forehead. “I forget that this kind of stuff comes with monarchies. If you look back at early British history, you’d probably find similar things complete with institutions like the House of Commons and the House of Lords like you said.”

“Yeah,” he nodded in confirmation. “I’m going to ask Triara about all of this when I meet up with her later.”

“Richard!” He looked at her on the screen. “Don’t hurt her. Please don’t hurt her! She is our friend!”

“I don’t plan on hurting her, I just want to know the truth. Is that so bad?” Richard asked. “I’ll try my best to be as sensitive to her as I can. Hell, I see her as a sister I never had. I’d never want to hurt her like that, you know it. Hell, she knows it.”

“I know, it’s just that it may be a sensitive subject for her so be… careful. Alright?” she nodded her head. “Please… please be careful, for her sake. I’d hate to have her calling me telling me that you had her in tears or pissed her off because then, and you know this, I’d call you and rip you a new asshole.”

“Since when have I ever been someone who doesn’t consider another person’s feelings? I’d never do such a thing to Triara.”

“I know, it’s just that you need to be careful. Alright?” she yawned. “Sorry, I’ve been up for nearly eighteen hours. I’ve been debugging programming code for the last eight hours and I need sleep. Caffeine can only take you so far.”

“Alright my love,” Richard said as he kissed his fingers and pressed them to the screen. “I love you Rachel, I wish you were here.” She too kissed her fingers and pressed them against the screen. “I love you too Richard, I terribly miss you too.”

“As do I.” he said. “I have some leave to burn. If I recall correctly, we both have more than two weeks of accrued leave. Maybe we can both take some leave soon and spend some time together.” She nodded her head as she smiled. “I’d like that, I’d like that very much.”

“Just tell me when you have a good time to take it, and I’ll put in for leave too. Maybe we can go visit my parents. They’ve been hearing so much about you, and now that we’re married, they want to see their daughter-in-law. My mom’s been chomping at the bit to see you. She’s been wondering if you’re only a figment of my imagination and that the picture of you is just some virtual camgirl I got off the Galactic Internet.”

She laughed. “A figment of your imagination, huh? A virtual camgirl? Wow, just wow.”

“Before you, I was single for so long that mum just dropped the issue after she got tired of asking when I was going to find someone.”

“Anyways, as for that plan of yours, I like it; I like it a lot. The project that I’ve been working on, which obviously I can’t talk to you about…”

“Yeah, I’ve not been read in on it, therefore I don’t have a need to know.”

Rachel nodded once. “Exactly. It’s almost finished, we just have a bit more debugging to do but it should be finished in about two weeks. The command staff here know that many of us here have a lot of leave to use, they’ve told many of us that leave will be guaranteed. It’s been a long six months getting all of this done and I can tell you one thing, it’s not been fun. I’ll be sure to put my leave request in tomorrow.”

“That’s great!” he exclaimed. “I’m sure that my captain will grant my leave too. She’s been on me about taking leave already. I figure since the war ended BuPers is adamant about personnel taking leave so they can see their homes. Just let me know if and when your leave is approved, and I’ll put mine in.”

“Sounds good,” she said with a smile.

“Good night, Rachel, sleep well.” With that, the communication link was cut. Richard drew in a deep breath as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand quickly. He didn’t want to show his wife just how close he was to crying, because then she’d start crying and then nothing good would happen. He missed her, and he’d give anything to be with her, even if only for a day.

Unfortunately, that was the reality of military life. The military almost always separated married servicemembers into different commands, aiming to avoid any appearance of favoritism. This often resulted in married service members being posted light years apart from each other. Even with modern subspace communications and jump gates, it created time lags like the one he and his wife experienced. At least a twenty-second time lag one-way wasn’t as bad as some he’d heard about. Some couples had to endure a minute or more.

This situation was still an improvement compared to the early days of space exploration before subspace communications. During that time, even communication within the same star system relied on lightspeed transmissions, resulting in messages taking hours to travel one way. If you had family in another star system, communication depended on lightspeed comms through jump gates. Before that, messages were transmitted via courier boats between star systems, moving at the fastest speed possible through hyperspace before being relayed at lightspeed.

“Good night, my love,” he murmured, his gaze drifting to the ceiling. Rising from his seat, he set the datapad down, endeavoring to push aside the ache of missing his wife.

Meanwhile, on Tau Ceti, Rachel found herself staring up at her ceiling. “I love you, Richard,” she whispered softly before wiping her eyes. She reminded herself not to get too emotional, although it was a promise, she knew she was bound to break. Rising from her bed, she made her way out of her private room and into the communal area she shared with three others in her quad.

“Hey, Rachel!” Nicole exclaimed as she noticed her friend emerge from her private room. “How was your talk with your husband?”

