Science Fiction

The Moreva of Astoreth

By

This book will launch on Jan 26, 2021. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

Expelled for her intolerance. Seduced by a dangerous attraction. One woman must risk her life to open her heart.

Priestess Tehi won’t hide her headstrong opinions. So, against the rules of her goddess grandmother, the gifted scientist boycotts her religion’s orgiastic ritual to avoid mixing with a race she despises. And when she’s banished for her act of defiance, she’s forced down a treacherous path into the belly of her own bigotry.

Exiled and tasked with heading the garrison stationed at a landing beacon located in a remote, technologically backwards village, Tehi desperately shields her secret medical research from unworthy eyes. But when an irresistible chieftain ensnares her senses, her sacred vows and closed mind are challenged by the power of love.

Will Tehi’s forbidden desires survive the wrath of her Gods?

Chapter One




“I could have you executed for this, Moreva Tehi,” Astoreth said. My Devi grandmother, the Goddess of Love, scowled at me from Her golden throne in the massive Great Hall of Her equally massive É. Today, Her long, white hair had been woven into slender braids entwined with multicolored strands of tiny jewels. They sparkled in the candescent light radiating from the ceiling and the bulbous, wall-height fixtures. Her golden eyes burned with fury.

Sitting on my heels, I bowed my head, not wanting to see Her anger. I stared at the black and gold polished floor, trying to ignore the trickle of sweat snaking down my spine. My unbound hair, white like Hers, hung over my face. “Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.

“You blaspheme by not celebrating Ohra-Namtar, the holiest rite of the Gods. You are well aware that this was not Ohra-Sin praising my role in creating Peris but extolling all the deeds of the Great Pantheon in bringing this planet to life. Ohra-Namtar celebrates our creation of the hakoi, and the worthiest, handpicked by me and my brothers and sisters, celebrated with us. Marduc asked me of your whereabouts. Your absence sorely disappointed Him.”

I shuddered in fear and loathing. Marduc, Lord of the Skies, was Astoreth’s twin brother, and my grand-uncle. I’d been scared of Him since childhood and always made sure I was never alone with Him. I hated the way He’d stare at me when no one was looking, licking His lips as if I were a juicy piece of meat just waiting to be devoured. I had been too young to participate in the last Ohra-Namtar and knew He would have been only too eager to get His hands on me during this one.

“Moreva Tehi,” Astoreth’s hard tone brought me back to the moment. “You are my acolyte. Your participation was not an option. By your absence, you did not share your body with Us, your brother and sister morevs, and Our worthy hakoi. You sullied the sacredness of Ohra-Namtar. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I can only offer my most abject apologies, Most Holy One.”

“Your apologies are not accepted.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Where were you?”

“I was in the laboratory, working on a cure for red fever. Our four-year cycle will end this summer, and thousands of hakoi in the Gods’ cities and towns could die, so—”

“I know that,” my grandmother snapped. “But why did you miss Ohra-Namtar? Did you not hear the bells?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. I heard them. I was about to lay aside my work when I noticed an anomaly in one of my pareon solutions, so I decided to take a minute to investigate. What I found…I-I just lost track of time.”

“You lost track of time?” She repeated, sounding incredulous. “Do you expect me to believe that?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. It is the truth.”

My head and hearts began throbbing, my grandmother probing me for signs I had lied. But She wouldn’t find any. Lying to Her was pointless, and Her punishment for lying was harsh. Swaying under the onslaught, I endured the pain without making a sound. After what seemed like forever the throbbing eased, leaving me sick and dizzy.

“Very well. I accept what you say is true. I still do not accept your apology.”

“Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, panting a little.

A minute passed in uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable for me, anyway. Another minute passed. And another. Is…is She finished with me? I prayed to be dimissed. But I wasn’t.

“What do you have against my hakoi, Moreva?”

I frowned. “I don’t understand, Most Holy One.”

“I have watched you. You give them no respect. You heal them because you must, but you treat them like animals. Why is that?”

