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Empress of the Dawn – Book 3: War and Peace, Part 2

Written by brantley :: [Saturday, 23 June 2018 00:29] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 23 June 2018 01:07]

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Empress of the Dawn

By Brantley Thompson Elkins


What has gone before:

Empress of the Dawn: Book One

Empress of the Dawn: Book Two


Book Three: Peace and War

Part Two: Love Found and Lost

Chapter 1. An Unexpected Journey

You don’t have to treat him like the lottery winners,” Nestor told Kalla when he broached the idea of sending Alexius to Alkmene. “I’ve put off allowing him to go for too long now, because I didn’t want it to seem that I was granting him any special favor.”

People will believe that anyway,” Kalla said. “And say it.”

But he’s behaved himself, going on seven years now. And he’s still talking about space… maybe this will get it out of his system – you keep telling me that Alkmene is usually a disappointment for the lottery boys, except for…”

Kalla only nodded.

Neither you nor I owe him that. And he certainly hasn’t had any trouble finding women here. Being the brother of a patriarch has its advantages.”

But at the time she finally started out for the moon, neither she nor he had given thought to the advantages Alexius would have with the Indrans. Like having learned the language – at least the basics – from Kamana.

Danyavada, mukhiya,” he responded to Akash when he was welcomed into the station. It meant “Thanks, headman,” he told Kalla afterwards – but it was more than the Indran had expected, and got their relationship off to a good start.

Your pronunciation is slightly off, but you are welcome.”

Alexius’ expression showed his delight.

But it turned out there was more to it than that.

Even though he had no more experience of the lower gravity on the moon than the lottery winners, he had managed to avoid their clumsiness. He must have imagined how it would feel, practiced it in his head. Whereas most previous visitors, moreover, had quickly become bored with the moon’s landscape, seen through the window, Alexius was entranced – he couldn’t wait to suit up.

By pure happenstance, the sun was about to set when he ventured outside with Akash and Kalla. Andros was a mere sliver of a crescent, and the stars beyond it shone forth in all their glory.

Now we can see the entire universe!” he exclaimed.

And to Akash, “Can you point to Indra’s star?”

Akash did so as best he could.

It’s the small star next to that really bright red one,” he explained over his suit caller. “The red one is closer, but it doesn’t have any planets… and accordingly doesn’t have any wormhole connection.”

Do you know anything about the origin of the wormholes?”

No more than what the Scalantrans tell us, and have doubtless told you, that the Old Galactics established the network – eons ago, long before there were any humans or, as far as we know, any Galen. For that matter, any Scalantrans – but the Galen were here when they arrived.”

Kalla too had suited up, although she could have gone out naked, in order to be able to follow the conversation – and also to avoid sending the wrong signal to Alexius. But he himself, without realizing it, was sending a signal to her, in his exchanges with Akash about the universe and its history and their place in it. He wanted to know more about the Seeders, and how they chose which worlds to settle, and with whom.

Akash was somewhat abashed.

When our forefathers were taken from Bharat, they didn’t ask such questions,” he said. “At the time, they didn’t know there were other worlds like ours; it wasn’t until the Seeders departed and we were contacted by the Scalantrans that we learned about them. And the Scalantrans weren’t terribly forthcoming, I imagine it was the same here.”

They never mentioned the Galen, or Velor?”

Not until the Bountiful Voyager brought Liessa. And even then, they treated it as simply a matter of trade. It was Liessa herself who had to fill us in, as best she could. I get the impression that Velor itself hasn’t been terribly forthcoming.”

Kalla sensed it was her time to join the conversation.

The Scalantrans didn’t even know about our… capabilities until after we left the gold field,” she said. “Neither did we. They, and we, had thought that our destiny was only to be paramours, and that we would be freed of that obligation only by old age – assuming any of us still lived at all after a hundred years.”

She’d never talked about that with Akash, and it must also be new to Alexius.

It’s been an education for you,” the mukhiya ventured. “In more ways, I imagine, than you could have been prepared for on your homeworld.”

We were all young then, in our teens. We didn’t really know that much about our own history – and virtually nothing about the rest of the universe. I was the only one, I think, to make a point of finding out. Once I was indentured here, I had only intermittent word from or about Liessa, and none at all from most of the others.”

Until the after the Restoration, of course.

Can you see Velor from here?” Alexius asked. “Velor’s star, I mean?”

It’s far too distant, far too faint.”

And it once would have seemed far too insignificant. And yet it is the key to… so much that I need to understand better, that we all need to understand better. I’ve always believed that there is a new history in the making because of Velor – and wondered if the Galen themselves might have a hidden role in it.”

If only you knew. If only I knew it all.

But before she could think of a safe response to that, the sliver of Andros in the sky above them vanished and they were plunged into darkness, except for a faint light from the single window in the common room of the station behind them. They turned on their suit lights, which cast an eerie light on the rubble-strewn surface ahead of them, enough for them to avoid stumbling on any of that rubble on the way back.

Kalla never did come up with anything to say about the Galen, but the next day – not the same after sunrise, which didn’t take that long – it happened to be time for the Indrans to head for the ice cavern to replenish the fuel supply for their ship.

And Alexius wanted to go along.

I’ve never really flown before,” he pointed out. “And I couldn’t see out when Kalla ferried me up here.”

It was just a short hop for the spacecraft – not like going moonlet hunting, Akash pointed out. But there was room for him aboard, just barely, and the mukhiya was willing to go along with his whim, as long as he didn’t get in the way of the operation. Kalla could tag along, of course, under her own power. She hadn’t bothered to do so before, albeit the process – breaking down the water into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel and breathable air (If the latter were needed) was familiar to her.

Alexius, however, was struck by wonder.

To create the stuff of life from a dead world,” he said, knowing that the station – including its hydroponic tanks – was dependent on the cavern and its processing unit. But it was only after they returned to the station that he told her what had transpired on the spacecraft.

I told them I wished I could learn to fly the ship,” he said. “They said they didn’t have the time, and couldn’t see the point. After all, it’s the only spacecraft in the system, and it can’t even land on Andros, let alone take off. When could I ever fly it, even if I did know how?”

Perhaps you’ll have a chance to fly aircraft,” Kalla said. “If we can learn to build them.”

She paused for a moment.

And I don’t mean patangs,” she added.

I promise,” he said.

There was a smile on his face, but also something else, Very else.

Only, I won’t give up hope of flying spacecraft someday, or learning more about the universe in which they travel – its past and present and even its future. I want to see other worlds. There’s so much I want and need to learn, and do. If only I have time. Can you understand? Remember geognosis? I want to go beyond that, with you – into what we might call Cosmognosis.”

They looked into each other’s eyes at that moment, and it happened.

Chapter 2. A Passion Born

I need you,” Kalla said.

I’m not really a lottery winner,” Alexius said. “You don’t have to–”

I said I need you.”

She could see how much he wanted her; his cock couldn’t lie – she didn’t even need her tachyon vision; it showed through his tunic. That came as no surprise; it was impossible for any heterosexual human male not to. What surprised her was how much she wanted it. She could have any man, yet she wanted this man – desperately. She was already wet between the legs; a moment later that was showing through her tight-fitting chemise.

It would have been invitation enough, even without her pheromones, which had kicked in without her thinking about it.

Alexius hastily unbelted his tunic, then pulled off his own chemise. Kalla had only her chemise, not having bothered putting on her tunica today; she quickly cast it aside. But he had caught up with her in the time it took for her to take out and put on her gold necklace.

Alexius took her in his arms and began to kiss her passionately, while his hands roamed up and down her body, covering her with caresses. He obviously knew how to take his time, but she didn’t want him to. Not today.

Enough!” she cried. “I want you inside me, now!”

Her wish was his command. She lay back on the floor, gazing up at him for a second, and then he was on her and in her – filling not only her womanhood but the aching need she felt.

She remembered Nikos, and how he had been taken from her, and the pain that had brought her. But only for a moment; as Alexius drove into her, his relentless thrusts drove away the pain. She was overwhelmed with pleasure, pure and unalloyed, and as he she felt him come inside her she came herself, screaming loudly enough to be heard all over the station.

No sooner had he withdrawn than he was all over her, squeezing and kissing and biting her breasts, then moving southwards and cupping her ass cheeks as he ate her out, sipping her juices as if they were fine Konditon wine. She shuddered in delight and came again. There were other tricks he must have picked up from the Kama Sutra – as taught by that Indran woman he’d kept company with… she couldn’t recall her name at the moment; she was too busy enjoying them. She came again, and again

Alexius was still hard after the fourth time she came, and she wanted him to know how much she appreciated that.

On your back!” she ordered.

He didn’t hesitate, he knew what must be coming, and his eagerness showed as much in his eyes as in his cock. She looked into his eyes as she straddled him and then engulfed his cock.

Watch me take you!” she shouted.

Their eyes were locked on each other as she began to ride him. His gaze might wander to her breasts as he squeezed and teased them, but kept returning to her face: to the proud look of a living goddess having her way with a man – but a way any good man would have prayed for. He exploded inside her and she too exploded.

And so it went, and came for both of them.

You’re a very educated man,” said Kalla, the afterglow showing on her face.

I had a good teacher.”

Do you miss her?

Not any more.”

She knew that this had been just the beginning… and it wasn’t just because he was good in bed, but because of the kind of man he was. He wasn’t like the other men of Andros, whose focus – however enlightened – was strictly on their home planet. He thought in a new way; he wanted to go places and do things. Perhaps she could help – but that meant being honest with him, in a way she dared not with anybody else, even Nestor. Could she confide in him? Would she?

Of a sudden, she decided to tell him about Nikos. The true story. Including her guilt over it.

Alexius looked at him gravely when she had finished.

Does anyone else know this?”

Only Nestor, and Ennodios; even they don’t know all the details. I don’t know whether the catapan had anything to do with Balfur coming after Nikos. And I don’t want to know. For the sake of Andros, the less we know of what anyone else knew or knows, the better. You can see that, can’t you?”

I can see that you’ve suffered for having tried to do the right thing, trying to be loyal to the Family in face of both Kyros and the Northern Reach conspiracy. And then for losing a good man who had nothing to do with it. I take it you never told him about the plot to put Ennodios on the throne?”

Kalla simply shook her head. The lingering pain was still there, but now she could share it.

What else can I share? she wondered.

Chapter 3. On the Learning Curve

A few weeks later, back on Symeon’s estate, where they had continued to share in their communion of bodies and minds, Alex had something more playful to share.

One of the other things Kamana taught me,” he said. “Chaturanga.”

That’s the game Nestor told me you were playing at the hospital.”

A few matches with Flavia. But Constans and Damianos are a lot better at it; they have the advantage of youth.”

Is that supposed to be a joke? Kalla wondered.

So how old is the game itself?”

It goes back, oh, five hundred years or more,” he explained. “It was inspired by the kind of wars they fought in ancient Bharat. The object is to entrap your opponent’s rajah, which can be moved only one square in any direction to escape. The lowest rank is that of the padati, foot soldiers who can advance only straight forward, one square at a time, and can be taken out by any of the other pieces. An Ashva, for example; that’s the horseman. The chariot is called a ratha; and the animal that seems to have a snake for a nose is a gaja; gajas used to be the primary means of transport–”

The Scalantrans have been selling gajas to Fujiwakoku.”

I can’t imagine what they’d want with them… anyway, there’s also the mantri, the minister. And he and all the other pieces can be moved from square to square only in very specific ways, and you have to think ahead about what you’ll do with your pieces and what your opponent is likely to do with his.”

Kalla nodded.

