Dialogue of a Courtesan (TGG fic)

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Dialogue of a Courtesan (TGG fic)

Post by Eris » 2008-01-04 11:28pm

With many thanks to Marina, who had to all but drag this out of me with an ice pick.

And fair warning, later parts of this fic will be dealing with highly controversial and emotionally sensitive topics. Continue on at your own risk.

---

“I am told you are called Jade.” The man's Cantonese was spoken thickly with a clumsy sort of deliberation that made it hard for Emily to tell whether he had already started to slip into inebriation or if he really just was from a village in the middle of nowhere. The prominent gold tooth marring his grin made her suspect the latter – even she had been able to afford a ceramic implant to replace a broken tooth. It took the wilful bad taste of a rural Chinese to create a smile like that in the face of modern dentistry.

The man was named Jiu, one of the countless transients who moved through the starport that crowned the beanstalk growing up from the Andes mountains. He had even brought a friend with him, Deng, who he now glanced over towards, drawing moral support from the encouraging leer being directed towards Emily. With new courage Jiu moved his hand over to rest on her thigh, his fingers betraying a tremble as he leaned in closer. “I think they are wrong about that, naming you in English. You look more like a Lyun.”

Years practice were all that saved Emily's painted on smile from turning into a grimace at the attempt at backhanded flattery. She wondered how long he had been saving it – the practised laugh the two fell into hinted that he had probably rehearsed as they had made their way to the Stardust.

She took the opportunity to ease his hand back off her thigh, her smile showing off her teeth for a moment. “Easy there,” she said with a suggestive wink. “We haven't gone back to a room yet.”

The grins broadened even more, making Emily stop for a moment and wonder how they all would have looked had they been anywhere else as she let Jiu talk excitedly at her, the words washing by unheeded, fuelled by her absent nodding. A trio of idiots sitting around a table, beaming idiotically at one another. But it was okay to look like an idiot in the lounge of the Stardust: everyone did their first few times, until they got over the awkwardness of patronising a brothel.

Deng finally joined in, adding to the conversation with a voice raspier than Jiu as if he had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for his entire life. His command of Cantonese was better, though. He probably was a native of somewhere along the southern coast of China, some thousands of kilometres below the orbital station that housed the Stardust.

“Maybe even give a discount to fellow Chinese, eh?” He glanced over at the first, nudging him with a knowing look. The smiles that had looked harmlessly stupid to Emily a moment ago now took on a mean-spiritedness in her eye as he continued. “Or group rates. Eh, eh?” They both laughed again, working up their nerve with shared bad humour, their eyes spending longer times drifting over Emily's legs and chest as their daring grew.

Emily was saved from having to come up with an answer to that by Jiu's pointed look down at his drink, having come up dry during his last draught. Fumbling for a moment, he produced a banknote from a worn billfold and, fortified by the two empty glasses in front of him and Deng's encouragement, pushed it down the front of her shirt. “You get us another beer and then we go get that room, yes?”

Grateful for the momentary reprieve, Emily slid out of her seat and towards the bar. Once her back was safely turned on the two men, she rolled her eyes, fishing the bill out where it was caught against her breasts. Somewhere there was an activist weeping at the damage the two were doing to the campaign against stereotyping, she was sure.

She dropped the crumpled note onto the bar, dropping herself into a seat as she waited for Raul to take notice of her. It did not take long; the bartender had a preternatural ability to be everywhere at once, working through even the busiest crowds with time enough left over to spend a minute with her. He certainly had enough practice: he had been there almost as long as she had.

“Two of whatever.” Emily waved absently towards the bill, watching it vanish as Raul worked the tap, the glasses filling almost painfully slow. He pushed them towards her in silence, but then stopped her with a hand on her shoulder as she reached to return them to the waiting tourists.

“There's enough for one more,” he said, filling a final, smaller glass halfway with an amber liquor. “You okay? Quiet tonight.”

Emily gave him a beleaguered smile as she accepted the drink. “'What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this.'” She let out a sigh, bringing the drink to her lips to take a sip. “Something like that, at least. Dear god that line's tired. Makes me tired.”

The alcohol tasted of spice and ancient wood, and left a pleasant feeling in her throat even after the taste itself had faded away. It couldn't have been bought with whatever was left over after the two beers, no matter the denomination of the now vanished banknote, but Emily neither asked nor complained when her glass was topped off.

“People actually use that?”

She shrugged, quickly finishing her second drink. “Once or twice a week, at least. I know how to say it in more languages than I can curse in. If you'll excuse me now.” She let the words trial off as she picked up the two glasses, the sides slick with condensate reminding her how long she had kept customers waiting. She hadn't made it two steps before she realised the table she had been seated at with the two men was now empty. Frowning, she glanced around, her eyes drifting over the thin crowd.

The lounge was not very large, able to hold maybe forty people comfortably, and she had only seen it even close to that once or twice. People did not linger any longer than it took to hook up with whomever they were looking for and head to one of the private rooms. Even the women that worked there moved through fairly quickly, either finding someone or moving on during the quieter nights. There were other ways to turn a dollar after all.

Emily finally did spot the two men, just in time to see them headed back to the private rooms on the arms of a statuesque blonde woman, tanned and a fair bit taller than either of them. Candy, or Sugar, or something else nauseatingly saccharine. She was normally a stripper, Emily recalled, working here only on rare occasion. Probably to support a habit, she mused uncharitably as she watched the woman disappear from view.

With an oath, Emily turned back towards the bar, resisting the urge to throw the glasses at the ground. They had been hers, and even if she had not been precisely bubbling with enthusiasm the poaching had been rude. Especially on slower nights like there had been as of late, and doubly so considering the two had the look of tourists with more money than sense.

The glass that she had left empty behind her had mysteriously refilled itself upon her return. Behind it stood Raul, attending to some paper that apparently held the secrets to perfect happiness for all it was holding his rapt attention, his face a picture of carefully crafted neutrality. Placing the glasses down on the bar hard enough so that their contents sloshed, dripping down to wet her fingers she seated herself again, gracing him with a sour look.

“So what did I do to deserve that?”

“I don't see you much without some un-Christian words for the guys you work with. Thought you could use a night to get your acid back.” He held up his hands, forestalling her protests. “And I've got something that needs doing. Usually leave it to the boys that come around later; you might need it more than them tonight.”

“I don't suppose it pays as well as they were going to.”

Raul shrugged, nodding amiably. “Unless you're cheaper than I thought, but it's half an hour's work.”

“You weren't supposed to answer that, Raul. I know how much it pays; I was harassing you.”

He shrugged, nodding again in the same amiable fashion as he spread his hand out in a placating gesture. Leaning down then, he rummaged beneath the counter, retrieving a parcel wrapped seamlessly in what appeared to be brown butcher's paper, a small card stuck to the side. Emily took it gingerly from his hand, turning it over and examining it with a critical eye. It wasn't large, and had a give to it like wrapped cloth.

“What, is the mafia delivering t-shirts now? 'I visited Earth and all I got was a broken kneecap'?”

“It's a wonder I even want your wit back.” The warning look in Raul's eyes was a perfunctory one; he had given up long ago any attempts to actually chastise her, save for the shooing gesture he aimed at the door. She did not need to be told twice.

---

None of the starports that orbited Earth's equator were ever quiet, nor did they even have lulls in traffic. With almost 20 billion people living on Earth, and nearly again as many in the habitats built in orbit or on Luna, the traffic moving the people and commerce through humanity's homeworld simply could not be underestimated.

Even though it was technically night in South America below, and the station itself somewhat darkened in the shadow of the Earth, there was never a moment where Emily was not dodging people barrelling through the crowds, small electric carts zipping through with the elderly or some important message, or even on occasion heavier cargo lifters trundling down the main corridors, their passage leaving an amusing wake-like effect through the crowds as people cleared out of their way much more quickly than they filled the void left behind them.

Spotting finally what she was looking for, she jogged for a few seconds in the wake of one of the lifters before leaping up to perch herself on the rear, her fingers finding a crimp hold on the straps securing its payload down, one foot balanced on the horn normally used to attach trailers. Not that she had ever seen a trailer attached to one. Sometimes she wondered if it had been some bureaucrat purchasing a model meant for surface use and pressing it into service up here.

It wasn't even all that much faster than walking. It was a great deal easier, however, letting the solid vehicle part the crowds before it, trailing along and watching the irritated looks passers by threw at her. She was tempted to wave back at them, but had to settle for smirking for fear of losing the package tucked securely under her free arm.

In the ten minutes it had been in her possession she had gotten no closer to figuring out what precisely it was, for all she had poked and squeezed it. The card had only had the delivery information scrawled over it, and the paper itself had somehow been wrapped so as to completely hide the contents without so much as a loose edge to get a peek in. Not that she would have seen anything interesting even if she could have peeked in; whatever cloth or synthetic fibre used inside she was fairly sure now was just wrapping, either to keep whatever it was safe, or to keep people like her guessing as to what it was.

She rather wished that whoever had wrapped it had then placed it in a box. They were somehow a great deal less interesting than parcels, the total lack of information about the contents discouraging her curiosity some. Of course, it was an unhealthy interest to begin with that she was taking, but so long as she had no chance to actually find out, she didn't see any harm in trying to find out while she was on her way to the recipient.

The lifter finally moved past the corridor Emily had been waiting for, and presently she jumped off. She nearly twisted her ankle landing, the foot which had kept her balance on the back of the lifter tingling almost to the point of uselessness, the horn having pinched a nerve throughout the trip. She was only saved from injury by the local gravity. She was close to the actual loading and refit docks now, where the station's artificial gravity was lower than it was in passenger concourses and commercial districts.

Emily preferred it that way. She had lived in space so long she was not particularly attached to the sensation of being on a planet – truth be told she hadn't actually ever set foot on a planet, several moons, but nothing so massive to be a planet. Lighter gravity made most tasks easier, anyhow. Her own apartment was on the edge of the half gravity of the docklands. She often thought she would have enjoyed being a dock worker. One of the machinery operators if she had to be, or better still one of the microgravity techs that inspected the vessels passing through the port and effected repairs.

Then again, there were a lot of jobs she would have liked by comparison.

The recipient of the parcel wasn't at all hard to find. The card had indicated it was for the CFO of one of the companies that serviced ships moving through the port, offering repairs and refits to almost all of the classes that saw business in the commercial starports. It had a list of two other people that it was permissible to pass the package off to.

It wasn't five minutes after she had abandoned the lifter that she skidded to a stop in front of Milky Way Enterprises. The front door was unlocked, but the receptionist desk was empty, and most of the lights were out. Only a light coming from the crack where one door had been left ajar suggested that the place was not completely abandoned. That was peculiar, most of the service companies were on a full 24 hour schedule in keeping with the ship and elevator traffic moving through the station. At the very least they kept a receptionist on hand to inform new customers that they'd have to wait a few hours for someone important to show up.

Moving back to the lighted room, Emily tapped on the door, peaking around into the room and blinked in surprise. A Taloran sat at the desk within the room, looking up from a computer display. She was gaunt even by the standards of her species, with pale aqua hair that fell down out of sight behind her chair and pale skin that could have either had the barest greyish cast to its tone or just been in poor lighting. One of her ears twitched as she caught sight of Emily.

“Sorry to intrude,” Emily said, declining to guess which human languages the woman might speak and instead addressed her directly in High Taloran. “I'm looking for Mister Barker. Do you know where I would be able to find him?”

The Taloran's ears swivelled about in curiosity. “I am afraid he is not here presently; the office is closed at the moment.” She hesitated for just a second, her expression unreadable. “Since you're here, is there something I can do for you, miss...?”

“Emily Syun. I have a parcel to deliver to Mister Barker. Is there a better time I could come back?” Emily was beginning to feel slightly awkward, standing half in the room. She wondered why Raul hadn't warned her the place was closed at the moment.

“Our hours are irregular for the time being for administrative restructuring; I do not know when Barker will be here again. Could I accept the package for him and hold it till he arrives?”

Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, Emily considered that for a moment. She did not want to have come out all this way for nothing, and missed a night's work besides, but neither did she want to take the chance that it be found out she fudged a bit in dropping the parcel out in the unlikely case that something happened. She glanced down at the card that had been attached to the parcel.

“I have to deliver it to Adela de la Costa or Arnold Fuchs. They're permitted to...” Emily trailed off as the Taloran raised a forestalling hand with a smile, producing a sheet of paper and a stylus from her desk and writing a short note. Emily was silenced more out of surprise than anything else. The smile had been a particularly human gesture of placation, and while she had seen Talorans use it before, they usually did so imperfectly, without the nuances across the face that made it work. While this Taloran's smile wasn't a particularly broad or enthused one, it carried subtleties far beyond what Emily was used to. She wondered how long the Taloran had been around humans.

The note was finished presently, the author rising from her seat and crossing the room in short order. She pressed it into Emily's hand, exchanging it for the parcel while Emily was still too bemused by the situation to put up any real resistance. “Return this to the sender, please. I will make certain that Barker receives this so soon as he is able.”

Emily glanced down at the note and blinked. It was signed using de la Costa's name, and had in it enough phrases she recognised that it was not hard to guess that the Taloran was well aware where the package had come from. Well, it wasn't like this was something that was going to be double-checked, and it covered her well enough even if it was. “I... thank you.” Emily let herself be guided outside the offices and back into the passage, note clutched in her hand.

