"See you in a couple of days," I said, kissing Aaden's mouth hard immediately after. He gave as good as he got.
He chuckled. "I guess that'll have to hold me. Just make sure you do get home soon. It won't be home without you there."
"As soon as I can. Responsibilities call."
"As they will for the next decade," he sighed. "Love you."
"I love you too," I replied. "Give my love to--"
"Everybody!" he laughed. "I will. Send Anlestin our love, would you?"
"I'll do that." I hesitated at the door. "Bye."
"Go, you oaf, or you'll get caught in the launch window." I nodded, closing the hatch. It descended and closed with a loud metallic bang behind me. I took my seat. Fifteen minutes later I was doing a suborbital insertion into the atmosphere of llerkin.
The skies were bright and blue and they hurt my eyes. In the short view I didn't appreciate that. But it was a damn sight better than the burning ochre color I had seen on my last journey here. Although much of the land below still looked blasted and infertile the region adjacent to the new city of Fhan appeared green and growing. Trees were planted along the rivers, grass grew in abundance, and as I pulled in for my final approach to the Port of New Fahn I could see long strands of seaweed growing in the waves that pounded against the cliff face. Atop that cliff sat the Palace of New llerkin, the new home of Princess Anlestin.
Queen Anlestin, I corrected myself. I felt a small thrill through my chest at the thought of her name. There are so many lovers in my life and each does something different to me. Yet the essential incompatibility that I have with Anlestin seems to make the relationship between us all the more worthwhile. Perhaps it's the schizophrenically clandestine nature of it: on the one hand everyone knows Anni and I sleep together, but on the other both her people and mine seem ready to deny that we could truly love one another.
And, to tell the truth, I would always call her 'My Princess.' It was something of a compromise worked out between us, well in advance of her acquiring the throne. She enjoyed the sound of it because it made her feel young again. She also preferred that I not call her 'My Queen' because I was not her subject. As 'My Princess' however, she could be mine. Somehow we found that relationship satisfying.
Still, as schedules go, I had just woken up from a long night's sleep on the Nyano Handele but it was well toward late afternoon here at New Fahn. I thought to myself: if Anlestin was to keep me from being restless tonight, she would have to work at it. Somehow I knew my cool alien princess would be more than up to the task.
I pressed a button and heard the wheels drop. I waited for the familiar triple-thump as the hydraulics locked into place, then eased gently into the beaconpath. All the lights were green and I trimmed back, dropping the shuttlecraft onto the tarmac with ease. I had a nice perfect landing aided and abetted by perfect weather. Which I'm told is common out here on New Fahn.
A tall llerkin stepped out and pointed my ship to the left, and I wheeled into the bay she indicated. After locking up the ship, I stepped out onto the surface of llerkin. Without life support. One of the major changes requested by the llerkin industrial interests and backed by the nobility was an ecosphere that was simultaneously inhabitable by both llerkindi and Pendorian/Terran. Other than a high humidity, everything seemed to be fine here. llerkindi were a curious mixture of fragility and strength: on the one hand, they could eat and breathe almost anything; on the other, they had thin bones and tended to be less strong than similarly proportioned Pendorians.
A small jeep, top down, pulled up outside the hanger and as I stepped out into the sunlight I recognized the driver. "It's good to see you, sir," she said.
"It's good to see you as well, Pal," I said as I walked up. I tossed my bags in the back and leapt over the door, settling into the passenger side. "How long have you been here?"
"About two years," she replied. "Anni has been here a little less than that, going back and forth." She twisted a grip on the wheel and the car zipped across a wide slab of poured concrete, through a covered courseway, and then down a long straightway headed through the center of town. I barely had time to fasten my seatbelt. "There are only four hundred people in the entire city right now," she said. "We're trying to put the basics together with robotics. They say we'll be able to support over two million people here comfortably."
I glanced down at the car. "Electric power."
"Pfusion power," she said. "There were some experiments with power-at-range but, as usual, we cannot get lock-on long enough for viable power transfer." She sighed and looked around. "But there's more than enough power in water, isn't there? We don't allow internal combustion engines on llerkin anymore except in extreme circumstances. And you, sir, are not an extreme circumstance."
I laughed. "You know, Pal, I like you."
She turned just long enough to smile at me. "Thank you, Ken. I like you too."