It’s pretty complicated, but the ending is simple. It’s when the winner is able to put his opponent’s rajah under attack from all sides and there is no longer any safe square for him, or any way for the other player to take the pieces threatening the rajah.”

He smiled at her.

Of course, you’ll be a virgin at this and–”

So deflower me,’ Kalla said, and grinned mischievously.

Alex left for a few minutes, came back with a board, and set up the pieces.

But the game got off to a rough start, even though he took a good deal of time to explain the rules.

No, no, Kal!” Alex exhorted her early on. “The ashva can advance either two squares forward and one sideways, or vice versa, in the very same move; it’s the gaja that can be moved only forward or diagonally.”

Kalla had already managed to get it through her head that gajas could jump over the first square and afterwards move only one square at a time, likewise that the mantri could move only diagonally, but…

Perhaps the horses have a will of their own, rather than just obeying their riders. I might have known.”

She never doubted that she’d lose quickly, and she did.

* * *

It would take a long time for her to become good at chaturanga, and if that sort of thing had been all there was between her and Alex, Kalla would never have wanted to bother keeping his company.

But there was so much more between them now… and sometimes their intimate conversations could take strange turns.

You look so human, Kal,” he said one night, as they lay in each other’s arms.

Huh?” she reacted, arching her eyebrows. “What do you mean by that?”

It’s not a what, but a why.”

But everybody knows! The Galen took people from Earth and enhanced them.”

Kalla had already gotten him a copy of her illustrated history of the Galaxy, which she had persuaded Cherya to have published back in Jayar’s time, based on her own account of what they knew about it. It hadn’t told Alex anything he hadn’t known or surmised, and he wasn’t satisfied.

But why from Earth? Why not from some other world, from an entirely different species?”

I’ve told you before, Alex. They wanted procreators to replace their women!”

She paused for a moment.

At least, that’s what the priests always told us.”

So the Galen themselves looked human, were perhaps even related to humans? Only, why? Where did they come from, and how long ago?”

No one knows.”

And if they were so gifted at designing lifecyphers, to create people who looked like Terrans but were super-strong and invulnerable and could fly, and all that, how is that they couldn’t have recreated their own females?”

It was rare for Kalla to be struck speechless, but this was one of those occasions.

It had been a long time since she had thought about how little Velorians truly knew about their origins. Was there any truth to what they’d been told? Was there even any way to find out?

I don’t know,” she finally confessed. “Even the Scalantrans don’t seem to. They might never have known about Velor if it hadn’t been for somebody on Ishtar using his influence to divert a ship from its established trading circuit.”

Because she hadn’t mentioned that in her book, she had to explain about Ishtar, a First Generation world of protos involved in the seeding of Second Generation worlds.

Why the Ishtari were interested in Velor, the Scalantrans never learned, though they suspected the unseen hand of the Galen behind it. And the Velorians themselves thought the Scalantrans were Galen; that’s how much they knew. The priests were still taking the old story seriously when I was growing up, and I took it for granted, even if it didn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know if there’s been any change since.”

No doubt Amiela would know, she thought. Only Amiela is on Indra.

Where she knew Alex would love to travel.

No chance of that!

Yet even Amiela would presumably know only what the Companions were being told. Kalla wanted to know more: the true nature and purpose of the Galen, who were known on Velor only in legend.

The Scalantrans had told her that the seeding program was an experiment; the Galen and their surrogates wanted to see what would happen if people from particular times and cultures on Earth were isolated on new worlds. Sometimes they’d mix two or more cultures and monitor the results.

Chances were it had been the same with the Ishtari and other protos, and even the Velorians. Were the Galen playing some elaborate game of chaturanga, with entire peoples as the pieces?

It was a terrifying thought, and Velorians were supposed to be afraid of nothing. But if she couldn’t be afraid for herself, she could be afraid for others – it had been so with Feodor and the other Patriarchs she had loved, and then with Nikos and now with Alex….

Alex thought in strange ways. Perhaps he could help her find some way to the truth, or at least cope with not being able to find it.

But she’d have to tell him what she did know. All of it.

Chapter 4. An Expected Journey

Akasa kiyartri, Kalla thought. Heavens travel. That was what the Indrans called it.

She was standing outside the Choniates mansion, looking into the sky, trying to imagine Alex aboard the Bountiful Voyager. It was a journey that had been four years in the making, although neither he nor she could ever have imagined it at the outset of their relationship.

By now the Scalantrans would have taken him into the white room on their ship, and given him advanced deepteach in Indran; he would need far more than just the basics to get by where he was going. It would be another six years before she saw him again. She would miss him terribly, but they both understood why they must part, how important it was to the future of the world they shared.

Nestor and the family and Kalla had said their farewells at the spaceport before the Bountiful Voyager lifted off. They had known of his dream of being a flier for years; it went back to his childhood and the Sky Climber. At the Academy he had studied history, but also taken an interest in the actual design of aircraft and spacecraft – an interest he had pursued with the Indrans here.

Yet even his father Rulav and older brother Nestor had been taken by surprise when Alexius announced at age 37 that he wanted leave to travel to Indra. Nobody from Andros had traveled offworld, except to the Indran station on Alkmene and aboard the spacecraft based there – and none had even suggested venturing beyond the system.

Alex had visited Alkmene, only four years ago – that was when he and Kalla had fallen in love. He had learned much from the Indran expatriates there, but he knew that the heart and soul of the Indrans’ space program was on their homeworld. He wanted to see it for himself. And he wanted to experience Indra itself. He felt an affinity for these people, who hadn’t waited for the Scalantrans to give them advanced technology, but worked it out for themselves – like the ancient Romans on Earth.

Rulav had been annoyed when, at age 11, he changed the spelling of his name from Alexios to Alexius. He identified with the ancient Romans, who had invented great things and built great things, or so the Suda and other ancient texts told.

To be sure, the Scalantrans knew a great deal more about spaceflight than the Indrans, but their technology for interstellar travel, even had they been willing to share it, would have been too great a leap for a seeded world like his.

It had been a dream of Nestor’s for Andros to one day master air travel and even interplanetary flight, to foster commerce on the planet itself and tap the resources of its moons. It was part of long-term program to better the lives of his people. Yet there was a more urgent need he hadn’t known about – but which Alexius had and did. Thanks to Kalla.

Despite that, he hadn’t shared his decision with her until telling his parents and the Family Council. She hadn’t been party to that, nor would she have sought to be. She knew it was not her place…

He’d broken the news to her when next they met, at the old Keep in Ethrata. He’d driven his own steam car to the old capital, farcalling her from there before walking the rest of the way.

“It’s been a while since you carried me here,” he reminded her, when they came face to face.

“Quite a while.”

“I didn’t know then if I’d ever be looking down upon the world from above, rather than at the stars from below. Or that I’d travel ever with the Scalantrans. Or… what we’d mean to each other.

“Nor I.”

“I love you, Kal,” Alex told her. “But this is something I knew I had to do. All the more so because of what you told me about the Aureans. But even without that, I could never have been happy with my life… or with our life together… having known only one world, when you have known two.”

“You couldn’t live long enough on mine to know it,” Kalla reminded him.

“Right. The gold core. The gravity. Do you suppose anyone on Indra will have an idea why even one planet in one system, let alone two, should have a gold core?”

“I don’t see how, if even the Scalantrans don’t know.”

Velor had been one of his obsessions, along with the fate of the Old Galactics who had built the wormhole he would transit on the way to Indra, and much else about the Galaxy and its history. Kalla reminded him – as if any reminder were needed – of the importance of more immediate concerns.

“As for the Indrans, what we need from them is to understand how badly we need their space technology... and what they can do to help Andros build its own spacecraft.”

Alex nodded for a moment. The Scalantrans were still concerned about that, and had had nothing new to report on their last stop, headed for Velor, two years back.

“I only wish that you could join me,” he added wistfully.

“You know how much I’m needed here. And not only for ferrying people and their goods to and from Alkmene.”

She wasn’t a member of any of Andros’ emergency services, but she did respond to emergencies – his own had been one of them, after all. That was what brought them together.

“I’ll miss you terribly,” he said. “Will you wait for me?”

“I’ll still be here when you return.”

In six years… when the Scalantrans stopped here again on the return leg of their circuit. They can’t alter their trading schedule, even for a crisis.

“You know what I mean.”

He smiled a bit: a welcome relief from the gravity of the situation.

She returned his smile.

“The art of love, like any art, requires practice. You don’t want to get rusty. Nor do I. But for me, the lottery winners will suffice.”

“And whatever I learn on Indra, I promise to share with you,” Alex said.

“Liessa has a great deal more experience than I do, having been indentured to an entire guild.”

“But I’ll have more to learn from Amiela.”

About space travel technology, he means. And for me, about what’s happening on Velor and what it portends…

She had already known from Pakiula that there had been indications the Aurean Empire might be stirring plans against the Scalantrans, and even the Velorians. But they were vague, and Alex still seemed distracted by his own agenda.

“Perhaps she could shed light on a fundamental mystery,” he mused.

‘What might that be?”

“Why are Velorians what they are, how can you truly be related to the Galen on one hand and Terrans on the other, why should Terrans be a model for–”

“‘Cosmognosis again!’” Kalla interrupted him. “You can be insufferable.”

“Oh?”

“But also adorable, and irresistible.”

Ah!

“I think the occasion calls for a parting gift,” she said now. “The greatest gift I can give – and never mind what the Galen may or may not have intended.

Kalla quickly slipped out of her stola and let it fall to the sand. She was wearing a necklace from the Keep, with just enough gold – and nothing else.

Kalla beach

“It’s not as if I’m leaving tomorrow,” Alex said, and struck a broad smile.

He began to undress only now, but he had already risen to the occasion.

They were at it, off and on, for six days – as if they could make up for six years’ worth of lost loving into that time. And on the seventh, it was time for her to fly him to the spaceport.

* * *

Alex farcalled her from the ship, soon after it made a stopover at Alkmene and began heading for the wormhole. It took several seconds for his words to reach her, and they were for her ears only.

“Maim eka dura duniya ke li’e aba… ja raha hum. Mujhe lagata hai maim pahale hatha… sikhane ke I’le hai kya sikhana cahi'e.” he said.

Kalla noticed the hesitations.

“That means, ‘I am leaving now for a distant world. I must learn what I need to learn at first-hand.’ But I have to think ahead. It doesn’t come naturally.”

“It will,” Kalla said, remembering her experience of learning Scalantran and then Romaic more than a century ago.

“So they told me. I’ll be practicing on the ship – and on Indra itself. Of course, I’ll be learning much else, some of it relevant to Cosmognosis – but I won’t mention that to them.”

“A wise decision for now… Someday, perhaps.”

It would be six years before she saw him again, when the ship paid its next call, back on its inward journey to Velor. She knew that much, even if she knew nothing else about his future, or her own.

If only if she had known…

Chapter 5. Unexpected Arrivals

It was strange being part of history…

They were teaching history as part of the educational outreach program now, not just at the Academy, although it was still the Academy that determined how it should be taught and – more importantly – interpreted.

There wasn’t yet a sanctioned interpretation for the very latest history – the rise and downfall of Kyros and the Restoration under Nestor – so the accounts taught at the schools, whether in books or farspeaking sessions, ended with Methodios, avoiding the “recent unpleasantness.” And Kalla’s own part in later events was likewise passed over.

She was celebrated for her role in the Battle of Nesalonika, and for her work on the Great Northern Road, the Strymon River dam and other projects. But there was yet nothing in the official accounts about her rescue of the family from Kyros, nor of her final encounter with him. And even her role as a Companion to three previous Patriarchs was noted without any elaboration, as if it had been no more than a political matter.

