”You could stay,” the young man in the bed suggested behind lowered eyelashes. Annikka gave him a fond smile as she hunted around her cabin.
It had been nice, but not very energetic – he was a little too inexperienced for that.
So really, how could her underwear have gone missing so completely?
Apart from the queen sized bed – she was wise enough by now to not rely too much on the varying comfort and tech levels of the planets she visited – the cabin held only a book case and a large computer terminal.
Not even the most fastidious of her sisters could have called it cluttered, she was sure.
”You know I can’t, honey,” she said and reached over to pat him on the thigh. ”In another few hours the withdrawals will start unless I get back out there.”
She gave him an appreciative grin, ”You’re very pretty, but not pretty enough to risk my life over.”
It was a bit cruel, but it needed to be said. She’d said it last night too, but the young ones never listened, then. She knew that from experience.
Ha! There, lodged on the bed post! She starts looking around for her jumpsuit, next.
The man made no attempt to get dressed. He leaned back on the headboard a petulant pout to his lips.
”Maybe I could go with you,” he suggested a bit hotly.
Having found the jumpsuit, she sat down next to him on the bed.
”You have another X chromosome hiding in there somewhere?” She asked, trying for commiseration. It wasn’t really about the chromosomes, of course, but it was he easiest way o discourage him. The hyperspace portals sang to female minds. It ripped the other ones apart. She’d had a brother once, born in a female body. Enamored with the idea of intergalactic travel, he’d insisted on trying, believing that surely it must be biological. He’d been horrendously, fatally wrong.
The young man shook his head, black silky hair falling into his eyes. He looked defiant.
”Besides,” she added consolingly, ”You have responsibilities here. You’re the Prince Royal, people are counting on you. Me, I’m just an old free trader, hopping between portals.”
”You’re so much more than that, Lady,” he said and she remembered why he’d caught her eye the night before. ”You have been everywhere, seen so much. I’ll be forever stuck in this solar system.”
He caressed her hand. ”And by the time that I am old and gray, no time will have passed for you at all.”
That was the inescapable truth.
Travel within the portals took hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. No time passed for the traveler, but when she exited, everyone she knew would be gone. Annikka had accepted this truth long ago, but each new generation on each new planet seemed to need to rediscover it for themselves.
”You will live a long and happy life, my Prince. And when you’re old and wise, you’ll look back on this night with happiness, I hope.”
”Yes,” he persisted, a nervous note entering his voice now. ”But the fact remains that I will live and die on this planet, and so will my children and grandchildren. Unless…”
Ah. That was it. She withdrew her hand and was about to say no when she made herself stop and think. And really look at him again.
Why not, after all? It had been many years, and one could be said to have a responsibility. And he seemed intelligent enough. Any hidden genetic problems could be fixed on the Mothership, and she’d been planning a run there for some R&R anyway.
Why not, indeed.
”Unless,” she finished for him then, recapturing his hand and bringing it to her lips, ”I carry your child with me.”
His breath caught.
”For you? Gladly.”
She reached for him and this time the kiss they shared was tender. She reached within herself and twisted, and millions of little nanobots rushed to comply with her wishes. He had tears in his eyes and she felt moved herself. He wiped them away and reached for his clothes – they had somehow ended up in a neat pile by the bed, she saw.
”What will happen to it? The child?”
”I will find a safe place for it, dear. A lovely green planet somewhere far away. I could even bring it here, if you wanted. Of course, we would come back thousands of years in your future, local time.”
He shook his head. ”That’s not necessary. In fact, I’d rather he got to see another part of the universe, if it’s a boy or non-binary I mean. Now if it’s a girl…?”
He looked at her expectantly. He really had that gazing-from-behind-lowered-lashes thing down, and she’d always been weak for those.
But not that weak.
”If it’s a girl, it will be the same.”
”Until she comes of age.”
”Yes. Now stop asking, Your Highness. You must know we never answer those questions, about the girls.”
He looked away but not before she saw a deep sadness in him.
”If it’s a girl, and she feels so inclined, then yes, your daughter might travel the universe just like me – seeing thousands of wonders beneath thousands of alien skies.”
He was dressed now and she caught him by the hand and drew him towards the door of the cabin.
”But that’s all I can say about that,” she said with mock sternness and led him further towards the open airlock and the ladder that would take him down to his native soil. Outside blue birds were chirping in the summer air. Some sort of winged lizard hunted them with little success but much flutter. Her blood was already singing with the call of the portals.
He exited her craft, but then paused, because they all did. And they all asked.
”So… Just how old are you, Lady?”
That was another one of the topics you never discussed with the dirtbound.
She smiled affectionately and gave the expected answer.
”Now, young man, you never ask a Lady’s age.”