Thursday, December 30, 2010

Killing Time

The engines worked just as they should have. Not as good as new, but good enough to get them going - but probably only once. That one shot was all they needed to get far enough away from the Ehom that they wouldn’t pursue them further.

At least, in the best of all possible scenarios. They hadn’t expected that there would be a ship coming towards them, possibly coming to check them out. That could easily become problematic. There wasn’t anything they could do about that just yet, though.

All that taken into account, Alex and Carbon were having a strange few days while the cluster of computer cores finished calculating the waveride vector.

Things had gotten... casual.

It had started when Carbon found that Alex had been putting his clothing in the cleaner with hers. She had just been sitting there staring at the open cleaner when Alex had come into her cabin.

“You- your shirt is in the cleaner.” She looked betrayed and a little shocked.

“Yeah, my jumpsuit is in there too.” He hadn’t thought much of it... They were sleeping together, after all. Mixing clothes in the cleaner hadn’t seemed like that big a jump to him.

Her jaw worked, still a bit bewildered. “It is inappropriate!”

“It is?” He paused before it dawned on him, “oh, this is a Tslao thing, isn’t it?”

That was, perhaps, not the best way to put it. Her eyes narrowed and she pursed her lips. “Yes, it is our way. Males and females do not mix their clothing when it is being washed.”

“Huh.” He looked into the cleaner, a sliver of grey showing among the black cloth before he reached in and plucked the shirt out. His jumpsuit came next, set over his shoulder. “Didn’t know. I just... every girlfriend I’ve had was wearing my clothes around the house by the time we were sharing a living space. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.”

Carbon considered that for a long second, leaning in with wide eyes studying him as he folded the shirt. “It is fine, I may have overreacted.”

“You sure? I think I’ve got enough to get... by with.” His words petered out as he noticed the intensely expectant look on her face, the social trespass of the cleaner forgotten.

“Do you really think of me like that?”

Alex reviewed what he’d just been saying. Girlfriend? Did that even cover aliens? Probably. He was sure the dictionary definition didn’t specify race restrictions. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I do.”

“Could you say it?”

“You’re my girlfriend?”

Carbon nodded slowly, not quite satisfied. “As a statement?”

He grinned at the request, “you’re my girlfriend.”

Carbon’s face melted into a sublime smile, eyes sparkling happily in the cabins lights. She didn’t say anything as she got up and hugged him with a gentle kiss on his cheek before resting her head on his neck with a content sigh.

This should have tipped him off, but he was still surprised when she came to breakfast the next morning wearing a jumpsuit with the sleeves tied around her waist, cuffs rolled up to her ankles and one of his CPP t-shirts. It probably would have worked better with gravity, she was practically swimming in the absurdly large shirt. She had that look like she was getting away with something again.

He suspected that she was, in some way. She had a brief window to elude her duties as Lan - a vacation because there was nothing else she could do just yet. From what Carbon had shown him, she had spent her life earning it.

So, he indulged in it as well. They spent the afternoon sitting on the couch, doing nothing constructive.

“This is just like my job. But I cannot stop.” She squished another brightly colored plastic brick on top of a cluster of them, squeaking it into place. A line of technicolor ships hung over them, all Tslao designs except for a scoutship.

“They are a lot of fun.” Alex’s older brother had given him the set just before he had left, ostensibily because they both played with them as kids and had spent hundreds of hours building spaceships. It was just happenstance that his nephew would be old enough to play with them when he was supposed to come back, of course.

“Mmm.” Carbon poked through the box for the appropriate size brick. She stopped and leaned back against him. “Rub my head some more.”

Alex had been told quite explicitly that you should never touch a Tslao’s antenna. They weren’t particularly sensitive, but they were still a sensory organ and it was rude, a violation of personal space. You wouldn’t like it if someone just up and put their finger in your eye, after all.

Their relationship allowed quite a bit of leeway in regards to personal space. In a flight of serendipity, Carbon had discovered that his fingers were very well sized for massaging the intricate group of muscles that sat at the base of her antenna. It had quickly become her favorite thing.

He rolled his eyes and kneaded the delicate clusters, sinewy under his fingertips. She went back to work on the Hammerhead class carrier she had been working on after nestling down in his lap.

