It took roughly three days for Zane to feel like he was himself again (and that his skin wasn’t comprised of bees). Once he was certain of those two points, he pushed the button under his bed. Ash came in a few minutes later, his eyes still wary. “You okay, Zane?” he asked, sitting down next to his bed.
“If you mean that in a big picture sort of way, I’ll have to think about the answer for a bit,” said Zane. “If you mean right now, at this moment, I’m fine. Thanks.”
A silence passed between them.
“I don’t blame you for feeling… however you’re feeling,” he said, his eyes falling. “Just say the word and I’ll get off at the next-”
Ash was already unbuckling him. “Look, I’m not going to pretend like everything is sunshine and roses. We both know that’s not true. But, I’m not here to judge you. You started out life a different way. But everyone has gone through something. I’m not going to say I understand. But I don’t have to understand it all to be your friend.”
When he sat back he sighed. “And if Mari ever finds out I just said that, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Zane looked back up, his eyes watery. “Your soft spot’s safe with me,” he said. “And Ash… thank you. I owe you and Jayna so much.”
“Well, I owe you a lot too, andneither of us are done owing Jayna yet. And if anything, it sounds like our bill will be a bit higher in that respect. C’mon, I’ve already started making waffles. I figured you’d need them.”
“I think I do,” said Zane. “Lead the way.”
One unstrapping later, the two of them made their way down to the dining area, where Mari was already eating. Both she and Jayna looked ‘round when they came in.
“Should I ask how you’re doing?” said Mari through a mouthful of waffle. “Or is that a stupid question?”
“It’s definitely not a stupid question,” said Zane. “But it may be one I don’t have an answer for. At least not right away. But I’m still here. As good as you guys are going to get me.”
Mari nodded, chewing thoughtfully. “Although, as your medical representative I’m gonna have to ask you just a couple more questions and do a full body scan. If I’m going to be the one giving you care, I don’t want anything to go wrong because there’s something in there that should be there, or vice versa, okay?”
Zane blinked a few times. “I… hadn’t considered that,” he said, looking down at his hands. “Why have I never considered that?”
Mari colored a bit. “Sorry to give you something new to worry about,” she said.
Zane shrugged as he sat down. “One more drop in the ocean,” he said. “Waffle me, please.”
As he ate, Jayna took a sip from her coffee and spoke up. “So… we’ve all been through kind of a lot lately. With the ship breaking down, and having to meet Johnny twice in two months and all of this other nonsense. I was thinking maybe we could really take about a week off and get down on land. We’re in the right sector to make a stop on Isocrateia.”
Mari looked up, but Ash cut off the inevitable question.
“Jayna’s hometown,” he said. “Lovely place. Great beaches.”
Zane immediately brightened up. “Really?” he said. “We can go? I’ve always wanted to see it!”
Jayna smiled. “Yeah. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the same vicinity as home, so I figured it’d be a chance to get away where no one would bother us. And I’m sure my mom and my siblings would love to put us up for the week,” she smiled.
“You had me at ‘beaches,” said Mari. “I don’t know about you hardened spacer types, but I need a vacation from all this.”
“Speaking as a hardened spacer,” said Ash, “I say, get ready to get your feet wet.” Ash looked Mari over, and added, “And to get hit on a lot.”
Mari rolled rolled her eyes. A look of concen briefly crossed Jayna’s features. “Crap. I forgot,” she said, and then shrugged. “Ah well, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Mari looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Ash. “Just a passing thought.”
Corinth was an inner planet of the Pyras system, within the Marduk sector. Its largest landmass was almost entirely farmland, used mainly for growing corn, rice, wheat, and other such things for export to other planets and systems within the sector.
However, when people not interested in grain and grain by-products visited Corinth, the most common thing that brought them there was the island city of Isocrateia. Its classical architecture, patterned largely after the ancient Greek style back on Earth, its plethora of beautiful beaches, and its yearly display of some of the most intense sporting events in the civilized universe made it a very popular destination.
That was not the interesting thing about Isocrateia. The interesting thing about Isocrateia was unrelated to any of that.
