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They’d made a u-turn at Pluto and were now speeding past Mars. Shanti had seen the planets lined up in a row in pictures, but the illustrations did not do them justice from what she saw up close and personal. The colors of each planet were like none found on Earth. Pluto wasn’t gray, it looked like steel. The azure sight of Neptune made shiver run down her spine. But then she realized that wasn’t the sight of the planet. It was something else.
Shanti shifted in her seat. But as she sat fully in the seat she felt a throb from her core all the way up her backside. The throb was not one of pain or discomfort. It was an awareness, a reminder of what she’d been doing a few hours ago.
A deep chuckle sounded behind her.
Shanti ignored Hsing’s laughter, which was easier than ignoring the affect he had on her. Since when in the hell had she become so hard up that she just let a dude manhandle her like that?
Well, he hadn’t exactly manhandled her. Her body had been open to everything he’d done to her. Even now, when she should feel used and abused at the pounding he’d given not one but two of her openings, both ends of her craved more. She just didn’t want to crave more.
Her fingers gripped the edge of the seat. Her thighs pressed together as she squirmed on the seat’s cushion. She stared defiantly ahead, not giving Hsing the satisfaction of acknowledging him or his amusement at her mental and physical state of disconnection.
Shanti took a deep breath and reached clarity. She could admit to herself that she was attracted to Hsing. Obviously there was something inside her that wanted to, even enjoyed, bending to his will. For someone who’d spent her life moving around in a state of flux as a child of nomad parents, someone who had trouble making connections and finding her clique as a teen, someone who had only herself to rely on as an adult, there was something about having another person take the lead from her -if only for a moment.
Unbidden, a clear vision of their first sexual encounter came to mind. After the first time he’d taken her, Hsing had looked down at her, his face open, vulnerable. For just a moment, that impenetrable scowling wall had been down and she’d seen into him. She thought she’d seen a man with a heavy burden on his shoulders who just wanted to protect everyone in his care. A man who gave of himself to everyone, but didn’t give any time or care to himself. Laying above her then, when he realized what she saw, he’d shut himself down and shut her out.
When her eyes connected with Hsing’s in the present moment, Shanti saw him frowning. His eyes narrowed as they looked at her, his lips turned up in that cruel scowl. They stayed like that for long moments, staring each other down, waiting to see who would blink first.
Shanti couldn’t blink. She couldn’t blink because everything was so clear to her in that moment. The moment of clarity settled on her shoulders and she saw the man before her in a new light. Both she and Hsing liked to be in control.
For Shanti it was a preference, an idea she’d been introduced to by the people in her life. Her parents had raised her to be independent by their words and their deeds. Her parents were filled with love, but they didn’t provide the most stable home life for a kid. There were a lot of lessons Shanti had to learn early. But her parents had also showed her how a partnership worked. And the feminist she’s learned from also taught her the power of working as a collective. Though Shanti was the first to point her index finger at herself as a Type A personality, she also believed in the power of the fist and letting the other four fingers join the first.
For Hsing, control appeared to be a necessity, the means to survival. He lived in a collective group of beings just like him, but he wouldn’t let any of them shoulder any of his responsibilities.
Shanti cocked her head and wondered, “Why?”
Hsing turned his back on her and faced out the large window, pounding the colorful keys on the control board.
So, Mr. Alpha didn’t like when the tables were turned on him and someone dug around his thoughts and feelings. Well, if this is what clarity got her, she’d have to keep at it.
Beside her she caught Chen grinning.
Chen turned to Shanti fully and smiled. Open. Chen was always so open. Chen never guarded his feelings against her. She clearly saw his every feeling on his face. Just as he showed her everything, she knew he saw everything. Shanti realized she never felt the need to guard herself around Chen.
Chen knew that once she set foot on Earth she had no intention of returning. So why was he advocating that she go? Was he trying to set her free? Did he not want her any longer?
That thought made Shanti’s chest hurt. She couldn’t deny that in the short time that she’d known him, Chen had claimed a place in her heart.
But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what she felt for Chen. It didn’t matter that her body craved Hsing. Once she left she was not coming back.
And it didn’t matter if Chen was letting her go because he didn’t want her any longer. Over her life, Shanti had grown used to rejection.
“You know,” said Chen in his melodic voice, “you are exactly as I thought you would be.”
Shanti turned to look into those large eyes.
“I sat right here before coming down to Earth wondering what you would look like, sound like, be like. I had no clue in that moment. But looking at you now, being with you…I wouldn’t change a thing, Shanti. I want you to remember that always.”
She would not be swayed. She would not be swayed.
“We’re almost there.” Hsing’s deep voice broke up the moment.
Up ahead Shanti saw the blue of her home planet.
Hsing tapped something out on the screen. “Here is the creature she spoke of.”
Shanti saw a familiar sight on the screen. But it wasn’t the murky waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. They were near the equator, at the Barrier Reef in Australia. Her heart fell. They weren’t taking her home to collect the specimens she had in her home office. They were taking her on the other side of the world to collect the algae from the reef.
