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THE EYES BEHOLD TOMORROW

Published:  June 17, 2014 by World Castle Publishing


Prologue

 

“Morning, ambassador.”

“Good morning, Regent Teach.  Are you ready to face this most glorious day?”

“Jacob, I hate cheery people in the morning,” I said with my usual morning grumpiness.

“As ambassador from Earth, I have to be pleasant.  You should be, too.”

“As captain of the Devastator, pleasant is not in my job description.”

“Apparently, being a pleasant regent is not in your job description either, despite the smile you always have these days.  The queen is waiting for you.”

“You were here first.”

“My business with the queen is not pressing at the moment,” he said, extending his hand to the door.

“You called for me, highness?”  I said when I walked in, noting her guards were positioned inside her office.

“Robert,” Queen Kamini said, giving me a narrow-eyed look that stopped me in my tracks.

“Uh-oh.  What’d I do now?”

“Being Feletias’ regent does not give you permission to run down anyone you choose.”

“You shouldn’t get involved in mundane affairs.  You have people to handle that.”

“I am involved in all Feletian affairs, especially when they concern you.”

“My only thought was for your protection.  She was running and there wasn’t time to call for the security volunteers.  I thought I was chasing…”

“She was exercising, like you do,” Kamini said, gesturing me toward her with her hand.

“When I figured it out, I apologized to her.  She wasn’t hurt…badly.”

“Would you want my guards to tackle you?”

“No, highness, not again,” I said, glancing over my shoulder at the two guards.  They were certainly intimidating, but their overly muscle-bound sizes didn’t scare me.  Besides, I knew all the girls, and exercised with them whenever I could.

“You will not run outside the palace again.  There is more than enough room inside the palace walls for you to run around.  Now, you are going to do something else for me.”  Kamini opened a computer-like console beside her desk.  “I want you to write your story for me.”

“Kamini, the next group of candidates will be aboard the Devastator in a couple of hours.  I have to arrange for a shuttle to take me up there, and be in my chair before they arrive.”

“I have asked Captain Telias to evaluate the candidates for you,” Kamini said, rising and walking around her desk toward me.

“Why’d you call that old fart?  She should be enjoying her retirement.”

“She was performing candidate evaluations before we were born.”  Kamini guided me to a chair in front of the computer.  “I want you here, in my office, writing, for me,” she whispered seductively, nibbling on my earlobe.

Her surprised scream made my ears ring when I picked her up, flopped her on her desk, and roughly kissed her neck.  While I was kissing my way down toward her ample breasts, the two burly guards hauled me off her and held me spread-eagled above the floor by my ankles and arms.

“Hey, hey, watch the legs!  You’re not making a wish!”  I shouted.

“Highness, we need human eyes to look at him,” a guard said.

“I’m human, and I see me just fine.”

“Ambassador Kinterman, please come in,” Kamini said as she got off her desk.

“Regent, what did you do this time?” he said, smiling at my predicament as he walked in.

“Jacob, look at me and tell them who I am.”

“I can’t tell for sure,” he said, slowly turning his head from side to side, checking me with his peripheral vision.  “You’re a bit difficult for me to see clearly.”

“Don’t mess with me.  These girls can rip me up.”

“And they’re in the perfect positions to do so,” Kinterman said.  “Highness, he sounds like the regent, but…I don’t know.  What do you think?”

“Kamini, do something!”

“Will you write for me like I asked?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Yes,” she said, glancing at the guards.  I loved the way her large, almond-shaped eyes move.

“Considering the alternative, I guess I’ll write.”

“Jacob, is he human?”  Kamini said.

“I suppose so.”

“Come on!”  I said.

“Yes, highness, he’s human, although I don’t understand why you chose someone like him.”

“You know why, ambassador,” she said with a smile.  “Guards, you can put him down.”

“Jacob, you’re no fun to have around,” I said, and the guards dropped me on the floor.  “Oww, that wasn’t necessary.”

“Thank you, Jacob,” Kamini said.

“Always a pleasure, highness,” he said with a bow to Kamini before leaving the room.

“This whole drama was a setup, wasn’t it?  Why else would he be waiting outside your door, eager for me to go in first?  And why were the guards inside your office?” I said when I picked myself up, noticing the guards were stationing themselves outside the room where they belonged.

“I anticipated a little encouragement might be necessary.  You made a mess of my office again.  Help me clean up.”

When she bent over, I looked down her tunic.

“Robert, look at what you are doing,” she said when she caught me.

“I am looking…at what I want to do.”

“Not now.  Maybe later.”

“Can I be on top?  Whenever you’re on top, your claws make my chest look like a minefield.”

“I will think about it,” she said with one of her coquettish smiles.

Oh, yeah.  It’s going to be a wild time tonight.  I’d better have this done before then, I thought when I sat at the computer and began to write.


Chapter 1—I am Not a Pirate

 

I am Edward Robert Teach, Captain of the Feletian vessel Devastator.  This is all about me, so get used to it.  If that’s in any way offensive, observe the carefully selected finger presented on my right hand, which doesn’t mean you’re number one.  In case you haven’t gotten the hint, I don’t give a damn about correctness, especially the so-called political kind.  Political correctness is just another way of suppressing opinions to keep the common folk in line, and I refuse to be common by any measure.

I learned early about my notorious namesake, and I spent entirely too much time trying to dispel the stigma of my name, to little avail.  Never heard of Edward Teach?  Perhaps you know of him as the pirate Blackbeard.  We all have our quirks, and one of mine is I hate the pirate moniker.  In hindsight, maybe I should’ve enjoyed the piratical reference, or even followed in my father’s footsteps and become a naval captain.  I could’ve done it, and I actually toyed with the notion of sailing the seven seas like my father had, but fate had other plans for me, and they didn’t involve water—at least not directly.

Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a natural speed reading ability and photographic memory, I put them to good use by earning Masters Degrees in Business Administration and Computer Sciences.  Despite the scholarship I earned from high school, it was still a struggle for my parents and me to pay for my education until I developed a mathematical algorithm for the lottery during one of my boring programming courses.  It didn’t work all that well, but I did have several near misses, which paid for most of my education and parties until I hit for eight million, and that’s after the government got their cut.  My dad almost had a heart attack when he learned I spent most of it to buy out a failing manufacturing business. 

I’m no Donald Trump, but I had my own ideas about how the business should be run, so I decided to be different right from the start.  I gave my customers value for their money, kept my after business hours activities exactly that, and in a kind of strange dichotomy, I treated my employees very well.  This led to a series of curious and fortuitous events that caused my business to suddenly take off, and I felt like Doctor Frankenstein as it exponentially grew, especially when my sales staff hooked me up with the government.  The military is always testing new and creative ways to wreak destruction, and they have a constant need for rapid procurement of advanced designs and replacement parts.  I don’t accept the military’s willingness to kill everyone in sight, but I never had any objections to their exceptionally lucrative contracts.

When I executed a few hostile takeovers of companies I needed to grow my business, I unfairly earned the reputation as the Blackbeard of business.  Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but expressing it often delves into the realm of illegality, or so says my much benighted lawyers from the law firm of Twitchy, Itchy, and Scratchy.  Not their real names, of course, but my pet names for them.  When I saw a ridiculous business magazine caricature of me in a business suit, wild-eyed with a long, black beard and raised cutlass in hand, I was livid.  I wanted to go to the magazine and beat the crap out of the owners, but my lawyers suggested I express my opinion of the caricature by buying the franchise.  Then, as the new boss, I could fire those responsible for the cover, which I did.  Then, I sold the useless franchise to the magazine’s leaderless employees to run as they pleased, which made them very happy because their old bosses weren’t very popular.  I lost a bundle on that deal, but satisfaction is priceless.

Much to the distress of my parents, I’m a party animal, and I entertain myself at parties with a simple motto—I like my women like I like my coffee, hot and sweet.  Even though I’m an equal opportunity lover, cream is the preferred option.  Among all the heifers I rode across a bed, I couldn’t find one who didn’t want a backhoe digging in my wallet.  All the pretty gold diggers could see was a rich playboy ready for plucking.  All I wanted was a pretty face ready for…well, never mind; you get the drift. 

Along that line of thought, my fall from business began when I was at a party; my twenty-eighth birthday party to be exact.  At the time, I didn’t know I was being set up.  I should’ve been suspicious when I too easily landed my next bedtime conquest.  She was a wide-eyed beauty I hadn’t seen before and, judging by the way her hands were all over me, seemed overly interested in me.  Just when we were about to retire for the evening, some guy tried snatching the girl out from under me, so to speak.  When I told him to get lost, he got in my face and started mouthing off.  Anyone who knows me will tell you, he started my favorite time at a party when he swung a punch at me.  I belatedly learned the brawl that ensued, which wasn’t all me, by the way, was deliberately started by party crashers who just happened to be the sons and friends of my business rivals. 

My posse and I got eagerly involved in the pounding that followed, and apparently, we were a bit overly energetic because a couple of the not so drunk boys ended up the hospital.  And what of the beauty who invited me to bed?  She disappeared when the fight started, and I never saw her again.  There’s no doubt in my mind she was part of the conspiracy.

A storm of indictments suddenly cascaded from those I fired from the magazine, and others who didn’t appreciate the aggressive competition from someone as young as me.  They all jumped on a legal bandwagon because they were either jealous of my sudden success, or just plain greedy.  I’m leaning toward greed because the beating their family and friends took was barely a footnote in the legal quagmire.  I don’t care about scandal, but my fair-weather lawyers suddenly did, and the indictments caused a distressing howl from them wanting me to immediately liquidate my assets and settle out of court. 

I wanted to dig in and fight, but my parents were indicted in some cheap legal maneuver, so I had to let insistent legal advice run the show.  In the end, it wasn’t all bad.  Despite a few out-of-court settlements, and several business sales later, I became rich beyond the dreams of avarice, and bored out of my mind trying to keep a low profile.  Thankfully, being a party animal still qualified as low profile, depending which party you were at.

***

A few days after the legal dust settled, I was at my parents’ house for one of my dad’s famous barbecue dinners when mom asked me to sit with her.

