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This project was the result of the user Someone else. having way too much goddamned free time, a gigantic erection for the Salamanders, and an unbridled love of a happy ending.
The First Part
“If it hurt more, I would black out,” Venus groused, her face rammed between two pillows.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I said, rubbing the crease as gently as I could. The frigid green lubricant on my fingers was supposed to be soothing her back, though it apparently wasn’t working on her temper.
“Could have fooled me,” she said, fisting the sheets with a whimper.
I should explain.
A few weeks before I found myself massaging aloe into a hole in Lord Vulkan’s daughter’s back, I had attended a party at his house. Venus, my girlfriend and quite possibly, as far as I could tell, the best-looking biped in the Imperium, had “invited” me to drive her over there and stay for the whole affair, culminating in watching an unbelievably stupid horror movie that had to be as old as the planet, with Vulkan sniggering every few minutes at the commentary track. Venus had recited nearly the whole movie under her breath; this was clearly a well-worn ritual. All in all, a stressful evening.
It had turned out to be worth it, though. So, so very worth it.
The next weekend, I had taken Venus home to meet my own parents, who were smart enough to be almost worshipfully respectful of her, while at the same time picking up quickly that she found that sort of behavior distantly insulting. After dinner, I drove her out to the park on the edge of the rich district where she lived, and she and a few of her cousins were congregating for a party of their own, celebrating Isis’ team’s victory in the volleyball regionals. Venus wasn’t on the team; she was a swimmer, not a volleyball player. She had the body for it, too, toned like a pro. Muscular, but not beefy. She was trim, except her ample breasts, which she had grumbled about once or twice. She said they threw off her balance and hydrodynamics, not that any man who had ever met her minded.
The party held the air of triumph. I had mingled for a while, but I had been very uncomfortable surrounded by so many of the Imperium’s finest. The girls, I mean, the bodyguards I had long since grown used to from school.
Most of the royal girls had their boyfriends there too, so I was hardly alone, but I wasn’t used to it, and I had to excuse myself early.
“Aw, come on! It’s not even midnight!” Venus protested, as I walked back to where we had parked.
“We can stay a bit longer if you want,” I said, turning back, but she was already shaking her head.
“No…it’s fine. I can hitch a ride home with Freya. Do you have to, though?” she asked, looking at me sadly.
“Sorry, hon, but I just don’t fit in here. I feel like people are staring at me, waiting for me to fuck up and say something stupid,” I said, thinking of a few of the guys in particular. Looking at me as if I was going to embarrass THEM instead of just myself.
“Aw…well, all right,” she said, those bottomless red eyes dimming a bit. They really did tie into her emotions, then, just like the vids said about the Salamanders? I felt my heart seize up.
“Well, hey, I don’t want to be a buzzkill,” I started, but before I could finish, she slid her arms around mine and pulled me in, leaning her head against my shoulder for a long moment.
I wrapped my arms around her and just held her, savoring it. After far too little time, she pulled back a bit and stared at me for a second. Then…then, she leaned back in and kissed me. I thought I heard the music from the open pavilion stop for a second, but it may well have been time itself for all I could tell.
I was frozen stiff. After a moment, realizing that it wasn’t a fluke, she hadn’t just lost her footing and tripped on me, I locked my arms back around her, probably looking like a cheap toy, my arms all jerky and shaking. Her skin was hot, hot as a little flame, all over, probably another artifact of her Salamander heritage. All I could feel was her, there wasn’t any wind, gravity was a total myth, my keys in my pocket were weightless. After the best few seconds of my life thus far, she stepped back with a sly little grin. I stood there dumbstruck and flushed to the gills, waiting for my vocal cords to unlock and say something profound.
Smooth. I tried again.
“Uh. Thanks. Venus.”
Yep, I was Dante Alighieri. Master of language.
She bit her lip, then ran her tongue over her lips, as if she was trying to find words too. “No problem,” she said, nearly as unsteady-sounding as I was. Before I could lurch forward for an encore, she turned on her heel and bounced off, without even a ‘good bye.’ Well, I was in no shape to complain. I turned back to my aircar, fishing my keys out of my pants, which were abruptly a few sizes too small. I dug the right ones out and clambered in. After slapping the ignition button, I leaned against the car door for a second and ran my fingers over my lips.
Have you ever tried Slide? It’ll kill you, but to listen to the dealers, it’s almost worth it. Kevin, Furia’s boytoy, tried it once; he told me it was something like a ‘full-body priapism.’ After tasting Venus, though, who needed drugs? After a few pleasant seconds of remembering, I started the drive up and went on home, grinning like a complete idiot.
I don’t remember her acting very differently afterwards, for a few days, anyway. I saw her at school like I always did, but aside from having a lot more time for me between classes, she really didn’t act like anything had changed. After three days of that, I worked up the balls to ask her why. She was surprised, I remember that. “I don’t get it. What’s the problem?” she asked over lunch, sitting in the last pair of seats at the table with me. Farah was sitting a few seats down, trying very hard to pretend that she wasn’t listening, across from the twins, who weren’t even pretending.
“Not a problem. Just curious,” I said, as if it was not even a thing.
She looked at me quizzically, as if she was looking for a hook in the words. “I could promise not to ever do it again, if you want,” she said.
I whipped my head around so fast my hair could barely keep up. “Don’t you even dare. Don’t even joke about that. Fuck.” Farah smirked behind her sandwich.
Venus smiled. Her skin was as dark as an onyx chip, and so was her hair, but her eyes were brightly glowing red orbs, no retina or cornea that I could see. I can only imagine that the fact that she was Vulkan’s daughter spared her an endless torrent of bullying when she was little, before we were in the same class. I admit I found it a bit disturbing at first, but I got over it; she was smart and funny and as cute as I could hope. Plus, it made her easy to find in a crowd.
“I was kidding. I just didn’t want you to leave the party unhappy, that’s all. Really,” she said, sincerely.
I smiled back. “Thanks. You’re the best.”
She would have blushed, if her skin were light enough to see it. I reached down and squeezed her hand, and heard Farah cough on her drink. I hid a smirk.
A few more days went by, and the weekend rolled in. I didn’t have much planned, so I was kicking around the idea of calling a few friends from school and seeing if we could arrange a get-together when my mother stuck her head in my bedroom door, holding a vox. “Hey, Jake, call for you.”
“Yeah?” I stuck out my hand for it. “Who is it?”
“It’s Venus.” I perked up and grabbed the vox.
“Hey, Venus, what’s up?” My mother discreetly closed the door.
“I was wondering if you wanted to come over for a few hours,” she said. I loved her voice. How could a voice that deep sound so feminine?
“Sure! Be right over. What do you have in mind?” I asked, grabbing my keys.
“I wanted to show you what the place looks like when it isn’t crawling with nobles and rich people,” she said. I could see her smiling through the vox.
“Sounds like a plan. See you then.” I hung up and pulled my shoes on, jogging down the corridor of our crowded little apartment.
“What did she want?” my mother asked as I rounded the corner.
“She wanted to show me what her house looks like when there’s nobody else in it,” I said, tugging my vest off the peg and zipping it on. When she didn’t say anything, I looked back at her. Her mouth was hanging open, her eyes wide.
I realized what I had said. “Uh, not like that. She wanted me to see what the mansion looked like, because, you know, last time I was there it was, you know, the party. Right?”
She looked at me like I was daemonic for a second, then slowly shook her head. “Sure. We’ll go with that.”
A mere fifteen minutes later, I dropped the car on the pad outside her house and locked it. The front door was wide open, and Taxi came sprinting out like a bullet, slamming into me across the shins. I stumbled and nearly fell, but he lunged back and crouched a few feet away, barking like mad. “Taxi, you dumb slut, get over here!” Venus called from the door, arms crossed. The dog flinched, but ignored her, jumping at me again, sniffing at me like I had rolled in barbeque sauce before I drove over. Venus sighed impatiently and walked a few steps closer. The dog flipped out and took off, running up and down the driveway like a Blue Ork on a sugar buzz.
“Forget it, he’s in one of his moods,” Venus said, sighing in irritation. “Come on in.” Leaving the dog to his laps, I followed her into the mansion. The décor was more or less the same in the main room, but she wasn’t showing me that. She led me straight to the staircase into the basement at the end of the hallway, and into the first floor below ground.
It was a fully-equipped smithy. In hindsight, I don’t know why I was surprised – her father was Lord Forgefather, for fucks’ sake – but I was. She bounced on over to a rack of mystifying tools and pointed a few out. “Those ones are mine.”
“Yours?” I asked. “Really? You use these things?” I took in the forges and other equipment with a sweep of my hands.
“Sure. Dad taught me everything I know,” she said proudly. She hefted a well-worn hammer with one hand and twirled the haft effortlessly. “I make my own jewelry, too.”
“Really? Cool,” I said, stepping closer. She put the hammer down and lifted the small gold pendant around her neck. It glittered in the harsh, artificial lights of the smithy, setting off a yellow tint in the tiny red ruby in the middle. I’d seen the pendant before, of course, but it had never been more than a momentary diversion from the wonderful pair of breasts it was usually tucked between. I love our school uniform. The pendant was a drake’s head in profile, I saw, with the ruby set in the eye. I gently took it out of her hand and looked at it, genuinely impressed by the craftsmanship. Craftswomanship, I guess.
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
“Thanks,” she said, beaming, her teeth shining against her jet-black skin. “Dad gave me the ruby as a present, last time he went back to Nocturne. I should really go visit some day.”
I smiled and let the pendant fall back against her shirt. Sadly, she had chosen a much more conservative green long sleeve tee-shirt over the delightfully décolletage-revealing white uniform I usually saw her in. “Maybe I could go with you.”
She giggled and took a step back. “Maybe you could.” Maybe I was laying it on too thick; she turned around and continued the tour. “This one’s Dad’s. I don’t even touch it,” she said, gesturing at a massive black forge, easily half again the size of the smaller one she had shown me before. “I mean, I could barely even reach it if I tried, but it’s the principle of the thing.”
“Right,” I said drily. I had three inches on her and I doubt I could have even reached past the rack to the heating element. There was something on the anvil, I noticed, something gold. “What’s that?”
“Oh, Dad’s latest toy,” Venus said disapprovingly. “He’s always leaving things half-done around here. It’s irritating as hell, he told me never to do it but he does it all the time.”
“Grandpa was the same way,” I said, remembering the state the lab had been in when my father inherited it. I’ll probably have to be the one who finishes digging all the shit out of there, someday. “Packrat, he was.”
“Oh, Dad’s not a packrat, just a collector. You should see his trophy room,” Venus said, shifting her head as if her eyes were rolling. Like I said, it’s hard to tell.
Just then, I heard a faint beeping from one of the walls. Venus jogged over and tapped a recessed blue button next to a grille. “Hello?”
“Hey, Venus, what’s up?” Farah’s voice came from the wall.
“Showing Jake around the forge,” Venus said. Farah’s voice hitched.
“What? Which one?”
“The one in my basement, obviously,” Venus said sarcastically.
“I mean which Jake?” Farah said suspiciously.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Venus started, growling. Farah giggled.
“Relax, sister, I was kidding. Eh, that’s gonna be awkward.” I squeezed my eyes shut and massaged them, sighing. I had allowed myself to completely forget that Farah’s boyfriend was named Jake too…we had never even met outside of gym class, but I had a feeling the girls were going to ride that joke into the ground reeeeally fast.
“You are an asshole, you know that?” Venus said shortly.
“Yes. Yes, I do. We still on for Thursday? Roberta booked us a floor,” Farah asked. I looked at Venus curiously, but didn’t say anything.
“Hell yeah we are! I’ll bring my Jake and they can be awkward together,” Venus said, smirking at me.
“Good idea. I’ll let you get back to your booty call,” Farah said airily.
“Oh, FUCK YOU TO HELL,” Venus snarled into the grille.
“Tee hee hee haaah ahahahaha!” Farah’s voice cut off with a *click*.
Venus stared at the grille angrily before turning on me in a huff. “Booty call. Come on,” she grumbled.
“Well, I dunno, I like her suggestion a lot,” I said, straining to sound casual. Venus cocked her head and looked at me funny.
“Are you for real? Just…ugh,” she said, stomping over to the far side of the room.
I thought I was going to die, right there. Had I offended her that badly? I nearly ran over to where she was standing, still mumbling to herself. “I’m sorry, Venus, I didn’t mean to make this weird,” I said, desperately trying to salvage the conversation.
Her shoulders lifted and slowly fell as she exhaled. She turned around, back to normal. “It’s OK, I was just pissed off.” She squeezed my shoulder and pecked me on the cheek to show she meant it. “Really, I’m not weirded out. Come on,” she said, walked deeper into the forge room, “there’s more stuff I want to show you.”
The rest of the tour was far less eventful fortunately, though I still felt a bit awkward. As much of a tech geek as I was, I was blown away by the stuff Venus had in her basement. Well, her dad’s basement. I had visited Canstrides on Mars, where Grandpa used to work, and I thought I had seen what human technology could do, but Vulkan’s discarded experiments were enough to prove me wrong (I refuse to call them what Venus did: Vulkan Droppings. I’m fairly sure that would be treason).
The first floor and roof garden I had seen, but I hadn’t explored the top three floors, so Venus gave me the grand tour. The theater where I had watched “Attack of the Unliving Grox” was deserted, but the other rooms on the second floor looked like they saw more use anyway. Vulkan’s trophy room took up half of the floor, and was decorated with the kinds of stuff I thought people never stored outside of classified vaults on Luna. Venus pointed out a corroded-looking bolter behind a stasis field on one wall. “That’s the Blue Death, right there.”
I was stunned. “The Blue Death? The gun that killed Viscount Morring?”
“Yep,” Venus said proudly. “Dad was the one who captured the assassin. He got to keep the gun after the trial.”
“…Wow.” I was at a loss for words. I felt like I was violating someone’s privacy just by being there. Venus must have noticed.
“I dunno. I just feel weird looking at all this. Like I’m not allowed here,” I said uncomfortably.
Venus stood back a pace and crossed her arms. “The house is protected by twelve twin-linked storm bolters in underground pop-up turrets, and six dual-launch Sapper missile/cyclic macro-stubber turrets. There’s a laser wire around the estate hooked up to four different local Enforcer precincts and an Arbitrator Courthouse. The house has two escape tunnels and a bunker rated to eight kilotons. There’s a teleporter in Dad’s office that connects to the Imperial Palace Custodes garrison.” She smiled contentedly. “If Dad wasn’t cool with you being here, you wouldn’t be. Trust me.”
I must have looked even more out of my depth after that little recitation, because she huffed an impatient sigh and walked out, with me tugged along in her wake. “Jake, hon, really. It’s all right,” she said.
“Right. Sorry. I must look like a complete pussy right now,” I said, shaking myself down. She muttered something I didn’t catch. “What?”
“Forget it,” she said, bouncing up the next set of stairs. “The third floor is mostly studies and offices, for me and Dad. Want to see my room?”
Well, THAT got my attention. “Sure, I’d love to.”
“I bet,” she said wryly.
Her room was on the top floor, looking out over the edge of the district and the hive wall beyond it. Her suite was the biggest one, to my surprise. “This is yours? I thought the master bedroom was usually the biggest one in houses,” I said, inadvertently reminding her that I just lived in a hive.
“Usually, but Dad spends most of his time on Nocturne or at the Palace, for months at a time usually, so Mom said I should have the big one,” she said proudly. She pushed open her bedroom door and let me in.
Her room was bigger than my apartment. The bed alone had to be sixteen feet on a side, and she had an entertainment center nearly as big as the one downstairs on one wall. A very, very nice gaming rig occupied a table in the corner under the armourcrys window, and a skylight with wrought-metal framing was centered over the bed.
You could tell Vulkan had designed the place; the dragon motif of her jewelry was everywhere. The metalworking was covered in drake icons, and the blank red eye of the Salamander was on the corner of every table.
“Did you make the furniture yourself? It looks like your necklace,” I said, walking in.
“Yep! Well, not the bed, but the tables, yeah,” she said proudly. “We bought all the stuff in the bathroom, though.” I hadn’t noticed the door on the far side of the room. I was too busy staring at the furnishings. Venus wasn’t, and walked in and indicated the skylight. “Installing that was a complete nightmare, but totally worth it.”
“What is there to look at? You’re overshadowed by hives on all four sides, aren’t you?” I asked, leaning over the bed and trying to see through it.
“Nope, it’s a viewscreen. See?” She picked up a remote and tapped a button, and the skylight buzzed with static for a second before resolving into a picture of a moon orbiting a planet.
“Awesome. How many channels does it get?” I joked.
“Har har. It’s a looped picture of Prometheus and Nocturne,” she said, as if it were obvious to someone who had never even set foot outdoors until high school. “I can look at Dad’s homeworld whenever I want.”
“Scenic,” I said, still unable to quite see it in any detail.
“Go ahead,” she said, gesturing to the middle of the gargantuan bed. I hesitated as knowledge (and implications) of what she just said filtered through my brain. She must have noticed.
“Oh fine, don’t,” she said, full of mock annoyance. My knees unlocked and I kicked off my shoes, then waddled across the mattress that was bigger than my bathroom. I stopped under the screen and tilted my head back, impressed despite myself.
“It’s beautiful. What are the red lines on the planet?” I asked.
“Lava. The planet goes through massive tectonic upheavals every fifteen years or so. Every continent moves a bit when the moon gets too close,” she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“You made that? The whole screen, and the scrollwork, and everything?” I asked, pointing at the screen.
“Well, we bought the actual SCREEN, but I made everything else, yeah. Took me like eight tries,” she said grumpily, kicking her own shoes off and knee-walking over to me. “The last thing I wanted to do was look up at bad work every night.”
I barely heard her, to be honest. She was…maybe a foot away from me. On her bed. With the house to ourselves. My heartbeat was echoing in my ears so loud that I thought there was someone with a subwoofer on in the next room.
“Cool,” I managed, hoping to high hell she didn’t look below my waist. It didn’t matter much. She flopped down on her back and stared at the screen, and I managed to arrange my legs such that my rapt attention was well concealed, though in hindsight I’m sure she could tell what was up.
“I leave it on every night,” she said, smiling up at the cosmic display. “It’s nice to see, you know? To see where I came from.”
“You mean Lord Vulkan? Or…I mean, I thought you were born on Terra,” I said, crossing my legs with some effort and sitting next to her on the bedspread.
“What? No. I was born on Nocturne,” she said, waving at the display.
“Oh. Well, oh, ok, I just thought you weren’t, when we were in the trophy room you said you should go visit,” I said, babbling.
She didn’t seem to mind. “I moved here when I was two. I don’t remember it. Dad goes back all the time, but it’s usually to induct a fresh batch of Initiates or marshal a campaign. I’ve never been back,” she said gloomily. “Mom was born on Terra, but she transferred to Nocturne’s Imperial Administratum office.”
I nodded, trying to keep my voice casual. “Oh, ok. Cool. Did she work for the Salamanders or something?” I asked stupidly, then slapped my hand over my mouth in instant regret.
She looked at me, eyes wide in surprise. “What is up with you?”
“Sorry, sorry…that was none of my business, Venus, my bad,” I said contritely. She snorted.
“I don’t give a fuck. It’s public record, you could go bother some Adept at the Archives about it if it mattered that much to you. No, they met years after that, after the Project started.”
“Project?” I asked, confused. “What Project? The Grand Crusade ending?”
“No, that was before even that. I mean the Progenitor Project,” she said. I shook my head, still confused.
“Yeah, you know.
The Second Part
Now it was my turn to stare. “W…what?”
Venus quirked an eyebrow. “Farah didn’t tell you when you two met? I’ve never told you either?”
“Told me what?” I asked, completely in the dark.
“Oh. Uh, well…Grandpa, the Emperor, decided that Dad and my uncles needed something to do when the Crusade was over. It had lasted centuries longer than even the worst-case scenarios predicted, you know, and the death toll for Eldar and Humans alike was just obscene. Grandpa figured that Dad and the other Primarchs would need something that gave them emotional attachments to the territories they conquered or they would basically stay on a war footing forever, which is never a good thing. So,” she said, propping herself up on her elbows and staring at me as I gaped at her, “he used the same archive he used to create the Astartes Legions to basically make a second batch of Primarchs. Only they weren’t generals.”
“You were family,” I said numbly. “An emotional anchor.” How the hell had I not known this? “Was it public knowledge?”
“Oh FUCK no, it would have been the biggest possible target for the enemies of the Imperium. Can you imagine what would have happened to the Imperium if the Emperor let the second batch of Primarchs get stolen like the first? It would have been a permanent stain on morale. So he let the Crusade wind down slowly, you know, adding a few more seats to the Astronomican’s Choir so the maximum range of the Navigators got bigger and there ‘just a few more’ systems to conquer until he was done with the Project, then he basically ordered Dad and my uncles to go and start a family.”
“Not literally,” she continued, scooting a few inches closer to me and dropping back down on the wide mattress. “But in spirit, at least. Not a problem for Uncle Roboute, who was already married, or Dad, since he was engaged to Mom already, but…well, those are their stories, I won’t tell them. But there you go.”
“But you said you were born on Nocturne,” I said, confused.
“I was, kind of. Decanted, maybe,” she said, shrugging as if she was discussing nothing more important than choosing the red or blue protein bars in the cafeteria at school. I stared at her, the weirdest feeling of displacement crawling through me, prickling my skin.
“So…so it’s not something that was announced, even when it was over? Nobody knows but you and your families?”
“And whoever the Twins have told, or Farah, that blabbermouth,” Venus trailed off, muttering.
“And you’re telling me?” I asked, shocked, my sense of unease crystallizing into fear.
It was Venus’ turn to stare, again. “That’s not creepy, for you, is it? That I’m, you know, vat-born?”
“Creepy? No, I don’t mind, but…fuck! I can barely keep a secret, what if I slip up or something and tell someone who doesn’t already know? Or whatever?” I said in shock, sitting up. “Are even you allowed to tell me? Is this going to get the Custodes on my-”
“Whoa whoa whoa, Jake, chill the hell out,” she said, pushing me back down and dropping her torso bodily over mine, pinning me in place. I imagine under more or less any other circumstances that would have been arousing as hell, but as it was, it barely calmed me down.
“Jake, I’m telling you because I trust you. OK?”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” I said nervously. “I can’t keep secrets at all, you know me.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do know you,” she said, narrowing her eyes. Then, as if in a token acknowledgement of where we were and how we were physically arranged, she planted her hands on either side of my shoulders and kissed me. I slid my arms up hers, trying to…I don’t know, keep talking maybe? Then my brain switched back on and I squeezed her own shoulders, gently pulling her down, so she couldn’t return to her senses and stop.
It didn’t work. She broke contact and lifted her head up a fraction. I opened my eyes and saw that hers were still closed, with nothing but a faint red glow lighting the lids. She stuck out her tongue a bit and ran it over my lips, as if checking for something, then cracked her eyes open. All I could see of her was a tiny pair of red slits in her face; she was blocking the light from the viewscreen and the lights.
She eased her head back down and planted her lips on mine again, gentler. I wrapped my arms around her back and laced my fingers behind her neck, not pulling, just resting there. She breathed in slowly, and let it out as she craned her head back again, smiling.
“I trust you with more than my heroic origin story, all right, Jake? Believe me,” she said languidly. She broke my grip on her neck with an effortless tug. “I told you because I trust you, and I love you, and because if you think of it as a secret to share with me, and not a secret to keep to yourself, I know you’ll never tell anyone. You think my cousins never tell anybody either? Or my uncles?”
I wasn’t actually thinking about her family, to be entirely honest. Or at all. I was just lying there, my face locked in neutral mode, my brain firing on every possible circuit.
She tilted her head a bit. Her hair fell across my forehead. “You sure you’re all right?” she asked.
“Never better,” I croaked. She giggled and shifted a few inches back from me, then set her head down on my chest. I reached down and slid my hands down her arms again, and she caught my hands with her own.
We must have laid there for almost ten minutes, her inscrutable from where I was lying, and me reflecting on how awesome I was. After about that long, though, she sat back up and stretched. “So…any questions?” she asked, mimicking our chemistry teacher’s voice.
I laughed, coughed, and tried again. “Uh…not really. But, hey, Venus…come here.” I sat up too, and shifted my legs under me. I reached out and slid my arms under hers, and pulled her in for a hug. “I love you too. Really. Thanks for trusting me with this.”
“My pleasure,” she said contentedly, leaning her head on my shoulder and smiling. “So…hey, what time is it?”
I glanced over her shoulder to the tiny LCD clock on her bedside table. “Uh, 1348.”
“What? Thought it would be later. Well, I don’t want to waste-” she started to say, pulling away from me.
Waste? Oh, no. No no no no. Nothing we did in that room was ‘waste.’ I didn’t even let her finish. I clenched my hands on her back and stopped her. Before she could say another word, I took the offensive, locking my lips over her in a rushed, though if I dare say, effective echo of her own attack earlier. I twisted my shoulders a bit, and we toppled over on the huge bedspread. She made a muffled squeak of surprise, but didn’t try to pull back again.
I slipped both hands around her back and pulled her body flush against mine from the stomach up, never even pausing to breathe. She did the same, and one-upped me, sliding her leg between mine and entwining them.
Well, that was pretty great, too. I wouldn’t have stopped what I was doing, ever, were it not for my pesky lungs. I had to pull back, panting, after a few more seconds. She lay there, staring at me, not even breathy. “ ‘Waste my time?’” I asked, trying to keep my voice down. “Never."
She stared at me, a small smile slowly creasing her lips. “Well, if you put it that way,” she said, mirth creeping into her voice. She disentangled herself from me and rolled away. I thought we were done.
We weren’t done.
She immediately shuffled back, pressing her back against me from head to toe. I slid my arms around her waist and hugged her across the stomach as she pulled her shoulder-length hair up out of my face, snuggling back against me. I could hardly try to hide my rampaging erection at this point, obviously, so I didn’t try, I just held still against her back and hoped she didn’t mind.
Fortunately, she didn’t. “You’re a bold one, aren’t you?” she asked, giggling.
“I told you I never even touched Dad’s tools, but here you are, stealing one and hiding it in your jeans, and hoping I wouldn’t notice. Shame on you,” she said, mock-sternly.
“Funny,” I said tightly, trying to determine if she was coming onto me or just poking fun.
“I know,” she said. Poking fun then. Oh well.
She reached up and grabbed a flat throw pillow from the head of the bed, and snugged it under both our heads. That accomplished, she wrapped her own hands over mine and lay still.
I lay there, spooning against her, for probably ten more minutes, before I noticed her breathing was getting louder. I raised my head up over hers, and sure enough, her eyes were closed, and her breaths were drawn and even. She was fast asleep. I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered that she had felt so comfortable in my arms, or insulted that she had done it so fast.
Well, whatever. Time to find out if she snored. I lay there a bit longer, watching the moon and planet over our heads, almost motionless, until I had satisfied my curiosity, and decided she didn’t. I gently extricated my hands and legs from hers and rolled her onto her back as gently as I could without waking her up.
Now, I’d like to think of myself as a fair, reasonable kinda guy. I never even think of the worst possible thing to do in any given situation, most of the time. Still, her lying there, fast asleep, was easily the most intensely arousing thing I had ever seen in my life, and it was all I could do keep my fingers from tracing the outline of her nipples on the green fabric of her shirt. That said, I retained enough sanity through the dense fog of hormones in my brain to know that that would be a cataclysmically bad idea, so instead, I allowed myself a last, lingering look, and crept off the bed. I tugged on my shoes and tiptoed out the door, closing it behind me and wondering if I would be overstaying my welcome if I stopped in the bathroom on my way out. I glanced side to side, wondering where it was on this floor-
Vulkan was standing a few feet away.
