Home Sweet Home
by Damien Benoit-Ledoux
Purple Spekter™ Press
Copyright © 2016 Damien Benoit-Ledoux
All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior consent of the Author, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I first wrote Home Sweet Home in February of 2015. I sat on the story for a year before deciding to push it up to my Web site as a short story – thus preserving its original form. That now done, I plan to re-work Zham and Bren’s characters into my upcoming LGBT science fiction series titled Galaxy. But for now, please enjoy.
A free Web novelette. This story will always be distributed free.
Edition 1.0 – June 7, 2016
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Home Sweet Home
The inhabitants of Solutan III, the planet Trenadier Station secretly orbited, evoked a sense of fascination within Lead Scientist Zham J’Taroo. Although they boasted great potential, he realized it would take decades for the inhabitants below to achieve space-traveling skills and technologies. Zham sat back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head. He yawned and looked around the Atmospheric Sciences Lab. He was alone. He had been studying the planet’s ionization and degradation readouts all morning in hopes that the launch would take place as scheduled, but a completely unrelated watercraft drifted too close to the ocean-side launch facility and forced a delay.
The comm system beeped at him and he glared at it, groaning in frustration. It was the sixth time someone interrupted him that morning. Zham ignored it and focused on the monitors in front of him, noting the planet’s favorable atmospheric ionization rates. He took some notes and scheduled more analysis tasks for his subordinates. The comm system beeped at him again. He sighed in surrender and tapped a button on the console in front of him.
“Yes?” he asked, unable to mask the impatience in his voice.
“About time you answer me.”
Zham immediately noted the unpleasant voice belonged to Kozu Danarti, the station’s communications officer and principle antagonist. When you’re one of thirty or so crewman, scientists, and officers living in tight quarters on a research and monitoring space station, you don’t get to indulge in pissing everyone off with without committing social suicide. Shortly after his arrival, Kozu had succeeded in alienating everyone. Thankfully, he and Zham were assigned to different research projects and they rarely needed to communicate. A planetary space launch was an exception to the rule.
“I’m busy. What do you want, Kozu?” he asked. He cringed at the annoyance in his own voice.
“We’re all busy today,” Kozu snapped back at him. “But just so you know, they’ve delayed the launch again. I thought you’d like to know.”
“Thanks. Wait, by again, do you mean a second time since earlier today?”
“Correct. Kozu out.” The comm system beeped and the channel closed. He sighed loudly and stretched again. The comm beeped at him again.
“Ugh,” he groaned. Zham made a less-than-professional gesture at the console as he opened the channel. “Now what?” he barked.
“Well, hello to you, too, Chief Scientist Pissypants,” a female voice responded.
“Oh, hi, Jaina. I’m sorry,” he said.
“No worries. Listen, Zham, the transport ship Ketinya just dropped out of hyperspace. She’s thirty minutes out, which means your husband is as well. You better get cleaned up!”
Zham laughed and immediately cheered up. “Yes, Ma’am. On my way.” He closed the comm channel. He could tell she was being extra-nice after having confessed to impeding Bren’s security clearance.
* * *
Commander Jaina Temark ruled Trenadier Station with a semi-iron fist and, at present, was Zham’s commanding officer and close friend. Their friendship began eight years ago when they met at the military academy. She was there when Zham met Bren, and she was his First Lady at their wedding four months ago. As a favor, she pulled strings and landed Zham an assignment on Trenadier Station. Getting his husband’s security clearance so that he could live with him on the station turned out to be a lengthier ordeal. At least, that’s what Zham had assumed until Jaina confessed otherwise.
At dinner one night, she nervously explained that the delay in Bren’s security clearance was her fault. She had intentionally delayed his paperwork because she thought Bren’s presence would ruin her friendship with Zham. She worried Bren would occupy all of Zham’s time and leave her alone, again. She shared with Zham that all of her newly married friends had disappeared from her life one by one as they moved in new directions. Zham was the last of her dearest friends, and since she didn’t want to lose him as well, she had selfishly postponed his security clearance for their spousal residence request. It should have only taken three weeks, she admitted, not three months.
Zham didn’t know what to do with her confession at first. Her selfish actions betrayed their friendship and it hurt him a lot. Three months was a long time to wait…for no reason. He excused himself from the dinner table that night and left her quarters in silence. He threw himself into his work and avoided her for the next two days, but that didn’t really dull the pain. He cried himself to sleep the first night and didn’t sleep well the next.
During the evening of the third day, while staring at the planet below from the Observation Deck, he decided to confront her about it. He needed to resolve things with Jaina because Bren would arrive in a few days and, if left unresolved, it would loom over their lives and unnecessarily disrupt station life. He stopped by her quarters on his way back from the Observation Deck.
She greeted him with nervous surprise. He marched over to her kitchen and grabbed her red wine decanter. He poured some wine into two glasses and handed her one. She listened quietly as he scolded her about the inappropriateness of her actions. He accepted she acted out of perceived hurt, even if it was completely irrational to him. He made her promise never to do something like that again as the past two days had torn him apart, and she readily agreed. After a few tears, forgiveness, some hugs, and another glass of wine, all became well between them. They decided not to tell Bren right away.