“Robert, I want to thank you again for letting your lawyers help us.  I know you wanted to go to court if we weren’t involved.”

“I wasn’t going to let anyone to hurt you.  It was a cheap shot to make me back down.  Their day is coming, and next time, they’ll pay for their greed,” I said.

“Robert, don’t do anything to them.  Just let them be.  They got what they wanted, and we have everything we’ll ever need.”

“You sound like my lawyers.”

“Even your mother gives good advice.  You should listen.”

“Yes, Mom.”  She pulled out my history in pictures and placed it in her lap.  “I hope your mother’s album never gets away from you.  People would love to get a hold of those pictures just to embarrass me, and your first page is an example.  Can you skip ahead?  No one wants to see me naked in the tub.”

“A mother always enjoys looking at her children,” she said, lingering to admire the very young me smiling up at her like an idiot before she turned the page.  “Here you are at your first grade graduation.  Even then you were taller than everyone else.”

“Do you remember why I had the black eye?”

“Bobby Turner punched you.”

“Do you remember why he wasn’t in the class picture?”

“He missed the picture because you kicked him in the knee.  I didn’t want to tell you this, but he deserved it.  That little porker was a bad-mouthed bully.”

“Hey, wait a minute.  You and Dad grounded me all summer because of that.”

“We had to.  Mr. Turner insisted you be punished, or he was going to complain to the base commander and get your father in trouble.”

“His kid was picking on everyone, but I’m the one who got punished.  That old bastard should’ve…”

“Robert!”

“Sorry, Mom.”

“Here you are at your high school graduation.  This is my favorite picture of you giving the valediction in your bright blue cap and gown.”

“I hated the color.”

“It’s traditional at your high school.”

“I don’t care about tradition.  I would’ve rather worn black, like everyone else.  It’s my favorite color.”

“Black is not a color.”

“Mom, I’m not going there again.”

“Well, it’s not.  We were so proud of you.  Some complained you shouldn’t have been given a scholarship, or be valedictorian.”

“The principal and I were best buddies.  After all, I was a frequent visitor in his office.”

“Spending time in detention is nothing to be proud of.”

“Maybe people should quit comparing me to Blackbeard and leave me alone.”  She looked at me with the hairy eyeball.  “Sorry, Mom.”

“Everyone said earning two Masters degrees at once couldn’t be done, but you did it in record time, even while running your business.”

“It was easy because most of the courses I selected were test based.  You can’t imagine how incredibly boring it was to sit through required classes I’d already memorized the course materials for in one night,” I said.

“Actually, I can,” she said, flipping pages to another pictorial chapter in my life.  “I was in tears when you graduated egregia cum laude.  We’ve never been prouder of you.”

“You did well for yourself.  It’s no small feat that you won third prize in the National Westinghouse Competition.  Then you earned your own high school scholarship, which led you to become the university’s magna cum lade graduate.  I’m sure your accomplishments helped me get through the university doors, but the only time I got a break was when I…”

“Spent time in jail for fighting,” she finished for me.

“Nah, partying too hard.”

“It’s the same thing.”

Dad walked in and said, “The ribs are almost ready.  Ah, the mother’s album again.  I always enjoy the picture of you in the tub,” he said with a wide smile.

“We skipped past that one,” I said as I stood and helped Mom to her feet.

“Look at you now.  The walking definition of a lady killer,” Dad said, wading in like a boxer with a mock punch to my stomach.

“Oof.  Come on, Dad, I got it all from you.  I’m sure many ladies lost their resolve to you before you got Mom in bed.”

“Robert!”

“Sorry, Mom,” I said as the TV was interrupted by a news bulletin.  “Oh, great.  I hope the prez isn’t going into one of his long-winded speeches again.  Do we have to watch this?”

Dinner took a back seat while we were glued to the TV and watched as a news camera focused on a small space ship that had landed in front of the nation’s capitol building.  I had to smile at people looking like frightened deer as they stared at the space ship.

“Walter, I’m scared.  What if they’re here to kill us?” Mom said.

“You’ve been watching too many science fiction movies.  If they wanted to kill us, they could’ve done it by now.  I’m sure they didn’t land to just to cause a panic, so they’re probably here to talk to the president,” Dad said.

An announcer reported the president and his staff had been safely evacuated through tunnels beneath the city streets.

“So much for talking to the prez.  That big chicken bailed out on us,” I said, disgusted with our supposed leadership.  “If I was there, I’d be standing right up front.”

“So would I, but not everyone shares our sense of adventure,” Dad said.

“Uh-oh, door’s opening.  Ooh, what kind of icky slimers are going to ooze out and eat us?  Ooh!” I said, my eyes large as I gently clawed at Mom’s arm while she clutched onto Dad.

“Whoa, check out the women,” Dad said when a delegation walked out dressed in tunics that left little to the imagination, and sandals with calf-high lacings.

“They’re not women,” Mom said, slapping my thigh and giving me a nasty look for trying to scare her.  “They’re humanoid females.  Human females are the only species called women.”

“They look like women to me, despite the semantics.  How do you suppose their language would translate between woman and female?” I said.

“There’s no need to argue with our resident science major and science fiction expert,” Dad said.

“Does this look like science fiction to you?” Mom said with a snap in her voice while pointing at the TV.

“I’m just saying …”

“Brace yourselves; Copernicus was right.  We’re not the center of the universe,” I said sarcastically as the camera zoomed in on one of the women.  “Oh yeah, that’s my kind of invasion.”

“You want to be invaded by aliens?” Dad said.

“Actually, I’d like to invade them.”

“Robert, watch your language.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

“Judging from your reaction, I’m sure men are drooling all over themselves for an opportunity to talk to those…females.  I know I would,”  Dad said, glancing at Mom.

“Talk?  Yeah, right.  We have to say we’re attracted to a woman’s intelligent conversation, her glamorous features, so forth and so on.  With my version of correctness in play, those large, almond-shaped eyes are the most attractive feature I’ve ever seen on a woman.  Female!” I said, quickly covering my head with my arms.  “They’re females, okay, Mom?  I’d like to look into their eyes and get my hands on that brunette right there.  She has a great pair of hooters.”

“Robert!”

“Sorry, Mom.  Oh look, here come the swat teams.  Hey, keep one alive for me!”  I shouted at the TV.

Fortunately, no one was shot as they were hustled away.  Except for their eyes, they looked like women to me.  I wondered if they had their feminine equipment in all the right places; at least in places I was familiar with.

***

Over the weeks following the unexpected landing, our tight-lipped officials grudgingly revealed a few facts.  The invaders call themselves Feletians, and they spoke fluent English.  This was thought remarkable until we learned it wasn’t English, but a negotiation language they call Basil, which I think is short for basic language, not some herb you cook with.  The Feletians claim to have developed the language before humans ever spoke English, but it fueled speculation they’d visited earth before.  They claimed they’d never made prior contact, only observed us from time to time.

Until the Feletians arrived, no one outside the most secretive of government circles knew first contact had already been made; not by the Feletians, but another humanoid species called Lyonians.  The Feletians knew the Lyonians had already been here to negotiate for water.  They provided evidence that the Lyonians didn’t want just a ship or two of water for their dying planet; they wanted to drain our planet dry.  Talk about surprise!  That wasn’t in the negotiations.  When the Feletians explained the political nature of the known galaxy and offered their help, governmental posturing was incredible.  Our officials said Feletian help wasn’t needed because we had our nuclear weapons, and we weren’t afraid to use them.  When they learned Lyonians systematically bombard ground targets from high orbit if they encountered any resistance, it became a bum’s rush for Feletian help.  Considering the Lyonians’ apparently aggressive nature, I wondered why they bothered negotiating at all.

When a ship appeared in orbit, large enough to be seen during the day, we were told it was a Feletian Concordance vessel sent for our protection; essentially, it was a giant battleship in space.  When an inevitable information leak revealed the government was sending candidates from the military as part of a secretly negotiated recruiting effort, official explanations were drowned out by a din from the peace-loving tree huggers who complained loud and long about sending our men off to another useless war.  As usual, the government ignored them, being more interested in what they could gain by getting into bed with the Feletians.  If the recruiters I saw were examples of Feletian women, getting in bed with them sounded like a plan I’d like to be involved in.

When most of the military volunteers had been rejected, the Feletians obtained permission to start recruiting from the civilian populace for their space fleet.  It was strictly on a volunteer basis, only slightly mollifying the peaceniks.  When the recruiting centers opened, riffraff of every sort mobbed the doors, and nearly all of those volunteers were rejected.  Feletians didn’t seem to have any criteria for acceptance I could discern.  One brief look from a recruiter determined your status, and you were either given papers to complete for the government, or sent out the door.  I had to agree with some of what I saw being turned away.  I believe in second chances, but I have to be honest; among the darkest, most politically incorrect thoughts you’d never voice to anyone, would you want a homeless wine-o in charge of anything?

At the time, I had little interest in what the Feletians wanted, but it was an effort not to drool as I enjoyed watching their women whenever they were on television.

***

To be ready for fun on the party circuit, you had to exercise, hit the weights, and do a little roadwork.  I had just finished the last leg of my morning run when a Feletian recruiter noticed me.  How she could look through the limo’s dark-tinted window and know I’d be of any value to her was beyond my understanding, although I was wearing nothing but shorts and shoes at the time. 

When the chauffeur opened the door and she gracefully stepped out, she was utterly breathtaking.  Everything about her was beautiful.  The fall of her raven hair, curves of her statuesque body, her large, emerald green, Tinker Bell eyes all added to her jaw-dropping presence.  When she sashayed over to me, she could’ve battered me to death from across a room with her long, natural eyelashes that fluttered and danced at me.  She stopped in front of me, looked into my eyes, and I felt all my secrets lay bare before her.

“My name is Kamini.  I am selecting candidates for my queen’s space fleet.  Would you like to join with me in protecting your home world?” she said with a captivating musical lilt to her voice.

