Welcome to Hearts in Time, A Universe of Matchmaking Possibilities!
Hank sat at a table in a random restaurant, silently chiding himself. This was a bad idea and his gut feeling to run was at an all-time high. But he needed to get back into the dating game and one of his officers directed him to this restaurant where a matchmaking service was based. "Welcome to Hearts in Time, A Universe of Matchmaking Possibilities!" read the sign hanging above him.
He shook his head and wondered what possessed him – besides desperation anyway – to do this. He was a captain for God’s sake; he was supposed to be able to find a date easier than this. "Kirk always did," he mumbled to himself.
The waitress brought over a pair of vases, each containing a solitary rose. "We have two colors, sir. Yellow is for if you're looking for a not so serious situation, and red is if you are looking for marriage. Which one would you prefer?"
Hank stared at the flowers and his hand reached for the red initially, but he stopped. Marriage? This was a date, a first date...sure he wanted to be married. Sure he wanted to have a wife and some kids...but he wasn't ready to commit to that on the first date. He pointed at the yellow rose and flashed a weak smirk. "I think I'll just get my feet wet," he offered nervously.
"Very well, sir." The waitress set an avocado-green vase on the table, in a squarish shape. The rose was perky, perhaps a little too perky, too cheery, a tad artificially enhanced, perhaps. Hank glanced around, seeing some people meeting. There were a few where you could immediately tell that things would not work out, where a face, all bright with a smile and wide-eyed hope, fell as a person was seen for the first time. He steeled his gaze, trying not to get his hopes up too much, fearing a hard dash to the ground if he were disappointed.
He averted his eyes from those around him and focused on the empty chair across from him. This was it. His date would be here soon and he wondered what she would be like. Would she be funny? Would she be cute? Did any of that really matter? Part of him wasn't sure if he wanted this to succeed. He did, after all, spend years pining after a girl who now was off the market...probably for good.
He shook his head, not wanting to think about that entire situation. No, tonight was about a date...someone new, someone he didn't know. This was a clean slate. He took a deep breath and steadied himself.
His friends had told him to look at pictures, and decide on that first, but Hank had disagreed. He had wanted to know her, the person, and not based on some standard that could not live up to ... best not to think about her, about that. No. Tonight, a date. A fresh start. No expectations. He smiled and looked up as he heard the door opening.
There was a hooded figure, and the hostess directed that figure over. Stand up, his brain told him. Stand in the presence of a lady. He stood and offered his hand.
She took off her hood and he found himself at a loss for words. This was not what he was expecting. This was not what he had in mind when he ended up convincing himself to do this. She wasn't human, which wasn't a big deal for him...he'd dated a few non-humans in his time.
But she was...she was so different than what he expected. "Uh...hi," he managed to get out.
"Hello," she said, "I am called Inta. You are Hank?"
"Uh, uh, yes," he said, "I'm Hank. Yessiree, I'm Hank all right." He realized he was babbling and grinning like an idiot. Pictures. He should have looked at a damn picture. He motioned to her. "Have a seat, uh, Inta."
Mother of god, what have I gotten myself into? He thought to himself as they sat down. He wasn't sure what to do here. On one hand, she seemed nice enough...on the other hand, she was...well...she looked like...
He was struggling to come up with the words. "So...what brings you here?" he asked before he realized she was probably here for the same reason he was; looking for a date. Stupid question, stupid question, he repeated to himself.
"I am, well, you see, I should start at the beginning. I know that humans cannot, you do not have such good noses as we Daranaeans have."
"Yes. You see, we have three female castes, all based upon how intense our aromas are. I am of the secondary caste. It also means I am expensive; well, more expensive than the third caste, but not as much as a Prime Wife would be."
"Expensive? Uh, I thought this was only going to be dinner," Hank said. Suddenly, his clothes were far too small on him.
"Of course! I am being a bit silly and getting ahead of myself. But you see, we are, our marriages are through the purchase of females. We are, traditionally, sold to our husbands. But I, well, I want a different kind of a life. I don't wish to be sold," Inta said, looking a little defiant.
She had brown fur all over her face and, he could see, the backs of her hands as well, and he wondered if the fur went all the way up. She had a long nose, almost like a snout, and her ears stood up. She was rather foxlike in appearance, with chocolate brown eyes. She peered at him, awaiting a response.
Sold? Hank's mind raced. She was from a completely different culture. The only frame of reference he could think of was ancient Earth...they had a similar caste system if his memory served. Which it usually doesn't in situations like this.
