Let’s cover some housekeeping, as they say on the podcasts;
My output lately has been more pathetic than usual. Thanks to a reader in the Low Countries for pointing out my lack of work lately. Now that the commercial version of Sparrow & Tulip is finished, I’ve got a little more time for all these other projects.
In other news, after identifying the problems I had with Literotica and speaking with their mods, I have the feeling I was hoodwinked into self-destruction there. Wow, do I have some blind spots to pay attention to. Anyway, I’ll be opening a new account there but I haven’t decided if the old work should go back up. What’s your opinion?
Next, I hate naming stories, I’m bad at it (with a couple of notable exceptions). At the moment “Hello, Universe” is a working title and I’ll be changing the title when I think of something better.
Finally, I cringe every single time I type Kiki. She’s gone back to her given name, Kyriake.
Let’s get started.
From FlashNet News:
May 3, 2048, United Nations, New York City, USA
Officers from Commonwealth Alliance and the Terran Defense Fleet addressed the UN Assembly today at UN headquarters in New York City today. They were there to provide updates on the latest findings from the joint investigation of the African Impact Event:
“This attack was directed by a small contingent of ships from the Black Swarm Fleet,” Commonwealth Fleet Officer Jerah Allendensa said at one point. “All of the attacking ships were destroyed on detection by your planetary defense net. Rumors that this was a natural event are completely baseless and should be disregarded. We are expanding the sensor coverage of the planet and will be adding additional sensors as they become available.”
At a short interview following their appearance, a CTDF spokesperson once again faced a storm of questions about the widening emigration scandal. Reporters were referred to planetary authorities, citing jurisdictional concerns.
“So, how are we supposed to get back down?” Kyriake asked.
“If the engines fail? There’s always gravity.”
The junior pilot rolled her eyes. “I mean who do we check in with so that our girl doesn’t panic the entire defense network.”
Rachel looked thoughtful. “I don’t have a clue. Are we in laser range of Alpha?”
“Yes, I’m already locked onto their signal,” Athena said. “The station’s control synthetic and I are trading data.”
“While you’re gossiping, can you get a traffic controller on the line?” Kyriake asked.
“It’s information sharing, not gossip,” the ship said a little primly.
It was Rachel’s turn to roll her eyes. In the space station, a chime alerted an orbital traffic controller. A moment later, a voice spoke in his headset;
“Echo Alpha, this is the Athena, no tail number. We’re downbound to the western hemisphere, Central America. I haven’t been briefed on standard arrival procedures.”
“Howdy, Athena. The groundhogs are still figuring out the protocol for that. Wait one.”
The controller caught the eye of the chief assigned to operations manager.
“What’s going on, Sam?”
“Chief, I’ve got a ship called the Athena with no tail number calling for instructions downbound.”
“Never heard of it,” the chief said. He frowned and used his tablet to begin searching for the name. “Warm up the defense turrets and get ready to bounce an alert to everyone else. Current challenge code is ‘Brahe, 56, Red, Fence.'”
A few seconds after they were given the challenge, the ship replied;
The communications chief ran the response and has tablet chirped urgently.
“Looks like we got ourselves some kind of VIP. Let’s see who’s in such a hurry…oh shit. That’s a Commonwealth black-hull.”
“What’s a black-hull?”
“Upper level Commonwealth spooks. Clear them in Casey, wherever they need to go. I think someone might be about to have a bad day and I don’t want it to be us.”
“Athena, we verify, thank you,” the controller radioed back. “Sorry for the delay. You’re cleared for atmospheric approach. Recommend contacting groundside air traffic control. Copy?”
“Copy,” Rachel replied. “Thanks for your help, Alpha.”
“Clear skies, Athena. Alpha is clear.”
“Not a ton of help,” Kyriake said. “Looks like the main airport is Philip Goldson, code BZE. Where are we headed exactly?”
“We are entering Terran troposphere,” Athena said. She tipped over, aiming her nose at the Gulf of Mexico. “I can plot a vector to our destination.”
“Slow down, let’s contact BZE first,” Rachel said. “Getting to a party isn’t worth an international incident.”
