24 Hours
a T'Phetti fanfic by T'Clar

This fanfic is set just after they thought they'd wiped out the Bug Queen altogether.

For Smoke. I promised you I'd finish it ...


Dawn. The lights fizzed on, blinking a few times before becoming stable and emitting a hard yellowish-white light that hit the dull grey walls and metal grille floor almost as if the light itself was a solid, hard object.

N’Maer’s eyes opened; she blinked several times in annoyance, realized a solution, then jammed her eyes shut again.

A banging in her head awakened her. W’Kul’s head protruded over the edge of the upper bunk. He was swinging a breathing apparatus from his powersuit, hitting her in the head with her. So this was her alarm clock.

“Rise and shine, N’Maer!” N’Maer thought he was terribly annoying; he had been ever since she had known him. He insisted on using Terran language; because it was fashionable. He also used Human proverbs, sayings and clichés to the extent that it became almost intolerable. He had a somewhat abrasive personality, the sort that made her occasionally have to grit her teeth in order to prevent herself smacking him in the face.

Yet somehow, she counted him as a close friend.

“N’Maer, you are one lazy individual!” He said to her, shaking her vigorously. She submitted to his attempt to awaken her, and sat up, hitting her head hard on the upper bunk. Rubbing her head, she turned to look at W’Kul, who was already powersuited up, standing before her with his arms crossed, and that ridiculous grin upon his face.

“I would not be so tired, if you did not insist upon talking all night!” She retorted. His grin was still unchanged, he shook his head.

“You really do have no sense of humor. Even for a T’Phetti, it is uncanny.”

N’Maer chuckled, then climbed to her feet. W’Kul was annoying, but a good friend. He never hurt her, and certainly never would.

“You do know what day it is …” Said W’Kul.


“No … Ah’N’Dah day. A whole orbit’s worth!” W’Kul spoke this triumphantly. To all Troopers, both T’Phetti and Terran, R&R was like gold. Especially since it had become an all-too-infrequent event, now that the War had heated up.

At W’Kul’s mentioning of this, N’Maer’s face lit up. R&R! A whole twenty-four hours!

But what would she do with it?

Presently, they were in orbit of Earth. A transport would carry them down to the planet’s surface, where they would spend 24 hours doing whatever they please. Apparently, the Queen Bug had been exterminated whilst en-route to Earth.

Unfortunately for N’Maer, and many other T’Phetti, they had yet to complete the two-year term of service required by SICON. Most of them would be re-assigned with clean-up patrol for as long as it took to complete their term. The trouble was, there really wasn’t much to be done. Most of them would be sent to places very remote, and very boring, to do something that no one really did want done.

But for now, it was a whole 24 hours of bliss.

“What do you intend on doing?” W’Kul asked N’Maer.

 N’Maer replied without an instant’s hesitation. “Sleep.”

“WHAT?!?” W’Kul’s voice had an air of disbelief that made N’Maer smile “Sleep? Not on your life …” He grabbed the reluctant N’Maer by the arm “You are going with me, to meet the locals!”

“By ourselves? That may prove hazardous …” N’Maer was apprehensive. W’Kul could be quite careless when planning these things. She knew from experience.

“No, with my friends. They have agreed to introduce us to Human customs.” He grinned. “I think it will be fun.”

N’Maer was not so sure. She recalled last time something like this had happened. W’Kul had been fascinated by the lush greenery and ample wildlife on Tesca Namerosa. He had dragged a reluctant N’Maer off into the wilderness. Six hours of R&R had quickly elapsed, and they had become somewhat lost, despite their navigational systems. Both had discovered that it was one thing to know where someplace is, and quite another to actually try to get there, especially through dense foliage. Eventually the two T’Phetti had been located - twelve hours after their supposed return time – entangled one of the Giant Spider’s web. N’Maer still winced as she recalled the triple dose of night watch that both their Lieutenants had relishingly issued to the both of them.

N’Maer supposed she could be lenient towards W’Kul. Just this once. Besides, they were going with W’Kul’s friends from Gamma squad. They were all Humans, so N’Maer knew they would stay out of trouble. She also knew a few of them, though W’Kul had not mentioned which of his friends were coming.

She sighed. She might be making a poor decision, but she might as well go. She stated so.

“Very well. I shall go.”