As if trying to make up for her blunder, Jaina gave Zham permission to move into their new quarters a few days before Bren’s arrival. Single officers on the station resided in mid-sized quarters with shared facilities. When an officer’s spouse received clearance to live on the station, military protocol dictated that the officer and spouse (and children, if applicable) would be upgraded to larger quarters designated for families that were sized for two adults and two children. Since Zham and Bren had no children as of yet, they would have plenty of room to themselves. They would also have their own lavatory and shower facilities.
Zham took a day away from the lab to move his belongings from Crew Quarters A31 to Crew Quarters F4. A few of his station buddies helped him move. They mercilessly teased him with newlywed jokes and insisted that he and Bren keep their rambunctious bedroom noises down to tolerable levels.
* * *
Zham enjoyed the steady flow of hot water in the private shower of his new quarters. His weight training session that morning had been grueling, so the steam and heat soothed his sore muscles. It felt great to relax for a few minutes before Bren arrived. He toweled off and took a few moments to preen. Except for decorations, he had already prepared their new quarters for his arrival. He had decorated the bedroom with artificial candles and replicated red flower petals that he dropped on to their new bed. Bren loved romance and Zham wanted to make their first night extra special.
As he styled his hair, he sang out loud to Dance with You, one of the latest dance tracks by the group TOSKEN JADE. The comm chimed again. Zham absentmindedly hit the button on the wall next to the vanity with his elbow because his fingers were covered in hair gel. The vanity mirror flickered and Jaina’s image appeared. The music automatically paused so they could converse.
“Yikes!” he yipped, shocked that her image appeared on the bathroom mirror. There were no comm stations in the shared facilities of the crew quarters.
“Zham, the…” Jaina smiled and and leaned in, quickly looking left and right. “Hey, are you naked?” she whispered. He heard a female officer giggle off-screen through the comm.
“Oh, wow, you can see me!” he exclaimed. Zham looked down. Thankfully, he had wrapped his towel around his waist. “Um, no… Damn, I’m sorry, I didn’t know the mirror was a two-way view screen.” Although as very close friends, they had seen each other naked before, the idea of the Ops crew seeing him naked on the view screen didn’t amuse him.
“Uh-huh,” she said.
“I’m serious, I never lived in family-sized quarters before!”
Jaina smiled. “Should we tell Bren?”
“Oh, hell no,” Zham said, laughing. He couldn’t wait to surprise Bren with this little trick. “I’m a little pressed for time, Jaina. What can I help you with?”
“I know you are, Zham!” He watched her image as she looked at a side monitor and tapped some buttons. “The Ketinya just entered visual range. She’ll dock in eight minutes.”
“I’ll be at the docking bay in seven. Uh… which pylon?”
“Pylon three, mister. Chop Chop!”
Zham chuckled at Jaina’s guilt-driven enthusiasm. It was still a bit over-the-top.
“Just promise me one thing…”
“Ya?” Zham said, rinsing his hands.
“Bring Bren up to Ops before you two disappear for the rest of the day. I want to say hi!”
“Will do! Now go away, I need to get dressed.” Zham smiled at Jaina’s image.
Jaina started laughing but Zham didn’t wait for her to say anything else. He hit the wall button with his elbow again and her image vanished from the mirror. The dance music resumed.
He dried his hands and dropped his towel. He took a moment to admire his physique and winked at his reflection. “You’re getting lucky tonight, mister,” he said, smiling. He stepped into the bedroom and dressed himself. After changing the music to something more romantic, he dimmed the lights and sprinted down the corridor toward the nearest elevator.
Kozu greeted him with a grunt when he rounded the corner. Zham nodded at him and fidgeted with his wedding ring. The last person he wanted to see was Kozu because he was one of those people who could suck the joy out of life’s happiest of moments. Zham anxiously rocked back and forth on his heels and tried to ignore him.
“Nervous?” Kozu asked.
Zham smiled, briefly forgetting Kozu’s hostile demeanor. “A little. I’m more excited than anything.”
“No, really? I couldn’t tell. You haven’t stopped moving.”
Zham chuckled. “Yeah, well, I just, I…”
Kozu put his hand up dismissively. “I know, I get it.”
The smile on Zham’s face disappeared. “You don’t have to rain on my parade, Kozu,” he said sharply. Shock came over Kozu’s face. “What is your problem with me anyway?” Zham continued. He figured that directly confronting Kozu might clear the air a bit, especially since it had worked so well with Jaina. “From the day you arrived on this station…when was that, eight months ago? You’ve had it out for me ever since. I try to be nice to you day after day and you consistently treat me with contempt. Anytime I have something nice to say, you sneer at it. I’ve never done anything to offend you, Kozu. So why are you so obnoxious to me?”
