Skip to main content

Beyond the Milky Way

Summary

A group of strangers receive the same mandatory orders from the president of the United States. When they meet in Washington, D.C., they learn the truth: they were hand-selected to represent Earth in the Great Buno Races, an intergalactic race held annually in the Ecilavi galaxy. Led by IndyCar sensation Bradley Smith and former Marine Lindsay Rose, the Earth team will have to adapt to their new surroundings.

Disclaimers

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or otherwise, is unintentional and purely coincidental. I am not affiliated with any name brand companies mentioned in this story, nor do I make any monetary value in the writing of this story. 

This story contains mild language, mild violence, character deaths and sexual content. 

First revision/draft: feedback, reviews, critiques and comments are more than welcome!

1.1: Lindsay

He never used to stand by anxiously for his wife to come home, but it was the envelope that came in the mail which urged him to steal glimpses out the window. Around six, her light blue Camry pulled into the driveway, coming to a sharp stop inches from the bumper of his red Titan. Instead of flinching, he fidgeted with the envelope in a casual manner.

Tracy Rose watched as his wife entered their home; he didn’t say a word. Lindsay tossed her work shoes by the closet and dumped her keys into the beige woven basket on the partial wall. Tracy paid slight attention to what she said; more than likely, it regarded how awful her day went. A customer service rep for the post office, Lindsay had her equal share of disgruntled customers, which made Tracy thankful that her only interaction with them was over the phone!

The woman wasted no time shredding her clothes while making her way to the bedroom; he stopped for a moment to appreciate her. Lindsay was no longer the rail thin young lady he had come across in the chow hall nine years ago; her light brown skin body filled in admirably over time. What he wished to do, without a doubt was follow her into their room but he put aside that desire until the two got to the bottom of what was in that envelope!

Still ranting, Lindsay came back into the living room wearing a white A-shirt and orange short shorts; Tracy wondered why she even bothered: both garments covered little to nothing! The woman's dreadlocks had escaped their bun, the deep chocolate locks with honey blonde tips flowed well beyond her shoulders.

“... And that was a fucking waste of my gaddamn time! Anyway...,” her deep brown eyes gazed at him. She leaned in to give him her usual greeting, a kiss on the lips before she noticed how he watched her. “What? Hey... what's that?” she moved her attention to the manila envelope in his hands. Tracy came out of his daze as he gave her a lingering kiss.

“Something came in the mail for you.” he handed the envelope to her. Her eyes widened as she recognized the presidential seal.

“Wait... is that...?”

“Yep. Presidential seal! You know I always open your mail but that-”

“Huh; your nosy ass finally admits it!” she threw him a smirk as she opened her letter.

“Shut up!” Tracy playfully shoved his wife. He looked on as she took the contents out: three sheets of paper and an airline ticket.

 

To Mrs. Lindsay Rochelle Rose:

With great enthusiasm, I inform you that our government requires your participation in a top-secret training program. As president of the United States, it was my personal duty to notify you of this decision.

I am not obligated to discuss anything in depth until we meet in person. Yet, a reliable source chose you due to your dedicated service in the United States Marine Corps. Included with this letter are further instructions along with a liable mean of transportation. Please advise that participation in this program is mandatory.

I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the subject at hand extensively. I extend my gratitude for treating this matter with utmost concern. If you have any questions beforehand, feel free to contact the number provided. Semper Fidelis and may God bless you.

Virgil Abraham

 

Lindsay gave out a shaky laugh as she glanced at her husband.

“It's... it's a joke. Yeah...”

“I don't know, Linds. If this was emailed then... maybe. But... that seal is the real thing!” Tracy took the letter and ran his fingers over the stamp.

“But it's so... vague. Top-secret training? For what? And... why,” she mumbled as she skimmed over the other sheet of paper. As the first letter described, the second page listed further details but vaguer than the letter. Two things Lindsay took away from it: her departure date in two weeks from the Phoenix Sky Harbor to Dulles, and the year-long training set up in New Mexico. “Whoa... what?! A year?! Fuck that; I ain't going!” she shook her head. Tracy looked on in bewilderment.

“Well... that isn't fair... but if this is real... you don't have a choice...”

“But... you see how crazy this all is, right? I just got a two-week notice to pack my shit for D.C. for God knows how long and then a year away in New Mexico?! Bullshit! I was picked cuz I was a Marine? The only good I did there was fire from a tank!”

“Yeah but... not a lot of women can say that, you know...,” her husband reasoned out. “Here's that number he mentioned. Call and see if this is for real, at least!”

“You know... I'll do just that!”

1.2: Bradley

It confused him; he lost count how many times he went over the letter and checked the authenticity of it. It was a letter from the president but why was he selected to take part of the project?

The letter waited for him in his office as he came back from lunch. Bradley was lucky; he rarely blew off practice. Had he stuck with his regular schedule, he wouldn’t have received the envelope until the next week. Bradley made the last-minute decision to work on a few things in his company; after making headlines with the season he had, he placed his “hobby” on hold. 

He accepted the complimentary ticket even though he could’ve driven to DC. But he would not deny a first-class trip; never mind he had enough to afford his own private jet. Bradley Smith, IV wasn’t a braggart.

He reflected to the reason for his forced participation: was it because of the light stint he did in a military prep school? His stepfather persuaded his mother into sending him at a young age; he noticed the man disapproved of him. Bradley shook the memory out of his brain; he was a child: what did that have to do with the present moment? He hardly remembered what they attempted to teach him at the academy!

He sighed as he got off the plane. The one positive part was that the trip was spur-of-the-moment; there would be no crazed autograph seekers waiting for him in the terminal. He moved his hand through his strawberry blond curls; moving away for a year might do him good. He didn't know what pressure he would be under but he was confident it would be less irksome than what he dealt with.

No sooner had he strode inside the terminal, he bumped into three men in dark suits. Secret Service, he said to himself. Bradley refrained from rolling his eyes, seeing that the three didn’t mistreat him. In fact, they treated him like a valuable commodity.

They didn't speak to each other as the men guided Bradley to an unmarked vehicle with black privacy tint. He peered around to see if anybody observed but hardly two people looked his direction. Everyone else went on with their activities. It unsettled him at the ten-minute silence in the car. Bradley desired to ask all the questions he had but he remained quiet; what convinced him they would tell him anything?

The journey ended at a secured small building, which peaked his curiosity. Bradley had traveled to DC plenty of times but he didn't recognize where he was or the building’s purpose. Examining his surroundings offered even fewer indications of his whereabouts. The area disappointed Bradley: he figured he would go to the Pentagon; a place he’d never been. Still, no words were uttered as they passed through the building. There was nothing inside and it disturbed him a bit. What if this was a trap? Bradley wanted to laugh; why would anybody go through those lengths to kidnap him?

They came to a room that resembled the lobby of a prominent hotel; it definitely was large enough, he noticed. The carpet was of a lavish crimson and there were large leather lounge armchairs spread about the room.

“The president will be with you soon.” one man spoke. Bradley opened his mouth at least to thank the man but the door shut before a sound came out. He heard the mechanical noises of locks from the outside and he studied the door. It was firm; too sturdy to kick open. The only way out would be to remove the door. He ran his hand over the golden hinges and shook his head; that would do no good. A reinforced door: someone would have to literally blast their way out.

Bradley’s thoughts broke off as he heard movement behind him. He turned and studied the room once again; the arrangement of the chairs and the size of the room concealed whoever was in there. He had expected no one would be, and that put him on alert. Bradley cleared his throat, hoping that whoever was in there would make themselves known. Instead of hanging around, he made his way further inside the room and jumped as six pairs of eyes rested on him. 

1.3: The Team

Bradley did a brief study of each person who looked at him; they appeared confused like he was. They looked young and capable of hard labor, even the only woman in the group. He offered a friendly nod to the only person he was familiar with: Malik Jackson returned the action along with a smirk.

“This has officially gone beyond weird, now!” he remarked with a rich laugh. It prompted Bradley to shrug and nod in agreement. He didn't understand what the government would need with a former NFL wide receiver turned sports broadcaster and an IndyCar driver, let alone have them work with others who weren’t celebrities. 

 “Tell me about it! It’s bad enough to see you walk in but… Brad Smith?! Heh; guess getting drafted is out the question, now!” a rough-looking man laughed out. Bradley looked at the man and slightly laughed with him.

“You saying I ain’t cut out for the military?” he smiled.

“Nah… David’s just saying that cuz of who you are…” the woman spoke. Hearing her southern accent made Bradley's face warm. By default, he would talk more to Malik but he looked forward to speaking with a fellow southerner. When his piercing blue eyes met her chocolate ones, she looked away. The move made his smile widen; she really did know who he was.

 “David Cox,” David left his chair and shook Bradley’s hand; the man’s green eyes glinted at him. “Good to finally meet you.”

“You’re a fan.”

“Honestly, no but I know about you! This is Steve, Tim, you should already know Malik, Yoji and the lovely Lindsay.” he introduced the others. Bradley kept his laugh to himself; the little introduction made Lindsay embarrassed.

“Uh… it’s… Lizzie, really…” she stumbled.

“Lizzie? How?” Bradley asked her. She smiled and shrugged.

“W-Well, that’s what I’d rather be called. My brother: when he was little, he couldn’t say ‘Lindsay’ all too well. It came out as ‘Lizzie’ and... just stuck.” she explained. Bradley found it amusing that with her skin color, she still turned a slight shade of red. He nodded and smiled, shaking her hand.

“Lizzie it is, then! David, I take it that you’re the leader of this group?”

“I wish! No, we’ve just been sitting here, trying to get to know each other. Seeing we all got the same letter.”

“We were actually asking Lizzie if she had a clue why we’re all here.” the thick Hispanic tone of Tim’s rang out. It was enough to make her skin back to her normal tone as she shrugged.

“Apparently cuz of the ‘skills’ we all have. I dunno. They could’ve picked our names out of a hat for all we know!”

“You say that like you don’t have any skills.” Malik pointed out. Lindsay glanced at him for a moment before turning away.

“N-Nothing like that. I got customer service skills but… I was also in the military so…”

“You were in the military? What branch?” Steve beamed. It made Lindsay smile at him.

“Marine Corps.”

“Whaa… me, too!”

“Ooh rah!” they both sounded off and beamed at one another. “What was your MOS?”

“1341.”

“An engineer mechanic. 0811.” Lindsay remarked. Steve’s dark brown eyes widened as the others listened to their conversation; they were clueless on the meaning of the numbers.

 “Wait… you were a cannoneer? You were a fucking cannoneer?! Holy shit…” his outburst made her laugh.

“Should’ve been a grunt; I didn’t see any action.”

