Monday, June 27, 2016
September 21, part 1
I watched my belongings get carted out by members of the cargo crew, ready to be taken down to Kalquor. I held Anrel as all our material possession left our quarters for the last time.
This was it. This was goodbye to the Pussy ‘Porter. We were leaving for good.
With one last look around, I walked out. I joined the rest of my group at Betra’s office door. Several of the women, including Megan, were weeping as Betra stepped out, ready to lead us to our shuttle. Another last.
He smiled at everyone, his gaze lingering on me for a moment. “Now don’t be sad,” he admonished the rest. “If Katrina was here instead of spending all the time she can with her clan, she’d remind you that you’re about to go to a planet full of men who haven’t had the privilege of knowing you yet. Fresh meat awaits you, Mataras.”
There was laughter as he teased them, even from those crying. On the heels of that, Heather called out, “Thanks for taking such good care of us, Betra. We’ll never forget you.”
“Especially Shalia,” Megan added, drying her eyes. She gave me a playful nudge.
Betra grinned, but there was a hint of sorrow behind the humor. “She’s stuck with me for a couple of weeks yet, I’m afraid. You might see me around the complex until the transport heads back out.”
That earned him some cheers. “Good,” someone said. “I meant to get you a thank-you gift, but the last Tragoom attack kind of threw my plans off.”
Betra flushed but looked pleased. “The only thanks I need is your safety and happiness. It has been an honor to know you all.”
With that, the inevitable could no longer be postponed. We followed Betra to the in-ship conveyance, all of us staring at the familiar hallways as we went. Another last. Another goodbye.
Crewmembers we passed bowed and gave us their best wishes for happiness. Even the roughest Nobeks seemed sad to see us go. A couple gave me feigned shocked looks as I passed. “Where do you think you’re going, Matara Shalia? Didn’t the weapons commander tell you that you’re in charge of ship’s defenses now? And tell Matara Katrina that she’s in command of morale!”
“Ha-ha, guys,” I called back. “Don’t let Captain Wotref hear you talk like that. Even I can’t keep you safe from him and Siko.”
That earned me a few laughs. Then I was in the conveyance and the door closed on the Matara section.
It seemed I only blinked and I was in the shuttle bay. We went to our assigned craft. Betra would not be sharing this ride with us. Our care was being passed on to the administration of the Matara Complex. Betra’s official duty to us was over.
Each woman in the line hugged Betra in turn just before boarding the shuttle. He was thanked over and over, implored to take care of himself, and even given a few tearful kisses.
I was last with Anrel. Betra stroked her cheek when she held her arms out to him, wanting her uncle to play as he so often did. “I’ll see you both within an hour or two. You probably will have barely seen your quarters before I get there.”
“We’ll be waiting,” I smiled. “See you soon.”
I boarded the shuttle and found my seat next to Candy, who was so excited she fairly bounced in her seat. Seeing her thrilled to get to Kalquor made me think her intense infatuation with Nobek Stidmun might have fizzled out.
I settled Anrel on my lap and switched on the restraint field. The shuttle’s stabilizers would keep our flight smooth, but I don’t take chances with my baby.
The engines cycled up, their quiet hum growing into a purr. There was the barest suggestion of motion. We were lifting off. We were leaving the ship.
Most of us were quiet. Even Candy had settled down, though one knee bounced furiously as she expended whatever nervous energy remained to her. Anrel sat on my leg, her arms waving slightly as she looked around with wide eyes.
Window vids appeared along the walls of the cabin. “Landing in three minutes,” came the pilot’s voice over the public address as we exclaimed to see Kalquor curving on either side of our shuttle.
It hung mistily before our vessel, a blue-green globe growing huge in an incredibly short space of time. Then we raced into the atmosphere on the day-lit side of the planet, and the brightness turned blinding. Our eager stares jerked away from the vids, and I covered Anrel’s eyes with my hand as she yelped a startled complaint.
The brightness toned down just as fast as it had come on. We blinked to see clear blue skies outside the ship and a sparkling emerald sea beneath it. I’d never seen water so green. It was beautiful, like liquid emeralds.
After a few moments, sea vessels began to appear. I stared at them, wondering if any were the cruise ships Cifa owned with his siblings. They were gone in an instant however, passed over by our quickly flying shuttle.
I could tell we were slowing down, however. By the time a swath of pink-sanded beach passed beneath us, we were still moving at a fast clip, but at a sane pace.
I saw silvery-gray cliffs on the horizon, pockmarked with arches dug into their faces. I’d been told about the homes dug into the rock, and Candy and I exclaimed over the balconies we saw carved out of the stone. We even saw some people, mostly the dark Kalquorians, standing or sitting on the balconies. It looked really amazing, and I thought how wonderful it must be to live right by the ocean, able to walk out on one’s own terrace to enjoy the sea breezes and view.
We flew over the cliffs, and the shuttle slowed way down as it approached a landing pad. There were several smaller shuttles parked there. Ours flew over it and then banked around, turning in a slow circle towards the far corner of the large landing area where a few other shuttles that looked like ours sat. I surmised they were from the Pussy ‘Porter, having brought some of our shipmates down to Kalquor ahead of my group.
