Thursday, May 18, 2017

December 17

Just when I think I’ve seen the most beautiful sights Kalquor has to offer, the planet amazes me anew. Today, we arrived at the astounding port of Nacabri.

The island is given over to pure indulgence. It’s a playground destination. I’m not sure how to begin to describe it.

First, there are rock formations jutting out of the peridot-green water near the white-sand shore. Not massive formations like the one Clan Seot has burrowed a home in, but sculptural pillars and arches shaped by nature. Some looked like worn towers erected millennia ago, some like stately columns, some like the jagged ruins of fantastical structures. They range in size from my height (if I could stand on water) to skyscraping edifices. They are as pristine white as the nearby beaches, a white so pure it dazzles the eyes. I was blinded to the point that it took me several seconds before I noticed the people walking on air.

I squeezed my eyes shut, sure I was hallucinating. Opened them again. Repeated. The Kalquorians remained high above, walking from formation to formation, some straining as they mounted the sky, climbing to higher pillars. Others loped easily downward. I shook my head, convinced I was going crazy.

“What the – how the – am I really seeing this?” Candy said.

“The walkways are something else, aren’t they?” Ila laughed. “Material so transparent, it looks like they’re not even there unless you see them up close.”

“And rather disconcerting if you go to the higher elevations,” Erom added. He winked at Joelle, who was just as open-mouthed with astonishment as Candy and I. “I hope you have no fear of heights, Matara Joelle.”

“Are you kidding? I don’t even like to be this tall,” she chuckled, the sound a little breathless. “My goodness, some of them are a long way up there.”

“I want to go,” I told Seot. “The view must be magnificent.”

“It is. We will be delighted to take you.”

“We’ll have to remember the vid recorder,” I said. “Maybe it’s not a big deal to Kalquorians, but the Earther gals they’ll want to bring here will beg to come when they see this.”

“Actually, there are strict limits to how many people can be here at a time. There are many Kalquorians who haven’t seen this,” Cifa said. “We booked this visit the moment we decided to build this vessel five years ago, before we even designed it. We’ve made sure to reserve more spots for every six months, the most we were allowed.”

“It’s a big part of this ship’s promotion,” Erom added. “Ours is the only cruise line that is allowed to visit.”

“We’re definitely bringing the vid recorder then,” I insisted. Cifa nodded an adamant agreement.

The ship swept beneath the first of the walkways, between two monolithic columns of alabaster stone. I admit I couldn’t keep myself from cringing to see people over my head, seemingly without support. It felt like they would drop from the sky at any moment, plummeting to crash on me and the deck. I breathed easier as we continued closer to the shore.

If there had been palm trees, I would have named it the postcard-perfect tropical paradise. There were trees in the distance, but they were many-limbed, stretching their lavender-leafed branches wide as if to hug us in welcome. Sand stretched on either side of the land we neared. Beyond that, dunes and a few rock formations nestled like lumpy creatures dozing in the sun. Music, the same kind as what the Zelts played, drifted from the gorgeous setting on whispering breezes. Farthest away were a couple of volcanos, which I at first took to be covered in snow. Actually, they were the same white rock that made up the arches and columns that we floated amongst. Cifa assured me the two peaks were dormant.

“They’re terrific for scaling,” he added. He grinned at his sister’s clanmates. “If we don’t do well enough to qualify for the kurble tournaments they run here, there’s always a good climb.”

“Excellent,” Dramok Orim said. “They look more exciting than the last one too.”

“Not according to Shalia and Larten,” Erom laughed. He’s never going to let me live that down.

“This place was meant for amusement,” Ila said, shoving her younger brother to make him shut up. “Games. Tournaments. Sports. Little pools that Anrel can play in while we relax. Slides and chutes built into the side of a cliff that you can coast down if you’re brave enough. A staff second to only ours who will fetch you food, drink…anything!”

Cifa continued. “There are gorgeous paths to walk, a stunning lagoon to swim in, a menagerie of rare and exotic animals and birds, fishing excursions, and more things than I can possibly name. If you can’t be happy here, then you need to determine what’s wrong in your heart.” He winked at me. “That’s the island’s official motto.”

I noted our ship veering starboard, now cruising parallel to the stunning beach where maybe fifty people lounged or strolled or swam. “It sounds like heaven,” I sighed.

Seot had been watching me more than our surroundings, though I’d gathered he’d never been here before either. He took my hand and pressed it to his lips. “I am so glad things worked out so we could be here with you.”

“Both of you,” Cifa grinned, hugging Anrel close. She grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked, her favorite thing to do these days. Cifa didn’t wince and he didn’t make her stop. He never does.

Larten brushed her cheek, smiling with affection. Then he bent to plant a kiss on top of my head.

As usual, they were perfect. Perfect men on the perfect vacation in the perfect setting. I should have been over the moon with rapture.