My inner man screamed, Take me; I’m yours!  The voice of reality said, You don’t have a chance in hell of bagging that.  All I managed to say aloud was a breathless, “Okay.”

“Excellent.  Your government would like me to give papers to every candidate to complete, but you will not need them.  We will be departing from an air force base not far from here.  Be at the main gate in five days.”

Somehow, without her giving me any details, I knew exactly where to be, and what time to be there.

“Would you like to come in for a drink?” I said, almost begging for a chance to prove the voice of reality wrong.

“Thank you for asking, but I have others to recruit for my queen.  I will be expecting your arrival.  Please, be there.”

Breathlessly, I stood with my jaw hanging open as she walked to the limo.  When she looked back, she smiled, her face shining with radiant beauty that left me weak in the knees as I tried to recover from what the sun-bronzed beauty did to me.  I couldn’t believe how she affected me so.  Knowing she’d be waiting for me had me all hot and bothered without a woman in my immediate future.

***

That evening, the reality of what I’d done hadn’t quite sunk in until I invited myself to my parents’ house for dinner.

“Mom, Dad, I think I’ve found the girl of my dreams,” I announced when I walked in.

“What, again?”  Dad said.  “What number is this one?  Eight, nine, seventy-two?”

“Walter, stop it.  Who is she?” Mom said.

“Her name is Kamini, and she’s a Feletian recruiter.”

“Did you join the Feletian navy?” Dad said bluntly.

“Uh, yeah, kinda.” My non-definitive answer in front of my dad surprised me.

“That’s my boy!  I’m sure they’ll teach you some discipline, and then you can do something with your life, like I did for thirty years.  Do you think you’ll get the chance to captain one of their ships?”

“Dad, I haven’t even left the ground, and you already have me in command one of their space ships.  Do you realize how big those things are?”

“What they call a Concordance vessel is the largest ship they have with a crew of thirty-six hundred.  It displaces over four million metric tons with enough firepower in their fusion core reactors to lay waste to our planet.  I’d love to get aboard and take it for a spin.”

“How do you know that?” I said, incredulous at his knowledge.

Mom said, “You can take your father out of the Navy, but you can’t take the Navy out of your father, even if it’s a different kind of Navy.  Did you join because you want to follow in his footsteps, or because of a girl?”

I’d been soaring all day after I met Kamini, and Mom’s question brought me crashing back to earth.  I actually had to stop and think about it, because I didn’t usually act on impulse.

“It was the girl, as usual,” Dad concluded.

“No, it wasn’t.  Besides, I don’t think I’d have a chance with her.”

“That’s quite an admission coming from you.  Shot you down, did she?” Dad said with a wicked grin.

“No, she’s more interested in recruiting for her queen, but she did say she’ll be waiting for me.  I’ve got five days to do something with my stuff, and I don’t think I’ll need cash or any of my investments, so I want to give them to you.”

“You’ve given us too much already,” Dad said.

“I have to give it to somebody.”

“Walter, you can quit your job and truly retire.  Then, we can buy the motor home we’ve always wanted,” Mom said.

“I’ve offered to buy a camper for you many times.”

“It’s too expensive,” Dad said.

“We can travel wherever we want and not have to worry about anything,” Mom said.

“Do you realize what’s involved with something like that?  Gift taxes alone would take most of it,” Dad said.

“Robert, let him sleep on it tonight.  We’ll figure out something tomorrow.  Come on, let’s eat.  Dinner’s getting cold, and turn off the TV,” Mom said.

Mom was good at marital arm-twisting, so I was sure they’d enjoy themselves living the life they deserved.  After all, they’d made me.

***

When the day came to present myself for departure, getting through base security was a problem.  I got good and drunk at my farewell party, and when my drunken friends dumped me off in front of the main gate, I wasn’t looking or feeling my best, especially when I hurled all over the military police guarding the gate.  When they didn’t want to find my name on their puke-covered list, I wasn’t really disappointed because I had parties to attend and women to entertain me, after I recovered from my hangover.

When I arrived at what used to be my home and staggered out of the taxi, a limo was waiting in the driveway.  Kamini shanghaied me, and we rode through base security checkpoints without a look from anyone, which was good because I passed out on the floor of the limo.

When Kamini helped me join a mob of other candidates seated in a closed hangar, I noticed many were officers from every branch of the military wearing their best uniforms, with ribbons and medals impressively displayed on their chests.  My counterpoint was jeans and a T-shirt.  Government officials were already into their inspiring speeches about how proud everyone was, the duty to our planet, blah, blah, blah, and it rendered me to tears.  Actually, they were tears of pain from a roaring headache, and all I wanted to do was find a quiet corner to curl up and die for a few hours.

When they finally finished jaw-jacking, we plowed through a series of questionnaires, some of which had to do with taxes.  The government was going to lose all of us as taxpayers, and I felt bad about it.  I really did.  All four-hundred some odd of us were given a checklist and told to go through stations set up in an adjacent hangar.

During an assembly line medical exam, they checked and inspected every single part of me, and they didn’t leave any part untouched.  My annoyance reached a new high when one doctor stuck his finger up my ass and tried pushing my boys out from the inside, so I removed the finger by ripping a big one on it.  Those drunken farts are potent and they cleared everyone out of the area, giving me a few moments of peace.  I didn’t enjoy becoming a pincushion from the inoculations, although I did find messing with the psychiatrist entertaining.  Through it all, there were twelve Feletian women who were quietly overseeing the operation, looking as hopelessly bored as I felt.

Being the last to drag through the final station, I discovered everyone else had been taken to accommodations for the night.  I didn’t consider sleeping in crowded barracks with bunk beds very accommodating, so rather than take a chance on sleeping in, which was a real possibility in my current condition, I propped a chair against a hangar wall and grabbed a nap.

***

Awakened by a slamming door resounding loudly in the empty hangar, I was all set to unleash my opinion of the disturbance until I saw Kamini stretch up on her toes with her arms wide and head back.  She held the position until my toes hurt just watching her.

“Good morning, Robert.  May I sit with you?”

“Yes, please,”  I said with sleepy excitement.

“What is your opinion of the departure operation your government has set up?”

“It’s a bunch of bureaucratic crap.  Just load me up and get me outta here.”

Another Feletian approached us and said, “Kamini, I hope you are not recruiting for your stable.”

“Unlike you, I have all I want in my stable.  Robert, this is Tayana.  She is responsible for our recruiting efforts.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said, politely standing and holding out my hand.

“Handshaking is a custom we do not share,” she said with her hands on her hips.

When I looked at her fingernails, they looked like miniature daggers.  Kamini’s were the same way, and I couldn’t tell if they grew that way, or if they were filed.  Either way, a great set of back scratchers, or rakes, depending on how good you are.

Tayana looked in my eyes, and I felt her see deep into me, like Kamini had done.

“This one has potential, although he may be too wild to fulfill what I see,” Tayana said thoughtfully.  “Is he your separate selection?”

“Yes, he is mine.”

I really hope so, I thought.

“Not surprising.  We will see how he compares to mine.”

“Tayana, I hope you are not recruiting for your stable,” Kamini said.

“No, of course not,” she said, scowling at Kamini, who beamed a delightfully disarming smile back.

“You say you have stables.  Do you have horses?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Tayana said.

“What do you keep in your stables?”

“Men.  Kamini, we must prepare for our candidates’ arrival,” she said, and they walked across the hangar.

Men?  Something must’ve been lost in translation.  Nonetheless, I stood at the door to watch the other candidates as they arrived.  There wasn’t one woman in the crowd.  I decided this was going to be a very interesting trip, if I could survive whatever indignities the government heaped on me next.

Using my best party etiquette, and to stay awake, I circulated and talked with as many as I could.  Most of the officers, especially the younger ones, felt it was beneath them to speak to me.  Some were downright rude.  Being a civilian, and outside their military clique, may have had something to do with it.  I know what you’re thinking, but I was very pleasant and kept my incorrectness tightly reined in.

I watched the recruiters as they moved among us, introduced themselves, and looked into everyone’s eyes.  I noticed a slight widening of their eyes, and a glance at Kamini, when they were done looking at me.

I was fortunate to be walking near Tayana and two government suits when I overheard a report that one-hundred eighty-three candidates would not be going to Feletia.  I kept circulating, and frequently returned to linger near Tayana, especially when I noticed small groups being escorted from the hangar.  I didn’t overhear any elimination criteria, but I did learn it was an ongoing process, even while we just milled around inside the hangar.

I was browsing through a nasty lunch buffet when Kamini asked me to follow her.  I thought I was being tossed out like the others until I was taken to another hangar where three sleek Feletian shuttles were parked, and boarded one where other candidates were seated.  During our wait, we compared speculations and discovered each of us had been recruited by Kamini.  When thirty of us were seated, Kamini returned, secured the door, and made sure we were properly strapped in.

“Robert, you look tired.”

“I am.  The chair was uncomfortable, and I didn’t get much sleep,” I said, sneaking a peak down her tunic when she leaned over to check my harness.  Hey, if women were going to bend over and let their charms spill out, I was damn sure going to look.

“You can rest on the transport.  I am pleased you are coming to Feletia,” she said.

“Are you recruiting for your stable?” I said, not knowing what I was asking about.

Her large, emerald green eyes seemed to sparkle when she smiled at me and said, “Initially, everyone will be in the queen’s training stable.  Afterward, I think you will be picked for a position in a permanent stable very quickly.”

Before I could catch my breath to ask what a stable was, she moved on to check the other passengers.  I wasn’t the only rutting animal to take advantage of her braless show.

When the great hangar doors creaked and groaned open, Kamini stood near the control console and said, “You are the first candidates to leave Earth for Feletia.  When we arrive on the transport, I will take you to your rooms.  You can explore the vessel, but you are not allowed to enter the control center or the fusion reactor area unescorted.  I know you have many questions, and they will be answered when we arrive on Feletia.”

Kamini strapped in when the pilot floated the shuttle out of the hangar, took a short run on the taxiway, and gracefully arced straight up.

***

Aboard the transport, an odd feeling under my feet caused me to stumble against a wall.

