…“Get. In. There. You. Momzer piece of. Shtik,” I grunted as I tried to kick the fuel injector for the atmo-thrusters back into place. I overbalanced at the last one, falling onto the floor on my back. On the bright side, the injector snapped into place with a satisfying clunk.
…I stayed there for a moment, catching my breath when a shadow fell over me. Looking up, I saw an indigo-and-grey face looking down at me in worry. “Oh, hey, Kel’Jarr,” I greeted him.
…“Human-Keira,” he seemed to pause for a moment, “hey.” He continued hesitantly.
…I tried not to smile at how awkward he returned the human greeting, but it was a lost cause.
…“Why are you currently on the floor?” he continued, “Are you injured?”
…“Nah, I’m fine. I was just in a fight with the fuel injector. I won,” I grinned at him, rolling to my feet.
…Kel’Jarr looked at the thing like it was going to jump out and bite him.
…“So, what’s up?” I asked him, fighting a laugh when his gaze slipped upwards. I picked up a rag to try and wipe some of the grease of my hands. Lost cause, especially my nails, but a girl can try, right? “Human expression, K.J.,” I explained, “it means ‘what did you need or why did you want to talk to me?’.”
…“I see,” he nodded, obviously mentally filing the information away in his ‘humans are odd’ folder, “well then, what is ‘up’ is that I brought you a hot Earth beverage.” He thrust a steaming cup in my direction. “I believe you call it ‘coffee’.”
…That got my attention. “You got me coffee?” I made grabby hands towards the cup until he handed it over. Sweet, sweet coffee, it had been too long. It was rich and dark, with a hint of vanilla. It was perfect. “Marry me.” I joked, although I really should have known better after three months on Caelestis.
…Kel’Jarr’s black eyes widened comically and he blushed dark purple. “My apologies, I wasn’t made aware of the cultural connotations of giving coffee or of the ease with which you humans propose a life-long bond. I believed it was preceded with months of ‘dates’, social outings where the persons in question –“
…I took pity on him and interrupted. “No, Kel’Jarr, it’s okay. It’s a – a human jest. Sometimes we use it when someone does something that makes us happy.”
…He took a moment to digest that. “So this coffee has made you happy?” he asked, an intense glint in his eyes.
…“Very, thank you. It’s great coffee.” I took another sip.
…Kel’Jarr looked off to a spot just above my head as if waiting to see if something was going to happen. When it didn’t he simply nodded and left.
…I stared at him, wondering what the hell that was about. My new-found friends had been acting strangely the last couple of days. True, I, and us humans in general, hadn’t had a lot of experience with the Spaceborn races and human crew was apparently new to Caelestis, so we were all still figuring each other out. Still, they were being weird. I didn’t have a lot of time to think on it. When I raised the cup of heavenly, delicious coffee towards my lips again the fuel injector beeped at me again. I groaned and went to see what it wanted this time.
…I opened the door to my bunk the next night to find another crew-mate anxiously waiting for me. At least, from the way the dark purple tentacles on her head were swishing back and forth, she seemed nervous.
…“Xanni, is everything alright?” I asked her.
…Instead of responding she held out a shiny pink rock, glittering in the artificial lights. It was very pretty. When I didn’t make any move to take it she started talking. “Human-K – I mean, Keira. To the Xerronovians, crystals symbolise the everlasting,” she explained, placing the stone in my hand.
…“Okay?” I tried.
…She took a deep breath, her hair swishing wildly for a moment. “It is often exchanged as a token of friendship. To show the unbreakable bond between them. I found this one on the Ophros mission. Its colour reminded me of you.” She smiled almost shyly, her gaze flicking up to my fading pink-dyed hair.
…“You’re – you’re giving me a stone of everlasting friendship?” I asked, needing the clarification. When she nodded I couldn’t help but smile. “Wow, Xanni, that is beautiful, thank you.” I thought for a moment. “We have an ancient human custom like this as well,” I told her, untying one of the handmade bracelets I had around my wrist. “These are called friendship bracelets. We wear them as a sign of – well, friendship.” I tied the lavender coloured bracelet around her wrist. “The colour matches you,” I told her, grinning.
…Xanni held her wrist up into the light, cerulean eyes glittering with wonderment. Her hair tendrils gently reached out, feeling the knotted bracelet. She gave me a wide smile.
…“There is another custom that follows the exchange of friendship gifts,” I told her solemnly, like it was a big deal, “We need to hug, come on.” I gently tugged her into my arms and closed them around her.
…She was stiff in surprise for a moment before practically melting into the embrace. Her tentacles ran through my dreadlocks, which felt very weird, but nice in a way. Almost like being petted. When we let go and stepped back she looked at my hair for a moment before focussing back on my face. “This has made you happy, yes?” Xanni asked, suddenly intense.