She had to suppress laughter at the triumphant expression on her friend’s face.

W’Kul handed N’Maer her powersuit, which she donned and checked with practiced expertise. The two then proceeded through the air lock, and into the main corridor.

“…And he’s bringing N’Maer, too.”


“His female friend.”

“OoooOOOOooh …”

“Not like THAT! She’s just a friend of his.”

“Thank God. Skinnie love is … weird.”

“They might think the same about us?”

“Shut up, Nylon!”

“Well, I for one am looking forward to this …”

“Hey, here they come.”

W’Kul confidently strode up to the small group of Human Troopers who congregated near the entrance to the docking bay, eagerly awaiting their ride to Earth. N’Maer, who was a step behind, look somewhat less confident, until their approach was interrupted by a joyful cry.

“N’Maer!” Sgt. Parker Kennedy rushed forward.

N’Maer’s face lit up. W’Kul had not mentioned that her old friend was going to accompany them.

“Pah’Kar! I mean, Sargent Kennedy …” She snapped a salute, smiling.

Kennedy grinned back.

“N’Maer, it’s always Parker to you. Even though we’re no longer the same rank.” He said this with a hint of regret in his voice. Whilst he was a Sargent, N’Maer was still a Private.

“I have not seen you since your promotion … you have enjoyed being a member of Gamma squad?”

“The man I replaced was a good man. He isn’t forgotten. But I seem to have been …” He glanced at the others who were making idle conversation with W’Kul “Well, relatively well accepted.”

“The Thracians have not been the same without you.” N’Maer looked sad.

Kennedy suppressed the urge to embrace his friend. The two had been through much together. When he was promoted to Corporal, N’Maer had been overjoyed for him. Then a few months later he made Sargent, and was transferred to Gamma squad to replace their old Topkick, who’d been killed in action.

N’Maer had acted pleased for him. He had even tried to fool himself into thinking it was for the better. But it had been a sad departure, and both knew he would have much preferred to remain Corporal and stay with the Thracians, and his friend.

“I shouldn’t have accepted the promotion, should I …”

“Nonsense! You and I both know that you deserved it. Why, you should be a Lieutenant by now.”

“N’Maer … I …” He sighed. It was no use saying what she already knew.

Perfectly on cue, the boarding alarm rang out. W’Kul approached the two, and gestured towards the craft that was to ferry them to the Earth’s surface. They followed him through the entrance, and clamped into their seats for departure.

N’Maer anxiously look sideways at W’Kul, who grinned and placed a reassuring hand on her knee. He was always so completely secure with everything. Either a fool, or one with vast experience. And N’Maer knew he was certainly no fool. He would never tell, but as a Corporal, he had experienced far more than most Generals. N’Maer admired his confidence.

She looked across at Kennedy, who smiled warmly at her.

“You’ll be fine. The Civilians know about the T’Phetti. I’m sure most will be interested to meet you.”

N’Maer smiled inwardly. Kennedy was one of the few Humans that used the proper term for her people instead of the Derogatory “Skinnie”.

“I am not particularly concerned about …” She began. But W’Kul interrupted.

“N’Maer, let me introduce you to my friends.” He didn’t wait for an answer, and gestured to the man seated the other side of him.

The man was burly, with wide shoulders, hair cropped to less than half an inch, and stark blue eyes. His face showed visible lines. N’Maer guessed his age to be slightly over forty Terran years. He had a broad smile.

This is Corporal Dmitri Rossemov. He is from Russia.” Said W’Kul.

“A Pleasure to meet you, N’Maer. W’Kul has spoken of you before.”

N’Maer noticed a distinct accent to his voice, probably to do with his upbringing. She recalled about the division of the Earth into ‘Continents’ by water. She had heard that Humans from different areas of the Earth looked and spoke differently – though to her, most looked the same, until she became familiar with them.

N’Maer smiled at the Russian, and W’Kul introduced the next of his friends.

“Corporal Tatiana McIntyre. McIntyre is our Medic, and our technical expert.”

The woman acknowledged N’Maer with a slight smile, small wave, and a barely audible “hi.” She was thin (for a Human) and somewhat pale-skinned. She had tawny hair, pulled back in a messily loose ponytail. Her face had thin features, and she had a pair of thin-framed wire spectacles perched on her nose.