“Are you alright?”  Kamini said.

“I felt like I was on a roller coaster or something.”

“Artificial gravity tends to ripple through a vessel like this when a shuttle departs.”

“You said we can look around.  Would there be any objection if I just stick my head in where I don’t belong?”

“You could not enter where you have not been encoded.  This is your room.  Put your hand on this panel.”  The door opened at my touch.  “This vessel will now recognize your encoding, and you can enter almost anywhere.  If you would like, I can take you on a tour, if you promise not to touch anything.”

“I’d like that, but I really need to get some sleep,” I said.

“I understand.  I will come for you after you have rested.”

Kamini was always pleasant, and I thought it was because she was my recruiter making a sale, so to speak.  She gave me an unusual amount of attention, more so than the others I knew she had recruited.  I wondered why, but for now, the bed was far more interesting.


Chapter 2—Trying to Behave

 

When I woke and stretched new life into my body, the door opened and, for a moment, I thought I had died and an angel named Kamini was waiting for me.

“You look much improved.  Are you hungry?” she said as she watched me pull up and zip my jeans.  Vanity is a big waste of time, and I don’t indulge in it unless I have to.

“Oh, yeah.  Where do we eat?”  I said from under the fresh T-shirt I was pulling on.

“Everyone eats in the multipurpose room.  You missed our departure from Earth orbit.”

“I was tired.  I did too much partying before I showed up at the hangar.”

“You were in a bad condition when I came to get you,” she said, taking my arm and leading me from the room.

We paused in front of a closed door, and she looked both ways along the corridor.  I loved the expressive way her eyes moved.  “When we arrive on Feletia, you will not have time to pursue your previous habits.  Keep your focus on whatever tasks you are given.  When we enter, we will join the other recruiters and their separate selections.  Do not be offended by anything they say or do during our voyage to Feletia.  You may have heard we have been eliminating each other’s candidates as part of the selection process, which is still going on.”

“How’d you know I was eavesdropping?”

“I was watching you,” she said with a smile.

With those eyes, I don’t doubt it, I thought when she opened the door.

We entered a large, open area where people were eating, and I was led to a table with the other recruiters and their separate selections.

“So, the drunk from the hangar has finally arrived.  I see you’ve had the chance to sleep it off.”

“Who in hell are you?” I said when I recognized one of the obnoxious officers I’d encountered at the hangar.

“Jules Desaris.  Captain of the guided missile cruiser Lake Michigan,” he said with a noticeable French accent.

“You were the captain of a ship, named after a great lake that looks like a limp dick?” I said, splattering him with some attitude payback.

“Good one, Richie Rich,” an Air Force sergeant said with a laugh.

“Not so rich now.  I gave all my money to my parents,” I said, keeping my eyes on Desaris.

“We don’t want a momma’s boy here.  Go home and let men handle this.”

“Desaris, I think I know what happened to you.  You’re angry because the good people I met in France kicked you out, didn’t they?”

“I was born in Michigan after my parents immigrated there, if that’s any of your damned business.”

“Look, Desaris, does the phrase ‘officer and a gentleman’ mean anything to you?”

“Jules, please sit down,” Tayana said, putting her hand on his arm when he shot out of his chair.

“I’m a captain in the United States Navy!  You will respect me!” he shouted, thumping his fist on the table.

“In case you haven’t noticed, captain, I’m not in your Navy, and neither are you anymore,” I said, standing to his challenge.  “Respect is earned, not given, and you’ve done nothing but disrespect me since I walked into the hangar.  From what I’m looking at, it’ll be easy to send a big, dumb-ass frog like you packing, Julie.”

I’d been baiting him pretty hard, and I expected a move from him.  When he charged around the table, I flipped him over my hip, and he hit the deck with a resounding thud as I landed on him.  Desaris was a bear of a man, and I couldn’t get him in a position to beat the ignorance out of him, so I just kept him pinned with his arm bent up tight between his shoulder blades.  I ignored the shouted discouragements from the recruiters and cheers from the other candidates until Desaris stopped squirming, then I let him up.

“That was not necessary,” Kamini said as I sat down.

“Yes, it was.  I wasn’t going to let him—”

“Do not do it again,” she said sternly, making me feel like a chided five-year-old among my snickering table mates.

“I’ve heard rumors about your exploits, but I never thought I’d see the day you’d confirm them,” the sergeant next to me said.

“I know you,” I said, checking his blue nametag.  “Grant, George Grant.  You worked maintenance in my plant, and was almost fired for fighting with one of my managers.”

“He was an asshole, and everyone knew it,” Grant said.

“He wasn’t big on social graces, but he was a good manager and he got things done, which was the only thing I liked about him.  You had the balls to ask me for a second chance right in front of him, and as I recall, he wasn’t happy about it.”

“I think he was more upset when you asked ‘who pissed in your coffee this morning?’ It was everything I could do to keep from laughing,” he said with a wide smile.

“I should’ve thrown you out without a second thought, but as it turned out, you became one of my best people.  What happened after I left?”

“Everything went to hell without your inspired leadership.”

“Nobody likes a kiss-ass, especially me,” I said.

“Right.  I heard most of the contracts dried up, and when the place lost most of its business, I was laid off with everyone else.  I needed a job, so I joined the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic specializing in engines.”

“How’d you end up here?”

“I volunteered to see a recruiter when most of the officers were sent back.  Now that you’re here, things should get interesting.  In fact, they already have,” he said, giving Desaris a sideways glance.

“You can be a good boss without being a dictatorial ass,” I said, looking squarely at Desaris who glared back while he nursed his shoulder.

After we ate, Kamini took me on the promised tour around the ship.  I had to keep my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t touch anything, although I was sorely tempted whenever I looked at her.  It took quite a while to see it all, mostly because I stopped to talk with crewmembers that weren’t obviously busy.  It was a bit frustrating when Kamini avoided most of my questions, but she did say Desaris and I had been nearly eliminated for the almost fight we had.  If I’d beat the crap out of him like I wanted to, she said we would’ve been going back to Earth on the next transport.  I was now on my best behavior, such as it was.

***

The rest of the month long trip to Feletia was uneventful, mostly because Kamini was always watching, and steering me away from trouble.  When I felt a change in the way the ship had been acting, Kamini gathered those of us she had recruited in the multipurpose room.

“You will be happy to know we have arrived in orbit over Feletia and we will be shuttling to the surface when we have clearance to do so.  As part of your indoctrination, I will give each of you one of these.”  She held up a long cloth with an image of a multipoint sun emblazoned on it.  “This symbol means you are part of Queen Aphelia’s training stable.  This sash indicates you are unavailable for selection to any other stable, and it will be respected by the People of Feletia.  You will wear it until you complete your training to prevent misunderstandings concerning your status.  This is how it is worn.”  She placed it over my left shoulder and tied it above my right hip with a neat overhand loop.  “When you have put yours on, we will go the shuttle.”

Kamini and Tayana mentioned their stables, but I couldn’t get anyone on the ship to elaborate on them.  I was still clueless as to what they were, other than they keep men in them.

We were shuttled to the surface and led to an enclosed compound.  As we walked toward an open gate, I marveled at the fact I was on another planet.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, it was like I was living a science fiction movie, and the reality of it all hadn’t really sunk in for me until that moment.  The bright white-orange sun on my shoulders was hot, almost oppressively so.  Shuttles were coming and going in rapid succession.  Unlike airports on Earth, there was none of the deafening roar of jet engines, only a faint odor of ozone and an electric tingle in the air when a shuttle flew low overhead.  The busy landing area was surrounded by pyramid-shaped buildings laid out in blocks of four, no taller than about twenty stories.  Many trees with wide, dense, umbrella-like foliage stood taller than the buildings, and cast a cooling shade over everything they protected.  I hoped for an opportunity to get out and look around.

Everyone was led to a tiered auditorium with us twelve separate selections seated in the front row.  Carefully watching everything were two women who weren’t just well built; they were huge, and looked like they’d been lifting weights since they were born.  When I first saw them, I had to stifle a laugh at the Arabian Nights image in my head.  They reminded me of muscle-bound genies who puffed out of a lamp.  When I got closer, I could see they were very serious and wore a no-nonsense air like a cloak.  I liked strong women, but there were limitations, so I wasn’t going out of my way to offend them, that was for certain.

When several people in different colored tunics came in from the sides, an elegant but simply-dressed woman quietly entered and said, “Welcome.  I am Aphelia, Queen of Feletia.”

Out of respect, everyone suddenly stood, surprising her majesty and placing the muscle-bound women on instant alert, who quickly positioned themselves between the queen and us.  A suit-wearing human with an ornate sash approached her, whispered something, and stepped back.

“Thank you.  Please, be seated.  You are the first from your planet to have volunteered to serve in the Feletian fleet.  Where you serve depends on what your recruiter told you, and more importantly, what you brought with you.  I know you will give me your best efforts, but I do not expect all of you to complete the training.  If you are removed, understand that not everyone is able to withstand the rigors of serving Feletia.  Behind me are my administrators, and some of the trainers in the various fleet disciplines.  They will help you wherever possible, but in the end, it is up to you and you alone.  Learn well, and serve me well.  Your lives and the lives of those on your home world depend on it.  Good Luck, candidates.”

Not much information there.  How much longer are we going to be kept in the dark?  I thought.

As she was leaving, she stopped to speak with Kamini.  They both cast glances in my direction while they had a whispered discussion.

During the orientation, we were given a bit of history.  Feletia was governed by a participatory matriarchy, guided by the Will of The People.  In matters of state, the queen's advisors take the peoples input and present it to Queen Aphelia who becomes the Voice of The People, and she announces the final decision.  Queen Aphelia was very popular because of her consistent and loving care of her people, frequently placing their needs before hers.

Feletians were a race of explorers noted for their negotiation skills, and for hundreds of years, they’d settled disputes throughout much of the known galaxy.  The Feletian language was ancient and complex, and they created Basil as an easy to learn, universal negotiation language, initially giving both sides of a dispute common ground.  Even for negotiators, space was a dangerous place and, against their peaceful nature, the Feletians felt it was prudent to ramp up their weapons programs when the Lyonians were discovered.

