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May 8, 2020 9:57 pm  #1

Rarer Than a Diamond

[Summery: A long excerpt from my personal Sci-Fi novella. Phoebe "Phoenix" Walker is an abducted human woman living in the far reaches of space. Keeto is a powerful, gorgeous, rich alien hermaphrodite with scarlet skin, golden eyes, and long, jet black hair. The two of them met through Phoebe's smuggling business and the two began a... complicated relationship.]

I had had a rough month. My latest mission had taken my crew to the cusp of the system and left us stranded on a deserted, snow-encrusted planet after we’d been struck down by an errant hunk of ice like a space version of
Titanic. Thankfully, unlike that particular ice-related tragedy, there were no casualties. None of us were hurt beyond some minor cuts and scrapes, but it had been a nightmare trying to fix the Sangria in the planet’s frigid conditions.

“What is this, Hoth?” I’d joked to Striker, my mechanic.

“No, it’s Unregistered Planetary Body K9NCO.” He’d told me, my Star Wars reference predictably lost on him. 

Then, when we’d finally gotten the ship up and running, it had taken us days to find a hospitable place where we could repair it properly. It hadn’t helped that our communication systems had been down the entire time.  In summary, Murphy’s Law is real, and it hated us. 

Now, though, it seemed things had turned around. The Sangria was repaired and Striker had taken a solo to make up for the cuts we’d spent fixing it. With my spare time, I decided to take a short trip to Primia to visit Keeto. I didn’t bother to tell them first, thinking it would make for a good surprise. Little did I know, Murphy’s Law wasn’t through with me yet.

My first clue that something was wrong came the second I saw the head servant, Seita. The pink-skinned Primian was watering plants at the front of Keeto’s estate. When they saw me walking towards them they actually screeched, dropping their watering can on the ground.

“Seita?” I jogged up to them, concerned. “You okay?”

Seita’s hand was over their heart, their eyes huge. 

You--” They gasped, grabbing my hand, “You’re alive!”

“I...yes?” I frowned at them, deeply confused, “Why? Did you think I wasn’t?”

They were pale and shaking, as if they were talking to a ghost, “The master thought-- they heard-- but you must come at once! Right now!”

“What?” But they didn’t let go, practically dragging me behind them.

“The master is devastated.” They continued as we ran, “I’ve never seen them in such a state. They’ve shut themselves away, refused to eat or get out of bed. They’ve done nothing but weep since the day they heard about the crash!”

My brain must have short-circuited, because the thought of rich, powerful, haughty Keeto doing any of those things over me was incomprehensible. It was the words ‘the crash’ that gave me some kind of bearing. Somehow, they had heard about the Sangria going down. “Wait. The crash? But we never told--”

My words were lost to them; we had already come upon the main entrance, which two equally shocked-looking servants hastened to open to us. 

“Let us through!” Seita called to anyone in our way, hurrying me to Keeto’s private chambers. At last, they finally let my wrist go. It was actually red from their grip. Still shaking, they leaned toward the door, “Master? It’s Seita.”

There was a protracted silence before a strange, croaking voice that I had never heard before finally replied: “What?”

It took me a moment to realize that it was Keeto’s voice. But how could I have? It had none of Keeto’s coy smugness; none of their sultry charisma or charm. It sounded weak and sickly, and suddenly I was as worried for them as their servant was. 

“I have Phoenix here!” Seita cried.

“...Phoenix?” I expected Keeto to give their usual order to come in and was stunned when, after a moment of audible scrambling, they threw the door open themselves.

It almost didn’t look like Keeto. They were gaunt and haggard, their long sable hair a matted rat’s nest; and the normally impeccably groomed Primian was clad in a wrinkled black robe that probably hadn’t been washed in days. At the sight of me, they actually staggered back, covering their mouth like a shocked starlet from the old black and white horror flicks. Then, with a wordless cry, they leapt forward, gathering me up in their arms so that my toes dangled off the floor.

