Monday, October 31, 2016
Great news. My dads are on their way home to Kalquor! They’ve been relieved by a new batch of workers taking their place. They don’t have to remain until the end of the rescue operation on Earth.
I got the recorded com from Nayun this morning. That big bear of a beaming Imdiko was nearly dancing in his glee after he made the announcement. “Nine more months until I can hold my granddaughter! So don’t go growing up too fast, little Anrel,” he begged.
While he almost danced, I actually did, twirling around and laughing with Anrel in my arms. She chortled with happiness at our frolic. My honorary parent clan is coming home. I’m beside myself with joy.
I sent a com to them, showing them how happy we were at the news. “Be careful,” I begged. “It’s ugly out there. I’ll be devastated if my dads don’t get here in one piece.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask if Clan Dusa was also part of the changing of the guard, but I knew better. A lot has happened since I said goodbye to them. I’ve loved and lost other men. I’ve changed a ton from the person I was when I knew them. I have a daughter, and I must put her first and foremost.
After seeing Anrel with Clan Seot a few times now, three men who dote on her, I’m starting to think maybe the Kalquorians’ view of fatherhood isn’t so outrageous. Particularly since Dusa has been adamant about staying away from me and Anrel. That alone tells me we are done. My little girl must come first with any clan who is to be a meaningful part of our lives. Clan Dusa has failed in that. As painful as it is to say it, they don’t deserve her. Perhaps their reasoning for it is sound, but the fact remains that they haven’t made any kind of effort to know their maybe-daughter. Even the one time Nobek Esak reached out to me, his interest didn’t go beyond a couple of general questions.
So I didn’t ask Dad about them. The past is the past, and it needs to stay there. Sure, it hurts. Maybe more than a little. But the future has so much going for it. I need to concentrate on that.
I also commed a message to my dads’ Matara Joelle. She’s about six weeks away. Her trip is taking longer than expected due to an engine malfunction on her transport. No doubt she’s looking forward to the end of her journey. I not only celebrated the good news of Clan Bitev’s coming home, but I also updated her on all the stuff I’m up to. I’m looking forward to meeting my stepmom in the flesh. She’s been wonderful about sending messages of support through all my difficult times.
With the dutiful daughter stuff out of the way, it was time to turn my attention from future happiness to present drudgery.
It was time to pack again. Boo. Hiss. Waa. I should be a pro at this by now. I should be able to do it in my sleep. It’s still a drag. During my holiday with Betra and Oses, I swear I left behind at least one item every place we stayed. I am hopeless.
It occurs to me that I’ve spent so little time at this complex, I might as well not be here. I’m living out of a travel bin. I need to say ‘screw it’, get a tambourine, and dedicate myself to being a gypsy. Thank goodness Anrel travels so well, poor rootless baby.
Enough whining. I’ll keep reminding myself I get to have dinner with Clan Seot tonight. Tomorrow, I will finally meet Clan Aslada in the firm, delicious flesh. And I will get to stay put in one place for at least a few weeks. Yay! Temporary stability.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Right after I put Anrel down for her nap, my com went off. Wasn’t I the popular gal today? Seeing Clan Seot’s frequency made me happy. If there was ever a bunch to distract me from missing Betra and Oses, it would be those fellows.
I took a quick look in the mirror, decided I wasn’t too awful to be seen, and answered with a happy smile. “Hi guys! It’s good to see you.”
Good. What a sad, pathetic little word when it comes to Clan Seot.
Devastatingly handsome Dramok Seot’s face was bright with a grin. “I’m glad to hear you say that, Shalia. How are you?”
“Loaded question,” I said.
Adorable Cifa gave me an understanding smile. “Missing your friends, I’m sure. Betra and Oses seemed like fine men. You were fortunate to have them for your journey. Did you have a good holiday with them?”
“Amazing,” I said. As always, I was impressed with this clan for understanding I’d had a life and relationships before meeting them. They were eager to win me over, but not by stomping on my heart. Even so, I doubted they wanted a blow-by-blow account of my tour of Kalquor with previous lovers.
“You’ll have to tell us the places you visited,” Seot said. “What’s the timetable for your mother’s procedures?”