The elevator chimed and the doors parted. Zham stepped into the elevator first and turned around. His hands balled into fists at his sides. He relaxed his left hand and angrily pointed at Kozu. “We’re a pretty small crew and all it takes is one person to make life miserable for the entire station. You are just so damn annoying, Kozu, and I don’t even know why.” He folded his arms across his chest and waited for Kozu to step into the elevator. “Are you coming or not?”
Kozu nervously stepped into the elevator and eyed Zham. The doors slid shut behind him.
“Pylon three docking bay,” Zham commanded. The elevator chimed.
“Same,” Kozu said. The elevator chimed again and started moving. Zham rolled his eyes and sighed. One of the longest elevator trips on the station was from the crew quarters level to the docking bay on any pylon. Zham felt that even a short elevator ride with Kozu could ruin his day.
“I’m sorry,” Kozu said softly.
“Whatever, I’m finished. You’ll never…” Kozu’s words replayed in Zham’s head. “Wait, what did you say?”
Kozu turned to face him. “I said I’m sorry. I know you’re excited today and I should have known better. I just… it’s hard… when you’re single.”
“No, I refuse to believe that. It’s not because you’re single. It’s because you’re a jerk. You are consistently obnoxious to everyone on this station and there’s no excuse for it. There are only three other married crewmembers on this station, and their three civilian spouses. That means there are twenty-four single people on this station, Kozu. So quit with the bullshit, and level with me.”
Kozu swallowed hard. “I know, Zham. It’s just that… Computer, halt.” The elevator slowed and came to a stop. Irritated, Zham checked his chronometer. Three minutes. It’s not like Bren would be the first one to debark the Ketinya, right?
“When I transitioned, my partner left me. Couldn’t handle it. That left me hurt and bitter. Maybe one day I’ll get it sorted out, get something like you have. But until then…”
Zham interrupted him. “There won’t be an until then if you insist on treating everyone like shit, Kozu.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Kozu blinked at him.
“You’re right, I have been a complete jerk to you, and to a lot of people. Probably everyone on Trenadier. I want to change that but I’m afraid to. The last time I let myself be vulnerable, I got shit on. So now I shit on everyone else before they can do the same to me.”
Zham stared at Kozu in silence.
“I know it’s stupid and immature. But, it’s how I cope…how I survive. I hate it. I hate being hurt and I hate hurting others. I hate myself for it. If only I hadn’t trans…”
“No, Kozu,” Zham interrupted him. He put his index finger up in the air between them. “Stop right there. Enough with the hating today. You had to do what you had to do.”
Zham sighed. He began to sympathize with Kozu. “Even I know what a deeply personal decision transitioning is. I don’t know you well enough, but I know that you are a smart man. You didn’t wake up one day and decide to transition. You made that decision, I’m sure, after an arduous process.”
Zham saw Kozu blink several times to fight back his tears. Recognizing that Kozu bore a pain he might never understand, he softened his tone. “I’m really sorry your partner couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t a surprise, was it?”
Kozu shook his head. “No, of course not. It wasn’t a surprise at all.”
“Alright then. He’s the asshole. Or she’s the asshole. It doesn’t matter. Don’t own that hate. Own your truth and live it. You’re too smart not to. Just be nice about it.”
Kozu blinked his eyes again to fight back more tears. Zham continued, “True love is out there, for you. It’s not a question of if, but a question of when.”
Kozu nodded. “You’re right.”
“Look, Kozu, can we talk later? I need to…” Zham paused, anxiously checking his chronometer again.
“Computer, resume,” Kozu said. The elevator started moving. “You’re right. I promise you, I will try. And, I hope Bren enjoys the station. It’s not much, but it’s home sweet home now.”
Zham took a deep breath. He wondered if they just turned a corner and ended months of angst. “I think you’ll like him. You have a chance to have a fresh start with him, since he doesn’t know you. You don’t have to treat him like an asshole.”
“So, you’ve never told him about me before?”
“Of course I have. But Bren will make up his own mind about you. Don’t mess it up.”
Kozu nodded. Zham contemplated the pain Kozu had been carrying. He sensed his feelings toward Kozu shift as a peace settled in his soul as their confrontation ended. He didn’t know if this would fix things, but he hoped it was a start. The elevator chimed and slowed to a stop. The doors slid open and both men squinted as the brighter lights of the docking bay shone into the dimmed lighting of the elevator. Kozu stepped out first. He turned back to Zham and extended his right hand.
“To new beginnings, Zham.”
Zham smiled. He took his hand and grasped it firmly. “New beginnings,” he echoed. Kozu pulled away and cleared his throat. He nodded at Zham and walked over to the control room.
Zham walked to the window and watched the Ketinya maneuver for docking. Excitement filled his heart as he waited impatiently. Before long, the ship’s airlocks lined up and the Ketinya docked with the station. He heard a few clicks through the airlock door as the couplings engaged and then the familiar hiss of air pressurizing the airlock. A klaxon sounded and the airlock door slid open. A few minutes went by and some VIP military officers stepped on to the station. Kozu stepped out of the control room to greet the VIPs before escorting them to the elevator.