“Well, as good as it can ever go. It’s the goodbyes that really get to me,” Rachel replied with a sigh.

“I know,” Rachel said as she took her fork and began to eat, interrupting herself mid-chew to continue speaking. It was a minor annoyance, but she decided to let it slide. “You’ve told me many times.”

“Honestly, the hardest part of it all is the silences, the separation, the lonely nights. Some days I can handle it, and others…?” Rachel paused, closing her eyes and tilting her head upwards. “Some nights are better than others.”

“I know what you mean,” Nicole replied. “We’ve all been there. And that’s why we all look out for each other, we keep ourselves company. We have to, because if not for each other, there’s no one else. Right girls?” She glanced at Heather and Hayakawa, who both nodded in agreement.

“I don’t know what I’d do without the three of you here,” Rachel admitted.

“Probably wallowing in self-pity,” Hayakawa interjected with a snide tone.

“Hayakawa!” Nicole exclaimed, clearly taken aback by the comment.

“Hey!” Hayakawa defended. “I’m only saying what we all think.”

“But that doesn’t mean you have to call her out on it,” Nicole interjected.

Rachel sighed, conceding, “That’s alright. Hayakawa is right. I’d probably hole myself up in my room and never come out unless it was for work or food if it weren’t for the three of you in my life here.”

“Damn straight!” Hayakawa agreed.

“As I’m rather new here,” Hayakawa spoke up, “how did the two of you meet? You know, you and Richard?”

Rachel turned to face Hayakawa. “We initially met on some rainy planet where we were both waiting for new orders, but what really started the whole thing off was our time in a diner where we shared a table that night. I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said, closing her eyes as Nicole rolled hers. “We went out to dinner in a diner in a rather rough part of town. Hell, who the hell am I kidding?” Rachel began to laugh. “The whole town was rough. I’ve never seen a colony so run down in my life. But anyways, back to the story.” They looked at each other. “Hey, at least I had him, and we both had our sidearms.

“But whatever, we shared a dinner table that night, and we sat there just talking the evening away as we ate dinner together. We really hit it off that night. I’d have to say that we just,” she snapped her fingers, “clicked. Eventually, we started seriously dating while onboard the ship that we were both posted on.”

“What’s he like?” Hayakawa asked. “Is he hot?”

“You tell me,” Rachel handed a datapad over to her with a picture of him on the screen. “I think so.”

“Hmm,” she began to lick her lips, “damn girl, I can see why you miss him.” She began to wave her hand in front of her face. “He’s hot! I’d love to have him by my side every night.”

Rachel pulled the datapad out of her hands. “That he is,” she began to laugh. “I just wish that he’d see more of that in himself.” Hayakawa looked at her, wondering what she meant by that. “He’s a bit, shall we say…” Nicole spoke up. “He’s got self-esteem issues.”

“Self-esteem issues?” Hayakawa asked. “How the hell does a guy that looks that hot have self-esteem issues?”

“You’d be surprised,” Nicole nodded knowingly, having heard Rachel discuss Richard’s past before. “His childhood school days weren’t exactly smooth sailing; he faced a lot of ridicule, particularly from…” Hayakawa chimed in, “Let me guess, girls.”

“Yep,” Rachel nodded, “it took me days to get him to be really comfortable around me. He didn’t have all that much experience with females before he joined the Space Force. After he graduated from the academy it only got worse for him. He became married to the job. He told me that before he met me, he hadn’t been on so much as a date in years.”

“I’ve not been on a date in years, what does that make me?” Hayakawa asked.

“A typical soldier in the Space Force,” Rachel rolled her eyes. “No, he really didn’t know what to do. He was so unsure of himself, what with the rules and regulations and such, and let me tell you, he knew those rules and regulations like the back of his hand. He even quoted them to me word for word.”

“What was he, an XO?” Hayakawa asked.

“As a matter of fact, yes he was,” Rachel exclaimed. “He was so afraid of even looking at me, since he knew several people who had been thrown out of the Space Force for looking at a woman the wrong way.”

“God damn,” Hayakawa shook her head as she pushed back on her chair, “BuPers has everyone running around scared.”

“That they do,” Rachel thought back to when she had asked him. “After spending so much time with him, I knew that he was perfect for me. He never pushed himself on me, if you know what I mean.”

“No one alive is perfect Rachel,” Hayakawa said dryly. “He just sounds like he’s good for you.”

“Oh, that he definitely is, Hayakawa, he definitely is.”

Continue to Chapter 9…

Last updated on Sunday, May 19th, 2024 at 12:25 PM by trparky.

  • 1
    Vernier Thruster, the Space 2315 take on Military Special alcohol.
  • 2
    Just a shade under five feet, approximately 4.98 feet.