I stood there like an idiot for several seconds, in which he didn’t move a micron, except to plant his dinner-plate sized hands on his hips and look terrifying. Then again, any ten-foot-tall, onyx-skinned, glowing-eyed man looks kind of terrifying without trying, so I didn’t really notice. I wondered if he would become less scary with the passage of time, as I got to see him more often, then realized that probably wasn’t going to happen, because he was going to kill me to death right there, and my miserable soul would be marinating in the Warp before I could even have time to pose for a holo.
Now…what could I say to avert that fate? I thought for a moment. “Hi.”
Like I said, I’m a master of language.
“Hi,” he said flatly. He drew his hands up from his hips and crossed his arms over his gold and white Imperial military dress shirt, staring down at me.
I tried again. “Lord Vulkan, I’m-”
“-About to explain why you’re creeping out of my daughter’s room,” he finished helpfully.
“Yes. That. Well, you know, Lord, I don’t want to wake her up,” I said, a surreal sense of finality saturating my voice.
“‘Wake her up?’” he echoed, raising his eyebrows, his eyes flashing terribly.
“Well, yeah, sir. She’s asleep. You know, sleeping…” my voice gave out on me. I kept going. “We kind of drifted off.”
“You don’t say.” He wasn’t killing me, so I had to be doing something right.
“Well, yeah, she fell asleep after we were done.” Oh no no no no no. “With the tour, I mean.”
“What tour?” he asked in an exaggeratedly polite tone.
“She invited me over to tour the premises, my Lord,” I said, my sweat glands awakening to what was going on. I shifted a bit as I felt a trickle run down my neck. “She was showing me the viewscreen on her bedroom ceiling when she fell asleep on the bed.”
“Oh, all right,” he said, his tone deepening a bit more, somehow. “She just happened to do so without asking me first?”
I was getting a bit scared on her behalf, too, at this point. “She said she asked you first, my Lord,” I said defensively. His eyebrows shot up, and he tilted his head forward in surprise at my tone, which I would have cursed at were it not for the chance he would have taken sudden profanity the wrong way.
After letting me sweat for another moment, he smiled, unclenching his arms and smirking. “She did, I was just wondering if she told you.”
I stood there staring for a few more seconds before my nerves caught up and I nearly fell back against the door. “You…you were fucking with me?” I asked, blessed relief getting ahead of my tongue.
“Well, now, that depends. If I open that door, will I see my daughter fully dressed?” he asked, his tone darkening again.
“As far as I know, my Lord,” I managed.
“All right then. See you around,” he said, walking on down the hallway to his own room. I stared at him, completely beyond my normal range of emotions at that point.
The door opened behind me and I nearly jumped through my skin. Venus walked out, wiping sleep from her eyes. “Hey, Jake, did I hear Dad just now?”
“Y…yeah,” I stammered, my heart still pounding like an autocannon. She looked at me, confused.
“He pretended he didn’t know I was coming over and nearly scared my soul out,” I said, leaning against the doorframe for support before my knees betrayed me.
“WHAT?” she yelled, startling me again. Before I could say a word – or even attempt to stop her – she stomped down the hall after her royal father. She pried his door open and stormed in.
“Hello, Venus, what’s – ow! What was that for – ow! What the hell? Knock it off!” Vulkan’s voice drifted out through his door, interspersed with what sounded like a few punches to the arm.
“Dad you asshole, I told you not to scare Jake like that!” Venus yelled, sounding genuinely pissed off.
“What? All I did was ask a few questions –ow!”
“Questions? He’s white as a sheet! Jake, get in here!” she called through the open door.
“No, no, that’s all right, I’m gonna stay out here and…not die,” I said, running my hand over my pounding heart.
“DAD YOU JERK”
“Ow! Okay, okay, I’m sorry. You never let me have any fun. Sorry Jake!” he said a bit louder.
“No…harm done, Lord,” I managed, and slunk back into Venus’ room.
A few minutes later, she came barging back in and slammed the door. “I swear he’s more trouble than he’s worth,” she growled, her eyes flashing brighter than I had ever seen them.
“I imagine I’ll look back on this and laugh,” I said, feeling the cold spiking sensation of fading adrenaline in my fingers. I sat down on the edge of her bed and stared at the carpet.
Her voice paused for a moment. I looked up and saw her looking at me contemplatively. “Jake, I meant it. I love you. I made Dad promise he wouldn’t do that anymore. Really. I’m sorry.”
I smiled a bit and sat back on the bed a little farther. “I know. I love you too. It’s OK.”
She smiled back and sat lengthwise across my lap. “Good to hear.” She snuggled her head down on my shoulder. I slid my hands under her thighs and wiggled her up against my stomach, and she cooed happily. “Hey, Jake. Did you think about the thing on Thursday?” she asked after a calming moment. “What? The thing Farah mentioned?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She tugged loose of me and walked over to the pair of desk chairs at her computer table.
“I don’t know what sort of a thing it is,” I asserted. Funny how snuggling with Venus restores one’s charisma.
“Roberta’s booking the ballroom at the Cordovum Hotel. Officially, it’s the date we chose to celebrate our birthdays, since we don’t get the chance to get all nineteen of us together outside school much. Unofficially…well, you know. ‘Decanting-day’ isn’t something they make cards for, I don’t think,” she mused, rubbing her chin.
She was trying to weird me out, I could tell. “I’m surprised you can be so cavalier about that,” I said.
“Why?” she countered, grabbing a fresh pair of socks off a table and pulling them on. “It is what it is, I can’t change it. Why dwell?”
“Well, I guess. Uh, sure, I’d love to come. When is it? And what’s the cover?” I asked, taking her queue and tying my shoes back on.
“Thursday at six, dinner will be served. No cover, Roberta’s got it,” she said.
I blinked in surprise. “Really?”
“Roberta could buy the hotel and the hab block it’s built in,” she said, something funny in her tone. Bitterness?
“Right,” I said, resolving not to step on that landmine in addition to all the other crazy shit that happened to me since I arrived. I finished tying my shoes on and stood, still feeling a bit wobbly. “So…I’m just gonna head out.”
“What? Why?” Venus asked in surprise.
“I, uh, thought we were leaving.”
“No. You want to stay for dinner?” she asked.
“I’d…sure, thank you,” I said, surprised. “Uh, just so that I don’t, you know, die…Lord Vulkan was kidding, right?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, YES!” she said, exasperated.
“All right, just making sure. It was hard to tell.”
“And he won’t do it again if he values his life,” Venus said angrily, standing up. “Anyway. Dinner probably won’t be until 1800, so…want to watch a movie in the theater again?”
“Mmm…actually, if you don’t mind, can we just walk around the grounds a bit?” I asked. I felt like I needed to get out of the house for a while, and, in honesty, anything to get to see real outdoors. Living in a hive adjacent to a place this nice is a pain, sometimes. “And, can I use your bathroom first?”
The bathroom attached to her bedroom was larger than my bathroom and bedroom combined. I have to admit, when I was in there, the word “profligacy” wandered through my head. I tried very hard to ignore it.
The tub was a full-size hot tub, which could easily have seated six or seven people. The shower next to it was a four-head, and the stall looked big enough to accommodate at least as many. There was a laundry servitor slot next to the sink, which was about the only thing in the room that wasn’t huge. The toilet and bidet themselves were behind a waist-high wall in the corner, so it actually took me a minute to even find them.
When I came out, Venus had already put on her shoes and jacket. “What, did you fall in?”
“Hurr hurr hurr,” I replied. “I would have been sooner, but someone decided to hide the toilet.” I sat down on the bed and pulled my jacket back on.
“Oh…yeah, I should have mentioned that,” she said idly. The two of us walked back down to the ground floor and out the front door, past Taxi, who was out cold on the porch.
The grounds were well maintained, but now that Venus had mentioned it, I could see where a few of the turrets she had mentioned were hidden. Square depressions in the ankle-deep grass betrayed where the weapons lay, and we avoided them on our way around.
We weren’t talkative, and what we did talk about was just bullshit, school and life. As we approached the cover of a small thicket of trees (and how they grew in the shadow of a hive wall I’ll never know), Venus slowed down and pointed out a small monument in the copse.
“My Dad built that. It’s to remember the First Sons, the Terran volunteers who first enlisted in the Salamanders before he was given control. Fewer than twenty of them lived to see the Crusade end, out of over ten thousand.”
I stared at the monument. “Wow. That’s depressing…” I sat down on a wrought-iron chair facing the black monolith, and Venus leaned on the edge of the seat back. The metal block stuck out of the ground like a plinth for a column that had been eroded by time, until nothing remained but the foundation. Fitting imagery for a Space Marine Legion, I supposed; the original Legion had been destroyed and replaced during the horrors of the Crusade, and reforged stronger.
Venus sank down onto my lap, staring up at the hive wall. “This is about the only place back here where I can’t see the house.” She smiled at me from a few inches away. “Can’t tell you how many times I’ve come out here to do homework. I’m way too easily distracted to do it in the house.”
“I usually just stay after at school,” I said, sliding my arms around her waist and snugging her head on my shoulder. “I drive home if I need to. If I had a place like this, though, I might use it.” She nodded, just enjoying the quiet. It was hard to imagine that there were several billion people on the other side of the massive wall a few dozen feet to the north. I had to wonder if any of them didn’t know that the Primarch’s mansion was just a few hundred feet away from their self-contained universe.
Then I had to stop and mentally smack myself. I fucking lived in that hive; my elementary and middle schools were in there, I was probably going to die in there. Was I so conditioned by being outside for school and hanging out with Venus that I had stopped thinking of myself as a hiver?
For that matter, when did I become so used to this sort of proximity to her? I didn’t mind – believe me – but I had barely even noticed it at first. We had just been making out on her bed; did her father’s ninja trick spook me that badly? Whatever the case, she didn’t stay there long enough for it to get awkward. After a minute of the two of us sitting there in the shadow of the hive wall, she stood up and stretched. “Hey, I just remembered. We have about four hours before dinner. Do you want to go on another tour?”
“Of the house?” I asked, standing up and following her back.
“No, of the Salamander training outpost here on Terra,” she said nonchalantly.
I stopped cold. “…Are you serious?”
She looked back at me over her shoulder. “Yeesssss…why wouldn’t I be?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Venus, baby, I’m not in the military,” I said, stepping forward, trying to impart just how out of my depth I felt. “Your house is one thing, an Astartes base is another. Can even you get us in?”
“Well, I’d have to ask Dad, but I think he’d say yes,” she said. “But if you think you’d be uncomfortable, we don’t have to.”
“Thanks,” I said, sighing in relief. “I really appreciate it, but I’d feel awkward as hell.”
Venus nodded slowly, thinking. After a moment, she slowly headed for the house, still lost in thought. After a few minutes passed in silence, and the house was looming over us, she stopped and looked at me pensively.
“Jake, can I ask you something kinda personal?” she asked. Well, that’s always a good thing to hear when you’re already feeling apprehensive.
“Sure,” I said, steeling myself.
“Why are you so nervous around Dad when he specifically told you at the party that he didn’t want you to be?” she asked. I felt my shoulders slump in frustration.
“Venus…he’s an intimidating guy on his own. Forget the fact that he’s over a thousand years old. Forget the fact that he’s your father, which is scary enough. He’s a noble, and that means I feel like I have to watch my tongue around him even if he did say I didn’t have to. And-”
Venus held up a hand to stop me. I was anxious enough to keep going, but she interrupted. “Okay. I’m sorry. I just don’t want you to feel like you need to watch your step around my family.” She leaned back on one foot and jerked her head at the building. “When I met your parents, they didn’t know how to react around me. I was sort of expecting it, but it gets old fast. My parents really like you, Jake. If you treat them like family, they’ll do the same.”
I nodded, trying to picture myself fitting in with her family. It wasn’t easy. “I’ll try.”
“All I can ask for,” she said.
We spent the rest of the time before dinner watching some shitty holo film about vampires, which I don’t even really remember. I did call my parents as soon as we got back in the house, letting them know that I wouldn’t be home for dinner. The meal itself was surreal in the extreme. The food was great, of course, Misja was a good cook, but the same sense of displacement I had felt at the party was still there. Venus noticed, and sent me an encouraging smile or two as the meal wore on. Vulkan himself was only there for a while, apparently whatever had called him to the Palace that day would need his attention that evening as well. The brief interrogation he gave me was memorable, though.
“So, Jake,” he said, subtle as a blow to the skull. “I heard Venus offered to take you on a tour of the Salamanders base here on Terra,” he said, devouring his turkey. “You turned her down?”
I paused, nervous. Venus glanced at me sidelong, but didn’t say a word.
“Yeah, I felt like I would be intruding on something. I’m not a warrior,” I said, keeping her advice in mind.
“Well, neither is she, but she never feels out of place there,” he said, nodding at his own wisdom.
“Dad, I’ve been going there for stuff since I was two,” she put in.
“True,” he said, shrugging.
“I was honored, don’t get me wrong, sir, but…I mean, even the PDF doesn’t get to go to Astartes bases,” I said.
“Well, it’s your choice,” he said, nonchalantly. The butler servitor trundled up and deposited a few small pretzel rolls on a dish near the edge of the table. Misja passed it around and I grabbed one, hoping that Vulkan wouldn’t ask more questions.
I decided to take the initiative. “Well, if I may, sir, what do you need to head off to the Palace for again?”
“Oh, the damned Green Fangs are threatening the Segmentum Tempestus shipyards at Corlsic III again,” he grumbled. “Wouldn’t even be an Astartes problem if the Navy could figure out where the scum were breeding.”
“Orks, then,” I ventured, as if I had a damn clue what I was talking about. “Don’t the shipyards have guards?”
“Oh, naturally, an entire subsector fleet, but Orks are annoying like that,” Vulkan muttered. “Hell, I may have to go out there and take command.”
Well, THAT got Venus’s attention. “Whoa, wait, Dad, what? You’re leaving again?” she said in surprise, sounding distinctly hurt.
“Probably not, the Navy guys can clean up after themselves, but you never know,” he hedged. She just sat there looking hurt.
“Dad, I really hope you found about this today,” she said. “I wouldn’t feel in the loop here if you knew earlier but didn’t tell me.”
“Yeah, I did. Don’t look at me like that,” he said sternly.
I thought I felt awkward before…
The Third Part
After dinner, Vulkan took off like a shot, heading straight for the Astral Channels Teleportorae in the Palace, to attend a meeting on the subject on Luna. Even with Misja’s (and Venus’s) objections to the contrary, I still felt like I was intruding there, though at least I didn’t feel like I was unwelcome any more. Venus walked me out to my car afterwards, when the entire area was pitch black, thanks to the hive shadows.
“Hey, Jake, thanks, for coming over,” she said. “I’m glad you can feel more comfortable around Mom and Dad now.”
“Yeah, and I’m sorry I locked up like that. I wasn’t trying to embarrass you in there,” I said, fishing out my keys.
“Oh, you didn’t.” Her voice paused, and the red glow of her eyes dimmed to slits. “To be honest, I think the very end of the tour almost made up for the awkwardness afterward.” I could hear a mischievous smile on her lips as she said it.
I thought back to those happy few minutes in her room and found myself smiling too. “I’m…inclined to agree, actually. We should do this again sometime,” I said, all braggadocio.
“Hey, there’s a thought,” she said, playing along. I opened the door of my aircar and paused, about to say something even dumber, no doubt, when her arms slid around my waist. I dropped my keys on the seat behind me and returned the hug, tugging her up against me.
She pushed back, and my shoulders bumped against the frame of the car. She pulled back a hair, and I saw those endless red eyes close entirely. My heart was hammering through my ribcage, and I’m sure she could even hear it with those augmented ears. She leaned back in and kissed me, slowly sliding her hands from my waist up to my shoulders. It would have been downright rude of me not to reciprocate.
I ran my own hands up her back to the base of her neck and cupped them, pressing her head against mine. She made a tiny noise of approval, not that I could hear it very well with my pulse roaring like that. I slid my tongue against her lips and she relented, sucking my tongue into her mouth. I had thought the rest of her felt hot to the touch…
She broke for air, and I was probably panting too. Her eyes were still shut, only the very faintest red glow through the lids betraying their location. I felt her breath on my cheek as she leaned back in. “In fact, it’s a good thought. I suspect we should act on it,” she said, her voice rough. It took me a moment to realize she was continuing what she was saying before.
“I’ll think about it,” I said. I was trying to sound thoughtful, as if NOT continuing was even an option at that point. In hindsight, I’m sure I just sounded like I was overheating.
“You do that,” she whispered, planting one foot on the edge of the car’s doorframe, pressing it flush against my leg. I slid my hand down to where her leg pressed against mine, and hugged it close.
To my complete and eternal disappointment, she stepped back after a moment. “In fact,” she said, feigning nonchalance, “are you busy tomorrow?”
“No,” I said, glad it was still dark. I was long past caring if she knew I was hard, but I was so flushed I was sure I looked like some freshman who just found out where the girl’s locker room was. “Did you have something in mind?”
She giggled, her eyes opening back up. “Yeah…I’ll call you around lunch if that’s OK.”
“That’s great. I’m looking forward to it,” I said, confidence reasserting itself.
“I can tell. See you tomorrow,” she said, and her eyes vanished as she turned back to the house.
I sank down onto the seat of the aircar, nearly impaling myself on my keys, and started the engine. By the time I was home, I at least looked like nothing had happened. My Mother greeted me when I walked in, looking like an Inquisitor ready to pass judgment.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“Eventfully,” I said honestly.
Well, I managed to fall asleep eventually, and right on time, Venus called the following day. I was hovering over the phone like a carrion glider, of course. “Hey, baby, what’s up?” she asked, sounding pretty distracted.
“Nothing. Want me to come over again?” I asked, glad I had the room to myself.
“Actually…no. Something came up,” she said, sounding distinctly unhappy.
“What? What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned and distinctly disappointed. So much for round two.
“Well…not WRONG per se, but unexpected. Dad’s hosting a few Fire Drake officers here today for a brief service. I didn’t even check the calendar, damn it, I should have before I talked to you last night. I mean, you can still come over if you want, but…”
“But yeah, Astartes standing around the house looking somber. Not my cup of tanna,” I said, grateful for her sensitivity.
“Okay. Hey, the day’s not wasted, though. Did you finish the chemistry assignment yet?” she asked, referring to the graduation prep exam take-home segment.
“Yeah, I did, last night after I came home. Didn’t want it hanging over today, you know,” I said.
“Me too. So, I was thinking, in the absence of the homework,” she said, and I could practically HEAR her rolling her eyes, “do you want to go visit that museum that just opened instead? I’ve been looking for an excuse to go for weeks.”
“Oh…sure,” I said, thinking it over. “Sounds like fun. Should I come pick you up?”
“No, I’ll-” her voice cut off, with a scuffling sound and muted conversation audible over the line.
“Baby, what’s up?” I asked after a second.
“Sorry. Dad asked me something. I’ll pick you up, your hive is on a straight line between my house and the Palace.”
“Sure, that works. See you then.”
We said our goodbyes and hung up, and I was pulling my boots on when realization struck. The Palace? What? I picked up the vox and called her back to confirm, but only got the machine. Damn.
Oh well. I’d figure out what was going on soon enough. I finished getting ready and strolled out the door to the end of the hab row, where the aircar parking lots were. I scanned the indoor sky idly, wondering which car was hers.
I didn’t have to guess. Within ten minutes, a fucking HUGE air limo pulled up in front of me. The gull-wing door slid open, and Venus enthusiastically waved at me from inside. “Hey, you, get in here!” she said breezily. I tried not to stare.
“Venus…nice ride,” I said, dumbfounded. She had never ridden THIS to school.
“Well, it’s Dad’s, but I’m borrowing it,” she said, oblivious to sarcasm. She was sitting in the back of the passenger compartment, and I clambered in, the other people in the lot staring. They probably thought I was on my way to a drug deal or something.
Well, nobody said I wasn’t going to be traveling in style. I sat down on the luxurious cushions, and looked at Venus expectantly. “So…what’s the occasion? And am I underdressed?” I asked, making a show of looking myself over.
“Hah, no, you’re good. We’re going in the back,” she said disdainfully.
I stared at her. “What? Why would you go in the museum by the back entrance?”
“Because the front is always drowning in tourists and paparazzi, and if I’m borrowing Dad’s limo, I may as well get to use it,” she said, grinning smugly. “Who’s going to challenge him?”
“Wait, you mean the Palace? Is there a museum in the Palace?” I asked.
“Well, there is now,” she said. “One of the Emperor’s trophy rooms was cleaned up a bit and put on display.”
“Oh…well, that should be interesting,” I said, thinking it over.
“Yeah, not even I’ve been in,” she said, absently picking up the remote for the holoscreen on the back of the compartment.
We drove through the skylanes until we reached the Palace, a good fifteen minute flight. I looked out the tinted windows at the building and marveled at the sheer size of it; I literally couldn’t see the end of it from the middle, even at five hundred feet. If anything, I knew that was an understatement of its size, the structure extended for nearly a kilometer under the Earth. It was a geometric nightmare, but it had a strange magnificence to it, a grandeur that far eclipsed that of a hive, even if the hive was far larger. It wasn’t hard to see Rogal Dorn’s hand in its design.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, staring at the towers flashing under us.
“Isn’t it?” Venus asked. She moved over to sit next to me, staring out the window. “I never get tired of that view.” She tapped the window to indicate one flat-topped building near the very edge of our view. “That’s where we’re headed.”
The aircar arced towards the tower, until we settled down on the roof of the structure. The driver opened the door, and I stepped out on the roof of the Palace of the Imperium.
The view was gorgeous, all the muted yellows and golds of the building’s trim mingled with the greys and whites of the walls. There were Imperial lightning and Aquila icons emblazoned on several of the gleaming structures, but not on this rooftop. On this building, there was a lovely rooftop garden, complete with several small conversation circles and some vine-covered arbors.
“I wonder who finds time to tend to these plants up here?” I asked, stretching my back with a *pop*.
“Someone gets paid to do it, I’m sure,” Venus said, looking around. A quintet of PDF troopers in gold-chased formal uniforms came marching up to us, arms at standard. They came to a perfectly timed halt in front of her, snapping to a salute.
“Lady Venus, it is an honor,” their leader began. “How may I serve you?”
I glanced back at Venus to see how she was taking it, and paused. Somehow, despite not physically changing at all, she was a different woman. She was standing a bit straighter, her eyes even and gauging, hands clasped at her back. Beyond that, though, she was just…different. I’m no soldier, but I knew one when I saw one.
My Venus was a soldier at that moment.
“Staff Sergeant,” she said, nodding to acknowledge them. “I’m here for the tour of the Emperor’s new Victory Ward.”
The Sergeant bowed his head for a moment. “My deepest apologies, my Lady, but the Ward has been sealed temporarily. The Emperor wanted to examine the guest list for the first showing and found several names added he did not approve himself.”
“Was one of them Jacob Seager?” she asked, indicating me.
“Yes, my Lady, though Lord Vulkan added his approval to your…guest’s name personally, and the Emperor accepted it. Several other names appear to have been added without authorization, however,” the Sergeant said, as if noticing me for the first time.
“I see. We can’t go in, then,” she said. “Well, let us know when it’s opened.”
“Aye, ma’am. We will. Is there anything else we can do for you until then?” the Sergeant asked.
“Just allow us privacy, Sergeant,” she said, in a clear dismissal. The PDF trooper snapped off a salute.
“As you wish, ma’am.” The five troops turned on their heels and marched off. I waited until they were out of earshot before I said anything.
“Well, that was different.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said diffidently, cricking her neck and grumbling. “I don’t mind the ceremony, though.”
“You looked good. Very martial,” I teased.
“I hope so, Dad insisted I be able to look like nobility if I needed to,” Venus said in mild irritation. She walked on over to the small circle of furniture and potted plants at the center of the garden as our car arced off into the air. “Thanks, though.”
After bullshitting around in the garden for a while, talking about that awesome new gaming rig I saw in Venus’ room, the guards came back and told us the Emperor had unsealed the Ward for us to visit. We were right on top of it and the other people on the guest list had to walk through a labyrinth of corridors before they could even get to it, though, so we basically had the place to ourselves, beyond the occasional guard. On the way down the stairs, Venus couldn’t resist dragging me around like a tourist, showing me everything that caught her eye.
“Wow. I can’t believe Grandpa never showed me this,” Venus said, looking as wide-eyed as me from taking in all the trophies we passed.
“Where did he even find half of this stuff?” I asked, staring at rack after rack of neatly labeled artifacts. I saw what I recognized as a Dark Eldar pulse rifle, stacks of Ork bitz that looked like they had been carved from their owners, and a small, liquid blob of metal that twitched occasionally as if housing an insect.
“Well, he did lead the Crusades personally for hundreds of years,” Venus pointed out. She looked around the museum for a second, spotting a small herd of people walking in one level down. She walked over to the edge of the level we were on and stared down on the bottom level of the cut-away gallery, and scoffed in irritation.
“Well, the tourists are coming. We should finish up on this floor before we head down.”
“Works for me,” I said, walking over to join her in staring down on the massive room. I caught sight of the man leading the tour, wearing the same finery as the roof guards. “How long do you want to stay?”
“Well, we HAVE to see the whole thing!” she said excitedly. “I just don’t feel like fighting a crowd.”
She looked back at the rows of stuff on our level and sighed. “It’s a miracle the Emperor even decided to open this place at all. This stuff was classified as ‘war materiel’ as recently as last year. Guess Grandpa decided to open the vaults.”
“It was worth the trip, for sure,” I said, as the batch of tourists vanished under the mezzanine we were on.
Venus looked around the room again. “Hey, Jake, did we pass a bathroom on the way down?”
“Yeah, two levels up,” I said, jerking my thumb at the staircase.
“Thanks. Be right back,” she said, and jogged off.
I leaned back on the railing to wait. The room returned to silence as the tour group wound its way deeper into the level under me, as the lights gradually grew brighter. I pulled my cell vox out to check the time, but I had trouble seeing the screen – the lights were bright enough that the glare was giving me trouble.
Then it hit me. The light wasn’t coming from the track lights on the ceiling above me. They were coming from something between two rows of stands and racks of memorabilia. My curiosity piqued, I wandered over to that aisle. En route, I found myself straightening up a bit, the cramp I had developed from the wrought-iron chairs on the roof garden seemingly vanishing as I walked.
Just before I turned the corner to walk down the row, I stopped dead as realization hit me like a speeding truck. An ambient glow? Healing? Oh no. Oh no no no no no no I handled it poorly the first time don’t let him be here again, not now.
Well, fate hates me with a passion, as we’ve established. Despite my sudden burst of horrified hope, the Emperor of Mankind walked around the corner and nearly bumped into me. As if my day wasn’t complex enough.
Well, the first thing I did was take a very quick step back, of course. I doubted colliding with the Master of Humans was going to be a good way to get acquainted. The second thing I did was take a reverent knee and hope my vocal cords worked.
“My Liege,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t be called upon to say anything else.
“Rise,” he said hastily. His voice had the oddest inflection, almost Eldar-like. I didn’t have time to guess why. “Didn’t see you there. Are you part of the tour group?”
I blinked at the unexpected turn of conversation. “No, my Liege,” I said, rising back to my feet. “I accompanied my…ah, Lady Venus.”
“Oh, that’s where I recognized you from,” he said, nodding. “Vulkan’s party a few weeks back.”
“You honor me greatly, Sire,” I said, trying desperately to remember how Venus had switched into nobility-mode on the roof and attempting to imitate it. “She invited me to the showing of this new ward.”