Instead, something I hadn’t been aware of inside me shrank back. Something small and scared. It was too perfect, wasn’t it? The fabulous men. Their perfect looks. Their perfect lives. The way they treated me and Anrel as if we were the center of their universe. The way I felt about them.

No. It wasn’t right. Not because of any fault of Clan Seot’s, but because of me. I was far from the ideal. Hadn’t I proved that time and again? When I thought about it, what did I have to offer these guys, besides a working uterus and decent X chromosomes?

Nothing. It had to be counted as a miracle that they hadn’t seen it yet. When they did…

I had gone cold despite the splendid sunny day. A thousand doubts crowded in my head as Seot stood at my side holding my hand, as Larten squeezed my shoulders from behind me, as Cifa cuddled Anrel, who definitely deserved daddies like these.

Then the momentary terror passed, and the shadow lifted from my heart. For heaven’s sake, what had come over me? Give me wonderful, and I melt down? Sheesh. Talk about overthinking stuff.

I still felt shaky inside, but I knew I was being a goof. I concentrated on our progress as the ship continued to circle the island, still marveling at the rocky protrusions and people roaming among them on the invisible walkways, along with the island itself.

At length, we came to an area where many boats were docked. “Most of these belong to the island’s owners,” Cifa informed us. “They’re used for diving and fishing excursions. Visitors usually come in on shuttles, which come and go at hours that won’t disturb the tourists who are already here.”

Our ship slowed down, gradually coming to a stop. As soon as it did, three of the island boats left their moorings and headed over.

“Our taxis to the shore,” Ila confirmed. “Does everyone have their overnight carryalls?”

We were packed for the next two nights, as we were staying on Nacabri for that time. I reached for the two I’d packed for the baby and me, but Seot and Larten beat me to it. When Seot felt the weight of Anrel’s bag, his brow lifted and he chuckled at me.

“You laugh, but having everything that child needs is no joke,” I told him.

“Ancestors, I thought it must be yours to be so heavy.”

“Are you calling me high maintenance? I’ll have you know my bag is incredibly light.”

“It is,” Larten confirmed. “I’ll be glad to switch bags with you if Anrel’s is too much, my poor, overtaxed Dramok.”

Seot gave him a mock glower. “Don’t make me swing this and crush your head with it, Larten.” His smile returned as he looked at me. “I guess I’m still learning how much is required to properly care for a baby. I promise to do better. In fact, next time I want to pack her bag with your guidance.”

Ugh, there’s that perfection again.

We boarded our boats. Instead of being brought to the shore where they’d been moored before, we set off in an easterly direction, hugging the shoreline. Then we entered a bay, and oh my gosh. Yet another amazing bit of Nacabri’s resort was revealed to take everyone’s breath away.

The beach was as pristine as the rest we’d seen, the idyllic scenery unmarred by anything but tourists relaxing. A couple of Kalquorians rode at the edge of the surf on kestarsh, and laughter and shouts drifted from the far edge of the island where a kurble game was underway. I saw the willowy shapes of a few Plasians, some of whom appeared to be making love in front of everyone. If they weren’t having sex, they were doing some seriously heavy petting. But that’s not surprising, not from Plasians.

It certainly wasn’t what made me, Joelle, Candy, and Seot gasp. Even Larten and Stidmun’s eyes widened. Cifa’s grin threatened to break his face in half. I was sure our companions in the other boats must have been reacting the way we were.

We stared at the astounding structure in the middle of and half-submerged in the bay. To my eyes, it looked similar to a nautilus shell, with the opening facing us and partly submerged. White like the structures we’d left behind, it curled in a spiral, with silvery strips segmenting it at regular intervals. It was gorgeous, if improbable-looking.

“That’s where we’re staying,” Cifa confirmed as our boat sped towards the shadowed opening of the ‘shell’. In another couple of seconds, we entered.

Just wow. Inside the lobby, or whatever one might call it, a landing sat a few feet above the waterline. Our boat stopped next to a platform with steps that led up to it. In a moment, we were on solid footing again. A swarm of attendants hurried to the boats to take charge of our carryalls. Cifa, Ila, and Erom conferred with a few of them for a few moments before our luggage was taken away, presumably to our rooms.

“I’ll get us checked in,” Erom said, doing his take-charge Dramok thing. I’ve learned when he gets a certain tone in his voice, he can be relied on…his more mischievous instincts are put on hold. So I had little worries that anything would go wrong.

Instead, I gazed about the lobby, enthralled by the view. There was a bar, and its attendant smiled at us with welcome. I also saw a little shop with soaksuits, underwater breathing masks, souvenir trinkets, and the sort of sundries one might need if they forgot to bring them from home. There was also a sort of grill set up, from which good smells wafted to us.

Cifa said, “When we get our room designation, you simply give it to any merchants on the island. Should you go over the amount prepaid by our accounts, it will be billed to the clan named on the room.”

“Take anything you want or need, Shalia and Joelle,” Seot said. “You are not to worry about anything.”