N’Maer recognised her. She was very well trained, and extremely well educated for such an unassuming person.

“You studied W’Kul in Terran History, did you not?” N’Maer asked.

“Yeah, that’s right. We’ve met before, haven’t we? On Klendathu …”

“Yes …”

N’Maer had met McIntyre when Parker was transferred to Gamma Squad. Secretly, she thought that Parker had been quite attracted to the woman.

The sound of someone clearing their throat drew N’Maer’s attention to a younger Human. Why, he must barely be out of High School, she thought.

“Ahh,” said W’Kul “This is Private Neil Caines. He …”

“Call the kid Nylon.” A voice interrupted “And the kid’s the refreshments technician.”

There were laughs from all the squad. Obviously some kind of joke, thought N’Maer. The man that had spoken was loud, and drawled out his words. He had blonde hair in a wedge cut, and brown eyes that were ringed with the wrinkles of late nights and lots of smiles. His brow moved constantly when he talked, and his almost caricatured appearance contrasted with that on Neil ‘Nylon’ Caines, who was short an well fleshed, with peachy cheeks, a ruddy complexion, and deep brown eyes that squinted when he talked – either he knew exactly what he meant, or was only just trying to figure it out.

“Kyle Thompson, pleased to meet you.” The loud man seized N’Maer’s hand, shaking it enthusiastically.

“Private Thompson was a Terran High School English Teacher before he joined the service.” W’Kul added.

“Yeah, the school walls closed in on me, and I decided on a more … unpredictable career.” He grinned. N’Maer could see why W’Kul was friends with this man – they were a perfect match in wit.

The restraints locked, and the pilot announced they were ready for launch. N’Maer felt that familiar force in the pit of her stomach, that never ceased to startle her. The gravity shifted, and the craft was buffeted about in the turbulence as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. The craft decelerated, and levelled itself with the horizon. The ground rushed by in a blur of colours, until the craft began the short descent to the landing bay.

The procedure was over quickly, and the six troopers and two Skinnies disembarked.

N’Maer looked about herself in awe. This was not just another planet, not even just a colony. This was an entire civilisation. Life had evolved here, and become as perfectly adapted to this planet as the T’Phetti were to Tophet.

In her childhood, N’Maer would never have dreamed to be standing where she was now; doing what she was.

And the others casually strolled across the concrete, showing only relief to be back home.

“Truly amazing, is it not?” W’Kul commented.

N’Maer nodded in agreement.

Several hours later, the small party had cleared through everything. N’Maer was aching, and exhausted. She had been poked, prodded, scanned, and jabbed with a large assortment of needles for things with very long names. She had had to fill out a dozen or so forms; Medical background, Census Bureau, and a few titled “Unspecified Government Body” which she had quickly filled in, though the questions baffled her and were all to do with Psychological profiles.

Now the group was outside the complex, looking down a long street. The Humans were clothed in their plain uniforms with berets, whilst the two T’Phetti had to remain in their powersuits.

“What now?” Said McIntyre.

Everyone was thinking the same thing. None of them had family in the area, so there would be no visits.

N’Maer was still in awe at her surroundings. So many buildings; she had never seen so much urbanization in her life! A question arose in her mind:

“Which continent is this?”

“North America,” The answer came from Kennedy. “The country is the United States of America, or the USA.” He added.

“Ah,” said N’Maer “You are from Canada, are you not?”

“Yes, that’s right. Toronto.”

“How far away is that?”

“A long way …” He paused. “Even if I wanted to go back there, it’s a long way to travel. Not in …” He looked at his watch “Seventeen hours. I couldn’t get back here as well.”

N’Maer’s brow wrinkled in puzzlement. “You have no wish to visit your homeplace?”

Kennedy sighed. “There’s … not really much to go back to. He said.

There was an uncomfortable silence, and then a figure strode briskly up to the small group.

“Sir,” The Private addressed Kennedy ”Aitch-que requests the presence of one Corporal W’Kul and one Corporal McIntyre, for clean-up duty.”

Kennedy glanced at the two. Both cursed in their own languages, and reluctantly looked at the Private.

“Sorry guys,” said Kennedy “Real bummer.” He seemed especially sorry to see McIntyre leave.

