“I’m sorry,” Tari whispered, nose nuzzled into the crook of Jadyn’s neck.
“Interrupting breakfast for… this.”
“You’ve nothing to apologize for. I should be the one offering an apology for not making this a worthwhile time in your ongoing exobiology research. I kind of let you down, I think.”
“No, no. Trust me, I’m good.”
“Mmm… I will make it up to you, though. It’ll have to be sometime after I actually get more than an hour’s nap.” Yawning, he forced himself out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. “I really wish I knew why I’ve been so worn out… I guess, thinking about it… I’ve pushed myself a little harder as of late than I’m used to, getting those seals undone… It was a long couple of days before you came into -“
“Question,” Tari interrupted, feeling her ears burning in embarrassment before the words even came out of his mouth. “How can you both talk about… about that… like it’s the weather?”
“Oddly enough, it’s a little off for me. I’ve been out of touch for too long. I mentally fall back to how I’ve had to live, act, and think to blend in here on Veloria. Not that I blend in very well in the first place.” Inside the bathroom, the micro-hurricane of a shower ran for a few seconds before shutting off. “It’s not embarrassing me, really… I’m just so used to living around people that might be bothered that I’ve just gotten into the habit.”
“Right, but… I don’t understand how you both can be so casual about it in the first place.”
“It’s who we are,” he replied simply, stepping back into the room fully groomed and dry. “It’s an entire mindset, not just a single thing. See… A large part of it comes from the pride we hold in being the children of the Spirits. The teachings of the Kametian faith tell us that the Eight created us in their likeness. If we turn around and cover their creations or scurry off to hide, what’s that say about their handiwork? That we think it’s flawed? Not worth sharing? That they did so poorly a job in our creation that we’re embarrassed by ourselves? They didn’t - and we’re not. If you do something, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about it. If you are embarrassed by it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. We’re not just walking around naked with mental filters failing to limit what we talk about - this is our society, our way.”
“You guys never ate the apple, huh?”
Jadyn raised an eyebrow as he pulled on his Guild robes. “Apple…?”
“The forbidden fruit. The tree of knowledge of good and evil?”
“Ah, Book of Genesis. Interesting read… But not what you follow?”
“I’m really not entirely sure what I believe anymore. I think T’bia’s ‘non-practicing agnostic’ is pretty apt for me, too.”
“That sounds so strange coming from you, if I stop and think about the fact you’re technically a nature spirit.”
Tari grinned. “Non-practicing kami, then. I’ve found it’s helpful to at least know some details about what those around you believe. I probably should keep a working knowledge of what my mate believes, too,” she spoke, stepping between his self-appraisal in the mirror and tugging him close for a hug.
“Mmm. In that case, we’d best make sure you’re up to speed on the basics. For starters, these last few days are traditionally remembered as a celebration, not a nuisance.” Jadyn placed a finger under her chin, lifting her gaze to his own. “Thank you.”
“For not turning this home into a crime scene this morning.”
Tari laughed, turning and walking away. “I don’t know what I would have done if I’d actually managed to get ahold of her. I wasn’t exactly thinking ahead.”
“Unfortunately, I have been. There’s something you need to know, and I honestly don’t know how you’re going to take it in your current state of mind. I’d wait and tell you later, but ‘later’ may be when it needs to go down and you absolutely need advance warning.” Jadyn inhaled, his eyes focused on the floor as he gathered his thoughts. “The chances of Alecha getting her mates out of cryo alive are slim. While she could certainly join another family group from any other eventual survivors… I’d present her a place in my home before anyone else has a chance to make the offer.”
Tari sighed. “Is there something there between you two that I’m just not seeing? I mean, you were in each others arms this morning before I lost my mind… But the other night you said you weren’t ever involved and you had no interest in her.”
“Again, it’s our way to not shy away from what you’d file under ‘sensual touch.’ Just because she and I aren’t intimate doesn’t mean she’s not deserving of emotional support. She’s just found out she’s lost everyone she ever knew back home, and she’s staring down the large possibility that she’s about to lose the rest of her family. I really don’t know her as well as dad did. I do know they were close friends throughout the time she was his assistant. If the worst happens, as I’m sadly expecting it will, I’m not going to ignore her loss and leave her to find a place with people she doesn’t know. Even if someone she’s familiar with from the project did invite her in - it’s important to me that I make the offer first because of that link she has with my family.”
“So she’d… what? Become one of your mates?” She bit her lip, taking a deep breath. “Why am I feeling angry about this?”