"Nice construction. Lots of wide streets."
"Yes, Pendorian urban design, but Llerkindi architecture and interiors. A lot like what we built on your world." She gestured ahead. "That fountain covers the center of the city, which was built over the foundation of one of your atmospheric processors. They were kind enough to leave the maintenance fusion plant."
"Which by itself has enough power for every home on the planet."
She nodded. "The fourteen foundations are going to be used for the thirteen cities and the grand memorial." I noted with pleasure that she didn't carry any of the usual humdrum Terrans did about having thirteen of anything. The car shot into the central park of town and around the fountain with such violence that I found myself grabbing the roll cage. Pal laughed. "I'm a very good driver."
"I know that!" I shouted. "I'm just glad I didn't bring a hat!"
She laughed again as she turned again down the straightway to the north. Beyond the city I saw the triune ziggurats of the Palace At New Fahn rising beyond the buildings. Three stepped pyramids sharply angled upwards into the sky, joined two-thirds of the way up by great skybridges that must have covered several floors themselves, the llerkindi had designed the new Palace as more than just the housing of their new and beloved Queen, but also as housing for the machinery of a transfeudal state. In there, even now, llerkindi, Pendorians, and robots labored to finish the parliament of Lords and Peoples.
The jeep shot under the great city gate and up the winding road to the top of the hill and the Palace. "Has there been any push to build a SkyPalace?"
"We have thought about it, but are conferring with your people about ways to make it safer. The first strikes by the Sinox dropped it from the sky instantly." She may have paused to collect her thoughts, or just to zip around a bend. "Like a bubble."
I nodded. "Llerkin will be one of the safest places to live once we're done with it," I said.
"Just don't leave the defense force with nothing to do!" she laughed. The car crossed into the grand plaza, a flat expanse of immaculately groomed grass rings with flags. Each flag represented one of the noble houses of llerkin. Many came from those houses united under the rule of King Hantan eleven hundred years ago, but more came from houses nominated since that time.
The car slowed as it reached the other side of the plaza. A door opened in the side of the castle just as the floor dropped down into a ramp leading to a garage. Pal drove down and parked. "Come on. We're taking the long way."
"How come?" I asked.
"Anni wants you to see something." An elevator took us from the very ordinary garage up to the extraordinary skybridges. Extraordinary not for the construction, which still deserved admiration for its quality and strength, but for the magnificent view it afforded of the ocean to the east, and of the city to the west. "Breathtaking," I said.
"You can see how the city sits just perfectly on the circular foundation of your processor, now on its way to Ritacha. Off to the south, you can see the forest regrowing. And the grasses are taking strong root down on the lawn and in the meadow to the south.."
"It looks good," I agreed. She turned and led me on. We reached the central spire. Set in from a high-ceiling alcove stood two imposing doors eight meters high, made of wood and set with bands and rivets of blackened iron. I recognized the work. I had seen these doors before, torn from their hinges, laying on the ground. I had killed two Sinox within sight of these very doors. "The throne room," I said.
"Yes," Pal replied. One door creaked open slightly, and I could see that between two layers of wood now lay at least six centimeters of starship reiceramic, inset with bolts of the same. So they weren't entirely the same doors after all.
"Now that's a big door," I chuckled. Inside, another door on the wall opposite indicated the presence of the other skybridge, and from both doorways led walkways to the center aisle of the enormous room, which in turn led to the throne. The throne sat on a rectangular platform five steps up from the floor. The platform in turn occupied a space not quite set towards the back of the room. Servants and guards still had plenty of room behind the dais. The walls were completely paneled in the finest of hand-cut woods. The chairs to accommodate the court likewise showed individual workmanship throughout. The carpeting, a deeper-than-blood red, could only have come from the finest of makers. Tapestries hung from the walls and depicted some of the most spectacular times in llerkin history. "Bare wall?" I asked, pointing to a spot to the left of the throne.
"A new tapestry. The Sinox War and the Unintended Exodus. It is not yet finished."
From a ceiling high enough to accommodate those enormous doors hung the same collection of flags as flew outside on the plaza. This time, my brain had sectioning to work with; in short order I calculated an overabundance of flags; twenty-seven more than I remembered there being houses of llerkin. I asked Pal.
