Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Adult, #Romance, #Science Fiction Opera
He frowned. “I am not familiar with the Hurans.”
“You wouldn’t be the first. They don’t get out much. The Hurans are taking their first steps into the Alliance. This was a first-contact meeting and my forays into the local restaurants were greeted with much interest. I was the first two-eyed creature that they had ever seen.”
“What was Nittha asking you for?”
“She wanted me to take Tether when I left. He has a few inclinations that are not in line with the doctrine of his home. Tether is a dreamer and he knows too much for his own good. His links to the living go against everything that his people believe. They do not encourage the thought of being able to contact another living soul without direct contact.”
“What would have happened to him?”
She made a small face. “The penalty for his talent was death. I smuggled him off world in my luggage. He is dramatically flexible.”
“Didn’t they notice?” He raised his brows.
Iara sighed and sat back. “I informed them that an unregistered talent had stowed away on my ship. I waited.”
“What were you waiting for?”
“For a demand to return him, for an inquiry as to who he was, to a request to know what his talent was. I got nothing, but his sister sent me a message that was carefully worded. She told me that a rumour had spread that her brother had run away from home. No one could confirm it. It seemed there were sightings of him all over the continent, so the government could not pin down precisely who the talent was that was in my company, nor did they want to know. He simply disappeared from Huran and no one was the wiser.”
“He mentioned being asked to return for a holiday.”
“Of course. It has been two years, and with Huran beginning the affiliation entry to the Alliance and Tether being a member of the Citadel in good standing, they have to allow him to come and go on a visitor’s visa.”
“Saved by politics. That’s nearly a first.”
She chuckled. “I was saved by a technicality. My feet were off Saroo before King Learith died and I was travelling on his orders. If he hadn’t given that last command, I would have remained bonded to the royal house.”
“What do you want from your life?” Rion asked the question suddenly.
Iara thought about it. Survival and duty had taken over for so long, she hadn’t thought about what came next. “I want to thrive, to become someone that my parents would respect and possibly fear a little. It is petty, but I have always wanted to show them that they were wrong to get rid of me.”
Rion laughed. “A solid Kozue reaction. You are more like your family than you are willing to admit.”
She couldn’t argue with that. Iara rose and looked out at the gardens. They were taking shape under Hyl’s attentions. Of course, Smudge had his input as well, but it was a little hard to argue with the results of the slowly blooming garden. The night garden was interspersed, and at this moment, the change from day to night was wonderful to watch.
Rion came up behind her and put his hands on her arms. Together, they watched the day flowers fold up and the night flowers open. Light glowed softly and pulsed as Citadel Lowel rotated away from the light of the star and into the darkness for the night.
“This is really lovely.” She sighed and smiled as her body enjoyed the warmth of him at her back.
“It is your domain now. When does the Citadel open for business?”
“Well, I have the final support-staff shuttles coming through this weekend, so according to Tether, we start next week with a lecture on races that are diseases to each other. It should be fascinating.”
He rested his chin on her coronet. “It is definitely something new. The Alliance education centres have rarely gotten to this sector. This is going to be a big deal.”
Looking out at the stars slowly winking into view, she knew what he meant. Lowel had the feeling of something grand about to happen.
Iara felt lucky that she was in the right place to see it and that she wasn’t going to see it alone.
The first lecture held in the halls of Citadel Lowel was held to a full auditorium. Those attending the lecture were housed on the space station in high orbit and brought down for the day before being returned to their housing.
Apparently, being allergic to other races was a far more common problem than Iara had imagined.
The commissary staff worked like a well-oiled machine instead of staff that had only been in for two days. Tether zipped around the facility with Smudge at his heels, and Iara could swear that the small fluffy thing was taking notes on organization.
Iara finally asked Scorcher Eckerhart. “What is he?”
Tether was out in the garden taking notes on plants and Smudge was right behind him once again.
They were having tea in the garden after the exodus for the day. Hyl and Rion were sitting with the lecturer, an Azon scientist named Dort irth Nadur.