People knew better, of course, or at least thought they knew better. There were those who had witnessed her role in the downfall of Kyros, and their accounts had soon spread – and sometimes grown in the telling. What had not been recorded in the history of earlier generations had become the stuff of legend, and even devotion – there was a cult in her name that had come into the open only with the Restoration, although it had roots far earlier: after all, to ordinary humans, she was a living goddess.

Kalla had scorned the cult, and yet she was playing the role of a goddess of love with the lottery winners. She remembered having read the Suda, the Romaic account of the lore of their ancestors on Earth. That too was doubtless a blend of true history and mere legend. Or were the Greek gods and goddesses mere legend? The Scalantrans professed to know otherwise, to know of the Olympians who had once played a part in the affairs of a tiny country – Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite and the rest.

Some of the cultists, Kalla knew, identified her with Aphrodite – who was said to have shared her favors with mortal men. There were accounts of prostitutes in ancient temples devoted to her; had their clients fantasized that they were bedding the goddess herself? How many men here on Andros indulged in the same fantasies about her?

With the lottery winners, she was now playing down her superpowers – no more showing off with the solar furnace, or anything like that.

I’m just a woman who loves to fuck,” she had told the most recent among them, a wind vane engineer named Cosmas – which meant order and even decency, although closely related to cosmos, which had taken on a different meaning. “It’s just that I’ve had a lot of experience fucking. And I love teaching young men like you how to fuck better – you’ll be in great demand back home.”

Although translations of the Indran Kama Sutra had been published on Andros, they weren’t widely read, and most men – especially from the countryside – thought it was sufficient to just stick it in and hump until they came. That could actually work for Velorian women – it was how they were designed inside. But for Kalla herself, there had been much more to learn, and now to teach – about wanton kisses and wanton words, the uses of hands and lips and tongues as well as cocks.

She was proud of teaching all that to Cosmas, teaching him how to caress and squeeze her breasts, to suck and nibble at her nipples and clit, to lovingly run his hands up and down her body, to revel at seeing her dripping with desire before finally plunging himself into her and riding her to orgasm. She was just as proud of teaching him what a thrill it could be to see and feel a woman riding him. And the more he learned, the more they both came…

Back home, he’ll take pride as a man in pleasuring a woman he can love as an equal, she thought. Pakiula had told her that on some worlds, holders of Companions’ indentures shared them with their male offspring, to see to their sexual education. That would have seemed scandalous to the patriarchs here – not that it mattered any longer.

It must be far different on Indra, where Velorians had been indentured to guilds rather than potentates or nobles, as here and on Siguo and Fujiwakoku. That reminded her of Alex, and she could still get wet between the legs just thinking of him – would Cosmas be offended by that fantasy? She wasn’t about to tell him – or any of the other lottery winners. She was a woman of principle as well as pleasure, after all!

Having done her good deed, and taken Cosmas back to Andros, Kalla turned her thoughts again to Indra.

I should learn more about the history of the people there, and not just their space program. I should have gotten deepteach in their language, as Alexius did.

Only she hadn’t. So she prevailed on the groundsiders to teach her the hard way; the Indrans on Alkmene were far too busy during her brief visits there, and so was she – especially when she was accompanied by a lottery winner.

Jayadatta was senior among the groundsiders at that time, and he had brought a small library of classics from his world. Like the Romaioi, he revealed, the Indrans had a legendary history: the Mahabharata, an epic about gods and princes of ancient times, rather like Homer’s accounts of Greek gods and princes – only much longer..

No, I don’t have any idea whether Shiva and Vishnu and Brahma and the others were creatures of the Galen,” he told her early on in his office at the Wind Vane Trust – by sheer coincidence, that was where Cosmas worked, but Kalla made it a point not to renew that acquaintance. “And I can’t see that it matters millennia later.”

I’m just curious, is all,” Kalla said. “About different Terran cultures and how the Scalantrans and my own people have interacted with them.”

I am beholden to you for how you interacted on our behalf,” he observed, in a reference to the time of troubles that needed no explanation for either of them. “I’ll have some of my people see to your lessons – when they have time, of course.”

Jayadatta hadn’t been one of the groundsiders evacuated by Kalla to save them from Kyros, but he had met them later. Things had changed since the Restoration – he and other Indrans on Andros were on detached service from their Guild, and being paid by the enterprises they worked for here. Jayadatta himself was chief of technical staff.

Besides taking the Indrans to safety, Kalla had later saved the Wind Vane power plant itself from destruction by the forces of Kyros besieging it after the Patriarch himself had fled. History had been in the making that day, and it had taken some strange turns. It was there that Juliana Komnenos, future bride of Nestor but then only an engineering student at the Academy, had revealed the truth about the murders in her family – and where their actual perpetrator was hiding. It was there too that Giorgios Kalomalas, then a mere komes in the standing army called the tagmata, had led the defense of the planet by regular and irregular warriors – he was now grand domesticos, supreme commander of the armed forces.

Taking off for home after her meeting with Jayadatta, Kalla was reminded of how fully Feodoropolis had recovered since those dark days – there was no longer any sign of war damage, and the city was bustling with new buildings and new businesses. It was lunch hour just now, and crowds filled the streetside restaurants – many of which served exotic fare from Indra and other worlds unheard of in generations past. High technology wasn’t the only import these days…

* * *

The writing was easy enough to learn. Indran was alphabetic, like Romaic. Once she knew the letters and their pronunciations, she could read their books – which wasn’t the same as understanding them, of course, although she recognized the names of the gods and other proper names and everyday words she had picked up casually over the years – among them chaturanga.

She practiced that, as well as speaking the language, with the groundsiders – especially lightning power technologists Padmavati and Dodini, who both happened to be women, but were otherwise quite unalike. Padma was outgoing and talkative, Dodi shy and contemplative – she was the one who usually came up with the ideas, whereas Padma put them into action, and trained the Androssians in their use. The most recent example was a power unit that could be fabricated here and used in lightning power as opposed to steam vehicles.

It’s a more efficient use of resources,” explained Dodi. “We don’t use steam for most forms of transport at home any more, but the problem was finding a way to adapt the methodology for Andros.”

Your Patriarch believes in greater technological efficiency,” added Padma. “And he wants this efficiency to be visible in people’s everyday lives – that was enough to win him over, which in turn was enough to win over the Danelis Transport Group. They were eager to steal a march on any possible competition.”

Danelis? An old family, Kalla seemed to recall, but in a new enterprise. Not that she was terribly interested in surface travel as opposed to air and space travel. Late the next year, after she had become somewhat more fluent in the language, she borrowed what she was told was a standard account of what the Indrans called Heavens Travel.

The most important thing about the book was that it was historical. It told how a seeded world had managed to conceive and develop flight independently. It wasn’t just a matter of theory, but of hard-won experience. Kalla had heard inklings of this from the Indrans at Alkmene, and they could have taught her more – but they had a lot else to do.

The professors at the Academy here could help, but only on a theoretical level – the laws of physics that enabled space travel weren’t of any immediate use here, unlike the science and technology of resource management and communication, which was still the most immediate concern of Nestor.

Yet she wanted to pick up at least a bit of what Alex must now be learning first-hand on Indra – and there were surprising details. They had personal flying machines there: uranagaris – flying carts; or ferounkaros as they might be called here. These had to be extremely light, made of a material stronger than steel and yet far less dense – the Indran term, nakali loha, meant nothing to her – in order for them to be kept aloft by powered vanes.

It means ‘imitation iron,’” Padma told her the next day. “There are actually any number of types, produced through processing materials like plant husks, rock oil and other living or once living compounds. We wouldn’t recommend the trouble or expense of developing rock oil, and for that matter we wouldn’t advise depending for too long on black rock for steam power or lightning power generation – on Indra, we use garbage, but Andros hasn’t advanced enough to produce an adequate garbage resource.”

This wasn’t what Kalla had wanted to know, and she didn’t want to know it now – garbage on an industrial scale a sign of progress? – but she thanked Padma anyway; it was always a good idea to be diplomatic.

It was still tough going with the book, but she was making progress – getting to a better understanding of the Indran culture as well as the technological thinking behind the leaps into the air and then into space. Their Mahabharata had made no distinction between the levels of the Heavens, and the Indrans had imagined at first that they could fly through the air to other worlds, if only their aircraft could carry enough fuel.

There had been a grain of truth in that, for some of the aircraft had been powered by reaction engines called pratikriyas – and sungas airships like the Sky Climber, built by them here, had been just a sideshow, according to the author, Vibhu Puri. That only confirmed what she already knew. Puri’s book was a few decades old, and Kalla knew that Liessa was later “borrowed” by the Guild of Air and Space Transport Engineers to test “experimental” spacecraft. And that Amiela was now working for that same guild…

* * *

Indra and the universe beyond might still hold surprises, but Kalla had assumed that she was beyond surprise when it came to Andros itself, and surely when it came to the lottery program. Until the day she was told that the most recent winner was a young ground transport engineer named Verina Danelis.

Surely there must be some mistake, she thought. After all…

But there wasn’t, she was assured by the Ministry of Education...

The official purpose of the lottery was to reward graduates of the Academy who showed promise in the field of resource development. And her own official role was only to take them to Alkmene and back, to give them the opportunity to exchange ideas with the Guild members stationed there, to become part of the program fostered by Nestor to bring progress to Andros.

But her unofficial role…

Is she known to you?” she asked Padma.

We know of her,” Padma told her. “We’ve worked with her mother on lightning power vehicles.”

Kalla only nodded, but she was wrapped in thought.

This was still a primarily patriarchal society. Yet certain aspects of Romaic law brought to Andros had given at least a few women a chance to engage in business: they had equal rights to bequeath and inherit property; married women maintained ownership over their dowries. Only in families that were propertied to begin with did that matter – most women were farmers’ wives. That had begun to change during the reign of Feodor, and Methodios – if only out of necessity – had encouraged the entrepreneurial efforts of his daughters. But his family was still an exception to the rule.

The Danelis family was another exception; the foundation of its wealth was the silk business. Virgilia, whose husband had owned one of the great estates on Gregoras, had loved silk textiles, both to wear and to adorn sacred objects in churches. But she had a talent for design, and her fashions soon became popular – if Siguo hadn’t had a virtual lock on the interstellar silk trade in this region, she might have become one of the richest entrepreneurs on the planet.

Virgilia had been born on Gregoras, and had never even visited the mainland of Romania. But her children and grandchildren set up shop in Feodoropolis, and inherited her talent for innovation – they had even worked Indran motifs into their recent designs. And they had begun promoting their business with traveling fashion shows; that was what led to establishment of the Transport Group. It had occurred to Valeria Rhadenos, current head of the Danelis empire, that having her elegant traveling stages pulled by smoke-belching steamwheelers wasn’t the best sort of advertising for their apparel, so when Nestor and the Indrans had proposed an alternative…

It was family tradition that the women, whatever their married names, headed the creative side of the business – the men saw to the strictly management side. That was the case with Valeria, whose husband Bartholomaios kept the books and dealt with all the routine chores, while enjoying the fruits of her labors. It was also family tradition that control of the Danelis empire didn’t necessarily pass from father to daughter, but only to whomever the mother thought best qualified in the extended family.

Given that the empire was expanding its stake in the transport business – and not because she had inherited the original family name – Verina Danelis might be in the line of succession. Yet the core business was still the core business, she might instead be groomed to head the Transport Group one day… Still, she made a point of wearing one of the Indran-inspired designs when she met with Kalla at the Danelis complex.

