Just a Guy in Space
Gus’ new vacsuit was more streamlined than the old iteration but still unwieldy. He found himself struggling to get his spoon into his open mouth through the mouth opening and gave up and ordered more tasteless nutrient paste. He slurped it up with (fake) relish and burped, leaning back and rubbing his stomach through the thick lining of the suit.
Things were going great with Sil. They would meet every day after her shift was done and cuddle in his ambassador-sized bed. He would relentlessly tease the catgirl and scratch her most sensitive spots. It got to a point where Sil had forbidden him from touching her inappropriately. Gus resisted all of an hour before succumbing to the temptation. Sil had forgiven him though. Eventually.
Thinking of her brought a huge smile to his face. Having a girlfriend was great but it wasn’t the proximity of a female in great shape that was pleasing; no, it was the intimacy. Gus hadn’t realised it but he had been under quite a lot of stress ever since he ended up on the Pride of Vanatu. His happy-go-lucky attitude had worked in fooling others and even himself to a certain extent but when he was alone with Sil in his cabin, he felt the words spill out of his mouth without prompting.
He would talk about his life on Earth, his adoptive parents, the few friends he’d had and the large number of women who’d rebuffed his advances. Sil was particularly curious about those, grilling him about their age, hair colour, attractiveness on a scale of 10 and the full history of their interaction. He found her thinly veiled jealously quite cute and didn’t hesitate in spilling the beans.
He would in turn learn so much about her that he would have guessed just by looking at her. Her parents were still alive back on Dint. She had three litter brothers and two litter sisters. They had been raised together as part of the same litter by the communal caretakers. Unfortunately they had all split up, going to research, military or staying on Dint. She missed them but she knew she would meet them again when she made her regular sabbatical trip back home.
He loved hearing her talk about her family. He had always maintained a certain aloofness from his adoptive parents, trauma from his short while in the system ensuring that he did not want to get too heavily invested in people who might leave him. While he had been getting better over the years, it still wasn’t to the point that he’d be able to have a genuinely warm relationship with them. Sil, on the other hand, was nothing like that.
She shared everything with him and he revelled in the intimacy. They would cuddle and talk for hours before lapsing into silence. It was always during those moments that Gus would practice his wandering hands skill. Sil would usually swat his hands away but with persistence he was able to wear her down and get her purring in his arms. The small of her back and the base of her ears were her most sensitive spots and he thoroughly enjoyed exploring them. He also introduced her to the concept of human ‘skinship’ and taught her how to kiss. Granted, he was a terrible kisser what with him having no experience but together they muddled through and finally achieved relative proficiency.
If there was a downside to this, it was the crew’s reception of the news; while many did not care beyond curiosity, some of her fellow Dintphs took some distance from her. Being a fairly social person, Sil took it quite hard and Gus was trying to cheer her up. Which was why he was sitting in the Commons waiting for her.
He was determined to get her back into her friend’s good books by demonstrating that he was a good mate. He’d already spent some time doing his research. Van was more than accommodating and showed him all available materials on Dintph social cues and behaviour. While he couldn’t keep everything in mind, he knew enough to avoid any major social faux-pas.
To be honest, he couldn’t care less about why you shouldn’t talk about a Dintph’s ears or how you should compliment their fur’s sheen (but only if there were less than three other Dintphs around) but he wanted Sil to be happy and he really had to reason to alienate the other crewmembers.
He quickly finished his nutrient paste and got up to order some shnolok stew from the dispenser. He would have trouble eating it with his vacsuit even improved as it was but it would serve as a social aid to approach his targets. After getting an appropriately large serving, he scanned the Commons and quickly located a small group of Dintphs seated in the middle of the room. He made his way to the group, noting how excited they appeared to be. One of them was gesturing wildly in a retelling of past exploits and they weren’t paying attention to him.
He skirted around them, careful not to get their attention then abruptly turned and put his platter down at their table. The one speaking paused mid-sentence, staring at him with his hands still describing whatever part of the story he’d reached. The previous jovial atmosphere was gone, as if a lie in April. Gus wondered if he’d be able to do this. He really didn’t want to get Sil in more trouble.
He raised hand and tried to speak in his most sociable voice. “Why, hello there. Mind if I join you?” He didn’t wait for permission and sat down without another word. He could feel the four pairs of eyes snap towards him with equal parts hostility and curiosity.