For the past thousand or so years, Lyonia had been controlled by one vast, long-lived empire, and a charismatic mouthpiece named Damian currently ruled it.  A collective gasp caught everyone when his picture was displayed.  The guy looked like a reincarnated version of a goth Hitler, complete with the classic mustache.  In a perverse way, he was kind of cool to see, but that was no reason to like him.  I wondered if our government knew who they were ultimately dealing with when they were negotiating with the Lyonians.

About two hundred years ago, a rogue planetoid crossed the orbital plane of the Lyonian star system, altering Lyonia’s orbit and causing the planet to become a vast desert in desperate need of water.  They had the technology, resources, and plenty of time to move to a suitable planet within their borders, and the Feletians had even offered to help relocate them, but they refused to move.  Even though their planet was becoming uninhabitable, Lyonians were only interested in total subjugation of everything and everyone within their expanding field of influence.

Unlike Emperor Damian, who moved around with a large entourage of armed security whenever he left his fortress, Queen Aphelia was frequently seen casually walking throughout her capitol, shadowed by two bodyguards.  She didn’t really need them because the people were almost fanatical in their love for her, and as such, the Will of the People required the guards’ presence.  As queen, she commanded great power, but she was very accessible.  People on the street could walk up to her, and she would stop and listen to what they had to say.  I could appreciate her hands-on approach as a leader, but considering she was the Queen of Feletia and several colony planets, she was a little too friendly for me.

After a brief training orientation, we were taken to our assigned rooms.  Unlike the shared pigeonholes in university environments, our individual rooms were unusually spacious with a large bed and a deep, sunken tub for bathing.  Tunics were already in the closet for me to wear.

It looks like a miniskirt.  I don’t need this getting back to Earth, I thought when I tried one on and looked in a mirror.

Actually, it fit me like something I once wore to a toga party.  Keeping with the spirit of the party, I had been delighted to wear nothing under my toga.  At least with the toga, my man was not hanging low enough to be seen by the ladies, although I wish it had been.

There was no one around to ask if I had to wear anything under the tunic, or flip one up to find out, so I was left to choose between very short, really tight shorts, or pants as part of the uniform.  When I tried to situate my package in the shorts, my boys squished out the sides and my manhood hung over the top of the waistband.  You have no idea how uncomfortable that was, so I opted for the formfitting pants, which were as snug as the shorts.  It took a while to figure out how to wear the ballerina sandals with the long strings, and I considered putting on my sneakers instead. 

As soon as I got myself organized, an announcement summoned everyone to our first training session.  It amazed me how all the instructors knew everyone by first and last names as we were directed to classrooms.  When we were seated, our instructor was about to begin when she was called from the room.

Completely bored with everyone chattering like a flock of Magpies, I began playing with the panel in front of me.  I assumed it was a computer of some sort, and I wanted to see what it would do.  When I fiddled with areas on the panel, a transparent globe appeared.  I touched more areas until Feletia and its moon appeared at the center with several enlarged dots slowly moving within the sphere.  I stumbled on a magnifier, moved it over one of the dots, and a miniature Concordance ship appeared as it was leaving the moon.

“Bobby, what are you doing?”  Desaris said, his face looming behind the sphere.

“It looks like a video game.  You gotta try it.”

“We’re not supposed to touch anything until the instructor says to.”

“Who died and left you in charge?”  I said as I continued to move things around.

Desaris reached through the sphere, grabbed my tunic, and said, “Stop fooling around!  If you get us in trouble…”

I slapped my palms down on the panel, interrupting whatever threat he was about to convey, and with uncharacteristic restraint, looked down at his hands gripping my tunic.  Slowly, I stood, looked him straight in the eyes, and calmly said, “Julie, remove the paws, or I’ll break my foot off in your ass.”

After a short stare down, he let go.  I sarcastically thanked him as I sat down and continued operating my panel, pointedly ignoring him as he unsuccessfully tried intimidating me with his presence.  Admittedly, I was relieved when he finally walked off because our last confrontation almost got me sent home.

“Desaris has a hard-on for you,” George said when he sat at the console beside me.

“Yeah, I know.  If he sticks it anywhere near me, I’m going to lop it off.”

“Before you walked in, he was sniping at me.  Do you know what you’re doing?”

“Not a clue, but I’ll figure it out.”

“How’d you get the floating beach ball?”

“Touch the panel here and here.”

When his appeared, he began experimenting with it.  Before long, a few others had a floating sphere on their panels, including, of all people, Desaris.

When the instructor finally returned, she told those of us who had activated our tactical displays to go to another room where other candidates were waiting.  I thought Desaris might’ve been right to try and stop me, but that notion was dispelled when an administrator entered the room and said we were released from training for the remainder of the day, and we were left to our own discretion until the following morning.

On our way back to the dorms, George and I were comparing thoughts when he said it could’ve been a test of our curiosity.  His comment sparked a Eureka moment for me.  It wasn’t a test of curiosity, but initiative, and only a few of us had passed.

Since it was still early, I decided to go on a self-conducted tour of the Feletian capitol.  When I walked into the sunlight, I reminded myself to behave because Feletians were aliens with a different culture, and I was on their planet.

As I walked around the city, the scenes unfolding before me reminded me of my visit to Paris.  The sidewalks were unusually wide, punctuated by carefully maintained plantings and small flowering shade trees drifting their fragrance on the air.  People were unhurriedly walking by, or seated outside various shops and cafes.  On the narrow streets, vehicles reminiscent of the Segway were moving at a leisurely pace.  When a vehicle was parked, someone would enter and ride off with it.  Even though this was a major city, there was none of the noxious stench of exhaust fumes, rotting garbage, and other malodorous things we had to endure on Earth.  There was no litter, graffiti, or obvious poverty anywhere I went.  Tunics and shorts were the most common dress for everyone, and there wasn’t a cell phone to be seen glued to anyone’s ear.  How did these people survive without that tired fashion statement?

There wasn’t the usual hubbub of conversations.  Here, everyone sounded like they were singing to each other.  No matter where I met people, they were patient and friendly.  It could’ve been because of the sash I was wearing, or maybe I was a bit of a curiosity; being taller and better built than any Feletian man I saw may have contributed.  Whenever a conversation started with me, they initially spoke in Feletian, where each sentence was almost a song.  When I responded in English, they changed to Basil, which everyone understood.  When they tried to teach me some simple Feletian phrases, I found them difficult to repeat correctly because their language had many subtle inflections and nuances buried within the singsong way they spoke.  It didn’t help when I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket to begin with.

There was no monetary system I could understand.  When I entered various shops, everything was freely available in whatever quantity I wanted.  Skimming the surface, Feletians appeared to be laid-back, prosperous, and as close to a utopian society as I ever read about.

During my walkabout, I started looking for an ugly Feletian woman, mostly because I’d never seen one.  Of course, there were plain-looking women, but never an ugly one.  Just when I thought my quest was hopeless, I walked past a woman and caught an image of…something else in the corner of my eye wearing a silver headband.  I looked back to confirm what I saw, but she looked completely normal as she was walking away.  I dismissed it as flickering sunlight passing through the trees, playing tricks on me.

As far as men’s looks were concerned, I suppose they were handsome, although shorter in stature.  Most wore closed-front tunics, but those who didn’t had multiple small scars on their chests, especially on those who appeared to be older.  A few younger men had cuts that appeared to be recently inflicted.  Most men wore a sash similar to mine while a few others wore a wide armband, marked with a symbol and clamped tightly on the upper right arm.  Except for the children, no male was without a sash or an armband.  I noticed men with the armbands had wide smiles, while those with the sashes wore neutral expressions.  Men always walked behind their women, and some women had several men trailing behind them in a neat column like ducklings.  Unescorted men stepped aside from any woman walking toward them.  Seeing no need to deliberately stir up trouble, I stepped aside as well.

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention this, but like most people, I compared myself to others.  At parties, I’d heard women do it with cat claw comments like, “she has an ass big enough to serve tea on,” “she overdid the boob job,” so forth and so on.  Men thought of it as a threat assessment as we cast glances to each other’s builds, packages, et cetera ad nauseam.  Being guilty as charged, I couldn’t help noticing a few Feletian men who were wearing fresh cuts on their chests also had overly large lumps trapped in their shorts.  It was a curiosity I should’ve asked about, but I didn’t know how to approach this kind of conversation, so I left it alone.  What?  It was none of my business where they got it.  If it happened to be a surgical thing, I might consider looking into it, not that I needed it.

I was drawn to live music from a large plaza in front of the palace where a crowd was dancing in an intricate weave.  As I watched the dance, a child tugged on my tunic and said her name was Selene.  She was about five years old, and she asked if I’d dance with her.  When I said I didn’t know the dance, she looked up at me with her cute face and enormous, almond-shaped eyes.  I melted on the spot and, before I knew it, she taught me the dance with several of her friends in our own weave.  I must’ve been the most conspicuous man in the plaza because I was the only adult dancing with children.  I saw Kamini standing at the edge of the dancers, and when I waved at her, another woman spoke to her.  Kamini pointed me out, and the woman wouldn’t take her eyes off me.  I wanted to go and introduce myself, but our little group weaved over to the main body of dancers and blended in with them.

Initially, I kept missing handoffs because I was accustomed to dancing with the children, but it wasn’t long before I was confidently dancing with the crowd; until I was handed off to Queen Aphelia.  When I recognized her, I missed the handoff and stumbled outside the weave.  I felt like a klutz when she left the dance and approached me.

“Robert, are you hurt?” she asked.

“No, highness.  I didn’t mean to disrupt the dance.”

“I am surprised you tried because it is difficult to learn, even for Feletians.  Where did you learn it?”

“A girl named Selene taught me.”

“Is he hurt?” Selene said when she came running toward us.

“Selene, you should not have invited him to dance.  You are still learning yourself.”

“I didn’t mean to get her in trouble,” I said.

“You did not.  From what I saw, she taught you very well.  Selene, would you like to dance again?”

