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Heloga Alpha flicked her finger at two of the male slaves and one of the females. "Those three are not acceptable. I want superior replacements immediately."
The slave handler cringed and apologized profusely. "I am most sorry to have displeased you with our stock, Heloga Alpha. The senior handler personally chose these exceptional Solians to satisfy your -- "
"Take them away." Heloga leaned forward and delicately sniffed the air in front of the female slave. "How dare you supply me with a slave that has body odor? And it's been sterilized by my staff! It must be something you fed it."
The Gamma handler was bobbing his head as he cut the three offending slaves out of the four dozen prime specimens. They were supposedly the pick of the slave shipments to Canopus region, but Heloga would offer only the best for her quarterly social event. After all, Canopus was renowned throughout the Domain as the supplier of native Solian pleasure slaves, so Heloga had a reputation to maintain.
It was because of Sol and its endless supply of Solians that Heloga had fought to gain this post on the distant frontier of the Domain. This region had lacked everything else, except for Solians -- the priceless commodity that was being sucked away without the requisite recompense to its regional commander. When Heloga became regional commander, she demanded a significant compensation for over a century. The result was that the best the Domain had to offer flowed into the fledgling Canopus region. And it all was hers to give or withhold!
Kristolas Alpha yawned. "Aren't you almost done?"
Kristolas had been waiting for Heloga at the Estuary, where her party was being produced. She wasn't sure why he had come. Perhaps he wanted a preview of the slaves for the party. Heloga was somewhat irked that he might monopolize a slave tonight because Kristolas should be paying attention to her. Kristolas had been her constant lust partner every six days, for over a standard year. He couldn't possibly dally with slaves on a regular basis, so maybe he thought tonight would be an acceptable exception.
"Are you in a rush?" Heloga countered. She didn't like answering questions.
"I'd like to talk to you, if I may."
Heloga narrowed her eyes at such a polite request. Kristolas was a handsome Alpha with skin nearly as pale as her own. With his confidence and commanding presence, he ruled naturally over others. Except for her, though he subtly tried when they weren't in lust. She had become deft at slapping him down. But whenever she went into lust, she welcomed his domineering way of controlling what happened. A few days ago, during their last lust, he had ordered her to grovel at his feet and beg for sex. She had writhed on the floor in ecstasy, giving up all dignity in her desire for him, confident that no one else would ever know of her debasement.
"Certainly, my dear, feel free to speak." Heloga strolled into the next room as she spoke.
"I wouldn't want to interrupt your inspection."
Heloga let it drop, knowing there was no use in insisting he talk to her. It was one of his small ways of exerting control even though he was lower in rank. It didn't bother her. She had been attracted to Kristolas from the first moment she saw him at the Arts Complex on Canopus Prime. He had been assigned to manage the complex by the Domain regents, and he had lured brilliant artists to stimulate the cultural ascent of her region. Heloga had enjoyed the increasingly sophisticated entertainment more than anything else she had acquired in her years as regional commander. Kristolas's efforts had drawn the most eminent Alphas in their creative fields from the surrounding regions to her own Canopus Prime.
There was only one problem: Kristolas was attracted to Alpha artists. This quarter it was a new singer who had mastered the avant-garde style. Heloga's security had reported seeing Kristolas in several public and private places in the past few days in the company of Olhanna Alpha. Heloga had examined the images of Olhanna and was jealous of her youthful, nut brown beauty. Olhanna was reputed to be a brilliant interpreter of the innovative pastoral melodies. At Kristolas's urging, she had consented to include the distant Canopus in her galactic tour.
Heloga refused to bring up Olhanna with Kristolas. Instead, she continued her rounds of the Estuary facilities, built over a flowing stream that could be seen through the transparent floors. Other floors had low grav for playing and zero grav for dancing and sex. She intended to spend most of her time on the low-grav floor because her outfit would look stunning there.
She paused at a glimpse of the fragmented mirrors partially concealed behind live, hanging vines. Her body-hugging unitard was black, with iridescent lines that called attention to her full bust and slender waist. Her perfect skull formed a smooth arc, but she had to lift her chin slightly to emphasize the curve of her throat. Perhaps it was a trick of the light -- there wasn't really a tiny bit of slackness under her jaw. She was devastatingly beautiful. She had never understood why some Alphas preferred to use pleasure slaves for their lust. Solians were short and stumpy with awkward proportions.
"Everything is sublime," Kristolas assured her. "Except the light in the upper grav chamber should be more rosy rather than blue. I could speak to our lighting designer, if you'd like."
"That won't be necessary," she replied with a smile. Heloga passed her hand in front of one of the large spherical serving trays. It was filled with protein-stuffed shells. The temperature was set correctly, keeping the savory morsels warm. The tray floated waist-high for easy access. There were dozens of servers that would constantly circulate among the guests. The cover automatically closed after she removed her hand.
