Joined: 07 Feb 2008
|Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:03 pm Post subject: A Maid's Duty
|This is moved from the old Chatterbox.
You will find the original here.
Rayati, Ladies! I'm very new in these parts, but this story idea wouldn't let me be. Sharpen your red pens at my expense, I encourage you.
This is a story of romance, aliens, and deracination, set mostly in Quirinelle. Maids of sensitive disposition are warned that this tale contains frank descriptions of masculi, several discussions of indelicate subjects, and occasional raised voices. You are also warned I wrote most of this in the middle of the night.
A Maid's Duty: Chapter One
“A schizomorph!” cried Commodore Lady Horatia Pratchett, and nearly dropped her cup. “Goodness, Your Majesty, why?”
Her Majesty smiled at this reaction to her news and sipped her tea. Not many people had the audacity to cry out before the Queen, but Horatia had been an old school chum, and this was a private meeting, so she was not distressed by it.
“My dear, you must pay more attention to the news.”
Horatia waved a hand in an acknowledging way. She was a brunette just past her first blush of youth, with a strong face that seemed stern even when she was happy. And a very dashing youth it had been- even now, doing business with her, the Queen smiled to look on her. Right now her hair, so dark as to seem black, was tousled from running her hands through it, and her large eyes were a mite panicked.
The Queen set her cup of tea down. “The alien species is like us, you know, in some ways,” she said. Horatia arched a dark, expressive brow at that. “Yes, some are, don't look at me like that. I have contrived a friendship with one of their femin politicians- the femini are the ones who are nearly maids- and she has asked me a favor.”
“To find a foster for this femin child, I know,” Horatia said. “I am, of course, flattered by your offer, but why?”
“She is her niece, and apparently she has been brought up in a barbarous home all of masculi.”
“The ones who are not like maids. She wishes Taylor to acquire some- how did she put it?- 'polish'.” She paused for a second to consider the metaphor, then continued. “And I admit, I am curious about them.”
Horatia looked bewildered. “I am certainly not the maid to rear this 'Taylor'. You will recall I did not exactly cover myself with glory in our Alien Studies classes. I am no diplomat.”
The Queen sipped her tea. “No, you are not.”
The Queen held up one hand to stop her from asking why again. “Because, as I recall, you have some experience knocking the rough edges off of misbehaving brunettes,” she said.
Horatia's expression cleared, and she sat back. “Ah. That kind of fostering.”
They sat in silence for a moment, mulling over pastry and aliens. Finally Horatia swallowed her biscuit. “I gladly accept, of course. Will you send me the information on the girl?”
The Queen nodded, though she already had. When you are Queen, not many people deny your requests, not even Commodore Lady Horatia Pratchett. “Incidentally, I also recall that your friend Miss Wen was always first in Alien Studies,” she said. “Have you spoken to her recently?”
Horatia suddenly developed an interest in the contents of her porcelain cup. “Last week.”
She avoided the Queen's eyes. “I purchased a hat,” she said.
“Oh, dear,” the Queen sighed. “Not another one. How many do you own now?”
Horatia finished her tea before hazarding a guess. “Twenty, maybe?”
The Queen sighed, and the serving girl refilled their cups. “You are enough to try a maid's patience, Horry.”
“I have no idea what you mean. When does the alien arrive?”
“Three weeks from today.”
* * *
Commodore Lady Pratchett flew her own aircraft. She was a Navy brunette through and through, and the only thing worse than acting the airmaid would have been having to pay a real one, she had been heard to remark; so she didn't. (She would have driven her own car, too, if her head magdalin had allowed it without bursting into tears. It was her terror of teary blonde faces that had turned the trick, rather than the threat to write Young Missy's Kadorrie grandmothers about the breakdown of the Golden Order, but few knew that.)
The small craft started to make noise over Vintesse, clanking as she neared the Quirinelle border, and had developed an alarming rattle by the time she touched down on the roof of her house in Chelverton. Technically, she lived far enough to the West for the lightning quick personal-flyer to work, but the Olivia didn't have to like it.
Her housekeeper, a mature blonde named Eugenie Larkin, clutched her chest as Horatia dropped into the hallway where she was hanging a picture.
“Bless, Missy, you gave me a start,” she scolded. “Comin' in through the ceiling like a bat!”
“It's a ceiling door,” Horatia pointed out. “And I left in Olivia, how did you expect I'd return?”
Horatia held up a hand. “You got my message, I assume? Where is Lieutenant Elder?”
“Ah.” Madam Larkin coughed. “Well. She arrived ten minutes ago, I'm sure she's...” Something in Horatia's face made her look away down the hall. “...waiting patiently in the drawing room?”
“I see.” Horatia reached out a long sun-brown hand and pulled the picture straight. “Madam Larkin, I will be having a long term guest in three weeks time. I wish you to outfit the blue room for a young maid. Expense is no concern.”
