Ghethe woke up early, and he prepared to go swimming because they were following Ahlane’s schedule to have breakfast after two local hours spent on the beach. He was thinking that, in a day or two, they should go to Batlan to form, or to impose, the New Empire. Later that day he intended to have serious discussions with Petha and Heile, in order to invest them both with very high, ultra-important, imperial positions.
     He went to the beach and discovered surprised that everybody was there savoring refreshing drinks, and basking in the soothing morning light of Giola Star.
     “Hey! I thought I was going to be the first one here. Why haven’t you woken me up?” asked Ghethe feeling frustrated.
     “You are still in recovery, Ghethe, so you need to sleep more” explained Ahlane with a caring smile.
     “I see . . . Well, I intend to take a long walk along the shore; anybody interested?” asked Ghethe hoping that Ahlane would come.
     She offered to join him saying, “I shall come with you, Ghethe, to make certain you do not break a leg or something.”
     “Oh, come on, Ahlane, I am walking on soft sand!” protested Ghethe trying to mask his and Ahlane’s desire for isolation.
     “Of course you are, Ghethe. In your particular case however, anything impossible turns out to be perfectly possible!” replied Ahlane ironically.
     They reached the wet sand, then they started walking alongside the shore. The heat of Giola Star was in a perfect moderate balance with the cool morning breeze, while the white salty foam of the waves came, from time to time, to embrace their feet gently.
     “We need to leave for Batlan in a day or two, Ahlane,” said Ghethe in a serious intimate voice.
     “I understand that we are not going to talk to anybody officially,” replied Ahlane with the same intimacy.
     “No. We shall only supervise that everything is done properly. Petha and Heile should do the talking for us.”
     “I like very much your idea of an Empire with no Emperor and no Empress,” confessed Ahlane with a wonderful smile.
     “I am very glad you like it. Aah . . . may I . . . hold your hand?” asked Ghethe timidly.
     “Yes,” answered Ahlane, after she looked back and saw they were sufficiently far from the others.
     They walked for a while holding hands, then Ghethe asked hesitantly,
     “Ahlane . . . may I . . . kiss your hand?”
     “Oh, Ghethe . . . Once,” agreed Ahlane.
     He stopped, kneeled, and then he kissed Ahlane’s beautiful hand lightly, with deep emotion. His kiss was long, and he wanted it would never end, but Ahlane put the other hand on his head—to stop him or to soothe him?—then she withdrew both hands.
     “Ghethe, there is something I have to tell you . . .” started Ahlane troubled, and then she paused to find her words.
     “Yes, Ahlane,” replied Ghethe while struggling to recover from the dizziness caused by his long kiss.
     “I shouldn’t let you do what you just did,” continued Ahlane.
     “Why, Ahlane? I told you that I love you very much, My Dear,” protested Ghethe gently.
     “Yes, but you see, Ghethe, we know each other for so little time. In our family it is customary a courtship period of a minimum two i-std. years,” explained Ahlane troubled.
     “I see what you mean, Ahlane. Please, allow me to explain: you are making a tiny mistake.”
     “What do you mean by ‘mistake’?” asked Ahlane with a beginning of irritation.
     “It is true, My Dear, that we know each other for so little time, as you said. However, please take into account the fact that we have been together through many, particularly close—I should say, even intimate—social situations. Therefore in our case, My Dear, time has a different scale.”
     “You think so? Please explain more,” asked Ahlane looking interested.
     “You see, Ahlane, I have been injured a few times, and you took such a good care of me for many days and nights—thank you very much, My Dear. Should we be in some normal situations, we would have met, socially, once or twice in nine days, for one i-std. hour; instead, we lived so close to each other for so long! For certain all that time we have already spent together equals your two i-std. years of occasional meetings.”
     “I see . . . You know, that is true, Ghethe,” admitted Ahlane, then she gratified him with another superb smile.
     He felt very happy she was pleased with his arguments, and he reasoned that was a very good sign, and also the right time to make THE GREAT MOVE! Ghethe waited for some time to gather all of his courage, then he asked in a serious voice, although very shy, and thinking of each word carefully, two times before pronouncing it, “Ahlane, I . . . I told you that . . . I love you and . . . I asked you to . . . to marry me . . . What . . . what do you say . . . about this?”
     “Yes, I shall marry you, Ghethe,” replied Ahlane relaxed, without hesitation.
