She came searching for him and to get to the bottom it faster than he thought – on the same evening she searched him up, drag him back in his office, where she figured no cameras were installed and demanded to know what exactly he meant by that little remark of his.
“Don’t jump on me like a child!” he quarreled instead, closing the door behind her.
She pulled back a little, took a deep breath and bellowed again.
“Explain it to me!”
“What’s the point? You’ve already got that… that … boyfriend!”
She frowned. What on earth had this boyfriend to do with their current situation? He looked thoroughly disgruntled though.
“No I have not!”
“But you said…”
“Truth can be said in many ways – I didn’t lie, I just left out the part that we went out two times before I came here. There would have been nothing between us anyway. But as the idea was the same, your father couldn’t read my mind and tell me I was lying.”
“My father doesn’t read minds.” He said slightly calmer, ready to continue.
She was almost carried away and opened her mouth to explain, what she meant by “reading someone’s mind” as reading the body language, but thought better of it. “That’s not the point!”
“I was told about your customs.” He said quietly. It was too easy to extract her, but he knew there would have been little success taking the stiffness out of her shoulders by teasing her – she was too focused on the topic right now. “You play with each other when you search for your life partner and thus cheat them constantly and many end up empty handedly.”
She was struck by that notion. That was way misleading lesson she thought bitterly and observed him carefully if to educate him a little on the behalf of the rest of the mankind on board or let him find it out himself.
She decided teaching him would be better.
“We don’t ‘play’ with the others. It’s how we choose our partners – you have your singing rituals, we go out and spend time together. If then after some time they can’t stand each other, they go their separate ways and try another possible partner.”
She shrugged and landed on the chair before his table. “It’s how we do it – I don’t know why. I guess we don’t know better – animals still have their instincts on that matter, we have lost them. It takes time, yes, but it’s better than marrying through a lottery or something and find out you’re bound to be someone’s house maid for the rest of your life.” She paused and locked her eyes on his lips, not daring to look higher and see his eyes gazing at her. “Your customs are different I gather.”
She waited him to explain it, but he didn’t and just stood there in silence.
“So,” she started herself, “what was it that I actually committed?” She had had her share of embarrassment and she didn’t mind others having it by the same measure, be it only him and between them if that’s how it was gonna be, but she hoped he’d this way could take few steps in her shoes, taking up the risk of lying to his father himself next time.
“You aroused me.” He sat on the other chair.
She gave him one long incredulous stare. What did it meant – that’s what she wanted to know. So what if she did? It happened between people all the time, humans weren’t created to be monogamists, it was only their own illusion that filled their heads with dreams of not having to put up with multiple partners all the time as chimps or gazelles.
She let out a very rude sneer and earned equally upset frowning.
“We have taken more scientific approach on the matter and over long time of breeding developed a state, where there is only one combination of aroma and sound that triggers our sexuality. Others simply… leave us cold. Every year the youth comes together, sings to each other and search out, who their partner is.”
She listened tensely. But what if the partners were on different planets? “And if you don’t find her?”
“Don’t you have your partner sorted out?” she continued quietly, matter-of-factly.
“No.” his voice turned harsh. “I don’t wish to take part of the ritual.”
“Because you don’t sing. But you sang to me.” She tried to sooth his mood.
“How is it different?”
“You challenged me.”
“Why don’t you sing?” she tried to get over the obvious bad sign by turning back to the previous question, but he didn’t wish to continue from there either. His stare said, it was none of her business and she obeyed.
They sat few minutes in silence, before her nerve broke.
“What did you mean… with…” she tried to show she didn’t care much of the answer anymore, but she had never been good of disguising her feelings.
“I responded to you.”
Meredith heard the sentence and how he said it and didn’t quite grasp how to act. Boys had told her how they loved her before, but those were foolish, little men, who hardly knew difference of the sexes. They had put all their love in those sentences, acted either as machos or troubadours. Token’s voice didn’t differ not even by note when he said it, not one emotion was added in the thought, yet he meant what he said and she knew it. This entire love thing was suddenly pushed in one senseless sentence with no romantic background.
“You are my partner.”
That was little too straight-to-face approach and she felt nauseated by it.
“I don’t think so! That’s absurd!” she let out a protest, but it was a weak try.
“I know you don’t, because of your culture.”
“Yes!” she gludged to the straw. Because of her culture.
“So you do like giving false hopes to each other and hurt them.”
“No!” she gasped. She must have been loosing her mind, he seemed to hop from one topic to another and she seemed too slow to keep up.
