Chapter Three – A Day in the Life of a Galactic Traveler
It was not exactly morning when they awoke. As Citlally had researched before, there was no set morning, noon or even night on a space station. They kept the clocks of several major planets on display in the public causeways, and there were data terminals where more obscure and specific information could be looked up, but for the most part the station didn’t follow any one planet’s diurnal and nocturnal patterns. There were far too many life-forms, each with their own sleep patterns, coming and going on the station to have shut-down periods and wakeful periods.
That said, most space stations ran constantly, the workers coming and going in shifts that best suited their abilities and origins. Unless a restaurant was directly linked with its home-world’s time, it was possible to order any type of food at any given hour, though there did tend to be patterns as to when certain meals were more sought after.
It wasn’t easy leaving a world with patterns of day and night in order to travel the æther, with all its infinite possibilities – in fact, for many races it was that sense of time that called them back home – but the journey was nearly always worth the trouble.
For Citlally, time had never bothered her too much. ‘Morning’ was whenever she woke up, wherever she was. Indeed, on Earth that tended to be sunrise, but in her galactic travels, she hadn’t found it difficult to adapt to the lack of a rising star to stir her awake. On the morning after her arrival at Regulus Station II, it was a growling stomach that roused her. She discovered that Endan hand already risen, but hadn’t left her alone. There was a soft plush creature on her bed, a stuffed cloth version of the docile creature from which the wool of her scarf had come from. It looked something like a sheep and a rabbit, and very fluffy.
“That man,” she sighed as she noticed that her scarf was wrapped around its neck. There was also a note tucked into the soft fabric, which she read as she shook her head in amusement.
I thought I’d spare you the scent of a hard-worked warrior and take my shower early today, it said. I’ll be in the front room when you’re ready.
With a smile, she set the note down and slid out of the bed. Citlally noticed their luggage beside the bedroom’s dresser, the bag containing her new skirt on top of it. It was relief to see that it was finally there, though she hoped that Endan had seen it delivered to the bedroom himself, and not taken the risk of the delivery boy catching a glimpse of her unadorned form. Luckily for him, she trusted him completely and knew what a conscientious gentleman he was.
Knowing that she would have fresh clothes to wear, she wandered into he bathroom and began her typical morning routine. Endan had set out their personal care items, prince that he was, and ordered fresh towels for her to dry with. The shower had luxuriously hot water, purified to the strictest standards, and if it hadn’t been for the demands of her stomach, she would have let it pour over her for much longer. As she shut off the water and reached for a towel, Citlally could hear music creeping in from the front room.
“When marimba rhythms start to play,” a smooth voice sang, and she gaped. Had he really put that old song on? “Dance with me, make me sway.”
She didn’t care that it was old; she loved that song, and she knew that Endan was quite aware of how easily it got her body dancing.
“Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore,” she sang along as she wrapped her hair in a second towel and walked back into the bedroom, “dance with me, sway me more.”
By the time she was dressed, taking the opportunity to don her new skirt alongside an old-fashioned silk shirt (another gift from her beloved), the song had come to a close and given way to another tune that Citlally adored. She stepped out of the bedroom to find Endan putting the finishing touches on a spread that looked as though he’d spent an hour setting up. It smelled distinctly of food, and her stomach grumbled with the demand that she not wait for her hair to be combed and braided before she ate.
“Good mornin’, my sweet Aztec princess,” Endan said with a grin as soon as he saw her. “You look as ravishing as always.”
Citlally yawned and walked over to him. “It’s nice to see a Celtic warrior like you,” she said as he wrapped his arms around her, and she felt the warmth of his body, “when I get out of bed.”
“Mmmm,” he intoned, and kissed the top of her head. “Being in bed with you is even better.”
“It most certainly was… and now I have to eat in order to replace all that energy that I expended with you.” She eyed the table, where lidded platters sat waiting for them. “What did you have room service bring?” she asked, trying not to drool from the smell.
Endan pulled out a chair for her, perfect gentleman that he always was, and sat down at an adjacent side of the table. He lifted the lids off the platters, which filled the room with even more of the scent of delicious food. Citlally gazed at the veritable feast before her, ready to eat all of it herself, even if there was more than enough for the both of them. There was toast, a small dish of butter, a jelly made from the bright pink berries of some strange world, three types of juice in chilled pitchers, and, much to her delight –
“Is that… were you able to order scrambled eggs?!” Citlally exclaimed.
