Part Two: Happy Mask
Notes: This is the next part of a spin-off story of a series I posted on Literotica (titled Bonded, as Carizabeth) and the subject matter is m/m sci fi. The first part can be found a few posts down. Don’t read it if you don’t want to, people. If you do want to and you like it, throw me a comment, make me eager to continue :)
There were live musicians playing the waltz, their instruments perfect replicas of the archaic wood and metal that was the standard for old Earth. Garrett enjoyed the sound of the instruments, the richness that their close, physical reality lent to the performance. He let that enjoyment have free reign in his mind, driving his social ability for the evening. If it gave his comments a more detached air than his usual witty lasciviousness, most people were too drunk or distracted to notice.
There was no shortage of individuals who did know how to waltz, and no shortage of dance partners either. Garrett had his pick of among the glittering constellation of guests, and he passed from one pair of arms to the next, always smiling, charming and attentive. He chatted up the gossips, conversed with the philosophers, and listened to the folks who needed an outlet. He made people feel special, noticed, at ease. Garrett wielded his attractiveness like the weapon it was designed to be, toeing the line between uncomfortably beautiful and approachably handsome. He avoided Wyl and Robbie when they came back into the ballroom, and steered clear of his father and Claudia as well. He wasn’t feeling like having any more introspection pushed on him that evening. Unfortunately, he couldn’t anticipate everyone.
“Senator Dowd,” he greeted one of his father’s former contemporaries from the inner colonies, “it’s lovely to see you. You’ve come a long way.” He took the small, rounded woman’s hand in his own and inclined his head briefly, a familiar salutation between natives on her home planet of Olympus.
“How could I pass up the opportunity to break my journey in your excellent company?” the senator replied, a small smile on her face as she tilted her head in the traditional response.
“So you didn’t come just for me?” Garrett pressed one hand to his chest. “I’m crushed.”
“You’ll weather the disappointment somehow,” she said, tightening her grip a little before releasing him. “I was more than happy to accept the invitation. I’ve got a lot to do before I get to Pandora.”
“Why would you go to Pandora?” It was a fair question. Why would anyone go to Pandora? It was on the outskirts of the fringe, the edge of the inhabited planets. Most of those planets were “inhabited” only because the inner colonies had vastly overrated the speed at which they would need more space, and so had staked their claims centuries earlier. Huge amounts of money and resources were spent preparing planets for colonization that likely wouldn’t be needed for a dozen generations, even with the prolonging therapies that extended people’s lives by so many years. Olympus had begun transforming the harsh, uninhabitable landscape of its extension colony Pandora over three centuries ago. Garrett had no idea how far along it was, but he did know that their population wasn’t large enough to merit shipping people out there yet.
“I’m conducting a review for Olympus’ ruling council,” Senator Dowd replied. “Pandora is finally approaching livable conditions, and while we don’t have any immediate need to colonize, there are plenty of special interest groups who’re looking for a place to put down roots.”
Garrett raised an eyebrow. “You’re considering selling space to zealots?” ‘Special interest’ was almost always synonymous with ‘the fundamentally faithful’ these days, and they tended not to make for the best tenants. These were people who lived by faith, any faith, but let that faith dictate their actions to the impediment of living a regular life in regular society. Although, Garrett allowed, ‘regular’ was a loaded term. But what the hell; he wasn’t a sociologist or a psychologist, he didn’t really care about the nomenclature. Garrett dismissed the thought and turned his attention back to the senator as she answered.
“Not all special interest groups are zealots,” she said mildly, her expression imperturbable. “Living in the fringe is comparatively hard work, but there are advantages. Independence with the assurance of home-colony support as long as connections are properly maintained, fewer restrictions on social or medical issues…as long as they’re not reverting to savagery or illegal activities the benefits outweigh the difficulties, at least at first glance. That’s one of the reasons I’m going, to assess whether or not we can safely and stably initiate a real, productive colony on Pandora. If we can, the first expedition will be largely scientific, getting the facilities in place for larger groups. We’ll need a good climatologist,” she added, that same little smile glinting on and off in her face.
Garrett arched an eyebrow in genuine disdain. “Jezria, do I look like the kind of person who would enjoy a stint on the stormy ball of ice water that is Pandora? Who named it, by the way? It was either someone with a feeble sense of humor or a vicious sense of irony.”
“That would be my great-grandfather,” she replied.
“I see. I’m going with irony, then.”
“What are you doing here on Paradise these days, Garrett?” Jezria Dowd asked, sipping briefly from a glass of what might have been champagne, but was the color of a starry sky.
“I’m consulting with the Terrestrials Corporation.” Or he had been three months ago. That contract was over and while he’d been approached with numerous offers, he hadn’t accepted any.
“Well, if you go freelance in the near future, you should consider a tour on the fringe. You look like you could use a bit of a shakeup.” The senator leaned in slightly, confidentially. “It’s hard to mask the eyes, my dear. You do a flawless job with the rest of yourself, though.” She restored the space between them, her expression as contentedly placid and bovine as ever. “Now, do you think you could help me elbow my way through the crowd so I can go and congratulate your father?”
“My pleasure.” Which was only a very small lie, because Garrett usually enjoyed watching Jezria and his father go at each other in the politely vicious fashion of two respectful opponents, but he was already feeling a little shaken tonight. There was nothing for it, though. He held his arm out to Jezria and slid back into the throng.