The trickle of sweat reached the small of my back and pooled there. “But my work—”

“Your work is a game between you and the red fever. It has nothing to do with my hakoi.”

I didn’t reply. It was true. Discovering the cure was a challenge I’d taken on because no one since the dawn of Peris had been able to find one. It was a war, me assaulting the virus’s defenses, and the virus fending off my attacks. Our war was my obsession, and one I meant to win. And I didn’t care about the hakoi. I despised them. They were docile enough—the Devi’s spawning and breeding program saw to that—but they were slow-witted, not unlike the pirsu the É raised for meat and hide. They stank of makira, the pungent cabbage that was their dietary staple. From what I’d seen traveling through Kherah to Astoreth’s and to the És of other Gods, all the hakoi were stupid and smelly, and I wanted nothing to do with them.

But I wouldn’t—couldn’t—admit that She was right. I wracked my brain, trying to think of something that wasn’t an outright lie. Then it came to me. “Most Holy One, I treat Your hakoi the way I do because it is the Hierarchy of Being as the Devi created it. You taught us the Great Pantheon of Twelve is Supreme. The minor Devi are beneath You, the morev are beneath the minor gods, and Your hakoi are beneath the morev. Beneath the hakoi are the plants and animals of Peris. But sometimes Your hakoi forget their place and must be reminded.”

The Great Hall was silent. I held my breath, praying She wouldn’t probe me again.

“A pretty explanation, Moreva Tehi. But my hakoi know their place. It is you who does not know yours. You are the only morev in Kherah to have more Devi blood in your veins than hakoi, but that does not change your station, nor can you rise above it. Your privileges—to freely move about Uruk without É authorization, to participate in the Gods’ festivals and games, to travel most anywhere in Kherah—are the same as any of your brothers and sisters. And it is the morev who attend my hakoi. As a healer, you are not too good to minister to their needs, and you are surely not too good to celebrate Ohra-Namtar with them.”

 I swallowed. “Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Look at me.”

I raised my head. My grandmother’s expression was fierce.

“And that is why you let the time get away from you, as you say. You, Moreva Tehi, my acolyte of Love, are a bigot. I might understand if you were still a child, but you are not. You have done nothing to better yourself since then. Your bigotry is the reason you did not celebrate Ohra-Namtar. You did not want to share your body with Our hakoi.” She glared, as if daring me to contradict her.

I stared into Her golden eyes, wanting to deny Her accusation, but that would be a lie. I kept quiet.

She leaned forward. “I have overlooked many of your transgressions while in my service. I know you use your psi power to harass other morevs for what you perceive as slights. But I cannot overlook your bigotry, or your missing Ohra-Namtar. However, I will not execute you because you are too dear to my heart. The stewardship for Astoreth-69 in the Syren Perritory ends in two days. You will take the next rotation.”

My hearts froze. This was my punishment? Getting exiled to Syren? Everyone knew the Syren Perritory in Peris’s far northern hemisphere was the worst place in the world to steward a landing beacon. Cold and dark, with dense woods full of wild animals, the Syren was no place for me. My place was in Kherah, a sunny desert south of the planet’s equator where the fauna was kept in special habitats for learning and entertainment. As for the Syrenese, they were the descendants of one of the Devi’s earliest and failed hakoi spawning and breeding experiments and were as untamed as the perritory where they lived.

My throat tightened, and a tear formed in the corner of my eye. Eresh…he’s in the Syren Perritory now. I’ll be taking his place. It’s already been a year since I’ve seen him, and now I won’t see him again for another year. Two years without my best friend…my only friend. What am I to do?

I managed to get up the gumption to protest but didn’t. Challenging my grandmother was disrespectful, and my punishment for that would be even worse than exile. It would also be futile. Astoreth’s word was law, and it had just come down on my head. “Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, my voice meek.

 She leaned back on Her throne. “Mehmed will come to your room after breakfast tomorrow so you can be fitted for your uniform.”

“My uniform, Most Holy One? I will not be taking my clothes?”