Time tortured Zham as the seconds ticked by. He turned to check the wall chronometer behind him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kozu gesture unprofessionally at the closed elevator doors. Apparently, Kozu didn’t like the VIP guests. Zham shook his head and smiled at Kozu, who shrugged. Then Kozu looked past Zham and nodded to the airlock door.
Zham turned around and his heart filled with joy. Tears welled up as he lovingly set his eyes upon Bren in the airlock doorway. His wavy brown hair was just how Zham remembered it. His ever-present messenger bag slung over his left shoulder and hung on his right side. Zham’s eyes darted from the smile that danced on his husband’s beautiful face to the single red flower he delicately held in the fingers of his left hand. Zham looked up and into the most beautiful sparkling green eyes that met his gaze.
“Hi there,” Bren said, eyes full of love and mischief.
“Hi,” Zham answered.
“I’m looking for this scientist guy, you know, the nerdy type, but really smart, really good looking, and hung like…”
Kozu coughed loudly behind Zham.
Bren smiled and stepped out of the airlock. Zham closed the distance between them and they hugged. Zham planted a huge kiss on his husband’s neck and gently stroked his hair.
“Welcome aboard, baby. I’ve missed you so much, Bren,” Zham whispered. Tears of joy rolled freely between the reunited newlyweds.
“Ugh, I don’t feel good all of a sudden,” Bren whispered.
“It’s the change of gravity. It will pass. Sometimes it takes a few days for the nausea and vertigo to go away.” Space station gravity, although carefully calculated, was never an exact match for any starship’s artificial gravity systems. The subtle changes in gravitational forces could disorient new arrivals until their equilibrium adjusted.
“Alright, enough you two. I want to meet him,” Kozu said, interrupting their tender moment. Zham rolled his eyes and chuckled.
“Everyone is excited to meet you,” Zham said softly. Zham gently released his tight hug, slid his arms down to Bren’s hands, and took them in his. He squeezed gently and smiled at him. Stepping back and turning slightly, he looked at Kozu. He couldn’t prevent the giddy smile that came across his face.
“Kozu Danarti, this is my husband, Bren J’Taroo.”
“Hi, Bren. Welcome to Trenadier Station. I’m happy to finally meet you.”
“Thanks, Kozu. It’s good to meet you too,” Bren said, shaking Kozu’s hand.
“There aren’t many of us here on Trenadier. In fact, you are resident number thirty-one along with the three others that debarked a few minutes ago. I think there are two more people transferring, so we’ll be a merry band of thirty-six. That’s a station record, I think.”
Zham looked at Kozu with suspicion. He was being nice. Bren nodded in appreciation and thanked him again. Kozu noticed the doubting expression on Zham’s face.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Zham said. Kozu winked at him and walked over to the control room.
Zham smiled and looked back at Bren. “We can come get your bags later. How do you feel now?”
“Still a little nauseous, but I’m good. I could use a nap, but… that’s going to have to wait.” He playfully smiled and said, “There’s something I’ve waited three months for that needs to happen first.”
Zham blushed as he sensed the longing in Bren’s eyes. “I know exactly what you mean. Let’s go.” They walked toward the elevator and Zham hit the call button.
“Here, this is for you.” Bren handed him the red flower.
“Aw, thanks babe.” He took the flower and smelled it. Its gentle scent tickled his nose. “I love it. Thank you.” Zham smiled at Bren before spoiling their happy reunion with military protocol. “Okay, I just need to get through a few introductory things with you first. You don’t have clearance yet to go anywhere on the station. We have to take care of that right now before we can, uh, celebrate.”
“Okay.” Bren said, sighing. “Will it take long?”
“No, thankfully. We’ll head over to Ops right now.” The elevator chimed and the doors parted. Two crewmen stepped out as they stepped into the elevator. Kozu started barking at them from the control room. Zham realized they had they elevator to themselves.
“The security officer will process your badge. We’ll say a quick hello to Jaina while we’re there, too.”
“Great. I can’t wait to see her.”
“Computer, Ops.” The elevator chimed and the doors closed upon receiving Zham’s instruction. As the elevator traveled, Bren pressed Zham against the wall and passionately kissed him. Zham didn’t care that a security camera was watching them. Time flew as they kissed and soon the elevator chimed again.
“I missed that,” Bren said. He stepped back, smiling triumphantly.
“Me too,” Zham said. The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Zham led Bren through Ops to Jaina’s office and they stepped inside. Zham smiled when he saw an open bottle of champagne and three bubbling flute glasses on Jaina’s desk.
“Bren!” she exclaimed.
“Jaina!” he replied, matching her enthusiasm. They greeted and hugged one another.
“I’m so happy you’re here. Zham has gone crazy without you.”
“Aww, thanks, Jaina. I’ve gone crazy without him, too.”
