The last thing Sparks Nevada remembered was red dust. He and Croach followed a distress signal to the middle of the vast Martian plains and deep into a massive storm. Even Croach struggled to navigate in the zero-visibility dust. They were in the middle of blaming each other for not checking weather patterns when all went dark and Nevada’s ears started ringing. When he regained consciousness he was here; wherever “here” was.
The ground that Nevada lay on wasn’t dirt and sand, but metal. The lights were so bright they hurt his eyes, which continued to sting with light’s memory even as the marshal buried his face into the folds of his dust-covered coat.
There was a low and familiar grunt a few feet away.
“Croach, you okay?”
“I am sound. I am however displeased that we have been teleported without our consent.”
The lights in the room dimmed and Nevada finally was able to look up. They were definitely on a teleportation deck. Not only that, but the deck of a USSA starship. For a moment Nevada felt a pit in his stomach as he feared that in any moment his father would walk in, inform him that he saved his life, and give Croach a hard time. Truth be told, he didn’t know what his father thought about Croach, but Nevada did know the rumors circulating about himself. And he knew what his father would think about those.
He was surprised, relieved, and confused in equal measure when a red patch of haze drifted onto deck.
“Hello,” it said very clearly in Nevada and Croach’s minds. The room seemed to vibrate as it communicated. “We have adjusted the ship’s lighting to accommodate your species.”
Nevada brushed off his dusty hands before he rubbed his eyes again. “Yeah. Thanks. Say, you didn’t happen to make a distress call, did you?”
“We did. And we thank you for you response. We have heard much about you, Sparks Nevada and Croach the Tracker.”
The haze glimmered with a slight hum as Nevada picked himself off the floor and brushed away red dust. Croach’s antennae were alert as he stood, focused on the patch of haze.
“Sparks Nevada,” Croach said, “I detect that this non-corporeal being is comprised of pure energy. If I’m not mistaken, this non-corporeal being is specifically comprised of a singular emotion. The name of this emotion, however, is lost to me as there are many emotions that my tribe is unfamiliar with.”
“Is Croach right on that?” Nevada asked, not moving any closer to the cloud. “Just what kinda emotion are ya?”
“Your companion is correct. We are of the 433E. classification of Emotion Light beings of the C.G.W. sector of space. The USSA has deemed our race a level 2 hostile.”
Nevada nodded. “And seein’ as Croach and my races are both level 6 hostiles I take it you ain’t here to cause any trouble.”
“Sparks Nevada,” Croach said as his antennae finally settled, “What is Emotion 433E.?”
“I dunno, Croach. Not every emotion has a proper name, so don’t worry too much about it. What I’m curious of is why they have a USSA starship.”
By now five separate patches of red haze had drifted into the room. They all glistened and hummed, a few even wandering close to the marshal and his deputy.
“We are here,” said one of the clouds of red glittering fog, “because we have been called by the USSA to aid in peace talks between Alliance species and the MurderMen. Several Pure Emotion Lights were sent. However, since our previous mission in the Artemian sector we have been, simply, drained. It took all reserve energy to make it this far. And even now we are uncertain how long we can stay in orbit.”
“So you need to refuel or whatever?” Nevada said, cooking an eyebrow. “Reckon that’s fine. You didn’t have to send out a distress call, you know. You and any other Pure Emotion Lights can just call the Marshal’s Station and Croach’n I will clear you for landing.”
“P.E.L beings do not refuel in the ways of corporeal species,” one of them clarified. “We need near-direct exposure to beings experiencing our emotion in order to refuel efficiently. Which is why we brought you aboard.”
“Okay, reckon that kinda makes sense. But just to let you know, Croach here doesn’t experience many human emotions. So you might have more luck beaming up Felton.”
“Yes,” Croach said, “and as famously recorded by the novelist Rebecca Rose Rushmore, Sparks Nevada is ‘emotionally unavailable.’”
“Croach! We ain’t talkin’ about Rebecca Rose Rushmore’s books! Especially that one. Besides, I totally am available to emotions, like, all the time.”
“I mentioned the novel because it was relevant to the discussion, Sparks Nevada. I feel that I am inexperienced with human emotions to a point that I am not informed enough to offer my personal opinion upon them.”
“But you know I ain’t like she said; I ain’t emotionally unavailable, yeah?”
“I am not even entirely sure what that human phrase means. But I know it is relevant.”
“Alright you know what, stop. We ain’t got time to argue and reckon arguin’ ain’t helpin’ these folk. We don’t even know what Emotion 433E. is and if we wanna help than that should be the first thing we figure out.”
The two took a breath after bickering and saw that several more red clouds entered the room. All were humming. Some were ever so slightly glowing and moving closer. The two men exchanged glances and were silent for a moment before Nevada finally spoke.
“Was that it? Is your emotion ‘Annoyance’?”
“Yes, that was the emotion of our race. No, our emotion is not ‘Annoyance’.”
“Then what is it?”
“Your species calls it by many names. But, in your English language, Emotion 433E. is designated ‘Romantic Love’.”
Several more clouds hummed in agreement while Nevada shook his head. “Well, yer P.E.L to English dictionary’s wrong. Croach and I ain’t romantically anything.”
“The human designated Sparks Nevada is correct. He and I are not romantically involved.”
The red shimmering clouds moved closer, backing Nevada and Croach up against the far wall of the teleportation deck.
“You have no need to hide from us,” they cooed. “There isn’t a ship in the USSA that hasn’t heard of the passionate and scandalous romance between Marshal Sparks Nevada and the young handsome Martian, Croach the Tracker. We understand your relationship and wish to witness firsthand the affection that grows between you.”
Nevada groaned and closed his eyes, wanting to disappear into the wall he pressed against.
“Sparks Nevada? What ‘romance’ are they discussing?”
“Ever since you’ve started living at the station, Croach, there have been rumors floating around the USSA and MEC that you and I’ve been courtin’ each other. And I’ll tell you what I told the MEC’s Human Relations board, there ain’t nothin’ goin’ on between Croach and me. Not on USSA property. Not off USSA property. Nothing.”
“Yes,” one cloud said. “You have said this because in the 2986 Reclassification of Extra-Terrestrial Beings Act it was made illegal for a human to copulate with an indigenous species of a colonized planet. Not only would this offense lead you to losing your badge and Croach’s arrest, but it was a piece of legislation that your father, Captain Ciaphas Nevada, lobbied for.”
“Look, I ain’t got time for this. How about you bring up Felton and the widow Johnson instead? I’m sure they could be romantic for ya’.”
“But you have not yet seen the manner in which we have arranged the ship to accommodate the incredibly romantic date that we require you to have! It was designed after careful research of human and Martian courtship rituals. This ship, simply, is designed for the sole purpose of giving you the most romantic evening possible.”
“Sparks Nevada?” Croach said, stepping close. “My scans indicate that this ship is running on dangerously minimal energy and is already using reserves to make the interior inhabitable for both of us. In fact, we are steadily losing our position in low-orbit and risk crashing if the P.E.L beings are not emotionally replenished. Additional teleportation would be too much of a strain on the system and alternative modes of transport are equally taxing.”
“So, what you’re sayin’, Croach, is that if we don’t somehow get these guys’ energy back up then we’ll crash?”
“It is more likely that the oxygen will fail and you will perish before that happens, but yes. I will crash and so will your corpse.”
Nevada shifted from foot to foot, eyes not focusing on Croach or the red clouds that surrounded them. Some clouds glowed red and huddled together and the room hummed. The lights dimmed and buzzed for just a moment before returning to normal.
“Okay,” Nevada grumbled under his breath. “Okay, fine. Whatever. Fine.”
Croach nodded. “We should. I am uncertain how long the ship will be able to keep lights and oxygen online.”
“Yeah because the ships… yeah. Okay, so I guess we’ll do like we did at the Old Mission, right? So, I’ll take my shoes off and you take off yer Martian animal-hide loincloth situation and we’ll just-”
Nevada and Croach stopped and looked up at the first cloud, which was no longer glowing or vibrating at all. Croach hesitated before retying the half-undone knot of the cord holding up his loincloth. Nevada zipped his boots back up before crossing his arms and glaring at the patch of haze.
“Now what? First you wanted Croach and I to be like this and we didn’t want to and now we’re trying to do this and you don’t want us to. What’s going on?”
“What you are displaying is Emotion 1036G., which has no English equivalent but is best described with the phrase ‘mate or die.’ That is not what we are looking for. We are 433E., which is-”
“Is designated ‘Romantic Love.’ Yeah, I get it. But look, we ain’t dating or anything like it, so how about you take what you can get and maybe it’ll be enough for you to refuel to land.”
A patch of haze that had been silent before spoke up. “Are you saying that you and Croach have previously experienced Emotion 1036G. together?”
Nevada hesitated and tried to will the blush out of his cheeks. “Yeah.”
“It was early in my onus to him that we encountered the Space Crazy preacher, who demanded we reveal our feet to each other or else we both would perish. We obeyed and Sparks Nevada stimulated my eggsa-”
“Okay, Croach! They don’t need to know everything about that. And I don’t need to be reminded.”
“It was unpleasant for me as well!”
“Yeah, right. You didn’t want me to stop. And don’t pretend that you don’t talk about it literally every chance you get.”
“That is untrue, Sparks Nevada! You initiated this current discussion, I was just making clarifications. And yes I did not want you to stop, but because my mating cycle is very sensitive and I did not desire to enter Extended H-ea’t.”
“Stop talking about yer dang eggsacs!”
The room was humming again and several of the briefly-pale clouds were glowing once more. When Nevada looked back to Croach he saw a deep purple blush had swept across his cheeks and was beginning to climb his antennae. Nevada’s own cheeks felt like they were burning as he stared down the clouds.
“Reckon you’re sure you ain’t runnin’ on ‘Annoyance’?”
“It is true that your primary emotion expressed is not 433E.” a red cloud said. “However, it is a residual emotion that emerges when you argue with each other.”
“Well, it ain’t coming from me,” Nevada said, blush still heavy in his cheeks and now sweeping onto his ears.
“And I am unsure if it is coming from me.”
“It ain’t, Croach. I mean, probably.”
“It is possible, Sparks Nevada, for me to experience emotions and not know the name of these emotions. As, I believe, it is possible for you as well.”
“But I ain’t experiencing it.”
“You both are,” a cloud clarified. “And even if you don’t have the scandalous relationship that the rumors describe, you do express romantic affection towards each other.”
Nevada shifted his weight between his feet again and looked up just in time to see Croach avert his eyes. “This ain’t how humans express romantic affection or whatever.”
Croach nodded. “And it is not in the traditions of my tribe.”
“Yes,” another cloud answered, “but then, your relationship is far from traditional.”
More patches of haze huddled into groups and glowed. Nevada and Croach accidentally made eye-contact and quickly looked away. Every accidental incidental touch that occurred between the two of them flashed into Nevada’s mind. The years-old memory of a kiss Croach gave him not long after they met. He thought about it more than he believed he should.
“What…” Nevada started before clearing his throat. “What did you have planned for us?”
The now large crowd of Pure Emotion Light beings moved aside, creating an aisle leading to the ship’s corridors.