Before I get up on my polyamory soapbox, I thought I’d let my the products of my overactive imagination do the talking. So I’m posting a few excerpts from The Novel to illustrate a few ideas, or at least ruffle a few feathers.
The first excerpt is from chapter 7 of The Buckingham Lease. This scene is where Kat explains to a visiting Earther about her culture’s views on sex, love and family.
“Kat, can I ask you a question?”
“You’ve been asking me questions all morning. Not that I mind,” she added quickly.
The two women sat in a corner of the barn, perched on a hay-bale, their plates on their knees and frosty mugs of root beer beside them, watching the family. More than thirty people milled around, chatting and laughing, helping themselves from the long buffet tables that Wing and Liz had set up.
Kat had expected the Earther to be shocked by her family’s antics, but, to the contrary, the young woman seemed unconcerned by all the ‘unhealthy behaviors’ going on around her, instead asking Kat about her missions with the Smugglers’ Guild and in particular about her adventures outside the Belt.
“Yes, but this is a personal question. I mean, it’s not about the Guild.”
Kat smiled at the Earther. “You can ask me anything, Molly.”
“That man … the one who rescued me. How well do you know him?”
“Captain Parkhurst? Unfortunately, quite well.”
“No, not him. The younger one.”
“Oh, you mean Pete. He’s the captain’s son. I’ve known him all my life,” Kat said, grinning.
“Have you two ever had … had sex?” To Kat’s surprise, the Earther sounded eager to hear.
Kat smiled. Well, who would have thought it? “Actually, he was one of the first people I ever coupled with,” she replied. “He’s a very close friend.”
“Is he always so angry?”
“Only when his father’s around.”
Molly looked down at her feet. “I’ve never met anyone like him before.”
Of course, Kat thought, her smile widening. “Would you like me to introduce you properly?” she asked aloud. “He’s actually really sweet, once you get to know him.” She scanned the crowd. “Well, I see Christine, but he’s not with her. He’s probably off arguing with his father, they always do that at family parties –”
“Is Christine his lover?” Molly frowned.
“One of them. They’re married, actually.”
“You mean other people have sex with him?” Molly asked, her voice not as shocked as Kat would have expected. “Even though he’s married?”
“Why not? I still couple with him,” Kat said, then winced as she saw the girl’s shocked reaction. “Look, Molly, I know this must be strange for you.”
Molly shrugged. “You all seem happy. That’s more than I can say for Earth. But doesn’t his wife mind?”
“No, of course not.”
“But what about being faithful?”
Kat took a deep breath. “We are faithful.”
The girl frowned slightly. “But how can you be faithful if you have a lover?”
Kat thought for a moment. How can I explain this? It’s totally foreign to everything she’s been taught to believe. “All right, take my parents. Dad, Sumi, and Carlos live together, take care of each other, raise their children together, and stay together through everything. To us, remaining faithful has nothing to do with sex; faithfulness is about maintaining a relationship. Sex is something you share with friends you trust.”
“So if you found one of your men with someone else, you wouldn’t be jealous?”
“Well, they’re not my men,” Kat said with a chuckle. “They have other lovers all the time. So do I. But Chaz and Vic are my life-partners; even if we don’t stay married, I’ll always be bonded to them. Especially through our children together.”
“And your children won’t be confused?”
“Why should they be confused? I was raised that way and I’m not. It just means you have more people around to look after you and take care of you. Like, for instance, over there – you see that woman with the short, black hair, talking to my Dad and Carlos?”
“With the green tunic?”
“Yes, her. That’s Digger; she used to be married to Carlos, and then they got a divorce. But they have three daughters together, and so they still take an equal part in raising them. And Digger’s current husband is as much their father as Carlos is. They might have their disagreements, but they’re still family.”
“How many parents do you have?” Molly asked.
“Six official ones, but just about everyone here helped raise me.”
“It sounds … it sounds wonderful, actually.” Molly heaved a deep sigh.
They paused, watching the crowd below them wandering around with plates and mugs, chatting, laughing and talking together, exchanging hugs and kisses and gossip.
“Can I ask you a … a sick question?”
“There’s no such thing,” Kat replied earnestly.
Molly blushed. “Do you have sex with all your friends?”
Kat laughed kindly. “Ghenna, no. I wouldn’t have time for anything else. But I have loveplay with most of my close friends, yes.”
“Do you have sex with … with women?”
“Yes. Does that make you uncomfortable?”
The girl looked down at her plate. “A little,” she admitted. “I mean … I’m not going to have to … do I have to couple with a woman tonight?”
Kat remembered something from one of the brochures Lana had downloaded to her Brownbook™. “Molly, you don’t actually believe we’re going to force you to couple with one of us tonight?”
“I thought it was … part of your rituals.” Molly blushed a deep crimson, nodding slowly. “You must think I’m a total fleb.”
Kat shook her head. “You’re not a fleb. You’ve just been fed lies your whole life. You’ve been taught that sex is filthy and bad, and now you’ve landed in a culture where sex is the favorite pastime.” She looked the girl in the eye. “And yes, sex is a big part of our rituals, particularly Beltane, but it’s always optional.”