The housekeeper gasped. “Missy! Oh, that does my heart good to hear. What's her name? What colors does she like? Is she from Novaria, is that where you went all spiffed up this morning? Blonde or brunette?” Horatia put a hand over her eyes. “Not that I judge, Missy, not that I judge, of course.”
“A young maid,” Horatia repeated, dropping her hand. “A young maid that I am fostering, Madam Larkin, and I must say Quirinelle has had an interesting impact on your vocabulary.”
Madam Larkin had deflated slightly at this correction, but she still huffed at that. “Everyone 'spiffs', Missy, even your grandmothers.”
Horatia made a noncommittal mmm. “I leave the outfitting of a place for her in your capable hands.” She set off down the hall and stopped at the head of the stairs. “Oh, and madam?”
“Yes?” Madam Larkin said.
“Would you care to wager a farthing on kitchen or garden?”
“Garden,” Madam Larkin said. “Absolutely, in this weather.”
* * *
“Miss, you're going to wrinkle your jacket.”
Louise Elder continued to lean against the island in the center of the kitchen. “A small sacrifice.” She smiled at the cook. The cook was young, blonde, and handling food, and thus drew soldiers like a magnet drawing metal filings, and it was a testament to Louise that she made her blush.
“The lady will not like that,” the cook said.
“I'm her personal aide, not a seamstress dummy,” Louise said. “What's a wrinkle or two? I doubt she'll notice.”
Cook winced. “If you say so.”
“Oh, stuff, miss,” said Louise. “Why all this talk of my coat with a beautiful blonde and beautiful tarts in front of me?”
The cook blushed even pinker and turned back to the counter where several tiny cherry pies sat cooling. The golden tops were slit in star-shapes, and the sweet fragrant red insides peeked out like the lace of a petticoat, and Louise eyed both maid and dessert with appreciation.
“I'm just telling you, she doesn't like slackness.”
“What do I care what she thinks?” Louise proclaimed extravagantly and wholly untruthfully, making the cook giggle. She glanced from Louise to the kitchen behind her back, then leaned in a touch.
“I suppose you'd better have a tart, then,” the cook said, mock-grudging. “Can't send our sailorpettes out to battle without nourishment, can we?”
Louise's smile grew even more, and she swoggled the largest one. “You're tops.” She sunk her teeth into the steaming crust while the cook watched.
“Anyway,” she said after swallowing. “What battle?”
A strong hand grabbed the back of her uniform collar and yanked her upright.
“Rayati, Lady,” the cook said.
Louise choked and burned her tongue. The hard won tart fell from her fingers.
“Rayati, Miss Chandra,” Lady Pratchett's voice came from above Louise's head. “Fetch Lieutenant Elder a mop, please.”
As she hurried off, Lady Pratchett drew Louise onto her toes so she could look her in the eye. Louise swallowed.
“Rayati, Commodore,” she offered.
Lady Pratchett arched a brow. She was a champion at silences, and this one said Louise, you are as predictable as sunrise and possibly swoggling tarts is sailor behaviour, is it? and maybe even you were not told to wander my house like a chenkireet.
All she said, though, was, “Clean this up and join me in the study. Bring something to take dictation with.”
“And if you see Madam Larkin, you are to tell her she owes me a farthing.”
* * *
Horatia began her preparations that night, with all the briskness of a military operation. Madam Larkin swept out of the as house every morning as full of excitement as a peach is of juice, and Lieutenant Elder usually dashed out soon after, clutching papers.
Horatia herself refused to gossip, and Madam Larkin- with tempted eyes- related no more than the bare bones. Even the irrepressible Lieutenant seemed strangely unwilling to be drawn out by pouts or smiles, though the punishing schedule she kept could have been to blame. In spite of them all, it didn't take long for word to go around.
It was only days before it was being whispered in pubs and salons and any place two maids might meet eyes and make reverence.
An alien was coming to Novaria.
Or possibly Quirinelle. Commodore Pratchett did live there, for all it was the Novarian Queen who made the request of her former schoolmate.
Though, come to that, didn't the Pratchetts have an ancestral seat in Kadoria?
In the end it was agreed that no one actually knew anything beyond the fact that there was an alien and that Commodore Lady Horatia Pratchett was wretchedly close-mouthed; and there was nothing to do but wait.
* * *
“I will never forgive you for this, you know,” said the alien in question. Taylor Sapar was a young teenager, as her planet and species reckoned such things, with a slightly upturned nose, blonde hair (but not temperament), and an expression soured by mutinousness. She stood in the center of the small private spacecraft, clenching her fists and glaring as balefully as a child can.
The person being addressed was a tiny woman who had the ability to look down on a girl even when she was looking up at her, and she said, “Oh, how distressing.”
Taylor had been the last person to be notified of the plan, and it had not gone well.
“Hauled out of my own bed!” she shouted. “My own bed, by your thugs!”
“That's hardly true,” the older woman said. “You were at your dormitory, weren't you? And if you'd gotten up when they called you, all that could have been avoided.”