You’re alive!” They half-shrieked. Then they set me down so hard my teeth clacked and began pawing at my face, as if to make sure I was real. “You’re here… it’s you...”

Then, as if everything that had just transpired wasn’t crazy enough, Keeto did something that topped it all: They burst into tears.

I watched in dumb fascination as they sank to their knees in front of me, wailing into their hands as fat teardrops leaked through their fingers onto their gleaming white floor. Helplessly, I looked to Seita for some sort of guidance but they had already left me, shooing the other servants out of the area to give their sobbing master privacy. Meanwhile, at my feet, their master seemed to be struggling to breathe. At last I snapped to attention, recalling my previous dealings with Striker when he’d been hysterical. Of course, Striker cried much more often than Keeto, so I had a better idea of how to comfort him. 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay.” I soothed, kneeling down beside the weeping Primian and wrapping my arms around their shoulders, “Don’t cry.”

“How…?” It was so garbled through their tears that I didn’t understand it as a word at first.

“The ship crashed, but Striker and I weren’t hurt.” I explained, “We just couldn’t communicate until we’d fixed everything.”

Keeto seemed to process this, gasping. At last, I managed to coax them to their feet and usher them to the couch. As they nearly collapsed upon it, I silently found myself trying to comprehend the mind boggling turn of events that had happened in the past ten-ish minutes. I had come here thinking it would be a fun surprise visit and had created a disaster instead. Although, to be fair, it sounded like the disaster had already been ‘created’ quite a while ago.  Meanwhile, Keeto was desperately struggling to regain their composure. I recalled when they’d told me that it ‘took a lot’ to make them cry, and with a burning face realized that my supposed death, then, must have counted as ‘a lot’. Especially if Seita was right, and I had no reason to doubt them. 

“You alright?” I ventured.

With an abrupt flare of anger, they spat, “My informant told me that no one had survived!”

“Well… we did.” I said, feeling like a jerk. Maybe because Keeto’s face was still streaked with tears, or maybe because it sounded like I was being dismissive. I wasn’t trying to be. “I mean, it took Striker and I a long time to fix everything, but we weren’t hurt. Just bruised up a bit.”

They looked like they wanted to throttle somebody, and I was guessing it was their unfortunate informant.

“Wouldn’t you know it?” I forced a chuckle, trying to lighten the tension I felt building, “The one time I pick to make a surprise visit, everybody thinks I’m dead. If I had known...”

“Is that why you didn’t call?” They demanded, turning the force of their anger on me. “Even after your comm was back online?”

“Of course, Keeto. I didn’t know that you thought I was…”

Their eyes welled up again. 

“I’m sorry.” I sighed in defeat.

Keeto stood, walking behind the couch to the fireplace, their arms crossed tightly in front of them. In the glow of the firelight, I saw teardrops roll off their chin.

“I couldn’t eat.” They whispered. “Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t even get myself out of bed. Do you know how much I suffered?” Keeto rounded on me, eyes blazing, “I cried myself sick while you were--” They couldn’t continue, swatting the air in frustration.

I could have apologized again. I was tempted to say ‘I didn’t know’ one more time. Yet what came out of my mouth was, “I’m honestly shocked.”

They whirled back to me, brows furrowed, “What?”

“That you were so upset.” I clarified, even as their eyes widened. Quietly, I added, “I didn’t think I mattered that much.” 

“Didn’t think--” It was as though I’d dumped a jug of gasoline on a smoldering fire. All at once, Keeto was in front of me, slitted nostrils flaring. Their fists were clenched at their sides, fangs bared, “How dare you!

“How dare I…?” I echoed, even more bewildered than before.

Keeto looked murderous. “Yes, how dare you? How can you look me in the eyes right now and have the gall to say that you don’t think you matter to me?!”

I had never experienced Keeto in a fury before. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I was calm. Maybe because I’d had conversations along this line with Striker in the past. With another sigh, I shrugged at them, quietly stating the truth: “All I know is how much you matter to me.”

At this, Keeto’s razor sharp glare softened slightly, “And how much is that?”