There was no spaceport on the island proper; Songbird had to be docked on a much smaller island some kilometers off of the coast. The crew would have to travel the rest of the way by a land-bound vehicle. It was assumed they would have to make a rental, so it was a little bit surprising when they left the spaceport and found one waiting for them.
A midsized silver-blue vehicle was parked right outside the spaceport. There was a man sitting on the hood who shared Jayna’s bronzed tone and general demeanor, holding up a sign that said ‘LITTLE SIS’.
Jayna’s face brightened as she set eyes on him. “Theo!” she grinned, walking towards him and pulling him into a hug. While he was tall in general, he was still dwarfed by his ‘little sister’. “Mom didn’t tell me you would be coming to get me. I’d just assumed it would be the chauffeur!” she smiled, her face alight. “Here, let me introduce you to everyone!”
“What, and miss the first time you’ve set your big old spacer boots down on your home soil in years?” he said, as she lifted him off the ground. “Ash I remember. The goggly one and the cute one are new!”
She punched his arm lightly. “Don’t start,” she said, and then turned to her crew. “Guys, this is my big brother,Theodosious. Everyone just calls him Theo though. Theo, these are my crewmates. You remember Ash, and this is Zane, our captain, and Mari, our medic.”
Theo gave them a warm smile. “It is a pleasure to meet all of you.”
Mari raised her hand. “Did he say ‘chaffeur’?” she said. “Jayna, have you been holding out on us?”
Ash let out a bark of laughter but didn’t comment further.
Jayna smiled, and waved them all inside. It was bigger than it was supposed to be on the inside, and Jayna fit comfortably inside; her head didn’t even graze the top of the roof. Theo got in behind the wheel, and started the car with a throaty hum. “There’s champagne, tallen, and whiskey in the center console. Please help yourselves.”
“I’ve never had tallen before,” said Mari, pulling out the bottle. She uncorked it and gave it a sniff. “Smells like… fruity wood.”
“It’s one of Corinth’s top export goods,” said Theo, helpfully. “The conditions to grow the right grains are kind of finicky. And our lovely island’s distilleries make the best on the planet.”
“Always the salesman, bro,” said Jayna, giving her brother a playful shove. “Turn it down a little, will you?”
“Hey, someone has to pick up Dad’s business. It’s not going to be you, and it’s certainly not going to be Nita or Dina either,” he said rolling his eyes. “Big brother, as usual, taking care of all of you,” he smiled. “But I’ll cut off the campaign. Drink, be merry. We’ll be home soon.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Mari, topping off a cup with tallen.
“You’ll drink to… drinking?” said Zane.
“I know what I said.”
The drive took them over a long bridge to the main island, and before long, the city itself came into view on the horizon.
The city rose up around them as they drove into it. While it did have the ancestral trappings of Ancient Greek architecture, it was obvious that the city planners had made sure that every individual extravagance was functional in some way or the other. The pillars were very careflly placed to ensure that the solar panels installed on the buildings were never obscured. Each fountain was led to a the main filtration plant , which in turn circulated water out to the outlying communities. The murals all covered the expanse of necessarly squat factories, power plants, and bureaucratic offices. They drove up to the main gate, and Mari noted once the door opened that there was something… else very peculiar about the city.
At the gate, they were stopped by some kind of toll booth, and a shadow loomed over the stopped car.
As the windows rolled down, the shadow turned out to belong to a woman, dark-skinned, short-haired… and as tall as Jayna, if not taller.
“Oh, it’s you, Mr. Kosta!” she said. “Welcome back!”
“Thank you! I’ve got a few visitors with me, but my mother’s already passed along all the names.”
The woman smiled. “Of course. You know that is never an issue for the Kosta family.” The woman looked in the car, and gave Jayna a warm smile too. “Welcome back, sister.”
Jayna smiled warmly. “Good to be back, sister.”
With that, they drove past the gate and into the city proper. Zane and Mari were gaping.
There were people going about their business here and there, as you would expect, but there was something different about the populace. The booth attendant wasn’t the only giant amongst them.
