Archive for August, 2015

“Obligations” Chapt 3-5

Posted: August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

I’ll leave Chapt 1-2 up for another day,

Chapter Three – Bystocc – 2012

“Who’s that?” an old man, human, asked from the doorway of a large tent. “Isaac Meyers, Combat Medic – Tansea Isaac, Doctor” was painted above the door in several languages, including Sansheren. The blood of several species stained the front of his apron.

The person he stared at was also human. Oriental, he thought despite thick orange make-up, but he could not decide on a gender. She, he decided on a hunch, but knew he could be wrong, was taller than anyone else walking on the crowded street, five foot, five inches, and wearing rich quilted banners that he thought marked her as a high ranking member of the Sansheren family government House Sheresuan. The other human’s black hair was very long, straight, and pulled back to be tied in a severe knot at the base of the neck. Her skin was a deep cream, almost almond that betrayed no wrinkles beneath the garish make-up, and Isaac wondered at her age.

Isaac watched as she straightened the banners that crossed her chest, again.

“Our new owner, I’m told. Name’s Morganea,” a red-haired alien exited the tent and answered Isaac’s forgotten question. The alien was small and thin, the size of a small chimpanzee, and her voice sounded very old and tired as she leaned her head against Isaac’s hip and slid her arm around his thigh. Isaac looked down to the alien woman he loved. She looked up at him, and her reptilian tongue tasted the air before she smiled at him.

Isaac looked back to the street and watched Morganea raise an edge of her rich, black scarf to shield her face from the dust and wind that blew through the city’s ruins. The scarf dropped away from her right shoulder as she walked, and Isaac wondered at the clean, straight scar that could be seen on her stomach, low, drifting below the waist of her pants. She wore no shirt, Sansheren style, and he watched her hunch her shoulders down. Sucking in her chest like a teenage girl, Isaac thought and puzzled over her lack of development. She could not be thirty, Isaac decided, with a sigh for her youth.

“Tadesde’s House is bugging out. That illegitimate spawn of a dead animal was forced to realize how badly he screwed this rock and gave the problem to the Arbitrator. I told you Sansheren Arbitrators were honorable.” The small alien’s anger did not disguise the intimate familiarity between her and Isaac as he massaged the top of her head.

A deep hum slowed the people walking on the street, and Isaac watched as Morganea moved to put her back to the wall of a nearly-destroyed mural directly across from his tent. The art had depicted a group of dancing Bystocc natives throwing crumbs of copper to small gilded birdlike creatures while rays of sunlight made halos around them in silver, all of the valuable metals were picked out soon after Isaac and Tansea set their tent up two years ago, and he still remembered the night when the drunken Gulardee shot the heads off each of the dancers while screaming obscenities in the rain the day the cease fire was announced. All that remained was faded paint on a pitted wall.

They made eye-contact as Morganea’s people stopped in the street and assumed defensive positions around her. Isaac watched Morganea stare at him as the blast of a landing shuttle craft almost deafened them both. The street traffic came to a complete halt until the echoes of the craft died away. Isaac nodded to Morganea as she turned to speak with a companion and then continued down the street.

“Tansea, I know you’ve worked with Sansheren before, and they were basically good and honest with you. But I can only go by what I’ve seen, and if Tadesde’s just one bad fruit, he sure has a hell of a lot of seeds sprouting up around him,” Isaac said as he knelt to lean his forehead against hers.

He tried not to tense as two Sansheren wearing Tadesde’s livid purple banner paused to read the sign above his head before moving forward.

“You are Isaacke? A medical technician? The father of our children has been injured. You will come see him now,” The speaker’s voice was blunt, and Isaac knew it could be considered an insult.

Tansea squeezed his hand as he stood before she moved to retrieve his carry bag from inside their tent.

“I charge a Faldebbian Croat, in gold, for visiting; it would be cheaper if you brought him to me.” Isaac’s voice was just as cold and distant as he set his price high enough to discourage them.

“Our beloved mate ranks Sixth in the order of the Gulardee. She asks for a human medic, we must pay your ransom.” The second Sansheren made a shallow bow to Isaac and opened a small pouch to dig for an appropriate coin.
Isaac held it in his hand, trying to decide if it was more than a quarter of an ounce. Shrugging, he handed it to Tansea and gestured toward the street. “I will do my honorable best to attend to your beloved husband,” Isaac said in less than perfect Sansheren, but he was confident that they understood him.

“I have no doubt,” one of the Sansheren said as they started walking.

“I’m the only human medic around,” Isaac said with a sigh; an inability to distinguish one from the other forced him to address them as a single unit. “Have you met many of my species?” It was a polite question often asked at any mixed-species gathering. Isaac, like most humans he knew, used it with a desperate sincerity.

“I must admit that our experience with humans is limited to the mercenary captain Timone, and to the Arbitrator Morganea of the House Sheresuan. I find myself grudgingly impressed by the personal strength of these two; I believe this is why my love suggested we contract your person for her care.” The speaker wore bright blue cloth pants with a red banner crossing Tadesde’s purple House banner.

The other wore a cold, angry expression that told Isaac she did not agree.

“I met Captain Tim when he brought some of his men to me during the war. But I have never met the Arbitrator Morganea. How did she come to be a member of the House Sheresuan?” Isaac asked. Every human he had met since leaving Earth was a slave or former slave; to see a human interacting with such a powerful species on an equal footing intrigued him.

“I am told she was taken in as an apprentice by the most benevolent Neadesto herself, she who is loved for her neutrality. Come, we approach the dwelling of the father of my children,” the Sansheren said.

Isaac paused as he puzzled over his difficulty in understanding gender in the Sansheren language. He shrugged; even Tansea became confused on occasion, and she had been speaking the language longer than he had been alive.

#

“I am saddened,” Isaac said, choosing his words with care. “The pellet that struck you is highly radioactive. The damage is done.” Isaac knelt on the edge of the patient’s sleeping platform and indulged in a few silent curses to the Sansheren medic who decided to leave the shot pellet in place. “I am sorry.”

The Sansheren lying on the bed was young, and might once have been healthy, but now there were bare patches of skin randomly exposed where the pale, orange fur had sloughed off, and a red and black ulcerated sore on the upper right arm. Ugly, green lines traveled away from the wound, and Isaac suspected that removing the pellet lodged deep in the bone would allow the poison’s instant access to the patient’s blood-stream.

“So I am to die a wasting death, you think?” the patient asked, and held his good hand out to the wife that Isaac knew did not like him.

“How will the radiation affect our yet born child?” the hostile wife asked.

Isaac paused to stare at the oldest of the three aliens as he worked at understanding their language. “You should be safe; just have someone else change his bandages,” he tried to reassure her with an unfelt smile.

“My children have long been born and are late into their apprenticeships. I was asking after my beloved’s now-to-be-born children,” the hostile spouse said, and Isaac knew he had missed something vital.

And again, he wished that all species had easy to distinguish sexual indicators. The first five years he and Tansea had worked together they had both been wrong about the other’s gender, it had taken a drunken depression to straighten things out. Now he found himself sitting beside a patient who was not only female, but also nearing the full-term of pregnancy.

“Well, I would not risk removing the pellet for fear the poison would spread through your bloodstream and endanger your yet to be born,” Isaac said. “Perhaps you should contact a doctor of your own species; I would not even consider removing a child from your body,” Isaac finished. Marsupial? he thought and glanced at the patient’s bare chest and waist looking for a clue. That would explain a few things.

“If the arm were removed, would my love’s child be free of the danger of radiation poisoning?” The friendlier and younger wife now moved forward to speak, and Isaac looked up to see her pain.

“Removing the arm would gain time, a week, no more. As long as the child is within the mother, it will be exposed to radiation,” Isaac said with careful enunciation, trying to hide the blow behind his difficulty with the language.

The trio accepted his statement without pause.

“I am dying, Doctor, you have said so,” the patient said with equal slowness. “Is one week so wonderful a gift if it means I leave no child to bear my honor? I would ask you to remove my arm, now, and leave the father’s responsibilities to my beloved wives.”

Isaac thought the woman in the bed appeared untroubled by her impending death. He saw the love between the three, and nodded as he reached for his bag. “This will render you unconscious. I have used it on your species before, and I do not believe it will affect the infant.” Isaac placed a pressure capsule against the inside of the woman’s unaffected arm.

“Not yet, anyway,” the patient said with an almost smile.

