I paced around the room like a caged animal. “I can’t believe you are forcing me to do this, Father,” I said. I wanted to scream. It seemed as though all we did lately was argue. “Why do I have to take care of this half-breed?” I dropped down onto the couch next to him.
“Jayden!” Father raised his voice.
Maybe I had pushed things a bit too far, but the last thing I needed right now was to chaperone the commander’s long lost, half-breed son. “You just don’t understand Father.” I was really trying to keep my cool, but now I just wanted to cry.
Creighton, the boy I really liked, had broken up with his girlfriend when her parents were transferred to a research vessel in a quadrant so far from here that they wouldn’t be able to see each other for years. This could be my chance. I was going crazy with hardly any friends my age. So few families had come to live and work on a crisis intervention ship because of the danger.
“Jayden,” Father’s voice brought me back to the room. “This is not a punishment,” he continued. “Tommy cannot be returned to his world or his life. He cannot even remain in the custody of his Earth family since only his mother knew of his father’s origin. He will have no choice but to adjust to life on a spaceship. He knows nothing of our ways and even less of our technology.” He paused. “You are fourteen; he is fifteen.” He smiled at me. “He needs a friend.”
“But I don’t!” I jumped up and began pacing again. I felt like I was suffocating.
Father stood and headed for the door. “I have to check on some of my patients.” He turned to look at me as the door slid open. “You will report to the commander’s quarters in half an hour for dinner and to meet his son. He will fill you in on the details.” A look of sadness crossed his face. “I’m sorry you feel so strongly about this. If you find the task so distasteful, you may ask the commander to select someone else.” He left without another word.
I sat back down on the couch and grabbed the pillow next to me, looking for some comfort. I looked around the room and imagined Mother putting dinner on the table. The unit she used to cook our food remained in our quarters even though neither Father nor I felt inclined to prepare meals. Mother had been a botanist. She worked with new colonies or planets after disasters, growing crops that would feed everyone. She even shared her love of cooking with them. I wanted nothing to do with it, I remember painfully. Why bother when the food units could make whatever you wanted instantly. Now I would do anything to come home and smell her food. I always thought she would be around forever and that I could learn to cook anytime.
“Don’t be late for your dinner with the commander, Jayden.” Father’s voice came over the intercom. “He’s expecting you in ten minutes.”
Sighing I tossed the pillow down, rose and headed to the washroom to freshen up. I didn’t know if I was to remain in my school uniform or if I could go in my own clothing. I decided to keep my school jumpsuit on, but I let my hair fall loose. “Let’s get it over with,” I said to no one as I headed for the commander’s quarters.
Unfortunately the commander’s quarters were only three doors away. The senior staff corridor wasn’t like the rest of the staff corridors on the ship. Mother had left her imprint here, too. She had convinced the commander to allow plants in special receptacles to be mounted on the wall. She had chosen a plant that reflected each staff member; there were even subtle differences in the receptacles that made each unique. I remember her trying to show them to me, and I remember being stubborn and indifferent. Now, it filled me with regret.
The door to the commander’s quarters opened, and I came face to face with the half-breed. He smiled awkwardly. “My father said you’d be waiting out here.”
Oh my Gods, he’s cute. It felt as if something flipped in my stomach, but I shook it off. “I was just checking the plants my mother installed here,” I lied. I turned away to let the color in my face return to normal, and I heard him laugh. Instantly composed, I whirled around to confront him, fire in my eyes this time.
“I’m sorry.” He laughed again, raising his hands. “It’s just that my father said you would be out here doing just that.”
His eyes were amazing, just like his father’s. Amethyst eyes were rare amongst my people, and this half-breed had them. Father had told me the legend behind them, but I couldn’t remember it.
“Are you going to come in?” He gestured towards the door. His wavy hair was non regulation. It was definitely longer than the standard cut, but it allowed the light to dance off his gold highlights.