“Indeed. What do you think of it so far?” he asked wryly. I was stunned at his informal tone. Was he assuming I was noble like Venus? Was I that good as an actor?
“It’s…impressive, Sire,” I said, indicating a few pieces I had seen. “I’ve never witnessed such a collection. Are they ALL battle trophies?”
“No,” he said, pointing out the shifting metal blob I had noticed. “Some are diplomatic gifts from envoys, or old prototypes from the Martian labs.”
I nodded understanding. “I see. It’s fascinating.” I tried not to appear inattentive, but his presence was getting to me. Obviously, he noticed. “Something wrong?” he asked, raising his eyebrows a fraction.
“Just nerves, Sire,” I said honestly. “I wasn’t expecting to see your Highness here.”
“And if you had been, you would have been less nervous, Sieur Seager?” he pointed out, smiling wanly. Was he using my name because Lord Vulkan had mentioned me, or was he in my head? I decided not to care.
“Fair point, Sire,” I allowed. Before I could let myself feel any more awkward, something black and red cannoned past me into the Emperor.
“Grandpa!” Venus squealed. “I got to see you!”
“Hello, Venus,” he said, directing a somewhat more sincere smile at the girl now giving him a gleeful hug. “I was hoping for a chance to see you before I had to go.”
“Go? Where are you going?” she asked, disappointed.
“Well, I wanted to tour the place one last time before I opened it up to the public,” he said, shrugging as if an entire tower of his Palace was now blocked off from him for good. “Reminisce, you understand.”
“Well, I’m glad we caught you anyway,” Venus said happily. “Oh, have you met Jake?” she asked, reaching back to me as if she had just pulled me out of her pocket.
“Briefly,” I said, nearly sagging at the shoulders from relief that she was back. Before I could say another word, though, she grabbed my hand by the wrist and pulled me closer, until all I could do was awkwardly stick a hand out to shake. The Emperor took it briefly and nodded, before disentangling himself from his granddaughter and me.
“Well, it’s been a pleasure, Venus, Sieur Seager, but I should head out before the tour group gets up here,” he said. “Farewell.” Without another word, he turned off and vanished back down the aisles of the museum.
“Well, we got to see him, at least,” Venus said, shrugging. “I was kind of hoping that he could give us the walkabout, show us the cool parts of the exhibit…are you all right?”
I was staring at my hand like it was going start glowing. I heard her question and jerked back to reality. “I’m just fine. That’s just not something you’re ever quite ready for.”
“Well, get used to it,” she said mischievously. “He makes it to at least a fifth of the family parties we have each month.”
“Wait, seriously?” I asked. “How does he find the time?”
“He finds it, sometimes,” she said. “Somehow. Anyway. Let’s finish the tour, huh?”
The rest of the tour was actually pretty fun, I have to admit. Nothing as monumental as SHAKING THE EMPEROR’S HAND, but exploring three thousand years of trophies was humbling and fascinating in an entirely different way. We passed the tour group on its way up, and Venus made a show of ignoring the excited whispers of the tourists and nobles as they recognized her, though I could tell she was secretly delighted. I caught a few envious glares myself, too, which I must confess I rather enjoyed.
After we were done, she just dropped me back off at home, after a reminder about the party on Thursday. On Wednesday night, she called me to confirm. “Hey, Jake, are you still on for tomorrow night?”
“Naturally. Should I pick you up?”
“Nope, I’ll come get you. 1700 good?”
“Perfect, see you then.”
Well, she didn’t. No pick-up, no call, not even a net message.
Needless to say, I got curious (and distantly hurt). So I did what I thought was the best thing to do under the circumstances: I called her at home. To my surprise, Misja answered.
“Lady Vulk…Misja. Is Venus there? She was supposed to pick me up an hour ago,” I said.
“Oh, she’s HERE,” Misja said angrily. “She’s in no shape to go anywhere, but she’s HERE.”
I gripped the vox a little tighter at the sting in her voice. “Uh…is she all right?”
“No. No, she’s not all right,” Misja snapped, then composed herself. “She’ll live, but she’s injured herself. She’s a tough girl, but she’s not fireproof.”
“FIRE-proof?” I demanded, shooting up in my seat. “What happened?”
“Maybe she could-” Misja started to say. The line cut off for a moment, then her voice came back. “Or she could just tell you herself.”
“Jake, baby, I’m sorry I didn’t come get you,” Venus’ voice cut in, tight from strain.
“Hey, forget that, what happened?” I asked urgently.
“Can you come over here? I need you here right now,” she said, her voice shaking a bit.
“Of course, of course, clear me for the defenses and I’ll be right over,” I said, already reaching for my keys.
I don’t even think I stopped to say more than a few words to Mom when I left, I just headed over as fast as I could without getting pulled over. I dropped the car onto their driveway and headed for the door, nearly tripping over Taxi, indolently sprawled across the threshold. I walked in to find Vulkan sitting at the bar, tapping his fingers impatiently. Misja was standing on the other side, apparently arguing with him.
“She obviously thought she could handle it,” Misja insisted. “I think she really is sorry.”
“Oh, I bet,” Vulkan grimaced. When he spotted me, he waved me over.
The Part Where They Fuck
“Lord Vulkan?” I asked hurriedly.
“She’s in her room, questioning her own judgment, if she has any sense,” he growled, while Misja looked on admonishingly.
“What happened? She sounded pretty hurt when she talked to me,” I said.
“Did she show you the second level basement?” Vulkan asked heavily.
“Second…? No, she just showed me the smithy,” I said truthfully.
“Yeah. OK. Well. I’ll let her do the talking,” Vulkan said, jerking his head at the stairwell.
I didn’t even stop to bow. I nodded my thanks, walked up the stairs to her room, and knocked.
“Ugh.” I took that for a ‘come in.’
As soon as I walked in and shut the door, the huge holo on the far wall muted. Venus was lying stomach down in the middle of the massive bed, wearing a pair of running shorts and a sports bra. She had her head propped up on her hands on a pillow, staring at the holo glumly. “Hey, baby, glad you could make it,” she said stirring a bit and managing a faint grin.
“Any time. What happened?” I asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Well…I got dumb,” she said miserably. “The party’s tonight, right? I wanted to show off a bit.” I looked at her bare back, and spotted a stripe of deep gray scars against her onyx skin, running from about halfway across her right flank across her back, turning just before her spine. The scar curved down below the base of her spine and stopped abruptly.
“Show off what? Scar tissue?” I asked incredulously.
“Well…yes,” she said. She planted her face on her hands and sighed. “It’s a Salamander tradition. Every Space Marine Legion has some form of honor tradition, some kind of mark that represents personal service or valor. The Ultramarines use service studs, the Iron Hands use bionics, the Space Wolves use tattoos, Salamanders use branding.”
“Branding,” I echoed. I looked back at the skin of her back with fresh eyes. The line across her back was perfectly straight and even, well-cauterized.
“Yeah. A true Salamander is completely immune to heat damage short of a melta. I guess I’m not,” she said quietly.
“Not what? Immune to heat? Or a Salamander?” I asked in alarm.
“Take your pick,” she said in the same tone as before.
“Hey, come on, don’t think like that,” I said, trying to shore her up. “You’re a Primarch’s daughter, you’re more than a normal Space Marine could be.”
“Except, it seems, when it comes to heat resistance,” she quipped. Okay, she wasn’t depressed, just sad.
I leaned over her shoulders and kissed the nape of her neck. She sighed faintly. “I’m sorry you got hurt, hon.”
“Thanks.” She sighed again, apparently bracing for something. “I didn’t show you the second basement. It’s a branding shrine. I didn’t want the priests from the Salamanders base here on Terra to have to bother, so I just did it myself.”
“Turned out poorly, yeah,” she finished for me. I just sat there, not knowing what to say. After a sec, she turned off the silent holo and buried her face in the pillow. “What the hell. Why did I do it?”
“Uh…you said you wanted to show off,” I said weakly.
“Yeah. Yeah. Fuck.” She ground her hands into her eyes and groaned. “Well, I heard Petra was getting a new tattoo, and I guess I wanted to one-up her.”
“Since when do you care what she thinks about how you look?” I asked, sitting cross-legged next to her on the bed and tossing my shoes over by the door.
“I don’t know. Dad already read me the riot act,” she said. She didn’t sound resentful, though, just sad. “Like I needed him to tell me that this was dumb as hell.”
“Well…I’m glad you’re not angry. With him, or yourself,” I said.
“Yeah…” she stared off into space for another minute. “Hey, can you grab me that cup?” she pointed at a small glass of water on her nightstand, next to a pair of generic pill bottles. “And get me one each of those?”
“Sure.” I passed her the cup and the bottles, and she popped a tablet from each before washing them down. “Painkillers?”
“One of them,” she said, handing them back. I glanced at the labels, but I didn’t know what the terminology meant. After a second, she sighed and sat up, still facing away from me. “Better.” She sat on her heels and leaned the non-scorched part of her back against my right side.
I wrapped my arm around her shoulders, trying not to touch the burned part. She leaned into me and slid her eyes shut, grabbing my free hand and planting it on the one encircling her shoulders. “Thanks for coming over, Jake. I really needed to talk to someone who wasn’t going to yell at me,” she said distantly.
I leaned my head against hers and just held her. “That’s what I’m here for.” I felt the faint heat from her eyes return as they opened again. She turned her head a bit and smiled.
“Look at you.”
“You’re redder than my eyes, Jake.”
“Can you blame me?” I muttered. She signed dramatically.
“I…SUPPOSE not,” she said, all melodrama. She craned her head back at me and kissed me, slow and gentle. “Though I also needed your help with something,” she said playfully a moment later.
She grabbed a little green bottle off the headboard and passed it to me. “Can you get this on the burn? It hurts like hell.”
“Oh, sure,” I said. It was a tube of aloe. She turned and lay down flat on the bed as I opened it up, and sat down next to her again. I poured a bit out on my hands and started working it in. She hissed in a breath and glared daggers ta me over her shoulder.
“Ffffffuuuck, that HURTS,” she said tightly.
“Yeah, I know, just…not so hard, OK, it stings like crazy,” she managed. I slowed down a bit, and her shoulders unclenched a fraction. “Man, that hurts.”
“Can’t be that bad,” I joked.
“If it hurt more, I would black out,” Venus groused, her face rammed between two pillows.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I said, rubbing the crease as gently as I could. The frigid green lubricant on my fingers was supposed to be soothing her back, though it apparently wasn’t working on her temper.
“Could have fooled me,” she said, fisting the sheets with a whimper.
After a few torturous more minutes, I finished up and washed off. I came back to find her in the same pose, staring at the blank wall behind her headboard. I sat back down and grabbed her hand.
“Feel a bit better?”
“A little. Can you just rub my back a bit? I’m still really tense.”
“Sure.” I eased my hands over her back and started in. She kept talking.
“I guess I shouldn’t try showing off like that anymore. You would have liked it, though,” she said, grinning against the pillow.
“Yeah? What were you going for?” I asked.
“I was going to do a flame pattern. Would have ended…here,” she said, tapping her back below the bra strap. She unhooked it and tugged it off, tossing it in the hamper by the door.
“Yeah, I would have liked that a lot,” I said with a grin. I slid my hands across the freshly-vacated stripe of her skin, letting her natural warmth soak into my fingers.
Venus let out a contented sigh as I worked the clenched muscles of her back. “Mmm…that’s much better. Keep going. Down a bit, it doesn’t hurt the scar.” I slid my hands down her back, digging my fingers in.
“Does that hurt?”
“Mmm…hell no. More.” She grabbed another pillow and shoved it under her waist, elevating her butt nicely.
“Performance Art, starring Lady Venus’ Ass,” I quipped. “Should go and stick you in the museum.” I gave her a squeeze and she yelped, slapping my hand away.
“Hey! Quit that shit, now,” she said, glaring bright red at me over her shoulder.
I put on the tone of an exasperated doctor. “Now now, you’re bedridden and I’m administering a treatment. Protest all you want, I know what’s best for you.”
“Sure you do,” she said, trying to hide a grin. She failed, and ran her tongue over her lips. “Well, if you have to, get to it.”
“Subtle.” I scooted down a few inches and dug my hands into her thighs, easing the tension out. “Thank goodness you’re a swimmer, Venus. You have the nicest legs I’ve ever seen.”
“Well, I’m not one to brag,” she said, all nonchalance. The effect was undermined somewhat by the sudden rise in her voice at the end of the statement as I slid a hand up her inner thigh, tracing the edge of her quad.
“Brag? No, you’re nicer than that. You know when to just sit back and let art flow over you,” I deadpanned, working my thumb into a muscle knot on her calf.
“Art, nothing,” she said, clenching her teeth as I worked the knot out. “Ngh, that’s nice. Do the other one.”
“As ordered.” I put action to words, standing up halfway to straddle her legs, then running my thumbs up the sides of her calves.
“That…feels so good,” she said lazily, crossing her arms under her chest and looking back at me. “You could make a career out of this, no kidding.”
“Well if that whole ‘science’ thing doesn’t pan out, this’ll be my backup,” I nodded.
“Sign me up,” she giggled. Her eyes dimmed and slid shut as I worked my hands up north, pressing my palms flat against her quads until my fingertips slid under the cuffs of her shorts. “Hey, where’re you headed, there?”
“Nowhere special,” I said dismissively. She gaped at me indignantly.
“ ‘Nowhere special?’ You are a JERK,” she grumped, then rolled halfway onto her non-burned side. “Get up here.”
I froze for a sec, but unlocked my knees and waddled up to where she was lying. She grabbed my belt and tugged me down alongside her, snuggling herself up alongside me. “’Nowhere special.’ We’ll see.”
“Well, I’m open to being proved wrong,” I said, probably grinning like an idiot. “I’m magnanimous like that.” She slid her arm around my waist and pulled me flush, pressing her breasts flat against my chest and lacing her legs between mine. I slid both arms around her, slipping my fingers along the back of her head, breathing her in and holding her. She made a little sound of approval against my lips and navigated my hands back down to her breasts, depositing them there.
I swallowed, hard. Hard enough for her to tell. She pulled back a bit and smiled at me under half-closed eyes. “Well, my front side needs attention too…it’s just so hard to lie down on my back like this. You don’t mind?” Well, two could play at that game.
“Well, I suppose not.” I half-shrugged. “We’ll find out.” Of course I was nervous as hell, even though I really shouldn’t have been – it was VENUS for fucks’ sake, if I could trust any girl on Terra it was her – but who wouldn’t have been?
Well, bless her soul, she could tell how nervous I was, and she was trying to help. That’s why I love her to death, she would never have taken my hesitation and bluffing against herself. Or me.
Venus shifted a bit, pushed me onto my back, and followed me over, lying flat on my chest, legs outside mine. She was looking a bit breathless herself at this point, and she stared down at me, the fire rekindling in her eyes a little. “Try this,” she whispered, rising up a bit. I slid my hands up her muscular stomach, cupping her breasts and massaging. Her eyes slid back shut and she arched her back, then flinched as her burn twisted. I started to pull my hands back, but she grabbed my wrists and pushed them right back. “Keep going…”
“You OK?” I asked, my voice a bit dry. I was sweating by then, from her heat, and my own nerves.
“Never better. It was just my back. Just keep going. Use your thumbs a bit…yeah, there,” she breathed, just enjoying it as I rubbed my thumbs over her taut little nipples. “Ngh…that’s it. That feels good…” She leaned back forward, sliding her hands down my arms to my shoulders, and started very slowly rocking her crotch across mine.
“Whoa, don’t do that,” I managed. “I’ll have to change.”
“I care, like, so much,” she said heavily, her voice getting a little deeper. She opened her eyes and stared down at me hungrily. They were ABLAZE. “Pick up the pace a bit.”
“Well, since you asked,” I smirked. I put my hands back to work, and somehow we fell into it. She pushed down on me a little harder, and my hands just found the pace, massaging and teasing her until we were moving in sync. She was getting louder, too, her soft moans turning eager, urgent.
Just watching that, seeing my love’s body react like that, react to me and what I was doing, was gratifying in a way I couldn’t have even predicted. And, I’m proud to report, she was having a grand old time herself.
“…This is really…intense,” she said faintly, breathing hard. She looked like she had just come back from a workout, exercise shorts and all. A bead of sweat trickled down the contours of her abs, working its way down to her waist.
“Yeah…God, you’re so fucking hot,” I said, drinking in the sight of her grinding on me, tits all nice and perky from my touch. The light from her eyes raced up my chest to my face, then up the headboard as she closed them. The sight of her rock-solid stomach sliding over me like that was hypnotic. I wanted to reach up and touch her more, slide my hands and my tongue over every bit of her statuesque body, taste and take and hold and devour, every fucking inch. My hands tightened involuntarily on her breasts, and her own hands gripped my arms tighter as a hissed breath escaped her mouth.
“Mmm…” She rocked her shoulders back a little and pressed herself against my hands, licking her lips. “I needed this…I needed you to do this to me… oh…oh, fuck,” she said suddenly. I saw those lovely swimmer’s abs tighten up a bit. I smirked up at her again, flush with sudden confidence.
“Well, that’s a good sign,” I said, running a hand down to rest over her stomach, and felt her tighten again. “You think you could come from this?”
“Oh, hell yeah,” she moaned faintly.
I grinned and sat up, suddenly tugging her flush against me again. “All right then, go for it.” She gasped at the sudden change of balance, but didn’t try to move. I slid an arm around her neck and pulled her in, kissed her with all the strength I had, weeks of my own tension disappearing. “Let me see if I can hurry it along,” I growled against her mouth. Venus melted against me, sliding her tongue into my mouth as I opened it, and groaning…loud. I ran my other hand down to where she was still slowly rubbing herself against me and cupped my hand, rubbing my fingers against the hot, wet stripe down the bottom of her shorts.
She moaned again, snaking both hands around my waist and pulling. She wasn’t just rocking her hips now, she was sliding her entire front up and down, getting herself off on me as her nipples rubbed against my shirt. After a few seconds, she suddenly broke the kiss and pressed her head against my shoulder, her limbs tightening around me, hard. I ran my tongue under her ear, letting her body do its magic. After a few seconds, she relaxed until she nearly fell off me, and pulled back, looking at me in a daze. “Well…that felt great,” she managed, before dissolving into giggles. She shakily climbed off me, and flopped back down on her stomach. I dropped down next to her and propped my head up.
“How ya feelin’?” I asked casually.
She giggled again. She was a picture, right then, my Venus, laughing like a little kid, practically glowing, head to toe. Well, apart from her eyes, which actually were. “I’m pretty okay, right now, actually,” she said, snuggling back up against me. “Yourself?”
“Well, I’ve got a raging erection, and the front of my pants are a little wet, but other than that, I’m just fine,” I said. I looked her up and down, and slid my arm under hers, pulling her forehead up against my chest. She exhaled, sounding relieved. “Hey, how’s your back? I didn’t hurt it?”
“No, it’s fine, the pill kicked in.” She propped her head up on her elbow and gazed right back at me, those beautiful, endless red eyes a few inches away from mine. “Hey…thanks. You have no idea how bad I needed that. God, I was shaking like a little girl.” I leaned up an inch or two and kissed her on the forehead.
“Well, I’m glad.” I didn’t really have much else to say; the last thing I wanted to do now was go too fast. Like I said, she was perceptive that way, though, and she was way ahead of me.
“Take it off. The shirt, it’s in the way,” she said, grabbing the hem and lifting. I obliged, pulling the tee shirt off and tossing it off the bed. “Much better,” she said happily. I kept going, pulling my belt out and tugging the rest of my clothes off. She watched, with that same hungry look in her eyes. Her gaze wandered down to my dick and lingered. She reached out to touch it, and ran her fingers along it, curling and stroking.
“Aahhhh…baby, don’t do that, I’m right at the edge,” I said, catching her wrist. She shook me off and kept going, squeezing a bit when her hand reached the head.
Well, that was IT. Her little grinding session had pushed me way the hell up before, and that sent me right over the cliff. My eyes rolled shut and I leaned forward, locking my hands on her arm for balance. A wave of raw, animal pleasure splashed through me, better than any orgasm I’d ever felt before. I could feel my fingers and toes curling reflexively, and I groaned, completely out of control for an instant. I felt the rush, and I opened my eyes to see my cum leaking down her arm in a stream, pooling on her side before trickling down over her breasts.
If you ever say there’s anything hotter than that, you’re lying.
I let go of her arm and rocked back on my heels, almost falling over as my joints turned to water. She grinned at me without moving, a narrow, lustful grin that nearly got me hard again by itself. After a second, she reached up and grabbed a tissue out of the box on the headboard and dried herself off, before I accidentally ruined the bedspread.
She sat up and gingerly settled back on her own heels, mirroring me. “From the look you had on your face, I’d say you liked that,” she said softly, the red flame in her eyes dancing.
I tilted my head forward as the fatigue hit. “You can’t imagine it, baby. That…was amazing. I’ve never come like that. Ever.” She reached forward and slid her hands under my chin, pulling my head back up to meet her eyes. She sat there, smiling faintly, before inching forward on her knees until her legs interlaced with mine. She slid forward, trapping my dick between us, and pulled me into a kiss. After a moment, she broke it and lay back down on her stomach with a contented sigh. I made to lie back down next to her, but she stopped me.
“Where are you going?” she asked, her eyes half-closed.
“Nowhere,” I said, running my hand down her back, careful not to touch her scar.
“Good. You’re not done.”
“Yeah? You got something more in mind for me?” I asked. I leaned over her and pushed her hair to one side, then ran the tip of my tongue across the nape of her neck.
“Mmm…that tickles…” I grinned to myself and followed the line I had drawn with my finger, eliciting a shiver. “Yeah…I have an idea.” She reached down past me and shucked the running shorts and the panties beneath them. I leaned back slowly.
“I like your idea. Very much. But, ah, you wouldn’t happen to have-”
“Protection?” she finished. “Yeah. The other pill. I’ve been on it for weeks. No more playing around.” She smiled at me in the darkness. “Help yourself. Fuck me crazy.”
I sat back and admired the view. The room was dark without the holo going, but the light was still on, dimly, and the faint outline of her night-black skin was intoxicating, beautiful. I ran my eyes over her whole body and saw what I had seen every night for days, the sight of me mounting her, filling her up with my dick, thrusting like an animal, whispering her name in her ear as her hands raced up and down my arms, begging for more…then I looked down and noted a problem. I turned to face her and smirked. “Well…give me a minute, and I’d be happy to…” I sank back down next to her. “You wore me out pretty quick…I’m gonna need a second to recharge.”
“Yeah? Well, no sense in idle hands,” she said, crawling over me and dropping flush on top. She braced her legs on either side of mine, crossing her arms over my collarbone and staring at me from a few inches away. She grinned wanly. “So...I need to know. How did you see tonight turning out?”
“Honestly?” I thought for a second. “I thought…I’d probably just be here long enough to see if you were okay, then go home.”
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Me too,” I said, hooking my arms under hers and pulling her up to eye level. She stared down at me and bit her lip as she felt me hardening against her.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a very, very long time,” I said, smiling up at her.
“I’d be a little offended if you hadn’t,” she whispered seductively. “Ready for round two?”
I pecked her on the lips and shook her lose. “Completely. What do you want to do?”
“Here, I think this’ll hurt the least…” Venus slid off me and lay down on a dry patch of bedspread. I waddled over and crouched.
“Worried about your back?”
“A little…here, toss me that.” I grabbed the indicated pillow and slid it under her waist, lifting her ass back up. “Better. I already came like a truck before, so go as fast as you want.”
“Mmm, but wouldn’t it be something if I could do it again?” I asked playfully, rubbing a fingertip across her slit. She shivered.
“Well, I’d be…nnnnghmm…grateful…” she said, glancing over her shoulder at me and grinning. She wasn’t nervous at all? I was. “You OK, baby?”
“Just a bit nervous. Don’t want to hurt you.”
“Believe me, you won’t. Tore it in training years ago.” Well, I had meant her back, but that was good to know, I supposed.
“Uh…ok. Well…here…” I slid my fingers back along the soft little fold of skin between her legs, and she sighed into the pillow. “How does that feel?”
“Faster. Push a bit.” I did so, and she sighed again. “Yesssss,” she whispered, drawing it out. She was soft as velvet, and so warm she almost felt feverish.
“You’re hot as a flame down here,” I said, sliding my fingers back and forth a little quicker. “More than usual, even.” She was getting wetter, too, and I could feel the muscles in her legs next to me tensing up.
“Oh…” she moaned into the bedspread, gasping past the waves of pleasure. The pleasure I was giving her. God, that was heady. “Jake, push forward a bit…yeah, right there,” she breathed. I slid my fingers farther towards her front, until they bumped up against her clit. She nearly jumped up from the bed when I hit it. “Oh, oh fuck, not so hard there, that almost hurt.”
“Sorry.” I slid my other hand beneath her and ran it across the tiny ridge, and she moaned aloud. “Better?”
“Much. Oh, keep doing that, baby, please…” She grabbed the bedspread and buried her face in it to muffle a moan. I kept at it, gently stroking her clit and sliding my fingers across her entrance, and the moans got louder.
“Hey, Venus, love, I’m ready. You have any lube?”
“I am so far ahead of you,” she said, her voice ragged and heavy. “Seriously, go ahead. You’re fucking soaking me here.” I felt a jolt run from my fingertips to my dick at the sound. I wanted her so fucking bad…
I clambered across her legs and clamped my hands over her hips, but she squirmed. “No, baby, hey, that hurts. Move your hand, okay?”
“All right,” I managed, my heart pounding. “Uh…this better?” I planted my hands on either side of her chest and leaned forward, the length of my dick pressed up against her ass.
“Yeah, that’s nice…go ahead, put it in.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I murmured, running my eyes up and down her muscular back. My eyes settled on the back of her neck, and I pushed her hair out of the way, revealing the narrow strip of skin again. I leaned forward as much as I could and kissed it. She reached back and grabbed my hand, and I could just see her smiling against the bed.
“I love you, Jake.”
“I love you too, Venus.” I lined myself up with her and ran the head across her pussy lips, not pressing hard enough to slide in, but more than enough for her to feel it. She arched her back a little and groaned against the bed, and her hand clamped down on mine.
“Ngghhh…oh, baby, that feels great…here,” she said, reaching back and adjusting me slightly. I pushed against the spot she picked, and I felt her part a little. “Oh…harder, but slow, OK?”
I kissed her neck again. “Sure…” I pushed deeper, sliding down into her. She was drenched, not resisting at all, but she still felt tight, so fucking tight…I felt like I was going to break her. She suddenly clamped both hands on the bedspread next to her head and clenched them into fists.
“Oh fffffuck oh FUCK, that’s good…oh that’s goooooood,” she ground out. I felt my hips catch on her butt. I was in as deep as I could be.
“Does it hurt?” I asked. She shook her head.
“Not at all, but hang on, OK? Give me a second.” I felt her twitch against me a little as her body adjusted to my invasion, and then she shivered again. “Go ahead…”
I rocked my hips back from hers and pushed back in, finding a comfortable pace. She was getting into it herself, gently pushing up or squeezing in time with me. She forced her hands to unclench on the bed, and clasped them over mine.
I leaned back down to her. “How can anything so soft feel so tight?” I whispered hoarsely, trying not to make too much noise.
“Couldn’t say, but keep going,” she whispered back, leaning over until she could see my face. She met my eyes with hers and held them, bathing my face in their heat and light. “This feels so good…you can speed up a little, though.”
I picked up the pace, slapping my nuts on her crotch with every thrust. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could bear it, but I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by quitting early. “You like that?” I grunted, feeling the urge to come pulling at me but holding it in check.
