I swallowed hard. "S-sorry!"

Ibira leaned close, inhaling the scent of my bare chest. The knife dug into my skin.

Although frightened out of my wits, my body...had its own ideas. "I...I heard rumors that you usually just...beat people up when they upset you. I...take it you're not completely upset?"

"Who told you this rumor!"

"Tom! Tom the cafeteria guy!"

"I wouldn't believe every rumor I hear." The knife nicked me a little. Blood trickled down my neck. "You...are a very strange human boy. You...don't seem to get frightened when I attack you."

"Um, I thought we already established that I find you sexually attractive."

"Hmm." Her eyes traveled downwards, to the growing bulge in my underwear. "Interesting choice of apparel."

I blushed even deeper. "It was an accident. Please don't kill me."

She smirked, but did not sheath the blade. "You need not apologize. It is...cute."

I felt my whole body turning red. "It's against dress code, and makes me embarrassed. Unlike you, I'll get in trouble walking around half naked."

"A pity."

Boy was I hot! "I...really must be going."

"And why is that?"

"Wait," I stammered. "Not that I'm complaining, but I thought you weren't interested!"

She turned a bit orange, but I assumed that color could also mean anger. "I did not kill you."

I chuckled. "And I thank you for that. And for not cutting off my balls. I really do appreciate it. I...Just don't want to make any incorrect assumptions. I mean, romantically—"

Her third hand grabbed me around the neck, lifting me off the floor. The blade cut a little deeper. "Do you love me?"

The color drained from my face. "Whoa! We just met! How can I—"

Ibira relaxed her grip, sheathing the weapon with a wry smile. "I believe we understand each other's level of interest."

I slipped out of her arms, rushing down the hallway.

"Your rooms are on the right side!" She called after me.

My heart pounded as I put distance between myself and the alien. I didn't notice the two girls that snubbed me earlier until I practically bumped into them. "Shit! Sorry!" I cried, covering my crotch.

The two just laughed and pointed at me, continuing down the hallway.

What the hell was I going to do? I wondered. This is a fireable offense, right?

Already in the depths of humiliation, I knocked on the nearest numbered door to ask for help, some clothes or a towel.

A woman with a furry neck and a long feathery tail answered. "I'm pretty sure that's against dress code," she giggled as she stared at me.

I frowned at her professional attire. Cream blouse with ruffles, black slacks.

"Um, I kinda had a problem. I'm...going to need a new uniform."

The stranger rolled her eyes. "Just a sec."

She marched into her little office, bringing out one of those orbs Tamra had used to get my measurements earlier. And a Band-Aid.

"What the hell are you doing?" Victor growled behind me.

I shrugged. "Someone stole my clothing while I was showering."

He laughed. "Sure they did!"

The alien lady pulled out a little computer, moving around holographic menus and clicking alien words. "Vic, do we have any Z-10 petites in storage?"

"No, I think the last one is on his bunk."

"My bunk!" I cried. "Show me, please!"

The female giggled. "You're a newhire, aren't you?"

I sighed and shook my head.

Victor led me to a bunk in the other crew quarters area, where my clothing, for some inexplicable reason, lay neatly folded in two piles. "This one's yours. Don't ask me how your stuff got here, just put something on quick before I claw my eyes out."

My pants had been folded, were unwearable. A layer of sticky purple slime with the odor of stale bagels and sour milk clung to the material. They'd have to be washed a few times. Sighing, I put the dress back on. "Victor, Do you know anything about the weird squirrels in this building?"

He looked at me like I were crazy. "What squirrels?"

I showed him the sticky pants, and he burst out laughing. "Trust me, kid. You're better off not knowing...You know where the laundry is?"

I frowned. "Sure, but I don't have any quarters."

"You got a card?"

I pulled out my debit, but he just laughed. "Not that, genius! The card for the washers!"

I only shrugged.

"Huh. Osmifa should have handed those out in training..." Victor gave me a plastic card. "Here. I still got a couple bucks on this."

"Thank you."

The laundry stood between the cafeteria and the little coffee shop/reading room. Six average looking machines. No coin slots.