With a look to the other two, Isaac triggered the capsule and watched as the alien lost consciousness.

Isaac laid out his surgical tools on the edge of the platform and UV-wanded the spread, his hands, and the patient’s arm.

Attempting to work quickly and efficiently, Isaac twisted a strip of cloth around the highest point he could reach on the arm.

He doubted the tourniquet would be necessary; previous experience with Sansheren taught him that they did not bleed profusely. Tourniquet secured, he placed an absorbing cloth under the arm and gave a silent curse at his lack of proper sterilizers. His one justification for not taking the patient to his makeshift hospital was his own diagnosis. He began the operation by inserting a drain tube into a small vein. He watched as the greenish-black blood dripped into a bowl placed on the floor.

“If someone would hold the arm, I will begin.” He felt bad at asking the two spouses, but he could not perform the operation without assistance.

“I would be honored.”

The one Isaac was beginning to like moved to the bed and grasped the arm firmly at the joint. “Thank you,” Isaac said as he began to cut the flesh with a scalpel. With the bare bone exposed, Isaac moved the skin and muscle tissue up higher, and began the long task of sawing through. He noted that Sansheren had by far the thickest and strongest bones of the many species he had become proficient at treating. He had never seen a broken bone on one and would be surprised if he ever did.

“They’re all surface veins,” he realized with a start as the saw blade reached the bone’s internal artery. Pressurized blood squirted past the blade to strike him in the face.

“There is an artery supplying this, correct?” he half shouted as he wiped the hot, green blood out of his eyes.

“The arteries connect through each joint. You have to work quickly and seal the end when you are done,” the one assisting said, with a startled glance to the older wife.

“I thought so,” he muttered as he began sawing again. The hollow spot in the bone was surprisingly small, and he cut a wedge out of the bone to expose it. He shoved his finger into the gap to slow the bleeding as he tried to think of some way to seal the bone end. The realization came to him that the other half of the bone must contain the return vein.

“Hand up the blue box,” he said, gesturing to his plaster cast kit. “Now open it, okay, green jar, put a large spoonful of the powder – that is a half a Faldebbian Croat’s weight worth – into the silver bowl. Yeah that thing. Okay, open the bottle and pour out just enough liquid to make a thick paste. Do not get it on your skin! Good, now mix it well. Now scoop it into that canister and connect the canister to the nozzle. Very good, hand it here. I will need a small circle of metal as well; perhaps a coin?” With his finger still in the hole, Isaac reached awkwardly for the canister.

“How do I clean this?” the hostile spouse held out a small gold coin, cousin to the one he had been paid, and Isaac wondered if he should have charged them more.

“The white canister contains a pressurized sterilization solution. Do not get it on yourself!” Isaac said, and realized he was shouting. “Your delicate skin would blister. Put the coin on that tray and I will pick it up after you spray it.” He could not turn far enough to see if the other was in danger of getting the spray on her-his skin.

Isaac gave up on the gender issue and tried to devote his full attention to the patient.

“I am surprised with your concern for me. Here is the coin.”

The tray was held within his reach, yet Isaac had to pause at the softness of the voice. Shit, he thought, delicate – deleecate.

For food or for sex. Damn language. He forced his internal monologue quiet as he prepared to shift his finger and put the coin in its place.

“Hold the arm absolutely still! This has to work the first time.” He made eye contact with his drafted assistant and then moved quickly. The coin slid into the slot he cut and he began spraying the quickset cast solution over it. Within a moment, the coin was anchored, and Isaac was sawing feverishly at the bone. When the blood began to spurt anew from the cut, Isaac dropped the saw, grasped the arm lower down, and struggled to snap the bone against the platform rather than take the time to finish sawing through it.

“I need another coin,” he said impatiently as he placed his thumb over the ragged hole.

“My apologies; I should have foreseen your need and had one ready. My only excuse is that I was entranced by watching your efficient work.”

Isaac was astounded as the formerly hostile woman appeared to flirt with him. It dawned on him that he still did not know who the husband among the three was. He knew he must be mistaken about the gender of at least one of them.

“I, myself should have told you of my need. Your apology is unnecessary, though appreciated.” Watching the woman’s pleased blush, a greening as unmistakable as his own species’ reddening, he reminded himself to pay more attention the next time he and Tansea worked on language skills.

Then he devoted his attention to finishing the operation without flattering either of the two again.

Chapter Four – Earth – 1995
“Turn it back on,” Morgan said when the strange guy turned off the movie she was watching. She knew he wasn’t supposed to be there; he had climbed in the window and then straightened the bookshelf and picked up her pen before turning to stare at her. The blaring commercial interruption caused him to walk over and unplug the small TV.

“You’re awake?” Tim turned away from the television.

“He’s going to kiss her soon. Turn it back on. Please.” Morgan’s voice was soft, and she decided she should be afraid, but the hollow spot inside of her didn’t care.

“You shouldn’t be watching that shit anyway. It rots your brain. What are you doing up so late on a school night, anyway? Your parents out or something?” Tim plugged the TV in, turned it on again and moved toward the couch.

“I’m waiting for my roommate to get home. Are you hungry?” Morgan opened the pizza box beside her, and heard his stomach grumble as he stared at the large, barely touched, pizza.

“Thanks,” Tim said and shoved a piece of pizza into his mouth. “Roommate?” he mumbled around a second bite and reached for another piece.

“My parents are at home. Taiwan. I live here with a guy named Greg.” Morgan nervously turned her gaze to the TV, in time to see the kiss she anticipated.

“He your brother or something?” Tim said, and Morgan felt the terror and pain flash across her face.

“No.” Morgan tried to focus on the TV and block out the part of herself that still wanted to cry at night.

And she watched his face. As he studied her, there was a quick flash of anger – not pity – before he closed his eyes for a moment. He moved to put his arm around her.

“No,” Morgan said pulling away from him. She tried to keep herself facing him, watching him, and she saw the look of concern and tears in his eyes.

Tim moved towards her slowly and held her in his arms.

It took her a long time to begin crying.

“It’s okay, I’m here. He hurt you, didn’t he? It’s okay; I promise. I won’t let him hurt you again,” Tim said, and Morgan allowed the youth she had just met to hold her as she sobbed against his chest. An hour later, before her roommate returned, Tim coaxed her into telling him about her first night in America.

And Morgan fought the dream.

Chapter Five – Bystocc – 2012
“Hush, my Lady.” Neavillii’s attempts at reassurance penetrated.

Morgan realized she was screaming aloud. She took a ragged breath and tried to smile at her friend. The smile died unborn, and she turned her eyes away, not wanting Tim’s face to fade away again, to be replaced by the older Sansheren beside her bed, but, even as she realized her reason for looking away, only Neavillii’s face remained.

“I am okay,” Morgan said while still struggling for air. “I am.”

Neavillii moved to sit beside her, and Morgan looked up into the Sansheren’s large brown and green eyes. Over an inch across, there was no clear delineation between their green pupils and brown iris.

Morgan found herself falling into their dark green center and shook her head to clear the sensation.

“Indeed. It would appear that you are better at least” Neavillii said, and smiled from the edge of the bed.

Morgan forced herself to return the expression. “Thank you. I…,” Morgan paused, trying to release the emotions that choked her. “Thank you,” she ended with a feeling of bitter loss.

“I will be in the next room should you want me, my Lady.” Neavillii patted Morgan’s bare arm once and stood to leave.

“Wait!” Morgan found herself reaching out, capturing Neavillii’s hand. “I… I do not want to be alone. Stay, tonight.” Morgan held Neavillii’s hand tight as she spoke, but refused to meet the other woman’s gaze.

“Tonight is almost over, my Lady. Perhaps it would be best if you rose now? We could feed early and begin your tour anew before the sun finishes rising,” Neavillii said and resisted her desperate pull.

“Or we could sleep in and resume the tour when the afternoon heat has faded,” Morgan offered and again tried to smile as she finally met Neavillii’s larger eyes.

“Indeed?” Neavillii answered, and resumed her seat on the side of the bed.

“It is your decision, my love,” Morgan said as she reached out to stroke the soft orange fur on her friend’s shoulder. “I would not pressure you.”

“’My love,’ she says. ‘Not wanting to pressure,’ she claims. I would enjoy this night, my Lady.” Neavillii laughed as she slid into the bed beside Morgan.

