Danielle practically inhaled the first cup of coffee she grabbed and quickly fixed a second. “This is not the day to start detoxing caffeine,” she grumbled.
Erica asked with a cheesy grin on her face, “You drink a lot of coffee, do you?”
Bethany snorted. “She is usually on her second pot by now.”
Erica chuckled. “My vice is chocolate, which I have seen none of so far. Maybe that do-hickey-thing in my kitchen can get me some.”
“Is that a technical term?” asked Danielle, chuckling.
“Of course. There is that one, then do-watts, thing-a-mabob, and gizmo. I do love those high-tech terms,” Erica said with a straight face.
“What I am curious about is how the cochlear implant is going to translate that,” laughed Danielle. Erica laughed with her. Danielle looked at her band. “Ugh, we better hurry. Tardiness is not acceptable.”
They made it back before Wallen closed the door. He walked up to the front of the room and changed the slide. “This is a Gliesean mating mark,” said Wallen with no preamble. They all looked at the dual pink teardrop marks on the pictures. “All mating marks are placed by the male onto the female during the first intercourse. It is permanent. This next slide is the Keplonian mark,” said Wallen. The slide changed to pictures of a black dot in the middle of the female’s foreheads. “This is a picture of the Vanamurians mating mark,” he said, changing the slide to pictures that looked like upside-down letter Cs on the female’s necks.
Wallen looked to see if his audience was paying attention. They were. “The Registarian, Nondorian, and Cetarians all use a brass bracelet that once placed, cannot be taken off. Just so I am clear, regardless of the type of mating mark or bracelet, it is permanent and can never be removed.” He let that settle a bit.
There were a few murmurs around the room.
“Mating customs are different depending on which world the male is from. Most will not make much sense to Americans. It is essential you learn these customs and recognize them so you only become the mate of the male that you want to accept,” said Wallen. He then explained each in great detail to the group.
“You ladies are actually the most vulnerable of all the rescued Earth females. Things like sharing food or accepting a drink or inviting someone into your home would be nothing you would think twice about. Accepting their protection or their chair can do the same thing. I have watched your internet and have seen the information spots about No Means No. Unfortunately, I must tell you that only the Glieseans will understand that. However, there is no male in this fleet that will take either sexual intercourse or the offer of it as anything other than acceptance of the mating. And we will discuss that after lunch. Please return at hour eight,” he said.
“See you after lunch. Good luck,” said Erica.
“God knows I will need it,” groused Danielle.
* Danielle walked in to the Officer’s Dining Hall, Bethany on her heels. It was not setup cafeteria-style like the other dining hall.Most tables were set for four, with a few that had eight or twelve place settings. She found Spartak sitting at the head of one of the tables for twelve. As if sensing her in the room, he turned his head to see her and his face shifted to a scowl. He got up from his chair and turned towards her, putting his hands on his hips. “I was pretty specific that it was you who was to come to lunch,” he said pointedly, glancing at Bethany and then shifting his glare back to her.
“Apologies, but I will not leave my daughter anywhere until I am sure she is safe. We have had this discussion before,” she said, glaring right back.
“Have a seat,” he growled. He then turned around and sat back down.
Danielle walked towards the far end of the table, dragging Bethany with her.
“No,” he snarled. “This end. I am not shouting to talk to you.”
“That will be a first,” muttered Danielle as she turned around and touched the back of the chair two down from him.
“No. This one,” he demanded, pointing to one right next to him. He locked gazes with her. “And again, I have excellent hearing.”
She blew out a big breath and moved to the seat next to him. If he had such excellent hearing, it shouldn’t matter where she sat she groused to herself. The other men at the table stood as Danielle and Bethany sat down.
“This is Danielle McQuarrie, the Strategic Director for the Earthlings and her daughter Bethany,” he said to the group. “You have met Evgen, the head of Fleet Security,” said Spartak, pointing at Evgen, who smiled at both women. “This is Arson, Commander of the Gliesea.” The man nodded at both women. He was as big as Spartak, had the same close-cropped hair, high cheekbones and strong jaw. His gray eyes twinkled with mischief.
Spartak continued, “Next to him is Taras, Commander of the Cetiaria.”
Danielle smiled at the dark-haired man who clearly looked like he had Greek heritage. He was large as well not not as large and Arson and Spartak. She nodded at him in acknowledgement.
“Then there is Cullen, second in Command of the Gliesea,” said Spartak, pointing to the next man.
Danielle nodded at the tall, thin man. He was nearly bald and had large Caribbean blue eyes. His facial structure looked Irish. She nodded as she smiled at him.
“Next to him is Gennady, the Fleet Medical Director,” said Spartak.
He nodded at her. He had a dark complexion and had a deep shadow from his beard. His green eyes bore through her. She wasn’t sure what to make of his intensity. Danielle nodded back in acknowledgement.
Spartak continued, “Next to Bethany is Kiril, Commander of the Registaria.” Kiril nodded at her.
Danielle nodded at the tall, thinly built man who looked like he had Hispanic or mesteso descent. His mocha skin, short curly hair, and green eyes reminded her of coloring she had seen on many people from Puerto Rico.
“At the end is Chatura, the Kleponian Commander,” said Spartak.
Danielle was a bit surprised when he openly leered at her and then swung his gaze at Bethany with a look of complete avarice.
Spartak growled something at Chatura in a guttural language that the translator didn’t translate for Danielle. His eyes widened, and then he bowed submissively to the ladies in apology.
