Emerald Legion, Chapter nine.
“Diplomacy, by Night.” – the beautiful coming together of two cultures
(Warning: Semi-Adult content. Huh, huh, I said 'semi.')
“Hey Rokk, you decent?” Garth called out before barging in anyway.
”No, I’m sprocking amazing,” Rokk said, looking up from his hammock, where he’d been reading a pad on linguistic commonalities and the development of Interlac.
Garth waved his own pad enthusiastically, “Guess what I found…”
Rokk gestured impatiently and the pad tore itself out of Garth’s grasp and flew to his own hand.
“Hey!” Garth protested half-heartedly as he crossed over to lean over Rokk as he viewed the pad.
“It’s a nice likeness,” Rokk began, somewhat bewildered as to why Garth would have a spectrum-enhanced depiction of his backside.
“Wait for it…” Garth cautioned as he selected for the image to advance in half-speed, and Rokk watched as the Talokkian Ambassador glided by on his left, hands primly folded in front of him, while a second figure moved past quickly on his right, and a hand snaked out and gave his butt a firm squeeze.
“Image freeze, and pan out.” Garth said, and the image pulled back to reveal the Kathooni delegate leaving the chamber with Queen Sarya. The hand in question was attached to one of the Kathooni retinue, a heavily-armored amazon of a woman who had copped a feel without breaking stride. “Freeze there.” Garth added unnecessarily to he datapad. “And there we have it. The pressing mystery of Ass-Grabber Lass, resolved.”
“I’m just glad it wasn’t Ravin. Guy’s a galaxy-class perv…” Rokk conceded, before looking up to the proudly grinning Garth, “While I’m grateful, was this really what you’ve spent the morning looking up?”
“Actually, I was reviewing the security footage of the break-in. It was Mekt who sealed the doors. They meant to suffocate everyone and leave no living witnesses. That Titanian woman was just there to keep them from calling for outside help and keep them pacified while they died…” Garth’s voice was shaking. “I can’t believe he’d do something like that. I’m so sprocking stupid…”
With a heavy sigh, Rokk rolled out of his hammock and stood in front of his friend. “I’m sick of having to yell at you, Garth, so sprocking listen up this time!”
Garth started to lean back, but thumped into the wall behind him and had nowhere to retreat, “Wait, what?”
“I am sick to death of hearing you go on about this stupid farm-boy thing.”
“Actually, I am…”
“You *were* a farm-boy.” Rokk interrupted, punctuating his words by poking his friend in the chest. “Not any more. And you were never stupid. I’ve read up on Winath, and on you, and your flight trainer gave you the highest marks anyone got on the entire *planet* when you were fourteen. He said that you were a natural, that you could take apart a skyburner and put it back together with your eyes closed, and he said that he *hated* that you went back to the farm and didn’t stick with piloting as a career choice.”
“It’s just natural talent, ‘though, like your magno-ball, it’s not like *science* or anything…”
“First of all, you have no idea what it takes to play magno-ball, so don’t even compare the two, and second of all, there is a hell of a lot more to piloting than instinct or natural talent. You have to deal with hundreds of variables, all with enough speed and wit to avoid any of a dozen possible disastrous decisions. Flying doesn’t take balls, Ranzz, it takes *brains.*”
“I kinda used both, actually…”
“Regardless, if balls were all you used, you would have died on your first solo flight, and certainly not gotten highest marks.”
“It’s just, all my life, I wasn’t smart enough. I always thought, if I’d been a little smarter, I would have been able to figure out why Mekt hated us. I would have known what was up with Alayn, *Ayla,* know the right things to say to make it easier...”
“You can’t live other people’s lives for them, Garth. They’ll make their own choices, choices you never would have imagined for them, but it’s not your fault, and you’re not responsible for Ayla’s choice, and you sure as hell aren’t responsible for Mekt…” Rokk’s face softened as he came to a sudden realization. “It was Mekt.” Garth didn’t react, and Rokk stepped back, “Mekt’s been telling you that you were stupid all your life, hasn’t he?”
“He always knew stuff, and he’d just give me that look when I didn’t know something, like I was one of the meat-animals or something…”
“He was *older* Garth. *Of course,* he knew stuff that you hadn’t learned yet.” Rokk shook his head, “And this is the problem with Winath.” Garth looked puzzled at the shift in topic. “You guys are all set with the twin thing, but you have no idea how to deal with an older brother.” He shook his head, "Mekt was *jealous,* Garth. *You* had the twin. *You* were the 'normal one.' *You* were the one that got accepted into piloting school."