His eyes caught a bit of motion and darted up to the ceiling where the computer cores were still stuck. One of the lights had flipped from red to green, it’s segment of the waveride complete.

It was almost time to go.

Friday, December 24, 2010

One Step Closer

A modern waverider drive was actually comprised of three parts: the reactor, the engine and the drive array. This was usually lost on people who did not work with them, who were safely ensconced in the assumption that they were wildly complex chunks of technology that made ships go quite fast.

The reactor provided huge amounts of raw, high energy plasma. The engine took that plasma and tweaked it to the precise specifications required by each part of the drive array. The array was where the action really took place. The refined plasma was converted to energy on site, allowing the array to make gravity go all funny, propelling the ship at faster than light speeds.

The waverider drive in the Khshalvo was state of the art Tslao technology. Before the attack, the engine casings were monolithic slabs of oily blue alloy with a hand-hammered finish and extensive decorative engraving. Despite the enormous cost of fitting engines for a scoutship - around a billion total for Human waverider drives - they lacked the caring details applied to the Tslao drives.

Now they were shadows of their former selves, one burnt and gutted for repairs, the other in a thousand pieces waiting to be made whole again.

“This is simple.” They floated next to the parts engine and Carbon handed him a bright red composite brick, its sides slick, two faces covered in a fine mesh. “You reach into the fracture array and find these filament cartridges. They should be solid red, no cracks of any color.”

Alex turned it over in his hands, “solid red, got it.” Bold Tsla text was printed across the sides and a stylized arrow showed flow direction.

“If it is intact, you knock the dust out of it and put it into the good pile.” She gestured to a small stack of unused cartridges tucked away in the fixable engine. “They are quite durable, you should not be able to damage them with your hands alone.”

He nodded along as she spoke. “That’s not bad. How many do we need?”

“We require seventy more of them. There are several hundred in the array, it should be quite easy.”

“Is that all? Better get to work then...”

“Yes. I suspect it will take some time, we should break in three hours.”

“Sounds good to me.” Alex jammed his arm into an access port in the fracture array as she nodded with a warm smile and disappeared around the other side of the engine.

Easy was a relative term. Alex found one easily enough, fingers unable to find any purchase on it. He dug his fingernails in to the slippery composite to try to pull them free to no avail. He had burned maybe twenty minutes and was just about to go looking for a tool to use when he scraped a knuckle open on the latch on top of one of the other sockets. Things moved much more quickly after that.

Alex learned two things that morning. One was that the fracture array produced the black dust that Carbon had told him wasn’t dangerous and it produced it in copious amounts. The second being that Carbon measured time using the Tslao system.

The Tslao used base ten for almost everything. Their day was twenty hours long, split into ten hours of night and day... though their home planet rotated once every twenty seven hours and sixteen minutes by Human measure.

Carbon’s three hours was closer to four hours to him. It made the prospect of the fourteen hour work day she suggested much more daunting. Not that they had much choice right now. At least the filament cartridges were coming out at a reasonable pace and were mostly salvageable.

It was difficult work, for reasons he hadn’t expected. He was always at the wrong angle, arm craned around the wrong direction to get to a latch. His hand would get caught on something he couldn’t see and and he would wrench it or just have bad leverage to wriggle a cartridge free. Little things piled up into a litany of injuries running up his arms, muscles sore from his fingers into his back.

Putting the cartridges back in was much harder though very systematic. Go to one access port, ensure every socket has a cartridge, double check the latches and then seal up the port. Carbon gave him a dead blow hammer to seat them and a weird torque wrench to get the ports closed. Each port he closed felt like progress.

By the end of their fourteen Tslao hour shift - nineteen Human hours - Alex was reasonably sure his arms would fall off sometime in the night and he was going to develop a disease from the dust. For the moment, that didn’t matter. They had finished it. The diagnostics suite was testing every aspect of the engine, thought that was several hours away from completion. If it came back clear, all they had to do was bolt the access panels down and it would be ready to use.

Alex sprawled out over the couch as best he could in zero g, trying to decided if he wanted to eat or just go to sleep when Carbon came in to the mess. She didn’t look nearly as tired as he felt as she planted herself next to him, ankle hooked under the couch. She produced an antibacterial wipe and started to clean the dust from his face.

