Authors: Yamila Abraham
The chirping alarm started to go off.
Lenora climbed up, hopped onto the block, and snatched the man’s wrist.
He held hers in return and easily pulled her up.
“Lenora, I’m Lord Ly—“
She punched his nose with all the strength left in her trembling arm.
While he reeled back in shock she ran to the statue and put her hand on its face.
“Lenora wins!” Danfet’s voice boomed out of the speakers.
Everyone in the audience rose and thudded their scepters.
“The first session of round one goes to the brides!
Congratulations my dear!”
She turned around slowly to look at the Dak-Hiliah man.
His hand was on his nose where she’d struck him.
She was ready to do more if she had to.
Then she saw the disappointment in his eyes and felt a pang of guilt.
She hugged her arms around her.
What did you expect?
He took a step toward her.
She edged backwards.
Lysanter lifted both palms of his hands.
“I don’t mean you any harm, Lenora.”
She glowered at him.
“You’re done for today.
I’d like to replace your tunic, provide you something to eat, and bring you to a comfortable place to recuperate.”
“I can recuperate in that locker room.”
He half smiled.
“There’s no food there.”
“Why does it have to be you?”
She kept her voice sharp.
“Why can’t a robot take care of me?”
His voice remained patient.
“I’m Lord Lysanter, the one you’ll be marrying if you lose the games.”
The audience began murmuring.
Lenora looked down.
Vivian had just wandered onto the floor in front of the pyramid.
“Welcome, welcome!” Danfet said through the speakers.
“Our second contestant is Vivian Thurski, bride to be of our own high council member, Lord Nayjoor.”
Danfet switched to English.
“You’ve some time before you must begin, my dear.
Allow me to explain the rules.”
She darted wide eyes up towards her.
Oh, thank God!”
“You have to make it up here and touch this statue!
Go climb on that barrier to get up the first tier.
A robot is going to come out and chase you on every level!”
Vivian raced to the audience barrier and hoisted herself to the first level.
Thankfully the lanky teen was six inches taller than Lenora.
She looked around the second tier.
“Ah, these impetuous brides!” Danfet said.
“What do I—?” Vivian said.
“Climb that boulder!”
Lenora realized the chain for level three was still hitched to the post on level four.
Why haven’t they reset anything?”
“They intended to,” Lysanter said, “but you had her start before Minister Danfet gave her leave.”
Vivian looked around her frantically.
“How the Hell do I get up this one?”
The alarm sounded.
“Go back down and wait on the boulder!
I need to get a chain ladder down to you!”
Vivian zipped down to obey just as the robot rolled out of the door.
A scrap of shredded tunic dragged on the floor beneath him.
Lenora knelt to climb down but paused as the door behind them opened.
She saw a rotund older Dak-Hiliah man with white hair storming through with a sour grimace.
“Lysanter, what’s the meaning of this?
Your bride is helping my bride cheat.”
“She’s merely going to reset the chain.
It would be impossible for Vivian to win otherwise.”
Who wants them to win?
And I saw her strike you.
She deserves the shock collar for that.
You haven’t even scolded her.”
Lenora’s lips parted.
“We’re forbidden to shock our brides, Nayjoor.
You know this.”
“They’re not our brides yet.
They’re just degenerate slaves.
Mine’s getting shocked if she doesn’t stop cheating.”
“No!” Lenora said.
Nayjoor sneered at her.
“She has our language already?”
“I’m just—I’m just putting down the chain for her.
I won’t help her.”
Lysanter met her eyes once again.
“No one’s getting shocked on my world.”
He glanced back at Nayjoor.
“These games are here only because I allow it.
If you mean to torture that girl I’ll end this now.”
Don’t be sentimental.
And kindly remember whom you’re speaking to.”
Lysanter fumed and rubbed a hand over his face.
“Of course, High Councilman.
I forget myself.”
“But I’m confused.
Didn’t you already have a human wife named Inga?”
Lenora’s eyes widened.
“You know damn well I divorced her.”
“I hadn’t heard.
It’s good to have a fresh start, isn’t it?
To ensure we don’t make the same mistakes of our past.”
Nayjoor turned his back to him with a scoff.
Lysanter gestured for Lenora to continue.
As she climbed down the fact that she’d nodded so conspiratorially with him struck her.
He’d already managed to unify them, however weakly.
