Monday, November 7, 2016
October 16, part 1
We woke before dawn this morning. My shuttle to the other continent was an early one. Cifa made a nice breakfast, working well within my tiny kitchenette to feed us baked swala eggs with wedi herbs and roasted ronka strips. I complimented him on his culinary skills.
He grinned and ducked his head with embarrassment. “If you knew how easy this is to make, you wouldn’t be impressed,” he said.
“All I know is that it’s good and I want seconds,” I said.
Too soon, we were heading down the corridor. Cifa carried a chirping Anrel, and Larten rolled our travel bins.
Katrina and Candy waited in the courtyard to say their goodbyes. “Matara Hubba-hubba!” Cifa greeted Candy. “It’s nice to see you again.”
She reddened and grumbled good morning to him and the other two men. Anrel and I got hugs. “Tell your mom I said hi when she wakes up.” Candy pressed a kiss to my cheek. “She’ll be fine, Shalia. Try not to worry and remember you can com me any time, day or night.”
Katrina gave me a hug too. “Take care of my grandbaby and yourself,” she said. “Comming anytime you need to talk goes double for me. I love you.”
More hugs, more well wishes, and I left with Clan Seot. We went above ground to where they’d left their shuttle. From there we went to the commercial shuttle port. Clan Aslada had arranged my flight, so there was nothing for me to do but check in, hand over our baggage, and climb on the shuttle.
Seot, Cifa, and Larten kissed me goodbye in such a way that I was all too well reminded of the things they’d done to me the night before. They made it pretty damned hard to tear away and board my flight. I think that was their evil plan.
“Stop! You’re making me dizzy,” I had to laugh at last.
They grinned, pleased with themselves. “Remember all this when Clan Aslada tries to convince you to stay with them,” Seot smirked. “We still owe you the full show.”
Yeah, like I was going to forget that.
Finally, Anrel and I were on board our shuttle. My mouth still tingled from all those yummy kisses. Other parts tingled too, but I won’t go into that.
Others flying to the Meda Territory on the Esofu Continent were captivated by Anrel. The hour-long trip went by fast because I was caught up in constant conversation about her. Since she looks more Kalquorian than Earther, she’s precious to those who meet her. The unceasing reminder of how rare babies are in the Empire is pretty sobering. It impresses me on how close to extinction their race is.
Before I knew it, the shuttle was touching down at our destination. I’d been so caught up in talking to the attendants and fellow passengers that I hadn’t noted anything of the passing landscape through the window vids. Oh well, I would see my surroundings up close and personal soon enough.
Clan Aslada was waiting for me in the port’s greeting area, right up front of others waiting to collect my fellow passengers. While they’d always been more reserved than Clan Seot when we were communicating long distance, there was no sign of it when they saw me and Anrel. Their yelled greetings sounded wholehearted with delight. They rushed up so the baby and I were suddenly surrounded. Hugs and kisses were delivered, for both me and the chortling Anrel. It was like a big reunion between long-separated family.
Funny enough, it was Aslada rather than Meyso who took Anrel first, lifting her in his arms and fussing over her. “Look at this precious! Hello, sweet Anrel! Hello, little girl! I’ve waited so long to see you and your mother in person.”
She chattered back at him, as if echoing his happy welcome. “Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba.”
The three men laughed with delight. “How was the flight, Shalia? Was it all right?” Meyso asked. He bent to give my forehead a kiss, the third one I think he’d given me.
“Great,” I said, acutely aware of Jaon’s arm around my waist. The Nobek held me close, his stern face gentled with a pleased smile.
“Good.” Meyso grinned brightly as Aslada passed Anrel to him. His kind face took on that sappy look most Imdikos seemed to get when they held her.
Relieved of baby-holding responsibilities, Aslada took my hand. Though he usually looks dark and brooding, his expression was sunny as he looked at me. “Here you are, at last. Though I wish the circumstances were all about pleasure and not your mother’s poor health, I am so glad to see you, Shalia.”
“I’m glad to be here,” I answered. And I was. They seemed genuinely happy to have me there.