Apparently not quite enough for everybody. I had to wait for one to finish, and didn't have anything to occupy my time with, my phone couldn't even get a signal. My training manual still lay on a desk in the classroom, or I would have read that.

Only two chairs in the room, both occupied. I had to sit on the floor.

Six machines apparently tied up by two people: The unfriendly spiky haired guy from class and one of those girls. Neither one had changed out of uniform, but they had more clothing to wash than I did.

The guy busied himself with something on his phone. Not sure what, exactly, considering the nonexistent reception, but it occupied all his attention.

"Hey, dude," I called. "There's no cell service here. What are you looking at?"

"Stuff," he muttered.

I laughed, but he didn't explain. I gave up.

I admired the girl's plump but shapely figure. Stylish braids hung down around her face, her cute little nose always upturned, not just when she looked at me.

Shockingly, perhaps out of boredom, the girl bothered to speak to me. "Laundry day, huh? Kinda...ran out of clothes?"

My face flushed red. "Uh...yeah. It wasn't my intention to, um...you know."

She chuckled. "If you weren't a newhire, and this wasn't the twenty third, I probably would have reported you."

The unfriendly dude looked up from his phone for a moment, stared at me, then looked back at his screen.

I turned redder. "What's the date got to do with it?"

The girl gave me a look like I should know. "It's a weird time of the month. In Yabog fortune telling, it's the sign of Rimbeg, kinda like a full moon. I've heard that certain...creatures...(her expression implied I was one of them) go into estrus, or rut."

I furrowed my brow. "Estrus?...Like...mating season?"

"That's the theory!" she said in a sing-song voice.

I scowled at my soiled slacks, deciding that might explain a lot.

The girl offered her hand. "Latisha."

I unthinkingly transferred purple slime to her outstretched palm as I introduced myself.

Latisha grimaced in disgust as she stared at her hand, but instead of saying something, she just sniffed her hands and chuckled. "Someone's been busy!"

"Don't look at me," I stammered. "That stuff was all over my pants when I found them."

Latisha snorted. "I know." She shook her head derisively. "There's just something about them that human boys ain't got!"

I wrinkled my nose, mind jumping to all sorts of conclusions. "Oh...kay."

We fell into an awkward silence, me impatiently waiting for an empty washer.

At last Latisha emptied her machine, and I could drop in my own. "Am I the only one who wasn't told to pack?"

The guy with the phone snickered, at me or his screen I'm not sure..

Latisha stifled a giggle. "I've heard it happens sometimes, if you're the last interview."

"Lovely," I groaned.

"Guess that explains your little wash job!" her tone implied that wasn't the only little thing on me.

I glared at her for a moment, then turned my eyes toward the driers.

One had stopped, but nobody picked anything up. It didn't seem to be the property of my companions. I figured it would stay there until evening of the next day. "So, Latisha...Who's your friend?"

She appeared to feign indifference. "Who, Ashley? She's cool."

The fat guy spoke up. "When you two getting married?"

"Shoot, mind your own business, Scott!"

Latisha must have noticed my facial expression, for then she blew a raspberry. "Please. That's only for money grubbing attention whores. Waste of time and money, us getting married."

Well, I thought. Guess I didn't get snubbed for my looks after all.

Another awkward silence as the driers counted down.

"Can you explain to me what those rodent creatures are? And what the hell that room is back there?"

The timing on Latisha's drier seemed almost too perfect. The moment I asked, she blurted, "Ooh! My laundry's done!" And rushed out of the room with her basket of clothes, some still damp.

Although my clothes still smelled funny after the wash, they at least felt dry and crisp when done. Now I wanted dinner.

By the time I had changed clothes in the restroom, the cafeteria staff had already commenced putting stuff away, but I got some leftovers before they closed up shop.

I ate by myself, and because I'd wasted so much time at the laundry, went straight to bed, to make sure I could maybe get breakfast before class the next day. My phone did have an alarm. That being said, I didn't bring anything to charge it with.

I made the attempt to rest, but in between the hard, uncomfortable bed and my general discomfort with the whole environment, I couldn't sleep. I tried to lull myself into unconsciousness by reading the thick packets of paper I'd been given, but even that didn't work.

I got up and wandered the hallways, taking the utmost care to avoid the rodent room.