He carefully opened the mouth opening of his suit and slowly put his spoon into his mouth. He felt the briefest of resistance when the metal reached the forcefield in front of his mouth but the spoon continued unabated until the warm stew entered his mouth. The forcefield was new: the Chief Engineer had reviewed his plight and designed a somewhat better suit, which included a miniature forcefield generator which snapped into position at the mouth opening of his vacsuit. It ensured that he could put things into his mouth but the atmosphere (and germs) within his suit wouldn’t leak out.
Enough about the suit though. The Dintphs were still staring at him in complete silence and he could see a couple of tail slowly lashing around. He was dangerously close to being rude so he introduced himself.
“Sorry about that, I really wanted to eat some of that. It’s really good.” He could see one set of ears twitch in approval. The lessons are paying off. Thanks Van. “I’m sure you know who I am but let me introduce myself; I’m the human Gustavo Martinez. You can call me Gus. It’s really nice to meet you.” He smiled without showing his teeth. Showing teeth was an aggressive tendency that species descended from predators had. He didn’t want to spook them.
He felt the tension ease up a bit as the storyteller leaned in on his elbows and stared at him candidly. “Hello, I’m Ensign Dascha Drenten. I’m in Engineering.”
“I’m Nyph Rohor,” another said. Good, good, curiosity overcomes rudeness.
“I’m Smil Wurum. Nice to finally see you up close.”
Seeing everyone else accept his presence, the final Dintph reluctantly introduced himself. “Rheh Git.”
Gus didn’t mind the curtness and launched into his plan of action. “You know I’ve always wanted to come speak to one of you before but I never could find the courage. But then I wanted to try out this shnolok stew and I guess I underestimated the size of the portion.” He chuckled in what he hoped was an amicable way. “I heard Sil mention that she loves shnolock so I thought I’d share with you guys and use the opportunity to get to know you.”
“Sil? Ah, I see. You’re him aren’t you? There’s rumours flying around that Sil Nubo the prude has finally settled for a mate and he’s quite… interesting.” The Dintph was looking at him the way a cat stares at a canary. He could see an almost predatory glint in Nyph Rohor’s eyes ever since he mentioned Sil’s name.
“Yeah, I’m her new mate. How’d you hear about that? We’ve been keeping it pretty quiet.” Gotcha. Hook, line and sinker.
“I’m actually one of Sil’s litter-sisters. We haven’t had a chance to talk after her mating frenzy abated but I’ve heard things.”
“Really? Her sister? What a coincidence.”
Coincidence my ass. Her name had come up during one of his talks with Sil and she’d mentioned that one of her litter-sisters was on the ship with her. He learned about her through Sil and the ever-helpful Van had helped to map her schedule.
“Is it true what they say?”
Gus tilted his head, waiting for more information. “About?”
“That you’re from a…” Nyph’s voice dropped to a whisper. “… a category thirteen?”
The sudden silence was deafening. It was like the chatter from the nearby tables was muffled static and there was a pocket of vacuum around them sucking all the sounds. Gus looked at each Dintph carefully before answering. Nyph had an eager yet fearful look in her eyes. He’d already forgotten the other three’s names but they were each staring at him intently. Well, all except for that one guy who was sneering at him.
“What’s a category thirteen?” he asked innocently.
Sneering Dintph scoffed. “He’s from such a backwater planet that he doesn’t even know the category index.” He was about to continue when Nyph shot him a look. His mouth closed with a click and he turned away in sullen silence.
Nyph leaned in conspiratorially. “Well, it’s a scale of one to fifteen that is an indicator of how dangerous a planet is, one being the lowest and fifteen being the most dangerous. Rumour has it your planet is a category thirteen planet.”
“Sorry, I don’t really understand this whole category business. I mean to me, it’s just home.”
“It’s like this, every factor affecting survival bumps your planet up on the scale. So a category one planet which is the most ideal planet has only one factor that is a potential life-threatening risk. Category thirteen means there are thirteen. Get it now?”
Gus frowned. “Wait, that doesn’t sound right. Thirteen is too much, isn’t it? If it was, I don’t know, category four or five I think that’d be more acceptable.”
“AI, can you list the factors that classify Human’s world as a category thirteen planet?”
“Affirmation. Listing factors. Factor one; poisonous atmosphere.”
“Wait, that’s definitely not right. I’ve been breathing this air for more than twenty years and I ain’t never died yet.”
“Clarification. Earth atmosphere is nineteen point seven percent oxygen by volume. Most species of the New Intergalactic Coalition cannot breathe oxygen in such concentrations.”
“Ok, fine, poisonous for others then.”
