**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Cristina and Alix returned to the coffee shop, spoke some words with Emma in passing but then started to go upstairs to the apartment. As Alix went on Cristina paused at the bottom of the stairs, “Is Arnie okay? I didn’t see him this morning either. Did he go out?”
“He’s cleaning up the house. Our son and his wife are bringing a couple of friends from Andromeda for a visit. They should be here in the morning.”
“Really. You must be excited.”
“It’s been a long time since they were here. Actually it was when we moved into the new house.”
“Well you can give him the stuffed bear.”
“Staash,” Emma smiled.
“Perhaps we should call the bear ‘little Staash’ so as not to confused with my friend.”
“His name is Staash?”
“Isn’t it ironic?”
“Yes, it is.” Emma agreed. “Maybe you’re right about renaming the bear. The bear will embarrass Neville in front of Mary but she’ll think it’s cute.”
“Do you get along well with her?”
“Mary, oh yes. Maybe it is because we live so far apart that I don’t interfere with her household. But I’ve never had any problem getting along with her. I believe truly Neville found the right woman.”
“You’ll have to introduce us when they get here.”
“Of course. Maybe you, Alix and your friend can come to dinner at our house.”
“I don’t know. We may be leaving soon for New Milan.”
“All the more reason for you to have a good dinner as a send off. That’s a very long trip, and so soon after your friend has arrived.”
Cristina smiled. “I’ll talk to Alix about it. Staash may not want to come.”
“Well, you send him down here,” she picked up a spoon. “I’ll persuade him for you.”
“I’ll bet you could,” Cristina said with a laugh, then continued on, calling down after. “I’ll let you know.”
She opened the door. Staash stood-up. “I have been pleasuring myself to be seeing you again so soon,” he said.
“He’s been practicing,” Alix said, with a chuckle. “He still needs a lot of work – especially on nuance of meanings, euphemism and slang. But hell, I have heard people who are supposed to be fluent do a lot worse.”
“I think it’s an amazing achievement.”
“I thank you,” Staash said.
Staash nodded. “Your language fits tightly, too much,” he gave his opinion. “I don’t know how to express. It limits minds.”
“I think I understand that,” Alix said. “Sometimes I feel things I can’t find the words for.”
“Yes, I think that is the same I am saying,” Staash said.
“Emma invited us to dinner,” Cristina said to Alix.
“You said no, of course.”
“I said I’d get back to her.”
“What about Staash?”
“He could stay here. I don’t know. It just seemed like such a friendly thing. I told her we were going to New Milan very soon.”
“Yeah, well there is really no reason to stay here anymore.”
Cristina walked over to the shelves upon which Neville’s bear rested. “She said her son and his wife are coming along with some friends from Andromeda. It might be fun having dinner with them.”
“Well, Staash handled being alone here very well.”
“Staash have fun, watch world viewer, learning much to say very easy.”
“Are you hungry, Staash?” Cristina asked.
“What it is that you gave me delicious. What is it you eat, strange looks.” Staash looked at first Cristina and then Alix.
“We eat three times a day, usually. The time after sleeping is called breakfast. Eating round now would be called lunch. Then around sunset, or maybe later we eat dinner.”
“Food same each time or different?”
“Different,” Alix explained.
Staash looked at Cristina, inviting telepathy in order that he could better understand. After a few moments, he turned away. “You eat other living things?”
“Things that were living, yes,” Alix said. “We draw energy from food. Plants capture the energy of the sun in sugars and starches. Animals eat the plants to provide them energy for growth of their muscles and we eat both plants and animals and in that way obtain the energy of the sun that is stored in their tissues.”
Staash stared at them while attempting to remain nonplussed. What little he understood disgusted him. “Humans kill to eat. Very nature, humans are barbaric.”
They heard footsteps ascending the stairs.
“Emma,” Cristina warned.
“Staash, come with me,” Alix led him into one of the other rooms and then bade him to wait and closed the door as he returned to the living room just as Cristina was letting Emma inside.
“I don’t want to intrude, but I forgot to remind you about the lunch I made for everyone. I hope you didn’t eat while you were out.”
“No actually we didn’t,” Alix said.
She handed the tray to Cristina. “I wanted to get Little Staash, to kind of make it a surprise when Neville gets home. I think I’ll leave it on the guest bed.”
“That would be a very good place.” Cristina laughing. “Thank you for making lunch, Emma. That’s very sweet of you.”
“Honey, I love cooking. If I didn’t, I would have been miserable all of my life. Arnie makes very, very good coffee, even the best you can get anywhere, but he’s a so-so cook.”
“You’re a good team, then,” Alix suggested.
