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2 days ago
Current The Expanse is back, see you in about 20 hours.
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3 days ago
It's surprising how difficult it is to find partners to write sci-fi
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5 days ago
Saw a patient with a broken leg today. When I asked his companion what his relationship was he responded: 'Im his bookie' you win the ER sir
4 likes
11 days ago
I only have dress shoes and I want to go to the gym. Curses. Maybe I can just wear my socks and no one will care...
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13 days ago
I was going to make my title 'Dreadful' but I never got round to it.
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Bio

Early 30's. I know just enough about everything to be dangerous.

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The Syshin and their guards arrived precisely on time. The hotel was a five story building in an irregular U shape that wrapped around a courtyard occupied by an elaborate fountain that was illuminated from the inside by concealed lights which colored the streams in a shifting prismatic of rainbow hues. The vehicle wasn’t exactly a limousine, more like a luxuriously appointed light truck. The place was somewhat shabby though it maintained an air of luxury by being flashy so long as one didn’t look too close, it was the perfect place for illicit rendezvous though, a perfection improved by the fact that the door men, somewhat threadbare looking footman in orange and puce livery, were clearly on the payroll. They did not look at the Syshin, dressed in furs and other items of costume meant to highlight their barbarity and strength, nor at the trio of armed guards that escorted the pair in through a service entrance.

“Well that is better than we expected,” Ten commented, the two of them as well as a sensor tech named Calden or Caulden were sitting in an office building across one of the broad streets. Fortunately the bright neon lights of Zatis necessitated polarized glass, which meant they could watch the building while invisible themselves.

Rene shook his head to clear it.The sight of Solae in her almost scandalous dress was enough to leave his head buzzing and various other parts of him very interested as well. Despite the fact that he was still being treated Criestia had reluctantly agreed that it probably wouldn’t do him any harm to walk around. She was less impressed that he chose to exercise this newfound ability by accompanying Ten to observe the mission, but Ten had agreed that it was probably easier for everyone than keeping him on the side lines completely. Rene scanned the scene with the scope of the heavy EM rifle Ten had given him, pivoting it on the bipod that rested on a desk so he didn’t have to support the weight. Unfortunately it would be all but useless once the Syshin and their guards were inside the building.

“Looks like three minders,” he said, using the comm unit to transmit to the small earpiece that Solae was wearing. It paired with an omnidirectional microphone that was disguised as one of her earrings so they could talk while the operation was underway.

“My guess is they will set two infront of your door and leave one at the end of the corridor to cover the elevator and the stairs,” Rene remarked. That was certainly how he would do it, even if the two door guards were taken out, the third man could cut down the would be escapees or call for backup and simply cover the door. The guards had to give the clients some privacy afterall. Rene forced himself not to grit his teeth, he didn’t trust Thorne’s guards to act professionally, and he wasn’t sure that the Syshin, about to be thrust into a very stressful and unfamiliar situation.

“Alright,” Rene said as the door closed obscuring the last guard from his sight.

“They are on their way up.”
I put an excerpt of Stephen King into it and it spat out Agatha Christe so take it with a bunch o salt.
Looking for a picaresque Sci-Fi rp an Expanse style medium to hard sci-fi edge. Every played Traveller? That kind of thing.

Be 18+

PM me.
“I don’t like it,” Rene said.

“Yes we gathered that from the three previous times you mentioned it,” Criesta said dryly, shooting a ‘how can you stand it’ look at Solae. They had moved back to the improvised operating room, although the plastic film had mostly been removed from the floors and walls, save for a few tags here hand there where the film had ripped from the staples that had been used to hastily secure it. Rene lay on the bed while Solae worked on a terminal, polishing the last few details of the false identity she had used to set up their rendezvous with the Syshin later that evening. Criminal organizations were less diligent about checking IDs than Imperial bureaucrats were, infact false identities were the assumption. The goal wasn’t to create an ID that looked real, but to create one that looked the right kind of fake. A bored rich woman summing it on Zatis could be expected to do certain things, while a gun runner could be expected to do others. Fortunately a low level transaction, like renting a couple of prostitutes for the night didn’t need much back story. Arrived on planet, temporary ID issued, visits a few restaurants and bars were all they needed.

