The familiar ‘Hey, Hey LBJ!’ echoed above the din of rush-hour traffic.


J raced past a herd of restless brown horses and a phalanx of shiny blue helmets and night sticks toward the Recruitment Center, on its own island of concrete in the middle of Times Square. The familiar “Hey, Hey LBJ” echoed above the din of rush-hour traffic. Something special was going to happen. J knew it like she always knew things. She wanted to run in the other direction, but Katie would be furious.
“Something’s very, very wrong here,” she yelled above the din to Katie.

“Don’t worry, babe. This is the best! Look at all the pigs we brought out. C’mon!”

She gripped her Ulysses tighter, wishing she had forgotten it in the cafe.

Joe and Katie were rushing just ahead of her now, their heads pitched forward, excited by the excitement.

The Recruitment Center itself was completely ringed by wooden barricades and wooden-at-attention cops. The static in the air was deafening to her empath ear: waves of putrid pounding from her temples to her jaw. J hadn’t felt so frenetic and debilitated since she was a child. Something was very, very wrong here.

Then they were in the middle of the chants and someone shoved a placard into her free hand. Too much disorganization, she thought. Who’s in charge? She fought the static to sort out a leader. “Who’s in charge? Who called the demo?” She turned around to Katie, but she was gone. Why all that static in her head? Worse. Beyond impossible. Perhaps she should shield up. No, she had to stay completely in tune, come what may.

The crowd pressed closer, and somehow she found herself at the front-line, face to face with a badge without a nameplate. She struggled to protect herself from his paranoid, vicious thoughts, powerful stabs from the past, but his terror and contempt, and his raging case against his fiancé were inexplicably stronger than her capacity to focus.

The whiney thin voice of a bullhorn wafted into the mix. “You are hereby advised to disperse.”

Someone yelled, “No! We’re staying! We’re not moving! Hell, no! We won’t go!” People all around her were sitting. As she crouched at the boots of her helmeted guard, she felt his mind stiffen, and his knuckles harden around his billy club. “Sit down!” she joined the chant. “Hell No! We won’t go! Sit down!” For a moment she saw Katie in her mind, arguing furiously with Jimmy. But the static was too strong. Her temples were pounding. If she stayed right there, next to this goon’s boots, she would be his first arrest ever, and if he panicked…. Maybe she could empath some sense into his skull. No, stop being an asshole. No empath mind-bending.

Then a voice amplified louder than the others. Someone specific was yelling into her head. Not in her ears, in her head. But not like a hallucination. More like right before Telmx would visit and she could hear her coming, a few hours away—maybe at the edge of the solar system on her way in. She would hear her singing or teasing her: “I told you I wouldn’t be long. See? It’s only a few more of your Earth hours. J, I know you can hear me. Please, my dearest, please let me in. Please answer me.” But J would not answer, would wait, as if Telmx’s voice were just a hallucination, as if everything up to that moment had been a wonderful psychotic fantasy that she just didn’t want to reality test. She would wait and wait.

Telmx would become frantic: “J! I am not just in your imagination!. Stop fighting it!” J would then open her mind and struggle to perform all the long-range empath techniques Telmx had taught her, not believing they would really work. If she strained too hard, they didn’t work. She had to overcome frantic: trust deep breathing and calm repose. Then empath would take over. Then they’d have a real conversation, and they knew they’d be in some kind of sublimity together in just a few hours.

J, squatting by these Gestapo boots in the street, perceived that particular almost echo sensation of empath, a strong and husky empath, not like Telmx’s, but similar, the way a phone voice is similar to another phone voice but you know it’s a different person. A clear empath voice was insisting, “No! Don’t sit down! Get everyone up. Hurry! Not the right time to get busted! There are provocateurs here! Don’t listen to them!”

Yeah, it’s not the time to get busted, she thought. Too soon: for me, for the movement. But Katie would be furious if she finked out now. “Seize the momentum. There’s never a perfect time,” Katie always insisted. But no! There was Katie yelling into her megaphone, urging people to stand up and march, as if she had heard the empath voice too! But no one was listening! The din was billy club even harder. This was about to get really, really messy.