I grew up reading about you,” she said, right off. “I’ve always admired you, and I’m so glad we finally have a chance to meet.”

That was as surprising as her being a lottery winner to begin with, and Kalla said as much.

Can you of all people think that only men dream of traveling beyond this world? This may be my only chance; I don’t think we’ll ever have the resources to venture into the space business. And I rather doubt that the Indrans are in the market for our stolas – not that, from what I hear, they aren’t flattered by where we found our inspiration.”

She went on talk more about that, and the lightning power vehicles – they would soon be used for bringing exhibitions to Nesalonika and even Boreapolis, she said. But she was eager to make the journey to Alkmene.

Another surprise: she wasn’t the least bit nervous about being carried there in a cargo container.

Do you really think I can’t trust you to get me up there safely?” she teased. “After all, you’ve done it dozens of times.”

And when they arrived there, she was just as eager as Alex to venture outside and see the stellar sights.

But Aunt Valeria could certainly improve on the designs of the space suits,” she commented. “I’ll have to study up on the technical side, so she’ll know where to begin.”

Only, would the Indrans be interested? Kalla wondered.

Verina managed to get in some flying time with the ice mining crew, although Kalla couldn’t imagine that being of interest to the Danelis business. Neither could the station’s hydroponics technology, which Verina also seemed to find fascinating.

But there was another interest she might take in her visit that remained unspoken – until the day before they were to return to Andros. Verina was so fulsome in her praise and gratitude that Kalla could sense where she was going. But she took a roundabout route to get there.

I was born when Kyros reigned,” she began. “It was a terrible time for our family, even though we had always steered clear of politics. It was you who saved us then, all unknowing, by saving Nestor and his family. Yet we couldn’t have imagined at the time that you would be our savior; we knew only that you had a certain… reputation.

When I later read about you, and how much you had already done for our world, I learned how you had served as a Companion, and what that meant, and why you had to faithful only unto the Patriarchs, even if you were not wed to them, and even if it was not in your nature.”

It was in my true nature to love them,” Kalla said. “I never had any regrets. And I have none now.”

Except for Jayar, but this isn’t the time or place to mention him.

Do you remember when you appeared at Mycenae, to humble Lord Pavel?”

I do.”

Virgilia was young then, just starting out in the silk business. She wasn’t in the capital to see it, but word spread like wildfire – about how a living goddess had shown her power and invulnerability in face of Pavel’s most fearsome weapons, yet spared him and our people at the end.”

It was the right thing to do. Feodor had proposed it, and I had agreed.”

But Verina was too caught up in her account to comment on Feodor’s role.

My great-great grandmother never forgot it, and she passed on the story for two generations – yet I didn’t know about it until I read it in the history they put out after the Restoration. And by then I knew that you were a legendary lover as well as a legendary heroine, and had heard about the favors you have granted the lottery winners.”

The answer is yes,” Kalla said, not wanting to disappoint her. “And it is true to my nature as a Velorian, although I have not had an opportunity to indulge in it here.”

She let her memories of her journey to Andros take over, but knew that she would have to make allowances for Verina’s nature, even after stripping down and donning her gold necklace. She saw that Verina was wet and ready,

Kalla was careful to be gentle with her breasts and, especially, her cunt – there, she let Verina be her guide in just how to use her lips and tongue to their best effect: Velorians weren’t all alike, and Terrans surely far less so. At first, Verina gave voice to her desires, but she later made passionate moans to let Kalla know that she was doing the right thing.

Now it was time for her to eat Kalla, and she was thrilled at the knowledge that she didn’t have to be careful – that she could let loose with a passion. Just as with her male lovers, it was a turn-on for Verina that her seemingly tenderest parts were invulnerable – but that she could bring incredible pleasure to them…

Which was what she was doing when the sound of shouting came from outside the room they were sharing.

They ignored it at first, just as they had ignored the sounds of Indran couples in their own throes of passion at other times. But then there came an announcement from Akash himself over the loudspeaker.

Attention!” he shouted. “An interstellar ship is approaching for a landing. And it’s one of ours!

He was speaking in Indran, but Kalla had picked up enough of the language by now to understand. And just in case she hadn’t, he repeated it in Scalantran.

It was stunning. But even more stunning was what she and the rest learned a few minutes later: that one of the passengers was Alexius Tornikios. What startled her was that he was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, showing off his incredible body.

I see you didn’t want for exercise on Indra,” she teased, once they were alone together in her quarters. From his smile, and the bulge in his shorts, she knew what had to come next.

Do we have time for…?

A quickie?”

They have to get things organized for the briefing. But it won’t be that long. And the Indrans don’t have time to waste.”

Then let’s!”

She could have practically dragged him back to her quarters, and he was all smiles as she stripped her own body of everything but the necklace.

Within moments, they were fucking like crazy, fucking against the clock, caring not for anything but each other. They were together again, whatever their world might face.

What else could the future hold for them? They had no idea – then. They couldn’t even have imagined it, knowing themselves only as they were now.

And Kalla could never have imagined what was to come once Azmi arrived to set up shop on the moon – with a contingent of a hundred Indran engineers. When he and Alex told her that they needed to have a conference aboard the Naye Udyama, she’d had to bid a hasty farewell to Verina, assuring her she’d be back as soon as possible to carry her home.

It would turn out to be a long wait for the lottery winner – three days. Not that she minded; she enjoyed her extended stay on Alkmene. What she minded was that Kalla wouldn’t tell her anything about what was up, beyond the fact that it had to do with the air and space program. As if that weren’t obvious.

The Naye Udyama – its name translated as “New Venture” – was nothing like the Bountiful Venture except in size. The ship’s design was strictly functional, without any of the luxuries or conveniences the Scalantrans favored. Most of the space was devoted to storage of structural materials for the initial expansion of the base, and technology for mining and manufacturing to produce more of the same locally for further expansion. The Indrans had had to make do with cramped quarters and preserved food – most would continue to sleep on the ship until there was room in the mula, as the expanded base was called.

There wasn’t a conference room suitable for a private meeting aboard, but none was needed.

We are all fully informed,” Azmi announced at the outset. “By the Scalantrans, and by our Companion. Nothing we say today will be new to us, but perhaps Kalla will have questions we have not anticipated. Because our fellow traveler knows her better than any of us, I will defer to him to begin the briefing.”

Alex joined Azmi at the back of the feeding room, where Kalla also took a seat. The other Indrans were seated at their usual tables. Their eyes were all on him, but his were still on her. The Indrans knew what they were to each other, but he gave no other sign of that.

It’s worse than we thought,” he said, without any preliminaries. “The Aureans are definitely expanding their empire, having recently annexed Agean, a world well beyond their home region. They even claim to have been invited by the Companion there, Liessa Ka Sar, but we have been unable to confirm this, as the Scalantrans have been barred from any further contact.”

He paused for a moment.

For some time, Amiela told me, they had been waging a propaganda campaign against the alleged slavery of Companions. The High Council had been informed of this, but had dismissed it as mere morale-building for internal consumption. They now know otherwise, and so do we – thanks to her. It will take time for word to spread among the Scalantrans on other trading circuits, but Captain Vahirem agreed that we can’t afford to delay, given the strategic position of Andros on the Bountiful Voyager’s route. We must begin now to prepare – prepare for war.”

How long do we have?” Kalla asked. “And when can we tell Andros?”

We don’t know, and we can’t tell. Not yet. Only when we have reached, and can be seen to have reached, a position of military strength. Our object is to build that position. This is just the beginning.”

But what can I tell the Patriarch about what the Indrans are doing now?”

That any spacecraft they build here will be strictly for commercial purposes, to engage in mining and the shipment to Andros of raw materials and industrial products manufactured on Alkmene. That it is all part of the accelerated program of development for your world.”

The Scalantrans themselves will cooperate,” Azmi added. “They will make their seeming displeasure with our growing presence known to the Patriarch, who can argue that his only interest is in further development of Andros’ own technology, including that for local air and space transport – that if we have any other ends in mind, they are not the concern of Andros and, in any case, beyond its control.”

It was a simple plan, but putting it into action would be far from simple, and that was what kept Kalla busy for the next three days. She had to be brought up to date on Indran space technology, on how spacecraft could be designed to serve commercial purposes and yet be quickly adapted to military use when the time came.

Other craft, designed as warships, would be manufactured at a second base on the opposite side of the moon. Nobody at home would see it – the original base of the Resource Engineers, now being expanded and shared by the two guilds, would be the only one to be visited by Androssians other than Kalla and Alex. Eventually, there would be other bases on the inner moons, Aoide and Adonia… but only for the military.

Chapter 6. A Secret Life

They were drunk with happiness in those early years, after the Change – but not so drunk that they didn’t take care to conceal their secret. Only, as time went by, it was harder and harder.

Alex was 52, nearly a decade later, but didn’t look it... He was rarely seen in public, or even at family gatherings; when he was Kalla did her best to make him seem older by cosmetically graying his hair. But there was no way she could age his skin.

He had retired from the Space Force after his accident; people could understand that he was afraid of flying after nearly dying, and that was what he and Kalla had given them to understand. They lived what seemed a quiet life together on their own estate, acquired after they became lovers; and with the revolution in communications there was little reason for them to appear in the Capital on government or family business.

* * *

Who could we tell?” Kalla would venture soon after the Change.

Who could we ask?” Alex said. “The Galen?”

It was a purely rhetorical discussion; they were too caught up in the excitement to think ahead. At the time, neither of them realized what might come of the Change in the long run. They could only count their blessings, as opposed to the frights that they had endured before, when Alex had been a test pilot.

Kalla had been terrified when word came of his first crash. She and Nestor had both given their assent to his flight. He wasn’t playing with a patang, but piloting a small spacecraft of Indran design assembled on Alkmene under the supervision of Sarvesh Azmi, mukhiya of the local contingent of the Guild of Air and Space Transport Engineers that had arrived with him four years before she had expected him back. He had come in for a hard landing; not really hard, or he’d have died instantly, but enough to break both his legs.

* * *

Androssians – men and women – would have to be trained as pilots and other crewmen and support personnel, and that would have to begin with aircraft; never mind that atmospheric ships wouldn’t be of any use in the eventual war. A whole generation, perhaps more than a generation, had to be prepared – without knowing what it was being prepared for.

It would all be taken as by the public as part of the modernization program for Andros that Nestor had launched after the Restoration – and Nestor himself would be led to see it that way, and dismiss the rest as just a matter of the Indrans and their rivalry with the Scalantrans.

For Alex and Kalla, things seemed to be back to normal, and destined to stay that way. They had to worry about the threat of war, and how to deal with it – but they’d be just part of a larger community of Androssians and Indrans. The challenge might be bitter, but they could face it – as long as they had each other…

* * *

After that historic briefing on his return to Alkmene, Verina had shared the ride home with Alex and Kalla. They looked knowingly at one another, but made only small talk. Because Verina had visited Alkmene as a lottery winner, and the cargo container included – among other things – lightning power units for the Danelis Transport Group, Kalla brought it in for a landing near the Group’s headquarters outside the Capital.

Verina was eager to show off the progress there, and even Alex was intrigued by what they saw on her guided tour, which included the latest model lightning power vehicle – the equivalent of a private coach.

When I was a boy, the Indrans weren’t shipping anything here but raw materials like water gas for the Sky Climber,” he recalled. “But then they started helping equip our lightning power generation plants, and now it’s plows for farmers and solar furnaces for smelters and engine parts for highwheelers – only these latest models won’t need high wheels.”

That’s why we’re calling them fastwheelers,” Verina responded. “Would you like to go for a ride? I could drop you two off at your place.”

