Thursday, January 1, 2015
April 7, later (part 1)
Since our first portal jump that had ended with Tragooms boarding the ship, we were pretty on edge about doing it again. Fortunately, nothing happened. The destroyers guarding the other side of the wormhole reported the situation was fine before we went in. All three of our escorts went in ahead of us, ready to fight anyway. When we emerged, all was quiet. I could see why on the vid: the Kalquorians had five of their lethal ships patrolling the immediate area, and all their fighters had been launched just in case some other species got stupid. None had, and the Pussy ‘Porter continued on its way.
There was good and bad news surrounding our jump. The bad news is that the ship is now going to suffer a week-long delay in transmissions to Earth. That’s a bit depressing when it comes to talking to my dads.
The good news was that I got a message from them just before we went into the portal. I’m glad it was able to arrive when it did.
Nayun, Bitev, and Rak beamed at me from the vid they’d sent. Nayun was darned near bubbly. “We just got your message, Shalia. You look so good! Reports from Dr. Feru have been encouraging as well. Don’t worry about the nightmares; they will pass, my daughter. You just need time. The important thing is that the hallucinations have stopped and you’re no longer hiding from them.”
“I am glad the trauma is passing, my daughter,” Bitev added. “Dr. Tep says the pregnancy is progressing well too. It’s such a delight to hear nothing but good news.”
Rak was the one person who didn’t look as upbeat as the rest of his clan. “I’m concerned about this ‘ghost’ you told us about. It almost sounds as if someone has gotten on board the ship and is stalking you. I do hope it was confirmed that all the Ofetuchans on board that ship were killed.”
Bitev rolled his eyes a little at the Nobek. “It was confirmed. The ships in Shalia’s convoy have all been scanned for alien life forms and searches have been done. Besides, Shalia didn’t sound too worried about it.”
Nayun nudged Rak. “After all she’s been through, our daughter would be the last person to make light of such an issue.” His eyes twinkled, and I almost felt he was looking at me. “Ghosts and spirits, huh? I used to love such stories as a child.”
Rak, suspicious Nobek that he is, didn’t look convinced. I’m betting he’d seen right through my glib account of the strange goings-on lately. He knew I was worried about it much more than I let on. I decided I would not say another word about the restless spirit roaming around, just to save him from fretting over me.
Bitev prodded my Nobek dad. “Tell Shalia something nice. She’ll want to know about Clan Seot.”
Rak’s grimness eased a touch. He must have liked giving me good news. “Your prospective clan checks out. All three men are well regarded. Their reputation is without blemish. Plus they contacted us to introduce themselves. They have probably not received our reply yet, but we have sent one.”
Nayun nodded. “I appreciate that you asked them to speak to your parents. I also appreciate that they had the decency to do so.”
Bitev grinned. “They spoke to Joelle too. She was quite impressed with them.”
I snickered. I’d received Joelle’s message a couple of days ago. She had been impressed, all right. The middle-aged, perfectly coiffed Southern belle had fanned herself. She told me in her delicate accent, “Shalia, I’m going to com Dr. Feru to check your sanity if you don’t give those gorgeous boys a chance. My goodness, what a bunch of dreamboats! Don’t tell your fathers I said that, because I wouldn’t trade them for the universe. Still, I would not be offended to have you and them sitting around the dinner table in the future.”
I smothered my giggles as Rak finished up his assessment of Clan Seot. “I think they are worth your consideration, my daughter.”
“With your compatibility scores so high, you must certainly allow them to court you,” Nayun opined. He looked happier than ever. I guess the old man wants to clan me off so he doesn’t have so much to worry him. His hair was showing more gray than before, I thought. I hope it wasn’t because of me.
Bitev couldn’t resist weighing in. “Compatibility as measured by a computer is all fine and good, but you’ll still want to investigate other clans as well. Intangibles that can’t be found in questionnaires might make Clan Seot not so wonderful in person.”
Nayun nodded his agreement. “True. You should vet at least one more clan before getting to Kalquor. Check into several more once you get there and settled.”
“You have plenty of time and choices,” Rak added. “You’ll want to make sure you find the best mates and fathers for your child.”
Dads, dads, dads. I wonder how much nagging Kalquorian moms do? Jeez, am I supposed to date a hundred clans before picking one? I get tired just thinking about it.
Speaking of Clan Seot, I got a message from them only minutes after we came through the portal. The time delay between me and Kalquor is growing less, which is kind of a consolation.
Have I mentioned how delicious those three men look? For heaven’s sake, it’s wrong for one clan to have so much yummy going on. There should be laws against it.
Here I go again, getting all hot and bothered just from looking at those guys. Ladies, start your libidos.
When they appeared before me, I was glad I was sitting down. Those men make my knees weak. I was feeling pretty darn happy that my dads and stepmom approved of them so far. It would be depressing to have to shut down the potential for a groin-to-groin ... ahem, face-to-face meeting.