“No. As overseer of the landing beacon, you are the liaison between the Mjor village as well as the commander of the garrison. Your subordinate, Kepten Yose, will report to you once a marun, and you are to relay the garrison’s needs to Laerd Teger, the Mjoran village chief.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“I will make allowance for your healer’s kit and a portable laboratory, but you are not to take your red fever research. I am sure you have other projects you can work on while you are there.”

“But—”

“No, Moreva Tehi. It is too dangerous.”

“I can take precautions—”

“No. I will not allow you to endanger the Mjorans. That is My final word.” She gazed at me for a long moment. “You should also know that they, like all Syrenese, are not a forgiving people. They do not take transgressions—of any kind—lightly.”

I swallowed. “I understand, Most Holy One.”

“Good.” Her eyes narrowed. “One more thing. As the garrison’s moreva, you will lead the services in worship of me, and that includes Ohra-Sin. Go now.”

“Thank you, Most Holy One.” I stood on shaky legs, bowed, and backed out of the Great Hall. Fleeing to my room, I fell on the bed and sobbed. It was bad enough to be exiled to the Syren Perritory and to spend another year without Eresh, but Ohra-Sin with the garrison? Only the hakoi served in Astoreth’s military. I felt dirty already. And not allowing me to work on my red fever project was punishment by itself.

A hand touched my shoulder. “Tehi, what’s wrong?” a worried voice said. It was Moreva Jaleta, one of my friendlier morev sisters.

“I-I’m being sent to the Syren Perritory to steward Astoreth-69,” I wailed.

“But why?”

I sat up. “I missed Ohra-Namtar yesterday, and n-now Astoreth is punishing me.”

She gave me an unsympathetic look. “You’re lucky She didn’t have your head. Be thankful you’re Her favorite.”

I sniffed, but said nothing.

Jaleta patted my shoulder. “It won’t be so bad, Tehi. The year will be over before you know it. Come on, it’s time to eat.”


<<<>>>


That night, I stood in line with fifty-nine of my brother and sister morevs in a hallway covered in colorful mosaics of the wildlife that lived in the Kamala River’s estuaries, waiting for the doors to open. In a similar hallway on the opposite side of the É, another sixty morevs stood in line, waiting for the same. Tonight was Ktana, and I couldn’t wait.

I loved all the Astorethian rituals—except for the Ohras—but Ktana was my favorite. Held four times a year, it was a renewal of sorts, bestowing on us the gift of witnessing Her vast power, to bask in Her glory, and giving us a taste of Dingir. Yet Ktana had another purpose. Tiny implants in our earlobes fed our visions to Ginzu, an artificial intelligence that interpreted what we saw, and based on our psychological profiles, decided whether any one of us needed counseling. After a Ktana, Ginzu always counseled me about something or other, but I paid it no mind. I was fine the way I was.

Thinking about the upcoming ritual, it occurred to me my implant would be removed before I left for Syren. No Ktana for a whole year. My mood started to plummet. Never mind. Ktana’s not going anywhere, and it’s not like I’ll be stuck in the Syren Perritory forever. That cheered me.

“About time she was punished for something,” someone behind me said in a low voice. Several morevs snickered. “The Syrenese’ll put her in her place,” someone else said. More twittering.

Holding my head high, I ignored them. Jaleta could be kind, but she had a big mouth, and by the time we’d finished dinner, everyone knew about my punishment. I knew by their voices who’d said what and could’ve zapped them with a knifelike bolt of pain that would linger for a good while. But I didn’t. Zapping them would delay Ktana until they recovered, and I was in no mood to wait.

I endured a few more jibes before the doors whispered open. We filed into the majestic, semi-circular sanctorium, its unadorned walls emitting a soft, gently pulsing blue glow. We found our assigned places, and after making ourselves comfortable on large, thick, square pillows, assumed the sacred lutos—our legs folded so that each foot nestled in the crevasses created by our bent knees, our palms pressed together, and fingers pointing upward before our chests. I closed my eyes and with my brothers and sisters, began singing in a low, wordless monotone.