It hurt to say it. Hurt, because the last time I’d said it, they hadn’t responded in kind… or at all. Still, I gathered the nerve to rip my heart out one more time for them, “I love you, Keeto. You’re the only one I’ve ever loved this way, and ever will.” Then, before they could protest or say something else that would make me regret it, I held my hands up, “But I know you don’t feel that way about me, and that’s fine.”

Their eyes, which had become almost tender throughout my confession, glinted with renewed ire. “And who said I don’t?”

I practically hit the floor in shock. As it was, I knew I was gaping at them like an idiot. “I- but- well, you never said you did, so I just thought…”

I trailed off, their expression killing any urge I might have had to complete the sentence. Not because they looked angry, but because they looked utterly horrified.

“Thought what?” They whispered.

“That I was just another distraction.” I muttered, miserable. “Just some fling that you’d get sick of sooner or later.”

I braced myself for another outpouring of vitriol, or-- worse-- for them to tell me I was right. What I was met with was dead silence. Finally daring to glance up, I saw that Keeto was gazing at me with an oddly blank expression, though their lips had started trembling. 

“So… if you had died in that crash,” They seemed to be reaching an epiphany, “You would have died thinking that you were just some… that I didn’t…?”

They didn’t complete their sentence, either. Instead, they stumbled to the other end of the couch, where they buried their face in their hands and broke into deep, heaving sobs.

Meanwhile, I sat staring from my end of the couch with my mouth agape. At least, I did until my sideswiped brain decided to kick itself back into gear. Cautiously, I edged over to them, gently sweeping their tangled black hair to the side so that I could rub their shaking shoulders. To my surprise, Keeto sought comfort at my touch, twisting themselves around to hold me. As I awkwardly struggled to get into a position that would support their taller frame, they began to sob into my chest like a child. It was such a strange thing to accept that this person-- gorgeous, powerful, the founder of their own small empire-- was so undone by someone as puny and insignificant as me. Yet all the proof I needed was right in front of me: Keeto’s dirty, disheveled appearance and equally dirty, disheveled abode. Their hoarse, strangled sobs; the wet warmth of their tears soaking through my shirt…Keeto did love me, didn’t they?

Don’t assume. My mind argued, not unreasonably. They didn’t say they did. 

Right now, though, Keeto was sobbing too hard to say anything. I belatedly realized that I had been murmuring soothing words to them the entire time that my brain had been on vacation, though I couldn’t recall a thing I’d said. “Shh, don’t cry” was what I first became aware of.

At last, they seemed to recover a bit, sitting up and drawing unsteady breaths. I used this opportunity to grab them a glass of wine. Probably not the best thing to offer someone who hadn’t eaten for days, but I had to work with what was available. “Here. You should drink something.”

Their swollen eyes found me, then the glass, which they grasped with unsteady hands. They only took a couple tiny sips, but it was better than nothing.

“Can you step out for a while?

I jumped, jolted by how raw their voice sounded.

“Don’t leave.” They quickly added, as though afraid I would take off like I had the first time I’d ever seen them cry, “Just… give me some time.”

Heart sinking, I nodded. “Okay. I’m sorry, Keeto.”

Their head was resting in their free hand, their expression hidden from my sight. “For what?”

And that seemed to be the end of our conversation. Keeto called for Seita, and I was hastily escorted out of their room to my own quarters, where the servant drew me a bath. 

“Sorry.” I figured I owed an apology to them too, “I didn’t mean to give you so much trouble.”

Seita smiled warmly at me, their rosy face radiant, “You’re no trouble at all, my lady. All of us are so happy that you’re alright.”

“You are?

Their smile grew, “Of course we are. You see how much you mean to our master. You’re irreplaceable.”

I felt a blush creep up my cheeks, growing hotter when they added: “And they’re quite lost without you.”

Lost without me? Me, some Plain Jane, doofus human from Nowhere, USA? 

