Monday, May 30, 2016

September 13, part 1



What a happy, happy day. I was sorry to see it end.

Katrina’s clanning ceremony to Clan Wotref was a resounding success. The Temple of Life was splendid, of course. I didn’t think it could be any more beautiful than yesterday, but Master Rivek and the rest of his group did an amazing job. There were flower arrangements everywhere in that main hall with the tree columns. That was where the ceremony and reception took place. The bursts of color in all that whiteness was simply breathtaking. Maybe Katrina hadn’t wanted frou-frou, but no one could deny the setting was gorgeous.

Katrina was stunning too. She had not thought to do anything in particular with her short gray hair, but Candy convinced her to let her play. As always, Candy was a genius when it came to styling. She curled our friend’s hair in artful waves. She used a jeweled barrette to somehow anchor a pearl necklace so that it served as an amazing headpiece. I was awed, as was everyone else who saw the ‘do.

Katrina’s trim figure looked amazing in a turquoise outfit that boasted more pearls and sweeping fabric. It made me think of a peacock with fabulous plumage.

Her men were polished as well, all groomed within an inch of their lives in their dress uniforms. Even Nobek Siko was a far cry from his usual savage aura with his hair brushed and tied back in a braid, his beard neatly trimmed, and his knee-high boots gleaming with a mirror shine. He stood stiffly, as if uncomfortable, but the warmth in his eyes as he looked at Katrina leant him a softness rarely seen.

The ceremony was every bit as short as Katrina had vowed it would be. The priest from the ship recited a few vows, the four members of Clan Wotref affirmed they would abide by them, and then they were presented as a clan for us to cheer.

The change from ceremony to party was remarkably swift. Tables of food and drink were set out and the toasts began. My eyes goggled to see all the leshella Governor Ospar had donated for the celebration. I guess running a colony pays pretty darn well for him to be able to lay out that kind of expense.

And boy, did we ever drink. The whole ship’s complement had been invited to the ceremony and reception, but a few people had been forced to remain on board the Pussy ‘Porter because of their duties. Tep was one of those, what with injured crew still recovering from the Tragoom attack we’d suffered just before gaining Empire space. He’d been more than happy to volunteer to keep Anrel as he made his rounds. I’d planned to bring her to the ceremony, but Tep insisted she and I would both have more fun if she stayed with him.

He was right. The medical staff stuck on the transport doted on Anrel, playing with her and making her laugh while I got happily tipsy drinking leshella on Haven.

It wasn’t the dance party Katrina had envisioned back when the Pussy ‘Porter was in one piece and we’d planned to have everything on board the ship. But there was a lot of laughter nonetheless as we shared stories with the priests of Haven and Governor Ospar’s staff. Wotref, Ret, and Siko made fun of each other, adding to the hilarity. Katrina had a few stories of her own to tell about her new clanmates. Stories of the trip began to be recounted. That was when my name started coming up a few too many times. My exploits were by far the most exciting of the tales, earning their share of gasps. Nobek Jol kept looking at me like he couldn’t believe all the trouble I’d found.

I was too joyfully buzzed on leshella to want to relive any of the less fun times of my trip. I began to edge my way towards the door of the temple, thinking I’d make an escape before I became too notorious to those people.

Oses figured out what I was about pretty quick. He whispered to Betra, “Help her get outside without anyone noticing. I’ll meet you in a minute.”

Betra raised a brow, but he didn’t argue. He blocked me from view as much as possible as I slipped out of the temple, using his body as a shield.

I stepped out into the sunshine and took a deep breath. The nearby stand of trees had a sweet aroma that made me smile. Betra chuckled as I sighed with pleasure.

“Not enjoying your celebrity?” he teased.

“Not hardly,” I answered, drinking the last swallow of my leshella with regret. “I wished they’d stuck to talking about the happily clanned couple – uh, couple of couples. Quadruple?” I set my glass down for someone to pick it up later. I gave Betra a sad face. “It’s a shame I felt the need to leave. The poor governor. I feel terrible he’ll have to lug any leshella home because I wasn’t there to help drink it.”

