Episode 16: Garden

After the dinner, Beka had gone back to her room and changed back into her regular clothes. The ones that had been provided for her were nice and comfortable, but she didn’t feel like they suited her at all. As much as she disliked Jen, she had to admit to herself that the style suited her better. She hung the clothes back up in the closet.

Of course the style suits her better. She comes from here. She sat down on the bed and looked at the room around her. It was modestly furnished with light hangings over the window. The setting sun cast a fiery light on everything in the room, making her feel as if she was in an oven. It’s certainly hot enough to be an oven, she thought, wiping her forehead with one hand. I know Tenshi warned us that this place was hot on the way down, but I didn’t expect this. I’m glad I didn’t wear anything black.

She stood up and headed out of the room. There has got to be somewhere in this place that’s cooler than my room. Besides, there’s nothing to do in there. I can’t read the language, so the books aren’t any good. I didn’t think that anyone still had books with pages anymore. Everyone I’ve ever heard of uses flexis.

She headed down the stairs to the landing where the statue was and debated on where to go. One of the hallways was heavily guarded, so that was out of the question. One led to the Audience Chamber. She didn’t want to go there, so that one was eliminated. That left three hallways. One ended in a staircase going up to a third floor. An examination of the area around the statue yielded a faint breeze coming from the hallway leading off to the left, so she followed it.

It led her past some doors with strange markings on them. Beka ignored them in favor of finding the breeze that teased her short blond hair. It ended in a gate made of elegantly twisted metal. It was slightly ajar, so she pushed it the rest of the way open and headed out. She followed the path on the other side, spurred on by the breeze and the faint sound of trickling water.

The path led to a carefully manicured garden surrounded by a tall hedge. Flowers that looked like roses were in full bloom, their scent mingling in the night air with the scents from the other flowers, ones she didn’t recognize. There was a small pond on one corner with a few fish swimming in it. The trickling sound she’d heard was the small artificial waterfall that fed it. Beside the pond was a bush with strange dark teal colored leaves and shiny silver heart-shaped flowers. She knelt down beside it.

“I wouldn’t touch those if I were you.”

She spun around to see Jason standing behind her. “You scared me!”

“Better to scare you than to have you die accidentally from something as innocent looking as a Shioye plant. The flowers are pretty harmless; they’ll only give you a mild rash. It’s the leaves you need to be careful of. There’s a nasty poison coating on them. There are some people who aren’t bothered by it, but most have a fatal allergy to it. We learned that the hard way when the plant was given to one of the queens a few thousand years ago. We lost one of our better gardeners, or so I’m told. It was a gift from the then queen of Ha’ven to our queen at the time as a birthday present. The Laisheen are immune to its poison and it hadn’t occurred to her that we might suffer ill effects from it.” He shrugged. “Strangely, the fish aren’t bothered by it.”

“I didn’t think you had fish here, given that there are no bodies of water anywhere.”

“On the surface,” Jason corrected her. “There is one large underground lake way up north. These fish aren’t from there, though.”

“Another gift?” Beka guessed.

“Yes, but a more recent one and something of a joke between Tenshi and Jen.” Jason frowned at the cloud that passed over Beka’s face at the mention of his twin’s name. “Is something wrong, Beka?”

“It’s just that I’m getting very, very tired of hearing about Jen. I don’t see what the big deal is. As for the two of you being twins, I’ve never met two siblings who are more different.”

Jason’s expression softened. “Ah. Jen and I aren’t all that different, really. I know you won’t believe me, but underneath all the pain and rage, Jen is really a nice person.”

Beka rolled her eyes. “I doubt it. If you ask me, I think she’s just making all this stuff up about the Nietzscheans.”

“Now you’d be wrong there. Because we’re twins, we share a connection. She told me what happened to her. She can’t lie to me, Beka. I know when she’s hiding something and what she told me was entirely truthful.”

Beka eyed him. “You’re very protective of her, aren’t you?”

Jason shrugged, blushing. “Yeah, which is odd. She’s actually very protective of me. We generally wind up defending each other. It just happened that way.”

“And that other girl? Hihana? What’s the deal with her?”

“Our not-so-beloved elder sister,” Jason explained. “Neither of us particularly cares for her.”

“She’s pretty.”

“As far as Nomaien women go, her coloring is considered to be the ideal. Blonds are favored quite highly. Personally, I prefer a lighter skin tone, but that’s mostly from my association with Jen and her friends. There aren’t a lot of senshi with darker skin tones, so I’ve spent a lot of my life around paler women and have grown to appreciate it.” He stopped, looking her in the eye, and blushed, turning away. “I also prefer blue eyes to amethyst. Being around Hihana has scarred me on that score.”

“So Yumeko is more your ideal?”

