The Feline Imperative - Part II

by Sharon Best (with editing by JH)


The next morning, Saturday, I was taking a power walk over the San Gabriel mountains when my private cell phone rang.  Kara hadn’t got the number from me, but she was resourceful.  Not knowing where she was and unwilling to broadcast Velorian by cell phone, I politely asked in English about her date.  “Just fine,” was her answer, and then Kara got to the point.  “You might have told me that the meeting was this afternoon.  And why are you invited?” 

“I tried to tell you, Lisa,” I responded in my best blonde yuppie tones.  “But what’s the problem?  Just show up for a few minutes in that red and blue outfit of yours and then fly off to whatever else you have planned.”

There was a long silence.  Kara didn’t cope well with irony.  Eventually, she murmured, “I’ll see you there,” and clicked off. 

About 1:15 that afternoon I did a quick-change into my Scribe’s uniform and shot into the air from a secluded clearing in back of Pasadena, making sure to hold myself to Mach .95 until I was well into the stratosphere.  It was a nice, leisurely climb into a blue sky, made a bit harder because I was arcing southwestward, against the Earth’s rotation.  As I reached my destination, 36,000 km above the center of the Pacific Ocean, I noticed a tiny red and blue fleck speeding toward me – Kara had waited until the last moment and probably had caused havoc as she left L.A.  She arrived a minute later showing a definite energy burn from her tensed thigh and calf muscles.  Her hand signals to me were equally tense.  

{Where is it?}

{They’re cloaked, Kara.  Try tachyon-scanning.} 

We both scanned for several minutes.  After squinting harder to force my vision deeper into the tachyon spectrum, I caught a faint glimpse of the ship about 250 km away.  It wobbled and pulsed into view and out.  Apparently someone was attempting tachyon cloaking, which the Institute had assured us was impossible.  A few minutes later we had cleared the airlock, and speech was possible. 

“Can you believe this?  The Council is ordering me to protect an Arion mission to Earth?”

“It’s the Scalantrans who set this up, Kara.  The two Primes are just along for the ride.”

A uniformed flunky introduced himself and escorted us down a wide, carpeted corridor.  Kara kept bitching along the way.  “Why on Velor is the Council tying me up in gold thread for a request by the Arion Emperor’s ditzy nephew?  And if it’s so damned important, why leave it up to the Scalantrans?  Who comes up with this kind of nonsense?  Dilbert’s Velorian cousin?”

I chuckled, “No, it’s his boss,” and then we stepped through a door and entered a lavish conference chamber.  The walls were paneled with Lyrian selta wood in all its iridescent colors; the carpet was a handmade Scalantran design; the lights shone through sconces of Tetrite crystal and Tolani worked glass; and the furniture was antique Vendorian intelliwood that adapts to its users.  Wide doors opening onto a raised platform at the end of the room were inlaid with silver, platinum and terbium outlining scenes from the Scalantran mountains.  The room was probably worth a quarter of the total capitalization of Microsoft.  It made the Hall of Protectors look like the inside of a cubicle farm.  On the far side of the long conference table two Primes in full uniform with campaign capes were sprawled in their chairs, trying to prove to everyone that they didn’t care about any of this.  A half-dozen young Scalantran flunkies in Brooks Brothers and Ann Taylor-style suits were chattering nervously, clearly reluctant to sit down.  Before we could figure out where to sit, one of the flunkies whispered into a communicator, and a moment later a soft chime rang, silencing the Scalantrans. 

The doors slid open at the far end of the chamber; three tall figures stepped onto the platform commanding the room and paused.  The Scalantrans turned and fixed their eyes on the man in the center.  He was tall, perhaps 185 cm [6’1”], broad-shouldered, and in shape, as his tailored dark suit showed.  The woman on our left, wearing a charcoal-gray business suit that almost shrieked “Prada knockoff,” spoke up.  “Friends, I am pleased to introduce the Pompanom[1] Ditt.”   