After a night’s rest, Criesta had given Rene permission to sit up, though she still forbade him walking. The doctor appeared slightly disgusted at the rate of his recovery, the additional healing factors in his blood speeding the work of the medical unit still attached to his side. If asked, Rene would have said he was ready to run a marathon, even though that clearly wasn’t the case. The room had a slightly acrid smell of chemical combination as Criesta, following Solae’s careful instructions, synthesized the Sopor IV in a boxy looking device with a number of entry and exit ports. Although the machine could be used to synthesize tailored pharmaceutical drugs Rene wondered if it might also be used to create poisons that Ten might find useful. It seemed impolitic to ask.

“Would you prefer we just shot them?” Criesta asked as she drew a hermetically sealed phial from the device and held it up to the light. The Sopor IV was in powdered form, though the vial was bifurcated and held a pressurized compartment of saline that would instantly convert it to a liquid if required. She loaded the phial into a slender injector unit about the size of a tube of lipstick and passed it to Solae for her inspection. It was indistinguishable from the recreational units in use across a hundred worlds, this one had been modified to allow it to deploy either a powder, as a spray or, with the touch of a button, an injection as originally designed.

“Vastly,” Rene admitted bluntly, though he knew he wasn’t going to win the argument. There was no practical way to smuggle gunmen into the hotel, at least not without risking tipping off Thorne’s people that something was amiss. He would have suggested snipers, but they would be indoors and there was no guarantee of a line of sight. A slightly tipsy woman carrying a drug injector would raise no suspicion and gave her a perfectly reasonable excuse to get close to a guard. Using one of Ten’s people for the job risked giving them away, and more importantly would make it much more difficult for Solae to convince the Syshin that they should follow her. It was important that she be the one to liberate them, not some underling. Rene understood the reasons for the plan and recognised he was being irrational, he just simply didn’t like the idea of Solae risking her life, particularly when he couldn’t be there to help her.

The door to the room opened with soft chime and Ten stepped in wearing a dapper business suit. Rene supposed that a criminal kingpin got used to concealing his worries but he was impressed by Ten’s calm demeanor. Sheltering them meant risking not only the wrath of Duke Tan but also all out war with Alayla Thorne, and while perhaps his organisation could withstand Thorne alone, if their enemies made common cause, as well the might if Solae’s presence were detected, he would be infallabily destroyed.

“I have compiled the supplies you requested Colonel,” Ten said arching an eyebrow towards Rene. The soldier sat up and nodded. After they rescued the Syshin they were going to need to move quickly and that meant reaching the Bonaventure and getting off world.

“Are you sure you don’t need more? Cost isn’t an obstacle you know,” he explained. Rene shook his head.

“Cost isn’t the problem,” he explained, “It’s a question of what I can get past Bhasts guards.” Ten nodded in understanding. Rene’s plan for reaching the ship, hopefully without casualties, was a simple one, but it did limit them to one truckload worth of supplies. That would be enough food to keep them going as well as weapons and spare parts for the ship, but it would fall far short of what the Bonaventure’s holds could carry.

“I did make a few inclusions of my own,” the kingpin added with an amused grin.

“I made a few inclusions of my own, including a half million credits, split up into various denominations,” he added, his grin widening like a shark.

“I do hope that wont be a problem.”

Rene stared at the criminal for a moment and then barked a laugh.

“No problem at all, I’ll even write you a receipt.”



Junebug nodded to the two women, more to give herself a moment to think than for any need of acknowledgement. Her somewhat guilty consciences immediately leapt to the conclusion that they knew she had spent the night with Neil, although her intellect informed her that if that were the case this would be a very different conversation.

“I uh… don’t sleep much,” Junebug admitted. That much was true, combat fatigue, as the doctors called it, was always with you and many mercenaries relied on booze or drugs or a combination of both to keep the dreams at bay. Sayeeda wasn’t quite there, though she did sleep better after a little alcohol and she often woke during the night in a cold sweat.

“It’s just us girls here,” Graciella said with a conspiratorial smile, leaning forward to keep her voice low.

“The servants told us you did quite a number on your bedding,” she added.

“I’ve never known anyone who slept with a Hex before, so exotic” Indra said with a giggle. Junebug relaxed somewhat as the thrust of the conversation became clear and decidedly less dangerous. On many worlds it would have been bad form to ask, but sexual moraes varied dramatically from world to world. In a mercenary company graphic descriptions were all but expected the morning after.

