Thursday, June 30, 2016
September 21, part 2
We set off, moving towards what looked like a small outbuilding next to the landing pad. Much as we’d been on Haven, we were agog at being in wide open space. I wondered how long it would be before I would take walking in the outdoors for granted.
As we walked towards the building, Firef dropped back, allowing Nosdu to lead the group. I was not surprised to see him heading for me. Anrel, meet your next admirer.
“You must be Matara Shalia,” the Dramok said when he reached me. Only he didn’t look at me. His eyes were wide, drinking in the sight of a baby.
I quelled the urge to say, “No, she’s Anrel.” It felt kind of whiny, but my reaction had nothing to do with my daughter being in the limelight. I’ve always had a thing about people not looking at me when they speak to me. I’m weird that way.
So I got off my brat kick and simply said, “Yes, I’m Shalia Monroe.”
“And this wonderful child is—?”
“Anrel.” He repeated it like a benediction. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen a baby this small. My sons have been grown for decades.”
“So you’re clanned,” I remarked. “And a father as well. It’s nice to have a family man in charge of the complex.”
“It was one of the requirements,” Firef said, finally looking at me with a smile. “Management is required to have experience with being a mate and parent. The committee in charge of the Earther Mataras thought it best.”
I glanced at the youthful Nosdu. “So the Imdiko is clanned to a Matara and has children?”
“Clanned to an Earther, yes. His first child is on the way. Due next month.” Firef seemed proud to relate that. “He was promoted only two weeks ago and given a waiver since his fatherhood is so near. He’ll probably have a million questions for you, but if he becomes a pest—”
“He won’t bother me, no matter how many questions he asks,” I promised. “I’ve been the nervous new parent and know how it feels. I had a ton of questions and worries myself and welcomed any help I could find. I still do, as a matter of fact,” I added with a laugh.
Firef grinned. “I know he’ll appreciate that.”
We’d reached the little building. It turned out not to be a building at all. Most of the front wall slid upward, revealing it to be a huge elevator-conveyance car. I knew the Matara Complex was underground in a former mine, so going into the earth was no surprise. I was sad to say goodbye to the great outdoors so soon, however.
We boarded the transport and bid adieu to the blue skies as the door dropped closed once more. No matter the size, conveyances all look pretty much the same: gray, metal, utilitarian. Blah.
“Residential,” Nosdu said. I noticed his gaze had riveted on Anrel. His expression was half-delighted, half-terrified. Yep, I knew the feeling. Nosdu was probably going to be one of my very best friends in the foreseeable future. I gave him an encouraging smile when he glanced at me.
It wasn’t even two seconds when the conveyance door opened again. At first I thought we hadn’t gone underground. The landscape was much like before, except the colorful trees were a lot closer. The sun was as brilliant, the sky stretching just as wide as before.
“Oops,” Candy muttered next to me, her look amused.
Firef and Nosdu stepped off however. After a moment’s hesitation, we followed them. Then nine women stood stock still, our necks craning as we had a look around.
I’d known the ceiling of the underground was one tremendous vid displaying the weather conditions of the world outside. Yet I hadn’t expected it to look so real. Only the distant rock walls seen between stands of trees betrayed the illusion. It felt like we were actually outside. Hell, there was even a breeze to cool my exposed skin. I was amazed. I’d never seen a large-scale vid that could display with that amount of high-resolution. I truly couldn’t tell that I was underground.
Among the colorful trees with their startling ivory-colored trunks and branches, a few dwellings dotted here and there. I guessed these were homes for the Kalquorians since Nosdu had directed the conveyance to take us to a residential area. They weren’t like Earther homes at all. They were rounded creations with swooping curves. It was like seeing some sort of stone formations that had been weathered by the elements over time.
They were interesting to look at, but Candy grabbed my arm and pointed up into the trees themselves. Darn if there weren’t treehouses in the branches. And when I say treehouses, I don’t mean the kinds of things pre-teen boys would build back on Earth. I mean treeHOUSES. Actual structures meant to be lived in. I could see stairs winding around the trunks, leading to various levels where closed rooms and balconies affixed to thick networks of branches.
“Gorgeous,” I breathed in appreciation. “But heaven help anyone who’s a sleepwalker up there.”
We set off down the stone path that led from the conveyance. It opened into an even wider lane that curved off to our left, parting the pastoral landscape that managed to look cultivated and yet natural all at once. We made the turn and gaped yet again.
The Matara Complex loomed on the horizon. Again, the vids I’d seen of the place did not match the reality. It was breathtaking.
Like the smaller homes we passed, it was rounded with graceful undulating curves along its roof and exterior. Again I thought of ancient rocks worn by wind and water into sculptural beauty that only nature could create. It looked made of granite, but there was a sheen that spoke of polished rock. Near the top were a few openings, lovely arched windows or doors, fit for a cathedral’s stained glass. The structure was astounding.