“I love it, Jake…keep going, OK? I really think I could get off on this again.” She clamped both hands on my arms and held on tight, making small mewling noises of pleasure. I could feel her breathing faster and louder, and she felt wet enough to melt. I confess there was some part of my machismo that was pleased to no end to see her enjoying this so much.
“Fuck…baby, you’re soft as velvet inside,” I groaned, straightening up and slapping my hands on her legs, pulling her against me with every thrust.
Her voice trembled a bit as she looked back at me over her shoulder. “Mmm…hey, careful, don’t hit my back,” she managed.
“I’ll be careful.” I angled myself a bit to accommodate her better. “You like that, too?”
“Fffuuuck…” she groaned, twisting back to look at me as far as her back would let her. “This feels so fucking good…but don’t hold back for me. Come for me, let me feel it,” she said, lowering her voice and glaring at me hungrily.
That nearly did it right there, but I held on. I slowed down a bit and slid my hand under where my dick was still vanishing into her. “Nah. Wouldn’t be right if you didn’t get to come with me.” I ran my fingers over her clit again, and pressed it like a switch. She sagged downward, nearly losing her balance, and gasping in sudden sensation.
“Fuck, ooohhh fuck, Jake, I’m really sensitive, go easy,” she said, her voice tight and rough. Her head sagged back down to the pillow, and she nearly screamed as I vigorously rubbed the hard little nub on her skin.
Suddenly I felt her contract, much harder, and her legs went rigid. She somehow managed to get even hotter, too, and I felt a little sucking sensation at the head of my dick. Who was I to refuse? I let go, slamming into her again and again, raw animal instinct forcing me in faster. Another raw orgasm pounded into me; I locked my hands around her legs, pushing in as deep as I could, surrendering to overwhelming instinct. I felt myself come against the tight resistance of her pussy, and an intense feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment washed over me. I screwed my eyes shut and rode the wave, until the bliss faded and I came crashing back down to reality.
I slumped against her backside, too tired to even prop myself up, only an act of will keeping me off her burned back. After a moment of awed dizziness on both our parts, her heaving chest slowed and her breath went quiet. I dropped down beside her, pulling free of her trembling snatch with a wet sliding sound.
I buried my face in her shoulder, raining little kisses onto it until she looked over at me, a look of contented disbelief etched on her face under sweat and stray hairs. She gradually pushed herself up to sit cross-legged against the headboard, leaning on her left side and gazing down on me. I could see a milky white strand of my seed leaking back out of her and couldn’t keep a smirk off my face.
“How you feeling, love?” I asked, wearily scooting up to sit next to her.
“Happy. Really happy,” she said, snuggling up to me. “Little sore, but totally worth it. You?”
“I’m fine.” I leaned over and kissed the top of her head, and she burrowed into my side, wrapping both arms around mine and rubbing affectionately up against me. “You’re wonderful. You were so hot…my little Venus. My little fire.” I rested my chin on her head and sighed, completely okay with life. “You were great.” She smiled against my cheek.
“Thanks. You were pretty amazing, yourself.” She kissed my cheek, sliding her hand over to mine and splaying our hands over her womb. “That felt…soothing. Does that make sense? Like I needed to feel it.” I didn’t answer, just squeezed her hand and leaned against her, eyes shut. After a minute, she let go of me and wobbled off the bed. “I need a shower before I turn in, I’m disgusting,” she said, reaching for a terrycloth robe on a peg next to the bed.
“All right. Think I’ll join you,” I said, climbing off and heading for the bathroom. I opened the door and turned back. She was standing with the robe in one hand, staring at me. “Unless you mind?” I leaned on the doorframe and grinned.
She just stared at me for a moment, a smile creeping across her face. She dropped the robe back on the peg and slowly walked up to me, running a hand across my waist as she moved past. “Not at all.”
I walked into the bathroom and looked around, settling on the hot tub. “Never been in one of these,” I said, walking over to it and staring at the unmarked controls.
“Let me.” Venus flicked a few switches, and the tub filled with bubbling, steamy water. “Uh…this’ll be hard, though. The water could hurt my back…”
“Then let me,” I said, easing into the tub.
“Why not?” I countered, smiling. “You never had a sponge bath before?”
“No…but I see the attraction,” she said coyly, perching on the edge of the tub and dangling her legs in the water. I kneeled against the sloping edge of the tub and ran a bar of soap across her legs, lathering her up. “Have YOU ever done this before?”
“No, but honestly, I’m quite eager to try,” I said, raising one arm and running the sponge under and over it. She let her shoulders dip a bit and her eyes turned down. She looked like she was thinking pretty hard.
“Jake…I want to thank you. Really. You have no idea how badly I wanted this to happen tonight,” she said suddenly, grabbing another sponge and running it over her other side.
“All right…so why thank me?” I asked, teasing her a little.
“This isn’t the first time this-” she gestured to her back “has happened. I was about to get one a few years ago when Dad caught wind of it and grounded me for a month. I half-expected you to yell at me too.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” I said, smiling up at her from between her legs. I slid the sponge over her still-puffy labia; her eyes slid shut, and she ran her hands over my shoulders.
“No. You wouldn’t.” She dropped her own sponge in the water and laced her fingers through my hair, running them through the curls.
I gently rubbed the sponge over her again, enjoying the close-up. She was as fastidious about her hygiene here as anywhere else, I learned. She had trimmed her hair into a neatly-cropped arrow, ending at the faint pink line of her pussy. I ran my fingers through it, grinning to myself. “You’re as beautiful down here as you are everywhere else.”
“Thanks,” she said softly. “I’m glad I trimmed up before the race the other day.” I resumed my ministration with the sponge as she talked, an odd sense of hesitation creeping into me at her next words. “I was hoping you’d like it, too.”
“Me? Were you planning this?” I asked as I soaped up her breasts, taking the time to ensure I got full, thorough coverage.
“Well, not the massive injury, no, but I was hoping I could…you know, we could sleep together after the party,” she said, sounding a bit guilty. “I didn’t want to pressure you, but…well. I’m not sorry I missed it, though. It would have been fun, but I can’t argue with the alternative.”
I was a little surprised by her openness. I guess I understood that this was a major paradigm shift, though. “Okay. Thanks, Venus.” I rinsed her off, leaving her with goosebumps all up and down her front side. I wanted to kiss them all away…
“Venus…” I sat back in the tub, thinking about how to ask this. “Can I ask you something personal? Like, really personal?”
She planted her hands on her knees and leaned forward a bit, curious. “What is it?”
“Why did you decide to trust me like this?” I asked, hoping a shift for the melodramatic wouldn’t be misinterpreted as doubt or disinterest.
“What? Sex?” she asked, smiling that gorgeous smile. I felt the cloud of doubt that had settled in my stomach since we started talking lift right away.
“Well…yeah. That, and telling me about the Progenitor Project, and…you know. Us,” I said, crossing my legs on the bottom of the tub, letting the water rise up to my neck.
She looked confused at that. “What do you mean? I trust you because you’re you. You’re Jake Seager. Are you asking why you?”
“I guess so. Which, in hindsight, is a dumb question,” I said, shrugging. “Never mind.”
“You say so.” She leaned back again and idly crossed her arms. “Are you done?”
“What? Oh.” I picked the sponge back up and went back to work. “Anyway. Turn around for me, huh?” Venus turned around on the lip of the tub. “Thanks. Let me know if it stings, all right?” I started to run the sponge over her back, trying not to irritate the scar. She flinched visibly as the water hit the sensitive skin, then forced herself to relax.
“Yeah, it stings a bit, but not that bad,” she said, gripping the edge of the tub. “I think the shower would work better, though.”
“All right.” I stepped out of the tub and opened the door of the shower, looking in perplexity at the myriad knobs and buttons. They couldn’t actually use all those, could they?
“Here.” She reached past me and twisted a few knobs, and a fine drizzle of scalding-hot water poured from all four nozzles. I jumped back from the sudden, boiling heat, and she hastily turned the temperature down. “Sorry, sorry.”
I eased back into the water, finding it much more pleasant. I closed the stall door behind us and started in on the soap, luxuriating in the sensation. Her shower stall was bigger than my bed, and I meant to make the most of it. Speaking of which…
I turned to look at Venus, busily lathering up some shampoo. The steamy water was coursing down over her muscular frame, glinting under the bright overhead lights. I watched the tight lines of her shoulder muscles flex and lift as she worked the shampoo into her hair, and followed the soap bubbles as they worked their way down her curves.
She noticed where my eyes were lingering and played into it, running her hands down her breasts to her stomach, arching her back a tiny bit and pouting those sculpted hips a little. When she was sure she had my rapt attention, she ran her fingertip up from her stomach under her chin and into her mouth, sucking it seductively.
I started crossing the gap between us, preceded by my rapidly hardening dick. She kept up the act, nonchalantly stepping away and half-turning as if nothing was amiss. My hands shot out to anchor her in place and grabbed her by the waist, turning her back to me.
“Now that I have your attention,” I growled, pressing my thumbs against her waist until she leaned forward a little, “let’s see if we can’t make this even better.” I pushed my hips forward until my dick was rubbing on the cleft of her ass. I reached down and aligned my cock with her again, and she guided me back in with both hands. I sighed in mock relief. “Finally. I thought we’d never fuck again.”
She giggled and braced her hands on the tile wall of the stall, leaning forward until she was nearly pressed up against it. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to take a shower again without thinking about you,” she managed, sounding quite content with that idea. I tilted forward to shield her wound from the falling water, settling into slow, steady rhythm as I did.
“Tell me if you get too sore, all right?” I said, giving her ass a playful smack.
“Don’t even worry about,” she said breathily. “This feels great. It’s different…” her voice trailed off for a few seconds. “It’s better,” she finished. “Oh…this is my new favorite thing…” She moved one leg forward a little, and the other back. I started up again, and she whimpered. “Oooh…that’s intense.”
“This feels so right,” I said, stifling an ecstatic groan. “So fucking natural…” You may have noticed by now that I’m something of a hopeless romantic. Fortunately, it’s a trait Venus shares.
She pushed off the wall with one hand, leaving the other splayed over the tile. She grabbed my hand and clasped it over her heart with a low, intense moan. “Hold me, okay?” she said softly, her voice uneven from exertion or pleasure. I was glad to.
I leaned forward, sandwiching her hand with mine. I rested my chin on her shoulder for a moment and whispered. “I’m right here.” She nodded, straightening up as much as she could without dislodging me.
“I know. You’re always here when I need you.” She held still for me for a minute or two longer, then let go of my hand. Curious, I pulled out, the hot water feeling cooler than she had by comparison. She turned to face me, slapping me with her hair. “Want to try something?” she asked, running her hands over my shoulders enticingly.
“Sure. What do you have in mind?” I asked.
“Sit down, cross-legged,” she commanded. I did what she asked, sitting down right in front of her. She placed one foot on my leg, planting her pussy a few centimeters from my face. I didn’t wait for instruction. I grabbed the underside of her leg to hold her steady, and gently teased her lips apart with my tongue. She tensed up at the feeling, running both hands through my hair again.
“Is this what you had in mind?” I asked wryly, slipping a finger into her vagina and rubbing.
“For about a week, non-stop,” she returned, her voice thick. “…so fucking GOOD…here, tilt…there,” she said, helping me out a bit with one hand. I angled my probing finger up to her waist and pushed in, and her whole body stiffened.
“Good boy,” she said, the red light above my head dying. “Right there…that’s the spot.”
“So, what happens after this in your daydream?” I prompted, sliding in a second finger.
“Haven’t…got that…far, yet…” she said distantly. I grinned.
“I have a thought.” I leaned forward and nuzzled her tiny patch of fuzz. “I suspect you’ll enjoy it.” I felt her tighten against my fingers as I licked my tongue over her clit.
“Ffffffff – baby don’t DO that or I’ll have to stop,” she groaned, leaning forward to wrap both arms around my head. She hugged me against her pelvis, shivering. I planted a kiss against her clit and she almost jumped. I smirked against her skin.
“If you haven’t thought of what to do next, allow me. Switch off the water and sit in my lap.” She hastily turned the knobs on the wall. The sound died away to a trickle, leaving only the fan and our breathing to fill the silence. She gingerly eased herself down onto my legs, crossing her own behind my back. I stuck both hands under her descending bottom, gently guiding her down onto my dick. She slid slowly down, until she settled in against me. I clamped both hands over her butt in a vice grip.
“There…can’t get much more intimate than this,” I said with half a grin. She nodded slowly, rolling her head.
“Jake…I’m really, really close…I need to FEEL it,” she said, leaning back in. I was struck by how much this felt like we were back in the bed, just fooling around, only better. She tightened her legs around my back and flexed them, rising up my shaft, then relaxed, slipping back down. I lifted with her, and she rose and fell again. I leaned forward and caught her nipple with my tongue, sliding it over the taut little nub.
She slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the noise as she groaned, which I appreciated, since she was right in my ear. Venus pushed her chest forward and I took the invitation, suckling on her tit. Her free hand braced on my shoulder, tucking me up flush with her as she rose and fell.
Even she had her limits, though. After only about a minute of that, she suddenly stopped moving, and a familiar tightening feeling raced through her pussy. I tugged her down as far as she could go, and I held her there. “I want to see it,” I said quietly, gazing into her wide, shaking eyes. “I want to watch you come, you hear me? Come for me, Venus.” The hand she still had over her mouth shook a bit as her orgasm started, and her eyes widened even more, locked on mine. I felt her tremble as the shockwave hit and she muffled a scream. Her nipples hardened against my chest as she came, and her eyes vibrated a little, still locked on mine.
I could see the skin around them relax a little as it passed. When her aftershocks stopped, I pulled her hand free and kissed her, working the lingering tension out of her mouth. She leaned against me for support as the wave of bliss faded, sapping the strength from her legs. “Wow…I didn’t even feel it coming,” she said in sleepy surprise, pulling back and regarding me from a foot away. I kept going, taking over the inertia, burying myself in her over and over, until I came too, and I stifled a moan in her shoulder. The tide of pleasure receded, slowly, and I shakily unclenched my hands from her ass.
I leaned back against the shower stall, utterly spent. Venus reached up and turned the water back on, washing away the sweat of our exertions. I closed my eyes for a moment and let the water pour down over me. Venus half-stood, half-rolled off of me, holding a washcloth bar for support as she rose to her feet. She stood and stared down at me, blinking water out of her eyes.
“Well…that was worth it,” she said happily, grinning white teeth in black skin. She reached down and grabbed my hands, helping me up.
I slid my hands under her arms and hugged her loosely, absently nuzzling her ear. She rested her head on me, silently running her hand over my chest, and let out a long sigh of contentment. The sound of the water tricking down the pipe faded as my heart slowed to normal. We were both worn out, and as much as I would have liked to go again, I wasn't sure I could.
She pulled back with a dreamy grin, ambling off to the vanity in the corner. I dried myself off and walked out, collapsing on the bed. When she was done in the bathroom, we switched places, and I returned to find her already curled up under the covers on the far side of the mattress, fiddling with something on the nightstand. I switched the lights of the room off, until the only source of illumination was her. I saw the red spots of light flick over in my direction before vanishing briefly as I climbed into the bed, and the ceiling holo reappeared, showing the Nocturne system spinning overhead. The red lights reappeared. “If you don’t mind?”
“No,” I said, wearily maneuvering over to her. She was lying on her side, facing towards me, her eyes dimmed with exhaustion. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired. Really tired,” she responded, stretching her legs with a *pop*. “You?”
“I could black out for a week,” I joked, lying next to her with a sigh. She snuggled up to me again, resting her head on my shoulder. “So…what does it feel like?”
“Sex. For you. Women. What’s it like?” I asked, glancing down at her.
“Oh. Well…do you ever become incredibly, unbelievably aware of your tongue?” she asked.
“No…” I said, not seeing where she was going.
“Right. You’re not aware of your mouth until something’s in it. Same deal. It’s just a really comfortable feeling of being filled. That’s…it, really. You?”
I thought for a moment, and decided to continue the mouth metaphor. “Imagine…every nerve ending in your vagina moving to the tip of your finger, then stick it in your mouth and suck it. That, basically.”
“Okay…I think you get the better deal,” she said after a moment’s reflection.
“I dunno, I felt you come back there. I think you get off better. No pun intended.”
She giggled softly. “Lucky me.” She reached down to grab the covers and pulled them up to her chin. “So…did you tell your parents you’d be staying over?”
“No,” I replied, thinking back. “Oh well. If I haven’t come home by this late, they probably figure I’m staying the night.”
“This late? It’s only 2000 hours,” she said.
“Really?” I had thought it was much later than that, actually, though I was in no state to judge. “Well, I don’t feel like going home.” A terrifying thought suddenly jumped into my head as I followed that train of logic. “Oh…oh fuck, is your father going to murder me? I mean, I came over to see how you were, not-”
“Relax, I think he’s okay,” Venus said wryly. “Actually, he thought we were fucking already. At the party when you two met, remember how he was grilling you?”
“Yeah…” I thought back to the way he had acted, but I didn’t remember him being unreasonable. “I didn’t think he was that bad. Just concerned.”
“Well, he’ll be all right. Just try to avoid him tomorrow morning, huh?” she said wryly.
“Yeah.” I slid my hand down her back, trying keep the covers off her injury. “I could go home and avoid the problem.”
“Don’t even try,” she said flatly. “You’re staying here tonight. End of discussion.”
I snorted at the tone in her voice. “Works for me. Good night, Venus.”
“Good night, Jake.”
The Part After They Fuck
We drifted off pretty quick, and I don’t remember dreaming. I was so tired from waiting all day for her to call me, then feeling the terror when Misja told me Venus had hurt herself, then all the tension, building up to…well, the best night ever.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of Venus’ keyboard clicking, and a mild headache. I cracked my eyes open and saw Venus, still butt-naked, sitting in her computer chair, idly typing away. The screen above us was dark, and the lights were still off, but I could see her in the light from the screen and the running lights on her case mod. I sat up, belatedly wondering where the clock in the room was. She must have heard me, because the clicking stopped. “Morning, baby.”
“Good morning,” I mumbled, still trying to figure out what time it was. The lights suddenly came on all at once, nearly blinding me. “Gah, that’s bright. What time is it?” I asked, blocking out the offending light with my arm.
“It’s about 0630,” Venus said. She walked over from the switch next to the computer desk and stood by the edge of the bed, arms crossed. “You slept like a baby. I was wondering if I’d have to wake you up myself if we wanted to leave in time.”
“In time for what?” I asked, letting my eyes adjust.
“School,” she said. I stared at her blankly. “It’s Friday morning. We have to go to school.”
“Oh…oh fuck, I didn’t even think of that,” I said, scrambling for the edge of the huge bed. She planted her hand in the middle of my chest and held me back.
“Whoa, whoa, easy, class doesn’t start until eight and your car’s still here, we’ve got plenty of time.” She leaned over me, smiling. “I don’t know about you, but I need another shower. Funny, the last one didn’t really seem to work. We must have gotten distracted somehow.” I couldn’t help but grin at the memories creeping back into my head as the sleep-fog receded.
“Can’t imagine such a thing,” I said, taking stock of her. She looked no worse for wear, and the bright lights let me take in all the details the darkness had obscured the previous night. She looked like a dream, right then, and I felt myself harden up as the memories mixed with the very real sight of her, right there in front of me. She sensed where my thoughts were straying and narrowed her eyes.
“Got something on your mind?” she asked innocently.
“Yeah, you,” I said, running my hands up her arms to her shoulders. She shook her head and backed off.
“Sorry, hon, I’d love to go again, but I woke up sore as hell.” I mentally kicked myself. I hadn’t even thought of her back.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said contritely. “Can I help? Is it your back?”
“No, and partially,” she said somewhat sheepishly. She grabbed her robe off the peg and pulled it on, heading off to the bathroom. “Be right back.”
“Wait, where are my clothes?” I asked. They were nowhere to be seen, even though I was sure I had tossed them in the corner last night.
“Laundry servitor got them, they’ll be done in a few minutes,” she called through the door. A laundry servitor? Those existed? I had sure never seen one.
I leaned back on the bed as the sound of the showerhead filtered through the closing door. I’m not sure why it took me so long, but the way she had said that last bit about the servitor had kicked off a whole, bizarre train of thought. I was officially with a Primarch’s daughter. What the FUCK? What was I even going to do now? I was never afraid of commitment, but we were both seniors. When I graduated, there was no bloody way I could ever afford to get a degree, and I didn’t have the balls to join the military. Would we stay together? Would I even get to see her? I could join the Canstrides Seminary like my grandfather did, but then I’d just be a functionary coasting on nepotism, nobody that mattered.
And what if she was wrong? What if Vulkan turned out to be as rip-shittingly overprotective of his daughter as Lord Curze and Lord Angron had been to their kids? ‘Kelly’ and ‘Furia’ were practically synonyms for ‘daddy issues’ around school. It didn’t seem likely that that would happen, but…I barely knew the guy.
And…fuck! What if Venus hadn’t been on the pill long enough? What if I got her pregnant?! That would have just been the end of all things, right there, the end of my life, one way or another. And hers, publically. What was I thinking?
What would her cousins think? What would the other royal girls have thought of this? I barely even cared what most of them thought of me, but Hana, Freya, and Farah were my friends. Would that change now? And-
“Are you OK?” I snapped out of my anguish-fuelled introspection to see Venus standing next to the bed, looking curious. She had pulled some underwear on and was carrying my own clothes in one hand, folded and pressed.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, sitting up and making for the bathroom. She blocked me with one hand across the frame, staring at me coolly.
“What’s wrong?” she asked accusingly. I hesitated, backing off until I sat back down on the bed.
“Just scared, I guess,” I confessed, feeling a hard little knot of tension settle in my stomach.
“Scared?” she asked, genuinely surprised. “Scared of what? Dad?”
“Well, a little, but just…the future, you know? What the hell do I do now?” I asked. In hindsight, I’m sure I sounded selfish to her. Like I said, though, she’s a patient girl.
“What do you mean?” she asked softly, sitting down next to me again. I briefly wondered how many times this bed would see use as a confessional.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound like that,” I said honestly. “I just scared myself thinking about what happens next. Where do we go after we graduate? You already got accepted at Kouthry. I couldn’t afford to go to Kouthry even on a scholarship, the housing is so expensive. And what if I got you pregnant tonight? God, I’d die of horror. Assuming I didn’t get arrested first. And what about Farah and Hana? And the rest of your cousins? Some of us are friends. Is this-” I gestured at the two of us “-going to fuck that up?”
Venus sat there nodding, letting me vent. When I was done, she pursed her lips and thought. I sat back and slumped a bit, drained and embarrassed. I grabbed my towel off the peg next to the bed and covered myself up, suddenly a little more conscious of my nudity.
Venus took it all in with those inscrutable red eyes, then slowly spoke. “Okay. I guess I understand why you’re nervous.” She smiled suddenly, flashing me a knowing grin. “Let me let you in on a little secret, Jake. I only sleep a few hours a night. It’s a Progenitor thing, all of us are like that. Around 0400, Farah texted me and asked if I was OK. I didn’t tell her what we got up to specifically, but when I said we had to stay home, she practically cheered me on. She’s rooting for us, Jake. Believe me, the two of us being together is not going to fuck up your friendships with my cousins.”
I nodded, feeling a little relived, though something she said had started another, more unsettling thought. Before I could voice it, though, she kept going. “About school…well, I don’t know about you, but if we did both get accepted to Kouthry, I would be happy to just room with you…but it sounds to me like you’re more worried about paying for tuition?”
“Well…yeah. I couldn’t get a scholarship this late in the year, I don’t think,” I said. “And I haven’t been accepted.”
“Well, Dad would draw the line at covering tuition for you, I know. I’m sure we could find a way. Student loans, maybe. We’ll figure it out.” She stood up, leaving her robe and my clothes on the bedspread, silhouetting herself against the bright lights. The conservative red bra and panties she had chosen set her eyes off nicely, I thought to myself, enjoying the momentary distraction. I shook myself, mentally. There was a bigger concern, here.
“If you say so. There’s one other thing, though,” I said, steeling myself. This was going to be the hardest question of all.
“What?” she asked, pausing with her hand halfway into her dresser.
“You said that you were created using the same techniques the Emperor used to create your father,” I said. “Does that mean you’re immortal, like he is?” I didn’t need to ask the obvious question: even if we did work it all out, would I grow old and die without her? Her hand fell back to her side, and her head drooped. I could see the compact muscles of her back tense as she thought it over. She turned back to face me, biting her lip.
“Well…yes. Once I hit about twenty-eight, I’ll stop aging forever.”
I nodded slowly, trying to comprehend it. Somehow, that felt as drastic as her breaking up with me. Someday, I was going to leave her alone. “When were you going to tell me?” I asked. It wasn’t an accusation. I really wanted to know.
“Well…I don’t know. To be honest, I completely forgot to mention it until you reminded me. It just isn’t an issue to someone raised by a Space Marine,” she said. From the look on her face, she was seriously unnerved by the thought; at least as much as I was.
Before I even thought about what I was doing, I had stood up, dropping the towel on the bed. I walked the distance over to the dresser and embraced her, pulling her tight. She returned it, burying her face in my bare shoulder.
“Holy shit, how did I never think of that?” she said hoarsely, muffled against my skin. “What the hell is wrong with me?”
“Yeah, I’m supposed to be the short-sighted one,” I said angrily.
She laughed, a brief, bitter gasp of amusement. She pulled back, rubbing her eyes. “You’re not short-sighted.”
“Well, I suppose I didn’t have a run-in with a branding iron last night,” I mused. Her jaw dropped in surprise and pique, and she slapped me across the shoulder.
“You are an ASSHOLE,” she said indignantly. I shrugged modestly.
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I am sorry for killing the mood,” I said. She sighed her agreement, looking down at the floor. Before I let her get any more downcast, I gently cupped her head in my hands, tilting her up to look at me from a few inches away. She gazed back up at me, and suddenly her eyes weren’t so completely unfathomable anymore. Uncertainty, contentment, lust, unease, belonging, fear, and curiosity swirled around in them, coexisting and fighting, dictating her future. I could see her clearly, for the first time; and despite her daemonic appearance and utterly alien lifestyle, she was as familiar to me as my own reflection. I closed the gap between us again, and lowered my head down to hers, kissing her softly. She fisted both hands against my chest, then slowly relaxed them, sliding them around my neck. I felt her rise up on the tips of her toes, bringing her up to eye level, and she inched away, a faint smile dancing across her lips, eyes shut.
“Well…you’ll make it up to me,” she said quietly, and with total, complete confidence. I smiled against her lips, and she squeezed her arms briefly, sighing comfortably, her breath mixing with mine. “Somehow.”
I tilted my head back and looked at her from a few inches away. She smiled up at me, biting her lip, mischief dancing in her eyes. God, I love her. “Count on it,” I said assuredly, and the anguish was gone. I stepped back, grabbing the towel off the bed and heading for the bathroom. I paused at the door and looked over my shoulder, and she was still standing at the dresser, her shirt clutched in one hand, staring at me. “All right, love?”
“All right.” She shook her head and smiled at something she was thinking of. “All right. Go take your shower. I’ll make us some breakfast.”
After getting cleaned up and dressed, I wandered down to the kitchen, as quietly as I could contrive. In hindsight, I had decided, Vulkan wasn’t as scary as I had thought he was, but I was in no mood to take risks on my victory lap. Venus was puttering away at the cooktop, cracking eggs into a bowl and stirring them as the toaster hummed.
“So, how long of a drive is it from here to school?” I asked, looking at the clock on one of the stoves. Its little red LCD read 0720.