"Well...no one wants to be sold," he said truthfully. Internally, he was kicking himself for that comment almost as soon as he said it. He was out of his league here. She looked nothing like what he thought... and he was struggling badly with coming up with any topic of conversation.
"So...Inta...what exactly are you...looking for?"
"Kindness," she said, "Just, someone to be caring. Do you know what I mean?"
"Yeah," he admitted, speaking softly, "I actually do."
"But you are not interested. I should not have come. My, my sister Cria, she trimmed my whiskers in the graduated style, but I am no beauty, not like the great Dratha, of course. I think this was a mistake."
She got up. Hank said, "Wait, um, wait a second. Maybe we could talk. Not with a, a date expectation. But just to talk. Is that all right?"
She sounded like she needed an ear and frankly, he knew he hadn't exactly been as gentleman-like as he needed to be here. Even if she didn't really meet any expectation of his, she deserved to at least be treated as a person...and he'd been bumbling around like an idiot so far. "Please, sit down," he implored her gently.
She seemed to consider it for a moment before finally resuming her seat.
Hank sighed. "First...sorry for...well, me," he said with sincerity. "Secondly...I understand what you mean when you say you want kindness, I do, really. It's harder to find than a lot of people think."
"Exactly! And in my culture, well, things are so uneven. It's funny, when we made contact with humans for the second time; it was when I emerged from the pouch."
"We are marsupials, Hank. I have, it's almost like two birthdays. One for emergence - that's April 25th of 2165. Birth was October 28th of 2164."
"So you're, um, kind of a Gemini and a Scorpio?”
"I'm not sure what that means," she said, "but it sounds funny."
"It probably is. Humans a long time ago, they thought the positions of the stars at your birth defined your personality. I bet those two are opposites."
"So it is like castes?" she asked.
"Not exactly. So, um, you're from 2165, eh?"
"Well, not right now," Inta said, "this is such a strange dating service, able to shuttle people around in time! For so far as I am concerned, it is 2191."
Hank glanced back up at the sign and thought the one time an ad for a dating service is actually true... He looked back down at Inta and cleared his throat. "It's 2382 where I'm from."
"Oh, my! I must seem so primitive to you."
The waitress came over. "Have you decided?"
Hank motioned to Inta. "I like a dish with meat and vegetables, you have something like that?"
"Beef stew. And for you, sir?"
"Sweet tea and, um, the chicken salad, thanks." The waitress left.
"I don't suppose you can tell me what happens to us in your time," Inta said, "Do females get the right to vote?"
"I don't know," Hank said, "I'm afraid I'm not up on Daranaean culture. I've never been to your planet, never even heard of it before today."
"Oh! You should see it! There are many places with good smells. I have not been to Earth. Does it smell good?"
"Earth...does it smell good?" Hank smiled. "It smells...wonderful, I guess. There are certain things that don't smell great but then there are those things that just...well they just stick with you. Like a spring day after it's just rained or a fall day where the sun's been out...the leaves crunching beneath your feet." Hank paused. "Then there's the food...like apple pie. A fresh baked apple pie smells amazing."
"I don't think I have had that sort of food. We mainly eat some meat and vegetables most of the time. Not very exciting, I know, but we get our good smells from the world around us. There is krivian weed. Most families grow it as a hedge. It offers a little privacy and the smell is, what is the word in English? It is sweet but a little sharp."
"Tea is sometimes flavored like that."
Hank's sweet tea arrived. The waitress set a glass of water in front of Inta.
She thought for a moment. "Mint. It is a mint flavor."
"Do you want mint tea?"
"Sure. Thank you; you are very kind."
Hank ordered her some mint tea. "Now, it's not the same as sweet tea, which is the elixir of the gods. It cures all ills."
"It must be very powerful," she smiled, and he could see slightly pointed teeth.
He shrugged good naturedly. "Well, I might be exaggerating just a tad, but it does taste good. I mean, it's not like it tastes horrible...unless you get it somewhere that doesn't know how to make it." He took a sip of his tea and felt the cool liquid slide down his throat. He nodded. "These people know how to do it." He set his glass down and pointed at it. "But if I got that somewhere like...New York...well, they still don't get how to make it. I don't why they're so stubborn. New York has everything else, food from places like Romulus even...but sweet tea?" He waved his hand dismissively. "Not so much. Still a great city to visit but I'm a country boy...lots of free land, forested areas, and plenty of warnings about cow crossings," he joked. "Where did you grow up? City? Country? Somewhere else?"