She stood in the passage for a long moment before heading back towards the Stardust, glancing over her shoulder at where the Taloran was now using the office intercom, running her fingers through her hair. Turning to leave finally, Emily could not for the life of her shake the feeling that a great deal more had just gone on than she had realised.
Last edited by Eris on 2008-01-09 12:52am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2008-01-04 11:52pm

I can only insist that is an absolutely excellent debut story for an author, showing very good quality an attention to detail from the very first, and she can surely only improve. I'm very proud of having encouraged her.
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Post by Sidewinder » 2008-01-05 12:09am

An okay beginning. I'm curious what happens next. Is this story supposed to be drama, e.g., film noir?
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They have more WMD than there are monsters for us to fight. (More insanity here.)

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Post by Eris » 2008-01-09 01:37am

As far as genre goes, this piece at it's heart is very much speculative science fiction: an extrapolation of the effects of some aspect of a futuristic society. It was pointed out to me that The Left Hand of Darkness is a very good comparison, in style if not in quality. It of course borrows from many related genres in the process, since I am something of an eclectic nutcase of a writer.

And again, much thankings to Marina for discussion, encouragement, and help with all the fiddly bits in regards to Talorans.

---

The room was sterile, even when compared to the rest of the strictly policed station where even the dingy corners where junkies shot up were, if not spotless, at least fairly neat. The dull metal walls had been panelled over and painted antiseptic green. The floor was an easy to clean composite, made to look like actual tile, and even the sparse, worn furniture was kept so that Emily probably could have seen her reflection on the polished surfaces.

Even allowing that it was a doctor's office, Emily thought that it was a bit much. It was a reception desk, not a surgery theatre after all, and worse still it left her with nothing to do while she waited. No patterns of water damage to discover, or cracks to count, and while the periodicals were current, they were also dreadfully dull. All her own reading had to be left behind, resting on the hard drive of the ageing and temperamental desktop she kept in her apartment.

But Emily had a regular appointment, and it fortunately did not take long at all for her to be called back to meet with her phlebotomist. Scarcely ten minutes after she had arrived, one of the assistants emerged from a door and called her name, ushering her back into a private room where she had only a few more minutes to wait until, much to her surprise, the physician Doctor Brückner appeared.

The doctor was an older woman, grey hairs just beginning to make themselves known about her temples despite the anti-ageing treatments she was undoubtedly receiving. Her face, too, was lined, but pleasantly so. Crinkles stretched out next to her eyes, giving her the appearance of a person content with her world. Emily wished she would look half as attractive and at ease with her age when she matched the doctor's years, but sadly knew she would not.

In stark contrast to the gracefully aged appearance of the doctor was the flamboyant Hawaiian shirt she wore, a blazon of brilliantly-coloured flowers on a wavy blue background. Smiling at the look it drew, Doctor Brückner clasped Emily's hand in greeting.

“Hello doctor. I had thought you were on vacation. The Hawaiian islands not to your liking?”

The doctor shook her head as she seated herself across from Emily, already busying herself retrieving the needles while Emily rolled up one sleeve. “It's a Fijian shirt, actually. I was there scuba diving for the past few weeks, returned early after a hurricane warning was issued and thought I'd keep myself busy before I had regular appointments again.”

Emily watched with no little awe as Doctor Brückner speared her arm, holding her steady with a thumb as she tapped the vein with ease, the blood being drawn out by the vacuum pressure of the pre-prepared plastic bubble attached to the needle. After the second bubble filled on the first try, Emily had to laugh.

“That's amazing. My blood vessels usually roll around so much it takes five or six tries.”

Doctor Brückner nodded as she put the drawn blood aside in a carrying rack and pressed a piece of cotton wool against where she had pricked Emily's arm. “Practice, and a few good teachers. The first time I ever had to draw blood from an actual person and not some practice mockup I did a terrible job of it. I was all nerves, and the person had badly collapsed vessels on top of it.”

The blood flow stopped for the moment, the doctor had Emily release pressure on the cotton and sealed the near-invisible hole with some synthetic that Emily did not recognise. Finished, the doctor sat back on her stool, hands perched on her knees, making her look for a moment a bit like a looming vulture. “I had missed, painfully, a few times when he finally got fed up with the fumble-fingered resident and took the needle from me and showed me how to do it proper.”

The doctor huffed in remembrance as Emily nodded, interjecting a small noise to indicate she was still listening. “Anyway, turns out he was an addict of some kind. Knew better how to hit a vein on the first try than anyone else I had met.” Her gaze returned to the present and fixed on Emily. “Although if you're having problems, ask and see if you can get your weekly work done by one of the paediatric cancer nurses. No one better for doing a sharp job on small veins.”

Standing then, Doctor Brückner extended her hand again, clasping Emily again before she scooped up the tray. “I'll have the lab forward a copy of the test results straight to the Stardust for you. I should expect you'll be perfectly clean.”

Emily smiled as she thanked the doctor. She was enormously fond of the woman, having been under her care since she had arrived on the station years previous. It had made the mandatory weekly tests for STDs, and fairly regular examinations for other related problems besides, much less painful than they could have been.

The pleasant surprise of Brückner's presence cheered Emily considerably as she left the office: Normally it was one of the office phlebotomists, who were admittedly polite and professional, but lacked the disarming manner that helped Emily forget why exactly she had to come in to the office so frequently.

Standing for a minute in front of the office, just a step away from being caught up in the thin traffic drifting by through the passage, Emily stared down towards where the Stardust lay and sighed. The lab tests wouldn't take but an hour or two at the most, leaving her plenty of time to pick up someone in the Stardust's lounge for the night.

Tuesday's blood work was usually her excuse for her one day off, but the errand for Raul she had run early in the week had left her in a precarious spot, unsure of exactly how she was going to even manage to pay for tests come next billing cycle without going on starvation rations for a month. She was thin enough as it was, and heroin chic had been out of fashion with the spacers for a while now without sign of it returning very soon.

With a grimace, she rummaged through the slightly undersized satchel she had pressed into service as a purse, pushing aside make-up tins and a half-used container of aspirin till she found her wallet. Retreating into one of the more shaded corners for privacy she thumbed through the billfold, frowning and crinkling her nose as she critically examined the few remaining notes she had to her name.

Sighing again, she removed one and held it crumpled in her hand as she dove into the hubbub of the station, wallet again safely in its zipped sanctuary. She wasn't going to give up her good mood that easily, even if she really couldn't afford doing so at the moment. Dodging pedestrians, she went in search of a place that sold hot chocolate.

---

While the lounge of the Stardust was never filled to capacity, it did sometimes get close. Emily, emerging from the back where she had deposted her satchel for safe keeping and touched up her make-up, was surprised at how narrowly it had come to being packed tonight, the men milling about outnumbering the women by a fair number.

Thinking back for a moment, the answer came to her. The liner Olympus Mons had been scheduled to berth earlier that day. The two kilometre liner carried a compliment of over twenty thousand, and nearly five times that many passengers. The shore leaves alone left every restaurant, bar, and brothel near the docklands swamped with business.

She had thought that the vessel was making port at a different station, and the realisation that it was in fact at hers made her flush. She had been following the passage of the massive vessels long enough she would have thought she could keep which ones serviced which lines straight in her head. It was just as well she had come in. If she chose well she probably could make half again as much as she normally did.

Raul had caught her eye from where he stood behind the bar, the tap flowing almost non-stop. She moved over to where he stood, dropping herself on one of the stools.

“Didn't expect to see you today.”

Emily shrugged, wrinkling her nose. “Eh, I'm a little behind, and what with the ship in port and all. The paperwork arrive yet?”

Shifting down the bar a ways, Raul began lightly tapping at the computer terminal set out of sight that kept the bar accounts and cashiering as well as the records for the girls that worked there. “Yeah, your license has been renewed. Came in about two hours ago.” A peculiar smile took over his face. “Come to think of it, there may be someone in soon interested in you. She stopped by yesterday asking about you after you had already gone back with a client. Told her that you were busy, but was around pretty regular and keep trying.”

“Her?” Emily arched her eyebrows in curiosity. She had seen a few women patronise the Stardust before, patronise her for that matter, but they were vanishingly rare. To have one looking for herself in particular piqued her interest. Raul's smile broadened slightly, not losing the peculiar edge, as if he knew some great secret he wasn't sharing.

“Definitely a woman, yes. She was around about now yesterday, might be back if you wait a few.”

Emily paused for a moment, thinking over the idea and glancing up at the clock set on the wall. She could wait a little while, she guessed. Wasn't as if there was a shortage of potential clients after all. “So, going to get me another one of those brandy, whisky whatevers?” She made a swirling gesture with her fingers, indicating in a vague way the drink she had been served earlier in the week.

“Are you going to pay for it?”

She placed a hand over her heart. “Ah! You wound me with such unchivalrous behaviour, and me having spent my last dollar already on hot chocolate.” She was served a glass of water by a smirking Raul as he left to attend to the rest of the bar.

She waited there, watching the entrance and sipping her water impatiently as she followed Raul's advice, reluctantly turning away a number of advances as the minutes ticked by. She glanced up at the clock for perhaps the fourth time, beginning her second glass of water. Nearly twenty minutes had passed.

“Raul, if you're having me on...”

He waved away whatever threats she was going to add. “Just wait, chica. Pretty sure she's going to try again.”

Sighing and vowing to take it out of his hide if he were lying, Emily settled in to wait. She did not have to wait much longer, as scarcely five minutes later a familiar long stream of teal hair glided into the room.

Emily nearly drowned in her glass.

The Taloran towered in the entranceway, drawing not a few curious glances, the discomfort already clear in her posture heightened by the attention. Her skin took on a slightly greyer tinge, and her ears twitched as she quickly scanned the room, her eyes falling on where Emily was dabbing at the front of her shirt with a napkin. She moved quickly over to the bar, not bothering to sit, but instead leaning on it with one hand, allowing herself to move close in enough to where she could speak quietly with Emily.

“Miss Syun,” she said, using the Imperial tongue in hushed tones. “I would speak with you, but unfortunately did not know where else to contact you. Would you be willing to please accompany me to a more, hospitable place?”

Emily opened her mouth to speak, not sure exactly of what to say. She glanced at the men scattered about the room bemusedly. She did not want to miss a second day of work in such proximity, and she doubted very much that what the Taloran wanted was anything like what Emily usually sold. The Taloran followed her glance, seeming to realise what was going through Emily's mind.

“You will, of course, be well compensated.” She hesitated, her glance going back to the crowd. “Say, twice whatever you would normally in an evening.”

Emily needed no more prompting than that. She was already deathly curious what the Taloran wanted, who was beginning to look positively sick to her stomach. As Emily hopped off the stool, her toes normally just dragging along the ground if she didn't ride the edge, it occurred to her that the Taloran's colour wasn't sickness, but when taken with the rather distinct body language a blush, and not a light one either. She repressed her laugh, a small smile creasing her face, half in delight at figuring it out, half ruefully at having taken so long.

“Sure, lead on.”

The Taloran nodded, spinning on her heel and leaving as quickly as she had come, Emily trailing along in her wake. She took one last look behind her at the bar as she left, glaring back at where Raul was smirking at her. Saluting him with two fingers, she retreated from the lounge.

Outside she had to all but jog to catch up with the Taloran, who was staring straight ahead and keeping a brisk pace, her colour slowly returning to normal. It wasn't until they had finally turned a corner that she slowed enough to return her attention to Emily, who was looking up at her with no small interest.

The Taloran spoke again, her voice still uncertain. “I apologise for rushing you. I-”

Emily waved away the explanation before it could be given. She was no stranger to people not wanting to linger in the public part of a cathouse. Given the choice, she wouldn't have stuck around either. “Don't worry about it. The décor offends me too. You do have me at a disadvantage, however...”

Ear twitch. Emily was going to need a book on how to interpret those if this kept up. “Forgive me, my name is Srihevana Uxohliu.”

The corner of Emily's mouth quirked as she recalled their last meeting. “Not Adela de la Costa?”

Srihevana coloured again, although not so intensely as before. “No, that's-” A pause as she searched for words. “-another matter, not at all why I sought you out.”

Emily rolled her eyes in exaggerated exasperation, nearly dying of curiosity now. “And you sought me out because?”

With Srihevana's body language continuing unchanged, Emily began to wonder if she had struck upon the Taloran equivalent of shifty, or perhaps evasive. “Could we perhaps discuss it over dinner? I would of course cover the cheque.”

“All right.” The lure of free food was enough to delay the sigh Emily felt coming on, and hopefully once ensconced there Srihevana would be more forthcoming. It would at least give her a chance to recover from her fluster over the less than private excursion into the Stardust. Emily grimaced then, a thought striking her. “Just not Chinese. Everyone takes me out to Chinese.”
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Post by Eris » 2008-01-13 06:06am

The sign that decorated the store front that Srihevana had led her to took Emily by surprise. She was by no means an expert on Taloran social and physiological tastes, but she had known enough to expect to be buried in bland protein, the sort of food she herself subsisted off of, if perhaps of somewhat better quality. She looked over and up at Srihevana.

“Indian?”

“Very traditional Anglo-Indian,” Srihevana corrected her. “They prepare kedgeree in a manner that pre-dates the notion that to be Indian it must be smothered in curry powder.”

Srihevana led the way into the restaurant, where she had no trouble getting a table, despite not having reservations on a busy day. Emily would have wondered if she came here often, save that she had noticed the way Srihevana had greeted the waitress with a palm down gesture. Money, it seemed, really did solve most any problem.

After that they were seated with little difficulty, a waitress taking their orders well ahead of turn and disappearing back towards the kitchen, retrieving their drinks before moving on to tend to the other diners. An uncomfortable silence descended on the table, Srihevana's nerves doing a nimble dance if her ears were any indication, as they examined each other.

