Authors: Tracy St. John
Tags: #erotic science fiction
Besat handed the two cards he’d used to open the doors to Tasha and Cissy. “These are your keys while you live here,” he told them. “They will activate all doors and machines the tenants have access to, so you’ll want to keep them handy.”
It took the Royal Guards no time to go through the apartments. The captain bowed to Jessica when he rejoined the group in the hall.
“The quarters are clear, my empress.”
She smiled up at him. “Thank you, Captain Kel. Well, let’s see your new digs, girls.”
Tasha led the way into the apartment that her key card was coded to. Cissy was impatient enough to push her twin a little, which only made Tasha drag her feet more in revenge. She giggled as Cissy huffed with impatience.
“Come on, come on! I want to see.”
Tussling and laughing, the sisters stumbled into the quarters. Once inside, they stopped and turned in circles, having a good look around.
The room was what the Kalquorians termed a greeting room. Back on Earth, Cissy would have called it a living room. It was small and plain, with an oval table in the middle and seating cushions surrounding it. Its only decoration was a vid monitor hanging on the wall and a basket full of blue-plumed fronds.
Jessica looked askance at their surroundings and snorted. “Blessed Buddha, there’s barely enough room for the four of us in here. Are you sure you don’t want to stay in the Royal House? We’ve got scads of room. Plus you’ll be close to me.”
“Ew, not you,” Cissy cried out with mock horror. Then she spoke seriously. “We’re close to you here, sweetie. It took all of what, five minutes to get here?”
She appreciated the coziness after the huge guest suite they’d spent the night in. The way that place had echoed ... she shuddered at the thought of spending her days and nights there.
Tasha must have felt the same way because she said, “Seriously Jess, we appreciate the offer but you know we’re not into all that pomp. Besides, you saw the amenities here. It’s like living life on vacation.”
Cissy nodded. “I can’t believe I’m saying this given how the Tratsods look, but I can’t wait to get one of those massages. I want to look that blissed out.”
Tasha was not on the same page on that account. “Eek. Those squishy aliens aren’t laying a tentacle on me. I know they’re okay but I don’t want something that looks so squid-y crawling across my back.”
Lindsey and Jessica laughed. The elder sister said, “Close your eyes and think happy thoughts. I’ve had the Tratsod massage, and it is heavenly. You won’t want to move a muscle for an hour afterward.”
Cissy grinned. “I’m going to have a go at it. Besides, the apartment may as just as well be small, because I plan to spend as little time as possible in it. I already have a date.”
Tasha knew about the meetings Cissy had lined up. The other two women squealed. Jessica yanked on her arm in excitement. “You brat! Who did you pick? I want to have Bevau check them out.”
Cissy chuckled. “Clan Mocnoz. They’re a little young and not the most compatible according to my questionnaire results, but they seem like they’d be fun.”
Lindsey pretended shock. “How young, you rowdy girl?”
“Only ten years older than me. The oldest isn’t even 45 yet. They barely qualified for the lottery as Dramok Mocnoz just opened his own law practice.”
Lindsey giggled. “Scandalous!”
Lindsey’s clanmates were young to have clanned a Matara. Cissy had heard some Kalquorians, particularly those with status, had called the match between the Empress’ sister and Clan Bacoj outrageous. When they’d met Lindsey, Bacoj, Japohn, and Vax had acquired no rank at all. Only in their thirties, the three men had been hard pressed to prove to Kalquorian society that they deserved Lindsey. Fortunately, the four had loved each other with such devotion that they refused to let anything tear them apart.
Jessica threw her hands up as if giving up all hope. “All right, live here and be wild and free. But know I’m going to want every naughty detail.”
Tasha fixed her with a shrewd look. “I know you don’t regret joining the first available clan you found, Jess.”
The Empress grinned. “Not for one second. What I envy is your appalling lack of duty to the Empire and the ability to play like a Plasian. What I wouldn’t give to have no responsibilities!”
Lindsey rolled her eyes. “Oh, go put on a pretty dress that would cost me my entire year’s worth of earnings and get over it, your Highness.”
The four women laughed again. Jessica said, “Do I have to talk to your clanmates about giving you a raise? Handling the accounts of successful businesses like your clan’s does mean a lot of work. You should be handsomely rewarded.”
