Monday, July 11, 2016
September 22, early (Part 1)
I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned in a strange bed in a strange room. I hadn’t noticed until I went to bed and all was quiet that I was used to hearing the far-off drone of the transport’s engines. I don’t know that I ever realized I was hearing them until I didn’t anymore.
My mind was full of so many things. The strangeness of my surroundings and the lack of the usual sounds. The approaching exit of Oses and Betra from my everyday life. Seeing Clan Seot and having more fun than someone who is about to lose her adored current lovers should have. God, the guilt! But I really had a good time with my future beaus. No sense in lying about that.
Eventually I had to give up on sleep. It wasn’t coming.
I went into the greeting room and considered the com unit in there. I sighed and gave in, knowing I’d make that call sooner or later anyway.
Betra answered almost the moment the frequency connection had been made. Poor thing, he was still working.
“Are you okay?” he asked by way of greeting.
“I’m in new surroundings. This place doesn’t look or smell or sound right, so I’m not sleeping,” I groused. “Other than that, I’m great. What about you? How bad was the record loss?”
He sighed. “Pretty bad. I’m about halfway through re-entering my reports. It could have been worse, but I won’t bore you with the particulars.”
“Bore me. Maybe I’ll doze off.”
He laughed. “Oses’s department came off a little better. As Security, they’ve got tons of backups to all their records. The problem is the encryption, which means delays in accessing the information. Oses’s staff is asking to be in charge of the repair crew’s discipline for making such a stupid mistake.”
“Eek,” I said. “Nothing like having a bunch of pissed-off Nobeks begging to kick your ass.”
“No kidding. Captain Wotref had the repair crew leave the ship for their own safety. The Medical Department took the worst hit, from what I’ve heard. Dr. Ret told the captain that Tep was screaming and kicking walls, he was so mad. He made threats that if he found out exactly who was responsible, he’d tear them apart and put them back together so he could tear them apart again. I wouldn’t mind smacking around the idiot or idiots who did this myself.”
“Will I see you guys tomorrow?”
“I’d call that a definite. I checked with Oses, and he thinks he’ll be done around the same time I will, probably early in the afternoon.”
I smiled to hear I wouldn’t be spending the next night alone. We ended the com pretty soon after that so Betra could get back to work. The sooner he’s done, the sooner I’ll see him.
I watched the orientation program on the vid. Informative stuff. Helpful stuff, like the little wakeup surprise I set for Anrel, which would go off when she woke. Some of it was boring, which helped me finally get to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
Anrel’s happy chortling and a sound similar to birds singing woke me up to bright sunlight streaming in through a window vid. The lack of sleep made me want to be grumpy, but who can grouse listening to those cute baby laughs? I took a moment to orient myself since she was in her usual good mood.
I was on Kalquor. Against all odds, I’d made it here. I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.
I rolled out of bed and padded into Anrel’s room. As I’d hoped, she enjoyed her wakeup surprise. Colorful blue lizards darted all over her crib, the tiny creatures singing in lovely, high-pitched bird voices. Drils, I think they’re called. Anrel watched them with wide eyes, laughing as they scurried here and there on quick little feet. The vid simulation wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. Certainly good enough to entertain an infant.
I changed her diaper, fed her, and hit the dispenser up for my first cuppa. There were also half a dozen stim tabs in the kitchen, and I had one. My caffeine fix needed some extra help.
The door announce buzzed. “It’s Candy.”
“Door open,” I said and grinned as she bounded in. She was already dressed, made-up, and coiffed to perfection.
“Hey! Oh wow, you’ve unpacked already?” she asked in amazement. My few decorations were out on the table and the counter that separated the greeting room from the kitchenette.
“Mostly,” I said. My answer was ignored as Candy and Anrel squealed at each other.
“Good morning, sweet girl!” Candy was on the floor with Anrel, laying on the blanket I’d put down and covering my baby’s face with pink-lipstick kisses. Once she’d done that, she looked up at me. “Coffeed up yet?”
“Working on it.” I raised my cup. It was only half gone, but I felt pretty alert. Stim tabs are good for the quick fix.
“So, already bringing the clans in, I saw?” She gave me a wink. “You aren’t wasting any time.”
“Clan Seot decided to surprise me,” I informed her, secure in my innocence.
“I wouldn’t mind surprises like that,” Candy laughed. “Get a shower, get dressed, and let’s go.”
Speaking of people not wasting any time. I stretched and yawned the last of my tiredness away. “Where to?”
“Breakfast first. Then the market. I’m dying to see the shops.”
“And flirt with the men?” I gave her a knowing look.
To my surprise, her dismissive shrug seemed genuine. “If you want. Based on that particular eye candy you had surrounding you last night, I wouldn’t look any further.”
I laughed, but she had a point. Clan Seot was delicious in every way, all right. “They won’t be back until Betra and Oses have gone,” I said as I started for my bath. “Plus I’ve got Mom’s surgeries to contend with, so I’ll be seeing Clan Aslada too. I have to remember to com them and let them know we’re here.”
I showered quickly and dressed. Since Candy was adorable in a cute little dress, I wore something I thought would pass for stylish too … but comfortable since the orientation vid had shown me there would be some walking involved in our trip to the marketplace.
