Love and Starships: Chapter 8
Trisha leaned over her tray of breakfast food and whispered under her breath. “So she just tried to make a move and kiss you?”
Francis rubbed at the side of her face just under here ear where Lieutenant Canner had made contact with her. “She did kiss me.” Francis strained. “I mean-.”
“I swear, sometimes you’re so dense, Frannie!” Trisha hissed. “How did it even get that far without you knowing her intentions? Like, a fancy meal and everything. She even offered you wine to try and schmooze in!”
“Nobody says that.” Francis huffed. “And I didn’t have any wine, she didn’t even take it out. You’re taking it like she was all rapey!”
“Keep your voice down.” Trisha cawed, her hand jittering against the table top. “Fine, the comms officer is a lesbian, whatever, but now she has grounds to be a terrible person to you for turning her down.”
“She’s not that type of person!” Francis replied as she dragged the edge of her fork through the yolk of one of her fried eggs.
Trisha lifted her eyebrow and tilted her head sideways. “For someone who seems put off by her coming on to you, you are awfully quick to defend.”
Rundle stepped up behind Francis and plopped his tray loudly on the table beside her. “Good morning, you two!”
Jundle took a seat beside her brother’s tray and carefully set down her food. “Same, good morning.”
Trisha and Francis broke eye contact with each other before turning to the twins. “Hey, mornin’” Francis managed to say.
Jundle peered past Rundle at Francis on the opposite side of him. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
Francis coughed on the mouthful of Rolean greens that she had forced down in order to save herself from saying anything else. “Huh?” She managed to get out.
Rundle paused shoveling down large mouthfuls from his mound of food to answer. “We ran into Skee, and he nonchalantly mentioned that you had changed rooms.”
“He couldn’t say where this new room was, though.” Jundle asked.
Francis finished chewing her food this time before responding. “Well, it’s all the way up on deck 6. It is a way up there, but I have to come this way to get to the lower levels, so stopping here for food isn’t so much of a chore.”
“Though, some of the rooms in the upper decks have people that will feed you, too, I’ve heard.” Trisha chimed in. Francis glared at her from across the table.
“What’s that about?” Rundle asked loudly.
“Nothing.” Francis rebutted.
“So you’re likely in a single, then?” Jundle peeped.
“Yeah. Hardly had time to settle down though, and it’s pretty bare.”
Jundle took a dainty bite of her food and played with the fork against her lips. “I wonder if Skee will get another roommate.”
“Who knows?” Francis shrugged. “He’s was out most of the day when I was there.”
“Did you ever think that he was doing that to give you space?” Trisha piped up. “I mean, the way you came to me throwing a fit the first day, I couldn’t help but wonder if he picked up on that energy.”
Francis stared down at the yolk from her eggs slowly drying to a yellow paste. “I mean… What do you two think?” She asked, turning to the twins.
Rundle turned his head away from the slowly disappearing mountain of food. “Well, even though though the Aishou is a little better off than other GSS ships, the ratios of Earthlings to other species in general is quite out of balance.”
“And rarely do we see others of our own kind.” Jundle added. “Did you know that there is a human we ran into that is also a twin? But his brother is serving on an entirely different ship. It’s borderline barbaric.”
“Well…” Trisha began, trying to conjure up the words for the situation. “Not all siblings get along as well as Biloban ones.”
“How would you know?” Rundle spoke up, his voice slightly louder than normal. “We’re the only two on board. You’re quick to make assumptions, aren’t you?”
Trisha leaned back in her chair and played with the food on her tray. “Well…”
Rundle let out a loud laugh which caused his body to shake the table. “I’m feigning my anger as a joke.”
“Anyway…” Jundle spoke up. “The GSS kind of has a thing for relations between you earthlings and other species. Not all of our people back home on Biloba care much to hear ‘Galactic Space Society.’ We are kind of ambassadors for our people. Likely, Skee’s situation is the same.”
“I see.” Francis spoke up. “And I guess there aren’t even that many Reedeens on GSS ships to begin with.”
“Getting to be able to board with someone who is from a completely different world from you is a big thing.” Trisha interjected. “It helps the species to get to know each other. Like, the Laymirre down in my section though that baseball caps had a religious purpose, like us Earthlings were worshiping the sun or something, and we needed a way to look up at it.”
“Oh…” Rundle said shortly, his fork clicking upon the surface of the tray.