“Absolutely not the right time to deal with legal shit,” the empath voice coalesced into her right temple, loud, emphatic. “There’s not enough support! Let’s not tie up the movement with legal shit! Not yet!” Some force had joined Katie’s warning, amplifying it and simultaneously empath-pushing the whole crowd, the entire demo. Actually empath-pushing! Without thinking about how Telmx had absolutely forbidden her to, J joined in the empath-push.

“Get up!” J yelled and empathed simultaneously, her sudden out-loud voice amplifying her empath. “Everyone up! Let’s just march!” It was as if she were her own microphone and PA system. The Gestapo boots moved this way and that, both tense and relieved. People around her were already standing. Others were shouting to get up. Someone shouted, “To the UN!” The crowd abruptly propelled her through a sudden opening in the barricades.

As the crowd surged forward, J empathed to the empath voice, “Who are you, where are you?” In her mind’s eye she saw Katie and her comrades urging the crowd forward into a march to the UN. Jimmy was negotiating with an officer whose bronze metals declared him clearly in charge of his brigades. J persisted in her head, “Hey, who are you? Where are you?”

Now the static in her head vied with the calmly urging empath voice wafting in and out of her temples along with the shouting: “Hey, Hey, LBJ!”

“I knew it! All these years, thinking I was the only one,” a voice said out loud, and then suddenly a woman, not much taller than herself was in step beside her in the street. “All these years, and then they said, ‘Go find her. She’s somewhere in New York City.’ And here you are, just like they said. Wow! There is someone like me, another earthling empath monitor!”

Was the figure real? A hologram? The boyish bounce, the breathlessness from running, a slight brogue. Irish? Or Scottish?

“Who are you?” J empathed. She was suddenly frightened. Perhaps this was a trick. An intergalactic traveler Imari-Gone-Bad (the newest threat to the Council). Maybe a shape-shifter. She started to shield.

“It’s not a trick. It’s for real,” came straight into J’s mind, cleanly cutting through her shielding, and the deafening static. “Holy Moley! There’s finally two of us! I can’t believe it! There’s actually two of us! My name is Scotty.”

J already knew her name. Always had. She had roamed a secret part of her brain so often, never lingering, and strangely fearful of what she would discover. And now Scotty, a real person, had entered or erupted from that place, beckoning her to join her in real time, arms outstretched like an old friend. As they stopped in the street and faced each other, J empathed, “I know you.” Those deep piercing blue eyes, tousled auburn hair, the slightly freckled high cheekbones were all too familiar. Even with the chanting crowd sweeping around them, J let go of her uneasy and moved into Scotty’s warm exuberance.

Scotty empathed through the static, “I just knew I would run into something life-changing today. It had to be! I’ve been searching for you without knowing you since I got to New York. I woke up this morning and just knew I had to join this demo!”

“You’re a human, aren’t you?” J empathed back. Of course she was. An earthling empath monitor, an extraordinary empath monitor. Right here in New York City, empath mind-bending without even a nanosecond of hesitation. How could she have assumed she was the only empath recruit on the planet? Why didn’t Telmx tell her there was another? Perhaps she had in that remote secret corner of her mind. Of course, Telmx had told her. “But you…. Oh wow, of course. You’ve been to Galern II. Who do you know?”

Suddenly a bolt of static surged into her neck and scalded her shoulders, abruptly crashing their connection.

“Shit!” shouted Scotty out loud. “You felt that too, didn’t you? Something’s very wrong here. I smelled it when I approached the barricades. It’s not safe here. We’re too vulnerable. Can you shield?” The two women stood perfectly still, eyes meeting eyes, while the stream of demonstrators roared by.

“That’s the strongest jolt I’ve ever felt. I got a whopper headache,” J said out loud. She was dizzy and nauseous.

“Me too. Let’s shield up high and cool it on empath, just in case.” Scotty also spoke out loud. “Something really, really shitty’s going down.”

