Love and Starships: Chapter 4
Francis had found a comfortable position on the bed to pull out her tablet to start reading, but her attention would continue to drift back between Wil’s rugged features as well as the sound of him hitting his forehead on the beam. Francis cringed at the thought and rolled over to shove her head into the pillow.
The door opened suddenly and Francis sat up with a jolt out of reflex. Her bangs fell over her eyes in rough bunches as she looked over at Skee who had entered without a second look. “Hey, Skee.” She greeted him, shoving the tablet under her pillow.
The yellow alien paced a bit before sitting down on the edge of the bed. “Hello… Crewman Arnold.” He returned the greeting and peered across the room at her.
“You can call me Francis, you know.”
“Francis.” Skee repeated, nodding his head slowly.
“Have you… finished your duty shift, then?” Francis said, attempting to make conversation.
“Yes.” Skee said shortly, in the process of slipping the boots off his feet.
“That reminds me, I never got to hear where you work.”
“Ah!” Skee perked up. “I get to use my skills in the botany lab. My people have a great knowledge of plant life. May I ask you the same?”
“Where I work?” Francis asked, receiving a nod from the alien. “I was trained in communication engineering; you know. Relays, tracing conduits and stuff. I’m also trained to communicate with other ships if somehow nobody else gets to them first. Looks like me and my teammates are gonna get tossed a variety of jobs.”
“So that is how were able to identify me as Reedeen.” Skee remarked, crossing his arms across his chest.
“You’re the only one on board.” Francis returned. “The Staff Sergeant referred to you as ‘our Reedeen.’”
Skee tilted his head to the side in his usual manner. “What was the reason you went to the Staff Sergeant for?”
“Oh, uh-” Francis faltered. She waved her hands up in the air while Skee continued to look at her with a puzzled gaze. “You must find it hard, being the only one of your species around.”
“It is not so hard with an amicable roommate.” Skee said, gesturing with his palm towards Francis.
Francis turned her face down before jumping off the bed to retrieve her brush from the bathroom. She returned with it in her hand and jumped up on the bed to begin brushing out her unruly locks. “Hey, you’re not so bad yourself.” She finally responded, her eyes focused on the tips of her curly bangs hanging down just in her view.
Midway through a stroke of her brush, Skee stood up from the bed and took a few steps closer to her. His face drew closer to hers, examining the instrument in her hands.
“Uhh…” Francis hummed, her eyes turning up to follow the alien’s movements.
With his dainty fingers, he picked at a loose hair sticking out from the brush before pulling it away and examining it. “You are shedding.” He noted, looking up and down the coarse, curly strand. “Are you sick?”
“No.” Francis let out a singular laugh as Skee retreated to continue examining the hair. “Humans normally have so many follicles that losing a few is natural.”
“In my observation…” Skee spoke up, twirling the sample between his fingers. “There is one crewman I work with who has no hair atop his head, simply on the sides. I cannot determine if it is a sickness or not.”
Francis stopped brushing for a moment to imagine the couple of shiny-headed professors she had seen in her time at the academy. “No, that is not uncommon with certain men… males for our species. It can be seen as a defect, and for a long time it could not be reversed. Some men still do just… go with it, I guess. It can be seen as something distinguishing, like a position of seniority.”
Skee, seemingly content with the answer, dropped the hair on the floor before sitting back up on the bed, crossing his legs like normal. “If I were to lose my follicles…” He commented, running his hand gently over his dark hair. “I don’t think I could tell if the plants I tend to were feeling well or not.”
Francis stopped mid brush and looked to Skee to determine the nature of his words. “Are you saying… you can talk to plants? I never learned that about Reedeens.”
“Not talk, but more like feel.” Skee shrugged, his face straight. “They release minute chemical signals which lets me know if they need more nutrients, or water, or ultraviolet light.”
“You said you were a vegetarian, though, right?”
“Well, yes.” Skee sighed. “When we do consume that plants that we’ve raised, we must block out their ‘screams,’ as you may say.”
Francis plopped the brush on the comforter and curled her feet up on the bed. “I can’t imagine what that would even feel like…” She said, mouth agape.
Skee turned his head up and stared at Francis with a series of rapid blinks. Francis stared back for a moment before the alien’s mouth turned up in a smile. “I must admit, that last part was a joke.” He chortled with a half gasping-half flapping sound. “Our food is wholly unaware that that they are being consumed; by us or others.”
Francis frowned. “I have to admit, you had me going.” She peeled apart her pursed lips and tried to hide the laughs that crept up from her chest. “I haven’t seen you in the mess hall; would you like to eat with me and my friend in a bit?”
Skee sat his feet down on the ground and looked at his boots with pondering eyes. “I guess that is possible.”
The alien followed behind Francis down the hall with almost silent footsteps, and without a word otherwise. She looked back at him as they squeezed into the lift. Francis attempted to think of words to break the silence, but the lift had already finished its journey up the two floors before something could come to her mind.
The mess hall was packed as usual. Francis scanned the two different buffet areas, judging which had the shorter line. “Do you manage to find enough to eat here, with your diet and all?” She turned to Skee, who seemed to be patiently waiting behind her.
“The cooks have made more than adequate accommodations for me, as well as others. It seems I am not the only one who shares the same dietary needs.”