The air vibrated from our song, evoking a feeling of being lightly stroked with feathers. The singing and the sensation lulled me into a light trance.

A light pressure on my brain signaled Astoreth’s power flowing into me. When we entered the sanctorium, She’d been seated in sacred lutos on a dais, separated from us by a rippling ribbon of shimmering, liquid silver.

Breathless, I waited for the swirling colors, the bright golden lights streaking across my vision like falling stars, the sense of flying through Dingir, and so much more. In a moment, a small, round ball of white light appeared and rushed forward. Just before it would have enveloped me, it exploded into a mass of spinning, kaleidoscopic colors. My clothes melted away. I laughed, the sound reverberating. This was how my visions always started, and I eagerly stepped into the rotating mass, ready to be lifted and tossed about by gentle, unseen forces.

Except I wasn’t. As soon as I stepped through, the bright colors vanished. Zigzagging shades of gray surrounded me, thunder assaulted my ears, and a fierce wind howled. Something slammed me against what felt like a rough, rock wall, and my breath whooshed out. I tried to take another, but couldn’t. The unseen force pressed harder and harder against my chest. It hurt. Struggling against it proved useless.

Whatever had pinned me disappeared, and in the next second, I was tumbling down a great, black hole. I screamed as hard and loud as I could. Silence.

After falling for an eternity, I landed hard on something wet and squishy. It smelled awful. Horrified and disgusted, I sprang to my feet, slipped, and fell on my butt. Then I noticed the blackness surrounding me had lightened the tiniest bit. Straining my eyes, I could make out a faint, green glow to my left. It brightened, even as I stared. Head swiveling, I saw the glow came from all directions, but couldn’t see its source. Moments later, it was bright enough for me to see clearly. I looked down and screamed again. This time, it echoed.

I was sitting in a pile of rotting entrails, streaked with old, black blood.

My fear ramped into hysteria. Whimpering, I crawled through the mess until I reached dry ground. I jumped to my feet and ran as fast as I could, not caring where I was headed. I ran until I could run no more. I squeezed my eyes shut and gasped for air, fell to my knees, and let my head drop to my chest.

When I finally opened my eyes, fresh terror made my skin pucker. I was kneeling in a wriggling mass of…something. The glow was coming from them. I leapt to my feet and started running again, my screams echoing.

The vision abruptly disappeared, and my eyes popped open. Panting, my head swiveled left and right. I was back in the sanctorium. Astoreth had withdrawn Her power. Shaking, I watched my brothers and sisters wake from their trances.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Someone was watching me. I turned. It was my grandmother. Her golden stare bored into mine for a full minute. Then She closed Her eyes.

 Ktana was over, and I filed out of the sanctorium with the others. In the hallway, I forced myself to keep pace instead of elbowing them out of my way and running for the elevators. I kept my head down, not wanting anyone to see the fear I knew still showed in my eyes.

I rushed out of the cab and ran to my room. Falling against the door, I closed my eyes and blew a heavy breath, willing my quivering to stop and my heartsbeat to slow. After gaining control over myself, I let out another breath. What…that’s never happened to me before. For me, Ktana had always been a beautiful, joyous experience. But this… I’ve never been so scared in my life. I swallowed and tried to blot out images of the rotting entrails and the green wriggling things from my mind’s eye. Then I remembered Astoreth. Why was Grandmother staring at me like that? Did She know?

Blowing a final breath, I opened my eyes and saw two blinking lights on my console. I had messages. I knew the pink one was from Ginzu, wanting to talk to me about my vision. The purple one could have been from anybody.

I needed to talk to Ginzu. I settled in the float chair, lay my index finger on a small dark panel to my right and held it there. Once my identity had been confirmed, I tapped the flashing pink panel. Ginzu's’ avatar appeared on my left.