“What do you mean?” J felt the other’s strength and wisdom penetrating her, like a power she had only felt with Telmx. She also smelled their mutual dread.

“I don’t know what I mean. Something’s really spooky, and I think it has to do with us empaths. Listen, it’s making us sick. C’mon, pull your shield way up to max!” Scotty urged. “You do know how, don’t you? Yeah, I know you do.”

J groped for energy to raise her empath shield. The jolt had sapped her strength beyond belief. The street wobbled.

She felt Scotty enter her temples. “Let me pull your shielding up to max, just to be on the safe side.” Scotty’s soothing presence inside J’s head abruptly receded into a faint echo. J suddenly felt confused and alone. “Wait,” said Scotty. “Don’t get nuts about it. I’m going to explain. Just let me modulate your shielding for another second.”

As Scotty closed her eyes, J involuntarily closed hers too. It was as if someone turned down the volume in her head, way down, leaving vast eerie silence after years of humming, like when the refrigerator suddenly stops and you suddenly realize it’s been droning all that time.

“There! I raised both our shields to max,” Scotty’s out-loud yell above the din pulled J’s eyes open and J realized that without the enhancement of empath she had to read her lips to catch her words, even though she was shouting. “Where’d you learn that?” she could hardly push out her words. Though the static fell away, and the street steadied, her headache increased exponentially.

“I’ll show you how later. I just wanted to say what I think without being overheard by another empath entity, just in case,” Scotty grabbed her arm. “I bet two earthling empath monitors have never been in such close proximity before. We must create a very vulnerable field when we empath to each other. We gotta go,” she yelled. “It’s bad news for us around here.”

J knew she was right, even though Scotty’s words made no logical sense. Her migraine was stronger than ever, jagged blue and yellow flashes behind her eye. She let Scotty pull her out of the street, steering them toward the library lions, where she hailed a cab.

“163rd and Amsterdam,” Scotty directed the cabdriver. “We’ll go to your place. Is that okay? I’m staying at the Y until I can find some digs.”

“I know, I mean, sure.” If only Scotty would grab her arm again and never let go! Or she could grab hers, like protector and protected.

The cab lurched forward. She leaned back, closed her eyes, and pressed her fingers against her temples, desperate to quell the vicious throbbing pain and lightning assaulting the top of her head, temples and ears, and shooting down her shoulders to her fingertips. The din of chants gave way to the din of relentless traffic.

“I betcha our headaches cease and desist in a couple of more blocks,” yelled Scotty over frenzied, disgruntled horns. “Golly, this city is loud. Don’t need no stupid empath scanners to give a girl a big fat migraine.”

“Empath scanners?” Headaches at demos were about being at demos and struggling not to give herself away. Katie often leaned on her so-called ESP, like when she fingered that provocateur. Warning her friends without revealing her empath powers. Who wouldn’t get headaches?

“Kind of empath divining rods, searching for empath energy.”

“To harness our powers?”

“To nab us.” Scotty’s empath voice entered J’s right temple. Empath again. “See? We don’t need the shielding anymore. Headache’s almost gone. I told you they were concentrating on the demo.”

“They? Who? What’s happening? How do you know?”

“I don’t know. I am only just figuring it out. I mean, we know that there are scanners, but I’ll tell you all that later.” She turned to face J and giggled mischievously. “I bet you have bot, don’t you.”

“And dipping sauces,” J cut herself off with a laugh. Of course, Scotty already knew about that!

Empath communication with an earthling! No barriers. How her friends carried on about her so-called “ESP.” J had to shut them out from so much. Even Katie, for the sake of the Mission. To be so close to people and yet so distant. Although profoundly lonely, J always felt a little safe and special in her empath differences. Now Scotty just pops up out of nowhere, maybe only for a little while. Her too-precious specialness suddenly wasn’t so special in the presence of this possible true, no-barriers friend.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” Scotty empathed. “It’s been super hard on me too. I really appreciated the empath cultures in the last three years. The closest friends I ever had were my roommates at the Jioram Intergalactic University. I can’t wait to tell you about it. So, you know, coming back to Earth, with all our secrets, especially to this loud, primitive city is like landing on yet another planet. Besides, I’m a small town kid, you know.”