N’Maer looked alarmed. W’Kul was leaving her with a group of people, of whom she only knew one? It was not his choice, but …

W’Kul grinned, reading her expression perfectly.

“You will be fine,” he said as he stepped alongside the Private and McIntyre “They are all very fine Humans!”

He turned, and was gone. The remainder of the group smiled warmly at N’Maer. Kennedy laughed at the expression of uncertainty on her face.

“Well, I don’t know about you lot,” said Rossemov “But I could really use a drink right now.”

“There is water in our supplies …” Offered N’Maer.

“He means alcohol.” Kennedy clarified.

Again, N’Maer looked perplexed. Humans were so difficult to understand.

Two hours later. Rossemov had picked a bar he thought looked appropriate, and they had entered the place.

Rossemov was now deeply involved in conversation with a blonde woman who giggled at everything he said, despite the corny quality of the man’s jokes.

N’Maer, Kennedy, Caines and Thompson were all seated round a table. Everyone except N’Maer had an alcoholic beverage of some sort on the table before them.

N’Maer had become the center of attention for a number of patrons of the bar. Many people had cast odd glances in her direction. Kennedy had told her to ignore them, and she had.

“So ... N’Maer … whereabouts are you from?” Caines asked he. He was trying to make idle conversation. The group hadn’t said much since entering the bar.

“A’Eol’Tar. I believe you Humans have re-named the area to Mason’s Canyon.”

There was an uneasy silence. The humans were amazed at how N’Maer could so clearly, yet so subtly, illustrate her disapproval of the Humans re-naming the villages of Tophet. And without the slightest trace of malice in her voice, either.

N’Maer broke the silence.

“Which area are you yourself from, Private Caines?”

“Home town is Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Caines said with pride.

N’Maer looked blank.

“In the USA,” He added.

“Hmm …” N’Maer pondered this whilst the conversation paused. So many divisions, continents and countries … then again, there were few enough T’Phetti to know all the locations of all the main cities. Any smaller areas usually lay near a main city. The Humans far outnumbered the T’Phetti, and probably needed a system with so many subdivisions.

A cough broke her chain of thought. She looked up, and saw Thompson say something to Caines, who laughed and nodded. Thompson looked at N’Maer.

“You ever do any dancing?” He asked.

N’Maer considered this. Yes, she had, on Tophet. But he was sure that that wasn’t quite what Thompson meant. She chose the safest answer.

“No …” She said.

“Well,” Said Thompson “It’s high-time you learned!”

N’Maer’s eyes grew wide with apprehension.

“I do not think …”

“Aww, c’mon, Skinnie-gal! You’ll be fine!”

Thompson dragged N’Maer to her feet, and into the clearing between the tables, where a small (and, in N’Maer’s opinion, very untalented) band was strangling tunes out of their guitars and keyboards. Human couples danced in step that N’Maer thought looked extremely difficult, especially with feet the size of hers. They all stared at her oddly as she was led onto the dance floor by Thompson.

Thompson ignored the fact that that there parted a noticeable clearance around them. He simply seized N’Maer’s gloved, three-fingered hand, and encouragingly began to show her a few steps. He tried to twirl her around, but her greater weight and his momentum meant he ended up twirling himself around her.

Both of them laughed. N’Maer was actually having fun.

Then she felt a shove in her back, and she was forced forwards into a table. She tripped, and the table collapsed. She turned around, surprised, and looked into the enraged face of a man, about in his mid-fifties. He held a threatening fist at N’Maer.

“You Skinnies murdered my son!” He yelled. He spat on N’Maer’s helmet. She made no attempt to wipe it off or retaliate. She simply stared, sadness in her eyes, at the man. She had encountered the likes of him before, but never any Civilians.

“Look at you,” The man continued “No emotion. No feeling. You … cold-hearted son of a bitch!”

“Let her go,” Said a voice. It was Thompson, the usual bouncy cheerfulness gone from his voice “She’s done nothing to you. Her people were under mind control when …”

“SICON trash! You expect me to believe that? I know what they’re like. They’ll recruit anyone that can hold a gun, they take no …”

Thompson grabbed the man’s arm, and was quickly assisted by Caines, who grabbed the other.

N’Maer looked sadly over at Kennedy. A man in a suit came up to the two, and spoke, addressing N’Maer.