As if they’d read my mind, Seita placed their slim hand on my shoulder, gazing at me seriously, “I have been in the master’s employ the longest out of all their staff, and I have never seen them shed a single tear before now. Not once. You must believe me on that.”

Reluctantly, I nodded, and they left me to my bath and my jumbled, anxious thoughts. Seeing Keeto cry like that had been shocking-- more shocking even than seeing Striker cry for the first time. Keeto and Striker were two very different beings, and while I had long sensed a softness in Striker, I hadn’t really felt the same about Keeto. Keeto was coy, flirtatious, manipulative, and dominating all at once… but soft?

Then I thought of the amethyst blushes, the affectionate gazes and vibrant laughter that had graced our times together. That strange, sad seriousness that enveloped them every so often when I said something that seemed to resonate with them.

Anaisha. They had told me about their first love-- their only love. They had told me about a different side to themselves; the side only Anaisha could bring out. Had they told me that for a reason? Groaning, I sunk into the water, wishing I could will away my own feelings so I could judge my memories of it all more objectively. It didn’t happen.

As I was climbing out about a half-hour later, Seita returned. With a yelp, I quickly covered myself with a towel as they entered unannounced. 

“I apologize. I forgot how modest you are.” They giggled, holding my kimono-like dressing gown out to me. “We just had it washed and pressed for you, my lady.”

I took it from them, smiling at the familiar patterns of tiny white flowers and colorful imagery that covered the vibrant saffron fabric. “Thank you.”

“It was a precious memento, when our master thought you would never return.” They replied, “I washed it because it has seen its fair share of tears.”

The clear implication hit me like a brick to the gut, “I… it… oh.”

Keeto had been crying into my robe? How devastated had they been?

Seemingly satisfied with having shared this piece of information, Seita motioned for me to get dressed, “The master is waiting outside for you, down by the beach.”

Face on fire, I fumbled to get myself ready. One last glance in the mirror showed me that I didn’t look like much, but when had I ever? With a growl, I raked my fingers through my drying hair one last time and stepped out into the tropical night air. 

The path to the beach was as lovely as the rest of the estate, with hanging flowers that glowed a dazzling electric blue in the darkness. A breeze whipped at the petals, which continued to glimmer even as they blew away… right towards Keeto.

My breath caught in my throat when I saw them. For once, they weren’t dressed in some loose, skimpy thing, but a long, beautifully detailed dressing gown much like mine; only theirs was dominated by rich tones of gold and violet. They were gazing out at the water, their long black hair loose and clean, blowing with the petals. 


Our eyes met, and it looked as though their breath caught too, though I couldn’t say why. Maybe it was because I was in the robe they thought they’d never see me in again. They recovered themselves more quickly than I did, however.


That was all I needed. I stepped down by their side, and we began to walk down the beach.

“Are you--” I didn’t want to say ‘feeling better’. That sounded weirdly patronizing to me, even though I didn’t mean it that way. “How are you feeling?”

“Compared to how I’ve felt the last few weeks?” They said, some of their usual haughtiness seeping back into their tone, “Much better, thank you.”

I nodded, feeling like a heel. “That’s… good.”

They were quiet and I didn’t quite dare to look up at them, keeping my eyes on the advancing rock face before us. After waiting a while, though, I ventured, “Are you angry at me?”

It was a childish question, and one I hated to ask anyone; yet it was also something that I honestly needed to know. To my relief, Keeto didn’t hesitate with the answer. “No.” 

Well… that was progress, at least. Now, how to tackle the rest of this convoluted mess? I had been under the steady assumption that Keeto was simply stringing me along as they had done to so many others throughout their lifetime, mildly fascinated and amused by me. After all, concepts such as marriage or even monogamy were completely foreign to their culture. Even once I’d realized that I’d let myself fall for them, I had known that they would never return my feelings-- that my confession was for their sake only, just as the jar of sand had been. I would never receive their love in return. Had I been wrong on that count?

My hands had begun to shake slightly, and I hoped Keeto would attribute it to the slight chill in the air. Why were they being so quiet? Keeto was never quiet. They were always loud and boisterous and laughing or snarking or something, anything but quiet.

