Red Storm Over Ganymede
Nona Regina squinted at me as she handed me the plascreen. I warily unrolled the screen, and ground my teeth together as the list unfurled before me.
Chet Lavigne, Baron of Enceladus
Breton Eras, Duke of Titan
Abeth Eras, Duchess of Titan
Lashell Diseth, Princess of Umbriel
“Well?” Nona Regina asked as she drummed her fingers on the desk. “After your spectacular, public failure on the Starflight, I thought we ought to stick to well-vetted nobility.”
I bit back a bitter retort, knowing full well this was my final chance to find a consort prior to my interview with the Order of Oberon. Still, I couldn’t resist saying, “Chet made your approved list? You must be desperate.”
Nona Regina let out a hiss between her teeth. “Believe me, Tristan, the Baron of Enceladus is far from my first choice for your consort. But you share a history, no matter how sordid, and his family remains in high standing. Their vast water wealth certainly speaks in their favor as well.”
Breton and Abeth were another pair I shared a history with, but my brain came up blank at the last name. “Princess Lashell. Have I even met her?” Umbriel, the moon of Uranus, was not a huge player in imperial politics, preferring to manage its own affairs.
Nona Regina shook her head. “No, but I needed at least one representative of the Uranian Theocracy to appear fair to the Council, and her father and I are old friends.”
I opened the file on the Princess, and rolled my eyes as I saw that her father was a Uranian Generational Saint clone like Grandmother. “Nice to know you’re keeping it in the family.”
“Would you have rather I picked Prince Thery of Ariel? I can still send a message to his family.” Grandmother’s voice crackled with dark amusement. I shuddered as I remembered the stuck-up prig and his insufferable demeanor.
Nona Regina’s rose from her throne and surveyed me with an appraising glance. “I must confess my surprise, however, at your message.”
“There is something I need to do, Nona, that requires royal status.”
She waved me onward, “Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. “I need access to Biodyne’s database.”
“You what?” she asked. “Did you just say you needed to ferret around Biodyne? That requires royal injunction.”
I opened my eyes slowly to see her staring thoughtfully at me. “I know.”
Her face began to contort with fury. “So this has nothing to do with you finally coming into your own, accepting your responsibilities, or doing what needs to be done for the good of the Empire?” Her eyes appeared ready to bulge out of her head.
I had to be cagey. “My newest Bio-droid had a recursive order implanted in it before it woke up.”
“You only want the throne to protect your abomination?” her voice was hoarse.
I continued, “And I need to know who put it there.”
Nona Regina buried her face in her hands, “All of it for the blasted abomination.”
I felt my hackles rise again. “Listen, I’m doing everything you asked: replacing Bio-droid models, taking a consort, being vetted by the Order. I can certainly have my own reasons, like trying to uncover why someone would want to use a Bio-droid to kill me!”
Damn, me and big, angry mouth.
“K-kill you?” she gasped. Her next words flew out in a jumble. “I told you, I told you a thousand times the abominations - kill you! - how could you be so careless - we’ll burn them all - outlaw them.”
“Sit down, Nona,” I said, and was taken aback when she did just that. I took several deep breaths, willing my anger to melt away, especially in the face of her shock. “We can discuss this when I get back from Titan.” I patted her hand.
She looked up at me, a dazed look in her eyes. Her voice had a slight tremor. “Yes, yes, go to Titan, find a consort.”
I turned away and began heading for the door before looking back. “I know it was quite a shock, Nona. Do you want me to send for the royal physician?”
She shook her head, but did not meet my gaze. “No, no time. Too many things need my attention.”
The visit to Titan was torture for me. I stood to the side of the sumptuous dining room with windows that looked over the ice fields of Titan. The Duke and Duchess’ Bio-droids, and Chet’s, who was a sleek, metallic model stood with me. Princess Lashell, unsurprisingly for a Uranian, didn’t travel with a Bio-droid.
The Princess was an interesting addition to the mix. She wore her lustrous brown hair up in a perfect bun, and her features heavily suggested sessions with a good genetic manipulator in the past. My files on her suggested strong ties to the Theocracy, but she had never made any public statements regarding Bio-droids before. Still, she kept glancing over at the four of us with a mixture of curiosity and distaste.
As I watched Tristan flirt with his four potential consorts, I could almost feel my synaptic fluid grow frigid. Between Chet – who couldn’t seem to keep his hands off of Tristan – to Abeth who kept making suggestive jokes, I wanted to crawl under the table and shut down. Bio-droids were supposed to be beyond the human experience of pain, but nevertheless I felt a pounding in my head.
After many rounds of drinks and several interminable games of cards, the quintet bade each other good night, and we followed our respective charges to help get them ready for bed. I didn’t say anything to Tristan on the way back to the room, simply helped him get undressed.