She wore her usual white robe over a pale yellow gown with a jeweled clasp at her left shoulder. Long, curly black hair cascaded over her chest, and her black eyes were like deep, unfathomable pools. Her rendering was so precise she could pass for a living being. The only difference between her and the living was that she wore her shoulder clasp on the left, whereas the living wore theirs on the right. She pressed her palms together and gave a deep bow. “Greetings, Moreva Tehi. May the Most Holy One turn Her face to you.”

I repeated the gesture and bowed my head. “And to you, Ginzu.” As always, it felt strange to engage in formal greetings with a machine. I pointed to the float chair next to the console. “Please, sit.”

She made herself comfortable and then looked up, face grave. I frowned. What? Is it that bad?

Ginzu seemed to take a breath. “Tehi, you had a difficult Ktana.”

I snorted. “That’s an understatement. What does it mean?”

Her lips tightened. “You are in great danger.”

My jaw dropped. In Astoreth’s name, has she blown a circuit? “From what? Ginzu, this is the É. What could possibly hurt—”

She held up a hand. “From yourself. I have been telling you for years that there are dark elements in your Ktana visions that signal you need cleansing. You have never taken my counsel seriously. You are in danger of…”

“Of what?”

Ginzu looked at me for a long moment. “Of losing your soul.”

I rolled my eyes. “Ginzu, come on. That’s ridiculous. Why am I in danger of losing my soul? I mean, what specifically—”

“That is a question only you can answer. I am but a machine.”

“But—”

“There is nothing more I can tell you. I will leave now.” Ginzu paused. “Please take my counsel this time, Tehi. Before it is too late.” She disappeared.

I stared at the chair Ginzu had vacated for a long time, my thoughts churning. Losing my soul over what? I’ve always obeyed Astoreth’s tenets. I believe. I worship. I sing hymns. Astoreth, I write some of them. What’s Ginzu talking about?

I threw up my hands. “I’ll think about this later,” I muttered and changed into my nightgown. Lifting the hem, I sniffed, and then smiled. I loved the smell of freshly laundered clothes. Crawling into bed, its arms draped a blanket over me. I sniffed again. The blanket was clean, too.

I rolled over and a wave of annoyance rippled through me. The purple message light was still blinking. I let out a sigh. I was so warm and cozy now. Did I really want to get up and find out what the message was about? No. I’ll look at it tomorrow before breakfast.

I closed my eyes and went to sleep.


<<<>>>


A chime sounded, loud enough to wake the dead.

Bolting upright, I shook my head hard, trying to clear the sleep-fog from my brain. Fully awake now, my eyes widened. That chime was the last of four calling us for breakfast. If I didn’t hurry, I’d be late. If I was, I wouldn’t be fed until lunchtime.

I scrambled out of bed, shedding my nightgown as I ran to the closet. No time for a shower. Throwing on my day-gown and robe, I fumbled the jeweled clasp that held my robe together. I burst out of my room and sprinted toward the elevators. When the doors opened at ground level, I charged out of the cab and ran through the hallway to the dining room. A small knot of my brothers and sisters were walking inside. Relief washed over me. Made it just in time.

 Outside the doorway, I leaned against the wall to calm myself. I took a deep breath and slowly let it out until my lungs were empty. Then I took another breath. Wonder why didn’t I hear the first chime? I rarely slept well and often didn’t sleep at all. The first chime, soft as it was, normally woke me in a second. Guess after that vision, my body needed the rest. I took one last breath.

I walked into the dining room and tightened my lips. Moreva Quora, my archenemy, was sitting in my chair. Quora detested me because, until my birth, she’d been Astoreth’s favorite.

No you don’t, puta. I marched to the table and stood with hand on hip. “Out of my chair, Quora.”

She looked up and smiled. “Why, Tehi! We thought you’d be in the Syren Perritory by now.”

“The supply airship doesn’t leave until tomorrow, and you know it. Out of my chair.”

“No. I don’t see your name on it. What are you going to do, run to our Most Holy One and complain?”