“It’s not just Mekt. It’s everyone. Imra took all sorts of molecular science and neural psychology classes. She talks about that stuff and I’m just lost.” He points at the pad depicting the Talokkian soiree, “And here. You’re all like, ‘sulphur dioxide’ and, ‘he’s Venusian, they breath methane and oxygen kills them’ and I’m like, ‘hey, dude has a bowl over his head!’”
I don’t even know where to start." Rokk
exclaimed, shaking his head. "Braal is a mining world.
“Yeah, I know *some* stuff. You know *other* stuff.” Rokk punctuated his statement by tapping Garth in the forehead with his own pad. “Like that the Talokkian Embassy had spectrum-enhanced surveillance of the event. *I* didn’t think of that…”
“I don’t know. I just don’t feel like I can keep up. Especially with Imra being so… so…”
Rokk steepled his hands in front of his face, drawing up his nerve. “Garth, if you ever mention this, I’m going to deny it.” Garth looked alarmed, but Rokk steam-rollered on before he lost his nerve. “It *kills* me to say this, but I had a month to impress Imra before we hit Winath to re-supply. So there I am, a good-looking, witty, charming *sports-star,* well-versed in interacting with sentients of all sorts. Since I was fourteen, I’ve had anyone I wanted and she chooses *you.* She’s Titanian, Garth. She didn’t choose you for your arms or that floppy mess you call hair. She chose you because *you’re smarter than I am.* She knows it. I know it, and the only ‘stupid’ thing I’ve seen about you is that *you* haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Don’t. I’m never saying this again. Just don’t.” Rokk turned and flew out the door, leaving Garth standing in Rokk’s room, head spinning with notions that refused to take purchase.
Garth sat down heavily on Rokk’s hammock. “Wow.” The hammock promptly overbalanced and he flew backwards onto the floor with a heavy crash. “Oof!” Looking up from the floor at his legs, still hanging off of the hammock, he lay there, sides shaking as he laughed silently, still spun by his friends words, “Yeah, I’m a real genius…”
Rokk was sitting atop the Embassy, checking the pad and getting alternate angles. Each of the Kathooni security agents wore their armor in a slightly different style, and his target wore silvery torso-plate that resembled a one-piece swimsuit, covering her from crotch to neck, while leaving her arms, legs and head bare. She had a similar plate of steel on her left thigh, and another on her right calf. Her arms were similarly mismatched, with a bulky pauldron on her left shoulder and an ornate bracer, almost big enough to call a shield, on her right forearm. Underneath, a skintight black bodysuit covered the rest of her skin, although her milky-skinned fingers and toes were exposed, and her strong-jawed face. Her hair was a tower of black, held in place by far too many shiny silver pins.
Checking the other members of the delegation, he confirmed that each had a different style of body armor, and he was positive that he could recognize this one, even in the dark, based on the positioning of the metal covering her body.
He then looked up Kathooni courtship rituals. No reason, just bored, he managed to convince the tiny protesting voice that said, ‘what the sprock are you doing?’
The Kathooni mission was located in bowels of an administrative building in Quadplex 6, as the Kathooni had no Embassy of their own. Rokk stood in front of the entrance, wondering what the hell he was doing here. He was just looking at the pictures. And then he was just figuring out if he could recognize her. And then he was looking up how to say ‘take off your clothes’ in Kathooni. It was all perfectly harmless, and it was a train-wreck that would only stop if he turned around right now.
The door opened in front of him, and the chamber before him was pitch-black. So much for leaving before they notice, he thought wryly as an irresistibly strong arm reached out of the darkness and pulled him into the darkened room.
In the dark, he could feel a half-dozen metal-armored figures moving towards him and a deep voice sounded next to his ear, making him jump, “Jath, it is the purple-eyed one. His garb speaks of his mating status.”
‘Mating status?’ He finally managed to resolve the metal signatures, just in time to recognize that the woman in question was now directly in front of him. “Your eyes burn with lust,” came the husky voice and suddenly he felt the mail-mesh of his shirt bunch up as the woman grabbed his shirt and yanked him forward.
