Monday, May 5, 2014
February 8, part 1
Oh my gosh. I am so sore. My everything hurts after yesterday and last night. Between dancing and other stuff, I can barely move. But it was such fun that I can’t complain too much. Besides, pain inhibitors will fix me once I drag my poor carcass to see Dr. Tep.
So much to tell first though. Obviously, the dance club was awesome. The shopping was amazing. Other parts of shore leave ... not so much. There was some weird in there.
Candy just barely made it to the shuttle our group took to the space station, having hemmed and hawed over her outfit just as we feared she would. In fact, the hatch was closing when we heard her yelling, “Wait for me! Please wait! I want to go with my friends!”
Betra sighed and called to the Imdiko tending the passengers. “That’s one of mine. Can she board?”
The Imdiko attendant was good natured about her tardy arrival, getting the hatch back open to let a flustered Candy on the shuttle.
“Oh thank you, thank you,” she babbled at him. “You’re such a sweetheart, really. Aren’t you cute! What’s your name?”
Betra, sitting across the aisle from me, snickered. “Sit down, Matara Candy. You’re holding up take off.”
“Oops, sorry. Gee, thanks for waiting up for me, Betra.” She stuck her tongue out at him as she joined me and Katrina. “You knew I planned to go.”
“The shuttles are running on a schedule. I couldn’t keep us grounded for one young lady who can’t figure out which dress to wear.”
Candy collapsed in the seat beside me and gave him an insulted look. “Betra! This is a big deal for us Earthers. I’ve never been to an alien space station before. I want to represent my people appropriately.” She smoothed out the skirt of her dress, a cute ruffled thing that made her adorable and sexy all at once. I wish I could pull off a look like that.
Betra grinned at her. “A lovelier ambassador has never been seen, Matara.”
Candy’s pique with him was instantly gone. “Oh, you are too nice. Do I really look okay?”
I could hear the laughter in his voice. Candy amuses Betra to no end, and he forgives a lot of her quirks because he knows there is no real ugliness to her. Of us all, she gets away with the most when it comes to being late to consultations, training, or anything. Even Oses overlooks it when she dashes into blaster training a couple minutes late. If I showed up five seconds late, he’d probably put me over his knee.
Hmm. Note to self: show up at blaster training late next time.
The Imdiko attendant put up a vid of the outside view as we left the transport’s bay. Katrina, Candy, and I had already seen the station through our research, but we still murmured with the others as it showed up on the wall projection.
“It’s big,” Katrina said. “That’s a long haul from the dock to the marketplace.”
“It’s got those travel tubes,” I reminded her. “Pneumatic, right? It goes pretty fast from what I understand.”
“So fast that it has g-force stabilization buffers,” Candy confirmed. “Otherwise, we’d show up with our cheeks meeting at the backs of our heads.”
It’s easy to forget sometimes that as bubbly and giddy as Candy acts, she’s really got a good head on her shoulders. She usually knows more details of what we’re up to than I do, and I have Betra and Oses keeping me informed.
By the time we docked at the space station, we were all just about bouncing in our seats. Even though our group got off before Betra, we waited in a small knot for him to disembark while others dashed off to the waiting tubes. He smiled to see us all there, excited but a little overwhelmed.
“All right, ladies. Everyone has a communicator, right?”
We nodded, automatically checking our pockets or belt pouches to reassure ourselves we hadn’t forgotten our coms. I was pretty sure everyone had Betra’s frequency keyed in so we could talk to him with only one click. We were thrilled to have a little adventure, but we also were cautious since none of us had ever been off Earth before and had little to no experience interacting with aliens other than the Kalquorians.
“Good. I’ll send you off in the tubes. It will take you straight to the market and trade area. I’m only a shout away, so have fun.” He smiled, encouraging us like a parent sending his children off to their first sleepover.
We approached the clear tubes behind Betra, letting him lead us on this first step to our long-awaited shore leave. What I supposed one would call a car waited for a passenger at the open end of the tube. It was shiny silver, shaped like a bullet, with a reclined seat within it. The seat looked made of padded black plastic, with a cushion obviously meant for a head.
“Holy shit,” one of the other women said. “It looks like a bullet-shaped coffin.”
It did. No one looked particularly inclined to get into it.
“Who’s my bravest Matara?” Betra asked, giving us an encouraging look.
No one volunteered at first. Then Katrina took a deep breath. “I’m the oldest and therefore the most expendable. I’ll give it a shot.”
Betra laughed at the way she moved forward, as if going to her execution. “Katrina, these things are perfectly safe. You’ll be fine, my sweet.”
She grimaced, not convinced in the least. “Candy and Shalia, you’d better be right behind me. I’ll need you to hold my hair at the other end, so I can barf if I survive this nightmare.”
Betra shook his head and helped her into the car. Katrina lay down in it. The padded lounge suddenly closed around her, cushioning her like a Ming vase. Only her face remained visible, and she looked more uncertain than ever.
“Hey, hold it—” she started to say.
“You’ll be climbing out in five seconds,” Betra assured her. Then a hatch slid over Katrina’s body, hiding her from view. The next second, the car disappeared in a streak of silver down the tube.