"We don't just hang the houses of llerkin in here. There are four religious orders recognized here. Three military branches. Eight recognized schools. The Parliament of the People has a flag. But you're right; there are more here than you remember. Since the war, nine houses have been nominated. From the three colonies, eight houses. And a noble family has been recognized for the Queen's Reach On Pendor."
My eyebrows went up at that. "Really? Who?"
Pal didn't answer for a second. She seemed to be thinking desperately. Finally, she sighed. "Rembrar Neshlid."
I gave her my broadest smile. "Congratulations! That must be a great honor." She nodded, and if I could see into the infrared I knew I'd see her blushing, too. "But there are still two left."
She pointed to the throne. "The throne has its own flag, which incorporates the current queen's house, a personal symbol, and the royal badge. And go look. The last flag is right behind the queen's."
I looked. The flag behind Anlestin's was a blue so deep it was almost black, with the Pendorian ring-and-star in silver in the center. In the upper-left-hand corner were seventeen eight-pointed sunbursts, also in silver. "At the rate you're going, Ken, we're going to have to sew another star in there soon."
I considered the appearance of the flag carefully. "Are you sure you want to send that message to the nobles? That the power behind the throne of Queen Anlestin is Pendor?"
"People believe that already. And you know, the great majority think that that's a good thing, that you carried us through a period of great tribulation. The Gifts of Pendor are going to change llerkin and most people think the future is going to be okay." Her grin caused the hide about her eyes to crinkle slightly, emphasizing just how old she had been when she had received the immortality treatments. "Come on. Anni's in the other wing, on the roof."
I followed Pal across the far skybridge, away from the sumptuous throne room. "I assume that room is pretty well defended."
"Inside and out." She led me into the Royal Wing and to an elevator. "I'll let you go up alone. Reeds, take Ken up to Anlestin."
"I'll do that," the AI replied. I hadn't asked at this point if Reeds had been installed at the castle, and now the question had been answered for me. I wondered who had made the request-- Anni of Reeds, or Reeds of Anni. I decided it didn't really matter.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. I stepped out into a vast platform of black marble opened to the sky. The elevator dropped back downwards and the floor closed around the space left behind, leaving a vast plane of blackness broken only at its borders by tapered columns that held up the rest of the castle. The columns were perhaps a meter wide, with four meters between them. Thick at the base and slightly thinner at the top, they too were made of marble so black it seemed to glow. At the western side sunlight crept inwards.
I spotted Anni lying on her back on a towel on the eastern side. She lay with her arms above her head aside a swimming pool that was likewise set black, but this black marble had streaks of white in it, probably because black by itself made it hard to judge distances.
She must have fallen soundly asleep some time ago. My footsteps didn't awaken her at all. I knelt down by her side and looked over her naked body. Still as lovely as ever, she had accommodated well to the immortality treatments. She looked like the youthful girl I had once known, precious and innocent. It saddened me to know that the innocence had been ripped away by a species that I couldn't describe so much as cruel but simply stupid.
I touched her shoulder softly with my fingertips. Her body felt right to my touch, the fine, delicate scales alive and flexible under my fingertips. The dusty white of her belly and the soft, dark green of her chest and face made a beautiful combination that I had always loved. I stroked across her chest, waiting for a reaction. I got one. "Mmmm... Pal. Hi. Is it time yet?"
"I dunno," I said aloud. "Is it?"
"Ken!" she said, her eyes flying open. "I... I... Hi!" She lunged and grabbed me, hugging me hard. "I didn't expect you for another hour yet! I thought Pal was going to wake me up before she left to go get you!"
"You've overslept, Anni. It's nearly twilight." I pointed to the rapidly encroaching line of sunlight. "The sun will be on the horizon soon."
Anni looked up at the ceiling. "Reeds? Is Pal preparing dinner?"
"Yes, she is," the AI replied. "It will be ready in about twenty minutes."
Anni nodded in satisfaction, then squeezed me tight. "Oooh! Good to see you!" Her hands stroked my back in ways for which paparazzi would sacrifice their gonads to photograph. "You would have to traipse off to some misbegotten corner of the galaxy just as we're getting ready to move back home! I thought you were going to miss the ceremony!"