“I can’t say I had alot of time for sleeping,” Sayeeda said, her voice warming at the memory of Neil’s athletic body entwined in hers rather than the previous encounter with Saxon.

“It was … different,” she said with a helpless shrug that bought a chuckle from both women.

“I dare say it was,” Graciella said with a wicked grin. Further awkwardness was averted when one of the androids arrived to take their orders.

Junebug sat across from Neil and Indra enduring the small talk of one of the officials who had also been invited to the breakfast. It seemed the purpose of such events was to expose the movers and shakers of Gregorious’ government to Neil as the future partner of his daughter. The fellow seemed to be in charge of controlling the fishing grounds that provided the bulk of the protein on this largely aquatic world, a topic in which he seemed unreasonablely interested to Sayeeda. She chewed mechanically on some sort of fruit that seemed partway between a lemon and a grapefruit. It was very sour but not unpleasantly so and the mild warmth she felt in her gums suggested that it had some mild narcotic effect also. Neil for his part seemed to alternate between uncomfortably returning Indra’s obvious and public affections and glancing at her. Once, when Indra was distracted, she winked at him, causing him to blush adorablely.

After a sufficient interval had passed and the first courses of breakfast had been cleared away by the android servitors. Gregorious summoned Neil, Taya and Sayeeda to join him at the high table. Although it appeared to be a solid sheet of worked soapstone, when the older man touched the surface a shimmering filled the air and the background conversation seemed to mute to a dull buzz. Noise cancelling devices varied in quality, but they worked on a principle of creating the inverse of the incoming soundwaves and broadcasting it at a commensurate volume but at a frequency too high for human ears to register. This one, like the table, was obviously of a very high order.

“Ah a little privacy,” Gregorious declared with his usual air of bonhomie.

“I think it is time we discussed the task we have in mind for you, I’m sure you ladies are eager to begin the wedding planning but business before pleasure as they say.” He reached forward and touched the table once more and a holographic representation of the surface of Cylonieka sprung into sharp relief. Junebug glanced around in concern.

“If you are worried about secrecy people can still see us,” she pointed out, though none of the diners seemed to be glancing in their direction.

“Your concern does you justice Captain,” Gregorious conceded, “but there is a holographic cancelation field also, all that our friends out there can see is six people enjoying breakfast.” Sayeeda nodded in agreement. She would still have preferred to be discussion mission specifics in private, but he was paying and so they would do it his way unless it presented an unreasonable risk. The map zoomed in to show a section of ocean. There current location was marked as were several surrounding islands also controlled by Graciella’s family. The whole area was shaded in green. Beyond the green area were other smaller islands and groups of islands, colored in blue for what Sayeeda assumed to be neutral. Further south towards the equator were several red islands and a number of what appeared to be artificial platforms.

“In a week or so Cyloneika will be hosting an open recruit to assemble a force of mercenaries,” Gregorius explained. Vanek had mentioned something to the effect back on Hahn now that Sayeeda thought about it, though she hadn’t given it much thought since they had escaped that parched desert world.

“The purpose of this recruitment is a preparation for an attack on New Cadiz, a planet a few days jump away that has been sponsoring attacks on our shipping in order to try to blackmail us into joining an ‘alliance’ it is setting up.” Junebug nodded along, planets with larger economies or simply more united leadership often tried to expand their influence to their neighbours, launching attacks on their merchant traffic was an effective and time honored way of convincing an enemy of the benefits of paying tribute. In theory a world like Cylonieka could construct a space navy to defend its merchant fleet but the expense of such an operation was immense and the process both slow and likely to provoke a confrontation sooner rather than later. Assembling an army and striking at the enemy planet wasn’t cheap, but it was cheaper than the alternative.

“Our house is, of course, contributing to the cost of this operation,” Graciella added.

“We are just one small ship,” Taya objected, “surely…” but Gregrius was already shaking his head.

“No, we dont need you to sign on as part of our invasion force, although that is certainly possible if you are interested in transporting supplies or troops,” he went on, his eyes making it clear he was speaking to Sayeeda and Taya and leaving his prospective son in law out of it.

“Unfortunately a highly placed agent of our has defected,” Gregorius said, tapping the keypad again to bring up a holo of a nondescript balding man in his late forties.

“Javier Pradec,” Gregorius identified.

“He has fled to the island of Canjar, to seek shelter with the freebooters and pirates that lair there,” Gregorius explained.