“Heat’s still making you territorial, and she’s still an outsider in your mind. A few deep breaths, count to five.” Jadyn scratched his neck. “In time, she’d maybe become that, but I wouldn’t push toward it - I think it’d be a little too uncomfortable for both of us for quite a while. Just because someone joins a family doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to jump in bed with everyone. It’s a support structure, first and foremost.”
Tari gave a nod. “What if she’s not a lone survivor? If another one of her family survives, would you take them in as well?”
“I’m primarily concerned about her being alone, but it all depends on what they need. In any case, I’m letting you know so it won’t be a complete surprise if I do that. I’m really sorry that it’s not more of a discussion, but… It’s the right thing to do. I’m hoping you don’t have an actual issue with the idea - the two of you seem to have a good rapport going in the little time I saw you together downstairs.”
“I think we have a tentative understanding of some sort. It’ll be better tomorrow, once I’m not feeling so… territorial, as you put it.”
“Do you think you’re all right to keep her company today while T’bia and I see about reviving her mates? Maybe show her around Azainte as best you can. Heck, ask a disk to send you to any random town and just go browse. It’ll be new to both of you. Mainly, I really need you to keep her distracted as best you can so she’s not dwelling on the outcome all day long.”
“Keep a vixen’s mind off Schrodinger’s Cat while attempting to not reproduce the experiment myself. I think I can manage that.” Tari snickered at his puzzled look. “I am finally managing to find all the trivia you missed, aren’t I? Let’s see… Now I have to remember the thing… A cat placed in a box is alive and dead until someone checks which it is.”
Jadyn frowned. “That makes no sense.”
“Well, I can’t remember exactly how it was supposed to go.”
“Tari, allow me?” T’bia interjected, suddenly in the room and leaning against the doorframe. “It’s a thought experiment involving a specific Terran interpretation of quantum mechanics as applied to macroscopic objects. A cat is sealed in a box with a contraption that, based on a wholly random event, may have caused its death. After some time has passed, the cat is implied to be simultaneously alive and dead until an observation takes place.”
“Nice,” Jadyn observed. “Isn’t that the gist of the old Nulani Paradox?”
“Yes… But it completely ignores Jatsuki’s Second Theorem, Utehkan’s Grand Unification Theory, as well as most of the underlying concepts that make warp, hyperspace, and displacement theories actually practical to implement.”
“Still can’t quite get my head around Jatsuki’s.” Jadyn stepped before the mirror again, making an adjustment to his robes. “Think about this one, Tari: the inside of the box is maintained as a visual record. That video is played back to the cat in real-time. If the cat is dead there’s no observer to determine whether the cat is alive or dead, and therefore, the cat may be alive.”
Tari closed her eyes, her fingers moving as if stepping through the premise. “I… But if the cat’s alive… There’d be an observer. The lack of an observer would indicate it’s not alive…”
“But if there’s no observer, who is going to observe if it is dead? Or alive?” Jadyn asked.
T’bia nodded. “And with that, you’ve just explained a piece of warp theory.”
“See? Doesn’t make sense to me,” he muttered.
“In any case, the cat probably moved on to an engineering career while everyone bickered about the pending result and tinkered a way out of the box using the device that was supposed to kill him,” T’bia spoke. “Which is why I’m here. Tari, Toliya wants a word when you have a bit of free time. He didn’t say what he wanted.”
“Better take care of his issues first,” Jadyn recommended.
“An engineer is both not finished and finished with the work unless observed completing it?” she questioned, grabbing her uniform.
“They’re on break unless observed,” T’bia replied. “Best watch closely.”
The leopard peeked over the top of a cart covered with diagnostic hardware as Tari and Alecha walked into the AI core room. “Miss… Uh, no, sorry. What’s the proper… Vel’Rutemin, wasn’t it? I’m sorry if that’s not the appropriate honorific. Welcome back to the world of the living.”
Alecha shot him a weak smile; Tari briefly saw the shadows in her aura surface before the pleasant facade went up. “It’s fine. Thank you.”
“We’re going for a little tour of the planet,” Tari explained. “What’s up?”
“I won’t keep you long. You could have just called, actually. I guess I should have told T’bia that… I figured I’d start in on the AIs since there’s not much else to do until the parts start showing up.”
“What about the power grid problems? Thought you said it wasn’t safe for them to be started up.”
