Authors: Tracy St. John
Tags: #erotic science fiction
Tasha bit her lip. “Executed? But if the killer was unstable, shouldn’t he have been allowed some mercy?”
There was a shadow in Jessica’s eyes as she shook her head. “He was mentally ill, but the guy still knew right from wrong. The doctors who examined him said he acted on compulsions rather than a complete lack of control.” She drew herself up. “Either way, there was no excusing his Dramok. He knowingly let his Nobek continue to torture, then murder innocent victims.”
The four women fell silent as they considered the matter. All had been secretly raised as Buddhists despite Earth’s police state that dictated how people could worship. Their belief was based on non-violence, and execution was usually an anathema to that belief.
Especially generate compassion for those whose ill deeds are horrible
, the great scholar Nagarjuna had said. Their faith taught that karma would deliver the consequences of a person’s actions without fail, whether in this life or the next. People who had committed unthinkable crimes were to be pitied and prayed for, because they would suffer horribly for them.
“But in self-defense, it’s not so bad,” Cissy whispered to herself. “Or defending someone else’s life.”
“What?” Tasha asked.
“Nothing. Just talking to myself.”
Lindsey gave her a wicked smile. “You know what that’s a sign of, right?”
Cissy’s grin was equally evil. “That I appreciate intellectual conversation with the brightest person in the room.”
That got her a mixture of groans, gagging sounds, and hoots of derision.
The women went back to watching their surroundings and commenting on them. In the distance were the first free-standing buildings Cissy had seen on Kalquor. They dotted between the trees, none too close to others, leaving plenty of room for whoever lived there. Despite being houses that had been built rather than carved out of the landscape, they still had an organic feel to them, almost melting into the environment. They boasted curves and rounded shapes.
“Like large abstract sculptures that have been worn by the elements over time,” Tasha opined.
Cissy’s attention focused on a great structure rising in the distance as the wooded area ended and the landscape opened up. It was similar to the free-standing homes except for its size.
“Home sweet home,” Jessica announced, confirming this was the long-awaited Matara Complex.
Cissy recognized it from vids. Like everything else to do with the Empire, it was more impressive in person.
Curved and flowing in shape, it looked like granite that had not been so much carved as poured into a mold. It was impossible to tell from the outside where in the building one would find the administrative offices, the recreational areas, or the apartments where the Earther women resided. The structure was rounded, much like the Roman Coliseum, enclosing the more functional looking interior. The exterior, with its undulating top, looked downright sensual to Cissy. She wondered if that had been the intent of its architects.
There were openings here and there near the top, and the shuttle flew through one. For a moment darkness reigned. Then they were through and back in the sunshine. The vid sunshine, Cissy reminded herself. Jessica had been right when she’d said they would forget they were underground. Already it was hard for Cissy to believe she wasn’t in the real outdoors.
They’d emerged over a landing area for emergency vehicles. Their shuttle floated down and settled without the slightest bump.
Two Kalquorian men and an Earther woman waited for them as they disembarked. The men bowed deeply. The woman, an older female, smiled her welcome.
“It is an honor to see you again, Empress, along with your esteemed family,” the shorter of the two men said. “I am Chief Administrator Besat. This is my assistant Imdiko Garlel and Head of Liaisons, Matara Anna.”
Besat was an older man, with thick threads of gray streaking through his shoulder-length hair. His eyes nested in deep creases, more of which bracketed his mouth. Despite the advancing years, Cissy thought he was a rather handsome fellow. His body still retained its strength if the wide shoulders and tree-trunk thighs filling out his simple gray formsuit were any indication. In his youth, she had no doubt Besat had been a striking man.
Imdiko Garlel was younger but still on the mature side of life. Cissy guessed he was middle-aged, which for a Kalquorian would be about 125 years. His hair was dusted with a touch of gray too, making it appear similar to Emperor Clajak’s distinctive steel-colored shade. Garlel’s smile was the sunny sweetness Cissy had come to expect from the Imdiko breed. He’d given outright cuteness a near miss, his features settling for pleasant. He was lean for a Kalquorian. He too wore a gray formsuit. Cissy supposed it was the uniform for those who worked at the complex.
