From the author: "We met like two galaxies, drifting together on the dance floor of Prince Je-Haran Em-Groth’s tri-union afterparty, caught in each other’s gravities." | Two women from different worlds and a law that punishes interspecies relationships by death. Laws can change, but with two very different species in the first steps of diplomatic relations, what might be the cost?
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We met like two galaxies, drifting together on the dance floor of Prince Je-Haran Em-Groth’s tri-union afterparty, caught in each other’s gravities. Our skirts swirled crystal pinpoints on black velvet. We wore the same dress—I’d been late, and the Human consulate complex only had one formal-wear shop; you’d wanted something different and new after being stuffed into tight robes all day for your father’s wedding. The dress looked fabulous on both of us.
Your eyes shone polished ebony, reflecting cheap, rainbow LEDs in the consulate social hall. Rings covered slim fingers, none meaning what they would on a Human hand.
Our fingertips brushed, your hand-teeth sheathed. Fingers caught and interlocked and we swayed to kitschy music, Humans and Je-Harana revolving around us. Having the afterparty at the Human consulate had been your idea, a gesture of diplomatic friendship. But it wasn’t friendship that parted your lips now. Or mine. That made our breaths draw faster.
“I’m Onono Em-Apa Je-Haran,” you said.
And I, being the adequately-trained and slightly drunk diplomatic aide I was, bowed to your royalty, adding depth for your beauty.
You smiled. Smiles were a thing our species had in common.
Time between two sheets after a wedding party shouldn’t become something more, not with a Je-Harana prince’s daughter, the consulate a fortress on his ancillary world. It should never have happened to begin with. But you had been…you. Glittering, a flavor not to be untasted.
You came daily with your father to the consul’s offices and we brushed hands, never meeting eyes. I suspected you ran the principality more than he did. Negotiations dragged on, with excuses for us to touch while your unknowing father fidgeted, neck spines unsheathing when he wasn’t vigilant.
At night, you and I lingered on encrypted comm, painting our worlds. You whispered the turquoise and orange double sunsets of Je-Haran Prime, which no Human had seen or likely would. I murmured mountain biking, and you said I was insane to careen down a slope with no hardlight protection, which was most of the appeal.
Your laugh was like sunlit rain in summer.
We wanted more than comms. We wanted laws about interspecies relationships to change. A dance was one thing. A dance was social. But it was never supposed to go beyond the dance. We dreamed it might not be career-ending with my people or a death penalty with yours.
“We’ll change it,” you told me over comms in the night. “We’ll change the laws, Love. We’ll be together.”
The day we couldn’t resist temptation to more than brush hands again was the day your father found us.
The day you made your bid for change. Both, in hindsight, were inevitable.
When your father burst into your borrowed consulate rooms, owning the doorway like one cloud in a blue sky, death lit your eyes.
It was swift. Your neck talons unsheathed, and your hands grew fangs, and I turned away as you struck.
Then you came back to bed, wiping your bloody hands on the sheets, and smiled as if nothing had happened. Because smiling was a thing our species had in common.
Princess Je-Haran Em-Apa, now ruler of Je-Haran. Closest neighbor to Human space. Thirty-two planets of potential friends or enemies.
I’d shared my barest self with you. I thought you had with me. I thought I’d known you.
Maybe as ruler you could change the laws. But the moment you became ruler was the moment I stopped hoping the laws might change.
You came to me at the starport, duffel on my shoulder. Dressed as one of your guards, anonymous veil covering your mouth--but I knew your eyes. Knew the stars within them and how hot they burned.
“Love. My Noémie.” You brushed my hand. “We’ll make it work.”
I pulled away, throat swelling. I was tearing off a piece of myself, but that piece was already ash.
“Why won’t you stay?” you asked. “I’ve started the path. You can be one of my spouses. I can change that law, too. I’ll only have a wife, no husband. Just for you.”
The pain in your eyes seared me. Because you knew I couldn’t say yes. Just like you knew you shouldn’t have asked the question. I gripped your hand, your serrated hand-teeth, fanged in your distress, cutting grooves in my palm.
“No. No, Ona. I can’t—” We’d hoped, but we’d both known this might not last. It couldn’t last.
Because we might talk and there might be understanding, or there might not. Turquoise and orange sunsets that Humans could never see and mountain bikes that Je-Harana would never understand.
We weren’t ready for this conversation. There was too much we didn’t understand, too much we had to learn. You wouldn’t let Humans roam freely on your ancillary world. That wouldn’t change, not right away, not even for me. And your people praised you for how you’d come by your throne.
We could bridge the gap eventually. Or start a war, you and I. The Je-Harana were excellent at war. You’d un-fanged your bloody hand-teeth and come back to bed smiling.
I smoothed the gray creases beside your ebony eyes, and you pressed your fingertips, those once-bloody fingertips, to my lips.
There was that understanding, at least. Maybe one day there would be more. But not with you, my love. Not with me and you.
Our galaxies glided apart in the dark, trailing fires from their collision.