“What’s this?” Zham asked, pointing to the champagne glasses.
“A perk of being so far from Command, Zham. That’s what it is.”
Zham smiled. He appreciated her hospitality today. Still, it was a risky gesture on her part. Command officers caught imbibing on duty could face disciplinary action.
“Don’t you have those VIP’s to deal with?” Zham asked.
“They can wait.” She dismissed his concern and handed them each a champagne glass. “To you both,” she said, offering the toast. “And to the writing of a wonderful chapter in your married life together while you are here on Trenadier.”
Bren, who was a writer, smiled from ear to ear. “I love that idea!” he said. They each sipped from their glass.
“Now, I’m sure you don’t want to be bothered for the rest of the day so I won’t impose on you now, but at some point in the next few days, please consider being my dinner guests.”
“Aw, Jaina, we’d love to,” Bren said, smiling. He put his free hand around Zham’s waist.
“Absolutely, Jaina,” Zham said. He was glad there was no awkwardness between them. Eventually he would have to tell Bren about her bad choices.
“Wonderful,” she replied. She turned around and grabbed a box from her desk. Bren, these are your security clearances and commbadge. Unfortunately, you cannot have full access to the station because you are a civilian. But, as long as an officer escorts you, like your husband, you may tour the station’s military and science facilities. All of the non-military and recreation areas will be available to you, such as the mess hall, fitness center, game room, and other locations. During the day, the Observation Deck is generally empty and it offers a beautiful view of the planet we orbit.
“I understand. Thank you, Jaina.”
“I know Zham can explain all this to you, but as station commander I need to, so bear with me. You have to carry either the security card or the commbadge on you at all times. Both are biometrically coded to you. In other words, no one can use your security clearance, and you can’t use anyone else’s. Also, every doorway on the station will log your passage and every elevator will log your travels. It’s protocol, so try not to think about it and just live your life normally.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard,” he said, sipping his champagne.
“I hope not. Station life is tough, there are only so many places to go and it’s easy to feel claustrophobic.”
Bren nodded. “You forget, I escape into my mind and write stories. All I need is some quiet.”
“You’re luckier than most,” Jaina said. She finished her champagne. Zham shook his head and smiled when she chugged it down. “Okay boys, I have to meet with the VIPs. Glasses in the replicators please!”
They placed their glasses in the replicator station and they dissolved. Jaina capped the champagne and placed the bottle in her bag. “I’ll finish that tonight,” she quipped.
They hugged once more and then Zham led Bren out of Jaina’s office back through Ops to the elevator.
“Ugh, I shouldn’t drink yet,” Bren said softly. He put his hand on the wall.
“Still feeling off-balance?” Zham asked.
“Don’t be. It happens to everyone.”
“Zham,” Kozu had taken his seat at the Ops communication station, his usual perch. “Sorry to bother you, but they postponed the EFT–1 launch again. Now it’s scheduled for 07:05 planetary time, or 09.5 cycles station time tomorrow. Will you be available for monitoring?”
“Yep, I’ll be here, Kozu.” Zham said. Luck was on his side, as he now had the rest of the day to spend with Bren uninterrupted. “I’m just not going to be available for the rest of the day.”
“Didn’t think so,” Kozu said, smiling. He winked before returning his focus to the console. The elevator chimed and the doors parted. The three VIP staff Zham had seen earlier stepped out of the elevator.
“Hello again,” he said.
They saluted and walked past him. Zham watched them march straight to Jaina’s office.
“They’re not very friendly,” Bren whispered.
“Nope. Are they staying?” Zham asked.
“How would I know? I didn’t even know they were on board the Ketinya!”
Zham chuckled as they stepped into the elevator. “Good point,” he said. “Let’s go home.”
“I can’t wait.”
“Computer, Crew Quarters F4.” The elevator chimed and the doors slid shut. As it started moving, Bren grabbed the side rail to steady himself.
“Sorry, babe. I promise it will get better.”
“I hope so, this sucks.”
“Anyway, remember F4. That’s our quarters. We get a family-sized living space because we’re married. We even get our own shower and we don’t have to share with the rest of the crew!”
“F4, got it.”
“I’ll show you a map later, but we were just in Ops. You arrived in the Docking Bay of Pylon Three, and the crew and family quarters are in the Habitat Ring. The Observation Deck is on top of that, and the Galleria is on top of that.”
“We’re lucky Jaina let me move a few days ago. I’ve already transferred all my gear from my old quarters to our new home, but don’t worry; I didn’t decorate or do much because I want the space to be ours. You’ll probably be there more than me, and let’s face it, you can decorate way better than I can!” His voice rose with excitement as he said the last few words.
“Oh and I will,” Bren said, smiling. “These boring white and gray space station walls need some color!”
Zham smiled and put his arms around Bren, who returned his hug. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Me too, baby. I was going out of my mind. I hate long-distance, you know? Now that I have clearance to live with you, I hope I can live with you everywhere you’re stationed.”
