Monday, May 9, 2016
September 7, part 3
Stidmun veered off into a corridor. A few seconds later, we veered too. There was no sign of Candy’s quarry, just a closed-off door several yards down the hall. It had a sign on it in big, bold Kalquorian letters that read ‘Proper Credentials of Rank or Training Status Required’. In other words, authorized personnel only.
“If he went through those doors, you’re out of luck,” I told Candy as we headed down the corridor and looked in the training rooms we passed. Two had the sweatiest Nobeks I’d ever seen doing exercises while older Nobeks screamed at them. It reminded me of training with Resan. There was no sign of Stud Man.
Candy shot me a grin that promised trouble. “No I’m not. I can’t read Kalquorian and neither can you. We’re just two innocent Mataras taking a little tour. No harm.”
I was reminded that we would probably not get in trouble. Being a mom had woken some sense of responsibility in me however. I couldn’t help but point out, “Betra went over the signs that tell us where we can and cannot go. Red signs mean ‘no’. That is a red sign.”
We passed the last open doors before reaching the end of the line. The rooms within were empty. Candy turned to me with a rogue’s smile. “This is where I went yesterday to spy on Nobek Stidmun. I didn’t get caught then. If you’ll stop being such an old granny, we won’t get caught this time either.”
“All this crazy over a pretty face,” I said, shaking my head. “With all the men we have access to on the ship ... with all the men waiting for you on Kalquor ... why this one?”
Candy looked perplexed. “I don’t know. I looked at him yesterday and it was like something in my chest exploded. I really thought if I saw him again, I’d see something that would make me say, ‘Oh I built him up to be much more than I thought. He’s not so amazing after all.’ But I can’t say that, Shalia. Seeing him hit me just as hard a few minutes ago as it did the first time.”
She was the most ridiculous I’d ever seen anyone, but I could tell Candy wasn’t doing this for a lark. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, it had happened to my friend. She was completely gone over Nobek Stud Man.
I sighed. “What the hell. We are among Kalquorians. It’s not like they’ll put us in a prison camp or anything if we get caught.”
Candy muffled a happy squeal behind the hand she clapped to her mouth. Then she said, “Get down low. This is the cool vid-simulation room I told you about. If it’s set up like it was yesterday, there will be bushes and trees hiding us from sight when we go in.”
“Won’t they see the door open?”
“No, the simulation shows nothing of the real room as far as I can tell. Hands and knees, Shalia.”
I crouched down next to her, casting a look over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching us go where we shouldn’t. The coast was clear as we crept towards the door.
It opened silently, allowing us entrance. My mouth dropped open.
Candy was right. It was easily the best, most realistic vid-sim I’d ever encountered. The corridor’s flat gray floor ended right at the doorway, giving way to a forest with straight, slim trees and pink foliage that hugged the ground. We crawled in and I turned to see that indeed there was no sign of the doorway we’d come through. Or had the silent door closed already?
“Pay attention to our location,” Candy whispered. “We don’t want to get lost in here.”
I listened to the alien calls of animals I couldn’t name as I noted my surroundings. Candy pulled a blue ribbon out of her pocket and placed it so it looped on the pink leaf-strewn ground behind us. “This will tell us where the door is,” she said. “Move in the direction that the top of the loop points and you’ll walk right out.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You were planning to come back in here all along, weren’t you?”
She shrugged, but she had that up-to-no-good grin on her face again. “I knew it was a distinct possibility.”
I decided dear, adorable Candy might need to have her neck wrung later. Oh that’s right; I owe her that still.
I reached my hand out to the first bush in front of me, its bluish branches heavily festooned with rosy pink leaves. I felt a pulse of sensation against my fingers. I pushed harder. Definite resistance.
“Cool, huh?” Candy whispered. “You can’t pass through the objects even though they’re vid. The only way it could be better is if they felt like the real thing.”
“Impressive,” I agreed. “You can’t just walk through the objects you see. You have to go around or over them.”
All at once howls like wild, rabid animals filled the air. I felt every hair on my head stand at attention. I had the sudden need to get the hell out of that faux forest.
“What the fuck?” I asked, starting to back in the direction of the door’s last known location.
“The trainees. They must have started the exercise,” Candy whispered. “Come on. Let’s see if we can get a look at Stidmun.”
I wanted more to find a lavatory, especially when more of those terrifying howls floated our way. “Those were men? They sure as hell didn’t sound like it!”
“I love an animalistic Nobek,” Candy breathed. Her expression was wilder than I’d ever seen. The woman needs a keeper, that’s for damned sure.
“I don’t know about this, Candy,” I started to say, but she was already crawling through the brush, heading deeper into the woods.
I stayed put, torn about what I should do. Logic said that we wouldn’t find real trouble, not when we were the wombs of Kalquor’s future, ha-ha. But my every instinct was on high alert after hearing those howls, telling me to get out right now before the beasts who made such noises found me. A primitive part of me knew the difference between predator and prey and which side of the equation I fell on. But if my guts were right, how could I leave Candy alone out there?
My friend’s head popped up on the other side of a pink bush. I marveled that she’d managed to wander some distance already. When Candy’s got a purpose, she plunges headfirst into it. She gestured frantically for me to join her.