They bowed, as courtly as before. Seot, with his smooth-as-butter voice, said, “Greetings again, Matara Shalia. We were delighted to get your message.”
Cutie-pie Imdiko Cifa was missing a touch of his boyish exuberance when he said, “But not so delighted to hear of the horrible ordeal you went through recently. Thank the Mother of All that you are safe and on your way to Kalquor once more.”
“As well as your child,” rumble-voiced Larten added. “I am beyond glad to know the alien creature who abducted you is dead.”
That dark, stormy face didn’t look glad. Larten looked like he wanted to bite the heads off a few Ofetuchans. I got that thrill of excitement again seeing how dangerous he seemed. Boy, I’m weird.
Seot nodded in agreement with his Nobek. “Please offer my congratulations to the man who killed your captor and managed your escape. He deserves all the accolades the Empire has in its power to give him.”
“Plus many more,” Cifa added.
There was a growling sound that I thought might have come from Larten. I shivered.
Seot continued. “It was wonderful seeing you looking so healthy with your pregnancy. You are quite the beautiful mother-to-be, Matara. We are so very grateful that you have agreed to continue to speak to us. As to your concerns about your biological mother—”
“Don’t be,” Cifa interjected. “Of course she should be a part of your life. There is no question about that.”
“Indeed,” Seot agreed. “Should we find ourselves compatible as lifemates, we would insist on your mother living with us. Our homes are large enough to accommodate her, and we have the funds to offer round-the-clock medical care. She will not go wanting for anything, including her daughter at her side.”
For heaven’s sake, could these guys be any more perfect? It turned out they could.
Larten’s grouchy expression eased. One side of his mouth twisted up, as if he was barely containing a burst of humor. He said, “If it would make your mother more comfortable, I would be glad to supply her with a full vocabulary of Kalquorian insults and profanities that she may use against us. Don’t worry; we can take it.”
Cifa slapped a palm to his forehead as he laughed. Seot closed his eyes and shook his head, but a grin split his face. “By the ancestors, Larten, you just had to ruin the pretense of dignity.”
I howled at them. They have a sense of humor, and a good one from the sound of it. Teach Eve Monroe Kalquorian profanities! As if she doesn’t have enough to pull from in English.
Larten winked at his Dramok. “Shalia might as well find out what she’s in for with us.”
Cifa snickered. “Larten is the Empire’s leading authority on put-downs and insults. You should hear what he calls his students at the training camp.”
Seot rolled his eyes. “I believe today’s best example was calling a tenth-year trainee, ‘prime flesh for a Tragoom loincloth’.”
“Harsh, my Nobek.” Cifa’s laughter filled my room. I had to laugh with him.
“But entirely true.” Larten’s expression was halfway between a scowl of irritation and hilarity. “That particular trainee has all the sense of a rock. If he asks me for a recommendation for future employers, I’ll recommend they use him for a doorstop. And I’ll suggest they have a back-up doorstop for when he screws that up.”
I could barely breathe for laughing at Larten. Who would have thought such a brooding, fearsome man could have a funny side?
He folded his arms over his chest and mock-glared at his clanmates. “If you’re going to tell tales on me, I have a few I can tell on you. Like why Cifa is not allowed to drink on his own cruise ships.”
“No drunk stories! No drunk stories!” the Imdiko yelled, waving his arms wildly. “Seot, make him stop!”
“Oh, don’t be so modest. I’m sure your passengers were greatly entertained by that soulful rendition of ‘Give Me Your Passion Tonight’... even though you sang it to a lighting pole in the dining room. No doubt they got all their money’s worth for the trip on that moment alone.”
Even the dignified Seot guffawed at that. Cifa sputtered and made as if to stomp off.
“We’re not done talking to Shalia,” the Dramok reminded him between snickers. He directed his next comment to me. “Don’t worry about our Imdiko. He doesn’t drink often, so it doesn’t take much to get him tipsy. Even when he does get drunk, he’s more cute than irritating.”
Aw, how sweet. As if Cifa needed to be cuter.
The blushing Imdiko said, “I know I can’t hold my liquor. That particular incident was a long time ago, when my siblings and I first started the cruise line. We’d hosted a clanning ceremony, and everyone kept handing me drinks to toast to its success. I knew better, but how do you refuse the happiness of new clanmates?”
It was amazing to see them get past the earlier formality and show me the real Clan Seot. Once again, I saw the easy affection between the three men. There seemed to be real warmth and love there. After watching the high level of angst between Betra and Oses in their star-crossed relationship, it was refreshing. I detected no drama.
Even if I don’t choose this clan, that’s exactly the kind of relationship I want to be a part of. The lack of tragedy is nice for a change.
After seeing more of Clan Seot, I’m finding it hard to go along with my dads’ suggestion to contact a second potential clan. They just seem so perfect. But I suppose it would be irresponsible to not look at more of my options.
But damn it, I really, REALLY like what I’m seeing from Seot, Cifa, and Larten.