Authors: Yamila Abraham
Lysanter found himself staring at her.
She was even lovelier than her tablet image, and her compassion for her friend struck him.
“It’s noble of you to want to protect her.”
He drew a long breath.
“I don’t want any woman to be married to Nayjoor.
I know of his reputation.
He’s a disgrace.
The only reason he’s getting to partake here is his status.
He’s a member of our ruling body.
I can’t make him trade brides with me.”
Lenora turned away from him with a scowl.
“What?” Vivian said.
“She can still win, Lenora.”
“No she can’t!
She did terrible out there.
She didn’t think.
She just did whatever was easiest and most obvious.
She should have moved that damn boulder away from the robot before climbing the third tier.
The only reason she escaped it was dumb luck.
That’s not going to hold out for her.”
“What if I was to help her cheat?”
Lenora eyed him.
“If it’s done carefully it will keep Nayjoor from getting her without a political incident.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I don’t want her to suffer.”
He wished to reach out for her hand, but resisted.
“I suppose I’m also trying to make you happy.”
Lenora enclosed herself in her arms.
The gesture spoke volumes.
Lysanter nudged forward in his seat and the side hatch lifted.
You both must be hungry.”
Lenora translated their conversation to Vivian as they followed him.
“That big Dak-Hiliah is the one you’re going to have to marry if you lose.”
Vivian’s eyes bulged.
“That fat old guy?
Are you serious?”
“That’s Inga’s ex-husband.”
“Oh my God!
The horse-dick rapist?
Are you fucking kidding me?
I can’t marry that freak.”
She looked around her with frantic eyes.
Tears began to spill from her eyes.
Lenora wrapped an arm around her.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!
Oh my God.”
She sobbed into her hands.
“Why can’t I marry this cute one in front of us?”
“I told him to let us switch.
It’s not his choice.
He doesn’t think Nayjoor will do it.”
“Oh, what the fuck!”
“Now do you see why we have to win these games?”
“Hell yeah we have to win!
I’m not going to be that disgusting freak’s new Inga.”
“I—I’d kill myself!”
“Don’t think like that.
Just focus on winning.
Everything will be fine if we can win this.”
“Everything’s fine for you whether you win or not!
Look what you get to marry.
At least yours is hot.
Who is he?
What was he saying to you?”
“He’s Lysanter, the viceroy of this planet.
The ruler, I guess.”
“So you’d get to live here?
Where they have that nice mall?”
“I’m not living here.
We’re both going to win and we’re both going free.
Lysanter said he’d help you cheat.”
“That’s what he said.
Don’t count on it yet.
I don’t trust him.
He might be setting up a scenario where he can betray us and cause us to lose.”
You think he’s evil?”
“They’re all evil.”
The younger girl became exasperated.
“No, Len, I don’t think they are.
I mean that Nayjoor guy is bad, no doubt.
But this guy seems to be treating these so called slaves on his world pretty good.”
“You can’t just assume they’re all bad.
I mean, he helped me up when that other guy bailed.
He even, like, smiled at me so I wouldn’t be scared to take his hand.
It was pretty cool, actually.”
“That’s probably all an act to get me to forfeit.”
Vivian made a groan of frustration.
“What the Hell sense does that even make?
We’re their slaves.
They don’t have to play games with us if they want to marry one of us.
They can do whatever they want.
And now you say that you think he’s playing a game inside a game?
I don’t want to believe they’re like that.
I mean, Elentinus never fucked around with us, you know?”
“What are you—?
Did you forget getting shocked?”
They arrived at the door but Lysanter waited before opening it.
He could see Lenora was at her wits end.
“That’s not what I mean.
Yeah, he shocked me, it sucked, but he straight up told us if we ran away we were going to get shocked.
It’s not like he did a shock lottery just to mess with us or anything.
And the colony, you know, it wasn’t a total Hell pit.
The whole time I lived there nothing bad happened.
I mean, bad stuff happened, but it was Dugan making me clean the toilets or stuff like that.
Elentinus wasn’t like, ‘Oh, from now on you have to eat dog crap and walk on your hands.”
That place wasn’t that bad.
You make it out like they’re these fucked up sickos who just want to torture us and play mind games and shit.
That never happened!
If I had just stayed in my bunk that day none of this bullshit would even be happening to me.”
Lysanter felt a pang of sympathy for her.
“I…told you not to follow me,” she said softly.
