Episode 12: Feast

Rhade and Jen joined the others for dinner in the large government building the Drago-Kazov had been using as their base during the short period of time that they’d been on Callien. Dylan was talking animatedly with First Minister Jarek Der. Rommie was with him. Harper was mingling with the locals, flirting with the prettier ladies. Trance was off to one side talking with Miocci, Yumeko, and Tenshi. Okami was nearby surrounded by men and was engaged in an arm wrestling competition. At her feet was a large tankard of some sort of local alcoholic beverage.

Beka watched her from a distance, nursing her own drink. She looked up as Jen and Rhade approached. “I was starting to wonder when you two were showing up.”

“Jen just woke up,” Rhade explained.

“I am still capable of explaining for myself, Rhade,” she said coldly.

“You never have before, so why should you star now?” Beka asked her. Jen gave her a cold look. Instead of answering, she walked over to join Trance, Miocci, Yumeko, and Tenshi.

“You really don’t like her, do you?” Rhade asked Beka.

“No, I don’t. She’s a bitch. She also doesn’t strike me as being overly rational.”

Overhearing her remark, Jason wandered over. “How do you figure?” he asked politely.

“Her hatred of Nietzscheans, for one. Her thing against men for another.”

“The first is entirely justified, the second is just our culture,” Jason explained.

“How can that be justifiable?”

“I’d really like to explain, but I promised I wouldn’t say anything about it.”

“And you’re ok with this?”

“No, but I understand. And don’t bother poking at our culture. It’s how I was raised.”

Beka sighed and finished off her drink. “I’ll be glad when we get to Nomaie. Maybe the bug up her ass will go away.”

“We can only hope,” Jason agreed. “She’s not a bad person; she’s just had very bad things happen to her recently.”

“Clearly she’s never heard that old saying: ‘pain shared is pain halved’.”

“Rhade, Jason, Beka,” Dylan called to them. “They’re starting to serve dinner now if you’d care to join us.”

They walked over to sit down around the table. The others were already there. Noting that there was a space beside Jen, Rhade sat down there, wanting to talk some more about discharging her life debt. She looked uncomfortable with him being there, but said nothing. This confused the crew of the Andromeda, but no one was given a chance to ask any questions. Minister Jarek stood and gestured for silence.

“I would like to take this time to thank our new friends from the Systems Commonwealth for coming to our aid,” he started, gesturing to the crew of the Andromeda. “Without them, we would all now be slaves of the Drago-Kazov.” The people of Callien cheered. “We are but a small colony, but whatever we can do to repay you, Captain Hunt, you have but to name it.”

“Helping people is just what we do, First Minister,” Dylan told him. “Your thanks is enough repayment.”

Jarek nodded. “Stay the night, then. Eat, drink, and enjoy yourselves. We will help your crewmember recover her strength before you leave.”

“Your generosity is much appreciated,” Tenshi told him from her seat beside Dylan.

“Please, dig in.” Jarek clapped his hands and a troupe of dancing girls came over to stand in front of them. “Some entertainment while we eat.”

The four young women were dressed in wide skirts of many layers of filmy, transparent fabric, and tight corset-like tops. Their feet were bare, adorned by woven bracelets with bells on. They each had a scarf made of the same material as their skirts wrapped around their necks. A small group of musicians over on the side started to play a haunting tune. The music was largely percussive in nature with a few deep wooden wind instruments that gave it the haunting sound. The skirts of the dancers floated around them as they moved, the bells on their ankles adding a gentle tinkling to the music.

Jen watched the entertainment with great interest as she took a bite of some sort of red pepper-shaped vegetable. She chewed experimentally, holding it up to her eyes for closer inspection. Seeing that Jen was eating it, Harper took a large bite of one and promptly gagged, fanning his mouth.

“Spicy!” he gasped.

“Really?” Jen asked him. “This is the first food I’ve had in a long time that has any flavor to it.”

Jarek looked at her in distress. “Those are guiveri. They aren’t meant to be eaten, miss. They’re a garnish.”

“They’re quite good. Tastes like a cabera fruit.”

“What’s that?” Harper gasped.

“It’s a very spicy fruit from back home. Usually, we grind it into powder and add it to our cooking. We like things to be spicy.”

“You people are nuts if you eat things like that.”

“That’s what we’ve been telling her for years,” Yumeko giggled, pouring Harper a glass of juice. “Drink this. It should help.”

Harper downed the glass in three long swallows. “Yeah, that did help. Thanks. If my lips weren’t burning, I could kiss you.”