Trisha piled her silverware and napkin on the tray before standing up. “If anything, the companion he once had is now gone. He’s obviously not a bad guy, so hanging out with him shouldn’t be that bad. Invite him to eat with us some time.”
Francis scraped up the final bits of her food before standing up as well. “Yeah, I’ll ask him if I run into him.”
Francis finished out her work shift without seeing Lieutenant Canner again. After trudging up the two separate mag-lifts up to her room, she plopped down on the ground of her bare room across from the bed. The doors to the bathroom and closet had been left open haphazardly, and her pajamas had once again been laid to rest just at the transition between the room’s carpet and the vinyl flooring of the bathroom.
I need to get some furniture in here. She talked to herself, looking around. I’ll have to make a request to the quartermaster to get something like a couch from one of their big synthesizers. Francis pushed herself up and over to the communication terminal. Her mail inbox had one unread message that had come after she had checked it earlier that morning. She quickly mashed on the touch screen to erase the notification that the message had yet to be seen.
Commander Johnathan Steward read the sender’s name. Johnathan Steward, Francis said the name several times in her head. “Wait, The Commander, like the one under the captain?” Oh no, this is going to be about that Canner woman, isn’t it? Francis held her breath and rolled her finger down the screen to the message:
“Crewman Arnold, you have been selected for a mission. Please report to the officer’s briefing room at your earliest convenience before the end of today.”
Francis bit at her lip and looked at the clock; 07:17. The Day shift for senior officers would end in less than an hour. Francis shot up from the ground and ran into the bathroom. Her hair was messy from the day’s work. She grabbed at the brush on the counter and began to pick away at her hair and smooth it down into what her hair allowed her for a pony tail.
The bag of toiletries on the counter had been half emptied, leaving behind the mess of things that had hardly had the time to be used; an eyebrow waxing kit, a series of pore strips, and likely a tangle of hair ties and bobby pins. Francis found one brightly colored elastic band at the bottom and wrapped it around her wrist before shoving it over her mess of hair danging behind her back. Upon inspection in the mirror, the orange tie was immediately noticeable, and clashed with the uniform.
Francis yanked it off, pulling her hair and breaking the tie with a snap. Ugh. She stomped out of the bathroom and stared down the synthesizer. “Computer, one elastic hair tie, black.” The machine beeped and whirred for a quick moment before plopping the band into existence. With a quick flip of her wrist, she managed to entrap her unruly pony tail.
With one last look in the mirror in the opposite room, Francis walked to her door and pressed the button to head out. In her haste, she nearly ran into the strawberry blond who had placed herself just outside the door.
“Whoa, slow down.” Trisha exclaimed, taking a clumsy step backward.
“What’re you doing here?” Francis shot back, looking either way down the hallway.
“I thought I would try and find out where your new room was at, what it looked like.” Trisha explained. “Wait, why are you all dressed up? A date? It isn’t…” she paused, dropping her voice to a whisper. “Canner?”
Francis shook her head impatiently and tapped on Trisha’s shoulder to move her to the side. “I don’t really have time to explain. You can wait here if you want, likely I won’t be out too long.”
Trisha huffed and stared off at Francis as she marched down the hall towards the lifts.
The hop up the few levels to the topmost decks of the ship went by in a flash. Francis examined the invisible layer of sweat forming on her palms. The lift suddenly stopped and the computer announced Deck Two; logistics, briefing. She looked up quickly at the readout above the door of the lift to where the number one had been inscribed on the light panel. I’m so close to the bridge, I can almost taste it.
Francis stepped out onto the deck and looked down the relatively short hallway with doors lining either side. She began walking at a slow pace reading the signs for each door; Power Regulation, Navigation, Mediation Chambers, Briefing Room. Francis took a deep breath and walked to the door of the final room, offering a gentle knock.
She could hear nothing but silence on the opposite side of the door. Francis looked side to side before a voice called out from behind her. “May I help you crewman? What business do you have here?”
Francis turned around, ready to answer, when Lieutenant Canner’s short, blond hair caught her eye. The woman blushed hard and shunted eye contact. “I…” Francis peeped.
“You must have business to be all the way up here.” Canner said, her mouth twitching as she attempted to compose herself.
“Commander Steward requested to meet me.”
Canner clapped her hands loudly as if in agreement. “I see. He is currently on the bridge. I shall go there and tell him you’ve arrived.”
“Thank you.” Francis responded instantly. She shuffled slightly to point herself at the door, her eyes pointed away from the Lieutenant. The short-haired woman began marching down the hall before suddenly stopping and turning back. With short, quick strides, she returned to stop just short of Francis.
