Trills and Thrills
Timeline: During some down time
It had become something of a ritual by now, these two ladies, at this hour, at table 36A. It was a somewhat secluded table, which usually suited Hel and Valeria just fine. The view of the stars streaking by outside the viewport, the sounds of hushed conversations in the background, over soft music. It was a unique atmosphere. One that the two ladies enjoyed, eating their lunch. Ham and cheese tostis for Hel, some Ts'usugi dish the Human woman didn't recognize, for Valeria.
"You know what I find fascinating?" Hel began, out of the blue, as she reached out a hand to pluck a bit at the short fur on the back of Valeria's hand.
Valeria was enjoying a dish of noodles and crab meat, except the noodles were blue and the crab wasn't exactly crab. So, that being said, it was hardly a noodle and crab dish. Hel's curiosity piqued Valeria's, especially when the fur on her hand was the target of Hel's interest. "I imagine quite a few things." She responded with a giggle, "What in particular?"
"This fur." Hel mused, seemingly entranced by it. "And the general Ts'usugi physical build. And your diet. You're omnivores, with fur. Yet, you're not directly built for explosive speed, I think - you're upright, with sturdy legs but they're not as long and slender and top heavy like what I would expect a running predator to have. In fact, your general proportions suggest pursuit predation, but you've got fur, which suggests your people never evolved sweating, which - to conventional human wisdom - is necessary for long range pursuit predation"
"You see," Hel continued. "Sweating is what allowed humans to dump heat while on the move, something we could not do had we still had fur. This allowed us to keep giving chase, while our furred prey had to stop and dump heat through panting. Yet, you have a pursuit predator's build and tools, but have fur." Hel furrowed her brows, tilting her head a bit. "This is an enigma to me."
"It is... eerie.. how that would work." Valeria said, enjoying the attention with a soft smile. She gave one of her ears a twitch, then could hold onto the secret no longer. "We shed excess heat through our ears. To the prey creatures of ancient Ts'usugi, they must have looked like demons with those plumes of heat coming off their heads." she remarked.
"There's a hundred stories of ancient Ts'usu for every truth. To be fair, I'm not sure which I enjoy more. After my next workout, though, you'll be able to feel my pulse in my ears." she motioned up with her eyes, blowing her blonde hair out of the way.
"Huh. Makes sense. Must be some mechanism to improve flood flow through the ears to promote the shedding of heat, possibly some rerouting involved, ears probably filled with a high density of thin veins. That must also mean that loss of an ear would be a debilitating injury." Hel mused, almost forgetting about her meal - such was the way of an engineer with a brain the size of hers. Once it was going, it wasn't going to stop. Except for ... "Or I'll just have to get your blood pumping another way."
Valeria gave a series of nods, "Correct, on many levels. Losing an ear is a terrible injury, one that we had trouble dealing with up until relatively recently. Dalacari medical technology has helped with restoring lost ears, but only the more recent injuries. Long standing losses are difficult to repair, and we've had issues with the stability and balance of those who have long since adjusted to the loss. Without an ear, we're clumsy on our feet and prone to fatigue. We overheat, and just want to lay in cool pools or well air conditioned regions." she explained, with the tone of someone who had seen it first hand.
At Hel's offer, though, Valeria smirked, "Shouldn't be too hard. You're quite exciting."
Hel gave a nod, munching on her tosti. Nice and crunchy. "Sounds like an evolutionary weakness, having so much depend on your ears - balance, heat management." A smile. "I love them though. So expressive." She offered Val a bite of her tosti.
Valeria gave a nod, "True, but by the time anything was wise enough to use our ears against us, we had already taken down most of the more dangerous predatory creatures on Ts'usu. The biggest threat to us, was actually ourselves. We warred with each other for, well, we're not really quite sure. We know how it ended: The exodus to the moons." and at that, she gave hear ears a bit of time to express themselves. A twitch, a turn, and then with what looked like a little effort, she had one bend down and then straighten in something akin to a lazy wave before allowing both of her ears to relax and just curve forward slightly. Something of a neutral posture perhaps. At the offer of food, the rabbitess leaned in slightly, mouth opening to show a view of teeth that would seem a bit .... wrong to see.... on a rabbit.
"Nom." Hel mused as she fed Valeera a bite of her tosti. The teeth didn't bother her. "We know about war, on earth. Our history is full of it. We developed weapons of mass destruction five hundred years ago, give or take, and actually used them. On civilians. Though truth be told, we didn't quite comprehend the destruction those weapons were capable of until after we dropped them. Which is even scarier, I think - a willingness to do things without fully understanding the consequences." She heaved a sigh.
"Still not entirely sure about the whole sequence of events that led to your exodus to the moons. How was that decided? Who came up with the idea?" A pause. "What's that called?" She motioned to the not-crab with the blue not-noodles. "Is it good?"
"We only know what we've uncovered by exploring Ts'usu. Which we're allowed to do with special permits and permissions, but from what we found our myths and legends aren't too far from the truth. We were experts at war, Hel. Experts." she let that linger. "Our myths of the thirteen warlords of old were true, and we made war with each other almost as often as a housewife makes dinner. We found ruins on Ts'usu, studied what writing and clues we found there. So we're pretty sure we know what happened." she continued.
"Actually, the fact that ancient Ts'usugi left the homeworld is what preserved them so nicely I think. Sure, nature took over and grew up and around but without any additional struggle or strife, the buildings were rather well preserved. Now, as for the whole First Emperor bit. The whole banishment to the moons... We're not one hundred percent certain when or how or even IF..." she paused, now in full story-telling mode. "But, at this point in the empire, Ts'usu isn't really a world anymore it's more of a symbol. We have so many worlds and so many moons that one more really doesn't seem vital. So, the homeworld remains pure, untouched by miners or settlers. A window into our past."