“I brought a portable fusion plant.” He knocked on the enclosed cart with a proud smile. “Among other things. It’s really not the right one for this, but it’ll work for diagnostics. Mostly. So, we’ve got two cores in here. One I recognize as being a somewhat larger version of T’bia’s primary core, which means this other large boxy thing is most likely an ARIA core like the stripped-down box that Aerin runs on… By the looks of it, it’s a distributed processing unit - there’s probably other nodes scattered across the ship for redundancy. I’m pretty sure this one’s the master node, though. What was his name again? The AI that you said was having problems making rational decisions.”
Alecha gently squeezed Tari’s shoulder, turning her around and whispering. “Sanusin was online?”
“For quite some time, as far as I know. He used Tieralyene as a testing platform for viral code that brought T’bia to her knees.”
The salt-and-pepper vixen’s ears drooped. “Goddess… I hope Tier’s all right… We need her around for the project.”
“Ladies?” Toliya interrupted, waving a tethered datapad in the air. “I can’t find any mention of Sanusin’s core program or personality modules in the database on this thing. It’s effectively blank aside from the core diagnostic software and his memory engrams.”
“He said he was going to put himself back into the ship’s datastore… and… something.” Tari tapped her chin, trying to recall what he’d declared before shutting down. “I think he was going to set himself non-executable..?”
“Mm… If he archived himself, you think he’d have at least left a note saying ‘over here’ for repair techs… It’s like he doesn’t want to be found.”
Alecha shook her head. “I really hate to say this, but Sanusin shouldn’t be the priority. Tieralyene really needs to be up and running as soon as possible.”
“I honestly can’t do anything with the other core just yet,” Toliya replied, not looking up from his search. “A TBIA core has to be run from conditioned power sources. She won’t even try to boot if it’s not filtered to the right waveforms. I actually set off some emergency codes on Bee’s primary core the first time I tried to boot her on a fusion plant like this one. Accidentally triggered a boot of the backup on her emitter. She was all smiles and rainbows when she came around the corner, grabbed the fusion plant, and tossed it out the airlock.”
“So you don’t have a power supply that’ll run the other core?” Tari questioned him.
“I did. I had to lift some parts from it to fix something else about seven months ago. Replacements are due in a few days. Both of these AI cores do have internal backups, but I’d rather not spin those up when the integrity of the controlling AI is in question. I’ve learned the hard way that a software problem in Val’Traxan tech does not necessarily remain constrained to software.”
“Run an extension cord from the Serin,” Tari suggested, mostly in jest.
Toliya, however, looked up from his pad in sudden thought. “Power transfer… Hm. Actually… No, I don’t think Bee would be okay with that, not without a lot of buffering and protections in between. If the grid here overloaded and fed back, we’d wind up cooking a lot of her own circuitry. There’s no way the Serin can power everything over here anyway, so main power would have to stay up.”
“Well… Best of luck. We’ll be planetside somewhere if you need something.”
“Actually, Tari…” Alecha bit the end of her thumb, looking at the two dormant AI cores. “I think I’d rather just wait for news…”
“You’re going to make me go shopping alone…?”
“Well, no, but -“
“Good! Let’s go.”
“How much longer until we know?” Jadyn asked.
“Not terribly long. Stage one’s nearly complete.” T’bia checked a readout, glancing sideways at Jadyn. “Want some tawdry gossip to pass the time?”
T’bia shrugged, facing the controls again and gazing at the dwindling countdown. After no more than ten seconds of silence passed between them, broken only by the sounds of the machinery cycling on and off, she let out a sigh.
“Bee…” Jadyn shook his head, pinching himself between the eyes. “If you want to talk about something… Talk.”
“No, I’m good.”
“Really. You don’t sound ‘good.’”
“Yep, I’m fine. Perfect. I mean, what’s it to me if a bunch of frozen meatsacks wind up in organic recycling? Less time I have to spend in medbay, nursing them back to health and reading bedtime stories and fluffing pillows.”
“Yeah. I’m worried, too.” He shook his head, gazing into the pod. “What’s it say about our chances that the very first sleeper pulled is just fine?”
“You really want to know what I think about that?” T’bia snorted, flicking through displays of the current revival sequence. “I think it was too easy. I’m thrilled Alecha is okay. I’m astonished she’s okay. She shouldn’t be okay. Every simulation I’ve come up with confirms that, if not dead, she probably should be part of a tossed salad because she’d be a vegetable.”
“Possible reasons for the success? You’ve been over her medical scans and all sorts of hardware diagnostics, she said.”
