This part originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.
73rd of 2025 (264-93): The Lants, Daramm
We were still on leave, two weeks back to Daramm and then another ten days before beginning Verasosal training. All four of us had spent some time with our families, then decided to take a few days together in the Lants, just escape from everything. James and I were sitting on the bank of a small lake watching Sheska and Renal swim. I turned to him, “How is it, being married?”
He grinned, “Depends. Normally great, but she does have a bit of a temper.”
I chuckled, “So does Sheska.”
He laughed, “Don’t we all,” then looked at me hard. “Why you asking?”
I leaned in and whispered, “Made a decision” I pulled a small box from my pack and showed him a silver bracelet with three rubies.
“About time, she’ll be happy,” he laughed and winked, “and you won’t get much sleep tonight.”
We’d eaten later and it was getting dark now. Sheska and I had cooked, so James and Renal were cleaning up. The two of us were laying looking up at Aryn’s30 bulk in sky, the lights of the cities a bare flicker, hard to imagine the hundreds of millions of people living above our heads. Sheska lay with her head snuggled against me, her fingers drawing lazy circles on my chest. I reached out and ever so softly ran one finger tip along one of the pressure lines that traced an intricate pattern over her back. She purred softly31. A smile spread over her face as she slapped me playfully, then she kissed me. “Sheevia, you’re just trying to get me all excited, aren’t you?”
I made a sheepish grin. “Maybe.”
She responded with the very lightest of touch to the lines on my face and whispered seductively “I’ll hold you to that, sheevia.”
I again ran my finger over her back, very very slowly, tilting my finger so the nail grazed the line. If you do it just right you can get somebody rather worked up that way. She shuddered slightly and her eyes fluttered. My grin broadened, I was doing it right. My hand slipped back the other way without halting, she began to squirm. I took advantage of her distraction to slip my hand into my pack and extract the small box.
Her breathing was growing fast now, heart beginning to quicken, clearly aroused. She half panted “You’d better either stop that or take me to our tent right now, lover.” I could hear in her voice which option she wanted, but I stopped.
She pulled away and stared at me. The slap was slightly harder than playful this time “Now that’s just cruel, Ariaryn. Getting me all hot and then stopping. What the hell are you playing at?!” You could tell she was annoyed.
I plopped the box in her hand. She looked at it confused, her annoyance unabated. My mouth formed a smirk, “Well, open it.”
She lifted the lid, stared blankly for a second or two, then squealed, threw her arms around me and shouted “Yes!” then kissed me passionately.
Renal and James looked over, James was smirking, too. Renal was puzzled, though, her voice curious, “What’s going on?”
Sheska leapt up, ran to her and thrust the bracelet under her nose. “See!” I swear I could feel her heart racing on my skin even that far away32. She was clearly very happy.
Renal studied the bracelet, a soft warm smile spreading over her face. She looked over at me, “About bloody time, you idiot.”
The two of them huddled conspiratorially, inspecting the bracelet, whispering and occasionally glancing over at me. I could detect the odd giggle amongst the murmurs. James came and sat beside me. “Well, you did it, now you gotta go through with it, lad.”
I glared at him a little, “Hey, I have no intention of backing out, and quit calling me ‘lad’, you’re only eight months older than me.”
His chuckle bubbled over, “It’s what the chaplain said to me on the transport, thought I’d say it to you.” He gave me a friendly hug, “But you do seem to have made her happy. So, when you planning on making it official?”
I hadn’t thought of that “Err… no idea.”
He frowned, “You really are a little dense sometimes, Ariaryn, these things take some arranging. You’ve got family, she’s got family, doubtless she’ll ask Renal to be her supporter and she’s got family, too.” He looked at me quizzically. “Mmm… and who’s going to be your supporter?”
I hesitated again; I hadn’t thought of that, either. I stared at the ground and considered. I had brothers, I had friends, though a lot of them were off with the war. I should really ask one of my brothers. I didn’t want to for some reason. I looked up and took a breath. “I was hoping you. I mean, you know what to do and I was yours.”
He kissed me softly on the cheek. “I’d be honored, Ariaryn. And don’t worry; Renal and I will arrange everything.”
The two women finally broke from their huddle and came over, both beaming. Renal plonked herself down and kissed me. “Congratulations, both of you.” She glanced at James and he nodded.