“May first. It’s a celebration of fertility and … well, that doesn’t matter right now. Look, Molly, the most important thing for you to remember is that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. We don’t have many laws on Luna, but that’s one of our biggest rules: no one can be forced into doing anything. If you don’t feel comfortable, just say ‘no,’ all right?”
Molly smiled with relief. “Thanks,” she said. “For what it’s worth, I was kind of, well … I wasn’t exactly dreading it. As long as I could … well, if I could choose my partner.”
No prizes for guessing who you’d choose, Kat thought with a grin. “If I were you, I’d take it slowly,” she told the girl. “In any case, you’re eighteen. That’s still underage for us. Under Lunar law, you’re off-limits to anyone more than five years older than you.”
Molly took a deep breath. “And is Peter …”
Kat grinned. “He’s only four years older. You really like him, don’t you?”
Molly blushed. “Is it that obvious?”
“It’s natural. He did sweep you off your feet, literally. And he’s very handsome.”
“So is his father,” Molly added. “Captain Parkhurst is an impressive man. I can see where Peter gets his good looks – I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”
“No,” Kat said quickly. “It’s just that … well, you saw how well Pete and his father get along.”
“You mean they’re like that all the time?”
“No, mostly it’s worse. In any case, the captain and I are only marginally more civilized toward each other.”
“He doesn’t own you, then?” Molly asked with a nervous laugh.
“Well, he is my Orchidary, so yes, in a way, he does. Not that we believe in ownership. But until I’ve paid back my birth price …” she shrugged. “Let’s just say that I still have to listen to what he has to say.” Sometimes at great volumes for sustained periods of time, she added to herself.
“So you don’t think he’s handsome,” Molly said, sipping her root beer.
“Not in the least,” Kat lied.
“At first I was scared of him,” Molly confided, “but he seems so … charming.”
“Oh, he’s charming all right,” Kat grumbled, draining her glass. “He practices charming daily. He also studies dashing, debonair, and elegant. He’s an accomplished actor.”
“You don’t sound as if you like him,” Molly said uncertainly.
“I don’t like him,” Kat said darkly, watching as the man himself entered from the back door of the barn. Her eyes narrowed. Wing Parkhurst had changed into civilian togs, but a glint of metal on his collar flashed in the sunlight from the open windows high above in the hayloft. The conceited scrab, he’s still actually wearing his rank insignia, Kat thought with disgust. “He could give lessons in suave,” she continued aloud, “but he’s a cold-hearted, calculating killing machine.”
“You mean he’s dangerous?” Molly whispered as they watched Wing talking with Carlos and Percival. “But why does your father trust him?”
“Because he is dangerous. He’s our family’s head of security; it’s his job to be dangerous. I trust him with my life every day.”
“But you said –”
“Wilmington Parkhurst would die to save me or any of my family,” Kat told her. “He’s watched over me and provided for me since before I was born. I quite literally owe him my life, many times over. He loves me, and I guess …” she sighed. “I guess I love him. But that doesn’t mean I have to like him.”
The next excerpt is a bit more inflammatory; in Kat’s world, once a citizen comes of age, any consenting adult is an acceptable playmate (this being fiction, of course, I’ve carefully removed venereal disease and unplanned conception from the bargaining table, and expanded my characters’ lifespans to a century and a half or so). So their sexual mores are a bit different than ours. In this excerpt from chapter 3, Kat tries to explain this to a less-than-sympathetic Earther. This is followed by a flashback to an extremely awkward encounter between Kat and one of her fathers.
A/N: “un-emp” means unemployable, which is a death sentence on Earth.
Kat stared blankly at the vidscreen, watching herself caressing Maia’s glute on the tube to Buckingham. Oh, socket, she thought miserably. Wing is going to pull the ultimate fission on this one. He ordered me to play by their rules, or else. She shuddered. Just last week she’d been snared with a half-gram of tobacco, and the captain had ordered calisthenics in twice Earth gravity, including, because Wing had been in a particularly sadistic mood, a recitation of Saturn’s moons (in descending order of size) while doing 25 push-ups.
And then, of course, there was the Company’s punishment. And the way everybody was so spamming nice about it.
“I’m really needing to hear from you what it was that motivated you to make such an unhealthy choice,” Oscar said with a sickening grin, clicking off the vidset.
You let thousands of un-emps starve each day, Kat simmered internally, and yet loveplay is a crime. Only you don’t even call it a crime; it’s an ‘unhealthy choice.’
“Well, Oscar,” she said aloud, “I’m watching myself and I’m startled, too.”
Oscar shot her a look. “Startled, Kat?”
I’m startled that it took you two weeks to get that vid, she thought bitterly. “I didn’t realize I was doing it,” Kat continued aloud, in the most innocent voice she could muster. “You see, we were so unhealthy on Luna, that reaching for the unclean parts of each others’ bodies has become a habit. I’m so glad that you were able to catch us doing this and bring it to my attention. Now we can consciously re-learn our actions and be clean, safe, and happy. I’m glad that I’m challenged to live and think the Company Way.”