“It seems that at the very least, we have two people with military experience. I wish they were more clear on what type of training this is.” Yoji added quietly and the group nodded in agreement. The door unlocking grabbed their attention. The Secret Service agents from earlier entered the room and made a path for President Abraham to enter. At once, Steve and Lindsay stood, going into the military stance of attention. The president smiled at the two.

“At ease. You two are the prior service members.”

“Yes, sir!” the two former Marines said in unison. The others rose to their feet, letting the president shake their hands. He motioned for them to sit as he did so in the nearest empty chair.

“I understand that everyone has questions and concerns... and doubts about why you were selected for this top-secret training. I’m confident that what we talk about will not leave this room?” he asked with a firm tone. The group glanced at one another before nodding towards Abraham. “Excellent. How familiar are you with Roswell?” he continued. The question made the majority of them gawk as Lindsay gave him a stunned look.

“Is this about… Area 51, sir?” she asked and her heart raced when he nodded.

“Now, the story has twisted over the years. For the best, really. There are those who feel that not everyone is ready for the entire truth.”

“So, it’s true? We’re not alone?” Yoji asked. The president smiled and shook his head.

“We are not. Area 51 was not created by this government… alone. It was created side-by-side with an alien race, one not from this galaxy. In fact, there are no alien races in this galaxy, anymore. That’s not the point,” he saw a couple of mouths open, about to speak. “This alien race chose Area 51 to study our human race. There was no crash landing.”

“Wait. What about all of those UFO sightings and phenomena?” David couldn’t help himself. 

“Many were hoaxes. The rest were us testing out a lot of the technologies given to us in exchange for our cooperation.”

“So… no Martians or anything like that but… something else?” Steve wanted to make sure. The president nodded at the man.

“Mr. President… would it be rude if I said that I didn’t believe you?” Malik asked. Everyone looked at him in shock and waited for one of the agents to escort him away. Lindsay leaned in towards him, her eyes widened.

“Yes, it would be rude,” she hissed through clenched teeth. “Why would he lie to us?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The fact that this is top secret seems fishy to me…” he continued. None of the others in the room wanted to admit Malik had a point. What was said was not on a high level of believability but, none of them had the courage to challenge him like Malik did. What the president claimed was considered to be a serious conspiracy theory.

Relief washed through the others when Abraham smiled and shook his head.

“I understand you have doubts. And, it wouldn’t be rude. But, if you want proof, you’ll have to wait to get it. Everything you want to know is in New Mexico as far as solid evidence.”

“We’ll find out what’s so top secret about all this there?” Tim asked.

 “In compliance with Area 51, our government gave the agreement we would represent Earth in the Great Buno Races when the moment arrived.”

“The… what?” Lindsay asked, just to make certain she heard right.

“A race? This is all about some race? Like… what he does, race?” Steve pointed towards Bradley. He had no time to show shock that even Steve knew about him.

“In a way, yes. The Great Buno Races are intergalactic races held on the planet of Buno.”

“There has to be another catch. This seems too easy. What’s the prize?” Bradley asked. He was skeptical of everything at first but his reluctance left as soon as the word “race” came into play. If he was good at anything, it was racing. It made sense to him why they chose him.

“There’s no catch. The only prize is that when all this is over, we will no longer live in fear of the unknown. Well, then; welcome aboard! For those of you who still don’t believe… the time will be soon for you to find out the truth.”

2.1: Area 51

The group flew out to Albuquerque, New Mexico and from there, they sat in a cargo covered truck for a forty-five-minute trip to Roswell. Sentry waved the truck through and the small group clambered out in front of a huge building.

“Not what I was expecting…” Lindsay murmured, removing her sunglasses. The architecture in front of the group was impressive; it stood as high as a New York skyscraper and transparent as glass, shining brightly as the sun’s rays touched the building.

“The movies don’t know what they’re talking about. They make it look like a military base or a cut in the mountains. How could anyone miss something like this?” Yoji wondered. Although they stood in the middle of the desert, it was likely for the gleam to be seen from miles out. The president climbed out of the vehicle that accompanied the truck and saluted the guards away.

“It’s actually camouflaged. We can see it from inside the sentry but that’s it. One of the alien races responsible for this are called Esperians. Their technology is far beyond that of ours.”

“They created this building?” David asked. Abraham nodded.

 “We can continue once we get inside.” he said and went towards the building. The group took their bags from the truck.

“Oh, hey; let me help you…” Bradly volunteered for Lindsay as she grabbed her bags. The woman blushed and attempted to guard them.

“O-O-Oh! No thanks… I got it… I’m not w-” she struggled, but he had a grasp on her book bag strap. He examined it and was in awe. Bradley knew Lindsay recognized who he was but he would have never imagined that, unlike David, she was a genuine fan! The man gave her a smirk as she tried to cover up her embarrassment.

“A fan?” Bradley reluctantly handed over the book bag. Lindsay shrugged as she flung the red one-strapped bag with his IndyCar number across her back.

“Y-Yeah…” Lindsay stammered and made her way towards the others. 

Walking inside the building, everybody looked normal. Inside was like an active mainstream office; the employees disregarded the group, even the president. It was easy for them to cruise through the open cubicle space and into a corridor. The president led the group into a room like the one they met each other in DC. 

“Have a seat. Your manager will be here in just a moment. He’ll explain everything.” Abraham announced. No sooner as they sat, an older man stepped inside the room. He gave a modest nod to the president and his cold eyes looked over the others. He gradually narrowed his eyes at Lindsay, which made her want to flinch; there was something about the way he looked at her she didn’t care for, “Great timing! Earth team, meet your manager, Keith Degler. He was trained for years to manage a race team of your caliber.” Abraham cut the eerie stillness.

“With all due respect, Mr. President: they are not officially the Earth team just yet. They aren’t what I expected… at all…” Keith made it clear who he referred to as he glared at Lindsay. She blinked a few times at him in confusion while Bradley and Malik picked up on the notion. 

“Now, wait a minute; what’s that s’posed to mean…?” Bradley began.

“You got something against women?” Malik stood up for Lindsay. The special treatment made her blush and shy away from the situation.

“That is exactly what I have against women! Are you going to cater to her every wish, look and need? She will need to handle things on her own, with no one holding her hand,” Keith glared at Lindsay again. “Young lady, let me tell you some-”

“… Woman…” the words scarcely left her mouth; she had enough.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m thirty-two, not sixteen. I’m a woman, not a young lady. And I don’t need no one to cater to me; been doing fine for the last twenty-something years!” she declared, returning the glare. The older man’s eyes widened at her tone only to narrow and turn to the president, who gave out an awkward laugh.

“Looks like this team might do just fine, Keith. Especially Lindsay,” he offered her a reassuring smile before turning to everyone else. “Keith will finish the briefing from here. I hope to see you before you leave.” Abraham left it at that as he nodded and went out the room. Yoji and Steve exchanged glances.

“Leave? Thought we would be staying here?” Steve asked. Keith gave out a sigh and looked at everyone.

 “Yes. The majority of your training will be done here. After that, we’ll be off to another galaxy. The president did tell you about that, didn’t he?” he kept his grumbling low as everyone shook their heads. “The Buno Races will be held on the planet, Buno. Their gravitational pull is close to Earth’s, as well as their oxygen levels and atmosphere. In fact, there are several Earth-like planets in their galaxy. But, that’s not important right now. In your letters, this training was deemed top-secret. That means no one will learn the truth behind this or your whereabouts.”

“… What?” David asked for the others.

“All correspondence will be sent here but transferred to your quarters on Buno,” Keith continued as if he didn’t hear David. “I know all this seems a bit too much to process right now. But there is little time to get you trained in the field that's best for you… and that’s even if you’re capable of understanding anything. Reasons are unknown on why the Esperians chose us to take part in these races. But they have and we should be grateful for the opportunity.”

“Are we gonna be racing in spaceships?” Bradley couldn’t take it any longer; it was the one question that was on his mind the whole trip. Keith gave him a friendly look over and nodded.

“In a manner of speaking. They’re called Intergalactic Runners, or IRs for this purpose. The controls are simple enough once you’re trained. The first step is to have everyone go through an assessment. From there, we will begin the real training in the area of your ability, according to that evaluation.”

“Question. It’s obvious that whoever will train us knows more than we do right now. Why don’t they compete instead of us?” David wondered.

“The ruler of Esperia hand selected us, including myself. He felt we are the best Earth has to offer.” Keith explained. The group murmured amongst one another. She was reluctant to say anything; their potential manager already had something against her but, she needed to know. Lindsay looked at Keith.

“… What happens if we don’t pass the assessment?”

“It’s not the assessment you should worry about; it’s the training afterwards. But I’m sure you can be replaced as quickly as you were selected…” Keith looked at her for barely a flash before turning away.

2.2: The Assessment

“Your results are in.” Keith stated as he stepped into the room. A week had slipped by since the group's briefing on the mission. They would travel to Buno and take part in the annual space race, representing Earth for the first time since its origin. The group found out they would also see an Esperian, the same ruler responsible for choosing them.

The members had various emotions as they took in the alien who walked in alongside their manager; he wasn't what they expected. The light blue alien towered over Keith, standing roughly seven feet tall. The gown concealed his frame; a sweeping white robe decorated in bright gems that appeared to change colors every so often. He was humanoid in the face, except for the tiny onyx eyes that glanced over everybody.

“This is the Royal Magistrate of Esperia, Emuh. He is the one who brought us together.” Keith added. No one stirred as the Esperian bowed towards the group of humans, a slight grin playing across his narrow lips.

“It is a pleasure to finally meet you.” Emuh startled the group. Lindsay darted a stare at Bradley.

“He… speaks English…” she half-whispered. The man was in too great of awe to produce nothing but a slight nod.

“I speak all your Earth languages, yes.” the Esperian continued, giving Lindsay a generous smile. She reddened with her mouth agape.

“If everyone is ready for their results…” Keith threw a glare towards Lindsay before going to the piece of paper in his hand. She rolled her eyes, giving up focus on the alien.

“Bet I’m a mechanic…” Bradley whispered to her. He looked pleased as she relaxed at his remarks; he longed for her to grow used to him and was content she stopped shying away from him.

“I dunno. Someone’s gotta fly the spaceship. That’s you…” she encouraged and the idea caused him to redden. It didn’t occur to him until that instant he would qualify to be the pilot of the IR; he looked forward to working on a part of extraterrestrial machinery. According to what he heard the two former Marines talk about, he felt that Lindsay would be the stronger candidate of the two as pilot.