I saw Sheska fidgeting. Her scent was reaching me33, her breathing heavy. My own heart started to race a bit. I may have overdone it when I was touching her lines and I guess the excitement of the moment pushed her over the edge. She took my hands and turned her head to our tent. “Now, Ariaryn, I need you now!” Renal and James just laughed.
78th of of 2025 (268-93) Yarnar, Daramm
My proposal had actually gotten our leave extended. I was a little shocked at that. The practice ceremony had been arranged at lightning speed. Renal and James had been running round like demented Mmaryn getting things sorted. But now here I was, standing in front of the water with Sheska, about to become a married man. Sheska looked radiant, yellow gown flowing around her, ribbons in her hair, the garland of blue mevar flowers around her neck, a smile that covered her entire face and made her look a little deranged, frankly. I felt like a bit of a dork in my red robes34, but, hey, she’d wanted traditional, and who was I to argue with my bride on her practice day? I could feel several hundred pairs of eyes on the two of us. I gulped a bit, I was feeling rather nervous for some reason. We turned to face each other and she took my hands in hers.
I took a breath and steadied myself. I’d faced down a crack Imperial regiment, but it wasn’t half as frightening as this. Another breath, I could see Sheska looking just a bit irked. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I closed it again. I breathed hard a moment. Irked was turning to annoyed. I tried again, nothing. She kicked my shins. “Ow!” She smiled demurely, I scowled. Yet another very deep breath. I looked into those deep crimson eyes of hers, her strong, almost masculine features35. “Sheska Victoria Eneri Eadaasa Eadaasa Verasti, I would be greatly honored if you would practice for children with me.”
I didn’t think that smile could get any bigger. I was wrong. She almost shouted, her voice singing from happiness, “Ariaryn Despi Ora Mman Mman Verasti, I would be honored to practice for children with you.” We kissed, and the applause was deafening. I was married. Funny, I didn’t feel any different.
130th of 2025 (321-93): Jump point, Daramm system
Finished, six weeks of hell but we’d made it, all four of us, fully trained members of the Verasosal, a sniper team. I was a korprail now, spotter and commander. Sheska, always the best shot was the gunner, James and Renal the guards, all of them vebrails now. We’d graduated three days ago and now we were shipping out, back to the war. We’d been gone three months and a lot had changed. We’d held off the first assault, well, routed it, more likely, and now things had changed. We weren’t advancing any more, just standing waiting for them to come. The war was now all about raiding, hitting them hard and getting out fast. At least that’s what Kirsov had said at the graduation, keeping them off balance, making them bleed. I woke feeling the sickening lurch as Ulanagwee entered jump. A heavy raider, a thousand tons. I looked over at Sheska next to me in the bed. Our bed, couples quarters now. She was sleeping, apparently she never noticed the transition. I was annoyed. I ‘accidentally’ kicked her. She woke with a start and glared at me. “What?”
“We’re in jump.”
She glared some more. “And?”
I looked sheepish. “Just thought you’d like to know.” She looked at me for a few seconds, then kicked me, a dark look on her face. I yelped, “Ow!”
“That’s for waking me up!” There was somewhat more than irritation in her voice. “Don’t do it again,” a note of some menace in that statement.
I tried to make conversation, “So, where do you think we’re heading?”
Her mood did not improve. “Do I look like a staff officer? How the hell would I know?”
“I think we’re going deep, into the Imperium itself, maybe even into the core. I heard a rumor that Command is planning a run at Sylea itself.”
Her face softened just a little. “How long have you been a Guard, dumbarse? There are always rumors, most of them are just that!” She kicked me again, sort of half playfully. But it still hurt.
I yelped again, “Owww!”
“That will teach you to not to wake me up.” She enunciated every word, but there was a definite smile now, only a small one, but still a smile.
I seized the opening, “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again. I’m just a little scared. Back into combat…” My voice trailed off; I was scared.
She softened, “So am I, Ariaryn, we all are.” She embraced me, her smile now quite broad and mischievous. Her hands wandered under the covers, her eyes glinted a little. She smirked and spoke softly, “Shall we do something to take our minds off it?”
I just grinned like a stupid school kid.
