They met one day through the high chain-link fence of the space port gate. The landing pad area was an old NASA concrete expanse. Behind her was the dusty desert of West Texas. The high-speed rail car that had brought her to the backside of the most active freighter port in the solar system had already left. The man had seen many visitors come and go over the twelve years he’d operated his tramp freighter, in the almost forgotten dark corner of the remote space port. “Seen three aliens,” he told the young woman, swatting at a swarm of gnats bothering his face. The annoying persistence of the creatures wasn’t much different than his visitor. He was only fifty, but his leathered skin made him seem older. His thinning hair reinforced that perception to most. The woman was attractive, shapely, in her mid-thirties. As a reporter, she had tried to visit him often in the last two months. He finally gave in when she changed networks.
“I’m Rick,” the man said. “Captain, if you prefer.”
“Captain, really three aliens?” the woman asked him, shifting her eyes away. “That’s more than most have seen.”
Rick laughed and looked at her through the fence. His balding head gleamed of sweat in the hot environment. He suspected his half -bitten ear had soured her stomach. “I had that loading machine accident when I saw my first female alien,” Rick thought, as she looked back at him.
A blue blazer covered her sheer blouse. Her breasts were clearly visible when the gusting wind opened her jacket. Rick noticed her eyes danced when he was caught peeking at her hard nips. He was glad he had agreed to meet her in person. Rick decided, she looked even better than on her new network show. Her attire was so much more alluring than when she worked on Space Station Cooking with Celebrities, with a trendy but conservative audience. However, it was her family link to the last director of NASA that influenced his judgment, at least that is what he claimed. He had a soft spot for families of the recently defunct organization that had lasted two hundred years; also, he enjoyed watching her investigative reports on the naked news channel.
Curious about what he’d read on one of those paparazzi, image-covered, magazines, he asked, “How are you and your husband liking West Texas?” But he already knew that the man had run off with a young model. In the past few weeks, he had read a couple of articles about the drama. He considered her a minor celebrity, because of the switch over from the cooking show to a mainstream news organization. Her natural looks and non-augmented body was the new fashion and the source of rating increases. Middle America was tired of all the fake body types.
“Vince and I are divorced,” the reporter said, crossing her arms and adding scornful eyes. He was sure the sagebrush against the fence would burst into flames if she were any closer to it.
“No offense intended. I remember him from one of your cooking shows. You know, ‘World’s Worst Husband Grillers?’”
She laughed. “That was my highest rated episode.”
“Maybe he’ll audition for ‘World’s Worst Husband?’” He offered to mollify her, placing his hand over his heart, and flaring his fingers out like an explosion.
“Perhaps. You’ve sidetracked me,” the reporter announced. “I’m here about your life, not mine.”
“I know,” Rick said with resignation, rolling his eyes. He knew not to make a big deal about his faux apology. Women didn’t like that. “But I’m not talking about my divorce either.”
He must have said the right thing because she gave him a warm smile.
“Sure thing, we’ll not mention your old marital status in the background material,” she offered.
Her sincerity was real, but Rick felt behind her beautiful smile that something crude lurked. In the silence of the moment, Rick saw the woman’s gaze take in his complete body. His fat belly and aged imperfections weren’t the body of her former ex. He knew she was assessing his physical condition as much as he had reviewed her. He coughed and cleared his throat, as if trying to take control of the situation again.
“We’ve both had our hearts broken,” he announced, his Midwestern accent coming through strong. His posture slumping. “And, we’ve both moved on. We should share a drink in my cabin. Our walls will be adjoining, so it will be a short walk.”
“Is the alien aboard?” the woman asked, ignoring his invitation. She looked superior. She looked aloof.
“You’ll see soon enough. I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a Visitor. It’s a Space Service privacy regulation,” Rick answered. “But I’m sure you know that. The SS considers it a security issue and I could lose my license if they’re monitoring us.” His head lifted to the frosted globe on the gate pole. “As you know, they are pretty tight-lipped about the aliens, even after five years. I’m not senile enough to believe this is your first rodeo. I suspect you have some backchannel source. Your sweet smiles and reporter ways have someone feeding your eagerness and persistence to take a ride to the moon. Why else ride my old tramp freighter? This Saturday night launch is nothing special.” The reporter smirked back at him.