I made sure I packed everything I needed for a day out with Anrel in her diaper bag. We had our breakfast in the dining room and went outside.
It was another fantastically pretty day, going by the overhead vid. A few fluffy clouds drifted across the powder blue sky. Two moons, one a pale white orb similar to Earth’s and one with a greenish-blue tinge, hung like ornaments in the heavens. We trailed after small groups of other Earther women along the wide path that wound from the complex to the market.
That meant winding past some of the sculptural homes on the ground and the ones high up in the trees. I thought a tree house might be fun to live in, but the thought of Anrel crawling off one of the decks took the charm away. Yikes.
The residential area gave way to woods on either side of the trail. It was hard to believe we were actually below ground. How had the Kalquorians managed to do this? It was some seriously amazing engineering.
We came to a place where the trail split into two. The one on the left led into a long tunnel cut into the side of the mine wall. If I remembered correctly, it would empty out onto the pink sanded beach I’d seen from the shuttle yesterday, the one with the cliffs hugging the shore. I could hardly wait to check that out.
Kalquorians entered and left the tunnel, most coming from or going towards the market area, which was further down the main path that continued straight on. I stopped and grabbed Candy’s arm at the sight of two of them.
“Look. Kalquorian women,” I whispered.
Candy looked as awed as I felt. Who wouldn’t be? They were astounding to look at.
They had the typical black hair, purple eyes, and brown skin of the men. From there, the similarities ended. Oh, they were tall and muscled like the guys, but they didn’t look masculine at all. No, they were definitely females – Amazonian, statuesque females with full bosoms and rounded hips.
One had sleek hair down to her waist, a gorgeous sheet of blue-black hair. She was more of what I’d call a handsome woman rather than beautiful. Her features were strong and attractive with a square jaw and wide cheekbones. She wore a gown – an all-the-way-to-the-ankles dress – of shimmering purple that matched her eyes. I suddenly felt woefully underdressed. It was sleeveless, showing off those toned shoulders and arms to full advantage. I’d kill for those arms.
Her companion was no less magnificent. Her hair was wavy, also down to her waist. Her face was prettier than her companion’s, with a delicate nose and small chin. She too had arms to die for, displayed to advantage by the one-shoulder white gown she wore.
I’m not ashamed to say I envied those women for their amazing physiques. No wonder Dramok Resan always made fun of my puny body. The females of his kind are goddesses.
They smiled and nodded to the Earther women they passed. Then they saw me with Anrel and stopped short. In an instant, I was face to face with the two superwomen.
Purple Gown leaned down to gasp over my baby. “Look at her! She looks just like us. Can I hold her?”
White Gown gave her friend a little shove, shooting me an embarrassed look. “Don’t be rude, Oni. You can’t just rush at strangers and ask to hold their babies.”
“Oh. Oh, you’re right. I’m sorry.” She gave me a hopeful but conciliatory smile. “I’m Matara Oni, as you just heard.”
“Hi. I’m Shalia,” I returned. “This is Anrel and my friend Candy.”
The two women nodded to Candy, who made a kind of curtsey. I think she wasn’t sure how to greet majestic Kalquorian women. “Hi. Nice to meet you.”
White Gown said, “I am Hina. Forgive our excitement. We don’t see babies too often.”
Oni sighed. “Look how perfect she is! And a girl. You had a girl.” She gave me a look that said she’d give anything to trade places with me.
Well. Maybe perfect-looking bodies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be after all. I wondered if these two were infertile.
Oni’s expression said that might be the case. I felt awful for her and held Anrel out to her. “You can hold her.”
The woman’s eyes went wide. “Really? May I? Oh, come here, beautiful Anrel.”
She clutched my little girl to her chest, her face alight with wonder and want. Anrel, who liked everyone she met, smiled and waved her little fists at her. Oni and Hina gasped over her, commenting on how wonderful she was.
“How old is she?” Hina asked me as she took a turn holding her.
“Four months,” I said. “She’s a little on the small side because she was premature.”
“She’s perfect,” Oni sighed. “She is exactly how I hoped my daughters might be.” She gave me a sad smile. “I have carried four children. My two sons are healthy, but both my girls miscarried in the third month.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said as Candy made a hurt sound.
“It happens to most of us that way. I have lost one daughter to genetic abnormalities,” Hina murmured. “Female children are usually damaged in some way. Most don’t make it to birth. Which is why you Earthers have come.”
“To save us from complete extinction,” Oni agreed. She smiled at me. “It would seem that it was the right thing to do. Anrel is evidence of that. You have a beautiful child, Matara Shalia.”
“Thank you.” I was at a loss as to what else to say. I had come close to losing Anrel to the It, but that loss had not materialized. I was in no position to fully understand the pain those women had borne.
Hina handed Anrel back over to me. I actually felt guilty that I had my baby when they’d lost three between them. I watched them head for the tunnel, my chest tight.
Candy was sober as she watched them too. “We are lucky, Shalia.”
“I know,” I said. I clutched Anrel close to my body, thinking how empty life would be without her.
We continued on our way. We were quiet in the wake of meeting Oni and Hina, not commenting on the swaths of rainbow flowered fields that had taken over for the woods. I think it was only about a quarter of a mile further when we entered the market area.