“You obviously haven’t gone to the right parties,” Kyriake said. “Oh, here. There’s an airport code for the island, CUK.”
“Thanks, Kyriake. Athena, switch to appropriate frequency for air traffic control.”
“Caye Caulker Approach, Commonwealth Transport Ship Athena.”
It took several minutes to get a response from the ground. It took them even longer to understand that Athena didn’t actually need a runway. Finally, they grasped what Rachel was saying;
“Athena, Caulker Approach, copy your intent for VTOL Caye Caulker Airport. No other traffic in the area at this time. Welcome to Belize, and, uhm, Earth. Airport manager will meet you on the ground.”
“We shouldn’t be worried about finding them, it’s a pretty small island,” Kyriake said, looking out the window. They were just crossing the coast of the little island and she could see people in the streets pointing up at them.
“Officially it is referred to a ‘cay,’ an English loan word coming from the Spanish word ‘cayo’ which is itself a loanword from Taino; ‘cayo’ meaning small island. The word pronounciation has changed due to the passage of time and the influence of local creole speakers,” Athena said.
Kyriake patted the bulkhead next to her. “Don’t be nervous, sweetie. Remember, it’s just a planet. Just like every other one you’ve landed on.”
“No, this is the Third Colony,” Athena said. “A world directly touched by the Ancients!”
“Deep breath,” Rachel said, guiding the ship away from a large antenna. “Just try to relax, okay?”
“I’ll try, Rachel.”
A small crowd had gathered as Athena came floating down, grav engines thrumming. Most of them looked like locals. Kyriake used a monitor to keep an eye on them as the ship descended. Getting under a gravity engine was always a bad idea. Zooming in, she saw that Ayr and Willi down there, looking up at the ship.
“We’re in implant communication range,” Athena said, sliding closer.
“Uhm, hi guys, this is Rachel.”
“Rachel, my love!” Willi said in their ears. “Welcome to Paradise Island!”
“That is a reference to a television show airing on ABC beginning in January…” Athena began but fell silent when Rachel shook her head irritably.
“Sweetie,” Kyriake murmured as she rested her forehead on the bulkhead there was an answering caress as the ship answered her.
“Okay, so I’m kinda nervous,” Athena whispered in her ear as Rachel talked to Willi, confirming the landing area.
As soon as the ship touched the pavement, Athena cut the protesting gravity engines and the pilots felt a small shimmy as the ship settled onto her landing gear. As the two pilots went over the shut-down checklist with Athena, Willi appeared in the hatch.
“What a landing! Not even a speck of dust in the air.”
“It’s my first landing on the Third Colony,” Athena said proudly.
“No, no, häschen, we’re in Belize!”
“Don’t be calling our girl dirty names,” Kyriake called back over her shoulder.
“It means ‘Little Bunny’ and means that he likes me,” Athena whispered.
Kyriake laughed. “I know, I’m just rustling his jimmies, beautiful.”
“What are jimmies?”
Before Kyriake could think of an answer, Willi appeared in the flight deck hatch.
“Hellooo, beautiful people!” he announced.
“Are you drunk on my flight deck?” Rachel half growled.
“Yes! But I also see that this beautiful lady has landed, therefore it is now simply a deck. I’ve been drinking on a deck all afternoon.”
“Who did they send to babysit you?” Kyriake laughed.
“That’s me, but it’s an uphill battle,” Ayr said in their earsm. “I got him into clothes at least. Willi, get your ass out here and help me with the safety barrier.”
“Sounds like everyone is having fun,” Rachel said, getting up. “Now get out of my way, small drunken freiherr. There is sun calling my name and I need my stuff.”
“It’s okay to be naked here,” Willi assured her.
“You wish,” Rachel said, pushing past him.
“Actually, I do wish,” Will said, looking down at his sartorial ensemble.
Kyriake turned her seat and regarded Willi. He was wearing a tropical print shirt with atrocious colors over a combat utility trouser that had been cutoff just below the knees. His feet were protected by a pair of battered canvas sneakers printed in a black and white checker board.
“Attention, the facility administrator, Antonio Palacio, has arrived outside,” Athena said. “He is accompanied by the island’s Chief of Police, Lova Duran.”