Oscar gave her an inquiring look.
Was the last bit too much? Kat wondered, her expression as open and sincere as she could fake. Think clean thoughts …
“Well, Kat, I will be forwarding this vid to your Unit Sexual Counselor, of course,” Oscar said slowly, watching Kat carefully for any sign of un-associatelike anger.
Due to years of practice bluffing it out at the pinoker table, Kat was able to keep her expression as serene as possible, while absolutely not thinking any violent thoughts whatsoever. “Thank you, Oscar,” she said placidly. “I’m looking forward to hearing the USC’s thoughts on ways of helping me to change my actions.”
“Katherine, I’ve been linking into our database and I’ve found out some shocking things about your culture,” Oscar continued. “You have a lot of unhealthy mindsets that will have to be altered to fit the new lifestyle you’ve chosen to embrace.” He smiled nastily. “I really bellyfeel how challenging this must be for you, and I have confidence that you can triumph over your upbringing.”
“Thank you, Oscar.” Just nod and smile, don’t clonk him …
“I do have a few further questions, Kat. I’m hoping that you can learn to help me learn about your culture, so that we can help each other to learn together how to help you learn to overcome it.”
Kat blinked as she worked her way through the last sentence, but finally gave up. “I’ll do my best to be challenged to change,” she hazarded.
“I’m glad to hear you saying that, Kat,” he oozed. “So tell me, are you really owned by your Orchidary?”
Kat looked blankly at her Career Guide. “Owned?”
“Your Orchidary paid for you at birth, yes?”
“He paid my birth-price, yes, but he doesn’t –”
“And you have to buy yourself from him when you turn 30.”
“By paying back my birth-price, I become a self-supporting citizen – ”
“And he’s the only person that you can’t have sexual relations with, once you’re an adult? Male or female?”
Kat sighed. “Yes, that’s correct.”
“Is it true you can even couple with one of your siblings, or even your parents? Despite the genetic danger?”
“With Orchonov –”
“Orchonov may be a totally effective contraceptive, when taken by both partners, yes,” Oscar interrupted, “but any derivative of the Orchid is unhealthy, you know that to be true.”
“But that’s not–”
“You know that to be true, Kat,” Oscar repeated in a menacing tone, all the bubbling happiness gone from his voice. “You signed the Acknowledgement form at your Orientation.”
You forced me to sign a krecking form, Kat raged internally. And I magically hold all your bushit to be self-evident; that all your lies are created splurmful.
“Kat,” Oscar said ominously, “I need to hear that you were honest with yourself when you signed the Acknowledgement form. You do know that all Orchid derivatives are unhealthy.”
Just play the scene, Kat thought glumly, bowing her head. “Yes, I know that all Orchid derivatives are unhealthy,” she said quietly. “And thank you for reminding me. I’m so glad that you can help me with this so that I can move forward.”
In a flash, the bright, cheery grin was back across Oscar’s face. “I’m glad that I can help you, Kat. Let’s meet again next week. I’d like to discuss the laxness of Lunar culture toward unhealthy choices and how you feel challenged to change for the better.”
Kat started to leave, wincing as Oscar called to her just as she reached the door.
“Yes, Oscar?” she turned around reluctantly.
He looked in her eyes with an expression of deep pity. “Have you ever had sexual relations with your father? Was he sick enough to do such a horrible thing to you? Is that why you’re so sexually unhealthy?”
Kat took a deep breath, and tried not to visualize Oscar bursting into flames. “I think,” she said slowly, “that I’d feel more comfortable discussing these issues with the USC.”
“I’ll be sure to ask her to ask you about it,” Oscar reassured Kat. “By the way, your first session with her will be this Wednesday, at sevenpem.”
“Thank you, Oscar.”
“Feel free, Kat.”
“Feel free, Oscar.”
“Dad, have you got a minute?” Kat asks, rapping on the inside of the door.
“Sure, Kat,” Percival answers. “I have…” he checks his handcomp, “… seven minutes, if you don’t mind me putting on the face while we talk.”
“Thanks.” Kat sits down next to her father at the big vanity in Lady Carmen’s dressing room.
The bright lights around the mirror are the only lights allowed on in the room before an act; the only plant ever allowed in the room is a single Midnight Hyacinth, growing in its own black-painted hydropod next to the antique dressing-screen that hides the door to the bathroom. The vanity table stretches along one whole side of the dressing room, covered with cosmetics, jewelry, sheet music, and all the other detritus of her father’s career. A clove cigarette burns in the ashtray at Percival’s elbow, sending an endless ribbon of blue-white smoke curling around the vanity lights. Up in one corner of the big mirror, an old-style photograph – non-holographic – enshrines the spirit of Lady Carmen’s own private patron goddess, the historic actress whose likeness Wing and Percival have used to create Lady Carmen Lunita, Queen of the Moonborn Café.