     Ghethe was stunned by her direct, simple, and POSITIVE ANSWER! He stopped frozen for a good while, looking at her with wondering eyes, and Ahlane watched him amused and smiling sweetly. Later, he went on bending slowly, down towards Ahlane—to give her enough time to accept or to refuse it—with a clear intention to kiss her on her lips. Ahlane put her delicate fingers on his lips, and that stopped his motion in an instant.
     “Listen to me, Ghethe. I shall marry you because I . . . I like you. You have a wonderful character, you are a very good man, and you are exceptionally intelligent. Even more, you are very decent, and you did enormously much for Mlane and me. I feel well and secure near you, and I do not want to lose you ever.
     However, you need to be well aware about my character, Ghethe, and you should know that I am particularly firm in my decisions. If I should ever find out that you did something I consider to be . . . not proper or decent then, married or not, and no matter how much I . . . like you, it shall be over. Do you understand this, Ghethe Dakka?” asked Ahlane in a serious attitude.
     “Of course I do, Ahlane. I love you and I respect you very much, though I have to confess: you scare me a lot! I am far from being a perfect man, My Dear. I know for certain that I am going to do very many mistakes in my future life, but I do not want to lose you, ever,” said Ghethe, and he appeared to be truly scared, and very sad.
     “Let’s walk, Ghethe. You see, you are lucky because I am not that bad. If your mistakes should prove to be justified, accidental or just innocent, then . . . I shall forgive you,” explained Ahlane in a relaxed voice.
     “Thank you, Ahlane. I shall try to be a better person for you,” promised Ghethe, and he started feeling a little safer.
     “No, Ghethe, I want you to be just yourself, because I am still analyzing your behavior.”
     “Oh! And . . . for how long you intend to keep on analyzing me, Ahlane?” asked Ghethe suspiciously, with anticipation of bad news.
     Ahlane turned her head and she looked into his eyes for a while. Ghethe began feeling dizzy watching her astonishing crystal-clear irises which appeared to be violet in that strong, morning light.
     She said, “Ghethe, our Family is almost gone, but we do have a few traditions . . . You know, when the Ladies . . . marry. Now, I want to be a good example for Mlane, therefore we shall have to wait for the two i-std. years of a courtship period.”
     “Two i-std. years! Oh, Ahlane, don’t you think that is way too much?” protested Ghethe feeling greatly frustrated.
     “Ghethe, you are free to look for a ‘quicker to marry’ Lady,” replied Ahlane with detachment, and also with a distinct nuance of sarcasm.
     He rushed, “No! Never! Ha, ha! What is two i-std. years, Ahlane? I was only joking.”
     “Good. You should also know, Ghethe, that we receive a strong moral education in our Family. We do not talk about . . . certain things, and we do not show . . . Oh, I cannot even discuss about those things, Ghethe.”
     “I understand, My Dear. You are, indeed, very well educated . . . Ah, Ahlane, I can hardly wait to have three or four children of ours,” said Ghethe with great anticipation. He paused for a short while, then he asked shyly, “Do you like children, Ahlane?”
     “Oh, I love them so much, Ghethe! I wish we shall have very many children,” replied Ahlane with great desire, though in a sad voice.
     Ghethe looked into her eyes for a brief moment, then he turned his looks away and asked in a timid voice, “May I . . . hmm, kiss your hand again, Ahlane?”
     She replied, also timidly, while turning her eyes down, “You just did, Ghethe. I do not think it does much good to you kissing my hand more than once per day.”
     “Oh, please do not worry, Ahlane. I could kiss your hands all day . . . and all night. Ah, when we shall be married, I am going to kiss your little hands days and nights . . . You have such beautiful hands, Ahlane!” said Ghethe with tempered anticipation.
     “Yes, but you see . . .” started Ahlane hesitantly, with plenty of dark-blue shades on her face and avoiding eye contact, “even after we are married . . . I still have to have my private suite . . . and we still have to be very decent.”
     Ghethe stopped in a shocked attitude, and he watched her for a while with scared eyes. He managed to ask, “But . . . how?”
     “I do not know!” exclaimed Ahlane, and she appeared to be ready to start crying.
     “You don’t?”
     “Sorry, Ahlane, I do not understand you. How? I mean . . . what are we going to . . . do?” inquired Ghethe with restrained desperation.
     “You see, this is the problem, Ghethe. A married Lady from my Family should explain to me, and a married Gentleman to you, what is allowed to . . . do, and . . . how, but there is no married Lady and . . . and I do not know what it is proper to do, Ghethe!”
