Authors: Michael G. Thomas
This seemed to get Tamara’s attention but not Glaucon’s. His wounds had been repaired, but he would need a few weeks to get back to normal. A number of sealant pads had been fused to his skin, and he was now in no real danger, but it was still uncomfortable for him to move.
“What about the men of your family?” she asked.
Artemas raised her eyebrows in amusement.
“Well, the men have needs, do they not? This is, after all, a pleasure world. It is said there is something here to sate the desires of any man or woman that visits.”
“Even Terrans?” asked Glaucon slowly.
She turned to look at him and then to Xenophon as she answered the question.
“Yes, even the desires of Terrans can be taken care of here.”
She leaned in closely to Xenophon’s left ear.
“In more ways than one.”
She leaned back, and Xenophon looked at her carefully. She was still wearing the extravagant combination of exotic Median clothing and functional Terran armour in a bizarre ensemble. Try as he might, he simply could not fathom her intentions most of the time. One minute she was sarcastic and playful, the next she seemed to be flirting with him.
The dromon shook slightly as it powered through the thick atmosphere. The roar from the powerful engines could be heard, even over the internal soundproofing of the vessel. The dromons were fifty-five metres long and the workhorse of the Terran civilian and military. The only difference between these and those used for travel and trade were the additional armour and shielding fitted for protection. That, and of course the drab colour scheme adopted by the Legion of dark grey. Black was a bit of a misnomer for the force, though that assumed the name was for their colour, which for those with more than a little knowledge of Terran history knew was far from truth. Xenophon looked out of the nearest window and towards the beautifully intricate spire of the nearest dome. It extended out from the shape of the sphere and pushed up almost a kilometre into the sky.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” said Artemas. She leaned to the window, brushing against him as she moved. Xenophon shook his head gently, just as confused as before.
A flight of small jet aircraft moved alongside them, and his attention was instantly drawn to them. They were very small, and the wings curved forwards to give them an almost crescent shape. Each one took up position around the dromon, and they quickly descended towards a well-lit landing pad. Artemas pointed at the nearest one.
“Automated sentry drones. They are programmed to assist in the glide path for vessels new to the area.”
“Sentry? Are they armed?” asked Glaucon from further inside the dromon.
“Of course. How do you think pirates and raiders are kept away? They are faster and more manoeuvrable than Medes fighters. Plus they are pre-programmed by the Imperial Navy for defence. Their orders can only be changed by the Emperor himself in a command throne when they are functioning, or back in their hangars by Imperial artificers when not being used.”
Glaucon snorted with derision.
“What is it?” asked Artemas.
“Well, your own people don’t seem to have much in the way of control or freedom, do they? These automated drones look like they are designed to keep enemies away as much as they are to keep people here.”
Artemas nodded gently.
“True, some might wish to leave Kashan before their contracts are completed. This is not allowed at any Imperial facility, and certainly not a pleasure world. There needs to be somewhere that our officials and officers can visit to relieve themselves of the stress of command.”
They had now dropped down past the spire and moved through a mechanically opened entrance into the side of one of the small domes. It was thickly reinforced with carbon ribbing that looked strong enough to withstand a crash by something as substantial as even a dromon. The entrance clamped shut behind them and was replaced by dozens of landing platforms, some of them easily five-times the size of the dromon. The drones separated and in a few seconds had vanished from site. The ground level was filled with temples, columns and grassed areas thick with trees. Above this natural wonder stood many towers and structures, each built to resembled stone mountains of cliffs.
“Incredible, truly incredible,” Xenophon said to himself, but he was loud enough for the others to just about make out his words.
With a gentle bump, they made contact with their landing platform, and the doors hissed open to reveal a thickly pungent atmosphere. It caught all but Artemas by surprise, and none of them moved until they had absorbed several lungfuls of the air. She stepped out and looked back at them, confused as to why they were still inside the dromon.
“Well, we are here,” she announced.
Still they remained in the dromon.
“What is that?” asked Tamara, resting the back of her hand over her nose.
“That is the aroma of the Kashan tree. Its extract is used in the preparation of food, drink, and even smoked. It has great medicinal properties that promote healthy development, and in some visitors even acts as an aphrodisiac.”
Xenophon, in his dark grey uniform of the Legion, stepped out of the dromon and onto the pad. Already the pungent taste was starting to filter through his body, and he was starting to forget it was even there anymore. From his position on the pad, he had a much better view of the people below. None appeared to be in much of a hurry, and he could see no signs of police or security personnel.
“Don’t they realise that Khorram has just changed hands? Any moment now our troops could land and strip this place of all it’s worth. They act as though nothing has changed, why?”
Artemas pointed to the tall spire.
“That is the Pleasure House of Anahita, named for the ancient goddess of love and fertility. There are over a thousand givers that work there, and some of our citizens spend over a year’s salary to spend one night with any one of them. The Anahita, as they are known, are men and women who work for five years for the Empire. Five years of their lives will pay them what they could only earn in an entire lifetime in any other way.”
All of them were now out of the dromon and stood near the edge of the landing platform to gaze upon the exquisite from of the great spire.