“I did not mean to, that is, I did, but…”

Neavillii silenced Morgan the way any lover should, with fingertips against her lips and a distraction somewhere else.

#

“I can still feel my fingers,” Isaac’s patient said in a bemused voice.

Isaac moved past the other two and stood beside the bed. “Phantom nerves are common among many species after amputations,” he said. “It will fade with time…” his voice died as he looked away from the stained bandages and remembered his own diagnosis.

“My wives tell me you worked with courage and skill,” the patient said sleepily. “Do not feel distressed for me. Eat with us and sleep with us; I would be very happy if you could take my place this night. I am very tired and do not feel up to my responsibility. Please, give me this honor.”

Isaac thought about his Hippocratic Oath for a moment, but Earth was a lifetime away, and Tansea insisted that, with the Sansheren, the offer was literal. “It is I who am honored, though I, too, am exhausted and fear I would not do your lovely wives justice tonight.” The entire time he was talking, Isaac could see Tansea laughing at him in the morning.

“You will want to send a message to your companion. I will take care of that and the meal.” The one who was friendly to him from the start bowed briefly and moved out of the room.

“And I will arrange our bedroom for tonight, my strange alien doctor,” the second said with a shy bow of her head to Isaac, and left the room.

“Aldera is enamored with you. Strange, I thought it would be Yolunu who courted you.” The tired amusement in his patient’s voice was contagious, and Isaac found himself having to fight a hysterical laugh. He sat on the bed, beside his patient, instead.

“They never gave their names. Or yours, my friend.” Isaac leaned against the wall, and was hard-pressed not to show his surprise when his patient twisted to place her remaining hand on top of his thigh.

“I am Numane.” The small hand stroked at his pant leg in an almost casual manner. “And I truly regret not being able to consummate our friendship.”

Isaac found himself captivated by the claw fingers as they slid across his leg. “A regret we share.” Isaac leaned over the woman and kissed her bald forehead. The skin was soft, and he couldn’t see the orange coloring with his eyes closed.

“Sleep now. You need to rest if you are to bear a strong child.” Isaac pulled the cover up and sat up as Yolunu entered the room.

“She sleeps?” Yolunu asked, and Isaac looked again at his patient’s relaxed expression, before answering.

“Yes. The rest will help strengthen her and her child,” he whispered, and shifted the limp hand off of his thigh and onto the bed. With a nodded bow, he stood and moved toward the door, indicating they should leave.

“Aldera is still preparing our sleeping room. I have sent a message to your tent stating we are honored that you are joining us for the evening. I hope you will not find it presumptuous that I included another gold piece so that your companion could replace you tonight. It was our desire that caused her to miss your presence; we should pay, not you,” Yolunu said, and once more Isaac was forced to control his facial expression, using a second nodded bow to imply acceptance. “It shames me that we cannot provide you with an elegant meal, but you must be familiar with the difficulties involved in finding edible food.”

Isaac thought about the planet they were on. “I am confident that your food will be more elegant than anything I have tasted in years. If I may be so bold as to inquire, what is your ranking in the withdrawal?” Isaac followed Yolunu from the hallway into another room.

This one was empty of furniture; Aldera knelt in the middle rearranging a mound of pillows and blankets. Beside the makeshift bed was a cloth, on which were ten or twelve plates heaped with breads and dry meats. There were also several dirty glass bottles, whose contents he hoped were fermented.

“When our beloved gifts us with her children, we will be placed at the head of the list. Undoubtedly we will leave within an hour of the parenthood,” Aldera said before she stood and bowed to both Isaac and Yolunu.

Isaac found himself wondering about the structure of Sansheren families. Aldera seemed to be the junior member of this family even though she appeared to be much older than either spouse.

“I was born of the House Sheresuan, and I think perhaps we will seek to claim kinship with the lovely arbitrator Morganea,” Yolunu said, and Isaac tried to ignore Aldera’s obvious surprise at Yolunu’s plans for their future. “Would you care to begin the meal with an intoxicant? I am pleased to hint at a surprise I have accomplished.”

“I would love an intoxicant,” he said as he chose to sit beside Aldera.

Yolunu moved to sit on Isaac’s other side. “The surprise I mentioned, a human drink, distilled wine I am told. A bit much for our metabolism, it was found in the ruins of Captain Timone’s bunker. I hope it is to your liking,” Yolunu said with a gesture to one of the bottles.

Aldera lifted the bottle and poured a small, narrow glass full before handing it to Isaac.

“Brandy!” Isaac gasped after taking a very satisfying swallow that drained half of the glass.

“If it is not to your liking, I am sure we can find something else for you,” Aldera said as she reached toward his glass.

Isaac shifted to place his entire body between her and his prize. “Oh, it is to my liking,” Isaac muttered as he felt the alcohol entering his bloodstream and he forced his concentration to translating from English to Sansheren via Tansea’s Grec-based language lessons. “I have not tasted anything this good since Earth. My final graduation to be exact; Becky Johnson and I got drunk in the music room and discovered the difference between um, fathers and daughters. That’s not right; between husbands and wives. The next morning I left to travel to military training with the worst hangover I ever had, before or since. I am afraid you will have to kill me to get this glass back.” Isaac took another large drink, emptying the glass, and felt the liquor burn all the way down. He knew he should eat something, so he reached out to pick up a piece of meat.

Aldera reached forward and took the meat from his hand. “I would be most happy to see to all of your needs tonight,” she said, piling bits of meats and breads onto a small plate before placing it in his hand. “There is no need for you to serve yourself.”

“I had heard that humans were two separate species, and that reproduction was symbiotic. Would it be impolite for me to ask about the differences you mentioned?” Yolunu’s question caught him taking a large bite of sliced meat, and she waited for his response.

Aldera refilled his glass, and Isaac realized that he was getting drunker than he had been since leaving Earth. He took a second bite of food and hoped he wouldn’t alienate his hosts.

“Well, humans show their teeth as a sign of pleasure, so I apologize in advance if this happens during the evening,” he said with exaggerated care in his inflections. “The physical difference between husbands and wives is that one carries the seed for an infant and the other carries the infant. No, that is not quite right. Each contains half of the pattern for an infant, and after the two halves are joined, one, the mother, carries the infant inside of her until delivery. That is not right either.” Isaac made a sandwich of meats and breads while resisting the urge to drink more.

“How do the two halves combine, and which spouse decides who will bear the child?” Yolunu seemed interested in the puzzle.

“Only a wife can carry an infant and only a husband can cause an infant. Um, a mother cannot become a father,” Isaac said, and tried to wish the first glass of brandy away. The conversation was almost shedding light on his difficulty with pronouns.

“Strange, to be so limited. But how does one cause the other inception?” Yolunu asked, staring at him.

“The husband has a longish, um, limb that he places within a hole in the wife, and then he places the seed, or his half of the genetic code, into her. If everything works right, she grows a child.” He needed another drink, he decided, and drained his second full glass.

Aldera interrupted Yolunu’s gaze by reaching for the almost empty bottle of brandy, and filling the once-again empty glass.

“I see no extra limb on you, have you many children?” Yolunu asked.

“I do have an extra limb, it is just, ah, discreet.” Isaac could feel his face getting hot. Never too old to blush, he thought with amused disgust.

“Very discreet it would seem. Enough of reproduction, what do humans do for pleasure?” Yolunu asked, and pushed Aldera back out of her way.

Aldera moved to kneel behind him, and Isaac felt her begin to stroke his shoulders and back.

“We make infants. Or at least pretend to. Contact friction is at the center of our pleasure,” he said and gulped down the last of the brandy. For a moment, he couldn’t distinguish the heat of his embarrassment from the blush of the alcohol.

“I would see this discreet limb that concentrates your pleasure. If it would not seem too forward.” Yolunu moved toward him and touched his stomach, pressing; her hand began to move upward.

“I would have to take my clothes off, and it can be rather messy. I mean, when the seed comes out. It is not very appealing by itself, you know.” Isaac found himself lying back as Aldera unfastened his shirt and Yolunu’s firm hand hunted in circles around his chest. Tansea will definitely tease me tomorrow, he thought.

“Of course,” Yolunu said, sliding her hand down and off of his stomach. She nodded to Aldera, and they each unfastened crossed banners.