When we stepped inside, it was no less awe-inspiring. The courtyard, which sat squarely in the center of the complex’s open middle, was an explosion of color. First there were flowerbeds blooming like they were afraid they’d never get the chance to do so again. The scents they put off would put the most expensive cologne to shame. It was amazing.
The beds separated pie-wedge shaped sections of the courtyard. Each section was tiled in a different color. Yellow, blue, green, red, so on. And each section had a different function. I saw small whirlpools, almost all of which were taken up by small groups of women who looked at us new arrivals with mild curiosity. Most wore full body bathing suits like we’d had on Earth, but a few wore scantier pieces that we couldn’t help but widen our eyes at. Old Earth repressions had us glancing at each other as if to say, can you believe she’s wearing that?
Another section looked sort of like the outdoor sitting area of a café. It had low tables, seating cushions, and firepits. That part was full too, with a ton of women drinking and eating and whooping it up. One woman seemed to be the center of attention. Fancy wrapped presents surrounded her, along with nine Kalquorian men who looked daggers at each other.
Nosdu spoke in an undertone in Kalquorian to Firef, but I caught what he said. “Matara Penelope has invited all three clans she’s seeing to her birthday party.”
Firef sighed as he looked the situation over. “Ask Security to send in a few more guards just in case.”
While Nosdu muttered into his com, Firef gave us all a bright smile. “As you can see, we have many activities and opportunities for relaxation here.”
He wasn’t kidding. We walked around the pie wedge courtyard, getting a good look at a huge pool where several women swam about, and an open area in the purple section where we were told meditation, exercise classes, and dance lessons were held.
The green section threw us all for a loop. Raised platforms covered in soft, billowy mats filled the area. It was another heavily populated area, but I don’t think anyone in my group avoided taking a step back. It didn’t matter that we’d all looked over the vid introduction to the complex long before we got here.
The skimpy bathing suits some of the women here wore in such a public place had been an eye-opener. Women lying on the platforms, wearing even less and getting massages turned out to be quite shocking. But the Tratsods that performed the massages … no, none of us were quite ready to see those.
They had this orangey-pink skin on their lumpy round bodies that made my eyes want to scream. Seriously, nothing should be that color. It’s wrong. Add in all those slippery, slimy looking tentacles, and the rest of me wanted to scream too. And don’t even get me started on the tall, thin stalks that made their eyes hover over the rest of them. Ick, ick, ick.
It was so bizarre to see how many women allowed those completely inhuman things to slide over their oil-glistening skin, rubbing tentacles all over backs and shoulders and thighs. I couldn’t imagine any sane person willingly touching a Tratsod. The only nice thing about them was the soothing humming sound they made. If I closed my eyes and somehow brought on amnesia so I didn’t remember what they looked like, they could have droned me straight to sleep. I noted Anrel’s lids drooping heavily as we stood close to the area.
Firef and Nosdu watched us with amusement as we made faces at each other. The Dramok said, “Not particularly pretty to us, are they? But we aren’t nice looking to the Tratsods either. Still, once you get past their appearance, you cannot find a better massage anywhere.”
I’ll have to take his word for it. I’m in no hurry to have one of those critters on me. Ew.
We moved on, the two men shepherding us into the complex itself. “The ground floor is taken up by our offices, along with other activity and relaxation areas,” Nosdu told us. “Plus you will find classes in our language, geography, and history to familiarize yourself with your new home. We also offer lessons in a variety of hobbies such as cooking, art, music…”
Anrel got my attention with a little whine. Away from the hypnotic droning of the Tratsods, she was wide awake again. She made a face, one I knew well.
Our administrator and his second had led us to a workout room with state-of-the-art machines. “You have the worst timing,” I cooed to my little bundle of now smelly joy. “Mommy would have really liked to check this room out.”
Candy overheard me and leaned close. The auntie sniff test is pretty much identical to the mommy sniff test. I think it might be ingrained in women or something. She snickered and nodded. “Someone’s made you a present.”
I sighed and sidled over to Firef as Nosdu continued to play tour guide. “Where can I change the baby?” I asked quietly so as not to interrupt the Imdiko.
“Change the – oh.” Firef got the same look on his face so many men tended to when a diaper was full. Panic. Maybe like the women’s sniff-for-poop test, that terror is ingrained into the male gender or something. You’d have thought I’d asked him to do the honors of changing the baby.
“There is a lavatory right over there. We do have a few children on the premises, we have everything you need, it’s not a big deal,” he jabbered.
I managed not to laugh. For not a big deal, Firef acted like the complex was coming under attack or something. He really hadn’t parented a young child in a long time.
I said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind just taking Anrel to my quarters and cleaning up there. She could do with a bottle anyway and it’s almost time for her nap. I can catch up on what the complex offers later,” I said.
“By all means, Matara,” Firef said. “The child’s needs come first, of course. And if you want a full tour later, I’ll be glad to see to it.”
He was out of his depth but so nice. I was glad I hadn’t laughed at him, even though it was funny. “I doubt it will be necessary, but thank you.”