It had not been too poorly lit when they had first met, Emily decided. Now that Srihevana was in a well-lit room and away from the embarrassment of being seen in a brothel, she had nevertheless retained her colouration, slightly off from most of the Talorans Emily had seen about the station, making Emily wonder exactly how much racial variation there was in the species' population. Her brilliant amber eyes were running over Emily in kind, carefully examining her as she sucked sparkling water through a straw, returning every so often to hold Emily's gaze for long moments. It probably had been the first good opportunity that the alien had gotten to see her clearly as well.

Finally Emily cleared her throat, breaking the silence. “So now that we are in somewhere more discrete, mind sharing those words you wanted to have with me?” She did not mean it to come out so curtly, but the wait had been slowly winding the tension within her, curiosity gradually being edged with worry.

Srihevana blinked, bobbing apologetically. “Of course. Forgive me having made you wait, I prefer to discuss things out of the public eye.”

“If this is about that package, then-” Emily shifted with nervousness before Srihevana cut her off.

“No, nothing like that at all.” Seeing Emily's expression not entirely mollified, she elaborated, “I admit, I wondered about your involvement with that, but seeing as you are not a courier and-” there was the briefest of pauses. “-working in a different profession entirely, it is clear that you have little enough to do with it.”

Emily was not certain that she was convinced by that: She could not think of any other reason Srihevana would be so fascinated by her as to track her down and buy her time at inflated rates. But for now she let it pass. “Please, don't leave me in suspense,” Emily's tone was dry, her lips crinkling.

“You... interested me. I have become used to speaking mostly human languages during my residency here, and the Imperial tongue is especially unusual from someone-” Again there was a momentary pause. “Well, someone working in a profession without significant social standing.”

Emily laughed, the exquisite politeness Srihevana was showing her both amusing and not a little flattering were she to speak the truth. “You mean most brothel girls don't speak High Taloran? And here I thought it was going to be a trade tongue soon.”

There was a twitch at the corner of Srihevana's mouth for the convenience of the humans around her as her ears swept in amusement. “I would find it hard to believe that you have much business with Talorans. Our tastes rarely coincide with your species' physiology.” Srihevana coloured faintly again. “Although your eyes are certainly lovely enough.”

“Oh?” Emily smiled, raising a hand to her heart in an exaggerated flutter. “I had never thought of it that way, although I suppose I could see it.” Her eyes were officially recorded on her birth certificate and licenses as 'hazel,' but only for lack of a better word to describe the concentric bands of green, blue, brown, and orange that defined her irises.

They were interrupted by the arrival of their food – Srihevana must have bribed the staff enough to not only get it taken ahead of any other, but made in a similarly timely manner. Emily's stomach twisted in anticipation as she smelled the dishes being laid about before them. The place wasn't precisely ritzy, but apparently that was not for lack of a good kitchen.

The curry was as blazing hot at she had hoped it would be, making her mouth water at the taste from both the spice and the relief of having something to taste other than instant noodles or military surplus. She was grateful for the selection of restaurant even as she was forced to reach for her glass – while her normal fare would keep body and soul together, she would never have claimed to be particularly fond of it. Grateful as she was for the change in diet, she was still surprised that a Taloran would choose any cuisine reputed for its liberal use of hot spices, and yet Srihevana appeared to be quite fond of the plate of yoghurt-thickened rice mixed with fish and parsley that had been given her.

The silence as they began to eat was an easier one, part of the tension dispelled by food as much as the conversation. Shortly, Srihevana spoke again. “You do speak the Imperial tongue most elegantly. Better, I think, than any human I've heard, and truth be told,” she leaned in conspiratorially, “better than some Talorans. I am curious as to why you chose it to learn, in your profession.”

Emily shrugged. “I'm a polyglot. I grew up speaking three – my father was a Chinese immigrant to a bilingual community – and, well, you can make more if you speak a client's native language. Somewhere it just became something of a hobby.” She was treated to another of Srihevana's almost human smiles.

“See, you are quite as interesting as I had thought. How many do you speak in all?”

Taking a moment to eat, Emily thought the matter over for a second. “Nine, although eight of them are human languages.”

“That really is quite remarkable, Emily. And with no neural interfaces or flash imprinting to quicken the learning?” Emily shook her head, a rueful curl to her lips as she ate.

“Would that I could afford it.”

“All the more impressive then, especially for someone so young.” Her eyebrows arched in curiosity, and a note of tension entered the air again as her next question came out with an almost indiscernible strain to the complex tones of her speech. “How old are you now?”

“Mmm, depends.” Emily leaned back and did a short bit of mental arithmetic. “Twenty-three Terran years, or seven of yours. By my own count, I'll be turning two pretty soon.”

“Your own count?” The tension had completely fled, replaced by an earnest curiosity, and a note of relief that seemed to go beyond what the question had warranted.

“I'm native of the Jovian satellites, born on Callisto, and resided on all of the major four except Io, and for a few months Amalthea. Jupiter's orbital period is just under 12 years, so my birthdays are few and far between on what should be my proper calender.” Emily paused to eat, a wry smile gracing her lips as she continued. “It also allows me to be quite dramatic, declaring I won't make it till my tenth birthday.”

Srihevana tilted her head. “I was under the impression that humans could live past two hundred of your own years with the proper medical care.”

“Oh, sure, but none of them are docklands prostitutes now are they?”

The nod in agreement seemed somewhat saddened, beyond what that inevitable truth should have inspired in Emily's opinion. “Forgive me if I am too forward, why do you choose that life? Your talent with languages is a gift, and with a planet as multi-ethnic as Earth I find it hard to believe you could not find a way to make it employable, especially with the Imperial tongue being one of your fluencies.”

It was Emily's turn now to flush and shift uncomfortably. “It's all right. I didn't really choose to be what I am – it just sort of worked out that way. I, well, entry level translation work isn't exactly well-paying, for all I cover most of the oft-used human languages. Not enough to get me by, anyway.” Her nervousness was replaced by an acidic smile. “I may be a docklands whore, but I'm licensed and young enough not to have to apply make-up with a trowel. A spacer could do far worse than me, and usually has to.”

Emily was just as glad when the waitress broke up the conversation again, refilling her drink and topping off the small pot of hot tea that Srihevana had ordered. Thanking the waitress, she turned back to Srihevana, softening her smile and asking, “And what about you? I don't see too many Talorans, and most of them are transient.”

“We rarely live away from our enclaves, and no significant one has yet developed here,” Srihevana agreed. “I myself am an executive at MWE: I oversee the actual technical elements of the refurbishment and repairs of our clients' vessels. I have my two year degree in starship engineering, and have worked extensively with many of the vessels that are produced in the Empire's space – the firm was quite eager to see that I worked here with them.”

Emily nodded. There was an enormous demand throughout human space for the technical skills that came out of the older parts of the Taloran Star Empire, and earning a two year degree in any field was no small feat, let alone one as notoriously difficult and integrated as starship engineering. Milky Way Enterprises must have paid a fortune to procure her services.

“Do you get lonely much, living out here in the provinces, or are we rustic natives charming enough to keep you entertained?” Emily hadn't intended the question to be a trap, not really, although to an extent she could not help herself. She had read enough of Taloran literature to be nearly overwhelmed by the themes of social duty. To give up much of her life and live with literal aliens all for a paycheque seemed drastic. Although, then again, Emily might have done the same if given the opportunity.

"You have no idea..." Srihevana deflated, her ears dipping as Emily's words struck home. She coloured almost immediately afterwards, her composure returning to cover up the embarrassment at her momentary lapse of control. "I keep a few human friends, however, and I host dinners every so often for some of the travellers that come through, laid over while their liner lays in victuals, or while waiting for an elevator down to the surface.” She graced Emily with another one of her subtle smiles. “And of course, I have my kharioi.”

The tone which Srihevana spoke of her pets brought to Emily's mind images of a reclusive spinster talking about the cats despite her best efforts, and she matched the smile with a broader one of her own. In the wake of that thought Emily was left wondering further if Srihevana was isolated enough that she honestly had just been curious enough at a human who spoke High Taloran to track her down and take her out. How long had the woman lived in Earth's orbit, and how long did it take a Taloran to go mad with loneliness?

The silence that settled over the table was not as uncomfortable as before, but it had a more sober quality as Emily turned the thought over in her mind. She was still thinking about it when the waitress returned to clear away their empty dishes and to settle the cheque with Srihevana.

Emily was about to rise from where she sat when her movement was arrested, Srihevana placing a hand on her shoulder and catching her eyes. “Emily, I have enjoyed myself a great deal tonight. I find your company to be very pleasing, both to the mind and the eye.” Srihevana coloured at Emily's expression and hastened to add, “Well, you don't appear to be terribly overweight, and your eyes are quite lovely. I'm afraid much of the time I spend with humans is somewhat marred by the feeling that I'm in the chronic care ward of a hospital for those so ill that they've become obese and lost all their colour.

“It is a welcome change to have someone who I can speak with in the absence of such awkwardness, and I would like it to continue if you would be willing perhaps to.”

Srihevana's sentence ended awkwardly, clearly not having been thought through beforehand, and a wicked gleam came to Emily's eye. “Are you asking me out on a second date?” The deep flush prompted a laugh from Emily. “I would be happy to. When did you have in mind?”

“Right now?” Srihevana had regained her composure, mostly, in record time. “There is a park adjoining one of the concourses not far from here. If you would accompany me, we could speak further there.” Her eyes had an expectant, hopeful look in them, her fingers withdrawing just too late to conceal the nervous tremble they had developed.

Emily stood and smiled over at her benefactor. “Sure. I'd like that.”

---

It was still a fair time before the nominal beginning of the station's night cycle, as much as the continually light corridors could have a proper night, when Emily finally returned to the Stardust. She could have stayed out much longer – neither she nor Srihevana had been tired, and the hours had been passed in lighter, amiable conversation as they travelled through the park, and finally along the strip of shops and restaurants that serviced the concourse.

But Srihevana apparently had duties with MWE she had to attend to before the day was out, and so she had walked Emily part of the way back to her workplace. She had left Emily with a parcel tucked under one arm, containing a sheaf of discs encoded with a collection of modern Taloran verse, purchased the moment after Emily had shown a brief interest in it, and a slender stack of bills that represented a fair amount over a week's income for Emily.

The poor Taloran had clearly been uncomfortable with the thought of paying for Emily's time. Not insofar as she minded compensating her, but instead simply asking how much Emily would normally have charged to let someone have sex with her. Srihevana had offered hours earlier to pay twice what she'd normally make, but in the end apparently had guessed a number and doubled it, flushing her sickly greenish of embarrassment as she silently paid.

Emily had thought it would be horribly impolite to point out that if she charged that much, she'd never get any business from the spacers, tourists, and businessmen that made up most of her clientèle, even if it would have been interesting to see how deep Srihevana could blush. Of course, there was the additional matter that she would have been loathe to give up that much money once it was in her hands. And if she were quite honest, she found it a little flattering that Srihevana thought that she could command prices three times or more than what she actually did.

The collective looks she received from the working girls who were not otherwise busy told Emily all she needed to know about the gossip that had been going on since her departure with Srihevana. Of course, knowing that she had just made what they all would put together that night went a considerable way towards pre-emptively balming any damage that was going to come next. She did not need to stay long anyhow.

Emily had already calculated on the way back to the Stardust what the house's percentage of her take would be, and while she was loathe to give up what would have been more than two days' income in one go, it was probably better than ending up without an established brothel. It was a route that usually ended in illegal service corridor hookups for drug money. Emily had managed to avoid that fate for years longer than most of the girls she had known did, and she wasn't giving it up over one windfall night.

She already had the sum out and discretely passed it wordlessly over to Raul the moment he had free time. His eyebrows went up in surprise as he counted it, counting a second time for certainty's sake before entering in the figures into the bar's computer and placing it safely away in the petty cash drawer. He looked over her again and his Spanish slipped back into its provincial Dominican roots as he asked, “Santa Maria, Emily. What in God's name did she have you do?”

A vague smile was his only reply as Emily held her tongue. They had been through enough open places that she wasn't really concerned for Srihevana's reputation. She could only imagine what erotic rumours had developed since she had left all but on the arm of an alien. Raul really was a wonder, keeping a sober character even in the den of iniquity that was the Stardust, but apparently this was too much even for him. Emily had to suppress a grin as the man's ears turned red at whatever thoughts he was having.

To his credit, though, he made nothing more of it, instead reaching down for a glass and placing it on the bar where he filled it with the wonderfully scented amber liquor Emily remembered fondly. She wondered as she sipped at it, drawing out the experience, why she had never had it before. This was scarcely the first time she had managed to induce free drinks from Raul, but the last week had been the first time she had tasted it.

Finishing the glass, she smiled as he refilled it before placing the bottle away again. “So what exactly is this anyhow? Nothing I've ever had a client spring for at least.”

“Hennessy Reserve Cognac. Not the best, or even their best, but our best.”

“Oh?” Emily's smile went crooked as she watched Raul in amusement. “So I've been getting sub-standard alcohol all this time?” He shrugged.

“I only give what's behind the bar. We switched suppliers a few weeks back.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “So, will we not being seeing much of you for a few days?”

Emily sighed. She would have liked to take time off – she certainly had enough to keep herself alive for a little while, and the break would be very nice, and were she any one of the other girls she probably would have jumped at the chance to avoid the Stardust. “No, I'll be around tomorrow. Never going to get ahead treading water.”