“Uh, hi, I was just passing by,” Rokk began lamely as he stumbled to regain his balance, wondering where he had lost control of this encounter, and then remembering that he’d never actually *had* control to lose.
“I will take you now,” the voice said matter-of-factly, and suddenly everything was spinning. By the time he got his bearing, Rokk realized that he had been hauled over the woman’s shoulder and she was carting him off like… well, like they carted off Mekt, come to think of it. And, oh yeah, her hand was on his ass again.
“Actually, I was thinking we could have something to eat, get to know each other…” Rokk protested in a voice that sounded far too high-pitched for his comfort and then the world tilted again, and if not for her hand on his chest, he would have fallen over when she set him back on his feet, apparently in another room entirely.
“Oh hey, we haven’t even been introduced, I’m…” Rokk began, only to be stopped by the presence of strong fingers clamped over his mouth.
“No names. You have not yet earned my name.” the voice commanded, and with a sure confidence pried open the fastenings on the front of his Champion’s Garb. “Your armor will not serve you in this battle.”
“I…” Rokk managed to get out before she had peeled him like a banyo fruit, and he noticed that the room was just a bit chilly all of a sudden. The hand began relentlessly pushing him backwards and Rokk had just about had enough of this. Using his magnetic powers, he anchored himself to the floor and stood his ground, and heard her grunt lightly as she pushed harder against his chest. “Neither will yours,” he snapped, and with a series of pinging noises unfastened all of the snaps on the Kathooni woman’s armor as well. He felt a slight breeze and heard a loud clang as the woman pulled her now unfastened breastplate free and flung it across the room. Suddenly, despite his best attempts, he was flying through the air as she re-doubled her push, and his unscheduled flight ended in a massive pile of pillows piled in a corner. ‘Satin, I think,’ he managed to ascertain before the woman was on him like a tidal wave, pulling him under. The last sounds that he could identify as words sounded like, “Impertinent male! Learn your place!”
The waterfall was roaring past him, no, *through* him, and his body was shuddering with its’ passage. It seemed like it had been going on forever, and only now was he being born to consciousness from a place of warm soft darkness. He finally realized that it wasn’t a waterfall at all, it was his heartbeat, pounding so fast that it was like a piston engine, one continuous low thrum, the individual beats no longer recognizable as distinct events.
Slowly he felt the world spin into being around him, and Great Smithy, his body felt like it had been subjected to some sort of medieval torture! He was sprawled across the scattered pillows, and dimly became aware of voices in the darkness.
“It yet lives. I owe you two crystal moons and a blade of steel.”
“I would not have killed the male. Venegar would demand recompense.”
“I but jest, the wager was of how long the male remained conscious. His fortitude is unnatural for one of the lesser races. I desire him now.”
Rokk felt as well as heard a blade of steel slide from a leather sheath and a voice he recognized, as if from strange dream, said, “I announce claim.”
He felt metal-clad bodies shifting position and belatedly realized that he was lying naked in front of a bunch of people who could see in the dark. For some reason this seemed far more important than any impending knife-fight, but his feeble attempts to pull a pillow over himself were foiled by his arms, which trembled as if he had been pounded into jelly, shaken vigorously and then poured back into his skin.
“Stand down. I would not draw steel over an out-worlder, no matter his exotic skills.”
‘Exotic skills?’ Rokk thought? ‘Lady, I spent the last hour and a half *fighting for my life!* That wasn’t ‘skill,’ that was desperation…’ Clearly these Kathooni didn’t appreciate how strong they were.
“I leave you,” a voice announced matter-of-factly and the others left the room, and Rokk was again alone with his tormentor.
He had just managed to lean forward, ever so slightly, to discover that yet indeed, *everything* hurt, and not for the first time he cursed the fact that a man with no nervous system could still know pain.
“Drink this, you must replenish your fluids,” the voice ordered, and a cup the size of a serving bowl was thrust into his chest. He managed to grab it before too much of the hot fluid spilled onto his chest, and the smell was somewhat like Earth coffee, the beverage of choice to the Braalian working class. He sipped the rich liquid, and felt a pleasant burn travel down his throat and into his stomach, which, predictably, immediately cramped up at the intrusion. Still, a pleasant lassitude followed, and the pain faded away. “What is this stuff?” Rokk managed to say, shocked to realize that he had drained the entire bowl.