We and the Arions, though, had eyes only for the woman on our right, Ditt’s bodyguard.  I was staring straight into the azure eyes of a Protector.

Kara actually gasped.  This Velorian was perhaps a centimeter  shorter than she was and had the same golden hair, prominent cheekbones, lissome figure and strong legs.  Apparently Ditt liked Protector copies as well as fashion knockoffs. 

“She’s Daina Hon-El,” I whispered to Kara in scramble speech.  “She was a year behind me, measured up well on her P1 genetics, but had a reputation as something of an empty nebula.  She didn’t look quite that much like you back then, however.” 

Ditt decided that we had had enough time to admire him and spoke.  “I am Forghed Ditt.”  He paused and glanced at his bodyguard.  She appeared stunned, almost worshipful, at his glance and words.  Satisfied, Ditt turned and welcomed us, ending with a wish for peaceful and profitable relations.  The Arion colonel responded with a prolonged yawn.  Kara softly intoned, “Thank you,” which apparently was positive enough for Ditt to step off the platform with his entourage and sit at the head of the table.  As he settled into his chair the remaining Scalantrans hurried into theirs.  Daina, though, remained standing to his left and started showing signs of attention to what was going on. 

In a warm but commanding voice, the Scalantran addressed us.  “I’m pleased that your High Command (he nodded to the Arions) and your Council (to Kara and me) have agreed with me that you will assist in this enterprise and avoid conflict with each other.  Each side has posted a modest monetary bond to assure cooperation.  I’m sure that I will not need to resort to that security.”

“Modest? A billion Vel crowns, in our case,” I muttered to Kara.  Forghed Ditt must have had nooses around every Council member’s gonads to get that much money from those tightwads. 

“It was very kind of you to make the time to meet us here today, Miss Zor-El.  Without your help our work would be infinitely more difficult.”  His smile was so cordial that I almost imagined myself near a warm fireplace.  He went on with the praise for a few more sentences, and I noticed that Kara was now ^looking^ at him.  I followed her gaze and discovered that he had indeed been enhanced – quite well.  That sent me off onto thoughts of Daina, who on that evidence might have some special talents that I should investigate. 


My daydreams were cut short by two events.  Ditt was now looking right at me, citing the rare honor of having a Scribe to observe this venture, and I felt a familiar tickle on my skin – a Supremis was imaging me.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw that the Arion lieutenant was now scoping me out from head to foot, with special attention to my breasts.  As much as I loathed Primes after my Ursus Six ordeals, my pride in my sexual power over them brought a thin smile to my lips.

At that moment, my pleasure and the Scalantran’s stream of compliments for me were cut off by the sound of the Arion colonel’s right palm striking the table at maximum volume.  “This planet is not her post of duty or the so-called Protector’s territory.  It is ours.  They are interlopers whose presence, along with yours, we tolerate today and whom we will eject as we please.  Remember that.”

Before Kara or I could reply, Ditt turned his head to the Arions without any sign of rancor and intoned two words – a name.  “Avlasar Krestarion.”[2]  The colonel glared and his cheeks flushed red, but he remained silent.  The lieutenant’s eyes returned to my blouse.  Kara’s lips curled for a second, and then relaxed.  One reason that she refrained from an equally belligerent response was that Daina Hon-El had moved silently, imperceptibly, to position herself between the Arions and Ditt.  Within a few tenths of a second the colonel might be in the fight of his life.

With a slight shake of the head, the Scalantran held Daina off and addressed the Arions.  “Thank you for reminding me of your Empire’s position, Colonel Stekos,  Only a matter of such importance could cause me to conclude my remarks to Miss Best, our exceptionally attractive Scribe . . . ,” and Ditt was off again, flattering me and the Arions simultaneously. 