We claimed my travel bins and headed to where their personal shuttle was berthed. It was a gleaming craft, polished blindingly silver. It was longer than the typical shuttle I’d seen clans use around Kalquor, and they had a pilot to chauffeur us. The interior had plush velvety full-sized loungers and a bar with an attendant ready to pour drinks.
It was the kind of thing you rent when you’re going to the prom or your wedding. I was ready to tell the clan they’d gone to too much trouble with the fancy ride when Aslada said, “I’m sorry we couldn’t use my governor’s shuttle, which is much nicer than this old thing. We’ve had it forever, but the governor’s shuttle is only for official functions, and I never abuse the privilege.”
“I’m glad to hear you don’t, especially over me,” I said after I recovered. He didn’t think this craft was nice? And they owned it?
Talk about being out of my league.
“How about the tour of the immediate area?” Aslada invited. “After all, you’ll be here for a while as your mother recovers.”
“Great,” I said. I was ready to see a thing or two. “How big is the territory you’re governor over?”
Aslada tried not to swell with pride and almost succeeded. “It’s the largest one on the Esofu Continent. It ranges from the shore to the mountains. We live right in the middle, in an area most call the Hills.”
“Because the landscape is hilly,” Meyso snorted, with a roll of his eyes. “Original, right? But it is nice.”
We lifted off. The bartender offered me a selection of fancy drinks, along with the more familiar leshella, dlas, and bohut.
“Surprise her with one of your original concoctions, Nomol,” Aslada urged. He grinned at me. “No one is better at creating drinks than this man.”
“Well, just one,” I said. “I try to keep the alcohol slurping low when I’m around Anrel.”
Strong and mostly silent Jaon finally spoke since our first greetings. “I told you we should have brought along the childcare specialist,” he told Meyso.
“Imdiko Snoy is still setting up the nursery,” Meyso pointed out. He smiled at Anrel as he lifted her out of my arms. “We hired the best in the region to take care of you, precious. No one but the absolute greatest for this little beauty.”
Anrel crowed her appreciation. I was somewhat taken aback. They’d hired someone to watch Anrel? My baby? But then I would be busy with Mom’s recovery, so it made sense to have someone on hand to fill in when I needed to be elsewhere. I still wished they had consulted with me first.
Aslada took my hand and looked warmly into my eyes. “We’ve tried to anticipate everything you and Anrel will need, but no doubt we’ve forgotten more than I can imagine. Don’t be shy about telling us where we’ve come up short.”
I decided to get off my high horse. This clan was doing its best to take care of me and Anrel. And my mom. I should be grateful instead of nitpicky. So I smiled back and said with real gratitude, “Thank you. I’m sure you’ve gone above and beyond our requirements.”
Nomol brought drinks around. I guessed that Aslada, Meyso, and Jaon had their favorite spirits, because I hadn’t heard them order anything.
I tried the dark blue drink he gave me. It was made of leshella plus something fizzy that seemed to dance on my tongue, and it had a hint of citrus. It was a delicious drink. “I’ll have a vat of this after Anrel goes to bed,” I told Nomol.
“Didn’t I tell you?” Aslada laughed. “He’s the best. Oh, have we taken off? Let’s get the vid screens up.”
The sides of the cabin disappeared to show us the countryside we flew over. The view was stunning. I’d never seen such a green countryside, with rolling hills that went on as far as the eye could see. Brooks and streams crisscrossed at irregular intervals, and I could imagine the sound of water burbling over the rocks that lined these waterways. Herds of animals like ronka and kestarsh grazed vast fields of blue and white flowers. Old stone ruins built by the Kalquorians’ ancestors dotted here and there. Aslada verified this was where the first settlements had been.
“Our forefathers came from another planet far away, escaping from its star which was about to explode. The rubble you see is all that is left of their works before most was destroyed by Kalquor being hit by a large meteor and the eruption of a super volcano.”
“We know they had amazing technology at the time,” Jaon said. “But little of it survived the Cataclysmic Era. Of all the cunning gadgets and great works our ancestors boasted, most of what is left are stone foundations.”