Rick opened the secured gate, using his hand on the bio scanner. Putting out his hand, he said, “Nice to meet you, Carrie.”
She reached out and shook his hand. “There isn’t a special handshake I should know about, if we meet a Visitor?”
He laughed and closed the gate. Carrie had passed the last hurdle to boarding his commercial ship. She had already passed through the three layered rings of high-security and the gates controlled by the military. This landing pad was his, one of the few privately licensed launched pads left in the independent country of Texas. He marked the thrill of finally touching her, the feel of soft skin. He wanted to touch her much more, and he had the only access to what she desperately wanted—a Visitor.
“After you,” he insisted.
Rick watched her small rounded backside as she entered his self-driving service cart. “Nice ass,” he thought to himself. She was looking at his freighter. “Things look much more impressive when you get closer to them,” he commented.
“The skin of that thing, so radiates the sun,” she answered.
“Skin is hot to the touch too,” he answered with a laugh, thinking of her.
She nodded, understanding not to touch the hot spaceship under such a harsh sunlight. She already had a dry mouth from the intense sun that made it uncomfortable to breathe. Over the last century, West Texas had become one of the hottest deserts in the southwest. The lack of rain water and dried up rivers had depopulated the region. The domed city of El Paso contained most of the remaining residents in the area.
The service cart drove up the spaceship’s loading ramp, and once Rick and Carrie exited it zipped away. Two cargo men were operating loader machines, containers labeled “Oxygen” were everywhere in the half-filled cargo bay. The silhouette of another man in an office was the only other person that Carrie could see. Rick hustled her to her simple cabin, which was well away from the busy cargo bay. He locked her in, explaining once the ship lifted off, she would have the freedom to roam. She knew the terms of their agreement and didn’t protest, turning on a music player.
As owner and captain of the tramp freighter he had made sure she was assigned to the room next to his. Through the vent in the wall Rick could hear almost everything that went on in her cabin. He decided to sit on his bunk and listen carefully for a while. It was fortunate the cargo boss handled the loading and Rick had no duties to attend to for an hour. He daydreamed about Carrie, visualizing her stripping for her news segment. Her slim hips and athletic muscles always excited him. Unfortunately, not twenty minutes later the cargo boss informed him the foodstuffs intended for the moon base were stolen in El Paso. The food bandits had blown a hole in the border wall and driven three truckloads of the specialized foods into Mexico. “Thank God the cargo isn’t my responsibility until it’s on my ship,” he thought.
That night, Rick ate dinner in his cabin, listening to the sounds the woman made alone in her cabin. Carrie had already eaten her dinner. Her music station was tuned to old dance music. “A rather nostalgic choice,” he thought, sipping his soup. The fresh vegetables in it were a rare treat, carrots and peas were his favorite. Living on the ship even when grounded, he rarely went to town for fresh food. He would normally enjoy a whiskey with his meal when in the space port; however, when an alien was on board the SS forbid delivery of alcohol. There was always a work around, even on a military base. In this case, he stocked beer for Visitors in their cabins; the SS didn’t need to know he drank it. The authorities regulated his life even more because of his private dealings with the Visitors. He was sure the SS were jealous, regular citizens didn’t see, let alone work with the aliens. In addition, they would interact with only a handful of men in the government.
Carrie often sang the vocals of the songs she played. Rick didn’t particularly like the sad songs, which she sang the most. He imagined her sitting on the tight fitting bunk with her blazer off, shaking her body to the faster songs. As time passed towards the night launch, she called someone, breaking the SS’s no contact rule while on the base. Rick didn’t care. She was rather foul mouthed during the conversation, violently slamming the adjoining wall. Carrie’s personal tirade actually endeared her more to Rick. “There is a real person inside that skin,” he thought.
“You are not to wear my shoes!” “What?” “Babe, listen to me. You are not just my ‘rebound’ partner.” “You say that because I’m on assignment.” “I love you honey.” He didn’t like the sound of that. Moreover, no one had called him endearingly for a long time.
