Authors: Tracy St. John
Tags: #erotic science fiction
Diltan grumbled, “At least you acknowledge I try.”
His clanmates chuckled. Wal rose and came over to sit next to him. The Imdiko wrapped his arms around Diltan in an effort to make amends. “It’s that effort that makes you so endearing, my Dramok. You do have a good heart. It’s not your fault you were born to such advantageous circumstances.”
Diltan made a rude noise, but he didn’t push Wal away. He’d been born into an affluent family, then he’d made himself ridiculously rich, and then obscenely wealthy. He knew he didn’t understand many of the issues that the common man faced. Yet he did his best to have empathy for others’ problems.
Rolat also rose and winked at him. “Don’t worry, my Dramok. We’ll keep working on you despite your many faults.”
Diltan scowled. “You two didn’t grow up in diminished circumstances yourselves.”
Wal squeezed tighter and let him go. “No, we didn’t. More is the pity. I see plenty of men in my court who think they’re entitled to special treatment simply because they’ve always been given such. Sometimes I think too much money is as bad a condition as too little.”
The Imdiko had apparently decided Diltan had been teased enough, because he changed the subject. “So ... the well-behaved twin. Natasha? Is she worth our suit?”
Diltan brightened. Being picked on for his ambition had made him worry his clanmates would poke fun at him for wanting to pursue the cousin of the empress. “I believe she is. She and her sister have decided to enter the lottery rather than rely on Empress Jessica to introduce them to suitors.”
Rolat seemed impressed. “That’s interesting. A sign they’re well grounded. What’s the other one’s name again? The spitfire?”
Diltan answered with impatience, since he wanted to talk about Tasha and not her dismissive sister. “Cecilia. I believe they call her Cissy. Anyway, I mentioned to Tasha that our clan had been selected by the lottery to present ourselves to interested Mataras. After speaking with her for a few minutes, she offered to see if our profiles had come up as a potential compatible match – with no prompting on my part.”
He glared at his clanmates as if to dare them to challenge his assertion. They snickered at him, but said nothing.
Mollified that they at least were amiable to go along with his account ... which was true ... Diltan continued. “Tasha said I seemed nice. If our profiles looked like a decent match, she’d put our clan as her first choice to interview.”
Wal looked delighted. “Wonderful. I look forward to meeting her, my Dramok. I know you made a good impression.”
Though he also looked pleased, Rolat wasn’t as quick to congratulate Diltan. “Just don’t push us to clan her simply because she’s got links to the royals. Your standing as a councilman has given us plenty of interest from other Mataras. Personality and compatibility are more important than connections. We need to choose our potential mates on that.”
Diltan’s tone was dry. “Thank you, my father.”
Wal laughed hard at that. Rolat gave them both a dirty look.
The Imdiko said, “Well, you did sound terribly paternal just now, my Nobek.”
Rolat considered before joining in with their snickers. “I guess I did. But you two need a minder.”
Diltan slapped his hand on his clanmate’s shoulder. “I promise you’ll like Tasha, my Nobek. She’s smart, well spoken, and nice.”
Much nicer than that rambunctious Cissy
, he thought. Tasha wasn’t as lively, not by far ... but that was sure to be a good thing.
Cissy and Tasha spent the night in guest suites in the Royal House. Jessica had not been subtle in the least as she went over all the amenities that came with living just two levels below her grand home in the cliff.
“A kitchen open 27 hours a day every day, ready to whip up whatever your hearts and stomachs desire,” she gushed. “They’ve gotten really good at preparing Earther food, which our colony on Haven supplies. We’ve got chocolate. Fresh-roasted coffee. Vax himself taught them how to cook the best dishes, a kind of Kalquorian-Earther fusion that will make you fat and happy.”
Imdiko Vax was one of Lindsey’s clanmates, a celebrated chef who owned three restaurants on Kalquor. To hear Lindsey and Jessica tell it, most people needed reservations months in advance to hope to eat in one of his establishments.
“Look in the entertainment room,” Jessica went on, tugging the twins all over the guest suite. “The latest in vid technology. You’d swear you’re in the middle of every program you watch. Just listen to that sound system!”
She instructed the entertainment to play some rimnastin, a newer form of music that was all the rage throughout the various worlds. It had grown out of the thunder of Kalquorian lemanthev, crossed improbably with sounds similar to dance-friendly Plasian sleshirin. It had been created by young Earthers who had taken the minor-key heavy lemanthev and incorporated swirling tones of Earther sonic guitars and keyboards. It was music Cissy herself had grown partial to. Her head bobbed in time with the thudding beat.
The bathing facility was no less impressive with its shower built big enough for an entire Kalquorian clan to use at once (or a football team, as Cissy whispered to Tasha), a sauna, a whirlpool, and a bathing pool the size of a small pond. The bedrooms were even more immense, with balconies that looked over the ocean and sleeping mats every bit as large as the bathing pool.
The opulence was mind boggling, beguiling even. Cissy wondered if she’d made a mistake in planning to live in modest Matara Complex quarters. The Matara Complex was where women from Earth stayed as they courted likely clans for lifemates. She’d never been one for fancy things, but she thought she might be able to get used to such luxury ... not that she’d ever admit to it for fear of sounding obnoxious.
However, she and Tasha both found the suite far too big after their cousins left for the night. With just two of them knocking about, the huge space felt like a mausoleum, echoing and devoid of life no matter how loud the women cranked up the rimnastin music.
After a somewhat restless night during which Cissy felt she was drowning in the immense sleeping mat, she found Tasha eager to quit the grand suite of rooms. “It would be one thing to live here with a clan and children,” Tasha mused. “It’s ridiculous for us though.”
Cissy agreed. They had their storage bins by the door when Lindsey and Jessica arrived at sunrise.
“Overkill, huh?” Lindsey laughed as she handed them each a mug of coffee. “Now you see why my clan lives in a much more modest setting.”
Cissy sipped from her steaming cup, moaning with pleasure as she did so. First thing in the morning and after every meal, she was grateful that the Kalquorians had seen fit to import coffee from the Earther colonies that grew the beans. Coffee had become a big hit in the Empire, she’d discovered.
Tasha smiled apologetically at Jessica. “It’s beautiful here, but I feel lost in so much space. I guess I got used to ship’s quarters on the transport.”
Jessica sighed, but she didn’t seem insulted. “You’ll appreciate being able to get lost once you have a clan and kids. I love my brood and lifemates beyond all sense, but sometimes escape is a wonderful thing.”
“So says the woman trying for another child,” Lindsey smirked.
“Are you?” Cissy grinned. “Two isn’t enough?”
“Not even close,” Jessica asserted. “I want lots of kids. After all, I have plenty of home in which to hide from them.”
“There is logic hidden somewhere in there,” Tasha mused. “I’m sure of it.”
Laughing, the four women headed for the shuttle bay, where they were joined by a contingent of the Royal Guard. A pilot was quickly located to take them to the Matara Complex.
Cissy and Tasha’s new home was in an underground cavern, created by the mining that was the Kalquorian Empire’s greatest asset. Cissy hadn’t been too sure about living underground, but she’d been told she would never know the difference.
We’ll see about that
, she thought as the small Imperial shuttle left the cliff to perform a steep banking maneuver that took them into a tunnel within the cliff face.
Jessica said, “Usually only emergency vehicles are allowed in the underground. You have to walk or run everywhere otherwise.”
“I guess being royal has its advantages, Your Grace?” Cissy teased.
“Be nice or I’ll shove my silver spoon up your nose,” Jessica said in a snotty tone. The effect was ruined as she broke down in giggles.
Lindsey didn’t join in the humor. “Jessica has to be careful, as little as she wants to admit it. This rebellion issue has meant abduction attempts. It’s scary how close we’ve come to losing her.”
“But you haven’t and you won’t.” The young woman tried to wave off everyone’s concern. “The Basma doesn’t have enough followers to make his revolt a true threat.”
“Yet.” Lindsey was dogged in her determination to give them the full story. “There are signs that more Kalquorians are swayed to his cause every day. He damned near cost us Haven Colony a few months ago.”
“You’re being dramatic,” Jessica complained. It was funny for her to ascribe that to Lindsey, since Cissy knew how temperamental her youngest cousin could be. Jessica’s stormy temper was legendary in their family.
“I heard what Governor Ospar told you. Earthers and Kalquorians on that colony banding together under the common cause of keeping the races separate? Even though it could drive us both into extinction? That’s unheard of.”
