I’ll always remember my very first encounter with the Shetu. I’d been in space for a grand total of forty-eight hours, and the SS Anna Marie was in her port of call, Beta Soyo. I soon learned to call this my second home with the chaos of vendors, merchants, hotels, bars, and eateries all crammed together haphazardly on the civilian side and the neatly lettered and numbered streets arranged in a tidy grid on the Armada side. Quite a stark contrast, and I love both sides in their own right.
I was exploring the civilian side, trying to familiarize myself with the layout of the city on the asteroid, when I accidentally bumped into someone. I stepped back and looked up to see who it was, then had to step back and look up even further. The man was easily over two feet taller than I, and I was a mere four foot eight back then. I had to snap my mouth shut and try hard not to gawk at him. His features weren’t unlike my own with the distinctly shaped nose, forehead, and ears, yet his face was entirely different from any N’Gali I’d ever seen. N’Gali faces are almost circular and have rounded cheeks and chins, but his face was elongated, boxy, and angular. A mere hint of annoyance flit across his face before he moved on to wherever he was going next. Captain Patterson confirmed later that yes, that was a Shetu, and yes, he was probably annoyed that I didn’t say anything about bumping into him. I wanted to apologize and looked for him later, but I never saw him again.
I saw many Shetu after that. The Anna Marie’s second stop on its usual route was Port D’Mann, the primary port in and out of Xymaluth. The Shetu there were used to other races coming into their port, yet they still acted like they’d never seen a N’Gali in their life. They gawked at me, and I gawked right back. I at least had the excuse that I honestly hadn’t seen a Shetu before. It wasn’t until our second trip there that I finally found out why they’d been staring. It wasn’t that they’d never seen a N’Gali before, it was that they’d never seen one who didn’t think in N’Gali before.
I found out through a friend of Captain Patterson that the Shetu I’d bumped into was another freighter captain. He’d shared his experience with the port master at D’Mann, who’d evidently spread it around that I thought in a strange language he didn’t recognize. The other Shetu all wondered where I came from. They knew of several N’Gali colonies in Confederate space that had been established before the Demilitarized Zone was created, but they all speak N’Gali amongst themselves. The N’Gali that came to Rithinia were different. Instead of keeping their own unique identity, they became Peron, since the Peron lived in the part of the planet they liked the most. Like all good Peron children, I didn’t even learn English until I went to school, so I usually think in Peron. Evidently, N’Gali children from other N’Gali colonies do the same, the primary difference being their first language is N’Gali.
It was at our third port of call, Port MacArthur near the Academy’s School of Piloting, that I had my second major encounter with a Shetu. I met a woman there who was openly shunned by the other Shetu. She had tripped on something and dropped a bag of groceries, sending cans and packets and things everywhere, but no one stopped to help her up. I frowned, considering there were several Shetu in the area. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Shetu, it’s that they’re extremely loyal to their own people. I decided to help out and started picking up her stuff. One of the other Shetu tried to stop me. “She is not worth your time,” he said curtly. I stared at him as if he’d lost his mind, then went back to helping her. Of course she was worth the time. She was another living person, after all.
“Thanks,” she said softly. “I don’t have any other way to thank you.”
I shrugged. “That’s alright.”
She went on her way, then stopped and turned back. “Would you like a cup of tea?” she offered.
I grinned at her. I hadn’t had a decent cup of tea since I left Rithinia, and I was dying for one. “Sure. I’d like that.”
She took me to her apartment, a little one bedroom with a tiny balcony, and set a kettle on for tea. We didn’t talk much as she put her groceries away and got the stuff out for tea, but I didn’t mind. I’m not big into small talk with strangers anyway.
“The rumors are true, aren’t they?” she asked suddenly. “You’re not from any of the N’Gali colonies, are you?”
I shook my head. “I’m from Rithinia, and I’m only a halfer.”
She smiled a bit. “You’re not only a halfer. You’re something special. No one else would help me like you did.”
I frowned a bit. “That’s weird and kinda disturbing.”
She sighed and looked away. “I’m a Na’Ant, a non-person. To the other Shetu, I don’t exist.” The kettle whistled just then, and she busied herself making green tea. “I can’t even buy M’Xhi,” she whispered.
I frowned even more. Even I knew that M’Xhi (mm-Shee) is a type of tea only grown on Xymaluth. It’s similar to Earth’s green tea, though it has a distinctly different flavor, one I can’t quite explain. You can only get it from a Shetu merchant. I wondered had happened that even Shetu merchants refused to do business with her. Money was money, right? It didn’t make sense.
“My name is Matricia, by the way,” she said, smiling a bit at me. “Well, that’s not my birth name, but it’s close enough.”
“I’m Kim,” I said. “That’s not really my birth name, either, but it’s what my da’s called me since I was little.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Kim,” she said softly.
To be continued….