     Ahlane started crying, and Ghethe embraced her gently. She let her beautiful head to rest on his chest, while crying silently. She was so nice and innocent that Ghethe kissed her lightly on the head. She looked up at him for a moment, then she continued crying silently, keeping her head down on his chest.
     “Ahlane, I am confident that everything is going to be just decent and proper between us. Do not worry, My Dear, I shall help you,” promised Ghethe.
     “You?” asked Ahlane looking at him with a lost tear hanging on her silvery eyelashes. She added with desperation in her voice, “But you do not know how, Ghethe, nor do I! There are certain behavior rules to follow!”
     He explained in a gentle voice, “You see, Ahlane, the situation is, we do not know those behavior rules. Therefore, since there is nobody to teach us, we have to discover the proper rules ourselves.
     I am confident that, if we make everything in small steps, if we are going to discuss everything in advance—and you should have sufficient time to think about . . . everything—and if I am going to be very, very decent all the time, then things are going to be just perfect for both of us.”
     “Are you going to do all those things for me, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane with a lot of innocent hope in her eyes.
     “Oh, My Dear girl, I shall do ANYTHING for you! Even more: I shall always understand you.”
     “Thank you, Ghethe. You have no idea how difficult this is to me because . . . I have to be an example for Mlane; I have to . . . to explain to her the rules, when her time comes up,” said Ahlane with restrained desperation.
     “Do you trust me, Ahlane?” asked Ghethe with a kind smile.
     “I trust you, Ghethe. Please understand: I am very scared, and I do not know what to do.”
     “Aah, we have plenty of time to find out together,” said Ghethe, and he felt very happy imagining their proximate future.
     “Oh, Ghethe, you are so kind and—”
     “Ahlane, I am officially asking for your permission to court you,” interrupted Ghethe solemnly thinking that it was best to start as soon as possible.
     “Oh no, Ghethe, you have to ask Mlane for permission,” explained Ahlane.
     “Mlane!” exclaimed Ghethe surprised. He took a few moments to analyze the situation, then he protested, “She is just a child, Ahlane!”
     “She is the only Zelhane Lady left in my Family,” motivated Ahlane.
     “What if she turns me down?” asked Ghethe while watching her with fear and suspicion in his eyes.
     “Ha, ha! Don’t be a child, Ghethe, Mlane likes you very much,” replied Ahlane amused by the genuine fear she could clearly see, for the first time, in Ghethe’s eyes. She thought that he was incredible: he went fighting unknown, terrible enemies of an entire System without hesitation, but he was truly frightened by sweet Mlane!
     She added, “Speaking of Mlane, and about what you did for her . . . there is something I promised to myself in those tense moments when you worked so hard to cure her . . . I have been with my soul and my hopes near you each moment during those terrible long hours . . . and I know it was so difficult to you . . .
     You did a true miracle, Ghethe, thank you!” Ahlane paused, then she started gaining a lot of blue color shades on her face. She continued with determination, although she appeared to be frightened, “Please bend down a little, and close your eyes.”
     Ghethe did exactly as Ahlane wanted. After a while, he felt a soft, moist, warm touch on the corner of his lips. It had been very light: just a quick and gentle contact with Ahlane’s lips! He froze there showered inside his body by all the happiness in the entire Universe! He kept his eyes closed, being too scared to ever open them again . . .

     He did open his eyes later, but Ahlane was gone. He twisted back swiftly, and then he saw her: she was running back with wonderful moves of her stunning slender body. He went running after her in enormous jumps. Ahlane turned her head back and saw him approaching in those gigantic strides; she cried with terror, then she started running faster.
     Ghethe landed in her front. He twisted back and grabbed her arms, he swung her one full circle and a half around, then he threw her very high into the air, towards the ocean. He held his hands with the palms facing Ahlane, therefore she was pushed higher up. She was screaming continuously.
     When she was coming down towards the water, Ghethe performed a few more impossible jumps to catch her in mid-air, then they both landed into the water, with Ghethe’s body protecting hers from the hard contact.
     Ahlane was not a good swimmer. She was hanging on Ghethe’s body crying, laughing, and screaming, only it was more of nervous surprise and joy, because she knew very well he would take very good care of her. In the end, she ceased her agitated moves. Ghethe was floating on his back, and she had a firm grip on his right arm. The retracting action of the waves was dragging them further into the ocean. Ahlane was scared, while Ghethe displayed a large, satisfied smile.
     “You should have warned me, Ghethe!” started Ahlane in a reproachful tone of voice, “You know I cannot swim very well.”
     “You do not need to, My Dear. Just relax and hang on me,” answered Ghethe, happier than ever.