Lindsay didn't see what field she was best in. The automotive and mechanical parts of the assessment occurred foreign to her and she halfway understood the communications section! Lindsay was great at fixing conflict; that was the customer service experience in her. The woman dealt with people over the phone, being experienced in doing so. How would that relate to this case, she asked. For all she knew, Lindsay didn’t qualify for anything and would return to Phoenix. The idea would’ve been for the best, she guessed. How would she handle living apart from her husband for a whole year? She would not only be away from Earth but in another galaxy!

The old man would throw a party if she didn’t qualify for anything, she complained to herself; she had no clue why he was mean to her. Perhaps he was misogynistic: she didn’t go through that in the Marine Corps! Male Marines referred to her and any other woman in the Corps as a “walking mattress” but when it came time for work, no one showed disregard to her.

Lindsay's thoughts broke off as she gazed at Emuh examining her. It made her question if the alien had mind-reading abilities and stopped thinking. When she peered over at Bradley to whisper her suspicions, she found that he was deep in thought. Lindsay would talk to him later about it, she figured.

“The IR will need four mechanics. David and Tim: you two are the body mechanics. Anything about the exterior of the IR falls under your supervision. Steve, you have one of the toughest parts of the job; you’re the engine mechanic. You will make sure it operates at maximum capacity. Yoji is the electrical mechanic. Any and everything electrical will fall under your care.” Keith explained. The four stared at each other and beamed.

“Malik. Although you did not qualify for anything mechanical, you and Yoji will work together. You will be the Earth team’s communications operator. Your job will be to transmit any problems or conditions to the pilot, and that includes engine issues,” he continued. It didn’t go unnoticed that there was one obvious job left but two unassigned people. “Bradley will be the pilot of the IR. I don’t suppose there should be any explanation to that.” the man nearly smiled at the redhead. Bradley stared at Lindsay in awe; she was right. The racecar driver was virtually the leader of the Earth team.

Lindsay couldn’t make sense of it. The news made her heart drop although several moments ago, she was fine going back to her home. A week went by, but she was getting to understand the rest of team better, particularly Bradley, who appeared to go out of his way to get her more relaxed. A larger part of her looked forward to the experiences in another galaxy but now, she was the odd man out.

Keith let out a rough sigh and scowled at her, something that killed her gloomy thoughts. Lindsay's heart sped; she wasn’t leaving the team! But… what else was there to work?

“Lindsay, I must congratulate you on your results. They were... incredible. You will be the pilot’s right-hand man… or woman, so to speak.”

“I… I don’t get it. I’m a… copilot…?” she perked up. The IR required two pilots, she asked herself.

“No. You will be the IR’s artillery specialist.”

“Artillery… specialist…?” Lindsay thought out loud; she knew full well what it meant. The former Marine devoted eight years in the Marine Corps doing just that. Her bewilderment was that the IR would need ammo!

“Yes. Your job is to simply disable the other IRs if need be… not try to kill the other racers, understood?” Keith ordered with another glare.

“Yes, sir!” Lindsay's dislike for the man died out at this piece of news. Bradley gave her a flattering rub on the shoulder as she continued to beam.

“Congratulations to you all. Training will begin promptly at six tomorrow morning. Everyone will meet in sector twelve. If you haven’t already, familiarize yourselves with the building; it will be your home for the next three weeks.” Keith wrapped up and walked out the room. The other men gave Lindsay quick hugs in place of congratulations; they all knew the implied assessment results stressed her. The Royal Magistrate coming up to the group took everyone’s attention. As his thin lips curved into a smile, Lindsay repeated the gesture. She felt more at ease with him but couldn’t figure out why.

“I sense that you two will be a considerable adversary for my son. Good luck to you.” Emuh said and followed Keith out of the room. Bradley and Lindsay shot each other a look.

“We’re gonna be… racing against his son…??” Lindsay’s eyes widened.

“He didn’t seem to be too worried about it. Trust me, Lizzie; the kid gloves come off when you’re racing. He’ll find out soon enough…” Bradley winked at her.

3.1: Buno

Lindsay hurried out of her room only to see the rest of the team passing through the hallway. Bradley gave her a cheerful smile.

“Good morning!” his eyes shone as the woman rolled hers.

“Morning. Ain’t nothing good about getting up this damn early…” Lindsay half uttered, making the man laugh.

“I thought you military folks were used to this…”

“You know how long it’s been since I had to get up this damn early? Wasn’t a fan of it, then; not a fan of it now!” Lindsay complained.

“You’ll get used to it! Whelp; ready for training, partner?”

“As ready as I will be… partner…” she finally smiled back at him, clutching his hand in a firm handshake.

Malik and Yoji were behind the two as they made the short walk to sector twelve. Malik glanced down at Yoji, who gave him a polite smile.

“I’m sure we’ll make good partners.” Yoji pointed out. Malik nodded.

“Yeah. It’s just, trying to keep those two safe? Don’t think it’ll be easy!” he gave a hasty nod towards the pilot and his artillery specialist. An uncomfortable sensation built as he watched them bond; for that reason, he was not a fan of Lindsay and Bradley paired together. Malik realized it couldn’t be helped; it was what the assessment tests confirmed. He had this depressing sense that Bradley was flirting and according to the rings on her left finger, Lindsay was married.

It took them a few minutes to find sector twelve and, although they arrived early, Keith was there, ready to hand everyone a keycard.

“I’m glad to see that everyone is here on time. If you find out anything about me, you will learn that I don’t accept failure as an option… and tardiness is unacceptable.” he made clear. Lindsay leaned towards Bradley.

“What, we in school, now…?” she murmured as low as she could, making Bradley snort. Keith glared at the two as Bradley covered his snort with a cough.

“Do not lose these cards. You won’t get anywhere without them. Now, behind this door is the IR you will become familiar with.” Keith continued and let the security pad scan his keycard. When the door glided open, the team looked on in total astonishment.

“Holy…”

“… Shit!” Steve finished for Tim. Inside was more extensive than the door led people to believe. In the center of the room stood the Earth team’s IR, a silver machine that rose nearly twenty feet in the air. Its wings were two circular-designed air ventilators and the cabin sat between and above them in a slim half-oval frame with a clear panoramic windshield. A sphere at the base served as the gunner’s pit: mounted multi-barrel guns were set up on each side of the sphere. The shield was panoramic as well but tinted.

“This is our IR: the Silver Stallion.” Keith announced as the others gaped at the machine.

“I truly think we’re gonna need more mechanics!” Malik realized. He didn’t realize Keith heard him so the older man laughing surprised him.

“Four is actually more than enough. The Stallion looks massive but the components are simple once you’re fully trained. Speaking of; your first training lesson will be on getting to know the Silver Stallion.”

 

Three weeks later, the team learned all there was about keeping up with maintenance and operating the Silver Stallion. The group didn't find out how they would cross to the next galaxy until the day they departed; the entire team gawked at the massive Esperian spacecraft. Large enough to accommodate everybody in the training building along with the Silver Stallion, the Royal Magistrate assured that his shuttle was “one of the smallest” in the fleet. It proved to be far beyond Earth’s present technology; what would’ve taken them eons was reduced to an hour after teleporting to their destination.

Emuh put his spacecraft to autopilot and gazed at the humans aboard with a pleasing look.

“Welcome to the Ecilavi Galaxy. I hope you will enjoy your stay.” he stated as he took down the protective cover. An enormous window displayed the view of the smaller galaxy; while the Milky Way's planets were far apart, the worlds here seemed crowded together. Lindsay mustered the confidence to get out of her seat and stood near the tall alien. Her eyes remained wide as she took in the scene in front of her; these planets donned more vibrant colors than the ones she was used to seeing.

“Oh; what’s that dark thing over there? You guys have black holes?” she asked, pointing to their left. Emuh looked at the ominous smoky planet she was referring to.

“We do have black holes but that is not one. That is the planet Irazor. It is home to the Qees, a rather volatile species. Their entire existence is for conflict and destruction. They will have plenty to prove during these races. It is their initial year taking part as well,” Emuh nodded to himself. He glanced down at Lindsay, who looked bewildered. “Please assure me that Bradley and yourself are on guard.” he didn’t intend to fill his voice with fear but Lindsay caught on. The team had seen more of the alien in the three weeks they trained. Bradley and herself discovered that the Royal Magistrate had come to like the team although his son would contend against the Earth team. It was strange but Lindsay believed Emuh's favoritism was more towards herself and Bradley. Lindsay swallowed the slight fear down and nodded at the alien.

“I… I honestly don’t know what to expect but… we’ll be careful,” she stared back into outer space, attempting not to imagine the reason Emuh would deliver such a forewarning. Lindsay wanted to think about something else and cheered up when she did. “Your highness-”

“Oh, Lindsay. Please, call me Emuh. I admire your courtesy however it is not required at the moment. Forgive me if I speak out of term but… you are considerate for a human being. I have examined your team, and I have established you have the heart of an Esperian. Because of that, I remain positive my son would delight in your company very much... as I do, presently,” Emuh smiled at Lindsay. The words froze Lindsay in her place as she gawked at the alien, blood surging to her face. She looked down at her feet, pondering what to say because mere thanks didn’t seem it would fit for that moment. Lindsay had no idea how to take what he said. “I apologize. I did not intend to interrupt. There is something else you wish to speak about?” he went on. She still blushed but forced herself to look at him and shook her head. Her wanting to know if he had telepathy wasn’t significant after that.

“Oh! Yeah: which planet is yours? Es… peria, right?”

“Correct. That is Esperia,” he pointed towards a purple and blue planet that appeared smaller than Earth. “And here is Buno. As much as I delight in speaking to you, you will have to take your seat, now. I do look forward to another lengthy conversation. Please prepare for landing.” Emuh called to everyone else.

“I… m-me, too. Thank you,” Lindsay stuttered and returned to her seat. She watched as Bradley strapped in beside her; he offered her a smirk. “What’s with that look…?”

“You’re rosy. What was that all about, between you and the Royal Magistrate?”

“Oh, my God; it was nothing!”

“Oh, really?” he sounded as though he wasn’t convinced. The woman sighed as she harnessed herself in.

“… He said that I have the heart of an Esperian. Just… took me off guard, is all.”

“He gave you a compliment?”

“I… guess…”

“Heh…”

“What, now?”

“You’re acting like he’s trying to get in your pants…”

“W-W-W-W-What?! S-S-S-Shut up…” she snapped and twisted away from the man as he laughed louder.

Additional ships and alien travelers swamped the docking bay of Buno, which made the Earth team gaze on in sheer excitement. A few of the others took notice and peered back at them but ultimately went on their way. Emuh approached Keith as everyone unloaded from his ship.

“There will be a team here shortly to take the Silver Stallion to your IR bay. Another team will escort you to your quarters. The other participants are arriving today as well; there is to be a grand feast later. I am off to meet with my son; I will speak to you at the feast.”