And yet, this room isn’t just Lady Carmen’s dressing room; it is a sanctuary, the only space that Percival Sandersen, husband of two and father of four, can really call his own. Above the long sofa on the opposite wall hang a gallery of holos: Rebecca and Katherine as small girls, sitting on a bench in Freedom Park Green; Sumi and Carlos with five-year-old Hiroshi between them, an infant Serena in his arms; Susan, very pregnant, sitting at the controls of a racing pod, kissing an only slightly pregnant Sumi on the cheek (Sumi would only start showing with Hiroshi after Kat was born); Wing and Percival as teenagers, knee-deep in a lake on Earth, their arms draped around each other’s shoulders. Obscured in the gloom of a corner, Percival’s boxing gloves dangle from his weight bench, which stands next to the trophy case (All-Luna Boxing Championship, Bantamweight, 2354; Freedom Intramural Fencing Champion, 2352; Mercury Cup, 2353-5, 2362, 2364, 2366; Shackelton Run 2351, 2352, 2355-8, 2362-6). Quietly nestled between the sofa and the trophy case, an elderly gray tomcat dozes on a small polyplush bed, a ball of yarn just out of reach.
Kat could draw a line from the corner of the dressing table to the far end of the couch and neatly separate the two halves of the room from each other. The half near the door belongs to Perce “Reckless” Sandersen, champion racing pilot, athlete, and family man; the half with the vanity table is the realm of Lady Carmen, sultry blues singer and seductress. It will not occur to her until years later that Prince Percival, Heir Apparent to the Buckingham Lease, does not exist here in her father’s inner sanctum.
At the boundary where the territories of the daredevil and the lady meet, the shortest wall of this l-shaped room is just wide enough to hold one overlarge holo, a concert poster dating back from an earlier attempt at stardom, long before Lady Carmen existed. This poster is a simple full-length portrait of Percival and Wing, just a little older than Kat is now, standing back to back, their arms crossed, heads turned over their shoulders to face the camera. Her father wears a moustache and long blond hair cascading to his shoulders in ringlets. A clean-shaven, scarless Wing smiles cheerfully from underneath an untidy mop of wavy, copper-red hair. In stark letters above them, the caption simply reads ‘Parkhurst & Sandersen, Minstrels.’
“What’s running?” Percival asks, applying the pale foundation to his face.
“I need some technical instruction,” Kat answers.
“Which instrument?” Along with voice lessons, he has taught her piano, bass, guitar, and a variety of wind instruments.
“Sex,” she says.
“Yes, yes, the standard classes with the rest of the new adults,” she answers with an impatient wave. “I want advanced instruction.”
Percival catches his daughter’s eye in the mirror. “Advanced?”
“I want to be the best. Since my Second Ascension six years ago, I’ve just played with the rest of the pups. And beyond what we’ve learned from the classes and each other, I really don’t…” she shrugs. “Now that I’m past my Third Ascension, and free to couple with any adult… well, I just discovered I’ve got a lot to learn.”
Percival smiles warmly. “How was Vic Lloyd?”
“Am I that transparent?” Kat laughs. She’s been flimmered on the guitarist in her father’s combo for years, and last night was almost a dream come true – almost. In fact, it’s the ‘almost’ part that has brought her here for her father’s help.
“After my Third Ascension,” Percival tells her, “I couldn’t wait to have the Arboretum’s mary guardian, Liu Ngyen.”
He finishes with the base coat of Lady Carmen’s face, and pauses to take a long drag from the cigarette. “Oh, she was wonderful, kind, polite. I felt like a fleb next morning. Found out I didn’t know a thing about loveplay.”
“So you see what I mean,” Kat says, watching her father put aside the cigarette and begin to dust his cheeks with rouge.
“You’re welcome to study with Maria or any of the other Hollanders, you know that.”
“I want to study with you,” she says, and their eyes meet in the mirror again.
“Why me?” Percival asks, after a long pause.
“Because you train the Hollanders,” Kat replies.
Percival smiles, and begins to apply his eye shadow. “Shhh, not where the flebs can hear,” he chuckles. “’S a well-known fact, every Hollander’s personally trained by Captain Parkhurst.”
“An adam training the Hollanders, that’s a twizz,” Kat smirks. “And all the flebs also know that Captain Parkhurst and Lady Carmen are married and have seventeen children. Get virtual. In any case,” she continues, watching him apply heavy black eyeliner, “I’m used to your teaching style. You taught me to sing, you should be able to teach me to scrog.”
Percival carefully selects a set of false eyelashes. “Interesting point. But this isn’t like piano or saxophone, Kat. ’S a lot of social nuance in sex.”
“So it’ll be like my burlesque lessons, where you essentially taught me to make love to the audience.”
“’S fair comparison, but actual sex is more… intense.” He applies the false birthmark to his left cheek.
“And I’m not intense?”
Percival takes another drag from the cigarette, surveying his daughter critically through the curling smoke for a moment. “You’re intense, sure as don’t, pup.” He replaces the cigarette in the ashtray, and turns to face her. “Just like your vocal lessons, control’d be your biggest issue. You’ve got the fire. You’d need to learn to direct it without burning yourself.”
“So you’ll do it, then.”
“I haven’t said that, Kat. It’s an unusual request.”