Liaison Anna was a cheerful looking lady, the kind of woman Cissy thought should be hosting neighborhood parties. Her smile was welcoming in her round, slightly lined face. Her dark blond hair was caught back in a ponytail. She was as cuddly as Cissy and Tasha with the soft roundness that Kalquorians seemed to enjoy.
She shook hands Earther-style with everyone. “Hello, ladies, Empress, and Imperial Sister,” Anna said in a delighted tone. “What an honor. Can I interest any of you in refreshment before we take the tour? I know I have to have some coffee drinkers here. I also have tea and warm mela, if you prefer.”
Cissy said with all the drama she could muster, “I’ve found my first clanmate! Be my Matara, Anna, and bring all your coffee as a dowry.”
Besat and Garlel blinked uncertainly, but the other women laughed. “Add some chocolate, and I’ll play for the home team too,” Tasha giggled.
Anna’s laugh was a wonderful belly-shaking guffaw. “Oh, you girls. You all love me for those two things. Plus ice cream. When will I find someone who wants me for me?”
Just like that, Cissy knew she liked Anna. When she tasted the coffee the liaison brought her, she liked her even more.
“As long as there is caffeine in the universe, everything else will work itself out. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the Empire buys this stuff from the Earther colonies,” she proclaimed. “Tell me, Anna, is a liaison here the same as what we had on the transport that brought us to Kalquor?”
Anna nodded. “Pretty much. Tilda will be your liaison, but today is her day off. If you have any questions or concerns about anything at all while you’re here, she’ll be glad to help you.”
“We all will.” Imdiko Garlel offered one of his sweet smiles. “Don’t be afraid to approach any of us at any time.”
“Thank you,” Tasha said.
Besat gestured towards a closed door. “Shall we begin the tour?”
They followed the chief administrator through the tunnel behind the door and out into the complex’s courtyard.
Cissy had known what to expect, but that didn’t keep her from whistling in appreciation. The courtyard was beautiful, a vision of Eden.
Banks of flowerbeds separated the courtyard into sections. Each bed was a profusion of color, as if the flowers were fireworks caught at the moment of full explosion. Heady scents came from them, sweeter than any perfume Cissy had ever smelled. She inhaled with pleasure.
Also separating each pie-shaped section was the use of different colored marble tiles that made up the courtyard floor. The section the little group had entered through was lemon yellow, as bright and cheerful as the sunlight beaming down on them. Firepits scattered throughout the vast area, sending even lovelier smells from the burning scentwood wafting in their direction. Cushions scattered around the pits. Women lounged at about half a dozen of the pits; the hum of conversation and easy laughter floated on the aromatic air. One woman sat in an area off in the corner, attended by three Kalquorian men.
“Our outdoor lounge,” Besat told them. “This is a good place to relax with friends and potential clanmates. Some take their meals here and even throw parties.”
They moved on to the section with sky-blue tiles. Small, sunken pools bubbled and steamed. Women in bathing suits both modest and revealing relaxed in them.
“Whirlpools,” Anna said, smirking a little to see her male companions looking everywhere but the glistening skin of the scantily-clad brunette they’d stopped beside. “Very relaxing, aren’t they, Bridgette?”
The girl lounging in the shallow basin smiled lazily up at them. “Welcome to paradise,” she sighed. She blinked at Jessica. “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like the Empress?”
Chuckling, the group moved on. The next section featured grass-green tiles and raised platforms upon which billowy mats rested. Most were taken up by more nearly naked women, all lying on their stomachs. Again, Besat and Garlel found gazing in the distance to be a noble pursuit.
Cissy grimaced to see tentacle-waving Tratsods moving over the reclining women’s bodies. The aliens’ coloration landed in a hideous zone somewhere between orange and pink. They slid over the Earthers’ backs, shoulders, and thighs, their many tentacles playing over the oil-glistened skin, rubbing all over. Eyes attached to the lumpy circular bodies on thin stalks blinked at Cissy’s group. A droning hum emitted from the creatures, soft and hypnotic.
“Once you get used to their appearance, you’ll love their massages,” Anna assured Cissy and Tasha. “They’re gentle, sweet creatures.”
“Don’t judge a book by its cover, huh?” Cissy said. Tratsods weren’t pretty by any means, but the face of every woman under their care was rapturous. It might be worth the squick to feel that good.