Betra laughed at my show of drunken generosity. “Maybe they’ll move on to other subjects and you can return to save him the trouble.”

“No need.” Oses came outside with an armful of bottles. “Where shall we take our private party?”

I squealed with delight and relieved him of one bottle. Then it occurred to me that maybe my sweeties didn’t want to leave so early. “Just because I’m being a party pooper doesn’t mean you can’t stay.”

Oses shook his head, grimacing. “They’re telling about Finiuld. I don’t want to stick around for that.”

Betra shrugged and raised his glass to us before draining it and grabbing a bottle from Oses. “Where you two go, I will follow. Where are we going anyway?”

I motioned to the trail the hover shuttles used to get from the temple to the settlement. “A walk? It is a nice day.”

So off we went, drinking and talking and laughing about memories that didn’t hurt.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

September 12



Haven is beautiful. If I wasn’t going to Kalquor ... and had any interest in being a farmer, ha-ha ... I wouldn’t mind living there.

It was nice to be on a planet again, and Haven reminded me of Earth in so many ways. Blue skies, green grass, real trees. Marvelous. We visitors were transported by small hover shuttles from the airfield, which is still under construction. The moment the rolling green of hills unwound on either side of our shuttle, we begged the pilot to let us out to feel real grass under our feet. The Kalquorian didn’t seem confused about our request in the least. He stopped the vehicle and opened the hatch. All of us from Betra’s group poured out of the shuttle. In an instant, ten women and a baby were lying – sometimes rolling -- on the ground, our shoes kicked off.

The grass wasn’t exactly what we’d had on Earth, but it was similar enough. Anrel, who had never been on a planet before (!), grabbed handfuls of the short green blades, pulling them up and trying to shove them in her mouth. I watched her close her eyes against the occasional breeze that ruffled her black hair, each waft greeted with a surprised laugh. She spread her little arms and legs wide like a starfish, as if to soak in every ray of the sun. Seeing her first experience in a natural environment made me wish we didn’t have to get back on the Pussy ‘Porter. It seemed wrong to have to close her up on the ship again, even for the remaining few days left of our journey.

Or maybe it was because I felt so starved for wide open spaces and real air. It all felt wonderful to me and the other women. I think we would have been perfectly happy to spend our entire shore leave lying on the grass and staring up into the endless blue of the sky.

Betra had to remind us three times that we were due for the governor’s reception at the Temple of Life. Katrina needed to look over the preparations for her clanning ceremony. Dr. Ret, who had come along with us to help Katrina make any last-minute decisions, was along for the ride. I think it was his prodding that made her sit up with a put-upon sigh.

She called, “Come on, gals. Ret promises there will be plenty more opportunities to enjoy ourselves. Plus there’s food and drink at the end of this road.”

We finally got to our feet and dragged ourselves reluctantly back into the hover shuttle. Betra chuckled at the tide of grumbling that came with us.

We gazed eagerly at the passing scenery. Small fields of growth dotted here and there, along with some tidy little homesteads. Families – actual families with men and women and children – stopped whatever they were doing to watch our shuttle fly by. Since our ‘windows’ were actually vid feeds, we didn’t wave. I counted three such places on our route.

There was also a small ‘town’ we went through. The houses there were Earther-like, but none of them had windows. We saw mostly Kalquorian men in that area, with two Earther woman and four Earther children as well.

We passed through the settlement in no time. We found ourselves rushing through a wooded area, the shuttle picking up speed as it left the habitations behind. The gray-barked trees flashed by in a dizzying blur. Most of us had to look away.

Then we began to slow again. All at once we were through the trees and into a huge clearing. We all gasped at once.

At first I thought I was looking at a small mountain that had been carved ... but at second glance, it looked like something that had somehow organically shaped itself into a natural castle or cathedral. The structure was the whitest thing I’d ever seen, positively glowing with the purity of the color. With the shaping of it, I was reminded of sprays of seafoam, of swirling mist. I’d never seen architecture like it. It was beautiful and magnificent and unreal. There were spires and arches and curves in places that seemed to have no rhyme or reason ... and yet it looked perfectly, maybe even divinely constructed.