The silken pants favored by most Sansheren were untied, and joined his own shirt and pants beside their makeshift bed. Isaac stared up at the square, muscular bodies, and reminded himself that they were female, before stripping off the last of his clothing. “Unless,” a small voice whispered. “Regardless,” he decided, “they’re not human, it doesn’t matter.” Isaac allowed himself to surrender to the sexual feelings and drifted on the cloud of alcohol within his system.

#

“I would bear your children,” Morgan heard Neavillii say from above in a voice muted by exhaustion.

And took a long time finding an answer. “I love you,” was Morgan’s final response.

“Indeed,” Neavillii said without inflection. “You are correct, my Lady; perhaps it would be best if no one parented on this rock.” Neavillii untangled her small hand from Morgan’s hair.

Morgan twisted about to bring her face close to Neavillii’s. “I did not say no,” she said with a reproachful sigh.

“You did not say yes,” Neavillii answered after her own pause.

“I was thinking of the dangers. Especially here.” Morgan gestured toward the room’s window, but she thought Neavillii had already considered the war-devastated planet they were in the middle of resurveying.

“House Sheresuan’s nursery will be fine. I can wait until we return to Our Lady Neadesto,” Neavillii said.

“I can wait, can you?” Morgan asked with a smile, and slid her hand from Neavillii’s shoulder, down her back, and around onto her thigh as she leaned back onto her pillow.

“Oh, to have children you meant,” Neavillii said and laughed outright.

Morgan joined her new spouse in laughter as Neavillii’s hand disappeared beneath the blankets once more.

#

“Tell me, why was this missed during our initial assessment tour?” Morgan asked. She stood beside an all-terrain ground vehicle.

They were parked just inside a broken gate. Twenty foot tall steel walls stretched out to enclose the long, narrow valley. Cloth tents in clusters of fifty or more covered the valley with no pattern to be found. She glanced up at the guard tower that was situated just outside the gate. It was as empty as the camp, and Morgan scanned the tents again for any sign of movement or life.

“I assure you that this camp was not on any list I was provided with,” Neavillii said with unconcealed irritation. “One of Tadesde’s people, begging kinship, told me of it. No one has entered, and little movement has been seen within. It could be a trap, my most lovely wife.” Neavillii moved to stand beside Morgan while the other retainers milled about their own vehicles.

A few heard Neavillii’s comments and turned to stare in surprise.

“Your only wife, as yet,” Morgan said, and placed her hand on Neavillii’s shoulder to soften the warning. “I would give my newfound kin the honor of walking beside me. Come, let us begin.” Morgan moved forward, barely giving Neavillii time to summon security personnel.

“The smell of death is rampant, and yet I see no carrion eaters,” Neavillii said with a puzzled glance as they approached the first scattered clump of tents.

“Look closer, friend, between the tents, there, and over there as well,” Morgan said, and pointed to the small, dead and bloated bodies that lay amid the refuse piles.

“I trust we have done a complete radiation scan of the valley?” Neavillii asked of an aide.

“Oh yes…, my…, Lady,” the aide replied, stumbling through the honorific with several timid glances at Morgan who was greeting a new arrival to their team. “The background radiation is definitely elevated, and there are a few hot spots as we noted on the map, but overall there is no indication of anything strong enough to kill quickly,” the aide said, and a second aide moved forward to offer a hard copy of the aerial map of the camp.

“And what of the subtler toxins? Did Tadesde, I mean the mercenary Captain Timone, use anything exotic?” Morgan asked with another glance at the scavenger’s carcasses that clustered around garbage piles.

Those present laughed nervously at Morgan’s deliberate slip in placing blame.

“Not that anyone has named. It might be wise if we withdrew and allowed a security team to survey the area further,” Neavillii replied with a forced nonchalance. Her words echoed the growing discomfort felt among many of the twenty or so people who were following Morgan through the cluster of tents. When Morgan shrugged her response, Neavillii paused to speak with an aide before turning back to Morgan.

“My newfound kin tells me that there were over thirty thousand mercenaries here when she was stationed at this camp less than one year ago. Surely Tadesde did not kill them before abandoning the planet,” Morgan said with a nod to the very young Sansheren who had arrived earlier, and now walked beside her.

The youth’s fur was still almost entirely green, with an occasional stripe of the red to attest to maturity. “Oh most beautiful and caring Morganea, it is true that there were over thirty thousand mercenaries, compromising every species imaginable, but it is also regrettably true that I personally saw over twenty-five thousand buried in the year I was stationed here. As I have reported to your kind and generous wife, this was a destination for those who could not work. In the year I was here, she never sent supplies for the prisoners, only for her guards and that barely enough to survive on. Many children were born of the guards, but few survived of either generation,” the youth said with head bowed, and none present could doubt the rage and despair in her voice.

“I wonder if Tadesde ever considered the day her war would be over. No Arbitrator would condone such actions. What did she hope to profit?” Morgan threw the question out as she moved forward and opened the flap of the tent before them. The odor that wafted outward was enough to prevent her from a closer inspection.

“But she did profit!” The young woman said with her head still bowed. “Please excuse me for so rudely pointing out an obviously unimportant and rightly overlooked fact, but she did!”

Morgan placed her hand under the young woman’s chin and lifted. “I like to see the eyes of those I speak with, child. What is your name? Tell me how Tadesde profited.”

“I, um… Nealoie. She took the art. Bystocc has always been known for its art treasures. She stole them all.”
Morgan shot a puzzled look to Neavillii who shrugged and turned to speak to one of her own aides.

“I toured the vaults in every major city before the Arbitration. I assure you there is no way Tadesde could have looted them before her people left,” Morgan said, her hand forgotten on Nealoie’s shoulder as she continued to watch Neavillii.

“But, the first year I was apprenticed to Tadesde, I worked the shuttle docks on Shere. I saw the boxes come in stamped with her House emblem. They were transferred to a Faldebbian trader. When I was transferred to this forgettable planet, I heard the other Gulardee boast among themselves of the riches they had acquired. Could the artworks you saw be forgeries?”

Morgan nodded and put her arm across the troubled woman’s shoulders as they continued walking toward the next group of tents.

“I have contacted our base camp on the Eastern Continent. Zimsasha is looking into it. If they are forgeries it will be difficult to find a native artisan to prove it,” Neavillii said, and moved to open the tent flap before Morgan. “The carrion eaters were butchered.”

“By?” Morgan asked, but did not wait for a response. “Tell me child, how many years out of apprenticeship are you, and why did you choose to wear Tadesde’s banner if you suspect her of crimes?” Morgan moved on toward the next group of tents, trusting a member of her entourage to check the tents she passed.

“A knife,” Neavillii answered Morgan’s first question.

“I was to graduate from my apprenticeship the year after I was transferred here,” Nealoie said. “I have been here two years, and yet my sponsor insisted I am not qualified in many of the traditional skills. I was sent to this camp when I asked to write the one who fathered me.”

Morgan stopped walking and pulled the young woman into her embrace. “I would name you as my daughter and declare you complete of apprenticeship. Would you do me the honor of coming to my banner?” Morgan said, and looked up to smile at Neavillii’s startled expression.

Before Nealoie could respond to Morgan’s generosity, a soft moan was heard coming from a tent to the left of them. Neavillii moved to stand beside Morgan, hands outstretched, and prevented her from moving toward the tent as three of her security members drew weapons and approached the tent.

“This is not necessary,” Morgan muttered, with more amusement than annoyance.

“But it is, my most wonderful father. It is!” Nealoie gave Morgan one long, beseeching look and ran forward through the tent flap.

No one moved.

Morgan stormed toward the closest member of her security detachment. “You did not even attempt to stop her!” she yelled.

Neavillii shifted to stand directly in front of the tent flap, but nothing could be heard from within.

“I am determined to protect you, my Lady. I knew you would enter that tent. She did first what I was planning. Your House is honored by her courage and devotion.” The security officer was an old soldier wearing a single banner of the Eleventh rank of Gulardee and nothing where Tadesde’s House banner used to be; she stood firm and did not step from Morgan’s way.

“Honor to an unborn House is not a very kind epitaph,” Morgan said abruptly. “Assist her or move aside.”

Again no one moved, and in the uncomfortable silence that built, she considered the complement the officer had paid her. Standing in front of the tent, she thought of the interviews she had granted in the week since Tadesde began her pull out.

Nearly two hundred of Tadesde’s people had contacted her camp about defecting. If all requests were granted, her own retainers ranks would swell to over a thousand, families included. Even the Gulardee that stood before her was of Tadesde’s blood family, and yet the loyalty in her eyes could not be doubted.