“We need you to infiltrate the island and kill Pradec before he can slip off planet and share his secrets,” the older man went on.

“And you need us to do this as opposed to your own troops because…” Junebug pried, something about the whole explanation seemed wrong, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. Gregorius sighed theatrically.

“If the other houses knew that Mr Pradec had defected, they might conclude that he had already shared our plans with New Cadiz, it would be a disaster for us, win or lose,” Greogrious explained. Sayeeda could see that the other Noble Houses would be quick to blame Gregorious if the invasion failed, or they might use it to try to cheat him out of his spoils if it succeeded.

“We just can’t take the risk that one of our people will open their mouths,” Graciella expanded.

“And you don’t mind risking the life of your son-in-law and crown prince or whatever to get it done?” Junebug asked. The question was a little beneath her, but it was early and she hadn’t gotten much sleep. Gregorious’ face hardened.

“When someone marries into our nobility, we judge a match based on the merits of the man or woman involved Captain Cykali,” the grey haired man explained, glancing towards Indra for a moment.

“While I would be saddened to see my daughter broken hearted, if Mr Edwards were to be killed completing this task, he is not the man we imagine him to be.”

Emmaline watched the glowing map as she placed it down on the table. It was some sort of arcane orary, and maybe the best chance they had to read the map. As she watched the ink seemed to run, the map growing slowly three dimensional, showed a vast expanse of desert, she recognized Copher and felt her view flying east as though dragged by vast wings, soaring over canyons and past oasis until it arrived at a great city of black stone and sparkling gold, mostly sunk into the sand. As quickly as it had appeared the ink seemed to swirl into the air leaving the parchment bare and empty. The ink suddenly flowed onto her sliding beneath her skin without pain but with a queasy feeling before slowing and stilling until an intricate tracery of strange symbols seemed tattooed from her shoulder to her wrist.

Emmaline opened her mouth and squealed as figures appeared at the top of the stairs. Bronze soldiers, perfectly life like just like the servants below began to march down the steps. Moving jerkily but with razor sharp scimitars glinting. She yelped in fear and turned only to see the bronze servants climbing up behind them to cut off there escape. The unconscious apprentice might have been a bumbling fool, but these enchantments were dazzling and far beyond her ability to understand. The master of this Tower was clearly no mere dabbler. She backed quickly towards Amal, eyes darting wildly this way and that.

“Uhhhh, I’m open to suggestions,” she told the thief as she felt her rump bump against the wall of the tower.
“So what was it like?” Taya asked as Junebug picked out black dress jacket and slipped it over her shoulders. The seams were piped with silver and it had a vaguely military cut. After she had given Neil sufficient time to get clear she had circled back and taken a much needed shower. Taya had arched her eyebrows at the ruin of the bed and the several brass cartridges that littered the floor, but Junebug had declined to comment, happy to let the girl assume it was from the earlier tryst with Saxon. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Taya. Not exactly, but the girl was young and she might blurt out something at an inconvenient moment if she knew the truth.

“What was what like?” Junebug asked, feeling a slight sting of alarm that the girl had figured it out regardless.

“Sleeping with Saxon,” Taya blurted, the words obviously costing her a great deal of effort. Junebug had been thinking about Neil, not about Saxon and it took her a minute to orient her mind.

“It was… different,” Sayeeda admitted.

“That is all I get?” Taya demanded as Junebug pulled on a pair of white trousers with a red seam and a pair of tall leather boots. She had taken a shower to refresh herself and was ready to eat and more importantly for caffeine. Neil hadn’t given her much time to sleep after all.

“There are a number of erotic holos you can check out,” Junebug said with a wry smile, blushing the girl to silence.

“I mean… is this going to be a thing? With Saxon I mean?” Taya pressed as Junebug finished lacing her boots and stood up.

“No,” she said a trifle more decisively than she had intended. Fortunately, she was save from further comment by a chime from Taya’s comm unit. The girl looked down, examining the unit.

“Neil turned up at the Highlander,” she said, relief obvious in her voice. Sayeeda’s face also relaxed with relief that Neil had made it safely.

“We are invited to breakfast, I guess the chancellor wants to discuss the job? Or maybe the wedding?” she asked. Junebug shrugged her shoulders, working hard to maintain her nonchalance.