“I think it’s best for everyone that you leave. We don’t want any more trouble.”

Kennedy put a comforting arm around N’Maer, and ushered her to the exit.

He noticed something that she never did. She was trembling.

Fourteen and a half hours left. The sun had set whilst they were in the bar. Kennedy and N’Maer walked down the street with no particular destination in mind. They just wished to get away from the bar.

People shuffled by, stopping occasionally to stare at the average-heighted Kennedy, and the towering figure of N’Maer. The pair made an interesting contrast to each other, with Kennedy’s relatively handsome face compared to N’Maer’s … well, very alien face, peering from behind the somewhat unappealingly yellow methane that swirled within her visor.

N’Maer was noticeably upset. Kennedy was worried about her – ever since he had known her, she had never been this upset.

“He was very much in the wrong …” offered Kennedy. N’Maer looked at him, not saying a word.

“N’Maer … I’m sorry,” Kennedy sounded upset “We shouldn’t have gone there. I should have taken into consideration the types around there.”

“It was fun to begin with. I made a fool of myself attempting to dance, and came to the conclusion that Human music is without a doubt the worst in the galaxy,” N’Maer made an attempt at a grin, a practice she was picking up from W’Kul.

Kennedy chuckled. This was the old N’Maer he knew, the N’Maer with whom he had tried to play Monopoly, and she hadn’t grasped the currency idea. Instead of mere confusion, she had been so completely amused with the concept. Kennedy had never seen a T’Phetti so amused with anything in his whole term of service.

“You handled it well. T’Suur would have been proud of you,” He said quietly.

N’Maer looked away, up to the stars.

“T’Suur would never have thought my best friend in the whole galaxy was going to be Human. He never would have even dreamed that some day, our people would venture from Tophet.”

Parker looked to N’Maer. “Do you miss him?” He immediately knew this was a silly question. Of course she missed him.

N’Maer nodded slightly, and spoke very softly. “My heart never ceases aching. I still long for him. But over time, I find that I am able to deal with …” She trailed off. Her lower lip began to tremble. She looked away again, and stopped walking.

“N’Maer …?”

“I am all right.”

Kennedy sighed. He should never have mentioned N’Maer’s mate.

The two walked silently, side by side for a while, each to their own thoughts. Parker wondered about N’Maer, about T’Suur. N’Maer had been through so much … so many hardships. Yet she possessed the strength to persevere in life, to always go on. It was an admirable quality. N’Maer spoke again.

“That man lost his son, because of my people. He was enraged, and hated my kind and because of it. It is most understandable. I lost T’Suur on Tophet to his people, when our peoples were opposing of each other. Yet I feel no anger towards the Human race. Are our species truly so different that even our feelings, the way we react to things, even that differs?”

“No,” Said Kennedy, using a definite tone “He saw the War from one side only; the Humans’ side. He saw it from Earth, and not on the battlefield. Certain things were both omitted and enhanced by FedNet. When his son was killed, he held the T’Phetti responsible; even though they were under mind control, he still feels that he must place blame in some direction or other. You, however, have seen both sides of the battle. You are accepting of what happened; you know many Humans personally, now, and you know that we are very much like yourselves. You see, it isn’t our differences in species that make your feeling differ to his – it is individual perception.”

There was a thoughtful pause, as both considered this.

“Wise words,” N’Maer said at last “One could learn much from you.”

Kennedy chuckled. The two were silent for a while more, and then they both turned, and went in search of the others.

Twelve hours left. N’Maer and Kennedy had finally managed to round up the rest of the party.

They had found Thompson patting Caines on the back as the poor kid heaved the contents of his stomach into a pile of trash in the dim alleyway behind the bar. Rossemov, they had found still entertaining the same blonde woman (Or was it? N’Maer could not be quite sure) whilst some awful music blazed in the background. He immediately joined the group, bidding his companion farewell. Once together, they all headed for the exit, N’Maer being followed by criticising eyes as they made haste. She never saw the angry man again.

As they wandered down the streets with no particular destination in mind, the stares of passers-by were now shared between the unusually tall form of N’Maer, and the stumbling form of Caines, who murmured things every now and again, and had lost his beret.

“Tell me,” N’Maer asked Caines “Why do Humans intoxicate themselves with alcohol?”

