Authors: Tracy St. John
Tags: #erotic science fiction
Tidro laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. It sounded more like sobbing to Yuder. “I have no idea what to do with myself anymore, my Nobek. I’m no longer an emperor. I’m no longer needed as a nursemaid. You have your lovely Tara to see to you. What do I do?”
It was the opening Yuder had hoped for. He said, “I think a retreat for you to rest and recover from your grief is in order. Perhaps the Temple of Life on Alirsu would be a good place.”
“But that moon is so remote, Yuder.” Tidro considered and added, “Though the thought of quiet and contemplation is appealing at this stage. Hiding away from my cares and getting out of this place where I see Zarl everywhere would be good.”
Yuder insisted, “It would be healing. You can figure out what it is you wish to do now that you have time to be selfish.”
Tidro twisted around in his arms to face him. His eyes narrowed with suspicion, driving deep creases in the corners. “You may think you’re fooling me, but after nearly two hundred years I know better. Why are you trying to get rid of me?”
Yuder scowled to be caught, though he wasn’t surprised. Tidro was nobody’s fool, not by a longshot. Just because he had always been the quietest member of Clan Zarl didn’t mean he didn’t see everything going on around him.
He said, “The Royal Council will be going through Zarl’s official records soon.”
Tidro shrugged. “Of course. That’s what always happens when a monarch or former monarch dies.”
“They will learn the truth of the Earthers being brought here to Kalquor.”
The Imdiko rolled his eyes. “So?”
“It will give them the proof some have searched for. With this threatened rebellion, it could lead to more trouble. Open revolt is not out of the question.”
Tidro snorted. “Rebellion. Revolt. The Basma and his fools with their ridiculous defense of the ‘pure’ Kalquorian. We are dying out, Yuder. The Kalquorian Empire was coming to an end. What choice did we have?”
Of them all, Tidro had always been convinced that they did the right thing. It had been Zarl and Yuder who had held reservations about kidnapping the Earther females that now gave the Empire hope. In the end, for better or worse, desperation had won out.
To his Imdiko Yuder said, “Why we made the decision we did doesn’t matter to those who oppose mixing Kalquorians and Earthers. The fact remains we took women away against Earth’s wishes – and sometimes against the women’s wishes – which led to war with Earth. Many of our own died, and Earth is a dead world now.”
Tidro’s tone turned hot. “Due to the crazy religious faction that ruled that planet.”
“Due to us taking their females in order to continue our culture,” Yuder corrected firmly. “Let’s not pretty this up, my Imdiko. No matter how desperate we were, we did something that resulted in billions of deaths. Billions, Tidro.”
Tidro still wouldn’t accept any of it as their doing. “We had no idea how mad their leaders were. How could we know they would destroy themselves like that? It’s not like we triggered the explosives ourselves. The last thing we wanted was to see Earth destroyed!”
It was easy to be patient with his Imdiko since Yuder had long given up on changing his mind about the matter. “It doesn’t matter what we did or didn’t know at the time. What matters is it happened, and the likelihood is great that Zarl’s records will show our complicity. The disaffected will flock to the Basma’s rebellion once it comes out. There will be many shouting for justice for the dead. I want you out of here before that happens.”
Tidro stared at him. “What are you saying, Yuder? That you will take the blame on my behalf? Am I to blithely go off to contemplation while you are dragged into an inquiry? Maybe even a trial?” He shoved at Yuder, and the Nobek let himself be driven back as Tidro vented. “By the ancestors, the Galactic Council of Planets has been after us for these last three years to allow them to open an investigation of their own. What if they drag you out of the Empire to face those charges?”
Yuder kept his tone even. “My fate was pre-determined from the moment I was born a Nobek and prince. I am Empire and clan protector. My function is to see to it my people remain safe from all threats. Failing that, I see to my clan. Zarl is now beyond the reach of those who would harm him, but I can still shield you.”
Tidro scowled. “Don’t be a fool. I supported our decision. I argued with you and Zarl for that decision.”
“You did what you thought best for the Empire. We all did. It still remains some women were brought here against their will. The charges that will be brought are valid.”