The shuttle settled before this amazing building – if one could call something so astounding a mere building. I think the pilot said something like “Welcome to Haven’s Temple of Life.” I wasn’t paying much attention to anything but the gorgeous structure. Like a rushing tide, we hurried out to stand before it, gaping in wonder. Not even the springy grass underfoot could draw us into rolling on it again.

How long we stared at it in astonishment, I couldn’t tell you. Even Betra and Ret stood speechless. It wasn’t until three men came out of the wide-open doors of the place to greet us that we regained our senses.

The man in front had a Dramok-like aura of command, but the kindness on his face was all Imdiko. He was almost as interesting to look at as the temple.

His face was extraordinarily masculine, as if chipped from granite. I’m not sure how such strong features managed to look warm and kind, but the man somehow radiated those qualities. He had the face of someone you’d trust on sight. Heck, forget the face – his entire aura spoke of calm goodness, the kind that would make a cranky child stop a tantrum in mid-scream.

He wore layers of robes tied off with a braid of silver cord at the waist. The robes made me think the temple had formed itself a Kalquorian body as they were the same colors: blameless white and the cool shadowed hues of blue and gray. Overlaying the garments was the longest sheet of black hair I’d ever seen. The man’s hair hung down to his ankles, all of it free except at the temples where it had been braided.

We stared as dumbfounded at the man as we had at the temple. Then he spoke, his voice unspooling like silk thread, making more than one of us shiver with its quiet power.

“Greetings, Mataras. I am Master Rivek. Welcome to Haven.”

A few of us murmured hellos. The spell began to lift. For me, the astonishment was replaced by a quiet sense of peace. The temple and the priest Rivek wrapped me in a cocoon of calm. I can’t explain why I suddenly felt tranquility; I just know that I did. Even Anrel looked serene as she lay in my arms.

Another man stepped forward, coming to Rivek’s side. This man was dashing at first glance with a square jaw, shoulder-length black hair, and an easy smile. A closer look made me realize that though handsome, he wasn’t as gorgeous as I first took him for. It was all in the smile. It was full of charm, and his purple eyes danced with merriment as if he found everything perpetually amusing. The smile made this man striking more than his actual features. I had the feeling he was full of deviltry, the kind one wanted to be talked into. I thought he must be the exact opposite of the tranquil Rivek.

He bowed low to us, the smile never fading for an instant. “I am Rivek’s Dramok, Governor Ospar. I too welcome you to Haven, as does our Nobek, Jol.”

The third man bowed. My heart skipped a beat as he straightened and I got a look at his face. If Rivek was the Kalquorian embodiment of an angel of mercy, this guy could have stood in for the angel of death. Nobek Jol didn’t look at us with malice, but there was the unmistakable feeling of predator about him. More than any Nobek I’d seen, he looked like someone who could take a life without a moment’s pause. Even Oses didn’t carry that much danger about him.

How three such dissimilar-seeming men had formed a clan, I couldn’t imagine. They didn’t look right for each other.

As I stood there wondering how many men Jol had killed, Ospar’s happy voice rang out. “We have arranged a small reception to welcome you to our small but growing colony. With my Imdiko’s permission – he’s in charge of the temple – I’d like to invite you in.”

“Most certainly,” said Rivek, his words like a balm. Somehow his presence managed to lessen Jol’s dark threat. “We are happy to have you here for this short time. Feel free to enjoy the refreshments and explore. The masters and apprentices will be glad to answer any questions you may have.”

He gestured towards the temple. Several more men had appeared in the opening, all wearing different layers of robes. Like Rivek, their long hair was bound in braids at the temples. They bowed to us and waved for us to come in.

As I started forward, Rivek’s clear eyes found Anrel. His face lit in a smile and he stepped towards us. “A baby. Matara, may I?”

Had it been the scary Jol, I would have run away screaming. With Rivek, it was easy to place my daughter in the outstretched hands. “Her name is Anrel.”

Rivek beamed at her as he cuddled her close, his kind face threatening to break with the strength of his smile. “By the Mother of All, she is beautiful. Hello, little Anrel. What a treasure you are.”