“Kitten?” Jason laughed. “I’ve known her since she was just a little thing. I tend to think of her as a little sister. Okami is more like the eccentric cousin who visits on occasion and Tenshi is a big sister to me. Besides, Yumeko has far too much hair and her wearing down all the time like that…not really my thing.” He turned his back to her, too embarrassed to say anything else. “I really shouldn’t be talking about this. It’s not considered proper to discuss such things with women.”

“I’m not from around here, in case you’ve forgotten,” Beka reminded him. “It doesn’t bother me to talk about things.”

Jason gave a little half smile. “It’s very hard to keep my cultures straight some days.”

“You travel around much?”

“A fair amount, yes. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home and my people despite what humans would see as an oppressive matriarchy, but I like learning about other people. Humans in particular have always held a fascination for me ever since I went to Earth that first time. I’ve never quite been able to figure them out. Just when you expect them to react one way, they turn around and do something completely different, and that’s just the men. You human women are even more unpredictable.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Beka asked him, her head tilted questioningly to the side, a smile on her lips.

“On the contrary. I think it’s intriguing.” Jason took a step closer to her. “It’s so different from the women here. You don’t try and boss me around or act superior to me just because you were born female. Oh, there are a few Nomaien women here who don’t do that, but they’re a distinct minority. Being around one woman who doesn’t and isn’t my twin is a refreshing change.” He grinned. “It’s also a strange feeling to be able to look a woman in the eyes.”

Beka grinned back. “I’m only about a half an inch shorter than you are,” she pointed out.

“That and other things. It’s rude to look a woman in the eyes unless you’re related to them. With women from other worlds and cultures, it’s fine.”

“Well, you can look me in the eyes any time you want.” Beka took a step back and eyed him carefully. “You know, you look different today.”

“I’ve stopped attempting to look like a human man. It’s not hard to do, but it’s been a long time since I’ve assumed my natural look.” He turned in a circle. “What do you think?”

“I’m not really sure what the difference is. I mean, your eyes are solid black now, and I can see some red highlighting in your hair, but that’s all I notice. Am I missing something?”

“No, that about covers it, really.”

“I liked how you looked before, especially in that tux you wear when you transform.”

Jason blushed, remembering her earlier praise. “It’s not often I get compliments from the opposite sex.”

Beka laughed. “You blush like a school boy. It’s cute.”

Startled, he looked back up at her. “You think I’m cute?”

“Of course. Why should this come as a surprise? Don’t you think you are?”

“Not to women, no.”

“I’ve never met an attractive man who hasn’t been aware of his looks before. Dylan, Tyr, Rhade, they’re all so confident and know they look good.”

“Not Harper?”

“Harper’s cute in that little brother kind of way. Now you, you’re definitely not little brother cute. You’re the kind of guy a girl could take home to her parents.”

Jason eyed he thoughtfully. “You’re quite blunt, aren’t you?”

“No sense in beating around the bush, is there? Besides, I think I’ve been hanging around Nietzscheans a bit too much. I’m starting to sound like them.”

“Nothing wrong with bluntness,” he said, staring at her as if trying to come to a decision.

“You ok?”

“Oh hell…” he said, grabbing her shoulders and planting a gentle kiss on her lips. When she didn’t pull away and slap him, he wrapped his arms around her while crying for joy inside. She tasted sweet to him, smelling of sweat, sand, and something faintly floral.

For her part, Beka had been wondering how long it would take him to get over his messed up culture and try something. She brought her hands up to his chest and tugged on the collar of his shirt playfully. He’d clearly had time to bathe after dinner, as he smelled clean and somewhat spicy. He was warm and the bit of skin her fingers brushed up against was soft and smooth.

Just when Beka was starting to enjoy herself, Jason pulled back. “We should find somewhere a little more secluded if this is going to continue,” he whispered.

“I like this spot.”

“Physical contact between members of opposite genders in public is taboo here. If I were an offworlder, it wouldn’t be so bad, or if you were male or I were female, but we are who we are, so we’d best relocate.”

“Wait a minute,” Beka said slowly. “Same gender relationships aren’t frowned on here?”

“Not at all,” Jason said, sounding surprised. “They tend to be more common, actually.”

“That’s strange.”

“Well, not really if you think about it.”

“It’s not very good for the propagation of your species.”

“You sound like a Nietzschean.” He sighed. “You see, this is kind of why Jen and I don’t like to talk about our people.”

“Well, let’s go somewhere private and you can tell me more,” Beka suggested.

Jason nodded. “Do you prefer my room or yours?” At her look, he snickered. “What place is more private than a bedroom? In our culture, it’s one of the most private areas and is invaded only under the utmost important of circumstances.”

“Yours then.”

They made their way back up to Jason’s room. It was smaller than Beka’s but had a view of the garden. The breeze toyed with the light curtains on his window and brought with it a faint floral scent and the sound of the waterfall.

“Nice room,” she commented, looking at his bookshelf.