He nodded, and drifted off then, leaving her to finish her drink while he tended to the rest of the clientèle. It did not take her long until she had drained the glass, and hopping down from her seat she gathered up her parcel and moved to the back, fishing her key from where she had been keeping it. Actual reliable, secure lockers were one of the lesser benefits of working at a legitimate brothel, but it was one of the most appreciated.

Two other women were in the back as well, tending to their belongings, touching up their make-up, and gossiping. The silence as she entered told Emily what they had been gossiping about. Quietly, she moved to where she had kept her handbag, stowing the package, and securing the remains of her earnings in the secured interior pocket she kept for that. She was starting to hope she was going to get entirely through her stop at the Stardust without comment when her hopes were dashed.

“Gifts already, Jade?” The words dripped with acid, the dark haired Latina that had spoke them backing it up with a disdainful curl of her lip. “You really will do anything now, won't you?”

Emily sighed. She and Mercedes had not gotten along well to begin with. At least her companion, a petite blonde that went by Sierra, had the decency to look embarrassed at being caught gossiping, and the confrontation it had inspired. Not bothering to turn and face them, Emily asked, “Don't you have someone waiting to snort a line off your ass? If you hurry he might share.”

The tonal shift in Mercedes' voice suggested that Emily had struck home, bringing a slight smile to her face as she wondered if she were really that irritating, or if Mercedes had an addiction she hadn't shared. “Yeah, just like you. Prance back here from playing fairy queen to some elf cunt and act like we've got the problem.”

Emily glanced over, an eyebrow arched elegantly. Mercedes was standing now, glaring at her over where Sierra was fidgeting uncomfortably. “I would say that's right. I'm the one who got paid tonight, ne?”

“By a fucking elf. What are you going to do next? Get down on all fours and let a Jikar rut you?”

“Funny that's the first thing you should come to.” Emily smirked. “Thinking of a career change? I hear that they only ever hire the strung out girls. Only ones that are too out of it not to scream and ruin the experience for them. Of course, the way you just lie back and take it, that shouldn't be a problem.”

Mercedes growled. “Fuck you, dragged on a chain by your cunt-licking mistress, like the good little race traitor whore you are.” Emily cut off anything further with a laugh.

“Y'know, I almost took you seriously for a moment. A whore? Were you too busy faking moans while some pimple-faced virgin looking for the 'real thing' painted your tonsils white to notice? Put on your big girl panties before the next time you try to have a go at me, 'kay?” Shaking her head and chuckling to herself, Emily slung her bag over her shoulder and turned on her heel, ignoring the further invective Mercedes threw while she walked out.
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Post by Sidewinder » 2008-01-13 06:46pm

Interesting characters. It seems like you're writing a girls' love story.

By the way, I'm unfamiliar with the TGG-verse. Do Talorans really look and act like the elves in fantasy stories?
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Those gun nuts do not understand the meaning of "overkill," and will simply use weapon after weapon of mass destruction (WMD) until the monster is dead, or until they run out of weapons.

They have more WMD than there are monsters for us to fight. (More insanity here.)

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2008-01-13 07:02pm

Sidewinder wrote:Interesting characters. It seems like you're writing a girls' love story.

By the way, I'm unfamiliar with the TGG-verse. Do Talorans really look and act like the elves in fantasy stories?
She isn't, though I'll leave it to her to answer in more detail if you wish.

Taloran Biology.

You can read that right there. As for "act" part, there's a huge number of socio-cultural posts in that thread as well which detail pretty much everything about Taloran society and culture you could ever want to know.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2008-01-13 07:13pm

I can further amend that "elf" is simply a slang term used by humans in the occupied human territories to refer to Talorans due to a few broad and rather fascile similiarities. Often it is used in connection with an anti-gay slur due to the perceived (and partially true) much broader tendency of Talorans to homosexuality, and its acceptance in their culture. Also misogynistic comments, since the Empire is ruled by females for ceremonial reasons, and there's more females than males in the upper classes (due to their ability of lesbian couples to afford parthenogenic reproduction), though as a practical matter the sexes are perfectly legally equal.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by Eris » 2008-01-13 07:17pm

Sidewinder wrote:Interesting characters. It seems like you're writing a girls' love story.
Well, there are certainly plenty of lesbian themes running through it (not at all uncommon in TGG fiction), and the story is largely defined by Emily and Srihevana's relationship. To call it a traditional romance, though, would be doing it injustice for reasons I'm keeping close to my chest at the moment, as I want to see the reactions when it comes out in universe uninfluenced by my own opinions.
By the way, I'm unfamiliar with the TGG-verse. Do Talorans really look and act like the elves in fantasy stories?
Well, Marina already passed out the link to a good source on their appearance and behaviour. ( :luv: Marina) They are tall, and have long ears, and can be construed as aloof and domineering. That's largely it, and the elf thing is just a racial pejorative mainly. By someone outside the lower classes it would be considered pretty tasteless and horribly racist. Mercedes is the space equivalent of a cheap prostitute after all.

Oh, and Marina lies. While that's a good source, it's not all you ever wanted to know. I've kept her up till absurd hours mining her for information, some of which will come out more in here as the story progresses.
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Post by Mayabird » 2008-01-15 12:55pm

The Duchess of Zeon wrote:I can further amend that "elf" is simply a slang term used by humans in the occupied human territories to refer to Talorans due to a few broad and rather fascile similiarities.
Translation from Marina-speak: They live a really long time and have big ears. In fact, for most people, it's probably the ears.

Eris: awesome work! It's been kicking me into working on Tandi's story some more. No promises on when it'll be postable, though.
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Post by Eris » 2008-01-15 04:34pm

Mayabird wrote:Eris: awesome work! It's been kicking me into working on Tandi's story some more. No promises on when it'll be postable, though.
You must! You must! Dialogue owes more in its inspiration and stylistic thefts to Southern Belle than any other TGG work. I greatly look forward to reading the next bit when it comes out. I'm flattered that you're enjoying this enough that it inspires you in return.
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Post by Eris » 2008-01-16 05:14am

Emily threw her bag down on the cot she kept within her apartment with enough force that it nearly folded up as the polymer rebounded into its normal stretched position, sagging slightly under the weight. Her nose crinkled as she frowned at it. She would have liked to replace it with her unexpected windfall, as it had not been an ideal arrangement when she had first gotten it, and age had not treated it kindly.

She sighed as she sat down next to the bag, fishing through it till she had found the discs Srihevana had gifted upon her earlier in the day. She hadn't even made it home with more than pocket change remaining, having stopped to get most of her short term debt paid off first. The process had quite killed her good mood. As much as it had put her in better financial shape than she could rightly remember, there was something discouraging about using the money to just break even.

She moved over to the multi-use table and desk that served as an effective third wall for her kitchenette as well, booting up her computer, her fingers drumming on the table as the elderly machine took its time finishing the start up process. That would need to be replaced as well – one of the internal drives wasn't even working any more. Slipping in the discs she copied their contents to her library and started working the titles into the cross-index she had set up for the voluminous archives of public domain literature she already had.

Srihevana had her contact information, had insisted upon having it to avoid future embarrassment from having to walk through a brothel to her. If she honestly did want to keep in contact with Emily, and paid as generously as she had this first time, then Emily would see about start replacing one or two of the more worn furnishing in her apartment. With her most pressing and highest interest debts almost gone she probably could afford that much at least. And it would hardly be like it would clutter the place. As small as the apartment was, she had never managed to have enough possessions at any given time to get it past spartan.

Finishing her sorting, she was about to start in on actually reading when an impulse struck her. Probably the first of many, she realised as she brought up her email. She'd probably be checking every half hour until she had something from Srihevana. She couldn't decide whether it made her seem more desperate for someone who was honestly just interested in keeping her company, or mercenary, looking for every opportunity to leech from Srihevana. She flushed as it occurred to her that either way she probably would have seemed pretty pathetic to anyone who caught her at it, but nevertheless continued to check her email.

Much to her surprise, amidst the junk mail and notifications for payment lay a message from Srihevana Uxohliu, time stamped not half an hour before Emily had arrived home. Opening it with an eagerness she hadn't felt since she had to pay off bills earlier in the day, she skimmed the short note.

Dear Emily,

I feel I must apologise for cutting short our meeting earlier. I greatly appreciated your company, but my company is currently undergoing a review of considerable importance, and without the aid of a number of our senior staff due to some rather unfortunate circumstances. It falls to me to see that our contracts remain on schedule until we can finish readjusting, which has taken more of my time than I expected.

I would like to meet again, soon if it is at all practical for us, either over dinner again or for an event if one should present itself. What times in future would be most convenient for your schedule? You would of course be duly compensated.

ssu


Emily laughed quietly. Her schedule consisted wholly of waiting to find people willing to pay for her company. Srihevana's exquisite politeness about Emily's profession felt naively endearing. Emily wrote a quick response saying as much, although not quite so bluntly. She was about to turn back to her newly acquired verse when a tone sounded, indicating an incoming message.

Srihevana had written again, this time just including a network ID and contact number. Rummaging around her desk, Emily retrieved the headset she hadn't had cause to use since she it had come as a peripheral with her computer, a relic from whoever had owned it last, and plugged it in. The client download was quick enough and before long she had connected to the network and sent an invite.

A moment later she heard Srihevana connect. Her voice was muffled slightly by the low sound quality of Emily's headphones, the complex and subtle tones of the Imperial Tongue muted and distorted, but understandable enough.

“Hello? Emily?”

“Hi, I didn't expect to hear back from you so quickly.”

“I hope you will forgive me if I'm rushing you. I have spent much of my life waiting for things, and I am quite tired of it.”

“Oh, it's not a problem,” Emily hastened to clarify. She hadn't realised until now how much of Srihevana's communication was non-verbal, but now, unable to see the woman's ears dancing about her head, she felt cut off much more than the slight tinny static should have accounted for. “I just didn't expect it, is all. I hardly ever get, ahh, repeated visitors.” She avoided saying returning customers only since she wasn't present to see the blush herself. Pity she didn't have a camera on hand.

It took a moment for the response to come, and it sounded now as though Srihevana were distracted. Probably still working at her office, Emily guessed. Srihevana had made indications earlier that she was likely to be there all night.

“I see. Well, if you are not busy the day after tomorrow? I should have caught up enough by then to have most of an evening for leisure. Perhaps dinner and the strip again, if you enjoyed that.”

Emily smiled at the thought. If she were being generous she would have called Srihevana out of practise when it came to establishing a friendship. Then again, it was not as if she knew much more about what people did on the station in their free time, either. “If you're not careful, you may end up destroying my girlish physique.”

Another pause, a little longer this time. “I, well, we wouldn't want that now would we? A quarter after eighteen, then?” In short order they worked out specifics of where and when to meet, mostly agreeing to avoid the Stardust itself and the innumerable appointments and work hours that Srihevana kept.

“I don't mean to be abrupt of course,” Srihevana said as they finished the arrangements. “But I'm afraid I couldn't do any further conversation justice, distracted as I am. I would rather wait until I can give you my full attention, than make you repeat every third thing you said, and contribute nothing of my own.”

Emily gave a light laugh, amused by the careful over-articulation Srihevana constructed her speech with. “It's no problem, I don't mean to keep to you from your work. Take care, Srihevana.”

“Likewise, and thank you Emily. I look forward to your company.” Srihevana cut the connection, leaving Emily again alone in her room. Not a second later, she threw off the headset and move a hand to massage her smarting ear. The cheap set had pinched her ear against her head, bending it back and keeping it bent until had begun to hurt. If Srihevana was going to keep in touch with her this way, that was going to have to change.

She glanced over at the cot. There were other things that would have to change as well, if this was to become a regular source of income. It was amazing how clearly she now realised the ageing fabric to be, and how uncomfortable the frame made it besides, now only after that it looked as though she would have the money to replace it. She had half a mind to go out immediately and get something more comfortable on credit and simply pay it off before the interest kicked in.

But the notion was discarded as soon as it came. She had not survived as long as she had by indulging the moment things looked a bit brighter, and while this was probably one of the more optimistic upturns her life had taken, she would not, could not let it get to her head. She was not particularly superstitious, but she still couldn't shake the feeling that that would only guarantee that Srihevana would lose interest, or otherwise fail to keep up paying so handsomely. She had slept on the cot for years now, a few more nights would not hurt her.

However, they were going to be, she admitted ruefully as she turned back to her computer, the longest nights she had spent in a very long while. She queued up the verse she had been putting off reading and settled in to read as she put off resting until she was practically falling asleep in her chair.

---

It was a joy not to be noticed for once, one of the great benefits of having set up her night's work in advance. Srihevana had not seemed to realise, or at least politely ignored, the looks Emily had drawn on occasion during their last outing together. She had been dressed then in clothing that could politely be called trashy. She wasn't particularly fond of pumps that made her walk slowly for fear of tipping over and skirts that made it impossible to modestly recover dropped change, but there was, ironically, a certain standard of image that had to be maintained.

Knowing beforehand that she was not going to need to pick up anyone that evening let her dress if not more casually, at least in a way that didn't make her look like a tramp, with a knee-length skirt and button-down shirt that blended in without comment in the press of humanity that travelled through the station. She had kept her heels, albeit her shortest pair. Space-faring humans tended towards being much taller than their ancestors, and her diminutive metre and a half stature left her more often than not staring at people's chests. The ironies in her life truly never did cease. Every added centimetre went farther than it should in getting people to actually notice when she was in their way.