“Yes, please, yes,” she said, her face lighting up with excitement.

“Go to the dance, but be careful.”

“Thank you, Mother,” she said, and ran to the edge of the dancers to wait for an opening.

I was surprised to learn Aphelia was Selene’s mother.  Despite her age, Aphelia was an attractive woman, and her face did not reflect the stresses of her reign over the past fifty years.  I was doubly surprised when Aphelia took my arm, guided me to a shaded bench, and when she sat, her guards took up positions behind her.

“Robert, please join me.”

“Am I allowed to sit with you?  I don’t want your guards unscrewing my head.”

“They would not do that,” she said, giving me an inviting smile that reminded me of Kamini’s, and patting the space beside her.

When I was a kid, I once thought it was a big deal to see the president through a pair of binoculars.  Now, I was having a casual conversation with the reigning queen of an entire planet.  Several times, our eyes met, and I had the same penetrating feeling Kamini and Tayana gave me.  I also I had the feeling that she needed protecting.

The woman who had been watching me strutted toward us and said, “Who is this?”

“Robert, this is Aleena, my second daughter,” Queen Aphelia said.

I usually had a feeling about people when I first meet them, and despite Aleena’s beauty, I didn’t like her.  In my mind, she owned the bitch title.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Aleena.”

“Stand, and address me as Princess Aleena!” she snapped at me.

I was right, and an authoritative bitch at that, I thought as I stood and said, “Forgive me, Princess Aleena.”  I wanted  to verbalize a few choice thoughts, but with the queen and the guards watching, I merely added a ridiculously low bow with my head almost touching my knees.

Here, kiss this, I thought, with my ass high in the air.

“Much better,” Aleena said in a scathing tone.

I noticed the guards wore the beginnings of  smiles when I straightened up, and pointedly sat back down without Aleena’s permission.

“Aleena, where are the manners befitting our family?”  Aphelia said.

“When I am queen, I will make many changes.  The first will be to keep Kamini recruiting off Feletia, since she enjoys it so much.”

“Kamini’s my recruiter.  Is she your daughter too?”  I asked.

“She is my firstborn, and first in line for the throne,” Aphelia said, turning to Aleena.  “By the Will of The People, I am not ready to give up the crown.  If you want the throne against my choice, you will challenge Kamini at the appropriate time, not before.”

“By the Will of The People, I will wait, but I will not have to wait much longer,” Aleena said, looking at me.

While I spoke with the queen, Aleena looked as if she was studying me until she leaned over and whispered something in her mother’s ear.

“Thank you, Robert,” Aphelia said, suddenly standing, and I promptly followed.  “We will speak again.”  She walked away with Aleena, who started an intense discussion with her.

A man who had been watching from the background walked to me and said, “I am Ronaried, Regent of Feletia, and first position in our queen’s stable.”

Ronaried was the most worn-out man I’d ever seen.  He looked ancient, yet somehow young at the same time.  Judging from the stupidest-looking smile on his face, a happier man couldn’t be found anywhere.

“Ronaried,” Aphelia said as she was walking with Aleena.

“Learn as much as you can about Feletian women.  My daughters are interested in you,” he hurriedly said.

“Ronaried!  Attend!” Aphelia commanded, and he ran after her, displaying unusual vitality for a man of his apparent age.

As best I could, I took his advice and spent the rest of the day learning about Feletians.  They were a progressive race, not shy about sexuality and many other things the tight-assed on Earth would consider taboo.  They learn from an early age that sex was not to be feared or reviled, only controlled, which they did remarkably well.  What surprised me most was Feletian men were kept by their women.  From what I heard, men were dominated, but not mistreated as long as they maintained their place in the matriarchal society.  Their stables were vaguely reminiscent of harems in Earth’s old Middle Eastern cultures, and there were some strange laws regarding them.

There were usually eight men selected to be in a stable, but there could be as many as the woman wanted to choose from.  If a man was dissatisfied with the stable, he just didn’t remove his sash and walk out.  The all female security volunteers got irritable when they had to locate the wayward man and return him.  If there was a perceived incompatibility, the man could petition the equivalent of a local magistrate, and the resolution was adhered to by both parties, usually favoring the woman.

It surprised me to learn that when a woman was managing her stable, she wasn’t not allowed to have sex with any man during the selection process.  It was considered abusive to do so, and if she got caught, the consequences could be unusually severe, almost cruel by my way of thinking.  Now, there was a lost performance opportunity if I’d ever heard one, but it made me wonder what men and women did with themselves behind closed doors, considering the concept of prostitution was unknown to Feletians.  Yes, I asked. 

After careful consideration, the woman selected her first position by removing the sash from her selection and clamping an armband on his right bicep, indicating they were married for life without official record or ceremony.  The remainder of the stable was released by the stable mistress when she lawfully removed their sashes, indicating they were available for selection to another stable, which explained an incident I had witnessed earlier.  

I heard a commotion and saw an unadorned man become surrounded by several women.  He was standing with his head bowed, and the women were all talking in Feletian at the same time.  Unlike everyone else, I stopped to watch and noticed a pair of large women moving up the sidewalk toward the circle of women.  What I didn’t see was another pair cross the street behind me.  They turned me around, identified themselves as security volunteers, and looked at my sash.  They had me move to a seat in front of a nearby pyramid building, where they watched the circle of women.  One by one, the women withdrew from the discussion, and when only one was left, she pulled a sash from her pocket, placed it over his shoulder and tied it.  He then followed her into a shop, and the security volunteers went on their way without another word to me.

On my way back to the training compound, I took advantage of the strange monetary system by getting several pairs of decent fitting shorts.  When I was trying on shorts, the shopkeeper said he witnessed Aleena’s interest in me.  He said Princess Aleena had an unusually large stable, but no one knew exactly how many men she kept because she changed it changed so frequently.  There were persistent rumors that she liked to steal men from other stables, and use her position as princess to cover it up because stable stealing was an unforgivable crime on Feletia. 

Before I left the shop, I thanked the shopkeeper and said no one would learn about our conversation.  He profusely thanked me, obviously relieved by my assurance.  He may have been speaking out of place about the royal family.  Apparently, political correctness was rigidly adhered to on Feletia, by men at least.

***

Training for the Feletian fleet was no picnic.  There was little of the monotonous droning of classroom lectures, or memorization from books I’d endured when I earned my degrees.  Theory and instruction were assisted with computer-like consoles, but it was mostly hands-on learning, heavy with performance evaluations in simulators.  We were drilled and tested until we performed all tasks perfectly and, most importantly, without hesitation.  If you didn’t have the aptitude for a certain task, you were reevaluated and trained in another function.  We lost many candidates to reevaluation during the first few weeks, and I was saddened to hear Grant was one of them, and Desaris was not.

When our class was whittled to an elite group, the training focus shifted to command.  Our group was required to learn every function of the vessel, and we lost several potential captains to reevaluation during that time.  The closest I came to reevaluation was in navigational control.  It should’ve been easy to get the simulated Concordance vessel to fly in a straight line, but I had a tough time of it.  Thrust one way and go another, which wasn’t the way I intended to go.  Correct, and end up in a completely different direction.  This was while the ship was standing still.  It was worse when I finally got it moving and contorted into all different directions.  The gales of laughter didn’t help when I ended up flying ass backward.  When I whipped the finger at my amused classmates, an instructor said it would be more effectively used on the controls.

Everyone seemed to understand the flight dynamics of a Concordance vessel, except me.  Despite the instructors’ help, I still couldn’t get the hang of it, and I suspected I might be on the edge of reevaluation, so I spent most of my free hours in the simulator trying to get the ship to go in a straight line, which would’ve been an accomplishment all by itself.  I’d been pushing myself in the simulators, but time had run out because our class was leaving the next day to test actual command and piloting skills aboard a training vessel waiting in orbit.

Frustration is something I don’t do well.  I was alone in the simulator, vigorously beating the hell out of a control station, when Queen Aphelia came in and surprised me.

“Robert, I do not think that will help you.”

“Highness!  I’m sorry, but I can’t get the ship to fly straight.”

“Perhaps I can help.”

“I doubt it,” I said, barely able to hold back my assault on the console when the simulated ship crashed into Feletia’s moon, completely destroying one of the assembly docks.

“I am experienced in the subtleties of navigation.  Show me what you are doing.”

She reset the simulator and I tried a simple maneuver around Feletia’s moon, but my efforts resulted in skipping off the surface, causing klaxons to sound, and reports indicating how badly damaged the ship was.  At least, I didn’t bury the ship.

“You appear to have the mindset of a two-dimensional navigator.  You must think in all three dimensions.  You are also overusing the rear thrusters and not compensating for the moon’s gravity.  We will try this.”

Aphelia stood behind me and guided my hands with hers, lifting off the controls at appropriate times, and firing other thrusters when I thought it wouldn’t work.  If it wasn’t distracting enough with her standing behind me, her breasts were pressing through her tunic against my neck.  There was nothing erotic about it.  In fact, it was a bit creepy because I knew she was nearly three times my age.  I don’t have anything against older women because I’ve found they can be more energetic and exciting than the younger ones.  The so-called cougars are exceptional; however, I do avoid the married ones when I know they are.  Despite the distractions, it wasn’t long before I had a handle on maneuvering.  No matter what random situation the simulator placed me in, I was maneuvering with increasing confidence and skill.

“Good, very good,” she said when I steered around a large, fast-moving asteroid.  “I want you to continue practicing tonight.  Tomorrow morning, be here early.  One of my administrators will evaluate your progress before you leave with the other candidates.  Excellent!” she said when I executed a spiraling roll between two asteroids approaching from different angles.

“Highness, I’m sure you have better things to do than come to a simulator and help a student.  Why do you help me?”

“I do not want to see you reevaluated for something as simple as navigation,” she said, and left the simulator with an enigmatic smile.

I never told my counterparts about this.  My finger got enough exercise as it was.

***

The next morning, I skipped breakfast and arrived very early in the simulator, hoping to get in some more practice, but the chief administrator was already waiting.  She put me through a series of rigorous tests, and carefully watched my ability to pilot the Concordance vessel.

When she was satisfied I was proficient, she said, “Last night, this simulator records you destroyed the Concordance vessel twenty-seven times with several unusual console entries at the end of many of them.  You have demonstrated a remarkable improvement in piloting and navigational skills since then.”

“I had a little help, and a lot of practice,” I said, not commenting on the unusual entries she mentioned.

“Queen Aphelia is an accomplished pilot.”

“What makes you think she helped me?”

“I anticipated she did when she asked me to test you separately.  It is unusual for a candidate to be retested, especially one who was as close to reevaluation as you were.  It is time to join the other candidates at the landing area.  Captain Telias is an excellent trainer, and our most senior vessel captain.  Give her the respect she has earned, perform well, and she will give you a favorable evaluation.  Be patient, and be careful not to damage any of Captain Telias’ control stations.”

I wonder just how much Queen Aphelia said about me, I thought as I walked out.

***

When the shuttle rose above the atmosphere, I thought about how far I’d come.  I’d learned all the capabilities of Feletian ships.  Now I had to demonstrate my abilities aboard the pride of the Feletian fleet, the Concordance vessel.  As we approached the orbiting ship, I wanted to see how big it was from the outside, but there were no passenger windows on the shuttle.

When we docked with the training ship and stepped into a corridor to wait for instructions, I leaned against a wall and felt a vibration and slight electrical tingle through my fingertips as the ship got underway.

“I’m surprised there’s so much room,” Desaris said.

“There is a lot of space in here,” I said, looking around.

“How would you know the difference?”

“When I was a kid, my dad took me aboard his ship.”

“I hope it was docked when he did.”

“It was.  There were lots of tight spaces to get lost in, and I did when I decided to play hide-and-seek.  He wasn’t very happy when he had to mobilize the crew to find me.”

“Not surprising.  I hope he beat your ass when he found you.”

Before I could raise a snide remark, an officer at the end of a corridor said, “Candidates, Captain Telias is waiting for you in the conference room.”

When we entered, Captain Telias said, “Be seated.  Training aboard this vessel can become rough, so remain in your seats.  Before any of you take temporary command of my vessel, I will question your knowledge in my training room.  After your performance, I will critique you.  In accordance with your standings from the training facility, Candidate Desaris, you will be first to take command.  Candidate Teach, take navigational control.  The rest of you…”

“No, not Teach.  He can’t drive.  He’ll kill us all.”

“Candidate Desaris, if you are fortunate enough to get past my evaluation, and if you become a captain, you will give orders aboard your vessel, but not before.  Since you seem reluctant to have Candidate Teach on navigational control, you will navigate first.  Candidate Teach, in my training room.”

When the door closed behind us, Captain Telias sat behind her desk and said, “Stand there.  Tell me about the Concordance vessel.  Avoid answers given by the training instructors when you do.  I want your answers, not theirs.”

“The Concordance vessel has a flattened delta configuration with a tube-shaped tail, at the end of which is the larger of two bulbous fusion reactors.  Attached like outriggers are two large cargo shuttles used for heavy lift transport and storage.  The Concordance carries a formidable array of weapons.  A single cannon mounted through the bow can quickly blast an unshielded ship apart.  Four smaller cannons mounted in forward turrets are less powerful, but have a faster recycle rate than the main cannon.  For long-range encounters, self-targeting fusion torpedoes are fired from eight forward launchers.  When an alert is sounded, there’s a musical chairs scramble for special seating because violent impacts frequently overwhelm the inertia compensators, and fling everything around like ping-pong balls in a box.”

“A humorous description, but essentially correct.  Tell me about combat in space,” Telias said.

“Fighting in space is nothing like aerial combat in an atmosphere.  The combatants simply square off with the bow, primary shield and weapons facing each other, and hammer away until shield failure when the second, smaller reactor performs an emergency jump.  During a slugfest, the ship’s computer ties into the sensors, continuously updating, and randomly selecting several safe directions with no solid objects like other ships, asteroids, and such anywhere along any of its projected paths.  Because the jump reactor is located in the geometric center of a ship, it will instantly take the ship out of sensor range to an uncontrolled destination without turning.  It’s handy, if you’re getting the crap beat out of you.  I can think of a few times I could’ve used something like that.”

“Your hand-to-hand fighting skills have been adequately demonstrated at the training facility, but they will not help you here.  Tell me more; shields and deflectors.”

“Shields can withstand a massive bombardment.  Separate deflectors are useless for stopping solid objects like meteors, but against energy-based weapons, they are set at an angle to deflect most of the destructive energy away from the ship, saving shield effectiveness.  They cut the explosive energy of incoming cannon rounds and destabilize torpedoes, usually detonating them before they strike the shields directly.”

“Vessel speed?”

“Speed is described as a factor called Standard, with Standard by Twenty approaching, but never exceeding the speed of light.  If you’re really in a hurry, fusion powered ships are able to generate a wormhole by focusing fusion energy forward along the length of a ship.  When you pop the cork out of the tailpipe, you disappear through the wormhole, and for a few moments, the ship briefly exists in two places at once.  A wormhole jump drains the primary reactor core, and over a very long distance, it can drain the core to what’s called a dead star condition, requiring a stop at Feletia’s docks to replace the inert core if it cannot be recharged.  If it happens in the middle of nowhere, you limp along, drawing power from your emergency jump core, if it hasn’t been drained as well.  If both cores are dead stars, you have to suffer the indignity of an escort while being towed to Feletia’s docks for core replacements.”

“It is better to suffer an indignity than be destroyed, which can happen much too easily.  Continue with the wormhole exit.”

“When you exit the wormhole, you must allow momentum generated by the transit to carry you clear.  If not, you’ll be drawn back into the wormhole and crushed in the closure.”

“Keep that thought in your mind at all times during a jump.  Tell me about wormhole jump calculations; keep it brief.”

“Precise start and end point coordinates are required.  The end point is critical to the jump, and the ship must be turned to face the projected destination.  Navigators use the computer mounted in their control station to calculate the jump.”

“Is the navigator the only one to calculate coordinates?”  Telias said.

“The captain is also required to calculate and confirm the navigators’ calculations before the jump proceeds.”

“Why?”

“Both calculation sets must agree.  If they are even slightly off, you could end up inside a star or crash into a planet, especially if you are jumping close to the orbital plane of a solar system.”

“What is the extended-range sensor pod?”

“It’s a probe designed to extend the range of the onboard sensors.”

“More detail,” Telias said.

“Fusion powered ships create a lot of communication and sensor interference.  Despite the interference, short-range sensors installed within a ship have an effective range of about one astronomical unit.  Long range sensors mounted in the pod are sent beyond the interference where it orbits the ship, greatly extending the sensors’ range.”

“Why does it orbit a vessel?”

“To eliminate the large blind spot created by the interference.”

“Good.  Experience will be your best teacher if you are mindful of your training.  Always remember, your vessel is a self-contained island, and your crew supports you on that island.  Give them both your best.  Follow me,” she said when she stood and walked through the door.

“Candidate Teach, take command and prepare this vessel for a destination jump.  The current and landing coordinates are on your panels.”

“We’re all gonna die,” Desaris mumbled.

“Candidate Desaris, are your calculations ready for me to confirm?” I asked.

While I waited for him to plot the jump, I performed the complex calculations in my head.  Since this was a performance evaluation, I demonstrated my ability on the armchair pad for Captain Telias to verify.

“Impressive.  I have never seen anyone calculate the jump coordinates so quickly,” she said, while she used a portable calculator to confirm my calculations.

“I already had them in my head, but I thought you might like to look at them.  This jump is short, and will cost five percent of our primary core reserve.”

When she was satisfied with my calculations, I sent them to Desaris long before he was done.  I almost laughed at his surprised expression, until it was replaced with his trademark glare.  When I said, “Use mine to confirm yours,” I was glad looks couldn’t kill.

“Candidate Teach, is it your intention to annoy everyone?”  Telias said.

“No, captain, just him.”

“Proceed.”

I wonder if she meant to proceed with annoying Desaris.  Maybe later.

“Sensor report,” I said.

“There are no vessels within range of the projected wormhole threshold.  No vessels will transit across the threshold before closure.  We are clear to jump.”

“Recover the extended-range sensor pod,” I said.

“Disregard the recovery,” Captain Telias said.  “It is the correct procedure to recover the pod, but we will leave it behind to monitor our wormhole insertion.  We will recover it after the return passage.”

“Yes, captain.  Chief engineer, status for the jump?” I said.

“Cores are prime.  Power taps locked in.  Full jump power available on your command.”

“Weapons officer, status.”

“Weapons and shields are offline.”

“All hands, prepare for a standard wormhole jump.”  I said over the ships’ intercom.  “Navigator, jump coordinates are approved.  Proceed with the jump.”

In the tactical display, we could see our ship begin to glow and suddenly project a concentrated shaft of light, like a spotlight in front of the ship.  I thought it was odd to see it because there was no air in space to scatter light.  My skin crawled in response to the enormous energy expenditure when the light abruptly disappeared into a spot a short distance in front of the ship.  Starlight stretched across the area surrounding the wormhole as it grew, and the huge ship became elongated as it was drawn forward.  I oriented the captain’s monitor to look directly at the wormhole, but it was too bright to see where we were going.  It took almost five minutes to prepare for wormhole transit, and only a few seconds before we disappeared through it.

When we appeared on the other side, I was dizzy and disoriented.  During training, we were told to expect it, and I quickly shook it off.  After I checked where we were, I exclaimed, “Oh, yeah!  I gotta get me one of these!”

“Candidate Teach.  That is not the correct procedure to signal a landing,” Captain Telias said.

“Signal our landing in Feletian space with our current coordinates.  Deploy a reserve sensor pod.  Chief engineer, status,” I said.

“No damage.  Power taps stable.  Primary core at ninety-five percent of maximum.  Recharge is underway.  The core will reach maximum capacity in fifteen minutes.”

“Sensor report.  What’s out there?”