“It’s a good reminder that no matter how great a people becomes, something bigger can come along and knock them down.” Meyso gave Jaon a sidelong glance as he said that, a smile teasing the corners of his lips.
Jaon crooked a brow at his Imdiko before bursting into laughter. He told me, “Isn’t he awful? He’s constantly reminding me I’m a mere mortal. Ah, my poor deflated ego.”
Meyso grinned unrepentant. “Now if we could just get Aslada to admit the same thing.”
The Dramok snorted in pretended derision. “Never. I am convinced of my greatness. It’s a pity I have to keep reminding my constituents.” He turned to me with a twinkle in his eye. “Tell me how wonderful I am, Shalia. Don’t be afraid to worship me as I deserve.”
I had to laugh at the silly turn they’d taken. “I would love to, Aslada, but I’m too busy being blinded by my own radiance.”
That earned me laughs and applause. Jaon and Aslada then knelt at my feet to genuflect. Meyso did a version of kowtowing from his seat, careful to not jar Anrel.
The tour continued for about an hour. I saw thick stands of forest with trees as big as sequoias. The coastline had its share of cliffs, like the capital city on the other continent, but some were carved like massive castles. The mountains inland were so tall that their tops disappeared into the clouds. It was breathtaking.
“Lunch?” Aslada suggested.
“Yes!” Jaon said with great enthusiasm. He shrugged as we chuckled. “I’m hungry.”
“Let’s feed the beast then,” Aslada said. He clicked a button on the wall and spoke into the panel it was embedded in. “Dramok Ugmot, take us to the Tafkeb.”
We ended up in a really swanky restaurant built near the top of one of those crazy huge trees at the edge of Crazy Huge Tree Forest (my name for it; I forgot the Kalquorian version). The shuttle had to drop us off on a small landing pad off the dining room, which was open so diners could see the rolling hills beyond the forest. I was a bit dizzy and checked to make sure Meyso had a good grip on Anrel. He chuckled, figuring out why I was taking such a close look.
“Capture fields all the way around,” he assured me. “If anyone accidentally trips and falls off the side, they won’t go farther down than a foot. It’s quite safe, even if I was so stupid as to allow Anrel to crawl away. Which isn’t going to happen, is it, precious?” he asked my happy baby.
I should have figured on such safeguards, but hey, I’m a mom who freaks out at the first sign of danger. I can’t help it.
I’m not sure if lunch would be called a success. It was posh to the level that each one of us had his or her own waiter attending our every need. Even Anrel, whose mush and formula was in her diaper bag, was hovered over by a young, spiffy Imdiko. It turned out he had his work cut out for him though he didn’t have to fetch food for the restaurant’s smallest patron. Anrel discovered the fun of grabbing food from her bowl or from Meyso’s plate and flinging it about. So much for an elegant, stately meal. Thank goodness she was such a cute rarity while she did it. Her one-girl food fight was greeted with indulgent chuckles from Clan Aslada, the wait staff, and other patrons. Even Meyso, whose lap she sat on, laughed out loud as creamy mush landed in his hair and on his face. He never tried to stop her, though his waiter wasted no time in covering his clothes with layers of napkins. As for Anrel, lunch ended with me taking her into a private lavatory to change her outfit. Mommy Rule No. 1: always have at least three changes of clothes when taking baby out. For self and baby.
I suppose some moms might have been mortified by such behavior in what was obviously an exclusive setting. The place screamed wealth. I’m enough like Eve Monroe to have not cared one bit about the fancy-pants restaurant…after all, I hadn’t chosen where we were eating. I figured Clan Aslada was getting a crash course in baby-appropriate venues. I was glad to see that they were fine with how messy we ended up being. No one looked down his nose at Anrel’s hijinks or attempted to make her behave. At one point, Jaon even handed her a couple of things from his plate to toss. He was delighted when a large chunk of pilchok whacked Meyso on the nose.
Needless to say, there was not any attempt to make meaningful – or even normal – conversation at the meal. But there was a lot of laughing. So maybe it was a success after all.