“Why? It’s not like you’re my Orchidary. And you’re hardly the one to be so old-fashioned.”
“The old social mores were there for a reason, Kat. We no longer restrict the choices of consenting adults, but you’re still my daughter.” His soft blue eyes shine in the vanity lights, and Kat feels a strange jolt in her stomach. “And you’re still very young.”
“I know you wouldn’t let me burn myself,” she replies steadily.
Percival arches an eyebrow. “You sure y’want to do this? Think before answering this one.”
She stares at her father for a long time, then looks away, up to the flat image of the platinum-haired goddess in the corner of the vanity mirror. “I don’t know,” she admits, “but you do seem to be the logical choice…”
“Sex isn’t logical, Kat. Sex complicates things. That’s why you’ve had all those classes. ‘Complete sexual freedom –’”
“‘– is a responsibility, not a license,’” Kat finishes the quote with an impatient gesture. “Look, I know I’m young, but I want the skills, and you’re the best coach. And I need to be the best, at whatever I do. I mean, I’m a Sandersen,” she finishes proudly.
“Well, you’ve got the family attitude.” Percival smiles, and picks up a tube of cherry-red lipstick, then puts it back down, leaving his lips bare. “All right, here’s a simple test. Kiss me.”
Face burning, she leans forward and presses her lips to his. At first it’s just like the ceremonial kisses they’ve exchanged in Circle, but then her lips part and she feels a spark in her throat as his tongue touches hers. She pulls away almost immediately, her heart pounding.
“I … I see what you mean,” she stammers.
“I’ll ask Maria to make you a few appointments,” Percival says gently, squeezing his daughter’s hand. He turns back to the vanity and begins to apply his lipstick. “You’ll want to study with both genders, of course?”
“Oh, yes,” she says blankly. “Look, Dad, I –”
“Ease, Kat. I’m flattered,” he smiles, and their eyes meet in the mirror once more. He carefully applies the lipliner. “I’m even…” he pauses to blot his lips, “slightly tempted. But for right now, you’ll be in good hands with the Hollanders.” He pulls on the platinum wig and fixes it carefully into place.
Percival holds out a hand. “Hairpins.”
She places three in his palm.
“Thanks,” he says.
“Thank you,” she answers, and smiles, still blushing.
“No shutdown, sweet. Zip me,” Percival turns his back, and Kat zips up his dress. Leaning down, he slides on the pumps, adjusts an earring, and Lady Carmen is complete. The Queen of the Moonborn Café stands up, smoothes out her gown, and blows a kiss to the actress in the photograph. “It’s showtime, Marilyn,” Lady Carmen says, saluting her goddess. She turns to Kat. “Meet me after the show, love. We’ll grab a late dinner at Djombe’s. All right?”
Kat nods, grinning in relief. “Slay them, Carmen.”
“I always do,” Lady Carmen winks, as she sweeps out of the room.
The third excerpt is from chapter 2, where Kat’s parents are talking about the subject with, yes, another Earther. And why are Earthers so clueless? because on Earth (which is owned by EarthCo(tm) “We Love Our Jobs!”), any sex not for procreation is punishable by firing. And EarthCo(tm) is the only employer left on Earth. But onto the excerpt:
Kat kisses Charles tenderly, distracting him as he reclips his khakis.
“This is totally twizzed, you know that, Kat.” Charles shakes his head, smiling.
“And whose idea was it to scrog here in your father’s office?”
“Yours, I believe.” He nuzzles her affectionately, stroking her hair.
Wing’s office in the Moonborn Cafe has no couch, but Wing’s chair is large and padded with the most expensive hempvelt, dyed a deep blood red. Kat and Charles cuddle in the chair, turned around to face the wall. Lady Carmen grins down at them eerily in the dim flicker of Charles’ handcomp torch.
Kat kisses her fiancé. “All right, it was my idea,” she admits. “But I didn’t think you’d say yes.”
“Kreck, Kat. If Pop finds out –”
“He’ll hurt me a lot worse than he’ll hurt you,” Kat grins, kissing Charles’ nose. “Now let’s scramble before…”
They hear the footsteps outside the door and dash for the droid-port, nearly colliding before Kat pushes Charles in ahead of her.
“Who’s there?” Lorre’s voice calls out from the other side of the door as they frantically duck into the small shaft.
They scramble on hands and knees until they come to the kitchen, where the light in Mama Kalimbe’s office is still on. Crouching beneath the prep sink, they share a worried glance; there is simply no way out of the kitchen without crossing right in front of the chef’s desk.
They can hear the executive chef of the Moonborn talking into her handcomp: “Apples, six Orchidimes a bushel? Who do they think they’re tweaking? Deimos-grown, my glute. Memo to Maria, I need a more careful inventory of whipped cream the Hollanders are using, end memo…”
Kat stifles a giggle. Charles kisses her cheek and she can feel his blush on her face. “We need to start buying our own,” he whispers in her ear.
“Lights,” Mama’s voice calls out. The chef exits her office and strides out of the kitchen, leaving Kat and Charles alone in the dark.
“Which do you think is safer, out through the Orchid Room or back to the scene of the crime?” Kat asks, as they help each other out from underneath the sink.