The Imdiko clenched his fists. “I regret none of it. Those poor Earther women lived under such oppression ... charged for lewdness when they were raped. They were even executed for it. Executed, Yuder! For the crimes committed against them!”
He paced now, storming up and down the balcony as he dealt with guilt he refused to acknowledge. “We saved some of them. Most have been made happy since coming here.”
Yuder had let Tidro enjoy his illusions all these years. The idea that they had done the Earther women a service had kept his Imdiko’s mind at an uneasy peace. Yet the time had come for Tidro to face the consequences of their actions. Hard truths were bound to come out now, truths that could put his elderly clanmate in a prison camp ... or worse. Yuder couldn’t let that happen.
He told Tidro. “More Earthers died than were saved.”
Tidro halted in his tracks. He stared at Yuder for an instant, his expression one of great misery. He bowed his head. “Damn you.”
Yuder sighed. He was not nearly as old as Tidro, but he felt the weight of too many years on his shoulders nonetheless.
He told the Imdiko, “My clanmate, my greatest concern now is you.”
Tidro shook his head. “If they need a scapegoat so badly, they can do as they like. Put me on trial. Sentence me. It makes no difference any longer.”
“It makes a difference to me. You are nearing your two-hundred fortieth year. I will not have you sentenced to a penal facility at your age.”
Tidro looked up at Yuder, his expression startled. “Clajak would never allow it.”
“Our son is an emperor. To maintain the stability of the Empire, he and the rest of the Imperial Clan may have no choice but to let justice be served.” Yuder took Tidro in his arms. He tried not to think how frail the aged body felt against his. “My Imdiko, you are all that is left of my clan. You must let me protect you.”
Tidro wasn’t quite ready to give up the fight. “What of Tara? You have found love with a woman again, one that makes you happier than I’ve seen you in decades. What of her?”
Yuder kept the throb of regret and pain he felt to himself. He kept his voice steady as he said, “She is strong and able to bear what I may have to go through.”
His Imdiko scowled. “And you think I can’t?”
Yuder had to chuckle despite the trouble in his heart. “I have come to believe that Mataras and Imdikos are the strongest of us all. You would be my strength in the times ahead, as you have been so many times before. As you were Zarl’s.” His grip on Tidro tightened. “It is I who cannot bear to see your pain. I am the one who is weak.”
The other man frowned at him, but Yuder felt how his clanmate’s body softened. Thank the ancestors, Tidro was beginning to see reason.
Pressing his advantage, Yuder pleaded, “Go to Alirsu, Tidro. Do it for my sake. I cannot watch you dragged before an inquiry and interrogated like some common criminal. I cannot remain strong when people call for you to pay the price of our shortsightedness.”
Tidro bowed his head. Tears dripped from his eyes to the stone balcony beneath their feet. Yuder prayed to the ancestors that his Imdiko would do as he was asked. He had already vowed to himself that if Tidro refused to go on retreat, Yuder would force him into hiding. He would not watch his clanmate face the coming controversy, not so soon after coping with their Dramok’s death.
“All right. If it is what you truly wish, I will go.” The aged man’s voice came out in a sob.
“Thank you, my Imdiko.” Yuder’s arms tightened around Tidro.
Tidro returned the embrace, holding fast to Yuder. They clung to one another, as if the other man was all that kept one from being taken away.
Yuder had never felt as fragile as he did now. He felt like a hot-air balloon that was held to the earth by one last straining mooring. The storm lashing the balcony only intensified that feeling. Zarl’s death had torn his clanmates’ world apart.
The wind continued to blow hard. Even if it had been calm Yuder would have felt adrift without the anchor of his Dramok.
Cissy gripped hands with her identical twin sister Tasha. She tried to appear cool and calm for the Kalquorian attendants on board the shuttle. They didn’t need to know how her heart raced or that her palm sweated as freely as Tasha’s. She prided herself on always looking in control, even when possessing control seemed well out of reach.
They’d left the doomed Earth nine months ago on board a large transport, now in orbit around the planet of Kalquor. Most of the other women on board the transport had been taken to the complex that would house them until they found clans to join. Though Cissy and Tasha also planned to live in the complex, they were regarded as a special case. They had gotten a shuttle all to themselves, and it had just landed within a cliff. They stood now before the hatch, waiting for it to open.