J flushed with excitement. When they arrived at her apartment, she’d fix her living room up for Scotty just like she always did for Telmx, whose next visit was long overdue. Scotty would really love an authentic Imari meal. Sharing bot with an earthling! How incredible! She couldn’t wait.

“You have authentic Imari goblets, and the actual tapestries! I can’t believe it! How did you get them past regulations?” Scotty could survey her apartment from twenty blocks away! A true empath! A true earthling empath!

“Long story. I have to hang them up for you. They’re all hidden, you know. I just set it all up when I’m completely alone. Or when Telmx, my mentor, comes in for a visit.”

“Holy shit! I shoulda known. Telmx is your mentor. Of course! Mine is Winstx. Do you know her? Of course you know her. And Gir too! We’ll talk. I gotta find out everything! So much to talk about. Oh golly, Vintage bot, like on Galern II. We’ll talk forever! I couldn’t take anything with me when I returned. You thought restrictions were heavy. You should see them now! Not even a tiny hubnut. I’ll tell you about it. Wow! Can you auto-effuse? I can, you know. I learned at the university. I can show you.”

Tears saturated Scotty’s flushed cheeks, and J realized she was weeping as well. Mostly J felt relief, after almost two decades of intricate and ludicrous double-think with earthlings, not to mention her nightmares. She wished Scotty would touch her arm again. Of course, she could take a chance and….

Scotty grabbed her arm. “No secrets,” she commanded. “No need for coy.” J flushed again. Scotty was intense, the way her head bobbed up and down, punctuating every empathed and out-loud statement, how she tossed her short auburn hair this way and that with her hand, how her mouth formed a kind of pursed ooh when she took a breath between sentences. She loved that Scotty hovered at the tip of her emotions, holding nothing back, not uptight and controlled like J, more like Telmx after several droughts of bot. As with Telmx, her shield was stronger, and she couldn’t read Scotty the way Scotty was reading her. Okay to have unbalanced shielding with an Imari, but so peculiar to be empath weaker than another earthling.

The cab turned onto J’s block.

“I’ll try not to be so intrusive, J. I’m so used to purely empath folks now. But isn’t this incredible? We have so much to talk about.” Now they were crying and laughing. By the time they reached J’s house, their headaches were completely gone.

• • •

“I don’t want you to do a thing,” J said to Scotty, as they stepped into her living room from the dark tenement hallway. Thinly woven, somewhat faded lavender burlap covered the windows. They cast a soft hazy sunset glow on the several large pots of tall ferns, two rubber tree plants, and several Honduran desert mountain trees that filled most of the room. A multitude of throw pillows covered with madras cloth were casually grouped in one corner next to an intricate Navaho rug, strewn with a small portable typewriter surrounded by spiral notebooks, crumpled papers, oversized college texts and library books with small index cards sticking out of the pages. The rest of the floor was covered with books, magazines, pamphlets, flyers announcing rallies and sit-ins, and piles of New York Times and radical movement newspapers from various political tendencies. Across one wall, gray rough cinder blocks supported a set of planks that rose halfway to the ceiling, also brimming with paperbacks and piles of notebooks. On another plank sat stereo components and several milk crates filled with albums.

“This is really cool,” said Scotty. “But first things first!” She raced into the bathroom.

“I just gotta clean up a bit,” called J. She wanted her new friend to experience the full Imari effect, like the tranquility of Telmx’s cottage on Galern II, even if it were makeshift, the way she did when there was no chance of Katie popping over without notice. It’ll take just ten minutes or so. Her quivering hands betrayed her anxiety, but then again, Scotty could read it anyway.

