Thursday, July 7, 2016
September 21, part 4
We lay panting for a few minutes. At last Betra heaved himself up and removed the gag from my mouth. I pulled the blindfold off.
“Hold tight,” he said and walked into the kitchenette. He returned with water bottles for both of us. We gulped like we’d just finished hiking across a desert.
I sighed as I lay back on the floor, enjoying having him near enough to cuddle. Just as he reached for me, his com went off.
“Probably Oses,” he said as he lazily took the device off his belt. He checked the frequency and frowned. “No, it’s my supervisor. Excuse me, gorgeous.”
Aw, he called me gorgeous. I smiled as he answered the com in Kalquorian.
The conversation that followed was brief, but it made Betra glower. I’d only caught bits and pieces of the too-fast speech between him and his boss, so I didn’t know what had him so angry until he clicked the com off. He stood up and pulled his gaping uniform closed. I could tell he was readying to leave.
“What’s going on?” I said, sitting up and feeling rather upset already.
“Stupid, fucking … Shalia, I’m sorry. I’ve got to go back to the ship and submit another final report.” He bent down and lifted me up. “Plus I’ve got to see what else the idiots lost when they powered the transport down. Damn it! I’m supposed to be on leave now!”
“They lost your final report? Who’s the moron that pulled that stunt?” I hugged him, feeling let down that he was having to run off when I was still adjusting to being here. “How long will it be before you get back?”
He raked fingers through his hair, making it stick up in half a dozen places. “It depends on how much was erased. We lost some computer interfaces during the Tragoom attack. A lot of the system has to be fixed. The repair crew is already working on the problem, but someone forgot to make sure everything had been put on the permanent records system before they wiped the drives.”
His com went off again. Betra cursed until he saw it was Oses’s frequency. “Hey, I just heard. How bad did your department get hit?”
I clearly heard Oses’s long stream of profanity made up of Kalquorian, Earther, and who knew how many other languages. That Nobek has quite the fluent multi-lingual vocabulary.
The upshot was that he would be spending the night working on lost reports. Betra’s face was thunderous as he got ready to leave. “No doubt my department lost a lot too,” he told me. “Don’t look for us to see you until tomorrow.”
“I have to spend the night alone?” I swallowed. I hadn’t counted on that.
Betra gave me a lingering hug. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t planned on this.” He stepped back and regarded me with concern. “Com me if you need to. I’ll be up all night trying to get everything sorted out so I can return as soon as possible.”
I swallowed my disappointment. I was a big girl, able to spend the night in my own place all by myself. But man … I really dreaded my first night on Kalquor without Betra and Oses.
“Good luck getting things straightened out,” I said. “We’ll be okay. I’ll just miss you.”
“Give Anrel a kiss for me,” Betra said, granting me a kiss of my own before heading for the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow and we’ll make up for this pile of ronka shit. That’s a promise.”
He stormed out, muttering under his breath. At least he was as miserable as I was about the lonely night ahead.
Alone, I cleaned up from my romp and put my clothes back on. Since I wanted to spend Betra and Oses’s leave – when they finally got it – enjoying the time we had left, I determined to get unpacked and settled in. I didn’t want to waste a single moment getting my new home into shape or trying to find the stuff I needed while I had the guys around.
I moved like a whirlwind to accomplish what I could. I was able to appreciate that living in my small quarters on board the transport had kept my belongings limited. I was halfway through the final bin when Anrel woke from her nap. I was pleased with myself as I changed her diaper and fed her.
“Let’s go find the childcare center,” I said as I put her in a pretty little purple jumper that almost matched her eyes. “We can check out the setup and meet the caregivers before I have to entrust my precious girl to strangers.”
I’d had no lack of babysitters on the transport, but I figured most of my friends would be hitting the dating scene pretty fast. Katrina would have duties as one of the complex’s liaisons that would probably keep her from being available on a moment’s notice. I wanted to be reassured that I could count on the childcare service the complex provided. I needed to talk to some of the other moms here and find out if they were happy with it.
I’d just slung the always-needed diaper bag on my shoulder and was ready to pick up Anrel from the blanket I’d set on the floor when my door announce went off. I smiled as I lifted the baby and cuddled her in my arms. “I bet that’s either Firef or Nosdu. We can ask them for directions instead of wandering around lost until someone points the way,” I told my gurgling sweetheart.
I opened the door. My mouth dropped open in shock to see the three men who stood outside the door, nervous but expectant expressions on their faces. It was Clan Seot.
I got off to a fairly intelligent start. “What – you – uh – wow, you’re here!”
Dramok Seot’s incredibly handsome face stretched with a smile. “Here we are! And here you are! Did we make a mistake coming without an invitation?”