“Factor two. Hostile flora. There are several species of plants that secrete toxins or are actively carnivorous. Factor three. Hostile fauna. There are several species of hunter animals that are highly dangerous, both to denizens of the Coalition or even to humans. Factor four. Extremes of environment. There are several environmental anomalies that result in conditions changing outside of safe reference ranges. These include but are not limited to storms, heat waves, heavy snows, torrential rains and droughts. Factor five. Unstable geology. Earth’s crust consists of unstable plates that can store elastic strain energy and propagate that energy along fault lines, resulting in seismic events. There are also several active volcanoes on the planet’s surface.”
“Ok, see, that’s just seeing the negative in all things, AI. Such, there are some plants and animals that can kill you but that’s largely if you’re stupid. Even I know enough not to eat unknown mushrooms or brightly coloured fruits and I sure as hell don’t antagonise wild animals. As for the environment and quakes, well that doesn’t happen all the time and everywhere. And the volcanoes are actually quite pretty. It’s always a pleasure to go watch them in action. Very scenic.”
The four Dintphs were ogling him like he was a circus exhibit. “Wait, that drivel about a category thirteen is actually real? AI, can you confirm that his world is a category thirteen?”
“Confirmation. Earth has been actively classified as a category thirteen planet with sentient life. Data has been archived and addition to the Coalition database has been halted pending review by concerned parties.”
“Wait, so that’s just five factors. What are the other eight? Give us the short version,” Nyph eagerly asked. She seemed entirely too enthusiastic about this. Gus was starting to regret this but he’d never asked Van what the deal with Earth’s classification was. That’s a learning experience, I guess.
“Confirmation. Abbreviating listing. Factor six. High gravity. Factor seven. Evolving, highly contagious microbiota. Factor eight. Exposure to lethal amounts of solar radiation. Factor Nine. Hazardous environmental terrain such as swamps, acid pools or quick sands. Factor ten. Hazar-”
“We get it AI, no need to keep going,” Gus interrupted a bit tersely. He immediately regretted it. It wasn’t Van’s fault. He just didn’t realise that the galaxy at large considered his home to be a shithole and that kinda hurt. His hand tightened around his spoon and he used the silence that followed his outburst to shove a few spoonfuls of shnolok stew into his waiting gullet. It really was quite good, he could see why Sil liked it.
“How do you even live over there? Thirteen, that’s… that’s a deathworld!” one of the male Dintphs exclaimed.
“You keep throwing that word around. Deathworld. Like it’s supposed to mean something to me.”
“We call them deathworlds for a reason. There has never been any record of sentient life evolving on a deathworld. Colonisation is impossible. The planet simply grinds all life to dust. How did you survive?” Nyph was whispering now, clearly having lost some of that spark after hearing the rest of the reasons why Earth was a dump. Whoop-ti-doo.
“To me it’s just home. Sure, there are some places on Earth that suck major balls, but by and alrge it’s a safe place to live for me. For humans. Even for some plants and animals. I really don’t get what the fuss is all about.”
They all stared at him like he just grew an extra head. One of them shook his head. “You don’t get it. If one of us was sent to that planet, we wouldn’t last a day. It’s incredible that a whole civilisation actually managed to thrive on a deathworld.”
“Thanks for the compliment I guess,” Gus shrugged. “Look, can we change the subject? I’m sure AI can answer your questions about deathworlds at a later date.”
Once they had his tacit permission they started grilling him about how he ended up on the Vanatu. They were quite a receptive audience -even grumpy Dintph- and Gus found himself liking them more than he anticipated. When they reached a lull in the conversation Nyph suddenly leaned in and grinned a feral smile.
“So, you;ve been avoiding one more subject.”
“What happened with you and Sil?”
“Err… Why do you want to know?”
Her grin widened, showing more teeth. “She’s my litter-sister, I need to take care of her.” Gus was sure being her sister was far from the real reason. More entertainment, you mean.
Gus only smiled that teethless smile and kept eating his stew. Nyph’s tail was coiling up behind her back and lashed against the bench she was on with a violent thwack. Gus kept the smile up until she quickly nodded once.
Passed that test, didn’t I?
Among the Dintph it was considered quite rude to discuss mating with people who were not very family, even litter-siblings. Gus certainly didn’t want to brag about how Sil had nearly killed him everytime they were fucking and they also didn’t need to know his sperm was the Dintph equivalent of catnip.
A hand suddenly clamped on Nyph shoulder quite painfully from the looks of it. Nyph’s ears twitched and her grin slipped.
“Care to tell me why you’re so close to him Nyph?” a cold voice asked.