Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Romance, Science Fiction
He carried her through the strangely lumpy halls and out into the bright light. A wide walkway led to another building made of the strange substance.
“What is everything made of?”
The man smiled. “We grow everything from vines. It has long been a tradition here to manipulate nature, just a little.”
“They provide us with housing, carry water, give us fibre for clothing and textiles as well as supplying power.”
She nodded and looked around her with a little more respect for the shades of green that reached as far as the eye could see in all its different formats. Jill was a little embarrassed by the means of transport, but she glanced up at him as they walked.
His skin had a similar greenish cast to it. It was well tanned, but his hair was a brilliant emerald that matched his eyes. The curve of his lips was a medium green with a pink tint. She tried to be casual, but her gaze wandered over the column of his neck and down to the broad expanse of his shoulders. It must have been her recent brush with matrimony, but she suddenly found herself interested in the masculine form.
The arms under her held her easily. “Um, what is your name?”
He smiled. “T’los.”
“Second name. Do you only have the one name?”
“I only need one. What are you called?”
“Jillina Keeran. Jill to my friends. It seems silly to stand on formality when I am being carried.”
“And therefore not standing.” He chuckled.
“Precisely. Where are you taking me?”
He smiled again. “Though we don’t have many visitors, we do keep an alien embassy here. That is where you will be staying. We have hospitality laws that will keep you well taken care of.”
She sighed. “Thank you. I don’t have anything to pay you with. I ran with the clothing on my back and nothing else.”
“You are running?” He raised a brow.
She winced at her gaffe. “I am not running from the law if that is why you are smiling. Merely an uncomfortable social situation was forced on me, so I decided that home was no longer where my heart was.”
“Well, you are welcome to stay here as long as you wish.”
She snorted. “With my shuttle flattened, I am pretty sure that it will be quite some time before I can effect repairs. I am not that handy.”
A large structure was their destination. A woman greeted them at the door. She was stooped, but her features were young. “Welcome, T’los. Welcome, guest.”
T’los carried her in. “Neeja, this is Jill. She has a foot injury, so she will need to remain on bed rest for a few days or until Doc K’lin can get a graft for her.”
“A graft? Ouch. This way. Yono gave me a heads up, so her room is ready.” Neeja slowly moved down the hall, and T’los paced her.
Jill watched the woman hobble, and she felt intense confusion. The kind of posture that the woman exhibited wasn’t usually seen on Jill’s world unless there was a catastrophic spinal collapse in extreme old age, but Neeja’s features were far younger than her posture dictated. If she were standing straight, she would be taller than Jill by a head or more.
T’los followed the woman into a lovely guestroom where everything was in shades of green. He set Jill gently on the bed, and she quickly scooted into an upright posture, smiling brightly at the two people with her. She extended her hand, palm up, to Neeja. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Neeja blinked in surprise and extended her own hand, covering Jill’s easily. “You are welcome. I hope that we get along. It will be nice to have another woman on the premises.”
Jill quickly read Neeja and found nothing alarming in her aura or her thoughts. Her talent was a throwback to her grandmother’s Edinar blood. She had always been able to tell what people were thinking or if they were untrustworthy. Jill had the suspicion that it was that skill which had gotten her suitor’s attention.
Pain was an afterthought for Neeja. It was present every moment of every day, but she ignored it and simply got on with her day.
“Were you injured in an accident?” Jill blurted it out.
Neeja paused, and T’los inclined his head. “I will see you tomorrow, Jill. You are in good hands.”
Once T’los was out of the room, Neeja moved around the bed, tucking and straightening. “Here on Stok, the geneticists had a field day. They altered everything, the flora, the fauna and the colonists. They wanted us to be tall and graceful, so the first generation born was the beginning of a new species. What they hadn’t taken into account was the change in the bodies as they were extended and the depletion in calcium that especially effected women once they passed the age of thirty-five. Four out of five women curl in on themselves.”
“Why didn’t they change the defect?”
