Authors: Cheryl Brooks
Tags: #Romance Speculative Fiction
Dedicated to all brothers everywhere.
As YOU MIGHT EXPECT FROM A PLANET WHERE THE INTELLIGENT
species were reptiles, Darconia was hot, dry, and lacking in natural beauty—unless you happen to be fond of rocks. Lots and
of rocks—as far as the eye could see, and then some. The palace was built of stone, as were all of the other buildings in the capital city of Arconcia, which made you feel only slightly cooler once you were inside.
"Should have listened to my mother," I muttered.
"You're much too timid, Kyra!" she had said. "I can't even imagine you traveling alone." My father's comments had been similarly discouraging. "No point in compound-ing one mistake by making another," he had said. Not having an artistic nature himself, he hadn't approved my choice of music as a profession. "And when you get there, they'll walk all over you, just like everyone else does!"
Mom had thrown in for good measure. But I'd found the courage somehow, and here I was! And what, I thought to myself, was a humble piano teacher from Upper Sandusky doing so far from Earth, about to be introduced to a lizard queen in a remote corner of the galaxy?
For that matter, when was the last time you heard of
interesting happening to a piano teacher? I mean to the teacher herself, not one of her students who went on to find fame and fortune as a result of her outstanding musical instruction. Think about that for a minute.
Well, I certainly hadn't, so when I ran across an ad for teaching the daughter of an offworld queen, I was intrigued. So what if the locals were all reptilian? It still seemed preferable to teaching the sons and daughters of no one in particular here at home. Interstellar travel had long been common, but I'd never been offworld before, and the idea of space travel appealed to me. It was a chance to see other worlds and other species, because if my information was correct, Darconia was a
long way from Earth.
Maybe the fact that none of the musicians I knew— even those who participated in the galactic music scene—seemed interested in the job should have been the first clue that I should have avoided it myself. But sometimes, you just have to go with your gut instincts, and my gut was telling me to go for it. If nothing else, it would look good on my resume—I mean, my student would be a
after all—and if I ever wanted to get beyond teaching at the primary school level it might be helpful.
I'd been teaching for all of the ten years since I left college armed with a degree in music education. The offers to teach at the university level hadn't exactly been pouring in, largely due to the fact that I'd never gotten up the courage to apply for that level of job—and I had yet to teach anyone who was even minimally gifted. Despite having been hailed as a promising new talent in my own school years, I hadn't built up enough of a reputation to attract any really good students, and since I was going nowhere, I figured I might as well go nowhere somewhere else—if you catch my drift.
I had no love interest to leave behind, either. Love and I were virtual strangers, and though I'd been through the usual series of unsatisfactory relationships most girls experience, there had never been one that I truly regretted having lost. I guess I should have known that giving piano lessons wouldn't put me in the way of meeting many eligible bachelors, but that never occurred to me when choosing my life's work.
I doubted that I would find true love in my new job, either, but I would at least get a taste of what life was like on different planets, and that sounded romantic enough. I'd done some research—though the information I'd found was a bit sketchy—and it all sounded fine to me. Darconia was a relatively peaceful planet and, although having royalty in power rather than an elected government seemed a bit backward, the fact that the Queen wanted her child to learn to play piano spoke of at least some degree of culture.
The strange thing was that while keyboard players weren't uncommon on any world, the ad had specified that the Queen wanted a well-qualified, young, and unattached Terran female. That was me. Why the requirements were so limited was a mystery, but I decided that a Queen could afford to be as choosy as she liked.
None of that mattered on the morning I waved goodbye to my parents and embarked for Darconia. I was leaving Earth for the first time, and no matter what happened, it was exciting! It was raining heavily, and my flight was delayed due to technical difficulties—but I was young and resilient and not particularly superstitious. My fellow travelers and I waited for what seemed like hours before the ship was finally cleared for takeoff, but at last we were on our way.
Once the ship was in space and we were free to move about, all I heard from just about everyone was, "
did you say? Darconia? Never heard of it." It was no surprise that
never heard of it before, but the fact that it was unknown to most other travelers was unnerving.
I rechecked the database at my earliest opportunity and assured myself once again that, yes, Darconia did exist, and, no, I was not making a huge mistake by going there to work. I made a holocopy of the documentation— even showing it to a blue-skinned showgirl from Edraita who had been initially impressed when I told her that I would be teaching a princess, though, according to her, Darconia was such an out-of-the-way planet that even royalty didn't count for much. Later on, I learned that everyone—and not just the showgirls—on Edraita was notoriously snobbish.