"Hey, I had plenty of time." I tilted her head back with a finger under her chin. "And I wouldn't have missed you telling your people to come home for anything." I closed the distance into a kiss and she reacted with a fervor I hadn't expected.
"You mean so much to me," she gasped. "I'm just glad you came back in one piece."
"I am too. You heard that someone tossed a nuke at me?"
She nodded. "Don't let something like that happen again."
"I'll try not to," I replied, grinning. "Come on. Let's go get dressed."
"In a minute." She stood up and dove into the swimming pool. "I wanted to get cool, first." She swam to the far end of the pool, back, and out. "Now, let's go."
The dinner Pal had prepared could only be described as comfortable. Once, the llerkin Kings and Queens had been served orgiastic volumes of food, most of which they would leave untouched. Now, a sense of commonality and responsibility with those who had been rendered as homeless as she had led to a more sensible outlay of food.
"The Chinese Emperors believed that their mandate came from the Gods themselves, but that the Gods had blessed them with so much wealth to remind them that their duty was to the people." I buttered a piece of bread. "How do you feel now, Anni?"
"I don't know if my power comes from Zhal or not, but I do know that the rituals of opening the planet, and of the first seating of Parliament, and of the Throne, will do what you said-- remind me that I am the ruler of my people." She took a deep breath. "For a century, I've ruled a parcel of land that was only one small corner of your world, Ken. In only two years, I take over the responsibility to see to the well-being of an entire planet. My planet."
"Taria llerkindi," I said. "I'm not sure if I should congratulate you."
"Do it," she said. "I need all the kind words I can get."
Pal, who hadn't said a word until now, said, "Anni, you did a lot more just keeping the idea of llerkin alive. This is easy." She grinned. "And it should be fun."
"Yeah, you haven't had the kind of pageantry a Queen truly deserves."
Anni sighed. "Great. And to be surrounded by advisors who want me to marry as soon as possible. Handlers." She said the last word like a curse. "Do I need to be handled, Ken?"
"I don't know. Do you?"
"I want to be handled by you!" She let her shoulders sag again. "May as well enjoy the quiet while I have the time."
"Do that," I said. "And make sure your handlers know that you need such time in your life after opening day. Who are you looking to marry?"
"Well, I could always marry Pal's father, now that I've made him a lord."
"Not a wise move," Pal said. "It would look... impolitic. Besides, I don't think I could sleep next to you while you carried my... sibling to term."
Anni's eyes made a quick glance in my direction, then back to Pal. She nodded. "The best choice is Roichie, of course. The problem is that that makes the thing... complex, though."
"How so?" I asked, not recognizing the name on the table.
"Roichie is gay," Pal said. "He's not terribly public about it, but it is well-known. Marrying him would make Anni's other relationships more understandable, but it might also alienate that portion of the population who are already uneasy about their xenophillic queen."
I nodded. "I get the picture."
"I want to marry someone I like. Someone I can enjoy my life with," Anni sighed. "Someone who will be a good father for my children."
"We'll find you someone. And if we don't, well... we can always make him."
"Not funny," Anni growled, recalling the last time she had seen an android she didn't care for.
Pal stood up and cleared away the table for us. "I'm going out for a walk," she said as the robots took over the act of washing the dishes. "You know how to call me if you need me, Anni."
After the door closed behind her, I said, "Tired?"
Anni nodded. "I've been lazy all day, and yet my body wants to go to sleep."
"Probably because you haven't taken your metabolism up very much. It happens. Come on, then. If we can't sleep, I have a lot of reading to do."
"Me too," Anni sighed. She led me up to her bedroom.
"Nice place," I commented. It was pretty much a duplicate of her castle at Pendor. The floor had a different pattern but that same hand-worked appearance. She pressed a button and retracted the glassed walls of the Queen's chamber, allowing the soft wind and the sounds of the ocean to reach in and caresses us.
She grinned. "My one sanctum, the Queen's chambers. The floor with the pool is below us, and above us is the sacrificial altar, not that we have sacrifices anymore. Although I suppose Duke Siss-talek should be grateful that we don't. That corner over there is the bathroom, if you need it."
"Not right now," I sighed, removing my boots and jacket. I lay down on her bed and stretched out. "Comf-- Ooof!" She had landed on top of me. "Hi."
"Hi," she sighed. "Missed you." She kissed me hard, like she had in the pool.
