Into the infinite black Chapter 2
“Crewman… Azrinel?” He asks slowly, obviously working to remember your name. His eyes flitted over you and upon catching at least one reason why you were staring, held out his hand expectantly. Almost mechanically you offered the tablet you were holding, your own hazel colored eyes meeting his which causes an electric buzz to run down your spine all the way to the end of your spaded tail.
“I-it’s the uh… spooning results Captain. For the ships’ drive, I mean.” you offer as he immediately begins to scan over the tablet, fingers tapping at the screen to turn pages.
“Spooling,” he quips back, his eyes jumping back up from the tablet to bore back into yours. “The term is spooling.” He continues to page through the device, giving a slight hum as he continues to go over it. “These look great, everything looks to be in tolerances. Here you go.” immediately he presses his thumb into the screen, which lights up to acknowledge that his ‘signature’ had been placed on the report, granting the maintenance chief approval to continue hooking up the demon energy drive. The tablet gets held out to you, the captain’s eyes regarding you for a moment with a look you can’t place as he starts to suck on his teeth. “About your sister...,” he starts before trailing off, tablet still offered.
“I’ll let her know that her behav-”
“No. Thats…. I don’t know what I’m even meaning to mean.” His sharp blue eyes regard you as the two of you stare at each other somewhat awkwardly as he sets the tablet down on his desk. You couldn’t help the pang of jealousy that stabbed you, had your sister somehow snagged him with her charm glamour? He obviously felt he should apologize, something you’d never advise; especially in regard to Morrigan. The last week since the ball seemed to indicate otherwise as he had kept absurdly busy, if she somehow had he would have been making up any excuse he could to go see her. Alternatively, you knew the captain was rather atypical for a human; the ship you were currently standing in was more than enough proof of that. Was he somehow able to fully resist it? Usually that was only reserved for extreme mental fortitude or deep emotional scars, so if anything you’d have to guess that he was the very model of a ‘military’ professional. “Azrinel… why are you here?” for a moment you’re taken aback while your mind hops to wanting to explain how pregnancies occur.
“I uh… I wanted to explore space.” you offer instead, the explanation better than where your mind was wanting to wander to.
“No, I mean as a crewman. You’re at the bottom of the rung in terms of things and your moth-”
“I want to earn my place.” You interrupt quickly, your tone biting as your eyes suddenly snapped wide as you realize that you had just cut him off. Mentally you brace for a verbal lashing, a raised voice, or even just being tersely telling you to leave his office; none of which came as he seemed to mull over the response. “I want to do something that matters, something I’ll accomplish completely on my own… out there.”
“That’s fairly respectable,” he says while nodding, his eyes taking on a look you had seen a few times before the few times members of your mother’s old adventuring band had ever visited, or on occasion from your father when he thought she wasn’t looking. A kind of recognition, an understanding. “It could take quite a while and field promotions aren’t really a thing yet.”
“I- uh… I realize that.” you find yourself stating, wanting to wilt. It's not as if you couldn’t play the long game, you were barely two hundred and more than enough time and so far the next starship to be constructed would take at least another five years if not more, but just the idea of having your own ship and seeing things that no one else had ever seen held an allure you couldn’t fight. “It’s just that I wou-”
“I get it.” he cuts you off, the same look seeming to intensify in his eyes as hints of smile start to play out over his face. “Look, how about a mentorship? Your official job set hasn’t been set yet, you could work as an assistant for the primary officer crew and bounce between all of us while shadowing. If you put in the hard work, we’ll put in a recommendation for the officer corps at the academy and if that works out you’d be second lieutenant just in time for the turn around before we head out again.”
You had to admit the offer was intriguing. Sure you’d be receiving a little help but all of it in the end required you bothering to put in the work and effort, having to actually earn the position. But how exactly would you be ‘assisting’? Immediately your mind went into two differing directions. The first being something respectable though more of an extension of what you were currently tasked with doing as a crewman without a specialization, transferring reports and learning more of what you could about the ship and what was surmised about space and planetary bodies; which in honesty was rather quite exciting. The second was anything but respectable as you imagined simply languidly being draped against the man before you, his uniform half pulled free of his form while you were bare while you whispered things to him while you ostentatiously played ‘secretary’; which was equally just as exciting, though not in the same way.