Every Sansheren dreamed of becoming a Twelfth ranked Sansadee and establishing her own House. A power pyramid with her at the top and a planet or more in dominion. A long lived species, most never considered the possibility until well beyond their first century, so Morgan dismissed the dream. But now, as she stood in the silence of the death camp, with her people refusing her orders out of love and respect, Morgan saw the dream bloom.

Nealoie moved the tent flap aside with her shoulder and carried out an emaciated human. Morgan could not tell if was a man or a woman, and she winced in sympathy as a moan escaped the body.

“She needs water. There are two others inside, dead,” Nealoie said as she placed the human on the ground beside Morgan and then bowed her head.

“No apologies. I have been told I am not acting in the best interest of my family. Let me look at her.” Morgan placed her hand on Nealoie’s shoulder, and knelt in the filth to examine the survivor.

A teen, Morgan decided as she stared at the prone frame. The youth had browned skin and black hair, knife cut with long bangs that tangled over her face, and Morgan brushed the matted hair away to find the beginnings of a mustache darkening the teen’s upper lip. Morgan pulled her hand away in shock.

“I have sent for a stretcher. Will she live?” Neavillii moved to kneel beside Morgan.

“He is young and needs a doctor,” Morgan said after a long pause. “The leg is badly broken; I think it will need to be removed. He is also dehydrated and starving. Who was helping him?” Morgan asked to herself as she brushed the teen’s matted hair off of his face again.

He opened his eyes and moaned before his eyes focused on her face.

“Where are the others?” Morgan asked in a near whisper. “Tadesde has left, we are here to help. You must tell me where the others are.”

The youth stared at her with distrust in his face visible to any proficient at reading human expressions.

“Such fear and hatred,” Neavillii said, and Morgan recognized the expression. “Why do you think there are others?” Neavillii asked, and Morgan heard her curiosity.

“Humans cannot live long without water, and this camp has been deserted for months. There must be others. Why does he fear me so?” Morgan again tried to stroke the youth’s forehead, but he wrenched his head away in panic and then lay still, looking exhausted and frightened.

“If he is a child, perhaps he cannot yet speak or understand,” Neavillii said as she accepted a bottle of water from an aide.

“How stupid of me,” Morgan said without a laugh. “Can you understand me?” she asked in slow and careful English.

The youth stared at her, and Morgan thought that he understood that she was trying to communicate.

“Yo no hablo Engles.” His voice was hoarse as he worked to sit up to accept water from Neavillii.

“And I don’t speak Spanish,” she said in English. “He is from a different House than I, and his accent is thick,” Morgan explained in Sansheren.

“?Yo no soy norte Americana?” he took another drink of water, and Morgan noted with interest that he knew better than to drink a lot of water fast. He had been a long time between drinks of water before.

“My name is Morgan, they work for me,” she said, using a wide gesture that incorporated everyone within sight before ending at her chest. “I was Asian. American. You are from Mexico?” Morgan found that speaking slow came natural; it had been fifteen years since last she spoke a sentence in English outside of her dreams, and she found it difficult to remember the words she wanted to say.

“Yo soy Mexicano, si’. Me llamo Enrico. Tengo hambre, por favor,” the youth blurted out and then brought his fingers to his mouth in a gesture most humans would recognize.

“Yes, I have food.” Morgan turned to Neavillii and requested fruit for him to eat. “Where are your friends? Um, Enrico amigos?” and again Morgan used a sweeping gesture to encompass the entire camp.

“Tengo un amigo. Su nombre es Sam, es Norte Americano. No he visto a mi amigo desde hace cinco dias. Por favor encuentrenlo!” Enrico fell back as he finished his impassioned plea.

Using her full reserve of self-control, she patted Enrico’s hand before standing to give orders to her security people. “We are looking for one person,” Morgan said in Sansheren. “Get more people in here and have them begin searching. They need to shout “American”. Can you say that?” Morgan clenched her teeth together as the name Sam continued to echo through her.

“There is a live human in this tent!” shouted one of the security people before Morgan could hear if the officer could imitate the word.

Old dreams surfaced with memories long suppressed, and she wanted the fantasy to be over, but she was unwilling to make the effort to dispel it herself. She made no attempt to enter the tent and see the other human.

“And this one.” Another security officer stood in the doorway of a different tent, and Morgan knew she didn’t want to see, to have her false hope destroyed.

“Spread out. And remember, “American”!” Morgan leaned against Neavillii as her people began searching the thirty or so nearby tents. She felt strangely alert as more calls of discovery echoed around her. Ten, then twelve, then twenty humans were discovered alive in the immediate area. But it soon became obvious that there were no survivors beyond the first ring of tents. And the mystery remained, because none of those found was even remotely ambulatory.

“Do not move anyone; they might have a bone injury. Send for my personal doctor,” Morgan said, and had to struggle for the proper Sansheren inflections. “We are still missing one,” she said to Enrico as she sat holding his hand. The hours passed, and Morgan found herself feeling guilty for his physical state, as well as uneasy toward the other humans who were in the tents. She made no attempt to see the humans, but instead waited to hear that the one who kept them alive was himself alive. The sky darkened, and, with the light, hope of finding him dimmed, but Morgan insisted her people continue looking and ordered her aircar to light the ground for the searchers.

#

Neavillii watched as Morgan drifted to sleep with the rising of the sun. Neavillii called for a blanket to cover Morgan.

“We have found another human,” a voice echoed over Neavillii’s communication unit, and she nodded to Enrico as she stood.

“Have the aircar pick me up,” she said to an aide and made no move toward Morgan.

“Yes, my Lady,” the aide replied.

“I would join you, Lady,” the old soldier from before said.

“Your name?” Neavillii asked as they walked toward an open area of ground beyond the tents.

“Banessa,” was the reply.

“I will speak with my spouse on your behalf,” Neavillii said, and placed a hand on the other’s shoulder as the aircar landed.

“I sought no such generosity, my Lady,” Banessa said. “But I accept it with honor.”

“I made no promise,” Neavillii cautioned the Houseless soldier as they climbed into the back of the aircar.

“And I asked no commitment,” Banessa replied with a smile as the craft rose above the camp.

“Where is she?” Neavillii asked as she climbed from the aircar and spoke with those already on the ground. The aircar rose up, its spotlight rivaling the dim sun.

“Up the hill to your left, and then down behind the rocks,” the pilot of the aircar answered from above, and Neavillii wondered who’s communication unit was broadcasting. She watched with amusement as the older soldier discreetly thumbed her unit off. There was no static click to indicate a closed line.

“I see the rocks, we are on our way. Any sign of movement since you spotted her?” Neavillii asked and thumbed her unit off with a click. She and Banessa began climbing the steep hill with the other searchers.

“None,” the pilot said from above. “Banessa, you will want to move farther left.”

Neavillii did not respond, saving her breath for climbing.

“This is no hill,” muttered one of the climbers.

“I see her body.” Banessa was the first up the hill.

“Look at her legs!” Neavillii stood and stared at the body below them. What may once have been a strong human was skeletally thin with both legs missing just below the knee. The exposed stumps were bloated and black. Two small cans were tied to a rope that was clenched in one hand, and farther down the hill a small stream could be seen glinting in the aircar’s light.

“The amputations were not sealed,” Banessa whispered in agreement.

“Here, contact camp,” Neavillii said and handed her communication units to another searcher. “We will need a stretcher and a medic; we will risk moving her.” It was over fifty feet to the ledge that the human lay sprawled upon, and Neavillii felt herself age as she climbed down the nearly sheer rock wall.

“She cannot be alive,” the mutterer from before said.

________________________________

Thank you for reading.

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“Obligations”

Thank you for reading.

