"Jeremy," the com said, as he was under panels, rebuilding them.
"I have a signal here, all the way from human territory. He wants to talk to you."
"I'm in the middle of something. Get the information and I'll contacted them when I'm not busy."
"He says it's important," the com came back, after an extended silence, "and that he's your brother."
Jeremy stopped. "My brother?"
"Yes. Do you still want me to take the information?"
"No," he answered, after thinking it over. "Send it to the terminal in my engineering office." He pulled himself out and cleaned his hands on his way to the office. He sat and took the call.
"Byron," he said once his brother's face was visible. The image was clear enough that Jeremy could see the worry lines age had traces on his face. He was paying top money to talk to him.
"Look. Dad didn't want you to know, but even though I don't approve of . . . Some of the choices you've made in your life. You have a right to know that mom is dying."
"They found a tumor in her neck."
"Can't they operate?"
"It's right against the spine. They said that if they try, the odds are very high it's going to kill her. If they don't do anything, she has about one year. She decided to take the year. . . . Dad's pissed about that."
"Tell her I'm coming.'
"What? No! I didn't tell you so you could show up here and remind her of what you did to us. I just wanted you to know"
"I didn't do a damn thing to you, Byron. And I don't care why you you told me. Now that I know, I am going to go say goodbye in person. I'm asking you to tell her I'm coming. I don't know how long it's going to take, but I will be there. Tell her to hang on." He didn't wait for Byron's reply. He cut the communication and rushed out of the office.
"Bridge," he said in his hand com
"I'm here," Gral answered. "What's wrong?"
"I'm on my way. I'll tell you there."
"Jeremy, tell . . ." Jeremy shoved the com unit in his pocket.
* * * * *
When he entered the bridge Gral was pacing. "What's wrong?" The captain said. "Why didn't you tell me over the com?"
"I didn't want to discuss this over wave."
Gral stopped moving and looked at him, worried. He took a cautious step toward him. "What's going on?" he inquired.
"I need to go to Earth, right now."
Gral gently placed a hand on his shoulder. "Talk to me Jeremy, you're worrying me."
Jeremy finally looked him in the eyes. "My mother's dying. She has maybe one year to live." Gral's eyes went wide, and pulled him tightly against him. "I know you guys can't go back there, after the last time, but I have to go. I don't care what I need to do to get there. I can't let her die without saying goodbye."
"Oh, little warrior. Of course you will say goodbye." He kissed the top of Jeremy's head, and then let go of him. "Anyl, contact the ships along our patrol, I'm calling on Family Law, and they are going to have to cover our route until the council sends someone to take over."
"Toom, contact the council to have them send a ship to replace us, and tell them we need passage to Earth."
"Family Law, yes captain."
"Once you've done that, check with your contacts in the back rooms, We need to make it there, and like Jeremy said, I don't care how."
* * * * *
The station they were approaching was one Jeremy had never seen. Its building had started the year he joined Gral's family, eight years ago. Behind it, Earth could be seen.
Jeremy's heart caught in his throat. Seeing it again, after all these years gave him a pang of homesickness. He'd renounced his human citizenship, and he hadn't thought he'd ever be back here, let alone want to be here. He'd started thinking of himself as kelsirian over the last few years, but he still knew that this ball of rock was where he was from, and it still called to him.
"Unknown kelsirian ship," a voice sounded forcefully though the com system. "You have entered Human space in violation of the Krommer treaty. Come to a full stop or you will be shot down."
"Entered human space?" Toom asked aloud, "what have we been doing those last hundred or so light year since we crossed into their territories?"
"They're asserting their authority, now that we are somewhere that gives them the firepower to enforce it. Come to a full stop" Gral said.
"I'd like to see them try."
"We're not here to start trouble. Now be quiet." He nodded to the communication officer. "This is Gral, captain of the viper's Bane. I am calling on Family law. My government has lodge a petition to allow us to be here, and it has been approved. I have a crew member with a dying family member on your planet."
"There must be a mistake, captain," the reply came after a moment. "There are no kelsirians on earth."
"My Heart is human. His mother is dying. I repeat that a petition for him to visit her has been approved by your government."
"You are correct. He is approved for a twelve Earth hour visit. We will dispatch a shuttle to bring him to the spaceport."
"We don't need a shuttle. We'll provide the transport to him and his escort ourselves."
"That's a negative on the escort. He is to be on his own."
Gral snorted. "Sorry, but no. Each time my Heart has been around humans without an escort, attempts on him have happened. While he's more than able to handle whom ever your government might send to intercept him, I'm not going to just hand him over."
"Fine. He can be escorted by one person."
"What? I can't let that many of you on planet."
There was silence. Gral looked at Jeremy and then around. It was becoming obvious that the human wasn't going to make a contour offer unprompted. "Very well, I will not accept one, you will not accept six. How many are you willing to accept?"
There was another silence. "Four?" came the tentative reply.
"That is acceptable."
Toom ran out of the room.
"They will be unarmed."
Gral considered this request. To go down without weapons left them at a disadvantage, but would humans really attempt anything with the ship in orbit? "Very well," he said.