“Well then we shouldn’t keep the chancellor waiting,” Junebug said dryly.
Rene considered the problem, idly stroking Solae with the hand on his uninjured right side. Occasionally the surgical unit prodded him as its tiny filaments continued their repair work with unflagging mechanical zeal. In theory the nerve blockers should stop him from feeling it, but like anything there was always a few kinks when humans were involved. It took him a moment to pull his mind back from a vision of a Kalderi Panarch presiding over a sumptuous and exotic wedding. Many nobles were content to live in luxury and indulge their own pleasures, or to play at the games of intrigue as a way of keeping score in their own convoluted game, but Rene couldn’t deny that the lure of adventure and exotic experience was a tempting one. Even if they couldn’t convince the Kalderi to help, it would be a safe respite from where they could make plans without worrying that Tan’s forces would find them.

“I suppose it is too much to hope for that Thorne has any Syshin commandos we could take off her hands,” he mused. What they could really use was an engineer, Rene had pulled maintenance detail on enough armored vehicles to be able to affect simple repairs, but he had only been able to keep the Bonaventure flying because nothing had gone badly wrong and because Mia’s powerful, if idiosyncratic, programing allowed her to guide him in more advanced tasks. Unfortunately prejudice like that which Ten had demonstrated kept Syshin out of the kind of institutions that would allow them to develop those skills. Prejudice and a combination of poverty and a lack of social integration at any rate.

“I think the fighting pits are a logical place to start, it sort of presupposes men and women in peak condition, though they might take some convincing. That might be something of an understatement, sentient beings that had been forced to fight for the amusement of humans might be less than enthusiastic about fighting for other humans, but Rene was confident that Solae would be able to win them over.

“I think the fighting pits are you best bet,” Rosaria informed them a half hour later as the sat in the gardens that seemed to intersperse Ten’s dwelling. The girl had a pistol in a hip holster, though Rene had instructed Ten not to give the girl any ammunition until he had time to give her instruction. Rosaria had not been pleased about the decision but had been somewhat mollified when Rene let her keep the unloaded gun. The last thing he needed was an untrained teenage accidentally succeeding where the Dukes assassins had failed after all.

“How well guarded are these pits?” Rene asked. Rosaria shrugged.

“Pretty heavily guarded, they don’t give the Syshin projectile weapons, but there are enough of them that if the guards didn’t have machine guns they might riot,” she explained.

“Do any of them escape?” Solae asked. Rosaria shook her head.

“Every now and again one makes a run for it, but they always get recaptured, Alayla pays a bounty for any Syshin trying to board a ship, quite a big one I understand.” Rene nodded his head, he had imagined that the slaves were kept in line by some kind of deterrent, perhaps implanted explosives, or tracking collars, he hadn’t really considered the notion that there was just no where for the aliens to go.

“How many Syshin are there in the pits?” Rene asked, he was laying in his bed but he had prevailed upon Criesta to attach a holographic console so he could make notes and at least feel like he was of some use.

“There are three major pits, two sort of public ones, and a third one they keep out of sight,” Rosaria explained.

“Why out of sight?”

Rosaria grimaced slightly before explaining.

“They do special fights, fights to the death, fights against exotic beasts that might cause a panic if the good people of Zatis knew they were on the planet,” Rosaria explaned, looking down at her manicure rather than meeting the eyes of either of the nobles.

“Stars above,” Rene cursed, glancing sideways to see the look of cold rage on Solae’s face. Alayla was wise to keep that out of the public eye, even on Zatis that might well attract Imperial attention.

“How many in each pit?” Rene asked, his own voice crisp and harder than he had intended to make it. Rosaria flinched slightly, even though there was no real reason for her to do so, she was just as much a victim here as the Syshin in her own way.

“It depends on the rock hoppers,” the girl explained, the voices tumbling out of her mouth in an effort to reach a less uncomfortable topic of conversation. Rene cocked an eyebrow.

“Rock hoppers?” Rene asked, “like mining ships?” Rosaria nodded. Rock hoppers were small craft used for mining asteroids for metals and, in some cases, water ice. It was dirty and dangerous work and in big systems the process was automated. Zatis was too small for that level of industrialization, though the refined metal could be exported to other more rural worlds at a handsome profit.

“You mean to tell me that Thorne uses Syshin for asteroid mining?” he asked incredulously.

“That is perfect, they might not exactly be trained spacers, but that is probably as much experience as most tramp freighter crew this far from the core worlds have,” he exclaimed sitting up in his excitement before Solae put a slender hand on his chest and pushed him gently but firmly back into his repose.