“It didn’t surface until the fifth generation. By the time it was recognized as a growing problem, we had lost the tech needed to make the changes.”
Neeja sat on the edge of the bed, and she sat up as tall as she could. “We are trapped with degrading genetics, and it has begun to effect the men.”
“Who instigated the interdict?”
“Our parent species, the Najicor. They didn’t want anything getting off Stok and contaminating any additional environment.” Neeja smiled.
“Wow. That is something. So, now, I have to ask you the question, why are you so friendly with visitors?”
Neeja laughed. “Well, Jill. We take samples from each newcomer in the hope that they will have the part of the gene needed to repair the population. There aren’t many of us, and those that are unaffected by the Twist are quickly trying to have families before they can’t bear children.”
“It sounds horrible. I mean, I felt your pain, but I didn’t realize that there were others in the same condition.”
Neeja blinked, “What do you mean you felt my pain?”
“I have a talent for empathy. It is my one skill, and it nearly cost me my freedom.” She shrugged.
“Tell me about it. How did you come to be here? Start at the beginning.”
Jill took a deep breath, and Neeja held up a hand. “Just a moment. Where are my manners?”
She pressed a few jewels on her wristband and smiled. “I have ordered tea and some snacks for us both. A story needs snacks.”
“You summoned food? Using your jewellery?”
Neeja laughed. “When the population started to degrade, it was necessary to develop tech to compensate for the lack of physical agility. The first thing the ladies demanded was domestic help.”
As if summoned by her words, the door opened and a bot trundled in. It pulled up next to Neeja, and it chirped cheerfully.
Neeja poured two cups of tea and slid the front of the bot open to expose a plate with tiny sandwiches and a variety of other creations.
Neeja placed the plate on a tray she removed from the side of the bot and set it on the bed. “What do you take in your tea?”
“Straight please. I have never been one for sweet things.”
Her host laughed. “Me neither. Well, now that we are properly provisioned, I say we should gossip. What brought you here?”
Jill sighed. “A wedding.”
“Oh? Whose wedding?”
“Mine.” Jill sighed and used her butt to walk backward a few inches so she could sit up against the headboard more comfortably. “My parents were contacted a few weeks ago by the Hekkar Consortium. They wanted a bride for one of their oldest sons, and I was what they were after.”
Neeja watched her with her pine-coloured eyes wide with interest. “Go on.”
“Well, my family wanted the bride-price they were offering, and they agreed to hand me over. I met my groom once, and the impression I got was of greed and darkness. His mother was nice enough, but he and his father seethed with dark intent. I couldn’t anchor myself to that for the rest of my life, so I waited until the moment of calm that all brides are given, and I summoned my shuttle.”
Jill ran her fingers over her bracelet, releasing the catch. She turned it over. “It has a biosensor on it. I may not be able to fix my shuttle, but I do have a talent for programming. Most of the mechanicals around me come when I call.”
“Interesting. So, you summoned your shuttle…”
“Ah, right. I took off and piloted my way into deep space, as far from the consortium’s trading territories that I could manage. They caught up to me just as I edged my way into the nebula. They screwed up my air supply, so I had to seal the system and hope to make it to a populated world with compatible atmosphere. I was running on empty when I hit your shielding.”
Neeja sipped her tea. “How is it that you didn’t hear the warning?”
Jill blushed. “I had the audio systems turned off so that my groom’s family couldn’t distract me on my journey. I forgot to turn them on after I was safe.”
“I see. Well, your only responsibility here is to get well. Rest, stay off that foot and you can use our entertainment systems to familiarized yourself with Stok ways and history.” Neeja chuckled.
A chime rang in the distance, and Neeja got to her feet. “Who can that be?”
Jill smiled, “It isn’t me.”
Neeja moved slowly down the hall, and it was four long minutes before she returned with T’los standing behind her. “He has brought you something.”
Jill smiled and took in the full view of her rescuer. His tunic was made of panels wrapped in six-inch-wide strips that made an inverted vee that had a visual effect of narrowing his waist and widening his shoulders. The same wrapping made up his sleeves, but his trousers were plain green fabric that fit snugly. She couldn’t see his feet, but she heard the tread of his boots as he came forward with a folded piece of fabric and a brown leather belt.