“Late next week,” I reported. I groaned and rubbed my forehead. “I can’t believe I have to pack again already.”
“Is there any chance we can entice you into procrastination?” Seot asked. “If you’re free for dinner tonight, we’d love to have you and Anrel over.”
“I’ll cook for you.” That came from the dark Nobek Larten. As dangerous as he always looked, he had merry deviltry dancing in his eyes.
“No, you will not,” Cifa said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Don’t worry, Shalia. He’s banned from the kitchen.”
I laughed. “I thought he served everything up raw anyway. I’d love to come over for dinner.”
That was how Anrel and I ended up all dressed up and taken by chauffeured shuttle to Clan Seot’s home that evening. And what a home. What an unbelievable home.
It’s on a monstrously huge rock off the shore of the capital city. Let me see if I can describe it. It’s kind of like the cliff dwellings on the beach near the Matara Complex in that the living quarters are dug in within this big rock. By the way, there are several of those island-size rocks, about a dozen, I think. Clan Seot’s particular rock is like a mini-mountain erupting out of the water near the pink-sand beach of the mainland. The top of it has been flattened, however, the tip sheared off to make a kind of plateau. There is a big stretch of lawn there, surrounded by gardens of both vegetables and flowers. It’s beyond fantastic.
The shuttle, as luxurious a craft as I’ve ever seen with a bar and lounges that we relaxed on during our short flight, landed in a bay dug into the massive rock. It was a big bay, with six shuttles docked inside and room for a dozen more.
“How many live in this place?” I asked, marveling at the curious blend of nature and technology that the Kalquorians employ.
“Just us,” Seot told me offhandedly. “Each of these islands is owned by a single clan.”
The whole little mountain-island was theirs. I was in disbelief. I think it rivals the Royal House’s cliff in size, and the Imperials have multiple family units.
However, the whole mountain-island is not completely dug out. The shuttle bay is on one level. Living quarters are on another level. There is plenty of room for them to dig out several more floors if they want to. Clan Seot’s home is not modest by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still not as huge as it could be.
There is the greeting room where guests are typically entertained. A grand dining room for parties. A sizeable kitchen, manned by a hired staff. A smaller, more intimate dining room for the clan and a few close friends. The common room, which is the clan’s private relaxation space, what I would think of as a den. A workout/training room, the equipment within enthralling to me with my drive for fitness. Private rooms and home offices for each clan member to pursue individual work and interests. Three guest suites, each with their own sleeping and sitting rooms and lavatories. Many rooms had balconies besides, outdoor rooms to take in the delicious salt air and sunshine. And there was the clan’s sleeping room – but more on that later.
After a tour of this beautifully but comfortably furnished home, I felt overwhelmed. I knew the clan had plenty of money, but I hadn’t expected this degree of wealth. I felt like someone’s poor country cousin.
We all ended up on the balcony off the common room with glasses of leshella. Cifa held Anrel because he couldn’t go two seconds without hugging the baby. I looked at the view from the carved stone patio, amazed at the sun setting behind the nearby seashore.
“It’s gorgeous here,” I breathed. “You’re so fortunate to have this.”
“You can have it too,” Seot reminded me in a soft voice. “Once we’ve proven our clan to you, there is nothing we won’t do to make you happy for the rest of your life.”
Good heavens, what can a woman say to that? Crazier still, it was on the tip of my tongue to say yes, to throw myself at them, to claim them as my clan.
Silly Shalia. Hadn’t I just said goodbye to the two best men I’d known? Didn’t I have to run off and stay with another likely clan in a few days, among them the man who was going to save my mother’s mind? I was drowning in a fantasy world, one which had come straight out of a fairytale where the girl makes up her mind within seconds that she’s found her happily-ever-after. Cue the pixie dust and swirling violin music.
Sheesh. It’s amazing how doting men cast against a pretty bit of scenery can turn a girl’s head.
I let go of childish impulse and concentrated on doing things right. I asked about Seot’s munitions and security systems company. I had already talked in depth to Cifa about his family’s cruise ship line since we hoped to work together on the video production angle.
The staff served dinner. We could have moved our date indoors to the smaller but lovely dining room, but the balcony was so nice with its view of the mainland and the first stars coming out. Three of the planet’s five moons appeared in the sky: blue-green twins Lobam and Simert, and the cratered rock Anadi. Again, the setting was magical and I had to remember how life really works.