Your face began to burn as the two opposing thoughts ran through you. Part of you knew it’d more of the former, and practically none of the latter; the Captain was a proper and overly lawful man. He wouldn’t do that, would he? Any of the various cadets who had graduated or would soon, whether enlisted or commissioned, were lectured to about fraternization at length; lately by that hypocritical Baphomet lieutenant who was put in charge of manning. No one could prove or point to anything in particular, but the cause of one of her subordinates slowly morphing from a rather distinguished looking man with thinning hair into what looked like a teenaged boy who couldn’t help but stare at her all the time with a longing look didn’t fool anyone. Not to mention the scent, but none of the others would ever report on each other and it's not as if humans could smell it. But who knew? You were a Lilum, one of the greater succubi, maybe you could slowly bend him to your debatably degenerate wants and in time have him gripping your horns tightly whi-
“Crewman?” his voice rings out, a touch of concern painting the tone.
“R-right. Yes. I cou- I would like that.” you sputter out as you came out of your daydream, trying to reasonably make sure you were composed without drawing too much attention to the fact that you had been so easily distracted. Your tail and wings, thankfully, not giving anything away; though your face felt warm and likely sported a considerable blush. “But what is ‘shadowing’?”
“Basically we’d be showing you and teaching you how to do our jobs in specific. Something that’d make you more than qualified to be considered for officer corps.” he answers, sitting back somewhat in his chair, arms crossing against his chest. “And depending on things you’d also be tasked with being an away team member.” you can’t help but give an affirmative hum, thinking over it as your thoughts spilled into things that were more clear and far less lusty.
“I’d be the first to see things…?” you blurt out, visions of alien worlds filling your head. Large fungal plants that bioluminesced or odd beings with green skin and antenna, and out of everyone on the ship you’d be the first.
“It won’t always be glamorous you know,” he says, a smirk playing out on his face. “Sometimes you may just be collecting rocks and stuck in an Enviro-suit. Can’t promise anything interesting, but you’d be able to be one of the first.” all you could do was nod as you thought about it, the more adventurous part of you wanting to jump at it while the more cautious parts began to wonder at the Captain’s motivations.
Did he want a lewd ‘secretary’? Was he going to try and seduce you? Or was it something more pragmatic based around trying to exploit you because of your mother? He didn’t smell as if he was a bad person, quite the opposite. If anything you wouldn’t mind having to smell him all the time. Even a little below the desk degradation every now and then would be great if it was him.
“Obviously this is something you might want to thi-”
“I want y- Yes. I want it er… t-the position below y-y-th-the job!” you stammer out quickly, face burning as you fight the desire to bury your face in your hands. What the hell was any of this? Was this what it was like to find someone who was compatible? You were never like this normally. The Captain merely regards you for a moment, eyes seeming to pierce deep into you in a way that made you feel strangely self-conscious in a way that was completely alien to you.
“I’ll… uh get a schedule drafted for you then,” he says as he snags up the tablet from his desk and offers it to you again, “Let the chief know that you’re being reassigned once you drop this off and go report to lieutenant commander Perun. Good luck Ms. Azrinel.”
“T-thank you sir.” you snap back quickly, starting to try and salute only for him to just mumble not to and offering the tablet which you quickly take, butterflies filling up your stomach. “I’ll do my best.” your voice rings out as you grab up the tablet and quickly make your way out of the office.
You sat there, head in your hands as she left and all you could do was sigh deeply. The only reason you had even broached the subject was because you knew she had been one of the better cadets and was already a doing quite well as a crewman, often appearing far more disciplined than many of the key officers; in some cases seeming to be entirely aloof and unaware of any men that were about. But that just changed and you had no idea how to feel about it.
In retrospect a lot of your plans were slowly becoming a bit grim, and this only solidified it. Three years in a sealed tin can in space, you wouldn’t be able to avoid her forever and at some point she’d likely get you alone; Not that you were opposed necessarily to getting ‘married’, but space wasn’t a place to raise a family. Then there were the other problems involved. Just the implication of fraternizing could jeopardize your authority with the crew, other mamono crew might try to compete with her which would create a hostile workplace, and even worse outright rejecting her could be horrific due to the political ramifications of it. You doubted she’d lose it as she seemed rather level-headed, but if her mother was anything like her red-headed sister...