“You didn’t have any other clothes, and the ones you did have are stained with blood. Neeja can show you how to wear them.” His high cheekbones darkened as he set the folded fabric on the bed.
“Thank you, T’los. Your gift is appreciated.” Jill stroked the fabric with one hand, surprised at the soft texture.
Neeja widened her eyes and giggled softly. “That is enough of that, T’los. I will give her the guide to our people, and you can try to forget she just accepted your gift.”
T’los nodded, smiled shyly and left the room.
Jill looked at Neeja as her host settled painfully in a nearby chair. “What just happened?”
“He started courtship. It is strange, because we still haven’t gotten the results of your scans, but he seems to have fixated on you.”
Jill groaned. “Just great. Two men in as many days. Well, at least this one is handsome. So, explain what I need to know.”
Neeja laughed. “It isn’t sinister. It is simply a passive means to determine if a woman would be receptive to their attentions. The first step is a necessary item, to show that they are paying attention to the woman’s needs. T’los has made the first move by acknowledging that you don’t have any regular clothing for daily wear and that your current clothing is damaged.”
Jill smiled and stroked the fabric. “It is very pretty and very soft.”
“And will look lovely with your hair. Would you like help putting it on?”
“Oh, that isn’t necessary. You stay sitting.” Jill put her feet over the side of the bed and waited until her legs felt strong enough to stand. She scooted herself forward and balanced on her good foot while holding out the new dress.
“Oh, my. He was paying attention.” Instead of the long gown being many inches of wasted fabric on the floor, it had been tailored to her height.
“As I said. The first step is showing that he has noticed a need in your life and fulfilling it in a non-threatening way. You are a little smaller than our people.” Neeja laughed.
“I have noticed it. Do you mind if I change here?” Jill didn’t want to offend Neeja if nudity was not common.
“No, by all means. I will simply close my eyes. Let me know if you need any help.” Neeja chuckled and closed her eyes.
Jill quickly whipped her gown off over her head and picked up the new gown, slipping it around her, wrapping and tying it with the almost-invisible strings that attached it at each hip.
“Once you have the dress in place, the wide belt will act as a cincher and back support.”
Jill smiled. “The dress is on, you can look.” Jill worked the closures of the belt across her torso.
Neeja smiled. “You look lovely. Once your foot is given the all clear, I am fairly sure that T’los’s next gift will be shoes.”
Jill laughed, lost her balance and dropped back to the bed with a bounce. “I can’t walk, but at least I am not wearing that damned dress anymore.”
Neeja laughed. “I will let you get some rest. We don’t use sleepwear generally, but if you need help getting out of the dress later, have one of the bots summon me. You need only speak out loud, and they will attend you.”
“What about the vid centre?”
“Oh, how silly. Vid on.” Neeja got to her feet slowly.
On the far end of the room, a display unit rose quietly from the floor until it was at a suitable watching height. Images flickered on, and Jill shifted to be more comfortable.
“Simply say next or back to move the images along. Coalition Common is used on all general transmissions.” Neeja slowly moved toward the door. “Again, call if you need anything. The bots are very attentive.”
“Thank you again, Neeja, if I forgot to say it before.”
“I enjoy playing hostess, and I get far too few opportunities to do it. I will revel in this company for as long as you are with me.” Neeja looked over her shoulder and winked as she continued her way out the guestroom door.
Jill sighed and began to watch history programs regarding the settlement of Stok and the subsequent alteration of the populace. It was interesting. The entire population had originally been three feet tall. They had used the natural compounds of Stok as a base for their alteration, and over three generations, they went from three feet to seven feet tall.
Once height was achieved, they learned that the compounds that had enabled them to alter the height gene had not included increased density of their bones that was required to carry the extra muscle and tissue. The height only lasted until the third decade for women and fourth for men when the bones began to contract.