"Once your shuttle is on its way, you'll be given the landing pad assigned to you." The communication was terminated.
"Toom, when the three of you suit up, make sure you are armored against solid slug weapons, on top of energy."
"In all these years," Jeremy said, "didn't I ever mentioned that humans don't haggle?"
"I don't think you have."
* * * * *
Jeremy took shallow breaths as he exited the shuttle, and then deeper ones when the air smelled cleaner than he remembered. They stepped through the detector that had been setup at the bottom of the steps leading down from the landing pad. The security there seemed surprised when none of them triggered an alarm. Of all of them, the only one that had been reluctant to leave something behind was Jeremy. He was used to wearing his clawed cloves when he left the ship, and felt uneasy without them.
"We have a transport ready to take you to your mother's house," the agent said, and pointed to it.
Jeremy hesitated as he noticed that, while a larger vehicle, with their larger frames, the Kelsirians would still be tightly packed and make defending themselves difficult. He headed to it, and the others followed. They couldn't walk to the house, his parents lived outside the city, and he didn't have earth currencies anymore, so he couldn't hire is own transport.
* * * * *
His childhood house had barely changed since it's left Earth. The paint on it looked to be fresh, but it was the same color he remembered.
"When do you want me to come back?" their driver asked.
"Don't go anywhere. I won't be here long."
Jeremy walked to the door, four kelsirians close behind him, Gral the closest, and knocked on the door.
"I'll get it!" a woman said, and Jeremy couldn't help smile as he recognized the voice of his older sister. The door opened and an adult woman with graying hard stood before him. His smile dropped, she was only six years older than him she couldn't be graying already. "What can I do for you?" she asked, and they looked at him, and the kelsirian behind him.
"Hi Beth," he said.
"Jeremy? What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to say goodbye to mom."
"What? How did you . . .? Byron!" She stormed off. Yelling after their brother.
Since she didn't close the door, Jeremy shrugged and entered the house. The door opened to the living room, where Marcus, his younger brother, by ten years was sitting on the couch. He lifted his head on seeing him and then stood abruptly. Gral ordered the others to stay by the door, and followed Jeremy toward the stairs leading upstairs.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing here?" a gruff voice said, and his father entered from the dining room.
"Hi to you too dad. I'm here to see mom."
"Like hell you are. It's your fault she fell sick. You abandoned her to go with those furballs."
"Dad, before you go insulting my friends, I hope you remember Gral, you met him on the station, when you forced us here with your fabricated story. He's my captain, as well as my Heart, my husband. The others are three of my best friends."
"Do you fuck them too?"
"Yes, I do. They're also very good warriors, they don't understand English, so they might over react if they think you're threatening me."
His father looked at them and then at Jeremy. His eyes narrowed, and his face reddened. With a huff he turned and went back to the dining room.
Jeremy turned to the stairs again, and this time Marcus was in his way. His younger brother spat at his feet. "Dad's right. It's your fault mom's dying. If you weren't a pervert we could have gotten the best care for mom, and she wouldn't be in this condition."
Jeremy sighed. "Marcus, I have very little patience left for this family. You can thank dad for that. So you're going to get out of my way, or I'm going to throw you across the room." The cold look that accompanied his words left no doubt as to his seriousness, and Marcus got out of his way.
He went up the stairs, and to his parents' room. He pushed the door opened slightly and looked at her, lying on the bed. She was very thin, and pale. He stepped in, and sat on the chair by her side. He looked around, wondering where the medical sensors and other machines, to see to her health were. He placed a hand on her brow and it felt hot. He saw the bowl of water on the night stand with the towel. He wet it and applied it to her head.
She stirred and opened her eyes. She looked at him, unfocused, closed her eyes, and opened them again. "Jeremy?" she asked when she finally focused on him.
"Oh Jeremy, you came. Byron said you would. I'm so happy you came."
"How are you doing? Where's all the equipment to look after you?"
She looked around. "Oh, I don't needed it. I'm perfectly fine."
"Mom, how come you don't have any support? Where's the nurse?"
"They told me that if I called you a traitor, they would give me the best treatment. They wanted me to denounce you, to renounce you as my flesh and blood. I couldn't do that. And I told them as much."
"And because of that," Marcus said, form the doorway, "she's not getting anything. They found a bunch of loopholes to disqualify her from everything. I hope you're happy."
"Watch your tone, young man. I won't have you talk to your brother that way."
"I'm sorry mom. I didn't know they would go this far," He was just one man, why was the human government so set on making him pay for being happy?
"Don't ever be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry. I'm the one who should be apologizing to you. I should never let those doctors do those horrible things to you, but I was so afraid, they told us that if they didn't, you would get worse that you might die horribly. I thought we were helping you."
Jeremy too her hands in his to try and calm her. "Mom, it's okay. It's in the past, and you though you were helping. But now I need you to help yourself. When I leave, I want you to renounce me." She shook her head. "Tell them you kicked me out, that you never want to see me again."
"I can't do that you're my child, I'm suppose to protect you, to look after you."
