Ara left the hot party room of King Slavian who was good friends to Queen Valdain, Bel and Jadan’s mother, after hours of dancing and enjoyed the cool air. His palace was full of domes, rounded structures, gardens set out like mazes, and he loved recreation. He also loved hunting. Terzon ran out to join her on the smooth hard surface just outside the main doors to the hall and they wandered around the smaller maze garden until they came across Caleb kissing a girl from the party.
Ara pulled Terzon away. He was frowning. When they were far enough Terzon apologised.
She laughed. “Why are you sorry?”
“Because I thought you two were sweet on each other.”
“I don’t know what Caleb and I are but we don’t seem to always…” She struggled with a word.
She nodded. “I should be able to talk normally in front of him and he should be able to behave, surely?”
Terzon chuckled. “We all think it’s cute.”
Ara groaned. “Cute it may be but is it the makings for a couple?”
“It may be interesting.”
“How about you?”
He shrugged. “Nothing’s caught my eye yet…” he groaned then. She looked in the direction he was looking as he said, “Jadan.”
“Ah, the Queen’s son, Eve Carla?”
“Yeah, the second most prominent Regional Queen. Visiting us provincials.”
Ara placed a hand over her mouth to stop the laughter from ringing out. Terzon and Caleb called themselves the provincial princes. “But the queen here…?”
“Is not at the same calibre.”
“You mean I’ve been dumped on the lowest planet? I thought I was important.”
He laughed at her haughty tones. “Not the lowest, and one made especially for you. And usually the kings don’t live on the same planet.”
“Poor Silvia! And what’s with King Cyrus, he never comes out to play.”
Terzon snorted. “Who knows, too good to share the continent with the other kings.”
“Or too conscious that Queen Silvia is entitled to a continent of her own. I heard Cyrus’s grounds are wild and his palace is sprawling rather than ostentatious.”
Terzon glanced behind him at the tall domes and spires. “What are you saying, Ara?”
She met his amused look with a grin.
They heard laughing behind them just as Jadan reached them. It was Caleb and his kissing girl Caleb’s panicked eyes went direct to Ara’s but she turned to look at Jadan. “Prince Jadan, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Terzon was just telling me about your skills with weapons.”
Terzon gave her a sharp look and mentally connected with her implant to exchange a nudge.
- Not interested in Caleb my arse, but nice play, Ara
- What else would you expect from a PuG?
He turned his face away to hide a grin from her use of PuG, meaning Pure Gen, the highest being made up of the best quality matter and highest energy.
Jadan took her hand and kissed it, lingering a little. “My Lady.”
She felt a flush of pleasure and shared that with the others. “Prince Valdain.”
From the look of Caleb’s thinned lips and tense body, he was fuming.
- But then I am on equal terms as his mother, sort of. We are both PuGs
- You’re killing me here, Ara
He was holding his hand over his mouth trying not to laugh.
“I think we can forget the niceties.” Jadan smiled. He was stocky and strong looking. “Would you like to dance, Ara?”
“Yes, I would love that.”
She applied some flirting, just subtle enough that Jadan responded in kind. She saw Caleb talking with Terzon. Caleb was looking more and more upset by the second. She didn’t care. If he cared, he wouldn’t be so careless. She hardened her heart to him for all of ten moments.
But it was Terzon and then Bel, Jadan’s younger brother, she passed the night away with. They talked about sneaking off to the “Slavian” weapons room. Bel was keeping an eye out for the guards. The younger prince had golden hair, lighter than her own but had brown eyes. He was stocky like Jadan and she was taller than him. They talked as they danced and found other shared likes. It was rare to find someone she simply “liked” and Bel fit into that category.
“We’re heading down to the weapon’s room shortly, Ara. Slavian has quite the selection.”
Ara saw the amusement in Bel’s eyes and couldn’t resist. “Quite the selection?”
“You know,” he said pompously, trying to keep a straight face, “everything normal people have but a hundred times more and a thousand times more expensive.”
