Heto forced a wide smile as he made his way through the dissipating crowd that had gathered to celebrate his graduation; his friends, peers, and professors streamed past him, many clapping him on the shoulder or pausing to shake his hand. He said all the right things, barely noticing his lips shape the words that were thank you for coming and I’m so glad you could be here tonight and hope the trams get you home quickly.
Sanar, his fiance, was at the far side of the room, leaning against the wall next to their closed bedroom door, waiting with a knowing grin. Heto passed his favorite professor, who took one look at his shadowed eyes and shooed him onward to rest; she gave him a wink as she closed the door to his unit behind her.
The unit was empty but for the two of them, the sudden silence burningly loud in Heto’s ears. He fell into Sanar’s arms as the lean vorian unfolded them and extended his webbed hands. “Glad it’s over?” Sanar murmured, raspy voice light with amusement.
“It was good to see them,” Heto mumbled out of obligation, pressing his cheek against Sanar’s soft-scaled shoulder. He smelled like clean water, and Heto breathed deeply of that familiar scent, letting it drown out the party’s lingering incense. The common room of their unit was covered with letters of recommendation, congratulatory cards, and empty recyclable cups.
“I drew for you,” Sanar said with a smile, leading Heto into the bedroom with his arm around the young man’s waist. The door slid shut behind them, helping them ignore the mess strewn about the rest of the unit. The vorian gestured to the stark metal surface of the nightstand near their bed and the holographic images hovering like playing cards there.
Heto sank onto the bed, wishing as he did every time that they had a thicker mattress. “Which spread?” He gave his lover a tired grin as Sanar laid a hand to his shoulder and pressed him backwards into the plush pillows. “Alright, okay, I’m lying down. What spread?”
Sanar swept his thin tail to the side and sat down next to Heto, slit-pupiled yellow eyes flickering to the intangible cards. “Just the three,” he answered in his soft, sibilant voice. “I don’t think you need more than that.”
Heto nodded, his eyes closing of their own accord as soon as they saw the ugly truth of the digital clock embedded in the wall over the door. He would not sleep nearly as much as he’d like before having to rise and finalize all his graduation paperwork at the spaceport academy in the morning. “Good draw?”
With a hissing chuckle, Sanar patted his fiance’s thigh and nodded. “Very good. Your indicator is the Radar Engineer. Long-reaching sight in all directions, orchestrating structure and organization, methodical observation.” The vorian winked a reptilian eye. “Very much like you, O master planner of all things.”
Heto laughed from his belly, shaking the bed on its metal frame. “I keep getting that card as me. I think you cheat.”
“I think the card belongs with you,” Sanar countered with a toothy grin. “I cannot cheat a holographic program of this sophistication. I am but a lowly linguist, not a technical specialist that can hotwire and hijack divination kernels.”
“I love teasing you.” Heto grinned back and shifted his position to curl up around Sanar’s back, wrapping one arm around the vorian’s narrow waist. His hand slid beneath the light vest his lover wore and met the soft, wide-wrapped scales of Sanar’s belly. “What about the other cards?”
Sanar idly scritched along Heto’s folded legs with his short-clawed fingers. “Good and interesting, respectively. First, the Ten of Dyson Spheres. Completion, binary perfection, the end, the whole – combined with grand-scope sustainability on a civilizational level. It’s a full package in itself, something perfect and self-complete.”
“My graduation,” Heto said. He was never very good at the interpretation of these things, but he’d listened to enough of Sanar’s descriptions to have an idea what the cards might be referring to in their strange symbolism. Even if he had no idea where Sanar was getting his keywords from.
“Correct,” Sanar said, approval in his voice. He gave Heto’s thigh a squeeze. “The last card is unexpected. The Lady Prophet of Space Travel.”
Heto snorted. “Aw, I get one of the silly mystical ones as my future? Damn.”
Sanar hummed in the back of his throat, a thoughtful noise. “It’s not as mystical as it sounds,” he said after a moment, studying the card’s hologram. “The prophet can be taken as the predictor of the future and so can symbolize your plans, or your hopes, for what comes next.”
“Why’s it a lady prophet?” Heto asked, raising a brow.
The vorian reached out a webbed hand and plucked at the non-physical card. The hologram shifted as though he held it, and he brought it into Heto’s view. “It’s a vorian deck,” he said, “and I don’t think you know our sexes well enough to understand how important the word that I translate as ‘lady’ is. I will sum up crudely by saying that this card indicates a mother, one who creates life and continues life, and as a lady prophet, she not only knows and anticipates the future, but also leads others into it and helps create the future’s populace. She both guides and fulfills the manifestation of the future.”