Another section of the courtyard was taken up by a large pool. Its blue-green depths shimmered, with silvery ripples birthed by the women swimming its length. The final area, tiled in lilac purple, was filled with laughing women dancing to exotic Middle Eastern sounding music with a quick beat. Cissy and Tasha both stopped to gape as at least two dozen women attempted to follow the instructor, an Earther woman as dark-skinned as the Kalquorians. Her brilliant smile flashed white as she called out instructions and encouragement.
“Once a week, Matara Michaela teaches a form of outlawed Earth dancing called Raqs Sharqi,” Besat told them. “I believe you are acquainted with her, my Empress?”
“You would be right. She’s my best friend.” Jessica snickered. “By the way, I’m not a half-bad belly dancer myself. Michaela taught me.”
Tasha’s eyes went wide. “You dance like that?”
Jessica laughed. “After the babies, I wouldn’t be in this good of shape without it. Trust me, you want to take her class. If you’re good enough, she’ll put you in her exhibition company and you can make a lot of potential clans lay at your feet.”
Cissy eyed the class. The moves were astoundingly sexy, she thought. “I’m in,” she said.
“There are other classes too,” Anna said. “Stretching, meditation, other forms of dance ... too many to mention. You’ll be given the schedules and can choose whatever you like.”
The tour continued inside the complex. There were workout machines to tone the body, which Cissy immediately dismissed by blowing a raspberry. They didn’t look nearly as fun as the belly dancing. The heated indoor pool was more to her liking as well. The vid gaming section, in which one could interact with any number of sporting, music, or instruction scenarios, was enticing. They peeked into one room in which two women practiced their golf swings. In another, a woman took lessons on how to play a Plasian eflan pipe.
“We have one-on-one classes on things such as Kalquorian language, history, and the like,” Garlel said. “You may wish to request live lessons in subjects, hobbies, and careers that interest you. We’ve had cooking courses, computer sciences, childcare ... pretty much anything you can imagine.”
“Plus there are off-site options,” Anna enthused. “Kestarsh riding – they’re similar to horses – sailing, mountain climbing – oh, everything.”
Cissy gave Jessica a mock glare. “And you wanted us to stay in your piddling Royal House. Sheesh.”
The empress grinned. “Hell, I might run away from home and move in here. Do you think anyone would notice?”
“Only the entire Empire,” Lindsey said.
The women were ushered to the in-house transport to go to the twins’ private rooms. Jessica, Lindsey, Besat, and four of the Royal Guards went to the seventh floor in one; Cissy, Tasha, Anna, Garlel, and the other two guards went up in the other.
“Pretty spiffy digs,” Cissy told Anna. “Somehow, I didn’t expect so much.”
“Your apartments are modest,” the liaison told her. “Most women don’t mind the smaller quarters since there is so much otherwise to enjoy, though.”
“It’s like those illegal spas that were uncovered on Earth from time to time,” Tasha said. “Except this is a million times nicer.”
Garlel smiled to hear her say that. “I am glad you are not disappointed so far.”
“Not one bit.” Tasha grinned at Cissy. “It’s like being at one of those resorts the rich always got to go to.”
The transport door opened onto their floor. The two Royal Guards stepped out first and looked around. The four that had gone up with Jessica and Lindsey were already in the hallway, also looking.
“Clear,” the one Jessica had identified as the captain said.
Cissy and Tasha disembarked as the other transport emptied out. “We’re going to Rooms 623 and 624,” Besat told the captain.
The head of the guards bowed to Jessica before accompanying half the square at the front of their group. The other half fell in at the back. Cissy wondered how her cousin could stand being so closely watched all the time. It would drive her crazy to be surrounded every time she stepped out of her home.
The rooms assigned to the twins were side by side at the far end of the hall. Cissy’s was closest to the outer wall. “Of course, you are free to exchange places, but the rooms are mirror images of each other. You even have a connecting door between the two. They are exactly the same,” Besat informed them as he waved a coded card before the admittance pad imbedded in one of the doors. When it opened, two of the guards went in to sweep the apartment’s interior and Besat let two more of the red formsuited Nobeks into the other room.