Emily shifted uncomfortably on the bench she was waiting on, wishing it were socially acceptable for a person to carry a pillow around with them to sit on. The previous day had left her very sore, and lack of any kind of comfortable bed or bath had only aggravated the matter. It had of course paid better than usual, she made quite certain that the more adventuresome clients always did, but it was just as well her work this night was not going to involve any sex. The tenderness and bruises tended to linger since they were never given a chance to recover, either at home or at work.

And on top of that, Srihevana was late, leaving Emily to squirm on the hardened plastic of the bench. Whoever had designed it had thought making it a contoured shape would help people sit comfortably, but for Emily all it did was make the bumps much more noticeable when they prodded her. It was almost as aggravating as the one size fits all clothing she was called upon to wear every so often.

The clock set up on the wall was just moments away from displaying 18.00.00 when Emily finally spotted Srihevana where she was weaving her way through the crowd towards where Emily sat, craning her neck to see better, although no one who had seen her relaxed would have noticed it. Srihevana was not a particularly tall Taloran, and mistaking the stretch for a few extra centimetres would not have been difficult.

The insistently searching posture and harried bent of Srihevana's ears made Emily feel a little bit better about having to wait. She would never have admitted it, but she had beginning to wonder if Srihevana was going to show up at all. There was no reason to suspect she would not, but the entire situation was starting to take on the feel of a dream.

Rising from her seat and slinging her handbag over her shoulder, Emily looked more like a well-dressed student than anything else as she went to meet Srihevana, the change remarkable enough that the surprise registered in a full, bemused smile from the sober Taloran.

“Good evening, Emily. I am sorry I arrived late – it took me longer than I expected to leave the office. I received a call a little while ago I simply could not ignore.


Emily smiled back, and clasped the Srihevana's hand in greeting. “It's all right. I would not expect you to drop everything on my account.” She did not add that so long as Srihevana was paying for her time, she would have gladly sat there all evening. She was naturally looking forward to the company – she could not remember the last time she had actually been able to speak as openly and broadly with anyone – but even uncomfortable boredom was a step up in her opinion.

“So, dinner first? I had a light lunch, but I thought it'd be best to wait, what with you coming straight from the office.”

They had begun walking together at the edge of the crowd, heading towards the hub of commerce in this section of the station, Srihevana moderating her pace to allow Emily to keep up easily. Emily could almost hear her stomach growling as food was brought up.

“Quite. I had to work through lunch. Would Bayerische Kochkunst be amenable to you?”

“It's not protein cubes in gravy with ramen. It sounds lovely.” Emily shot Srihevana a sideways look. “You worked through lunch as well, and were held up late afterwards besides? Do you do everything there?” The image of Srihevana up at seven in the evening, the only person working the branch office came to mind unbidden.

The irritated way in which Srihevana's ears flattened back suggested that the way Emily had first met her might not be too unusual either. “At the moment, yes. It's somewhat complicated.” Srihevana glanced around a moment, then down at Emily. “Over dinner, perhaps?” Emily agreed as she quickened her pace to keep up with Srihevana's lengthening gait.

Less than thirty minutes later they were ensconced at their booth. Srihevana must have been a regular here, since the maître' d had recognised her straight off and escorted them to one of the more secluded regions of the restaurant's floor. One of the very few, given how space was at a premium on board the station. She must have been very well liked indeed. Not that Emily was terribly surprised, having herself been on the receiving side of Srihevana's generosity before.

Emily was nibbling on a soft pretzel while she waited for the main course to arrive, watching Srihevana across from her devour her Leberknödelsuppe, the thick pork dumpling soup looking to Emily like a full meal. Srihevana must not have been lying when she said she had skipped lunch, as she still had a main course ahead of her.

She only began to slow as the bowl was nearly empty, and carefully picked clean of dumplings. Placing her spoon down for a moment, she settled back into her seat, stretching out more comfortably. Her legs ended up resting against Emily's by necessity as she adjusted herself in an area designed for people a fair thirty centimetres or more shorter than her.

“Do you remember,” Srihevana began without preamble, “When you asked me if my contacting you had anything to do with the parcel you were delivering when we met?” Emily nodded. “It was of course another matter entirely. This matter, to be precise.”

She subsided into silence for a moment, her face clouding as she mulled something over. Emily finished her pretzel while she waited until Srihevana again spoke. “MWE, you see, is currently undergoing an investigation for various charges involving aiding a cartel of shipping firms to avoid the duties on commerce through the station. Very quiet, I was not actually allowed to say anything about it until a few days ago when they finally went public with the affair.”

Srihevana paused for a moment to work on finishing her soup while she watched Emily in amusement. “You were quite unwittingly useful in that regard. There was a paucity of solid material evidence until you fell into our laps.”

Conflicting curiosity and sudden worry warred over Emily's face in light of this revelation. Curiosity won out. “So what was in the parcel anyway?” Srihevana shrugged.

“Haven't the faintest idea. I turned it over untampered with, but it was assured of me that it was quite helpful.”

Her curiosity halted for the moment if not assuaged, Emily turned to the more worrying topic. “And, myself? I was not exactly uninvolved.”

A faint smile crossed Srihevana's lips again. “It's very hard to tell many humans apart to us Talorans, you know. So amazingly drab that I always have trouble remembering details.”

Emily wasn't sure to be amused or aghast. “You lied to the investigators about knowing who the courier was?”

“Oh, no no no. Nothing like that.” Srihevana demurred with a placating gesture as she finished her soup. “I simply failed to volunteer some details. I did not believe you to be of any particular importance to their needs anyhow, and it appears that I was correct. No need to be so paranoid, Emily. It was handled quite agreeably, let me assure you. So long as the other party does not hold a grudge against you, and seeing as you've heard nothing about it, I take it they haven't, I cannot see what trouble you could possibly be in.”

Emily grudgingly had to agree. “I don't believe that anyone besides you and one other know I was the one to drop it off.”

“Quite so. I assure you, if I had at any point thought you in potential danger, I would have warned you. But you were not, and I was under a gag order. In any case it has fallen to the remainder of us to keep the company afloat with a quarter of our senior staff otherwise occupied, perhaps permanently.”

With a dubious nod, Emily let Srihevana change the subject. “Will the company survive the hit?”

“Oh, I am not at all worried about that. We slipped on the Nikkei with the announcement, true, but we operate a refit facility that can handle vessels up to a kilometre and a half in length, with berthings for nearly a dozen smaller vessels. In the worst case we will be bought out by another company, and I will continue to work for them.” Srihevana bobbed her ears pleasantly. “I've always preferred working for firms like this one for that reason. I made more as a consultant before, but it was all pushing electrons about. Here I control and direct real wealth, and it is not going anywhere without a ship of the wall reducing it to scrap.”

Conversation drifted then, moving to lighter subjects as their meals arrived, matching dishes of pork sausage cut into thick slices and covered with gravy, ringed with Knödeln. Gradually it trailed off as they ate in companionable silence. Emily was happy enough to be eating well twice in the same week to let the status quo reign, and Srihevana seemingly lost in thought.

It was only when they were nearly done, having just turned down the waiter's offer to fetch them a dessert, when Emily finally began to detect the edges of nervousness around Srihevana's silence. Her body language was excited, and there were shades of deeper green entering her complexion.

Emily had to marvel at how quickly she had gotten used to that. She had lived with it all of her life, of course: living in space meant meeting far more Talorans, Jikari, and other aliens than even the most cosmopolitan surface-dweller. Which did nothing to change the fact that it was awfully similar to the shade humans became when they were about to be violently ill. She wondered if she just hadn't sorted out a very clear distinction between species in her mind, far beyond what her biology had programmed into her, as on Srihevana the shade was flattering, conveying nicely the air of a blush.

“Emily, I should very much like to kiss you.”

The words tore Emily out of her thoughts, surprising her enough that she was almost certain she had not heard correctly. “Come again?” Her voice was closer to a squeak than she ever would have admitted later.

“I said,” Srihevana repeated, her own voice only slightly more normal than Emily's, “That I should very much like to kiss you, if you do not object.”

Emily could do not more than stare at Srihevana for what felt like a very long time, unable to formulate a response. Srihevana was just beginning to fidget nervously when Emily broke out in a short, stifled burst of laughter, which was to her credit only very slightly tinged with hysteria.

“Oh gods, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that,” Emily hastened to reassure Srihevana at the visible flinch at Emily's response. “I just...” She just what? Srihevana was so clearly and terribly uncomfortable with what was going on. How could Emily describe how it felt, to be asked by a paying client, over-paying client, whether or not it was okay if she were permitted a kiss? That it had taken her that long to begin with to remember that Srihevana was paying her for her time.

Emily silently cut through the awkwardness, standing up and leaning over the table. She could hear Srihevana's intake of breath, sense the wavering as the woman wasn't sure, even now, whether or not she wanted to move towards or away from the Emily.

She wasn't given a choice. Emily brought her hand up, placing it on Srihevana's shoulder and holding her steady as she pressed their lips together. The kiss was mostly chaste, lips parted just enough that they could taste one another. And then it was over, finished as suddenly as it has started, leaving Emily to sit back down, Srihevana rooted in place, not daring even to breathe.

Then a deep breath, and a second, and the tension flooded out of Srihevana, her ears brightening as she smiled ever so gently, her eyes watering, the closest Talorans could manage to tears.

“Thank you, Emily. I don't–” She reached out, clasping Emily's hand in hers, her six fingers weaving through and encompassing Emily's five with a desperate tightness. “Thank you.”
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Post by Mayabird » 2008-01-16 01:08pm

Is that really all that's going on, referring to the fees avoidance?

I can imagine that Srihevana must be really lonely. Talorans are very social and don't usually cope well with being alone, as she probably is. Finding one person she could actually talk to in her own language must've been like getting water in the middle of the desert.
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Post by Eris » 2008-01-16 03:23pm

Mayabird wrote:Is that really all that's going on, referring to the fees avoidance?
Well, given the volume of commerce going through a major interstellar port even on a relative backwater planet, avoiding tariffs and similar duties alone would make this operation a more profitable venture than a lot of modern petrochemical companies, so I would not say that this is a small thing, just not a very exciting one. For a modern comparison, imagine if it was discovered that there was a money laundering operation that processed hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars every day. Part of what makes it an ingenious scheme, in fact, is just that it's pretty boring. There's no public will behind catching people who rig systems of tariff avoidance.

That said, this isn't the last of that particular sub-plot. Just all that Srihevana's telling Emily about it.
I can imagine that Srihevana must be really lonely. Talorans are very social and don't usually cope well with being alone, as she probably is. Finding one person she could actually talk to in her own language must've been like getting water in the middle of the desert.
*bites her tongue* It goes beyond even that, but I'm not saying how. Hopefully I'll get to that within a few updates. You are correct in that Srihevana's gone fairly neurotic being so cut off, though, which is probably going to cause problems later on.
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Post by Sidewinder » 2008-01-16 10:55pm

The kissing scene was cute, but I'm curious: can Talorans breed with humans, like Vulcans and Klingons in the 'Star Trek' universe?
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2008-01-16 11:28pm

Sidewinder wrote:The kissing scene was cute, but I'm curious: can Talorans breed with humans, like Vulcans and Klingons in the 'Star Trek' universe?
I take it you haven't had a chance to read the biology section yet, as the answer to your question is pretty explicit there.

Or, to quote the first paragraph:
The first thing that must be made clear is that Talorans are not humans; they are incapable of reproducing with humans, and they are not very much in possession of any aspects of human biology. They are close to us, per the stellar seeding theory, at about the level of simple bacterium [ed. - archaea would be the correct term] only. We share, therefore, about 60% of our genes with a Taloran, but these are the parts of the genetic code which matter the least. Taloran evolution has proceeded differently than our's, and their appearance is only the result of convergent evolution.
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Post by Duckie » 2008-01-16 11:55pm

I really really like this story and think that it's awesome! I've already told you that, Eris, but this is to make the thread more popular and also to has it in prints! ^_^

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Post by Eris » 2008-01-19 09:48pm

The stars in the sky overhead were not real. The combined light pollution of the station and the vessels it serviced, along with the light directly from the sun or reflected off the Earth of Luna were more than enough to nearly drown out the stars entirely no matter what time it was, and even when they were visible they always faint.

The garden had originally been the station's botanical garden until renovations a decade before had made it redundant. A private firm had taken it over and turned it into a stargazing garden, installing in the domed ceiling a display that tracked what the sky would have looked like without interference. It had proven surprisingly popular, and was now one of the favoured attractions for the ship's long-term residents, transients rarely having the time or interest in starlit picnics.

Emily sat next to Srihevana in one of the two smaller gazebos, listening to the simulated night sounds. Srihevana had been quiet since they had finished their meal, and a fair amount of what she had said consisted of her apologising for being so quiet. Emily had not pressed her, letting her sort out her thoughts.

Although not for lack of curiosity. Emily had heard of relationships between humans and Talorans, some due to the rare instances where the couple were willing to look beyond the physical differences due to the depth of their attraction, in other cases with individuals sexually adventurous enough to try just because they could. But it was rare even in pornography, and neither really could explain the reaction from Srihevana. The Taloran had been polite and reserved almost to a fault, although now Emily could see the cracks in Sriehvana's demeanour, the experience apparently having effected her deeply.

“Are you uncomfortable?”

Srihevana's words interrupted the silence, surprising Emily enough that she started in mid-shift. The restaurant had well-padded booths, but the smooth wood planks of the garden benches had begun again to wear on her sore bottom. Emily was grateful for the darkness then, hiding her flush.

“I'm fine. I just had a client who, well, enjoyed roughing me up a little.”

“Oh.” Srihevana did not seem to know how to respond, tentatively adding, “Are you all right?”