I followed him into the sitting area. They must have had someone in to decorate, I thought. Art and artefacts from many different planets were displayed in large cases on the wall. The plants behind the couch were lit from below, giving an inviting feel to the room. Music played very low, adding to the ambiance. Our quarters felt cold and sterile in comparison. I sighed. I guess I should try and do something about it.
“I want to thank you for your time, Jayden,” the commander said. He was still in his blue-and-black uniform. Everyone believed it’s all he ever wore.
I bowed my head slightly to acknowledge him. “There’s just one thing, Commander.” I swallowed nervously. “Isn’t there anyone better suited for this task?”
He shot me a glance, and I immediately regretted my boldness.
“I wasn’t questioning your choice.” I wrung my hands behind my back, trying to keep my cool. Learn to think before you open your mouth, Mother had often suggested. I cleared my throat. “It’s just that there are others that are older and have more knowledge . . .” My voice trailed off.
“Sit,” the commander pointed to the living room area. There were already glasses filled with refreshments on the table, and small things to eat. They looked like mushy brown blobs on thin disks. The commander picked one up. “They are ‘hors d’œuvres.’ Tommy prepared them for us.” He popped it into his mouth, chewing slowly.
Trying to be polite, and against my better judgement, I picked one up. I tried not to look at it as I put it in my mouth. It smelled and tasted so good, I wanted to eat them all. I realised that Tommy and his father were both were staring at me. I panicked. “Are there animal products in here?” I felt nauseous. I had heard that the people on Tommy’s planet still ate animals like savages.
They both laughed. “No,” Tommy said. “My mother would never have let me eat meat, but there is cheese.” He looked right at me. “Mom made it.”
“Jayden,” the commander cut in, “I have specifically requested that you help Tommy with his integration.” He tugged on his uniform top to adjust it. “You were correct in saying that there are others who have more knowledge or who are older, but they lack your,” he rubbed his chin, “boldness.”
I could feel my face turning red. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I do know that if anyone else had said that to me I would have been all over them.
“You will not tell my son things just to, shall I say, be polite,” he continued. He paused for a sip of his drink. “You are ahead in your studies, so from now until further notice you will spend school time teaching Tommy.” He handed us both a digipad. It was the same flat, touch-screen computer with holographic images the crew used. “I have prepared a list of subjects to be covered. You are free to modify the order as long as all subject matter is covered.”
I scrolled through the list. Wow, I thought, he didn’t leave anything out. I looked up to see the commander showing Tommy how to access his list. “You don’t even know how to use this?” I blurted out and immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry.” I stared down for a moment feeling really uncomfortable. I just knew they were both staring at me. I swallowed hard and looked up. Tommy was going over his list, but the commander was studying me, making me even more uncomfortable.
“Perhaps,” the commander started, “you will also benefit from this exercise.” He stood and headed to the dining area. “You are to be seated in fifteen minutes for dinner.”
“I’m—” I started to say, but Tommy cut me off.
“Don’t sweat it,” he said in a low voice.
I had no idea why he would talk about perspiration, unless I had started to smell. I wasn’t about to smell myself in front of him. I fidgeted not knowing what to do.
Tommy laughed softly, leaned forward and said, “It’s an expression. It means don’t worry about it.”
“Oh.” This is not going to be easy I thought to myself. I guess I have things to learn, too.
I came away from my afternoon with mixed feelings. I learned that the half-breed and I had more in common than I ever thought possible. We both had lost our mothers, and from what he said, they had been a lot alike. They had both loved nature, making things with their hands and cooking. What made me kind of jealous was that he didn’t have my stubborn streak and had learned so much from his mother.
When he offered to share what his mother had taught him I yelled at him. I told him I didn’t need to learn the ways of his savage people, that we, from Sirius were a more advanced race than the Earthers. Truth is, I would like to spend time with the half—, with Tommy. I think we might be friends. But then, I don’t really need anyone new in my life. I’ll have to think about it.