Entering again into the world of the bright and well maintained, this was probably where her host lived.  A chair was brought for her and he motioned for her to sit.  A smaller snail-like being entered the room and nuzzled her host. 

"Welcome our guest, dear.  Oh, where are my manners?  My name is Ku and this is Harni, my wife."

Harni slid over to where Lanie sat.  Although she was smaller than Ku, she was still quite robust, and slightly intimidating.  Lanie made herself sit still. "What is your name, dear?"

Lanie cleared her throat, "Lanie, Lanie Romein."

"Where do you come from, you are so tiny and cute!"

"She comes from Earth, Harni."

Lanie jumped up from her seat so fast, Harni let out a small yelp, "How did you know that?" Lanie asked.

"I have been to your planet."

"You have?" Lanie cried in disbelief.

Ku chuckled, "Come sit down, you should find this food palatable.  It's like fruit."

For a girl who wasn't good at trusting people, Lanie sure had to do a lot of trusting lately.  It crossed her mind this food may kill her, but she couldn't come up with a good reason why Ku would want her dead, so she sat down again.  Ku and Harni picked at the various colored items of food on the table. 

"Try some of our wine." Ku said sliding a glass in her direction.

Lanie brought it to her lips and smelled it.  She couldn't smell any alcohol, she took a sip.  It reminded her of a sangria, she smiled. "It's good!"

Ku ad Harni laughed. 

"So tell us your looong story, Lanie."  Ku said.

I was visited by..." she paused, "I feel funny calling you all aliens, what should I say?"

Ku laughed low in his throat, "Lanie we are all residents of the universe, just people."

She nodded and started again, "I was visited by someone from another planet. I was just a kid.  He, uhh, was intimate with me. Before he left, he like...put me to sleep or something.  Anyway, when I woke up he was gone and I think he took our unborn baby with him.  But that's not all.  I felt something for him.  I spent the next few years assuring my place as a Starship Captain.  I should have got a commission and I didn't.  I got angry and just wanted to leave Earth and look for Azano, which was my original plan."  She took a sip of wine; it was obvious there was something intoxicating in it.

"Azano is the father?"

"Yes, I think so, if there is a child.  So I ran out of fuel and was towed to a planet about four days from here.  It was his planet I'm sure, but the people were mean and rude."

Ku interrupted, looked at his wife and nodded, "Krayton."

"Krayton?" Lanie asked.

"I'm sure that is the planet where you were treated so poorly." Ku informed her. "So they set you adrift?"

"Well, they can't be all bad.  Azano was nice, and someone named Hootie hailed me after I was out of the airlock and helped me find this planet.  He gave the coordinates, and he gave me this translator."  Lanie tapped the red stone on her throat.

"Basic issue." Ku said offhandedly.

"This?" Lanie said pointing at her throat.

"Yes, very common.  The air regulator I gave you is a simple one, too.  You might want to buy better ones."  Ku said.

"I don't have any money." She said, throwing her hands in the air.

Harni was quiet up until now; she shook a piece of the fruit-like object at Lanie, "You need a job."

Lanie nodded, "I guess I do."

"Your fuel is insufficient for space travel.  I had my crew modify your ship to take better fuel."

"You modified my ship?  How can I repay you?  I have no money!"

Ku sat and stared at her for a moment, and then said, "You are unique here, you will draw attention in a way it will be useful to me."

Lanie didn't like the sound of this.

"You could travel between planets looking for your child...your boyfriend.  When you do this, you could deliver and pick up various items for me. I would pay you generously."

"Is it...legal?"

"Of course.  No one needs to know, you would be discreet.  It would be embarrassing at the very most should anyone find out what you were carrying."

"What is it?"

"You don't need to know."

"I do if I'm going to accept this job."

"You won't even see it.  It will be loaded when you land and unloaded when you return here. You don't have to know."

It was a hard bargain, but Lanie was considering it.  It would give her all the freedom she needed to reach her own goals. 

"You owe me for the work on your ship, try it just once." Ku tried to sway her.

Lanie sighed, "All right."

She noticed Harnie patted his arm and smiled.

"You need a weapon, and a little training.  You're too...nice."

Ku was right; the only time she didn't let people use her as a carpet was when she had been drinking.  False courage.  She couldn't stay inebriated all the time so she had to toughen up, or she wouldn't survive. "Why are you helping me? Lanie asked.

"Because you will be useful to me. You are not on Earth any more, little girl. Life is harder than you think out here.  The wars are still going on, but on a planetary scale, and it's played differently."

Lanie sat quietly thinking about what Ku had said.  The people of Earth were ignorant infants, but they were no better.  She felt Ku was right, it was the same, just different.  "All right, I'm in.  I have to start somewhere."

"Good. I will have you talk to my advisors.  They will prepare you."

"Are you some kinda big deal here?" Lanie asked.

"I'm like your leaders; I keep order as much as I can."

Over the next few days, Lanie learned much about life in the universe.  This planet was as she suspected a crossroads for interplanetary travel.  They prided themselves on having supplies for most of the species that passed this way.  What she saw that day she arrived was a small sampling of the people she would encounter.  The trick would be not to be shocked or repulsed by who she would meet.  Some were very close to humanoid while others were hideous.  She gained confidence and desensitized herself over the next few weeks by spending time in the bars with them.  Her tolerance for their social drinks became improved and Lanie no longer became drunk so easily.  True be told, she was gaining a reputation. She now freely called herself The Ice Queen.  It suited her.  She was a little tougher, and a little more hardened than before. Knowing to reach her goal, she would have to be strong and be ready for things she never dreamed of before.


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