She pulled her research rug, typewriter and all, further into the corner of the room and piled everything she could from the rest of the floor onto the rug. Then she tugged several cartons out from the closet in the bedroom and shoved them into the now emptied center patch of living room. One by one she drew out the richly colored Imari mats and tapestries. When Scotty came back into the room, she was carefully covering her research rug with a large finely woven Imari cloth.

“What a fabulous collection!” empathed Scotty, placing the reminder of the mats on the floor exactly where J wanted them to be. “I really wish I could have taken some of these with me.” Together they completely covered the walls with tapestries. J wanted to surprise her, but completing the transformation with Scotty was even better. She dragged two folding screens from the kitchen, placed them in front of the bookcase and stereo, and draped her two largest Imari cloths delicately over the panels. Scotty rummaged though the cartons, and produced three small translucent balls. “I can’t believe you have all this! Authentic hover-glows! Wait, I’ll get them going.” She placed them exactly in spots that J would have chosen, bent over each one as she went, and deftly auto-effused them to life. Together J and Scotty adjusted the glows to match the mood they wanted to create. They were like a couple of kids in a candy store. Transforming J’s living room had never been this much fun.

The third carton concealed a hermetically sealed traveler’s chest. They pulled out several bottles of J’s vintage bot, and three pouches of powder for dipping sauces. “Holy shit, girl, you even have the proper church key!” She held the tool up to the light of the hover-glow, and ran her thumb over the delicately engraved ancient Imari script on the azure metal lip below the carved wooden knob. “Oh wow! This is an antique! I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t even decipher the letters. What’s it say?”

“I found it in the old town on Galern II. It belonged to a practicing empath elder, who wouldn’t let me leave her kiosk without accepting her gift. She said it brings good luck to those who struggle. Roughly translated, it means no inner or outer wall is forever.” Scotty hooked the shimmering device onto the top of the bot flask and deftly popped the waxy orange seal. J caught the mahogany froth in a large porcelain goblet and offered it to Scotty. If only her hands would stop shaking.

“One sip of this stuff will stay your trembling hands,” empathed Scotty, beckoning her to break the froth.

J savored the familiar sequential bursts of tastes and the reverberating after-tastes and handed the goblet to her new friend. “We’ll have to do with some desperately unworthy substitutes for crisps and pickled roots: I’m afraid its onion matzo and daikon,” J empathed. “But first I need to heat the dipping sauces.” They should have waited to open the bot, by all traditional standards, but Scotty was right, she could feel the bot simultaneously entering the anxiety zone of her mind and wending its way to her fingers.

Scotty accepted the goblet from J and took a healthy swallow. “Wait one second, J. You’re not going to heat that precious powder over the goddamn stove? Give it here. I’ll suffuse the sauces. Where’s that fabulous assemblage of Imari ceramics?”

Now they were squatting on J’s favorite Imari mat. In the gentle blue-green radiance of the hover-glows, the large ferns cast soft shadows on the multicolored tapestries and quilts. J handed her a shallow ceramic bowl intricately glazed with red, yellow and black shapes similar to those on the tapestries. Scotty placed the bowl on the mat in front of her and tapped a small amount from each powder pouch into its center. Then she closed her eyes and J followed the vague blue beam from Scotty’s forehead to the bowl. The powder began to steam and swirl, and then rapidly jelled into the familiar magenta dipping sauce. For an instant, she was fifteen again, her first morning on Telmx”s homeworld, waking up to the rich aromas of Echinacea and the pungent eprira ferns that reached out and caressed the intricate Imari tapestries.

“There!” empathed Scotty. “I cant imagine how it could possibly taste right using that stupid stove. How could you have managed? Just you wait, Ill show you everything!” She held out the swirling dish to J with a flourish of satisfaction.

“Where’d you learn that?”

“I got really sick on the way from Nikehma to a conference and I couldn’t travel long inter-stellar distances for three years. And so,” Scotty gulped bot gustily and continued. “I entered the Intergalactic University right there on Jioram. What a planet, what a grand experience, let me tell you. I’m on Earth two months and I’m still in culture shock, you know. Anyway, Kimstx, an Imari kid in the dorm, showed me how to develop some eyebrow strands as kind of substitute cilia. See? She pushed her bangs aside and displayed several vibrating silky filaments. I can show you how to develop these. Its actually quite easy.”

