Love and Starships: Chapter 10
Skee and Francis found themselves in the briefing room, waiting quietly for someone to arrive. Francis stared at the curled fibers of the bluish carpet that had yet to see any wear. She looked up at Skee, who was sitting with his eyes closed in almost a meditative state. “How far is Reedea?” Francis spoke up.
Skee sat up slightly and opened his eyes. He slowly turned his chair to face Francis across the corner of the table.
“Hmm.” Skee pondered aloud. “I haven’t payed much attention to our course since leaving Toronain II, but I would guess about 6 light years from here. It would take about a week and a few days to get there, if there were no stops in between.”
“And yet the woman… the female Reedeen was all the way out here, almost alone.” Francis said with a sigh.
Skee folded his arms and pondered the look on Francis’s face. “Reedeens can be quite comfortable with a life of solitude, relatively speaking.”
“I suppose like you are?”
The door to the room whooshed open. Francis swiveled her chair to face the man entering. Skee sat up from his seat to greet the silver-haired man. “Captain Patrice.” The alien said with a bow of his head.
Francis stood, trying to hide the sudden realization that had come to her. “Captain, it is my honor to meet you.”
The man was both older and taller than the Commander. His light hair drifted back behind his neck to a stubby tail. He returned the nod to Skee before turning to Francis and offering his hand. Francis felt his strong grip against her fingers while she examined the fine lines of his face. “Please to meet you, Crewman Arnold. Please, you do not have to stand on my accord. One day your legs will be like mine, after having to stand for many ladies and admirals alike. You’ll wear out your knees too soon.”
Francis eyeballed the Captain as she pulled up her seat behind her. The aged man marched to the opposite side of the desk and took a seat, pushing himself to face the other two.
“Captain,” Skee said. “I appreciate your interest for this mission, but unfortunately we found nothing that we would consider off-putting about the situation with the Skapele.”
Patrice tapped his fingers on the desk lightly. “I don’t believe that to be true. Every encounter we have with another race, especially non-GSS is valuable. Isn’t that right, crewman Arnold?”
Francis perked up and held her hand to her chest. “Me? Generally, I can… confirm.”
Patrice folded his hands and let out a soft laugh. “My apologies, I think my humor can be a little dry. I was also referring to the unfortunate situation of you two being placed in the same room, despite being of opposite sexes.”
“Believe me-” Francis interjected, waiving her arms. “It wasn’t anything unbearable.”
“No, no, I understand the situation though.” Patrice shrugged. “I read the report that Sergeant Ford made when he corrected the issue. Though, I hope we can both agree that it ended up being more enriching than detrimental.”
“Yes, sir.” Francis complied.
“Now, Crewman Skee,” The Captain said, turning to the alien. “It seems I already know the answer, but what do you have to say about the original report from the crew of the Seeker?”
“I would say that it is incorrect.” Skee said confidently.
“I’m pleased to hear that.” Patrice nodded. “To be fair, we surmised that the Skapele were not a race to hold slaves. Reports say that they believe in hard work and fair compensation for effort put in. Our fresh supply of flouro-trietheline will confirm that.”
Francis eyed Skee, who was sitting relaxed back in the chair. She pursed her lips and grasp onto the armrests.
“You look like you have something that is making you uncomfortable, Crewman Arnold.” Patrice spoke up.
“Well…” Francis said shyly. “Was it necessary to send us into such a place if we knew that our findings would tell us what we already knew?”
“Take it like this, Crewman.” Patrice said. He stood up from his char and pushed it under the table deliberately. “If we ran across a race that was holding slaves, there would have been little we could have done. You understand that, don’t you?”
“That’s… GSS protocol.” Francis sighed. “We can’t force a non-GSS people to comply with what we believe is just. But it sill feels wrong.”
“Wrong, maybe, but they have their own ways. Now, in the case of the Reedeens, a GSS species, what could we have done? If the ones in the compound were slaves, that is?”
Francis held her breath as she attempted to draw upon the passages of text she had read in her collection of books from the academy. “We would have… contacted Reedea, to let them handle the situation as they see fit. To free their people.”
“Almost.” Patrice responded. “The Reedeens would have to decide whether they wanted to get their people out of there, and whether the so-called slaves would want to be freed. From what Skee has said, I believe that we don’t need to go that far in our situation. Sometimes when there is a conflict, the best situation is to allow the actors to play it out on their own and see what happens. Such is diplomacy in this day in age.”
Francis sucked on her teeth and turned her head down to the floor. From the corner of her eye, she saw Skee stand. “I appreciate you taking my word on this, Captain.”
“I wouldn’t be much of a captain if I couldn’t rely on my crew members, especially those who are spoken so highly of.”
Francis stood up suddenly and looked across the table. “Thank you for allowing me to be on a mission such as this one. It was an enlightening experience.”
Patrice looked into her eyes with intensity for a fraction of a second before returning a smile. “Well, if you ever want to volunteer, you know where to find the bridge.” As he finished his words, he traveled back around the table before stopping at the door. “You are dismissed.” He finished, pushing on the door controls.
Francis looked over at Skee just as the door closed. “Hey…” She paused.
“Well… Would you mind if I came back to our… your quarters with you? There is still something bothering me.”
“That is not a problem.”
Francis stopped in front of the door to the room and looked at the scanner for the locking mechanism. Oh right. She quickly stepped to the side, allowing Skee to step up and scan his own tag. He entered and calmly moved to his bed to take a seat.
Francis walked beside the old mattress and ran her hand over the loud plastic covering. “You probably won’t get another roommate, at least for a while, it seems.” She commented.