Emma nodded, “That we are. Anyway, you can bring the tray and dishes down when as come, just leave them in the sink. I made some stew for Arnie’s dinner. What’s left is in the pot inside the refrigerator. It should be more than enough for three. I’m closing down early for the day to go home and help Arnie with the house. When you’re finished you can just leave everything in the sink. I’ll tend to them in the morning.”
“Alix and I can clean up afterwards. It is the least we can do after you fixed us lunch and dinner.”
“I had to make something to take home for Arnie, anyway.”
“Even so, we’ll clean up.”
“That would be nice of you,” Emma said. “I’d better get home. Arnie is good at the major things like vacuuming, mopping and dusting, but he misses the details.”
“Most men do,” Cristina generalized causing Alix to scowl but then he laughed.
“I’ll see you in the morning then. Bring you friend down for some coffee and breakfast. Arnie will be picking up Neville, Mary and their friends at the station. I’m sure they’ll stop by on their way to the house.”
“Staash isn’t very sociable.”
“Well, then at least bring some breakfast up to him afterwards. Regardless of your friend, you can meet my son and his wife. I know nothing about their friends other than Neville said he knows their mothers.”
“Maybe they were coming this way for other reasons,” Alix said.
“Maybe so. He says they’re nice young people. So I’m sure we’ll like them.”
“You’re nervous,” Cristina said knowing full well that she was.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Yes, it is. You and Arnie are cleaning up the house…”
“The coffee shop as well,” Emma confessed.
“I think you are worrying for nothing. Everything will be fine.”
Emma nodded. “Well, Arnie is waiting for me, I’m sure. You take care.”
“You too,” Cristina responded for both her and Alix.
Staash understood enough of the conversation to know when it was safe for him to emerge. He returned to the place he had been occupying on the couch. Then Staash turned as Alix joined him and began programming the remote to check on entertainment channels. “Staash embarrasses you with others?”
“It isn’t that,” Cristina said as she joined them, setting the tray of sandwiches on the coffee table. “Humans are not very good at accepting differences. I’m afraid most humans would think you’re a monster. They might even try to kill you if we didn’t stop them. We need to choose the right time to introduce you to everyone, and explain who you are and what you represent.”
Staash seemed to understand that. He was not happy with his situation. He wanted to go back to his kind except he knew the ultimate ending and he was willing to allow Cristina the chance to fix that.
In the evening, after Cristina and Alix had dinner together alone downstairs and cleaned up after themselves, Alix called dibs on the shower. He knew that if he had to wait for Cristina it would be a very long time and he was tired. Besides he was eager to show Staash some more interesting things about world viewer such as all the educational resources as well as the variety of entertainment options including games.
While Cristina was taking her shower, Alix happened upon a video recorded of Duae Lunae’s performance at one of the major venues in Star City during their most recent tour. He activated a laser pointer in the remote and indicated, “That’s me. And there, that’s Cristina.”
Staash sat back and seemed to radiate a sort of glow that Alix was beginning to understand was a Sakum’mal’s version of a smile. “Cristina has voice wonderful.”
“Yes, it is,” Alix agreed.
“This is what you like to do?”
“We love it,” Alix said. “There’s nothing like it. There were seven thousand people there just to hear us play our music and watch us perform. They even sang along with some of our songs. There’s a feeling you get from that – you just never forget it. It’s something you want to experience over and over again.”
Staash turned his eyes toward Alix. “You and Cristina famous humans.”
Alix laughed, “I don’t know about me, maybe she is. No one remembers my name as a rule. Everyone knows Cristina. She’s the star.”
“You love her.”
“Ever since I met her I’ve loved her. It’s just been a recent thing that she seemed to notice me. We haven’t been a couple for very long, so we’re still working out the details and the rules.”
“She always loved you?”
“I don’t know if she loved me at all and so I certainly wouldn’t know how long she’s loved me. I don’t know if that ever matters because it’s now that matters. It makes me happy to be with her and forget about anyone else.”
Cristina emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her. “What’s that you’re watching?”
“They are broadcasting a recording of one of our concerts here.”
“Really,” Cristina smiled. “So Staash, you see what I do – what we do. Now you understand performing.”
“Your voice wonderful.”
“Thank you, Staash.”
“Staash teach you my language. You will without accent because singing, instruments rest sounds make.”
Alix frowned with incomprehension until he remembered what Cristina said, the Sakum’malien language was more like music.
Staash wanted to hear more of Duae Lunae’s music so Alix showed him how to access network links to their promotional site and he pressed in a generic access key that the band had been given to have full access to the site’s resources. Alix set it up so that Staash could listen to all the songs the band had ever recorded. The sand-morph seemed thrilled as Alix showed him where there were other videos. It was obvious he intended to watch everything and listen to every song.
