Year 1329, Planet Alcane
“What do you think they do in there?” Oscar asked suddenly. His partner looked up from her book, regarded him for a moment, then looked away.
“Theresa?” Oscar leaned in closer. “What do you think?”
Theresa sighed. “How should I know?”
Oscar shrugged, undeterred. Cupping a hand over his eyes he gazed up the hill. “Whatever they do up there, I bet it’s fun.”
Theresa flipped over the page. “How you figure?”
“For starters, they don’t work. They just lie around in their estate…drinking herbal tea, braiding hair.” From the corner of her eye, she saw his expansive shoulders droop, a sigh heaving out like a gush of wind. “Must be amazing.”
Theresa looked up, thought to say something, then looked back down. The silence brewed between them then, something so comfortable she almost forgot he was there.
But Oscar didn’t thrive in silence. The quiet felt too alive to him; like a thing that could reach out, but could not be seen. A terrifying beast hiding behind thin shadows. Which was ridiculous when he thought about it. A big man like him shouldn’t be scared of anything. In fact, at first glance, Oscar was the beast.
A towering thing like him, with a thick chest and permanent scowl. Oy! The silence should be scared of him instead.
And it was, most of the time. Oscar could never shut up.
Even now, in the stillness, she could feel her comfort shy away, and his eyes bore holes into her skull.
Her head snapped up to meet his gaze. “What?”
Theresa’s brows shot up, prodding him on.
“Do you think they’re trapped?”
Theresa groaned as she felt her eyes roll back into her head. In truth, she wasn’t the most patient of people, and on more than one occasion she’d been accused of being antisocial. But, bite me! What was wrong with this man? “Again with the theories.”
He shrugged again, encouraged. “Just saying. I’ve never seen one. Have you?”
Theresa turned back to her book. It wasn’t as thrilling as she’d hoped, but anything must be better than carrying on a conversation with Oscar.
“Yes, I have.” She flipped another page. “More than one, actually. At the festival last month.”
The Community Festival was an annual celebration that brought together all four tribes: the Brain, the Heart, the Strength, and the Beauty. It was a time they could get together freely, enjoy each other’s company, and most importantly, show off. Aside from the festival, the tribes hardly ever related.
“Only the leaders. Where were the others?”
Not bothered, Theresa thought but kept mum. Everyone knew the ‘beauties’ looked down on the other tribes. Everyone, that is, except Oscar, whose mind couldn’t fathom that level of disdain.
“I bet they wouldn’t let them out. All those young kids locked up in there whilst the old farts traipse around parties. Shame.” Then he went on, enjoying the sound of his voice as he spoke of justice and freedom…never once taking a break to breathe.
Theresa didn’t know how long he kept on but when she finally shut her book, ready to clock out for the day, Oscar was uncharacteristically quiet.
“Hey, let’s go. The third round’s almost here.” She got up, stretched out hours of inactivity and began stepping up toward the road. “Oscar?” He almost jumped.
“What?” His eyes were glazed over with something she couldn’t read.
“It’s time to go.” She watched him flick glances toward the hill, then thought better than to ask him. He’d probably burst into song about conspiracies and justice. Better not risk it. Theresa then began hoofing her way from the estate, Oscar trudging behind, not a peep from him all the way.
She watched him walk away, as he trailed behind his much smaller companion. Or was he much bigger? She couldn’t be sure from her height…but he’d seen her. He’d looked at her.
At last, they’d found their hope.
Hani moved away from the window then as she heard someone come up the steps. It was bad enough she was skipping work but it’d be a whole other world of hell if one of the Mistresses found her wandering around Weston Hall. For a wild moment she thought of running. To her right were dozens of rooms sweeping into what looked like an infinite hallway. Hani could run off into that direction but then she’d probably get lost in the corners and corridors that had successfully turned Weston Hall into a lavish maze. Then there was her left, a short corridor that opened into Barlow’s Lounge. From her spot by the window she could hear drunken sputters and hysterical laughs coming in through the air like a stank song. Hani would rather leap to her death.
The steps grew closer. She leaned back onto the ledge, her hands clutching on to the steel, heart racing. This was it. Her life, as she knew it, was over. She could almost see the Mistress rise on the steps, her face already contorted, as though she’d been expecting Hani to be there, rage bloodying her face a nasty pink. Hani tried to think up a good excuse, but every single one made her heart sink, leaving a horrible hollow in her chest. Step step step step…Here goes-
Well, fuck me.
As though she’d read her mind Sheba looked up, her eyebrows shooting into her hair line.
Of all the people, in all the communes and halls, of all the days, she, Hani, had to come face to face with the girl who’d stained her seat in Biological Science when they were ten, then gone ahead to call her Bloody Ass Hani in the presence of all their classmates.
A part of her hoped it had been a Mistress.