Emily shrugged. “I'm better paid, anyway, and I'll probably be feeling fit again by tomorrow.” There was another short silence until Emily finally turned to face Srihevana straight on and asked, “How attracted are you to me?”

Srihevana breathed out heavily, her ears drooping as she considered for a moment. “I do not know. I did not lie when I said I found you to be pleasantly shaped. It's just... confusing.” She glanced down at Emily, her eyes still glistening. “I'm not usually attracted to humans. There is not normally enough intersection with Taloran biology to induce any sort of response, but...” Srihevana trailed off into silence.

“Yeah, I would have thought I would be too short to catch your fancy.”

Srihevana's blush all but glowed in the darkness. “That's complicated,” she said, her face shadowed with conflict. She seemed about to continue, tensing as if to speak, but each time relaxing a moment later. It made her look twitchy, and a little frightened.

Emily laid her hand over Srihevana's, the physical contact alone seeming to help ease her out of her distress. There was another pause while Srihevana's free hand moved to trace delicate patterns along Emily's forearm and hand. “I would like to find out how attracted to you I am, presuming you have no objection.”

“None at all.” Emily smiled up at Srihevana, watching the almost continual nervous tension drain away for a minute as Srihevana's expression softened. She only just barely smiled back, but her ears had fallen into a relaxed, contented position, one of her hands coming up to allow Srihevana to gently lay it over Emily's shoulder. It was perhaps the most at ease Emily had ever seen her since they had met.

It made Emily wonder why that was. Srihevana could not have been younger than fifty Terran years and be as well positioned as she was, with a two-year degree and employed as a senior exec at a modestly large firm at a major starport. If she just had a fetish for humans it was not as if there were not others around who'd be willing to get involved with a Taloran, especially a wealthy, generous Taloran.

The silence had settled again as Emily thought, finally inducing a nervous giggle from her. “So. What do we do now?”

Srihevana blinked slowly. “I don't know.” She shifted a little, her body beginning to tense again with worry. “I did not actually plan on you agreeing to this.” She gave a short, nervous laugh, and for no particularly good reason Emily joined in.

Then Srihevana jumped as if she were strung, her ears flattening and her startled movement almost sending Emily to the floor. Emily laughed in earnest as she watched Srihevana scramble in a near panic, finally retrieving her phone. “I'm sorry, I have an incoming ca-” She stopped as she flipped open the thin portable and looked at the display, frowning slightly. “A voice message.” Tapping a button, she put on the earpiece and listened, her agitation growing as it went on.

Nearly two minutes later she sighed and placed it away, turning back to where Emily had resettled herself. “I'm very sorry, Emily, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to end our evening early. One of my colleagues now under investigation inadequately documented some of her work, and now there is a series of Very Important Forms I must look over and sign within eighty minutes or disaster will surely strike.” Emily could hear the edge to Srihevana's voice, and did not envy whichever clerk that was unfortunate enough to have been the one to pass this news along.

“It's no problem. I hope the work isn't too onerous.” Emily retained her smile to help keep the lie believable. She did not envy that same clerk if he ever had the misfortune to stumble across her, either. She had been enjoying herself, for all the time had been punctuated by stumbling pauses and awkward moments. And she was curious to see what they could come up with for what came next.

Srihevana seemed to realise Emily was less than pleased nonetheless. “I will mail you so soon as I'm finished, I promise.” She was just standing to leave when she froze for a moment. Then, silently and with a blush impossible to notice despite the poor light, she fumbled for her wallet. She seemed to guess at a number of bills than count them, and then pressed them against Emily's hand. Emily stared at the offering for a long moment before her fingers jerked close over them, by instinct more than anything else.

“Thank you Emily. Your company is again most welcome.” Without waiting for a response, she turned and hurried off with a length to her stride not present normally, even when she did not have to slow down to accommodate Emily. Moments later, she was out of sight, heading off towards the MWE offices.

Emily sat for a long while in the gazebo, her fingers still clenched tightly over the money that had been given her. She swallowed. She almost wished Srihevana had forgotten entirely that she was supposed to be paid for her company. For a short few hours, Emily had been made to feel like a person instead of a highly interactive sex toy. Srihevana had desperately needed a friend, that much was clear, and Emily had been able to help, to make another person feel genuinely happier because of her being there.

Her eyes were prickling as she continued to stare, her fingers tight enough now that they were starting to tremble. And then she was paid for it. She was a whore, so of course she'd be paid when she made someone else feel better. That would certainly explain why she had no friends.

She threw the money to the floor of the gazebo with a small cry of disgust, the bills swirling in the air before settling down haphazardly in front of her. She was breathing heavily now and could feel the tears making their way down her cheeks. And she was going to do it again and again, too, because that was what she always did. Never had she loved her profession, but very rarely did she feel the burning shame that twisted her gut while staring at the mute bills covering the floor.

Still crying, Emily knelt down to slowly pick up each bill. She did, after all, need the money.


“You're never going to make anything, if you keep onlooking like that.”

Emily looked up from where she had been staring intensely at the napkin on the bar in front of her. Raul was standing there, his normal, personably neutral expression tinged with concern. “Just as well it's pretty slow then.” She brought up a finger, instructing Raul to wait while she fished about for the envelope she had brought with her, tossing it on the counter once she had found it.

“For yesterday, before I forget.”

Raul raised an eyebrow. “I didn't see you here yesterday.”

“Yeah, well, I arranged to meet beforehand.” She shrugged. “Just didn't want anyone thinking I intended to go freelance.” She had seen the managers use affairs that had been set up and conducted elsewhere as excuses to refuse a girl access on those grounds before. As much as she detested the Stardust, working there was still preferable to working service corridors.

Raul retrieved the envelope, counting out its contents and making the appropriate adjustments to his ledger programme. “Met with that Taloran again?” Emily nodded. “Seems to have taken a liking to you. Think this is going to become a regular thing for you?”

Emily was pretty sure that Srihevana was intent on keeping in contact, although not for the reasons Raul probably had in mind. She had heard of a few of the rumours that had begun to spread about her – she could hardly avoid them. Most of the other prostitutes that worked at the Stardust had never really liked her to begin with, even more so than the ground state of no one really like each other there to begin with, and the news of her well-paid relationship with an alien had done nothing to help that.

So instead she just shrugged, accepting with a grateful smile the Hennessey offered her. She almost felt like turning it down – she was going to find it difficult to go back to anything else after having had alcohol worth drinking. “Thanks. Do you give this out to everyone after good nights?” She could see the bar, which actually was one of the most profitable parts of the establishment for the owners, going quickly out of business with how much she was getting for free.

“You're the first I've seen bringing in that much. So yeah, I guess I do.”

Emily laughed, only a little bitterly. “If it goes on long enough, maybe I'll even be able to start paying for it.”

It took her nearly ten minutes to finish the fifty millilitre glass, even after Raul had left to tend to the few people gathered elsewhere around the bar. She had already developed a taste for it, and did not want the experience to end, doubly so since it would mean she actually had to get to work then. She was just playing around with the idea of seeing if she could weasel a refill out of Raul – she had all night to work after all, and her fortunes really were looking to improve – when she heard someone behind her clear her threat.

She turned on her seat to find Sierra standing there, her pale skin flushed and carrying herself with a distinctly awkward composure. “I'm sorry, but could I, um, speak with you a minute?”

Emily blinked. “Sure, sit down.” She had always felt a little sympathy for Sierra. Emily thought of all of the women who worked at the Stardust collectively as the girls, but Sierra was one of the few who probably qualified – when she had first started working maybe two months previously, Emily remembered wondering if she had somehow had her age falsified on the documentation to get her license. Since then Sierra had not been very social, speaking with other people only occasionally. And when she was not in the process of chatting up one of the men who came by she had always broadcast a quiet desperation that made Emily uncomfortably reminded of herself when she was younger.

Sierra took a seat next to Emily, but did not say anything immediately. She looked like she was having second thoughts, her flush spreading to her ears. Emily suppressed a smile. She could almost hear Sierra mentally berating herself for having a stupid idea the girl's face emoted so much. But she waited patiently, wondering if Sierra would work up her courage or bolt first.

Finally she blurted out, “How do you get a Taloran interested?”

Then Emily did laugh, chokingly as the question took her completely off guard. Sierra winced at the perceived ridicule, moving to stand as her blush deepened. “I'm sorry,” Sierra's voice came quietly. “It was a stupid question. I'll just...”

Emily placed a restraining hand on Sierra's arm, preventing her from leaving immediately. “I said sit down. Can you speak the Lingua Imperatorias?” Sierra looked blank as she let herself be reseated. “High Taloran, and I'll take that as a no. You might consider learning. That is, so far as I know, what made me interesting.”

Sierra smiled weakly. “My Spanish isn't bad,” she offered, then laughed a little. It wasn't a full or even a very amused laughed, just an awkward giggle, but it still suggested that she was easing slightly to Emily's presence, although the almost unnoticeable glint at the corners of her eyes belied that. “I'm, I'm sorry. I don't know why I asked. I just thought that maybe, well with you making...” She subsided again, shifting where she sat.

“It's okay. I might have asked the same of you, were it the other way around” Emily turned her empty glass over in her hands, wondering if it would be undignified to lick it clean. Placing it down finally, she looked over the lounge: there were more women than men present by a substantial margin. Well, she had been looking for an excuse not to work that night anyhow, and she had enough breathing room that she wasn't desperate for the moment. Before she had met Srihevana, she would have continued anyhow, but since then she found it much harder to push herself without a soul-crushing weight pressing down on her, reminding her exactly the sort of life she was living.

Sighing, she turned back to Sierra. “Look, I'm never going to find anyone tonight, not in my mood with this crowd. And, you don't look so great either.” She handed Sierra her napkin. “Tears don't attract men. Or at least not the men you want to be looking for. Do you want to just leave now and find somewhere to talk?”

She had always suspected that Sierra was a fairly lonely person, but she was not prepared for the look of conflict that washed over her face at the question. The girl was clearly in bad financial shape, and Emily wasn't in the position to pull the move that Srihevana had with her and just pay for it. In retrospect, she probably should have expected Sierra to turn her down.

But now Sierra looked like someone had strapped her to a pair of heavy lifters and sent them trundling in opposite directions, her eyes flicking between Emily and the men in the lounge several times as she thought the offer over. Finally she broke her silence, The tension in her face easing. “Sure, I'd like that.”

Emily stood up and walked with Sierra, heading to the back room to pick up their belongings and scrub away some of the make-up before they left. As they left the Stardust, Sierra finally turned to Emily and extended her hand with a faint smile. “I'm Aislin Malory.”

Their hands clasped, and Emily smiled back, surprised that their eyes were almost level: Aislin was only a few centimetres taller than Emily. “Emily Syun. So, out for drinks first?” She added after a brief pause. “I'd pay of course.” She could probably could afford to absorb the loss far more easily than Aislin.

“No, I don't drink.” Aislin paused for a moment, unsure of something, before adding, “I'm afraid that if I ever were to start, I'd never be able to stop.”
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Post by Steve » 2008-01-20 05:19pm

An interesting feeling of imminent crisis fills this scene. Keep it coming, Eris. :)
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Post by Eris » 2008-01-22 04:42pm

A long update this time, but they'll slow down now with the semester starting, so it's just as well that the last is a healthy one. (I'm aiming for one a week now, but that's tentative.)

And Marina contributed heavily to this one, so far as to write significant portions that I edited and incorporated in. It wouldn't have been half so good without her. :luv:

---

Emily's return to consciousness was not a graceful one even by the most generous of standards. Reality simply crashed down on her, bringing her in an instant from peaceful oblivion to keen awareness of how much her head was wracked with with burning needles of pain. It had not helped that she had violently jerked herself upwards as she awoke, her circulation in momentary chaos as she reoriented herself.

Yelping at the shock, she rolled off her cot, lying on the floor till the pain subsided to manageable levels. She hadn't thought she had drunk that much – no more than a few ounces of what wasn't terribly high quality liquor to begin with, and she was hardly a lightweight for someone with as little mass as she had.

She sat up again, more slowly this time. She was sitting on the floor of her apartment, tangled up with the bedclothes that had followed her in her unexpected fall. It took her a moment to recognise the equally dazed face looking back at her. “Aislin?”

The girl blinked fuzzily at her. “Good morning.” Aislin had been sleeping herself, half reclining on the long armed chair in Emily's apartment, a blanket wrapped around her. Emily murmured a response, her mind doing acrobatics as her thoughts began to order themselves, trying to figure out why Aislin was sleeping on her chair. They had been out the previous night, sitting in the park where Emily had not long before spent the evening with Srihevana, and she did have a recollection of walking back to her apartment together, but why in the world had Aislin slept over?

As more of her cognitive functions returned to her, Emily realised that it wasn't just her lack of memory; she honestly wasn't sure how Aislin had ended up spending the night. The girl had been pleasant enough company, and they had spent enough time talking that she had just ended up staying as a matter of convenience.

Finally, after what seemed to Emily like minutes of staring at one another, Aislin began to giggle. Pushing her hair out of her face, she stood up and moved over to help Emily to her feet, a mirthful expression still on her face even after the laughter had subsided. Stretching, Emily did her best to work out the tense muscles gained while asleep, and to find out where she had managed to bruise herself on the short drop to the floor. “Thanks.”

Aislin was looking her over, mixed concern and appraisal mixing into her amused demeanour. “Well you look like you're ready to be a bag of weasels today. Can I get you anything?”