Winera chuckled. “Hyl could explain it better, but Smudge is a Yaluthu. He is descended from a species that was originally much smaller. They tampered with it until the Yaluthu you see before you was created. He will eventually be a flying predator, and I believe he will be able to reproduce on his own.”
“How many will he produce?”
“Fixit on Balen had nine little ones. The Yaluthu are now considered a Balen-registered species. If Smudge has his own brood, they will be Lowel-registered Yaluthu.”
“If he has children, why is he a he?”
Winera laughed, “If you get close to him or touch his thoughts, you would know. Smudge is simply a he, and from what I have learned, the only dark-coloured Yaluthu that there is.”
“He is looking a little scruffy.”
Winera sighed, “It is a sign that he is ready for his next shape. He will moult and then he will change. Will you take care of him if he is transforming while I am on assignment?”
“I am sure Tether will handle him. They seem to have formed a weird friendship.” Iara chuckled. “But I will be there if he needs me.”
“From what Veera said, he will need a lot of protein because he will transform and then breed immediately after.” Winera fidgeted. “I hope he doesn’t start until we are back, but I want to prepare for all contingencies.”
“He will be taken care of if he chooses to shift shapes. I confess that I may document it, but he will be watched and he won’t be alone.”
Winera’s shoulders relaxed. “Thank you, it is what I needed to hear.”
Iara patted her hand. “I finally figured that out.”
“You are getting the hang of being in charge.”
“It isn’t coming easily but it is coming. Having you here is helping, but I know you are heading out in a day or two. Wiali and Braenar are booked to do a lecture on dealing with planetary and stellar avatars, as well as the planet who wants one.”
“Damn. That sounds like an interesting one.”
“I am creating vids of the lectures for the archives. You can watch it when I upload it to the Citadel records.”
“Thank you. I think that this will go a long way to getting the Citadel recognition for what it does for a variety of species.”
Iara rubbed her neck. “Without help from Citadel Master Lovey, I would not be here today, and certainly, I would not be a free woman. It has had an impact on my life, and I will repay the institution as best I am able.”
“Will you pass that generosity along? I could use some motivation most days.”
“I will leave that to the recruiters, but keep your eye open for anyone who has the potential to be more than what they have chosen to be. Those are the ones who have the power to change worlds, they just don’t know it.”
Winera sipped at her water and gave her a look of understanding. “You didn’t know what you would become, did you?”
“I had no idea. I was raised to think I was wrong, and then, I learned I was useful. The Citadel taught me that I had the power to make a change and that people would want me to do it. This is just the next phase in that development.”
Winera swayed a little and drank more water. “See? Everyone changes. You can’t stop it.”
Grinning, Iara swapped Winera’s water glass for a tumbler of wine. “Here, sober up a little.”
“See? You know what you are talking about.” Winera slugged down the wine and shivered. “Better than caf. Did I tell you about that or did you know?”
“I have met and dealt with scorchers before. The water weakness was obvious when you started to list to one side.”
Smudge hopped into Winera’s lap with a happy chirp.
“What did he say?”
“Hyl needs to plant more root vegetables. He likes root vegetables and green lettuces.” Winera scratched him under the chin and his lids drooped happily. “I told him that I would instruct Hyl on the necessities.”
Iara smiled at the woman and her critter. When Hyl came and put his hand on Winera’s shoulder, the image was complete. They were a weird but happy little family and she had just been asked to babysit their most precious treasure. Iara wasn’t sure she was up to it, but she would try to keep Smudge happy and healthy if he moulted and couldn’t go on assignments.
“Does he know that you will leave him with us when you have to go if he is mid-upgrade?”
Winera nodded as she got to her feet. “He does. Tether will communicate for him, and you will be his nanny. He made up his mind the moment that he saw you.”
Smudge chirped confirmation and hopped on the table, running over to Iara and flinging himself at her. She caught him out of reflex, and he nuzzled her cheerfully, chirping madly.
To her shock, flickers of images ran through her thoughts. A snow-white Yaluthu with dark golden eyes was staring at her through Smudge’s vision. It was tiny compared to Smudge though, so she didn’t know what it could be.