Danielle wasn’t sure what had been said, but she nodded in return.
“Nikola, the Vanamurian Commander, was tied up,” said Spartak as he turned to Danielle. “These are the primary individuals within the hierarchy that you will deal with either in your capacity as Strategic Director or as part of the Medical Corps. We have gotten few medical personnel because they are generally the first to be overcome by the virus. You are only the second woman.”
“How many women are in the fleet right now?” asked Danielle. “They didn’t cover that in class.”
Spartak waited to answer as the server began laying plates in front of everyone, starting with Danielle and Bethany. Danielle looked at the steak and potato in front of her, surprised he had ordered something Earthling. Then she saw the same thing on the plate in front of Bethany. She shook her head slightly at her daughter, who nodded in response. Everyone else at the table had the same thing except the Kleponian Commander.
Spartak noted the exchange silently. He then answered her question as soon as they laid the last plate. “Of the 8,713 females, 6,390 are mated. This leaves 2,323 unmated females.”
“There are 289 female children. So if I did the math right in my head, 2,034 unmated females of mating age,” said Danielle as she slid her baked potato over to Bethany and pulled the steak onto her plate.
“Correct,” he said, putting a big piece of steak in his mouth. He watched her actions, saying nothing.
“So does that 2,034 include my daughter, or is she included in the 289?” she asked pointedly, as she took a bite of steak.
He swallowed and said, “She is included in the 2,034. She is of mating age.”
“That would be a hard no,” she said, glaring at him. “She is a minor, so that is not happening.”
“Not by our standard, she is not,” he growled.
“I don’t care about your standards,” said Danielle. “She is not ready for that, so it is not up for discussion.” She noticed that all the men at the table had stopped eating to stare at their discussion. She shrugged internally. They might as well learn right now that she wasn’t a pushover.
“You do not seem to understand. I command and you do,” sputtered Spartak.
“I fully understand your expectations. And as long as it has nothing to do with my daughter or involve making a medical mistake, I have accepted the need to follow your orders. But when it comes to my daughter, I decide,” she said flatly. She ignored his shocked expression and took another bite of steak.
“Are you always this difficult?” he demanded after he had recovered from the surprise.
“I am not difficult. I am just not a woman to cower from hard conversations. She is young, unexperienced, and not ready to learn all that male-female relationships entail. When she is, she will tell me,” said Danielle.
He growled at her.
“We discussed the growling. I do not respond well to it, so just stop doing it. An intelligent conversation will work much more effectively,” she said, popping another bite of steak in her mouth. She noticed the men at the table trying to hide their grins.
He just grunted at her as he savagely cut his steak.
She figured that he was imagining her as the steak at the moment.
* * *
After they had finished eating, Spartak picked up a tablet next to him and pushed a recessed button on the side to turn the device on. He then handed it to her. “This is yours. It contains all the files you need and applications necessary to do your job. It also has access to the archives and communication monitors throughout the fleet. It will work in conjunction to your band so you do not need to worry about anyone else accessing it,” he explained.
“Speaking of access, I need to have Bethany’s band recalibrated for access to my suite. We had some issues,” Danielle said.
“Why? She has her own suite,” asked Spartak, surprised again.
“She does not want to live on her own yet. When she is ready, she can. You need to understand something. You ripped us out of our world with no preparation. She is young and scared and is not going to be forced into anything until she is ready. Leave her access to her suite, just add my suite to her band,” said Danielle. “She couldn’t even take a shower without help.”
“How did you manage?” he asked, curious.
Bethany blushed from her neck to the roots of her hair. “You do not even want to know,” she said.
There were a few chuckles around the table.
“I will take care of it,” said Arson with a smile that would light up a planet.
“Open the file on the right,” ordered Spartak.
Danielle tapped it open and found a list of women’s names, their suite assignments, source location, their assigned jobs, and job locations. A few had a different ship designation. “So not everyone is on this ship?” she asked.
“No. We assigned jobs based on need. There are other factors as well,” said Spartak.
“Such as?” she asked.
“Cultural fit, number of openings, and where the need for unmated females is the largest,” he said. “So, for example, because of culture we assigned many of the women who came from Russia to the Wanamoor and the women from Asia and India to the Kleponia. The Kleponia and the Gliesea have the greatest need,” he explained.
“I know that I am going to get asked because I already have, so here goes. If the female isn’t assigned to a job or a location she likes, can she move to another?” asked Danielle. “I want to understand the expectations. I am not challenging,” she added.
He looked at her for a few long seconds, trying to decide if she was being truthful. Finally deciding she was, he answered, “The official answer is no. Although I will consider a change under unusual circumstances.”
“That is what I figured,” said Danielle as she continued to look through the list.
“Are all Americans difficult?” he asked, sitting back in his chair.
She thought about it for a few seconds. “Well, I think I am going to say yes given this context. Unlike other countries on our planet, we have broad latitude in making our own choices. I think you are going to have similar issues only not quite as much with those from the UK,” she said.
Spartak looked at Evgen for a definition of a word he didn’t understand.
“Great Britain. It is also called the United Kingdom or UK,” the Security Chief said, smiling.
“Ah,” said Spartak. “But this won’t be a problem with the other females?” he asked.
“Not as much, I would think. Many of the other cultures are used to either their parents, governments, clerics, or spouses telling them what they can or cannot do,” said Danielle. “Well, at least more so than Americans. We are kind of pain in the butt about those kinds of things.”
“I am getting that,” said Spartak.
Danielle glared at his response.