"You did mom. But now it's time for you to look after your other children. I have my own family now." He looked up at Gral, who placed a hand on his shoulder. "They look out for me, they love me. When I leave here, I'm going back to them, and I won't ever be back in human space. So I won't hear those word you'll say. You have to say them so you can get better. You still have children to look after."
His mother look above him, to Gral. "Do you love him?"
"More than I can put in words," he answered. "I will always be with him, love him, protect him. He is my Heart, and I am His. Not even the Gods will tear us apart."
She smiled. "Alright, I'll do it." She closed her eyes, and her breathing calmed. Jeremy kissed her forehead and stood.
"Don't think this changes anything. You're still a pervert."
"Marcus, don't push your luck. She's asleep now. I can probably throw you down these stairs without waking her."
* * * * *
The transport dropped them off by the ramp to their pad, and then left. There wasn't any security waiting for them. "How much time do we have left?"
"We're only been on planet a little more than three hours." Thuruk said.
"Do we have anything of value we can trade?"
"Depends," Toom said. "What would humans want?"
"Here, the best bet would be precious metals or gems, something they can get easily exchanged for cash"
"I though you said humans don't trade," Gral commented.
"They trade, it's haggling they don't do."
"I don't have anything," Toom said.
"Me neighter," Thuruk said.
Gral shook his head.
"I have a couple of gold nuggets left over from the mission on Cresting," Houlin said
Toom eyed him. "You went to that market?"
"They have nice stuff there."
"Right, nice stuff," thuruk said, miming sniffing something off a table.
"Can I have the smaller of the two?" Jeremy asked Houlin.
Houlin handed it to him.
"We should be going back to the ship," Gral said.
"I know, but this is the last time I'll be here, and I'd like to have a good Scotch, one last time." He started for the bar.
* * * * *
The barman had easily agreed to give him five tumblers of his best Scotch for the gold nugget, and he took them back to the table they others were sitting at. They attracted attention, but no one bothered them.
"This isn't brougtfal, Scotch is made to be savored, so drink it very slowly."
Toom sniffed it, then took a small swallow, a moment later he was coughing. They others eyes him and then their drinks. Jeremy took a swallow, rolling it on his tongue, and had to work at not reacting to the burning, as it went down his throat. He couldn't keep his eyes from tearing up.
It had been a long time since he'd had anything this strong. Kelsirian alcohol was more about flavor, rather than strength.
He had been enjoying his drink for a few minutes, the others taking very tentative sips of theirs, when Toom, and Houlin stiffened up. They made the other turn and look in the same direction as them. Two humans were walking directly towards them.
They were all on alert when they reached them. "Can, can we join you?" the taller of the two said. He had brown hair, cut short and ha lanky build under his jacket and pleated pants. The other was ahead shorter, blond hair and a slightly stockier build. They both had a silver leaf pin at their lapel.
Gral nodded. "Please keep your hands on the table."
This surprised them, but they complied, pulling in a chair each and keeping their hands visible as they sat. "I'm very happy we've been able to catch you before you left. You have no idea how long we've been looking forward to meeting you." They were looking at Jeremy.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I'm Patrick," the taller one said, "this is Louis, we're . . .." They discreetly looked around, before grasping each other's hands. "We're lovers."
Jeremy sat straighter.
"I was under the impression Earth had no males who loved other males," Gral said.
"The government's trying very hard to catch any of us who shows signs, and treat us for them, but some of us are more resistant to it, while others just manage to remain undetected."
"Why tell us?" Gral asked.
"Because, you have no idea how much of an impact you've made on us, Jeremy. They've tried to keep what you did hidden, but the stories have been circulating, and our numbers have grown in the last years. We now have people in positions that can have an impact on the government. We have a plan in the works, it's going to take time, but when it comes to fruition, we will need your help."
"I won't blindly promise you assistance."
"I understand." He reached for his lapel, and claws were extended, making him detach the pin very slowly, and put it on the table. "Keep an eye out for this. It's our symbol. You will be seeing it in the future."
"How are you making it work?" Jeremy asked. "It can't be easy."
"It isn't. This is the first time we're seen each other in two years." Patrick said
"I work on the moon, and he's on Armstrong L1 station. We have to keep our distances. We're both engineers, so every few years we're at the same convention, and we get to catch up. This was a special occasion, because of your presence here."
"And dangerous." Patrick nodded toward the door, where two uniformed officers entered. "We have to go. We'll be in touch." They left in different directions, and Houlin palmed the pin.
A moment later the officers stood by their table. They were the same gray uniform, and gloves. There were no identifying marks, and up close Jeremy noticed they also wore faceless masks. "How was the visit with your mother," the one of the left asked.
"It was good. I think she's going to be getting better."
"That's good to hear," the other said drylly. "Since the visit is done, you should head back to your ship. You wouldn't want to get in trouble here."
"I have twelve hours. No even half that has passed."
"That's correct, twelve hours to visit your mother, not loiter around, making the patrons nervous with your alien ways."
Gral put a hand on Jeremy's arm. "We'll head back to the shuttle now," he said.
"That is an excellent idea. Why don't we escort you, to make sure no one troubles you on your way."