You let the thought trail off in your head, sighing deeply again. You shouldn’t have offered her the mentorship, but it was too late to back out now. You’d just have to deal with the issues this caused and like all of your problems, you did this to yourself. At least she was cute and reasonable, unlike her sister.
“Perun,” You mumble as you tap your comm which chirps before giving a brief and melodic tone as it waits for her to pick up on her end. After a few seconds the tone gives way to a small chiptune musical diddy that loops a few times until there’s an audible click.
“Perun speaking,” comes your security chief’s voice through the comm, her tone curt and quick.
“This is Anon,” you reply quickly as you stand and go to the door of your office, securing it so you wouldn’t have any unannounced guests during the conversation. “Got a manning update for you,”
“Now what did you do?” she spits back, her tone exasperated and filled with annoyance.
“Just moved an unslotted crewman to start on as a general assistant for us up on the brid-”
“Oh! Mia? She made this pastry thing the oth-”
“What? No.” You cut her off, realizing immediately who she was talking about, you had seen the recommendation but had decided against it. Crewman Mia Blackstone was one of those odd jelly-abyss mamono and despite how the others in your crew sang praises of her any of her various skills, you couldn’t help but be unsettled by how she stared at the male crew members; yourself included. Especially when she had been tasked having to do laundry as a cadet, the look in her eyes had chilled your blood. Apparently Perun had been swayed by the crewman’s cooking, but the primary crew didn’t need a personal maid. They needed someone to teach and rely on.
“Who then?” She spat back, tone barely masking her disappointment.
“Crewman Azrinel, sh-” instantly you’re cut off by Perun’s harsh, barking laughter from the comm, some of it almost sounding hysterical as it wells up from deep inside her; or at least it sounded as if it was. “What?!” you demanded quickly.
“I was worried after how you reacted at the ball, but it seems you’re a perfectly healthy man.” you don’t like the smug tone or way she says ‘healthy’ at all, but out of everyone else in the crew or even as part of this little endeavour Perun was the only person you could actually just talk to as a friend, so you didn’t even bother entertaining snapping back or demanding any kind of respect. On the bridge, in front of the crew, you definitely would; but this was different, private.
“What is that supposed to mean?” you asked, trying to sound nonplussed. You hoped this wasn’t another one of the odd mamono sex things. You’re only met with an exasperated sigh from the comm.
“You really don’t know? Nothing weird happened?” her tone had changed, seeming to be more curious than anything now.
“Besides her getting flustered, no.” the line goes silent and after sitting in silence you begin to wonder if the line had somehow disconnected. You have never known Perun to be stunned to silence. “Hello?” you ask experimentally as you began to reach up to the comm badge, knowing that maintenance would probably throw a fit having to begin working on the comm system already alongside their current workload.
“You can’t be serious. Are you joking?” Perun’s usual tone is entirely gone, leaving only disbelief to color it; something else you had never heard from her.
“What?” you ask incredulously, not liking where this is going.
“Look Anon,” a seriousness crept into her voice, a kind she usually didn’t have. “You…Go get checked out by medical, please? It’s just kind of... She’s a Lilim, hell, so is her sister… you don’t feel anything in your chest at all when you’re around them?”
Idly you snagged a tablet off your desk, fingers dancing across it as you tried to pull up an index on Lilim. Your eyes pour over the entry and in a second you can only frown in annoyance; most of it was hyperbole. The most you could gleen accurately was that were magicked up succubi, basically a succubi but ‘more’; why did that mean that something was wrong with you?
“Not in particular, should I?” the odd seriousness making you uneasy, Perun was never like this.
“Just get checked out soon, okay? We’ll keep it between us if nothing comes up, but it’s absolutely abnormal.” Perun’s normal warm tone returned, “Usually what should happen is like a low level kind of infatuation, I guess…? Oh, speak of the devil, it’s her.” there was a sudden double chirp and the line was cut, and all you could do was sigh.
Was there something wrong with you? That seemed unlikely. Then again, you were effectively and secretly an ‘alien’. If the effect was based in magic, perhaps it was because you were from a world without magic? Somehow you were a void or maybe immune? Maybe your ‘mana’ was strange? Who knew, but you knew you’d have to get a clean bill of health at the very least or Perun would begin to harass you about it. Hopefully your secret wouldn’t be compromised by the check, it’s not as if you’d make a point of explaining ‘why’ you needed to be checked. But once accomplished, your immunity to the ‘charm’ that Lilum produced would just be another oddity of you as far as everyone else was concerned.