"Likewise," I assured her. Her mouth felt cool against mine, but her tongue was as warm and slim as ever, touching mine as we wrestled on the bed, side by side, bodies trying to touch through the layers of clothing I wore. Her robe, the only thing she had worn since our encounter by the pool, fell open easily under my fingertips and my hands caressed the delicate flesh underneath, the soft tiny scales over which my fingers scooted without pause. "You're so beautiful, Anni."
"Really," I said. I touched her shoulder with my lips, feeling the vibrant texture underneath my tongue. "Gods, you are."
"Warm," she gasped as my lips caressed her neck. "Take off your clothes."
"Yes, my princess," I whispered. I had soon kicked off my pants and shirt and turned back to her, pressing my body against hers fully.
"Oh, warm!" she moaned again. "You feel so good. I could lie here all the time with you on top of me, Ken."
"You would get tired, eventually," I chuckled. She laughed softly as her arms caressed my back. Her legs wrapped around my butt and held me to her. My erection grew between us, and she felt it touch, insistently, against her vulva. "Make love to me?" she said. "Please?"
"Like this?" I said, shifting slightly and pressing inwards.
"I'm dry," she whispered. "Need more."
I let her go and slid down the length of her body. "Will this do?"
My lips touched the top of her mound. A soft "Ohhh..." escaped her at the mere hint of what was to come soon. Down, my mouth descended on her cunny. It differed from the usual design found on Pendor with the urethra located below the vagina, the inner labia so small as to be nonexistent, and the walls themselves the source of her most intense pleasure. She groaned softly as my tongue caressed those walls in ways that mere walking fortunately didn't duplicate. Her body shivered softly as my tonguing became more direct, more focused.
I coated her cunt with my saliva, and as she reached closer to orgasm, the noises from her became a little louder, a little more insistent. I thought I had an inkling that she was nearly about to come when I tasted a strange, musky flavor, and I was right. A few licks later and her hips jerked violently away from my mouth, pushing her down into the bed as she came with a growl.
I crawled up over her body. "Thank! You!" she gasped, then "O, Yes!" as I slid inside her. "Yes!" I smiled at her appreciation. Her cunt felt wonderfully slick around my cock, and so tight. Llerkindi genitals weren't as large as the average humanoid from Pendor, and it showed in the grip with which she held my cock.
"Anni," I sighed, looking down into her golden eyes. "You are so beautiful."
She smiled and wrapped her arms around me tight, pulling me down to her. "You are so wonderful!" she gasped as my hips started to pump into her. Her body responded with familiar wonder, her legs pulling upwards to give me a deeper thrust. "Yes!"
We made love slowly. The royal bed creaked under us ever so slightly, and the wind that blew over our bodies from the sea was barely noticed. The only thing that mattered to me lay beneath me-- Anni. I could feel the warm walls of her cunt stroking my cock with insistence. My legs grew tired and I pushed myself up onto my arms to look down on her and to use other muscles, and she smiled up at me impishly as she tightened her cunt around my cock until I groaned. "Anni!"
"I've been practicing."
"Practice with this, then!" I said, grinding myself down into her, then withdrawing and pushing down hard. She arched her back to meet me, and we fucked each other. Her voice became ragged gasps for air. I didn't even have time to breathe. I just closed my eyes and felt my climax rising inside me, coming hard, coming fast. I growled when I came.
"Whew," I said, brushing my hair out of my eyes.
She giggled. "You're so wonderful."
"You," she agreed. "Tired?"
"More than I was a minute ago, but not really, no."
"We could stay up and read, like we said we were," I suggested. "I have a lot to catch up on." My cock sagged slightly and slipped out of her.
She giggled. "I felt that."
"I did too." I rolled over and collapsed on her bed. She pulled two small towels from her bedstand and tossed me one. "Thanks," I said.
"You taught me this."
"It seems kinda obvious." I cleaned off, then lay next to her, snuggling. "Good to see you, Anni."
"You're staying until the day after tomorrow?"
"Yes," I promised. "Just to see you."
"Good." She hugged me tightly. "It's nice to have you for a couple of days, all to myself." She let me go, turning over onto her belly. "But, you're right. I have a lot to read."
I nodded, picking up my own PADD and querying the mail.