A low table was set out, along with soft lights so we could see each other as the night grew darker. We sat on velvety soft cushions and laughed as Anrel banged on the table with happy cries. She was given crackers to mouth, which softened to a mushy consistency for easy swallowing.
Meanwhile, I asked Larten about his trainees. He regaled me with stories of pranks gone wrong, of near scrapes when students lost their tempers, of lessons not heeded to the chagrin of the young men he taught when he showed them he was master of so much more than they could comprehend. Having made a few such mistakes myself, I could both laugh and wince with familiarity.
As I had with Oses, I mentioned Nobek Jaon’s concerns about me training while staying with Clan Aslada. Larten already knew about it because Oses had contacted him. “Don’t worry. I’ve got friends ready to train you,” he smirked. “I’m giving you their com frequencies before you go. If Jaon doesn’t like it, tell him he’s welcome to discuss it with me. In person.”
Yikes. I had no doubt the ‘discussion’ wouldn’t be a war of words. Yet through the hint of a threat, Larten looked smug as hell. I think he liked that Jaon had miscalculated how much importance I put on my training. He liked having the edge that indulging me gave his clan.
As is so common with us, we talked and talked about anything and everything. I’d have thought we’d run out of things to flap our gums about, but there was still so much to share and learn. Anrel fell asleep sometime after dessert. I was warm and fuzzy from drinking leshella, though I’d been careful not to let myself get crazy with it. I remembered my recent hangover all too well to get more than slightly buzzed. Plus I had to get my little sweetheart to bed, though I had no doubt Cifa would happily volunteer to take care of that duty.
When I noted how late it had gotten, I gasped in shock. “Do you have to work tomorrow?” I asked.
“No, it’s our day off,” Seot assured me. “We’re all yours. The whole night, if you wish.”
Well. The invitation made me warm all over. But at the same time, I glanced at Anrel, sleeping in Cifa’s arms. Should I have her spend the night in a strange place just so I could indulge in the long-awaited naughty time with this clan? And wasn’t it a bit soon after Betra and Oses’s departure to be flying into the arms of more men? Guilt clutched at me.
But damn, Clan Seot lit my fire. I really, really like them. I can see definite possibilities for a future with them. I’d been looking forward to having sex with them for a long time. Yet this was more than about sex. This was about forging a relationship, a lifelong commitment. Didn’t it deserve some sense of dignity?
“Shalia.” Seot’s quiet but commanding tone drew my gaze to his face. “If it’s too soon to pursue physical compatibility, that’s fine. If you’re uncomfortable with moving so fast, particularly since you just said goodbye to Oses and Betra, we can understand that. Don’t say yes because you think you have to.”
Cifa smiled at me. “There is plenty of time to get to know each other on all levels. I’m not a fan of rushing things myself. Let’s take it slow.”
Larten’s smirk was as dangerous as ever. “Ancestors, I love anticipation. By all means, let’s draw this out. The conquest will be that much sweeter once it happens.” He even rubbed his hands together in glee.
I had the urge to cry all of the sudden. We barely knew each other, and yet they seemed to understand me right away. I swallowed the lump that had grown in my throat and said, “You do know you deserve someone with a lot less drama than me, don’t you? That you’re entirely too good for me?”
“That’s not true,” Seot said. He moved to sit next to me, his arm circling my shoulders. “We’ve talked to some of your friends. We’ve reviewed the public records from the rescue site on Earth as well as the transport that brought you here. We’ve researched your past as much as possible. We’ve talked to you and watched you suffer through some incredible experiences since our first contact. What we’ve seen is a woman who we admire, who never gives up, who strives to make herself the best person she can be.”
“That’s not me,” I whispered, wishing it was. “I’m a mess.”
“But you clean up so nice,” Cifa teased.
I had to laugh. Looking at the three men around me, I realized they meant the pretty, speech Seot had given.
“Seriously,” the Imdiko said, keeping his voice soft so as not to wake Anrel, “Everything we’ve learned about you makes us happy. We believe you are the right Matara for our clan.”