Without realizing it, J leaned in toward Scotty until their heads were almost touching. J’s desire burned onto her thighs. Not since Telmxs last visit two years ago had she felt such yearning. “You’re a Level VI. You’re a mentor, with cilia and everything, aren’t you? But I thought an earthling monitor couldn’t qualify yet.”

“Not a licensed mentor. Sort of a secret maverick one. I matriculated in inter-species anthropology and psychology, and secretly learned all I could from Kimsx. I’m not someone to pass up opportunities.” She paused. “You’re not that enthralled with our Mission, are you?”

J flushed. Scotty had cut right to the heart of those years of misgivings. For the first time she could talk freely to someone other than Telmx about how she felt. She and Telmx would end up arguing. She loved being different, more powerful than anyone else, kind of a secret Supergirl. Telmx would become very quiet and serious. You absolutely must stop using your empath powers to keep yourself apart from friends. Telmx would explain that J could be, without contradiction, both close friends with earthlings and an empath monitor, that the Mission was primary, that it didn’t have anything to do with secret powers and prestige. And most important, J would lose Telmx and all memory of her if she revealed, even by mistake, her own empath energies and the Mission to anyone. Too much double-think! Too much responsibility! No time to be just a kid, a teen, a young adventurous adult. Didn’t Scotty feel burdened and ambivalent?

“I used to,” Scotty empathed. “In the last three years I developed much stronger respect for the Mission. It’s very complex, but its also very simple. And dealing with these goddamn migraines just now, really erased my very last shred of doubt about why we were recruited. The Mission is upon us. What we’ve been training for. Something, someone’s scanning for us, and not just for Russian missiles and spies. I think they’re scanning for us guys right here. That’s why I had to come back. The Imari Scouts want us to figure it out and find a way to give them the information without being detected.

“Dodging NORAD on the way back to Earth was super difficult. I came in on an outpost mini-shuttle from Europa, and we were almost detected. Such a drag. They couldn’t drop me in the states. We ended up off the coast of Nicaragua. I just jumped out about a mile from the Managua airport and ran, leaving all my luggage behind. They were gone before I could turn around and wave goodbye. At least we made it to Earth without being shot down. And getting back to the states, that was an adventure and a half. I’ll tell you about it sometime. After today’s close call, I now know it’s only a matter of time before they replace NORAD with sophisticated empath scanners. Winnie and her crew suspected that. They couldn’t take a chance themselves. The Imari can’t come in again, until we do something about the scanners. No more visits right now. Too risky.”

“Wait wait, you’re going too fast for me. Too much to take in. No more visits?”

“Winnie, Gir and Telmx stayed on Europa to help upgrade the outpost, and to get me to you on Earth. Then they were going off to do some other Scouting somewhere, I don’t know where, leaving a team on Europa and me to my own devices. They have too many assignments, I think. Plus they have to negotiate around the Council’s restrictions. So much intrigue going on in the Council. You know, the nay-sayers and the threat from factions that want eliminate the Order of Empath Travel Scouts.

“The Council doesn’t trust student scouts to do anything past monitoring on any given planet. No mind-bending! Not yet, anyway. Not until things start getting hot, and pose a threat to other planets. Well, earthling scientists are empath scanning, they are on the cusp of the Age of Empath before they are ethically ready, just as Telmx predicted. The Imari make good guesses, you know, but their time estimates are off. So things are getting very hot a few years before her predictions.”

“Do you think there are more of us earthling monitors? And they just didn’t tell us yet? Actually I think Telmx did tell me. It just didn’t quite come to the front of my mind until now.” J paused. “Actually, I know there are three of us … do you think? I mean, we gotta find the third one!”

“Dunno. Probably. I think so. Maybe too dangerous. Until they let me come back, they didn’t risk allowing earthling empath monitors in close proximity. Maybe it still is. Look what happened to us.”