“Next?” Betra smiled at me.
I scrambled for an excuse. “Um, you do remember I’m pregnant, right? Has this been tested on expectant Earther girls?”
He patted my back and pushed me towards the next coffin-car, which was already in position and awaiting its next victim. “I checked with Dr. Tep to make sure you could use the tube. He said you and the baby will be perfectly fine.”
I stepped in reluctantly, but it occurred to me that as protective as the Kalquorians are of women ... to the point of being damned ridiculous about it ... they wouldn’t let us take this mode of transportation if they thought it had any risk. That did little to ease my mind, however. I really didn’t want to be inside this bullet that traveled like one.
I lay down, still trying to figure out an excuse why I shouldn’t be doing this without sounding like a big wimp. The padding was nice and soft. I managed not to scream when it closed all around me like it had Katrina. It was like being hugged by a gentle teddy bear.
“See you soon,” Betra said cheerfully.
The hatch closed, shutting me in perfect darkness. I tensed and waited for the big rush of movement, of feeling my stomach jolt into my throat, of ... I don’t know what. The seconds ticked by as I clutched my hands into fists.
Then the hatch opened and the padding retreated, leaving me free to move. I blinked at the featureless ceiling overhead.
“Betra? Is something wrong?” I warbled in the most pitifully scared voice you ever heard.
“Need a hand up?” It was Katrina who appeared to stand above me. She grinned. “Nothing to it, was there?”
“Holy shit, I never felt a thing,” I said, letting her help me up and out of my little capsule. As soon as I stepped out, it zoomed forward and around a curve, disappearing from sight.
“No wonder Betra had his ‘I’m laughing at you on the inside but trying not to show it’ face on,” Katrina snorted. “What a bunch of babies we must have looked like.”
There was a whisper of sound, like a breeze through pine trees, and another car arrived. It opened to show Candy, her face all squished up with her eyes shut tight.
“And here’s the third of our merry trio,” I announced.
Her eyes flew open. “What? I’m here? Are you kidding me?”
We helped her out, letting her have a few seconds to exclaim over how ridiculously easy the ride had been. You would have thought we were pissed off that we hadn’t been tortured and come near death during our rides.
There was a short tunnel-like corridor that led one way from the tube. It was all white and featureless. We headed down to see what was at the brightly lit end.
We gasped as one as we came to the station’s main concourse. Think of a round football field times one hundred. Okay, so it probably wasn’t that big, but damn, it was huge. We couldn’t even see the other side of the market area. Plus, it was like fifty levels high.
I’m going to have to borrow from the vids we’d looked at to describe this thing. There’s the main floor, which is where Candy, Katrina, and I came in. This is where the main trade area is. This is where exporters and importers from various systems do their business, buying and selling goods in bulk.
Below this level are about five others, which are the command center, engineering, maintenance ... you know, the guts of this station. We saw nothing of that part since they aren’t visible from the public part of the station, where we were. The floor of the main trade area covers all that up.
The levels above us were arranged in golden circular tiers, like balconies hanging over this main floor we were on. The first five levels consist of shops from all over the cosmos, where we planned to do our shopping. The next ten levels are the entertainment section, where we would find our dance club. Further up was dining for every palate and budget except ‘free’. At the very tippy top of all those levels were alien versions of hotel rooms, where those not bunking on the ships they came in on could catch some sleep.
Arching over all this was a clear dome, showing space of the most unfathomable blackness, with only pinpricks of stars and distant planets to interrupt its vastness.
Katrina was the first to speak in an awed voice. “If you’ve never felt tiny and insignificant before, this should do it.”
Candy and I nodded in agreement. We’d never been in such an immense, wide-open structure.
It was Candy, our effervescent gal of adventure and fun, who got us moving. “Come on. Let’s see about some shopping.”
That’s right; we were brave and didn’t wait for Betra. You go, bold girls. Our liaison was taking too long and we were too excited. We decided he could track us down via the coms.
You could tell the station wasn’t used to much of an Earther presence. Of all the signs in so many different languages, not one was in ours. We wandered for a little while around the edge of the trade floor before we finally discovered the in-house transport. We crowded onto it with aliens of nearly every stripe once we made sure there were no Tragooms or Bi’isils in it.
Our riding companions spoke in their various tongues, telling the transport where to let them off. Since we three didn’t have much of a clue about where to direct the car, we simply stood amongst the rest and waited, hoping to be dropped off at a good spot. We disembarked at the very first opportunity, since the shops were on the lowest tiers. It seemed reasonable to believe we’d get where we wanted to go that way.
We found ourselves on the second level in a wonderland of treasures more amazing than anyone could imagine. Bright lights in various languages dazzled us over the holo and vid windows of each store. Clothing and jewelry and furnishings and art beguiled, luring us to each exhibition with siren songs. Personal shuttles and hovercraft could be bought here, some even spaceworthy. The three of us wandered the concourse, stumbling a little like drunks, our eyes and mouths gaping in wonder.
Back on Earth, only the rich got to see such things. The poorest neighborhoods had only secondhand shops and grocery stores not even half full. People like me, middle-income, ordered all our goods from warehouses that delivered to our doorsteps. It was those with money that got to go to stores where clothing was custom fitted and people waited on them, ready to fulfill their whims.