Caines’ voice cracked and slurred as he answered in what was normally quite a polished young Boston accent. “Well,” he said “Some drink b’cause they wanna ‘scape from life … an’ some drink b’cause they wanna n’joy life. Now, I got drunked b’coz Thompson – ol’ buddy, ol’ pal – b’cause he gave me a drank … drunk … drink, yeah. An’ so … that was okay n’stuff. But then I gotted another, an’ another; an’ before I knowed it – Phoof! I’m drunked!” He had made an effort to slam his fist into the palm of his other hand when he said ‘Phoof’, but he had missed.

“Hmm,” said N’Maer “I have never been intoxicated. It is … fun?”

“NO!” As one, Thompson, Rossemov and Kennedy turned consecutively, giving her such a loud response that she blinked with fright, and shrank back.

“Yeeeees it iiiis!” Said Caines in an equally loud tone. He paused “’Cept when you puke.” He added thoughtfully “That tastes awful.”

Caines then looked up at N’Maer. The corners of his mouth travelled up his face, and his whole face lit up in a huge and extremely lopsided grin, not unlike that of someone who is very drunk, and is about to do something extremely stupidly embarrassing that they will probably carry with them for the rest of their life. Actually, that wasn’t far from the truth.

“Say,” he said “Did it hurt?”

N’Maer, certainly not for the first time, looked somewhat confused.

“Did it hurt when?” She said.

“When you fell from heaven, Bay-bee, ‘cause you’re the prettiest angel I ever saw!”

It was then that Kennedy’s amazing sense of knowing exactly when to interrupt kicked in. He cleared his throat, then:


The reaction was instantaneous. Caines snapped to attention with a crooked left handed salute.

“Private … umm … ahh … Nylon Parker? Yeah … reporting for duty, sah!”

Kennedy realised that Caines was very drunk indeed. He just hoped, above hope, that the kid would sober up by tomorrow. Kennedy didn’t want the duty of explaining the condition of him to his ranking officers.

In any case, both Rossemov and Thompson lost it at the sight of the drunken salute. They were near to collapse with laughter, and it took quite a while for both to regain their composure enough to be able to walk.

Kennedy grinned at them. It could be a lot worse – the kid could be puking …

He’d thought too soon. Up came Caines’ lunch, as he spewed all over the pavement. Kennedy waited until the kid had finished.

“You okay, Nylon?”

“Mmmmh …” Caines looked awful, as if he was about to pass out.

“He’s fine!” Said Thompson, thumping Caines heavily on the back.

“O … kay. Right. N’Maer, you’re okay?”

N’Maer was still trying to figure out what the significance was of what Caines had said, and why Kennedy had so abruptly interrupted.


“Hmm? O, yes, I am fine,” She paused “But what did Private Caines mean, with his comment?”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“N’Maer,” said Rossemov “It is probably best that you didn’t know.”

N’Maer blinked, wrinkling her brow. Thompson spoke.

“He means you’d be embarrassed.”

“Ah … ah?”

Kennedy nodded. Then there was a long silence, interrupted in the middle by a ponderous “Hmm” from N’Maer.

“Well,” said Thompson “What now?”

Kennedy addressed N’Maer.

“What do you want to do?” he asked her.

“Oi!” Said Caines “Since when does ET get to choose what we do?”

“Since ET was seven feet tall and wore a powersuit that enabled her to easily crush your ribcage in an instant …” Thompson offered.

“Point taken.”

“You do not honestly think that I would …”

“Shh, N’Maer. He’s drunk. He’ll believe anything.”

N’Maer smiled, and wondered why anyone would get themselves intoxicated to the point when they would believe anything told to them. Certainly, it had it’s advantages for others, but …

She sighed. Confusing. All to confusing.

It was near midnight, and everyone was starting to become fatigued.

N’Maer spoke to Kennedy.

“I think it would be wise to return to base for sleep.”

Parker frowned, stroking his chin in thought. They couldn’t go back there, not with Caines like this. The poor kid would have hell to pay if he returned in this state.

“We can’t go back to base. Not with Caines like … like he is now.”

“Why so?”

“Because SICON don’t appreciate their Troopers getting drunk.”

“Why is that?”

“Well … for one thing, drunk people are difficult to control.”