“The only way we’ll think about another woman is the day you join another clan,” Seot affirmed. “So consider yourself warned.”
I gave him a little push that didn’t budge him one bit. “You can’t do that. Not over me. Besides, you should look for someone else, especially since I’ll be seeing Clan Aslada soon.”
Larten scratched his chin. “Yeah, well, you’ll find they aren’t all that great. Not compared to us. I don’t think they count as real competition.”
I was torn between the urge to strangle and laugh at him. “There are women much better than me. I adore you, but settling for the first woman you’ve met—”
I was cut off by Seot’s lips pressing against mine. All at once I was wrapped up in strong male, being kissed into senselessness. My ability to think shorted out. My whole body warmed and pressed against him. The taste of him was better than the finest wine, the smoothest leshella. If he’d taken me then and there, I wouldn’t have protested for an instant.
Instead, he kissed me thoroughly enough to make me wet and aroused. Then he stopped, though he kept his arms around me.
“You are the one,” he insisted in that low but certain tone that cut off all debate. “We’ve looked into our other prospects, and they don’t come close.”
I had no reply to that, mostly because my brain was still fizzled out from his kiss. By the time I could talk again, the conversation had moved on to other subjects.
I ended up spending the night after all. All we did was talk though. Okay, okay, there was a little necking too. None of us are saints, after all. But the petting was just enough to make us feel good without having to do anything about it. I weakened every time I was kissed – because each damned one of those men knows how to kiss a woman into panty-soaked excitement – but the guys were heroic in their restraint. They were serious about looking after my best interests, in keeping me from doing anything that might have made me feel bad later.
Would I have felt bad after having sex with Clan Seot? I’m sure it would have been spectacular. But that small sense of guilt about Betra and Oses, plus tossing aside my vow to take my time and do things right for a change … well, that might not have been so great. Truth be told, I have to agree with Larten on the point that the anticipation is enjoyable. Thrilling. It’s like waiting for Christmas morning as a kid, hoping and dreaming of the presents to be opened, wondering if the one thing you want most in the world will be under the tree when you wake up.
We eventually moved from the balcony when it got cool to the common room. Cifa grudgingly gave Seot the chance to hold Anrel, who slept unconcerned with the fact she wasn’t in a bed. When the first light of dawn filtered in, we had a grand breakfast, supplemented by stim tabs to make up for not sleeping. Then we spent the day swimming and playing with Anrel on the mainland’s beach. She is such a beach baby, loving every second she’s on the sand or in the water. Her screams of delight made us laugh.
It was a perfect date followed by a perfect day. I can’t wait to spend more time with Clan Seot.
Monday, October 24, 2016
This morning I gave a class on baby care to the group in charge of the complex’s nursery. Assistant Director Nosdu was on hand as well. He was adorably awkward when he approached me.
“Matara Shalia, it’s regarded unprofessional for my Matara to take advantage of the complex’s amenities now that she is clanned,” he said, his sweet face reddening. He pulled his handheld off his belt. “Yet she – all of us in my clan – have a lot of questions and worries. I have a vid recording program on my handheld, if you don’t mind? We are all feeling overwhelmed.”
I restrained the urge to pat him on the head…a difficult proposition anyway since he towered above me. “Not a problem, Imdiko. In fact, feel free to give your Matara my contact information. Any questions she has, I’ll be glad to answer as best I can. You can talk to me any time too.”
His face lit in a smile that would make an angel weep. It was no wonder the Imdiko was flirted with shamelessly though he was taken and devoted to his Matara. He was too adorable.
With Anrel as my cheerful prop, we went through feeding, napping, diaper changing, and even how to hold an infant. I showed them how important it was that Anrel be allowed to have floor time so she could practice rolling over and pushing up. I was asked a ton of questions, which I answered to the best of my ability.
Some of the children watched by the staff were still in diapers, but none were younger than toddlers. Anrel was their first real baby. Nosdu looked particularly terrified that he might drop her, but once he had Anrel in his arms, he got the same blissed-out expression Cifa often showed. Had the women of the complex seen Nosdu in that moment, they would have hit the floor in adoring faints. There’s something about a handsome man joyfully cuddling a baby that makes you want to drop an egg.