Either she was lucky to have him as an ally, or, more likely, this was a show to break her resolve.
Lenora hoisted the chain off the post and let it drop.
Vivian blinked a few times.
The robot paced a small area in front of her just as it had Lenora.
How am I supposed to get past this thing?”
Lenora pointed to her naked stomach with her hand too close to her body for the men high behind her to see.
“I can’t help you anymore.”
She pointed at down at its casters.
Vivian took off her shirt and threw it into the robot’s casters.
Lenora put her face in her hand to groan.
When she looked up, however, she saw the shirt had become tangled.
The robot strained in place once again.
Vivian climbed up right next to it.
Its pincher caught her hair.
She ripped herself free.
On the next level she paused to laugh at the dead robot.
Did you do this?”
Vivian first tried to throw up the chain without climbing on top of the robot.
After several tries it occurred to her to use the metal corpse to get nearer.
In moments she stood beside Lenora on the next to last tier.
Vivian climbed onto the cube and tried jumping.
“There is like, no fricking way.”
Lenora looked at Nayjoor.
“You’re supposed to help her!”
Nayjoor crossed his arms.
“She’s had enough help.”
“Um, what are you guys saying to each other?” Vivian said.
The alarm went off.
“Nayjoor!” Lysanter said.
He tramped through the exit.
The robot whirred out of the door.
Lenora positioned herself between it and Vivian and rammed her body into it.
The unit rolled several feet back.
Its casters switched directions and pushed back against her.
She fruitlessly struggled against its momentum.
Her feet slid backwards toward the cube.
“Lenora!” Vivian said.
She realized her voice came from above her.
Lysanter and Vivian gazed down at her, side by side.
“I touched the statue.
This guy helped me up.”
Lenora exhaled and let herself go slack.
The doorway behind the top tier led outside to a small lot of ships.
Lenora and Vivian sat on the benched seat of a flying limousine while Lysanter sat across from them.
They each wore fresh shirts he’d procured.
“Vivian was supposed to be with Lord Nayjoor at this time.”
“I’m not going to seek him out, but he might send his servant for her.”
“I know all about Nayjoor.
His ex-wife was at the colony.”
“Any chance you guys could talk in English or Mandarin?” Vivian said.
“So I can understand?”
“He doesn’t speak any Earth languages, Vivian.”
For now Lysanter chose not to tell Lenora that he’d had her language implanted in him last night.
Perhaps it was petty, but he would take any advantage he could get if it meant getting through to her.
“Please get in the habit of calling him Lord Nayjoor,” Lysanter said.
“If someone outside his class disregards his title it’s a great offense.”
Lenora glared at him for several moments in silence.
“I punched you in the face,” she said at last.
“Don’t you think I’m past the whole title garbage?”
Lysanter smiled softly again.
“I understand why you hit me.
You thought I was an obstacle in the game and remained focused on winning.”
“Just to be clear, my only intention was to help you.
Our involvement at the end was Danfet’s idea.
He was trying to devise a good first introduction.
I was naïve to go along with him.
I’d hoped that seeing me trying to help you might make you less apprehensive toward me.”
Lenora crossed her arms.
“Sorry I punched you.”
She said it in a perfunctory way, but even that felt like a breakthrough to Lysanter.
He bowed his head in acceptance.
“Why was this guy trying to ‘devise a good first introduction’?”
Lysanter considered further.
Lenora’s face brightened with the smile, despite its acrimony.
“Do you think Vivian’s pretty?” she said.
Lysanter’s brow rose.
“I…think you’re both very beautiful.”
“She’d be a much better wife to you than me.
I’m damaged goods.
Vivian is young and adaptable.
If…if you could just be civilized to her…she’d be happy.
If you could make sure you didn’t hurt her.
With drugs, or whatever.”
The ship coasted down to a soft landing outside the three merged domes that were the ministerial offices.
“I don’t understand you.”
“She can’t marry that…whatever he is.
Switch with him.
You take Vivian and I’ll take ‘Lord’ Nayjoor.”
Lysanter blinked a few times.
“You would prefer him to me?”
“I don’t know you.
But I know
him, and it’s a good bet that you’re the lesser of the two evils.
That’s why Vivian should be with you.”
“And you…would sacrifice yourself to Lord Nayjoor?”
I’m going to win the games.”