"What is this!?" Seven feet of muscle and scales glared down on the Corporal who had drawn the short straw and was assigned to deliver Fourth Battalion's mail this cycle.
"It's your mail, sir." The corporal replied calmly, only blanching a little at the hot breath blowing down on him.
"This is no mail!" The being bellowed. "It is not! Mail is chiseled into crafnni stonewood using the family adze! Mail is signed with the blood of a she-graf!"
The corporal sighed. Apparently they'd gone through this before.
"Sorry sir, but NR Communications has determined that stonewood is too cumbersome to transport effectively to Farpoint. They transfer all tablets from Zhilm onto flimsy and archive the originals. You can pick them when you transfer back to the Central Systems, sir."
Murg Ov lumbered away, growling under his breath and turning the flimsies over and over in his hands. Corry kept a straight face until the Zhilmi had passed, and then she broke into a grin. "Does that happen often?"
"All the time." Conwy sighed. "Keep watching. It gets better."
From the far side of the mess hall a humanoid jumped onto a table and hollered, "I'm a father!!"
A loud chorus of cheers broke out along with a scattered "Congratulations!" and "Well done!" thrown in for good measure. Someone had received a bottle of sufficiently noxious liquid and it was soon passed to the new father.
Leaning close to Conwy, Corry whispered worriedly, "I thought he'd been on Farpoint for the past three years."
"Don't worry, it's really his. Chram have a very long gestation period."
"Oh. That's ok then. Will you give him leave to go home to see the child?" She asked.
Conwy swung around to stare at her, then snorted, "You really need to do a bit more study on the species we have in the Battalion. Chram females eat and kill their males after giving birth."
Corry's eyes widened. Then widened again. "Eat? And THEN kill?"
She shuddered but was interrupted by a corporal who stopped at her elbow. "Package for you, ma'am."
"Thank you!" The box was good sized, wrapped carefully in craft paper, tied in string and addressed in a fine hand. The original name and address had been marked out and "Forward to: Colonel Vrecken, Farpoint" had been written in formal block letters.
"Look! A package from Earth!"
Soon there was a good crowd standing around their small table and Conwy waved a hand. "Better open it up! They all want to see."
Corry slit the string and ripped off paper, crumpling the address carefully. Then the lid came off the box. The interior was stuffed with several small packages and topped with a pile of letters.
"Honest to goodness paper!" Corry picked the letters up and took a deep breath, savoring the familiar scent.
"They kill trees to send messages." Murvholl explained to the others.
"So does he!" Corry cried defensively, pointing out the Zhilm.
Murvholl favored her with a mouth full of teeth, "Perhaps, but he does it with style!"
Corry stuck her tongue out at him and began unwrapping the bundles. First was a rather squashed and stale looking lemon cake. Then a stack of DVDs with the latest season's offerings from her parents' favorite TV shows.
A third bundle was a small photo album with pictures from the annual family reunion. This was quickly passed around the group and elicited a round of comments that made Corry chuckle.
"What funny looking zhevras."
"Those are not zhevras, the Tau'ri call them horses."
"They're still funny looking. Their necks are too long!"
"Look at the little Tau'ri! They're so cute. At what age do they lose their fur and stand upright?"
Corry blinked, looked carefully at the picture and then managed a wan smile. "Those are the family dogs. They're pets."
"They sleep on your bed?"
"Argh! Hideous!!" The speaker received an elbow in the chest.
"Quiet. It's the Colonel's uncle!"
"What?" Corry asked, grabbing for the photo. "Oh! Don't worry, that's just makeup. He's dressed up as a rodeo clown."
No one seemed to believe this, but Corry let it go.
The last bundle was wrapped in gift paper. Inside was another box and Corry opened it eagerly, then gasped and slammed down the lid.
"What is it?" Conwy reached toward the lid and Corry smacked his hand.
"Oh, come on! You got to see the holos of me naked and sitting in a bucket!" He griped.
There was a sudden silence which extended throughout the mess hall.
"I was two years old!" Conwy roared defensively.
"And you were cuter than a bug's ear!" Corry leaned over and kissed his cheek. "But you don't get to see this."
Hugging the final box to her chest, Corry gathered up her letters, left the cake and pictures and almost ran from the mess hall.
Alone in her quarters, the door locked, she reverently opened the box and took out a thread-bare brown stuffed bear. It was missing one eye, the left ear was barely handing on and the stuffing was lopsided from being dragged all over the barn yard by one arm.
She gave the bear a long hug and then seat him on the pillows at the head of her bed.
"Welcome home, Teddy."