“Looking forward to it.” Keith said. Emuh nodded and joined the crowd of characters. The Earth team noted that everybody paused and bowed as he made his way through. Keith turned and looked at his wide-eyed team.

“I understand that this is all foreign to you but try to act calm and civilized. They’re all going to stare at you; this is the first time any of them have seen a human in person.” Keith explained as the crew Emuh spoke of flew towards the docking bay.

None of them anticipated what they saw but the creatures looked like rather large rabbits with hands and feet. Their wings were large compared to their small, furry bodies. As they watched, the Earth team determined which ones were to help with the IRs and which ones were to lead them to their quarters: the “workers” wore dull white blouses with deep green slacks while the “guides” donned flowing orange robes. One guide landed in front of Lindsay and stared up at her; she guessed that the creature was no bigger than a two-foot toddler.

“So, you are a… human? Did I say that right?” its high-pitched squeaky voice fascinated her. Lindsay smiled.

“Yes. What are you…?” she couldn’t think of a better way to ask properly.

“We’re called Legooms. I’ve never seen a human before.” the Legoom busied itself by studying Lindsay.

“Well… I’ve never seen a Legoom before so I guess we’ll call it even!” she answered and the two laughed. The Legoom stuck out its small, furry hand; the sleeve of their robe slipped to reveal more of their arm. The move prompted Lindsay to crouch down to shake their hand.

“It’s true, then. This is the way to greet a human! My name is Naav.”

“Lizzie. That’s my name.”

“… Are you a female human?”

“Yep! Are you a female Legoom…?” Lindsay asked and Naav giggled.

“Of course! I’m sorry; I lost track of time! Now, if you would; follow me, please!” she took flight and patted Lindsay on the cheek. The woman glanced back at her team, who all gave her particular looks.

“What…? He said to be calm and civilized!”

3.2: The Welcome Feast

The Legooms escorted the bulk of the arriving groups to their dwelling quarters; a huge structure that reminded the humans of a hotel. The building was of an adobe red and oval-shaped, with many windows. Anyone who went out the docking bay could see the quarters. They took a fifteen-minute hike through grassy fields, small villages, and a wide marketplace to their destination. They were virtually pushed inside where the humans saw a variety of other aliens. Naav led the Earth team into one of the elevators in what they presumed was the lobby. The elevator was wide enough to carry the whole crew and their possessions. The group rocketed to one of the central levels, leaving them to hold tight onto something to hold their balance. They gathered their senses as Naav floated out when the doors opened.

“Everyone receives their own area. Each room comes with a personal droid named PAS. They will awaken you each morning, tell you the weather; any news you need. They were a token from the Esperians and have benefited tremendously! Each PAS have been programmed to provide your lodgings to your desires. Now, hold your hand on the panel to the right of the door and allow the system recognize your print,” Naav instructed. The earthlings did as instructed and waited for the panels to scan their handprints. With a quiet beep, each of their names appeared on the small LCD screen above the panels and the doors unlocked. “Now, no one else can access your room using their handprint. Amazing, yes? The grand feast will begin in two hours. Don’t be late!” she concluded. She waved goodbye before making her way to another level.

Malik walked inside his room. He wasn’t prepared for the mechanical orb that descended from the ceiling; the movement made him step back.

Good morning. I am PAS, your personal android system. Please, speak your name.

“Um… Malik Jackson…”

Are you male or female, Malik Jackson?

“… Definitely male…”

Thank you, Mr. Jackson. I am now set up for voice activation. Is there something you need, Mr. Jackson?

“Need…? I don’t know what you’re asking for, exactly. Are you asking to give me something to drink or-”

I am also programmed to inform that I am not a maid systemized program and cannot retrieve nor clean items for you.

“Ah. Gotcha. So, are you programmed for a human’s need, then?”

“Yes. Research about the planet, Earth, has downloaded into my system.”

“Alright. We’ll see how much you know!” Malik challenged, viewing the orb with a smirk. The man glanced around the room. The area was larger than he anticipated but it was clear.

“I sense that your living quarters concern you, Mr. Jackson.”

“What? Are you a mind reader?”

“I am able to sense your human emotions. A team of technicians are expecting our data and will construct your quarters to your desire.”

“Oh, so, that’s what you meant by something I needed!”

“Correct.”

“Well, then… guess we’ll start decorating!”

The Earth team gathered in the corridor and made their way to the lobby. Malik walked beside Lindsay, seeing as though Bradley was slow to reach the woman.

“So… they made several trips to your room.” Malik smirked at the blushing woman. Lindsay shrugged the feeling aside.

“What were you, spying on me…?”

“You’re funny! No, I was looking out here and saw them.”

“Well, they’re gonna finish after the feast. What?” she noticed that Malik gave her a look. “I have addictions, okay? I need my comics, my video games, my music, my movies, my cartoons… my food…”

“Okay, okay; I get it!” he laughed. Malik used the opportunity to study the short stature woman. Lindsay was short compared to himself; he stood near seven feet! Had he not heard of her military background, Malik would have never predicted that Lindsay would be the artillery specialist. Before Malik said another word, Bradley arrived on the opposite side of Lindsay. Something in the pit of Malik's stomach sank. For a split second, he wished that he was the pilot of the Silver Stallion.

“At least she’ll never get bored or that much home sick, right? Speaking of food… I wonder what we’ll be eating…” Bradley wondered as they got on the elevators. Lindsay shrugged and gave him a slight grin.

“I dunno. You’d think it would be something that we can digest, right? Oh, hell; what if all they want to do is poison us…?” her fear was met with laughs.

“I highly doubt that! We’ll just have to see when we get there.” David said. The group got off the elevator and Naav greeted them. The Legoom beamed at Lindsay and shocked everybody when she took Lindsay's hand, tugging her away.

“This way, please!” Naav called back and led the group to the area appointed for the feast. Their eyes widened at the size of the room; the area was large enough to take in every inhabitant of the housing building. “This is where you will have your meals if you choose. We were informed that humans also eat three times a day; so much in common! There’s your manager; you can join him at your table. Please enjoy the feast!” Naav released Lindsay’s hand and departed. She was rosy as she glanced back at her colleagues.

“I… I don’t know why she did that…”

“Aw; the thing’s fascinated with you!” Steve teased. Lindsay narrowed her eyes at him.

The Earth manager studied his crew. Keith didn’t know how to feel about the team's clothing; none of them had changed. There was no real issue: the members weren’t over or underdressed. Keith had to admit that he was happy the seven bonded as soon as they had; the Earth team continued making idle conversation with each other as they made their way to the table. Good; they’ll be fine when the races start, Keith told himself.

Lindsay continued her fascination with the other species while the others spoke. She longed for something to divert her from their teasing. Lindsay wasn’t paying attention and crashed into someone. She gasped as she had to stretch her neck to look at the dark mass. Twice the size of anyone there, the alien’s red hooded cloak did nothing to hide the deep gray armor that served as its body. Beneath the hood, no one could see anything except two green glowing orbs as it peered down at Lindsay.

“O-O-Oh… I’m sor-”

STUPID HUMAN, WATCH WHERE YOU ARE GOING!” the alien's deafening voice roared. He pushed her aside and resumed walking.

“What the…” Bradley raised his eyebrows at the back of the steel alien.

“Hey, what the hell??” Lindsay retaliated as she pulled herself off the floor. She didn’t care if the being was taller and broader than the Royal Magistrate; she would not stand for its rudeness. Lindsay was moments from approaching the metal giant until an unusual but gentle cool hand on her arm halted her. Lindsay twisted in agitation to see who stopped her but her mood shifted.

He had to be his son, Lindsay pointed out in her head. His skin was darker than his father’s, being a steel blue. The alien was also shorter, standing around the same height as Bradley. The Esperian’s onyx eyes had a glimmer as he stared down at the earthling.

“I would recommend that you do not provoke the general.” he said in a softer voice than his father’s. Lindsay could do nothing but attempt to restrain her smile. His robe was a sandy brown with the same unique color-changing gems adorned on it.

“The… general…?” she looked back and saw that the enormous alien had taken a seat.

“Yes. General Ehsa of the Qees. The ruthless commander of their army.”

“O-o-oh. But, he-”

“Hey; you alright?” Bradley interrupted. He gently grabbed Lindsay by the opposite arm and led her to their table. She nodded but held her gaze on the blue alien.

“Y-Yeah. So… you’re Emuh’s son…”

“Yes. I am Baron Areiv. It is a pleasure to meet you. Please, be very careful how you approach the general, if you are to approach him at all. He is not what you call a social being.”

“Noted…” Malik mumbled. He took one last glimpse at the general before taking his seat.

“My father has told me much about the Earth team. I do apologize that we have met under these circumstances.”

“It’s… okay, I suppose. We had to meet one way or another! Um… I’m-”

“Lindsay, yes. The way my father carried on, it is as though I am already acquainted with your crew. Bradley, Malik, Yoji, Steve, David, Tim and your manager, Keith.” the Baron identified each person accurately. He shook everyone’s hand except for Lindsay’s; Areiv cupped one of her hands and covered it, giving her a modest bow.

“A-Ah… um, you can call me… Lizzie… if you want…” she stuttered; his gesture flustered her.

“Will it displease you if I prefer ‘Lindsay’?”

“I… no…”

“Your dad said we’d be good competition for you. So… don’t sleep on me and my partner, now!” Bradley chimed in. Lindsay’s flustered state transformed into shock as she gave the man a stare.

“Brad! Baron, I’m sorry…” the soft laugh from Areiv surprised her.

“It is perfectly fine. I was made known of your Earth egos; I was not expecting to see it so soon! I look forward to our races against one another even more! However, I feel that you should not underestimate me.” the Baron responded with a smile.

“Hmph; we’ll see…” Bradley challenged with a smile of his own. Flustered, Lindsay opened her mouth to apologize until Emuh approached the group.

“Ah. I see that you have met my son. Let us leave the Earth team to their dining, Areiv. They will need to pay attention to the racing process. Perhaps after the feast, we shall join you for cocktails?” the Royal Magistrate looked at the Earth team’s manager.

“Of course.” Keith nodded. The two Esperians bowed and left but not before Areiv gave the group a simple smile. The earthlings took their seats.

“They have drinks here…?” David asked no one in particular.

“I wonder how they will taste…” Yoji appeared lost in thought. Lindsay hit Bradley on his arm.

“Ow! What was that for?!”

“We ain’t been here a whole day and you’re talking shit…?”

“Heh; that was only some friendly intimidation, darling. You should see what I do to my enemies!” he winked at her. Lindsay rolled her eyes.