Our vessel settled among its fellows, landing without even a bump. I saw a pair of Kalquorian men walking our way before the window vids winked out. Then the pilot spoke again.
“Mataras, allow me to be the first to welcome you to Kalquor. I hope you will find much happiness here.”
The hatch opened. We’d arrived.
We filed off the shuttle. Some of the women jumped up, ready to go. I was slower to rise from my seat, a little reluctant to so quickly quit my last link to the Pussy ‘Porter. However, I was not allowed to poke along. With Anrel in my arms, the women still on board the shuttle moved aside to let me pass. Lady with a Baby gets all the respect … even when she doesn’t want it.
I had no choice but to move my rump down the aisle and off the shuttle. I blinked in the bright sunlight as I emerged on the landing pad under a cloudless sky. Anrel scrunched up her face, her pupils turning into slits. She made a noise of complaint.
The rest of the women filed out as I held one hand over Anrel’s brow and one over mine. My sight adjusted a bit at a time. The two Kalquorian men I’d noted approaching the landing pad stood close by, but it was what was behind them that arrested my attention.
A forest stretched across the horizon. That might not have impressive in most cases, but I’d never seen prettier trees. Their leaves were gorgeous jewel-tones, as if someone had decked them out in gemstones. Sapphire blue, citrine yellow, ruby red, purple amethyst, and emerald green splashed joyfully beneath the sky’s canopy.
“Mataras, allow me the privilege to be the first to welcome you to Kalquor,” the taller of the two men who’d come to greet us said. His pleasant face beamed.
None of us had the heart to tell him the pilot had already taken that treat. We simply smiled and murmured hellos.
“I am Dramok Firef, director of the Matara Complex,” he said. He was the taller of the two, an older man with gray streaking from his temples. The stripes in his otherwise black hair suited his calm, handsomely craggy face. He reminded me of a not-as-careworn version of Captain Wotref. “This is my assistant, Imdiko Nosdu.”
The younger man bowed. He was lanky, almost like a gawky teenager but with muscles. His face was as sweet and innocent as a young child’s. I heard a few muffled awws from the ladies of my group. The sound made him flush. He mumbled, “Welcome, Mataras.”
“We are currently between liaisons right now,” Firef said. “Our last one has been clanned, and the newest one—”
“Has also been clanned and is enjoying her honeymoon,” Candy laughed. “So do we see you until Katrina takes up her duties in a couple of weeks?”
He smiled and nodded. “Imdiko Nosdu and I will do our best to answer your questions and resolve any concerns until Matara Katrina joins our staff. You should feel welcome to consult with anyone on our team. If one person can’t help you, they’ll find someone who can.”
He nodded to Nosdu. The Imdiko smiled at us and said in a quiet voice, “Now we have a welcome from Emperor Clajak and Empress Jessica for you. After that, we will make our way to the complex, give you a tour, and let you settle in.”
He held out his hand. He held a small object I couldn’t quite make out, pointed it in the air, and pressed it with his thumb. A huge vid screen appeared in the air, showing two people, one Earther and one Kalquorian.
At first glance, I would have said Emperor Clajak was the more impressive of the two. He was certainly bigger than his empress, loaded with muscle and an aura of easy confidence. His mane of steely-gray hair hung to his broad shoulders. It framed a handsome face wearing a smile that hinted at cockiness.
He bowed to us … or to the recorder he’d faced when he’d videoed the piece. He rose up straight and tall, every inch the self-assured Dramok. “Greetings Mataras,” he said, his voice like silk against my ear. I wasn’t the only one who shivered at those honeyed tones. “I am Dramok Clajak, Emperor of the Kalquorian Empire. My empress and I, along with our clanmates Emperor Egilka and Emperor Bevau, are delighted you have chosen to make our planet your home. This is your home, Mataras. You are among friends.”
He looked to the tiny woman at his side. Empress Jessica was small in stature, especially when compared to her clanmate. Yet the confidence that Clajak wore like a second skin was hers as well. In fact, it seemed to permeate her. Her eyes flashed with a lively fire.
“Welcome one and all,” the elfin-faced empress said. “We are so glad you are here. No doubt there will be an adjustment period, but the staff of the Matara Complex will do all they can to make it a smooth one. We are sure you will enjoy the perks of living there. We have tried to anticipate all possible comforts, but do not feel afraid to make your wants known. You will find the mostly male staff ready to accommodate your wishes to their best abilities.” She grinned at us as if she was talking to her best girlfriends.
Clajak had watched her throughout her speech, his slightly arrogant face turning soft with regard. I could tell he saw his Earther mate as an equal. He was obvious in his love and respect … that he displayed those emotions openly impressed me greatly. Empress Jessica was a lucky lady.
When she finished talking, he again faced us. “You are Kalquor’s future. We thank you for coming with the utmost gratitude. May the Empire serve you with honor and bring you joy.”
The vid ended. Nosdu tucked the portable player in a pouch on his belt as Firef stepped forward. “Indeed we are grateful you have come to us. Anything I or my staff can do to make you happy, just let us know. And now, Mataras, if you will follow me, we will take you to the complex.”