“Well…” Endan cleared his throat, and spooned out two servings of the steaming curdles of yellow fluff onto her plate. It delighted her to see the golden strings of cheese when he lifted the spoon; he really did know exactly what she loved. “They’re not eggs from Terran chickens, that’s fer sure. I don’t even think they come from alien chickens. The cook said something about a bird taller than me, and that just one of its eggs would be plenty.”
Being a girl who’d always been set on space travel, Citlally didn’t seem to mind at all. “Eggs are eggs – and you are incredible!”
She took two pieces of toast, half of a waffle that was more than twice that size of any Belgian back on Earth, and then looked over the assortment of meats. She knew that none of them were from actual earth livestock, but many of them looked like things that she was used to eating: browned links of various sausages, pink flanks of something that looked like ham, and crunchy sticks that reminded her of bacon. Citlally took some of each, and tucked into the most generous meal she had yet to eat during her journey across the galactic arm.
“Endan,” she began after a while, when she was less ravenous and more willing to converse civilly, “I was wondering…”
“Wonder away, but do not wander, for I would miss ye terribly.”
Citlally gave a short laugh, and then asked him, “How did you know?”
“Know what, my beloved starlight?”
“Don’t be coy.”
“But you often are.”
He chuckled and put on an innocent grin, hoping that she wouldn’t throw her toast at him. “I cannot answer your question if I don’t know what ye’re askin’.”
“Fine,” she grumbled affectionately despite her expectation that he know what she meant. “How did you know that Regulus would be the best station to do this at?” She gestured around the luxurious room. “Why not Centauri Station Alpha, or even the lunar outpost where we spent the first night after we took our vows?”
“Because I actually listen to you,” he replied, the look on his face one of total self-satisfaction.
“What do you mean?” she wanted to know as she went back to eating. Citlally spread the bright-colored jelly over her toast as she listened to him.
“Back when we were studyin’ for the college entrance exams, you were talking about wantin’ to study astronomy so ye could explore the galaxy. You were fascinated by the star Regulus – the four-star system, really. It’s where ye wanted to complete some of your advanced studies.”
Endan noticed Citlally staring at him, absolutely transfixed and unmoving, and stopped talking for a moment. “Have I said too much?”
“No,” she gasped. “No, not at all. But… you were listening? You actually took the time to remember all of that?”
“Citlally, I have loved you for a long time; of course I listened, and of course I remembered!”
She blinked, staring at him as though in disbelief. “Amazing. You really are the most romantic man I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!”
Endan grinned with pride. If it had actually been possible for a girl to have hearts in her eyes, or floating above her head, Citlally would have had both just then. The way she gazed at him, he could tell that she was swooning with awe and affection for him.
“Endan… Ni mits neki,” she told him once she had recovered her senses.
“I love it when you speak Aztec,” he grinned.
“Nahuatl,” she corrected him.
“Either way,” he teased, knowing very well what her ancestral language was called; he merely wanted to hear her say ‘Nahuatl’ again. “Oh, and by the way, tá grá agam duit.”
Citlally visibly shuddered at the way the Gaelic words rolled of his tongue. Just as he loved hearing her language, she loved hearing his; it made her melt to hear that lilting tone, the thick accent, the way it seemed magical that he could pronounce it at all. It was like a game for them, hearing one another speak the old words, even though they had limited understanding of the other’s language. While English was simple enough to use as a lingua franca, honoring the old cultures was one of many ways in which they showed their affection for one another.
“I remember the first time you told me that you loved me,” Citlally told him, giggling at the memory. “You had somehow found the words in print, but when you tried to say it to me, it was so loud where we were that I thought you’d said, ‘me needs nookie.’”
Endan wished there was a way for him to make her forget that part of it, or to at least keep himself from turning bright red at the reminder of it. “I was so relieved that ye didnae hit me, but that look on yer face was…” He stopped and swallowed hard when he saw her expression. “I ‘m just thankful that ye gave me the chance to explain, or else we wouldnae be here together now.”
Citlally gave him a contented smile and got up from her chair, walked over to his side, and leaned in close. “Ni mits neki, now and forever more. As for the nookie…”
Her lips caressed his ear, and Endan felt his skin tingle. Her hands slid down over his chest, and he turned his head to meet her lips with his and share in a long, ever-so-affectionate kiss. When she stepped back, smiling sweetly, he was tempted to pull her back to him.
“We have plenty of time for that later. Right now,” Citlally told him, picking up her jellied toast, “I want to finish breakfast, and then explore the third hub together.”
* ** *** ** *
The only other human on board Space Station Regulus II had a cramped room not far from the noisy halls of the first hub. He could hear the dance club through the walls, but he didn’t care in the least. It had hardly been much different back home. Really, the biggest difference was that the space station smelled better, and it was much cleaner. Rashard’s favorite part about the place was that he didn’t run the risk of being shot at a moment’s notice.