“Short. Very short. Fifteen minutes?” she guessed, pulling out some plates. “Enough time for some food.”
“Where are your parents?” I asked, glancing out the window. Only my aircar was out there; then again, they did have a garage.
“Dad’s at the Palace for a thing. Mom’s around somewhere,” Venus said distractedly, sliding some condiments across the marble tabletop.
“Have you talked to her about us?” I asked worriedly.
“Nope. And I won’t, not unless she asks. To be honest, Jake, I think she’s probably rooting for us too,” she laughed.
I sat down at the table and stared at my hands, smiling. “Your parents are pretty okay.”
“Yeah, they are. What do you think YOUR parents will do?” she asked.
“Nothing, even if I told them. I think they both just want me to be happy with whatever I chose, here. Although if Mom knew, come to think of it, she’d probably have a stroke at the thought of me getting a Primarch’s daughter pregnant,” I said, chuckling at the thought.
“Well, Cycridine has a 99.89% effectiveness rate, so tell her not to have a stroke,” Venus giggled. “We should probably be a bit safer next time anyway, though.”
I made a face. She noticed my reluctance and sighed in mock irritation. “Deal with it. A tiny margin of failure is still way too big.”
“Fine,” I grumped. “Volume will just have to replace quality.”
“Oh ho, we’ll see about that,” she said smugly. “Practice makes perfect.” THAT put a grin on my face. Before I could say anything, though, I heard someone walking down the stairs. I nearly bolted for the door, but Venus caught my eye and shook her head. I sank back into the chair. I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later.
Misja appeared at the bottom of the stairs. When she saw me, she paused for a moment, but kept on coming. “Morning, Venus. Hi, Jake,” she said, apparently suppressing whatever she actually WANTED to say.
“Good morning, Lady Vulkan,” I replied politely. Last thing I needed was to piss her off. Fortunately, she didn’t seem TOO angry.
“How’s your back, honey?” she asked Venus. Venus idly rubbed her hip near the burn.
“Not bad, but it still hurts a little. The painkillers worked pretty well.”
“Good. Good.” She looked over at me as if trying to marshal her thoughts. After a moment, she just shook her head. “Jake.”
“Yes?” I asked apprehensively.
“Do I even need to explain what’s going to happen if you hurt her?” Misja asked, skewering me with her gaze.
“No, Lady Vulkan. It will never come to that,” I said, straightening up on the stool.
“Good.” She sighed shortly. “Have fun at school, you two.” She turned off and walked out the door into the garage without another word.
I sat and stared at the closing door in surprise. Venus chuckled. “See? Painless. She actually likes you, Jake.”
I turned back to face her, smiling despite myself. One obstacle down. “She does, eh?”
“Of course. You’re smart, and you don’t just care about money. Mom was always scared I’d give myself to someone who was just mining for gold,” Venus said, shaking her head and laughing at the silliness of that idea. “Like I’d ever be that dumb.” I shot her a pointed glance at the burn under her shirt, and she turned away quickly. “Anyway. Sustenance. Eat.”
After breakfast, we both made our way out to my car, since Venus was in no shape to drive full of painkillers. When we got there, I was half-expecting everybody to treat us differently, but of course they didn’t. Why would they? As far as anybody but maybe Farah knew, nothing had changed. Assuming the Twins never found out, nothing would. The day ground by, and I managed to bury myself in the classwork. Professor Arhiman’s lecture on Warp Tides was a study in What The Fuck, but anything Warp-related was. I just hoped Miranda didn’t wreck the curve to hell like she usually did. At lunch, I deliberately avoided my usual table, with Venus and Farah. I would have enjoyed their company, I’m sure, but I knew better than to tempt fate: the Twins were sitting right between them, and there was no way I could maintain the charade for more than a minute under their scrutiny. I lucked out. A few of the guys from Cogitator Design were at the end of one of the larger tables. I sat down with them, digging into my Goo Of The Day. Too late, I looked up to find, of all people, Angela, Lord Sanguinius’s daughter, staring straight at me with the most unnerving grin. Well, she WAS a psyker. Damn it. I should have known. Oh well. I tried to avoid making eye contact with her, chatting with the other guys, until one of them, and fucked if I can remember which one, said something stupid.
“Jake, man, you’re clicking.”
“The fuck?” I asked, confused. He waved his calculator at me as if it were a radiometer.
“You’re clicking hot, man, radioactive. You’re emitting ‘laid rays.’”
I stared at him, agape. “ ‘Laid rays?’ Are you from space? What in the hell are you talking about?”
“He’s right, man,” the first one’s crony spoke up. “You’re fucking glowing.”
“You’re full of shit.” I turned my eyes down, trying to finish as soon as possible and take off for the bathroom or something, anything, to escape.
“Really? We could ask Venus,” the first guy sniggered.
My eyes shot up. My fist clenched around my knife in a heartbeat. “Ask her what?” I demanded, my voice tightening in anger.
“You’d get nowhere,” Angela suddenly said. We all looked at her in surprise. “ ‘A gentleman never asks and a lady never tells,’” she quoted. She looked at me, tilting her head. I could have killed her. I could have fucking killed her. Why not just have screamed at the top of her lungs that we had something to hide?
She grinned at me faintly. “Unless you do have something to say?” she prompted. Every eye at the table pivoted to me. I froze, unsure of what to even say. Whose side was she on, here?
Relax, Jake. Tell a half-truth. These idiots can’t tell the difference. The thought suddenly jumped into my head, in Angela’s deific voice. I didn’t look at her, but I could feel her gentle, encouraging persuasion in my mind.
“While we’re on the subject, asshole, I don’t remember inviting your opinion,” I said angrily, directing a glare at the first guy, letting my voice rise a little near the end. I pointed my hand, knife still clenched, straight at him. He put one hand up in contrition.
“Sorry, man, cool the fuck down. I was just saying, is all,” he said, but it was all bluff. He was done. I shot my ‘rescuer’ a glare, too, before I tore back into my Goo.
Sorry, I spoke without thinking, she said in my head. To be honest, I was angrier that she had DARED to speak in my thoughts without permission than I was that she opened her damn mouth. I thought that to her, and she shrugged her winged back. I’m really sorry. I just didn’t want you two to get in trouble. I won’t do it again. I sighed and let it drop. She bowed her head for a moment, and I felt her gratitude in my mind before her presence vanished. The buzzer finally rang, and I was first out the door. Worst fucking lunch ever. Well, as you might expect, I was in a rush to get THAT out of my head. Fortunately for me, the rest of the school day went by more or less uneventfully. After school, I drove Venus home and I couldn’t resist mentioning what had happened at lunch.
“She used Projection on you?” Venus asked in surprise. “I’m…wow. I didn’t think she would do that.”
“Yeah. I’m not sure how mad to be.” I fumed as the autopilot propelled us closer, drifting through the hive’s skylanes. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re right to be angry at her, but she probably feels terrible about it already,” Venus said, drumming her fingers on the door. “I think you should just forget about it. She’ll be able to tell if you resent her for it, you know.”
I grunted my consent. “Ugh. Fine. It’s not worth fighting about.”
Venus didn’t answer; she just stared out the window in silence. I kept half an eye on the controls, ready to switch over to manual when we exited the hive.
“Really, though…” Venus mused, turning to face me, thinking.
“‘Laid rays,’” she said, curling her fingers in the air. “I do like that.” I sighed, hiding a grin. I switched the car over to manual and shot out of the hive gate, soaring out over the rich district.
I slowly dropped the car down to where Vulkan’s mansion was, noting the presence of nearly a dozen aircars in the parking lot outside with surprise. “You guys having another party?” I asked.
“Nope.” Venus was as mystified as I was. “But I know that car…that’s my Uncle Leman’s ride.”
Two weeks before, I would have choked at hearing that. Now? Nothing more than a brief sense of awed nerves. “Really? Huh. Well…say hi to Freya if she’s here,” I said, lowering the car down to the pad and unlatching the door.
Venus climbed out, pausing before she closed the door. “Hey, Jake, on the chance I don’t see you this weekend, do you want me to talk to Dad for us?” I hesitated.
“Well…if you think you need to.”
“All right. Bye.” She closed the door and I took off for the hive entrance, locking the autopilot onto my home address.
When I got home, the front door was wide open, a fan in the door. Blasted cooler must have been out again. I walked in, coming to a halt when I saw my father sitting in the kitchen, apparently waiting for me. Great.
“Hi, Jacob. Where have you been?” he started, completely without preamble.
“Lord Vulkan’s house, followed by school, followed by Lord Vulkan’s driveway to drop Venus off,” I said, settling on honesty as the best policy.
“And you didn’t think to call?” he asked, dropping the magazine he had been reading on the table.
“I didn’t think I’d need to. I left late, you know,” I said uncomfortably.
“Yeah. Yeah. It’s the ‘not coming home’ part that makes me a little unhappy. That, and the ‘grilled by the government’ bit,” he shot back.
“Back up. What about the government? I just got here.” He stood up abruptly, clearly holding back his anger.
“We had a member of the Administratum VIP Protection Office swing by this afternoon before you got home, all friendly and casual,” he said, grimacing. “You know, just dropping in.”
I stared at him, feeling a little upset myself. “And…what did he say?”
“SHE said that we had been added to an Office watch-list.” He crossed his arms over his suit coat and glared at me. “What the HELL did you do last night?
My hand shot down into my pocket, and I dug out my vox. Without another word, I punched in Venus’s personal vox number and waited, while my father glowered at me. After a few, tense seconds, Venus picked up. “Hi, Jake. What’s up?”
“Lord Vulkan, I apologize for disturbing you, sir, but something’s come up,” I said, all drama. My father flinched backwards, anger replaced by shock. “I just came home to find that my family has been placed under an Administratum VIP watch list. Is something wrong, sir?”
Luckily for me, Venus shares my penchant for acting. “Well, Sieur Seager, I’m afraid I don’t know anything about it,” she said, without missing a beat. “I’ll have a few of my people look into it.”
“Is there any need for that, though?” I asked, half-turning to conceal my grin. “Surely you don’t hold a grudge against me? Or against your daughter? After only one night?” I heard a sound like a sump mouse in a blender coming from where Dad was standing, but didn’t turn around.
“Who are you mortifying, Jake?” Venus asked, giggling.
“Sir…sir. You have to know I would never, EVER hurt her. Not on purpose, anyway.” Dad had gone completely silent by now.
“Are you going to get in trouble for this?” she laughed.
“On that note, how’s her back? It wasn’t too bad, was it?” I asked, forcing some cautious humility into my voice. “Oh…sure, I’ll hold. Thank you for your time, sir.” I held my finger over the mic for a moment, turning to look at Dad. He was white as a sheet, but didn’t say a word. “He’s going to ask,” I said; somehow, through a major effort, keeping my voice level.
Before his vocal cords could unfreeze, I pulled the vox back up. “Good! Great to hear it. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience, sir. Thank you for your time.” I hung up, staring at the vox in my hands for a moment, before turning to Dad and looking grave. “I’m sure he’ll get it all worked out.”
Dad just stared at me, confusion and suspicion warring for supremacy on his face. Confusion won. “What…the HELL happened last night?”
I put the vox away and rubbed my chin, thoughtfully. “Well…that’s between me and her, Dad. I’m sure Lord Vulkan will get all this straightened out.”
“Since when are you on first-name terms with him?” Dad asked, his anger returning. “You could have insulted him!”
“Eh, he’s a very level-headed guy,” I said, shrugging. “I’m sure it’ll all work out.”
“It damn well better, I don’t want to have to worry about the damned Custodes coming out of the masonry,” he grumbled.
“Dad, I think if you meet him, you’d get along pretty well. He’s as much of a gearhead as you are,” I said, walking off to my room. I was in no more mood for interrogation.
The Sixth Part
Well, as you can imagine, I was sort of persona non grata around the homestead after that. Dad nearly blew a blood vessel. Less than an hour later, as I was ass-deep in my homework, I got a vox from Venus, saying that I had been added accidentally, when Vulkan had pulled a string to get us added to the Emperor’s Museum listing. She said he would get it cleared up, but added that maybe we shouldn’t rush to get off of it.
“It’s a privilege,” she said coyly. “You could walk up to the Palace and join more or less any tour you wanted.”
“Sounds more like an excuse for the Custodes to bother us, to Dad’s jaundiced ears,” I grumbled, looking up from the brain-putrefying Warp Travels homework. “He thinks Enforcers are annoying enough as it is.”
“Well, I’ll tell Dad.” Venus went quiet for a moment. “Hey, do you have a sec?”
“Sure,” I said, dropping my stylus and plugging the earpiece in.
“I talked to Angela. She was really upset over what happened.”
I stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Well…OK. Tell her I’m not going to hold it against her.”
“Will you?” Venus asked pointedly. I shrugged.
“What good would it do? I can’t undo it, and I see her every day.”
“Good to hear,” Venus said. “I’ll let her know. We still on for tomorrow?”
I froze for a moment, trying to figure out what she meant. “Uh, the swim meet?”
“The meet’s next week. Tomorrow’s the dinner.” What fucking dinner?
“At your house?” she prompted. Of course; I had invited her over for dinner the other day without even thinking. This would prove interesting.
“Of course, baby, I’ll see you then.”
Well, the day came. I had considered dressing up, but decided against it. Vulkan and Misja weren’t coming, citing pressing needs, and Venus had met my parents before. I had gone to pains to ensure Dad’s resentment over the whole Security thing wouldn’t cause too much friction.
I would have felt bad if I hadn’t done something to help get ready for a dinner I proposed, but I kind of suck at the whole ‘domestic goddess’ thing. Which is just as well; the only thing available to eat in my hab is soylens. Still, there are things you can do that make it taste like something other than dead people.
When five o’clock rolled around, I was sitting in front of the holo, nervous as hell. It hadn’t even been that bad the first time she had come over. Of course, that wasn’t for more than a few minutes…
When the bell rang, I nearly jumped from the seat and ran over to the door. Venus was waiting, beaming at me. “Hi, Jake,” she said, pecking me on the cheek as she walked in.
“Hi, hon.” She was as casually dressed as me, thankfully. Dad walked into the room and started to bow before remembering how much she hated that. “Hello, Venus.”
“Hello,” she said, waving from the door. “Thanks for having me over.”
“It’s our hono…pleasure,” Dad said, eyeballing me as I started to correct him.
As I may have said before, Venus is more socially conscious than I am. At no point did the, by her standards, awful meal seem to put her off. She was actually pretty animated during the meal itself, and my parents did a credible job of not staring at her phenotype.
“No thanks,” Venus said, waving off seconds. “So, the meet should be for Divisionals, but because we’re also hosting the Sectionals, we’ll be holding both on the same day.”
“Won’t you be tired?” Dad asked. Venus shrugged.
“Same day, different timeslot. The races are like two hours apart.” She swirled the ice in her glass for a second, smirking. “I won’t need it. One race that short gets me going for the next.”
“How many racers in each event?” Mom asked, cleaning up the plates. I jumped to my feet to help.
“Seven lanes, six swimmers. The middle lane’s for the holocam and the laser wire. For photo finishes, you know,” Venus said. I followed Mom into the tiny kitchen, setting the plates down on the counter. Before I could go back around the partition, though, she grabbed my arm and jerked her head at the hall. Venus’s voice faded a bit as Mom closed the door of her room.
“So, do I get to know what has your father walking on thumbtacks?” Mom asked pointedly. I had no idea what she meant, and told her. “Don’t you play dumb with me,” she said angrily. “Your father was white as a sheet when I came home the other day, and he’s still angry now. What did you say to him?”
“Dad told you about the VIP security detail?” I asked.
“Of course he did.”
“Well, all I did was call Lord Vulkan and ask about it,” I said. “He didn’t like what he heard. Venus said she was going to tell me more about it tonight.” I opened the door and walked out, or tried. Mom put her hand on the door to stop me, glaring at me.
“Jake, you don’t get to keep things like that from us.”
“I honestly don’t know why we’re on the list, Mom, and stop this,” I said, pushing the door open and heading back into the dining corner. Venus quirked an eyebrow at me when I sat down, but didn’t ask. But like I said, she’s got a good head on her shoulders.
“I imagine you want to know why your family wound up on the VIP list,” she said as my mother sat back down.
“Well, I can wait,” I said laconically, knowing full well I was going to pay for that later.
“Yeah. Well, I asked around, and it turns out I was wrong,” Venus said. “I thought my dad put you guys on the list, but he didn’t. Grandpa did.”
I managed to conceal my shock pretty well, I think. Mom and Dad didn’t. “The Emperor put us on the list?” Dad managed to say. “Why?”
“Well, Dad pulled a string to get Jake here put on the list for the Museum gallery opening, and I guess Grandpa came away from that with the wrong impression,” she said apologetically. “Also, I guess they hit it off? I dunno.”
“Well, I mean, I know your father and I get along well enough, but…” I said, shrugging.
“No, you and the Emperor,” Venus corrected me.
If Dad’s eyes got any wider they were going to get up and leave. “But I only talked to him for like forty seconds!” I exclaimed.
“Well, he’s a perceptive kinda guy,” Venus said, shrugging. “You’re off the list though. So…yeah. Sorry about that.”
“Well, no problem,” I said, grabbing the rest of the dishes. “Right? Mom, Dad, no problem?”
“No problem,” Mom said, apparently done with being thrown curveballs. I walked out into the kitchen to hide my grin.
After dinner, the two of us decided to go out to the hab rec zone, which Venus had never been to. The zone in our hab is shitty, of course, but it’s better than our hive tier would suggest, even if it can’t live up to the places they have outside. I drove us out to the edge, slowing while we considered the options.
“What’s Samsa like? Any good?” Venus asked, glancing over the list I had given her.
“Yeah, but it’s just a restaurant. A Soylens restaurant; the most unnecessary thing in the world. We could go to Hydro,” I suggested.
“A rave? Ew,” she said, making a face at the thought.
“It’s not a RAVE, it’s just a club,” I said, protesting. “Besides, I know the DJ.”
“Eh…maybe. I was more thinking sightseeing,” she said. “I haven’t been here, you know.”
“Yeah…not much to see, so much, really, just…walls and some…walls,” I said, trailing off. “Your house has TREES.”
“Well, yeah, but they’re familiar trees,” she said.
“Which would be a great name for an alternative metal band or something,” I opined. Venus giggled, and suddenly shoved my list back in my face.
“OK, I want this one.”
“Uh…” I looked over the list. “Really? Makro’s? Uh…it’s kind of a dive, but if you say so.”
“Wait, a dive? How is it a dive?” she asked. The car’s engine hummed a little as I dropped us down to the deck.
“Well, I’m being mean, but the owner’s a complete douchenozzle and cover is kind of…pricey. Music’s ok, though,” I conceded.
“Well, shit, I can cover it, if you want,” Venus said. I shook my head and glanced over at her as the car swooped down.
“That’s sweet of you, baby, but I couldn’t ask you to do that,” I said. I stopped cold when I saw the card Venus was pulling out of her pocket: a 10,000 card.
“I’m offering, though,” she said.
“Well…if you insist,” I allowed.
The car settled down on the pad outside the building. It looked different, I noted. “Well, that’s new.”
“What is?” Venus asked. She slid her purse under the seat of the car and tucked the card into her inside pocket.
“The building’s different. There wasn’t a patio before.” That wasn’t all that had changed, either; the skylight was gone. One too many light complaint from the neighbors?
When we got up to the bouncer, I thought we were out of luck, but one look at Venus got us in. I know it’s just because she’s a celebrity, but I like to think she just glared at him. The cover was absurd, but I averted my eyes while Venus paid.
“So, did this place get bought out or something?” I asked.
“Yeah, a month back. Place just reopened,” he said, waving us in.
I could tell. The shitty old sunken dance floor was gone. The new one was a multi-level thing, with hollow plastic tube railing and platforms by the edges that looked like they could be raised and lowered. The DJ was trying his best to drain the hearing of everyone near the speakers, so we drifted over to the booths. Of course, neither of us could pass for 21, but the floor wasn’t looking to fill up any time soon.
The stairs up to the top floor were roped off, too. Construction, maybe. We stayed near the bottom level, while the DJ kept trying to kill us. Finally, after nearly ten minutes and my seriously considering just bailing, someone more competent took over at the tables, and people drifted onto the floor. I can barely dance, to be honest, but somehow I forgot that little tidbit that night.
Well, it couldn’t last. I had promised to be home by 2300, so after a few hours, we headed back out of the rec zone.
“Well, I have to admit, that was a lot of fun,” I admitted.
“ ‘Dive,’ you said,” Venus poked, leaning her head on the window.
“Well, it was, last time I was there.” I tapped her house’s code into the autopilot and we pulled out, gliding into the lanes.
“Mmm…actually, can we stop by your place?” Venus asked, glancing at the autopilot.
“Sure, did you forget something?” I asked, changing the address to home.
“No, I just feel really shitty. Home is too long a drive,” she said, rubbing her eyes.
“Really? I’m sorry,” I said, looking her over.
“I have a screaming headache, and I’m…kinda dizzy,” she said, screwing her eyes shut and massaging her temples. “I didn’t drink anything, though…probably just a bug.”
“Of course, baby,” I said. The car drifted along the airlanes until we got home. On the way, Venus had called her house and told her parents where she’d be, but I was busy thinking about how this was going to work. I was…fairly sure my parents wouldn’t mind. One hundred percent certain? Nope.
When we pulled in, she had already ended her call. “Well, Mom says it’s all right as long as I check in tomorrow morning.”
“All right. I’m sure Mom and Dad won’t mind either,” I said, popping the doors.
“Why didn’t you just call and ask them?” Venus asked, leaning on the door for support as she got up.
I didn’t answer. I looked over the front of our apartment, trying to figure how I was going to phrase this.
“Well…I don’t think my parents are going to say no, but I honestly don’t know how they’ll take it.” I pushed the door open to see my dad still sitting at the counter, reading over something.
“Hey, Jake, hi Venus. How was it?”
“Pretty good, but, uh,-”
“Excuse me, but do you mind if I just stay here tonight?” Venus interrupted. Dad glanced over in surprise. “I feel absolutely terrible and this is closer than home.”
“Uh…sure, that’s fine,” Dad said, standing up. “I can set up the-” he trailed off when he saw me vigorously eyeballing the hallway to my room. “I don’t think it would be a problem,” he finished. “Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m just really dizzy,” Venus said, pretending not to have noticed Dad’s foot in his mouth. She squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her forehead. “Though…do you have a thermometer in your bathroom? I think I’m running a fever.”
“Yeah,” I said, leading her down the hallway. I grabbed it and handed it off to her, then hurried into my room so I could strip all the extraneous junk off my tiny bed and hoped the room didn’t look or smell too bad.
After several minutes of frantic cleaning, Venus walked in, shaking her head. “Yep, fever. 49C.”
I thought that number over for a minute. “Uh…wouldn’t that make you clinically dead?”
“If I were human, maybe,” Venus said with a weak grin. “Salamander, remember? ‘Normal’ for me is around…eh, 46.1-ish?”
“Oh. That explains…things. Must be closed-door disease. Hives are self-contained planetary populations, you know, so diseases get passed around really fast,” I explained at her look of confusion. “Closed doors. There’s always something you’re not immune to, so when you come in from the outside, you’re not ready for it.”
“Right. Though I’m supposed to be proofed against that sort of thing,” she grumped, as I replaced her in the bathroom. When I was finished, she was already in bed, covers pulled over her head. “Argh, this is the worst,” she said as I undressed. “How can people live like this?”
“Nobody WANTS to,” I said, climbing in next to her. She wasn’t kidding, her skin was red hot. I slid my arm under her and pulled myself up against her back, and kissed the top of her head. “Feel better tomorrow, OK?”
“I’m gonna try,” she said gamely. After less than five minutes, though, I could tell this wasn’t going to work. Her body was so hot that I couldn’t share my tiny bed with her. I tried to shift the sheets around to insulate me, but the bed was just too small.
“Uh…listen, baby, I, ah…this isn’t working,” I said, turning the light back on.
“Huh?” she asked, blocking the light with her hand.
“I’m just too hot,” I said, pulling the covers back and climbing out.
“Shit…I’m sorry,” she said miserably, dropping her head back on the pillow with a groan.
“Don’t be,” I said, pulling my bathrobe on. “I’ll just use the futon in the sitting room. It’s no biggie, really,” I said. She started to get up, reaching for her bra and panties on the floor next to the mattress, but I gently grabbed her hand to forestall her. “Hey, you’re the sick one, and I’ve probably beat whatever you have already, so you get the bed. I mean it,” I said as she started to protest. “You catch some Zs. It’s only a Friday, I don’t need to get up early. Sleep. Doctor’s orders, again.”
She smirked as memories of the previous night – hard to believe it was only a day ago! – came back to us both. “Are you sure?” she asked, just to be nice.
“Completely,” I said, turning the alarm clock off. “See you tomorrow, OK?”
“OK. Good night.”
“G’night,” I said, walking back down the hall to where Dad was still sitting at the counter.
“What are you still doing up?” he asked in surprise.
“I need your help setting up the damn futon,” I grumbled.
“Bed too small?” Dad asked with an innocent smirk. I glared at him, trying not to grin.
“Durr hurr hurr, funny. She’s got a fever and I don’t feel like sharing a bed that small with a girl whose body temperature runs to spontaneous combustion levels at the best of times.” I walked the few steps it took to cross the sitting room and yanked the pillows off the futon, grabbing one side and lifting. Dad pulled the tray out from under the seat and I lowered the seat into place, still talking. “I can’t blame her, though. Poor thing. Hell of a fever.”
Dad did a double-take. “What? We need to get her to a hospital, then!”
“Salamander,” I offered. “She’s always hot.” Dad shook his head at that.
“That’s just…not natural.”
“Can’t say I care too much, to be honest, most of the time,” I said, grabbing the sheets from the box under the tray and making the fold-out mattress. “But that bed is way too small to be sharing it with a heating element.”
“Right.” Dad shook his head again and grabbed his magazine, heading into his own room. “Well…I’ll try to turn in soon. Night.”
“Thanks,” I said, clambering into the bed and shucking the robe. I hate sleeping in the living room; it’s so much closer to the outside of the apartment that the noise is unbearable during commuting time. I had grabbed a pair of earplugs from my room before I left, and used them. I settled down on the bed as the noise faded away to an acceptable level, and blacked out almost immediately, exhausted from the night’s activities.
I woke up to an unusual sight. Venus was sitting at the counter, just four meters away, fully dressed and looking completely miserable. My Dad was drumming his fingers on the other side of the counter, trying not to look angry and failing completely. Mom was staring at the kitchen sink, looking incredibly frustrated. I pulled the earplugs out and took in the scene. “Uh…morning?”
Venus looked over as I pulled my robe on and fastened it, managing a tiny smile. “Hi.”
I walked over to the counter, glancing back and forth between my parents and girlfriend. “Did I miss something?”
“I used your entire day’s water ration in my shower,” Venus said, her shoulders sagging as she said it.
I looked over at the sink, and noticed that it was bone-dry, with none of the usual detritus from prepping breakfast, and Venus was the only one who looked like she had bathed. “Oh…that’s not good,” I said lamely, turning that unpleasant bit of news over in my head.
“I can’t believe it,” Venus said, rubbing her eyes. “I didn’t even stop to think about it.”
“Well, I didn’t tell you,” I said, “but…yeah, rationing. When you’re raised with it, you just don’t even notice.” I looked around desperately, trying to change the subject. “How are you feeling?”
“Good as new, more or less,” Venus said unironically, with an anemic grin. “My head’s fine. Back’s OK.”