It was a fast ride, and a bumpy one. Verina seemed to take it in stride, and so did Kalla – but Alex found it jarring, literally and figuratively.

Do you have to rush like this?” he asked. “We’re not at the steamcar races.”

I’m not really driving that fast,” Verina insisted. “It’s the road. It should have been graded better. Maybe even paved.”

I’ll mention that to Nestor,” Alex said.

He had been watching the trees along the Great Northern Road speed by, while shaking in his seat, where Verina had secured him with a rope.

Kalla glanced at him.

You’ve traveled faster in my arms,” she teased him.

But there aren’t any bumps in the air.”

Something seemed to dawn on him just then.

On Indra, the ground vehicles have cushions, filled with air, for the wheels.”

We know,” Verina said. “But we’ll need to import the kind of plants that produce the raw material for them, and grow enough to meet the future demand. It takes time. First things first.”

Talking about wheel cushions distracted her; she had to brake suddenly when a steamwheeler loaded with produce entered the road from an adjacent farm – its driver must have thought he had plenty of time, and hadn’t made any allowance for the speed of the fastwheeler, the like of which he’d never encountered before.

The farmer was confounded, but also angry, and cursed at Verina. It might have been different if he’d recognized Kalla. Verina made her apologies before she detoured around him.

First things first should mean keeping your eyes on the road,” groused Alex, who had been thrown forward and might have hit the control board and been injured if he hadn’t been tied down.

Verina was properly abashed, and kept to a slower pace the rest of the way. It was just as well: there was other farm-to-market traffic to look out for, as well as long-distance freight haulers and passenger coaches. There was even an elderly fellow who was driving an old-fashioned highwheeler drawn by greatoxen.

He can’t seem to learn new ways,” Alex remarked.

Maybe he just can’t afford a steamwheeler,” Kalla said. “Our prosperity isn’t yet universal. But it’s true that people of his generation must have trouble adjusting to the pace of change. When you’re his age, the time you live in now may seem ancient.”

It had just slipped out; she realized too late that her words must have reminded him of how he would grow old and die while she remained young...

They were past the farms, and the traffic thinned as they reached open country a few stadia from their estate.

Alex had little to say the rest of the way home, but seemed relieved when they finally reached the turn-off. Verina insisted on driving them to their villa, then bade them farewell.

We’ll have to see each other again,” she said – perhaps thinking of Kalla more than Alex. If that grated on him, he didn’t show it.

* * *

The villa was designed in the classic Romaic style, but it was modest in size, as it was never intended for more than two. Kalla and Alex didn’t even have servants, but kept house and prepared meals for themselves.

It should have been a joyous homecoming, but it was strictly business at first – and not only because of what had transpired on the road. Alexius had serious matters to bring up that went beyond the personal.

They’re not letting the new recruits know what the Scalantrans have been telling the High Council,” he said. “They don’t know about Jerusha or Rilanna – that suggests there may be cases like theirs elsewhere we don’t know about. Nor the Bountiful Voyager. Pakiula is as troubled about that as I am. Their new trade captain, Shangrin, intends to take the matter up when they return to Velor – but he wants to consult with you first.”

Is that why they sent you home early?”

No, it was because I wanted to be part of the space program – here, not there. Otherwise, Azmi could have carried the message. But I was the one who got Amiela to open up, and I was able to do that because you’d reached out to her. It made sense for me to bring you word from her… and I missed you, of course.”

I’m sorry,” Kalla said. “For—”

It’s all right, Kal,” he said. “It’s not as if I’d never thought of it… it’s no different for me than it was for Grandfather or those before him… only I’ll have more time than they did. Let’s not waste any of it.”

They looked into each other’s eyes, and knew it was time to put off business for pleasure.

Did you find Amiela amielenable?” she teased him.

Not in the way you think,” he said, and paused for a moment. “But I don’t want to talk about that just now.”

Kalla could tell from his tone that he meant something related to Velor, and she quickly shifted the conversation to banter about Amiela’s sex life and why Alexius hadn’t been part of it.

She’s quite strict when it comes to the terms of her indenture,” he explained. “Her favors are reserved for members of the Guild, and even they have to earn them – the membership runs well into the thousands.”

Rather like the lottery winners here.”

Not really. They’re chosen on the basis of achievement rather than potential, let alone mere chance… as you might imagine, they’re older and more experienced.”

Lucky for them, and for her.”

Have you been keeping yourself busy?”

Only with the lottery winners. And they’re a very sometime thing. Although I have to admit Verina was the first of her kind. Only, maybe not the last. You?”

Liessa, of course. But not as often as you might think... She has a… favorite. And there were Guild members, naturally. But only the unattached; I played by the rules... Of course, they’re younger and less experienced. Not that they were virgins, or hadn’t read up on how to please men…”

I trust that you were a good teacher.”

I kept in practice.”

I’ve missed you.”

I’m aching for you,

They were both naked, except that she had donned her gold necklace. Alexius had gotten rock-hard during their banter, and she was wet between the legs.

You’re making me hungry,” Kalla said, and took him in her mouth. He exploded seconds later, and then took her in his arms and deep-kissed her, savoring his own cum as well as the heady feeling of lips on lips and tongue on tongue. He worked his way downwards slowly and teasingly, kissing her on her neck and caressing her shoulders and arms before playing at “finding” her breasts – squeezing them, then sucking and biting them until she screamed and shuddered as she came. After pausing to let her savor her orgasm, he teased her again, kissing his way down her belly before burying his face between her legs to kiss and lick and bite her clit until she erupted like a tiny volcano – and let him drink his fill of her fragrant juices with their flowery scent.

Kalla was wonderfully slick as he buried his cock in her and began to thrust with wild abandon, knowing that he could let loose with her as with no other woman – that no matter how hard he pounded her, he could give her nothing but pleasure. That made it an almost indescribable a high for him when he came, and they came together again in every way they could think of before they took a break.

I had gotten used to you, so I had to hold myself back with those Guild women,” he confessed. “They’re only human, after all. But knowing that you’re invulnerable, that nothing can hurt you…

I can be hurt,” she reminded him. She didn’t have to mention Nikos by name. “It would hurt me if anything happened to you.”

I’ll be careful with myself,” he assured her, with apparent sincerity. “It’s just that I know I don’t have to be careful with you ­– your incredible Velorian self!”

Enough!” she exclaimed. “Put your hands and your mouth and your cock where you’re aiming your compliments!”

Your wish is my command!”

* * *

In the afterglow, Alex returned to what he’d learned from the Scalantrans.

It seems that on some worlds, at least those where the indentures are held by and inherited by individuals, fathers allow their sons to share the Companions’ beds as part of their coming of age – or as they put it, their ‘education.’”

I’d already heard that from Pakiula,” Kalla admitted. “Feodor never mentioned it to me. He would probably have thought it was against the rules – I certainly did. Or maybe he’d have considered it unseemly, on a world as conservative as Andros was – and in some respects still is. Anyway, I guess I missed out.”

They also have ‘lottery boys’ on Erin’lah now. From some of the seeded worlds. To help future Companions with their ‘education.’”

Any from Indra?”

No. Nor from any of the other worlds visited by the Voyager – they’d never heard of the idea. Maybe there’s a reason for where they’re recruiting the lottery boys, but even Amiela doesn’t know.”

Maybe we—”

But at that moment her farcaller tweeted. It was a fire in Feodoropolis; there were people in need of rescue in the upper stories, who were fleeing to the roof. Kalla didn’t bother getting dressed, just removed her necklace and headed out the door, into the sky and quickly out of sight – time was of the essence.

* * *

It was days later that Kalla met with Nestor to bring him up to date on the space program, and the role of the Indrans who had just arrived.

Their first order of business will be to build a landing craft that can carry men and materiel here from Alkmene – and return. It’s a waste of time for me to be ferrying cargo containers back and forth.”

Boring, too, I imagine… except for the lottery winners.”

And they’ll get more out of their trips if they can ride in actual spacecraft, and get to see their journeys, from takeoffs to landings…”

I’ll have tag along one of these days!”

But the important thing is that the Indrans will be able to build aircraft as well as landing craft right here on Andros. Only their larger spacecraft will have to be built up there.”

Nestor was taken aback.

What would we need those for?”

Mining expeditions to the other moons and planets. Establishing colonies there. Eventually, interstellar travel.”

Isn’t that the prerogative of the Scalantrans?”

They’re thinking of going into competition with them.”

As traders?”

Indra has a very commercial culture. Some of their guilds could profit greatly by eliminating the Scalantrans as middlemen.”

Nestor couldn’t conceal his shock.

They aren’t going to like it. They aren’t going to like us if we get involved. What if they cut us off?”

They won’t dare. They can’t afford to. They’ll just have to compete for our trade in specific products, like rival business concerns here in the capital. In any case, if it comes to that, we won’t be ‘involved’ – we’ll just be bystanders. It’s not as if we could prevent them from using Alkmene; we don’t have any permanent presence there. And if there’s any question of the legitimacy if their operation, we could always lease rights to them in return for their support of own air and space program.”

It’s something I’d have to put before the Synod.”

Of course. But it would be best to wait until the landing craft is built, and makes its first landing. People will be able to see that the Indrans are in earnest in their support of your plans. Until then, I’d advise keeping quiet about it.”

Nestor nodded in understanding. Mission accomplished… but she felt a twinge of regret for feeding him the cover story. It might be necessary… for now. Yet it could cause no end of trouble in years to come.

Kalla gown

Kalla had come to his private office to brief him, dressed for the occasion – in one of the Indran-inspired gowns Verina favored. It was more than just a matter of fashion, however; it was a reminder of the relationship between Andros and Indra, and the need to cultivate it.

The image she projected that day was nothing like the one she had shown in the Capital on emergency duty a few days earlier – the men, and even the women, trapped on the roof of a burning commercial building certainly hadn’t been offended to see a naked goddess coming to their rescue before the flames could reach them.

Her rescue work done, she’d been able to fly home to Alex as fast as she’d flown in. But today, it had to be a more leisurely trip both ways – it wouldn’t do to risk damage to such a beautiful gown…

Chapter 7. Up in the Air

It was strictly an atmospheric craft, designed for the tagmata for use in aerial surveillance.

Alexius might be a test pilot for the Space Force, but he hadn’t made it into space yet – except as a passenger on the landing craft. On the other hand, he was the only Androssian allowed to visit the base of the Guild of Air and Space Transport Engineers – and the only one allowed to know its purpose.

It was three years since he had returned from Indra, and the first ships of what was to become a fleet had been completed.

As far as anyone else besides Kalla knew, of course, they had been designed for strictly peaceful ends – not that anyone else from Andros could have divined otherwise looking at them from a distance. They could have seen that they didn’t resemble the Bountiful Voyager, and that was that.

The Rakhavali 1, on the other hand, had been built here on Andros, at a complex next to the launching ramp in the Coastal Range from which the landing craft Utara made its return trips to Alkmene. The Utara wasn’t large enough to generate an anti-gravity field like the warships but, it any case, the Indrans didn’t want people here to know they had that technology – it was assumed to be a Scalantran monopoly.

The roar of the reaction engine when the Utara took off was deafening – a good reason not to have it operate anywhere near a populated area. Besides, it took heavy equipment to lift the massive craft back onto the track after it had landed on a stretch of paved road next to the complex that ran straight for ten stadia – no way could it be hauled across country.

Vane-driven aircraft could take off from and land on the same road; that was what Alexius would be doing. Indran pilots had already taken it up for short flights, and he had done likewise. But he’d wanted to be the first to make an extended flight – and Shazad Latif, head of the Guild’s groundside command, had agreed. After all, the more familiar he became with the prototype Rakhavali, the better he could teach future pilots of the tagmata – which would doubtless change its name to some Romaic equivalent.

