From the author: An encounter in a space station's bar doesn't go quite the way she planned.
Hachi Station was jumping for a Restday Eve. Marina had enough of the crowd and headed for the door when a man showed up in an illegal purple haze, leaving Marina in a coughing fit for inhaling the dust.
"Hey!" The last thing she wanted to do was get any closer to the newcomer, but apparently he didn't check the rules before landing. Someone needed to set him straight, and since most of the patrons were hybrids with gill flaps over their intakes and submerged in the various hot pools, none of them were going to bother. It was bad enough she was a landwalker in a bar full of hybrids, she also happened to be a veteran auditor and compulsive rule upholder. She really should have stayed in tonight.
Marina covered her mouth with one hand and tapped the tall orange stranger on the shoulder. He swung around, eyes gleaming. Mesmerized, she forgot about the coughing and the purple haze. Heat rushed up her spine and her mouth dried. He was handsome, even with the orange skin. Brown hair waved back from his forehead into a long braid that trailed forward over his shoulder and continued down to... She blushed and averted her gaze.
"Something I can help you with, miss?" His voice was smooth, silky, and almost in her head instead of hitting her ears.
"Your little entrance," Marina said.
Blue teeth gleamed at her. She wasn't sure if he was trying to flirt or threaten her.
"It's... lovely but disturbing. Can you tone it down before the air-breathers choke?"
"You have no idea who I am." He caught her in his gaze, his eyes deep and dreamy blue, like his teeth. Where had she seen a race with coloring like his? He was taller than most humans and even most hybrids, but he didn't show signs of hybrid genetics. No gills, no wings, no tail. He had to be a native, which was worse. It meant he was a native hitting a traveler's facility.
She smiled, and though she'd preferred to have walked away, she had to finish this. "You sir, are ruining my evening. I don't care if you're the Prime Minister of Tivolia. This station is open to all species."
"All species, yes."
"So long as they follow the rules."
He leaned closer. "You imply I've broken a rule."
"Yes, my good sir, you have."
"I set those rules."
Marina laughed. "That's a good one."
He pulled out an official name card. "Ozenious, Prime Minister, Tivolia."
Marina's face warmed, and she coughed, despite the purple haze having cleared. Her knack for memorizing facts had her right-on for the existence of a prime minister, but she hadn't visualized the natives' characteristics and applied them to real people. It happened to her too often. She should've just hid under the covers tonight. "That still doesn't excuse you, but honestly, I'm the only one troubled by it. I might as well get going. My ship is probably queuing up to depart."
"I could put a hold on that if it suits you, until after we've had a drink?" He bowed to her, a Tivolia custom when a man turns a relationship from business to personal. The lowering of one heart before another, showing one's heart and soul to another being. It would have been easier if he'd just placed his fist to his heart to indicate honor and respect, but no, he'd gone too far.
So why did she say yes?
"I should correct myself," Ozenious said as he handed her a tall glass of steamy white liquid. "That rule is in place because it prevents the time monkeys from zipping in and out."
Marina furrowed a brow. "Time monkeys."
"Clever little things. They fold time with their tails-which is why some hybrids have tails isn't it?--and the byproduct of the fold is the purple haze. Whereas with my people, we don't need tails to fold time."
"But you do fold time?"
"When it's important."
Ozenious tapped her wrist. "If you had walked out when you did, a Fanellian terrorist would have taken you hostage."
Marina slammed the glass down, not even taking a sip. "That could still happen. You can't thwart fate by changing events."
"True, but I saved you from that terrorist."
"And what about the next one?"
"If I escort you back to your ship, there won't be a next one."
"Now that's a nice line." Marina slid the glass back to him. "Try it on someone else, Zen. Or better yet, don't."
"I assure you, this is no line. If all I wanted was your attention, I'd have ambushed you at your ship's airlock."
Like she was really going to end up there tonight. Her people's Restday Eve festivities were too rambunctious. She hadn't anticipated the activity here competing with them. One more line from him, and he'd wear her drink.
Ozenious slid her glass back. "It's rude to turn down a drink."
"It's rude to choke someone with space/time folding byproduct." She lifted the glass and slung it at him--but was surrounded by a purple haze and couldn't control her coughing. The glass, completely full, rested by her right hand.
"Think again, love."
It took her a second to process this. "You time traveled on me?"
"I could have gone back to my entrance, but then you'd have been oblivious."
She backed away. "You're having too much fun with this."
"Actually, I'm not." He sighed and deflated a bit as he leaned his arms on the bar. "I'm experiencing hormonal fluctuations that result in unintentional time skips. Back, forward, seconds, minutes. The doctors can't help me. They said to stay away from people until it stabilizes. Avoid attention, avoid physical contact."
"So you come here, tonight. Great way to stay away from people." A laugh bubbled up from her throat. "No terrorist then?"
He grinned, blue teeth gleaming. "Should I have stuck with the terrorist story?"
Marina grinned. "You'll have to wait for the next skip to see what I would have said." She sipped at the sweet drink. "Although," she half turned and nodded toward a hybrid hugging the wall in a pale pink dress that accentuated her gills. She'd been staring at Zen for the past ten minutes. "She might fall for that one."
Ozenious pressed his fist to his heart and abandoned his stool. "Please excuse my sudden departure. Time is a spineless beast and very squirmy." A purple haze surrounded him as he crossed the room in impossible time and arrived at the hybrid's spot on the wall. In seconds, he'd charmed her enough they walked down to the hot pool together.
Marina was about to order another drink when she spied a monkey tail on the bartender's backside. He turned and winked at her then returned to serving drinks to the other patrons, seconds after they were ordered.
"And I thought my people were lively tonight." She raised her hand and gestured to the bartender. "I'll have--"
A tall glass of steaming white liquid was served to her.
No more avoiding Restday Eve for me, she thought as she lifted her glass at Ozenious. Squirmy indeed--and kept her glass full.
This story originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction.