Space Rep: I bet it only accepted this interview to escape from the planet Zulaire. It's a planet, right?
Liza: I've no idea. Let's transport the book over and find out.
Here it is. Welcome Escape Zulaire. Mind if I call you Zu?
Book: Whoa! It worked!
Space Rep: Don't get too excited. You've arrived at a junker ship that couldn't outrun a space dust bunny. So If you'll answer the mostly hairless primate's questions we'll transfer you to something more obliging for escaping.
Book: Deal. But are you hanging about to translate the primate's babble. Primates don't hear me unless it's an 'audio' book. *snorts in contempt*
Liza: Before you get yourself transported back to Zulaire, you should know I hear books just fine. So answer my questions and I'll transport you wherever you want to go. Oh, I'm calling you Zu. End of discussion.
Liza: Finally, an agreeable book. So tell us about yourself.
Zu: First of all, you did NOT retrieve me from a Zulaire penitentiary library. And yes Zulaire is a planet. So please stop thinking until I tell you what to think.
Liza: I have no trouble not thinking. You wouldn't believe how often people say I'm thoughtless or that I've lost my mind.
Zu: That doesn't surprise me in the least. Now sit and I'll tell you what is going on in Zulaire.
*Liza and Space Rep sit on the less-than-clean spaceship floor and stare attentively at Zu the book*
Zu: We begin with beautiful female, Andi Markriss, having a less than enjoyable time as the houseguest of the planetary high-lord.
Liza: Ah, so she wants to escape Zulaire.
Zu: Her company sent her to represent them at a political wedding, so she can't leave.
Liza: I hope she behaves better than me at weddings. I think I've caused a stir at everyone of them.
Zu: She's fine, but my hotshot Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane barges in on the night of the biggest social event of the summer and insist she come with him at once.
Liza: I usually don't argue when they send security to remove me--keeps me from getting arrested.
Zu: Well, as I said, Andi is not the problem. She's doing her job to perfection and isn’t about to offend her high-ranking host on Deverane’s say-so—no matter how sexy he is, or how much he believes they need to leave now.
Liza: You didn't mention he was sexy. Tell me more about sexy Deverane.
Zu: Deverane was thinking about how to spend his retirement bonus when HQ assigned him one last mission: rescue a civilian woman stranded on a planet on the verge of civil war.
Liza: You didn't tell me there was a civil war. Why are these people having parties during a war. That never goes well.
Zu: Andi was not aware the political instability had become so serious.
Liza: Oh...Wait! Why did they send someone to pluck her out of trouble? Is she someone important?
Zu: Someone has pulled some serious strings to get her plucked out of the hot zone. But you'll have to read the book to discover who.
Liza: *huffs* So what does Deverane think about Andi, who refuses to be rescued?
Zu: Deverane’s never met anyone so hard-headed—or so appealing.
Liza: The 'I don't know whether to strangle or kiss you' feelings happens to me a lot.
Zu: The mission proves more dangerous than Deverance expected.
Liza: Does he pick up the wrong fork while dining?
Zu: Close. Rebel fighters attack the village and raze it to the ground. Deverane escapes with Andi into the wilderness.
Liza: The party is clearly over. So now she's away from her job responsibilities does she start to value sexy saviors a bit more?
Zu: In fact, she does. On their frantic journey through the wilderness, Andi finds herself fighting her uncomfortable attraction to the gallant and courageous captain.
Liza: Why is she struggling? Go for it! Life is too short. He's sexy and a hero, what more do you want?
Zu: Stop yelling at my heroine. She has good reason to resist. Deverane’s not the type to settle down, and running for one’s life doesn’t leave much time to explore a romance.
Liza: *grumbles* I would make the time.
Zu: Water under the bridge, for soon Andi is captured by the rebel fighters.
Liza: Crap. But Deverane will save her, right?
Liza: What? He's got to save her!
Zu: Deverane has discovered that Zulaire’s so-called civil war is part of a terrifying alien race’s attempt to subjugate the entire Sector.
Liza: Okay, but he'll be able to save her after he saves the world, right?
Zu: *shakes head* If he pushes on to the capitol Andi will die. Deverane must decide whether to save the woman he loves, or sacrifice her to save Zulaire.
Liza: She really should have taken the time to dance the tango with him.
Space Rep: Your babble fish should translate that as 'copulate'. Liza resists speaking plainly in these matters.
Zu: Thank you for explaining. I was very confused how an archaic Earth dance movement would change their terrible situations.
Liza: So what happens next? And don't say--
Zu: You must read the book to find out.
Liza: Crap. Space Rep, find me the buy links. While we are waiting, can I peek beneath your covers for a glimpse of your words.
Zu: I suppose. Just behave. It's a wedding.
This is the most absurd thing I’ve ever done as Assistant Planetary Agent for Loxton Galactic Trading - standing in as a bridesmaid in a borrowed puce dress because some other girl failed to show up. Andi Lockriss sighed, feeling the garment binding too tight across her chest. I didn’t mind representing the company as a guest, but this is way outside the line of duty.
Early afternoon on Zulaire was too warm for an outdoor ceremony but the Planetary High Lord’s spoiled daughter Lysanda didn’t care to be ready any earlier in the day. Her guests’ comfort wasn’t a consideration.
An inch at a time, Andi shifted from her assigned spot into the shade cast by the towering stone pillars. How did I get talked into this? Oh yes, Lysanda wept and her mother made vague threats about her husband reviewing our shipping contracts. As the musicians played, Andi turned, watching Lysanda pace toward the dais in time to the music, smiling for her groom-to-be.
The local priest took a deep breath and launched into a lengthy blessing, invoking the deity and relating the history of the planet’s three Clans - Obati, Shenti and Naranti. Andi chanted along with him, under her breath. Overlords, Second Class and Neutrals, as her boss had told her when she arrived on Zulaire six years ago. Easy to keep them straight that way, he’d said, but don’t ever slip and use the nicknames out loud.
“This young pair from two of the highest families will cement our peace,” the priest proclaimed, lowering his arms and beaming at Princess Lysanda and her intended. “Their offspring will embody the union of Obati and Shenti blood.”
Applause from the crowd, led by the bride’s mother, made the officiant blush. As he bowed, Lysanda blew her mother a kiss.
That ovation will spur him to more oratory for sure. Andi smothered a sigh, wiggling her aching toes, held too tight in the borrowed silver sandals. I thought the last three weeks of engagement parties, picnics and games out here in the summer compound were endless but this ceremony tops them all.
“The bride and groom will now light the symbolic candles.” The priest led the pair to the side altar, where a trio of candles – blue, green and ivory – had been set into massive golden holders. Representing the three Clans, the candle ritual reinforced the political symbolism of this ceremony. Everything symbolic on Zulaire came in threes, Andi thought, watching the couple light each candle in turn.
Sneezing violently as the slight afternoon breeze carried colorful but pungent smoke from the burning tapers in her direction, she earned herself a glare and a hissed “Shh!” from the woman standing next to her. After taking a deep, cleansing breath of the fragrant bouquet she’d been clutching, Andi gave the other attendant a faint smile.
Tuning out the priest’s new recitation of more sacred writings, especially since the man had a nasal voice and a tendency to repeat himself, Andi studied the intricate carvings in the shiny black stone wall of the pavilion across from her, details brought to clarity by the slanting sun’s rays.
Lysanda had argued long and hard with her mother earlier about allowing Andi to substitute for the unaccountably missing hand maiden. Only the fact that without Andi to partner him, an important groomsman would be omitted from the ceremony, swayed the decision. Good for Loxton’s business networking that I’m here. The Planetary Lord’s family owes me personally now for preserving the precious symmetry of Lysanda’s wedding party, at the cost of my aching feet. With a flash of amusement at the ludicrous situation, Andi smiled. Lucky for the princess I accepted the invitation on behalf of Loxton, not my portly boss.
The bas-relief on the back wall across from Andi depicted a stylized sun above a giant, multi trunked malagoy tree – each trunk symbolizing one of the three Zulairian tribes – Obati and Shenti locked in an eternal struggle to rule the planet, jockeying back and forth for thousands of years of bloody history. All the while the Naranti stayed neutral, filling a perpetual peacemakers’ role, as their god Sanenre had legendarily decreed. Symbolic of their Clan’s allotted role in the planet’s history, the Naranti trunk was at the center of the tree, supporting the other two.
A skillfully carved herd of three horned urabu grazed beneath the sheltering arms of the malagoy, the alpha buck depicted in a watchful stance, stone face staring at the occupants of the dais. The image of these legendary creatures, with their sweeping triple horns, was to be found everywhere on Zulaire, even on the Planetary Lord’s Seal. Beloved symbol of the god Senenre, legendary bearers of good fortune and blessings, the gazellelike animals were extinct now of course, hunted for the ivory of their sweeping horns.
Lysanda and her betrothed were repeating vows after the priest.
Apparently as bored as Andi was, Sirala, the youngest attendant at her sister’s ceremony, just a toddler really, came across the platform with unsteady steps, reaching for Andi, her favorite playmate of the last few weeks. Missing her nieces and nephews, who lived far away in her own home Sector of the galaxy, Andi had been happy to skip a few adult entertainments to amuse the young ones of the house during her stay.
After a quick hug, the child plunked herself at Andi’s feet, leaning against her legs. Pulling the flower garland from her glossy curls, Sirala picked the petals off the blossoms while humming the processional tune offkey. The priest began to wrap up, raising his voice to override the toddler’s song. Andi stared out over the crowd.
Quite a few empty chairs. A surprising number of high ranking Obati guests had failed to arrive, which drove the bride’s mother into an angry tirade shortly before the ceremony. The failure of the missing bridesmaid and her family to show up had created another firestorm. Lady Tonkiln had a long memory for social slights.
It’s been an odd summer, that’s for sure. Andi herself would be glad to see Fall arrive, when business always picked up and she could get back to the office, dive into the complexities of intergalactic trading and leave the socializing to others. And decide if it’s time to leave Zulaire for another assignment. Six years is too long to stay on one planet, if I want my next promotion. I wish I didn’t love it here so much.
Copyright 2013 by Veronica Scott
Liza: Oh, that was a fun read. Space Rep, do you those buy links yet?
Space Rep: I found one!
I also found some stalking links for Veronica
Amazon Best Selling Science Fiction Author
Liza: Well done, Space Rep. You're finally earning your oxygen supply. Be sure to leave comments. Else Space Rep will go into a depression.