“Yeah, well I did.”
Vivian began to cry again.
“And now my life is fucked up.”
Lenora clasped her shoulders.
We’re going to win.
You and me.
I’m not going to let things be fucked up for you.
We’ll do whatever it takes to win this—even trusting one of them.”
Vivian looked up and sniffled.
He doesn’t seem so bad.
That’s his problem now though, isn’t it?
I’m going to manipulate him so he helps us cheat, win, and get out of here.”
“You have to win, too, Lenora,” Vivian said amid a new bout of tears.
“There’s no way I can survive in the forest without you.”
We both will.”
Lenora pulled Vivian against her.
The two women wrapped their arms around each other and squeezed while closing their eyes.
Lysanter’s breath caught.
He realized he was witnessing a human hug.
They comforted each other with such tenderness.
A sublime warmth coursed through him.
Why couldn’t his own people be this way?
The women broke from their embrace and both appeared less distraught.
“Is she okay?” Lysanter said.
Lenora’s eyes were stern.
“I told her you were going to help us cheat.”
“Just her, Lenora.”
He kept his gaze locked with hers.
“You don’t have to cheat.
If you lose and don’t wish to marry me I’ll let you free.”
Her lips parted.
“I’m not the same as Nayjoor.
I won’t force someone to be with me against their wishes.”
She looked downward while still aghast.
“You’re not really the competitor here at all, Lenora.”
This drew her eyes upwards again.
“I’m the one competing to win you.”
Once inside the ministerial offices, Lysanter led them upstairs.
“This building is the seat of Dornovonia’s government.
My living quarters are on the upper floor.”
He turned back to arch a brow at Lenora.
“This is where you’ll be living if we get married.”
“Nice place,” Vivian said.
The second level had high walls curving upwards to make the peak of the dome.
The central space had a large seating area of oddly shaped couches and massive pillows.
On either side of them were closed dome shaped doors.
The walls were a light ocher with dark ocher clay sculptures of Dornovonians scattered in niches.
Thick red carpets covered mosaic patterned floors with still more images.
A Dornovonian entered through a corridor on the other side of the open area.
A smile was on his thin lips and his bulbous black eyes sparkled with turquoise hues.
Lysanter waited as he approached them.
“Oh, master, you’ve brought two of the humans.
They’re quite like the Dak-Hiliah, aren’t they?
I can see why you’re compatible.”
“I don’t understand what he’s saying,” Lenora said in English.
“Uh oh,” Vivian said.
“This is Hester, my servant.”
Lysanter gestured to him, and then he switched to Dornovonian.
“This is Lenora and Vivian.
Nayjoor acted like an imbecile with Vivian so she’ll be staying with us.”
“Oh, I see.
You are most welcome here.”
“They don’t speak Dornovonian.”
He switched back to the Dak-Hiliah language while looking at Lenora.
“I’m going to have Hester take Vivian into
She can be a tourist here for the day.”
“I’d…prefer that we stay together,” Lenora said.
He smiled gently.
“But I’m going to be selfish and demand we spend some time alone.
Consider it compensation for my helping her in the games later.”
“Spend some time alone together doing what?”
Touring the building.
My hand might touch yours at some point, but if you jerk away from me I’ll take the hint.”
She spent a few moments estimating him with stern eyes; then she translated the plans to Vivian.
Lysanter looked at Hester.
“Would you take Vivian into the city and entertain her for the day?”
Hester smiled and his eyes gleamed red hues.
Of course, master.”
“Show her the best of Canopania.
Take her to a fine restaurant and let her try all the dishes on the menu.
Take her to a clothing machine with a Dak-Hiliah setting and let her pick as many outfits as she’d like.
Take her to a jewelry store and let her have anything she dotes on.
See if there’s a carnival in the station she can go to.
Do your best with the language difficulty.
I have full confidence in you.”
“Master, you’re so very generous to this woman.
Do you prefer her to Lenora?”
Lysanter laughed through his nostrils softly.
She’s important to Lenora so she’s important in my efforts to win her over.
Make sure the girl’s happy.”
Hester went to Vivian and gathered her elbow with a smile.
The younger woman stood two feet taller than the Dornovonian.
She looked down at him dubiously.
“Um…how the Hell are we going to communicate?”
“I don’t know.
If things get scary just start crying and repeat my name until he brings you back.”
Vivian became outraged.
“What am I?
A six year old?”