“Lorre’s probably still poking around Pop’s office. I vote the Orchid Room.”
They creep along the same hallway, just a few dozen meters behind Mama Kalimbe. The chef is singing under her breath, as she always does, and Kat feels a pang of guilt. I’ll buy some whipped cream to replace what we took, Kat promises Mama silently.
“Gaia bless, Wing,” Mama calls, and Kat and Charles freeze.
Of course, Kat remembers, glaring at Charles. It’s Friday; the Dingo always stays late to do the accounts on krecking Friday.
“Gaia bless, Mama. Give my love to Nobu,” Wing replies.
Hunching in the doorway, they can see the table where Charles’ father has laid out the accounts. Usually he waits until he’s alone, but tonight he has company. In the dim yellow light of the single torch hung over the table, Kat can see Papa Carlos, Mama Sumi, and a small rat-faced Earther Kat has seen skulking around the Moonborn for the past couple of weeks.
Besides the strongbox and Wing’s handcomp, the table is littered with piles of Orchid notes and stacks of Orchidimes. Papa Carlos and the rat-faced man pass a hydro-pipe back and forth, sending endless curls of bluish-white smoke drifting into the haze above their heads. Just at Wing’s elbow, a bottle of Ghenna Rum sits unopened with one empty glass beside it.
Kat and Charles watch as his father turns back to his accounts. “Twenty-one… twenty-one five…”
The rat-faced man takes the pipe back from Carlos. “So you’re married to the mayor here, and you’re married to Lady Carmen?”
“It’s called a trio-marriage,” Sumi explains coldly. Even from her hiding place, Kat can tell that her mother doesn’t like this man. Mayor Sumi Kimyoto has precious little tolerance for intolerance.
“Doesn’t anyone get traditionally married, just one man to one woman?” Rat-face smirks.
“Most do,” Carlos replies, his face carefully pinoker. “The average contract lasts about five to seven years and usually gets renewed. Sumi, Perce and I have been married for just over twelve and a half years.”
“Holy kreck. But what about when you’re older? Who takes care of you then?”
“Our children, of course, and each other.” Sumi replies. “We all retain close friendships for our whole lives.”
“But how do you know whose children are whose?”
“The same way you Earthers do,” Carlos growls. “Or are Earth women unable to count?”
“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Sumi says wearily. “Perce’s daughters with Suze are just as much a part of my heart and my life as my son with Perce, or my daughter with Carlos.”
“And it’s not confusing for them?”
“When our children need a parent,” Sumi frowns, “they have a choice of half a dozen people who will do anything to help them. They know they’re loved and cherished; how can that be confusing?”
“But, I mean, does anyone ever get a lifetime monogamous contract up front?”
“It’s very rare,” Carlos says quickly.
“And usually inadvisable,” Sumi adds. “The parties involved almost always end up regretting it later on. They usually end with a divorce.”
“I thought you people didn’t get divorces.”
“The only time anyone wants a divorce,” Carlos replies, “is when they want to get out of a lifetime monogamous contract. That’s why they aren’t very popular,” he finishes with a growl.
“I have one,” Wing says, not looking up from his handcomp. “Twenty-eight, twenty-eight five …”
Rat-face does a double-take. “I thought you were married to Lady Carmen, too.”
“Lady Carmen is his stage name, but no, I am not married to Percival Sandersen. Twenty nine …”
“The captain has a lifetime monogamous marriage contract to Anya Torqueda.” Sumi explains stiffly. “That is, he chooses to observe their monogamy clause.”
“Anya Torqueda, the sculptor?” Rat-face gasps. “I saw a holo-reel on her gallery opening at Kronos station.” He raises an eyebrow. “They said she was living on Titan with Alison Zhuen. They just had a pup.”
“She is,” Wing replies flatly, “and they did. Thirty-one, thirty-one five …”
“Wing, I’m locking up now.”
Kat and Charles jump as a lithe, graceful woman with coffee-brown skin and cat-green eyes walks within a few meters of them, thankfully not noticing them buried in the recesses of the kitchen door. Maria Guerrera glides over to the table, brushing her fingers across Wing’s shoulders. The captain absently reaches over his shoulder to squeeze the woman’s hand, but does not look away from his work.
“Thank you, Madam Guerrera.”
“Will you be needing anything else tonight?”
“No, Madam. That will be all. Thirty-three five …” Wing’s eyes do not leave his handcomp.
“‘Madam?’” Rat-face asks as Maria leaves. “Little formal with the help?”
“‘Madam’ is her professional title,” Wing answers curtly. “Maria Guerrera is the supervising Hollander. Thirty-five, thirty-five five, thirty six …”
“Captain, tell me you at least get some of that action. I mean, your wife is off with her girlfriend.”
“I don’t believe that’s any of your file,” Wing replies coolly. “Thirty-seven, thirty-seven five …”
The tense silence is broken by someone singing. Kat and Charles pull back as deep as they can into the kitchen doorway as her father bursts out of the hallway leading to backstage, and sweeps right by the teenagers in the dark without noticing them.