“It was rude and uncalled for…”

“Well… call me crazy but… I think you’re just mad that I ran a potential suitor off…” he gave her a mischievous grin. Lindsay’s eyes grew larger as her cheeks became rosy once more.

“A… why you…”

“These are not other humans we’re dealing with, Bradley. Lindsay is right,” Keith controlled his own eye roll. “The Baron took it fairly well… others may not. And the Baron is right; don’t go picking fights with anyone!” Keith scolded his pilot and artillery specialist. As Bradley dropped his eyes, Lindsay glared at him.

“Now, wait just a damn minute! I wasn’t the one who…” she needed to say more but Bradley placed an encouraging grip on her knee underneath the table. He gave it a gentle tap and a squeeze, which made her stop scowling at the manager. “Fine…” Lindsay heaved out.

The Royal Magistrate and the Baron of Esperia sat at their table. The older alien took in the group of racers taking their seats; the atmosphere delighted him. Emuh's attention soon moved to the Qees general, who remained unaffected during the welcoming speech. The giant abruptly left as the food was delivered. Areiv kept his attention on the newcomers; it was the first time he'd seen humans in person and was taken aback how comparable the two species were. There was no need for him to give attention to the procedures; Areiv had lost track of how many times he took part. The Baron took the opportunity to study each human individual. The Royal Magistrate desired him to befriend the earthlings for a reason; he caught a glimpse of why during their sudden meeting.

“We must keep an eye out for Ehsa during these races, my son.”

“Yes, father.” the Baron answered thoughtlessly.

“I feel that he will not take heed the warnings of not deliberately causing injury to others. Particularly to the Earth team,” Emuh continued. When his son did not reply, he glanced at him. A smile surfaced on his face as he observed who his attention was on. “Perhaps you could assist as a protector…?”

“I am… sorry… father?” Areiv looked at the older Esperian who chuckled.

“This is your first time seeing humans. I assume that you approve?” his remarks made the Esperian blush.

“F-Father! They are simply…”

“Intriguing?”

“… Yes…”

3.3: Practice

The Earth team learned of the customs during the welcoming ceremony and feast. Thirty races ran in an Earth’s time span of a year, on the fourth day of the week. Each team earned points unless they could not finish the race. Weapons and ammo were used merely to cause damage to the Star Racer itself. Any intentional injury caused to a crew member would lead to disqualification, and a potential trip back to their home planet. Majority of the races were circuit events, consisting of ten laps. The remainder were sprints on Buno’s open terrain, to a designated finish position. Participants had four weeks after the feast to prepare and practice for the initial race.

The Earth team conducted their first practice on the oval track that hosted the opening race. Keith nodded his approval as the Silver Stallion docked in the bay. Bradley descended from the pilot’s pit and helped his partner out of hers.

“What you think? Not bad for a first run, eh?”

“That was… awesome! The simulations fail in comparison to the real deal.”

“The actual real deal will be in less than a month. Hopefully, your sights will be set by then, Lindsay. Bradley, a tad too much swaying but once you get used to having others on the track, it’ll calm down.” Keith critiqued. Lindsay held her grumbling to herself as Bradley nodded. The others crowded around the two.

“We’ve been working on some things here. Yoji put together this system in the bay computers. It’ll connect to the system in the Silver Stallion soon, maybe tomorrow.” Malik attempted to explain.

“What would it do?” Lindsay asked.

“It’ll give out any information on a Star Racer. The system already installed was set up to give you some basic info. I simply upgraded it to a lock-on system and calculated more data.”

“So… I need to know about a Star Racer, I just lock-on to it and…”

“The information will load to the bay computers.” Yoji continued.

“That’s pretty cool…” Lindsay admitted.

“But, that’s not the best part! So, everyone knows the oval tracks are basic, easy peasy stuff, right? But, what about those sprints? Well, the system will also be able to download the info on those tracks. As soon as you guys line up, Brad can activate the GPS system. We can take those coordinates, look it up and we’ll have a map for that race.” Malik smiled.

“Why not just download everything to the Stallion’s system?” Steve asked.

“The coding to do what I did was hard enough! Besides, we’re the communications team.”

“And, I don’t mind being useful, relaying stuff to these guys!” Malik continued to beam at the pilot and artillery specialist. “Oh, Lizzie! One more thing! Once we pass on the info to Brad, he can relay it to you.”

“Which… helps me… how…?”

“Well, he’ll only pass on the primary component of the Star Racer to you. The Stallion’s system can automatically switch to the best ammo according to the material. You would have to manually enter that information though.”

“Oh! But, still! Less work for the win!” she smiled at Yoji. Keith cleared his throat and caught everyone’s attention.

“Excellent work, Yoji and Malik. They will have less to worry about, now. Hopefully, this system can be applied tomorrow; I’d like for them to go through a test run with it, then.”

“We’ll see what we can do, boss…” Malik answered.

“Good. That’s enough work for today. You can all go home, now.” Keith dismissed the team. The group nodded as they got together their belongings and headed out the bay. Lindsay looked back and grinned as Bradley caught up with her. She stretched and yawned.

“Pretty impressive of Yoji to come up with all that.” Bradley smiled.

“Yeah. A good thing he was picked, right?”

“Yep!”

“Man, I could go for a long, hot bath…”

“And a cold one after that!”

“Ha; you said it, partner!” she agreed with him and the two laughed.

“Was that an invitation?”

“What? Taking a bath and then drinking a beer…?”

“W-What?! No to the bath part! Oh, you’re so funny…” Bradley shoved her when she snickered.

“Nah. I don’t have any in my room, anyway.”

“PAS could fix that problem.”

“It could but… I heard Buno’s ale was pretty close to one of our domestic beers.”

“I dunno; don’t think I can trust that. I mean, they proved they can duplicate our food at the feast. I’ll stick to what I know!”

“Really? We’ve got to broaden our horizons, Brad. We’re gonna be here for a while.”

“Don’t you think that alone is enough broadening?” he offered her a subtle smirk. Lindsay gave him a small smile with a laugh.

“Alright, touché, I guess,” she shook her head. The journey from the bay to the housing building wasn’t a long walk; the two entered the building and waited by the elevators. “Guess I could never convince you to join me at one of the bars, huh?”

“Nope! Now, you get your PAS to get some Budweisers? I’ll be in your room in a few minutes!” he winked. It was enough to make her snort.

“You’re horrible!” her laugh changed into a yawn.

“Aw; tired?”

“Yeah. Maybe that ale will have to wait until tomorrow. Think I’m gonna take that bath and go to bed.”

“Next time on hanging out and drinking Earth beer?” he stressed. Lindsay laughed.

“Fine, yes; Earth beer, silly human! And, yeah; maybe tomorrow,” she wanted to continue talking to him when they got on the elevators. But, the group that surrounded them promptly got on as soon as the doors opened. Bradley squeezed in and gave her an apologetic look. “I’ll catch the next one! Good night, Brad!”

“Night, Lizzie.” he nodded before the doors closed. Lindsay sighed and moved to the next elevator as another group waited. She studied the lobby and spotted a sign that pointed around the corner. Written in alien and English: “Hot Springs Spa & Treatment”.

“Oh… that bath’s gonna have to wait…”

4.1: The Spa

Of all the items she brought, Lindsay was glad she packed a bathing suit. After changing, she followed the signs to the hot springs. Descending a flight of steps, she walked in a vast steam-filled cave. A Legoom smiled up at her, giving her a towel.

“Female species to the right side, male species to the left side.” it stated. Lindsay nodded and went into the right direction. Lindsay surveyed the area and found out there were more than hot springs. There were large tubs filled with hot oil, mud, magma and other liquids she refused to speculate what they were! Like the hot springs spa sign, there were others printed in English and alien languages. Lindsay finally came upon a hot spring that wasn’t overly occupied and settled on that one.

Lindsay's heart pounded as the feminine species stopped what they were doing and stared at her. She had only spoken to Legooms and Esperians; Lindsay had hoped that other species understood her language as she cleared her throat.

“Uh… hi. M-May I join you…?” she attempted. The women glanced at each other and turned their gazes back at the human. Great, they don’t understand, she wanted to sigh out loud.

They finally nodded to Lindsay’s delight. She offered them a smile as she slipped into the heated water. Lindsay sat on the polished surface that served as a bench. She never been in water so soothing; after a long day at practice, it was surely what she needed to drift off. But, she wasn’t accustomed with the others… and they still gazed at her. Lindsay decided that it was best to keep her eyes open.

“Relaxing, isn’t it?” a lynx-like alien broke the tense silence, purring. Her burgundy fur was short and matted to her body thanks to the water. Her golden eyes were already in slits; Lindsay didn't know if they truly narrowed at her. The whiskered smile put her at ease and she nodded.

“Y-Yes. Very much…”

“It isn’t too hot for you? Humans enjoy water…?” a scaly alien asked. Lindsay nodded once more as she looked at the alien. She reminded Lindsay of a stereotypical water alien from a B-rated movie. Her gills on the side of her jade neck lifted and twisted as she studied Lindsay.

“Well… some more than others. Quite a few not at all! Our bodies are mostly made of water… and Earth is mostly covered with it… not as hot as this, though…” she tried. She was glad she recalled her school courses vaguely; she didn’t want to tell them any half-truths. The scaly alien’s brilliant blue eyes glittered at her remarks.

“That sounds like a rather nice planet!” she said and Lindsay laughed.

“So, you really are a human. Not much to look at…” the snootiness took the woman by surprise. A blood red alien who sported black horns on top of her head rolled both pairs of eyes at Lindsay. She gawked at the demon-like alien, struggling to think of something to say.

“What are your powers, human?” the cat alien ignored the demon alien and scooted closer to Lindsay.

“Uh… powers…?”

“Yes, powers. Is there something… special you can do? Can you read minds?” the devil alien breathed out in mock indifference.

“Can you breathe underwater?” she was happy that at least two of the women seemed thrilled about her.

“O-Oh… no. We’re just… ordinary.” she realized. There were millions of extraordinary and special humans on Earth; Lindsay didn’t want to bother them with the details. But, with the questions they asked her, she realized that those special earthlings failed compared to what the others regarded as standard. It made her also comprehend that every species in that galaxy had some kind of ability.

She was close to excusing herself; while she wished to hear more about the others, the demon alien made her feel unwelcomed. Lindsay didn’t see the vampiric alien until she moved nearer to Lindsay’s left side. The sight of her made Lindsay uneasy, although she grinned at her. She was ghost white with crimson eyes but she was the closest to being humanoid than the others. Her black lips parted when she grinned, revealing pearly, sharp fangs.