While there were plenty of ‘normal’ people tucked among the groups, there were quite a few, perhaps more than half, built similarly to Jayna. Athletic, broad shouldered, and very, very tall. It was almost strange to see the diversity in body types all scaled up. Butthe longer they drove, the more they realized. Out of all the larger people they saw… not a single one was male. The only average-sized women in the crowds wore the trappings of tourists, and aside from them, the shortest female that the crew could spot was a hair over six feet tall… and judging by the fashion choices and the way she disdainfully rolled her eyes at the older man she was following, this one was a teenager.
“…Jayna?” said Mari. “Is there something you’d like to share with the class?”
Ash couldn’t contain himself anymore. He burst out laughing in the seat.
Theo looked over at his sister. “Jay?” he said. “You didn’t tell them?”
Jayna started to giggle herself. “Sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t resist. I just had to see the looks on your faces.”
“So,” said Mari, “are all the women on this island…”
“Yup,” said Theo. “Every last one. The short version is, about… a hundred and fifty years ago, give or take, this island was used as the testing ground for human enhancement drugs. Some sort of military program. They were put into the water supply.”
“And it did work, if not as intended,” continued Jayna. “The drug didn’t metabolize in anybody who had a Y chromosome. And those it did affect, it did in… unexpected ways.”
She looked down at Zane and smiled. “I guess people have always been trying to make better people, right?”
Zane returned her smile, a look of understanding on his pale face.
She smiled back, and then looked out of the window. They were driving towards a large mountain dominating the island. Large houses terraced around the mountain, all penned off by their individual gates. In-between the houses seemed to be residential subdivisions that were much smaller, as well as apartment buildings and condos. It appeared that there was no ‘rich or poor’ section, but the neighborhood Jayna’s family lived in was nice enough all the same. Soon enough, her brother pulled up to the gate in front of a large mansion.
“You… you live here?” said Zane, looking up at the huge facade.
“Lived. And not in all of it,” said Jayna, grinning. “A good part of it is office space where Mom conducts business. And apartments for the live-in staff.”
Ash had chosen at this time to pop the champagne, unable to stop himself from giggling as they moved past the front door and into the house proper.
“Most of the staff are out for the day. Mom said that she would be cooking tonight, so, you know, I also have the takeout guy on standby.” Theo said, driving into a spacious garage that held seven cars. Three of them were large, terrain-type vehicles.
Zane looked at the cars, and then at Jayna. “Is your mom the queen amazon?”
“Deputy queen, actually,” said Jayna, nodding. Theo let out a laugh and shoved her.
“She’s been on a rampage ever since you buzzed us and told us you were dropping by, you know,” he said. “She’s making your favorite, everything.”
“I bet,” Jayna said with a chuckle, and then turned to Zane and the crew. “My mom is a member of parliament and the leader of the department of defense of the state.”
“Holy shit,” said Mari, as she took in the sights. It was clear that her head was still kind of spinning. “Why would you ever want to leave a place like this?”
“Adventure,” said Ash, giving Jayna a look and smirking.
Jayna smiled back at him as they parked. Theo was the first one out, opening the door for Mari and smiled. “Welcome to our house. You guys’ll be in the East Wing with the twins.”
“Wing, he says,” said Mari, shaking her head. “I never thought I’d be staying at a place that had wings.”
“Of course, you’re not going to get far before mom says her piece,” added Theo.
“Oh, I know. Why do you think we parked the ship so far? So she wouldn’t dismantle it,” Jayna said with a smirk, before shouldering her pack on.
Theo rolled her eyes. “Mom’s made her peace. She’ll be glad to see you intact even if you’ve lost a little weight.”
Ash started to chuckle until Jayna shot him a death glare.
“Let’s get it over with, then,” she said. “Where is she?”
“Where else? Her study,” said Theo. “C’mon. You too, Ash. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure she’s forgiven you. …Pretty sure.”
Ash grabbed the bottle of tallen and then sighed. “Let’s get this over with then,” he said.