“Trust me. I get my rewards.” Lindsey arched a brow to make sure they all got her meaning. The red faces of Besat and Garlel, who stood in the background as they chattered, made Cissy laugh even harder.
Lindsey sighed when the hilarity calmed. “Speaking of business—”
Jessica made a face. “Yes, we working types need to get where we’re supposed to be. We can’t all be ladies of leisure.” She wrapped her arms around Tasha. “Com me if you need anything at all though.”
Tasha returned the embrace with interest. “Thanks, Jess.”
Lindsey and Cissy shared a hug of their own. “Don’t forget, a girls-only dinner tonight. Keep your boy-toys for later, Cissy.”
The twins switched cousins for another round of hugs. Jessica added, “We’ll pick you up.”
Cissy told her, “We’ll be waiting. I might even put on a skirt in honor of the occasion.”
Lindsey pretended to faint. “Did you hit your head?”
More hugs and kisses on the cheeks ensued. After having been separated from each other for years, Cissy sensed her cousins were every bit as loath to break away as she was. It didn’t matter that they’d be able to see each other every day if they wished. Having family nearby once more was a precious thing.
Jessica and Lindsey departed, surrounded by the dispassionate Royal Guards. It took only five more minutes for Besat, Garlel, and Anna to tour the twins about the remainder of Tasha’s quarters. The kitchenette was miniscule with a cooling unit filled with pre-prepared meals and a warmer. There was a mix of the Kalquorian and Earther foods Tasha preferred. Cissy was assured her preferences were stocked in her apartment.
“You can eat in the complex’s dining room or out in the courtyard as well,” Besat informed them. “Also, your potential clans will be taking you to various dining establishments.”
“You can call the kitchen for something special to be sent to your room,” Garlel assured. “Do not be shy about what you want.”
Tasha turned to Cissy. “Sweetie, do you remember the meaning of the word ‘shy’?”
“No, but I remember how to kick your rear.” Cissy smiled at Besat. “What else do you have to show us?”
The chuckling administrator showed them the bath facility and the single bedroom. “Again, Matara Cissy’s quarters are exactly the same,” he said as they looked at the tiny space that was just big enough for the sleeping mat, a table, and a desk. At least the closet was large, Cissy noted. Not that either woman had much in the way of clothing.
That wrapped up the tour. After a few more instructions, Besat, Garlel, and Anna took their leave. Tasha and Cissy trooped over to the other twin’s apartment and confirmed it was indeed as identical as they were.
Their few belongings were delivered: their clothes, some makeup, treasured photo vids, and other small items.
Cissy grimaced at the two tiny piles of all they owned. “I’m feeling that I’ve been downsized too far,” she told her sister.
Tasha nodded. “Me too. Shall we take a walk to the marketplace and remedy the matter?”
Cissy pretended to contemplate the wisdom of such action. “Let’s see. We each have a full account granted by the Kalquorian government and deplorably empty closets. I thought you’d never ask.”
No further conversation was required. In perfect accord, they linked arms and left their new home.
The twins’ shopping excursion was a roaring success in that they managed to spend all of their carefully saved government allowances in one day. They agreed they loved the vast market area of the underground with its many stores, eating options, and entertainments. By the end of the jaunt they were exhausted, but at least their closets were no longer empty.
Cissy spent the rest of the day arranging her apartment to her liking. Personal mementos went up everywhere, making the tiny quarters seem more like home. She and Tasha bounced between their connected abodes, talking about this and that and trying to decide what classes and entertainments they wanted to try out in the days ahead.
The day was late when Cissy wandered into her sister’s apartment again. They’d decided the connecting door would remain unlocked unless one of them was entertaining potential clanmates. A locked door meant private playtime. Cissy thought she wouldn’t need the locked door to dissuade her from entering Tasha’s quarters at the wrong time. Her sister was a screamer.
Cissy felt vaguely uncomfortable as she came into Tasha’s greeting room, and not because she thought she’d stumble upon her sister being wild ... at least, not on their first night in their new home. Cissy had dressed for that night’s dinner. Being ‘all dolled up’ as she called it, felt funny to her. Tonight, she looked almost as sedate as Tasha tended to appear.