I thought to give her a good zap but decided there was a better way. I rested my hands on the table’s edge and gave her a mirthless grin. “If you don’t, I’ll put a simi in your bed. Maybe two.” Simis were long, thin, harmless snakes that made their homes in crevasses. A bed, with its sheets, mattress, and pillows, was an ideal place for them. And Quora was afraid of snakes.

Her face paled. She knew I’d do it, too.

Without another word, she got up and left. I plopped into my chair and looked around. Everyone was staring. “What?”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Morevi Sabo said. Sabo worked in the lab with me.

“She was in my chair.”

Our food arrived, cutting off further talk. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until the delicious aromas made my mouth water. I wanted to dive in, but we had to wait for the blessing. Hm. Who’s going to give it? Morevi Prian got up, and I let out a little groan. He was one of the older morevs, well-respected for his work in cosmology. The problem was that he tended to ramble.

After what seemed like an hour, the blessing had been given and we could eat. Prian had talked for so long, my food had cooled until it was just warm. I would have sent it back to the kitchen for reheating, but I was hungry enough not to care. I finished first. Etiquette demanded I should wait until at least two of my tablemates had finished before leaving but I didn’t feel like being polite and took my plate to the cart at the far end of the dining room.

I needed to get to the lab to pack my portable.

I walked to a different elevator bank and rode one to the basement. Traversing the last hallway, I thought again about what reason Astoreth could possibly have had for sticking the life sciences section down here. Unlike the other sections, ours had no windows. Getting the rooms to a decent temperature was hopeless; it was either too warm or too cold. And it was hard to get to; our section could be reached only after tramping through what seemed like an endless maze of hallways.

I entered the lab, turned right, and walked through the third doorway on my left into the storage room. Grabbing the handle of a big, white trunk, I wheeled it to my workstation. I’d probably need two but wanted to wait until I’d figured out what equipment should go into which trunk. I didn’t want to block my workstation with them and make my life any harder than it already was.

I set the trunk as far out of my way as possible, picked up my tablet, and wandered about my station, dictating what I thought I’d need. All Astoreth’s life scientists were healers, so we had extensive medical knowledge. Each of us also has two sub-specialties, sometimes more. Mine were virology and bacteriology.

The more I dictated, the more annoyed I became. The portable lab I’d put together would be primitive, to say the least. I could take a 3-D microscope, but I couldn’t take a 3-D modeler. It was too big to fit inside a trunk. I could take plenty of isolate and whole plant extracts, but I preferred making my extracts from living plants, and I was sure that wherever I’d be working in Mjor, there wouldn’t be enough room for a habitat. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t take a centrifuge with me, anyway. Like the 3-D modeler, it was too big to go into a trunk.

The lab’s door opened, and then the sound of shuffling feet. I spoke louder so to hear myself over the noise. After all was quiet, I didn’t lower my voice. I knew I was disturbing my labmates. I didn’t care.

A minute later, I stopped dictating and tightened my jaw. What difference does it make what I take if I can’t work on my project? I’m sure morevs in the other Gods’ És are trying to find a cure too, and I want to find it first. If I lose a year’s worth of research, it could ruin my chance. My eyes widened a fraction. Wait. I can still work. I can take a portable sterile environment. It’s small enough, and then the lab will have everything I need. Most of what I need, anyway. And it’ll be easy to sneak the red fever vials out of here, just mix their box in with extracts that have to be kept frozen. One will do. Well, maybe two. And I need a lot of hairless skratzes for the two other projects I’m taking with me. A couple of extra boxes…no one will suspect.

I thought about Astoreth’s order not to take my project to Mjor. If I find the cure while I’m gone, I doubt She’ll punish me.  And if I find it soon enough, imagine the glory the É will get for saving thousands of hakoi lives this summer. And selling it to the other És will pull in so many talents, She’ll be up to Her ears in them. Then I remembered what She’d said about the Mjorans, that they don’t take transgressions lightly. Bringing my red fever project…I’m sure they’d see it as a transgression. I gave a minute shrug. Well…who says they have to know? Staring at tablet’s screen, my lips stretched into a small, tight smile of satisfaction.