“Caffeine.” Emily waved a hand vaguely towards her kitchenette cabinets, and followed Aislin towards the back of the apartment. She sat heavily into her computer chair, resting her cheek on her hand as she watched Aislin search through her cupboards, pulling out the electric kettle and setting it to boil. Her unexpected houseguest was turning out to be one of the irritating people who was not only able to wake up in less than five minutes, but be alert and cheerful almost as soon as she stood up. She had even started humming to herself as she moved about.

Emily made an indistinct noise of disapproval and turned to her computer, flicking the power switch and watching the system text scroll across the screen. Srihevana had gotten in touch with her when she had promised, but in an infuriatingly vague manner. The short message had reassured Emily that she wanted to meet again soon, but she wasn't sure when she'd be able to. Apparently there was important business to attend to, and it might take a few days before she had wrapped it up. She had promised to send another note just so soon as she knew, and Emily had been checking her inbox religiously ever since.

Scowling, Emily drummed the fingers of her free hand on her table as she waited. In theory her computer had the resources to serve as a traffic coordination machine for a lightly trafficked port, and yet it still took four or five minutes just to boot up despite her best efforts to keep it virus free and running smoothly. While she waited for it to finish, she turned to where Aislin was mixing coffee substitute. “That's an awfully grim tune.”

“You think so? I always found it inspiring.” Aislin put down her task for long enough to stand a touch straighter and belt out several bars, “Judex ergo cum sedebit, quidquid latet apparebit, nil inultum remanebit.” Aislin's voice was tightly controlled as she ranged over a full measure. Emily may not have been an expert in the matter, but it sounded like Aislin had professional voice lessons at some point in the past. With a modest enthusiasm, she clapped twice, causing Aislin to flush.

“Dies Irae. In English it means something like, 'When the judge takes his place, what is hidden will be revealed, nothing will remain unavenged.' It's a hymn about judgement day.”

Emily's eyebrow arched. “You find that inspirational? Your singing perhaps, but the topical matter is still fairly grim.”

Aislin flushed more deeply at Emily's words, smiling faintly. “It's the end of the world, but it's a restorative one: God comes down and ensures that everyone is given their due. No justice in this world, but hope for justice in the next.” Emily made a non-committal noise in response to that thought. “But I'm glad you liked it anyway. Da was a Catholic, had me in church choir every year he could.”

Turning back to where the kettle was now just beginning to whistle, Aislin finished preparing the two mugs she had been working over. It was not terribly good coffee, and didn't take long to make as a result.

Emily accepted the mug gratefully, and took a quick swallow of the scalding liquid, the heat having about as much of an impact on her alertness as the caffeine did. Placing it down beside her, she turned back to her computer, the machine finally having warmed up. Quickly she skimmed the list of new messages, there were far more than she usually had after a day away for some reason, and finally spotted one from Srihevana. She opened it, and found a note that only said, “Happy early second birthday.” Srihevana had not even initialled it.

Clicking back, Emily was about to mass delete the remainder of her new messages – she had paid off her outstanding bills, and was not expecting anything else for at least a week – when she realised the top message was from one of her creditors. Her eyes narrowing, she went over her inbox more carefully. Almost half the messages were from people she owed money.

She selected the first one. Most of the bank statement was superfluous, a complete record of everything she never really wanted to know about her financial account with them. Save at the end there was the record of a transfer to her account equal to her remaining balance. Below that, a message informing her that the outstanding debt was paid in full and the account closed. Below that, links to where she could apply for a new loan.

Blinking, Emily went back and tried the next on the list, a growing knot in her stomach. It was one of the high interest, almost legal credit accounts she had opened to keep herself from becoming completely insolvent. The statement was less complete, and a lot more arcane than the last one, and didn't quite say openly that she was out of debt to them, but the balance did come out to zero. Emily smiled bitterly: at the end there was again instructions on how she could borrow further, this time with a note how they appreciated her business, and hoped she would continue to patronise their service.

She began checking through the list, the knot in her stomach twisting and tightening as she found variations of the same notice in every message she had received that was not spam. Finishing the list, she simply sat staring dumbly at the computer screen. Aislin was watching from the chair she had slept in, still blowing on her coffee as she took tentative sips.

“Anything wrong?”

Emily numbly finished off her own drink, the dregs having cooled off enough so that she could drink it all down at once without burning her throat. “I don't know,” she said slowly. If it had been one of them alone, she would have written it off to error, or a closed loan company, or something, but all of them at once?

Not quite all, she realised as she checked against the ledger she kept of her finances. The expense account she kept open for immediate purchases hadn't been touched, but that was relatively minor, and anything she put on it quickly was paid off, or disappeared into the web of debt management she had built over the years. A second minor loan was also still outstanding. And even despite those small discrepancies, the vast majority of what had been a crippling debt load had simply vanished into thin air.

“I think I just got a birthday present.” Emily ran a kill script, then simply closed her computer, forcing it to sleep instead of taking the time to shut it down properly. Throwing off her shirt, she quickly dressed herself before turning to Aislin. Aislin turned her head as Emily faced her, pretending not to have been staring at her hostess' peculiar antics.

“I'm sorry,” Emily said, hopping in place as she pulled on her shoes, “I have to run. Something unexpected just came up.”

“I should be heading home to get ready for work, anyway.” Aislin stood up as well, pouring the remains of her almost finished coffee down the drain and retrieving her clothing. She paused for a moment when getting dressed. “Will I see you there?”

Had the question come ten minutes earlier, Emily would have grimaced but agreed that she would be there. Now she wasn't so sure. “I don't know yet – I have to work this out first.” Aislin nodded, making her goodbyes as Emily hustled her out the door, standing bemusedly at the front door for a moment as she watched Emily take off down the corridor and past the receptionist.

Living on the edge of the docklands turned out to have an unexpected advantage beyond the cheap rent and low gravity, and it wasn't ten minutes before Emily was skidding to a halt in front of Milky Way Enterprises. The young man behind the front desk typing up a storm, and the movement of people through the front office carrying discs and reams of papers gave the place a much more industrious look than the last time Emily had visited.

She waited for a minute, leaning against the side of the office complex to catch her breath before entering. Even after she had come in and leaned on the edge of the receptionist's desk, it took her clearing her throat to get a reaction from him. He looked up, blinking in surprise at finding someone there. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I'm Emily Syun. I'd like to speak to Srihevana Uxohliu if she's available.”

He glanced down at his computer, pulling up something Emily couldn't see. As his eyes ran over the screen, he said, “She does not have anything scheduled presently. I could ask and see if she's free enough to speak with you.”

“Please, I'd appreciate it if you could.”

The man nodded, and disappeared back towards Srihevana's office. A minute later he returned and flashed a smile. “She said to come right back.” Emily smiled in return and thanked the man as she headed back, the waterfall of keystrokes resuming behind her.

She entered Srihevana's office, closing the door behind her carefully and with great attention, using it as an excuse to look away, extending the time until she had to face Srihevana. She had been very careful not to give herself any time to actually think about what had happened. She had left her apartment almost immediately, and ran the entire distance. When she finally did turn, she saw Srihevana sitting behind her desk, her face blank.

For a moment Emily thought it was just Srihevana discarding her affectations of human facial expression, until she spotted Srihevana's ears held tightly in place, broadcasting none of her emotion as she watched Emily. “Good morning, Emily.”

“Hi.” The smile she had given the clerk faltered. “Did you just—“ Emily stopped mid-sentence as she leaned back on the door, taking a steadying breath. “Yesterday, did you... absolve everything—“ She stopped again, but before she could continue this time, Srihevana spoke.

“Yes, I paid off your creditors.”

The knot that had been growing in Emily's stomach since she saw the first paid in full notice had become so overpowering now as to be physically painful. She slid down to the floor, staring straight ahead at Srihevana's desk.

“Emily?” Srihevana was leaning forward to look down at her, her carefully crafted neutrality dissolving into concern. “Are you quite all right?”

Emily looked up. “Everyone keeps asking me that.”

Looking worried now, Srihevana stood, fishing out a handkerchief from her desk and moving around to help Emily up and into a chair, kneeling down beside her and offering the square of cloth. Emily looked at it in puzzlement until Srihevana finally gave up and silently went about dabbing at Emily's cheeks and eyes.

She was crying? She took the handkerchief from Srihevana, wiping her tears away and blowing her nose. Tossing it aside, she leaned forward, resting her forehead against Srihevana's chest. She did not protest when she felt Srihevana's arms slip around her, letting herself be gathered up in the embrace while she cried. “One hundred and twenty-seven.”

Srihevana shifted, looking down at where Emily was soaking her shirt. “I'm sorry?”

“I was going to be one hundred and twenty-fucking-seven when I had that paid off. I counted. And then only if I could keep up the rate I was paying off.” She shook her head. “I was going to die before I ever owned my life again.”

She looked up into Srihevana's bright golden eyes with a mixture of desperation and awe. “Why? I like you, but that was..." But that was more than I possibly could be worth, she did not say, trailing off as Srihevana brought up a hand to stroke her cheek gently.

“No one should have to do what you did to survive. Were you living in a just place, you never would have been forced to demean yourself. I could not have lived with myself if I had not done what I could to help.”

“You don't even know why I'm even in debt. I could be...” She trailed off as she saw Srihevana's ears twitch uncomfortably. “You do, don't you?”

“I know the basics of it, but would like to hear the entire story later.” Srihevana brought her head down to lay a kiss on Emily's forehead. “Later. After you're feeling better and I'm finished here.”

Emily nodded and even laughed a little, beginning to extricate herself from Srihevana's embrace. “I guess I should let you work, huh? I'm sorry I just burst in on you.”

“It was quite all right. I always have time when I am really needed. May I call you when I have time?”

“Of course.” She giggled again, unable now to stop the amusement from bubbling up in her, her spirits buoyed as much by the catharsis of her crying as she was by the sudden levity of realising that she really was free from the spectre that had crushed down on her life for as long as she could remember.

Standing up on her tiptoes, Emily placed her arms about Srihevana's shoulders, pulling her down so she could kiss her once, a swift peck on her cheek, then again, this time parting her lips and letting their tongues brush together. It did not last nearly long enough, Srihevana sitting back heavily against her desk as she recovered from the sensation, her vinegary taste still on Emily's lips.

Emily beamed at her, wiping her eyes clean of tears yet again. “I don't know how I ever can thank you enough.”

Srihevana shook her head, looking almost dazed. “You already have, Emily. More than I could ever say.”

---

It took Emily a very long time to get out of bed. She had for nearly a week and a half now, revelling in the sensation of not having to be anywhere. Half the time, she had not even bothered to get dressed, simply lounging in her apartment, reading in and pretending that a world outside her quarters just didn't exist. When she did go out it was usually because Srihevana had carved out the time to take her out, which had not only been enjoyable, but also extended the time until Emily had to face the prospect of needing an actual job.

That she was not looking forward to. Her work experience was not something she'd like to put on a resume, nor did she think it would help for most positions even if she did. She was barely scraping by before, and whatever she found would probably pay considerably less. But she didn't need as much without the monthly payments on half a dozen outstanding credits, and at least she would no longer have to force herself out the door, or go through the ritualised torture of putting on make-up each evening.

The entire experience had a surreal quality to it. She had lived so long as she had that it had become normal. Having days go by without anonymous sex made her almost slip into a daze. For the first few days she had lost track of time completely, at one point almost missing one of her dates with Srihevana because she had not realised it was Tuesday until ten minutes before she was supposed to be out the door.

She had only been pulled back to reality when four days after Srihevana had freed her – at least, she thought it was four days – Aislin had stopped by her apartment early in the day, visibly worried that something horrible had happened to her. Emily had nearly broken down crying when she saw the bedraggled little girl standing on her doorstep. Later, after she had taken Aislin out to lunch and told her to pass on to Raul that she was not dead in a service corridor, she had cried, the tears flowing till she simply could not find any more.

She had cried for Aislin first, the girl left behind her still stuck at the Stardust for god only knew what reason. Emily had heard of women willingly going into prostitution for the enjoyment of it, but she had never seen anyone like that herself. She wasn't sure if she believed it at all, and Aislin certainly was killing herself a little more every day she went in. Emily had spotted the faint scars that lined Aislin's arms now that she had seen the girl without her make-up on.

Later she had cried for herself, four years of surviving collapsing in on her as it finally struck her that she really wasn't going back. It had been that night that she started her job searching, if with a luke-warm attitude to start with. Never again would she need to sink that far. It had nearly killed her to accept it once – she wasn't certain she would survive a second time.

Emily grinned at the ceiling as she stared up at it, unable and unwilling to repress it before she finally rolled out of bed. She ate only lightly, the epicly bland breakfasts she still ate becoming more and more unappealing, particularly since Srihevana was going to be by shortly to take her out to lunch. An event which was fortunately becoming more frequent, Srihevana's work load finally beginning to ease slightly with the employment of a new representative to replace one of the ones lost in the smuggling scandal.

It did not take long to prepare. Srihevana had disapproved of how tarted up Emily had always been in the past, although she had never come out and said it quite that bluntly. It had not surprised Emily: what she had read of Taloran literature was replete with the virtues of bathing and cleanliness and the failings of those dirty few who merely covered up the filth they lived in. It suited Emily just as well in any case. Simply having to shower and add accentuating touches served to drive home that every night was another night when she did not have to pick up a client.

She was just putting on her shoes when she heard the tone of her doorbell. It was Srihevana, but a very different Srihevana than what Emily had come to expect. Her ears were cast back in a subdued, anxious posture very unlike her normal excitement to see Emily. Nor did she make any move to greet Emily with the hug or chaste kiss that she had taken to with a vengeance since she had realised Emily did not mind, taking it as a personal challenge to make it interesting enough so that Emily would reciprocate the enthusiasm.