“Smudge is showing you the Yaluthu that will be yours. He hasn’t done that before, but I guess he wants to keep the rest of his children to himself.” Winera smiled and got to her feet.
Smudge chirped and hopped away from Iara, making his way behind his partners into the facility.
Iara got up and put the tea, wine and water onto a tray that was taken from her hand by a member of the new cleaning staff. “Thank you, Quera.”
“It’s my job, Master Iara. Have a good night.” He smiled.
She wandered over to the guest speaker, Rion and Tether. She put her hand on Rion’s shoulder and smiled at their guest. “Thank you for a very successful first lecture.”
Dort grinned and casually let his gaze roam over her. “Thank you for the invitation.”
Rion growled and Dort blinked.
Iara sighed while Tether laughed. She removed her hand from Rion’s shoulder and said, “On that note, I am retiring for the evening. Good night.”
She could almost feel the gazes on her as she headed for the secure area of the Citadel facility. She really needed a stiff drink, but it wasn’t in the cards. She would have to face the likely fistfight and its fallout, sober. But, she would face it in the morning. Tether could hold them apart or shove them together; it depended on his whim.
* * * *
Tether watched the two men snarling at each other, and despite the fact that the Azon was bigger, Rion was filled with fury that was palpable.
Tether had never seen a Kozue who wanted to fight for his mate before. The Azon seemed to know what was going on, because in a sudden move, he left his chair and lunged for Rion.
Tether sat and drank his tea while the two men impacted, grunted and swung at each other again. It was incredibly violent, and they rolled along the ground, kicking, staggering to their feet and falling back again.
Dort was fighting for a chance to seduce Iara and Rion was fighting to stop that from happening. Tether wished that he had a crunchy snack to enjoy while they pounded the hell out of one another.
He was proud of Iara and what she had accomplished. His sister thought he had attached himself to her for his own safety, but he had seen a rising star in her and he wanted to be there when folks saw her shining. She was going to be something to behold.
Quera stepped around the brawling warriors and picked up the glasses left behind. With calm aplomb, he headed into the facility to run the dishes through the wash.
Tether smiled, it was the funny thing about working with Iara that you didn’t realise how clear your thinking process was until she wasn’t around. Her presence kept things calm even when she wasn’t actively using her talent, like tonight.
This fight had been brewing all day. The visiting speaker had mentioned to Rion his admiration for the shape of Iara’s backside and tension had been sewn. Iara had maintained harmony during the day, so her retraction of the calm had let the fight get underway.
Iara wouldn’t be surprised. She knew the signs of hostility and knew that sometimes rage had to have its head.
Tether was her legal ward, though it wasn’t advertised. She hadn’t just gotten him away from his home world where his bisexuality and his talent were putting him in danger in equal measure. She had adopted him in the eyes of his people and the law made his actions her problem. His position as her ward gave him freedom to visit home as much as he liked, but it was the act of trust and faith in him that had earned his loyalty. She let him rage as much as he liked, but when it came time to work, she calmed him right down.
All in all, he should be the one pounding the Azon into the dirt, defending Iara’s honour, but it seemed that Rion was doing a fine job.
Those two were going to be sore in the morning.
Iara looked over at Rion and noted the healing bruises. She had locked the medical bay once she realised that nothing on either man was broken. Their guest was long gone, a week had passed.
“When are you going to stop glaring at me, princess?”
“When you no longer bear the marks of the fight, butthead.”
Iara cuddled with Smudge, but he was taking her side and chirped angrily at Rion. His fluff was moulting rapidly and his shape was shifting.
His diet consisted of shredded meat, and she kept a pouch with dry meat on a belt at her waist in case he got peckish. She took Smudge’s diet seriously. He had made a nest in her room, and in a day or so, she felt his larger feathers were going to come in. A hovering monitor was currently following him. It tracked him around the facility and sent a signal to Iara if he was trying to get onto something and couldn’t. He could no longer manage stairs, so she had to keep on top of it or he got frustrated and started pecking.