Ospar and Jol came close to stare with the same wonder that I had looked at the temple with. With that expression, the Nobek abruptly became a lot less scary. He gave me a half-smile that eased my concerns. His voice made me think of distant thunder with its deep but quiet tone. “I like the name you gave her, Matara.”

“She earned it,” I said. “She was born several weeks early. She had a tough time for a little while.”

“Amazing,” Ospar breathed. “Congratulations, Matara—?”

“Shalia.”

“Shalia.” He beamed that charming smile at me. Oh boy, if that guy didn’t already have a Matara, the gals had better watch out. Ospar could have them lined up out the door if Jol didn’t scare them away. I wondered if the governor had cultivated that charismatic appeal to aid his political aspirations. Even Aslada could have taken lessons on being so enchanting.

Rivek handed Anrel back with obvious reluctance. I was amused when Jol remained near us for the entire visit, as if to hover protectively over my baby. So much for that cold killer persona I’d first ascribed to him.

I joined the other women inside the temple. If the outside of the place was a big ‘wow’, then the inside was a ‘holy shit’. I thought I’d found my way into some magical, mystical fairy tale.

The whole interior was as white as the outside of the temple. There were columns filling the huge space I was ushered into, but not like any pillars I’d ever seen. They were like leafless trees, with thick but graceful trunks from which lithe branches sprung to weave together over our heads. The domed ceiling was of clear glass, through which the blameless blue sky stretched like a canopy. The sunlight from above filtered through the ‘limbs’, creating shadowed patterns on the floor.

A table had been set out with glasses of drink and platters of food. I half-expected stylized cartoon woodland creatures to be gathered around it. The setting was that unbelievable.

We were slow to get on with the eating and drinking. We were just too blown away by our surroundings. Governor Ospar had to coax us into claiming glasses of shel and kloq and filling our plates. He helped us to fill our trays while enthusing about the dishes.

“I hope you enjoy our first harvests. The tomatoes, basil, and carrots have only just come in, so these dishes here should have the best flavor. The apricots are wonderful. Oh, you certainly want to try these berries in the honey sauce. They are absolutely amazing. Matara, you will not find a more tender cut of beef than this.”

“Earther food,” Megan said, her expression disbelieving. “Dishes from home. You’re growing this here?”

Ospar nodded. His voice full of pride, he said, “Small courier ships that fly faster than your transport brought us our first settlers. Self-guided capsules that could take advantage of smaller portals rushed the seedlings here even quicker to begin the colony’s community fields. Agricultural specialists from Kalquor had Haven up and running before the first farmers landed.”

Little by little we got over being awed by our surroundings and began to have fun. Before long we were chattering with the priests and their apprentices. Everyone was as gentle and relaxed as Rivek, even laughing at some of our stories. Anrel was a huge hit, of course.

Candy was still speaking in wondering tones when she told Katrina and Ret, “I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting to hold your clanning ceremony. This place is magnificent.”

Katrina’s eyes were bright as she looked to her beaming Imdiko. “I agree. Ret, I don’t care how much Siko hates his dress uniform. He’s going to wear it or I’ll break his legs. This temple deserves us to look our best.”

Ret chuckled. “That old disreputable beast won’t be given a choice. He’ll be as polished as we can make him.”

We spent about an hour at the reception. Katrina, Ret, Candy, and I then spent another fifteen minutes with Master Rivek discussing the next day’s festivities. There wasn’t really that much to do which is why the meeting was so short. Rivek had already pulled together much of what was needed for the ceremony and reception. Even with Katrina saying she didn’t care too much about fussy frills, he pulled a few details from her to make the day as special as possible.

Then we went out again to sit in the sunshine in a grassy meadow filled with wildflowers. Anrel was delighted with the colorful blooms, pulling as many of their petals off as she could reach. We returned to our transport with the greatest reluctance to sleep. The ship felt downright claustrophobic after our shore leave.

I can’t wait for tomorrow. A clanning, party, and Haven. It’s going to be spectacular.