When Emily took it upon herself to hug Srihevana, the woman tensed at the contact, prompting Emily to pull back and look up at Srihevana with concern. “Sri, is there something wrong?”

Srihevana took a deep breath, gently tugging herself away from Emily, and steadfastly avoiding looking her in the eye. “Yes. Something is very wrong.” She swallowed, taking another breath before continuing. “I have done you a great disservice, Emily. You have shown me great kindness, and I have deceived you out of fear of losing that. I cannot, I must not continue doing that to you.”

Emily gave Srihevana a sharp look, but placed a hand on her forearm in reassurance. “Srihevana, come in, sit down, and tell me what you mean.” Srihevana's ears dipped, distress bleeding out to her face as she shuffled in, shutting the door behind her. She did not sit, instead simply turning away from Emily, only her ears left to broadcast her mood.

No, that was not quite true, Emily realised as she began to feel a twist of fear build up in her. Srihevana was trembling all over, and if it weren't for the woman's iron self-control, she likely would have been shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. “Srihevana, please, tell me what's wrong.” Emily could feel the panic becoming contagious as she watched the frantic body language as Srihevana sucked in a breath.

"I don't expect you to accept me, on account of this," Srihevana began, her voice laced in pain, and her entire demeanour having abandoned any pretence of humanity as she spoke in an eerily alien way, as she would to another Taloran. "I realised this about myself around the age of five. It was later than most girls, when I started feeling sexual urges. And when I finally did I noticed that... I was attracted toward those who were younger than I was. Only slightly younger, then, so I did not think much of it, nor did any of my confidantes with whom I shared those secrets.

"And then, as time went on, everyone around me matured, looking for older partners and lovers. And I... didn't. My attractions remained the same, and continued down to those rather considerably younger than me, but none elder. Or even to those the same. I was not attracted to adults, or those older girls like myself. I grew older, and fearful, and wisely no longer spoke of such things.

“It was in the university when I realized what I might be, and I grew more and more desperate. Men, women, I tracked down a dhrina—a Farzian order eunuch—even found one still interested in sex, but all these experiences were nothing for me. Illicit sex in public places, group sex, anything." Srihevana had coloured a deep, sickly green extending to the tips of her ears and down her neck in a blush that bespoke of deep humiliation as she continued.

"I attempted every single kink and perversity I could find, in an effort to find something, anything, that wasn't deeply immoral, deeply harmful. I begged God to at least let me have a venal sin as well! Something minor that penance could repay.” She shuddered violently, the movement making Emily's heart skip a beat as she hung off of Srihevana's words, dreading that she knew where Srihevana's story must be going. “Finally I turned even to aliens. Male and female Jikari, though the former was... the most painful experience I've ever had in my life.” A second tremor rippled through her body at the memory, and even Emily winced in sympathetic pain. “Other, more obscure aliens as well, practises I had never heard of before weeks of research into the most obscure and perverse archives. I didn't enjoy any of it.

"So I had to accept the truth. I was, I am, a paedophile, incapable of attraction to anything but children around the ages of three to five.” Srihevana had collapsed into herself with that admission, her entire body drooping in defeat. Emily collapsed also, the words striking her as a physical blow to her gut as she sank into her chair, her eyes burning as she watched Srihevana continue in a voice dead to the world.

“There was nothing else I could enjoy. And I tried every form of sexual intimacy that I could think of. None of it worked. I am... a paedophile. I still am, and I shall be until the day I die. I was forced to confront this by the time I'd graduated with my two-year degree.”

Srihevana's voice turned not firm, but deathly resolute, the grim sound of a soldier seeing before her the killing ground she knew would become her tomb. "I never harmed a child. I never tried to harm a child. I never touched them, or looked at them, let alone molested them. I never looked at those photographs that... that I know I could have obtained should I have tried. I have but one chance to live justly in the world, one chance to face the Lord of Justice with clean hands. Every one of us gets that one chance, I was not going to waste mine.

"I resolved to control myself by every means at my disposal. I am no noble, but a patrician is raised almost as hard, and I emulated those parts which were not expected of me. I read the Instructions of In'ghara and held myself to every word. I threw myself into my work. Instead of the usual five hours a day, I would work seven, almost half of the day in its entirety. When I could find tasks to be done, I would work the restday besides. I buried myself in it. That wasn't enough – I could feel myself slipping closer each day to the unthinkable. So I resorted to self-flagellation when things grew bad.”

Emily wished now that Srihevana would again appear to be on the edge of a nervous collapse as she had when she had walked in the room. Now she only stood, ears limp, inexorably moving forward in that deadened tone, her fate already in clear sight in front of her. Emily could not dare even cry, for fear of missing any part of Srihevana's admission.

"And they could be bad. I'd often have to make excuses and flee quickly from the company of children, retreating so I could whip myself, expose myself to cold water, anything to focus my discipline. I turned, to, to taking very long vacations from work. I would work on rest-days and I'd work long hours, and then get permission to take months on sabbatical, alone at sea in a small sailboat, challenging myself. I still do that here. With nobody else around, I can be at peace with myself, with the world. With God.

"And with nowhere else to turn, it was to God that I came the most, trusting in the strength of the Lord of Justice to support me. If I could just resist both the dual temptations of sin... to strike out and violate those most cherished and trusting on one side, and to commit suicide on the other. I told myself that the Lord of Justice would not give me an impossible task. I must then be able to resist – I simply needed to throw myself against the task hard enough. It was not inevitable that I commit a sin worthy of death and service in the slave-armies of Idenicamos. There is no such person, inevitably doomed to that hellish fate in the bowels of evil and deception."

She stopped then for a moment, a silent eternity that could not have been more than a few seconds as she composed herself. She turned back to Emily, looking directly at her now, revealing watery eyes glinting with the pain of resignation. "So I was able to hold my ground. For two long years I stood steadfast beside my oath. And in turn, it did well enough by me. I developed a reputation as a ferociously dedicated worker.

“My family, I think, began to realise something was greatly wrong, and soon enough it was. Of my great-grandmother's children, her three daughters lived in my home. My grandmother, with just my mother as a daughter, remains, the uncles having moved off to their wives' homes. I have an older sister. My grand-aunts remain at home as well, and of their children, one had all sons, the other two daughters. One of those is unmarried, and the other had had two daughters. Risamlia, my cousin, is just a season older than I am and was my playmate when I was young. The other is the same age as my older sister. But then she had a third, two years after I had graduated.

"I had resisted well enough before that, but I could not resist when a child was... living in my own home. Male or female it didn't matter, and he was indeed born healthy. I thought to wait as long as I could, to figure out what I could do before the inevitable occurred. But later that year my mother also became pregnant, with a daughter.

“I couldn't face the prospect of..." She turned away again, spitting out the words violently as if they slashed at her tongue as she spoke them. "Molesting my own sister. So I had to go. It took me another year to decide it, but it was clear enough that I could not stay. The only question was where I could go. I spent nearly a year in Jikari space, but there were too many of us there, and I soon realised I must stay as far from Talorans as I possibly could.

"So I moved here. I stayed on the surface at first, more like my homeworld, and with few enough of my own kind that they are easy enough to avoid. But there is little to do there for someone such as myself other then spend my hours in leisure, and I would sooner part with my hand than I would my work. The position with MWE was not hard to secure, and there are no other Talorans permanently resident on the station, after all, let alone families. My contact with children was limited to the occasional Taloran family passing through on vacation.”

Srihevana ears twitched again, their first movement in a long time, making Emily jump nearly out of her at the sudden emotion again creeping into Srihevana, her voice again becoming strained. "But though the contact is almost none, the compulsions were becoming too strong, and every sight of a child became a test such like I had never felt before.” Her fingers were curling and uncurling, balling into fists as her face, for the longest time ashen as death, returned to its mortified flush.

“One of the reasons I chose Milky Way Enterprises was because I had met a doctor while sailing in the Galapagos off Ecuador, here, who lived and worked on the station. I chose another venal sin, though a more serious one, to stave off those compulsions. I explained my circumstances to her, and ended up convincing her to sterilize me. The complete removal of all my reproductive tract. Ovaries, womb, everything gone.

“I can never have children to inflict myself on, and the impulses have been lessened without the hormones flooding my body at the mere presence of a child. But they come, my desire burning with an intensity of being denied for nearly eighteen long years. I want... I wanted dearly, desperately, for something that would allow me to indulge my carnality without doing such a terrible, despicable thing as that, so very worthy of death." She again turned back to where Emily was sitting, her eyes red and her eyes sticky with the salt of her dried tears. But she did not look Emily in the eye, her gaze cast at the floor as her voice dropped to scarcely above a whisper.

"Emily, I discovered that I can be... attracted to the smallest of short, slim, human females. With hair just the right length for a growing child and unusual eyes... But it was never quite right, or they seemed not available, or approachable. I feared what would happen should I ever be intimate with someone who then left me, leaving me craving irresistibly and with no choice but to...” Srihevana swallowed, running her tongue over her lips as she recovered her voice.

“So, before you, before you... I did nothing. But you are by far the most attractive woman I have ever met.” She shifted, an ear twitching uncomfortably. “The most childlike, I must confess. I could not help myself. And when I kissed you..." Her eyes watered again as her voice broke. "I enjoyed a kiss for the first time in my life. As I did when you kissed me again, and again... I cannot get enough of that now.

"I desperately want you as a lover. I know that you will not accept now, that no one can accept the thing that I am, but... but if you can swallow your bile and hide your revulsion, I will pay you lavishly for it.” Her eyes came up finally to look at Emiliy straightly, the limitless desperation in them of a woman who saw the only hope she had left to avoid becoming the willing agent of the most terrible of sins. Her words, painful and halting before, began to come out in a rush as a frantic note crept into her tone.

“Be my mistress, be my courtesan. I will pay you half my salary for life if you will stay with me indefinitely, and tend to my needs, and I will pay for medical insurance for you besides, and for gene-therapy treatments to extend your life. I'll get a bigger condominium, and I'll give you your own half of it for some privacy. But please, please, Emily, if you can tolerate me at all, please accept this. I don't know what I'll do without you. How long I can last without some release, before I commit the most grievous of sins."

Finally Srihevana fell silent, gasping for breath as she recovered from her last pleading entreaty, though her eyes still continued to speak for her, the burnished amber nearly obscured entirely by the almost-tears. She waited like someone condemned to death, and Emily could even see the hope slipping away as Srihevana seemed to recover her senses, a growing horror in her as she seemed to realise what Emily must say.

Silently, wiping her face clean on her sleeve, Emily stood. She stared at Srihevana for just a moment, biting her lip, watching carefully as Srihevana began to lower her gaze downward again. Emily's eyes flashed, and she struck out, slapping Srihevana hard enough across the face that her palm stung from the force of the contact, forcing her to discretely shake the tingles behind her back.

Srihevana was in no position to notice, staggering back from Emily's blow far more than should have been possible, the physical pain nothing compared to the blow the slap landed against her psyche. Before she could recover from the shock, Emily had closed the distance, coming near enough so as to have to tilt her head back to force Srihevana to look straight at her.

“How dare you think so little of me, ” she hissed. Then her tone softened as she reached up to caress Srihevana's cheek. “You did more than save my life, you saved my soul. How could I—“ She swallowed, feeling tears prickle at her eyes once more. “What kind of person would I be to judge you unworthy of my affection after that?” She slipped her arms around Srihevana, squeezing harder than the slap had been, and pressing her her cheek against Srihevana's chest.

Srihevana deflated like a balloon whose tie had come undone, her knees giving out and causing them both to tumble to the floor in a chaotic heap, Emily lying on her chest, limbs akimbo. Her eyes were closed, and for a very long time she lay motionless, not making a sound until Emily started to worry something had gone wrong.

Then her arms came to life, cradling Emily against her as she opened her eyes, staring up at the ceiling in dazed wonder. “Oh, thank God.”

Emily sniffled, then smirked. “You're welcome.”
Last edited by Eris on 2008-01-23 09:41pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Post by Steve » 2008-01-22 05:00pm

A startling and amazing revelation, certainly. You're doing very well, Eris.
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Post by Mayabird » 2008-01-22 10:13pm

Ha! I knew it! But that's only because I knew that you and Marina had been discussing something of this nature a few weeks ago. Also I only figured it out after the section before this one and the hint that you gave. So that's not really fair.

So what now?
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Post by Eris » 2008-01-22 10:53pm

Mayabird wrote:Ha! I knew it! But that's only because I knew that you and Marina had been discussing something of this nature a few weeks ago.
That conversation, or probably that one at least, was how this entire thing started. Marina asked me if I would consider hooking up with a Taloran, and I pointed out that it wasn't so much a question whether there was a Taloran that could get over my magnificent 154 cm height.

She followed up with would I date a Taloran paedophile and somehow that turned into me writing this. I don't claim to understand how the transition worked. She works evil magic. I swear, literally I said, "Y'know, someday I should write a story about that." That's it. I never actually intended to write it, yet here I am.
So what now?
That may be the defining scene in the story, but it's far from over. For starters there are no less then three subplots I need to wrap up. Also, while Emily didn't reject Sri outright, it hardly is going to be easy for them. They're officially a couple: now they have to make it work.
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Post by Kuja » 2008-01-23 02:14pm

This is one of the best pieces I've ever read. Anywhere.
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Post by Eris » 2008-01-23 07:43pm

Kuja wrote:This is one of the best pieces I've ever read. Anywhere.
:luv:

I'm glad you enjoyed it!
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