He waved her off, the motion feeble. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I do not have to, but I would like to.” She smiled and her cerulean eyes met his with a touch of mischief as she wiped his neck clean.

Alex rolled his eyes with a grin as she started to clean his hands. “Alright, I won’t stop you. I don’t think I could right now, anyway.”

She made an affirmative noise and she absolutely looked like she was getting away with something. Alex wasn’t sure if there was some cultural meaning here or if she was just being nice... and he wasn’t going to complain. After the long day, it felt good to be tended to. “You look tired, Alex. Do you want to go to bed?”

“After today? There is nothing I’d like more.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

Game Plan

“It’s not that big a deal.” Alex braced himself between the wall and the toilet, talking at the door of the shower while Carbon vacuumed herself dry inside. He had followed her into the head just after she’d left her cabin and the conversation so far had been taxing. Getting her to talk was like pulling teeth.

“It is.” Very emphatic, he could hear her gesturing with the vacuum nozzle.

“It was a simple misunderstanding. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“I should have known better.”

Alex wasn’t sure why the mix up about humans and the minimum number of partners they required to have sex bothered her so much. He hadn’t laughed at her, so at least that was out. “How could you have known better?”

She was quiet for a heartbeat, the mildly obscene sucking noise of the vacuum filling the head. “I should have.”

Alex huffed, exasperated. “Sure. You thought you had solid information, so logically you would ask around about how humans prefer to bang each other just to be on the safe side. Right?”

A long silence this time. “No, that would have been absurd.”

“So is the assertion that you just should have known better.”

She sighed, resigned. “I should have known better because I had seen humans interacting in a manner I perceived as romantic while the Kshalvo was being built and none of them had third partners. I had assumed that she would just be acquired from a pool of them at a temple or something similar.”

“That’s, uh... I can see-” He really couldn’t see where she’d gotten that idea from, but maybe that was just some Tslao thing he didn’t get yet. “Well, you know what they say about assuming.”

“I do not.”

“Never assume because it makes an ass out of you and me.”

The longest bout of silence yet. At least he could hear her vacuuming the walls dry now. The soft whir of the vacuum’s pump shut off, “that is a terrible saying. Some assumptions are perfectly safe.”

“That is true, but it’s the premise of the thing.”

Carbon finally came out of the shower, an oversized towel long enough to be a dress wrapped around her torso. She hung there in space, eye to eye with him and a little bit peeved. “It may be, but it is a terrible saying. Inaccurate.”

“Fine, it’s bad. That doesn’t change the fact that you just made a small mistake.”

“It is not that I made a mistake.” She hissed, poking a finger into his still bare chest. “It is that I made a fool of myself in front of you.”

“There, now we’re getting somewhere.”

“Delightful.” She sneered the word as she turned and pulled a cabinet open, rifling through the contents for a dental spray.

“In a way, yes. At least I know why you’re upset now.”

She glared at him in the mirror as she jammed the bite plate into her mouth and depressed the trigger, cheeks puffing up momentarily. Carbon closed her eyes and her shoulders slumped. “Yes, you do. I was foolish for thinking that pornography was a reasonable window into your culture. Ours is very... pragmatic and I allowed myself to believe yours would be as well.”

“Ah, no. Ours isn’t pragmatic at all.”

“I see that now.” She turned, a wry smile on her lips. “I am actually quite relieved.”

Alex was relieved as well, laughing as her mood turned around. “Good. Come on, there’s ship business to attend to.”

“In a moment.” Carbon wrapped her warm, damp arms around his neck, eyes closed as she pressed her mouth to his, lips parting tentatively as she explored their boundaries. It caught Alex off guard but he didn't mind her taking a more active role. Her tongue was warm and silky, but much more minty during this brief kiss. Her eyes fluttered open with a twinkle and she looked very pleased with herself. “I will clothe myself, then we can get to ships business.”

“Was that my dental spray?”

She nodded, the smile back. “It was the first one I saw.”

“Thought it tasted familiar. I’ll meet you in the mess.”

She departed with a wave and Alex went back to his cabin. His clothing was getting picked over, just a handful of t-shirts and jumpsuits left clean, making for an easy choice. He was jumpsuited and back in the mess waiting for his oatmeal to compile before Carbon arrived, also freshly jumpsuited.