“Short of a loophole in space-time that’s made her stint in cryo last less than a year from the moment she entered? No idea. The hardware’s normal and doesn’t list any sort of weird temporal event through the timestamps. She’s in great health despite my accidental attempt to kill her by administering the wrong vapor treatment… At least she had a copy of Kaler’s records tucked away for me to use as a reference so I don’t repeat that mistake. Stand clear.”
The pod’s door detached, sliding neatly upwards and out of the way. Cryo vapors billowed out of the open pod, dispersing a cloud across the floor. The val’traxan inside looked nearly peaceful in his slumber. And slumber it was - the first flickers of a renewed aura played about him. Weak, but present and very much alive.
The more traditional red fox markings adorned him - the coppery coat, tinges of black around his ears, a splash of white under his muzzle and down his chest, with a dark spot on either side of his nose. He’d obviously taken good care of himself before getting frozen. It was hard to judge, but he seemed… strangely young. Alecha hadn’t indicated what Kaler brought to the mission, but by his apparent youth, it was unlikely to be anything with a great deal of experience.
“Stop staring and help me hoist him out of that thing.”
“Three,” T’bia immediately replied, lifting together with Jadyn to move the damp and limp val’traxan to a mobile biobed. “Gently now, down. Careful! He’s been under a long time…”
“Really? I’m not completely inept at nursing, you know.”
“You’re just insanely bad at it now.”
“This from someone with the bedside manner of a demented food processor.”
“You ever miss it?” she asked, placing several bio-monitors on her patent’s body. “I mean, I give you a hard time about a lot of things, but… I’ve tried to avoid grinding that particular childhood dream of yours under my heel too much.”
“I’ve noticed. Remind me to start carrying a medical scanner if I’m going to be doing this with you.”
Jadyn placed his finger’s on the fox’s neck, checking his pulse. Not that it was necessary with all the monitors stuck to him, but the physical contact let Jadyn get a better sense of his aura’s health - very weak, but apparently stable. Mere seconds later, the fox’s eyes shot open, scanning the room blindly.
“What the…? Hey? I think he’s awake.”
“I’ll be,” T’bia spoke, immediately changing from Standard to Kametian. “So he is! Hello there… I’m a medic. Please don’t try to move.”
A raspy gurgle left his throat, pain flickering in his eyes.
“Don’t speak, either. You’ve just been brought out of cryo, in case you aren’t aware. Try to nod once if you understand me? Uh, blink one eye, maybe… Left. Now, the right. Good, good.”
Jadyn fitted a transparent mask around the fox’s muzzle, making sure it was adjusted properly as T’bia programmed the vapor treatment. “Slow, even breaths. Give it time to coat your throat and repair the cryo damage. Eyedrops here should help clear your vision. Blink a few times, please.”
Moving out of her way, Jadyn stepped back as the amazement finally hit home. Two survivors. Two! Only a tenth of a percent of the whole, but… Two.
In a row.
Why am I not happy? Well… I guess I am… But why am I suspicious at the same time?
“Kaler Untormu, is it?” the skunk asked. “Congratulations are in order. You are the second Val’Traxan we’ve successfully woken from cryo.”
Kaler’s aura nearly collapsed back in upon itself, the depth of his despair shaking Jadyn from his reverie. “Bee… Stop it.”
“What? It’s totally true. There is nothing that I said that is not accurate.”
“Honestly… Sometimes you really make Joli look like the master of the Light.” The blue fox sighed, returning to the side of the portable biosupport bed. “Vel’Untormu… What she means is that you’re also only the second we’ve tried to wake.”
“Oh, right. I suppose I could have worded it like that. I’d also like to point out you’re in way better shape than I’d expected. There’s barely any signs of freezerburn.”
“Seriously?” Jadyn questioned, stepping behind her and gazing upon the readout of her scanner. “What is going on around here…?”
“I’ll run a better scan once I get him to medbay. He looks remarkably good, though - better than she was, even.”
“Wha… Whaaaah…” Kaler grit his teeth, forcing his arm up to the vapor mask. It was clearly all he could do just to get his hand in place; no strength remained to pull the obstruction away. The blue fox gently eased his arm back down to his side, shaking his head.
“You still shouldn’t try to talk. There’s no way this stuff’s got enough of a coating just yet. If I were in your place, there’s three things I’d want to know above anything else. Who we are, how long you’ve been asleep, and who else is awake.”
“You forgot ‘where’s the bathroom?’” the skunk observed.
“You can safely ignore her. Am I right on those three, at least?”
Kaler nodded slightly.