Heto studied the card. He had no idea how he was supposed to visually recognize a female vorian from a male; the figure was etched in vivid red and unclothed, but he spotted the vague symbols of vorian language on the border of the card and assumed that the words indicated her sex. Or maybe female vorians were always in red on the cards. Who knew? “Okay,” he said after a pause. “So…?”
Sanar patted his head, playfully patronizing, and Heto swatted his lover’s hand away with a scoff. Sanar grinned down at him. “It’s a very large card,” he continued. “A lady prophet is an enormous personage, but to be paired with space travel as her influence? If I were drawing for a corporation or a race, I would say this meant a colony ship – a successful one.”
Heto sat up and nearly smacked his forehead into Sanar’s elbow in his haste. “A colony ship? Sanar, there hasn’t been a new colony ship for–”
The vorian pressed his cool lips to the human’s brow. “Shh. I am drawing for only one person, only you, and the cards do scale down their magnitude a little as a result. But I still say this means a voyage, a journey of great import and eventual success.” His face creased in a smirk as he added, “Alternatively, you may be pregnant.”
Heto laughed again and flopped back onto the bed, planting a kiss on the small of Sanar’s back. The vorian made a noise of fake protest, his tail giving a twitch and lightly smacking against Heto’s shoulder. “Well, if I’m bearing a child, you had better be involved.” They shared a grin.
“I would be,” Sanar assured him, half-serious. “Are you going to sleep now?”
“Only if you sleep with me,” Heto said, hugging the vorian’s ribs and trying to drag him down onto the pillows. “Just for a few hours. Please?”
Sanar’s eyes flicked to the calendar displayed near the digital clock, then he heaved a melodramatic sigh and sprawled backwards onto Heto. “Fiiine, I will sleep with you.”
“I know it’s such a chore.” Heto grinned. “You poor vorian, forced to rest more than once every three days. Terrible fate, really.”
With a laugh, Sanar rolled over and curled up around his lover, wriggling his tail beneath the blankets crumpled at the side of the bed and awkwardly pulling the comforter over himself; Heto reached over with a hand and pulled it up the rest of the way. The vorian’s stomach and chest were warm at his back, and he closed his eyes gratefully.
A grating beep pried his eyes back open, and Heto had no sense of how much time had or had not passed. The room lit up caution-yellow, a spaceport-wide urgent broadcast, but it wasn’t the red of danger or disaster, so he allowed himself the luxury of being annoyed at the interruption to his sleep. It was probably some stupid political announcement about managerial staff changing again. Even though no one outside the spaceport hierarchy actually cared.
Sanar hissed as the beeping continued, then flung off the blanket and rose to accept the message by keying in his identification number through the door’s security pad. “Lazy,” he grumbled at Heto, who curled up and buried himself in the blanket.
“You were closer,” Heto mumbled, squeezing his eyes shut.
Urgent message. Repeat, urgent message. Verbal confirmation of message receipt required. Begin message?
Heto groaned, so Sanar replied. “Begin message,” he said, sitting back down on the bed with a thump. The mattress barely indented under his lean weight.
Message recipients: Heto Canzoni and Filyi s’r Sanar. Verbal confirmation of recipients required. Begin message?
Heto poked his head out of the blanket. A code yellow message addressed specifically to them? He shared a sleep-blurred, worried glance with Sanar. “Heto Canzoni present,” he said, and Sanar followed with his own confirmation.
Message begins. From Captain Yerei m’n Kolan to all eligible candidates: upon hearing these words, you are hereby sworn to secrecy and will not discuss the contents of this message with anyone who is not also an eligible candidate or a subordinate of Captain Kolan herself. Confirm vow.
Heto silently slid his hand into Sanar’s and held onto his fiance tightly. The captain of the fleet? “Heto Canzoni swears,” he said softly. Sanar echoed him, and the vorian’s voice was no more confident than his own.
Message content begins. Captain Kolan extends to you an invitation to join a mixed-race convoy to begin a thirty-year journey to UB-221, the VRH Alliance’s next colony planet. You have been individually selected to receive this invitation based on your academic and personal qualifications. You have full consequence-free right of refusal. Captain Kolan requests your decision within the next 60 standard days. For more information, report to the recruitment center and ask for Lt. Aeru Kant. Confirm message receipt.
“Receipt confirmed,” Sanar whispered. Heto mumbled the same, and the yellow light flickered off, replaced by sleeping-level ambiance. The vorian twisted around to stare at the holographic cards still lit up in reds and blues on the nightstand.
“So, Sanar,” Heto said with a sudden nervous laugh, “I think I’m a whole-hearted believer in your technomancy now.” He sat up and kissed the back of his fiance’s hand. “Want to go colonize a world with me?”
Sanar met Heto’s eyes, and he gave a raspy laugh. “Of course.”