It was a heady experience – he’d felt free as a bird, soaring towards the peaks of the Range, then doubling back for a long descent into the valley east of the complex – that would be the route to the future tagmata base, when the time came. Of a sudden, he realized there was a flock of birds ahead of him – he banked quickly, but a couple of them hit the vanes and sent his craft spinning. He fought for control and regained it, just barely; but the vanes were damaged and he knew he’d have to set down in the valley. It was a rough landing, but it could have been a lot worse... only a right leg hairline fracture and torn tendon this time, but he was checked in to the hospital for observation.

* * *

Kalla came to see him there as soon as she found out. They said he was still in pain, but he didn’t show it; his attitude was chipper – he waved to her in greeting and, when she was within reach, pulled her in for a kiss.

It will all work out,” he assured her. “I’m sure Shazad can come up a device to scare away the birds when the surveillance craft go into service.”

You practically scared the life out of me! You could have—”

But I didn’t. And an Indran pilot might not have been so lucky.”

Somehow, that didn’t seem to comfort her. And when it was time for her to bring him home a few days later, it still didn’t.

She was lightly dressed; only a stola and trousers, the trousers just for the sake of modesty if the stola blew away during flight. Both were the worse for wear from that flight – it wouldn’t have done to have gone to the hospital naked to pick him up. He saw the look on her face, and she saw the look on his – a look of intense longing.

Without saying a word, he tore off her stola, pulled down her trousers and buried his face between her legs.

Alex, no!” she cried.

This was not right – not for her and certainly not for him. But he ignored her, and she couldn’t bear to just thrust him away. So she steeled herself to save him from harm, remaining motionless as he bore down on her with lips and tongue. She couldn’t fully feel what he was doing – not without gold. And yet, knowing what he was doing, and feeling for him…

Kalla’s juices were flowing, and he was drinking them eagerly. Her invulnerable body might feel to him like a statue, but it was a living statue – and a loving one. She was actually coming – just from knowing how excited he was. Only there was something else, something deeper, something within her that needed to come out. She had never felt anything like it before, but there was a sense of great purpose – a purpose that had to be fulfilled. And then, even as she came again, she was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling that the great purpose had somehow been accomplished.

What could it possibly mean? Was it a sign that the years were finally catching up with her, that her mind was playing tricks with her – as she knew happened to some ordinary humans in their last years?

She didn’t confide her fears to Alex, but only chided him.

That was very dangerous,” she said.

You didn’t seem to mind.”

I was holding myself back, just the same. If I’d let myself respond in kind…”

I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted to show you I was still all right, even if my leg is paining me.”

Then show me in the usual way,” Kalla said, taking off her shirt and putting on her necklace.

They fucked themselves silly. Everything seemed back to normal.

Only, that evening Alex said he wasn’t feeling well. He couldn’t hold any food down, and he was running a fever. Kalla took him back to the hospital, but the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.

You’ve been through the usual childhood ailments here, and been inoculated for all the common diseases here under Candida’s public health program,” one of them observed. “Could it be anything you picked up on Indra?”

Not with such a long incubation period,” Alex said, wearily but knowledgeably – he was up on the basics of medicine.

When his blood tests came back, they didn’t show anything out of the ordinary. But his symptoms worsened, including loss of his facial and body hair, and he was becoming incoherent – he seemed to fear the end was near, and wanted last wishes known: to die at home. They couldn’t do anything for him at the hospital; the medicines for fever weren’t working. So they let him go home.

Kalla was crushed. All she could do was lay him down in bed, hoping that would make him more comfortable. He mumbled and moaned, nothing she could understand – except for the word “love.” That crushed her all the more. She couldn’t do anything for him, any more than the doctors, and hated herself for it.

She had resigned herself to the end. Only, the end never came. On the morning of the third day, he suddenly awakened, as if he’d only been asleep.

Kalla couldn’t believe it at first.

Alex looked around, as surprised as she was.

I guess I wasn’t as sick as I thought I was,” he said. “As they thought I was.”

As I thought you were. It’s like a miracle.”

I don’t believe in miracles.”

Neither do I, really.”

Maybe they’ll figure it out when they look at me again. But they’d better be very careful, in case I’m infectious.”

If anyone else had shown signs, I’d have heard about it.”

I feel kind of… light.”

No wonder!”

I mean, literally.”

Maybe it’s because your stomach is empty. You need to get some breakfast in you.”

Kalla headed for the kitchen and made some Indran pancakes with spicy green beans and vegetables and topped with cheese. It was a breakfast favorite Alex had learned from Kamana, his previous lover, long before he’d journeyed to her homeworld. He’d showed Kalla how to make it after taking up with her, and she knew it was just the thing to welcome him back to the world of the living.

Only, Alex did indeed seem light on his feet – even with the crutch, he stumbled as he came to sit down to eat.

And smashed the kitchen table.

There was a moment of utter silence. Then…

How could you do that?” Kalla asked.

I’m sorry,” he said, looking at the broken table and the mess on the floor where the pancakes had fallen.

I mean, how could you do that?”

That was when it dawned on him, as it had already dawned on her.

It was then that he realized that his leg had healed, that he wouldn’t have a limp, let alone need a cane.

* * *

They did a series of tests to confirm that the impossible had happened.

They were careful about it that morning, venturing outside to avoid risking further damage to the furniture.

There was a huge boulder on the grounds; Alex managed to lift it without effort and throw it a hundred feet away. Check.

Kalla took a kitchen knife and pressed it against his chest. It didn’t leave a mark. She tried stabbing him with it, and it broke. Check.

It was the same with other tests, like knocking down a huge dead tree that they had wanted to get rid of anyway. An axe that Alexius had used to chop firewood couldn’t harm him, even when she put all her strength behind it – it just flew to pieces.

There were limitations. Alex could leap into the air, clearing the villa and the trees around it, but he couldn’t fly.

It must be because you don’t have a volatai,” she explained. “Whatever got into you from me could work with what was already there, but it couldn’t create anything that wasn’t already there.”

Not that it mattered, at least to her.

The man she loved had now become super powerful, and invulnerable. But there was one more test she was eager to make. She led him to a nearby meadow, stripped off her clothes and bade him do likewise. It came as no surprise that he was up for that last test.

Kalla took his cock in her hand, and squeezed gently – then not so gently. It not only looked hard, it was hard – as hard as a Velorian’s...

Lie down!” she told him, and he lay down in the field.

She had taken him this way many times, but always under gold. Now she was as naked as he was as she welcomed him inside her, knowing that she wouldn’t have to hold back.

There had been occasions in the past when she had secretly pleasured herself, not just with her hands, but with steel bars – and the steel had been compressed and even melted. But now Alex was stronger than any steel; she could squeeze his cock with all her might, holding it prisoner within her, reveling in its invulnerability – until she finally relaxed her grip and let him come.

It’s like losing my virginity all over again,” he said afterwards, before taking top position for the next round. For the third round, he ate her out, and bit her invulnerable clit with his invulnerable teeth. And through the rest of that morning, he didn’t neglect her invulnerable breasts or any other part of her body, nor did she overlook any of his.

Now you’re the one who’ll have to wear gold, if any of the Guild women from the base come calling,” she kidded him.

No, you’re the only woman for me. And the only woman who can be. My cock is like a spitter now – my seed would be deadly.”

Why hadn’t I thought of that? But this is as new to me as it is to you. I’ve never heard of anything like it.”

And we can’t let the world hear about it,” Alex warned. “The news sheets and the news nets would never let us alone – and God knows what the Scalantrans or the Indrans would make of it. Or Velor, for that matter…”

* * *

It has to be something the Galen built into you,” Alex speculated the next day, getting into his Cosmognosis mind set. “Something they thought would be needed, some day, somewhere.”

Surely not now. Surely not here. And nothing they wanted us to know about. But then, they never wanted us to know what would happen to us if we left Velor. They didn’t want us to know about other worlds at all, except theirs – and supposedly how we would become procreators for them there. The priests still believed in that when I was growing up. I don’t think anyone else took it seriously.”

But what the Galen did with the people they took from Earth. That must be what you did to me. It’s all about the lifecyphers; somehow they can be altered or copied or reconfigured without losing their original functions. I don’t look any different, except for the missing hair.”

Velorians men never have beards or body hair, and the hair on our heads grows only to a certain point. I guess it will be the same with you, but I don’t know why.”

I feel the same inside; my brain is in working order… and all the rest.”

Including your spitter.”

That was a joke, but Kalla decided to carry it a bit further. The next time she went to the Capital to meet with Nestor, she stopped by a store to buy a spitter – explaining that a friend of hers wanted it for hunting.

Oh, come on,” he said when she told him what she had in mind, but he decided to humor her by assuming the position she ordered, stark naked, hands on his hips. She herself was already naked.

Oh, come!” she shouted, and opened fire.

Alex couldn’t help himself. The pellets hitting his cock and balls teased him so much that he exploded in seconds – sending his cum splashing onto Kalla’s chest.

Good aim!” she said, as if she hadn’t calculated the course his seed would take. She dipped her fingers in it and took a lick; her face lit up.

You even taste Velorian now,” she pronounced.

But then there came a tweet from the farcaller she had set down nearby – even pursuing sexual fantasies, Kalla knew she had to stand ready for emergencies. When she answered, however, it wasn’t the kind of emergency she could deal with; it was worse – a sobering moment.

Your father just died,” she told Alexius. “That was Nestor. It happened just after I left. Eusebia is too broken up to call the rest of the family, so he’s handling things. He wants us all to come to the Palace right away.”

Oh God,” he cried.

As Kalla flew him to Feodoropolis, she feared not for his safety but for his morale. She knew the feeling of loss. But loss was part of the human experience, even for such as they.

It was thus that the cares of the great world intruded into the seemingly carefree world of their love. Ordinary life and death, and the consequences thereof, would come to haunt them in years to come…

Chapter 8. Relations – Strained and Strange

It was a solemn occasion, and an unsettling one – not just for the loss of Rulav, which was only to be expected at his age, but for Kalla’s realization that she was losing her intimacy with the Patriarch Nestor’s family.

It didn’t help that she couldn’t tell them how things had changed between her and Alex. It helped even less that he couldn’t either – that he had to pretend he still had a gimpy leg and wasn’t up to strenuous activity, let alone working as a test pilot.

It was strange to be at the Palace again; what family gatherings she’d attended since the Restoration had been at the Choniates Estate and, except for the matter of barring future Companions on Andros, had been devoted to family business, and she had attended them infrequently, as a matter of courtesy – although she was welcomed when it came to special occasions.

She had been there when Symeon’s sons Constans and Damianos had married; they had children of their own; likewise Alexios and Petronia’s son Rulav Komnenos – (who took his name from the Patriarch’s father, a fair exchange for Alexius taking his from Alexios) and daughter Angelina; and the daughters of Isidoros and Justina, Galla and Martina Procopios. But whenever Nestor’s son Libanius married, it would be at the Palace, a state occasion.

The older generation was passing; before long, it would all have passed. Rulav Tornikios had retired as Deacon of the Academy a decade ago. Candida was no longer Minister of Health. Flavia Choniates had kept up only a passing interest in marsh gas, and Justina had long since let newcomers trained in the farcaller business take charge of that industry. Most of their children and grandchildren had scattered, returning to the Palace or the Estate only for major state and/or social occasions – like so many other Androssians, they were used to keeping in touch by farcaller.