“Good. Good. Um, if you’re all set to go, let me get dressed and I can drive you home,” I said. I couldn’t resist looking over at Dad and Mom when I said it. If they chose to make an issue of this…
“How much does one day’s water rationing cost?” Venus suddenly asked.
Dad stared at her. “‘Cost?’ There is no cost. You can’t buy more tickets. You get what you’re given.”
“Oh. I was…I mean, I could…cover one day, I thought, but if you can’t get more…” Venus trailed off awkwardly.
Mom sighed shortly, opening the fridge and pulling a pitcher of water out. “It’s happened before. We’ll be fine. We bottle water from days when we’re not all here. Usually use it for cooking, but we can just clean up with it.” Venus winced.
“I’m really sorry,” she said demurely. “If I had known I would have just waited until I went home.”
“I’m sure you would,” Dad allowed. Not the most graceful way it could have ended, but there you have it. I walked back into my room and got dressed, wondering if it would be totally graceless to ask Venus if I could shower at her place. I certainly had before…
Well, best to get it over with. As soon as I was dressed, I grabbed my wallet and headed out, Venus trailing behind me, still doing the puppy eyes. The way back to her house was quiet. We only talked a little, mostly just trying to find some safer topic. When we pulled into her drive, she stopped me from getting out with a hand on my arm. “Jake…wait a minute.”
I closed the door again, as she tried to find words. “If you want, I think I could try and get your apartment cleared for another ration,” she said. I thought that over.
“No, thank you.”
“I’m sure. I don’t want to get in the habit of asking you for favors.” Venus nodded, but pressed on.
“And I’m grateful, but no thanks,” I said. She nodded again.
“Then at least use my bath before you head out?” she asked.
“See, that, that I’ll do,” I said, climbing out. She popped her own door and nearly tripped over her dog, who had been going berserk outside the car the entire time.
The Seventh Part
“AGH FUCK…Taxi you dumb slut, get back in the house!” she yelled, stumbling over the dog. The dog ignored her completely, launching itself into my car and ramming its nose into my ear. I shouted in surprise and rolled out of the driver’s seat onto the driveway, as the dog made itself comfortable on the passenger’s seat.
Venus groaned in frustration, grabbing the dog’s collar and wrapping an arm under its back, lifting it bodily out. She dumped it unceremoniously on the pavement as I slammed the doors shut. She squatted down and grabbed the dog’s collar, shaking it a bit and glaring at it. “No. Bad. You hear me? Bad.” The dog took off, running around the house in circles. Venus sighed. “Fucking mutt.”
“Enthusiastic little guy, isn’t he?” I asked, wondering how long it would take to get all the hair out of the seats.
“Colossal pain in the backside,” she grumbled. She shut the car door and walked up to the door, glancing around for her parents’ cars. “Huh. Dad must have already left.”
“That could be good,” I said, walking in after her.
“What do you mean?” Venus asked, clearly surprised.
“Well, you’ve already showered, right?” I asked, making for the stairs.
“Yeah, what does that have to do with Dad?”
“We wouldn’t want him asking why you’re having another,” I reasoned, climbing up to the top floor behind her.
“I’m not…oh.” She paused on the top step, before resuming as if I hadn’t implied a damn thing.
“You’re not morally opposed to the idea of two showers in one morning, are you?” I asked, reaching up to slide my hand around her waist.
“Suddenly, no,” she admitted with a smile.
One completely awesome half an hour later, I grabbed my clothes off the laundry servitor’s tray and pulled them back on, brushing dryer lint off the sleeves of my school uniform. Venus was still in the bathroom, so I headed down to the ground floor, snagging my day clothes out of the back of my car. When I got back in, though, I found the kitchen occupied. Misja was sitting at the counter, reading some mail, and looked up when I walked in. “Hello, Misja,” I said cordially, slinging my bag over my shoulder.
“Hi, Jake,” she said distractedly. “Get here OK?”
“Yeah, I did, thanks. My skin still crawls when I fly over the turrets,” I said ruefully.
“Yes, well, as long as you call ahead if you’re using any car other than your normal one,” she said, thumbing through a magazine, “you should be fine.”
“Right.” I struggled with words for a moment, then decided to pass the buck. If Venus wanted to talk about what happened, she could do it herself. I headed back up to replace Venus in the bathroom, getting into something a little more comfortable than my school uniform. Why I even wore it to Venus’ house, I’ll never remember.
Business accomplished, I lounged on the couch of the house, wondering distantly when it had become so familiar. Hell, I’d only been there, what, five times total? Venus walked back down the stairs, in her jogging outfit, towel slung over her shoulders, her hair glistening as the light caught the last of the water. She sighted me and smiled. “Hey. Want to go for a run?”
I smiled back, tugging my shoes back on. “Love to. Is your Mom OK with stuff?”
“Yeah, we talked it over. I decided I might do something nice for your parents if I get the chance.” She grabbed a green bundle of fabric off of a peg by the door, fiddling with it as I zipped my jacket.
“Well, the first thing they’ll tell you is that it’s unnecessary, but I know they’d appreciate actual food. The crap we get in the hive is nothing compared to what you guys get out here.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Maybe a trip to the market after we get back,” she mused.
“I mean, if you get the kind of soylens that they actually flavor, and you cook it properly, you can take one bite and know ‘yes, this is indeed a Food of a kind,’ and nothing more,” I continued. “Like the Goo at school. You eat it, and it’s Food. It’s a thing you eat. It’s not a meal. It’s like…you’re hungry, and you want Food.” She snorted under her breath at that image. She unfurled the fabric ball to reveal a green bandana in a drakeskin pattern, tying it around her neck and pulling it over her black hair.
No, I noticed, not drakeskin-patterned, it was ACTUAL drakeskin. That bandana cost more than my car. I stared at it, then shook myself before she noticed. “Nice bandana. Real drake?”
“Yeah, it attacked the Librarium on Nocturne last time Dad went home, so he killed it and brought a chunk back as a trophy, because that’s what normal people do when they get attacked by animals, Dad,” she said, adding the last part in an exasperated aside. “He gave some to me. Here,” she said, untying it and tossing it over. “Feel.”
I ran my fingers over it, feeling the tiny ridges at the edge of each scale, marveling at how flexible it was. “Wow. Is this stuff really fire-proof?”
“Yep. Dad has one that can withstand warp-flame.” I stepped over behind her and tied the bandana around her head like she did, then ran my hands down her arms.
“So…where do you want to go?” I asked, squeezing her hands. She considered for a moment, then tugged loose, pointing broadly at the far edge of the yard.
“Well, I usually do about eight laps, but if you want to do less, we can,” she said, opening the door as Taxi barreled past.
“What’s that, nineteen klicks? Way too much for me, thanks. Right now, anyway,” I said, grinning.
“Oh, have you already had a workout today?” she asked innocently, batting her eyes at me. I shrugged.
“Well, I guess not.” She gaped at me in mock indignation.
“Well! Then I guess I’ll just have to be the one setting the pace today, won’t I?”
Well, I tried. I really did. But as it turns out, she could hold a military 120 paces a minute for about eight kilometers longer than I could. The first time she made it past me she just lapped me, grinning wanly. The second time she just slowed down, since I was just walking at that point.
The sun was beating down us from every angle, glinting off the matte walls of the hive, and I could feel my skin starting to crisp. After all, you spend your entire life in the hive and an hour outside feels like an hour in a tanning salon.
“Hey, just wondering, but since we’re out here, what else do you do out in the district?” I asked, wondering if I could discreetly cut the exercise session short.
“Looking to explore?” she asked. “Well, not much out here, but in the actual town, there’s…well, a couple stores, but mostly just residential.”
“Where do the people who live out here who aren’t military work?” I asked. “The school has, what, four thousand students? I’m one of maybe eight hivers.”
“Well, everybody’s either military or nobility out here, not many people work at all. The people who operate the stores in town are commuting hivers, most of them. Plus the old guard,” she said, passing me a water bottle. I took a slug and passed it back, shaking my head.
“What do you mean, old guard?”
“The people who lived here before the town and the hive were built. Most of the people who lived here sold their land at enormous gains, ‘cuz they were going to make the hive nearby and all the rich folks wanted to live outside,” she said. “Some didn’t. Some of the families here have been here for over four thousand years.”
“…Fuck, talk about pedigree,” I said, trying to wrap my head around that. I stopped under the copse of trees at the edge of the yard, and sank down onto the wrought-iron bench, panting a bit. Now, I’m no fat sack of shit, but I’m also not an athlete, and running under an actual sun takes it out of you in a way hivers like me just aren’t built for. Venus paused her own run to smirk.
“Yes, yes I am, and damn your orbital flame sphere kindly,” I said, slugging another mouthful of water. “Just give me a sec.” I took a deep breath and drank again, glancing at my watch. Still only noon? Felt later than that to me.
“So, really, do you want to take a break?” she asked, dropping down on the bench next to me.
“Yeah, thanks,” I said, leaning back on the bench. Venus made to sit down next to me when something small and fast barreled out of nowhere to land on my leg. I jerked my head back and stared, completely not comprehending what was happening.
A tiny animal hopped onto my knee, its head darting from side to side. I froze, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on.
“It’s a chickadee, Jake,” Venus said, smiling benignly at the horrifying creature in my lap.
“It’s…come for my blood,” I said, staring at the feathery…thing.
“It’s a fucking bird,” she giggled, then quieted up when she realized I had never seen one before. “They’re completely harmless.”
“They’re daemonic messengers,” I said, flicking my hand at it. It launched into the air like a seeker missile, and I stared at it until it faded into the distance.
“You didn’t think Taxi was scary,” Venus pointed out, grinning.
“I’ve seen dogs. Shit, compared to the ones Freya’s got, your dog is tiny.” I stood back up, starting back towards the house at a jog.
“That’s because Uncle Leman brought them from Fenris,” Venus said. The familiar sight of the house loomed over us. We ran the rest of the way back in relative quiet, with nothing but the sound of our breath breaking the silent air. When we arrived, I noted a new aircar in the driveway: Vulkan’s. Venus pointed at it a second after I saw it.
“Good, Dad’s home now.” Venus stopped me before I walked in. “Jake, I know you don’t like it when I offer to cover stuff, but I would feel bad if I didn’t offer to make it up to your parents. So, let me offer. OK? I insist.”
“Then go ahead,” I said, conceding the point. I pushed the door open and walked in after her, noting Vulkan moving around the kitchen.
“Hi Dad,” Venus called, wandering on over.
“Hey, Venus. Hi, Jake,” Vulkan said, rummaging in the fridge.
“Listen, Dad, um…I want to tell you this now, so you have no grounds for saying ‘nobody ever tells me anything’ later,” Venus said. Vulkan slowly straightened up, with a look of death forming around him like a physical aura.
“Tell me what, exactly?” he asked ominously.
“I…well, I called home last night to say I felt shitty, right? Well, I wound up staying the night, and this morning…um, I used Jake’s apartment’s entire water ration in my shower,” Venus confessed. “I didn’t even know they had rationing in the hive.”
“I see.” Vulkan nodded slowly, his stance relaxing. “What are you going to do about it?”
Venus glanced at me quickly. “Well, I offered to pay for the day’s rations, but it turns out you can’t buy more, so…I don’t know. I guess…Jake, how do they decide who gets how much water?”
“Dependents,” I said. “Take number of people registered to the apartment tag, subtract a constant times the number of people with jobs or school who aren’t around the house all day. Multiply by one person’s water allotment. That’s all there is to it.”
“Oh.” She thought for a moment. “Then…maybe I could take your family out to dinner? I mean, I feel awful about this, and I don’t want your Dad to resent me more.” I closed my eyes for an instant, fighting down my irritation at her assuming Dad still resented her at all.
“I’m sure they would refuse unless you insisted, but if you did, they’d be honored. And Dad does NOT resent you,” I said, cutting Vulkan off before he could ask the obvious question.
“All right, then. Let them know that I do insist.” Vulkan nodded once.
“Good.” He glanced over at me as he turned back to his food. “Jake, do you have a second? I wanted to ask you something.”
Venus took the hint and wandered off to the dining room while Vulkan offered me a soda. I took it and tried to ignore my slowly cramping stomach.
“Jake, I want you to understand that you don’t have to answer this. Have you considered joining the Army?” I blinked at the completely unexpected question.
“Sure I have. I decided against it. I have no interest in the military lifestyle. I’m really more into designing and building stuff,” I said, truthfully enough.
Vulkan nodded again. “I assume you know the Mechanicum sends enginseers into the field, or to bases, all the time.”
“Of course I do, sir.” I shook my head, staring at the unopened soda in my hand. “It’s not me.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know what you wanted to do,” he pointed out.
“I don’t know exactly where I wind up, and I may not get a choice…but I know what I don’t want,” I said, “and I don’t want to be in the military. The Army still has the reg on the books that all non-combatants must be able to drop whatever they’re doing and get shipped off to the front whether they’re qualified for it or not, and that simply isn’t acceptable to me.” I narrowed my eyes and stared right back. “Why do you ask, sir?”
“Well…to be honest, I have no idea what you plan to do after school ends, and I want to know,” he said evenly. “And stop calling me that, PLEASE. I get that enough at work, I don’t need it in my own house. Just…call me Vulkan, it’s the only name I have that you could pronounce.”
I noted the sudden shift in formality with some surprise. “All right then…Vulkan.” Man did THAT take some getting used to. “So…out of curiosity, what answer were you expecting?”
“I was half expecting you say you had, just so you could stay with her,” he said, assembling his meal and picking up a tray. “I didn’t have a preferred answer.”
“Good. Well, I don’t think my parents would be put off by her offering to take us out to dinner as a make-up.” I guess Venus was either eavesdropping or heard the change in my tone, because she came walking back in.
“Dad, did you hear back from FleetCom? Are you going to have to go to Corlsic?” she asked, as I quietly returned my unopened soda. Water’s better after a run anyway.
“Yeah, apparently the Navy has it under control and I’m not needed at all,” Vulkan said. “Which is perfect. I have so much backlogged administrative garbage to work through.” He hefted the tray of food and made for the stairs. “I’ll be in the study.”
“You have a small army of PAs who would be happy to do the paperwork for you, Dad,” Venus reminded him.
“And they don’t all have my clearance level,” he shot back, vanishing up the stairs. Venus huffed.
“Workaholic.” She grabbed a glass and filled it, eyeing me. “What did you two talk about.”
“I…have no idea,” I said. “He asked me if I was interested in joining the Army…but I think he was fishing for how serious we are.”
“What?” she thought that one over. “Weird. He can hear a conversation in the basement from the roof. He knows EXACTLY how serious we are.” I exhaled about half my water through my nose in horror and stared at her, about a thousand horrible things happening in my mind at once.
She broke down in laughter, setting her glass on the counter so she didn’t drop it in hysterics. “OH MY FUCK, oh the look on your FACE…ah hahahahaha oh…oh, man, that was worth it. You OK? You need to refill?”
“Shut up,” I grumbled, drying my face and shirt off with the towel. “I look like I walked through a rainstorm now.”
“Hee hee hee HA HA HA HA,” she dissolved again, slapping her hand on the counter in mirth, nearly doubling over. When she had calmed down enough to talk again, she shook her head, wiping a tear from her eye. “Seriously, though, I was kidding, he can’t do that.”
“I god damn hope not,” I muttered. “I have little enough privacy in the hab.”
“Yeah.” She waved off the last of her giggles. “So, where do you want to go tonight?”
“Uh, to be honest, I think I need to wrap up the Warp Studies project,” I said ruefully. “It’s due…what, Tuesday?”
“I meant to dinner.”
“Oh, you wanted to take us out tonight?” I asked in surprise.
“Why not? You won’t have water to cook with,” she reminded me.
“Oh…uh, well…what exactly did you have in mind?” I asked, deciding I wasn’t going to get any more water out of my shirt.
“Whatever restaurant you have in mind.”
“I dunno, there’s actually not many nice restaurants in our hab.” I thought for a moment. “How formal do you want it to be?”
“Formal?” she asked drily.
“OK…well, to be honest, I think something simple and straightforward would work best. If you offer to take us someplace incredibly upscale, Mom and Dad will feel like they owe YOU now. Just…well, there’s a really good restaurant we used to go to all the time before I went to school out here. That sound OK?”
“Sure. You can drive us there?” she asked. “And what time?”
“Uh, pick us up at 5:30?” I opined. I glanced at the clock, working the times out. I should be done with the homework by then.
“All right. What’s this place like?”
“A tiny little place, one Cube over from ours. Dad used to work near there. It’s got an offworld trade license, so they can get all sorts of spices and such you can’t get in most hives.”
“You sure you don’t want to eat a place that has actual food? Out here, it’s honestly around the same price as some restaurants in the hive,” Venus pointed out, dropping onto the couch.
“If you say so…what were you thinking of?” I asked.
She offered a calculating little smile. “I have a place in mind…I think you’ll love it.”
Okay, she wanted to keep a secret. I could live with that. “All right…so, 1730. I’ll be ready.”
We just watched TV for a few hours, before I headed home and started in on my homework. I managed to convince Mom and Dad to go along with the suggestion easily enough, though I think I had called it when I said both of them would resent being over-compensated. I finished the assignment at around 1700, and I was just getting up to get ready for dinner when the bell rang. By the time I was in the front room, Venus was already inside, talking with Mom and Dad. She interrupted herself to greet me.
“Hey, Jake. Sorry I’m early. I never know when to leave to get here,” she said apologetically. She certainly wasn’t dressed for anything special, just a fleece jacket over a tee and jeans.
“No problem, I just finished the assignment. That class…” I shook my head ruefully. “If only Miranda didn’t apply to the grade curve.”
“Or, better yet,” Venus started.
“That it didn’t apply to her,” I finished the old joke, chuckling. Venus laughed too, though my parents just looked baffled. I caught Dad’s eye. “It’s probably best that you not know.”
“O…kay,” he said. “So, where is this place?”
“It’s Montegreens’, a nice little place I used to go a lot when I was younger. It’s not a reservations kind of a place,” Venus said, dropping onto the tiny sofa I had slept on the previous night. “It’s a sit-down.”
“Outside the hive?” Dad asked.
“Yep.” Venus suddenly frowned. “That’s not a problem, is it?”
“No, no, of course not,” Dad hastened to assure her. “I’ve been outside before.”
“Great.” Venus checked her watch. When she lifted it to the light, I noticed a tiny drake’s head on the band.
“Hey, is that one of yours too?” I asked, gesturing at the watch.
“Sure is,” she said proudly. She unclasped it and handed it over. “That one took waaaay too long. I had to redo the casing twice. Cracks in the battery cover.”
“You make your own jewelry?” Mom asked.
“Yep. Well, the simple stuff,” Venus said, shrugging. “Furniture too. Compared to the stuff Dad makes, this is smalltime.”
“Impressive,” Dad said, eyeing the watch. I handed it back, reading it quickly. It was much earlier than she had planned on arriving, so we sort of gravitated over to the tiny kitchen/dining room.
“Venus, what do you plan on doing after you graduate?” Dad asked, sitting at the table.
“Oh, college. After that, I really don’t know beyond that I’d like to do SOMETHING,” She said, shucking her fleece and draping it over the chair. “I can’t stand the thought of idleness. What I know I want to do, at some point, is go home to Nocturne. I’d love to actually go back some day.”
“What’s Nocturne?” Dad asked.
“My home planet,” Venus said. “Dad’s too, technically. The Salamander Fortress is on its moon. I moved when I was too young to remember it. I want to go back and see it for myself some day.”
“I imagine. What kind of world is it?”
“Volcanic-type Death World,” Venus supplied. “Perfect training grounds. Or so I’m told.”
“…Wow. Is that…normal, for an Astartes training world?” Mom asked.
“No, most of them are either paradise worlds or urban worlds, but the Salamanders think that if a recruit can’t survive their own planet’s geology, they’ve got no business wearing the colors.” Venus shrugged. “I kind of agree.”
“That’s pretty ruthless, though, isn’t it?” Mom pressed.
“How is it ruthless? If you can’t train your men to survive a little fire and radiation, they sure aren’t going to be leading the pack,” Venus said, waving her hand. “Not every soldier or Marine can be the greatest, but they ALL need to be able to keep up in a furball, and they ALL need to be able to carry out an objective if they lose somebody on the way there. It’s one thing to use the Emperor’s gifts to help and protect the weak, it’s another entirely to permit weakness in yourself and your brothers.” Venus suddenly smiled wryly. “At least that’s what Dad told me when I asked him the same question.”
“Well…that’s pragmatic, I guess.” Mom looked to be thinking her answer over.
I have to admit, though, I understood. I’m just glad that Vulkan had the foresight to make the distinction between his work discipline and his home discipline. Certainly, from what the rumor mill has told me, Venus’ cousins weren’t all so lucky.
Well, that was by no means the conversation I’d been hoping we would have had that night, but it was helpful. I think Mom at least was starting to look at Venus more as just ‘Jake’s girlfriend’ than ‘third-generation royalty.’ Funny how it didn’t start until we’d already had her over twice.
When 5:30 rolled around, we headed out to the car, which Dad insisted on driving for who knows what reason. Venus, with a sly smirk at me, tapped in the directions, and we were off, with Mom and Dad trying not to look like they were taking in the sights of being outside the hive and not even coming close. I drove over it on every trip to school, of course, but I had never seen the town in the district before. It was something to see, once we parked and got out. I didn’t think we’d have drawn much attention, but we were visibly the best dressed people there, or my parents were at least. I had sort of gleaned that this was to be a casual thing, and had dressed as such.
The outside was still amazing to me, even after four years. The air was kind of flat, not as much as in the hive, but still artificial. Obviously, it had to be; it all came out of the same filters, but the fact that there were actual plants out here made all the difference. The shield over the sky was transparent, so you could see wending lines of light from ships overhead, and the light from aircars heading in from the manors.
I was surprised by the people, too. Most, if not all, of the people I saw of my own age were decorated with all manner of flesh-bonded augmetics. Eyes, wrists, all sorts. They were flesh-bonded, of course, so they looked like normal skin, but I saw them open their wrist panels to check the time or acknowledge a message with a regularity that creeped me out.
The town was tiny, I realized. It had a grocery store, and a few other shops, but the thing that stood out was the square. It had an actual square. I had never seen that before. It was bordered by an Enforcer station on one side, a handful of restaurants on another, and what parkland on the other two. We walked past it on the way to Montegreens’, and I was probably staring as much as Dad and Mom were.
“…Wow. I should find reasons to come out here more often,” Dad said.
“It’s certainly different from inside the Hive, isn’t it?” Venus commented.
“Why don’t hivers come out here more often?” I asked.
“Well, some just can’t. There’s no public transit line out of the hive, I don’t think,” Venus said.
“That’s right, there isn’t. I remember what a stink they raised when that was announced,” Dad said. “People wanted to be able to come out here whenever they wanted.”
“Well, you can, you just have to fly yourself,” I said. “I never get any shit for being from the hive here, except from some of the people at school.”
“Who?” Venus asked in surprise.
“Eh, that group of idiots in Chem class,” I said dismissively. “Nobody I’ve ever seen you hang out with.”
“Huh.” Venus looked ahead in the square and pointed. “There it is.”
The building she had indicated was a little concrete structure that looked older than the hive, though I suspected that that was just an affectation. There was a little neon sign over the door that glowed OPEN, and the sign above that was lit by faint bulbs, circling the name Montegreens’ in blue.
Venus pushed the door open, and the smell of something mouthwatering wafted out. I followed her in, taking stock of the place. It was roomy, with small tables clustered together in the middle, and booths along the outside wall. A hostess was standing at a lectern next to the door, and smiled as we came in.
“Welcome to Montegreens’. How many?”
“Four,” Venus said. The hostess sighted her, taking stock of her appearance in an instant, her smile not wavering.
“Of course, ma’am.” She led us to a booth in the farthest corner of the restaurant, with several of the diners staring and whispering, and at least as many hurriedly shushing their friends and family for their improprieties.
She sat us down and took orders, in a way that made me think that maybe our night would not end on solitude. A few of the more insistent sightseers continued to gape at us until a few discreet glares from Venus sets their wandering eyes back on course.
Mom spoke up about it after the last incident. “Do you have to put up with that every single time you go outdoors, Venus?”
“No, actually. I guess I just haven’t been around in too long.” Venus glanced around the place, nothing changes. “It’s more or less the same place. Menu’s gargantuan, which is just the way I like it.”
“Really? Because every time we go to Moraza’s after school, you order the same thing,” I teased.
“But I like having the OPTION,” she said airily. “That’s important.”
“Mm hmm. Sure. So, how did you know this place?” I asked.
“Dad took me here all the time when I was younger,” she explained. “Which is funny since he’s actually less busy now. You think the stares I get are bad…”
“How is he less busy?” I asked. The waitress deposited a few sticks of something impossibly tasty in the basket in front of us, and I had to make a conscious effort to only take one.
“Well, the outer regions of the Imperium are way more secure now. They don’t need Astartes to go out and handle problems as often as they used to,” Venus said, shrugging. “That’s perfect, as far as I’m concerned. Dad still gets the chance to go out in the field every so often, which he loves.”
“Did you ever consider joining the military yourself?” Dad asked. Venus and I exchanged wry grins.
“Dad asked that of Jake this morning. I’m no more interested than he is. Military life just isn’t for me. Besides,” she pointed out, “what officer would take responsibility for me? If I got killed in action, then my CO would be the officer that let the daughter of a Primarch get shot. Even if it wasn’t his fault, he’d be crucified in the media for negligence. He’d have written the first four or five sentences of his own obituary.”
“I see. Are any of your cousins planning on joining?” Dad asked.
“I dunno. I haven’t asked.” Venus leaned back as the waitress deposited the food. “Excellent.”
“Oh…wow,” I said, staring at the food on the plate. I couldn’t even identify some of it, I had just picked an item off of the menu at random.
“Mmm, good call. I love carbonara,” Venus put in, digging in on her grox. Mom and Dad seemed to have more experience than I did with outsider food, because they both started eating too. After staring at my food, I tentatively started eating.
It was fucking delicious. I stared at it for a moment, chewing with my eyes wide open. Venus quirked an eyebrow. “Is it not good?”
“It’s…awesome.” I downed another forkful in one bite. “What is it called? I picked whatever I saw first.”
“Tortellini carbonara,” she said. “You’ve had outside food before at the party, and at school, I thought,” she said, watching me wolf it down.
“Yeah, but not this,” I said. Dad grabbed my elbow before I managed to upend the plate.
“Whoa, Jake, slow down. Pace yourself.”
“Right. Sorry, I must look like I’m at a trough or something.”
“Just so long as you don’t hurt yourself,” Venus laughed. “We have this recipe at my house, I could have Mom make it next time you’re over.”
“Oh, well, you don’t have to do that.” I ate a few more bites. “I mean, you don’t HAVE to, but…” Venus giggled again.
After the meal, we just sat around the table and chatted, and I honestly don’t think I’d ever seen Mom and Dad that relaxed around Venus before. I wondered, distantly, if that had been part of the idea of coming to a place this informal.
“Did you pick a college for after graduation?” Dad asked as the waitress dropped off the check and another basket of fries for Venus. Venus nearly grabbed the check before Dad’s hand could inch towards it.
“Yes, I’ve been accepted at Kouthry Tech. Inorganic Chemistry,” she added, tucking a card into the check slot without even looking at it.
“Good school. I’m sure you’ll do well there,” Dad said. “I went to Canstrides Seminary, myself.”
“Oh, on Mars? Nice,” Venus said. “Right, of course, Jake told me about that. A few of the Salamander Techmarines went there.”