I took the opportunity to size up the Arion lieutenant.  He was big, of course, over two meters tall [6’2”] and perhaps 125 kilos [275 lb.].  His muscles bulged but weren’t ripped.  There were multiple long scars on his arms and upper body – a sign that he had fought Kintzi hand to paw.  He had a strong rectangular face, reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s, but his nose was squashed and bent slightly to his right.  Some Velorian or a really enraged Prime must have delivered a super right jab to his face some time back.  I shifted in my chair a bit to get a view of his campaign cape, which had several combat badges on the inside.  Then half the blood in my body rushed to my face and fire burned in my chest.  Two of those badges were from Ursus Six.  

Kara, sensing my fury, tried to follow my gaze but the Arion’s tachyon-proof body blocked her view of the cape.  Instead, she cupped her left hand over my tensed right hand and stroked gently with her fingertips, slowly bringing my thoughts back to the present. 

Our host was now outlining the mission – acquiring the most exquisite Terran cat possible for His Supremacy, the Commander-in-Chief of Beyond Nowhere – and called on one of his assistants at the far end of the table to speak. 

“The entire mission team has completed cultural training and costuming.  Our base of operations will be the Plaza Hotel in New York, the largest city of the dominating political unit.  Funding logistics have been arranged planet-wide through banks, using the local token charge system.”  A picture of a platinum credit card flashed on the wall.  “We anticipate some difficulties . . . .”

“That’s fine, Ginata,” interrupted Ditt.  “An excellent example of intelligent empowerment and goal-based initiative.”  She beamed.  “Now, let’s turn to target assessment and acquisition.”

“Wait a moment,” Kara spoke up.  “Your people may be ready for Terra, but your bodyguard there looks as if she has just arrived.  Even in New York, she can’t go walking around in our uniform without causing a sensation.”

“So?” asked Ditt. 

“The Scribe and I will get her outfitted and brief her.  You can send one of your people along to chaperone us and to take care of the expenses.  Then we can go over the details in your suite at the Plaza.” 

“My lieutenant will accompany you also,” growled the Arion colonel. 

Kara somehow kept her reply to that dinosaur light.  “He might find shopping for women’s clothing to be a bit unmilitary.  And in any case, as Pompanom Ditt will remind you, you are forbidden to operate on planet.  Perhaps while we’re away you and he can finish the briefing -- without us.”

The old stegosaurus grunted again and turned away.  His lieutenant kept his eyes on Kara with a sort of admiring sneer, the kind that says “You beat us this time, but just wait.”

After a few more minutes of making arrangements, Kara and I walked over to Ditt to shake hands, which surprised him for a moment until his cultural briefing kicked in.  As I grasped his hand, I noticed that it was at least twice as strong as a Betan’s and that that his arm showed some significant muscle when I applied a bit of pressure.  That and another look at his trim and firm body confirmed that this Scalantran took very good care of himself. 

Ditt then directed a few words to Ginata and then to Daina, ending with the odd phrase, “And remember, I am Forghed Ditt.”  No Protector should need that reminder, although Daina’s mind again was somewhere else.  Maybe she was still an empty nebula, or the stress of wormhole crossings and absorbing a new assignment was too much. 

As we were escorted to the boat deck, Kara dropped behind to talk for a moment.  “Thanks for getting me out of there,” I whispered in scramble speech.  “That lieutenant has a load of decorations from Ursus Six.” 

“You’ll have to tell me more about that sometime,” she whispered back, “but that’s not why I wanted to get Daina out of here.  You should go with her and the Scalantran, and I’ll fly ahead and pick up some of my clothes that she and you can wear while we shop.  Then we’ll head for Madison Avenue and have a girls’ evening out.”  It was straightforward enough, though I wondered what else Kara might have in mind.  At the hangar bay, we gave Ginata a rendezvous point where she could land the shuttle.  Kara then shot out of an airlock, heading for Earth as Ginata and I awkwardly continued our introductions and prepared for the slow shuttle flight down with the oddly silent Daina.