Being granted asylum from his war-torn country had not been easy. While most of Earth’s other countries settled down into peace, his had only seen the tension grow. The more peaceful the other nations became, the more stressful it was that his had yet to figure things out. He’d never understood how something so backwards and hypocritical as, “Sign the peace treaty and ratify the new constitution, or DIE!” had become the motto of the rebelling forces; all that mattered for a while was that he keep his head down and survive.
When the day came that the boat finally took him off of the island, he was so relieved that he would have honored the old religions and fallen to his knees in prayer, had he been asked to do so. But then again, the followers of the old religions had lost a lot of their fervor once they awakened to their part in the chaos that had taken the world.
Not long after he was off the boat, he’d been surrounded by volunteers who wanted to give him and the other refugees medical care, food, a bath, a place to lay his head for the night – even an education. It was such a crowd that he hardly knew whom to follow first, except that he had no interest in sitting in a university classroom, boring himself to death on lectures and essays; in other words, he knew what was worse than last on his list!
Rashard had thanked everyone, and spent enough time with them to fill his belly and get the stench off of himself, but was soon ready to move on. What he really wanted—more than anything else in the world—was to get away from Earth. Too many problems, too much history, too big a risk of falling back into the old ways. If he couldn’t live safely in his own country—if they would not make peace, even with help from representatives from various other nations—he did not want to be on the planet at all.
The other aliens on Regulus Station II had looked at Rashard in awe; he was a human, but that hair? It didn’t bother him, the way they stared, or when they stopped to ask him all manner of questions. After taking three bullets – stray bullets and ricochet that he’d been unfortunate enough to be in the way of – nothing seemed to bother him anymore. He’d lived through several infections, as well as a loss of blood for which he couldn’t get to a hospital to replace because it was being occupied by aggressive rebel forces, and had watched peace spread over every other land besides his. If space was as dangerous as he’d been told it was, he preferred to die to exploring it and not in some reeking hovel where squatters and rebels would come to hide at a moment’s notice.
Luckily for him, he had no criminal record, had taken part in no rebel activity, and had thus been able to obtain his galactic passport with far less wait time than he’d feared. Waiting for his medical clearance had been the biggest hurdle, but in the end, a week in the hospital, where he received vitamin supplements and various immunization updates, had taken care of the matter.
At least in New America, he had access to modern medical care, and the facilities weren’t being attacked by rebels as a show of defiance against the old powers. The refugees had no worries about any medical fees, and shared in the same benefits as the rest of the country, meaning that health-care costs had become the domain of government responsibility rather than the burden of the people. After all, healthy citizens served the nation better than ill or impoverished ones.
The cheapest way for him to travel across the galaxy was as a temporary worker on whichever random spacecraft was willing to hire a human to clean their floors and dining halls and let him off at a time of his choosing. He had free transportation, a room to sleep in, and usually had free meals (especially if they let him serve in the kitchen), or else deeply-discounted prices.
The pay for a temporary worker was rather low compared to what many galactic-level employees received, mainly because the captains knew that the temporary laborers were in it for the free transit more than anything else. They had no contractual obligations, but expected little in return for the work they did; they had no interest in the benefits packages that signed workers received.
There had once been a time when many space captains wanted to withhold information from the applicants for short-term employment. It was difficult to find workers when the ship was scheduled to pass through dangerous territory, and the captains wanted a take-it-or-leave it policy when it came to letting anyone apply to work temporarily. That idea was quickly done away with by the Greater Galactic Union, which decreed that all travelers, whether paying or paid, had to be made aware of a ship’s planned route, and that if non-peaceful territory was to be entered, all sentient life-forms aboard had to be made aware and give their acknowledgment of and consent to the risk.
Rashard was relieved to find this policy in effect, for he wanted nothing to do with any kind of hostility. He’d experienced enough of it in his homeland, and by leaving it he meant to enjoy the rest of his life exploring the vastness of space.
Some of his stints as a temporary worker had been long, one of them about three months, and some had been quite short – a few days at the most. If the ship came to a station that had cheap room and board, or if he simply wanted a change of pace, he would collect his pay and take the shuttle to the space station with the other passengers. Now and then, he was able to find temporary work on the station, but usually he was only able to stay until his funds became low enough that he had to get back to cleaning ships.
He’d been traveling back and forth from all number of stations for about a year when he came to Regulus Station II. It was one of the nicest stations he’d ever been to, even if the security there was a bit overboard. He was used to humans being more scrutinized and less trusted, but being watched and followed really bothered him.