Alex picked the tablet off the table before she sat down, picking through the menus for the information from the sensors from the previous night. “So, we have a little problem.”

Carbon’s eyes had widened a little as she slipped into her usual seat. “You mean with ship business. Yes?” She emphasized the last word heavily.

“Yes. Sensors picked this up last night. It’s still like four hundred and sixty million kilometers away and headed in our direction. Not a collision course, but it’ll come within half a million klicks of us.” He handed Carbon the tablet and picked his oatmeal out of the dispenser, settling down across from her.

She squinted at the display, “it is very pixelated.”

“Yeah, resolution is bad without the active sensors.” They both knew turning the actives on would tip the Ehom off to them still being alive, which would assure their death without the FTL drive operational.

Carbon grimaced and nodded her head. “Why did you not tell me about this last night?”

“You were pretty drunk and you looked so damn miserable. If it was a fast mover or closer, I’d have told you. The sensors would have triggered the ship alarm if it was a more present danger... and then we’d either be fine or dead anyway.”

She looked over the tablet again, pursed her lips and handed it back to him. “I did feel quite miserable and that is a reasonable assessment. We should be able to have the drive ready and tested well before it comes within weapons range.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

Carbon smiled sadly and shook her head, slipping out of her seat and turning her dispenser on. “Bring up the schematics for the ventral plasma fracture array. It appears we will be very busy for the next few days, it would be best if we plan ahead.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Communication Error

In the moments being asleep and awake, the most basic part of Alex’s brain determined everything was right enough to not worry. He was somewhere dark, comfortable and warm. Didn’t even need to open his eyes to double check.

Something soft moved in his arms and panic shot through him. His body twitched as the rest of his brain came to life and demanded all the information it could get, leaving him disoriented in the darkness before he remembered where he was and that it was Carbon who had her face pressed against his chest.

Last night started to filter back in, achingly slow. Carbon had been eager enough to get him into her bed, the two of them zipped into the bunk in the dark. She had been recalcitrant to do anything else with him, explaining that she did not want that particular memory tainted by accidentally getting drunk and then throwing up on him.

Alex understood that well enough, he’d never been fond of his drunken memories... At least, the ones he remembered. In return, Alex had confided to her that despite his bravado, the idea of having sex with an alien freaked him out a little bit. He had explained it more delicately at the time.

Carbon had sounded so relieved and he heard the smile on her face when she had replied, saying she felt the same way and that they may have rushed things more than they should have. She had fallen asleep in his arms moments later and he joined her quickly, happy with that.

She stirred in the now and made a low rumble as her head poked out of the comforter. He could just barely make out the gloss of her eyes as she inspected the clock over his shoulder. Carbon sounded like she wanted to be annoyed but was too tired for it. “Alarm is not go off for hour. Why awake?”

He gave her a squeeze and shrugged, not actually knowing why. “Just did. Go back to sleep.”

“Okay.” She rubbed his ankle with her own, a gesture he now understood as affectionate. The glint from her eyes disappeared and she curled up under the comforter again, wheezing softly.

Alex wasn’t going to go back to sleep so easily, the surprise he’d received waking up had flooded him with adrenaline. Maybe he could just get a shower and start breakfast before she got up. Alex reached out and felt around for a zipper pull on the comforter. There wasn’t one on the wall side of the bunk, which he was facing.

The prospect of having to extricate himself from Carbon in the very limited amount of space he had and then roll over to get to the zipper wasn’t very appealing. There were many worse ways to spend an hour.

He believed that for at least thirty minutes. As it turns out, when you are wide awake letting someone sleep in your arms isn’t that exciting. Adorable, perhaps, but not so much in the dark. Carbon had somehow managed to press her shoulder into his arm in just the right way to pinch the nerve, rendering his right arm numb from the elbow down.

The alarm clock going off was the sweetest sound he had heard in a month. Carbon seemed to disagree, squeezing herself into a ball for a moment before grumbling as she poked her head out of the bunk, ”alarm off. Lights, ten.”