“Let’s be nice! This is their first time here, in this galaxy. There must be something about her that’s extraordinary; the Esperians specifically requesting them should say plenty,” the woman defended. She held a claw hand out towards Lindsay. “I’m Agnab… from the planet Olen.” she introduced. The human stared at the hand and shook it.

“H-Hi. Lindsay but… you can call me Lizzie.”

“Forgive the others, Lizzie. They’re excited about meeting a human in person. I’m certain you have a lot of questions for us.” her soothing voice calmed Lindsay as she nodded.

“As a matter of fact, yes. How do you all know English so well?” it had been on her mind since stepping foot on Buno. Agnab and the others lightly laughed.

“Oh, it wasn’t terribly difficult to learn. Your Earth languages are so, well… simple. There are some species here with telepathic abilities, you would call them. When they communicate, you may think they’re speaking English but they’re not. They make the hearer believe that they’re speaking their primary language. Snil is one of those species.” Agnab nodded towards the demon alien.

“Besides her, the rest of us were taught. The Royal Magistrate has been to your planet numerous times. He prepared the rest of this galaxy for your arrival and made certain that we learned Earth languages.”

“Wait… all of them?” Lindsay asked the scaly alien.

“Yes. He said humans take a long time to understand things like different languages. That it would be much simpler for us to adapt to you rather than the other way around.” Agnab explained.

“Your languages were the easy part. A number of us are working to comprehend your culture…” the cat alien nodded. Lindsay smiled.

“Oh… good luck with that! There are so many cultures on Earth! But, I guess… we’re trying to do the same, here.”

“Just as we’re positive we’ll become used to you, you will do the same. At least that’s what we look forward to. I heard humans are closed-minded? That the very thought of different species terrifies you.” Agnab looked at Lindsay for a response. She shrugged.

“For some: anyone different, period terrifies them! I dunno. I always knew this universe was too large for us to be the only intelligent life. But for many of us, the thought of other species out there? Most theories state they’d likely try to take over our planet and drain our resources... and us!”

“You need not worry about that here! The majority of us are rather peaceful. The only ones you have to avoid are the Qees and Vaskiians. I’m glad the Vaskiians decided not to take part this year; bothersome things! And… I don’t know whether to call you bold or unwise at your effort to stand up to the general at the welcoming feast…” the scaly alien eyed her. Lindsay felt her cheeks color, and she studied the water.

“Oh… you saw that…?”

“The entire room did! I do commend you for that, Lizzie. Olenions are ever willing to stand their ground… but not against a Qees! You have a lot of bravado in a body largely composed of water!” Agnab joked. Lindsay caught on and laughed.

The Olenion warrior introduced the other female species sharing the spa: Naeco the scaly alien and Ona the cat alien. Lindsay was glad Snil finally warmed up to her, and the four aliens took turns answering her questions. They described the other species found in the extensive cave. Lindsay learned that the Ecilavi Galaxy was far greater than her own.

Lindsay tried to go over each unique species when pointed out. As she glanced around, she spotted a group walking in the cave. One in particular she recognized: the Baron. Areiv made eye contact at once, and gave her a polite nod accompanied by a smile. Flustered, she smiled back and looked away.

“Ah… I see that a lucky female has captured the Baron’s eye, already!” Snil’s natural snooty voice sang out. Lindsay jerked her head and eyed the Riantic.

“W-W-What?!”

“Yes! Why, I haven’t seen his highness smile in eons!” Naeco smiled at Lindsay. Her eyes widened even more.

“W-W-Wait, what?! N-N-No! It’s not even… like that; I barely know him!” Lindsay rushed. She didn't understand why it made her feel guilty but her cheeks ached all the same.

“I don’t know how things are done on Earth but on my planet and many others here, that was an expression of desire…” Ona teased.

“Desire?! That’s crazy! I… we hardly said three sentences to each other; I don’t know him well enough to… desire him. Besides, I’m already married…”

“Married…” Snil let the word roll off her blue tongue. The alien pondered on it before blinking her eyes at Lindsay. “I don’t believe I’m familiar with that word.” she confessed. Lindsay thought for a while.

“Ah. A mate. I already have a mate.” she said and showed everyone her rings.

“That represents a mate? Very interesting.” Naeco became confident enough to take the human’s hand. She examined the silver wedding bands with interest as Lindsay smiled and nodded.

“You seem… pleased about it. Was it not arranged from birth?” Snil asked.

“Oh, no. I mean, there’s some Earth cultures that still do that. Not mine. We met, we dated, we fell in love… we mar… mated.”

“You can mate with anyone of your choice…?” Ona looked in amazement at Lindsay.

“You can’t?”

“Not my culture! There are many cultures here where you are assigned a mate from birth or can only choose from a particular class. Maybe humans are extraordinary!” Ona continued. The thought was enough to make Lindsay grateful for her earthling ways in that matter.

4.2: Breakfast

She sat at the table with her food in the dining facility. She could’ve remained in her room and ate the Earth food she kept in her refrigerator. But, after befriending Agnab, Snil, Ona and Naeco, the aliens got Lindsay to try Bunodic dishes. The commissary that morning served Ajom: Buno’s most well-known dish; Lindsay found herself hooked. She didn’t dare question what was in it; although she would have no idea! All she knew was that the leafy, dull red salad dish was delightful.

“You enjoy Bunodic cuisine as well.” the Baron’s kind voice had a tinge of awe. Lindsay jumped at Areiv’s voice and turned towards him. She wiped her mouth as her cheeks ached from embarrassment.

“B-Baron! Wha-”

“Please… call me Areiv. Only the royal court and followers call me ‘Baron’. I see none around here.” he smiled directly at Lindsay.

“Oh… okay.”

“May I join you?”

“Uh… um, yeah; sure…” she stammered. Areiv sat beside her and Lindsay took notice of his plate: a generous portion of Ajom accompanied with a gooey green substance.

Lindsay stole a glimpse at him, getting ready to open her mouth to ask questions. Something made her stop as she examined him. She had to admit that he was rather attractive for an alien. The idea made her blush once again, and she stared back at her plate of food. Lindsay remembered what Agnab mentioned to her. Nearly every species of female in the galaxy had fallen for the Baron’s looks and demeanor. The Olenion believed many simply wished to become Lady of Esperia and was the primary motive for their interest in him. Agnab informed her that the Baron needed a mate before the title of Royal Magistrate passed on to him: Emuh’s rule was drawing near an end.

Lindsay made an effort to wave the thoughts out of her head. While he was handsome, so were a few members on the Earth team. She didn’t pursue any of them; why try with anyone else? She was happily married. She would have to put whatever feelings she had for anyone at bay and stick with being platonic, no matter how long they would be on the planet.

“If you enjoy Ajom, then you would surely love the food on Esperia.” his words snapped her train of thought. Lindsay smirked and nodded.

“You’re pretty confident about that.”

“Yes. It is the finest.” Areiv nodded. Lindsay laughed and nodded towards his plate.

“That green stuff. That’s from Esperia?”

“Yes. This is called dworl. It is commonly consumed by itself. However, there is no harm in combining it with your meal. You must taste it; it works well with Ajom.” he didn’t wait for Lindsay to refuse or answer. Before she could blink, his spoon aimed at her lips, a tiny sample on the end of it. She didn’t want to seem rude so Lindsay sampled and an instant effect of licking her lips took place.

“Oh… oh, wow! It’s kinda sweet. It’s like… jelly. This would go good on some toast!” her approval made the Baron smile.

“I do not know what toast is but I will assume that it is a good thing. As well as edible.”

“That’s right. I keep forgetting that this is literally a brand-new world. You guys don’t know what grains and stuff are.”

“Afraid not. I would have to research to see if we have anything related to your… grains and stuff.” Areiv offered her a warm smile. Lindsay laughed.

“Thanks for the sample. I honestly don’t know if I’d ever get a chance to visit Esperia. But, if I do, you gotta give me at least a jar of that dworl!” she smiled. Areiv returned the smile and nodded.

“That can be arranged. As well as your visit. Whenever you have the time.” he surprised her yet again. Lindsay stared at him. She didn’t expect an actual response from him.

“O-Oh. Thank you, Areiv. I guess when the races are over with… I’ll make plans.”

“You are more than welcome to visit during the races; the voyage is not long. However, I will be most honored with whatever arrangements you have,” the Baron gave her a slight bow. The move was enough to make her bashful once more, and she turned her attention to her meal. Lindsay ran out of things to discuss. She questioned if the two would sit in silence, having their breakfast. The woman crammed a forkful of Ajom in her mouth to prevent the awkward silence. “Is it a common custom for your colleagues not to dine with you? Do they not enjoy Bunodic food?”

“Ah…” she had to finish the bite in her mouth. “Highly doubt they do. All of this is still new to us. I’m learning bit by bit but… it’s one thing to try new things. It’s another to try new alien things!”

“I see.”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure they’re in their rooms or out and about somewhere.”

“Oh. You do not know their whereabouts?” it puzzled Areiv. Lindsay shrugged.

“I mean, we’re a team, yeah. But, we all just met each other a little over a month ago. We’re still getting to know each other well.”

“Ah. So, Bradley is not your mate?” he asked, and it made Lindsay choke. His gasp at her coughing made it take longer for her to settle down. Once she did, Lindsay laughed.

“I’m sorry! I’m… fine…”

“A-Are you… sure? Do I need to contact the medic-”

“No, I’m fine! Really. But, um… no, Bradley is not my mate! My mate is still on Earth.”

“You are… laughing at what I ask? Why is that amusing?”

“Well… you’re the only one who knows this. So, back on Earth, Brad is this racecar driver. Very popular, you know? And I’ve been a fan for a long time… and probably infatuated with him for just as long.”

“… Infatuated…” he thought about the word. Lindsay blushed a little.

“I wouldn’t say I… desired him. The, ah… I guess the feeling below that one?”

“I understand infatuation.” Areiv looked at her, making the woman even more rosy.

“O-Oh. Sorry! I thought… anyway. He doesn’t know all that. He only knows that I’m a big fan. So, I found it funny and ironic that, of all the guys on the team, me and him become partners.”

“I see. I apologize for the assumption.”

“It’s okay. Although… have we been acting like we’re mates…?”

“According to my standards, not at all. I assumed because I do not know your standards. May I add the two of you seem well suited?”

“… R-Really?”

“You are surprised. Yes. It was a main reason for the assumption. However, I am certain that you are well suited with your present mate,” Areiv nodded. Lindsay took his remarks in consideration and smirked to herself. It took her a great while to realize Tracy and herself were well matched. When they first met, the only thing they had in common was they were both Marines! Tracy and Lindsay Rose were opposites. But it didn’t matter; what did was they fell in love with each other and cared for each other passionately. “A different question, if you do not mind. Have you had a tour of Buno?”