“But that boy…”
“He played with me, not the other way around. He wanted fame, I was not so interested him getting it and so I dumped him.” She let out a rapid gasp. “God! Make one tiny remark and you’re bound to it forever!”
He inhaled deeply to calm himself. “Be honest with me – do you or do you not have someone on Earth?”
She didn’t give it much thought, but said right away no.
“Then be prepared that if the recording should ever come out – whoever the provider is- if it comes out – then by the law, you are bound to me forever or punishable for misleading a higher class warrior! Is that understood to your human brain?”
No it was not, Meredith thought grimly. “Why? All I did was I gave you a kiss!”
“We never touch our females before they are bound to us.”
And now he tells me? Meredith was ready to hit him.
“You provoked my touch by your lips! You sealed the deal!”
She grew awfully silent at that point, giving him a sturdy warning.
“So, I’m the one to be blamed in this.” She said darkly, realizing her cruel situation.
“Blame?” he thought a second and sighed. “There’s no blame here. We can’t choose, who we respond to. I’m just explaining you the situation.”
“My situation or yours?” she asked, back to her negotiating tone. As they were both in it together, they had to work together.
“And what situation are you in?”
“A damned bad one.” He said gruffly, resting his chin on his hand and staring the wall behind her. She seated herself better on the chair and waited, but he didn’t say another word.
“You are obligated to stand down and face your father’s rage.” She said it out herself. “Considering you touched me first.”
“Considering I touched you first and I lied to my family, I pay with my head.”
That option was not at all to her liking. They ought to lighten up with the severity of their actions, she thought, but at the same time she knew that this severity was, what helped them survive this long in the first place, to be one of the most magnificent societies she had ever witnessed.
“Blackmail is same in any society, I guess.” She forced herself to smile, but it was hard not to see the sad faith they both had sealed to each other. There was no he or she in this game, only us and we.
“What if the relationship comes out before the recording?” she asked suddenly. “If we play partners for a…”
“You are my partner, there’s no playing there.” He interrupted harshly.
“I don’t accept it.” She was not ready give up her freedom just like that. “You don’t love me and I don’t…” she didn’t finish, but hoped he’d get the drift.
He frowned at the expression. “What is love?” he asked shortly after.
She should have known better than use it, but at the same time his bafflement took her speechless – with all their education, he really had no idea.
“Love is…” she had to think it through before answering it. She was suddenly forced to admit she herself had little idea of what it was. “It’s understanding I guess? Feeling the other one close; feeling good that your family members are around. Like when you see your home again, you feel you never wish to be apart… that’s love. Or… hen it aches inside, if you can’t get to your partner – that’s love. Knowing each other’s quirks, passions, pain, hopes…” she shrugged. “Love is like magnet that tears you apart, but at the same time keeps you together.”
“If I learn to love you, will you accept being my partner?”
She was wordless, hardly managing a breath. He was actually asking that! That thought brought her back to reality, though she was thoroughly confused already, what was real and what mere daydream.
“You can’t learn to love…” she said fast, but shook her had just as fast.
“I prove you I can.”
She burst laughing – now THAT was a bold promise! “Well,” she said gladly after her breathing became normal again, “I can’t keep you from trying.”
He felt good, it was actually nice to talk to her and though she obviously thought he must have been daft to even say it, he actually knew what she was talking about. That feeling – they didn’t have name for it, but it wasn’t unfamiliar to him.
Meanwhile, she observed the birdlike figure that changed colors every other time or when some heat happened to get near it. She reached out her palm slowly over the bird and watched the blue turn into white and then into green shine, following her hand’s movements. She smiled, delighted by the pretty site when a familiar humming reached her ears. She immediately looked up at him and smiled unwillingly.
He thought of learning the art of love – if he’d only knew he already possessed it. She wondered if it was merely the effect of the toxin or was it more than that. If it was more than that, she hoped that toxin was what caused people fall in love at the first time seeing each other. Because, if it was that, then they might even have a future together, as if nature itself had set that if you put out the will to find that special someone in order to commit yourself on them forever, then nature herself would provide you with constant happiness drug.
“Don’t fool yourself, girl,” she murmured to herself, but his humming breathing was way more tantalizing than her own thoughts.
He pushed himself up from his chair and crossed the distance between in one long step, but instead of claiming her as he now declared was his right, he stopped and just watched her, teasing her mind a little when leading his hand over her thighs and then upwards, slowly reaching her neck without once taking his eyes off her face.