By his third day on the station, Rashard had explored most of the first hub, and had seen one man in particular so many times that he had no doubt that he was being followed. The man never came near him or spoke to him, but he was there, pretending to being doing something else, pretending that they were in the same place only by coincidence.
He’d asked the employment office if he could apply for work once, but was told that he needed a higher level of security clearance, which was still pending. He spent the rest of that day wondering why it was pending – why the process had been started at all – if he had yet to apply for it. Their level of caution seemed terribly extreme.
The first hub was all right – excellent, in fact, if he compared it to his homeland – but he wanted to see luxury, too, if he could. With that in mind, he took the elevator up to the third hub and explored that area for a while. The dance hall there had music playing that caught his attention with a slow, deep beat and lyrics that flowed with a passion for change and liberty. He could just scarcely understand the words, even with his translator set to diverse language recognition, but he entered the hall anyway in order to see who was singing. He sat up front and nodded his head to the beat, loving the sound, until the singer told the DJ to switch over to recorded music and stepped off of the stage.
Rashard was so lost in enjoying himself that he did not see the alien man walk over to the bar; nor did he see him return with two glasses in his hands.
“You look like you have a taste for good beats,” the singer commented as he set the tall, wavy glasses on Rashard’s table.
The human nearly fell back when he opened his eyes, having been thinking out his own song in his mind, and saw the seven-foot-tall, dark-skinned alien standing above him. He looked at the two drinks, then up at the alien’s golden eyes.
“Do you mind if I join you?” the singer asked. A long, striped tail swirled eagerly behind him, giving him the air of a cat, though his stature was more like that of some kind of gray-furred kangaroo standing on tip-toe.
Rashard saw no reason to refuse him. “Go right ahead.”
“I brought you a Quer’Ma’hil,” the alien stated. “It’s my favorite drink here, and they mix them strong. You are human, yes? You can have alcohol.”
“I never refuse a good drink,” Rashard replied with a wide grin. He pulled the glass closer. The drink inside swirled with spirals of glittering yellow and a bright cosmic blue that reminded him somewhat of cobalt. “They call me Rashard, by the way.”
“Krral-zar Faharian, galactic performer and singer extraordinaire, at your service,” the taller creature replied, taking a bow before he sank into the wide metal chair.
The human raised his glass and toasted with the other man. “To traveling the cosmos.”
“To good music,” the singer added, then took his own drink.
“Wow!” the human said after his first gulp. It was indeed strong, a mixture of sweet fermented alien fruits and rich, mellow flavors that reminded him of his favorite rum back home. At least, that was the best that he could have come up with for a description of the Quer’Ma’hil; the bartender probably could have described it better. “I haven’t had a drink that strong since I had to be pinned down to have a bullet yanked out of my leg!”
“A bullet?” the alien asked, his eyes going wide. “Is your world at war, human? I thought that Earth had made peace decades ago.”
“Most of Earth did, starting at the beginning of the twenty-second century. But my mother country is Jamaica. For some reason, they still have not been able to figure it out.”
“That is terrible, I say! I sing for peace all over the galaxy; I should go to Earth and sing for Jamaica.”
Rashard, took another drink, chuckled, and shook his head. “Jamaica has been singing for itself for a long time already, and still peace if difficult. The old powers will not give way for any kind of new laws.”
“Sometimes you have to put the new in place by force,” Krral-zar Faharian suggested.
“They have been trying to do that, too… The problem is, the old power is strong.” Rashard shook his head. “But I don’t want to talk about Jamaica; it’s nothing but bad memories for me.”
“What about music, then? You seem to know a good beat when you hear one.”
“Have you heard of reggae?”
“Is that Earth music? I have not had a chance to hear any yet. Usually humans do not get approval to go where I go, and who else is going to show me any Earth music?”
Rashard took another long drink of the Quer’Ma’hil, patted his chest as the burn went through him, and then reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small case, unzipped it, and slid a memory chip no longer than his finger across the table. “Can your equipment read the music files on this?”
The alien singer sipped his drink, then picked up the data chip to examine it. He turned to his DJ on the stage and called out to him. “Mahl-Arr! Catch this! Play the music on this chip for us.”
Rashard nearly gasped as he watched his data fly through the air. Relief came when the DJ leaped up to catch it, saving it from hitting a wall and shattering. After only a few minutes of fidgeting with his equipment to prepare it for the foreign technology, the room switched from the ambient alien music to the complex, deep beats of reggae. Krral-zar Faharian was impressed right away, and was soon bobbing his head with the rhythm.