“The long range sensor pod has not reached optimal orbital distance.  There are no vessels in our immediate area.  Two transports are on the edge of our short-range sensor threshold.”

“Medical, status.”

“No injuries reported.”

“A clean jump.  Well done, everyone.  You too, Julie.”

“Candidate Desaris, take command.  Candidate Teach, in my training room,” Telias said.

When the door closed behind us, she stopped, looked into my eyes, and then sat at her desk.

“This as an unfortunate loss for Feletia.  I see your potential very clearly, but not as a Concordance captain.”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Your performance was nearly flawless, although your anticipated vessel ownership when we landed was unusual.  Your progress report from the training facility indicates you have done very well throughout your training, except for navigation.  I expected your performance at the command station to be above average, and it was.”

“I’ve never accepted failure, and I’m not about to start now.  I’ll make whatever corrections you recommend.”

Captain Telias thoughtfully looked at me, then with a surprised expression, she said, “I was unaware you have not been informed of your duty to Feletia.  Everyone is informed by their recruiter before they leave their home worlds.”

“Kamini never said anything—”

“Princess Kamini is your recruiter?” she said, turning to look at her monitor.  “Go to the conference room and send another candidate to the navigation station.  Send Candidate Desaris in here.”

“Captain, what about my test at navigation?”

“Now!”

As I walked out, Captain Telias pressed a button on her desk and said, “Get First Counsel Giselle on my monitor.”

I’ve come so far with my best efforts, only to be tripped up because Kamini didn’t tell me what I’m supposed to be?  All the times she visited me during training, she never said a word about it.  I appreciate her attention, but she could’ve said something.  Maybe this First Counsel Giselle has an answer.  I’ll find her when I get back to Feletia.

When I walked toward the conference room, Desaris was looking very comfortable in the captain’s chair when he said, “You’ve got bad news written all over your face.”

“I hope you do better because I did everything wrong.  The captain wants to see you.”

I lied, just to wipe the annoying smile from his face.  It was very effective because it almost slid into his lap.  I knew he’d be eaten alive trying to figure out what I’d done wrong.

***

Throughout the rest of the evaluations, I tried to come up with some sort of plan to get my own ship, but everything I thought of hinged on what I could get from First Counsel Giselle.  I wanted to talk to Kamini, but she was off planet again.  In my current state of mind, confronting the princess may not be a good idea.

When the last candidate finished evaluation, Captain Telias entered the conference room and said, “Candidates, I applaud your efforts, but of the sixteen here, seven will be reevaluated.  You will get your reassignments when you return to the training facility.  We are in orbit over Feletia, and the shuttle is waiting.  You are dismissed.  Candidate Teach, remain here.”

Just what I need, a pep talk, I thought.

When everyone left the room, Telias sat facing me and said, “I have spoken with First Counsel Giselle.  You will not be reevaluated, nor will you be required to display your navigational skills aboard this vessel.  You will continue training, and you will graduate with the remaining candidates.  That is all I can tell you, officially.”

“You say I’ll graduate, but will I become a Concordance captain?”

“You will succeed, but not in the way you expect.  Dismissed,” Telias said.

“Thank you, captain,” I said, confident that I had averted another disaster.


Chapter 3—Install the Ring in My Nose

 

It had been just over a year since we began training, but it didn’t seem that long because I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Out of two-hundred eighty-four original candidates who arrived on Feletia, only nine of us remained to be selected as ship captains.  The others had been reevaluated and trained for other positions in the fleet or sent home.  I felt like the odd man out because, of the nine of us, eight had been in military command positions, and five of those had been Navy ship captains.  Even though I surpassed Feletian expectations, I’ll admit, you don’t get everything you need with the shake-and-bake training we were given.  There was no substitute for experience, and most of my counterparts already had it.  Despite my perceived disadvantage, I decided to run a ship like a business, and I was eagerly anticipating my first command.

After the final evaluations were administered, the nine of us were greeted by Queen Aphelia as she took the administrator’s place in front of us.

“I am very pleased that so many of you, my first group of candidates from Earth, have earned your way through vessel captain training.  I made certain it was difficult task, and you have set a very high standard for future candidates to meet.  It is time to remove your training sashes.  Robert, stand here,” she said, and with a sweep of her hand, invited me to stand beside her.

“Teacher’s pet,” Desaris whispered as I stood.

Queen Aphelia replaced my sash with another displaying an image of Feletia with its twelve colony planets surrounding it.

“This sash indicates you are available for stable selection, but have the privilege of refusal because duty to Feletia is precedent over custom.  Even though all of you will receive one of these, only four of you will become captains of Concordance vessels, and the final selections for those vessels will be made as they become available.  There will be other vessels available in the future.”  She handed everyone else their sashes with her personal congratulations.

She led us to another room set up for a party, and until then, I didn’t realize her majesty was my kind of girl.  Despite the fact she was about sixty-nine years old, she looked like a youthful forty-something and seemed much younger.  She certainly enjoyed herself as she partied and danced with us.  Other Feletians were there as well, mostly older women who didn’t party so much as asked questions, and I had the feeling we were still being evaluated.

Kamini said I shouldn’t pursue my previous habits, and I think she was trying to warn me not to chase women like I was fond of doing, or perhaps not to drink to excess.  Probably both.  Feletians didn’t have alcoholic beverages, but some concoctions acted similarly, and despite the temptation, I was careful to avoid them during my training.

As I was going to sample more of the delectable party munchies, Aleena walked in and stepped in front of me, stopping me with her hand on my chest.  Aphelia and Ronaried stopped to watch as Aleena started a slow walk around me, sizing me up like I was a new car for her to ride.  I knew what she was doing, and I heard men were supposed to be passive when they were being selected for a stable.  Since I wasn’t going to be one of many in a stable, especially hers, I openly watched her as she slowly walked around me, touching and feeling me in ways I didn’t have any objection to as she undressed me with her eyes.

“You appear to be sturdy enough.  I will add you to my stable,” Aleena said, pulling a sash from her tunic pocket.

“I’m not interested in being in your stable.”

I heard she was used to getting what she wanted, and she bristled at my refusal.  She pulled my sash off, flipped her sash over my head like a lasso, and yanked me off balance.  When I stumbled toward her, she grabbed my crotch with a grip dangerously close to crushing my boys.

“That’s mine.  You can’t have it,” I said, squeezing her wrist until she released her grip and I pulled her hand up.

“Aleena!  There are more than enough men for you to choose from.  Robert, walk with me,” Aphelia said, taking my arm and leading me away from Aleena.  “How would you feel about being selected for a stable?”

“Highness, if I get to command of one of your ships, I won’t have time for such things.”

“You will make time for me!”  Aleena snapped from behind us.

“Highness, please excuse me,” I said, gently removing her arm from mine.  “Aleena, if I accept…”

“Princess!” she shouted with a stomp of her foot.  “You will call me princess.”

“Princess, your attitude needs work.  Change the attitude and I’ll consider being in your stable.  Otherwise, I’m not interested.”  I picked up my sash and held the emblem in her face for her to clearly see.

The look on her face would’ve turned lesser men to ash.  When I showed no sign of changing my mind, she stormed out in a swirl of loose skirts.

“It is amusing to see my daughter’s reaction to your refusal, but I cannot let it go that easily,” Aphelia said, suddenly beside me.  “It pleases me to be the first to welcome you to her stable.  I must discuss your selection with Aleena.” And she walked toward the door.

Astonished looks greeted me from everyone who had stopped to watch my refusal that, somehow, turned back into a selection.

“I think my daughter is going to have some difficulty with you, but I expect you will rise to first position very quickly.  Have you learned anything about our women?”  Ronaried said as he arranged and tied Aleena’s sash for me.

“Not really.  Women are women,” I said.

“I often wonder why humans have to learn things the hard way.”

“Ronaried, attend!”  Aphelia’s voice commanded from the hallway.

“Control her hands.  Do not let her use her fingernails,” he said, and sprang after her.

Ronaried’s not old or worn out; the queen has broken him.  Since it looks like I’m going to be in Aleena’s stable, I’ll take charge in a way she’s unfamiliar with.  She won’t take me and break me like Aphelia has done to Ronaried.

“Hey, hey, Bobby, congratulations.  Looks like you’re going to be the first of us to get a little Feletian tail,” Desaris said.

“And, of course, you know everything,” I said.

“When Aleena tried stable stealing from our class, everyone was told by an administrator not to get involved with her or any Feletian during training because we would be found out and sent back to Earth.”

“I didn’t hear anything about it,” I said.

“And where were you when we were told about her?  You were out breaking the rules again when you were dating Kamini.”

“I wasn’t dating her.  She just wanted to talk.”

“I haven’t seen Tayana since I arrived.”

“What I do is none of your business.”

“I think Aleena’s desperate because you’re her last choice.  I’m glad to have this sash because I have no interest in being married to a Feletian.”

“The sash didn’t work for me.  Besides, why would I want Aleena when I could have Kamini?”

“You’ve been selected, so it doesn’t matter who you could have.  I’m going to think positive for you, Bobby.  The queen approves of Aleena’s selection, so there’s one less threat for me to compete with for a captain’s slot.”

“Great, just great,” I said, two-fisting the strongest Feletian drinks I could find.

***

With a pleasant buzz in my head, I returned to my room, kicked off my shoes, and lay on the bed until the door slid open.  Aleena walked in, leaving a guard standing in the hallway.

“It’s polite to knock,” I said, annoyed that she simply walked in.

She knocked on the door as it was closing behind her.  Without a word, she pulled off her tunic, and with a shake of her head to resettle her hair, she held the tunic on the end of a finger.  When she let it drop, she drew in her stomach, and the skirt slipped off her slender, naked hips.

Having some experience in such matters, I knew an invitation when I saw one.  I shot up, in more ways than one, and quickly pulled off my tunic.  When I pulled my shorts down, she pushed me on the bed.  The aggressive move surprised me, but I let it go because I wanted her to think she was in charge before I finished with her and gave the spoiled brat the serious spanking she needed.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .