What do you mean, you didn’t think anything was going on? Go here and figure out where you got lost, then make your way back.
J.R. checked out and was released with a prescription for laxatives and a cortical monitor just in case any megalomaniac or psychic manifestations returned. Captain Tiberius released everyone to go to the party, but Loreli asked to remain and have herself checked out. Lt. LaFuentes, too, bowed out.
“I just want to go to my quarters, take my shirt off and put a cold compress on my new tatt,” he said.
Once alone, Loreli explained the unusual thoughts and feelings she had been having since they had arrived at the planet. Dr. Pasteur listened, then had her lay on the table. He ran the scanners over her body while he took some clippings for analysis. Then, he set her under a sunlamp and mister to relax while he ran the analyses.
“Well, it’s as I thought,” he said to her half an hour later. “There’s nothing wrong with you. All your genetic tests show standard for a Botanical. Your equivalent of adrenalin was a little high, but nothing unexpected considering what we’ve been through.”
“But my reactions. If I had observed them in another woman, I’d have thought I was, well, jealous.”
“I’m your doctor. Whatever you tell me is confidential. Are you sure you weren’t?”
“Why would I be?”
He shrugged. “I want you to take tomorrow off. Spend some time in your pot. I’ll let the Bridge know. You can go.”
Obediently, she hopped off the table, smoothed the fronds that simulated her hair and started to the door.
He called out, “Oh, hey would you do me a favor? Would you take this analgesic to Lt. LaFuentes?”
Loreli gasped in surprise when the door to Enigo’s quarters opened and the buff security officer answered, shirtless and in loose shorts. Yet, she didn’t think it was in reaction to the red and slightly swelled area that marked this tattoo. Her sudden inhalation had sounded disturbingly similar to the ones she’d heard from several of the Lone Star women the past day. What is wrong with me?
She shoved the thought aside. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Enigo. Dr. Pasteur asked me to deliver this.” She held out the analgesic.
He didn’t take it but looked steadily into her eyes. She’d never noticed how deep and brown they were, like rich soil.
“Come in here and talk to me, Fronds.” He turned back into his room, and she followed.
He motioned for her to sit on the chair and sat on the table opposite. “What’s going on, Loreli? You’ve been acting weird.”
She almost wilted with relief. “So, you noticed, too? The doctor said there’s nothing wrong with me, but…”
“You got feelings for me?”
Her words cut off with a laugh, but not at the absurdity of the idea. Rather, it was his straightforward way of asking. He was like that – spoke his mind, took charge. She – and everyone on the ship – knew where they stood with him. She’d always liked that about him. But did she like that about him?
Did she have feelings for him?
She started to avert her eyes, but they fell on the tattoo, which, given his musculature, was forming the most beautiful Fibonacci pattern. She brought them quickly to his face. “I…don’t know how to answer that. I’ve never had feelings for anyone before – not feelings-feelings. I… Why are we having this conversation? I’m the ship’s sexy. There are rules.” And yet, she looked into his eyes and felt her blood swirling in complex spirals.
He nodded. “And there are ways around those rules, Fronds. You know it, and so do I. I looked them up.”
“Answer me first: You got feelings for me?”
She found herself nodding. “I think so.” The admission made her giddy. She giggled, then excused herself. “I feel like one of Ellie’s romance stories.”
“Yeah, well, Doall’s too intuitive for her own good sometimes.”
Loreli thought back to the Clichan mission and how she’d made Enigo play Loreli’s jealous suitor. “You don’t mean…”
“Yeah, I know it’s cliche, but this isn’t just lust or friends-with-bennies feelings. I know those feelings. This…is something more.”
“Love?” She felt as if she were basking in a double sun and caught in a windstorm all at the same time.
His steady gaze broke into a smile and a chuckle. “Yeah, amor. Is that too weird?”
She found that she had been leaning toward him, as if he were the suns. Now, she willed herself to sit back. “I’m not sure. I’m not human. I’m not even meat-based. I’m not sure if, physically…”
He leaned toward her and kissed her. His lips were soft and his caress gentle, but while pleasant, when he leaned away, she had to admit that it was merely interesting.
Instead of pulling away in disappointment, he pressed his cheek against hers. “Oh, I’m not that easily discouraged. How about this?”
Gently, he blew on her hair.
Her fronds splayed open and a tingle spread across her body, from the ends of her hair to the tips of her roots. When he stopped, she realized her eyes were closed and she felt a little dizzy. It was a very pleasant sensation and she told him so.
“So, shall we start the paperwork?”
“Tomorrow,” she said. “What fun is cliche if you don’t have a little illicit romance?”
She blew on his hair and kissed him.
Aboard the Lone Star, the party was in full swing. Jeb had gotten to meet all his second cousins and third cousins and a plethora of cousins-one-to-many-times-removed. Definitely the biggest reunion he’d ever attended, but his mom would try to outdo it, he was sure.
Now, though, he was familied-out. J.R. had gone to bed, to sleep, he’d insisted, though Ellie Sue accompanied him. He hoped she remembered the doctor’s orders.
The dancing had calmed to slow waltzes, and now to tired, half-drunk people swaying as they hung to each other. Most of the command crew had retired, and Jeb was ready as well. He made his way to where his cousin Bobby stood, staring out the viewport into a dark anomaly-less sky.
Bobby sighed. “We changed their world, Jeb. We strode in, thinking about our own needs and upset the balance of their lives. And now, we can’t help them. They’re dying, and so young.”
Jeb set a hand on his shoulder as he, too, stared outward. “Live fast; die young. There was a time when being on a starship almost always meant you’d be killed by thirty-five. But people signed up, again and again – and here we are. Steely-eyed spacemen, the lot of us. It’s really not the length of the life, but the quality with which it’s lived. They’re entering an Age of Heroes. I can’t find it in my heart to pity them for that.”
He left then, giving his cousin time to contemplate his words and the future of his ship and the people in it. Jeb had his own spaceship, chock full of steely-eyed spacemen, living their own Age of Heroes.