As the afternoon ended, our shuttle passed over an abandoned railroad tunnel near Rockland, Pennsylvania that housed another group of Arions.

Subcommander 17 was impatient as he bustled farther into the tunnel.  His tiny command had fled to this damp, mold-ridden refuge over six months ago, and all that his subordinates had achieved to date was to get nine-to-five jobs at the McLaughlin sawmill and at a strip mine that had more water than coal in it.  Still, those were better jobs than most of the natives had, and at least the men were out of bronchitis central here.  His medic was still baffled by the idea that a Supremis could get a chest cold, but the subcommander and his two officers had been coughing away for over two months while they labored in the tunnel.  The rest of the command had periodic sniffles and tended to snore very loudly.

Certainly, the unit's morale was very low.  They had almost been annihilated in the  Ursus Six disaster two years ago, and until he had had the inspiration to hide on Terra, they had been losing men and equipment on a weekly basis.  Getting eleven men here in a four-man lifeboat and a semi-pressurized cargo trailer had been some sort of miracle.  Dazed by their no-control landing on Terra, the men had wormed their way out of the wrecked lifeboat, ready to be revitalized by the yellow sun of Terra. 

Unfortunately, they had landed in late November, unaware that this corner of America lay under constant horizon-to horizon clouds from November through mid-April.  By March even the skins of the troops on outdoor work were the color of those perpetual gray skies.  But the clouds had lifted for a few days beginning in May, and the abbreviated six-week spring had diverted his men from their persistent grumblings about mutiny.  But they needed some good news to get them back on mission.  That news had finally arrived after being bounced around the galaxy for weeks.

Those goldbricks, however, were staying out late at a bar somewhere, trying to get buzzed on Iron City beer and buffalo wings, whatever those were.  If it was a really good night, his men would get into fights over the few local women who still dared to join them..  The locals might not suspect his men were alien Betans with five times their strength, but practically every skank within 50 kilometers knew that a night with one of the new guys at the pit or the sawmill meant bruises, contusions and even broken bones.

Chewing out the troops for alcoholism and manhandling the local loose women hadn't worked either.  Every time he raised his voice, a post-nasal drip began tickling the back of his throat again, triggering a cascade of hacking, coughing and nose-blowing.  Even the thought of it started another series of coughs.

As the echoes traveled away down the tunnel in the direction that they had dragged the wreckage of the lifeboat and trailer, the subcommander stumbled toward the lab portal, holding a rag to his nose and blinking his watering eyes.  He didn't knock - unable to judge distances through his tears, he bumped his nose into the door, which was enough to signal it to open.  Once through the door, he let his shoulders relax and his arms fell loose to his sides.  The lab was the only chamber that they had been able to light and heat properly.

Seventeen braced himself to his full 160 cm [5‘2”] height and addressed his NCO, Sergeant Daimmlar.  "Good news, Daimmlar [sniff, hack].  We have a target, and we're back in the fight. [snort.]"  The subcommander quickly passed his sleeve under his nose, trying to keep a military bearing.

Daimmlar wearily turned away from the levitator unit parts that covered his workbench and tilted his head downward toward his CO's face.  After 30-odd years in Arion motor pools, arsenals and space fabricatories, only the slow evisceration of every Prime in sight might draw a smile from him.  “Is that so, sir?  We’re back in contact with the Liberation Front?”

“Well, not really, sergeant.”  Subcommander 17 glanced to his left, away from the sergeant’s weary eyes.  “But I’ve received intelligence that a special Imperial agent, a Prime, is arriving here on an urgent secret mission for the Emperor himself.”  He now glanced to the right of the sergeant’s face, and then back to the left.  His intelligence was a copy of a tabloid magazine (considered highly accurate about celebrities, but not perfect) forwarded to him from an anonymous post office box on Keliar, notorious for its dissatisfaction with the Empire.  He'd never met or heard of any other unit of the Front except for the three draft dodgers who had claimed to be the organizing cell of the Betan Liberation Front - and who had become bantha food about a month later. 