Libanius was 27 now, old enough to appreciate political realties – and how they might complicate his romantic life. But if Nestor was seeking a marriage alliance for his son, he hadn’t confided in Kalla. She could hardly complain, considering that there were so many things she couldn’t confide in him about – the transformation of Alex being only the latest. The future Patriarch’s younger sister Procopia would probably have a better shot at true love – although it was doubtful that she loved her given name.

Kalla now felt closer emotionally to the children of Nikos Makropoulos than to the current generations of what had once been the Andros clan. Belisarius (now catapan of Strymon, but with quaestors to advise him), Nereida, Valens and Ariadne had shared in the tragedy of Nikos’ murder. For reasons of state, Nestor had enjoined her never to tell why the catapan had been targeted – but she meant to tell them anyway someday, and hoped they would understand. Only, she couldn’t think about that now…

She wore black today, as did all the members of the family, even the children. A priest led them in prayers, which even those who were in no sense at all Believers, gave their respect. There followed the mercy meal, at which they shared Koliva, a wheat dish freighted with religious significance – seen as symbolic of death and resurrection in the priest’s blessing, taken from the Holy Book of the Church:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

Kalla found herself unexpectedly touched by the Bible verse.

In our own way, we are sowing grain and bringing forth much fruit, she thought. I have to keep that in mind, whatever else happens. I have to be true to that, even if there are other truths that I dare not share.

This wasn’t the place to discuss the fruits of lightning power, or the seeds sown by the farspeaking programs and the first aircraft. But she knew they were on the minds of the Patriarch and his family – including Alex, even though he was constrained to seem indifferent.

Nobody had mentioned Alexius’ accident, or his reaction to it, during the service, or the mercy meal, or the reminiscences shared among family members afterwards – not just about Rulav’s career, although there were anecdotes to tell; but about him as a man. Eusebia was moved to share tearful yet tender memories, beginning with when they met and fell in love.

He was two years ahead of me at the Academy,” she recalled. “But it turned out he’d taken first-year engineering under Father – and when I questioned him about two-way lightning power, he’d shared that with Rulav, who thought I’d been impertinent.

“’Not in the least,’ Father told him. ‘Entirely pertinent. She’s eager to understand lightning power – given that she wants to work in that field.’

“‘A woman?’

“‘She’s my eldest daughter,’ Father told him. ‘She has her eyes on the future, and the ambition to help bring it about. On some worlds, I’ve been told, she’d be my heir.’

But Father never let me know. It was Rulav. Jayar was still Patriarch then, and Kyros was… but Rulav knew what Father had meant, and that got him to thinking about where the world was going – and about me.”

Only he hadn’t had the nerve to approach her until they met by chance five years later during the Strymon dam project – after all, she was the Patriarch’s daughter, and he was only a commoner… Eusebia’s story told, things were beginning to wind down, and people were getting ready to leave.

But Kalla turned her head as she overheard a conversation Nestor was having with Alex across the room.

It was just small talk at first. But then…

I’ve heard from Shazad,” he said. “He hopes you’ll reconsider resigning from the Ground Command. There’s still a lot of work you could do for the Guild there, even if you can’t fly again.”

It’s just… nerves,” Alexius said, and he sounded nervous.

The Patriarch could never have guessed that what his brother was nervous about was the risk of giving himself away if he returned to work at the base – and got too caught up in the excitement to watch himself…

That’s unfortunate,” Nestor said, with a sigh. But then, to lighten up a bit, added, “Still, you’re looking great!”

The luck of the lifecyphers,” Alexius responded, off the cuff. It got a laugh, but his expression would come back to haunt him in later years.

* * *

You just might go back to work, with enough practice,” Kalla chided him gently after they got home. “Maybe minimize the limp, as if your leg were still healing.”

The doctors would wonder about that,” Alex pointed out. “And I can’t let them examine me. The very sight of my bare skin…”

There’s that,” she conceded.

And even if I could stay in character, out there, on a continuing basis rather than just occasionally, there might be another accident, or incident, that would expose me. It would be all over – for both of us. We could never have a private life again. Everyone would wonder how it happened. And some would wonder why – ‘Why just him?’”

Maybe the Scalantrans can think of something.”

Only, when the Bountiful Voyager made its stop inbound for Velor later that year, none of her confidants could – neither Pakiula nor Vahirem nor Shangrin. Indeed, they found the news disturbing, for an entirely different reason than anyone on Andros might: What if the same thing were to happen elsewhere?

Kalla had to be frank about the intimate details, and the Scalantrans agreed that it wasn’t likely they’d be replicated.

We can’t even ask about that at Velor, or they’d want to know why,” Vahirem said. “Either it’s never happened before, or it’s a closely-guarded secret. Either way, if we tell them about Alexius, it could cause us no end of trouble.”

* * *

For him, it had already caused no end of rapture...

It’s like Cleopatra’s Grip,” he had told her one night, early on, after she had just ridden him to a series of glorious orgasms.

What?” Kalla asked.

Cleopatra was a legendary queen on Earth,” he explained. “She’s said to have been famed for her muscular control – she could squeeze a man’s cock at will, on and off, and milk it dry.”

We call it something else on Velor. But the men there love it too.”

A few days later, she had teased him by showing what her Grip could do to an uruku steel kitchen knife – which came out crushed. She took it in hand and crushed it further, beyond recognition.

But nothing can crush this,” she said, taking his cock and squeezing it without mercy until he spurted on her breasts.

Nothing can crush these, either,” he beamed, as he mauled them savagely until she had a nipple orgasm.

Or this,” he added a little later, biting her clit with wild abandon, until she cried out so loudly that it would have wakened the whole neighborhood – if they had lived in a neighborhood.

It didn’t take them long to find other pleasures. What started as sort of a spur-of-the-moment joke morphed into a kind of foreplay. In time, it even became a game for them.

Kalla had learned from the Scalantrans that it had been played the other way on some worlds; it was a turn-on for holders of indentures to shoot at their Companions – targeting their breasts and crotches with their heaviest weapons. If they aimed right, they could make the Velorians come – and leave them dripping with desire for more. Then it was time for the men to deploy the weapons between their legs...

She’d never gone in much for that herself, though she had experienced orgasms from lightning strikes and when she’d shown off her invulnerability in battle to intimidate the partisans of Festus and Pavel and Kyros. After the Restoration, and institution of the lottery, she’d sometimes shown off on Alkmene, as with the solar furnace, to inflame the winners. But she’d never felt the need to so indulge the men she loved, and she knew that such behavior was unheard of on Velor itself – men and women there were equal, at least within their classes, and class differences were small indeed compared to the gulf between Velorians and humans...

Yet Alex was a seeming miracle. Kalla knew there were protos on distant First Generation worlds, as the Scalantrans called them, but she’d never met one and surely never would. Only right here at home, she had an invulnerable man with an invulnerable cock – and could have him any time she wanted. She could throw caution to the winds, let loose with him as she had never let loose with any man since leaving Velor. And that included using the spitter as a sex toy.

She’d aim at his chest first and work her way down. He’d already be steel-hard by the time she reached his crotch, and then the game was how long he could hold out against the delicious assault of the spitter’s pellets, knocking his cock this way and that. It never took long for him to shoot his load… only his first load of the day, of course. But they indulged in that sort of thing outdoors – lest the ricochets damage their home.

Turnabout being fair play, would invite him to shower her with pellets, which left smudges of lead on her breasts and abs where they bounced off, just as they had on his crotch. Enough found her nipples to bring her off, but she remarked afterwards that his mouth could do a much better job – there and down below... Alex took the hint, and drove her wild that way.

Shooting him was more exciting for Kalla than being shot. She was accustomed to being invulnerable, after all, but he wasn’t – and she hadn’t had an invulnerable lover for a century and a half. It didn’t hurt that, but for his dark hair, he looked like a Velorian – and a gorgeous one at that. His now-hairless body fairly glowed in her eyes. Yet he was never vain about it, only grateful to her for having made him what he now was – and letting him take every advantage of that.

The day after meeting with the Scalantrans, Kalla sprung another tease on him – as a special gift for her, they had managed to fabricate a uruku steel/crystal composite mesh version of a kind of tiny men’s loin cover that was popular on Indra. She got him to put it on – very gingerly – to see if his rising cock would tear through it before her spitter. His cock won, and he proceeded to put it to good use.

Yet being so wrapped up with each other, however fulfilling, was also distracting. There were matters that concerned Kalla and Nestor in the short and the long run, and another matter that concerned just her and Alexius in the long run. And while there were constant reminders of the former, it was easy for them to put the latter out of mind…

Chapter 9. New Alliance, New Diversions

It would have been shocking, only a generation earlier, for Libanius to have wed Verina. A woman of business, rather than a representative of one of the landed families and/or a political faction that needed to be accommodated?

Yet it had happened, with the blessing of Nestor and the Family Council.

It won’t turn the Palace into a business venture,” the Patriarch argued. “Verina has already renounced any claim to inheritance of the Danelis empire, and also agreed that, when it comes time for Libanius to succeed me, she will retire from the Transport Group and sever all ties with family businesses.”

He paused for a moment.

Naturally, she wishes a long life for me!”

That occasioned a lot of laughs, Verina later told Kalla, who hadn’t attended the meeting, although she might have – she just didn’t want to make it appear that she had any interest in the marriage contract of a future Patriarch.

I’ll have plenty of time to build a lightning power transportation empire,” she said. “He wants me to make my dreams come true, as well as his own. And as the Patriarch’s consort, I’ll work with him and the Indrans. Perhaps we’ll even travel in space together. It’s the best of all possible worlds.”

He knows you’ve already traveled in space…”

Verina blushed, but was all smiles.

He knows we tried each other out. But I’ve tried him out. Tried him out a lot. So I know what I’m getting. And the pillow talk is great; you can’t beat a man who’s good at fucking and intelligent conversation.”

A generation ago, no high-born woman would have admitted, let alone boasted, of having “tried out” a man before marriage.

I can tell how much his parents love each other, even after so many years. That means he should be a good father himself. Another plus.”

So how did you two meet?”

Fastwheelers were on the Farspeaker news, and it was easy enough for him to find out where we were making them, so he stopped by to take a look, and then he wanted to go for a ride. Like when I took you and Alexius home.”

How did it go?”

It was a rough ride. I told him he should get his father to do something about the roads.”

He didn’t seem interested when I brought that up,” Alexius broke in.

And now the Transport Ministry is actually doing something.”

So I’ve noticed.”

It wasn’t long before we were doing our part by getting into cushioned wheels,” Verina continued. “But by then, I was taking Lib for another kind of ride...”

* * *

To reach the future, we must transcend the past,” Nestor told the world over the Farspeaker system, in announcing his son’s upcoming wedding. And the wedding itself broke with tradition, being held on the grounds of the Farspeaking Tower rather than at the Palace.

A platform had been mounted halfway up the tower, so that everyone in the huge crowd below to see Libanius and Verina exchange their vows, and people in the crowd could hear them on their farcallers. It was a long climb for the bride and groom, but they were young and vigorous. Likewise the priest, who was also a magistrate, and managed to wed civil and religious ceremony as he wed the couple.

I hereby proclaim them truly wed, before God and this company,” he declared, after they had exchanged rings and vows. The newlyweds themselves were exchanging kisses – not just ceremonial pecks, but passionate embraces. Thousands of onlookers responded with cheers, and the couple broke off their kissing to turn and wave to them.

A caravan of fastwheelers awaited outside the grounds for the newlyweds and their families, and was soon heading south to the old capital of Ethrata, where they would spend their honeymoon – it was a gesture calculated to honor the past and the present. It helped that the southern road had been smoothed and paved – no problems of a rough ride, even if they hadn’t had cushioned wheels.