Pins and needles flooded his arm as the alarm went off and the lights came on at ten percent brightness. She crawled over him and sat on the edge of the bunk, eyes bleary and more bedraggled than he’d ever seen her before. “Sleep okay?”

“Yes. I have... Nh, hangover? Overhang? The appropriate one.”

Alex rolled over and sat up next to her, suppressing a laugh. “Had it right the first time.”

Carbon nodded, then latched onto his arm and rested her head on his shoulder. “Thank you for last night.”

“It’s...” He wanted to say it was nothing, but he knew that was wrong. It had clearly meant quite a bit to her, even if she’d only gotten his shirt off. It might have meant something to him, as well. “It was my pleasure.”

She smiled and squeezed his arm before getting up to dig through her dresser. “I am just sorry that there are not enough females on board for you.”

Carbon said that with such a matter-of-fact tone that for a moment, Alex thought he was out of the loop with his own species. He turned the statement over in his head a few times, but it never made any more sense. “Huh?”

“Your... mating requires two females.” She picked the word carefully, apparently for a very deliberate statement of fact. She didn’t look like she was putting him on as she plucked an article of clothing from the open drawer and tucked it under her arm.

His eyebrow went up, wondering where she’d gotten that idea from. “Uh, no. We usually only have one partner at a time. That’s how its worked for me.”

“You do? That was not what I saw-” Her face twisted from surprised and earnest to a sort of abject horror before it smoothed out into an unconvincing sort of composure. “I fear someone has played a joke on me. I require to take a shower now.”

“Uh huh.” He made a mental note to enquire about this exchange later as she shot across the cabin, fleeing as quickly as she could.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

No Rest

Alex had been taught a few words in Tsla, enough to get by until someone could find a translator. The usual stuff: yes, no, help, please, food, water. It was all in the primer, which was really just a guide on how not to piss off the aliens when you have to deal with them.

The primer didn’t mention sort-of-drunken fooling around, or any other type of fooling around for that matter. He assumed he had been doing pretty well so far, despite his slow pace Carbon seemed to be enjoying it. Alex was reasonably sure he was too, though he felt pressured by the fact he had no idea what she would like or expect in this situation, not being human and all.

There would be certain similarities, of course. Body structures were basically the same and that seemed to be working well for him so far. He assumed there were specific things Carbon liked that she wasn’t telling him about... She was talking a little bit, but it wasn’t in English.

She’d been giving him nothing but positive feedback, mostly via tone and action. Then Carbon clutched the front of his jumpsuit, fists balled up over his collarbone and thumped her forehead against his chest with an odd, unwell noise. Without further warning she threw up on him. It was as unbecoming as it was sudden.

Some day, Alex would look back on this and laugh.

Carbon gave him an apologetic and very drunk look as she pushed him away and mumbled something. He understood ‘go’ and ‘bathroom’ and could figure the rest out from there. The room had already started to stink like alcohol and stomach acid as she departed.

Alex sighed, unzipped his jumpsuit and peeled himself out of it, balling it up and using it to soak up the few droplets that hadn’t stuck to him immediately. Fortunately, there were no chunks. He tossed it into her cleaner - his was currently unpowered and not actually cleaning - and departed her cabin in his briefs.

Carbon had left the door to the bathroom open and was cleaning her face with one of the antibacterial wipes, which seemed like a pretty good idea right now. He leaned in and snagged the package, pulling a few free before setting it back next to her. She looked him over with doleful eyes, “sorry. Not you.”

“I figured.” He smiled and continued on, noting for the first time just how cold it was on the ship. He wiped residue off his chest and went digging through his dresser, unfolding the second pair of shorts included in his clothing package and shaking them out and grabbing a t-shirt emblazoned with the CPP logo to go with it. If he was in for a penny...

Once again clean, dry and clothed, he found Carbon sitting at the table in the mess looking miserable. He skirted past her and dialed in four 500ml bottles of water from the dispenser. Production on something as simple as that was quick, the machine dinging off one every 30 seconds or so. His eyes flickered over to the tablet clipped to the wall between the two dispensers, a red exclamation point flashing in one corner.

Alex pulled it from its cradle and tucked it under his arm, collected the bottles from the dispenser and went to take his usual seat across from Carbon. She still looked forlorn. He set the bottles on the table and slid them over to her. “Water. Drink up.”