"I wish I could see it tonight," Kristolas added. "When everyone is here."
Heloga stiffened, though she tried not to show it. She glanced at him, knowing how fierce her violet eyes could be when she was angry.
Kristolas held up his hands, trying to smile. "I told you I couldn't come tonight. It's Olhanna's opening, and I have to be there. Remember, I begged you decnights ago to change the date for your party -- "
"I won't defer to some itinerant singer! You should have rescheduled the opening. Why didn't you have it last night?"
"The terms of Olhanna's tour were settled a standard year ago. I can't break the contract. I told you that."
Olhanna! Heloga paced over to the flock of small confection servers. Absently she passed her hand in front of one. It held small, round rhoca puffs. She picked one up to taste it, then put it back down untouched. The server closed as she moved on, checking each one but seeing nothing in her rage at Kristolas.
Finally she whirled and hissed under her breath, "How could you? Everyone will know you've chosen her over me!"
"Stop it!" Kristolas exclaimed. He stepped forward to take her arms. "You know how I feel about you -- "
"I'll know it when you come tonight." Heloga held herself rigid, refusing to give in. She wouldn't allow him to disrespect her in this way.
She was certain to win her point. After all, who could refuse the senior Alpha of the region?
But before Kristolas could agree, her comm implant chimed urgently. Her Beta assistant, Waanip, would disturb her only with something that required her immediate attention.
Kristolas recognized the slight inattention. "You're getting a comm, aren't you?"
"Yes." Heloga scanned the image that flashed in front of her eyes. Waanip was reporting that two Alphas were waiting in Heloga's reception area. They had a regents authorization chip and insisted that Heloga be recalled immediately.
"I see you're busy," Kristolas told her, giving her a practiced, placating smile. "I have things to do to prepare for tonight's opening."
"Think about your choice," Heloga warned him. "It's not often that a regional commander favors a lower-ranked Alpha with her intimacy."
Kristolas stared at her, his carefree voice going cold. "I will consider that, Regional Commander."
With a slight bow, he turned away.
"Kristolas!" Heloga called out, but he disappeared through the drop tube to the roof. She would have to run after him to stop him, and that wouldn't be dignified. Yet neither was her open declaration that she was using him for stud services.
Furious at herself, she activated her comm and ordered Waanip to treat the Alphas with every courtesy. Heloga personally didn't care if she left them sitting in her office the entire night. But anything was better than thinking about Kristolas. He shouldn't have gone so fast; she could have reeled him in again. He was not an easy man, but that's what made him so endlessly interesting and exciting.
Heloga quickly finished her tour of the Estuary and signed off on the preparations. As she was heading to the drop tube, she caught a glimpse of her face in a mirror and lifted her chin.
By the time Heloga arrived at her office, she knew what she would find. The two Alphas were strategists sent from the Regents Council in Spinca. Spinca's council was the most junior in the Domain, controlling fifteen regions of unruly frontier space. The regents were quick in responding, but it was not surprising that they had sent strategists to assess the situation after Qin, a neighboring territory thought to be technologically inferior, had managed to invade the Domain and destroy a Fleet spacepost.
So Heloga was in the proper frame of mine as the aircar landed on her administrative complex and she took the lift tube down from her roof-top pad. Respect was due these Alphas, since they were the direct representatives of the Regents Council, but Heloga was still senior to them. She did pause to dial her unitard to a rich brown, simulating a Fleet uniform. She had left off wearing brown since becoming regional commander, a planetary post. But she thought it would be smart to emphasize where her authority lay during this interview.
The two strategists stood up to greet her as Waanip introduced them. Winstav Alpha appeared to be an observant, thoughtful man. He was slender and shorter than Heloga so physically she dismissed him. But she gave him a warm smile that lasted a bit longer than usual. It never hurt to exert some charm.
But Felenore, on the other hand, was hopeless. Heloga hesitated in her greeting, wondering if there was some mistake. Felenore looked like a mutant. How else to explain the oddly shaped skull, close-set eyes, and fleshy nose? Heloga's smile froze as she tried to find some attractive feature she could rest her eyes on, but she gave it up as impossible.
"Come this way," she told the strategists.
They followed Heloga into the office, where she settled herself into her imposing chair. Because of their association with the regents, she keyed a bench to appear for each of them. They began the usual dance of explaining who they were, as if expecting her to show surprise or consternation at being investigated by the "best minds" the Domain had to offer.
Heloga looked at Winstav as much as possible. Felenore's asymmetry was increasingly annoying. Her skin was practically orange, no proper shade for an Alpha, and it was marred by bumps on her forehead and cheeks. And that head! It looked as though it had been both stretched and flattened, with divots and pock-marks marring it. No Alpha had the right to look that way. She should get herself altered by competent biotechs rather than show herself like this.
