As the name suggests, the Tête-à-Tête Café is a quiet spot on the promenade to have conversations over coffee. Ensign Sam Solomon was grateful that the wood-paneled space wasn’t too quiet, though, because the conversation he was having with his boyfriend was probably the most awkward experience he’d had walking on eggshells in his twenty-four-year life. Santiago Serrano was probably the sweetest person in existence, but his ability to keep perspective was worryingly limited at times.
“So, you’re breaking up with me, Sam?” Serrano asked, his brown eyes clearly welling up with tears.
“No! I just—”
“—Think I need to be less ‘clingy’ while you apply to other assignments,” the other young man interjected. “Maybe leading with ‘I’m applying for a starship posting again’ would have been a better way of saying that? And then wait for me to actually be clingy?”
Solomon shifted uncomfortably in the velvet-clad seat. “I just… Look, I really like you, Santiago. Maybe I said it all backward, but I don’t want you to be blindsided when I leave Starbase 72,” he said, reaching over the table to put his hand on Serrano’s. “You’ve only been here since May. I’ve been here for over two years. I don’t want to stay here forever.”
“Yeah, you say that all the time,” Serrano noted, before taking a drink of his tea. “I guess kudos for trying to find a way to not hurt my feelings, but zero out of ten for the execution, Sam. It might have been better not to get into a six-month relationship if you were so eager to get out of here?”
“It’s not like I planned it that way,” the other man replied. “I am not breaking up with you, either. I just… I just wish you could understand why I’m applying again. You’re a botanist; you can do that anywhere. I’m a pilot and I need to be out there. Flying things. Not directing traffic for shuttle bay 20.”
“Don’t forget the part where you say ‘and I should be a lieutenant jay-gee by now,’ Sam,” Serrano quipped.
Before either of them could say anything else, there was a sonorous clearing of the throat next to them. When Solomon looked up he jumped as quickly out of his seat as he could at seeing the station’s commanding officer standing next to their table. She was instantly recognizable, as one of the few Saurians aboard.
“Oh don’t get up on my account, Ensign. I was actually hoping I could join you two,” the commodore replied with a grin. “I find it fascinating to talk with the crew.”
“Oh… of course, sir,” Solomon replied, blushing and sitting back down.
The awkwardness of the conversation he had just been having was magnified about a thousand times when it was joined by the highest-ranking officer in the sector. This was hardly unusual for her, though; everyone on the station knew that she was perfectly happy to make herself at home anywhere, no matter who was around.
“I’m Jalian. I don’t think I know you, Ensign,” she said, looking at Serrano.
“Ensign Santiago Serrano, in the botany department, sir,” Serrano replied, his face looking as red as Solomon’s felt.
“Of course, of course. Class of 2399, yes? I remember seeing your name on the list several months ago. You, I think I know… Ensign… Sam Solomon. You flew my shuttle about six months ago when I needed to go to the far side of the planet,” Jalian replied, turning her attention to Solomon.
“Yes, sir. I did, sir. That’s an impressive memory,” he replied.
“Near-eidetic memories are not uncommon among Saurians. It’s very helpful when you have a crew in the tens of thousands,” Jalian replied. “After some prying, I believe you said that you were excited to go on a first date with a botanist. Does that mean it was successful, or do you just have a type?”
“This is him, sir,” Solomon replied.
“He’s breaking up with me,” Serrano replied, glaring at him.
That was the moment that Solomon started praying for the station’s fusion generators to overload or for a rogue planet to smash into the station at relativistic speeds.
“I am not,” Solomon replied, through gritted teeth, though he was starting to find the idea more appealing. “I was just trying to explain that I’m applying to starship postings and that may mean that we won’t be serving on the same station anymore.”
“You don’t like serving on my station, Ensign?” Jalian asked, with a chuckle. “No, I suppose it’s perfectly natural for a pilot to want to serve on a starship. Stations don’t move–or at least they don’t very often.”
“Yes, exactly, sir. I was trained to fly starships and that’s what I’d like to do,” Solomon replied, moving his attention between the two of them. “Not that it’s not important to guide shuttles into dock,” he added hastily.
“You know ensigns on utility cruisers sleep in the hallway, right?” Serrano asked, wrinkling his nose.
“I take it that means you’re not also applying for starship postings, Mr. Serrano?” the commodore asked. “That does seem to be an obvious solution to your mutual problem.”
“I… I actually like it here,” Serrano replied. “But I hadn’t thought about it yet. Sam also didn’t suggest it,” he added, narrowing his eyes.
Solomon swallowed nervously. “Well, I hadn’t made it to that part, yet?”
Jalian laughed. “Good. I’ll put you both at the top of the transfer list. How fortuitous I stopped by,” she said, before leaving with the same speed that she’d arrived.
“This isn’t over,” Serrano replied, crossing his arms. “But I want something stronger than tea to continue this conversation. Take me to a bar.”