“My name is Jadyn Tzeki. I’m originally from just outside the city of Velijor, Athtai Province. Your medic today is Commander T’bia Halio, a Val’Traxan AI -“
“Oh, come on! You didn’t have to spoil that. You’re taking all the fun out of my day,” she grumped.
“We need to discuss that, by the way,” he replied quietly, turning his attention back to the red fox before them. “You are presently lying in one of the J’Ruhn’s cryobays on a portable biobed. While I’m sure that’s not everything you’d like to know about where you are, I have to ask your patience for the moment.”
Jadyn touched his bracelet and held his palm up. Within the mostly-standard holographic interface spread out over his hand, the current time and date stood out prominently. A deep frown crept over Kaler, his eyes finally shooting back to the blue fox’s face.
“It may be difficult to accept, but today really is 13 Ruhn, 2765. You’ve been under for nearly three hundred and fifty years by our calendar. Alecha is also awake, and she’s been worried about you.”
“Jay… There’s still a lot of residual cryo-goop suspended in his blood. Until his metabolism is up to speed and can process it out, he needs some rest.”
“Centuries asleep and you prescribe a nap. Why am I not surprised?”
“Actually, it’s my fault he’s conscious right now. I really need to apologize,” she spoke, leaning over her patient and holding up a hypospray unit. “I should have given you a sedative the moment we pulled you out of the pod so you didn’t have to suffer through stage two revival while awake. It’s going to be a rough few hours, and I’d prefer you sleep through it. I’ll give you the option, since you are already conscious - sedative, or not?”
Kaler shut his eyes as he thought, finally giving a nod.
“Good choice. It’ll be a mild dose, just enough to encourage sleep and not compel it.” T’bia injected the drug into his neck. Poking the controls of the mobile bed, she gave it a nudge and let it hover gently in the direction of the door. “You want to deliver the good news?”
“You’d prefix it with ‘I’m so sorry.’ I’d rather Alecha not feel compelled to start removing parts of your core with a shovel for a few days, at least.”
The pair of vixens spent several hours wandering downtown Azainte, Tari giving the tour as best as she could recall. A map, called up from her bracelet, helped her fill in the blanks and navigate the area. It was very obvious, very quickly, that the excursion was not netting the intended effect on her charge. A fashion outlet she’d taken them to, in retrospect, had been a huge mistake; Alecha took one look at the offerings and immediately expressed distaste in the ‘heavy’ nature of the clothing. Other types of stores had proven quietly disappointing to the val’traxan fem, but Tari couldn’t quite pin down why.
They stopped in the bookstore for a late lunch. Upon stepping inside, Alecha immediately asked if Jadyn had anything to do with the place, pointing out architectural elements that suggested a val’traxan eye for design. She seemed interested in the nature of the business as Tari explained it while they waited on their meals. The concept had given her a momentary look of curiosity as their sandwiches appeared before them.
“So… The only time currency is requested for the books… is if someone tries to leave with one?”
“Mm-hm. Everything’s free to read inside.”
“Interesting way he’s managed to toe the line. I assume the food isn’t considered the same.”
“No, I paid for that when we ordered.” Tari sighed, twirling ice in a glass of water with a straw. “Can I ask you a question?”
“You don’t have to ask my permission to do that. But, let me run one by you, first. Currency… Does it make any amount of sense to you that, instead of doing things for people, you do things for numbers?”
Tari opened her mouth to reply, then shut it again. Alecha simply smiled and nibbled at her sandwich.
“When you say it like that… It does sound a little daft.”
“I take it he hasn’t told you, then? That Val’Traxans use no form of currency among each other?”
“You don’t? How’s that work? Someone asks you for help; later on, you ask for their help, since they ‘owe’ you one?”
“Nicely concise, though it leaves out an important point of failure. The one you’ve gone to for the help can’t actually help, so they get someone else who can. Now, does the first still owe you, since he didn’t actually help, but now you owe the second, since he did? Or are you and the first even since he arranged the help, but the first is now indebted to the second for providing that help to you on his behalf?”
“And that’s why it’s silly to think like that, too. If you asked Jadyn for help with something, would you expect him to hand you a bill or to keep a checklist on what he’s done so everything ‘came out even?’ You’re mates - you’re a family. You work together because it’s the right thing to do. Val’Traxans contribute to society in the same way. Not to increase a meaningless number or to balance out a sense of ‘owing’ something to someone - we help each other because it’s the right thing to do. If someone asks for our help and we’re able to do so, we freely give it. If we can’t help them, for whatever legitimate reason, then we can’t. Maybe we know someone who can, so we connect these individuals. Not only have we helped in a small part, but we’ve perhaps even sparked a new friendship between two former strangers.”