As I took in those gorgeous men – Seot, looking too stunning to be believed; Cifa, as adorably cute as a man who stands over six-and-a-half feet tall can manage; and dark Larten who a girl would dare the dangerous look in his eyes to get a taste – I screamed a little in delight. “Get in here! I never expected – come on in!”
With their laughter ringing in my ears, the trio stepped into my tiny abode. I was thrilled that instead of the formal bows Kalquorian men tend to offer, I was given brief one-armed hugs by Seot and Larten. Being enfolded in those strong arms was like being greeted by long-lost family. It was a little unreal too. Up until now, Clan Seot had existed only on vids, like vid-vision personalities. I’d gotten familiar with them, but at a distance. Now they were with me, live and in the flesh. It was shockingly different.
Once they’d embraced me, they said hello to Anrel, stroking her tiny head and welcoming her to Kalquor. She gave them her full attention, her eyes drinking the faces in. I wondered if she recognized them from the vids. When she smiled wide and gave a happy little screech, I thought perhaps she did.
Cifa was the last to greet me, probably on purpose. After pressing a gentle kiss on my cheek, he gazed at Anrel. All the breath seemed to leave his body. His voice barely registered as he said, “Shalia, may I?”
I handed the baby over with a laugh. “You’ve been counting the seconds until you could hold her, haven’t you?”
He cradled her, his expression as besotted as a man in love could be. “Hello, Anrel. Hello, beautiful girl.”
She reached for his face, her tiny starfish hands splaying against his cheeks. She stared up at Cifa as if every bit as mesmerized by him as he was by her. It was beyond sweet.
I shook myself free of the spell, remembering belatedly how a hostess was supposed to act. “Please, sit down. I’m just settling in, so I don’t have much to offer except water and some juice—”
“Don’t fret on our behalf,” Seot chuckled. He held up a large bottle of leshella. “We brought a proper, if unexpected welcome.”
Larten grinned and held up a tray of finger food. No wonder they’d only hugged me with a single arm. They’d come bearing gifts.
“Thanks,” I said. “Let me grab some plates and glasses.”
While Cifa sat on a seating cushion cooing over Anrel, Seot and Larten accompanied me in the kitchenette that was too small for the three of us. There was a lot of bumping into each other and laughter as we opened closets and cabinetry in search of my dishes. The whole time I tried to wrap my head around the fact that they were there. In person. With me.
Nope. It still wasn’t quite sinking in.
Since there weren’t that many places to look, we found trays and glasses in short order. Larten bore the lot back out to the greeting room over his head like a hunter triumphantly bringing home meat. I had to laugh at the display.
“The food you brought is cooked, isn’t it?” I asked. We’d had a few humorous conversations as to what the Nobek considered was healthy eating. “No raw ronka, right?”
“I was voted down,” Larten said with pretended grouchiness. “We ordered this from Seot’s favorite eatery, where they insist on cooking everything.”
“I don’t like my food to scream at me when I take a bite,” the Dramok agreed. As Larten put the dishes on the table next to the food and drink, Seot grabbed me in a hug again. “It is so good to see you, Shalia!”
I hugged him back and tried not to notice how incredible he felt. Jeez, I’d just had amazing sex with Betra. You’d think my libido would be happy and quiet. But then, Clan Seot had always gotten my motor running.
He let me go and searched my face. “This is a good surprise, isn’t it? Because you don’t have to be polite if we’ve overstepped. Don’t be afraid to tell us to leave.”
“Heavens, no,” I spluttered. “I was trying to talk myself out of being depressed that everything has changed. Now you’re here, and I’m very happily distracted.”
Cifa smiled up at me with that adorable face of his. “I’m glad we were able to make you feel better. Change, even change you expect and want, is still difficult.”
We sat down, Seot and I on the lounger and Larten on a cushion next to Cifa and Anrel. The Nobek leaned close to the baby and gave her a smile, which widened when she laughed at him. “The warrior girl is with us. Kalquor is safe from all harm now.”
Meanwhile, Seot still regarded me. “You have made friends on your way here, haven’t you? Friends that are with you still, living in the complex?”
“Yes,” I said. I knew I had to tell them that I had plans with Betra and Oses. It was pretty apparent to me that this clan was ready to start the whole dating dance right away. But telling a group of guys who you want to get to know that there was still a pair of guys you’re not quite finished with … awkward.
“I, um, made a couple of friends who are staying with the transport too. They’re, uh, good friends, I guess you could say, and um, well—”
Larten gave me a raised brow and half-smile. “I thought that weapons commander was rather protective of you. You mentioned him enough times that I wondered. Is Nobek Oses planning on spending his leave with you?”