“They usually have a human pilot and an overseer, she keeps them in the ships for a few months and then brings them back to the fighting pits so they don’t lose too much muscle and bone mass,” Rosaria explained. Rene didn’t know what the girl would make of herself, but she was remarkably observant.

“She keeps them in zero-G?” Rene asked grimly. Rosaria nodded again.

Protracted exposure to zero-g was dangerous to creatures that had evolved in gravity. Muscle and bone density quickly plummeted and blood clots and other issues grew more common without gravity to aid the body in draining. After a few months without gravity a man could hardly stand in a full G, to be then thrown back into a fighting pit must have been particularly horrific.

“That still leaves us with the problem of getting to them,” Rene said considering the problem. Solae might be able to buy the slaves as she suggested, but it was dangerous to expose her to anyone related to Thorne, and Ten suddenly developing an interest would look just as suspicious.

“Alayla sells the services of some of the fighters to… paying clients,” Rosaria said in a guarded tone.

“What do you mean?”

“There are ladies of wealth who will pay for a champion to pleasure her, some men also, but fewer. Women find warriors appealing I suppose,” Rosaria said, cutting a glance between the two aristocrats.

“There are few guards on these ‘special visits’ usually just one or two.”
Rene lay back on the bed beside Solae grinning at the idea of eloping with the Duchess of an entire sector and finding a shack somewhere to wait out the storm. It certainly had an appeal to it, even if it wasn’t a very practical reality. Wordlessly he entwined his fingers in hers while he considered the question.

“The sooner we can leave Zatis the better, once the Decameron arrives at Traullus Major, Duke Tan is likely to send a large force here to capture you, no matter what the cost,” Rene mused. Ironically, although they had already reached the PEA and sent out the warning, it actually increased the Duke’s need to obtain access to the PEA network. Without instantaneous communication he could not coordinate his forces efficiently, nor could he conspire with plotters outside the Eastern Cross. Rene was increasingly convinced that Tan’s rebellion was part of a larger plot, the fact that an attempt had been made on the life of the Empress, childless and without an obvious heir, was telling. If Mercedez died a power struggle would result among the Sector Dukes over the throne. Given all the ill feeling and factionalism her father had created civil war might be inevitable. In such a situation, early movers, like Tan would have a considerable advantage either to aim for the throne or simply carve out their own pocket empires.

“It will take two days for the courier ship to make it there, maybe a day for Tan to organise a response and another two days for any forces to get back here,” Rene continued, calculating the distances and times in his head.

“No, I was out for a day so that makes it .. what, four days before we can expect a response from Tan. We need to be off Zatis by then, which means we need to recruit our Syshin and take back the ship quickly.” Bhast had the Bonaventure under surveillance as her best chance of snatching up the fugitive Duchess, but Rene thought he had a way to reach the ship without an out and out assault. It seemed to him that Bhast had made a mistake by sending the Decameron back to Trallus Major with news. If he had been in command he would have hired merchant shipping to act as couriers and kept the Decameron on station. It was a warship but it would have been more than a match for the Bonaventure if they did get into orbit.

“After that… I don’t think it would even occur to Tan or Bhast that we might head for Kalderi space,” Rene admitted. A plan was beginning to form in his mind, although it was to nebulus and unformed to be vocalized just yet. The Kalderi were an enigmatic people with limited contact with humans. Shortly before the collapse, ancient Terran colonists had discovered a world that was inhabited by the Kalderi. The aliens there had lived in a rough analogue to the feudal ages of ancient Terra with no technology more advanced than windmills. The colonists had assumed that this was a localized species and settled the world, using their superior technology to displace and oppress the locals, eventually leading to several bloody massacres. It turned out that the world was an isolated outpost of a larger spacefaring Empire, a retreat of sorts where Kalderi interested in experience a simpler time chose to live as their ancestors had. The Terran’s mistake had been exposed when a great fleet had appeared above the world, obliterating the human vessels and exterminating the colonists. The Jeweled Armada, as it was known due to the strange gem like structures on the surface of the alien warships, had then proceeded to obliterate several Terran fleets and destroy ten human worlds, sanitizing them to the level of bacteria with orbital fire, before vanishing never to be seen again. Records from before the collapse were patchy at best, but one could still find vid images salvaged from battles with the Jeweled Armada. Rene, like most children, had seen them when he was taught the story. There were some academics who claimed the Kalderi were responsible for the Collapse, and others who claimed that the Collapse had convinced them that they didn’t need to continue a campaign of extermination.