She looked surprised and overwhelmed. “I cannot, it is so much.”

“Oh, fine.” He grinned and took half of them back, “Still, it’s good for you. Dehydration and all.”

“Thank you.” She smiled faintly and started drinking but still looked forlorn.

“You shouldn’t worry about it. Happens to everybody.” Alex got out the tablet and thumbed the exclamation point. He’d left the sensor’s computer with two instructions. If something very important happened, like another ship coming within a hundred thousand kilometers of the Kshalvo, turn the shipboard alarm on and let him know immediately. If it noticed something natural close or a ship significantly further away, it would just send an emergency notice, wait six hours and then turn the alarm on.

Passive sensors had detected something depart from the cluster of Ehom ships and set a course that would take it near them in about a week. The resolution from the passives were terrible at nearly half a billion kilometers, but it was an object roughly the size of their ship. Might have superluminal engines. Might not. You never could tell with the Ehom.

“I did not expect something like that to happen...” She sounded better, though still just as sad as she looked, twisting the bottle in her hand and gently scoring the plastic. She mumbled something that sounded like it was in English.

He eyed her over the top of the tablet, “I didn’t catch that last bit.”

She sighed quietly and closed her eyes, “the first time.”

“The f- Oh.” Alex glanced down and scrambled to come up with something to say to that. “You mean with a human?”

Carbon glared at him so hard it should have been fatal. Apparently not. She grumbled and as she crossed her arms on the table and set her head down on them, eyes closed. Alex tapped the command console for the sensors and had it track the object, ship alarm if it does anything different. A week away, no need to tell her about it yet.

He slipped out of his seat and took her hand with a grin, “come on, we should get to bed. It’ll be morning before we know it.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Impaired Judgement

Alex had been lonely before, but there had been at least some fleeting reason behind it. He understood why and could usually see a path through it. This was different. The narcotic effect Carbon had worried about had taken root in his brain, irrational and inescapable. He felt depressed and perfectly isolated, despite Carbon sitting a few feet away curled up with her legs hugged to her chest.

She had pushed him away too late with a whispered apology, just as the connection broke the effect set in. The source of the pained look she wore was clear to Alex, a burst of panic had ripped through the Carbon part of their mind link just before she had severed it. She knew what was going to happen but she didn't want it to happen to him. Now they sat on opposite sides of the couch, temporarily destroyed.

"It's too bad that..." Alex tried to make a joke but just ran out of steam between getting the idea and actually saying it. He didn't really see the point anymore. "I'm going to get something to sleep this off with. Is that safe?"

She looked at him with grief in her eyes, voice feeble. "It should be but please do not. This should not take more than an hour to pass and I do not want to be alone right now.”

“Well. Yeah, sure.” Alex was pretty sure an hour would feel like an eternity like this, but he was willing to put up with it for her sake. He really didn’t want to be alone either. “Is there anything we can do to speed this up?”

“Not specifically.” Her eyes narrowed in thought for a moment. She unbuckled herself and scooted over to him, undid his belt before taking his hand and tugging him up off the couch with her. “There is one thing I have been told... I do not know if it a true remedy, but it can not hurt to try.”

“What are you doing?”

“Bringing you along. It is improper to drink by yourself.”

“How is that... How is that different than taking a sleep aid?” Carbon pulled him into the passageway without any trouble, he wasn't putting up any resistance anyway. His eyes closed and he shook his head as she towed him behind her towards the aft end of the ship. The CPP was widely recognized as having dry ships. “How did you get alcohol on board, anyway? Didn't they check your gear?”

“It is different because it is not being done alone.” She toggled the door controls to her cabin with a shrug. “I moved onto the ship before it left dry dock for the first time. No one checked anything I brought on board with me.”

Any other time, Alex would have been surprised at what he saw in Carbon's cabin. In place of the light gray walls and allegedly mood-enhancing blue stripe, it had been covered in a detailed mural. The cabin became a clearing in a strangely colored alien forest, trees reaching up to the night sky above on the ceiling. He'd have thought it beautiful in it's own way, but right now it was just an oddity as she deposited him on her bunk before rummaging through the dresser embedded in the wall.