Jen turned her attention back to the entertainment, nibbling on the garnish. Rhade watched as she followed every movement the dancers made. As the musicians played, her eyes half closed and an almost smile appeared on her lips.

“Would you like my guiveri, Jen?” Rhade asked her politely.

“Remind me to explain to you some of the finer points of Nomaien social habits,” she said in a distant tone of voice. “If we were on Nomaie right now, that sort of offer is tantamount to you asking if I’d share your bed with you.”

“Ah. That’s not what I’m offering.”

She turned to look at him. “I see.”

“Not that I wouldn’t mind,” he said, turning away from her black eyes. “But you would, so I retract my offer.”

Jen reached over and plucked one of the three guiveri from his plate. “You’re right. I do mind.”

“And yet you take one all the same,” he observed.

“I owe you,” she said simply. “Have you forgotten already?”

“You owe me, so you take things from my plate?”

She popped the spicy vegetable into her mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “Yes. I owe you. Your offering the guiveri, despite its connotations in my culture, means little right now.”

“I’m confused.”

“Perhaps I should explain when there are fewer people around,” she said, looking around uncomfortably.”

“I would really rather know now,” he countered. “You’re being very cryptic and it’s driving me crazy.”

She glared at him. “Fine,” she said in hushed tones. His Nietzschean hearing was able to pick it up, but he doubted that anyone else could. “You have the right to ask that. Because I owe you my life, by law on my world you are allowed to ask anything of me. Understand that it means anything, even things that I would never ordinarily do. There is no limit, and all things asked of me remain valid up until the debt is repaid. Repayment on the debt means that either I save your life or I meet a requirement set by you to discharge it.”

“So if I say that by doing something your debt is repaid then it is?”

Jen sighed. “This is why I wanted to discuss this in private. It’s a little more complicated than that. You can’t just tell me to do something simple, like bring you a drink, to discharge it. It has to be worth a life, thus why it’s most common for it to repaid in kind.”

“I’ll have to think about this.”

She picked a second guiveri from his plate and popped it in her mouth. “You do that. For now, I plan on enjoying the entertainment,” she said in normal tones.

“Dancing girls don’t strike me as being something you’d enjoy.”

“It’s a weird culture thing that you couldn’t hope to understand, so don’t even ask.”

“But if I did ask, you’d have to answer.”

“Yes, but I advise you to not be a pest about all of this. This debt won’t be around forever. I may not be able to hurt you for the time being, but when it’s over, I can.”

“Point made. I’ll try to be more careful when asking questions.”

“Good. It seems that we have an understanding.”

The dancing girls finished their set, took their bows to the applause of the crowd, and left, allowing the dinner to wrap up on its own. As the food was cleared away, everyone got up to mingle and chat over light drinks. Minister Jarek tried to make his way over to Jen, but was intercepted by Trance, who suddenly had lots of questions to ask him. He looked at Jen with suspicious glances as he tried to brush Trance off. When he wasn’t looking, Jen slipped away, heading back to the room she’d woken up in.

An hour and a half later, Rhade found her sitting on the bed with one of the woodwind instruments the musicians had been playing. She broke off the melody she’d been playing and looked up at him. “So. You found me.”

“Jarek is looking for you.”

“I’m aware of that,” she told him calmly. “I have no desire to talk to him.”

“Any idea what he wants?”

“Could have been nothing more than to ask me how I’m feeling.”

“You’re probably right about that,” he said, sitting down beside her.

“I’ll only tell you this once, Rhade. Nomaiens value their personal space. I’m uncomfortable with physical contact. We have very sensitive skin, and skin-to-skin contact makes us very vulnerable. It affects us the way addictive drugs affect other races.”

“Touch is addictive to your people?”

“I’m told that we developed it as a survival thing that allowed a mother to recognize the feel of her children by touch alone. This could be very useful in a sand storm. My people, historically, are nomadic. It’s only in the last 10, 000 years that we started to build cities.”

“So when I touched your cheek earlier…”

“Once is fine, even though under normal circumstances I would have broken your hand for it.”

“So you’d rather I not make any requests of you involving touch.”

“That would be my preference, yes, but my life-“

“Is mine, yes, I know,” Rhade finished. “So I guess a relaxing back rub wouldn’t be something you’d be happy about doing?”

“No, but should you want one, just ask.”

“You’re turning into quite a contradiction.”

“I hate to point it out, but it is, in a way, your fault?”

“Mine?” he asked incredulously. “You’re the one who never learned how to swim.”

“Nomaie is a desert world. Where would I have learned?”