Once in space, Rick flipped the autopilot on. He let the navigation equipment deal with the micro changes required to keep the tramp on course to the moon base. The Visitor sat behind him in the communication’s pod, where he listen to the military chatter on the channel. The boredom on his chiseled features didn’t surprise Rick. He looked like anyone else, surprisingly human; and, he was equally bored when in the low-tech bridge. Earth’s space flight capabilities were primitive in comparison to the Visitor’s science, exploration vessel.
“Darp, tell me again, why you let a female on our ship?” Rick asked, after popping a piece of gum in his mouth.
“It’s a controlled environment with no oversight by SS.” Darp smiled, his perfect teeth shined brightly. If ever allowed, his handsome image on a romance novel cover would sell millions.
“Tell me what is really bothering you? Once we lifted off all governmental control fell away. That was part of the deal with your planet.”
“Don’t think for one minute the bureaucrats in SS won’t blame me for taking a female reporter to the moon, especially with you aboard,” Rick snapped.
“You blue-planet people are so emotional.”
“Did you ever see the Star Trek episode where Dr. McCoy...” Darp waved his hand and cut off Rick.
“We are not closet Vulcans,” the alien said. “We’ve been over this before. Only some of us have pointed ears. As a social scientist, I have had to watch all of your science fiction telecasts. You’re obsession with the latest version of that ancient entertainment telecast is showing.”
“They got it right. All the Visitors I’ve transported have the same level of emotions as a Vulcan. Just be glad no one calls you one,” Rick said, laughing.
“Rick, you speak plainly and don’t hide your thoughts and intentions from us. That is, your charm,” Darp answered, slightly tilting his head. “Thus, I will continue to study humans on your ship. If I do it on Earth or your space station, it won’t be a controlled environment. Your government would find a way to interfere, affecting the results.”
“I’m the one that told you they couldn’t be trusted,” Rick added.
“That too was true. You’ve been a true friend to us,” Darp responded. “It has been an interesting experience to observe you. Your behavior with this reporter has been particularly enlightening.”
“I haven’t hidden my interest in her,” he said defensively.
“You know I don’t care about your sexual activities. I refer to how you lie to her,” Darp explained.
“Humans lie to each other. I’ve never hid that from you,” Rick answered, even more defensively.
“Yes, this will be an excellent couple of days,” Darp pronounced. “I will return to my monitoring station, and then you can unlock her door.”
Rick didn’t mind guiding her around on the official tour. He laughed to himself when she protested not seeing any aliens. Once, he was back to his duties, Carrie announced she was going to interrogate the two cargo hands. They were mutes, and he doubted she had an implant to talk to them. “It’s good to be ex-military with sub-vocal implants,” Rick thought.
Sunday morning, Rick’s Visitor parked his butt in the navigator’s chair again. The captain had fried up some eggs, bacon and toast, poured coffee and served it to the alien. Rick had spent the last hour listening to Carrie pester him about meeting the alien. She hadn’t taken his smirks well, storming back to her cabin. The 100 meter long ship felt smaller and smaller, each time he lied to her. Before making breakfast, he had listened in on her cabin. The occasion cry of offensive words had punctuated her room, many of them directed at him.
“I like the spunk of the reporter,” Rick expressed to Darp once he joined him for breakfast with his own plate of food. Rick was more of a muffin lover, his meal had his eggs and bacon sandwiched within the hot muffin. “She is single,” he went on, “I like having her next door, but don’t you think it’s time to meet her?”
Darp ate his food quietly. His attractive face looked about Carrie’s age. “Truthfully, I intend to after eating.”
There wasn’t much to the meal, so Darp finished up quickly. “I like how she looks,” he commented.
“Is that from her news show or your feed to her cabin?” Rick asked.
“I don’t need any drama from you,” Darp answered comically.
“Why, I think that was an attempt at humor,” Rick boosted.
“I am not sure other social scientists at home will understand my clinical observations on this ship. They are much more serious minded than me,” Darp uttered, over his shoulder before disappearing into the bowels of the ship.