Cifa nodded. “I made our clan responsible for your quarters, Joelle. Enjoy your stay as much as you like. I do draw the line at you buying the resort itself, though.”

Joelle laughed at his joke. “Thank you, Cifa, but I doubt I’ll need anything beyond food. This trip has already been so generous of you. I can hardly believe I’m doing all these things! My one big vacation back on Earth was a week in the Florida Keys.”

Beyond the concession areas, there were window vids that showed the island, the sea, and everything around ‘Hotel Nautilus’, as I was thinking of it. The scenery was breathtaking. There were plenty of seating areas to lounge around and enjoy, as a few guests did. Attendants dashed about taking care of them. The firepit wasn’t needed but it was lit; it turned out the merry flames were encased in a clear chimney so that the heat didn’t affect the room’s perfect temperature.

“This room will be nice to hang out in if the weather doesn’t cooperate,” I noted.

“They have nightly gatherings in here,” Cifa said. “Meet and greets. There are also rooms where you can set up games, preview vid dramas from all over before anyone else sees them, or attend a show. I’m interested in seeing how our cruise line’s entertainments stack up against Nacabri.”

Seot asked, “Shalia, what do you want to do once we’ve got our room assignment?”

“Play tourist?” I suggested. “It would be good to not only see what all the offerings on the island are, but to also plan the best parts to shoot for the vid.”

So that was what we did. Our quarters were gorgeous, as swanky as a greeting and sleeping room could be, though we had to send for Anrel’s crib on the ship. Hotel Nautilus (actually, Nacabri Sun Coast Shelter – I like my name better) had never hosted a baby before, so they weren’t prepared. The manager of the place came to apologize in person, even though I assured the staff there was nothing to apologize for. He insisted I get an extra amount of credits to use at the island’s concessions to make up for the lack. I guess they pride themselves on seeing to every possible need. With more Earther gals heading to Kalquor in the near future, they’re going to have to gear up for the babies that might be brought along.

At any rate, we poked our noses in our rooms, oohed and aahed appropriately, and headed back out to get a look at the things we could do. Joelle came along. At first, she tried to send me off without her, saying Anrel and I needed proper ‘family time’ with my prospective clan. I couldn’t imagine leaving her by herself since everyone else was taking time with their own clans (or in Candy’s case, her beau). I insisted and pleaded my case to Clan Seot. They agreed she was not to be left to fend for herself, and that she had to come on our tour of the island with us. I was glad, and I think Joelle was too. She’s good company.

Goodness, there was a lot to see. Climbing, hiking, swimming, sports from mild to extreme, the kurble tournaments – after a quick com consultation, Seot and Larten signed up most of the men of our gang to enter – everything to be imagined. We visited the menagerie, which delighted Anrel to no end. Cifa and I remembered to bring our vid recorders and we got some amazing footage of Anrel sitting with baby kestarsh and ronka. I rode a kestarsh for the first time. I must say, a six-legged animal moves smoother than a four-legged one…though it’s weird to see a furred animal walk more like an ant than a horse or cow. Joelle rode too, and is now trying to figure out how to convince my dads they should own a couple of the animals. She’s hooked.

I encouraged the guys to do some climbing or rappelling or a crazy activity called ‘brangil’. Brangil consists of strapping oneself to a line that goes downhill and over a cliff and shooting through at stupid speeds while spinning. One lands in a net just inches from either the surf or rocks, depending on how high the tide is at the moment. Joelle turned green just looking at the horrible contraption. The men got that light in their eyes that told me they wanted to go for it.

“Are you going to try it?” Larten asked.

I covered Anrel’s ears. “Not only no, but fuck no. But I’d never stand in your way of suicidal fun.”

With laughter, they got in the long line of men waiting to try to self-destruct. Because the ‘ride’ was so quick, Joelle, Anrel, and I only had to wait about fifteen minutes before the breathlessly happy trio returned.

“Now for your fun,” Seot said. “All the rest of the day is for the enjoyment of you ladies. Thank you for letting us try that.”

We went on the beach near the monumental stone edifices where the clear walkways awaited my interest. Joelle had no desire to climb, but she was more than happy to play with Anrel in a shallow tidal pool. “Wave to us from the heights,” she said.

Though the walkways seemed invisible from a distance, they’re much easier to see when climbing and strolling them. Footprints, plus the handprints that had been left behind on the equally transparent sides which stretched over my head, kept us from getting the full illusion of walking on air. But it was still a rush to be high above the beach and the sea. We climbed ever higher until the people below looked like tiny dolls, until Anrel looked as if she was no bigger than my big toe. I could see her splashing in the little pool with Joelle next to her, a pair of miniatures I could have fit in my smallest pocket. It made me lightheaded, but the view was fantastic. And perching on the great pillars and arches was amazing.

There was so much more to do and see, and we wore ourselves out enjoying as much as we could…both that day all over the island, at the lovely and luxurious reception in the resort’s lobby…and later when Anrel slept and I was alone with the clan.

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