The waitress set down their food in front of them. "This has a good smell," Inta said, "There are, uh, four kinds of vegetables in here.”
It just looked like an indistinguishable mass to Hank. “Really, you can tell that?”
“You cannot? Oh, it is, well, the world is as vivid for us in smells as it is with sights. But it is sometimes of a bother.”
“Oh?” he asked.
She whispered a little. “I can tell that the meat is a day old or so. But it is all right. I shall not complain.”
“Well, there’s a little downside to everything, I guess.”
"I grew up in Daranaea's capital city. It is called Prisk. I come from a, I know you humans are not used to such large families."
"My father took one wife from each of the three castes. It is what wealthy men do. Mama Dratha had five, then my mother, she is Mistra; she had twelve of us. I am her eleventh. And the third caste wife was, I am named for her. She was also Inta. She had two. My dear sister Seppa is Inta's youngest. Seppa's husband takes her around in a little ship he owns. And Cria, I mentioned Cria, did I not?"
"The, uh, the whiskers, right?"
"Oh, you remembered!" Inta clapped her hands a little. "Cria is wed to a merchant. Our brother Trinning became a doctor and our brother Vidam, he is a Beta Councilor."
"There are few opportunities for females on Daranaea that don't involve marriage. I like to draw, but I fear there is nothing I can do with that."
"My family?" Hank rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish grin. "A bunch of wackos, that's what they are," he joked. "Well...I'm the oldest of four. Uh, my mom and my dad have been married...for seemingly forever. I'm a captain in Starfleet. My oldest little brother is a chef...loves to cook, loves to eat, and somehow stays thin as a rail." He leaned back in his chair and grinned. "My youngest little brother is in Starfleet too, works as an investigator for Starfleet Internal Affairs. As you can imagine, not the most popular job, but he's got plenty of friends...female friends, if you get the idea," he said with a grin.
"And then there's my sister who does a lot of things; she's a part time musician, part time holo-program designer, and she dabbles in things. None of us are married...but we were always taught that marriage isn't something to be rushed into, despite family history that says otherwise." He looked over her and then at her hands. "You say you draw? Why not pursue that while you're looking for love?"
"I, I don't know," she fidgeted a little, "I don't," she said very quietly, and he had to struggle a little to hear her over the din of the restaurant, "I don't always have confidence sometimes."
"Can you show me something you've drawn? Do you have a PADD?"
"Yes, a moment." She turned away and lifted her top slightly, and his eyes about bugged out of his head. She turned back, PADD in hand, and giggled a little. "I have no pouchling so I may as well use it to carry around my PADD, eh?"
Slack-jawed, Hank just watched as she clicked around. "Uh, here. This is a sketch of the eastern end of Prisk, where there are fountains."
Hank examined the drawing carefully. "I like it. And these hedges over here, are they that minty plant you were talking about?"
"Yes, those are supposed to be krivian weed. And, thank you. You are generous." She took the PADD back but didn't put it back into her pouch. "So, your sister, she works? And two jobs? How astounding. And your father, he permits this?"
Hank smiled at her. "My dad? Oh sure, he's fine with it. Actually, out of everyone's career field he had a problem with mine. He didn't think I was 'Starfleet material'. I suppose he was right...when I was younger I wasn't exactly the most by the book officer." He looked at her PADD and once again was amazed at the detail in the artwork. "You're really good, though. I know a lot of art schools on Earth that would accept you in heartbeat based on what you just drew there."
"Thank you," her nose and ears reddened, and Hank realized she was blushing. "To have your own ship. That must be very exciting. It is so very impressive. We do not have big ships for the most part. The warships are tiny – only for two, I am led to understand. Then there are pleasure craft such as Seppa and her family ride in. They are bigger because of the size of our families. We have some exploration ships but it is all males and they do not like going away for very long. I guess they miss us, well, they miss other females. Not a female like me."
"I'm sure you're missed."
"No, I am not," she said, "this is why I am seeking outside of my species. I know that no man would wish to purchase me, even if I would consent to being sold. Do you think any human male would find me a good mate?"
Well, this is an awkward question, he thought to himself. "I think...I think any member, of any species, would you find you a good mate," he said truthfully. "You're nice. You have great talent as you've shown...and you have principles. You're looking for all the right things too. Just don't write off someone in your own species quite yet. You never know who you'll meet."