Ibira came walking up beside me. "Can't sleep?"

"Yeah," I stammered. "This place is too strange."

"I can't sleep either. It's too stuffy. I feel boxed in. I wish I could go outside."

"If this were anywhere else, I'd agree with you."

We stopped.

Stared at each other in awkward silence.

"So...you like me. You're...interested now."

Ibira shoved me into a wall, one hand whipping to the knife sheath on her hip.

"Do you believe that a female has a right to change her mind?"

"A female can do whatever she wants!" I gasped. "Including not slitting my throat?"

Her third hand moved away from the blade, but her arms did not release me. "Sorry. I am very...tense. The building is too small."

I sighed in relief, tried to slow my frantic heartbeats. She'd really turned me on, but I thought if I said it, she'd stab me in the chest. Instead I made small talk. "It'd be nice if I could take you out somewhere, like..." I considered my bank book a moment, just in case. "...The Olive Garden, but we're kinda stuck here."

Ibira actually grinned when I said this, exposing more teeth than I'd ever seen her show before.

Their jagged nature I found somewhat disconcerting. Although mostly human, I feared she would accidentally bite off part of my tongue the moment we started Frenching.

She let go of me. "I find your childlike innocence charming...didn't you read the section in the handbook about extraterrestrial quarantine restrictions?"

"Uh...no."

"We can only travel to specific protected zones under special circumstances."

"Wow. That sucks. Guess that's why nobody on earth knows that aliens exist, huh?"

She just shrugged.

Another awkward silence.

"I believe we've started on the wrong...foot. I was too forward. You'll have to excuse me. My culture is very primitive and we do not have the same sexual taboos."

My ears suddenly felt hot. "I...It's...okay. It was...an unusual circumstance, and...I..." I couldn't make myself say anything else.

She smiled. "You...did not mind?"

I was blushing now. "I...I don't know what to think."

"Have I caused you...sexual confusion?"

I nodded my head vigorously. I didn't quite have the guts to say I liked it, even if I did think it were a good idea to say.

"Then let us talk while we explore the hydroponics room. Perhaps we can address these issues in the slow, respectful distance that your culture is accustomed to."

I followed her down two flights of stairs and down that long hallway to the indoor farm. We paused before a wide window displaying a vast greenhouse full of tree saplings, vegetables and other plants. "Have you been in here?"

"A little bit. This is where you empty out the diapers, right?"

She frowned. "It fertilizes the plants, yes. The used water from the bathrooms is also recycled and used here for watering."

Ibira took my hand, leading me through the pneumatic door. "Are you a virgin?"

I swallowed. "Wow. Straight to the point, huh?"

"Sorry, I should have known from—"

"Yes. I am. But a lot of people can probably guess that I have no experience—"

"I'd be shocked if any human had experience with what I've got."

"True..."

"I still don't understand you, human. Why me?"

I stared. "Why not you? You're...gorgeous."

Ibira pushed me into a tree. The back of my skull struck painfully against the bark. "Who put you up to this!"

"Nobody!" I gasped. "Can't you believe that someone actually thinks you got nice legs?"

"I've been tricked like this before."

"By a lonely virgin?"

Ibira stared. Again those sharp fangs came out. She laughed. "You really like my legs, huh?"

I pushed a lump down my throat. "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that. It's impolite. I like your tusks, too. And your eyes."

The alien giggled. "It's okay, human. You like what you like." She slapped her thighs. "I like them too."

We continued to walk, passing a crop of barley, allegedly for the purpose of bread making.

Ibira smiled at me. "Would you like to be my...boyfriend?"

I laughed. "I think I kinda am already."

"Good," she purred.

Walking hand in hand, we meandered down a walkway between rows of corn, carrots and onions, taking in the plant exhalations, the soft mist wafting down from the plant sprayers on the ceiling.

I stared with fascination as the squid-like creatures with football shaped heads pruned vines, packed in dirt, harvested and tended plants.

Ibira smiled. "The Ishuca have a very special place in my tribe. You wouldn't know it, but they're very intelligent."

As an Ishuca busied itself doing soil samples, she greeted it with a series of complicated hand gestures.

The creature responded by flailing its tentacles and waving its tiny three fingered hands.