After that, I went to Katrina’s office. Candy was in there too, yapping with our pal as she entered data into the computer system.
“Yay, paperwork,” I cheered for her. “They wasted no time giving you the exciting tasks.”
Katrina snickered and reached for Anrel. “You bet. In his delight of handing this drudgery over, Dramok Firef is probably skipping around the complex like a five-year-old with a new doll.”
The idea of the older director doing such a thing cracked me up. I have a visual imagination, and it included pink bows in the Firef’s long, graying hair.
“So how are things?” I asked Katrina. “Are you holding up okay without your sweethearts?”
“About as well as can be expected, I suppose. I try to stay busy so I’m not dwelling on missing them. We’re comming every day, so I miss them anyway.” She rolled her eyes and gave me a tired smile. “It’s the worst at night. I hate sleeping alone.”
I knew what she meant.
Trying to rescue us from too much depression, I turned to Candy. “How’s the big Stud Man?”
“Gorgeous,” she smirked. “Planning for our little Haven getaway.”
“Lust on the farm,” I laughed. “Have you picked out your sexy overalls yet?”
We hung out with Katrina until lunch. Then Anrel and I went back to our quarters. I was about to settle her for a nap when I saw I had a message waiting. It was Betra’s frequency, so I postponed putting the baby down so she could be a part of our conversation.
I was so happy to see not just Betra but Oses on the vid transmission. The part about not being able to touch them hurt like hell, but this is life now.
“Hi!” I beamed at the pair. “How are you?”
“We’re good. What about you?” Betra smiled back. “Hi Anrel! How’s my other sweetie?”
She squealed at him and held out her arms. That made my stomach lurch. Poor baby wanted her Uncle Betra and couldn’t have him.
“We’re okay,” I told him, ignoring the stab of hurt. “How’s the ship? Back to its former glory?”
“I don’t know that it was ever glorious, but it’s running fine. We have a few upgrades that are nice.”
I looked at the silent Oses. His smile was as gentle as his fierce face would allow it to be. “Hey, big guy. Is everything good with you?”
“As good as it gets,” he said. Such a non-answer, but chatting is not Oses’s strong suit. It was enough to see him.
“So what have you been up to since we left?” Betra asked.
I filled them in on training the childcare staff on how to handle babies, plus the upcoming surgery for Mom. I rolled my eyes at Oses as I told him about Jaon’s reticence in finding me trainers while I was with his clan.
The Nobek’s face darkened a tad. Or maybe I imagined it. At any rate, he wasted no time in looking out for me. “Let me know if he doesn’t come through with the training. I’ll look into who can work with you while you’re on that side of the world.”
Even out in space, the man has my back.
“What about you guys?” I asked. “Still in Empire space, no Earther girls to take care of – you must be bored to death.”
“Not quite,” Betra said. “We have safety and fighting drills. We’re dropping off some supplies to Haven Colony and Rel Station since they’re on our way. It’s not all boredom.”
“Plus they fixed the pleasure club,” Oses added with a wicked grin. “It’s up and running just fine, isn’t it, my Imdiko?”
Betra turned beet red. “Shut up,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
“But you were such a hit with the audience last night.” Oses looked like he was doing his best to not fall apart in laughter. “I heard two Dramoks were making inquiries about Betra after that. Along with about a dozen Nobeks stupid enough to think they can mess with what’s mine.”
Betra rolled his eyes. “Idiots,” was all he would say.
“Don’t let anyone push him,” I warned Oses. “I’ll tell his mom on you.”
“Neither he nor Matara Elwa have anything to worry about.” The Nobek continued to tease. “If I can’t touch him, no other man can.”
Betra pretended offense, but he was fighting a smile. “So it’s all about jealousy and nothing to do with protecting me?”
We all cracked up. Anrel crowed along with the rest of us, delighted with the laughter. Betra gave Oses a playful shove and the weapons commander pretended to stagger. They were in good spirits.
I had worried a little that without me serving as a sort of go-between for the men, Betra and Oses would drift apart. It seemed I’d been concerned over nothing. Thank the prophets I’m not that important. I don’t mind the universe…or at least the men I care about…not revolving around me. I just want Betra and Oses to be happy. It’s looking good for those two, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.