167th of 2025 (358-93): Imperial Scout base, Arshi In
Arshi In, a world one jump to the rear on the Imperial side of the front lines. Normally a nothing world in the middle of nowhere, only noted for a Imperial Scout base. I never quite understood the Imperial Scouts, what the hell were they, not really military, not really scientific, sort of mercenaries and adventurers really. Leading edge of Imperial conquest and expansion I suppose, given an innocuous sounding name to hide their real function. But now that scout base was being used as a supply depot for the Imperial front line. Ships coming and going every day. We were there to blow some of them up. Simply walk into the base and blow them up. Command was crazy. Getting in had been easy; Sheska dropped a few guards with some well placed shots, and we slipped through unnoticed. Planting the bombs hadn’t been too hard. Renal had dispatched two Impies with her knife and James had dealt with one we’d run into on board. We’d rigged the charge, a small nuke. It would take out half the base. Three hour time delay. We needed to be clear by then. We were on our way back to the perimeter. That’s when things went wrong. We turned a corner and there they were, half a dozen Impie marines having a sly drink. I'm not sure who was more surprised; them, I’d say, since we fired first. We’d dropped five but one had bolted. She’d raised the alarm and now they were looking for us. They’d been looking for us for over two and a half hours. We needed to find somewhere deep and strong.
Renal spotted it. “There, ordnance bunker!” Her voice was trembling, desperation, we only had minutes left.
Sheska was dubious. “You want us to sit in a room full of explosives, fuel and gods only know what when a nuke goes off?”
Renal’s eyes were wide. “See anywhere better?”
James nodded. “She’s right; it’s the best spot—but we’d need to get deep.”
They all looked at me. “No other option. James, Renal, go that way, wait two minutes then make yourselves public. Sheska, when they do, hopefully the guards will show themselves; drop them.”
They others nodded. James and Renal headed off. Sheska set up, then I took her hand as we waited. Neither of us said anything, we just watched as the minutes clocked down. One hundred seconds, James and Renal would be making their move. She reached over and kissed me. Her face smiled, “For luck, lover.”
I saw James and Renal step out into a flood light as if by mistake. Nothing happened. They stood, as if waiting for something, still nothing. James, always quick, stepped back, then yelled “Renal!” and tackled her dragging her out of the light. Finally the Impies noticed, shots rang out from the door way, I could see the muzzle flashes. So did Sheska. Her guass rifle snapped. Two perfect shots. I saw the figures slump, a trace of darkness left of the walls. We all sprinted to the door. Locked of course. No time to be subtle. I prized off the panel to the pad with my knife. Carefully, I connected the lock pick to the circuit board. I prayed the Imperials hadn’t adopted a new code system since we’d crossed the border36. The seconds ticked by—but they hadn’t. There was a click and the door slid open. There was a young trooper inside, Imperial Scout. He hesitated, I didn’t, he fell as my pistol barked. We rushed inside, I resealed the door.
I barked orders: “Spread out, find a shaft down, not a lift.”
We all sprinted, James found it: “Here!”
We rushed, seconds still counting; he’d already hauled the heavy blast hatch open. We piled down, Renal, then Sheska, James, and finally me. I pulled the hatch shut. It was pitch black as we climbed the ladder down, a good thirty metres. There was a blast door at the bottom, manual lock, manual opening. I looked at James, he was our mechanic. “Open it”
He glanced back briefly. “I'm already trying, stupid!” I glanced at my watch, two maybe three minutes. There was a tiny quiet clunk and James screamed in triumph as he spun the wheel to open the blast door. Light poured in from beyond, three Imperials stared at us. We all fired, they didn’t stand a chance.
We scrambled in and Renal and I yanked the heavy door shut and resealed it. We stared around, warheads everywhere. We looked at one another and our still smoking weapons. It was Sheska who spoke. “Well, I guess we got lucky, at least a little” The entire room shuddered, we were thrown to the floor as the room plunged into darkness. I prayed again as I could hear the walls cracking from the shock wave as our nuke detonated. For what seemed like eternity we all lay still on the floor inky blackness. There was a flicker and the room filled with a dull red light. I surveyed the situation. We all alive, the walls were still intact, the door had held.
Sheska grinned at me, “See, kissing you is lucky.”
190th of 2025 (016-94): Protectorate base, Alumbis
Decorations, we seemed to collecting a lot of them. We’d all picked up a PMG for the raid on Arshi In. Seems there had been an ordnance carrier grounded at the base with a load of fission warheads. The Scout base would take years to decontaminate. The news feeds would be trumpeting it as a major blow to the Imperial war effort. The Protectorate needed heroes and apparently today that was us. The ceremony had been long and boring, stirring speeches, martial music, lots of embraces and saluting. And after, interviews with the press, photos and vids, not to mention more embraces and face stroking. I’d managed to stammer some mindless statements about how we were just doing our duty and part of a team and nothing special, just average Protectorate citizens. I’d seen several silverhats beaming approvingly at that.