“… No. Not yet, anyway. I’m… not comfortable going out and about by myself. Agnab or the others haven't offered so…”

“You have befriended others here. That is most satisfying. Do not trouble yourself over the safety of Buno. It is quite a tranquil place.”

“Okay. Maybe one day after practice, I’ll walk around more.”

“Lindsay… there is a recital this evening. The Legooms are the finest musicians in the galaxy and I seldom miss a performance! Do you… care to join me?” the alien tried. Lindsay gave him a look of awe as she felt her cheeks ache once more.

“Um… I… that sounds… yeah. Sure. Sounds like it’ll be fun, actually…”

“Yes, it is. Afterwards, perhaps I can show you a small section of Buno? I do not want to keep you out too late.”

“… I would like that, Bar… Areiv.” Lindsay smiled.

“Then, I shall meet you outside the housing facility at dusk.” Areiv gave her a smile back.

“I knew I’d find you here!” Bradley’s familiar southern twang rang out. Lindsay gave him a bright smile as he took a seat beside her.

“Morning! Oh, you gonna finally try something new for once?”

“Not on your life! Alright; what the hell is that?” the man pointed at Lindsay's plate. She took another mouthful as Bradley cringed.

“It’s called Ajom. It’s their signature breakfast dish; you gotta try it!” she thrust her fork towards his mouth. Bradley gave a show of pushing it aside.

“Ugh, no! How do you even eat this stuff; do you know what’s in it?!”

Don’t tell me; it’s delicious and I wanna enjoy it! Then again… you talking to someone who eats chitterlings…”

“Right. You’re disgusting. Hi, Baron,” Bradley noticed Areiv, nodding towards the alien. “Keeping our girl company this morning or you tryna get our racing strategy out of her?” he taunted, much to Lindsay’s dismay. Before she could open her mouth, Areiv gave the human a modest smile.

“Rest assured, I need not cheat to defeat you. It is actually Lindsay who is providing me with her company. However, I shall take my leave; the two of you appear to have plenty to discuss.”

“Oh, it’s okay, you don’t hav-”

“Until dusk, Lindsay.” Areiv made the woman forget her words as he grasped her hand ever so lightly. He gave Lindsay a bow and a smile before he grabbed his tray and departed. Bradley tried and failed to contain his smirk as he glanced at the glowing woman.

“… Until dusk? What’s that about?”

“N-N-Nothing. It’s… nothing…” she tried to occupy herself by eating. Bradley narrowed his eyes at her.

“Hey… whatcha doing tonight? We don’t have practice this weekend; we could grab a few beers, get a little drunk and cause some human chaos in town!” he smiled widely at her. Lindsay’s natural color never returned as she took a sip of her drink.

“As fun as that sounds… I can’t. Maybe tomorrow night.”

“Aw, why put off… um… I don’t know how that saying goes. But, why not tonight? Can’t tell me you’re gonna be tired later!”

“Brad…”

“What? Tell me what that ‘until dusk’ thing is about, Lizzie. You got plans with the Baron or something…?”

“Alright, alright, damnit! Anyone tell you you’re annoying?!”

“I’ve heard it several times, yeah…”

“I’m going to a recital tonight.”

“A recital, huh? With the Baron?”

“… Yeah…”

“So… let me get this straight. You’re going on a date with the Bar-”

“W-W-W-Wait, a WHAT?! N-N-No!!”

“You’re blushing…” Bradley narrowed his eyes at her once again. Lindsay turned away from him.

“I-I-I’m not blushing! And, it’s not a date! He’s just… showing me around…”

“Uh, huh. Are we all invited to this recital, then?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“And, this recital is just so happening at night. Along with the showing you around bit…”

“Oh, my God; stop it! You’re looking too much into this! This is nothing! Nothing will happen; Areiv knows that I’m married!”

“Oh… it’s just Areiv, now? You’re dropping the formalities with him. In fact… you dropped the formalities with his dad, too. Is the Royal Magistrate gonna be there…? Is this some sort of weird alien orgy incest thing going on…?”

“Oh… my… GOD; get the hell away from me!!” Lindsay didn’t intend to be as loud as she was; the two humans drew attention towards themselves. Lindsay looked down at her plate as Bradley snickered. She threw him a malicious stare. “What the hell do you want, anyway?!” she asked in a cool tone.

“I’m sorry! It’s just fun to tease you! Yoji and Malik sent me on a quest. Wanna go to the marketplace with me?”

“Am I gonna hear more about me going to this recital with Areiv?”

“Chances are great…”

“Then, no.” Lindsay clutched her tray and got up from the table.

“Lizzie! Don’t be like that; I said I was sorry!”

4.3: The Legoomian Recital

The Baron of Esperia had never been so uncertain about anything in his whole life span. Even as the days of his father’s rule grew shorter, Areiv never showed much consideration about becoming the Royal Magistrate. Emuh groomed him to develop into one, so it didn’t trouble him in the least. As with many situations in his life, it was something that needed doing.

Preparing for the recital gave him a strange sensation. He paused and questioned why he prepared with much more interest than normal. He realized how he pondered on which pieces would work best with one another. The thought of how Lindsay would react to his attire made him nervous. Never mind the fact there were other matters that occurred in his life span that should’ve caused him to feel the same.

He recalled how delighted his father would become whenever he spoke of the Earth team. Areiv noted his father's energy, notably so when he spoke of the human female with the Esperian heart. Emuh was positive that his son would become immediate friends with the woman. The Baron swore it was a mere press for him to get a mate; the thought of her being human confused him.

Yet, he was not prepared for the disposition she displayed the moment he laid eyes on her. The humans impressed him in general; for as long as he could recall, the Esperians knew only of the tales of them. To see a whole group in person was thrilling. The woman more so: even as she walked and examined her surroundings, Lindsay had a courteous aura about her. He was definitely surprised that not only did the male humans show their bravery towards General Ehsa, but she as well.

He didn’t know how to feel about her, even as he stepped outside and noticed her standing alone. His father always had good judgment in individuals; Lindsay was no exception. Emuh wanted his son to make friends with the earthlings, regardless of the fact they would be his adversaries. He positioned himself to do just that but there was something about the woman he couldn’t pinpoint.

Areiv paused a few feet before he approached and examined her. Lindsay stood by the fountain set up in front of the housing building. Areiv’s research on human culture told him she wore casual Earth attire meant for the planet's warmer months: black Capri pants, an orange-striped blouse and black sandals. He paid particular care to Lindsay's shoes. The sandals donned a large orange and white flower that threatened to hide her toes. Lindsay’s dreadlocks were so long, she often set them up in a bun. Areiv admired the way they tumbled past her shoulders, to the middle of the woman's back. A few strands were pulled into a ponytail but even those hung past her shoulders. The Baron would ask about the tiny silver ornaments that wrapped around random locks.

Lindsay turned to see if she would catch Areiv coming out of the building and reddened as they made eye contact. She offered him a smile and noted that the alien was not in one of his accustomed royal robes. The Esperian wore a majestic purple tunic with abstract Esperian designs embedded throughout. Lindsay also wasn’t used to seeing him wearing slacks, which were a simple smoky gray.

“Oh… Lindsay, you look beautiful this evening.” Areiv couldn’t help himself. His remarks made Lindsay’s cheeks ache deeper than expected.

“T-Thank you. I… didn’t do anything special. But… you do, too,” she stammered. When Areiv gave her a stunned expression, Lindsay shied away and cleared her throat. “I mean, not beautiful but… handsome.”

“You cannot call me beautiful?”

“Well, I can. But, the word is more for a female than a male.”

“I see. Not too many have called me beautiful. Well, usually those who are merely seeking to flatter me. Too many believe that I cannot hear. I know of their intentions. With you, however, I acknowledge that it is sincere.”

“Oh?”

“Indeed. You have nothing to gain by flattering me. You already have your mate. Your words are meaningful to me… and I thank you.” Areiv finished explaining. Lindsay nodded and smiled. He was right; she was simply being friendly to him. It calmed her mind all the better; the Esperian's intentions were the same.

“You’re welcome. So… I’m not too casual, am I?” she couldn’t help eyeing his attire. The Baron let out a small laugh.

“My dear Lindsay; this is my informal attire. So, to answer your inquiry: not at all. Shall we, then?” he bent a blue arm towards her. Areiv learned that it was an old-fashioned Earth custom, but he was glad it was a feature the two species shared. Lindsay nodded and wrapped her arm around his, flustered that he referred to her as “his dear Lindsay”. 

The two chatted as they made their way to the nearby outdoor amphitheater. The similarities amazed Lindsay as they found seats together. Areiv noticed her amusement and smiled.

“Do you attend recitals on Earth?”

“No, actually. Well, we call them concerts. I’ve only been to three in my life.”

“That is unfortunate. No one should ever miss out on the finer qualities in this life span.”

“No offense but with you being a Baron and royalty? You can afford to enjoy things like this on a daily basis!”

“Oh? Recitals on Earth require payment?”

“Most of them, yeah. Not to say the free ones aren’t any good though. But, on Earth for the most part, you gotta pay for what we consider the ‘finer qualities’.”

"I see. So disappointing. There are few activities that call for payment in this galaxy. However, I understand being the Baron of Esperia has its advantages at moments.” he agreed.

“I just bet! How many women wanted to join you tonight?”

“I am certain quite a few. However, none approached me. They normally do not. Is it customary for human females to approach the male in these circumstances?”

“I… I don’t have an actual answer for that. Yes and no? It’s one of our old-fashioned values that’s stayed intact for the most part. Not too many of us are bold enough to ask a guy anywhere.”

“That is the custom here. Can we come to an arrangement? I will make certain you always experience the finer qualities this galaxy offers whenever you are in my presence.” the Baron surprised her. Lindsay shot a glance at him as her cheeks ached.

“Oh. Um… Areiv… you don’t have to do that.” she answered.

“It would please me greatly if I am able to do that for you. I certainly do not mind doing so. Is that improper of me? Why does it astonish you?”

“It’s just… isn’t there a single female species here who’s more deserving of that?”

“Single?”

“Those without a mate.”

“Ah. There may be. I have doubts they would be as sincere as yourself. The recital is about to begin; you are in for a delight this evening.” Areiv decided although this was a relaxed gathering for the two, he had expressed too much. He was grateful for the sounds of the Legoom musicians warming up.

Lindsay tried to wait out the familiar ache in her cheeks; it didn’t go unnoticed that the Baron changed the topic. She wouldn’t pry any further and turned her attention towards the stage. The instruments were like Earth’s versions of flutes and clarinets. From her seat, she couldn’t make out the material but Lindsay noticed there were extra and irregular-shaped holes in the instruments. The human could likewise tell the gender of each Legoom. The females wore ivory gowns that sparkled while the males wore slacks and shirts of the same color.