The light blue slacks she’d bought that afternoon, while cut to flatter her rounded hips, didn’t bind. The fabric was light and airy. The patterned light blue, gold, and white blouse embraced her curves while giving the impression of modesty. Cissy had to admit she looked pretty good in the ensemble, especially with the strappy gold sandals and her hair falling in waves to her shoulders.
She also looked too respectable for her own liking. Cissy had bought wilder outfits during her shopping spree, clothing that told the universe how happy she was to shed the restrictions Earth had once imposed on its women. However, this was her first night out on Kalquor and she was going to be in Empress Jessica’s company. She thought she’d behave and not cause a scandal for her cousin ... just this once.
She found her twin sitting at the low table in her greeting room, tapping away at the keyboard on the computer Tasha and Cissy had bought together. Thus far the machine only responded to Kalquorian speech. Though Tasha had mastered the written form of the language, she struggled with speaking it. It was easier for her to type her commands since she refused to install the crutch of English interpretation software.
As always, Tasha looked lovely. Her hair was caught up in a bun with artful bits straggling loose to frame her made-up face. Her blouse and skirt matched in a blushing pink. The hue made her skin appear to glow despite the paleness that came from months of space travel. She looked at ease in her sedate clothing, while Cissy felt as prickly as a cactus. It was hard not to be jealous.
Trying to embrace the Tasha-look she sported, Cissy twirled in front of her sister. “Here I am, ready to not embarrass everyone for a change.”
Tasha applauded her with a grin. “You actually appear respectable. No one will be able to tell us apart.”
Cissy snorted her disbelief on that notion. She flopped down on the seating cushion across the table from her sister, doing it in the most unladylike fashion she could manage. She snickered as Tasha shook her head.
“There. Now there can be no mistaking who I am.”
“Only if you spend the evening tossing yourself onto the ground like a landed fish.”
“Everyone will know it’s me within five seconds of opening my mouth.” Cissy frowned as Tasha went back to tapping her keyboard. “We’ve only got a couple of minutes before the cuzzies pick us up. What are you doing?”
Tasha wiggled her perfectly trimmed eyebrows. “I’m confirming my date with a clan tomorrow.”
“Oh, you’re getting busy right away too. Shall we double?”
“I doubt it.” Tasha made her snooty face, the one she used when she played at being above Cissy’s antics. “This is a more mature clan than the one you picked for a first date. My guess is their tastes would run more operatic than that lemanthev concert you’re going to. We’re doing dinner and a live theater show.”
Cissy yawned. “How very exciting. Are they at least cute?” She waved to forestall Tasha’s answer. “No, you wouldn’t want cute. Adorable isn’t your thing. Are they handsome, I mean?”
Tasha closed out the computer program. “Does it matter? Looks aren’t as important as what’s inside.”
“No, it doesn’t matter. I was just curious.”
Tasha touched her hair, making sure it was still in its bun. “Actually, the Dramok is insanely handsome, almost the equal of Jessica’s Bevau. He was at the reception last night. The one you were so rude to ... Councilman Diltan.”
Cissy bit her lower lip. Of course she remembered Diltan, the gorgeous jerk who looked better than any man had a right to. She thought of his smile when he’d first approached her, how warm it appeared on his face. Then that voice ... a voice that trembled her bones.
She also remembered the dismissive look on the Dramok’s face as he eyed her clothing
. I bet he’d be impressed with how I look now, the shallow jerk.
She said, “Oh boy. Tasha, Lindsey told me we should be careful of that one.”
Tasha shrugged. “I thought he was nice. Besides, I checked with Jessica, and she thinks Diltan is wonderful. He often supports the measures the Imperial Clan wants, but when he doesn’t, he lets them know under no uncertain terms.”
That didn’t sound much like the man Lindsey had described. But then, Lindsey had also admitted Diltan had changed lately and that she held a grudge she shouldn’t.
He still has a thing for outward appearances. Heaven forbid he look beyond the packaging like Tasha prefers to do.
Cissy knew she didn’t present herself as well as her twin. Most of the time, she didn’t care. However, something about the way Diltan had looked at her rankled, the way he almost seemed pained by her clothing. If she cared one whit about his opinion, it would have hurt. She didn’t know the man though, so of course his view of her appearance didn’t matter. Not one bit.