“No. They need us to find each other now, no matter what the risk. We need to find the third and start sending info to Europa.”

“Well, we might have to make decisions on our own, third earthling monitor or not. It may be time to move past measly observations, especially if we can’t figure out a way to tell the Europa outpost what’s going on. It’s within our Mission to make a decision like that, even if the Council didn’t officially authorize us to intervene without Telmx’s triad team telling us to do so. Besides, you’re already a talented mind-bender, in spite of all the formal Council rules and regulations.

“We’re supposed to empath-send a report to the outpost when we know more. But it’s not possible right now, given the extent of scanning going on. It’ll be detected for sure. The Europa team will try and send us a device to help. But because of the scanning they didn’t even tell me any details, for fear my information would be detected. We’ll have to let the device find us! If it can. If they can. Any clues from your monitoring about why they might be scanning for us empaths? You’ve been doing tons, haven’t you?”

“Nothing about anyone developing empath scanning,” empathed J. “Not even at Duke, where they’re doing all that ESP work. I thought I was on top of it all.”

“I’m sure Duke has something to do with it, but I actually think it might have something to do with dolphin and bat research as well.”

“I never thought to look at animal research. What makes you think so?”

“They might be searching for creatures, human and otherwise, who possess the empath energy they need to fuel their experiments.”

Of course, J thought. How could she be so shortsighted? They’re rapidly working toward entering the Age of Empath, so why wouldn’t they go after the most empathic animals? How could she be so utterly asinine?

“Hey, cool down, J,” empathed Scotty. “You flip like me, jump right to ‘jerk-of-the-year’ award. Hey,” taking J’s hand, “I have a fabulous idea.” J read it before Scotty could even pour it into empath words. “We’ll be a team. You with your research and me with my jury-rigged Level VI stuff. Plus I can teach you everything I know. Let me tell you. I’m really glad we found each other. We need each other to figure these headaches out, find out if they are actually scanning for empath humans. That’s what they’re up to, I bet. If they find us, I can’t imagine. No, I can imagine. You’ve been at it alone, right? Well, here I am, I mean, here we are. It was meant to be. I just know it. Nothing’s a stupid coincidence with the Imari. I’m so far-out fucking psyched!”

J hadn’t realized how alone she’d been. Scotty’s warm hand was reassuring, and tingled with enthusiasm. It sent calm through her quicker than even vintage bot. And giddy, erotic yearning. “I think I’d like that,” she offered.

“Hey, you don’t have the corner on loneliness, you know,” empathed Scotty. She pulled J’s hand to her moist cheek. “Check it out, here we are. It’s far-out, don’t you think?”

As J wondered what it would be like to press their cheeks together, merge their tears, Scotty pulled J’s head toward her own and pressed their cheeks together. J tasted their mingled salt and savored the fresh lemongrass aroma of her new friend. New and young. A joyful, tingling mixture of quiver and calm. She turned her head and found Scotty’s lips. Simultaneously they wrapped around each other on the mat while the hover-glows, quivering and shimmering, receded silently into the ferns.

“What should we do, Scotty? What do you want? This is going really quick,” she empathed. It felt peculiar to desire her so quickly and so fully, as if they shared years of memories and experiences.

“I think we can’t avoid the inevitable, can’t stand on stupid ceremony; that’s what I think,” empathed Scotty, and J knew so before she said it.

“Except for Telmx and a trans from R-345 in the G’uw galaxy, I’m quite inexperienced,” empathed J. “I mean, I haven’t slept with an earthling yet.”

“I know. Me neither. Aside from Winstx, my only other lover was my Imari buddy at the university. Also, we don’t have to do this, you know.”
“I know.”

“I’m a tiny bit scared,” empathed Scotty.

“I know. Me too.”

As the two women undressed each other slowly, tentatively, the hover-glows, nestled in the ferns, modulated into a faint shimmer. Two women in their mid-twenties, already seasoned intergalactic travelers, trembled like adolescent virgins.

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