Naturally, you hadn’t told anyone the true nature of your origin, just that your homeland had been very far away and getting there would be very hard to do. How would they react? Would they try to study you, dissect you? As far as you knew you were the only person who had ever popped in from a nearby dimension. You hand mechanically found its way, and you were greeted with the familiar chirp of the comm badge as you began to hopefully get told nothing outside of eating less red meat.
Your red eyes tracked the form walking into the room before your brain jumped to recognition, in an instant you were out of your chair snapping your body into a muscle memory pose of attention only for the Captain to immediately handwave it away before you could do anything else. From his scent, what you could hear for his pulse, and even the most minute twitches of muscles in his face you could very well tell that something seemed to be bothering the Captain, even if he wasn’t aware of it. As his eyes jumped to yours you couldn’t help as your instincts kicked in, your pulse quickening as your other mouth salivating as it hoisted itself up from where you had curled it on your chair; the fact that he was speaking, barely registering with you.
“Doc, you okay?” his voice roused you, drawing you back into focus as well as discipline; quickly you reeled your probing tail back, the large bulb on it thankfully behaving.
“Yes, I… you startled me is all Captain.” It wasn’t exactly untrue, your pulse was racing and his sudden presence had surprised you. His eyes jumped over your form momentarily, something you were used to due to your odd appearance. For the sake of simplicity most of your various introductions left you explaining that you were a type of Manticore and that your mother had been an Echidna, but as confusion failed to play out on the Captain’s face you realized you weren’t going to have to run through something you had memorized from early childhood. You didn’t blame anyone for it, not even your mother; you were Manticore-like, but you definitely didn’t look like one.
What you lacked in the typical red and pink fluff, you had more than enough smooth and silky white fur. Your tail completely lacked chitin being instead a mess of serpentine scales and fur, the bulb being covered entirely in fur and almost entirely unlikely to be noticed at first glance. Your eyes glowed, your skin was ashen, and unlike the normal boisterous behavior of normal Manticores you enjoyed being quiet. You were also wingless. Physically it was as if up until the moment your egg had hatched, you were supposed to be one of those brash and fearless hunters until a last minute change decided too late that you were a Bunyip instead.
Was it nurture or nature that had driven you to pursue slower, clamer aspects of life and knowledge? You had to admit that your own nature had spurred you to try and learn as much as you could about anything you could, which eventually had gotten you trapped into medicine. It wasn’t all bad, but the constant want to know more and see odd things had eventually gotten you where you were; on a ship that was presumably going to be rocketting out into space to explore the unknown. And now some adventurous man with a ship had you alone in a room like in one of those terrible books you were always reading, smelling of those lovely imperceptible things that made all three of your mouths drool.
“Well, I needed to see you about getting a physical.” you inhale sharply as he finishes the statement, your mind immediately jumping to all the instances of the various romance novels carrying on themes of a healer and ‘examining’ one of her patients. Invariably it’d end in ways that you were certain your tail certainly wanted right now. Not that you particularly minded, but how would he react? You couldn’t risk it, not yet anyways.
“Sir are you sure that’s nec-”
“I just want a general base line before we get going,” he cuts you off as his hands begin to work over the upper portion of his jumpsuit, peeling it off and away downward and letting it hang off behind him as he leaned against one of the examination beds, “And you don’t need to worry about honorifics, you're practically the only one on the ship who can tell me what to do, so just use my name.” you simply nodded to the statement, turning away to distract yourself for a moment as you worked to maintain your composure. Absently, you noted that you had read that; you could give him orders, override him even, and potentially confine him if and when the need arose.
Slowly you worked to maintain a steady means of breathing. He was half dressed, the two of you were alone, he wanted you to look over his body, and he wanted to be casual with you rather than profesional. It really was like one of your terrible romance books. Maybe.
“Alright Anon,” you find yourself saying as you wave one of your large furry claws in a shooing motion, “d-disrobe fully and get on the bed.” He simply shrugs at this and begins to work on kicking off his boots, absently you turn round to find a datapad that you could log this on. After finding it and turning back to face him it isn’t until he hooked his thumbs into the rest of his jumpsuit and more and started to pull it all down that you realize you made a mistake. “W-wait, I meant… n-not naked. Just your underclothes on.” the barest hint of pubic hair starting out over the brim of his underwear as he stood there frozen for a moment, eyes boring into yours as a wry, if not slightly embarrassed smile spreading out over his face.