“And we are going to do what with this secret agent Prime?”  rasped Daimmlar.

“Stop him, of course.  Interdict his mission.”

“Begging the Subcommander’s pardon, but how do we stop this bastard of a Prime when we have no heavy weapons, no transportation, and no fucking way of tracking his arrival?”

“Er, we’ll just have to, to, work smarter.  That’s it, smarter.  We’ll be at the target – or the targets -- before him.”

“And if we do surprise a suckass Alpha, what the goddamn hell will we do with him . . . sir?”


“We don’t have the weapons to disable or kill a slime-sucking Prime, or the equipment to hold one.  We don’t even have any freaking gold around.”

“We’ll figure out a way.  Now gold, there’s an idea.”

“And if we do manage to hold onto the stinking cocksucker, won’t that just bring on a shitload more of those motherf***ing Primes down on our heads?  Sir.”

“What’s with this negative attitude, Sergeant?  I thought you of all people hated Primes.  Just have a little confidence, man.”


“Remember, we are the vanguard of the liberation of the entire oppressed Betan people.  We cannot fail.  The entire force of historic inevitability is behind us.”


“We’ll have a full planning conference tomorrow, after the men return.  In the meantime, keep up the good work.” 


17 hurried off to speak with the other occupant of the lab, Ensign Svensen[3].  Svensen, now his second in command, had been a sociology student before being drafted into the Imperial Space Forces and had finagled that into being rated as an apprentice science officer.  Svensen still insisted on filling the science officer’s role, and had managed to remain on lab duty through the cold, rainy winter and the dreary spring.  Right now, he was gazing at multiple windows on his communications monitor, which had been jury-rigged to access the planetary computer network.  As the subcommander approached, the ensign fumbled with the controls, and managed to blank one of the windows before his superior came into view.   

“Svensen,”  barked the subcommander.  The hapless ensign stumbled out of his chair and came to attention, making a minimal attempt at a salute.  17 ignored it, staring instead at the monitor, which was filled with pictures of large, hairy herbivores.

“Well, Ensign, you’re hard at work?”

“Yes, Subcommander.”

“It looks here as if you are still searching for those buffalo animals with wings.  Why?”

“Well, sir, as I said, if such small wings can lift those huge mammals, there must be some sort of anti-grav capacity that we could use.”

“Idiot!  Moron!  Bantha-brain!  I gave you a direct order to lay off the buffalo wings and find some technology we could use, and you are still looking for walking shag rugs that can fly!”  Subcommander 17’s patience snapped, allowing him to indulge in a luxurious ten-minute rant.  It was almost worth the resulting sore throat. 

As the Betan’s rant subsided, our fully cloaked shuttle came to a gentle rest on an abandoned wharf at the end of East 56th Street.  Kara was waiting with a travel bag, and a few minutes later the four of us appeared out of nowhere, resplendent in dark grey.  (It was the “new black” that year.)  We hadn’t taken more than three steps, though, before we ran into a squeegee man.  He was dressed in a crumpled navy pin-striped suit, a threadbare white shirt and a tie that looked as if he used it to clean tables at the greasy spoons where he ate.  “Take care of your vehicle, ladies?  I’m a great witness.”

“What vehicle?”  I growled.  “Scram.”

“Wait,” interrupted Kara.  “We could really use your help in getting a taxi over to Madison Avenue.”  She had turned on her third-most-charming smile, and the man sort of shuddered for a second.  Then he sprinted for the nearby street, waving his right arm over his head. 

As we strolled to the curb, I filled Ginata in.  “Another unemployed lawyer.  They’re pathetic, aren’t they?”  She nodded in agreement.  Her eyes, though, were on the two magnificent blonde figures just ahead of us. 