To Cissy’s surprise, the bay did not look like it was within a great rock jutting on the pink-sanded shore on the planet Kalquor. The vid viewer to the left of the Salter twins showed them a thoroughly modern landing area with soft illumination glowing from the walls and ceiling. Other shuttles and transports dotted the large area.
The vid also showed them the large number of people waiting for their arrival. Cissy thought there were easily fifty people out there, if one didn’t count the red formsuited guards standing at attention all over the place. Most of those standing outside the shuttle were the dark-skinned, black-haired Kalquorian race. They were almost all male ... unabashedly masculine and muscular men. Judging from the blue robes worn by many in the group, they were also politically powerful men, the ruling elite of the Kalquorian Empire.
Cissy swallowed against the rush of nervousness that flooded her. Her cousin Jessica had clanned with the emperors of Kalquor. As a member of the empress’ family, Cissy herself had been treated with deference throughout her journey here, deference that bordered on embarrassing. Still, the status she’d gained hadn’t made a real impression until this moment.
Tasha sounded just as breathless as she felt. “Wow. It looks like half the Royal Council showed up along with the Imperial Family. You’d think we were important.”
Cissy was glad she wasn’t the only one feeling a bit off-balance. She whispered, “Who would have ever guessed we’d end up related to royalty? I am so underdressed for this.”
Tasha emitted a nervous giggle as her long-lashed hazel eyes took in Cissy’s denim trousers and black tee-shirt. At least she’d also thrown on a nice turquoise button-down blouse, which Cissy wore unbuttoned over the tee. “Better than flaunting all your wares like you’ve been doing on the transport.” Tasha winked. “Everyone knows you hate pretension. No sense dressing like someone you’re not, Cis.”
Cissy eyed her twin. Tasha liked pretty clothes, so she looked perfectly presentable in her wraparound dress of purple. She’d put her dark brown waves into a tidy bun, except for the few tendrils that had artfully escaped from it.
Except for their clothing, the pair were nearly impossible to tell apart. They’d even gained the same amount of weight during their nine-month trip from Earth to Kalquor. Close to starved to death before finally admitting there was no choice but to turn themselves in to their former enemies, the pair’s petite frames had made them seem more like children at first glance. Indeed, the rescue party of Kalquorians they’d given themselves up to had taken some convincing that the twins were in their early thirties.
Discovering that Cissy and Tasha were also first cousins to the Earther Empress of Kalquor had caused quite the sensation amongst the aliens. Though supplies in those last days of evacuating the dying Earth had dwindled, the Kalquorians had made sure the women had everything they could give them. That included copious amounts of delicious food, which the sisters had availed themselves of without restrictions.
Cissy had laughingly referred to Tasha and herself as Chub One and Chub Two for the last couple of months. Tasha hated hearing that. She constantly insisted she was going to eat less and take up an exercise regimen. Yet the men on the transport that brought them from Earth to Kalquor had discovered how much the pair loved chocolate ... and pizza ... and pie ... and many, many other things. Edible gifts from those wishing to enjoy the twins’ favors had abounded.
“Stop fretting,” Cissy had told her twin more than once as they walked the corridors of the huge Kalquorian ship. “So we’re curvy gals now. None of the Kalquorians are complaining. In fact, I keep hearing how deliciously soft I am.”
“These men do seem to appreciate the extra cushion,” Tasha agreed. “But I’m logging another mile before I take it easy this evening. Those fried mozzarella balls Dramok Niot brought me this afternoon are not adding another inch to my ass!”
“Didn’t he already help you work them off?” Cissy teased.
“A lady doesn’t discuss such things.”
“A lady also doesn’t yell ‘Harder you beast’ at the top of her lungs for all the Matara section of the ship to hear.”
Thinking about all the eating they’d done following weeks of starvation made Cissy feel nauseous right now as she waited for the shuttle’s hatch to open. If the Kalquorians on board the transport hadn’t been devoted to showing her how much they approved of cuddly girls, she’d be even more nervous. Especially since her space-pale porcelain skin contributed to what she thought of as the doughy look.
I hope the Earthers who got here before me convinced the Kalquorians to stock up on tanning spray. I’m not walking around like a living marshmallow.