She laughed with him as he broke out of his pretend haughtiness.
The three snuck to the weapons room and tried all the different kinds of weapons and then, with Bel grabbing her hand dragging her to a smaller room, designed some. She’d never worked with Terzon like this before and enjoyed his logical mind. At her wilder ideas he complemented it with more practical ideas. Bel grew bored and led them back into one of the shooting galleries. It was a long room with assorted targets down one end and a single entrance at their end. As she was studying the lines of a sword that hung on a wall above a long bench Terzon asked her an interesting question.
She was startled by it. “Should I have a purpose?”
He seemed a little nervous. “I’m sorry, Ara. It was rude.”
Bel handed her another bow weapon to try.
“No, not really. I mean, the last Pure-Gen was hundreds of years ago.”
“Try one thousand,” Bel said.
“A thousand! Maybe that’s why I was placed with…Inferors.” Ara couldn’t tell them what it was she thought, but it pleased her that Caleb hadn’t told Terzon. She fingered the bow and nodded to Bel.
“Is that hard for you to say?” Bel asked, interested. He wore a cheeky grin and placed his hands on his hips mimicking one of her mannerisms.
Still, she felt embarrassed. “I know that’s what others call them, but I don’t think of them that way. I prefer the ‘eighth race’. But, maybe they’re, the Pure-Gens that is, too old for me to live with. I’d rot.”
Bel and Terzon were nodding and laughing. Bel said, “They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be young.”
Terzon leaned on the bench. “Aside from spending time with the queen’s family and father’s you haven’t had a lot to do with Aryans, or Avatāra.”
“I’ve heard rumours that the Maya is using me to gain information about the Eighth.” She watched their reactions.
Bel quickly nodded as he selected arrows for her. “We’ve heard that too.”
“But that’s ridiculous, I mean, it can just run its scans can’t it? Why does it need me for that?” The last scan came up with 3% useful data. She and Bel had chatted about that as they had danced finding a shared interest in programming.
“A more organic perspective?” Terzon offered.
Bel laughed. “It’s a computer, it wouldn’t know how to process that information.” He handed her an arrow before selecting more bows and arrows with Terzon’s help.
They followed Terzon to the underground firing range deciding the gallery was too easy. Bel touched a GELpad and dim lights came on in the central area. This GEL was pale blue, almost transparent material, and she could see the filaments and beads behind. GEL was actually Gel Engineered Lygon, a raw material developed by top Aryan scientists. Ara looked around after fingering the pad. “This place is massive. Do you have giants visiting here?”
Terzon groaned. “Not giants again, Ara.”
“Giants?” Bel glanced at them leading them down the main passage formed by the massively thick pillars. He stopped between two, touched another GELpad, the area lit, and she saw “targets” at different distances.
They tried the bows.
“Usually Caleb and I are here with hunters. There’s nothing like watching a female in a ball gown fire a bow, is there, Bel?”
“It’s definitely sexy.”
Ara let loose the bow, and missed the target. “I think it’s only sexy when the bow wielding bell hits the target.” She selected another, ignoring the sniggers from the two princes. Ara found a favourite. She hit the target. “Now, this is sexier because I aim and it hits the target, just. I love this one. If you have time can you make me one?”
Terzon grinned, happy. “You can have that one if you want. We keep a selection here at Slav’s.”
She was pleased. He offered her up arrows, a quiver, and bag. She hugged him as Caleb walked across smiling. The smile fell from his face.
“Relax, Caleb. I’ve just given Ara your old bow. She likes it.”
Terzon looked at her slyly and gave her a wink.
- You cheeky FiG brat!
- Where and when I can get away with it, PuG
She laughed gaily at the First Gen but again Caleb seemed upset. She left with Bel and after putting her new weapon with her bag and coat she and Bel went dancing.
After a second dance Bel drew her to a quieter section of the ballroom. He studied her face, having to lift his head, and said with a grin, “So, programming?”
As the years flowed by Ara found Bel added to her pack of friends.