We’d eventually escaped, having a few quite drinks in Renal and James’ quarters, Wolseleys and dress jackets finally discarded, laughing at the seriousness of it all. It was good to just relax. We were talking about our plans for after the war, matches, jobs, getting blind drunk to celebrate our victory. James was talking of children “Four, I think, four seems a good number, for Renal and I of course, will have to see how many others we get.”
I chuckled, “Well, you’ll need to find a good matched couple to form an ami with, being as how you two are mixed race37.”
Their faces suddenly turned serious. Renal spoke, “Actually, the two of us have been talking about that.” She paused, quite a long time, “And, well, we figured the two of you would get matched, and you know,” another long pause, “if you’re agreeable, we could all form an ami. You know, together; Ariaryn, you’re Luriani, I’m Luriani.”
Frankly I was stunned, I'd never considered it. I didn't know what to say, I just looked at Sheska, my mouth open.
She grinned, leaned over and gently closed my mouth “You, my love, are delightfully thick sometimes.” She kissed me then turned to the other two. “Makes sense to me; Renal is attractive and I really do like you both. We all got on well and we’ve been through so much together. I think it’s a good idea.” she turned back to me “How about you?”
Once again I was stammering “Errr… Ummm… Well… Yes… But… James… A father… I mean, he wouldn’t…”
Renal cut me off, she knew what I was about to say. Her eyes became determined, her voice soft but firm, “James would be the father of my children.”
I shut up, some things were better left unsaid. I took a breath, then a drink and thought about it. Yes it did make sense and it was damn good idea. Who else would I want to form an ami with? Another quick drink and I smiled, “Yes, a damn good idea. We’re all pretty much an ami already.”
Renal embraced and kissed Sheska, whispering something in her ear. Sheska looked over at James and nodded “Yes, I wouldn't mind keeping his company… if you were otherwise occupied,” then the two of them burst into laughter.
Renal looked me up and down, locked eyes with Sheska. The two of them seemed to be making a decision together. What was it with women, did they have some kind of secret telepathic communication? Renal grinned and looked over at the bed. “Well, in that case, how about all four of us stay here tonight? You know, just to see if we’re all… compatible.”
Sheska nodded again and smiled that darn mischievous smile of hers “Sounds like an excellent idea” She drained her drink and grabbed James’ hands, “Best check these things first.”
Notes numbered 1 through 22 appeared in Part 1 of “For Luck”, and notes numbered 23 through 29 appeared in Part 2.
30. Daramm’s larger outer moon. It has long been a major industrial and population centre in the system.
31. Racial Luriani possess a complex and unique pattern of extremely sensitive nerve endings over their faces and backs which are capable of detecting minute changes in pressure, enabling them to perceive their surroundings. They also respond to touch and if touched correctly can induce considerable pleasure. If touched incorrectly, they can also cause severe discomfort or even excruciating pain.
32. The pressure sense of a Luriani is acute enough to detect a person’s heart rate at extremely close range.
33. A highly aroused Luriani can in some situations produce a distinctive and provocative scent, perceptible to other Luriani. Most humans, however, cannot detect it.
34. Traditionally for a practice ceremony, the bride will wear yellow, groom red and both wear a garland of mevar flowers associated with fidelity and good luck. At the match ceremony both groom and bride would wear purple and wear a garland of aavaidthint flowers to symbolise fertility.
35. Racial Luriani eye colours are emerald and crimson. Hair black, brown or red. Generally speaking, Luriani have a very low level of sexual dimorphism and it is difficult to tell men and women apart on casual inspection, with both appearing quite feminine. Even the male genitalia is normally stored internally to aid with streamlining. The Luriani concept of physical beauty is seen quite differently from most human norms and oddly often regards seemingly masculine traits as desirable.
36. Both the Imperium and Luriani routinely and regularly updated security systems and codes to limit the effectiveness of electronic and computerised lock picks.
37. Luriani families traditionally consist of a number of matched couples, all with children. However, all the adults in the family or ami are considered equal parents for all children within the ami as a whole. With mixed race couples it is normal to form an ami with another mixed race couple of reversed genders to enable procreation. While such families are extremely common place, polite society doesn’t discuss the exact nature of such arrangements.