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Obligations, Chapt. 1-2

Posted: August 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

I’m going to post a few chapters a week, with a one day overlap, let me know what you think,

obligations cover

Obligations is published by Six Point Press
Copyright 2014 by Cheryce Clayton
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the Publisher, except for short quotes used for review or promotion.
Art by Michael Shaudis

Chapter One – Wergol – 1998 pg8 – available 8/8/15 – 8/15/15
Chapter Two – Bystocc – 2011 pg12 -available 8/8/15 – 8/15/15

Chapter Three – Bystocc – 2012 pg22 – available 8/14
Chapter Four – Earth – 1995 pg30 – available 8/14
Chapter Five – Bystocc – 2012 pg32 – available 8/14
Chapter Six – Sheresuan – 2004 pg47
Chapter Seven – Bystocc – 2012 pg50
Chapter Eight – Bystocc – 2012 pg56
Chapter Nine – Sheresuan – 2012 pg73
Chapter Ten – Earth – 1997 pg77
Chapter Eleven – Sheresuan – 2012 pg81
Chapter Twelve – Bystocc – 2012 pg89
Chapter Thirteen – Sheresuan – 2012 pg104
Chapter Fourteen – Bystocc – 2012 pg113
Chapter Fifteen – Wergol – 2012 pg127
Chapter Sixteen – Earth: Taiwan – 1995 pg134
Chapter Seventeen – Bystocc – 2012 pg143
Chapter Eighteen – Wergol – 2012 pg155
Chapter Nineteen – Bystocc – 2012 pg161
Chapter Twenty – Wergol – 2012 pg173
Chapter Twenty One – Earth 1998 pg185
Chapter Twenty-Two – Bystocc – 2012 pg202
Chapter Twenty-Three – Sheresuan – 2012 pg210
Chapter Twenty-Four – Earth – 1995 pg213
Chapter Twenty-Five – Sheresuan – 2012 pg216
Chapter Twenty-Six – Wergol – 2012 pg229
Chapter Twenty-Seven – Space – 2012 pg233
Chapter Twenty-Eight – Bystocc – 2012 pg242
Chapter Twenty-Nine – Earth – 1995 pg250
Chapter Thirty – Bystocc – 2012 pg252
Chapter Thirty One – Bystocc – 2013 pg256
Epilogue – Wergol – 2013 pg263
Thank you for reading. pg266

Obligations

Chapter One – Wergol – 1998
“Nobody panic, now,” Morgan heard Greg say from behind her. “I don’t know what Tim was going to say, but take a lesson from my people. Do whatever it takes to survive, and plan your freedom carefully.”

Morgan twisted around to look up at the black man who now loomed over her. Twenty-eight years old, and the closest thing to an adult their make-believe family ever had, Greg was talking. As much to keep himself from panicking as anyone else, Morgan thought, with a glance about the room.

It was an auditorium, larger than her school’s, but less than half-filled. They were on a raised circular stage fifteen feet wide.

Several of the gray robed aliens Greg had described from their capture were also on the stage, standing about the edges.

Many other species could be seen scattered throughout the room, including several humans.

“I hear you, man, pride slaughtered my ancestors,” Sam said from above Morgan.

As Sam helped her to stand, Morgan looked into his midnight eyes and remembered the television westerns she loved watching when he wasn’t around. The memory of feathers and war paint threatened to block out his face, and she blinked her eyes to clear her conscience.

“Human female. Step forward.”

Morgan held her breath, thinking they meant her.

One of the robed aliens moved a step closer to them and flicked a whip at the dazed and still sitting Denise. The teen screamed in pain as the pink flesh on her bare arm went white and blossomed into a vivid red welt.

“Damn you!” Tim shouted and lunged for the alien. He never got close; a whip hit him hard to the chest, and he staggered backwards, to be caught by Sam.

“You okay, man?” Greg whispered, his deep black face gone gray as he eyed the robed aliens.

“Yeah,” Tim said, with a brisk shrug to shed Sam’s hands, and moved to stand beside Morgan.

Morgan tipped her head back to look up at him, and ignored everything around her as she tried to memorize Tim’s face.

Brown skin; not black, not white, just dark, even with his tan beginning to fade. His eyes were a green no contact lens could fake, rimmed with thick, black lashes. His mustache had grown thicker, and a faint beard now outlined his thin chapped lips. Morgan refused to drop her gaze from his mouth as she blinked tears away. The room’s silence brought her attention back to Denise.

“Female friend. Sold.”

The whip again moved toward the crying Denise, but this time did not connect. Denise looked at Tim and then the others, in panic, before she stepped forward one very small step.

“What, what do you want?” Denise cried out in a high-pitched whine.

One member of the auditorium crowd moved up the stairs to the stage. Her buyer was human: a very tall man with Middle Eastern clothing. He smiled in answer to her question and threw a small pouch at the robed alien auctioneer.

“I don’t understand, Tim. Tim?” Denise turned her frightened gaze back to her friends.

“World’s oldest profession, baby,” Greg called to her when it became evident that Tim was not going to answer her.

The buyer put his arm around her shoulder and gently forced her to the steps.

Morgan closed her eyes as she grasped the older girl’s situation.

“I can’t, I won’t.” Denise resisted her buyer, and stared from Tim who refused to meet her gaze, to Greg who just shrugged without further comment.

Her half-formed protests were stilled when her purchaser paused. He stroked his hand along her cheek before he pulled her dirty, bleached blonde hair from one side of her face, and pinned it in place. Denise pulled the pin from her hair. It was shaped like a snowflake that was crafted of white metal and brilliant gemstones. The man smiled one last time before he placed his arm around her shoulders and directed Denise down the stairs.

“Woo-ee. Looks like she fell into a pampered pet position. Let’s hope we all do as well.” Greg didn’t smile when he spoke.
Morgan felt Tim move to hold her in response, his large hands over her small shoulders; thumbs circling the top of her neck, his hands encasing her chest with an external set of ribs, but this one made of fingers.

“Humans. Males, step forward.”

Once more the whip flicked out, this time catching Tim on the wrist, and Morgan’s ear burned as the whip retracted.

Tim clenched her shoulders tight but did not move.

“Humans, separate. Child pain.”

Tim stepped to the side of Morgan when their keeper pulled back to strike again.

“I love you,” Morgan whispered, staring at his back as he stepped forward to join Greg and Sam.

“Man, we are popular,” Greg said as the sound level in the room increased. Where one had bid for Denise, nearly every person in the room was bidding now.

“I love you too,” Tim said, but never turned to look at Morgan.

She thought he might be afraid of what would happen if his resolve broke. Afraid he would get them all killed.

“Mercenaries sold. The House Medori. Bow.”

“At least we know where we stand,” Greg said to the room, which had grown silent as four short, orange aliens moved towards the stage.

Only one climbed the stairs. It was of a fur bearing species, with visibly pointed teeth. “Yes, you do. Follow me,” their buyer said in accented English as it handed a large pouch to the auctioneer.

“Wait, buy Morgan,” Tim called out and moved towards his new owner. “Please.”

Morgan saw no hesitation in his step even when a whip caught him hard across the cheek.

“The infant? I think not.”

Tim lunged halfway down the stairs at this pronouncement. Repeated applications of the whips prevented him from reaching their new owner.

Morgan bit her lip as Tim fell the rest of the way down the steps.

“Carry him.” Their owner made eye contact with Greg before turning and walking away. “Next time he dies,” was said over a retreating shoulder.

“Come on.” Greg moved past the still-silent Sam and bent to pick up the unconscious Tim.

Neither looked to meet Morgan’s gaze.

“Human, child. Step forward.”

Morgan moved to the edge of the stage and watched Greg and Sam carry Tim from the room. She continued to stare at the door they exited without noticing the silence in the room.

“Ship rat. Sold.”

Morgan pried her eyes from the door and stared at the creature that moved towards her up the stairs. It was short, maybe half a foot taller than her own four feet. But there the similarity ended. Morgan gasped in horror as a rancid odor reached her; even the robed slavers kept their distance from the obese, filthy alien, allowing its pouch of money to fall to the floor untouched.

Chapter Two – Bystocc – 2011
“Was it really necessary?” Morgan asked from where she stood framed by broken glass. She stared down out of the window at the carnage and destruction just beginning to be repaired.

Two young Sansheren could be seen studying a pile of rubble across the street, and Morgan squinted to see the bright green danger flag they placed before walking to the next pile. It was the symbol for unexploded ordnance, she realized without surprise. Her eyes followed the road and the warning signs, so many that they reminded her of prayer flags waving in the breeze, and she closed her eyes to block the memory of Earth.

“Two months since the cease-fire, and not a single hospital in operation for the natives,” Neavillii said, forcing Morgan’s attention to her friend and aide. A mature Sansheren, Neavillii was short, orange, and every bit a bored predator.