“Crewman, I must apologize for the previous night and I hope you will understand it as a… misunderstanding.”
“I understand!” Francis said back, almost shouting. “I will not say a thing.”
“Very well.” Canner said formally, taking a step backwards. “By the way, your hair looks cute up like that.” She turned on her heel and continued back down the hallway to the lift.
Francis turned away and placed her forehead against the wall beside the door as the lift sounded off. Waiting in silence, she pulled at her pony tail and felt at her forehead to make sure that most of the hair from her bangs had been properly swept back. The entrance to the lifts down at the opposite end of the elevator made a whoosh as the compartments reached the deck. Francis picked herself up and turned to face the opening doors.
A red, fluffy-haired man stepped through the door, followed by a tall alien. Francis bowed her head slightly in greeting and looked up to read the man’s name tag as he approached; Com. Steward. Behind him, Francis noticed her old roommate as the as the alien trailing behind.
“Skee?” Francis pondered aloud as the pair approached the door.
Steward stopped beside Francis and offered out his hand. “Crewman Arnold.” He said, placing his palm in hers for a tight shake. “Johnathan Steward, second in Command. It seems you already know Crewman Skee.”
“That’s right…” Francis returned, staring into the man’s bright complexion and freckles.
The commander tapped his wrist to the door controls, opening the briefing room for them. He quickly gestured Skee and Francis in before following in after.
“So, how has your time been so far aboard the Aishou, Crewman Arnold?” Steward asked nonchalantly as they entered.
“Involved, but nothing I can’t handle, sir. Permission to speak freely?” Francis asked as she pulled out a seat.
“Go ahead, this isn’t anything formal.” Steward responded. He swayed around to the opposite side of the long table and took a seat of his own.
“Then… this isn’t about us being separated as roommates?” Francis asked, looking over at Skee. The alien continued to hold a stony expression.
Steward interlaced his fingers and sat back in the seat. “No?” He said with a pout. “Rather, the fact that you got to know each other well enough even for the brief time you were accidentally put into that room together is why I’ve called you here today.”
Skee turned his chair slightly towards Francis. “I requested that you come on this particular outing with me.” He spoke up. “Specifically because you demonstrated your insight with other species, specifically my own.”
“Reedeens?” Francis said with a tilt of her head. “Why is that so important?”
“There is a settlement inside of an asteroid field near here, mostly miners and their families.” Steward explained. “The GSS Ship Seeker stopped by looking for minerals for their warp engines a few weeks ago, not realizing people were already present.”
“Reedeens?” Francis spoke up.
“Only a few.” The Commander suddenly became more sullen. “The folks there are mostly Skapele, but we believe that the handful of Reedeens there are being held as slaves.”
“My people, Francis…” Skee began to explain slowly. “We prefer to stay out of conflict. Fighting… back is not really an instinct we’ve developed. On top of that, we only have a few simple needs, which is why some other species in the past have used us for slave labor.”
“That’s terrible.” Francis said with a frown.
“Of course it’s hard to confirm a claim like this.” Steward sighed. “None of the Reedeens with whom the Seeker’s shuttle party made contact said much.”
“It is possible that they were too afraid to speak up.” Skee noted.
“Exactly.” The Commander said with a nod of his head. “Fortunately for us, we have you, Crewman Skee. If one of their own make contact, they may be more willing to open up.”
“Is this entirely safe?” Francis said, raising her hand slightly into the air. “Won’t the Skapele feel threatened if we try to… emancipate some of their work force?”
Steward stood up from his chair and began to pace slowly on the other side of the table. “Past encounters with them have shown that they keep to themselves and avoid conflict. You never know, though, with these little isolated groups just at the edge of deep space. Nevertheless, the Aishou will be in range. They won’t try anything knowing that. We’ll send you down with an energy tazer in case things get hostile.”
“Excuse me for asking this but…” Francis began, looking back and forth between Skee and the Commander. “It sounds as if I’m already signed up on this.”
“That is correct.” Steward replied. “We’ll be arriving outside the asteroid field some time later tonight, and we plan to have you on a shuttle for the Skepele dwellings some time early afternoon.”
“What about my duty shift?”
“I have already heard from Lieutenant Canner that you do exemplary work.” Steward pointed out. “The relay station can go a day or two without you. Besides, you can get your off-ship task requirement done for the year.”
“I will be with you, as well, Crewman Arnold.” Skee said, placing his hand on Francis’s shoulder.