“Yes,” Zham whispered. “You’ll always be with me.” Then he closed his eyes and kissed his husband.
Zham and Bren opened their eyes and looked toward the elevator doors. They didn’t realize that the elevator had arrived and the doors opened.
“Zham, is this your beau?” Tamara asked.
“Bren J’Taroo, meet Tamara Oghrenai.”
“How do you do?” Bren asked. They shook hands.
“A pleasure,” she responded, smiling from ear to ear.
“Off to work out?” Zham asked.
“You know it.” She pointed at Bren. “Make sure you work out often or your muscles will weaken. Artificial gravity, you know. What are you boys up to?”
Zham pursed his lips and Bren coughed. Neither one knew what to say.
“Oh, right. Newlyweds.” Tamara giggled again and grabbed their arms. “Well you aren’t gonna do it in the elevator so get out!” She grabbed their arms and tugged them out of the elevator.
Bren’s face flushed with embarrassment and Zham’s mouth dropped open.
“Tamara!” Zham exclaimed.
She pushed past them and giggled. She looked at Bren. “There are only so many of us on Trenadier. We all know what goes on here. Get used to it!” She backed into the elevator. “Computer, Fitness Center.” The elevator chimed and the doors slid shut. They found themselves alone again.
“She’s a little crazy, that one,” Bren said.
“Yeah, but she’s great, really. Not a malicious bone in her body. She’s definitely someone you can trust.” Zham led Bren by the hand to their quarters. “Come this way. Turn left after you exit the elevator. As long as you have your security badge, the computer will recognize you and automatically unlock the doors. If you go to the wrong quarters…” Zham pulled him over to a door labeled F2 to demonstrate. He continued, “They won’t open for you.”
They walked another 50 feet and Zham stopped near a door labeled F4. “Well, handsome, here we are.”
“There’s just one thing I want to do,” Bren said. Zham loved how Bren’s eyes would sparkle when he became excited.
“What is it?” Zham asked.
Bren moved quickly and picked Zham up in his arms. “I’m going to carry you across the threshold!” Zham laughed and wrapped his arms around Bren’s shoulders. Bren moved closer to the doorway. The red lock symbol on the control panel turned green and the doors opened. Bren carried Zham through the doorway. He set Zham down as the doors closed behind them. The sounds of romantic jazz filled the dimly lit room.
“Aw, hun, this is so sweet.” Bren gushed with delight as he walked around the spacious quarters. “Wow, this is all ours, just you and me?”
“Yup. Just you and me. For as long as I’m stationed here, at least.” Zham grabbed Bren’s hand and pulled him closer. “Come here, you.” He kissed him gently, tasting Bren’s lips, and then again passionately. His soul filled with desire and he pulled Bren to the bedroom. Bren followed. Zham decided that he could not live one more minute without the comforts of his husband.
“Oh, Zham,” Bren said, putting a hand to his mouth in awe. Zham watched tears well up in his eyes as he surveyed the candles and red flower petals on the bed. “It’s perfect,” he whispered. Zham led him to the bedroom. They kissed, then Bren unbuttoned and removed Zham’s shirt.
“Wow, you’ve stayed in shape,” Bren said, admiring Zham’s muscular physique. Brown hair adorned his chest and tapered into the waistband of his pants. Bren teased Zham’s body hair with his fingers.
“Thanks,” Zham said, proud of his workout results. He gently pulled Bren’s shirt over his head and admired his husband’s smooth physique.
“You’ve worked out too, mister.” Zham said, gently grazing Bren’s abs with his fingertips.
Bren looked into Zham’s eyes with love and lust. “What can I say? You inspired me!” They pressed their bodies together and kissed again, laughing as they fought to remove the rest of their clothing. Bren laid on the bed and Zham followed. Their bodies intertwined and moved as one as they kissed and made love.
* * *
Zham gently caressed Bren’s smooth back as they snuggled, basking in the euphoria of their closeness. Bren’s head rested on Zham’s chest.
“That was amazing, mister.”
“Mmm-hmmm,” Zham agreed.
“You feel so good. I’ve missed holding you.” Bren snuggled in tighter.
Zham squeezed him in his arms. “I still can’t believe you’re here,” he whispered. “It’s going to take some time for me to change my routine. I got used to living alone again. It stopped being miserable for me once when I found out you were coming to Trenadier.”
“We’ll be fine, hun, you know we will,” Bren whispered.” Besides, I know Jaina and I met Kozu.” Bren furled his eyebrows. “Wait, isn’t he the official prick of the station?”
“Yeah, but…today he opened up about something. He’s hurting, and that’s why he’s always so angry. I told him you’d make up your own mind about him.”
Bren nodded on Zham’s chest. “I’m kinda hungry, can we eat soon?”
Zham glanced over at the wall chronometer. Sure, it’s about dinnertime anyway. What do you say we shower up together and…”
“Have round two?” Bren said excitedly, cutting him off.
“Oh, hey now, Mister J’Taroo, I’m definitely ready for that!” They laughed together and Bren led Zham by the hand to the shower. Then they made love again under the spray of warm water.