Our counsel had flagged down a passing empty limo and moments later we were inside, after Ginata had bargained the driver down by 10 dollars – “just for practice.”  The lawyer’s image in the rear view mirror carried a smile.  Kara had pressed a five dollar coin into his hands as she glided into the car. 

A few minutes later we were in “Bottega Borgata,” a second floor boutique on Madison, sitting in gilt chairs and sipping Italian liqueurs while the owner tried to flatter Kara.

“Cara[4] Lisa,” he was gushing, “you were magnificent in Milano this spring, just radiant.  But perhaps you found Pierre’s fashions a little too confining, no? Is it just possible that I might have something a little more free, more daring, for your taste?“

“Silvio, if I ever were to leave Pierre, you are the one I would model for.  But tonight I’m just helping out a friend.  She’s very active, so she needs something with style, but that won’t hamper her.”

“A friend, you say?  She looks like your younger sister.  If she would only model for me, I would create a whole line around her, just as Pierre does for you.  Tell me, signorina, you could be the next supermodel.  Is it just possible that you could model for me?

Daina finally turned her eyes toward Silvio, but only gave him a blank look, not even opening her lips.  After a tense moment, Kara improvised an explanation.  “She’s working on a singing career, and her vocal coach ordered her to speak as little as possible.  That’s why I came along.”

“Bene,” Silvio muttered.  One of his employees had entered and was whispering in his ear.  A moment later, he continued with a broad smile.  “Lucrezia here advises that we are ready for Signorina Daina,” and he motioned us to follow him into the showroom.  I had actually overheard Lucrezia telling him that Ginata’s bank had confirmed that she could buy the store and Silvio out of petty cash, but I didn’t feel like spoiling the mood.

As we entered the showroom, I whispered to Kara, “You don’t need any more of me, Lisa.  Call me tomorrow with an update and let me know if Daina shows signs of life.” 

“Not so fast, Sharon.  I have a feeling I’m going to need you before we leave here.  Please stay.  Maybe our host will spring for an outfit for you.”

And so I stayed.  While Kara and Daina looked at fashions on the racks and flipped through books of photos and fabrics, Gina (she insisted that I use a Terran name) and I chatted and found that we had a lot in common.  Both of us were involuntary observers from the sidelines, after all.  As time passed, she looked more than once straight into my eyes and held the look, and soon afterward her hand started to pass lightly over the back of mine.  I wasn’t surprised – Scalantrans are as pan-sexual a culture as you will find in this galaxy, and they do know how to party, especially if they feel like spending the cash. 

Once again I was starting to have pleasant daydreams, which were intensified by the appearance of the house models, showing off the fashions that Kara had selected for Daina.  (In really haute couture, the customer doesn’t do anything as vulgar as trying things on.)  In fact, Daina was now motioning the models to turn and display, and she was making short comments to the salespeople.  Gina too was getting interested – mostly by making comments on prices into her AI disguised as a Palm Pilot. 

After Daina had selected four or five pantsuits, Kara glanced back at us and noticed that Gina was starting to show signs of agitation.  In an attempt to soothe Gina, Kara came back to us and began commenting on how well the clothes would make Daina fit in and commiserating with Gina about how expensive they were.  “It’s not so bad for me,” she continued, “with my courtesy discount, but when I was in Paris last February, the prices were just unbelievable.”

Gina interrupted.  “You could get the discount on Daina’s purchases, couldn’t you?”

“I couldn’t possibly ask for that, Ginata.  It’s a special favor, and it’s rude for a model to even mention it.” 

“I would never embarrass you, Lisa.  But I might be able to convince the manager to expedite things.  Would you mind?” 

Kara nodded, and Gina practically flew out of the room.

Now, Kara was stepping away to talk with the head saleswoman and Daina, and a few moments later,  Daina left the room with the saleswoman, the rest of the entourage and Kara following behind.  As they left, Kara called over her shoulder, “We’re just going to get Daina’s measurements, Sharon.  Can you wait a few minutes

I sighed and picked up a copy of French Vogue.  Of course, Kara was on the cover, modeling resort wear.  It would have been nice if I had ever made a cover like that.  The best I’d done was an cover for New Woman in England.