It was no matter. Australia was a shorter trip home than trying to hitch a ride from Pluto. Her resolve strengthened more than ever to get away now.
“Are you ready, Shanti?”
Shanti turned to Chen. She ignored the agitation in her chest at the sound of her given name on his lips instead of the endearment he’d taken to calling her.
Chen stood from his chair and went over to the heliopad. Shanti got up and followed.
Chen stepped up to the pad and then turned and put his hand out. Before Shanti could reach for it, Chen took his hand back.
“My apologies,” he said. He tucked his hand behind his back and made space for her on the pad.
The heliopad was large enough for a number of bodies to fit comfortably on its circular shape. But Chen gave her a wide berth, wide enough where no part of their bodies would have cause to touch.
Shanti stepped up.
“Don’t take too long, Chen-Na. I have plans for our little one when she returns. There are a number of pages we haven’t explored in the Kama Sutra.”
Shanti glared over her shoulder. “Don’t hold your breath.”
Shanti heard Hsing’s deep throated laughter as the lights came on around her and Chen.
The pad roared to life, the sound vibrating through her like a police siren. Shanti reached out her hands for balance and steadied herself.
The descent came fast and she lost her balance once more. Shanti stumbled into Chen. His hands came out to steady her back onto her own feet. He looked down at her before he let her go. His fingers released her slowly. It was the first time he’d touched her since their night together. She’d forgotten the warmth of his hands, the softness of his fingers.
Another jolt rocked the heliopad. Had it been this bumpy and scary on their assent? She couldn’t remember. She’d been too busy locking lips with Chen.
A third jolt sent Shanti straight into Chen’s chest. This time she clung to him. Chen’s arms came around her. His hands spanned her back. His fingers imparted their warmth. Shanti tucked her head under her chin. She was certain the pad continued to bump and jolt, but she no longer jumped. She was secure in Chen’s arms.
She held on long after the bumps and jolts stopped.
Shanti sighed at the sound of the endearment. The rightness of it in her ears.
“We are here.”
Shanti’s head raised away from Chen’s chest. She looked around. They were standing on the shore. All around them was crystal blue waters.
She was back on earth. She’d been to Australia before shortly after college. She knew she could catch a flight home. Only she didn’t have any money, credit cards, passport or identification on her. But she wasn’t on a space ship any longer.
Shanti looked down to see that she was still inside Chen’s embrace. She stepped back, her body protesting each step.
It was clear he was reluctant to let her go too. But he did. His arms slowly came away from her.
“I’ll show you the algae for the ship,” she said.
Shanti turned to the shoreline. Chen followed silently behind her.
“We’re going into the waters?” he asked.
Shanti nodded. “The algae in this part of the word is the reef.”
“It’s beautiful. ”
Shanti turned at the excitement in Chen’s voice. His voice made her think of bright eyed Niao. In fact, he looked like bright eyed Niao at the moment.
“My mother used to show me the crystal clear waters of her village. The images were from her memories. When I came here in the flesh, it was not what I expected.”
“Yeah, humans haven’t done well to keep up the Earth. The only reason this part of the land is pristine is because of the reef. Can you see? The coral is the bulbous looking structure. Inside it, live the algae which helps to keep the water pristine by eating the toxins. Its Mother Nature’s own garbage disposal.
It’ll work for the Mothership.”
As Shanti said it she felt a pang that she would not be feeling the warmth and protection of the ship ever again.
“Shanti?” Chen brushed his hand over her arm.
She didn’t startle at the contact. She startled at her name on his lips instead of the endearment. She needed to shake it off. She wouldn’t bee seeing him again to hear him call her that. She’d just have to get used to hearing guys call her “baby” again. But the thought of another man touching her skin, even saying her name felt repulsive.
Shanti turned to Chen. She expected an argument, a plea. Instead she saw bashfulness in his large eyes.
“Would you do something with me before you go?”
Shanti’s breath caught. He didn’t hide the fact that he knew she was planning to leave. Did he want one last time with her?
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”
Hsing’s inclinations tended towards the naughty side of the Kama Sutra. Chen had mostly been concerned about pleasing her. What would his sexual fantasies tend toward?
“Three things,” he said.
Shanti parted her lips in anticipation. Chen ducked his head. She wanted to tell him he had nothing to be ashamed of with her. She wanted to fulfill his desires. Shanti shook her head. She had to go home. She couldn’t have sex with him, definitely not three times.
“The first is to swim in the blue waters of my mother’s memory.”
“Swim? You want to swim?”
“Will you come with me?” He held out his hand.
Shanti couldn’t help but laugh at the request. She took his hand. At the water’s edge, Chen shed his robes. Naked as the day he was born, he crashed in the water.
Shanti let out another laugh. The sound that came back to her carried the same childish glee of Niao. She watched Chen surface with a huge smile. She quickly shed her clothes and joined him.