"So we request your cooperation, Regional Commander," Winstav added graciously, as he finished his explanation of how the regents had sent them to investigate the destruction of the spacepost in the Sirius sector. "We are to prepare and implement strategy for the Fleet's response."
"The regents are wise to see the need for strategists." Rather than listening, Heloga had mostly been admiring Winstav's cinnabar-toned skin, accented by an attractive ruddy glow on his cheeks and smooth head. Too bad he wasn't taller or she might actually be attracted to him.
"Our first task is the Qin," Winstav continued. "We must have access to your records and logs on any interactions your commanders have had with the Qin. We will also need the intelligence information that you acquired about the activities on Spacepost T-3 prior to the Qin attack. That includes your reports on Rikev Alpha and the staff of the spacepost."
"You will have complete access," Heloga replied. "InSec has already begun an investigation."
Felenore said flatly, "We need to interrogate Rikev Alpha first. Before he discovers there's an investigation under way."
"Rikev Alpha is on a mission to Qin," Heloga said airily. "I sent my report to the Regents Council two decnights ago."
Winstav and Felenore exchanged glances. "Your report indicated Rikev Alpha had returned to Regional Headquarters," the ugly woman insisted. "Surely you didn't let him leave?"
Heloga was not about to be browbeaten by these two. "Rikev is on the Conviction en route to Qin to render a fatal blow to their industrial and shipping base. He has a great deal of experience dealing with Qin and was required to assist Captain Luddolf."
"Have you received any reports?" Felenore pressed.
"We expect to hear soon." Heloga didn't tell them that the Conviction should have reached the outer Qin territories three decnights ago. Perhaps the next Fleet courier would carry good news.
"That is unfortunate," Winstav said thoughtfully. "But we shall probably have to go to Qin regardless. We don't want to alert him."
"You believe Rikev Alpha is a traitor?" Any inquiries into Rikev's character would keep the attention off her, but it wouldn't be appropriate to be too eager. "It would explain a great deal about how the Qin were successful in penetrating our defenses in Sirius. But there is nothing in Rikev's behavior that would indicate such a tendency."
"You leave that to us to decide," Felenore retorted.
Heloga placidly waited, refusing to respond.
"Then we will get started immediately," Winstav declared, glancing apologetically at Heloga. She softened, realizing that he probably had no choice in his partner strategist.
Heloga pressed the comm. "Waanip, bring your dataport."
As her assistant entered the office, Heloga said, "Waanip will take you to your lodgings. Authorize any request they have, Waanip."
"By your command, Regional Commander," Waanip acknowledged.
Heloga smiled the strategists out of her office with a distant air, as if she had far more important matters to tend to. Felenore kept staring at her, but Winstav was more polite.
When the door finally shut behind them, Heloga thoughtfully sat down at her desk. The spacepost was her responsibility, so the blame ultimately rested on her. She could have retained Rikev to offer him up as a sacrifice, but that would have been too quick to satisfy these strategists. She intended for Rikev to fix the problem he had caused, then the strategists could have him. Surely he was motivated enough to wreak the vengeance that was needed against the Qin.
Heloga pushed back from her desk. Strategists were easy to deal with. She would smother them in data, then send them down to the destroyed spacepost in Sirius. If they concentrated on Rikev and his staff, they wouldn't be evaluating her performance. From Sirius, it would be natural for the strategists to proceed to Qin where they could help Rikev finish off that little problem for her.
She had more important things to tend to. She needed to return home to prepare for her party. Perhaps a last-moment comm to Kristolas would be able to sway him....
Her desk chimed and Waanip asked, "Heloga Alpha?"
"There's an Alpha here to see you. He came on the same liner as the strategists." Waanip lowered her voice, even though she was clearly in the hush cone. "It's a new Rikev Alpha."
Heloga stood up as a brand new Rikev entered her office. Like the other Rikev, this Alpha clone had golden skin and dark, impenetrable eyes. It was difficult to tell with Alphas, but she decided he was younger than the first Rikev who had reported to Canopus Regional Headquarters over four decades ago. From the way he swaggered, Heloga thought this Rikev might even be fresh out of training. How interesting...
"Rikev Alpha 6J-151." The new Rikev handed over an official datarod then stood very straight, avoiding her eyes as befitting a lower ranked Alpha. "I have been assigned to replace Rikev 5G-177. Upon release by strategists Winstav and Felenore, Rikev 5G-177 will be returned to Genetics Institute on Spinca Prime for evaluation."
Heloga came around her desk to get a closer look at him. Of course, this clone was identical to the last Rikev. However, as a J-series, it was closer to maturation as a clone, which meant it was a successful line. Heloga herself was an S-series. Only the more developed lines could claim the highest posts in the Domain, including regent's status. She remembered from his profile that Rikevs were noted for their leadership ability and incisive, unflinching minds.