“Prostitutes?” asked Glaucon, instantly spoiling the mood.
“To some, yes, but the Anahita are much more than that. They train for a year before coming to Kashan to fulfil their contract. On some Imperial worlds, only one candidate is sent here each year. The competition is that fierce. Many of those here will be highborn princes, princesses or even the daughters of great warriors. To have served as Anahita is a mark of distinction; much like military service is to your own people.”
A small platform arrived at the end of the landing area, and three women appeared. They wore exotic dresses that ran from their shoulders down to their feet. The fit was tight and showed off their beautiful figures. All three stepped off the platform and approached. They stopped in front of Artemas, bowing down so that their foreheads touched the ground. They waited for several seconds before standing.
“Lady Artemas, we were notified by Lord Cyrus of your arrival. I have prepared a selection for your approval.”
She lifted her hand as if to send her away, shaking her head gently.
“No, that will not be necessary. I am not here for that, not today. We have more pressing concerns than simple pleasures of the flesh.”
“Really, my lady? We have the finest...”
Artemas cut her off bluntly.
“No, I am here with my friends for relaxation and meditation. I assume the spire of wisdom is still functioning?”
The three exquisite women looked to each other and then to Lady Artemas. Xenophon’s ears picked up a few of the quickly spoken words, and the idea of an area dedicated to the wisdom of the Medes interested him greatly.
“Yes, my Lady, but it is rarely used now. I will contact them and arrange for a delegation to meet you. Is there anything in particular you would like to examine?”
She shook her head politely to the three of them.
“Thank you. I assume we have quarters?”
“Of course. Lord Cyrus has arranged for the Imperial Apartments to be made available to you and your harem at the Pleasure House of Anahita.”
“What?” Glaucon growled.
Lady Artemas did her best to hide her amusement at the comments from Xenophon’s close friend. Even so, it was evident to the three women that they had done something wrong.
“I apologise. We rarely use the common tongue of the Terrans. I meant your entourage. If you are ready, I will escort you to your place of rest and relaxation.”
With a simple nod, the group moved to the side of the platform that functioned as a near silent elevator though totally exposed to the elements. Xenophon pondered this on the way, before remembering that they were inside a massive dome, and there were no external elements other than those created for the enjoyment of those inside. The elevator functioned much like those on spacecraft to move fighters and bombers from internal hangars to the main flight decks or launch platforms. It took almost a full minute for them to reach the ground. There were no roads of any kind, just a narrow path along which a series of silent, powered glass carriages carried groups of people from place to place. One stopped at their approach, and the door opened without a slight murmur of sound.
“Please, step inside,” said the leader of the three women.
Artemas stepped in first, closely followed by Xenophon and the rest of their entourage. It was spacious inside, and easily large enough for a group of a dozen people. Once seated in the ivory coloured seats, the woman spoke in the Medes tongue. The carriage shook slightly and moved off along one of the many gentle paths and away from the landing platform.
“Where are we going?” asked Tamara.
Lady Artemas pointed upwards to the higher levels of the massive structure ahead of them. They all strained to see the top, but it was impossible from this angle. The branches of a bright brown tree blocked the upper levels.
“We’re going to the Imperial apartments on the high levels of the Pleasure House of Anahita. The building is the most desirable and expensive location in this sector. Why do you think our nobles come here? As for us, we will head to the top and the most luxurious and exquisite of all the apartments on this entire planet, perhaps even the next hundred nearest worlds.”
Xenophon looked at the spire and back to Artemas. Even from this angle, she looked stunning. He was sure she’d chosen this particular wardrobe to keep the attention of any Terran within a hundred metres. She turned and saw him looking at her.
“Don’t worry, Xenophon. You will have more than enough time to gaze upon my magnificence once we arrive at the apartments.”
With that, she turned and walked away to leave the gobsmacked Glaucon looked directly at him. He tried as hard as he could, but in the end burst out laughing at the expression on his friend’s face. He reached out and slapped him on the shoulder.
“Come on, my friend. Let’s see what this place is all about.”
Pleasure House of Anahita, Khorram Shipyards
The entrance to the great spire was unlike anything Xenophon or the others had ever seen. The structure was sheathed in glimmering stone, and a myriad of multi-colour glass windows covered its surface like a kaleidoscope. There were great arches around the base that served as entrances but no doors of any kind. In the centre of the massive building was a hexagonal column that reached up as far as the eye could see. Along each side of the column were large and beautifully decorated elevators. Each one allowed wondrous views of the interior of the spire, as well as the expanse of trees, grass and flowers around it.
“Impressive, very impressive,” said Xenophon as they stepped inside.
Tamara said nothing. She just rushed in and headed for the first elevator she could find. The doors opened as soon as she approached, and a young woman, completely naked, waited patiently for her to step inside.
“Aren’t you cold?” asked Tamara.
The Medes woman smiled back and shook her head but said nothing. It was only then that Tamara noticed the naked man stood at the other side of the elevator. She was about to speak, but Xenophon and the others had already arrived and were moving into the elevator. The three women that had escorted them also stepped inside and waited until the doors shut before speaking.