"Though, the legend goes that during what was to be the final battle between the thirteen warlords of old Ts'usu, a single Ts'usugi rose above them all. Stopping the greatest war almost fought with but a gesture, legends say that they told the warlords of their folly. That they had become the single greatest enemy of Ts'usu, and that they all were each undeserving of the jewel that was their own homeworld. In that wisdom, this single being earned the respect and attention of all thirteen of the warlords and the thousands upon thousands of their warriors. In that, they became the First Emperor. They rose to their feet, some legends say they actually hovered on a nimbus of light, and said that we were to head to the moons surrounding Ts'usu to allow the planet to heal from the damage her children had done to her. We would return to her when we were worthy of her gifts."
Valeria took a breath, "That... was a very long time ago. How they got off Ts'usu, it's never explained." a smirk then started to form, "As for the food, it's called tsubonki. The village I grew up in wasn't too far from the shore, so we had plenty of seafood to go around. Land, actual land-land, is a valuable resource for Ts'usugi. What land we don't use for growing food we use for living space, so land-animal foods like beef and pork are a rare and expensive commodity. Most of our meat diet is actually various fish and crustaceans. Federation replicators do it a justice that no Insipp device ever could, but there's no substitute for the real thing. Would you like to try some?" she offered.
"Yes please." answered Hel. She'd listened, fascinated. "I wonder how much of that story is accurate and how much is embellished, you know, for dramatic sake." she mused. "I'd love to visit Ts'usu some time, see those old ruins for myself. Are they being carefully preserved, or is nature allowed to continue to take them? Would a human even be allowed, especially a non-scientist? Though I could always be your assistant on a scientific expedition, I suppose."
Valeria moved her plate over for them to both be able to share. "Right now, I think the Federation's biggest request on the negotiation table is the location of Ts'usu. As for visiting, there's a four year waiting period to be considered, but I hear the process is being streamlined. I've never myself actually been there, but I saw it everyday as a child." the rabbitess replied.
"If everything settles between the Federation and the Ts'usugi, and by extension the Dalacari, who knows. Seeing it may be in the near future. Actually visiting it, that's anyone's guess." she took a nibble of her not-noodles. "As for the preservation, I hear that the major ruins are being preserved as historical sites, but some of the smaller outlying ruins and sites have already been reclaimed by nature. There's a major political upheaval going on back home as to what to do about those sites: Destroy the natural recursion to re-create or restore the sites, or let them vanish and allow the planet to recover."
Hel took a bite from the tsubonki. It seemed that seafood was similar everywhere, with soft and subtle taste that lingered, added to with subtle spices. It was the aftertaste that got her though. She smiled as she let it wash over her tongue. "One could get used to this. But, your meal." she offered, before turning more serious. "Would you want to go there? Set foot on your people's world of origin? Would you want nature to be pushed back to preserve minor sites?" the pale engineer asked.
She reclaimed her plate once it was released, then the look on her face became that of an enchanted young girl, "Oh very much. The other village children and I used to play so many games, and some of them were adventures where someone would pretend to be the Emperor. They'd send us off on tasks and challenges. Climb those rocks, explore those caves, and bring back treasures. Usually shiny rocks or big sti... I mean, lost gems and ancient scepters from emperors long past. For our efforts, the Emperor would lift the restrictions on those who performed the best, and they'd be allowed to return to Ts'usu." she giggled, "Which meant going over to that side of the Emperor's rock... I mean throne." she motioned with one hand to one side.
"Oh we'd come home dirty, or wet, or covered in Tattle Tail pollen, but we'd have so much fun. I'm honestly surprised I still have all my fur, thinking back on it now." she gave a soft smile, which widened to an honest to goodness smile for a moment as she thought back on pleasant times. "But, as for your question... Let nature keep what it's reclaimed."
Hel's smile only grew as Valeria explained, as her non-reflective eyes and those moblile ears became so expressive while she waxed poetic about games from her youth - or maybe Hel just imagined the expressiveness, she honestly wouldn't be able to tell. And the answer to her question seemed to please her as well, garnering her approval. "Let's make a promise then. I'll show you Earth when we're close by and have some time to spare, you show my Ts'usu when you're allowed to, even if just from the surface of your moon."
Valeria gave a slow and solemn nod, "It's a promise." she stated simply. None of the usual Ts'usugi escape clauses, none of the 'it could prove difficult', none of the standard double-talk that peppered any offers or favors that Ts'usugi made.
"Sealed with a kiss? Or is there a gesture on Earth to seal a promise as well?"
"Mmhm. Plenty of other ones. But I like the one with a kiss." Hel mused, having finished her meal. She rose to her feet and offered Valeria a hand up.
The rabbitess accepted the aid in rising, and then held onto Hel's hand as she came fully to her feet. "I promise, when allowed, that you will see Ts'usu. Not a hologram. Not a picture. Not a vid." she clarified. "You. Will see. Ts'usu." and with that, she leaned in to seal the promise with a gentle kiss. Not the usual Ts'usugi demonstration of affection, but the classic human expression.
Leading to some confusion and amusement when Hel leaned in for a Ts'usugi kiss and the result was not quite either. She adapted quickly though and returned the gentle human style kiss. Though as the kiss broke and she leaned back ever so slightly, she dropped a bomb.
"I love you."
There was something about human directness that just contradicted everything Valeria knew about social interplay. No escapes, no retreats, Hel just ran into every encounter like a train full of dynamite. And that level of freedom was enticing to the Ts'usugi. Almost intoxicating. A million replies ran through her head, each half as sincere to human ears as the next. A dedication such as that deserved more than years of social molding could provide.
"And I love you, as well."
From behind them, applause and cheers.