“Come to me, my melancholy baby,” Percival croons, not in Lady Carmen’s voice, but in the smooth, light tenor he uses when he sings around the Burrow. “Cuddle up and don’t be blue …” Percival reaches the table and kisses Sumi, slipping into the empty chair between his wife and his husband. “Give us a puff or twelve,” he yawns. “What a sleg of a set! We’ve got to get Antonia back; this new joe’s linkless as Leroy.”
“I’ve already fired him. And Lady Carmen has a recording session at nine hundred tomorrow,” Wing mutters, still not looking up. “Forty-one, forty-one fifty …”
“Ease it, Wilma. I’ll be clear for morning,” Percival smirks, winking at Carlos.
Carlos takes a deep inhale from the hydropipe, and, leaning over, kisses his husband, passing the smoke along.
Percival inhales deeply, then exhales a large smoke ring.
“Your set was top-clip,” Rat-face begins.
“Thank you,” Percival answers coldly.
Holy Horns, Kat thinks. He must be a sleg if Dad doesn’t like him.
“Are you ready to go, sweet?” Sumi asks Percival. “Nobu won’t hold our table forever.”
Percival and Sumi stand, but Carlos waves them on. “I’ll meet you there in about twenty minutes,” he tells them. “Wing and I have some business with this joe.”
Something in his voice chills Kat to the bone. Her leg is starting to cramp up, too, but she does not dare move.
Back at the table, Percival raises an eyebrow, but Carlos keeps his face carefully pinoker, and Wing, of course, hasn’t once looked up from his handcomp this entire conversation. Sumi merely looks tired.
“Come on, Perce,” she sighs, kissing Carlos on the forehead. “Don’t keep my husband long, Captain,” she says, glaring at Wing.
“Of course not, Mayor,” Wing replies coldly, his eyes still glued to his handcomp. “Forty-nine five, five thousand. Five thousand five, fifty-one hundred. Fifty-one five …”
Charles and Kat watch her father and mother leave. Kat shifts her weight to the other foot. At the table, Wing puts aside his handcomp and faces the visitor, fixing him with a calculating stare.
Rat-face looks down after only a few seconds. “I heard,” he begins in a hoarse voice, “that you could possibly put me in touch with some people who might be open to a certain transaction.”
“In other words,” Wing says bluntly, leaning back and templing his fingers, “you wish to hire an Assassin.”
Charles’ fingers grip Kat’s arm tightly, and Kat shivers.
At the table, Carlos leans forward and uncorks the bottle of Ghenna Rum, pouring a small amount into the glass. He pushes the drink over to the Earther, and flashes him an oily smile. “Tell us your troubles, friend.”
Rat-face takes the glass, raises it to his lips, and then looks at the two Assassins who sit there, staring at him blandly. He puts the glass down untasted. “I have this click who’s in an unhappy Earth marriage, you know,” he begins softly, “and divorce isn’t part of the Healthy Recommended Practices.”
“You wish us to kill your wife?” Wing asks sharply.
“We just want to know your motive, friend,” Carlos soothes.
The confused Earther looks back and forth between the two Assassins fearfully. He swallows hard and continues. “Look, does the motive matter?”
“It does if you want us to do the job,” Wing replies icily. “You have to prove to us that the target has done willful and lasting harm and will do harm again.”
“You have to understand, friend,” Carlos explains, “that the Guild only accepts contracts where it can be shown that the Commission would be of benefit to the greater good.”
“Well,” Rat-face chuckles nervously, “I’d be happier without the krecking slot, that’s a greater good to me.”
“Oh, dear,” Carlos sighs wearily. “Wrong answer, friend. Brother Luciano, whose turn is it?”
“Whose turn is it for what?” Rat-face asks nervously.
“I forget, Brother Orion,” Wing answers, picking up a coin from the table. “Shall we flip for it?”
“Flip for what?” Rat-face is trembling with terror.
“For your life, friend,” Carlos laughs. “I call it Crescent.”
Wing catches the coin in midair and slaps it onto his wrist. “Sorry, Brother Orion,” Wing says jauntily. “It’s Granda Will.”
“What does that mean?” Rat-face whines.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter to you,” Carlos grins.
“This will only take a moment,” Wing murmurs softly, Shifting behind Rat-face and slicing open his throat.
Kat and Charles cling to each other in panic, unable to look away as the body falls to the floor. They tremble violently in each others’ arms but do not dare make the slightest noise.
In shock, they watch Wing pick up the glass of rum that Carlos had offered to the man who is no longer a man but now a piece of cooling flesh. “In Kali’s service,” the captain says, and raises the glass.
“In Kali’s service,” Carlos echoes, “and in Jesus’ sight.” He picks up the bottle, clinking it against the glass. They both drink. “I’m so glad we already had a Commission for that fleb,” he continues, setting down the bottle. “Can you imagine letting splurm like him walk out of here?”
“I would have probably had to pay myself to kill him, and that would have been an endless hassle with the doc.” Wing pours himself another glass of rum and sits back down. “How many droids did he murder?”