“He cracks me up,” Rick thought. “I’ve seeded a pinch of humor into his consciousness.”
The alien dropped down a deck using a ladder. It was an old ship. The steel grated floors had their navy-gray color rubbed off in foot paths that marked long use. The narrow passageways were unlike his experiences on his science vessel that were three times as wide. Even the overhead lights had a worn look. However, the alien knew the ship’s mechanics were in top form. The captain had been a rich man. Where it was important he spared no expense, engines, environmental systems, and such.
The alien rang the cabin door chime, and then knocked when there was no answer. When the woman answered, Rick was watching from the hallway camera. She wore a simple white-tee shirt, with the words ‘Foxy News: We have nothing to hide.’ Rick remembered her wearing it earlier. Darp handed her his bio-card, something Visitors did with the opposite sex, when meeting a person for the first time. Rick really hadn’t thought to ask why. He had only seen Darp do it with another alien, and at the time he thought it was like a business card. Carrie flapped the card under her nose, and then stopped talking. The alien looked expectant, not moving, keeping Rick glued to the bridge’s monitor. Finally, the woman shrugged and waved the alien inside, closing the door. Rick fumed about Darp getting into her quarters so easily.
After an hour, Rick went back to his ready room, which was attached to the bridge. He worked on electronic paperwork for their arrival at the moon base. Carrie found him there, glumly filling out the disclosure concerning her—a female passenger. There weren’t regulations that applied to his vessel about bringing a woman, but it was understood. Only SS vetted operatives shipped out to the moon base, which happen to be where the Visitors operated from. Indeed, no one had successfully cracked the SS’s control over commercial vessels, dragging them under complete military influence. There was only one tramp freighter allowed to the visit moon base, and only a few high ranking officers knew Visitors used it. In fact, the world’s United Government’s ruling body puts substantial press on West Texas to leave Rick alone. However, the country of West Texas was mighty independent minded. They controlled the Space Service, and the SS had a near monopoly on solar commercial operations. The obvious counterbalance was the UG controlled the military and the Moon Base.
“Hey,” Carrie said. A warm smiled greeted Rick. She tousled her hair nervously. The bright pink glow of flushed cheeks wasn’t lost on Rick.
Rick swung his chair around to face her better. “I’m not the prying type, but I am glad you found your alien. He is a good friend of mine, even though he plays his scientific games with me. Perhaps you’ll become a good friend too.”
“He sat with me in my room,” she answered. “He gives a great interview.”
“Now, now, I am a professional spacer. I’ll respect your privacy,” he said with a sincerity that didn’t measure up to his thoughts.
She stood and touched his hand. “There’s nothing private about quizzing an alien about his life, tastes and preferences.”
He inwardly cringed.
“He wasn’t what I thought at all. He looks totally human,” Carrie said rather dreamily. The doe eyes were hard to miss. “We are going to use the activity center in an hour. You could come with us if you want.”
Carrie totally missed his furrowed eyebrows, lost in her own thoughts.
Rick shook his head. “You don’t need an old captain getting in your way of a hot story.”
“If you want to join us in virtual reality game, I don’t mind,” she continued flatly, while moving to the doorway. “I owe you.”
“Sure,” Rick said. “We’ll meet there. I’ll grab a few beers, and after the game you can ask to see his office. You do drink beer?”
“I was a college girl. What college girl doesn’t?” she answered, backing up into the doorframe.
“See you then,” Rick said. He watched until her butt disappeared.
Rick went back to the bridge and passed the time in the command chair.
Just before ten o’clock, a solar flare swept the ship, battering the old vessel. Looking over his instruments Rick was pleased no system errors blipped on the main board. He went to his cabin and took a quick shower. When Rick stepped out to dry the water off his body, the communication panel chirped. At a touch, the recorded voice of Darp announced, “Tell Carrie I’m stuck in an experiment. I can’t play a VR game right now.”
“She won’t like this,” Rick said to the wall.