“Yes, they had their own training chapel.” Dad leaned back in his seat. “Did you want to get a civilian job after graduation?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” Venus said, handing off the check to the waitress when she walked by next. “I honestly don’t know what I want.”
“Well, you get to choose,” Dad said, nodding at his own wisdom.
I glanced at my own watch, noting that it was still quite early. “Well, thank you. This was great.”
“No problem at all, Jake, It was a lot of fun.” Venus stood and stretched, slipping her fleece back on. The three of us stood as she fished a pen out of her pocket and sketched a quick number on the gratuity line of the check.
As we headed for the door, though, I saw one of the people at the table near the exit stir, tapping a stylus on a dataslate he had been reading as soon as Venus walked by. Venus visibly tensed when she saw it, but said nothing. As soon as we were outside, though, we were accosted by a man carrying a holocam, who had apparently been lurking for some time.
“Lady Vulkan, what do you think about Proposition 17’s effect-” he started, hefting the camera.
“Fiat,” Venus said flatly, elbowing the man out of the way and making for the car at a brisk pace.
“Ma’am do you have a comment about the recent increase in-” he said before Venus apparently lost her patience.
She turned to us with a strained smile. “Brace yourselves.” She snapped her fingers once and the camera exploded, casting bits of its innards all over the hapless paparazzi. He gasped and threw himself back a pace, glancing around wildly. She turned back to the parasite, her lips a tight line of anger, and her eyes glowing balls of molten rage in the pseudo-night of the town. “I…SAID…fiat.” He took off, and she looked back to us, all anger gone. “I apologize. I should have warned you. I thought those vermin knew better than to follow me around any more.”
“What…the hell just happened?” Dad asked, his hands still balled into fists.
“What happened is that some scum-sucking filth reporter forgot that there are penalties for trailing a Primarch’s daughter,” Venus said, her anger replaced by…remorse? “And my bodyguard reminded him.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised there’s a Custodes protecting you,” I said, feeling the adrenaline work its way out of my fingers with a cold, spiky feeling. I rubbed them together, trying to come down.
“Custodes? No, a VIP Office rifleman. You ever see a Custodian hide in a crowd?” Venus asked. The welcoming profile of my car appeared on the edge of the lot, its door sliding open as Dad keyed the fob. We clambered in, but as Dad reached for the autopilot, Venus held up a hand to stop him. “Listen…I want to apologize. It seems like…every time I try to enjoy a normal evening with you,” she said, gesturing at me as much as my parents, “something goes wrong. I get sick, I use all your water, I have paparazzi problems…”
“I don’t blame you,” I said, before Mom or Dad could make soothing platitudes. “You didn’t plan any of that.”
“Heh…no kidding.” She shook her head, her black hair almost invisible against her fleece. “Well…anyway. Here.” Venus tapped some coordinates into the autopilot, and the aircar lifted off. “I still feel bad. I never thought I’d have to put up with that trash again.”
“What’s that Fiat thing you mentioned?” I asked, trying to at least make her less morose.
“I don’t know if it’s public record or not, but…well,” Venus said, pulling herself away from her displeasure. “Grandpa survived an assassination attempt from someone disguised as a paparazzi once. He imposed a fiat that members of the Royal family can do more or less whatever we want to reporters that bother us,” she explained. “I usually just scare the shit out of them.”
“And if...one DID turn out to be an assassin?” I asked.
“Then the bodyguards just shoot him,” Venus shrugged. “You saw the guy in the restaurant?”
“Yeah. Was he a spotter for the paparazzi?” I asked.
“No, he was a spotter for ME,” Venus said. “He works for Dad. That little thing he did with the dataslate was him letting me know the guy outside was going to jump us.”
The aircar dove, turning away from the skylane to the hive wall. Dad blinked at the autopilot. “Uh, Venus…this isn’t the way home.”
“No, I entered my own address, since I just got dropped off and didn’t have a ride home.” Venus suddenly frowned. “Is that a problem? We can divert back to your place, and I can just have someone pick me up.”
“No, it’s fine, I just didn’t know,” Dad said. The car swooped over the aristocratic district, and I watched the spectacle of the Primarch’s houses go by, each either impressive or restrained in their own ways. Vulkan’s was the last one on the row, which I knew he liked, tucked between three hive walls. The car slid down to the ground in the drive, and Venus climbed out, glancing over the cars in the drive beside ours.
“Another gathering?” I asked, climbing out after her.
“Yeah, Cora and Kelly are over tonight.” After a second, she turned back to the car, rubbing her finger over her chin, thinking something over. “You know…”
“This may be the best time for your parents to meet mine,” she said contemplatively.
“Oh…boy,” I said, letting THAT little bombshell roll through my head.
“No, I…that’s the weird part, I actually agree,” I said.
“All right then,” Venus said, reopening her door and sticking her head in. “Mr. Seager, Mrs Seager, why don’t you two come in and meet my parents? I think this is the perfect opportunity.”
“Oh, no, thank you,” Mom said immediately, looking like the floor had dropped out from under her. “I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“You wouldn’t be,” Venus said firmly. “I promise.” Well, she’s more or less intractable when she puts her mind to it. My parents both finally acquiesced, following us meekly to the front door of the mansion.
Venus pulled the door open, and nearly got tackled by Cora. “Hey, there you are! Where have you been?” she demanded.
“Dinner with Jake and his parents,” Venus said, prying her cousin off. “Is Dad home yet?”
“He’s right over there,” Cora said, jerking a thumb towards the sitting room. She smiled at me and Mom and Dad, who were both taking it pretty well. “Hey Jake, good to see you.”
“You too, Cora,” I said, glancing over at the side hall, where Misja was making her entrance.
“Venus! My god, honey, are you OK?” she demanded, burying her daughter in a bear hug.
“Gurk…I’mfine geddoff me,” Venus said, making a show of pulling loose. “I’m fine, it was just some dumbass reporter. How did you find out so fast?”
“Sergeant Miller called it in, of course!” Misja said, turning to give me and my parents the once-over. Satisfied that we, too, were still alive and unperforated, she turned her gaze back to her daughter, who was looking distinctly huffy.
“DAD, IT WOULD BE ILLEGAL OF ME TO ORDER VINNY TO THROW HIMSELF OFF A BRIDGE, RIGHT?” she called into the sitting room.
“YES,” Vulkan called back, over the sounds of several other people talking.
“JUST CHECKING,” she called back grumpily.
She turned to us and beckoned us in, out of the chill. “Mom, this is George and Sandra Seager. This is my mother, Misja.”
“It’s an honor,” Dad said, starting to bow before Misja stuck her hand out to shake. He took it after a moment of hesitation.
“And this is my cousin, Cora, who is here crazy early,” Venus said, gesturing to her black-haired cousin.
“Well, Dad got home early, so we figured we’d just arrive,” Cora shrugged. “You know, for dramatic effect.”
“Just as a change of pace,” Venus deadpanned.
“Right.” Cora wandered back into the sitting room, while Misja continued fussing over her daughter.
“That hasn’t happened in a long time, has it?” Misja asked worriedly.
“Almost a year,” Venus said, pulling off her fleece. “It was me last time, too, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was,” Misja said. She shook her head angrily, trying to put down bad memories.
For a moment, I though Venus’ hastily-concocted plan to make my parents start to recognize her family as being just as human as mine was actually going to work. Then, of course, Vulkan walked in.
“Hey, kiddo, glad you dealt with that so well,” he said, walking in from the sitting room. He leaned over to hug Venus quickly, before reaching over to shake my hand too. “Sorry your pleasant evening took a turn,” he said drily.
“It was mostly worth it, actually, Sir…Vulkan, sorry. I should make a point of eating out of the hive more often if it’s always that good,” I said with a laugh, delighting in the open shock on Mom and Dad’s faces.
“To be honest, it’s kind of hit-or-miss,” he said with a chuckle. “Then again, I’m a picky eater if ever there was one.”
“No!” Venus said in mock surprise. She turned to Mom and Dad and made a half-hearted shrug. “So…Dad, these are George and Sandra Seager. I assume you know who Dad is.”
“It’s…a true honor to be here, my Lord,” Dad managed, bowing at the waist, as did Mom.
Vulkan rubbed his eyes patiently. “Please, stand straight. I make it a point of not being referred to formally in my own home.” He turned to Venus, his posture growing a bit strained. “We’ll discuss Sergeant Miller’s report later. Please,” he said, gesturing to us, “come on in. I’m glad to have the chance to meet you in person.”
Before Mom or Dad could come up with a reason to say no, I had already walked in, making straight for where Cora was devouring an orange on the counter. Misja worriedly glanced me over as I walked by, and I angled in a bit closer.
“Just an overzealous paparazzi. Nobody got hurt,” I said softly.
“I know, but damn it, she’s my daughter,” Misja said angrily. I immediately put my hands up in defense.
“I didn’t mean-”
“I’m sorry. It’s not you that pissed me off,” Misja said, lowering her own voice in contrition. “Venus was really looking forward to tonight. She just wanted an opportunity to get off on the right foot with your parents. She was miserable over this morning,” she said. A look of frustration came over her youthful features as she stared at her daughter. “I’m glad you came by, though. We’re happy to have you.”
“I’m glad to be here,” I said automatically. “And…Venus and I think this is the best chance we’ll get to have you and my parents meet. Mom especially would just find a way to avoid it. They’re scared of embarrassing you, or something.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t blame them, but that’ll end fast,” she said, finding some solace in levity.
I don’t know why I did what I did next. I guess I was just trying to help. Maybe I was just a little scared too. Maybe I was just exhausted. But, for whatever it was, I leaned forward and quickly hugged Misja. “I’ll make sure she’s happy. Don’t worry about her.”
Misja gaped at me for an instant, before hurriedly brushing something out of her eye and walking quickly over to the sitting room, muttering. “I’m sure you will, Jake.”
The Eighth Part
Vulkan’s searching gaze caught me as I turned back to my parents, nodding at something Mom had asked. After a quick glance at Misja, he returned his attention to my parents. “Well, of course you’re welcome to stay here a bit, but I wouldn’t want to keep Jake and Venus up on a school night.”
“We’d be honored, Sir, but I agree. We should head out,” Dad said, though his attention was diverted by another person emerging from the sitting room, seeing what the commotion was about. Kelly – whom I had only seen perhaps twice in my life – glanced over our little group, and, having determined that nothing was amiss, walked back in, saying nothing.
“My cousin Kelly,” Venus explained for my parents’ benefit, hanging up her jacket. “Uncle Konrad must be here, too.”
“Yeah, he just got here,” Cora supplied. “Hey, so, how was it? I have to know.”
“It was just some asshole reported who thought I had some opinion to weigh in on some bylaw or other,” Venus said dismissively. “I didn’t really listen.”
“And you had Miller vaporize his camera,” Cora said happily.
“Yep. He should have known better anyway.”
A waiter servitor trundled out of the kitchen into the sitting room, then back out again a few seconds later, carrying a load of empty dishes. I followed its movement for a moment, then turned reluctantly back to Venus. “Well…I should head out. It was great getting to get out of the hive,” I said, zipping my vest back up.
“Sure,” she said, following be back to the door as Cora drifted back into the sitting room. “See you at school tomorrow.”
“Naturally.” Mom and Dad walked back out the car as Vulkan followed Cora back into the sitting room. I pecked Venus on the cheek and added an addendum. “And thanks for the dinner and the show.”
“Har har,” Venus said, her voice oozing sarcasm. “See you tomorrow.”
My parents and I drove straight home, and the whole time I was unconsciously bracing myself for a lecture about one of the four or five bizarre things that had happened that day. To my surprise, I didn’t get a lecture per se, since it seemed they were both still reeling from meeting Vulkan. I say that, because that was almost all they talked about.
“That was one of the most memorable moments of my life,” Dad said tiredly, rubbing his thumb over his palm.
“I know. To actually be invited into his home,” Mom added, clearly not following her own logic.
“It’s too bad you didn’t get to meet his other guests,” I put in.
“Well, that cousin of Venus’, Cora, we met her,” Mom pointed out.
“Right, but I meant her father, and her uncle,” I said, trying to suppress my distinct pleasure at that idea.
“What? You’ve met them?”
“No, but I know who they are. Cora’s the daughter of Lord Primarch Corax. Kelly’s her cousin because she’s the daughter of Konrad Curze,” I explained. “Which meant they were the two people in the sitting room.”
Silence greeted that proclamation. “I think, maybe, that may not be an entirely…misfortunate thing,” Dad said finally. “No disrespect intended to your girlfriend’s family, Jake, but some of them are scary as hell.”
“Yeah,” I said, staring at the airlock pass us by as we entered the hive. “Well, it’s something you could think about.”
“But must I?” Dad quipped. We laughed together as the aircar pulled up to a halt outside our apartment.
The door was still sealed, but there was a man leaning against it as we climbed out, in a dark military uniform. Two Enforcers and Praetor were standing nervously, just out of arms’ reach.
“Excuse me, sir, are you Jacob Seager?” the Praetor asked Dad as he approached.
“That would be me,” I said, an inkling of what this was about floating through my head.
“Sir, were you in the company of Lady Venus this evening?” he asked.
“Yeah, we were.”
“Then Sergeant Palozzi is interested in talking with you,” he said, stepping aside.
“Sergeant. I can assume this is about the incident at the restaurant?” I asked the dark-uniformed man, who had straightened up and turned to face me.
“Naturally, sir,” he said, his deep baritone cutting through the ambient hive noise. “I understand there was an altercation there?”
“A paparazzi got too close to Lady Venus and was punished for it. By your office, in fact,” I said, placing the mark on his unit patch – Treasury VIP.
“To which organization I belong is irrelevant, sir,” the soldier said placidly. “I’m here to verify that shots were fired in your presence while you were accompanying Lady Venus.”
“And you did. Can I go take a leak now?” I asked, stupidly, I admit, but come on, he was blocking my door.
“No, sir.” The man put his hands on his hips, fingers centimeters from his Peacemaker. “I’m going to need you to come with me.”
“No, actually, you won’t,” I said, as Dad took an angry step forward. “Ask Sergeant Vincent Miller to verify that I’ve done nothing wrong. Or maybe his spotter at the restaurant.”
The man blinked, the fact that I knew those things catching him off-guard. I pressed. “Maybe when Miller filed his report with Lord Vulkan he left out the fact that I was with her the whole time and completely unarmed.” As we spoke, Dad took an appraising step forward.
“Jake, what’s Venus’ vox number?” he asked.
“Here,” I said, handing him my own cell, which had fortunately been in my hand at the time. Dad flipped it open and hit Venus’ speed-dial while the Sergeant started glaring, clearly trying to re-impose his authority.
“Sieur Seager, your accompanying me is not optional.”
“Of course it is, unless you’re here to arrest me without even showing a warrant,” I said, stalling. Dad put the cell to his ear and listened.
“I have that authority, sir, don’t make me exercise it,” Palozzi said, though the three cops were looking a bit uncomfortable now.
“Jake, I have her,” Dad said suddenly.
“Put her on speaker,” I said, a flush of anticipation rushing through me. This was either going to be cataclysmic or hilarious.
“Man, Jake, you just never get tired of hearing my voice, do you?” Venus asked cheerfully, echoing from my cell. “What’s up?”
“Venus, there’s a VIP Office guy at my door threatening me with a warrantless arrest,” I said, trying to sound calm and probably failing entirely.
The aura of cold air flooding from the speaker wasn’t physical, I don’t think, but suddenly all three uniformed cops shivered. “Really. Interesting. Does he have a name?”
“Sergeant Palozzi, apparently,” I said. “Pips say Gunny Sergeant.”
“Good to know,” she said, suddenly sounding distracted. A few muffled words came through the speaker – she must have put her hand over the mic to talk to someone.
“I don’t know who you are, ma’am, but impersonating a member of the Royal Family carries a most severe penalty,” Palozzi said flatly, clearly done with talking. He turned to me, and a set of several plastic restraint cords fell into his hand from his sleeve. “We’re done. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
“SERGEANT,” Venus’ voice suddenly barked from the speakerphone, making all seven of us flinch. “If either I or my father have to come down there to tell you to fuck off in person, you lose a pay grade for each minute of my time you waste.” Palozzi hesitated for a moment, but continued towards me. I crossed my arms, staring him down. “Sergeant, I am not hearing an apology, and the sound of a police flyer departing. Rectify that.”
“Turn that off,” the Sergeant instructed my father, who of course did no such thing. “That was an order.”
“That’s it. Dad, did you get all that?” Venus asked.
“Yes,” Vulkan’s unmistakable voice replied. Palozzi froze. The blood drained from the faces of all three uniformed cops. “I’m very disappointed.”
“I actually feel bad for you,” I said softly.
“Sergeant, I hate exercising my authority in front of my family, in person or indirectly. I really, truly hate it,” Vulkan started.
“A problem I don’t share,” a much, much fainter, and somehow even scarier voice put in. Vulkan continued.
“So if I have to come down to the nearest Arbites Courthouse, Enforcer or Praetor Precinct, or, heaven forbid, block lockup to bail out my daughter’s boyfriend, you will be transferred to a Penal Legion as a mine sweeper. Is that understood?”
“I’m following my direct orders, sir, laid down by the Emperor himself, for dealing with Shots Fired in the Royal presence. To the letter, sir,” Palozzi said.
“Those orders being to ensure the safety of the Royalty in question, who is currently standing next to me, glaring at you through a speakerphone.” Vulkan said, his patience exhausted. “Consider your position revoked. Recall yourself to your dispatch office before I decide to have you sent off to the front anyway.”
“…Aye, sir,” Palozzi said tightly. Without a word, he slid the restraints away and marched off on his heel, fists clenched under his gloves. Both Enforcers fell into step behind him, though the Praetor lingered.
“I apologize for the inconvenience, sir,” the Praetor said hurriedly, before scurrying ahead of the pack of law enforcement officers, who disappeared around the corner.
“…Are they gone?” Venus asked.
“Yep. I owe you one,” I said, feeling the tension in my stomach fade.
“…God damn it. God DAMN IT,” she said suddenly, her voice cracking with sudden rage.
“Venus?” I asked in surprise.
“I try to have ONE nice evening with you, and you nearly get BLACK BAGGED?!” she yelled, her voice sending the speaker of my poor vox into fuzz. “Just…fucking…DAMN IT!”
“Venus, stop it,” Vulkan put in, but she was off and running.
“I should have told you, God damn it, I should have given you my signature or something, or warned you that it might happen,” Venus said, her rage melting into regret. “I haven’t had to impose fiat in front of someone in the family in so long, I completely fucking forgot.” Her voice suddenly dropped several decibels. “…God damn it…”
I opened the door and sat down on the couch, cradling the phone, as Dad and Mom stood over me, looking very uncomfortable. “Venus, stop it. I’m not mad at you. Blame the paparazzi if you have to blame anyone,” I said, but…in hindsight, it must have sounded as lame to her as it did to me.
“…Jake, I’m sorry. I just…I’m sorry.”
Dad spoke up. “Venus, I’m not mad either. We’re not blaming you.”
“Why the hell not?” she asked, a spark of anger returning to her voice. “It’s clearly my fault. And this was supposed to make us even for me fucking up this morning, too!”
I rubbed my eyes, thinking furiously. “Well…all right. Look. I’ll see you tomorrow. We can talk it over after classes.”
“…Sure. I’ll…sure. OK. Sure. …bye,” she said, but the line didn’t cut. A faint rustling sound followed her farewell, and the sound of footfalls.
“Jake, Mr. and Mrs. Seager, I’m sorry that happened,” Vulkan said. “And for however little it may be worth, the Sergeant was wrong. The power of warrantless arrest does not extend to Fiat BYSTANDERS. It covers Fiat TARGETS, and Vincent…Sergeant Miller very clearly did not label you as such in the file.”
“Well, that’s…good to hear,” Dad said heavily, shrugging his coat off. “Are we going to be put on a Treasury watch list for this?” I jerked my head up and glared at him, but Vulkan answered immediately.
“Yes, for all of the eighth of a second it will take for Palozzi’s report to get rejected by the Office,” Vulkan answered. “I’ll put Miller on it.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Dad hung up our coats and looked at me. “Don’t stay up too late.”
“I won’t,” I said. I addressed the phone again. “Thank you, Vulkan.
“No problem at all, Jake, I’m sorry it happened. Try to have a good night,” he said. The phone clicked off. I stared at it for a sec before switching the speaker off and pocketing it.
“Well,” I said into the air.
“Do you always refer to him by name?” Mom asked, dropping down on the stool at the counter.
“Yes. By his specific request,” I said. “Weirded me out too. He resents the fact that people call him by title when they know him personally.”
“Mm.” Mom drummed her fingers on the counter. “Well…Jake, make sure Venus understand that we don’t hold this against her.”
“I will,” I said tiredly. It was only 2124, but suddenly all I wanted to do was sleep.
I didn’t. Not much, anyway. I was tossing the whole night, trying to make sense of everything, hoping we could patch things up, and wondering why I suddenly wanted to just get up and drive over to Venus’ house, lie down in bed with her, and hold her until she wasn’t angry anymore. The last part I didn’t need to think about too hard, though.
By the time I had scraped myself off the shower stall floor and driven to school, I was in some semblance of wakefulness, and managed not to doze off in class. Which was good, because first class was Math, and if there’s ever a teacher you need to be attentive to, it’s Adam Blenkach. Sometimes I think he forgets he’s not a real Commissar any more. Second was Warp Studies, and I was actually glad for that, because we had to hand in that awful assignment we had been laboring on for weeks. Project due-dates aside, that thing had chewed up far too much of my precious free time.
By lunch, I had more or less made up my mind about what I wanted to say, and made my way straight for Venus’ table. By the time I got over there, though, she wasn’t alone: Miranda was with her. I had never really spent much time with her, though I knew her well enough. Both girls looked up at me and smiled sheepishly when I arrived, which boded…poorly.
“Hello, Jake,” Miranda said when I arrived, in that faint, almost ethereal voice of hers. Given what had happened last time I was sharing a table with a psyker in this room, I was a bit apprehensive, but I forged ahead.
“Hi, Miranda. How are you?” I asked, tearing into my Goo.
“Intrigued,” she responded, making me choke on my Goo. “Venus tells me you had a bit of an adventure last night.”
“Well, I had never had carbonara before, true, but…” I joked hastily, shooting a puzzled glance at Venus. Wasn’t that a bit personal?
“Funny. And don’t be mad, Jake, she knew before I even opened my mouth,” Venus said, an air of annoyance warring with her good humor.
“Great.” I stared at the pretty redhead, who was picking at her meal with a faint smile. “So what about it?”
“I think I should say that I’m glad you didn’t let it get to you overmuch,” she said, turning the smile on me. “I was the last one who had to impose Fiat with other people around. They did not get arrested or anything, but they did not take it well either.” She closed both eyes for a moment, then opened them again, her grin widening. “You’re a good person.”
I was a bit off-guard that she would just say something like that, but then, when you’re one of the top eight psykers in the human species, privacy must be pretty alien. At the time, though, I was hovering between disturbed and touched. Venus’s smile took on the edge of indulgence I was more used to seeing in the mothers of boisterous children. “Uh. Thanks…?”
“Sorry if that was a bit too personal,” Miranda said, with the first touch of humor I had ever seen from her, a wry grin twisting her lips. “Most of the people I live around are either mind-readers or my own sisters, so they’re more used to it.”
I seized on that, trying to steer us away from the awkwardness of the conversation thus far. “Oh, I didn’t know you had siblings.”
“I don’t. But…” she trailed off, glancing at Venus, who nodded quickly. “Well. ‘Cousins’ doesn’t quite cover it, you know.”
“Ah.” I chewed another few bits of Goo, scrambling for something else to say.
“If you mind me being here, I can go eat somewhere else,” Miranda said, catching the tension.
“Don’t be silly, we can talk here,” Venus said. She sighed once, shortly. “Jake, I know that what happened last night was unacceptable. I just want to see if there’s any-”
I cut her off there. “Stop it. I don’t blame you, so you don’t have to make up shit.”
“I know, but I feel terrible anyway. I want you to reconsider being added to the VIP watch list so it never happens again,” Venus said flatly. “If Council candidates and Senators’ families can deal with it, I’m entirely certain you can too.”
I paused mid-chew to think that over. “…Huh. I’ll ask Mom and Dad, it’s their call.”
“It’s your future inconvenience,” she pointed out.
“It’s their car and apartment,” I returned. She shrugged, conceding.
“Fair enough.” She blinked in surprise. Miranda was shaking her head and grinning into her ‘food.’ “What’s funny?”
“Not a thing,” Miranda said. “I’m just jealous.”
“Jealous? Of what? Jake nearly getting black bagged?” Venus asked in surprise.
“I could never have a conversation like that with my old boyfriend,” Miranda said, then immediately her eyes widened. “I mean, uh…fuck. Sorry.”
“It’s OK,” I said uncomfortably. Maybe we SHOULD have asked her to move.
Venus laughed, surprising us both. “Miranda, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“I never know how people will take my little insights,” the psychic redhead said, shrugging bashfully.
It’s really hard to stay mad at her. “Well, anyway, Venus, I wanted to tell you that my parents aren’t mad either. Really.”
“OK.” She brightened up, her eyes bathing my half of the table in red light. “Tell you what, the next Warp Studies project, the one we got today, isn’t due for another month, right before Week 14, so how about you come over today and we just work at it? Get some of it out of the way? You too, Miranda,” she added.
“I’d love to,” Miranda said, nodding regally. Well, how many chances do you get to work with a psyker of her caliber on a Warp Studies project? I couldn’t agree fast enough. Plus, it would give me a chance to thank Vulkan in person for his help the previous night.
Lunch wore on, and we went our separate ways. Cogitator Design was a pain in the dick, as always. I never could program. By the time fifth block rolled around and it was time for History with Professor Chambers, I was ready to bolt for the door. At least History is mildly interesting at a school with retired Astartes on the faculty.
The last bell rang, and I met Miranda and Venus at my car. “Miranda, how do you get to school if you don’t drive?” I asked.
“I just walk,” she said. “My father’s house is just down the road.” Which one, exactly, I couldn’t tell, since all the manors in the area could be modestly described as ‘grandiose.’ She sat down in the backseat, clutching her backpack, already thumbing through it.
I tapped the call button on the car’s vox, paging Dad’s office. He picked up on the fourth ring.
“Hey, Dad, just letting you know I’ll be back later than usual, I’m doing homework with some people from school.”
“Good,” he said, sounding rather distracted. “Well, should I set a place for you?”
“Sure, we won’t be gone long,” I said, after a quick glance at Venus. “Bye.”
“Bye.” Miranda glanced up at the phone.
“Where do you live, Jake?”
“Habitation Block Four, Cube One, Spire One, Hive Secundus” I said, listing my hab zone, hive cube, hive spire, and hive, post office style.
“Oh. I didn’t know you were a hiver,” she said, nodding faintly. “That explains it.”
“Explains what?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at her tone.
“Why Treasury Agents being at your house was so odd,” she said unashamedly. “They’re crawling over this part of Terra. What with the Palace being just on the other side of the Spire.”
“Ah.” That wasn’t so bad. For a second I thought she was just indulging in her cousins’ Victoria and Roberta’s quiet (or not so quiet) distaste for all things hive.
“You thought the worst?” she asked drily.
“I did,” I admitted. “Too much time around Victoria.”
“It’s not nice to talk about people behind their backs,” Venus chided me, though she knew what I was talking about. All too well.
At Vulkan’s house, Venus announced that proper Warp Studies cogitation was never performed on an empty stomach, and set about making something in the kitchen while Miranda and I unpacked our assignment. The project was something Professor Ahriman referred to as ‘simple,’ meaning it would probably drive lesser men than me insane. Fortunately, Miranda lived for that stuff.