“That’s all well and good, but what about when it comes to actual items and not services?”
Alecha nodded. “All right. Let’s take these sandwiches for an example. You purchased a product for lunch. That money goes toward both the raw material as well as the service to create a finished product. But, let’s limit it just to following tangible goods. The bread was purchased from a baker. The baker purchased flour from a mill. The mill purchased grain from a farmer. The farmer uses that income to purchase more seed, or other food to feed the family that worked to produce that crop. Money is moving around to represent the investment of effort that goes into creating and altering the product in various stages.
“We take that effort as a given. Not for granted, because there’s a lot of hard work involved and it can’t be ignored. It’s a given, because everyone does something to contribute to some part of society. Now, instead, the bread is provided by a baker, who got flour from a mill, who got grain from a farmer. It’s the same thing without the headache of pushing a number around. Everyone does their part because they want to, not because they’re chasing currency.”
“So how do you get things that you need?” Tari asked. “Just… Walk in to a store and take it?”
“Basically. Sort of like his checkout system here - walk out with it. It’s polite to at least thank the proprietor first. If you need something more specialized, you go to someone who can provide it and ask. If they have enough to share, they’ll give it you. What makes it work is the knowledge that you’ll return the goodwill - when someone comes to you for something you’re able to provide, you’ll provide it.”
“It just seems like there’s so much room for abuse of the system. You’re assuming that everyone actually is willing to work their share. What about those who just leech off society? What do you do about them?”
“The same thing you’d do for your mentally handicapped, I expect - make sure they have a modest place to stay and food to eat for as long as they need.”
“But what if they’re not handicapped - they’re just lazy?”
“Oh. You’re not perceiving laziness as a mental handicap?”
Tari furrowed her brow in thought. “I suppose I’m not… So they’d be minimally provided for as well. What about someone injured, who can’t work? What’s he supposed to do to contribute further and not look like deadweight?”
“Well, it’d take quite an injury to put someone completely out with our medical tech… I suppose if that individual is unable to do physical work, something more intellectual might appeal to him. Mathematics theory, engineering design, music and poetry and art, education. They all provide something valuable back to the community. In any case, we’d make sure he was well taken care of and comfortable. There is tracking to watch for potential abuses - our AIs make sure someone isn’t taking complete advantage of the system. Mostly, it was immigrants from offworld we really needed to watch, those who liked the concept but couldn’t quite shake old habits.”
“And before AIs?”
“It was harder to track, but not impossible. We had AIs at the core of our society long before we dealt much with offworlders.”
“How does this fit into offworld commerce? Jay said you provided hardware to your local alliance… The… Galactic Fleet, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Alecha confirmed. “That’s where it gets complicated for me, because it’s a little outside my own experiences. To the best of my knowledge, the other member worlds of the Fleet didn’t share in our view of how things should work. I suppose you might call them… traditional economic systems. There was a general planetary account that was filled through providing our tech to the Fleet. Most of us never needed to worry about it - if you need something that’s not available domestically, request it. The AIs take care of the details.”
Tari shook her head. “Wow. It’s no wonder you’ve been bored with a shopping excursion. For me personally, it’s nice to find new inspirations. Part of the fun for most people is looking at things that you can’t afford and dreaming about them. Or just… laughing at them.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s good to get a feel for what kind of products are available here. Browsing can be fun, too. Sometimes you can’t know that you need something if you don’t know that it exists.” Alecha’s bracelet chirped; she shut her eyes and swallowed. “Oh, it’s way too early for positive news… I’m not ready for this.”
It’s our way to not shy away from what you’d file under ‘sensual touch.’ Just because she and I aren’t intimate doesn’t mean she’s not deserving of emotional support. Jadyn’s words from the morning echoed in Tari’s ears. Reaching across the table, she gently took Alecha’s hand in her own and squeezed. It may not have been a full-out showing of support as she’d witnessed earlier in the day, but Alecha did return the squeeze and open her eyes.
Tari offered a smile, keeping hold of Alecha’s hand. A little of the morning’s angst bubbled up in her mind; she desperately hoped it wasn’t showing on her face. “I may not be completely accustomed to your ways, your traditions, your beliefs, your ideas of what’s socially acceptable and what’s not… But I want you to know, if things… Well… There’s room for you, in our home. You’re always welcome.”
Alecha gave her an appreciative smile and a nod of thanks. Sitting up straight, she took a deep breath and touched her bracelet with her free hand to answer the call. “Rutemin.”