“Two hundred ninety-three Sentients. They gave him a krecking award.” Carlos takes the bottle from Wing and helps himself to another long swig of the purple rum.
“And he couldn’t stomach murdering a human himself. Coward,” Wing growls.
“Well, we might as well inform the client,” Carlos sighs, tapping his handcomp. “Rochester, talk to me.”
“Citizen Ramirez,” Rochester’s voice startles Kat. “I’m glad to hear from you. How is our mutual friend?”
“We’ve been able to work out an arrangement that will benefit the greater good,” Carlos says casually.
Kat and Charles watch each other’s eyes pop open. “Rochester?” Kat mouths silently.
“Then I will link over your fee immediately.”
Wing beckons Carlos to give him the handcomp. “Actually, Rochester, I’d like to waive the fee. Put it down as a donation to the LNOI Droid Liberation Fund, anonymous gift.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“My pleasure, old friend.” Wing slides the handcomp across the table to Carlos. “Well, shall we ask Sergeant Lorre to dispose of the remains? I think the look on his face when he sees what happened to this click of his will be quite amusing.”
“You’re cruel, Luciano.”
“Well, yes,” Wing smiles, and Kat shivers involuntarily.
“And you’re sure that Lorre was linking information to this poor fleb here?” Carlos asks.
“This one, and about a dozen other Company operatives. He’s also doing some freelance spying for the Martians these days.”
“Sleg. Do you want me to make him your birthday gift?”
“Ghenna, no. He’s far too useful to me alive. Whatever I want the Company to think, I tell him. And meanwhile, he’s so busy getting me to trust him, he follows my every order to the letter.”
“You’re a devious one, Brother Luciano.”
“I learned from the best, Brother Orion.” Wing pulls out his own handcomp, flipping open the com. “Sergeant Lorre,” he says, “would you mind coming to the Orchid room a moment? Bring a mop,” he adds, delicately brushing off a spatter of blood from his cheek, “and a towel.”
Kat feels faint, but Charles taps at her shoulder. “That means that the back way will be open,” he whispers in her ear.
Kat nods. I just hope I don’t splurm, she thinks. They creep their way back through the kitchen and into Wing’s office.
“Wait,” Charles pants, “I just need to rest,” he plops down into his father’s chair, and Kat perches on the desk.
“We’ll still catch ghenna if he finds us,” she hisses impatiently.
“Not half as much as if he finds out we just saw. Holy Horns, what was that … that thing my father used?”
“A slaadyen,” Kat says automatically, and winces.
“A what – Kat, how do you know? What was it?”
“It’s called a slaadyen,” Kat sighs. “Assassins use them. There’s also some twizzed Order stuff, too. That’s how I know.”
“My father just killed a man,” Charles moans, putting his face in his hands, “and I’m worried about the krecking weapon.”
“That man murdered almost three hundred droids,” Kat murmurs.
“Pop just … just sliced him open. Blessed Gaia …”
“I think I see now what he means about doing harm for greater good,” she says, almost to herself.
“You’ve discussed this with him?” Charles’ jaw drops open in amazement.
Kat hangs her head. “He’s giving me lessons.” They hear a click of the door opening, and Kat throws herself into Charles’ lap, kissing him frantically.
“What in – oh, for Gaia’s sake!” Wing’s voice makes Kat’s heart leap into her throat.
Please make him think we were scrogging and not snooping, Kat prays silently.
“You two,” Wing hisses, his eyes narrowing, “are the last thing I need tonight. Just get out, and I’ll pretend I never saw you.”
They pause, unsure.
“Get out,” Wing snarls. “Now.”
“NOW!” Wing roars, and the two of them rush headlong out of the office, through the backstage, and out the side door of the Moonborn.
Now, if there’s anyone left reading this far (“TL;DR” shall be the epitaph of any rational thought in our culture, but that’s another rant), you might be wondering why I left that nasty murder on the end of that nice sexy excerpt. Well, to make a point. Before any discussion of how we view sex in this culture, it’s always helpful to consider that violence is *always* good, wholesome entertainment. Two guys beatin’ the f**k out of each other, fine. Two guys kissing, no f**king way, man, that’s SICK!
Of course, two hot babes kissing (and these chicks don’t have souls, oh no), is just HOT!
But we’re not just talking ’bout homosexuality here, oh no. We’re heading off to planet Polyamory, where you have to be a lot more grown up about your genitals than most people ever become. I’ve got all sorts of topics flowing through my head, and I’m going to continue to edit and re-edit.
Anyone who has read any of this can please post an opinion and we’ll talk!
Spike, starving for a good debate on sex
***Coming to this post: THE POLYAMORY SONG — check back soon!**************
And finally, some more Luninatia art. Here’s the 1/10 Orchid coin, heads and tails. Wing is supposed to look sort of like his great-great-grandfather, whose profile adorns the heads side. One Orchid is worth about 10-12 of our dollars, so one of these coins would buy you a little more than a buck’s worth of merchandise at any establishment on the Earth’s moon.
All excerpts and art from the Buckingham Lease, (c) copyright 2008 Karin A. Robinson