     “What if a dangerous beast comes to eat us? I was told there are real monsters in this ocean,” asked Ahlane with terrified looks—she was superb, more beautiful than ever!
     “Ha, ha! If such a monster would dare to come even close to your legs, I am going to eat it alive, My Dear. All of it!”
     “Ha, ha! Aah, take me to the shore, Ghethe,” said Ahlane with relaxation. Although she was a cautious person, she knew that near Ghethe she was safer than anywhere else.
     “Watch this, Ahlane,” said Ghethe smilingly, and looking into her eyes. He made no moves, except for his right arm holding her firmly, close to his body. Next, they began moving faster, then faster, and soon they were back at the waves breaking barrier.
     Ghethe stood up on his feet. He took Ahlane gently in his arms, then he went walking towards the shore. The waves came and engulfed them completely, though Ghethe kept on walking even underwater as on firm ground. Ahlane was incredibly light in his arms. She let her head on his shoulder, while her left arm was holding gently around his neck. Ghethe felt that he was holding in his arms the most beautiful, the most delicate, and the most precious being in the entire Universe!
     They reached the wet sand, and he let Ahlane down with regret.
     “Thank you, Ghethe. It has been extremely exciting!” confessed Ahlane smiling very pleased; she added, “And I am still amazed that you managed not to break every single bone in me when you threw me that high up.”
     “I have been extremely careful, My Dear,” replied Ghethe looking tenderly at her.
     “Please, Ghethe, try making it not too obvious to the others,” said Ahlane troubled by his looks.
     “Do not worry, Ahlane, I shall behave just as I did until now. In fact, although I wish we should marry as soon as possible, I do not want to rush you with anything, My Dear. Even more, I think that your two i-std. years of a courtship period is decent, proper, and it may be even necessary,” said Ghethe smiling mysteriously.
     “Why?” asked Ahlane puzzled.
     “I cannot tell you why, Ahlane, because I would ruin the beauty of it, but I promise to tell you after we are married. Aah, we have so many things to accomplish together during the next two i-std. years!”
     “Such as?” inquired Ahlane cautiously.
     “Well, we need to build the New Empire and to find a few good friends, first of all. Secondly, we have to retrieve more ships like Arpel, so that each of us would have a private one. Next, we have to discover the hidden System, somewhere very far.
     In addition, I have to start working on the military biochip, and on many other technologies; therefore, I need you, Ahlane, to watch and control me, so that I follow a strict timetable of scientific work each day—”
     She interrupted him with concern, “What about Mlane, Ghethe? She has courses at the University to attend, and we cannot leave her alone.”
     “Ahlane, my intention is that Mlane should have her own ship, and I want to give her absolute powers over Imperial Fleet and Imperial Guards to protect her. I would like to see her taking an active role as the true ruler of the New Empire, while we are away.”
     “But she is just a child, Ghethe!” protested Ahlane perplexed. It was obvious he tried to delegate his responsibilities of managing the New Empire to someone else. In a deeper analysis, she couldn’t blame him too much for that, because she also felt doing just that; however, she was confident that Mlane had similar feelings.
     “How old were you, My Dear, when you assumed the responsibility to take care of Mlane?” asked Ghethe. Because Ahlane did not respond—she was stunned by his enormously disproportioned comparison—he continued, “Although you were just a little girl, you did a very good job.”
     She tried to reason with him, “Ghethe, we are talking here about managing an Empire.”
     He explained happily, in a gentle voice, “Ahlane, you told me that Mlane knew all her life she will never rule as an Empress, and I am confident she wanted it very much, because those things that are impossible to reach are always greatly desired. With our structure of the New Empire, she has the chance to see her dreams becoming reality. Now, even if she makes a few minor mistakes at first, I have no doubts that she will become, in time, better at ruling the New Empire than you or me.
     I trust her very much, Ahlane, because she has a wonderful soul, and she is very intelligent. In addition, this is an excellent opportunity for her to start assuming tough responsibilities.”
     “And . . . where are we going to go?” asked Ahlane intrigued. It was obvious that Ghethe had made, already, many bold plans for their future, though she knew very well that, regardless what he would try to enterprise, she or even Mlane would always have the final vote. However, it wasn’t her intention to disappoint him in that particular day.
     “Aaah! You see, Ahlane,” explained Ghethe with eyes gleaming of adventurous excitement, “in about two i-std. years from now start the Traffle Games in the Free Worlds, and the prize is a magnificent Kingdom!”

     [. . .]



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