With a smile, I waved to it.

The creature waved back. "You look like a sweet couple."

I stared at the thing in disbelief. "You speak English!"

Unlike when that one made woodstock noises and bit me, the voice didn't come from within its tentacles. Instead its head flashed red as it spoke each word. "Most of us do, though we may revert to our native tongue when a creepy alien tries to grab us."

Ibira frowned at me, crossing two arms, putting two hands on her hips.

"Sorry. Trust me, it won't happen again. I learned my lesson."

The creature chuckled. "I certainly hope so."

My new girlfriend relaxed, putting an arm around my shoulder.

"You two are unique, to say the least." The gardener extended its neck, as if staring at me. "My people have a saying. They say an Ishuca has `elebni ivimbo' when they seek romance outside the species."

Another Ishuca appeared, letting out a deep throaty laugh. "Now here is a pairing I've never seen before! A Thark and a human! Love is a strange thing."

I furrowed my brow. "Well I've never seen a...talking thing that gardens before!"

Ibira jabbed me in the ribs. "Don't be rude."

"I'm, I'm sorry." I really wasn't. "Well, you seem to be a very smart...um..."

"Ishuca," the creature prompted.

"Right. Ishuca."

"You have made a good choice," said the creature. "You definitely need to be taught more tact. Perhaps this Thark can supply you with the necessary respect and courtesy that you appear to be lacking."

Ibira rubbed my shoulder. A hand slid around my hip. "Yes. He could definitely use that."

I reddened.

She spoke to the Ishuca in hand signs for a few moments, then led me by the hand through a wheat field.

I shook my head. "I thought the...guy's comments about us seemed kind of rude. Honestly, what I said wasn't any more tactless than what he said."

She put a hand on her hip. "You should be more forgiving. You will make more friends that way."

I sighed. "I guess you've got a point."

"How do those," I stopped myself from saying `that thing.' "How does the Ishuca know English?"

"Obviously someone from this company told him `I need some carrots planted over here,' so he had to know something."

I wanted to know how to tell the genders apart, but thought I'd already offended her enough. I kept the question to myself. That and if she'd ever eaten Ishuca fried and breaded.

Ibira showed me an open patch of dirt, where a statuette of a six limbed Thark stood. "Jason, this is my goddess Iss."

An idol. I tried not to frown. "Hello, Iss."

She sat before it, legs folded in a lotus position, gesturing for me to do the same.

My legs didn't bend that way, so I simply sat cross legged, staring at the scrawling inscription at the statue's base.

Ibira took my hand in hers, her second and third pulling matches out of her harness pouch, lighting candles and incense. She chanted something in a foreign language.

"What's that you just said?"

She blew the candles out. "Oh, I just asked Iss to bless our union."

"Okay..." I gulped. "Wait, union? You mean `friendship,' right? `Relationship?'"

Ibira snickered. "No."

My face flushed.

We got back up, continuing our stroll.

I wanted to ask Ibira if she were a virgin, but couldn't bring myself to say it. "Ibira...do you...have a boyfriend?"

"If I had one, would I have asked to be yours?"

I reddened. "I...guess not. Um...have you had any other boyfriends before?"

She nodded. "They didn't work out...Yourself? Did you have girlfriends?"

"Um...sorta. They...didn't work out either."

"I see. Hence your virginity."

"Um...yeah." I still couldn't bring myself to ask.

As we neared the exit, an Ishuca popped out of a pumpkin patch, offering me a baseball. "Would you like to have this?"

I shrugged. "I...guess. Where'd you get it from?"

"A human was playing with it around here. We thought he'd break the windows, so we killed and buried him here."

I stepped back in fright.

The Ishuca laughed, but it sounded kind of creepy. "Just kidding. He's still working in your office. But we did inject him with a potion that makes him sleepwalk down here every so often to plant strawberries."

Only slightly less horrifying.

I nervously reached out and took it. "I...won't use it around here."

The Ishuca laughed. "If you see Robert, tell him the watermelons look great."

I cringed.

Ibira grabbed my hand. "Come on. Let us continue our walk."

We strolled between rows of bean plants and a cluster of rice paddies.

"Um...we don't have a bat. But we could play catch, I guess. Maybe not here next to the window, but somewhere."

Ibira nodded. "I don't relish getting a xotroc either."

"What exactly is a xotroc?"

Her second hand wrapped itself around my shoulder. "It's...a companion bug. It attaches itself to the nervous system...but it's codependent."

"You mean `symbiotic'?"

She nodded. "Yes, symbiotic. It gives the host a pleasant burst of dopamine at the completion of its daily task, similar to an orgasm. It's harmless."

I grimaced. "You seem...oddly familiar with this."

"I am a Thark. These things are common knowledge in my tribe."

She let go of my hand, putting that lower left hand around my waist. "You shouldn't be so upset that the Ishuca made comments. After all, no one has ever seen a Thark with a human boyfriend before."

My face turned pink. "I guess not..."

We returned to the hallway, practicing throwing and catching in a section of the building relatively free of breakables.

When Ibira decided to try throwing from a greater distance, the ball bounced off my hand, rolling into the room with the frilly bunk beds.

I took one look inside and backed away.

Noting my apprehension, Ibira marched up to me with her hands on her hips. "What is the matter?"

"I'm not going in that room. There's some squirrels in there..." I lowered my voice. "And I think they want my nuts!"

Ibira laughed. "You? Afraid of a bunch of squirrels?"

I nodded. "They're not garden variety squirrels. They're...bigger...And kind of perverted."

Giggling, my girlfriend said, "Fine. I will retrieve the ball from the perverted squirrels' den."

She stepped into the room. "Hello! Sex crazed squirrels! I am retrieving my cowardly friend's ball! Do not disturb his nuts! He has other plans for them!"

Laughing, she stepped back out, throwing me the ball. "Are you certain the squirrels didn't already take your nuts?"

I swallowed, shaking my head. "No. I, uh..." I dropped my voice to a low mutter. "I got away before they could take my virginity."

Ibira grinned. "I can tell."

We moved the game a little further down the hallway, becoming more adventurous with our throws.

After carrying on like this for awhile, frequently getting the ball lost in various rooms (on my end, of course), we called it quits.

Like the ending to a first date, we just awkwardly stared at each other, fumbling for words to say before departing for the night.

Ibira dug in a pouch attached to her harness, handing me a stubby twig that looked like a green ginger root with pink and purple spots.

"What's that?"

"Ximur Claw. It will help you sleep."

I frowned. "It's not going to give me an orgasm, is it?"

"Would that be bad?"

"I'm not going to get much rest if I'm splurting on myself or spending all night in the room down the hallway planting tomatoes."

She chuckled. "Don't be silly. It's just a sedative. The worst it will do is give you strange dreams. Just chew on it for awhile until you feel it working"

"Uh...thank you." I paused, staring at the root. "What kind of weird dreams?"

Her facial expression didn't reassure me any. "It varies. Do you want to sleep or not?"

"Fine."

"Just chew on it until you get so drowsy that feel you're going to choke on it, then spit it out and go to sleep."

"Thanks. Good night, Ibira."

She smiled. "I enjoyed our evening together. I had a lot of fun."

"Uh, yeah," I stammered. "I...had fun too."

"Considering the circumstances, I believe you might find a platonic kiss awkward or possibly painful with my appendages, so this will have to do." She stepped in close, grabbed both of my shoulders, and my hips, giving my face a gentle brush with her tusks.

With a soft purr, she rubbed her cheek against mine. "Good night."

Grinning bashfully, I returned to the sleeping quarters.

I found the bunks occupied, Sam on top of his bunk, Snakey on the top across from him, other coworkers sleeping on the others.

I crawled under my thin blankets, chewing the root in the prescribed manner until I got drowsy and spat it out, falling into a deep sleep.

I awoke to a slap to the face.

My eyelids opened to reveal a green face. Her tusks brushed my neck, two hands pressing me against a wall, a third arm propped up on a door frame, the pose reminding me of a high school jock flirting with a cheerleader at a locker.

My eyes bugged out, my heart pounding. "Hi."

It was cold. Feeling a chill and goosebumps rising on bare skin, I looked down at the same time Ibira did.

Again she found me in my underwear. "This seems to be a recurring habit."