He took his time dressing. From the alien’s hidden cabin he grabbed two beers, humming a happy tune all the way to the activity center. There he pulled out two glasses from a cabinet and found the Virtual Reality headsets. He also tuned into the space traffic control system, which was a habit when so far from the bridge. The ship was highly automated and had a top notch thinking machine. Yet, the captain was old school, and he still followed the important communication protocols. A few minutes later, Carrie bounced into the room, in her tee-shirt without a bra, understandably Rick was immediately affected.
“Where is he?” she asked, as a greeting.
“Good to see you again,” Rick answered, holding up two beer bottles.
She moved around in such a way as to peer down all the intersecting hallways. Rick was pleased to smell the freshly showered scent of the woman. He happily noted her pointed nips. In her hand was a personal interface device. “She was probably going to video him playing the VR game,” Rick thought. “It would be a light and airy segment for her show.”
She kicked off her shoes and moved toward the VR platform, which looked more like a dance floor. When experiencing VR with a headset, the experience was more real if physically connected to the warmed platform. Rick never understood the techno-science behind it; sensor currents in the platform used the body’s electrical impulses to heighten the change in reality. Rick placed the bottles down when she showed no interest in them. She tripped next to him and a blush rippled across her face as he caught her. He liked holding her. Once on the platform she bent and looked around again for the alien, down the passageways. A glimpse of her cleavage excited Rick.
“I’m sorry to report my other passenger is ... running late,” Rick explained. “He is running an experiment. I think it is running long.” Rick stayed close to her and inhaled a hint of lavender. “Beer?” he offered again.
Not waiting for an answer Rick poured the beers into two glasses. “He says we shouldn’t wait. Let’s drink up and play games.”
He dimmed the room, only secondary floor lights remained. They glowed and provided a dim environment. Her face fell into heavy shadows. The hallway lights gave off the brightest illumination.
He coaxed her off the VR platform with his right hand at the small of her back. Carrie grudgingly allowed it. Her muscles gave her more substance than expected, she was strong.
“Let’s put our feet up,” Rick encouraged.
She slipped her shoes back on and followed him to the crew’s couch. Carrie sat and crossed her legs. He stepped away for a moment, returning with the beers. The communications system rhythmically beeped its active status.
“To new friends,” Rick toasted.
She raised her glass to his, and then drank. She made a surprised face and her nostrils flared. Carrie sniffed at the drink. Rick looked down the passageway and grinned. He felt wonderful, the heat of her body touched him and he enjoyed it. He didn’t want to get overeager, so he played it cool, thinking how to explain Darp’s absence. “Young men have one track minds, they love the hunt and when they bag their animal, they go home. His work may have saved you some embarrassment. Too be honest, I am rather pleased to be the only man here.”
“Honestly,” she snorted, half-laughing at Rick. “I never pegged you for one of those men, sniffing around a lady with a beer in hand. I only interviewed him.”
Rick leaned into her, lowering his head conspiratorially. “I’ll bet it was an enthusiastic experience for both of you.” She turned beet red and straightened up, turning rigid before his eyes.
Her fingernails tapped on the beer glass telegraphing a thought process that Rick carefully watched. In the end, she relaxed and sank back into the couch. The soft fabric offered no comfort to her. She closed her eyes and drank, looking back an hour, satisfied with what she had achieved with the alien. Tired from lack of sleep, her mind drifted to the longing, her body felt for Darp. His handsome appearance had been a surprise, even though her sources confessed the aliens had a natural attractiveness and allure. Standing in the door to her cabin, her first thoughts were sexual, feelings of want that filled her heart. He asked to come inside and she had let him. She had broken a cardinal rule her mother had drilled into her— never invite a strange man into your bedroom.
The alien had only held her hand. “If he comes back to my room, I’ll want more than holding hands,” she thought. “I’ll encourage much more. Fuck my ex, this man is way hotter. Getting pregnant would make a huge story.”
Forgetting where she was, Carrie laughed and said, “Slut.”
“What?” Rick asked.
Flustered, she opened her eyes. “I am not a slut.”
Rick saw her edginess and irritated eyes that shot cold barbs. Yet, he didn’t see where she was coming from. “Have I offended you somehow?”