“What are you thinking?” I nearly tripped over my own feet. They had spoken at last, right at the exact moment I’d been agonizing over their silence.

Embarrassed, I swallowed, “Uh, a lot of things, actually. I don’t really know where to begin.”

“So begin anywhere.”

Great, an open invitation. Well, then. “I guess I’m still kind of surprised about everything. I didn’t know I was presumed dead until a couple hours ago, and I didn’t know… I didn’t know you… cared so much.” My cheeks were burning for the fiftieth time that night, but I had more important things to worry about. Chancing a glance at Keeto, I saw that they appeared physically pained by my words.

“You didn’t think I cared at all.” They clarified. I didn’t contradict them. “Then why?” They turned on me, their eyes almost pleading, “Why would you tell me you loved me if you thought I didn’t care? That makes no sense!”

“Because…” I shook my head, knowing they wouldn’t understand, “I told you because I wanted you to know the truth. I loved you because… because I fell in love with you! Don’t you think I tried not to?”I flushed at that, more so than I already had been flushing, and Keeto looked taken aback as well. “I knew you didn’t love me back. Or I didn’t think you would.” I amended, taking today’s events into consideration. “So I tried not to love you, but I…” I rubbed the back of my head awkwardly, pulling at my hair, “Screwed up. And then there was no going back, so I just told you.”I was glaring down at the ground, humiliated, so I didn’t see Keeto’s hand before it came to rest on my shoulder. Surprised, I froze mid-step, whirling around to face them. Even in the darkness, I could see that they looked just as they had when I’d given them that jar of sand so long ago-- stunned and deeply moved. Their lips were parted, their golden eyes overbright. Then I saw another emotion that I’d never imagined I’d see on their face: Guilt.

It washed over them as clearly as an ocean wave, causing their shoulders to slump and their lips to twist. “And I didn’t answer.”

There was so much regret in those four short words. Before I could reply, Keeto suddenly swept me up in a hug. It was still strange to be hugged by someone taller than me after years of only hugging Striker, but it felt good. Wonderful, in fact. Keeto smelled sweet and musky, their silky onyx hair tickling my cheek as it curtained us. 

I loved them... I loved them so much. 

“I love you, Phoenix.” My heart hammered once, a heavy ‘thunk’ in my ribcage. Then I felt tears prick my eyes, so I closed them.

“I love you too, Keeto.”

At this, they pulled away, leaving their hands in a firm but gentle grip on my shoulders. Confused, I frowned at them, but there was only softness in their eyes. “My name is Semech.”

“Wh…” Well, that hadn’t been the reply I’d expected. “Your… what?”

A small, sad smile flickered across their lips, “That’s right. You wouldn’t know.” With a sigh, they leaned forward, touching their forehead to mine. “It’s an ancient tradition for Primians. At birth we’re each given a special name, which they only share with the one person that they choose.”

The magnitude of what they were suggesting wasn’t lost on me, but I was still too ignorant to fully grasp it. “Choose for what?”

“I had a Chosen One, once.” They pulled back, answering my question in their usual, roundabout way. This time, though, there was no teasing in it. Their gaze met mine, still soft and serious, “Anaisha. And I was theirs. But then they died, and I had none.”

Then they let go of me, staring out at the sea, “We don’t believe in marriage, or monogamy, or whatever you call it, but the idea of a Chosen One persists in spite of all that; even though it’s rare to hear of anyone that actually chooses someone anymore.”

“But what are they?”

“They’re the exception. They’re the one that means everything to you. The one you can’t live without. Other people come and go, flings happen, but you don’t care about them. It’s just physical pleasure. The Chosen one is... more. If you lost them…” At this, they turned to me, a hint of shame in their expression, “Well, you saw what it did to me. I didn’t want to fall in love either, you know.” Again, they looked back out to the sea, “I didn’t think I would. Anaisha was the only person I’d ever truly loved, and that was so long ago. But then I began to feel it… when you took my hand that night, outside the nightclub. Little moments like that.” They puffed out a laugh, but their eyes quickly clouded again as they tilted their head back to gaze up at the cliffs above, “Right there is when I realized it, though. When you fell off that stupid rock.”