“Good point,” he conceded, smiling. He looked at the woodwind. “I didn’t know you played an instrument.”

“I don’t often. It’s one of the little known facts about me.”

“Jen, everything about you is a little known fact.”

She looked him in the eye, her eyes unfocusing slightly. “Hooo…. Those guiveri are more than just spicy. Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten so many.”

“Are you feeling alright?”

“I feel lightheaded.” She leaned forward and smiled a little. “I never knew you had brown eyes,” she said, her words slurring a little, reaching out to touch his face.

“I think you’re a little more than lightheaded, Jen,” he said as she leaned a little closer. He took her face in both of his hands, bringing his to her level, looking in her eyes.

“You might be right about that,” she said, her eyelids drooping. She suddenly went limp and fell forward, her lips landing on his briefly before she toppled over sideways. Rhade caught her before she could hit the floor. He laid her back on the bed. Her eyes were closed, her breathing that of a sleeper. A loose lock of hair fell across her face, so he brushed it back behind her ear.

I seem to see a lot of her asleep, he mused to himself. This is odd considering her very clear feelings towards me. Strange. For a moment, I thought I smelled something. Sweet, but spicy. He brushed her lips with a finger. They’re just as soft as they felt when I was trying to revive her, but not as cold or as blue. It’s too bad that this won’t last. She’s almost tolerable with this debt hanging over her head. I have to free her from it as soon as possible. He kissed her on the forehead.

“Goodnight, Jen,” he said, leaving the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. He didn’t notice her eyes opening as he walked out, nor did he see or hear her getting out of bed.

First Minister Jarek met him a few steps away from the door. “How is she?” he asked anxiously.

“Sleeping,” Rhade replied. “It’s been a long day for her.”

Jarek peered at him, sniffing the air. “Nothing happened?”

“She got a little lightheaded from those guiveri and passed out. Nothing more. Why? What were you expecting?”

Jarek flushed guiltily. “Your captain explained to me about her and her professed dislike of you. I thought that, by having guiveri ready to hand might loosen things up.”

Rhade narrowed his eyes. “What are they really?”

“A very mild aphrodisiac. My people often consume them before pursuing a mate. Until I saw your Mr. Harper’s reaction to taking a bite of one, it hadn’t occurred to me that other species might have a different reaction to them. After she ate the ones on her plate and two of yours, I grew concerned. Consuming that many in such a short period can be bad for you. It’s only recommended to eat one in a five hour period, but five at once?” He shook his head.

Rhade saw red. “Why would you do such a thing?”

“Your feelings for her are quite clear to anyone with eyes,” Jarek squeaked. “The women all think you’re quite attractive. I thought that, if Jen loosened up a little, she might see it as well.”

“Listen to me very carefully, Minister. I care very deeply for her, and I’m well aware of how she feels towards me. I understand that you were only trying to help; however, I want Jen to like me on her own and not under some drug-induced haze. Excuse me,” he snarled, brushing past the minister.

Jen, who had gotten out of bed with every intention of waking off the fuzz in her head without anyone knowing about it, was perched beside the door and had overheard the entire conversation. Her fists were clenched in anger at what the minister had done.

How dare he! Who does he think he is, interfering like that? She put one hand on her forehead. It explains why I feel so funny. A shame. Those guiveri were quite tasty. She shook her head, pondering what Rhade had said instead. So he cares for me, does he? Too bad for him.

She got up and opened the door a crack, making sure that no one was around to see her leaving.

She found Rhade sitting beside the lake she’d nearly died in. Only one of Callien’s two moons was visible. It’s silver crescent reflected in the ripples on the lake making it appear to glow. He sat cross-legged on the ground, staring out across the water. The moonlight highlighted his features, frosting the tips of his dark brown hair. Silently, she approached and sat down beside him. He looked at her briefly in surprise before looking back out across the silvery water.

“The moving moon went up to the sky, and nowhere did abide; Softly she was going up, and a star or two beside,” Jen said softly, breaking the silence.

“Beg your pardon?” Rhade asked.

“It’s from part four of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was required reading in school the first time I went to Earth. Somehow it felt appropriate, despite the fact that the entire poem is incredibly long.”

“Poetry is one of the last things I’d ever thought to hear you say.”

“My people are very good with poetry, given that our histories are largely oral.”

“Warrior, musician, poet. Is there anything you don’t do?” he asked, looking directly in her eyes.

“Swim,” she said with a faint smile.

“You really need to do that more.”

“Do what? Joke?”

“Smile.”