When the Stellar Empire had risen after the thousand year dark age ushered in by the collapse they had recontacted the Kalderi and even discovered some of their home systems, to the galactic north of the Eastern Cross. Diplomatic efforts had begun at once but relations remained fairly superficial, largely because there was little the Stellar Empire could provide that the Kalderi actually needed. The swords, like the one they had rescued from Lord Armon’s estate, had been given to the leaders of the various noble houses when the Emperor at the time had established a ‘Treaty of Perpetual Peace’ with the Kalderi. Nobles that did not receive one had been quick to try to establish trade in order to secure them, and a certain amount of intercourse had ensued. While not interested in conventional trade good, the Kalderi did consume a certain amount of Human artwork. Trade was conducted erratically at systems on the edge of Kalderi space, and few humans had ever penetrated very deep beyond the buffer zone the Kalderi maintained, the memory of the Jeweled Armada enough to quell any notions of trying to force the issue.

“Do you have any information on the Kalderi? Diplomatically I mean?” Rene asked.

“Really all I know is from anthropology my tutors taught me,” he admitted.
Sayeeda’s eyes cracked open and she groaned. The hormones and adrenaline had burned off the alcohol she had imbibed. To be honest she was still half basking in the afterglow of the evening's activities. Unfortunately this simply made it easier for her to appreciate the gravity of the situation. She didn’t know for a fact that Indra’s family would react badly to this new situation, but she had dealt with enough planetary nobility to know that sleeping with their crown prince designee would not go over well. At the very least they might seize the Highlander and take the reward back. At worst they might face imprisonment or execution. Technically the marriage contract that Neil had with Indra did not involve her. She had agreed to undertake Gregorius’ mysterious errand but that was a separate contract. Satisfied in her own mind that she wasn’t reneging on a contract, she rolled out of bed and looked around for some clothing. Neil sat up in bed behind her blinking himself awake as Taya continued to hammer on the door.

“What the…” Neil mumbled.

“Shut up,” Sayeeda hissed as she grabbed a tank top and pulled it over her head.

“Junebug, Indra’s people don’t know where he is, will you let me in already?” the aristocrat called through the door.

“I’m not decent,” she called back. Taya snorted a laugh.

“Are you ever? I’ve seen you naked plenty of times Sayeeda,” she called.

“Can’t they find him with the security cams?” Junebug asked, finally managing to locate a pair of pants, pulling them on without underwear.

“Stars I don’t know, I don't know what their coverage is like inside the actual inner palace, would you hurry up and let me in?” Taya demanded. Junebug toggled the door but stepped out into the hallway, using her body to conceal the fact Neil was inside, closing it behind her but not before she flashed a fall back hand signal behind her back.

“What the…” Taya protested, her confusion visible.

“Junebug you aren’t even wearing any shoes,” the aristocrat protested. Sayeeda looked down at her feet in mock surprise.

“You are right, we need to buy shoes, probably clothes too,” Sayeeda agreed.

“You have all those things in your room,” Taya pointed out tactfully.

“Look I just made a hundred thousand credits, a girl can’t want to spring for new threads?” she asked breezily.

“What about Neil?” she demanded as Junebug took her by the arm and maneuvered her down the hallway.

“He is probably down at the Highlander, screwing around with a mech if I had to guess, you know how he loses track of time when he is working. We can check, after we get shoes,” she said with artificial brightness.

“Why are you acting so weird?” Taya demanded as they rounded a corner. It took a tremendous effort of will not to look back towards her room. She hadn’t had time to shower or anything and she was momentarily concerned that Taya might notice.

“Neil’s getting married in a couple of days,” she pointed out, “I can’t be a little weirded out?” Taya nodded sympathetically and Junebug managed a smile that was distinguishable from a grimace only by degree. This was really messed up. They rounded another corner only to be confronted by Saxon. The Hex was in his armor though medical units were clamped to his elbow and leg. He bared his teeth and then offered a sort of strange bow to Sayeeda.

“You are a fearsome warrior, I am honored to have mated with you,” he declared before striding off down the hallway. Taya gasped and gave her a shocked look. Junebug sighed. No. Now things were messed up.
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