“I bet we can’t afford any of this stuff,” I told the others.
“No, but we can look,” Katrina replied.
“And note down what our future clans can buy us,” Candy giggled. “Wow, look at that dress!”
She rushed over to a window display that had several holograms of dresses rotating around so one could see them from all angles. The featured gown was a slinky see-through number that would be too long for me, the tallest of us three. It was made for someone with elongated, slender proportions. It was probably meant for a Plasian, was my guess. It really was gorgeous, dark blue and filmy with a splash of glitter. It looked as delicate as a butterfly’s wing.
The moment Candy dashed up and stood before the window, it and all the other dresses changed. They shrank in size and filled out, curving as if filled by a human’s body. The holograms adjusted for Candy’s stature and figure.
“Wow,” I said in amazement. It was the smartest thing I could come up with.
Katrina and I joined our friend. The dresses again shifted, showing us how they would fit each of us in turn. Katrina’s more solid figure made its appearance, then mine, then back to our curvy Candy. They continued to alter between the three of us as we stood there.
“That is the best damned thing I’ve ever seen,” Candy announced. “You can see exactly what flatters your figure without trying it on. I think it somehow measures us just to get it right.”
“Indeed it does, young Earther,” a voice said. It spoke our language with a heavy but sensuous accent in its lilting tone. If decadent sex had a voice, it would have sounded like that one.
We turned to the speaker. She was a Plasian, tall and willowy and standing almost as tall as a Kalquorian. Her hair – or mane, because Plasian hair looks more like fur – was glittering silver. It had to have been dyed since most Plasians have olive hair. Her bronze skin was flawless and encased in a see-through bodysuit. Silver glitter matching her hair was strategically placed so I only saw a hint of her nipples and the cleft of her sex. A hint was more than enough. My jaw almost hit the floor for the twentieth time that day.
“Oh ... hi,” Candy said uncertainly. “Do you own this shop?”
“I do. My name is Lisill.” The Plasian blinked alabaster lashes over her black marbled eyes. Her smile was pleasant and amused. “I’ve never met Earther females before. What are your names?”
Katrina took over, introducing us in turn. Lisill nodded to each of us.
“On your way to Kalquor? Lucky girls. We Plasians adore Kalquorian men. They are such delicious brutes.” A golden tongue peeked out to wet her grinning lips.
“That they are,” the three of us chorused at once. We broke up with laughter.
Lisill chuckled. “No Earther men on your transport? I do enjoy those when they come to Xniktix and aren’t too repressed to play.”
“Just elderly and mentally challenged men who will be treated on Kalquor,” I said.
“Too bad. Do you like my dresses?”
“They’re stunning,” Candy said, her eyes going back to the blue number in front of her. “They look a bit fancy for the dance club though. That’s what we were shopping for.”
Lisill nodded. “Yes, these are formal occasion gowns. The fabric is loom woven and sewn by Joshadans, whom I employ. The designs are mine, however. These would be more suited for your clanning ceremonies.”
She said something that sounded like silky liquid in my ears, apparently speaking her own language. Candy suddenly wore the gown she was staring at.
Well, not quite. Candy still stood next to me, wearing her cute ruffled dress and looking adorable. A holographic image of Candy filled the gown in the vid, however. We gasped to see her there, looking seductive and sleek ... a long way from cute. The opaque panels hit in just the right spots to keep her somewhat modest, somewhat like Lisill’s gown ... but with more coverage. Candy looked like sex without being utterly wanton. I thought my friend would pass out from shock.
“Jesus, Mohammed, and Moses,” I whispered. “You look amazing in that.”
Candy’s hands covered her mouth. Her eyes were wide as they could be. Then she waved at the image, as if to shoo it away. “No, I can’t. There is no way I could afford something like that. Take it away before I cry from despair.”
Lisill smiled indulgently. “Even if you can’t, the clan that claims you might be able to. I will give you my contact information along with the catalog number of this dress. You can order it when you’ve chosen your mates.”
“Should I?” Candy squeaked to me and Katrina.
“Why not?” our eldest encouraged. “It’s perfect for you.”
While Lisill recorded Candy’s measurements and they went over the options for the gown, Katrina and I ‘tried on’ various pieces the same way Candy had. Katrina nearly laughed herself silly over one concoction that consisted more of long scarlet-colored feathers than fabric. She looked like a fantastic bird ready to take flight.
“Be serious,” I chided her. “These dresses are amazing. You might want one of your own if you’ll stop playing around.”
Katrina snorted. “I’m not in the lottery, remember? It’s not like I’m going to join a clan.”
“Why not? You’re a hot gal with plenty to offer the right men.” My breath caught to see myself in a black and green gown with a high collar and lace train. I made note to mention it to Lisill as a future possibility.
“Do you think so? I don’t know. I’m having too much fun playing the field right now.” Katrina’s tone had gone musing, however. Maybe hedonistic lust has its limits too. I thought empty sex without love, while fun for a bit, would lose its luster in time.
It was then that I noticed the little guy staring at me from a distance down the concourse.