“We have a new fan,” Alix said as he wrapped his arm around Cristina’s shoulders.
“Staash, we’re going to sleep. You can watch the world viewer all you want and rest out here again or if you want to try out a bed, in one of the other rooms. Do you understand?”
“What is different humans sleep Staash rest?”
Cristina projected to him and after a few moments Staash nodded. “Yes, Staash understand,” he vocalized. “Staash sleep too. Wonder, though. Different ways.”
She said good night to Staash and left the living room, joining Alix in the bedroom, closing the door behind her. She was mentally, emotionally and physically spent. Despite the desire she saw in Alix’s eyes, she had nothing to give. She kissed him then lay down beside him. They cuddled for a while as they talked, discussing the immediate past and their plans for the imminent future. Eventually they fell asleep wrapped in one another’s embrace.
In the morning, Alix was first to awaken. He gently slid his arms out from around her and carefully sat up in bed and quietly stepped out onto the floor. He turned and softly kissed her on the forehead before gingerly negotiating the way out of the room without disturbing her sleep.
He closed the door to the bedroom behind him, taking pains to do it without making any noise. When he looked out into the living room, Staash was there. He didn’t know whether the Sakum’mal ‘slept’ at all. He appeared to be exactly where he had last seen him and he was still in the process of learning everything about Duae Lunae. Alix never realized how much material the group had on the site or that it could possibly take all night to watch and listen to the media material of their recording sessions and live performances. As he considered that the group had been together for thirteen years, ten with Cristina, it seemed more plausible. They had recorded a lot and performed a lot. There was perhaps more than a week’s worth of videos here and there. For recordings there were several hours of those alone.
“I’m in love with Cristina’s voice,” Staash said with a startling level of fluency.”
“You can stand in line behind every other person in the world.”
Staash glowed. “Thank you.”
“For speaking of me as your peer.”
“I notice you’re more comfortable speaking now.”
“I have been learning. I make mistakes, still, I think. Learning words easy, grammar hard.”
“It’s the same for us. Someone long ago decided to make a proper way to say everything and enforcing those rules has been a battle ever since. As far as I’m concerned you sound nearly fluent now.”
“Thank you. It is very important to me to be understood clearly. I realize what a gift you and Cristina have provided to me. I have a chance to save lives of my kind. I don’t fully understand all the logistics but I appreciate the efforts you have made and the gift of one chance.”
“The more I’ve considered it, what would have been perfect is if you could have convinced your contemporaries to protect themselves and survive the sterilization,” Alix said as he stood up and walked over to the front window.
“I thought you did not consider that an option,” Staash said. “You did not know what you would be returning to. You think maybe you no longer be here.”
“What we returned to has not improved, so maybe changing it isn’t a bad thing” Alix said. “I’m not as confident as Cristina seems to be that parading you around will accomplish much. It would be an easy thing for the Colonial Authority to circulate a lie discrediting us as the purveyors of a hoax.”
“Then I came here for no reason at all.”
“I wouldn’t say that. You’ve learned about us, about humans and learned about our language and something about our culture and how we live. I think all of that is important. And we’ve learned a lot about you, foremost how intelligent you and your kind are. It’s no small achievement learning our language so quickly.”
“Sharing Cristina thoughts help me much.” Staash’s eyes followed Alix as he paced the floor, and then the Sakum’mal explained his take on the events in the cavern in the past. “They did not listen. You know that. I was fairly recent arrival, outcast from home world. Out of favor with powerful, I say in poems things misunderstood. They branded me maverick – if understand use of word correctly. They exile me. I think you have picked poor representative my kind.”
“I think we picked the only one of your kind who might listen to us,” Cristina startled both of them as she came up from behind.
“I’m sorry we wake you,” Staash said.
“Did you even sleep?” she asked.
“I rested. It is my way, not exactly sleep but serves purpose for metabolism.”
“It will be light out soon,” Alix said as he peered out through the drapes at the sky beyond the dome.
“We need to leave for New Milan,” Cristina said.
“I thought you wanted to attend the dinner Emma invited us to.”
“I don’t know if it’s wise. Somehow I keep thinking we’re living on borrowed time, until the authorities figure out we stepped back a few days in time and that’s how we arrived here without detection.”
“If they detected us they disbelieved it was an error in their sensors,” Alix said. “We have new ID’s and new payment wand accounts. They haven’t been able to track us as Cristina and Alix, else they would have found us by now.”
“It is a matter of time,” Cristina said, and then she laughed at the ironic relevance of the expression. “We have certainly manipulated it. Staash would not be here if that were not the case.”