“They checked mine. Why is your bunk so big? Is this down?” Alex held on to the comforter stretched over the top, squishing it under his fingers with the distinct crunch of feathers. Her bunk was significantly wider than his, though it was welded down to the floor.

Carbon came back up with a hexagonal bottle, about the size Alex would expect for a liter. Thick clear glass held a pale green liquid and she dug a claw into the wax sealing the cork. The motion needed to drink from a rigid bottle in zero gravity was awkward, kind of tossing the bottle at your face to make the liquid travel into your mouth. She took a long drink, maybe a third of the bottle and made a horrible face before pressing the cork back in and tossing it over to him. “It is the standard bed for a Tslao ship and it is down.”

“That’s nice. Nicer than what I got.” He was starting to feel a little bit better, even if it was just an incremental adjustment back towards normal. A drink couldn’t hurt. Alex twisted the cork out of the bottle and he went through the awkward motion himself, sucking down a sample before continuing with two mouthfuls. The pleasant, almost pear-like flavor lasted for several seconds before being overwhelmed by the burn of alcohol. He shuddered and corked the bottle, “what is that? Hundred proof?”

She settled down on the bed next to him and shook her head as she took possession of the bottle again. “No, that would taste horrible. It’s only seventy percent alcohol.”

Alex shook his head as she took another drink. “That’d make it one-hundred and forty proof and we’ve drank half the bottle already.”

“Is that bad?”

“It’s... Uh, well, that can be a lot to drink all at once on an empty stomach.”

“I ate-” she stopped and thought about it for a moment, realization dawning on her face. “I did not eat that much.”

“I didn’t either. That’s smooth, though. Fooled me with the first sip.” He was starting to feel a little flush and maybe just a little bit better than he had a minute ago. “Need to be careful with the hard alcohol.”

“I did not have that much.”

“Yeah, you did. I only had a few swallows of it and the bottle is still half empty.”

She stared at the bottle in her lap for a long time, brow furrowed. Her head jerked up and she looked at Alex, eyes wide and a startled. “Is that amount dangerous?”

“You should be fine. I’m just guessing, but that’s like, pfft...” He looked up at the ceiling, briefly entranced by the pattern of stars. “I dunno, eight shots? That’s a nights worth of drinking, for some people. Not something you should have all at once.”

“Oh.” She sounded surprised and looked back down at the bottle, bewildered.

“Oh? I don’t like how that sounds.”

“I have had, ehm... deep wines.” It took her a moment to determine the right words. She looked up at him, eyes focusing slowly and looking decidedly lost. Her head tilted to the side as she spoke. “I have... never drink this before?”

His mouth twisted into a frown, “you’ve never had this specifically or you’ve never had hard liquor?” Not that it mattered, he hadn’t seen her drink before. It’d been a year since he’d drank. Neither of them had any resistance built up.

“Liquor... Liquor. I like this, what is it mean?” Her eyes squinted as she sussed the word out with a little laugh.

“Great. This is a good place to stop, then.” Alex reached over and plucked the bottle out of her hands. Carbon grabbed for it, eyes wide as she made a little distressed noise and looked absolutely shocked that he would take something from her. He set it down on the bed behind him and shook his head. “We’re done with this for now.”

“Fine.” Carbon shifted away from him, crossed her arms over her chest and pouted like he’d just taken a toy from her.

Alex smiled, she was kind of cute like that. “Look, just wait a little bit and we’ll see how you’re feeling. Pacing is important.”

Thsen she. Avara?” She talked over her shoulder at him, too rapid for him to understand what she was saying, if he even knew the words.

“I didn’t catch that.” Had had been drinking on an empty stomach. He was too hot and everything was lagging behind in that annoying way that it did.

Her eyebrows went up like he should have gotten it. “Avarah?

He shook his head, not sure if it was actually a different word or if she was starting to slur her speech already. He opted for the latter, his smile turning into a grin and an easy laugh. “No, you’re speaking Tsla. I can’t understand what you are saying.”

“Do you feel better too?” Her face scrunched up in concentration as she held up a finger, enunciating the words slowly, punctuating each one with a poke at the air. It sounded like she actually wanted to know but it was taking everything she had to get the words out.

“Yes.” Alex nodded in agreement then leaned over and kissed her without a second thought.