CHAPTER 14: LOOSENING UP
They ordered another round of drinks, Maza and Jaeger trying to steer the conversation in a more lighthearted direction as the night went on. The group discussed everything from exopolitics, to the presence of bathrooms inside human dwellings, their jokes increasing in volume and decreasing in complexity the more alcohol that they consumed. Ayau engaged Baker in a long conversation about the Krell, the pilot telling her everything that he knew on the subject, fascinating her with stories about the giant specimens that were said to exist in remote regions of their homeworld. She let him stroke her feathers again too, Baker laughing with his tiny beverage in hand as he ran his fingers through the downy covering on her tail. Xico, as it turned out, had some experience in the field of engineering. She finally took the opportunity to pick Jaeger’s brain about the finer aspects of UNN ship designs, marveling at the footage of battleships that he had on his phone. Even Tacka chimed in now and then, the drink loosening her scaly lips.
To his surprise, he was actually beginning to relax and have some fun, the aliens buying the two humans as many drinks as they required to feel the effects. It reminded him of spending an evening with a group of close friends, then he realized that these were his friends. They had spent enough time together, been through so much, that he felt comfortable describing them as such.
After a while, the table was littered with empty glasses, the bowl of tobacco almost used up as the aliens took their last puffs. Jaeger was pleasantly tipsy, while Baker was as wasted as it was possible to get on such small quantities of drink and herb, already beginning to drift off to sleep on the pile of cushions. The aliens were still very much alert and awake, on the other hand, giving Jaeger the impression that their night had only just begun.
Coza and Maza seemed to discuss something for a minute, there were lots of flashes of colored feathers that Jaeger couldn’t follow, Maza glancing in his direction every so often as the two argued. The other aliens chimed in too, but they seemed less invested. Coza pulled her communicator out of her pocket and began to tap at the touch screen. She was quite drunk, and she still seemed surly, her eyes fixed intently on the phone as she typed.
“What’s going on?” Jaeger asked, looking between the two aliens. He had never seen them disagree like this before.
“If this really is my last night alive, then I want some company,” Coza muttered. “I’m calling Yaotl’mal’atzi.”
Jaeger looked to Maza for an explanation, unable to remember the complicated name.
“He’s the nurse that you met at the hospital,” she explained. “I’m of the opinion that we already have company, but this is what Coza’ma’lotl wants…”
It was interesting to see that disagreements could happen within the tightly-knit flocks, though the alcohol was certainly playing a part. Jaeger had gotten the impression that Coza had meant something quite different by ‘company‘, or perhaps Maza saw him as…that kind of company?
“He’s not coming,” Coza said dejectedly, returning the phone to her pocket. “He says he has to work…”
She leaned her head on Maza’s shoulder, her friend resting an arm around her. Jaeger wanted to tell her that everything was going to be alright, that they were going to prevail against the Bugs, but there was nothing that he could say to her that he hadn’t said already.
“Let’s get one more round,” Maza said, whistling for the waiter.
“Is Coza going to be alright?” Jaeger asked Maza, watching as the alien drowned her sorrows in another glass of bitter liquid. Not wanting to be overheard by her friend perhaps, she got up from her seat on the cushions and walked around the table to his side, sliding in beside him.
“Coza’ma’lotl is a little…emotional right now,” she explained. “She’s also very drunk. You asked us how we would spend this night if it was our last, and I can’t really fault her wanting some male company.”
“And…how about you?” Jaeger asked. She shrugged her feathers, not really giving him much of an answer. She was avoiding the question perhaps. “So what would have happened if the male had shown up?” he continued. “Supposing that Coza took him home, would you guys all…together?”
“It’s a little more voluntary than that,” she explained. “Under normal circumstances, we’d probably all join in, have a go at him, see if we all share the same chemistry. He’s pretty cute, nice smooth scales, pretty feathers. He clearly had that outcome in mind, judging by the way that he was acting back at the hospital,” she muttered as she finished off the last of her drink.
Jaeger was a little shocked. The aliens were usually prudish when it came to such matters, but perhaps this was the alcohol and the weed talking. In any case, he kind of liked her new directness…
“But these aren’t normal circumstances?”
She leaned forward, making sure that Baker was soundly asleep before reaching across the table to pick up Jaeger’s near-empty glass, downing what was left. She hissed, her plumes flaring in yellow and purple, then set it back down on the varnished surface.
“The nurse would make an admirable bed warmer, but I kind of had someone else in mind.”
Jaeger felt his heart begin to beat faster, suddenly all too aware of the feeling of Maza’s soft thigh pressing against him through the insubstantial fabric of her shorts. The fluttering of her feathers brushed his cheek, tickling his skin, and he looked down to see her staring up at him. He blinked, and her expression changed, becoming somehow hungry.
“You always blink like that, do you even know what signals you’re sending me?”
“By blinking?” he asked, confused.
“It’s the behavior of a submissive male, a receptive male,” she explained with a flutter of embarrassment. “You’re saying ‘come flirt with me, come seduce me‘, it signals that you’re attracted to me.”
“Humans have to blink regularly,” he laughed, “I’m not doing it on purpose.”