“Tell them ‘Freibier für alle, sonst gibts Krawalle!'” Willi laughed.
“Cancel,” Rachel and Kyriake said at the same time.
“Athena, lock Willi inside until we’re done with the VIPs,” Rachel ordered. “Kyriake, dress uniform please.”
Kyriake laughed at the look on Willi’s face. “Don’t mess with my Chief Pilot. Excuse me, I need to go change.”
“Ayr, I’m sorry, but what are you wearing?” Rachel asked.
“Clean utilities, Chief Pilot,” Ayr answered. “Just so you know, they’ve already met Theo.”
“Thanks. Can you stall them for a couple of minutes?”
“Will do,” Ayr answered.
Two minutes later, Rachel and Kyriake emerged from Athena’s main hatch. Ayr was waiting outside with two islanders. There was a small crowd gathering along the airport fences as well. Athena repeated the names in Rachel’s ear with a description of each man. The police chief was wearing his own uniform that gave a broad hint of the country’s previous British influence.
“Sir, thank you for allowing us to land here,” Rachel said, shaking the airport managers hand. “I’m Command Pilot Rachel Szercherin, this is Pilot Kyriake Iordanu.”
“Sir,” Kyriake said, saluting the police chief and getting a crisp salute in return.
“We thought this spot would be far enough inside the gate to deter the overly curious,” the airport manager said. “Do you require hangar space?”
“She’s fine here,” Rachel said.
“I can post a few men around as well,” the police chief said.
“I appreciate that, sir,” Rachel said. “However, Athena has a very advanced security system if you’re shorthanded.”
“Or don’t want to pay overtime,” Kyriake added with a grin.
The man laughed. “Straight to the point, Pilot. Very well, I’ll have the duty crew keep a special eye on the area.”
“Since this is far more than an aircraft, I suppose we’ll have to change our sign now,” Palacio grinned.
“You could call it an interstellar space port,” Kyriake said. “We’re on our way from Hub world.”
Palacio grinned. “I’ll find some paint then.”
The two men chatted for a couple more minutes before leaving in a UTV with the airport’s name on the side. Rachel and Kyriake went back inside to change and get their bags. Willi was sitting in the galley, trying to look sober.
“I apologize to all three of you,” he said, standing up.
Rachel shook her head as she looked at him. “You should be apologizing for that awful Hawaiian shirt instead. Athena, you can turn him loose.”
“I told you, dummkopf,” Ayr said from behind them.
After both pilots promised Athena that they’d stay in transmitter range, the four left the ship in civilian clothes. The crowd along the fences was about the same size, as many people were arriving to get a look as were wandering away, now that the excitement of seeing it move was gone.
“We walked down here,” Ayr said. “Do you want to get a ride up to the resort?”
“Mercy, no,” Rachel said. “I need to stretch my legs a little and this sun feels amazing.”
“Chief Pilot ma’am, may I make an observation?” Willi asked. “Your legs look amazing as well.”
“And they feel even more amazing,” Kyriake said cheerfully, earning a dirty look from Rachel.
“Anyway, we’re officially off-duty, you can call me Rachel. Where are you hiding your bottle?”
Willi laughed and fished a silver flask out of a cargo pocket and handed it over. Rachel unscrewed it and took a careful sip.
“Rum,” she said, offering it to Kyriake.
After a long drink that obviously impressed Willi, Kyriake offered the flask to Ayr who shook her head.
“Terri alcohol hits me too hard,” Ayr said. “I can just about handle beer.”
“But she’ll smoke ganja that’ll put your butt under the table,” Willi declared and the other three laughed.
“Any problems with getting your families offworld?” Ayr asked.
“No sweat, my parents were at Arclight Southern,” Kyriake said. “My brother is already on Hub working. They turned down Teydora’s offer but were happy to go to Hub so they could keep working.”
“Dad’s worked for the Tulanis since he was a teenager,” Rachel said. “He’ll evacuate when Lady Amanda does. He’s safe enough where he is, I guess. Who made it here so far?”