Lindsay smiled as Naav made her way to the center of the seated musicians. The Legooms, like humans, were all unique in features. It was simple to identify them from one another. Lindsay still called the Legooms "rabbits" in her head and thought Naav had a rich shade of golden fur. The Legoom was also the only one whose tufts of hair curled at the top of her head. Although it had only been a week since the humans arrived on Buno, Naav and Lindsay were good friends. The two fascinated one another!

The other musicians took note of Naav and her golden flute; they stopped warming up at once. The audience hushed, and the Legoom began a slow and gentle tune. Lindsay looked around to see the reactions from everyone but discovered that their eyes were shut.

“Umm… Areiv… am I supposed to-”

“My apologies,” Areiv’s eyes snapped open and threw her an apologetic glance. “It is best experienced with your eyes closed. Trust me.” he assured her. Lindsay gave him a curious look but shrugged. She closed her eyes and suppressed her laugh. What a strange world, she smirked to herself. Lindsay’s brow wrinkled when no sooner had she shut her eyes, the Legoom musicians emerged. It was as though her eyes weren’t closed at all; they were crystal clear. Lindsay gasped as vibrant colors emitted from their instruments, stretching out and creating a ground of some sort.

“Am… am I supposed to see all this…?” she whispered as she leaned towards Areiv.

“I hope it is not too overwhelming for you…”

“No. It’s… really beautiful…” she whispered back with a smile. Rose-tinted tree trunks with delicate golden leaves blossomed around her. The scene grew into a magical forest with yellow, dense lawn and a mixture of flowers. The musicians disappeared and in their place, other Legooms danced and played.

Lindsay looked and noted that she was in the performance as well. The woman was no longer wearing her casual attire but a peachy gown that spilled over her hands and feet. Metallic gold trim traced the edges of the garment. It reminded Lindsay of a gown worn by noblewomen in the Medieval ages. A small group of Legooms noticed and moved toward her with joy. They took her to a small brook in the heart of the enchanted land. Lindsay glanced at her reflection and saw a tiara on her head. It was of golden twine decorated with various shades of orange flowers.

The music switched to a bright, lively tune as Lindsay danced and played along with the other Legooms. She felt exhilarated as if she was truly dancing and questioned if the rest of the audience experienced the same. Right before she could tire herself, the Legooms made Lindsay sit on a crimson tree stomp. They took turns bringing gifts from the forest: berries and other assorted fruits, and flowers. Two female Legooms placed sweet-smelling flowers in her hair.

This is a tale of a princess from another planet. Adored by Buno, they named her their queen.” Naav’s squeaky voice was overheard.

“… Wait… is this… is this about… me…??” Lindsay asked no one in particular; she didn't know if anyone could hear her! Regardless, the Legooms continued to pay tribute to her.

She was strong, elegant, compassionate and courageous. She ruled the land of Buno with a mystic sword. With it, she came to be a fine defender of Buno, where her kingdom loved her.” Naav continued to narrate. A sword, she asked. Lindsay glanced at her side and saw a jewel encrusted sheath on her hip; the hilt of a great sword definitely stood out. The human stood up and removed the weapon; it gleamed with a pleasant light engulfing its silver thin blade.

The music became light paced yet sharp as the Legooms panicked. Many fled for protection while those by her switched glances from the densely-wooded region to her. Lindsay looked to discover what bothered them; the heavy trees rustled violently. A huge beast charged onto the scene, standing the same size of an adult mountain lion. The animal looked like a wild boar to her without its tusks but it was threatening at the size it was. When it was about to pounce, Lindsay steadied the sword and severed the beast in two. While she was still pondering over how poised and responsive she was, the Legooms came out of hiding. They admired her even more and picked up the fractions of the creature, preparing it for a celebration.

As the animal cooked over a fire, the soft sounds of the flutes and clarinets became dignified and booming. Lindsay associated it with the announcement of a king but seeing she was the nobility, it confused her. The human kept her hand on the hilt of her sword just in case. After killing the creature that jumped at her, Lindsay gained more confidence. An ebony horse trotted into the open space and Lindsay lowered her hand as she gaped. Its rider was none other than Areiv. His attire had not changed, but he wore a circlet on his head. Lindsay couldn’t help but to smile as he dismounted the steed.

Oh! The Baron of Esperia has paid the queen a visit today. Buno and Esperia will soon unite as one nation!

“Hold up… what??” Lindsay was very tempted to open her eyes and question this portion of the narrative! Yet, she became captivated with the way the Baron gazed at her. Areiv smiled as he took her hand and kissed it.

“My queen.” were the only words he spoke. The song shifted to a waltz and Lindsay’s whole body flushed as they danced. She did nothing but stare as they swayed. The closeness reminded Lindsay once again of how handsome the alien was. Along with his confidence and courteous demeanor, she found it hard that a female species wouldn’t wish to be in his presence. Lindsay enjoyed the sensation of his cool hands on her back and around her waist; she could feel the passion he had for her through that alone. It was enough for Lindsay to smother a laugh. It was the illusion of the tale and not real. A performance by a remarkable group of musicians. Areiv was right; Lindsay was definitely delighted by it all!

Lindsay chose to revel in the moment; it would be the only time she permitted herself to be this close to the Baron. A quiver made its course up Lindsay's spine as he smiled and took her chin. She drew in a gasp as her heart pounded; they were going to kiss. It was too much, illusion or not. Lindsay was moments from opening her eyes when the music became bitter and distraught. Unlike the last time, all the Legooms hid as they heard a terrible roar. Both Areiv and Lindsay looked towards the sky only to see it evolve from its calm sea green to a sinister black. A blood red tint took over the horizon, and a form materialized from it, towering over the queen and the Baron. Areiv glared at the figure and stood in front of Lindsay as if daring it to strike. The shadow created a sickly stream that Lindsay assumed was its arm and hit the Baron. The strike was heavy enough to knock him sideways, exposing Lindsay. She backed away from the mass as it bore down on her. Lindsay prepared herself for a similar blow until Areiv moved in for the assault.

“Areiv, no!” Lindsay cried, but it was too late. Another powerful red swipe rammed him against nearby woods, leaving him to crash to the ground.

Something came over Lindsay. She had two options: check on Areiv or fight the shadow beast. The woman decided: Lindsay felt that if she ran towards Areiv, it meant her death. Lindsay drew her sword as the shadow screeched at her, rocking the surrounding land. Lindsay looked over at Areiv, who remained slumped against the trunk of a tree and the sight angered her. The queen scowled and rushed towards the blood red fog, swinging her sword with all her might. Lindsay suspected her swipes to be wild and unruly but the figure backed away from her flurry of attacks. Her attacks were precise and charged with fury as they made slices into what she considered to be its body. Even though the mass fell back, Lindsay continued her aggression; it had hurt Areiv, and she wasn’t accepting that. Not in her kingdom.

Anger continued to emanate from her body as she shrieked with each swipe. The red being groaned with every blow but Lindsay didn’t back down. Suddenly, all her anger shifted to the sword itself. A ray of blinding light burst from the tip of the blade and dispersed the crimson darkness.

Exhausted, Lindsay struggled to catch her breath as she looked to the sky. She expected the color to change back to its natural green; the queen slain the menace. It shocked Lindsay to see that it toned to a dingy gray. The music changed to a quiet and tragic cadence, which made Lindsay turn to where Areiv laid. He still wasn’t stirring; the woman didn’t know if he was still breathing. Lindsay rushed over to him as the Legooms came out of hiding to join her. She drew him in her arms to check.

“Areiv…? Areiv, please,” she tried as her heart sped. The Baron's usually cool skin warmed, and it made the woman produce tears; Lindsay recognized what that implied. “No…” she choked out. Her tears flowed as Lindsay rested her forehead against Areiv's. The pain of losing him overwhelmed her as she trembled.

Little did the queen know she had magic inside her. The droplets of sadness settled on the Baron’s face… and revived him.” Naav continued to narrate. Lindsay was so caught up in her emotions, she gasped when she noticed a coolness waver. She stared as the Baron began to breathe. Areiv gave her a weak grin as he cupped her cheek.

“You are safe…”

“Areiv!” Lindsay sniffed. The Legoomian flutes and clarinets started a cheery tune as the sky returned to its usual shade. Filled with so much pleasure that he was alive, Lindsay cupped the Baron’s face and they shared a kiss.

Buno and Esperia will soon unite as one, and the queen and her baron lived happily ever after.” Naav finished.

Lindsay opened her eyes and rubbed at the remnants of tears as the music finished. The crowd exploded in applause while she could do nothing but blush heavily. Lindsay glanced over at the Baron but he was on his feet, giving the performers a standing ovation. Lindsay observed that others done the same, but she remained rooted. Areiv looked at her with a smile that shortly transformed into a concerned gaze. He sat beside her.

“Oh… did you not enjoy the recital?”

“Areiv… d-d-did everyone see the same thing…?”

“Yes. I must add that they exceeded themselves this evening!”

“How… did they do that?”

“The finest detail about Legoomian musicians is that they perform from their hearts. It conveys to their instruments and the images play out in the mind. You did not enjoy it…” Areiv frowned at her.

“O-Oh; it was beautiful! It just seemed so… real. Like, I felt everything!”

“Of course.”

“But… you seem so calm about the whole thing! Why did they pick… us…” Lindsay trailed off and turned her gaze away from the Baron. His calmness made her even more embarrassed of the subject of the recital. Everyone saw the same thing the human had; those in attendance would assume there was something between the two when it wasn’t. Lindsay threw him a stare when Areiv chuckled.

“Do not despair about my reaction to the recital. It was an extraordinary tale, and I rather enjoyed it.”

“Bu-”

“I do not believe this recital was about the two of us but rather… about you,” he resumed with a smile. The observation made Lindsay blush as much as if it was what she originally suspected. “If you recall, heavier emphasis was fixed on you than myself. The role of the Baron could have been anybody, particularly if I did not accompany you this evening.” Areiv finished. Lindsay became composed enough to make sense of what he said. The Baron was right, she reasoned. The Legooms changed her clothes to that of a queen. The beginning centered on their admiration for Lindsay. When the Baron appeared, none of the Legooms bowed. In reality, everybody bowed whenever the Baron or the Royal Magistrate appeared. Lindsay nodded.

“Yeah… you’re right,” she gave him a smile. “I really did like it. It was a beautiful story.”

“So, you will accompany me to other recitals and outings? There is so much to show you.”

“Ah… yes. Of course.”

“I am delighted.”