My thoughts raced back to that moment. How shocked I was to see Keeto actually look worried; how secretly happy that they’d been worried over me. That was when they had realized they loved me? If I had known...

“I cared.” They explained, staring at the rock as though they were reliving the moment. “I was afraid-- as afraid as I was whenever Anaisha was in danger, for the exact same reason: I didn’t want to lose you.” Keeto bowed their head then, pain once more etched into their features, “And then… I thought I had.”

They were talking about the crash now, I realized.

“It hurt me in a way I didn’t think I could ever be hurt again.” They continued, voice breaking, “It ruined me.” I recalled Keeto’s earlier assertions that they hadn’t eaten or slept, and Seita mentioning the copious tears they’d shed. 

“I never thought you could feel that way about me.” I admitted softly, thinking back to Prissa and Arri. “I mean, I’ve seen some of the people you’ve… had. They were beautiful. I’m--” I shrugged, too self-aware to pick just one word to describe what I was. 

Keeto waved me off, looking exasperated, “Oh, I’ve had much prettier lovers than you.”


This is the person you picked to fall in love with. My brain mercilessly retorted, You knew what you were getting into.

But still--

“But none of them had what you have.” Keeto finished, interrupting my silent argument. 

I couldn’t look them in the eye. Their statement, even after everything nice they’d also said, had cut deep. “What?”

“My heart.”

It would have been a cheesy line coming from anybody else. Heck, it would have been a cheesy line coming from Keeto in any other circumstance but it was clear that, at this moment, they were being completely sincere. I blinked rapidly at them, too flustered to reply, and at long last they actually grinned.

“Aw, I thought I’d never see that look again!” They gushed, tousling my hair. Then, apparently genuinely overcome, they threw their arms around me, lifting and swinging me from side to side. I endured it, waiting for them to put me down, but they didn’t. Instead, they slowed to a stop, still hugging me tightly. Then they turned their lips to my ear and whispered, “I’m so happy you’re alive.”  

I freed my pinned arms to return their embrace, “I’m… me too.”

They laughed so hard we both shook, and part of me was relieved to hear that laugh. That laugh was the Keeto-- or the Semech-- that I knew.The other part of me was insanely overwhelmed. Here I’d been under the impression that my love for them was entirely one-sided; that any affection they’d had for me was shallow and temporary. Now, here they were essentially proposing to me.

“So, you… you want me to be your Chosen One?”

Keeto set me down, but still kept both their hands on my shoulders, as if afraid I would disappear if they let me go. Even after everything I’d seen from them that day, the stark vulnerability in their eyes astonished me. “Only if you want to be.”

I thought of what that would mean. Keeto had specifically told me time and time again that Primians thought of monogamy as an ancient or even foreign concept. Being their Chosen One essentially meant that I was the highest regarded out of many. Yet maybe, as long as I practiced monogamy, as long as I regarded it as marriage, it was okay. We weren’t on Earth anymore, after all. Things were different out here. Very different. So I made a decision, “My name is Phoebe Elisabeth Walker.”

There was a brief moment of processing, followed by such a sweet expression of joy and awe that I almost teared up again. 

“Your name…?” They whispered, seemingly almost close to tears themselves. “You-- I didn’t know you…”

I shrugged, “I gave up lots of things when I chose to stay out here. My name was one of them. It’s not as big of a secret as yours, but… I want you to know it. You should.”

Now there were tears in their eyes. One fell loose, trickling down their flushed cheek. “Thank you.”

I wiped it away gently, savoring its wetness between my finger and thumb. It was something special from them. Rarer than a diamond and much more precious. It meant that their feelings for me were real. That this was real, and not some crazy fantasy.

"You don't have to thank me, Keeto." I whispered, "I love you."

Have you seen me cry tears like diamonds?

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