Authors: Tracy St. John
Tags: #erotic science fiction
He narrowed his gaze at Maf. He was surprised to see the councilman among those present to greet the Salter twins. Maf had never hidden his dislike for the mixing of the Earther and Kalquorian races, not even to preserve the Empire’s culture in face of extinction. It was the one thing Ospar found himself hard pressed to forgive.
He told Rajhir, “I respect the man, but I don’t like what he stands for. He will be the first to cry foul if Zarl kept records of our arrangement. He might even pursue it to litigation.”
Rajhir’s expression was equally as grim. “I have no doubt the Imperial Father did keep an account of everything he decided as emperor. He was devoted to transparency, even if it was to happen in the future rather than the present. It will come out, Ospar.”
Ospar drew a deep breath. He had done things in his long career that he regretted, things that he’d known might eventually bite him in the ass. Until a year ago he’d not had so much at stake.
With the faces of his Matara Iris and his son Thomas in his mind, Ospar said, “I wonder how long after I return to Haven Colony before I am brought back here to face charges.”
Rajhir mused for a few seconds before answering. “It could be months. Zarl was almost as meticulous as you when it came to details.”
“You’ve never forgiven me all those files you had to organize back when you first came to work for me.”
Rajhir chuckled, finding a touch of real humor at last. “There is knowing your potential opponents and then madness, my friend. Who cares what a man eats for his breakfast every day?”
Ospar would have liked to join the other Dramok in the brief moment of amusement, but their current predicament was too heavy on his mind. “Zarl was a great man, Rajhir. His legacy and how others perceive it will go far in determining the Empire’s future.”
Rajhir immediately sobered. “Don’t I know it. Honor and Empire.”
“Always. The rebellion would seize on what we did as a means to swell their ranks.”
Rajhir nodded without the slightest hesitation. “Much is at stake.”
Ospar eyed his friend, knowing his next observation would not be welcomed. “I would prefer to see you emerge from this unscathed. You kidnapped the first Earther under my orders.”
Rajhir’s eyes narrowed and his lips thinned. “Don’t you dare, Ospar. I was well aware of what you were asking me to do when I went to Plasius to test Amelia for breeding compatibility. I know the difference between right and wrong. I’m every bit as much to blame as you.”
Ospar shook his head. He’d rehearsed this conversation a million times over, and his words came with ease. “As my Matara would say, you’re an angel compared to me. I sent in over a thousand clans to claim Earther mates. You took only one woman and managed to make her love you and celebrate her clanning in the process. I am the chief architect in this matter, and I am ready to assume full responsibility.”
Rajhir stared at him. “Are you to be our martyr, Ospar? Don’t be a fool. No one will believe one man was behind all those abductions.”
Ospar went for the proverbial throat with his next point. “Your twins are young yet. Your clan needs you at home, not on trial. Have you considered this could land us on a penal colony?”
Rajhir’s hiss was angry. “And what of your clan? You claimed your Matara less than a year ago. Your son needs extra support. Little Thomas depends on you. You are no more dispensable than I when it comes to our families.”
Ospar tried not to think of his adopted son. Thomas was a smart, engaging child. However, it was true that the boy’s autism made changes in his family life difficult to cope with. Despite the nightly coms Ospar had made during his trip, Thomas demanded his Dramok father come home immediately. Iris had confirmed the boy cried each night that only three of his four parents put him to bed.
The thought that he caused Thomas any pain devastated Ospar as nothing else could. That he might have to cause the boy more hurt had kept him from sleeping these past nights.
Ospar had the weight of an empire on his shoulders. In the end, his clan and Thomas would persevere. It still made his guts twist to know they would pay with him for his crimes.
He could still keep the others out of trouble, however. Men like Rajhir need never damage their clans the way Ospar was forced to damage his.
With this in mind, he told his friend, “If the Ethics Committee goes after you, they’ll have to indict over half the council too. Trust me, plenty of men lost their concerns over coerced clannings when I called on them to do so. There is no reason you should sacrifice yourself and your clan’s well-being.”
“The more of us there are to shoulder the blame, the less gets shifted to the Imperial Clans, present and past. The rebellion loses traction that way.”