“The sewers and water are still out in every major city, half of a continent has been reduced to glowing craters, and the Ouosin’s own people whisper of torture and brutality. I guarantee their beloved Twelve will not risk another House’s neutrality,” Neavillii finished in a soft voice that soothed Morgan’s own nervous fear as she stared out at the city once more.

Below on the street, new flags marked a buried body, unexploded ordinance, and radioactive debris. The rules of war had not been broken, they had been ignored, and Morgan wondered if memories of her human childhood were coloring her mood.

“And yet, I find myself unready for this confrontation,” Morgan said, and turned from the window to eye the large dining room where she had been left to await Tadesde, a Twelfth level Sansadee, leader of the conquering force. As a new Ninth level Sansadee, Morgan’s own party numbered ten: eight security, her aide, and herself. The Sansheren in the room were orange with hints of green, a muscular people who trusted to their own fur for warmth. Morgan wore a long black scarf draped across her shoulders and wished for thicker material. Her security stood in a cluster between her and the platforms where the meal would be served. The Arbitration papers lay ignored beside an empty seat in the center of the largest platform.

“My adopted father, Neadesto, should have sent her beautiful daughter Iedonea. At least with the rank of an Eleventh she could have pretended peerage with Tadesde. As Neadesto’s adopted –“

“You are Tadesde’s equal,” Neavillii insisted. “It matters not your species.”

Morgan tilted her head toward her aide, Neavillii, in question. “I know the stories of Tadesde’s inception, but dare I call her an Ouosin and discover the rumors false?”

Neavillii moved nearer, and reached up with her claws sheathed to begin massaging Morgan’s tense shoulders. “Her own people claim peerage to her, and few are even your rank. I am honored to attend this meal, and I will hold my head high,” Neavillii said, and Morgan twisted around to smile.

More than thirty retainers swept into the room; at their lead was a bannerless Sansheren who was so young that Morgan was startled by the green fur that still dominated the other’s adult orange. “Tadesde?” Morgan whispered, and knew she must be wrong. Tadesde’s archetype was marked by a reddish coloring and narrow features, and the other did not match any of the descriptions of the young leader Morgan was waiting for.

“Have you any questions for our Lady?” asked a voice from the crowd as Morgan motioned her people to approach the platforms.

“I find the extent of the damage appalling,” Morgan said while studying the cluster of Sansheren in front of her. “Can there be a reason for such brutality?” None present bore the banner of Sansadee, and she knew insult was intended as those facing her sat without waiting for her bow. Herself a Ninth-ranked Sansadee, Morgan was an independent leader and by her own choice Neadesto’s servant. The fact that none facing her across the platform could claim even her own rank was apparent in the banners they wore.

“There was resistance, even after the cease-fire was negotiated. The alien mercenaries refused to surrender for ransom, your Ladyship. Their species has no sense of honor or peerage,” a new voice said, but Morgan could see no one bow.

“Perhaps you set the ransom too high,” Morgan replied, not quite ignoring the second insult, being as human as the slandered mercenaries.

“But if our House is to gain any profit from this experience we must demand full restoration and reconstruction of the prize,” another Sansheren said, and this time Morgan spotted the speaker. The woman was not the youngest present, and yet she was still far too young to wear the banners that proclaimed her rank of Twelfth in the order of Gulardee, a soldier. She was the same soldier who escorted Morgan on her recent tour as Arbitrator for the devastated planet, and Morgan paused to collect her thoughts as she noted the scar on the woman’s shoulder and stain on her House banner that proved that she had jumped from Tenth ranked to Twelfth overnight and wasn’t a sister or cousin.

“Traditionally, a mercenary’s ransom does not exceed twenty percent of the time involved in the original conflict. Your own demands are in excess of one hundred and thirty percent,” Morgan said with a smile. She knew she was toying with the powerful young soldier. “Why?” she asked, and retainers on both sides of the room tensed as the military leader stood and flexed her fingers, unsheathing her claws.

“As my wonderful friend said,” the first voice interjected, “there was resistance after the cease-fire. We should be reimbursed at one hundred percent for this time. We also feel that we should be granted a bonus of half of the traditional time to discourage such dishonorable actions in the future.” The woman who stood to calm the Gulardee was old and nearing retirement.

Morgan blinked when she noticed that the other’s chest banners betrayed her as a Tamsatel, and little more than the head of Tadesde’s House’s domestic pyramid. “No, the traditional ransom was set to discourage such destruction of the prize as we see here,” Morgan replied. “Your House acted against the better interests of this planet in pursuing the battle after the original cease-fire was negotiated. The new nuclear bombardment of the Western Continent only proves my-”

“But, most honorable Arbitrator, we have already informed you that the mercenary Captain, Timone, was responsible for all of the nuclear weapons that ravaged the Western Continent,” the Gulardee leader challenged.
Morgan was distracted for a moment by the Sansheren’s pronunciation of the mercenary leader’s name, Tim-o-nee, and how her name always became Mor-gan-aye. She remembered Neavillii once telling her that a one-or two–syllable name was as unnatural as a one- or two-sided triangle.

“You cannot plan to penalize our wonderful and benevolent leader Tadesde, she who holds the Twelfth rank in the order of the Sansadee? It is Timone you should punish!” the Tamsatel shouted her disbelief as the others in the party sat glaring at Morgan.

“Am I to be forced into accepting your honor as to what occurred?” Morgan asked, and allowed her growing disgust at Tadesde’s treatment of the planet to surface in her voice. “How convenient Timone did not survive. Ransom will stand at twenty percent of the time involved. Mercenaries will be provided the option to purchase their debt, and medical care will be provided for any who need it, native or mercenary. As punishment for the use of nuclear weapons, I insist that any mercenary or native found to be dying by radiation contamination or exotic poison can expect full family benefits for the length of their lives, plus family status for up to ten whom they choose to record,” Morgan finished, and felt guilty at the amount of pleasure she received from handing down such a harsh judgment. Watching the two standing, Morgan saw the young Gulardee’s look of protest shift to one of fear and hatred. Glancing around the room, she noted that none of Tadesde’s retainers would accept eye contact. Among her own people, Neavillii was smiling at her, and Morgan almost laughed when she realized the very human smile that played on her own face.

“Will you sign the judgment papers for your mistress?” Morgan used an intimate inflection on the traditional compliment to return the insults offered earlier with a twist. The young soldier was too far beneath her, regardless of rank, but Tadesde was not and Morgan enjoyed the look of irritation that crossed the other woman’s face at the childish slur.

“It is said that the House of Sheresuan is the most neutral and honorable, this is why we asked your own love, Neadesto of the Twelfth and highest rank of Sansadee, to send us one of her daughters to arbitrate the ransom. Dare we risk another House deciding worse? I will send for my most loved Sansadee of the House Dejymo, Tadesde. She will have the honor of signing the papers herself. I look forward to dining with you when she arrives,” the young Gulardee said, and without a bow, turned and stalked out of the room.

Morgan waited a minute and watched as Tadesde’s retainers shifted in their seats before moving to reclaim her own.
“Tadesde,” Neavillii said.

Her whisper caught Morgan half-way beginning to sit. The rapidness with which the other leader appeared surprised Morgan as she shifted to bow.

“Do not bow to me, child,” Tadesde said with a smile. “We are equals, you and I.”

Morgan had a difficult time covering her surprise at the undeserved compliment. “You jest at my expense,” Morgan said in a soft whisper meant for the other woman and finished her bow. “You have obtained the Twelfth rank of Sansadee, and I am new to the Ninth; surely the only equality between us would be found in a bedroom?”

“A proposal, Arbitrator?” Tadesde asked with a smile and took her place opposite Morgan on the large platform, moving the Arbitration papers aside without reading them.

“Only truth,” Morgan replied and sat.

“A compliment, then,” Tadesde said, her smile fading. “I had heard that you boiled your meat and served it in broth as a toothless old woman would prefer. I did not believe this rumor, but, as my dear wife Meshari of the Twelfth rank of Gulardee reminded me, you are alien,” Tadesde said, and shared a smile with the young soldier who had represented her. “I ordered my chef to fix such a dish especially for you. You do put vegetables in this dish, do you not?” Tadesde – leader of the conquering forces, Twelfth rank Sansadee, and ruler of two planets – asked as she offered a feral grin to Morgan. The Arbitration papers sat ignored as native servants placed deep plates of liquid before each diner.

“I eat your food as an invited guest,” Morgan said. “Why do you bare your teeth?”