“What’s left of my Pioneers are all here,” Ayr said. “I lost most of them to the new colony but their families needed them more than we did. Theo and Emma showed up yesterday, they just got Theo’s foster brother and his wife on the TCS Boone. There’s been a few issues with families outside of the Project, Jonesy said that Marisol was having a fight with her folks about leaving. But she’s due in the next couple of days. Now that you’re here, she’s the last arrival.”
“Then we can finally par-tay.” Willi said.
Ayr shook her head. “All they’ve done so far is party.”
“They, huh?” Rachel said. “I suppose you’ve been in your room reading the bible the whole time.”
“She has!” Willi exclaimed. “Theo’s been helping her with the translation and it sounds like they get pretty excited sometimes.”
Ayr shook her head again, grinning. She gave Willi the finger.
“Anyway, those have just been practice parties, adorable tiny little alien,” Willi said. “It’s very hot in this sun. I’m going to sit with my new friends in the shade.”
Willi walked over to a small grove of palm trees, where a group of older, dreadlocked men sas in the shade. There was delighted laughter as Willi joined them.
“As far as I can tell, they’ve taken turns trying to get each other as stoned as possible,” Ayr said.
“Are you not a fan of Earth-type leisure?” Kyriake asked, hiding a smile at the other woman’s acerbic tone.
“The last stand-down was great,” Ayr said. “I’m getting tired of Willi trying to get into my pants. He’s an obnoxious flirt and I think he hurt Emma’s feelings.”
Rachel raised her eyebrows. “Really? And he’s not permanently maimed?”
Ayr shrugged. “Maybe I’m reading it wrong, she’s been really quiet and gets up to leave when he gets drunk.”
Rachel laughed and put her arm through Ayr’s. “I think maybe you’re seeing it wrong. Emma is anything but quiet when her feelings get hurt. She’d been a little different since Alnatic but we’ll find out what’s going on before we leave.”
“Good. And this is our place,” Ayr said, opening a gate for them. “There’s no need to check in, Theo rented the whole place. I think he might have rented the whole island, it’s very hard to pay for drinks or food here. Everyone is recovering from a pretty epic party last night.”
There was a collection of palm trees that looked like they’d grown through some houses and lifted others off the ground. Balconies and bridges connected everything. There was a heavily shaded area on the ground in the middle of it all and as many brightly colored hammocks as would fit had been set up. Most of them were occupied by sleeping bodies. A few people were sitting in some chairs that had been set out.
The Xero-pah, Nys, was sitting cross legged on the ground, her height putting her head at the same level as the old man’s that she faced across a chess-board. At another table, Emma was playing dominos with Jonesy and two dredlocked island men. They passed around a gigantic joint around as they played dominos. Others were sprawled around, napping or just staying still in the noonday sun. Kyriake took a picture of the scene from over her shoulder.
“You can call it ‘Den of Iniquity,'” Rachel said.
“Maybe ‘A Tropical Study in Villainy.'”
Emma saw them and waved and everyone else greeted them fairly quietly.
“How about ‘The Wages of Sin?'” Betsy asked from a hammock. “We were up rather late and someone kept putting rum in my drink.”
“Because that’s what you kept asking for,” one of the domino players said.
“I’m off to a volleyball game,” Ayr said, heading for her cabana. “What color bikini is best to beat everyone senseless?”
“Red ones usually kick my ass,” the other domino player said, clicking a tile into place.
Jonesy grinned around his cigar and drank from the neck of a bottle of rum before placing his last tile with a flourish. The other players sighed and pushed their tiles into the middle of the table.
“You know, don’t give him any more smoke,” Emma said, flipping the pieces over again. “It’s got to be the ganja because he’s usually a complete idiot.”
Both islanders looked at Jonesy, raising their eyebrows. He grinned around the evil looking cigar. “Ever since we had a threesome with my woman, this one has been abusive. I think she’s just craving the D.”
With wider eyes, they looked back at Emma. She shrugged, concentrating on flipping the dominos blank face up.
“Actually, I was all about his girlfriend. His presence was just an unfortunate side-effect.”