“You think so? It’s actually considered to be one of the worst rooms in the palace because you can always hear the waterfall. Personally, I don’t mind the sound. It’s soothing.”

“So, about your people’s odd views on relationships.” Jason sat down in a chair and invited her to take a seat opposite from him. “So heterosexual relationships are in the minority?”

He nodded. “Before you tell me again that it isn’t good for the continuation of our species, let me explain something about the Nomaien reproductive cycle. We don’t have children easily and when we do, it’s not often. It’s very rare for a woman to have more than two children. For my mother to have had three is nothing short of amazing, especially with Jen and I being twins. Twins are very special and rare, but that’s another story entirely. Anyways, back when my people were still nomads moving from watering hole to watering hole, it became clear to them that love between a man and a woman was becoming more rare as the years passed. The women were finding it easier to find love among their own gender. Marriage was becoming less frequent. This came to the attention of the Queen. To make a very long story short, what came of it was what we presently have. When a woman decides to have a child, she finds a suitable man and they come to an agreement. Sometimes they marry if they find that they like each other enough. Most often, they stay together for a time agreed upon. For reproduction, we seek the other gender; for love, we most often look within our own.”

“So if I understand correctly, the women see you men as breeding tools.”

“That’s not a nice way of putting it, but that’s the general gist of it, yes.”

Beka sat silently for a long time, just staring at him in disbelief. “I can understand why you don’t talk about yourselves much,” she said finally. “Do you...? Have you…?”

“Do I have a lover?” he asked bluntly. “No. Have I? Once, but it was a very long time ago. It was very short lived.”

“At least you’re honest about this.”

“My sisters have both ruined me that way,” he said with a faint smile. “I much prefer women. Despite my family connections, it’s not likely that I’ll ever find a woman among my own species that would consider me breeding material.”

“I don’t see why. You’re very handsome.”

“That’s not the problem. It’s the fact that I’m a senshi that keeps them away. I attract men by the hoards, but not women.”

“What does being a senshi have to do with anything?”

“I don’t know if this holds true for the other galaxies, but here in the Pegasus galaxy, the senshi only reproduce when they’ve stopped being senshi. That doesn’t happen often. Once a senshi officially retires, their starseed becomes inactive. Sometimes, a replacement is called. In other cases, that office remains open until the senshi has a child. That child becomes the replacement then. If the senshi is a woman, it’s inevitable that the child is a girl, same with the men. With both parents being senshi…I’m not sure. It doesn’t happen enough for a pattern to be seen.”

“Lucky for you that I’m not from your world,” Beka said, standing. “I have no urge to reproduce any time soon.”

Shocked, Jason looked up at her. “Pardon?”

“Well, you interest me.”

Jason stood up slowly and took a step towards her. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“Your people don’t have anything against relations with outsiders, do they?”

“It’s not common, but because I’m a man I have more freedom in that regards.”

“Good to know.” She closed the distance and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him hungrily. It took him a few moments to respond, but he did, kissing her back just as hungrily, his tongue exploring the inside of her mouth. He broke away and nibbled his way down the side of her neck as his hands toyed with the hem of her shirt.

Beka’s comm. beeped just as he was about to take her shirt off. She cursed and answered it.

“Beka, we’re meeting in my room in five minutes,” Dylan’s voice said.

“Can’t it wait?”

“No, it’s important.”

She sighed. “Fine. I’ll be there.” She switched it off and turned back to Jason. “Sorry about this.”

He kissed her again, but gently this time. “There will be other opportunities for us,” he said. “Now that I know you’re interested, I will make myself available for you.”

She smiled and headed for the door. “I’ll see you later then?”

“My door is always open to you, Beka.”

“Mine, too.”

Beka burst into Dylan’s room. “What the hell is so important that this couldn’t wait?”

Rhade looked up as Beka stormed in. Her skin was flushed and her pulse was racing. She smelled like she was aroused. He blinked, puzzled. Well, that would explain why she didn’t want to come, but who caused her to be in this state?

“We just got word that the Queen has returned from her meeting with the other queens and brought them with her,” Dylan said, oblivious to her current state. “We’ve been summarily commanded to attend an Audience with them first thing in the morning.”

“That’s your big important news that couldn’t wait?” Beka asked incredulously. “They didn’t say anything else? Just commanded us to attend?”

Trance nodded. “That’s not the big important thing. Well, it is, but I’m getting a very strange vibe all of a sudden, starting just before we received news of Her return. It feels like something major is about to happen. I wish we were back in familiar territory, where I can see the possible futures, but it’s like I’m walking through a dense fog here. I can see something, but it’s too far away.”

“Any hints about this big thing?” Harper asked.

“None I’m afraid,” Trance said apologetically. “I’ve tried talking to some of the local scholars about that, but they haven’t been very helpful.”

“Well, I guess we’ll see what it is tomorrow morning,” Rhade said. “Until then, I suggest that we get some sleep.