Yoko had heard people complain about their long-distance relationships. How their beloved was several hours' drive away. How they could only visit each other once a month. How much plane tickets cost.
Khâny lived three million light-years away.
But that didn't matter, now. Khâny had invited Yoko to Vinéa.
Travel took two months each way. Khâny had sent her invitation. Four months later, Yoko was on Vinéa. In Khâny's home. (Khâny was strangely happy about it all.)
“So, how was your trip?” Khâny asked.
“Hibernation, as usual”, Yoko responded. “How have things been on Vinéa?”
“We're trying to find out a way to make the planet rotate again. We've woken up more people, with a priority on scientists. Some of our research projects have come up with small successes.”
Yoko smiled. “I hope they can fix Vinéa's climate.”
“I am scheduled to inspect some of our more successful efforts tomorrow. Would you care to come along?”
“I'd be delighted to.” Yoko's smile grew wider. Khâny found herself echoing it.
The laboratory complex was buried deep beneath the surface of Vinéa's night side. The elevator ride down felt like eternity. Yoko couldn't quite bring herself to care, though, standing next to Khâny. They were alone.
Finally, the elevator halted and opened its doors. In front of them was a reinforced tunnel, perhaps three hundred meters in length, and five meters wide by three tall. The walls were infrequently dotted by sliding metal doors.
Khâny led them in the first door on the right. A Vinéan woman jumped.
“Khâny! You're early!” She noticed Yoko. She was obviously considering asking about her.
“Valka, this is Yoko, a human. Yoko, this is Valka. She's been working on the problem of making Vinéa rotate again.”
“Pleased to meet you”, Yoko said. Valka mumbled something in return.
“How does your device work?” Yoko asked.
“It drills into the ground at an angle, then drops in specially formulated liquid which solidifies into a rod. Then energy is conducted down the rod, creating a shockwave in the lithosphere that speeds up the planet's rotation. It's not an instant solution, we'd have to repeat the process multiple times to achieve any noticeable effect. – Syran, bring the model!”
A male Vinéan emerged from a side room, towing a large glass case. He brought it to where Yoko and Khâny were standing.
The glass case had a metal rod running vertically down its center. It ran through a large metallic sphere, over two meters in diameter. On the sphere was a tiny bead.
“That lump is the model of our device”, Syran said.
“Is it to scale?” Yoko asked.
“No, in reality it's only about a meter tall. We couldn't build a small enough miniature or make a large enough sphere. That one is made of lead, by the way”, Valka answered. She pressed a button, and the sphere trembled, then started to gently rotate.
“Of course, the effect won't be as spectacular in reality”, she concluded. It would also trigger a spectacular earthquake, Yoko thought.
After touring through the rest of the laboratories, Yoko and Khâny were finally back on the surface.
“You know, I don't often get to see the stars”, Khâny said suddenly. “I spend most of my time on the day side. Back on Earth, of course, I was confined to the underground...”
“It's … calming, stargazing is. On Earth, I can identify all the constellations in both hemispheres, but here... I just see stars.” Yoko said. A slight exaggeration, but Khâny would forgive her.
“Constellations?” Khâny asked.
“Groupings of stars, as defined by a people on Earth, long ago”, Yoko answered.
“I must see if Vinéa had any.” Khâny paused, searched for it... There. “There's your galaxy”, she said, and pointed at a faint, slightly blurry star.
Yoko reached and entwined their fingers.
Khâny gave Yoko a cup of sekha. (According to Yoko, it tasted very much like Earth tea. Khâny was inclined to agree.) An artificial twilight had been created by closing the shutters on the window.
They drank their drinks in comfortable silence, occasionally gazing at each other, occasionally looking into their cups.
Those Vinéans who'd been on Earth considered humans to be unpredictable and dangerous. Those Vinéans who hadn't been on Earth considered humans to be alien and scary.
Khâny had often considered being open about Yoko. Then she remembered the others, ready to pounce on any flaw, real or imagined, in an effort to discredit and usurp her. Worse, they might take Poky away.
When Khâny retired into her bedroom, Yoko followed. She was never unwelcome.
Yoko woke when Khâny opened the blinds. The color of light said noon, and she hurriedly rolled out of bed before remembering that the local suns were always in the same location in the sky.
Khâny's communicator screamed to life. Yoko tossed on a robe and bolted to where Khâny had answered it.
It was a security officer, in a laboratory. “Sergeant Landa speaking. Valka's terraforming device's prototype has been stolen. We have reason to believe that the thief was her assistant Syran.”
Yoko had appeared at her shoulder. Khâny asked Landa for a risk assessment. He beckoned Valka to the terminal.
“I... I told him – Syran – that we should wait... He wanted to test the full-scale prototype – I said no. It would cause a devastating earthquake...” Valka looked as disoriented as she sounded.
Yoko leaned over Khâny's shoulder. “Did you have any test site selected?”
“Yes! The joint of Nakha gorge and Rahen valley, in the equatorial mountains, on the terminator.” Valka blinked. “You don't think...”
It hadn't taken long for Yoko to talk Khâny into bringing them to the desired location. It also hadn't taken much time to spot Syran lugging the shiny, metallic contraption half his size down the cliff face.
Khâny landed their two-person craft where Syran wouldn't see them. Yoko leaped out and told Khâny to wait.
Khâny watched as Yoko nimbly outpaced Syran to the gorge's bottom, unhindered by anything. She dashed to a loose boulder and crouched behind it, unseen.
Syran finally finished descending. He began instead dragging the device towards Yoko. He was probably aiming for the small crevasse nearby.
He stopped and set down the machine. He began setting it up. When his back was towards Yoko, she leaped silently from behind her boulder and gave him a neck chop. He dropped to the ground, probably unconscious.
Khâny's communicator pinged. It was Yoko.
“Can you land down here?” Yoko asked over the communicator.
“No, but I can drop a tether. You'll have to secure yourself. Can you do it?”
Yes, Khâny could definitely get used to this: Yoko nearby, solving their problems on her feet. Yoko nearby, so Khâny could proudly display the achievements of Vinéa to someone who got them.
Yoko nearby, so Khâny could use her lap as a pillow.
As Yoko stroked Khâny's hair, she asked: “How did it go with Valka?”
“She was pleased to get her prototype back unharmed. She's also got a new assistant – more cautious, less … idealistic. Apparently Syran couldn't quite accept that something good could also create something bad – a very black-and-white morality. We must watch out for that in the future...”
At that moment, though, the only future Khâny cared to think about was the one that centered on Yoko. Preferrably Yoko petting her hair.