After a few seconds of silence, all four of them burst out laughing and one of the men got up and passed out fresh drinks to everyone. Rachel and Kyriake followed Ayr up to find some sleeping space of their own.
It was a quiet evening and Rachel was grateful. She’d gotten used to, even enjoyed, the cheerful mayhem of the team’s off-duty antics. Still, she was relieved that they’d arrived on a quiet evening. Two Slingshot gates followed by the transit to Earth was enough excitement for one day. Now, the earlier pirate-den feel to the place was even stronger, helped by the flickering of a few LED powered tiki-torches. The fitful illumination and deep shadows illuminated occasional clouds of ganja or tobacco smoke as it filtered up through the palms before escaping into the moonlit sky.
She was sitting with Kyriake on the balcony of their cabana, looking down on the scene. Between them was a small table with a small candle lantern casting a small pool of golden light over their beer bottles and an elegant looking crystal bottle of Xero’pah design. Nys was suspended in a hammock beside their balcony, occasionally chatting with the pilots as she dozed.
“You need anything?” Theo called from the base of the ladder to their little world.
“Are you playing butler? Come up and join us,” Rachel answered.
“I came over hoping you had room for one more,” he said, climbing up the ladder-life stairs.
“Are you going to start asking a bunch of questions about our trip?” Kyriake asked.
“Nope, just wanted to sit around three beautiful women,” he said, taking the third chair.
“I heard a rumor that you bought an island,” Kyriake said.
He laughed. “No. I just made a deal with some of the folks here. Tourism took a big hit after Revelation Day and what little they had left got chased off by the African impact. Anything sea-level isn’t such a popular destination anymore.”
“How much did you spend?” Rachel asked.
Kyriake almost laughed at the directness of her question. Even though she looked just like everyone else, Rachel wasn’t human and had grown up in a very different cultural tradition.
“I’m covering the next few months of supplies for everyone on the island. And another couple of islands nearby. Folks are struggling bad and it’s not like I need it.”
Rachel saw the look on Kyriake’s face and laughed. “Theo ended up with a huge bounty from the Commonwealth. He thought he’d be able to get rid of it by getting space for the Ta’avi on Sanctuary. Then he tripped over a terraformer built by the Ancients. Cue second fortune.”
“A lot smaller this time, but still a pain in the ass,” Theo sighed. “I spent four hours making sworn statements with a Synth today. Did you know there are Synthetic Entities dedicated to finance?”
Rachel laughed. “Yeah, of course. Did you think Jaxson was some kind of marooned ship Synth? He’s an administrative specialist. There are Synths attached to most every Commonwealth data system.”
“The Ulthira generate unbelievable amounts of credit with their Synths,” Nys said from her hammock. “And that’s coming from a pointy-eared elf, so you know it’s serious cred.”
Kyriake started to say something but stopped. Rachel raised her eyebrows.
“I was going to call racist, but now I’m not sure,” Kyriake said.
“I can call myself an elf,” Nys said, slurring her words slightly. “It’s not like it’s a bad word, I don’t know why it bothers you all so much.”
“It’s cultural,” Rachel said. “Why are you wandering around solo, Birdie?”
“Well, Ayr disappeared into the darkness with Willi and Toni,” Theo said. “Emma mentioned that there’s been some sort of sexual tension between the three of them before disappearing as well. She’s there to referee the festivities I guess.”
“Yeah, and Emma really likes to fuck,” Rachel added.
“Ooh, which room is hers?” Kyriake laughed.
Theo sighed. “Really?”
“It’s the incest taboo,” Nys said from her hammock. “Humans have many behavioral taboos in their social makeup. Many of them gain a great deal of illicit pleasure from behaviors they condemn in public. That’s why you’re all such wonderful sex toys.”
The other three looked at each other and then back at the Xero’pah. Nys opened her eyes.
“I am deeply inebriated,” she said. “Have I become offensive?”
“Just a little,” Kyriake said. “But it’s kinda hot because I’ve had some very dirty thoughts about you.”
“I would enjoy a in-depth discussion of your thoughts some time soon. Perhaps not after a whole bottle of ky’at though. I’m far too introspective to be a worthy lover at the moment.”