“Sorry,” he offered quickly, correcting the clothes in short work before hopping up on the examination bed. “So uh… anything else?” Immediately the more beastial part of your brain leapt at the question as images of wrapping him tight in your serpentine tail and using it to feed on him while pinning him began to flash in your head.
“Just some routine questions,” you answered back curtly, mentally chastising yourself as you shifted your tail behind yourself; stretching it out as far as you could to keep it as far from him as you could. Slowly you approached, datapad in hand as you began to input information for filing. “Anything to note lately? Aches, pains, losing sleep?”
“Nothing in particular,” he answers back, eyeing you curiously. You hum out a response in kind as you page over multiple times, flipping through various sections of the physical questionnaire in the datapad.
You couldn’t help but scan over his features, taking full advantage of the situation. The Captain wasn’t anything at all like what you had heard a few of the security staff call a ‘specimen’, a somewhat sleazy term that usually meant whatever any particular girl needed it to. That wasn’t to say that he wasn’t decent looking, or something that the average mamono wouldn’t jump at given the chance, but rather everything about him was painfully average. He would never be considered a model, his build didn’t lend to him being obviously powerful, or anything in specific that could conjure anything more than just a fairly average looking man; everything about him was average, except for how he smelled.
His scent seemed to boil out of his very skin, stinging at your sensitive nose and causing every one of your mouths to water. The Captain wasn’t anything in particular, but the way he smelled was more than enough to get any Mamono to jump through hoops just to be near enough to smell him. You had never smelled anything like this before and part of you felt bad for the girls who had worked around him, or would be some time soon; the amount of self discipline was either medal worthy or perhaps their noses weren’t so acute as yours.
“S-sexual active?” you couldn’t help but choke, the tone in your voice wavering like a young girl failing to remain calm when talking to their crush.
“No,” he answers simply and you find your stomach being overcome with an odd sensation as you nearly lose control of your tail. In a flash the end is nestling next to your hip, almost like a nervous pet regarding someone new it wanted to play with but wasn’t sure of. “Are you okay? You're not injured are you?” his eyes jumped to your side, staring directly at your hungry tail which you fought mentally to not open as your face burned viciously. “You’ve been holding you tai-”
“Oh yes, its uh.. Um, I am fine. Not injured, no.” you answered fast, taking a step back as your mind reeled as you tried to figure out how to work through this. You had to do something, otherwise you’d be liable to drool everywhere, “J-just a moment.” As you quickly moved away you thought over it as fast as you could, since this was an issue of smell, maybe you shouldn’t for the time being. Almost automatically you grabbed a salve from a shelf, the label told you everything you needed to know, and as soon as the lid was free blessed anosmic relief washed over you. Your claw found its way into the goo and tapped absently at your nose, blinding yourself to that wonderful smell. Your tail went limp, slowly becoming far more docile.
“Migraine?” he calls out to you from across the room, half sitting up with a grin.
“Whut?” you asked back suddenly as you made your way back towards him, absently putting the lid back on the concentrated menthol based salve.
“Its uh… well it works well for migraines and headache,” he motions slowly to either of his temples, “Does it need to go on your nose because you’re different?” his voice dripped with barely restrained curiosity, you had heard stories from the other primary crew and even from the security chief who had known him the longest out of anyone. How he’d obsessively pour over books, go out of his way to see things, and do anything seemingly associated with having an adventurer's soul; always seeking some ‘unknown’ thing. You had a similar drive, but not quite as nebulous as him; maybe that’s why he smelled so good, he was compatible with you. Something you hadn’t run into before.
“Oh! yes.” you lied, setting down the canister as you moved to the side of the examination table. Your tail now a touch more placid and no longer threatening to drool everywhere or reveal its innards, you felt safe enough to be this close for now. At the very least you’d be professional with the Captain, feel him out as it were to learn about him and what kind of a man he was; this had nothing to do with your books, especially the very long and sordid series about the priest and his would be wives always being interrupted or having things stall out before anything happened. “Migraine,”
“Sorry about that,” he offered softly as he touched your fluffy forearm, your silver fur sliding between his fingers like water. “We’re all pulling double duty right now as we try to get things ready, I probably shouldn’t have bothered you with this. You’ve got the personnel files to pour over an-” your own furred paws grasped at his arms and you couldn’t help but give a slight squeeze, marveling at how he felt in your hands. Not too soft, not too hard; something that definitely appealed to a more baser part of your mind.