“It’s actually quite common.” Francis concurred. She began to cross the room to the hall with the shorter of the two lines. “There are many humans who choose the same diet.”
The line had already reached the trays of food as they arrived. Skee stepped to the opposite side of the buffet and picked up a tray. “Even though earthlings seem to have teeth that would allow them to eat a variety of foods?” He remarked, looking at Francis over the buffet line.
“How do you know that?” Francis said, eyeing a tray of roughly chopped greenery in front of her.
Skee took a grand tong-full of the veggies on his tray to start out. “The previous night, I observed… in passing… your mouth wide open while… snoring.”
Francis pursed her lips tightly and scanned to either side of her to the smirking gazes of other crew members. She continued to keep her head down as they continued down the line, finding that the entire offering lacked any sort of animal product. By the end of the buffet, she had rounded out her dinner with a several meager servings, including a mysterious brown-sauce laden gourd dish that seemed to be relatively popular.
As they exited into the dining hall, Francis spotted the back of Trisha’s shoulder length rosy hair. With Skee in tow, she quickly rounded the table and sat down across from the woman.
“Helloooo-” Trisha began to greet Francis, then spotting the alien. “Ohhh, you must be Frannie’s roommate!”
Skee sat his tray down next to Francis’s and offered out his tawny arm for a handshake. “That is correct.”
Trisha accepted the gesture hesitantly. “I’m Trisha, nice to meet you.” Skee finished and retracted his arm before taking a seat beside Francis. “It never fails to amaze me how much diversity earthlings have.”
Francis offered a playful smile at Trisha, who nodded back. “I guess you’re right, Skee.” Francis said. “Surprising, even considering how our population at most was average compared to others in this part of the galaxy.”
“Going veggie?” Trisha remarked, looking at Francis’s tray.
“I wanted to try out what they’ve been offering on the other side of the hall.” Francis shrugged. She quickly stabbed some of the raw bits on her fork and began to shove them into her mouth.
Trisha looked down at her serving of synthesized barbecue meat before peering over at Skee, who was daintily gathering up bits of veggies on the flat part of his fork. “I hope-” She said, hesitating. “I hope you don’t mind…”
Skee looked up and over at the strawberry blond’s tray to examine the cooked flesh. “In this state, it doesn’t look or smell like any animal I have examined, so it does not cause me any disturbance.”
Francis glanced at Trisha’s tray. “Well, technically it’s synthesized, so no animal-” She stopped herself as she caught sight of the familiar dark-haired man standing in the aisle behind her friend. “Ohmygod, that’s him.” She whispered loudly, leaning in to the table.
Trisha squinted her eyes and made a quick turn to look behind her. “Ohhh.” She said knowingly. “Hey Wil!” The fair woman called out, grabbing attention of the man.
His and Francis’s eyes met as he turned around to face the table. “Oh uh-” She stuttered. “We have an extra spot if you’d like.”
Wil smirked and wandered around to their side of the aisle. “Well, if it isn’t little miss sneak-attack.”
Skee and Trisha glanced his way, while Francis attempted to hide her face. “Yeah… sorry about earlier.”
Wil rubbed at the thick bandage adhered to the skin just above his eyebrow.
“What do you mean by that?” Trisha called him out, attempting to joke.
“You know.” The dark man shrugged and scooted into the free seat besides Trisha. “Like one of those Vadalian cruisers- you always hear about them coming in cloaked and attacking our ships out of nowhere. Kinda like how Francis snuck up on me and caused me to jump into a header.”
Trisha raised her eyebrows and glanced hopefully at Francis, who had turned her gaze down completely to the food in her tray. “Hey, no biggie, right?” Francis finally offered.
“Yeah, I guess.” Wil scoffed and began to clack his silverware loudly against the tray.
Silence overtook the table as the group turned their focus to their respective trays.
“So… you’re working the same assignment as Francis, huh?” Trisha finally spoke up, looking over at Wil.
“Yup.” He said, the food in the mouth mashing around loudly. “At this rate, we may have to get a medic assigned to us, though.”
Francis coughed loudly as she attempted to swallow a half-chewed piece of food. “Hey…” She managed to get out, her voice wavering.
Skee sat the fork down on his tray with a singular clack before standing up. The rest of the table peered up at him. The alien stepped around the table and placed his arm upon Wil’s back. “I request that you find another place to finish your food.”
Wil tilted his head and stared into Skee’s eyes. “Hmph.” He huffed and stood up before stomping off, the food sloshing around on his tray. Without another word, Skee returned to his seat to continue eating.
Trisha and Francis traded puzzled looks. “I guess… thanks, Skee.” Trisha said, trying to make sense of the situation. “Frannie, that guy was a grade A jerk.”
“I guess…” Francis muttered. “Yeah.”
Skee finished a mouthful of food and looked at the women. “I sensed that his presence was stressful to you two.”
“Wait, you can sense our emotions, too?” Francis asked.
Skee waved his hand at the small planter between the sets of tables. “I have determined that humans release certain hormones when you have strong emotional reactions. While I cannot sense those in particular, the plants absorb them, allowing me to indirectly feel the emotions. Also, it seems that those Earth ferns require a much more humid environment than the one at present.”
Trisha let out a long sigh and returned to the last few scraps of food on her tray. “Well, I’m glad at least one part of us can be honest.”