* * *
Thoroughly exhausted and starving, Zham watched as Bren preened in the bathroom.
“What are you looking at?” Bren asked, looking at Zham through the reflection in the mirror.
“Just reminding myself of how lucky I am.”
“Words like that could get you laid again tonight, you know.”
“Don’t threaten me with a halfway decent time!”
“Halfway decent, huh?” Bren laughed as he fixed his hair. “So is this place better then…uh…that other place you were supposed to be assigned to? Before Jaina worked her magic?”
“Yeah, the Meyshe Crease mission. That would have interested me, but not as much as this. Planetary observation is way more interesting than helping the Empire get richer.”
“What was that mission about?” Bren asked. “Or can you not tell me that?”
“Um, yeah, I can. Arkze Station was dropped into a safe zone inside the folded space. The mission parameters were to study the energy fluctuations and spatial distortions of the region, or at least learn something about them, so that we could make modifications to starships so they could traverse the Crease safely.”
“Why do they want to go through it so badly?”
Zham shrugged. “For profit. Right now starships have to travel around the Meyshe Crease in order to transport crew and the raw minerals harvested from the Granok Asteroid Field. If they could travel through the Crease, it would cost them less money and increase their profits and productivity.”
“I see.” He finished his hair and buttoned his shirt.
“The problem is that the space inside the Crease is littered with energy pockets and spatial distortions that cause significant damage to starships and their crews. Our work might have yielded results, but there’s an equally strong chance that it might not have either.”
“I see.” Bren said in agreement.
Zham smiled. He could tell he was losing Bren’s interest. “Let’s go, I’m starving.”
“Me too,” Bren confessed.
“Can we take a really quick detour through the Observation Deck? I want to see this planet you’re studying. I didn’t get much a glimpse of it on the Ketinya because I was trying to get to you as quickly as I could.”
Zham smiled and took Bren’s hand. They walked to the elevator together. It was a quick ride up to the Observation Deck. Large windows afforded them an excellent view of the station, the stars of the galaxy, and the planet they orbited.
“Oh wow,” Bren said. “It’s gorgeous.” Sweeping patterns and swirls of white clouds rested on top of the planet’s brilliant blue color. Zham pointed out the different landmasses where the inhabitants lived. Zham realized it was Bren’s first time looking at an alien-inhabited world from space.
After a few moments Bren asked, “What is that thing?” He pointed to a black and silver object between them and the planet.
“That,” Zham answered, “is their first space station.”
“How come we can see it?”
“They’re pretty advanced in some ways, but completely lacking in others. For example, we can see them, but they can’t see us. We’re cloaked. They don’t have that kind of technology yet, so that’s why we can see it.”
“Oh, that primitive?”
“Well, sort of. They leave the atmosphere, but it’s difficult for them. They haven’t figured out how to inhibit gravity yet. They use combustion rocket engines to propel vehicles into the upper atmosphere and into space. Not much ever leaves orbit though, except for a few remote vehicles that so far have never contained a life form.”
“Wow,” Bren said, astonished.
“So, you can sit here all day if you want. Most of the crew works the first shift, while a few rotate through the second and third shifts. The view doesn’t change much, but looking at a planet is better than staring into the deep black abyss all day. Sometimes you get to see their little ships dock with their station, too.” Zham finish the tour of the Observation Deck by pointing out the various tables, desks, and lounge chairs. There was even a bar to one side of the deck.
“It’s not locked?” Bren asked, noticing the bottles of booze.
“Nah. There’s only thirty of us, well, thirty-six now I guess, and there hasn’t been a problem yet. Besides, the military has strict rules about alcohol abuse. I don’t test them.”
“I won’t either.”
“Let’s head up to the Galleria. That’s where all the dinner fun happens.” Bren smiled and took Zham’s hand in his.
“Lead the way, mister.” Zham smiled and led Bren back to the elevator so they could eat in the Galleria. This time they paid attention to the door chime and stopped kissing before the doors opened. When the elevator doors did open, the sound of laughter filled their ears and the smell of food tantalized their nostrils.
“That smells delicious, even for replicate,” Zham said. When they stepped out of the elevator, about twenty of Zham’s crewmates jumped up from their tables and yelled “Surprise!”
“What!?” Zham exclaimed, amused and shocked.
“You didn’t know?” Bren asked.
“No, I swear!”
Zham’s crewmates surrounded them as they exchanged quick introductions, hugs, words of welcome, and joyous accolades. Zham beamed with pride at his crewmates. He didn’t hold back his tears of joy and gratitude, and he didn’t care if they saw him cry. A large banner inscribed with the words WELCOME HOME, BREN hung on the far side of the room. He noticed Jaina standing under it. They nodded at each other and smiled. Zham mouthed Thank you to her and she winked at him.