“No. The Basma’s new tactic is pointing out how it’s the high ranking clans getting most of the Mataras. He’s claiming elite privilege now.”
“Ridiculous. The lottery is random. Clans from all walks of success are getting their chance to attract female mates,” Rajhir fumed.
“The ones with money and prestige aren’t afraid to wave that in the women’s faces. They pull out all the stops to dazzle the Mataras with gifts and promises of gilded futures. Out of all the clans, they are almost certain to win lifebringers. Then there are the men without clans, the ones with no hope at all of winning Mataras. Jealousy is driving them to the Basma’s call.”
“They are traitors, then. There is no excuse for such nonsense.” Rajhir’s purple eyes sparked with fury. “Honor and Empire. For that, I will defend Kalquor no matter what the cost to me.”
Ospar sighed. Rajhir was being stubborn. However, given time to consider the situation properly, he thought his friend would be reasonable.
If they had time.
Ospar asked, “What of this Councilman Diltan? What can we expect from him should he be chosen over Maf to examine the records?”
Rajhir looked at the blue-robed men still waiting in line to greet the empress’ cousins. “I can’t be sure. With him we might have a slightly better chance. He’s loyal to the current Imperial Clan.”
“There was a time when he went to great lengths to curry favor. When Diltan first came to council, it was almost embarrassing how determined he was to get close to them. He wore ambition like a badge on his chest.”
Rajhir’s assessment gave Ospar a glimpse of hope. “That could help us.”
“Don’t bet on it. These days, Diltan is a competent councilman. He’s settled into duty in the last couple of years. He has issued challenges to a few things the royals have wanted. The empress can’t shout him down when they disagree, something many can’t claim.”
“So he went from sycophant to honorable.”
“To the point that his appointment to the Ethics Committee last year did not receive one single challenge.”
The dim hope died. Nominations to important committees like the one that policed government ethics were always challenged. That Dramok Diltan had assumed his duties without dispute spoke volumes for a principled reputation ... and trouble for Zarl’s legacy along with Ospar’s future.
“Such moral standing is good for the Empire, not so good for us.” Ospar managed a wry chuckle that hinted only slightly of the nausea in his belly. “I could soon be choking on the folly of my ways, old friend. There are a great many people who will enjoy seeing that.”
Rajhir gave him bleak eyes. “I won’t be one of them, Ospar. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.”
They looked at each other, their grimaces mirror images.
* * * *
Half an hour ticked by. Cissy got bored with the reception in the shuttle bay. One robed councilman or dignitary after another stepped before her, bowed, told her his name, and said pretty much the same thing: “Welcome to Kalquor. We are delighted to have more members of our empress’ family among us. Let me congratulate you on escaping Earth. If you need anything, do not hesitate to call on me.”
They were all nice, and some men were fodder for naughty fantasy. Yet the process dragged on and on. Cissy knew she would not remember more than half a dozen names of these men who made the Empire function. She wanted the infernally long greetings to be done with.
Tasha was as unfailingly polite as ever, taking the time to exchange a few words beyond pleasantries. Cissy, however, had no qualms about showing how bored she had become and tried to rush the proceedings along. She pasted a stiff, insincere smile on her face and muttered ‘thank you’ in the most ungrateful tone she could come up with that wouldn’t cause outright offense. The men’s brows drew together at her performance, but they didn’t speak of her lack of courtesy. They simply bowed and moved on.
Cissy could have shouted her relief when the last man in the long line stood before her. It was yet another councilman in blue robes who bowed before her, his face in a smile a little more eager than most.
He was fabulous to look at. The tall Kalquorian was almost as ridiculously handsome as Emperor Bevau. Despite her impatience with the tedium, Cissy couldn’t help but admire the councilman. His bone structure was model perfect while still masculine. His hair was a little shorter than the norm for Kalquorian men, barely brushing his shoulders. He wore it swept back from that flawless visage. His smile showed straight white teeth that gleamed from his bronze god face. The slight creases at the corners of his purple eyes added character rather than detracting from his looks.
As he straightened from his bow, his silky robe settled about his body. The loose folds did nothing to hide that his frame was as perfectly made as his face. Cissy liked that she only got a hint of the muscular beauty concealed within the robes rather than a blatant look at the package. Sometimes a tease was more alluring than getting to see everything.