“Ahh …”

“Yes. So we’re gonna have to try and find a place to stay the night. Should be easy, and we’ve all got enough cash to pay.”

“So, where do we find such a place?”

The Rydges resort stood proudly in the city, looking for all the world like a giant concrete Christmas tree to everyone except N’Maer, who had never seen a Christmas tree in her life.

Kennedy noted the neon “Vacancy” hologram was displayed outside; good, they would have a room. The group entered the hotel, N’Maer having to stoop slightly to clear the doors.

A woman with extremely overdone makeup, and hair that looked plastic from so much hair gel smiled with about as much warmth as a fake fireplace at the approaching group.

“And, what can we do for you, sir?” she said, addressing Kennedy, using an almost electronic voice, and a smile that she’d obviously cultured over long sessions in front of a mirror.

“We’d like a room,” Said Kennedy “It’s late, and we’re too far away from Base to get back without causing a fuss.”

The woman’s fake warm gaze jumped from Trooper to Trooper, finally resting on N’Maer. The woman’s eyes lit up with a look somewhere on the plane between fear and disgust.

“I’m sorry, we’re all booked out …” She said.

“But the holo out the front …” began Kennedy.

“Concierge! Kindly show these good men the door …”

Parker noted that two burly men in black suits & sunglasses came to usher them out without trouble. He sighed. Maybe the next place they tried would be less discriminative towards his friend.

But the same scenario continued with every place they tried.

N’Maer’s back hurt. It always hurt since she’d joined the MI. The bunks were unsuitable for T’Phetti anatomy, and her powersuit, though relatively comfortable for active duty, was extremely uncomfortable to sleep in, as she had had to do many times since she had left Tophet.

This was one of those times. She had ended up curled in a phoetal position under a large tree in a park, whilst the others had slept close by on mats.

“Glad we all thought to bring sleeping mats …” Proclaimed Kennedy.

He was awake before her? N’Maer considered what time it really was.

Kennedy frowned as he looked at N’Maer.

“I’m … I’m so sorry …” he said.

N’Maer gave a weak smile, and shrugged.

“I am fine.” She said simply.

“No, you’re not. You finally get some R&R – which you more than deserve, I might add – and when you visit Earth, the very planet you volunteered to defend, all you get is hostility, ignorance, and fear from it’s people.” Kennedy sounded angrier than N’Maer had ever heard him sound; She had never even thought him capable of such frustration.

When she thought about it, since arriving on Earth she had encountered a lot of racism directed at herself and her people. But she had not taken it as people that hated her people; she had taken it as people who were bullies, people who would try to upset anyone at all. Kennedy had just made her see the hostility shown by those Humans in a different light.

“N’Maer, I apologise for my people. I …”

“No apology is necessary, Pah’Kah. The only Human opinions that matter to me are those of people I care for, and who show respect for me.”

“Wise words,” said Kennedy “One could learn much from you.”

N’Maer smiled once more. Then Caines approached.

“Uhm … Sarge?” He asked. He was obviously very hung over “You won’t … you know … tell anyone about what I did last night?”

Kennedy looked at the kid.

“No. No one will tell.”

The look of relief on Caines’ face was so severe it was almost amusing.

“Sir,” Said Rossemov “Two hours left to get back to Base. We’d better get going.”

The group took one last look at freedom; the last look they’d get for quite a while, before their next lot of R&R.

N’Maer gathered her thoughts. Oh, she would get W’Kul back! His being called away from R&R for cleanup duty - he would not be able to complain about her unadventurous tendencies now! She chuckled inwardly as she regarded the door of their lodgings. She knew exactly what to say …

A man exited the door. A man? The methane circulation had been turned off … why? And why was the man carrying W’Kul’s things?

“Excuse me,” she said “Where are you taking those?”

“The Skinnie that owned ‘em got skewered on clean-up duty.”
N’Maer’s face lost any colour it had had. Not W’Kul … no …

But the man had already left, with W’Kul’s possessions. If N’Maer had been capable of crying, she would have done so.

A shadow appeared at the door. It was Kennedy.

“It is W’Kul,” began N’Maer. “He is …”

“I heard.” Kennedy’s eyes watered. N’Maer stared at the tears with fascination.

Kennedy embraced his friend without any hesitation. They had been through much together …

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