“No, it's quite alright.” you answered quickly, gently pulling away from his arms only to touch at his neck as you felt for his lymph nodes, “It is my job after all, I can handle it.” you couldn’t help but let out a soft hum as you went about checking over him, shifting to look at his eyes, mouth, nose and all the rest. Testing the reflexes in his knees and elbows, his joints, and even his feet for any issues. It wasn’t until you realized what was left that you started to get skittish and unsure of how to broach the subject of what you needed to check next.
“Something wrong Alanna?” he asked curiously, obviously catching whatever look had begun to take over your face. You couldn’t do this could you? You bit into your lip, your tail shuddered, and you couldn’t help but nearly burn a hole through his underclothes.
“I uh…I need to look at you.” you swallowed as your face began to burn, his only response being a momentarily confused look before a bit of smirk took it’s place.
“Not even going to get me dinner first?” a sly grin meets you and your ears slap down fast to your head, face burning brightly as you looked away as you began to grumble. Your scaled bulb flexed and a cool rage seemed to bubble up through your stomach, and loins, as you involuntarily flexed your large fur covered paws. Fraternization was forbidden, even if the two of you were compatible and he was essentially poking a violent, untamable libido. It’s absolutely forbidden. “Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’m uh… I’m definitely fine, down there. No lumps, nothing out of place.” you let out a sigh and tried to relax, though your tail seemed to be slightly annoyed as it shifted about. You could feel the petals shifting on their own, but thankfully it made no move to open.
“W-well if anything changes,” you start only for the Captain to nod and handwave the statement.
“I got it. Anything even seems to be happening down there and you’ll be the first to know.” you quirked an eyebrow at this, your own smirk panting over your face as you felt your bulb flex with anticipation, a soft laugh escaping you. Anon could only grimace as his face burned, a knuckle suddenly being bitten. “That’s uh… you know what I mean.”
“Oh, should I make dinner then?” you jab back, grinning naturally for the first time in a long while, which only deepened at his reaction; he hurriedly hooping off the table as his face began to turn red while refusing to look at you while fumbling with his clothes as he tried to pull them on clumsily. “You know, you’re nothing like how I originally imagined.” this causes him to pause, looking you over for a look that's a mix of wonder and confusion. You can’t help but pale at realizing that you had just said that aloud.
“And what did you imagine I would be?” he jabs back, the tone similar to how yours had been with mirth.
“W-well that is to say I uh…,” you trail off trying to articulate it in your head. He was more akin to the ridiculous romance characters from your books rather than the stuffy, military man who you had originally imagined. The Captain was surprisingly approachable and fairly easy to engage with, or at least it was true for you due to what your nose told you.
“I know, I get it.” you chuckles while pulling on the jumpsuit and working it over as he dresses in it. “You were expecting some faceless uniform,” you can’t help but nod emphatically at this, “That’s actually something we screened out when picking crewmen, or at least, try to.”
“What?” you can’t help but have your voice betray your surprise.
“Well, you were at the ball, weren’t you?” he asks curiously and again you can’t help but shake your head, wondering how that related to anything. You had heard about what had happened, part of you now regretted not getting to see it first hand. What did not being a stiff militaristic type have to do with not making assumptions? “Well… basically it boils down to those kinds of personalities not being able to adapt to unknown situations and being too ready to make assumptions.” he finished out as he finished up with the jumpsuit and went about shoving his feet into his boots.
“Huh,” you let out, brow furrowing up as you thought over it. That did make sense to a degree. Survival pressures planetside may allow for those types of personalities to survive, even thrive, but out in the void or on other worlds...
“Yeah.” he responds as he checks over his uniform for a moment, eyeing it all and ensuring his gigline was proper as he made minor adjustments. “But in the meantime… at least around the crew, do your best to pretend I am such a faceless, heartless thing.” a sly, cheeky grin splaying out across his face and touching at his eyes, you can’t help but be slightly taken aback as you wondered why.