Sheba hastened up the steps then. At the very top she glanced towards Barlow’s Lounge before landing her predator gaze on Hani. That and her upturned lips had Hani backing further into the ledge. “Quite far from home.” Sheba leaned in. “Are you running an errand?”
Hani willed her being into nonchalance. “No,”
Hani heard the insinuation drip like foul honey. She shook her head. “Nope. Just,” she swept her hand toward the window and smiled. “Enjoying the view.”
Sheba looked out into the “view”. At the rocky landscape, with its barren plains and stark buildings scattered about like ill fitting decorations meant to beautify a direly hideous space and sneered. “Pretty.”
Hani took this moment to sneak away, but two steps down Sheba whipped around.
“Yelena’s been asking about you,”
Hani’s back stiffened. “Really? I didn’t know,”
“She’s been calling, too. She wants to talk.” There was accusation in Sheba’s voice, but Hani knew better. Sheba didn’t care about her friend. All she cared for was the scent of scandal, and at the moment she was like a demon hound out for blood.
“Well, uh, I’ll be sure to get back to her.”
“As soon as I possibly can.” Hani nodded diplomatically, her voice echoing back to her like a foreign sound as she started to move once more.
“Okay. What about now?”
Sheba arched her brow at Hani.
“Um…” Hani looked down at the flight, half expecting the steps to rescue her. “I really have to go.”
Sheba sighed, an action that was more of a show than anything. Her full chest rose, her dainty hand fell to her smooth belly as her head fell, lashes lowered, dark lips parted…she was a sight this girl, one that more than a few people loved to see. Only, now her audience was a distressed Hani who couldn’t stand her. “I would just hate for the Mistresses to learn of your little tryst during working hours.” She stared blandly at Hani. “It would just kill me.”
Hani snorted. “We wouldn’t want that.”
Hani didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to see Yelena. The very thought turned her stomach. But she had a feeling Sheba would probably drag her by the hair if she said no. “Which room’s hers?”
Sheba’s dark eyes sparkled. “Oh my, don’t tell me you forgot?”
Hani folded her arms over her chest readying for the inevitable. “Do you want to see me get my ass kicked or not?”
Sheba tipped her chin mindfully. Hani actually felt her blood pressure skid. Is she thinking about it?
Sheba’s eyes widened with faux innocence. Hani thought of the dolls her niece loved. Sheba was a doll; a life sized doll, with deep ebony skin and dark thick brows over fluttering lashes. If Hani didn’t loathe her so much, she’d probably acknowledge the other girl’s beauty.
Sheba started off without another glance, leaving Hani to trail behind. Which she did, as gloomily as possible.
“Here we are. Should I announce you as well?”
Hani’s fists turned white. “You know, sometimes, I just hate you.”
Sheba smiled, a gesture that lit up her face. “Aw, and here I was feeling absolutely nothing for you.” She winked at Hani. “This was fun. We should hang out more.” She walked off then, her dread locks swinging behind her.
Hani hovered outside Yelena’s door for a long while before shoving it open, braced for a fight she would lose.
The darkness embraced her like a friend. Hani stepped further into the room, more confident now. She saw only a little more than shrouded shapes. The chair by the door, the open closet, the heavy drapes, the armoire by the full length mirror, the unmade bed. Well, I tried… Hani began moving toward the door just as the light streamed in.
The bathroom door had fallen ajar, illuminating the room, drawing all of Hani’s attention like a beacon. A naked figure stepped into the light. At first a silhouette, with a lean figure, dark against the light. Then, as she moved, more of her was revealed, coated in the warm golden light.
Yelena moved to the wall and turned on the light. “Hey,”
Hani felt her limbs move like rubber as she waved.
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No,” she cleared her throat. “No.”
Yelena smiled, amused by Hani’s discomfort. “You can leave.”
Hani took a moment, then shook her head. “No, I’m okay.”
Yelena nodded. “Okay,”
With slow strides, even seductive in Hani’s eyes, she moved to the bed and lay on it, on her side facing the door, her head cradled in her palm.
They were engulfed by the thick silence. Hani struggled to stay calm. She’d expected screams and broken antiquities. Not this, whatever this was.
Hani hesitated. Her skin tingled as she lay beside Yelena.
“What’s going on, Yelena? I thought you wanted to talk.”
Yelena’s breath feathered against her cheek as she leaned closer. “Is that what you want?” Her fingertips felt over Hani’s brow, cheek, down her jaw. “Talk?”
Hani’s skin heated, suddenly desperate. Yelena tangled her hand into Hani’s curly hair. The gesture was tender, kind, and Hani found herself craving for more.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Court, in a building facing Weston Hall, Ming Li fought behind her smile.
The Drongo brewed with tense energy that day. The floors of people who usually vibrated the air with urgent activity had stilled to hush breaths and filled seats. This day, unlike all the others, was different, they knew it. Could feel it. Had seen it when the concession of gray clad men and women had marched up towards the Mistresses’ quarters.