Anyway, it was time for me to do something more mature with my Terran life.  Hanging around with young women whose priorities centered around makeup, short liaisons, intoxicants and photographers was just too silly for me.  Although I didn’t have any Terran education or credentials (unless I tried to forge some), I’d met a marketing V.P. in L.A., and he convinced me that my own native gifts were at least as valuable as some business school degree.  On Monday, a day and a half from now, he had even set up an interview for me with a communications hardware company in Orange County. 

Once again, I started going over my pitch and my critique of their current campaign, which lasted until Kara and Daina returned.  Daina was wearing the clothes Kara had brought for her as if they were hers.  She walked right over to me and gave me a peck on the cheek, followed by “Sharon, darling, thank you so much for being with us this evening.  I know I’ll make it up to you soon.“  She spoke in a breathless voice that reminded me of old videos of Marilyn Monroe.  Kara, meantime, was looking around the room, somewhat bewildered.

Daina shifted to a whisper and continued:  “I’m Kara.  I’m switching places with Daina for a couple of days.  This way, I can monitor the Scalantrans and that Arion colonel.”

“Are you nuts, Kara?”  I whispered back.  “If you make one mistake imitating her, you’ll have a Scalantran magnate, a ditzy Protector, two testosterone-poisoned Primes, and half of Velor after you.  Do you somehow think your life lacks excitement or something?

“I’ve got no time to explain.  And call me Daina.” 

“Wait, I’m Daina,” came that sex toy voice from nearby. 

“She doesn’t know?” I asked Kara.

The real Daina was now at our sides, and tried to explain “Your friend explained something about how I was going to go with you, but I can’t . . .”

Kara interrupted.  “There’s just one thing, though.  Somebody has to take Daina and keep her out of sight.” 

“What are you talking about?” squeaked Daina.

“Forget it!  I’m interviewing this week for that marketing position.  I can’t spend time nursemaiding a Protector.”  I waited for Daina to chime in, but she was now standing there with that far-away look again.

“You’ll just have to fit it in, darling,” replied Kara, as Ginata re-entered the room with Silvio, Lucrezia and the others.  Ginata wore a sort of shark-like half grin, while Silvio was subdued. 

As we went through the bustle of getting out of the boutique, I again tried to talk Kara out of this scheme, but she was careful to stick close to Silvio and Daina.  The one time I managed to get Kara alone, Gina sailed up and got in the first word.  “Any kickback you get from that rag merchant belongs to Ditt,” she snarled. 

Finally, outmaneuvered, I managed to get ten seconds to get one thing straight.  “Kara, I model too.  I never get courtesy discounts from people who don’t book me.”

She grinned.  “I don’t either.  But Silvio didn’t know that, and neither did Ginata.” 

She then whispered something to Daina, and then announced to the group, “Look, everybody, Kara’s going with Sharon now.”  Sure enough, Daina walked silently to my side, and Gina waved good-bye.  I still could have set things right, even then, but a little voice in my head suggested, “Let Kara have her fun.  You might enjoy it.”  I would find out that Kara was not the only Vel who didn’t cope well with irony.


[1] A Scalantran title with overtones of “CEO,”  “Master of the Universe,” “Godfather” and “Big Cheese.” [JH]

[2]   Nephew of the then-reigning Arion Emperor.  After bungling several major fleet engagements, he was promoted to Commander-in-Chief of All Forces Outside the Known Universe so that he could pursue personal interests.  Those known to us included lingerie design (with lots of thin black straps), spaceship demolition derbies and cats. [SB]

[3]   This is a free translation.  In the original Arion, the words are  “Klete’sar Gletesar.”’  [JH]

[4]   “Cara” is “dear” in Italian.  “Lisa’s” true identity was still secret.  [JH]