"Rikev 5G-177 is on a mission to Qin," Heloga informed him.
The younger Rikev tried to hide his interest. Heloga had always wondered if his habitual reserve was learned or innate. Apparently it was learned. Now she was convinced that this was a less experienced Rikev.
"If he remains assigned to this region, I cannot stay at this post, Regional Commander."
Heloga wanted to laugh at his naive worry. "You won't explode if you meet your clone. That rule simply prevents confusion in the lower ranks."
"The regents may want to reassign me," Rikev insisted.
"Be silent." Heloga didn't raise her voice, but she made it clear he was being impertinent.
Rikev pressed his lips together briefly, obeying her.
Delighted with the turn of events, Heloga returned to her seat. She leaned back and steepled her hands under her chin. "I'm not sure I want a Rikev in my region. The other Rikev failed miserably in his last command."
Rikev frowned. "The 5G's performance is an aberration for our line."
"Do you know what he did?" Heloga asked sweetly.
Rikev was forced to admit, "He allowed his spacepost to be attacked by a Qin warship."
"Spacepost T-3 was utterly destroyed and is now a drifting wreck. Rikev lost his command."
Rikev absorbed the ramifications. It was undeniable that the successes and failures of those in his line reflected on every living Rikev. There were as many as a hundred Rikevs working in various regions while the geneticists narrowed in on the most successful individuals. They would donate the genetic material for the next series of clones.
"I will not fail you, Regional Commander," Rikev said formally. Now he looked like the man she had come to know -- ruthless and coldly competent.
Heloga gazed at him a long moment, letting him think she would send him back in disgrace. The culmination of events in Canopus could be a blow his line might not recover from. Then she sighed and gave the appearance of relenting. "I am not convinced, but I will let you prove your worthiness."
"You have my loyal devotion, Regional Commander."
She smiled at the nicely-turned phrase. "I'll keep you here at Canopus Prime for now, Rikev. You'll be a special adjunct, subject to my orders. I have several tasks that may be ideal for a man of your talents."
"I am at your command, Regional Commander."
Not bad, the boy caught on quick. Now she would have to see what she could do with him. Something exciting...and something that would serve her purpose in getting revenge on Kristolas for thinking about abandoning her in front of all Canopus society.
"Rikev, your duties will start this evening."
"Naturally, Regional Commander."
"It's very important to be prepared for every occasion when you are reaching for the upper ranks." She smiled. "I'd like you to act as my escort for a small party I'm giving tonight."
Heloga arrived late to her own party, as usual. She preferred to have admirers gathered around her rather than play to an empty room. She sailed through her guests on the arm of the new and improved Rikev.
She took it as a compliment that every pleasure slave was being used, some by Alphas whose lust luckily coincided with her party. The public sexual displays were the envy of many Alphas who weren't in lust, and they gathered around to watch. There were still plenty of slaves left to serve as personal attendants, kneeling and awaiting to obey any order.
Heloga had been informed on the landing pad that Kristolas had not arrived. She briefly considered leaving in a fit of pique, but it would be common news tomorrow that he had attended Olhanna's opening. There were sure to be raves about Olhanna's performance on the net. Heloga intended for news of her party to be higher in the queue than a mere entertainment review.
As Heloga strolled among the Alpha guests, none of them ventured to say anything about Kristolas's absence. They must have known that she had the best ears on them that InSec could provide and her analyzer would catch even the tiniest derogatory inflection.
She received many compliments on her outfit, a pale purple cloud that swirled around her chest and hips, trailing down her legs. Under the low grav, it clung and shifted in a tantalizing way. The color suited her perfectly, and it caught the eye in ways more static costumes couldn't.
Rikev was the suave sophisticate, as always, despite his perpetual brown Fleet uniform. Heloga had never seen him out of it, and apparently this Rikev was no more flexible. But the fine material and cut served equally as well in a formal atmosphere as it did on the command deck. Rikev's polished gold head gave a touch of innate elegance that many Alphas couldn't match.
She let other Alphas pay attention to her that night, and danced with a select few, including Rikev. It made her point, along with several intimate conversations she held with him. The seeds of doubt were laid. They wondered if she was finished with Kristolas.
Rikev appeared to respond to her flirtations, but only Heloga knew he was playing a part to suit her. He seemed to imply with a glance that their relationship would return to a professional tone once this night was over.
Heloga had different ideas. Kristolas needed a lesson in deprivation, and she had always had a yen for Rikev. This time she would keep him under control. She knew him inside out. He would be a delightful toy to help pass the time, and she would have plenty of uses for him. Plenty of uses...
Yet when it was time to go home, and Kristolas still hadn't made a late appearance after the opening, Heloga felt as if the entire evening which she had planned so carefully was a complete disaster.
Copyright © 2004 by Susan Wright