"Thank you. May I ask why you are here, and are seeking? I do not mean to pry, but a captain, surely it must be easy for you?"
Hank sighed. Where to begin? "Things are not that easy, no, not really."
"You didn't know. They, um, they aren't easy because I guess I don't make them easy."
"Hmm?" She tilted her head in confusion and he thought she looked particularly canid at that moment and fought not to chuckle, so he smiled a little.
"What is funny?"
"Just these circumstances are, I guess. This whole situation. I guess no species has a monopoly on being awkward, or not knowing what to say at times."
"True. And I will not press on what I have asked you," Inta said.
Hank shrugged. "There's no need to press. I'll tell you, I guess..." He sighed. "It's classic, really. Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Girl is younger than him and doesn't really like him like that. Boy decides to become girl's friend...boy and girl grow close, boy consistently finds excuses not to pursue the girl...fast forward a few years and girl is now in a serious relationship with someone else and boy is left there wondering why he waited so long." He tapped his finger on the table, his eyes far off. "I'm the boy in that scenario, just to be clear." He stopped tapping his fingers and formed a fist with his hand. "I had my chances and now she's doing what makes her happy." He looked back at Inta and forced a grin. "So, that's partly why I'm here...looking to see if there's happy left out there for me. Stupid, I know...but still... worth the effort."
"Most definitely worth the effort. Perhaps this girl, she does not know how you feel, and does not know how it could be? Could you tell her somehow?"
"It doesn't seem right, to tell her, while she's with someone else."
"Huh," Inta thought for a moment, "if your, your Navigator, the, the one who steers the ship – is that the word for it?" He nodded so she continued, "If he were going in the wrong direction, would you not tell him?"
"You would not simply wait until the ship was halfway across the sector, true?"
"So if this girl is heading in the wrong direction, are you not, uh, obligated to tell her that there may be a better path for her?"
Inta's statement hung in the air for a moment.
"It's not that easy," Hank said.
"Are you, maybe, just a little bit, missing some confidence, as well?"
Hank could feel his face go red. "Okay, admittedly, I'm not at my highest confidence around her, no. We've known each other for a very long time. But she's making her own choices and she's chosen to pursue something with someone else. I respect that...and I hope it works out for her, I really do." He leaned forward, folding his hands together. "I may have feelings for her, I may even have more than that for her but I'm her friend, first and foremost. I'm not going to drop this on her and expect everything to work out...that's not how things happen in life. She has the freedom to choose. So do I...I chose not to take my chances with her and she's out of reach now. My role...my duty, at this point, is to be the best friend I can be to her." He leaned back, his eyes firmly locked onto the table. "That's all I got left."
"I again apologize," she said, "I have pried. That was wrong of me." She absently played a little with her spoon. "This finding caring business, it is so very difficult. I wish it was not. But I suppose that means it is of great value."
"Yeah, that about sums it up," he said, draining his glass.
They sat there for a few minutes, silence encompassing them both. The waitress came by to pick up their dishes. "Would you care for dessert?"
Both shook their heads and the waitress nodded, taking the dishes away.
Hank cleared his throat. "I have a question, if you don't mind."
"No, please," Inta responded, seemingly glad as he was for words filling the air once more.
"If you're from...2191 was it...how long does your species live for? If you're anything like the Vulcans, I could look up you in my time...maybe even take you to Earth for a visit, show you all those great smells," he said with a grin. "I like your company...you've got a good ear."
"I have big ones," she said, "but we don't live into the hundreds. At least, secondaries such as me are expected to live until about age sixty or so. But I think that is due to having so many babies. If I have fewer babies, I suspect I would live longer. I, I thank you for your invitation. Perhaps you could go back and see our older culture? And, and smell our krivian weed, maybe."
"And apple pie. You should taste apple pie," Hank said.
"I should. I should try a lot of things, I think."
Hank nodded. "Absolutely. Try...well, try everything, as a friend once told me. You never know what you'll like." He stood up and she did the same. He extended his hand. "Thanks...this was better than I had expected it to be."
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, just the tiniest of licks, like a puppy. "This was good. I thank you."
Hank blushed a little and gave her a wink. She was sweet. He hoped she found what she was looking for. As for him...well, he still had plenty of time. There was always the possibilities of more dates in his future. He smiled at her, waved goodbye, and walked out of the random restaurant, stuck in the middle of goodness knows where, not sure of what his future held.
But at least tonight wasn't a total waste. He made a new friend.