My hands slid up his torso as I pulled his shirt over his head, and for the first time since the upgrade I fully understood that the sex package wasn’t just parts. It was a whole host of new feelings as well. The sight of Tristan’s body activated a lust subroutine I had no clue how to deactivate. My arousal was clearly visible, and Tristan was not above noticing it.
“Glad I can still have that effect on you, Isul, but it’s not a good idea anymore,” he slurred before flopping back on the bed.
“What do you mean it’s not a good idea?” I questioned, trying to shake Tristan awake. But the alcohol had kicked in fully, and he snored lightly.
My metal heart ached at his rejection. Before my upgrade, every other phrase had been some innuendo to me. And now he didn’t want me? He didn’t even want to touch me. I shivered. What did that mean for my future? I sat in the darkened room for long cliks as Tristan slept off his evening’s excess. The missing two weeks had to have something to do with whatever he was feeling now, I was sure of it. Frustration mounting, I delved into my memory core. If there was even a trace of the information I sought here, it could help put my annoying predictive subroutine to rest.
I sunk further and further through the flowing streams of data, trying to find any glimpse, any snatch of something that I didn’t remember. But my memories stubbornly refused to cooperate. Realizing I was coding myself in circles, I readied myself for the trip back into consciousness but was met with an angry, pulsing wall. My hand hovered over the quicksilver surface that reflected a distorted image back. I touched it, and my world went red for a nanoclik before everything went black.
Chet appeared in my room with a bottle of aurum. Isul had just left, and I felt pangs of loss and guilt as he and Silica gave us space. Last night I dreamed I saw a flash of red in his eyes again, and felt my bruised ribs twinge.
“Why so glum, Tris?” Chet asked as he poured the drink.
I decided to simply cut to the chase. “Breton and Abeth have both told me they’re not interested in the consort position.”
Chet raised his glass. “Well, cheers to Lashell and me, the last two left in the running.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Lashell is actually in the running in your addled brain?”
Chet winked. “You don’t like her?”
“It’s not that I dislike her. But she’s prickly, and I have enough Uranian overbearance in my life as it is.”
Chet laughed, that musical sound that had always drawn me in back in our party boy days. He tossed back the last sip of his aurum and sat down on the arm of my chair before dropping backward into my lap. “This is nice, isn’t it? You and me, together again?”
I was silent as I looked down at Chet. Emotions, long buried, flooded through me again. I couldn’t deny Chet was attractive, and I loved his rebellious, party-animal spirit. Nobody would force him into a union he absolutely didn’t want to be part of. So by his being here, was he admitting as much?
“I have trouble categorizing my memories of our years together as good or bad these days,” I admitted.
Chet chuckled. “We were pretty messed up.”
“It’s not exactly a good look for the future sovereign and his consort,” I teased.
“Speak for yourself. I always looked fabulous,” Chet said.
I had to admit he still did. His golden hair, pierced ears, trim figure. Chet was sex and drugs and music all rolled into one irresistible package.
Chet continued, “You still look fabulous too.” He trailed a hand down the front of my shirt, toying with the buttons. “I have to say the military life agreed with you very nicely.”
“It wasn’t always as fun as what you and I got up to, but it was good for me,” I replied.
Chet averted his eyes as his fist clenched the fabric of my shirt. “In ways that I wasn’t good for you.”
I sighed. “It wasn’t you, it was the drugs. E-Ring’s so addicting, I never would have gotten through the withdrawals without Isul. I still get cravings sometimes. Especially when I see you.”
“We had some amazing highs,” Chet replied, his voice wistful.
“Highest highs and lowest lows,” I said with a frown. “Chet, are you still…?”
He shook his head. “Using? Nah. It lost its luster once you left. My parents sent me off to a rehabilitation camp on Miranda, and set me up with Silica to make sure I didn’t get into any more trouble.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “If you’d been using, it would have been an automatic disqualification.”
Chet popped up on my lap and kissed me. The pit of my stomach tingled like it always had when we kissed. When we parted, he said, “I’m so proud of you, Tris. Really, I am. And a tiny bit envious.”
“Envious? Of me?” I asked, disbelief in my voice. “By the Red Storm, why?”
Chet shrugged. “You’ve got an exciting future to look forward to. I’m afraid all my real excitement is stuck in the past.”
“You don’t have dreams for Enceladus?” I asked, wondering what he planned to do with his barony.
“Enceladus is an icy rock. Great water resources, but as boring as watching stars age,” Chet said.
“You could always build a pool,” I chided him.
A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Only if you promise to come swim naked in it.”
I swatted at Chet. He laughed and blocked me. “Hey, I know what I like.”
“And what is that, exactly?” I asked.
“You, your nice ass, and the idea of being your consort and helping you run the Empire,” Chet answered.
“Would you believe you’re the only qualified candidate left in the running?” I asked.
Chet winked then kissed my neck, in the spot only he knew I liked. “Lucky me, then.”