At every town and village along the way, people lined the roadside to cheer the future Patriarch and his bride. The communities themselves looked prosperous, as did the farms between them – it was planting time, and steam-powered machines could be seen sowing some of the fields. In orchards, the trees were in bloom with the promise of fruits and nuts to come…

Kalla and Alexius rode with the caravan; this was one family occasion they just couldn’t miss. Verina made a point of seeing them off for home afterwards.

You don’t look a day older, Alex,” she said. “Having a Velorian for a lover must work wonders.”

Just the luck of the lifecyphers,” Alexius said with a straight face. “As for Kal, if it were just living with her, she’d have repaired the damage.”

He made a show, as he had at the beginning of the caravan trip, of having a bit of trouble getting into the fastwheeler.

* * *

At home, Kalla and Alex could abandon caution, play out their wildest fantasies with complete abandon.

The next time her farcaller summoned her to a fire, she had to enter the flames to rescue the people trapped inside. She had to strip quickly before responding, lest she become a superhuman torch – and therefore endanger the very lives she was there to save.

Mission accomplished, and medical people taking care of the only minor burns suffered by the grateful living, she flew home. She was still sooty when she arrived, and Alex asked her how the fire had felt.

I don’t have time to think of that when I’m on the job,” she said. “I had to get the people out as fast as I could. I couldn’t just stand around in the blaze.”

But you could here. And we’ve got that fallen tree from the last storm… it’s really dry by now.”

Kalla smiled her assent, and Alex began to strip, but she had another idea.

Keep your clothes on,” she said. “They’re replaceable.”

He got the hint.

It took them a while, using just their arms, to knock the tree to pieces, after which they arranged the pieces into a pyre – only with a place for Kalla to seat herself. Alex fetched a container of a saraba-based cleaning fluid, and poured it on the wood beneath her. Then he lit a match and tossed it at her feet.

The fire started with a flash, then became a growing blaze as the wood caught. Kalla was already wet with anticipation, and her love juices sizzled as the flames engulfed her, and the updraft of hot air sent her hair blowing wildly. As the fire intensified, it felt pleasantly warm against her breasts, which she began playing with to pleasure herself – and tease Alex.

She beckoned to him, and he stepped into the inferno, still wearing his tunic and trousers – which instantly burst into flames. In just moments, burning pieces of fabric fell away from him, exposing his invulnerable body in all its glory. The fire licked against his hard cock, and she could tell how much he loved it – there was a burst of steam as he spurted. Her cunt was steaming too, longing for him to bury himself in it…

Moments later they were fucking like crazy, the violence of it causing the pyre to collapse around them, burying them in blazing wood hot enough to melt lead, tin, brass, bronze – even gold, had they been wearing any. Their bodies were red hot, and all the hotter for each other – converting the heat to orgone, something familiar to Kalla but new to Alex. Cock and cunt alike were tireless, and only when the fire had burned itself to embers did they begin to return to normal…

There wasn’t any chance to bathe in fire again without cutting down perfectly good trees – if they ordered lumber, people might wonder why. It was back to spitter play for a time. But they found other diversions, like fucking in space – nowhere near Alkmene or any warships being test-flown by the Guild. Basking in the heat of the sun at close range was just as pleasurable as bathing in fire at home, if not as spectacular.

But as the novelty of Alexius’ invulnerability wore off, they were content to pleasure themselves abed. There was the warm inner glow they felt when passion was spent. And there was the intimacy of minds as well as bodies; they could converse about anything and everything... including Cosmognosis. Yet, as the years wore on, they realized that having each other increasingly meant having only each other.

Chapter 10. Necessary Sacrifice

How can this be?” Nestor asked.

I don’t know how it can be. Nobody knows, even on Velor.”

And how could you have dared to keep it from me?”

How could I do otherwise? I knew from the outset that if anyone else here found out, we’d never hear the end of it. I’d be seen as a goddess who could confer godhood at her whim, and Alexius as the beneficiary of that whim. People would never believe that it wasn’t intentional – or that what happened might have been completely fortuitous, never to be repeated for anyone else.”

If they learn now, they might think I had known and approved, that I was favoring my own brother.”

They might wonder that you had not favored yourself.”

Or Juliana, or Libanius, or their children. The list goes on. It’s one thing for you reward the lottery winners; they have never expected more than a passing dalliance, but this… it could create demands for another kind of lottery, in the interests of fairness. Yet as you say, you can’t promise to do for anyone else what you have done for Alexius.”

It’s a dilemma, Sebastos. I can’t see any way out of it.”

By invoking his honorific, she made it clear that she knew it was a matter of state, not just an issue of family. But Nestor knew it was both.

If this had happened with anyone else, outside the family, with one of the lottery winners, it wouldn’t necessarily concern the Palace – people might understand, even if they were jealous of you and your chosen companion. But if they come to believe that you deliberately chose Alexius to – enhance, shall we call it? – they could see that as a sign…”

He was clearly leading up to something. He looked at her gravely. It was not only his years – he was now 57 – that told the tale.

I have to think of the future,” he said. “My own future, and that of Libanius, and that of the world he will have to guide when I am gone, and that his son after him. There is only one way out.”

She looked back at him just as gravely.

No, the years had not been as kind to the Patriarch as to Alexius, even before she had done... what she had done. Now it was 12 years later. She and her lover had lived an increasingly reclusive life, rarely appearing together at family gatherings and never at state occasions.

* * *

It had become too obvious that Alex wasn’t aging…

One of her excuses for keeping him out of sight had been that she was afraid he might meet the same fate as Nikos. But Nestor, who knew why her previous lover had been murdered, wasn’t buying that – Ennodios, the catapan of the Northern Reach, had died, and there was never any evidence that he had been involved. His successor, Elias Nepos, had been hand-picked by the Patriarch.

Their only frequent visitors in those years were Libanius and Verina, who shared a bond with Kalla that they couldn’t allude to at family meetings. They always brought their children; they had named their eldest son Feodor.

It’s as much to honor you as to honor your first Patriarch,” Libanius said at that time. It startled Kalla to have Feodor referred to as “her” Patriarch, but she was glad to see him honored – one day he would become Feodor II. Would she finally be showing her own age by then, or even have died?

Alex wouldn’t, assuming his enhanced life span would be the same as hers.

Verina had remarked on his youthful looks, even though Libanius hadn’t. Other members of the family gathered for funerals – Candida was gone now; likewise Eusebia, Flavia, Justina and Petronia, and their spouses – also took notice. It was Kalla who usually invoked lifecyphers, while Verina, with mock earnestness, would credit his love life with keeping him young.

In later years, Kalla had concocted a lotion that would adhere to Alex’s hair – which couldn’t be dyed, of course – and dried there to make it appear he was graying. It wouldn’t last long, but combined with the gimpy leg act, it was enough to convince the patriarchal family and the Makropoulos heirs on their occasional visits to the Capital and Nesalonika. But eventually, it was not enough.

They would have to keep to themselves entirely, never inviting family and friends to their estate, or appearing together elsewhere. Kalla hated herself for that – especially when Belisarius farcalled her to ask what he and his kin could have possibly done to be shunned by her. After 20 years, she had to face the inevitable. It was to the Palace that she had to come, and to the Patriarch that she had to tell all…

* * *

Since you have made things plain, I must make myself equally plain,” Nestor said. “Alexius cannot remain here. And nobody else must ever know why.”

He touched on Kalla’s iconic status – there were those who fairly worshipped her, although she always disclaimed them and refused to meet with or have any dealings with them. Yet among the ordinary people of Andros, she was highly regarded for her historical ties to the Patriarchs, her support of technological progress in concert with the Indrans, and her rescue work. Even her services to the lottery winners were seen in a positive light

But what if your enhancement of Alexius is taken by some as a sign?” he went on. “What if they believe that he has somehow been chosen to be the next Patriarch, in place of Libanius?”

Skietra! she thought.

“It doesn't quite matter, yet,” he said. “But what of years from now, when he still doesn’t look his age? That would seem to be the prognosis. It could happen even sooner, if he survives some accident that should have killed him. And he is my brother. That complicates things.”

Indeed. It could split the family, split Andros itself. Alexius might be condemned as a menace if it was thought he might try to supplant Libanius, even as he was being hailed as a savior by cultists – and perhaps being seen by some ordinary Androssians as a potential stabilizing influence who could reign for generations to come.”

“Libanius and his family could be in danger,” Nestor warned. “And it isn’t enough just to send Alexius away – if people learn the truth, there would be those awaiting a Second Coming, even resorting to violence to bring it about. He must die in the eyes of the world; you must give him up – now and forever.”

It was devastating, even worse than when Nikos was murdered. She hadn’t had any part in that, but she would have to have a part in this. She would have to work out a plan with Nestor, and break it to Alexius – and then help carry it out.

It was a simple plan they came up with, a plan that didn’t involve the rest of the family, let alone outside parties here – or the Indrans. No need for Alexius to belatedly and inexplicably rejoin the Space Force, only to have a fatal accident. Business aircraft had come into use over the past few years, and nobody would think twice about renting one to a member of the family – ostensibly for a hunting trip to the Northern Reach.

There would be a crash, and she would hear about it, and fly to the remote scene – only to find him not only dead but so badly mangled that she couldn’t bear to look at him or suffer anyone else to do so. She would fly home, see to buying a coffin, and then there would be a closed casket funeral and a decent burial and that would be it. As for Nestor, his part would be to supply false identity papers to Alexius as a wealthy business magnate eager to see other worlds – there were indeed a few such types these days.

The Patriarch looked at her gravely. “You must accept this, and live with it. Time is the healer of all necessary evils.”

There was a story behind that, but she tried to put it out of her mind.

* * *

When she broke to news to Alex, weeks later and just a few days before the arrival of the Bountiful Voyager on its inbound journey, he reacted with disbelief at first, then shock and anger.

“You couldn’t tell me about this?” he cried. “You’ve trusted me with everything you know about the Aureans – things you won’t tell even the Patriarch – and now you hold out on me about ending of our life together?”

“I wanted to spare you for as long as I could,” Kalla pleaded. “To share our time together as long as possible. I hate this, hate it as much as you do. But Nestor is right; it has to be done. You can see the logic of it.”

“Logic be damned!” he yelled; yet he could see the logic, even if he couldn’t feel it.

He began to cry, desperately, and they made love desperately, knowing it must be for the last time. But in the morning, he balked.

“I’m not going,” he declared. “You can’t make me go!”

“But if you don’t, others may die – would you want to see Libanius and Verina and their children slaughtered by maniacs acting in your name?”

“We could protect them, and denounced and punish such maniacs.”

“Just knowing that you’re enhanced would have other consequences, global in scope – consequences we can’t predict, let alone prepare against. And the Scalantrans are afraid of what will happen if other worlds get word, if Velor gets word.”

“So now you’re getting into Cosmognosis, are you?”

They hadn’t talked about that in quite some time, and never with the enthusiasm they had once shared – before his enhancement.

“It’s a matter of practical politics and ensuring progress for Andros, something I experience in long before you were born.” It was a cruel thing to say, and she instantly regretted it. “I’m sorry,” she added.

If you were really sorry, you’d at least offer to come with me.”

You know I can’t, any more than I could when you traveled to Indra. You made that journey out of love for Andros. I know that and Nestor knows it; we won’t let people here forget it. Ever. But now you have to show that love again, however it hurts.”

Alex said nothing for a moment, then: “So be it.”

And it came to pass…

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