“Is everything all right?”
Firef and I turned to see Betra heading our way. The rest of the tour group had wandered on, leaving Firef and I standing alone in the hall.
“You’re here already!” I said happily. “We’re fine. Just ducking out of the sightseeing over a certain someone’s stinky drawers.” I turned to Firef. “Dramok Firef, this is Imdiko Betra. He was my liaison on the transport and a – a good friend.”
The men exchanged bows. Firef had the overly polite attitude of a man who knew exactly what ‘good friend’ meant in this context. “A pleasure, Imdiko.”
“Mine as well, Dramok.”
The niceties over, Firef conducted us to my quarters, which were on the fourth floor of the complex.
“Shall I wait until you have settled the baby and show you around your rooms?” Firef asked.
“No, that’s okay. Go ahead and re-join the group if you’d like.” Anrel was starting to fuss, and all my attention was on getting her comfortable again. I barely looked around before laying her on the main room’s lounger and diving into her diaper bag. “It looks small enough that I’ll find my way around.”
“There is also an orientation recording stored on the vid system. Any questions at all, please let me know. I’ll check on you in about an hour?”
“That sounds great.” I dug out a clean diaper, wipes, and powder.
Betra ushered Firef out as I set about taking care of Anrel. As soon as the administrator was gone, my sweetie said, “I’ll get her formula ready.”
Doody duty was accomplished fast enough, and Anrel burbled happily once more as I looked around for a waste bin.
Wow, the quarters really were tiny. What Kalquorians referred to as a ‘greeting room’ was just big enough to have no more than half a dozen people at a time. There was a small oval table in front of the lounger … which was about the size of an Earther loveseat. A few seating cushions were arranged on the other side of the table. A basket of flowers sat on the table. The vid bar was hung on the wall opposite the lounger. That was all there was to it. Had I not come from the cramped confines of a transport, I might have been disappointed. It was about the size of my sitting room on the Pussy ‘Porter.
“Cozy,” I told Betra.
He nodded. “I suppose with all the amenities elsewhere in the complex, they don’t anticipate you needing a lot of actual living room. It’s still a lot larger than my quarters. You even have a tiny sort of kitchen.”
He made good points. I picked up Anrel and we went on our tour of our new home.
I thought his description of the small space with its cooling unit and meal warmer as a kitchen was a tad extravagant. But it was fine with me, especially since the cooler was full of premade meals that would take no time to thaw and heat. Better still, there was a coffee dispenser. Apparently I’m not the only caffeine addict to come to Kalquor. Thank you, prophets.
“This place has a dining hall as well, if I’m not mistaken,” Betra reminded me.
“Yeah, I remember that from the vid. Look, they’ve got a stock of formula and pureed foods for Anrel. It looks like they prepared for us pretty well.”
That was a relief. I wondered how many other women in the complex had small children. I’d seen a couple of toys in the hall of my floor.
“I think she gets a room of her own too. Let’s check it out.”
There were two sleeping rooms all right. The smaller one had a miniscule bed obviously intended for a child. Anrel’s crib was supposed to come with the rest of our belongings. I thought there was just enough room for it to squeeze in on the other side of the bedside shelf. The bathroom was pretty much a shower stall, smaller than what I’d had on the ship. The toilet facility had its own tiny space closed off from the rest.
As I wandered back into the greeting room, I mused that it was not that much different from what I’d had on the transport, plus all those amazing amenities on the ground floor to boot. Certainly nothing to pout about.
I burst into tears anyway.
Betra’s arms were around me in an instant, holding Anrel and I close. He didn’t try to talk me out of the sudden onslaught of sadness. He let me weep for a couple of minutes as Anrel goggled at her new surroundings. Thank goodness I wasn’t upsetting her.
When I could talk, I was angry with embarrassment. “Well, that was stupid,” I said, rubbing my eyes impatiently. “I don’t know what I’m so teary about. Except this place looks empty. When my stuff gets here, it will be fine.”
“Sure it will,” Betra said, his gentle smile full of understanding.
“And Katrina and Candy will be here. Plenty of coffee. Everything I need.”
“I just won’t have – have—”
I couldn’t finish with the words you and Oses. I was too busy boo-hooing again.
“You’ve got us for two weeks,” Betra reminded me.
“I know, I know. But damn it, it feels like I’ve lost everything right now.”
“You made a home for yourself on the transport,” he said. “It’s got sentimental value. I get it, Shalia. I do. So if you need to cry it out, do so.”
I didn’t want to cry though. I wanted to be tough, like I’d been during the Tragoom attack just before we made it to Kalquorian space. I wanted to be fearless. Instead, I was falling apart.
Bit by bit, however, I started to pull myself together. Betra made me a cup of coffee for an official welcome. He presented it to me with a grinned, “See? All is not lost.”
The marvelous bastard made me laugh in spite of my angst. I raised my cup to him in a toast. “I guess I’ll survive somehow.”