“It must be the guiveri talking, but you aren’t as bad as I thought at first. I still don’t like you, but I don’t ”

He gave her a strange look. “That guiveri is powerful stuff.”

“I know. I overheard. I wasn’t as asleep as you thought. I just wanted to get rid of you so that I could get out and walk this buzz off.”

“One doesn’t simply walk off an aphrodisiac.”

“I didn’t know what it was until Jarek told you. It feels like I’ve had a little too much to drink more than anything else. It’s not an unpleasant feeling. Stars know I’ve had little but unpleasantness in my life the last six months.”

“On behalf of the majority of the Nietzschean people, I apologize for how the Drago-Kazov treated you.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Only most of them?”

“There are other Prides like the Drago-Kazov, other Nietzscheans that aren’t particularly nice. One of Andromeda’s former crew, Tyr Anasazi, was one such Nietzschean.”

“Very well then. I accept your apology.”

They turned to look once more out at the lake. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“I’ve never been one to appreciate water, Rhade. A moon rise out in the middle of the desert is more my taste.”

“I’ve never seen one like that.”

“If you ask nicely, I’ll show you what you’ve been missing when we get to Nomaie,” she suggested. “You’ll never be the same ever again.”

“Every moment I’m near you changes me,” he said quietly. “Why should a moon in the desert be any different?”

“You weren’t kidding when you told the minister that you care for me, were you?”

He shook his head glumly. “It doesn’t seem to matter how you treat me, how cold you are. I can’t help but wonder if this is how my ancestor felt about you.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Oh please! You’re acting like this is fate or something. I don’t buy that for one minute.”

“Why not?”

“If you follow your line of thinking, you’re essentially saying that we’re meant to be together because Gaheris and Valkyrie were. It’s absolutely ludicrous.”

“You may be genetically identical to Valkyrie, but you sure don’t think like a Nietzschean woman.”

“I don’t normally take compliments, but I’m taking that statement as one.”

“It’s odd, you know. You aren’t Nietzschean, so by rights I shouldn’t even entertain the feelings I have for you. It’s considered low by most Nietzscheans. Most of us won’t even consider those outside our own species.”

“And yet you are, even though I don’t reciprocate.”

“It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in my life that it’s happened to me.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “Same here. People I didn’t like deciding that they liked me, that is.”

“Never felt that way yourself?”

“Not that I remember.”

“I don’t recommend it. It does all sorts of unpleasant things to you. Even while you know it’s hopeless, you can’t help but hope that, maybe one day, something could come of it.”

“Men really are sad.”

“It’s not just men,” he countered. “There are women out there like this.”

“A disgrace to my gender.”

“They would likely say that you’re the disgrace. Cold, unfeeling, and showing no interest in men.”

“Show me one worth my time and I’ll consider it.”

“What would you consider to be worth your time?”

“There was one man I used to know. His name was Seikou. He’s the only man I can remember loving so completely that it nearly killed me when he died.”

“Yet you seem quite capable of talking about him,” he observed.

“It was a very, very long time ago. I still haven’t been able to correlate the Commonwealth dates with our own, so I can’t even give you a relative date. In a few of my lives in which I awoke as a senshi and could, therefore, remember him, I did find someone to take my mind off him, but I’ve never loved that deeply before or since. So before you go around calling me cold and unfeeling, make sure that you know all the facts.”

Rhade sighed. “The truth is, Jen, Okami told me about someone named Seiya that you met on Earth. Not a lot, but enough to know that his situation was like mine. You two eventually got together and, from what she said, there was love there.”

“Seiya just so happened to be identical to Seikou. He was one of the ones who took my mind off him. That is, until I learned more about Seiya. What that was isn’t important, but it cooled things for a while. The fact that I was taken by our enemy and turned against my friends and Earth’s senshi being a large reason as to why.”

“I see.”

They were silent for a while longer. “Mother of light! How fairly dost thou go over those hoary crests, divinely led! Art thou that huntress of the silver bow fabled of old? Or rather dost thou tread those cloudy summits thence to gaze below, like the wild chamois from her Alpine snow, where hunters never climbed--secure from dread?”

Jen blinked in confusion and turned to look at Rhade. “Where did that come from?”

“You started this conversation with a bit of poetry about the moon that you learned in school. This is one that I learned. It’s an excerpt from Ode to the Moon by an Earthman named Thomas Hood.”

“Poetry from a Nietzschean.” Jen shook her head. “Well, this night couldn’t get any stranger.”

Rhade leaned towards her, a smile on his lips. “Want to bet?”

“What could possibly make this weirder?”

Before she could react, he grabbed her face in his hands and kissed her.