Kyriake looked surprised. “I didn’t think you’d go for a bunch of nasty little prefcoria.”
“You are not nasty,” Nys said. “The Ancients made all of you the shape you are precisely so you would appeal to the Xero’pah. We feel a sense of responsibility and affection for the Prefcoria because you all look so much us, except cuddly and dumb.”
The expression on Rachel’s face was a mixture of surprise and amusement. “‘Cuddly and dumb?’ Did that really come out of your mouth?”
“I refuse to accept that it did. Anyway, we feel that we must protect and guide your peoples.”
“Then I obviously I missed something important in that old bitch’s little presentation,” Kyriake said. “I got the sense that none of you Archreylen likes us because of something that happened to us a long time ago. Was she polite enough not to mention that we’re disgusting?”
“No, not disgusting. And it’s really just the Humans,” Nys explained. “Your sibling colonies are the result of centuries of careful planning, not to mention extensive social and genetic engineering, by the greatest thinkers the universe has ever seen. Truthfully, your ancestors managed a brilliant solution to an unforeseen disaster. Their great crime was altering the genome that the Ancients had granted them. So, while you have some relation to the original colonists, it is not as their direct descendants. You are a hybrid race with no sense of memory. Your world has been too fragmented from the beginning and it has led you to a very dangerous place. Your science on the edge of frightening discoveries but humans still kill each other over creation stories.”
“Since they were the greatest thinkers in the universe, maybe we’ve become exactly what they wanted,” Theo said.
“A huge population, half-crazed with amnesia, crowded onto a single world? They may have had faults, but they were never intentionally cruel. This conversation is making me sad and I would like to stop, so may I be blunt?”
“Could we stop you?” Kyriake asked.
“Of course not. The Archreylen view humanity as a serious threat. You inherited the Prefcorian genes but Human development has followed an erratic path, at best. Your species is numerous, aggressive, and wildly territorial. Your technical knowledge is far beyond any of the other Prefcoria and in another century or so, it will rival our own. That’s why Humans are beginning to worry the Archreylen, your race is unbalance personified.”
“Gotta be good at something,” Kyriake said cheerfully.
“Soon I will sleep,” Nys said. “Know that we will guide you as best as we can. But the Xero’pah, along with the Gyr, are only two races among many in the wider Commonwealth. The others are beginning to watch humans closely and with some worry. Goodnight.”
She slumped back into her hammock and it was quiet for a few minutes as the three of them thought this revelation over. Then Kyriake got up and pulled her shirt off.
“Hello,” Theo said, surprised.
Rachel gave him a weird look and then she noticed Kyriake.
“Seriously? Right now?”
“Yes to both,” Kyriake said. “The universe is suddenly is scaring the shit out of me. A good fuck is the best cure for existential dread.”
They watched as she opened the large doors of the cabana, essentially removing the front wall. Kyriake let her shorts fall to the ground as she climbed onto the large futon, smiling at them.
“Lieutenant Uhm, can I ask you something?” she asked, stretching out and making sure to arch her back.
Theo swallowed. “What’s that?”
“Come closer, I want to whisper it.”
Rachel smiled as Theo blushed. He got up and squatted beside the bed.
“Do you like my panties?” Kyriake whispered in his ear. She followed the question by nibbling his earlobe. “I think they’d look better on the floor.”
“That means get on the bed, Theo,” Rachel said, rolling her eyes at Nys who was giggling.
Theo laughed and pulled off his own shirt and stretched out on the bed. Kyriake moved next to him, sliding her naked body against his.
“Is this okay?”
“I was kind of hoping,” he said. “Our first kiss was amazing. I wanted to see what the second one would be like.”
She chuckled and pressed herself against him, letting Theo feel her hard nipples and warm skin. Their lips met and Kyriake moaned as their hands began to learn each other’s body.
Rachel got up and pulled off her clothes as she came to the bed. “You know what would make this perfect? Me.”
Theo and Kyriake both laughed and held out their arms for her to join them. Nys sat up, watching the three of them, smiling. She slid her hands under her own clothes, stroking and caressing her body as she watched the three lovers.