Looking over my list, I decided I had enough for the first trunk. I had pulled up its lid when the jeweled clasp at my shoulder holding my robe together beeped. I tapped it. “Moreva Tehi.”

“Moreva, this is Mehmed. Please come to your room. I am ready for your fitting.”

“Can’t we do this later? I’m packing my lab.”

“No, Moreva. I must have enough time to make your uniforms. Any later than now, and you will not be ready to leave on the airship tomorrow. Our Most Holy One would not be pleased.”

“Oh…fine.” Astoreth was already angry with me, and it wouldn’t do to anger Her even more. I closed the trunk and headed for the door. Giving it a shove, it almost smacked Morevi Sabo in the face. I didn’t apologize.

I rode the elevator to the É’s main floor, then walked to the dormitory elevators. I waved my hand over the call panel and waited, growing more irritated by the second. The dormitory elevators, unlike the ones in every other part of the É, were notoriously slow. A cab arrived two minutes later, and I stepped inside. “Three.”

Stopping at the third floor, the doors whispered open. An oblong patch of sunslight lit the hallway’s carpet about eighty šīzu away. My eyes narrowed. Mehmed was already inside my room. There was precious little privacy in the dormitory. The doors had no locks, and anyone could walk in at any time. Everyone knew better than to enter my room without being invited, though. My power let me sense that not only someone had been in there, but their identity, too. If anyone did, that morev might walk inside their room next to find clothes strewn over the floor or the mirror smashed. As it was, I barely tolerated the hakoi who cleaned it. But Mehmed was a special case. He made all our clothes, and could easily alter a garment so it didn’t fit perfectly, as Astoreth demanded. A morev in ill-fitting clothes was subject to punishment in whichever way suited Her whim. Which might include torture—the kind that left no marks.

In the hallway, the makira’s stench hit me like a wall. Steeling myself, I entered my room to find Mehmed and a fitting robot standing before a three-way mirror.  He handed me a dark red blouse and a matching pair of trousers. “Here is your uniform. Please put it on.”

For the next hour or so, I stood on a little box he’d brought with him, not moving unless I was told, listening to him mutter to his robot, and trying to breathe as little as possible. When he’d finished, I took off the uniform and inspected it. Mehmed gave me a lot of instructions about it that mostly went in one ear and out the other. I handed him the garment. “Thank you, Mehmed. May the Most Holy One turn Her face to you.”

“And to you, Moreva Tehi.” He nodded once, and with his fitting robot carrying the mirror, left my room. His stench faded, and I took in a great gulp of air.

After dressing, I stepped over to the console and its blinking purple light. I accessed the message. It read “Protocol and Manual. Astoreth-69.” Guess I’m supposed to read this. I looked at the page count at the screen’s bottom, and my brows shot up. One hundred and seventy pages? I don’t have time for this. I shook my head. Never mind. I’ll just download it and read it on the way there.

I’d turned to leave my room when despair overwhelmed me. This is really happening…I’m leaving Uruk for the Syren Perritory tomorrow. In the back of my mind, I’d been hoping Astoreth would change Hers, but I now knew that wasn’t going to happen. I collapsed on the bed and tears ran down my cheeks. Soon I was sobbing again, except this time there was no one around to hear it.

Eventually, my tears dried, and my determination returned. If I was to be sent into exile, I needed to finish getting my portable packed. I returned to my workstation, opened the trunk, and picked up my tablet. Glancing over the notes I’d made, I continued packing. By dinnertime, I’d almost finished. Just a few more pieces and the vials of red fever, and everything would be ready to go.

But would I?

About the author

Roxanne Bland grew up in Washington, D.C., where she discovered strange and wonderful new worlds through her local public library and bookstores. These and other life experiences have convinced her that reality is highly overrated. Bland lives in Baltimore, Maryland. view profile

Published on January 05, 2021

Published by Blackrose Press

0-1000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Science Fiction