This particular woman was tall and shapely with a brilliant mass of red hair, which contrasted nicely with her blue skin—and since her chief manner of dress seemed to be strings of beads of various shapes and sizes, I can assure you that she was blue all over. While her jewelry didn't cover enough of her to leave anything to the imagination— or keep her particularly warm—the jingling noise it made as she moved did encourage you to look in her direction, and once you did that, it was difficult not to stare.
Her name was Nindala, and we were as different from one another as two women could possibly be. She was confident and sensuous, while I was timid and would
walked around wearing nothing but beads!
Despite our differences and her inherent snobbish-ness, Nindala and I became friends during the trip, which lasted nearly six weeks for me, though only about half that time for her. She was joining up with a troupe of acrobatic entertainers who were performing throughout the quadrant. I learned a lot from Nindala; for example, did you know that the men on Salurna Zebta have two penises and always have two wives? One for each cock, she explained. I tried, but I couldn't imagine what kind of evolutionary twist would account for such a variation.
I mean, males wouldn't suddenly sprout a spare just because the women of their species outnumbered them two to one, would they? I came to the conclusion that this must have been the result of an extremely popular mutation, or it was genetically engineered at some point in the planet's history—though such practices were generally frowned upon.
I met another nonhuman traveler by the name of Garon, who overheard me telling Nindala where I was headed and tried to discourage me from ever setting foot on Darconia. When I tried to pin him down, all he would say was that he didn't care for lizards—which was possibly because with his pale, translucent skin, bulbous head, and glowing red eyes, he looked like a grub worm just waiting to become lizard food. I told him I didn't care what they looked like as long as they didn't stink or eat their food while it was still alive and wriggling. I also hoped that their hands were similar to those of humans, or I was going to have one helluva time teaching any of them to play the piano.
This particular man—at least, I assumed he was a man, although it was difficult to tell—also informed me that if I was looking to start a family, Darconia probably wasn't the best place to do it, since Darconians were egg layers and therefore couldn't crossbreed with mammals. When I replied that I wasn't looking for love—and had yet to find it on a whole planet full of mammals—Garon seemed skeptical. Given my previous track record, it would have been just my luck to fall in love with a lizard, but since I tended to prefer men with hair and skin, rather than scales, this was doubtful.
Nindala seemed to think that I'd be very popular on her planet, though I thought it was due to the fact that I would have been an oddity there, especially if all the women were as stunning as Nindala. She disagreed, saying I was more attractive than I gave myself credit for, and, what was more, that my lizard-hating friend had been hitting on me.
"Oh, surely not!" I exclaimed. "He's much too alien for that!"
Nindala shrugged, a gesture which caused her bare blue breasts to bounce slightly. Informing her I had no intention of having sex with some slimy little alien grubworm, I left it at that—not mentioning the fact that I'd rarely had sex with anyone else, either. "Garon was probably looking at
anyway," I said ruefully. Even without her exotic makeup and bizarre hairstyle, I was sure all of that blue skin would have stolen any glances which might happen to fall in my direction—and not just those of the male gender. I found it difficult not to stare at her myself, and I had no homosexual tendencies whatsoever.
"No, Kyra," she disagreed firmly, "he was not."
"Then I guess I should have left home years ago,"
I declared. "I might have been the toast of whatever planet he's from. I don't suppose you know what it's called, do you?"
"No," she replied, "but I have seen his kind before."
"And he's definitely a he?"
"Oh, yes," she replied knowledgeably. "The females have blue eyes.
one is male."
I nodded absently. I didn't really care one way or the other, but it was nice to know that it had at least been a
alien who'd been hitting on me—if that was what he'd truly been doing.
With the possible exception of a meteor shower to liven things up a bit, the rest of our journey progressed without incident. To pass the time, Nindala did some remarkable things with my hair—she was fond of really big, spiky styles, though they suited her hair texture much better than mine—and taught me how to put on makeup the way she did. I doubted I'd ever have much use for it, but Nindala disagreed, insisting that I might want to entice someone someday, and that it would be useful to know how. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but I really didn't think I'd be trying to entice anyone on Darconia.
My first look at a Darconian did nothing to change my mind. As we drew nearer to their planet, we picked up several of them in the neighboring star systems. Garon's assessment had been correct, for looking at those downsized, snub-nosed versions of the
—though with broader shoulders and longer arms—filled me with no more desire than would your common, garden-variety gecko. Nindala's efforts to improve my allure would be wasted on their planet. I did not find them attractive in any way, and the prospect of having to fight off amorous lizards was enough to make me wash the makeup off my pale face, restore my dark hair to its customary braid, and consider wearing a very concealing cloak.