“I do not know if the Aishou will be taking on more crewmembers, that is true.” Skee said back. “What did you wish to ask me about?”
Francis hoisted herself up onto the old single bed. “Well, it’s about the report your made to the Captain.”
“You do not agree with the words I said?”
Francis ground her teeth, her eyes barely focused on the floor. “No, I agree with your conclusion.”
“But not the means.”
“What do you plan to say in your written report?” Francis said, finally making eye contact.
“I will give my report of my observations. Do you intend to fabricate something, Francis?”
“Fabricate? If you mean lying about something, no.” Francis huffed. “But there is plenty you could comment on that is simply a matter of saying what you believed you saw.”
“What do you… believe… you saw, Francis?”
“I saw a child that was a mix of Reedeen and Skapele, and the parents of that child.”
“I saw just the same. Is there something about such a thing that confuses you?”
Francis sighed and plopped back down on the bed, her head making contact with the wall behind her. “No. But you might have a different perspective.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I asked you… before the Captain came in… how far Reedea was. The Reedeen female… woman was a long way from home.”
“Then the Skapele said that your people just kind of go with the flow.”
Skee rocked back and forth as he brought his legs up to cross them atop the comforter of his bed. “I understand now what you are saying. You believe that the Reedeen woman was coerced into living among the Skapele and procreating with them.”
“I guess… yeah, pretty much.” Francis sighed. “Am I just being paranoid?”
“It is a simple matter that you are misunderstanding my people. On Reedea, we live in big communes, as a… big family you might call it in English. We are raised not only by the people we are birthed by, but the community as a whole. When we come of age, we can decide to lend ourselves to our commune, or go out and create another.”
“Even leaving the planet?” Francis said, tilting her head.
“When my species became capable of space travel, we encountered the dilemma of how we would be able to maintain our lifestyles even far away from our planet. Some set out in order to see if it were possible. Those who traveled far away found that even though they could not easily create a commune of their own, being a part of another was equally as fulfilling. To me, a GSS ship and the crew members aboard are just as comfortable as my commune back home.”
“So the Reedeen with the Skapele… she’s likely just at home there as anywhere else?”
“I would assume, yes.” Skee concluded, shaking his head up and down.
Francis let out a long sigh before stretching herself out on the bed, her clothes noisily rubbing against the plastic covering. She extended her arms up above her head with a loud yawn. “I guess I feel better now about all that. But man, all this has just been exhausting.”
Skee adjusted his seating to dangle his legs back over the edge of the bed. “You humans like to consume coffee to combat fatigue, don’t you?”
Francis turned over on her side and propped her head up on her arm. “Yeah, but if I drink any now, I’ll be up too late.” She said, another yawn creeping up on her. “Tea, though, maybe.”
“Tea?” Skee said inquisitively.
“Yeah, tea.” Francis nodded. “Have you tried some of our tea? Is some caffeine okay with you?”
“You soak various leaves and herbs to extract their flavors and organic compounds, is that right?”
“Yeah.” Francis said, finally pushing herself off the ground. “I’ll synthesize some for us, to see if you like it.”
“Be my guest.” Skee said, gesturing to the machine on the wall.
“Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.” Francis ordered. The moleculizer spit out a clear glass filled with the clear brownish liquid. “This one is my favorite.”
Francis moved beside Skee and propped herself up on the edge of his bed before handing the steaming cup over. The alien took it up to his lips to take a long, eager sip.
“Isn’t it hot?” Francis watched at the steam poured up from his lips.
“Mnm.” Skee shook his head while swallowing one last big glug, leaving just above half the liquid remaining. “Reedea is hotter than a planet like yours, I’ve heard. We can withstand temperatures much higher, normally. This tastes a bit unique, what’s in it?”
Francis took back the cup in her hands. “Uh, Earl Grey, so… black tea leaves and… bergamot I think.”
“Bergamot… I believe I’ve heard of that before.” Skee said, nodding slowly. “Ah yes, we have a botanical cousin on my planet. My species uses it as… a… depressant…”
By the time he had finished the phrase, his eyes had generated a reflective gleam and had lost focus on the room.
“Skee?” Francis asked, prodding at his arm.
The alien turned slowly towards her, his arm rested upon his lap. Francis quickly bent down and placed the cup on the floor. She sat back up and placed her hands on Skee’s outstretched wrists.
“This feeling is pleasant.” He said dreamily.
Francis pulled her arms back and shoved them under her thighs. “Skee, have you ever been… drunk… before?” She asked slowly.
The alien reached out his hands and placed them on Francis’s shoulders, slowly moving down her arms with his light yet firm grasp. Francis stared into his eyes and he slowly cracked a smile of which she had never seen before. “Your presence… makes me feel at home… Francis.”
Francis pulled back from his grasp and slid off the bed. “I think I’ve done something wrong.” She mumbled, carefully pushing on Skee’s shoulders. “You should lay down, and get some rest. We both have our normal shifts tomorrow.”
As the alien slowly lowered himself to the bed, his arms reached out and wrapped around Francis’s neck, pulling her close. “Hey, wait.” She called out as the side of her face made contact with his chest. His fingers were soft. Beneath the synthetic fibers of his uniform, she could feel and hear his heart beating quickly in the center of his chest.
Francis’s pulse increased, and the sudden jolt of adrenaline allowed her to slip out from Skee’s clumsy grasp. As she stood back up, she could see the contented smile on his face, and his eyes that had closed almost all the way. She laid her palm upon his chest and gently patted away at it. “I’ll… see you again, some time, Skee.”
“Good… night…” The alien mumbled as Francis crept out the doorway.