“Ospar loves to be dramatic. He thrives on the hint of conspiracies and mayhem. I suspect he’s behind quite a few such things himself. I love that guy, but he’s not happy unless he’s in the middle of trouble.” Jessica waved her hand dismissively. “Enough talk of rebellions. Full vid on.”
Cissy and Tasha yelped as the entire shuttle seemed to disappear from around them. Except for the doorway that opened into the vessel’s cockpit and the lushly cushioned seats they sat upon, there was nothing but a lit tunnel rushing past them.
“You ass,” Cissy said, shoving her cousin. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Royal Guards stiffen, coming to alert attention.
Oops. I didn’t think of how Jessica’s security would take an ‘attack’ on her royal person. It’s a good thing she’s laughing at me or I might be a spot on the non-existent floor.
Lindsey wasn’t worried about the Royal Guards either, aiming a kick at Jessica’s shin. “You are such a brat. I think Tasha wet herself.”
“No, it was a good trick.” Agreeable as always, Tasha smiled at Jessica. “It’s amazing to see everything like this.”
Jessica blew a raspberry at her. “Damn it, I forgot how good you are at making me feel guilty. When are you going to get an ugly side like Cissy?”
Cissy had heard enough. “That’s it. Hold her down, Lindsey. I’m going to tickle her until she pees her royal panties.”
Before she could make a move towards her chortling cousin, they flew out of the tunnel. Cissy froze and stared all around at the scenery.
They’d told her the underground area didn’t look like it was underground, but she was in no way prepared for the brilliant blue sky overhead and the distant sun streaming from it. There were walls of craggy rock in the distance, showing the immense size of the now defunct mine, but there was also a rich landscape of trees and shrubs leading up to those walls.
The ceiling of the former mine was one vast vid screen, programmed to show the sky outside. Today was a gorgeous early spring day, the weather warming nicely after yesterday’s brutally cold blast. It looked as if they were within a small, verdant canyon. Cissy had the impression that if she was to stand outside, she’d even feel the sun on her shoulders, left bare by the tank top she wore. She wondered if the Kalquorians manufactured breezes down here to further fool the senses.
Beyond the tunnel were two wide paths, just large enough for a medium-sized shuttle to navigate. One went to the left and was bordered by newly blooming flowers and colorful shrubs. With spring arriving at the Eastern Seaboard Territory, the underground’s landscapers had wasted no time in celebrating that fact. Cissy appreciated that they’d managed to make the foliage seem like naturally occurring growth as in the wild. Kalquorians loved nature and abhorred anything that appeared too planned.
The shuttle took the right hand path, the way that was more wooded. The shuttle flew well off the gravel-packed ground, over the heads of pedestrians traveling the trail. They looked up in interest as the vessel passed; after all, Jessica had said only emergency vehicles were allowed in the habitat.
“I love the trees on this planet,” Tasha murmured, looking at the forest on either side. The foliage was splendid, with the trees sporting rainbow-hued colors like a crazy quilt. Blue, red, gold, and green leaves against branches as white as ivory made the landscape seem almost magical.
Jessica and Lindsey looked too. “It sucks to get used to it,” the young empress said. “I forget how stunning this planet is until someone new shows up and reminds me of it.”
“It’s amazing all over again when you get to see it through someone else’s eyes,” Lindsey agreed.
Cissy frowned to see something not so natural on one side of the path. A utilitarian building, metal and somehow forbidding, sat there. Three Kalquorians in black armored formsuits stood outside its door, watching the shuttle pass overhead. Cissy noticed they had percussion blasters on their belts, as well as sheathed knives. One man had a laser rifle slung over one shoulder.
“Do you get much trouble out here?” she asked.
Jessica frowned when she followed Cissy’s gaze. “Not lately. We had a serial killer run amok who targeted Earth women about a year ago. It was the same Nobek who instigated the Slaughter of the Innocents on New Bethlehem.”
“No shit.” Cissy was suddenly glad to have the grim-faced Royal Guards on board. “I thought it was two men involved though?”
“It was just the one on New Bethlehem. He was a high-ranking soldier there and lost his mind. He came back here and started killing women. His Dramok discovered what was happening but didn’t tell anyone. They were both executed for their crimes.”