They celebrated for the next two cycles and ate their fill of delicious replicate nutrients. Through conversation, Zham learned that one of the engineers had downloaded some new and enhanced recipes from the Ketinya’s replicator databases. The same replicate meal now smelled much better and tasted more like the real thing. After their feast, the party moved to the Observation Deck and the bar was opened. Jaina insisted on a two-drink maximum for military personnel because of tomorrow’s anticipated launch mission. Eventually the party wound down and Zham and Bren found themselves alone again.
Bren took Zham’s hand and walked him to one of the windows. “It’s beautiful, just like you,” he said, smiling.
Zham blushed. “Awww.” They kissed, their bodies bathed in the reflected sunlight of the planet.
“Wanna go home?” Zham asked, feeling frisky again. “I believe there’s something you promised me.”
Bren smiled at him. “Absolutely, husband dear.”
* * *
Zham awoke at 7.5 cycles. Something was different; an unusual weight pressed down on him.
It was Bren.
Of course! Bren had snuggled up to him. He smiled and wished he didn’t have to get out of bed. He slipped out of bed as quietly as possible, hoping to let Bren sleep in as long as he could. Zham started his morning routine by replicating coffee, shaving, and then showering. As he finished straightening his lab coat, he heard Bren sex-whistle behind him. He turned to see Bren standing in the doorway wearing only boxer shorts.
“I forgot how sexy you look in a uniform,” Bren said. His eyes sparkled with lust.
Zham smiled and walked over to him. He wrapped his hands around Bren’s waist. “And I forgot how sexy you look with almost no clothes on, mister.” They kissed.
“Gross,” Zham said, laughing.
“I kiss you and you say gross?” Bren asked, feigning hurt.
“Your breath, its terrible!” Zham exclaimed, laughing.
“Your coffee breath isn’t much better.”
“We can fix this, you know.” Zham replicated two mouthwashes. They rinsed, spat, and kissed.
“Mmm, much better,” Zham said, planting gentle kisses on Bren’s lips.
“Yup. Much better. So what’s on the agenda today?”
“Planetary launch in a few cycles. The planet’s space agency calls it Orion EFT–1. They lost a few spacecraft recently and we think it scared them. They’re trying again though, so that’s good. It’s an unmanned launched, which means it might go out into space. We just have to make sure the station isn’t in the way if it does. And since they’ll be watching with extra care, we have to make sure we stay hidden from view.”
“Their launches are different from anything you’ve seen. You should be able to get a view of it on the Observation Deck. Just ask the computer to overlay the launch trajectory on the window so you can spot it easily.”
“Okay. I have clearance for that?”
“I would imagine so. The other civilian wives can do it.”
Zham laughed. “Just teasing, hun. But, just so you know, the three other civilians are wives. So…do with it as you will.”
Bren flamboyantly pranced around their bedroom. “I’m sure we’ll have a smashing time together, you just wait and see!”
Zham laughed again. “I really hope you do. Thirty-four people isn’t great for expanding one’s social circles. Now, kiss me goodbye.”
Bren pranced over and kissed Zham. Zham couldn’t resist holding him tightly. “I love you so much, Bren J’Taroo,” he admitted.
“I love you too, Zham J’Taroo,” Bren responded. They kissed once more and Zham reluctantly tore himself away from Bren.
“The only good thing about leaving you,” Zham said as the doors to their quarters opened, “is that I know you’ll be here when my shift is over.”
Bren smiled. “Wait, I don’t know your schedule. When’s lunch?”
“Around 12.1 cycles. I generally eat in the Galleria. You should come.”
“Okay, and when are you off work?”
“That depends. Normally around 4.5 cycles, unless something’s up. Today I’ll go to the Fitness Center after work before coming home. I will let you know if I’ll be late.”
“Okay, and when can we have sex? I need you at least twice today.”
Zham chuckled. “Well, how about tonight when I come home?” Bren made a sad face and with an exaggerated frown. Zham rethought his schedule. “Or…maybe we can have a quickie at lunch, and then again this evening?”
Bren smiled. “Oh, I like that idea.”
“Okay. I will plan to come home at 12.1 cycles for lunch…and sex. What are you going to do today?”
Bren chuckled. “Unpack, plan out some decorations, then head to the Observation Deck to do some writing. I staked out the perfect spot last night at the party. There’s a desk right in front of a large window with a great view of the planet.”
Zham nodded, figuring he knew exactly which desk Bren had picked out. “Okay, I don’t want to, but I really have to go.” He grabbed Bren and planted another kiss on him. “I’ll see you tonight, babe.”
Bren moaned feigned agony when Zham stopped kissing him. “Okay, but you should know that I’ll be counting the minutes until I get to see you again.”
Zham smiled. “Me too.” He stepped away and headed out of their quarters.
“Oh,” Bren said. “One more…last question, I promise.”
Zham turned around and put his hand on the doorframe so the doors wouldn’t close. He smiled and asked, “Yes?”
“What planet are we orbiting anyway?”
“We call it Solutan III,” Zham answered. “Its inhabitants call it Earth.”
* * *
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