Neavillii placed her hand on Morgan’s leg, sharp claws penetrating silk pants by way of warning, and Morgan remembered Neadesto’s advice before leaving on the mission: “Do not allow her to anger you. You can only lose from such emotion. She will try to establish a case for bias.”

Morgan sampled the soup before her. “This is the best hot and sour broth I have tasted since leaving my first planet.” Morgan smiled without showing her teeth as the soup’s spices burned their way down her throat. “I must ask your chef for the recipe.”

Neavillii leaned away and picked up her own spoon. The small ladle was awkward in her grasp.

“No,” Morgan whispered. “It’s too hot”. She could see the other leader smiling, watching their exchange, and not sampling her own broth.

“I prefer more traditional fare, myself,” Neavillii said as she looked at the spoon and set it back down with a sneer.

“And I as well,” Tadesde said as the tall, native servants stooped to place platters of meat and breads before each diner. The planet’s natives stood more than seven feet tall, and the dining platforms were less than two feet high, forcing the natives to bend both sets of knees and their back as they worked.

Morgan watched as Tadesde picked up a large bone-in piece of meat and began to laugh while eating. The meat’s cooking juices ran down her bare chin, soiling her banners of House and order, and matting the thick orange fur that covered her midriff.

Morgan eyed the conquered natives with a bitter sympathy as she ate the soup. Their feathers were frayed and faded, their metal garments pitted with rust and worse. Morgan dropped her gaze to her plate to keep from making eye contact with one.

She didn’t want to bring anyone to Tadesde’s personal attention, and while enslaving the natives was allowed, the custom had lapsed into disrepute long ago. And the reports of brutality were still sharp in Morgan’s mind.

The meal passed in silent agony, and by its end Morgan was glad she had eaten the soup. The meats were tough and chewy, the rancid smelling breads were gummy, and Tadesde’s manners were not the worst at the dinner. The only pleasant part of the meal was seeing Tadesde’s irritation when Morgan accepted Neavillii’s bowl of soup to eat.

“I would appreciate the recipe for the delicious broth you honored me with,” Morgan said, and hoped her smile didn’t show.

Tadesde leaned back from her food as the servants began to remove the dishes, and met Morgan’s eye with a fierce scowl that betrayed a growing rage. “Yes, I would take this moment to speak with the cook myself,” Tadesde said and nodded to one of her aides. Then, grinning, she used a claw-tip to pick pieces of dinner from between her sharpened teeth. Probing at a spot of decay that was visible to all, Tadesde grinned toward Morgan once more.

“The broth was delicious,” Morgan said when the aide returned trailed by the reluctant cook. “It was just as my grandmother used to make. Tell me, was there red root or just spice berries?” Morgan asked of the ancient woman who stood at the end of the platform wearing a soiled apron over her new banner of House and faded banner of order.

“Oh! Both, definitely both,” the old Sansheren muttered. “I was uncomfortable that you would not enjoy it. I am glad that my most benevolent Lady was right about people of your unusual species receiving pleasure from consuming painful foods. Should I have my aide bring you the recipe?”

“Yes, do have your aide bring out the recipe,” Tadesde said in a voice as soft as the cook’s. “Tell me, is this the same aide who requisitioned the ingredients for this feast?”

“Oh, yes, your Ladyship, yes,” the cook stuttered, bowing and backing up.

“Then I would definitely speak with her,” Tadesde said, the grin now etched upon her face as she paced to the window and back without sitting.

Morgan and Neavillii exchanged a look as they watched Tadesde’s people and the natives avoided eye contact.

“You sent for me, most kind and beautiful Lady?” The cook’s aide was young enough to be mistaken for an apprentice, her fur showing more than a few traces of green throughout her orange and red stripes of maturity.

“What foul plot have you hatched against me?” Tadesde interrupted, and moved to stand beside the platform. “Did you deliberately set to cause me shame? Surely there was acceptable fare upon this worthless planet? Am I to be convinced that nothing of quality could be found? What of the animals we saw grazing in the fields as we approached this forgettable city?” Tadesde demanded, her voice harsh as she swept her gaze across the room to meet Morgan’s eyes.

“But my most wonderful and intelligent Lady, surely your own personal aides have informed you of the radioactive granules that the vile Mercenaries spread upon this city not one year ago?” The younger cook’s voice was calm, but her large eyes were wide with fear. “I dared not expose your most sensuous body to the minutest risk of radiation, so I was forced to resort to foods packaged before the onset of hostilities.”

“Could this be the truth?” Tadesde demanded of those seated on her side of a large platform. “Were the Mercenaries so utterly without honor to use such a vile and unforgiving poison? And why are we meeting here then, if this city is so very dangerous? I have no desire to be so vulnerable before such a ruthless and unemotional a tyrant as radium.” Tadesde’s flamboyance was not missed by those present as she jumped back onto the platform.

“Did your aides not tell you?” Morgan asked from where she still sat. “We meet here because the radioactive granules present the least of the poisonings this planet has endured. The Western Continent is destroyed, and the prevailing winds have forced the depopulation of entire latitudes. The desert regions of the Southeastern Continent were subject to a scorched retreat policy, I am told by the Mercenaries before they could secure a route to safety,” she said. Her own voice mirrored the sarcastic tone Tadesde had affected. “I do not understand how Mercenaries with such a reckless and dishonorable Captain could succeed in holding your family forces at bay for seven years. Luck must have followed their every escape.” Morgan made no move to sit but offered her comments as if it were a joke between friends.

“Luck?” Tadesde shouted. “I have long suspected other Houses of supplying this vile planet. My intelligence informed me of the financial weakness of this miserable rock when I decided to make it mine. There is no way that the pathetic creatures born here could have afforded to pay for their defense beyond the first year!” She punctuated her sentence by picking up the writing pen from atop the Arbitration papers, and throwing it at a native servant across the room. The pen skidded to a stop as Tadesde slammed her fist against the top of the platform, and spun to face Morgan once more.

“I know a House must have plotted against me, using this puny planet as cover. They did not succeed! I am triumphant! My enemies will feel true terror when they realize that I will build my armies anew to challenge them in their beds. I pledge my honor: those who plot to destroy me will feed my children!” The room was silent as Tadesde, teeth bared, finished speaking with a pant.
Morgan thought of the intelligence information concerning several of the older Houses and hired mercenaries she alone had been given before leaving on her mission. “Indeed, then, I am glad my chosen father, Neadesto of the ancient House Sheresuan, took a vow of neutrality so long ago.” Morgan turned her face away from Tadesde and met Neavillii’s gaze before asking her aide: “Do you have any evidence that would implicate an individual House or species?”

“I do not need evidence!” Tadesde said in a near-shout before appearing to calm herself. “The circumstances bear me witness. A battle that should have taken months has only been ended after years of pain. The planet is no longer habitable by any civilized person, and now you, my lovely alien Arbitrator, have ruled that I shall see no profit from this venture. I begin to suspect that even you are against me, for why else would you rule so harshly when it was the mercenaries who caused this destruction?” Tadesde asked as she forced her lips to cover her teeth.

Morgan tensed until Tadesde looked away to drink from a glass. The retainers from each party shifted about, and Morgan felt Neavillii’s hand once more upon her leg.

“I will not bankrupt my House trying to make this world profitable, and I will not sign your ruling,” Tadesde said, and her anger faded. “I would instead honor you with a gift. I would hope you do not take offense at the presumptuousness of my present. Some, less honorable than we, will consider it a gift to the order of Ouosin. You shall be recorded as the only Sansadee of the Ninth rank to obtain your own planet,” Tadesde said with a soft laugh, before swallowing the last of her wine. “I give to you, the Arbitrator Morganea, the ruins of the planet Bystocc and all who dwell upon it. And I will include all of the captured mercenaries and natives; for you will need all the help you can find in restoring this cinder. I do not know what possessed me to think it was a prize worth taking,” and with that said, Tadesde threw her empty glass at an unsuspecting servant, and swept toward the exit.

Tadesde’s entourage were slow to follow, leaving a stunned Morgan with her own people. Sansheren history gave few examples of refused arbitrations, ancient history from the First Houses’ Wars. And when arbitration was refused, history spoke most often of the renewal of war and rarely of defaulting to the arbitrator. Morgan knew that she was now expected to honor all of the terms in her own harsh arbitration; she just didn’t know how she would do it.

—————

Thank you for reading.

The full book can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OFEE5SA?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

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