“All right, refueling commence,” Venus declared, dropping a plate of ginger cookies on the table. “Miranda, what’s this about?”
“Ahzek wants us to create a case study of how to predict where a ship can exit the Warp safely,” Miranda explained, shrugging off her crimson velvet jacket.
“Ahzek?” I asked.
“Professor Ahriman,” she explained. “Before his retirement, he was a very close friend of my father. We’ve known each other since I was two.”
“Ah. Well, OK, if I remember right, the trick is to measure if anything has exited the Warp naturally in that spot before, yeah? Like a Space Hulk?” I asked. I felt oddly like I was learning at the feet of the master.
“Correct. So…let’s see…” Miranda said, slowly dragging a stylus across a dataslate.
The afternoon passed without overloading my brain, somehow, and if I’m honest we would never have finished the assignment without Miranda there. I kind of felt bad about not contributing anywhere near as much to the project as she did, and told her as much.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said nonchalantly, shrugging. Her long red hair slid over her bare shoulders at the movement. “It’s better than every single group in the class sucking up to me, trying to get me to do the project for them.” She stood and stretched. “Be right back,” she said, wandering off to the bathroom. Venus waited until she was gone before we both leaned forward.
“This would be impossible without her,” I said under my breath.
“No fucking kidding, we’re almost done with the whole thing!” Venus said, looking as surprised as me. “Fuck, should we just take our names off the paper now? Let her have all the credit?”
I laughed and leaned back. “Nah, I’m cool with it. But still, wow.”
“Yeah,” she said, shaking her head. “And the way she’s going, she’ll spend the rest of the day here with us. Not that she’d mind.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, grabbing a cookie.
“She thinks you’re cute,” Venus said smugly. I nearly dropped my food.
“I haven’t seen her spend as much time looking at a guy as she has with you since she broke up with Arthur,” Venus informed me.
“Is that why you two were looking like you had your hands caught in the cookie jar when I saw you at lunch?” I asked, a few facts falling into place.
“Actually, no, that was…not that. I had just flashed back to when I was told an embarrassing joke, and it popped into her head too. She’s a mind-reader, remember,” Venus said.
“…Then why did you tell me that she’s got eyes for me?” I asked. ‘She’ll know that I know now. This is going to be super awkward.”
“No, she’s smarter than that. And she knows you’re spoken for,” Venus said, batting her eyes at me. I found it hard to argue with that. I’m such a pushover.
“Well…OK, as long as this doesn’t get tense,” I said. Miranda’s footsteps coming back down the hall silenced our conversation. I looked back down at the dataslate in front of me, and typed a few more lines into our nascent paper. “Venus, are you done with the graph?”
I waited a second for her answer, and looked up to repeat it when I saw that Venus was staring at Miranda with open surprise. I glanced over at her to see what caught her attention and choked off a gasp. She had taken her bandana off.
I snapped my head away instinctively, every horror flick about Warp Eyes I had ever seen flooding into my head at once…then realized that Venus wouldn’t have been looking at her if her eye was harmful. I peeked back, trying not to look like I was staring. All three of her eyes were cerulean blue, so bright and piercing they could have been CGI.
She noticed me staring and shrugged. “Sorry. Should have asked.”
“It’s your face, no need to ask me,“ I said.
“I’m not a Navigatrix, Jake,” she said, but she was giggling. “It’s just…so much easier to do this kind of work with nothing in the way.”
“All right.” I turned back to the dataslate, surprised at how fast I had stopped caring. I guess Venus’ eyes being bright red and radioactive had sort of inured me to Miranda having three.
After another hour or so of work, punctuated by one of us saying something aloud that we thought should go into the final draft, we were more or less done. I wandered down the hall to the bathroom myself, though the sounds of faint conversation halted my return. “…but really, Miranda, was that necessary?” Venus asked, sounding clearly put off.
“For me to be sure, yes,” Miranda said, unperturbed.
“For fuck’s sake, sister, you scared the shit out of him!”
“I had to know.”
“Know how he would react to seeing you pull that little stunt?” Venus asked angrily. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want you to go through what I did.”
“And I can respect that, but believe me, if all it took was an odd appearance to spook Jake off, he’d have made tracks long ago,” Venus said coolly. “And I don’t need him subjected to tests of character on my behalf, thanks. I want you to apologize to him when he gets back.”
“He truly wasn’t disgusted by my eye.”
“I mean for using him like that,” Venus’s voice was sounding more and more frigid by the second.
Enough. I walked back in, and Venus’s head jerked back from where she had been leaning towards her cousin. Miranda looked up at me as I sat down and bowed her head a fraction. “I apologize, Jake, I shouldn’t have startled you like that.”
“It’s all right,” I said. I sent my finished paper over to Miranda’s slate, so she could compile it. “How does it look?”
“Great,” Miranda said, glancing over the paper. “You’re a good technical writer.”
“Thanks,” I said proudly. Venus settled back in her chair and sent her portion of the paper, too, which Miranda dutifully added. After a minute of silence, she read it over and smiled.
“We have a winner,” she said contentedly. “I’ll proof it tonight and send you each a copy. Can I have your address, Jake?” I wrote it down and sent it over. She acknowledged it with a nod. “Great.” She checked the clock over the fireplace with a glance. “Looks like it’s still pretty early. Now what do you want to do?”
“Enough of homework,” Venus said, anger disappearing. “Want to watch a movie or something?”
I didn’t, actually, but before I could say so, the front door opened. Vulkan and a pair of Imperial Army officers walked in, speaking urgently. When he saw the three of us, Vulkan immediately spoke up.
“Well, hello you three. What are you up to?”
“Watching Miranda be awesome at Warp Studies, mostly,” I said, grinning at her.
“Give yourself some credit, you kept up,” she said. “And your chunk of the paper is good.”
The Army guys both started to salute before Vulkan cut them off with a glance, handing them both a paper folder on the counter next to the door. “Here you are, gentlemen. I expect to see them both tomorrow.”
“Yes, my Lord. Good evening,” one of them said, before sketching a perfunctory salute and marching right back out. Vulkan shut the door after them, shaking his head wearily.
“It never ends, this job.” He looked over at us again. “Warp Studies, hmm? I’m sure you take after your father there, Miranda.”
“I hope so,” she said proudly. I stood up and walked over to where Vulkan was still standing at the counter, before he could ask anything else.
“May I speak to you for a moment?” I asked, not looking behind me. He nodded solemnly, as if he had seen it coming. He nodded over at the staircase up to the second floor, and I followed him up, feeling Venus’ and Miranda’s eyes following me. As soon as we were out of earshot, I sighed, feeling my stomach knot up a bit.
“I want to thank you, sir, for helping us out last night,” I said heavily, rubbing the bridge of my nose as the memory came back. “I can’t tell you what it meant to me. I’d be in prison right now if you hadn’t helped out.”
“First off, I’ve asked you before not to call me sir in my own house, second, I meant it when I said it wasn’t a problem, third, no you wouldn’t, because the moment Venus had noticed you weren’t in school today, she would have realized what was going on. She would have told me, and I would have come down on the Treasury like a lance strike,” Vulkan said flatly. “And fourth, I’ve already spoken with Palozzi’s CO and told him never to assign the man to field ops again.”
“Which I can appreciate, Vulkan, and I thank you again. But…” I felt my hands clench at the sight of the cords falling out of his sleeves, ready to drag me off. “Venus was so angry about the whole thing I was afraid of even seeing her today. She blames herself for everything that’s gone wrong in the last week.”
“She blames herself because she knows that it’s her fault, no matter what you and I tell her,” Vulkan said, matter-of-factly. I looked up in surprise. “And believe me, that’s why it’s so important to her to make things up to you.”
“I…see,” I said, thinking that over.
“No, you don’t,” Vulkan said. “I have made completely and entirely sure that she understands that living up to a mistake is even more important than acknowledging that one has committed a mistake.”
“So…what, she’s not going to forgive herself, ever, for all this, until I tell her I blame her for it?” I asked, astonished.
“No, she’s smarter than that. That said, she will feel obligated to do something for you regardless,” he said calmly. “To which, I must ask, what do you want?”
“From her? God, what could I ask for?” I said, starting to feel a little angry myself. “See, I can’t do that. Because the way I am, I want her to understand that I do not, and CAN’T, view personal debts and mistakes like marks on a scorecard. I want our relationship to be more than trading favors and disfavors, and I will not accept that she can’t just be happy with me even if life does throw a caltrop in our path every so often,” I said, clenching my teeth.
“Really? You want her to understand that? For what tense?” Vulkan asked, his eyes narrowing. “Do you want her not to go to school, so she can stay with you?”
THAT brought me up short. I foundered for a second, before my lips got ahead of my brain. “No. I want her to be happy whatever she chooses. I just want her to choose me, too. And I want her to be able, whatever she chooses, to be able to live without having to keep track of every deed and misdeed like beads on an abacus. Because believe me, that’s NOT living, and that’s NOT happiness.”
Vulkan just kind of stared at me, before a grin slowly split his onyx visage. “Really?”
“Of course! I may not be able to follow her wherever she goes, but-” my voice caught for a moment. I swallowed and pressed on. “But I’m going to make sure that however much time we get to spend together makes her understand that I treasure her.”
God, I couldn’t have sounded cornier if I tried. I stood there for a long second, just fuming, before I mumbled my thanks for dealing with Palozzi and walked back downstairs.
Venus and Miranda were cleaning up homework implements and cookie detritus when I came back over. Venus caught sight of the look on my face and stared. “Jake? You OK?”
“Yeah, I was just thanking your father for dealing with that asshole last night,” I said. “I got a little emotional.”
“OK. Well. Let’s pack up. You want to hang out here for a while?”
“Sure,” I said, grabbing the cookie plate and heading back into the kitchen. Miranda stuffed her dataslate in her bag and tied her bandana back on, righting it in her reflection over the sink.
I cricked my back, feeling the emotional cooldown of my confrontation with Vulkan. Miranda shot me a knowing look in the reflective surface of the counter and turned to Venus. “Actually, you know what? I’m heading out right now. I’ll call for a ride.”
“Really? OK,” Venus said. Before she could say anything else, Miranda was already heading for the door, with Venus in tow. Aware of the parallel between their exit and my own, moments before, I drifted back to the table and sat down.
After a few minutes, Venus walked back over to stand beside me. She just stared at me for a moment, before reaching down and wrapping her arms around my neck, hugging me tight. I didn’t say anything, and didn’t feel the need to. I pushed back my chair and she settled in my lap, still leaning her head on mine, silent.
Finally, I broke the silence. “Mind-reader, huh.”
“Yep.” Venus snorted with sudden, forced humor. “What DID you two talk about up there?”
“I don’t even know,” I sighed. “I started by thanking him for helping us, then somehow we were talking about whether or not I’d ask you to not go to Kouthry if I couldn’t go.”
“What?” Venus asked in surprise, lifting her head up and staring at me. “That’s…what did you say?”
“I said no, because I’d rather see you happy somewhere else,” I said heavily. “Your turn.”
“Miranda was just telling me that she felt you fall down an emotional staircase,” Venus said. “I guess I know why.”
“Yeah.” I let the seconds drag by. “Venus. You understand that even if I can’t follow you, this is the best time of my life. Right?”
She didn’t answer right away. She just closed her eyes and settled against me, slowly entwining her hands with mine.
“…me too…” she said softly, and I felt her smile against my cheek.
“And…I don’t think Miranda trying to get a rise out of me was offensive,” I said drily. She snorted against my hair.
“Really? ‘Cuz I was pissed.”
“Baby, your eyes are RADIOACTIVE. What’s three gonna do?”
“True.” After a moment longer, she stood and stretched luxuriously. She slid both arms down the sides of my chair, leaning in for a slow, languid kiss. I raised my hands up to her chin, holding her still. Time froze. The faint feeling of her blood pulsing under my fingertips and the scent of her hair were all I could sense, besides her taste on my lips, and a gentle brush of her eyelashes on my cheek.
Radiant heat bathed my face as her eyes cracked open. She broke the kiss and bit her lip, mischief suddenly sparking behind her eyes. “You know what?” she asked softly.
“What?” I asked in the same voice.
“Fuck this depressing bullshit. I wanna go for a drive.”
I smiled up at her and grabbed my keys off the table without looking. “Hell yeah.”
Outside, I dragged Taxi out from under the front of my aircar and we took off, heading away. I flew us over the town where we had had dinner the previous night, and set us down in public parking near the nice little square we had been in before.
The air was a lot warmer today. Spring was wearing on, as much as the weather can change on Terra. We were both still in our school uniforms, though I was in winter still, and Venus had elected for the much more casual-looking summer uniform, though she had abstained from the usual skirt in favor of long pants. That was still more than enough to draw a lingering stare from the occasional passer-by, however. And me.
We wandered around the little park, just enjoying each other’s company, watching dog-sitters by the dozen walking their rich bosses’ dogs around the place and the occasional jogger, running by. We also stumbled upon a few families out with their kids, enjoying the artificial weather.
When we were starting to head deeper into the wooded area, though, a little kid ran up to us, clearly intent on getting past us into the woods, chased by her bellowing mother. “Casie, you get back here NOW!” the woman yelled, as the kid suddenly stumbled to a halt, after getting an eyeful of Venus. She caught up, panting, and scooped her errant child into her arms, chiding her loudly. “Unbelievable. You do NOT behave like that in public!”
Venus watched the spectacle with a wistful smile. “Heh. I’d like to think I was never that bad.”
“I sure was,” I said. “My parents say I was an incorrigible little shit.”
“Ha! Yeah? Running away from your mother?”
“No, climbing on the shocklines in the hive walls. Served me in good stead when I started helping Dad with the repairs.” The mother draped the kid over her shoulder and nearly hauled her back to their car.
We pressed on in the woods, which I was still gaping at every so often, I admit. That place had more green in one location than I had ever seen in my life, and I was determined to take it all in. We stopped for a bite at the edge of the woods, and just people-watched for a bit, but we had to head back before long.
The Final Part
By the time we had gotten back to the house, the artificial weather pattern was kicking up dreary clouds, the kind that presaged rain. I parked the car under the overhang of the garage and hurried out, as Venus squeezed through her door by as small a margin as possible, lest Taxi lodge himself in my car again.
Vulkan was sitting at the counter again, elbow-deep in paperwork, and apparently waiting for us. No sooner had I closed the door behind us, than he was beckoning us both over. “Venus, Jake, there you are. Come here, I have something I wanted to ask you.”
Suppressing the sudden guilt any man hears when his woman’s father says that, I walked on over and awkwardly hovered at the counter, Venus tagging curiously along. The mess of paperwork and dataslates on the counter in front of him had nearly buried the detritus of an impromptu snack, which he cleared aside. “Jake, I want to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to force a decision on you before,” he said straightaway. “I’m sorry if I came off wrong.”
“Oh,” I said, relieved. “It’s fine. I wasn’t offended.”
“Good.” He tapped a stylus on the dataslate in the middle of the clearing for a moment. “Venus, did you ever tell Jake why you picked Kouthry?”
“Uh…don’t think so,” she said, puzzled. “It’s…well, a family school. I mean, Mom and Dad both went there, Mom when she lived here before moving to Nocturne and Dad when he moved here after the Crusade,” she explained.
“And you’re going there because you want to make it a dynastic thing? Or because it’s just that good a school?” I asked.
“Well, it is a really good school, but I also kind of want to see what they thought was so good,” Venus said.
“There’s a wing named after me there,” Vulkan said drily. “It’s tucked away between two spires over on Hive Quadrant NE. Right where New Arks was before the hives went up.”
“So, why do you ask, Dad?” Venus asked, before her eyes shot open, the lights inside brightening with sudden surprise. I stared at her, trying to see what had surprised her. She clasped her hands together, pressing her lips into a line, avoiding my gaze. Vulkan pretended he hadn’t noticed.
“Well, Jake, I may have said it in person, or Venus may have told you, but as much as I like you, and as happy as it makes me to see you and Venus getting along so well, I’m not willing to pay your tuition outright,” Vulkan said unreservedly. Venus’s eyes narrowed, a smile tugging at her lips. “That said…” I didn’t rise to the bait, having had quite enough of his flair for the dramatic by this point. He continued. “That said, there’s a reason there’s a wing named after me, and it’s not because I took courses there,” Vulkan said, turning the dataslate around so I could see it.
The page on the screen was a brochure of the school, including news about some kind of construction. My stomach locked up solid at the title of the new building: Caestusine Applied Technology Building. I jerked my head back up to stare at the Lord Primarch, who was clearly getting a kick out of my reactions. “I donated money there after graduation, since I attended under an assumed name and took online courses whenever I could, to avoid attention. They recently started construction on a wing I funded under the same assumed name, and they’re opening a lab there. They need clever young lab techs to help keep the place humming, and since it’s a non-denominational school – which is part of the reason I liked it so much – they don’t want enginseers to do it.” I leaned back slowly, not daring to hope.
“Now, the various deans of the college know that Venus wants to attend. She didn’t even have to formally apply. You, on the other hand,” he said, smiling, “have made one thing clear to me since the day we met. You hate nepotism.”
“I don’t think Venus getting in to-” I started to say. He waved me off.
“Of course you don’t. I bet you wouldn’t have even applied if you didn’t think you deserved to go,” he said, smiling fondly at Venus, who was slowly raising her hands to cover her gaping mouth. “So…all I have to do is press a single button on this dataslate, and your name jumps to the top of the list at Kouthry’s internal hiring office for the lab tech job there. You’ll get subsidized housing and meals like any student, though I suspect you’d rather decline that,” he said, grinning, “and of course…staff can take classes there, at a colossal discount. The final rate would be about what I spend on dry cleaning any given week, and that, Jake, I would be quite happy to cover.”
“And, of course,” he said, leaning back in his chair and turning the dataslate back to himself, “I would also understand if you don’t want someone else to buy your way in. I can respect that decision too,” he said, picking it up and standing. “I don’t want an answer now, and I don’t expect one. You two talk amongst yourselves, and come find me when you make up your minds.” He turned the pad off and scooped up the paperwork, as we both stood there shellshocked. Without another word, he turned and headed back up the stairs.
As the sound of his footsteps grew fainter, I sunk down into his chair, my head reeling. Getting a JOB at Kouthry? That hadn’t even occurred to me. And…living with Venus full-time? Taking classes there? And those little interrogations of his…they had been tests of CHARACTER? What?
“You can take the father out of the Astartes,” Venus muttered, clearly thinking the same things I was, and clearly just as astonished. I looked up at her dumbly, waiting for her to say something. She looked down at me, her eyes wide. “What are you going to say?”
“Well…he’s right, I’d never accept if it had been my own father pulling strings to get me into Canstrides,” I said, staring at my hands. “But…wow. I want to do it. I want to do it so badly,” I said, the tension in my stomach twisting. “I mean, it’s a nonissue. I’ll accept in a heartbeat. If you want me to,” I said, looking back up at her.
“Me? Why is it my call?” she asked.
“Uh…’I suspect you’d rather decline that,’” I said, echoing her father’s statement. “I’d be living with you.”
“Oh. Duh,” she said, smacking her forehead with her palm. “Of course. I’m completely OK with that!” she declared.
Weeks later, I thought back to that moment and wondered at how the remote possibility that we wouldn’t want to spend our lives together never even occurred to us. Neither of us even thought of what would happen if either of us had to leave or transferred out, or how we would handle a breakup. But at the time, neither of us thought of that at all.
Because, at that moment, all I could think to do was wrap Venus in a hug so tight all she could do was return it, bury my face in her hair, and let the tears of relief that had been building in my eyes since Vulkan had left the room flow.
I didn’t have to leave her. She didn’t have to leave me. I wouldn’t have to abandon her. She wouldn’t need to move on.
I sat on the floor, leaning against the leg of the counter, arms still wrapped around Venus, who I think I dragged down with me, hurriedly wiping tears out of my eyes. “All right. All right,” I said, pulling myself together. She bit her lip, not even trying to hide tears herself. “All right. I’ll, uh. I’ll go tell Vulkan, then.”
“Hang on,” she said. She wiggled her arm loose and snuggled up against me on the kitchen floor. We just held each other, all the uncertainty that had been creeping up on us both since the pseudoweather changed to spring eroding.
I tilted my head down and kissed her on the cheek, making her turn her head. I kissed her again, fully, and she leaned into it, those gorgeous eyes dimming in contentment. I don’t know if I can express here how happy I was to finally know that time wasn’t an enemy, that we could spend years together, maybe more. Maybe I can’t tell it here, but I told her there, not speaking a word. Finally, I pulled my head back, brushing my eyes again. “OK. Let’s…go tell Vulkan.”
She sniffed, standing up and offering me a hand. “Let’s.”
We walked upstairs, finding him in his study on the third floor, a labyrinth of holotables and vox terminals, with a cogitator humming to itself in the corner. Vulkan himself was idly spinning a stylus around his finger, reading over a screen. As we walked in, though, he shut it off, staring at us expectantly. “Well, that was quick.”
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” I said, grinning ear to ear. “And I’m happy to accept.” Vulkan nodded, smiling back.
“Good. Good. All right then. I assume you’ll want to surprise your parents?”
“Sure, this will be quite a shock to the system for both of them,” I said. “Kouthry…that blows my mind.” I rubbed my hands on my temples, still reeling. “I can’t thank you enough, sir, really. Sorry,” I said as he raised his eyebrows in exasperation. “I think you earned it this time.”
“Fair enough,” he said, “but really, Jake, no more.”
Venus giggled. I shrugged, light-headed. “Okay. Thanks. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”
“Ah, sure you can, just not until you’ve tried it for a few years,” Vulkan said. “They kick your ass the first few classes. Now,” he added, tapping one of the screens in front of him, “I suspect your parents will want to know soon.”
“Yeah, I should go tell them.” I hesitated for a moment, then stuck out my hand. He blinked, then grinned and shook it, the heat radiating from his skin nearly making me cringe. “Thank you, Vulkan. I’ll…take good care of her,” I said. Venus sniffed again, this time is transparently feigned disdain.
“I’m sure you will. Now, go on, break the good news to George and Sandra, hmm?”
“You bet. Thanks,” I said, withdrawing my singed hand and turning for the door.
I got as far as the bottom stairs before she lost her patience. “Take…good care of me…” Venus mused.
“I meant it too,” I said, deadpanning it.
“Hmm…I bet,” she said, making a show of rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “Take care…huh.”
“I seem to recall you enjoying it immensely when I take care of you,” I noted.
“Still…you told my father…a Lord Primarch…that you’d…take care of me…” she said, not done yet.
I turned around to face her, staring her square in the eye. She was trying desperately to hold in a laugh of derision and an ‘awwwww’ of pure glee, and it emerged as a strangled “geeeya ha ha ha ha!”
“Laugh it up,” I said with a sigh. “We’ll look back on this and comment on how cute it was or something, fuck, I dunno.”
She hunched her shoulders, fighting down the giggles. “Shu-hu-hure we will,” she said, clamping a hand over her mouth as the mirth threatened to escape.
“You’re ruining our future memories,” I grumbled, opening the door and fishing out my keys.
“Aww, I’m sorry,” she said sweetly, following me out to the car. “Hey, how are you going to break it to your parents?”
“I’m just going to tell them. Probably at dinner,” I said, opening the door.
“Okay, you could do that,” she said coyly, “or…” she reached forward and caught my hand on the door. “We could tell them. I could come and tell your parents with you, and just catch a ride home from Dad’s driver.”
“That would be better,” I said, trying to picture the looks on my parents’ faces. “Yeah, I want you there for this.” I pried Taxi off the door and got in, Venus clambering in behind me. “So, how do you want to play it?”
“Heh. I think I know,” she said, staring out the window as we approached the airlock.
“So…Mom, Dad, I wanted you two to be the first to hear a special announcement,” I said, beaming at my parents in the eating nook of the apartment. Venus nodded happily behind me.
“We’ve decided that the end of high school is no reason for a good thing to come to an end,” she said, her ‘acting’ skills in full display. “So, we’ve talked it over, and we’re going to be living together come the fall.”
My parents just…sort of looked at each other for a moment. “Um.” My dad ventured. “How…is that going to work?”
“Damn, was hoping for a stronger reaction,” I said, shrugging. “Ah well, it was worth a try. OK,” I said, abandoning the act. “Well, Lord Vulkan said flat-out that he wouldn’t be willing to pay my tuition if I applied to go to Kouthry with Venus…but they’re also opening a lab over there, and they need techs. He put my name at the top of the list, so I can just work there and take night classes. I’d be living on campus-” which is about as far as I got before my mother shrieked in happiness and enveloped me in a bear hug.
“Yes! Oh my god I’m so glad!” she yelled, trapping my arms against my sides in a horrifying vice-grip.
“Wow. Wow,” Dad said from his seat, shaking his head with a grin. “You…congratulations, Jacob, that’s fantastic.”
“Of course,” I managed after my mother released me from her iron grip, “I’d still have to pay some tuition anyway, but Vulkan said that amount was so much smaller that he would be willing to cover it.”
“He did?! That’s so generous! Thank you so much!” Mom said, beaming at Venus. Venus put her hands up in defense.
“It was his idea, thank him,” she said. “Tell them the best part,” she said to me.
“Of course, the best part is that since it’d be a full-time schedule for both of us, we’d be sharing an apartment on campus together, so,-” I said, before yet another shriek/bear hug cut me off.
“I’M SO PROUD OF YOU”
“Ow, Mom, ease up,” I squeaked. As soon as I would work my lungs again, I laid out the whole story, from when we had walked back in to our decision, leaving out the breakdown, naturally. When it was all over, and another round of hugs had subsided, Venus leaned forward to add her own comment.
“There’s seven weeks left in the school year, and when summer’s over, we’ll just move in with the rest of the orientation crowd,” she said. “I mean, of course, we’d have to arrange security, but that’s fast.”
“Hey, a reason to get back on the Treasury watch list, Dad, just like we always wanted,” I said, grinning innocently at Dad’s half-hearted glare.
“Well, I better head out,” Venus said, tapping a few keys on her vox. “Thanks for having me. See you tomorrow?”
“Sure,” I said, standing up. “And thank your dad again for me, would you please?” I asked, still grinning. “Oh man, I’m still reeling.”
“I know. I had no idea he was planning this,” she confessed. “You know, he wouldn’t have done this if he didn’t really think we were good together, but he’s always been a sentimental old coot.”
“I don’t think it’s respectful to call your father that,” I said, propping the door open for her. Her father’s limo was parked outside, his driver leaning on the door, and standing up as she walked out.
“Eh, he knows it too.” The driver opened the passenger door of the black aircar, waiting as I kissed Venus goodbye. “See you tomorrow,” she said softly, her eyes glowing in the dim lights of the hive.
I hugged her shoulders to me, already looking forward to it. “I’ll see you.” With one last smile, she climbed into the car and it lifted, spinning into the skylanes and making for the airlock.
I watched the car until its lights faded, just thinking. The hive had been all the home I had ever known, until I started ninth grade. Once I had gotten out, it had been all I wanted to stay out, to spend as much time outside as I could. Then, I had met Venus, and suddenly I could stay out. She had been everything I had wanted, and thinking it over, I couldn’t think of a single way I wanted that to change.
I leaned against the doorframe, letting the flat breeze of the hive carry the sounds of the day-to-day. All of a sudden, the future’s uncertainty wasn’t something to resent. I had a chance now. I could go and find out what it was that I wanted, what it was that I needed, and Venus would be right there with me.
With that, I turned from the hive view, shutting the door behind me. I was ready, now. High school wasn’t the end. Now, I could really start thinking about tomorrow.