“They’re here for two weeks,” I admitted. “Then the transport returns to Earth for another pick up.” The thought made my heart lurch.
Seot woofed out a breath. “At least 18 months gone, maybe more. Who is the other friend, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Imdiko Betra. He was my liaison during the trip.”
“I think I spoke to him a couple of times,” Cifa said as he made faces at Anrel. “I should have realized you two were close; he always had good suggestions for gifts.”
I wasn’t expecting the understanding smile Seot gave me. “So it would be best for us to politely step aside while you say your goodbyes.”
It was weird discussing my present lovers to potential lovers and clanmates. I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was supposed to say. “I’m really happy to see you … don’t think I’m not! And I can’t wait to get to know you better—”
Seot cut me off by taking my hand. “Shalia, calm down. You’re not offending us. We have no expectations this early in the courtship. Of course you need to say your goodbyes to those who you care about.”
“Besides,” Larten chimed in, “you’ll be meeting with other clans anyway. We have no claim on you yet.”
I thought he put a little extra emphasis on the ‘yet’. I blinked at the bunch of them. “You don’t mind? This isn’t uncomfortable for you?”
Cifa smiled. “It’s a part of the lottery process. We knew to expect it, even if there felt like there was an instant connection. You’re supposed to meet with several clans in the hopes of finding the right one.”
Larten smirked, like he found the whole thing amusing. “I’m delighted to have you compare us to other clans. On the day you accept your fate and become our Matara, you’ll have no doubt you made the right choice.”
I burst into laughter at his confidence. “We’re destined, are we?”
“Without a doubt. So meet with the also-rans and discover how they come up short. We’ll be here when you get tired of those losers.”
Cifa and Seot joined in the laughter. Larten waved us off, as if he’d been serious about the whole thing. I relaxed to know there was not going to be any chest-thumping jealousy to deal with.
Cifa rubbed his chin as he thought it over. “Two weeks for your friends. Then your mother needs her surgeries.”
“Oh jeez, I’ve been so wrapped up in getting here that I forgot that part,” I said. I flushed with embarrassment. “Worst daughter ever. I do know she was brought down to the hospital in stasis and Meyso plans to schedule her in pretty quick.”
“Meyso?” Larten’s brow quirked up again. “I take it he’s a doctor?”
I confirmed his suspicions. “Brain surgeon. And the Imdiko to my second-most compatible clan.”
The three men uttered knowing aahs. “The first of our rivals,” Seot said with an overdone competitive air. “Featuring a brain surgeon, no less. Tell us more about your second-most compatible clan.”
He was so teasing about it that I had to laugh again. “Is that even fair? Are you going to send them threatening messages?” I asked.
“No, just Larten’s cooking. If that doesn’t scare them away, nothing will,” Cifa said, his purple eyes twinkling.
“Better still, I’ll send over some of my trainees,” Larten said in a dry tone. “If that ridiculous bunch of fools doesn’t make them commit suicide, their strength almost deserves you, Shalia. Almost.”
The evening was wonderful with Clan Seot. I forgot to be sad for a while. We drank the leshella and ate the food they’d brought, talking and laughing the whole while. They adored Anrel openly, though it took threats of bodily harm before Cifa would let the other two hold her. As the day wore on into evening, I invited them to have dinner with me in the dining room. I almost regretted that when the women from the Pussy ‘Porter broke into applause and wolf-whistles to see me accompanied by such a hot clan. Candy clearly yelled, “Hubba, hubba! Now that’s the right kind of welcome to Kalquor!”
The guys laughed at the reception and waved at my rowdy friends. We did manage to get a spot all to ourselves in the large and comfortable dining hall, near a glowing firepit where a jasmine-like fragrance wafted from the burning scentwood.
Like our coms during my trip, we never seemed to run out of things to talk about. Hours melted by until at last they had to reluctantly leave. They all had work in the morning.
“We’ll be back in two weeks,” Seot promised. “We will com first, of course. Thank you for such a wonderful time, Shalia, and for not minding us dropping in unannounced.”
“I didn’t mind one bit,” I said. “I’m glad you came.”
“If you need anything at all, com one of us,” Cifa insisted. He sighed regretfully as he passed Anrel to me. She’d fallen fast asleep in his arms an hour before. I thought she was probably done for the night.
“Good night, Shalia,” Larten said. He put an arm around me and pressed a kiss to my lips. Seot and Cifa did the same.
I stood staring at the door for a while after they’d left, feeling my lips still tingling from those kisses. The first day on Kalquor had turned out pretty damned good after all.