“We should stop this.” She said gruffly, after a moment of pure forgetfulness on her behalf.
“Why?” he asked slowly, admitting he had no intentions of letting her go free, but she instead jumped up, like irritated by his notion and said softly.
“Another video and your father will have my head instead of yours.” She shouted.
The humming immediately ended. “What a stupid…”
“Is it?” she started towards the door. “I had an interesting thought just now,” she admitted, turning around, “I think your father is the one, who has the tape.”
He felt like hitting the floor right there. “Door, close!” he roared and she could hear the silent click behind her. Damned – she had forgotten all about those voice commands. “Explain!” he demanded.
“Well…” she let go of the doorknob as it had no luring effect left, “if you think about it – who, among all has the codes to get in the system and actually take out a piece from the memory?”
“You are wrong!”
“Prove me wrong, but I feel it’s your dear papa, who’s playing a game here and I have no doubts he has his watchful eyes on us even now, so unless he comes up with the video or you will – as you said, who brings it out first – I will not have anything to do with you or your father.” She had finished her flaming speech and was feeling quite reluctant to ask what ought to have followed itself. “Now, please open the door so I can go to my chamber.”
The door stood neatly together and he didn’t let out another sound.
“You are my partner now,” he let out a deep controlled breath, “I don’t give a damn about if you want or if you do not want to have anything to do with me – you are related to me now as the planet hovers around its star!”
She scratched her neck. Now that was a nice way to put it, only she doubted if she ever was gonna be the humble planet.
“And it’s absurd to suggest my father is behind it all! Neither would he take your life for it if he finds out you’re my partner.”
Her eyes filled with fury in less then a second. “Just a moment ago you said it yourself you’d pay with your life for your lie! What makes you think he’ll give me any other treatment? Besides, it’s always easy to blame females in seducing the male making us the perfect whipping boys!”
He gasped. Where did she get that thought? Definitely not from them! He shook his head. Their culture was so twisted he felt sickened by it.
“Get out!” he hissed through his teeth and gave the door the adequate order.
She stared at him for a moment, before frowning and walking away.
He closed the door fast, avoiding his secretary’s surprised gaze and turning back to his table. He tried to get her out of his head by trying to do some work, but his mind kept going back to her last sentence.
What an odd idea it had been – to blame females in seducing the male. In his world, men were the ones to lure the partners, not the other way around. It seemed insane to think women were capable of this art.
He turned to his blinking computer and peer the screen for a while, before typing in his question. He read the answer and his face went grimmer and grimmer.
After about two hours of reading, he jumped up and ran searching her, understanding now fully, what she meant by becoming a scapegoat – she feared he’d brought her as a sacrifice to keep his position. What a little fool! She was his partner now, she admitted it or not and partners didn’t do something like this to another.
And he knew just how to prove it – by bringing their new partnership to public and making it seem it was his initiative all along. He had to make the first move, not her – this way no one could say she had gone after him and no one was fool enough to go against him or go after what he clamed his.
He found her sitting in the ship’s centre hall, by the waterfalls, trying to concentrate on a book she was holding with no obvious interest. The hall was full of people and buzzing so loud it was hard to hear anything.
He counted the steps to Meredith and came to an erupt end right before her. She gazed up, confused by his stoutness and found herself second later engaged with a thorough, almost freezing mad kiss that lasted a long agonizing moment it took her to realize, all the bedlam around them had cheesed to exist.
Her eyes wondered around, taking in one morbid face after another and instead of feeling relief, she felt like kicking Token for doing something so irrational. Her eyes slowly turned back on his face and his frowning expression.
Just as she was about to nudge him, he thrust himself back, giving the bystanders disgruntled stare. That was malaise moment, he realized, also coping with the new incite that perhaps he should have consulted with her before pulling a stunt like that as she seemed just as stunned as any other individual in the room.
He searched their faces to see their reaction. His own kind seemed surprised, which he considered good, while her kind looked disgusted.
She was first, to get her movement back though and slowly reached after his sleeve, slowly pulling him close again and mounting his lips with hers. His posture disappeared and after a slight moment feeling her round lips against his, his mind started purring, making her deepen the kiss even more.
“You’re insane!” she whispered as she heard the first happy cheers from his men. “Insane!” she sanctioned trying to close her ears from the roar that filled the room. Humans didn’t know what to say – to them, this was just as new as it had been to her mere forty eight hours ago.
He only laughed and pulled her up. It was done. No one could claim her now nor should they fear for the recording to come out.