The delicious morsel before her was a good way to end this whole ridiculous formal mess. Her return smile to the Kalquorian councilman was close to sincere.
one last quick hello, thank you, and goodbye. Then maybe I can finally get the hell out of here. Maybe I can get this one to go with me. Welcome to Kalquor with a bang.
The man spoke, his deep voice delivering yet another version of the same thing Cissy had heard for what she thought must be the thousandth time. “Matara Cecilia, welcome to Kalquor. I am Councilman Dramok Diltan. We are most delighted that more of our beloved empress’ family has been found.”
It was a voice made for speeches, beautifully modulated, deep without sounding thunderous, spoken with an air of the educated man. It tickled Cissy’s eardrums, sending a shiver of pleasure down her spine. Cissy wanted to hear that voice say dirty words while he did dirty things to her.
Forget it. He’s too damned handsome. I know the type. This Diltan knows he’s hot and probably uses it to get whatever he wants. I bet I’d see the arrogance within one minute of conversation
Deep down, Cissy knew she was intimidated by the gorgeous creature in front of her. More than ever, she regretted her casual outfit of jeans and tee shirt. The rest of her clothing had been too wild to greet her family and dignitaries in, however. Cissy had shaken off Earth’s repression with a vengeance in the last few months. Tasha had once called her Miss Cleavage, and not in a joking manner.
So she’d gone a little wild lately. The outfits she owned that weren’t tomboyish were a bit on the showy side. Okay, extremely showy, leaving no doubt that she was very much a woman.
Cissy hated pretension, but she could have at least bought a nice demure outfit. That, or borrowed something of Tasha’s. Something that might have impressed the gorgeous Kalquorian in front of her long enough to get him naked. Oh well, too late now.
Keeping her tone offhand so Councilman Eye Candy wouldn’t think she’d been affected by his insane amount of gorgeousness, Cissy said, “It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to say hello.”
As she spoke, a movement behind Diltan caught Cissy’s eye. She glanced past him to see Lindsey standing several feet away. Her cousin was shaking her head, a note of warning in her eyes as she surreptitiously pointed at Diltan.
Meanwhile, the councilman regarded Cissy with a slight frown. He started to turn his head to see what had distracted her. Lindsey moved away, walking behind a group of conversing councilmen so Diltan couldn’t see her.
He turned back to Cissy, clearly puzzled. His ingratiating smile returned as he spoke to her again. “If there is anything at all—”
“That you can do on our behalf, just let you know,” Cissy interrupted, her tone going cold. “Thanks, Diltan. Tasha, this is Diltan, another councilman. Say hello so he can go do something important.”
Tasha scowled at her as the councilman gaped in shock. In her most disapproving tone, her twin said, “Cissy, stop being so grumpy. Just because you’re tired is no excuse for bad manners.”
With that verbal spanking, Tasha turned her sweet smile on, bestowing it on the speechless Diltan. “Thank you so much for coming to greet us, Dramok. We are delighted to be a part of your empire.”
Diltan didn’t respond immediately. Instead, he looked at Cissy. This time, his eyes roamed over her trousers and tee shirt. His lips pursed in an expression that verged on disapproval.
Cissy glared. So he found her clothes wanting, did he? Just as she’d figured, Diltan was an arrogant jerk. He didn’t have to say anything to verify that assessment. The look said it all.
He turned back to her sister, bowing and smiling as he took in the other woman’s much more appropriate attire. Real pleasure lit his stupid-perfect face.
Diltan said, “The honor is all mine, Matara Natasha.”
“Tasha, please.” She returned the dazzling smile with interest.
“Yes. Tasha, please,” Cissy parroted, her tone oozing sarcasm.
At her twin’s warning glare, Cissy decided it was high time she wandered off. Talking to Lindsey suddenly seemed like a wonderful idea. At the same time, she decided she would keep a close eye on Tasha, especially since Lindsey had given her that warning look.
Moving away from Tasha and the councilman, Cissy went in search of her oldest cousin. She wanted the lowdown on Diltan, and the sooner, the better. On the surface he seemed okay, just uptight.