Well, the wild Nobeks hadn’t done their howling in the last couple of minutes. Maybe I was being silly. I mean, I’d gone warrior woman all over those Tragooms not so long ago and they were out to kill. Kalquorians were our protectors. I had nothing to fear from them.
Wishing I felt the spirit of adventure more than the idea Candy and I were being idiots, I hurried to my friend, hunched in an effort to make myself as small and invisible as possible. I crowded close to her as if to hide. I love Candy to the end and would do anything for her, but some selfish bit of me saw her as a human shield. We had a tree to our back and bushes in front and to one side of us. It would have been a cozy spot if my heart hadn’t been trying to fly up my throat and out of my mouth.
“Peek just over on the other side of those bushes,” she whispered, her eyes glowing with excitement. “You’re going to love this.”
I slowly raised my head, peering in the direction she indicated. I looked out on a clearing that was an almost perfect circle of fluorescent green grass. And in the middle of that glade glowing under two suns...
Wow. Naked Nobek heaven.
Two groups of young Nobek trainees, resplendent in skintight short-shorts, stood facing each other from opposite sides of the clearing. Muscles gleamed in the glaring sun on bodies pumped for battle. The side on my left wore red shorts with black piping. The men on my right wore black shorts with red piping. They glared at each other across the glowing green expanse of grass, bodies tensed, upper lips wrinkled back to display fangs.
Walking between them, looking from one side to the other like a general inspecting his troops, was Stud Man. He was easily the best looking of the bunch and I glanced at Candy to see her reaction. Her eyes were wide and her mouth agog. I bit my lips together to keep from bursting out with laughter.
Stud Man was accompanied by four other men, also pleasingly near-nude as they stalked in his wake. Fellow trainers, I supposed. The quick glimpse I took told me they looked older than the men in the two teams, hardened and self-assured. I couldn’t concentrate very well on their faces. My eyes didn’t want to rise beyond chest height. There was just so many near-naked bodies to look at.
Stud Man drew to a halt in about the center of the glade. He glared at the Red Shorts Team and barked something in Kalquorian at those men. They responded with those hair-raising howls that made my skin want to crawl right off my flesh. At least now I knew they weren’t hunting for tasty Earther girls to gnaw the bones of. I shivered at the sound nonetheless.
Stud Man twisted around and screamed at Black Shorts Team. More freaky howls. I cringed. I enjoyed the sights, not so much the sounds. I wished they would shut up and just stand around looking amazing.
I got my wish. After that last round of inhuman shrieks, Stud Man held up a large black-handled knife. I gazed at the shining blade with an admirer’s eye. From near the point to about halfway down its edge it was serrated. Oh, the damage I could have done to those Tragooms with such a weapon. For a moment it held my attention better than the men.
Stud Man grinned, his fangs down as he flung the knife to embed in the grass ... or the floor beneath the vid representation of grass, I reminded myself. It quivered for an instant, reflecting beams from the twin suns overhead.
The five trainers sped out of the middle of the glade, their bodies blurred as they took up positions at the edges of the clearing. I had a moment of panic when I thought one headed straight for us, but he veered to the right instead.
While I was on the verge of wetting my pants at the near discovery, both teams screamed in an ear-popping rush. Bedlam descended as they rushed towards each other. Flesh smacked with unbelievable violence against flesh. The teams fought each other in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
It took me a few moments to realize they fought to claim the knife Stud Man had thrown down. I’m not sure how I figured it out; the melee seemed to be pure chaos. However, the bodies always seemed to concentrate in the waiting blade’s vicinity, and that was where the bloodiest combat occurred. The blade was the prize.
Minutes flew by and one by one, men began to fall. The trainers hauled them out of the fight. Many protested they could go on, but the trainers’ decisions were absolute. When they said a man was done, he was done.
They’d gotten down to half a dozen guys still battling when Candy whispered in my ear. “Where did he go? I haven’t seen Nobek Stidmun for some time.”
I’d completely forgotten we were there to stalk Candy’s crush. I’d gotten swept up in the fighting, wondering who would win the super nice knife. I’d picked a favorite, a guy in red shorts who wasn’t so big he couldn’t move fast and wasn’t so small he’d get stomped on by the rest. My attention had concentrated on him as I silently cheered him on. I looked around, but Stud Man was nowhere in evidence.
“Maybe he’s hiding behind a tree, taking a nap,” I smarted off and went back to mentally urging on my pick to victory.
“Damn it,” Candy whined.
Maybe two minutes later the fight ended. My guy was the last eliminated before the Black Shorts Team victor snatched the blade out of the ground. Oh well. I’d almost picked the winner.
Black Shorts Winner, a man whose head looked tiny compared to his immensely wide shoulders, held the knife up in the air. His teammates roared their approval. Then the Red Shorts added their howls, acknowledging their opponent’s supremacy.
One of the trainers – Stud Man was still nowhere to be seen – stepped to the winner and said a few words, probably hailing him as Trainee Numero Uno.
Then the bad thing happened. Nobek Stidmun’s ridiculously resonate voice rang out, speaking in English. “You have indeed done well. I will add to your honor by allowing you to carry these trespassing females to my office.”
He spoke from right behind Candy and me. With startled high-pitched cries, Candy and I twisted around to see Nobek Stud Man looming over us, a cruel grin lighting up his perfect features.