“Yeah, I figured as much, but it’s still maddening.” She stared at the empty glasses for a few moments, summoning the courage to continue, then shuffled a little closer to him as she began to speak again. He felt her warmth through his uniform, one of her hands resting on his thigh as he sat cross-legged, Maza’s tail coiling and fidgeting on the cushions beside her like a restless snake.
“Where you come from, in your Coalition,” she began. “Do different people…do different species get together? I remember you always made fun of your friend, you called him Scratcher, you implied that he had slept with a Borealis’nay. Is that right?”
“We…some people…do,” he replied stiffly. “I can’t say that it’s looked down upon at all. People have their preferences, of course, but-”
“Have you ever been a relationship with an alien?” she asked. Straight to the point, he’d have to a be lot drunker than he was right now not to see where this line of questioning was leading.
“No, but I’ve thought about it. I suppose everyone has once or twice.”
“How do they make it work, being so different? How could a Krell’nay and an Earth’nay…fit together?”
“I guess they just do what they can.”
“I usually let Coza do the flirting,” Maza muttered, “I’m not very good at it myself. I tend to…ramble. But theoretically speaking…if I were to tell you that I’d like to take you home tonight and try to make it work, that I wanted to have you, what would you say? Am I too drunk to think straight, or is there something more than friendship between us?”
“I’d say…let’s do what we can.”
Her sheaths shot out as straight as a board, and her feathers exploded into a display of pink and yellow, Maza trying in vain to suppress them and struggling to keep her cool. She leaned against him, wrapping both of her arms around his bicep and pressing her face against his shoulder. He was so much larger than she was, it was about as much of an embrace as she could muster.
“I feel like I’m swimming,” she chuckled drunkenly, “and it’s not the drink. How are we going to…I guess it doesn’t matter, we can figure it out as we go. You’re so strange and alien, yet some parts of you are so familiar, it’s like my brain gets all muddled. You’re cute like a male, you have the short snout, the smooth skin…yet you don’t act like a male. It’s like being attracted to a female, who looks male, but behaves like…oh maybe I’m overthinking it.”
“I think if we start asking too many questions, we’re going to get confused pretty quickly,” Jaeger chuckled. “Just go with your gut, or your heart. Whichever one your culture references.”
“Do you like me…in that way?” Maza asked. “I was so afraid that you wouldn’t be attracted to me, that I would be too alien for you. You don’t seem at all surprised to hear any of this.”
“It’s not as if this is coming out of nowhere,” he replied, “you’ve been flashing pink feathers at me for days. You must have known that I’d figure it out eventually.”
“I guess I underestimated the Earth’nay,” she chuckled.
“And yeah, I’m attracted to you.”
Were they really going to do this? He didn’t even know what parts she had, if they would even be compatible. But ever since that moment in the showers on the Rorke, he had felt a kind of tension building between them, their mutual ignorance of one another’s cultures and customs preventing it from coming to a head. Finally, those feelings were out in the open. The barriers had come down, and they had reached an understanding. He didn’t care if they were rushing into things, if neither one of them really had any idea how it was going to work, or if they’d even be alive in a week’s time. It felt right, he wanted this.
Jaeger realized that her flock were staring at them intently. Xico and Ayau had toothy grins on their faces, while Tacka was looking between them a little apprehensively. Coza was resting her jaw in her hand as she leaned on the table, watching the exchange drunkenly, circling the rim of her empty glass with one of her clawed fingers.
“Took you long enough,” she muttered, “I don’t know why you waited all this time rather than just…” She hiccuped, seeming to surprise herself for a moment, “…telling him what you wanted. This is why I always have to do the flirting, because you can’t take charge when it comes to males.”
“We are a flock after all,” Maza said as she gazed up at Jaeger, “we must reach consensus if you and I are to take this any further.” She turned her eyes to her companions, waiting for them to speak.
“Of course we can take him to bed,” Ayau said, “you’ve had your eye on him practically since we set foot on the Rorke. He’s so strange, exotic. It’ll be fun.”
“Besides,” Xico added, her violet eyes fixed intently on his own. “He is a fine specimen, it would be…illuminating to study his alien anatomy more closely. Intimately…”
Coza spoke next, leaning back against the cushions and crossing her arms as she appraised the human. She made a show of looking him up and down, making Jaeger feel like he was being subjected to the cold stare of a father shortly before taking his daughter to the prom.
“He’ll do. All that matters to me is that my bed is full tonight.”
Finally, Maza looked to Tacka, the meek alien nodding her head after a moment of hesitation.
It seemed like everyone approved, even Coza, a fresh surge of excitement rising in Jaeger’s belly along with a twinge of apprehension. What was this going to be like with all five of them joining in? He hadn’t been in a relationship for a while, never mind one with an alien, and he had never done anything with more than one partner before. It was pointless to speculate, he would just have to wait and see.
The drinks had all been drunk, and the tobacco had been smoked, it was time to leave. Maza rose from her seat at the table, taking him by the hand and coiling her feather sheath around his wrist possessively, guiding him towards the door.
“Hang on,” he said, “I need to help Baker along.”
She released him, and he struggled to get Baker out of his seat, his friend just coherent enough to walk with a little help.
“Come on, Baker. Let’s get you home, I think you’ve had enough Valbaran culture for one night.”