“You would call it an ‘energy drink.’ It is used after battle to soothe the nerves, and runners use it to carry messages from clan to clan, so that they may travel over many days without rest.”
‘Yikes,’ thought Rokk, not liking the sound of ‘many days without rest’ as related to his current position. “Actually, it’s making me a little sleepy.”
“I am not versed in your physiology. Perhaps it is poison to your kind.”
‘Well, *that’s* reassuring.’
“Would you like more?”
‘Why the hell not.’ “Please.”
As he sipped at the second cup, he could feel that the woman was crouching in front of him, no doubt seeing him clear as day even in the darkness, while he was only dimly aware of her location because of the heavy metallic residues in the cosmetics decorating her nails, skin and hair.
“I’m not clear on your customs. Should I tell you my name now?”
“Names are sacred things. If you give me your name, I will gain power over you.”
'Yeah, like I'm so on top of the situation, now...' Rokk thought sarcastically, “You could just look it up…”
“I already know what your people call you, Rokk Krinn, Champion of Venegar. But you have not *given me* your name. Do not do this, if you do not mean it.” The woman shifted before him, and he could feel the brush of her hair, which had come unfastened and was now hanging ankle-length about her like a cloak. “Would you know me?” she asked, and her voice for the first time was soft, uncertain. “Yes.” Rokk said, without hesitation, reaching out to take her hand firmly.
“My Clan is Jath,” she said with some firmness, and then leaned forward to almost whisper, “My name is Lydda, and I give it to you.”
He wasn’t sure if it was the drink, but Rokk felt his world shift around him, and understood. He leaned forward and said softly, for her ears alone, “My Clan is Krinn. My name is Rokk.”
She breathed into his ear again and somehow made his name sound like sex, “Rokk.” She leaned back slightly, “But this is not the name by which I shall know you. I shall make for you a name that none but we shall speak, when we are like this,” her hand dropped possessively to rest below his stomach, and Rokk winced with the reminder that his next date was with a regen-pack.
Her face hovered before his, and he could just make out the reflection of her silvery eye-makeup in the purple light of his eyes. “You are Thall.”
Trying desperately to remember any words in Karthooni, “Plaything?”
“Ha! No, that is Thole, and yes, you are that as well. Thall is the name of the comet that passes our world every seventh year. It ignites great storms of light that flicker like fires in the upper sky, and the ground below is bathed in purple light. Predatory beasts stalk the harsh light, taking advantage of our discomfort, and the males cower in fear. We take them into dark places and hide from the violet fire in the sky. We comfort them through this time.”
“My eyes. You said they burn with lust…”
“Yes. Your eyes call to our brightest fears. But I am a warrior. I have stared into my fear, and found there a mate.”
Her hand began to move again slowly on his stomach, as if tracing patterns only she could see. Rokk was surprised to feel his body responding to her touch. He reached out for her hand, “Lydda,” he said, saying her name very softly, “I can’t do this again. Not yet.”
“Release your fears, little male. I will not break you. Our time of battle is done. Now it is the time of peace,” she relaxed next to him and softly stroked his face.
“Uh, I’m not sure about Kathooni males, but the rest of us don’t like the phrase, ‘little male.’” Rokk noted. ‘Especially when we are naked,’ he added silently.
“It is a term of affection only, Thall. For the challenge at hand, your anatomy is…” she cast a measuring glance. “sufficient.”
‘Ouch.’ Thought Rokk. ‘Oh yeah, that’s *much* better. Note to self; Kathooni pillow-talk to be avoided at all costs…’
Rokk limped into the Embassy quietly, attempting to stick to little-used corridors, but resigned himself to his fate as he turned around a corner to find himself face to face with Imra and the Queen.
The Queen looked up with a distracted expression and not a trace of emotion passed her face as she looked him up and down. “I trust the other person looks worse for wear?”
~Garth! Bring the regen-pack! Rokk, what happened…~, Imra said, eyes wide with concern.
Drawing a breath, Rokk decided to get it over with fast, “Yeah, it’s a funny story. I got married.”
He heard a crash as Garth came around the corner and dropped the regen-pack in the middle of the hall. “WHAT!”
Rokk just closed his eyes and hung his head as the Queen of Venegar began laughing.