…“Yes, Xanni, it made me happy.” I smiled at her.
…She nodded, gaze flicking up again. “Good,” she stated, “will we still have ‘movie night’ tomorrow? I am curious to how this ‘Doctor’ will get out of the library.”
…I grinned. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
…Two days later found me sitting in a bustling mess during break while my three friends hovered at my table. No, really. Shifting-from-foot-to-foot, shooting-meaningful-glances hovering. “Hey guys, what’s up?” I tried.
…Xanni, Kel’Jarr and Shakris exchanged a glance before Shakris stepped forward. He put a squirming ball of bright orange, lime-green and black fur on the table before me.
…It turned out to be some kind of creature that reminded me most of cross between a cat and a fox. Almost neon green fur covered its belly and gave way to shocking orange on its flanks. Black fur covered its back and spiralled over its face and sides in almost tribal markings. It had tiny horns on top of his fox-like head. Green eyes glittered bright and intelligent. Its fluffy black-and-orange tale swished back and forth lazily as it took in its surroundings. And me.
…I couldn’t help the squeal of pure excitement, it was the cutest thing I had ever seen. The three crew-mates at my table looked up at the sound, alarmed, but my attention was all on the neon ball of fluff in front of me. “Look at the pretty kitty!” I exclaimed as I raised my hand to pet it. “Yes, you are beautiful, aren’t you? So pretty and bright.” I turned to Shakris. “Is he yours?” I asked as I ran my hand down soft fur.
…Shakris’ scales turned darker for a moment. “No Human-Keira, he is yours. The Faeturim resembles the Earth-cat most, even if it is significantly more dangerous. It has a soft temperament, but when cornered, it will set its tail aflame.”
…My eyes widened. “It can set its tail on FIRE? That is like, the coolest thing ever. That’s it, now I have to call you Sparky.” I cooed at the fire-fox-cat for another moment. “But wait, why did you give me a pet that can set the ship on fire?”
…“My ‘Human Care’ pamphlet spoke of the ease of which humans bond with smaller creatures, especially those you consider ‘fluffy’,” Shakris explained, looking slightly uncomfortable, “It also implied that the more dangerous it was, the happier it would make you. Since you are obviously unhappy, we wished to remedy this by giving you a small companion.”
…I stared at him, surprised. “Human Care pamph – you know what, not important right now. Why would you think I’m unhappy? I am happy.”
…“You are wilting.” Kel’Jarr chimed in.
…“Wilting?” I really had no idea what was going on.
…“Your hair,” Xanni started carefully, “it’s been losing colour.”
…“Yes,” Shakris continued, “first we thought it might be vitamin deficiency, since Human-Joe and Human-Laura don’t have the same problem. But scans show –“
…I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing. The confused looks on their faces didn’t help and it took about a minute for the full-out laughter to calm into occasional giggles. Sparky was sniffing my face as if checking if I was okay and Shakris looked ready to call a medic. “Guys, I’m fine. Really. I am not wilting. My hair is dyed.”
…“Dyed?” Shakris asked.
…“Yeah, as in, artificial colouring. I dyed it pink before we boarded but it doesn’t last forever. My real hair is the same boring blonde as Joe’s.” I tried not to flinch at the sudden buzzing of the scanner Shakris was holding next to my head.
…“Fascinating,” he stated, ever the scientist, “they combined 2,5-diaminotoluene with 5-amino-2-methylphenol and a range of harsh chemicals. Tell me, what is the cultural significance of colouring one’s hair?”
…“No significance, it’s mostly cosmetic. Lots of humans do it.”
…“Fascinating. Kel’Jarr, look at this, if we added the polymer bindings we discovered on Ophros we could make the colours last much longer.”
…“I see, which colour do you think, blue?” Kel’Jarr took the tablet from Shakris and started typing furiously.
…“The blue of the ‘Doctor’s’ spaceship would compliment her blue irises.” Xanni chimed in.
…“Whoah, whoah, wait a minute guys, don’t I get a say in this.” I interrupted, but I was smiling as I said it.
…“Of course, Human-Keira, our apologies.” Shakris bowed slightly. “We will of course consider your input for choice of colour.”
…I snorted. “Thank you for the consideration, Shakris. So you actually want me to dye my hair a bright colour?”
…“Yes.” They answered in unison. It was almost creepy.
…“We like you more vibrant,” Xanni confessed, her hair tendrils twisting happily, “more – like yourself.”
…I smiled at my friends, my new-found family. “Alright, you pick something.”
…Sparky curled up on the table in front of me, emitting a strange rumbling that almost sounded like purring.
…I kept petting him as I watched my friends discuss which colour would be most ‘aesthetically pleasing’ with my skin- and eye colour. Happiness bubbled up in me, unbidden, and I couldn’t help grinning. I’d finally found a home.