“I hate you, Aunt Saxon,” Taylor said.
“Feel free,” her aunt invited, and looked back to the magazine in her lap.
Taylor stamped her foot.“I am serious!”
“Do you think, after your conduct, that I care what you are serious about?” Saxon said.
“Your father has given me leave to discipline you as I like.” Taylor wavered and looked away at this reference to the Incident During Winter Term. Saxon pressed her advantage. “You would do well to apply yourself to the books I've gotten you; you'll find the Empire does not forgive as easily as I do.”
But that had been the wrong tack. In fact, it was tack suited for a horse that had found itself on an ear of corn, and Taylor again veered off into shouting.
“And this! Living with strangers in some backwards convent-”
Having made up her mind months ago, Helen Saxon was able to ignore this tirade with perfect indifference, and so, dear pettes, shall we.
* * *
And so, after much curiosity in the westernmost corners of the Empire, and much screaming from the child concerned, the day dawned.
Last edited by Miss Aster Leland on Tue Jul 14, 2009 4:35 am; edited 3 times in total
Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Location: In a strange and scary place on a long journey homeward.
Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2009 1:02 pm
This is delightful! Thank you so much!
What a lovely piece of fluff - a veritable literary soufflé!
I love the characters and the light-hearted tone. Actually contact between Schizomorphs and Aristasians on this level does not really take place -but this is fantasy, so that is fine!
Nit-pick notes: Quirinelle has only one "r" - and lieutenant is spelled lieutenant even by people who pronounce it leftenant. However, the phonetic spelling is fine to indicate how they are pronouncing it - and you are absolutely right that the standard pronunciation in Quirinelle is leftenant (in Kadoria and Vintesse it is pronounced as spelled and in Trent it varies by area and regiment).
Thank you so much for sharing this wonderfully carefree and amusing story! I can't wait to hear more!
Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2009 4:21 pm
How lovely! Write more!
Miss Aster Leland
Joined: 22 May 2009
Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2009 8:34 pm
Thank you very much, Miss Madonna, I will correct that straight away. I figured this sort of thing never would actually happen, it's just meant to be an amusing farce.
I hope to have the next bit out in a few days.
Miss Aster Leland
Joined: 22 May 2009
Posted: Thu Jul 02, 2009 3:08 am
Comments are always much appreciated!
Lois Elder arrived at Lady Pratchett's quarters just after dawn. She had ironed her dress uniform so sharp it looked like she'd used a whetstone on the creases, slicked her hair into a bun with nearly a pint of product, and her pretty face was fevered with excitement she tried to hide. The large jewelry box she held slipped a bit in her sweaty palms as she rang the bell.
“Rayati-” Madam Larkin said as she opened it, then she looked closely at Louise. She laughed. “Mercy, you look like you're about to propose to the Duchess of Jenilow.”
Louise stuck her nose in the air. “It is rather an important day, Madam.”
“I didn't say you looked bad, dear,” Madam Larkin said. “Come in, the Lady's nearly done.”
“Rayati, Lieutenant,” Lady Pratchett greeted her as Madam Larkin returned to her side. She extended a hand to her, and Madam Larkin slipped the final button on her leather flying glove through. Lady Pratchett nodded her thanks. She wore her dress uniform easily, her dark hair swept into an elegant bun. Louise sometimes enviously thought she looked like a recruiting poster. “You've brought the translator?”
Louise nodded. “She said to tell you-” She paused for a second. “'I've programmed it as best I can, but these young wretches make up slang faster than I can type, very inconsiderate, and the Cairenne dictionary is only very basic, so don't get involved in any legal trouble, don't think I don't know how brunettes can be, and next time more warning would be nice'.”
“Cheek,” muttered Madam Larkin, coming up behind Louise with a lint brush. Lady Pratchett pursed her lips, which were red for the occasion.
“Arrange for a bouquet of flowers to be sent to Dr. Shandy,” she said, as Louise fought off the brush.
Madam Larkin stunned her with a rap on the knuckles. “May I suggest-”
“No,” Commodore Pratchett said. “The last time I let you decide I apparently sent seven bouquets of red roses and a basket of passionfruit to a prospective member of the Stravë. You may send one bouquet of Estrenne Camellias. Let go of my lieutenant, for Dea's sake, we're leaving.”
Louise grabbed her things and hurried after her. The Commodore had a fast step for someone in such closely tailored skirts.
Madam Larkin was left crying after them, “How was I supposed to know!”
* * *
“I know you Kadorians are all mad for ceremony-” the Queen had said, weeks before.
“Hark at the Novarian,” Horatia murmured, raising her eyes to the ceiling. “The Novarian of Novarians, in the great province of Novaria where hiring a mechanic means five wardrobe changes.” She was ignored.
“I know you Kadorians are all mad for ceremony,” she repeated. “But I don't want to scare the child, so I think a short tea and off to your home would be best.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
* * *
“I will wear what I want!” shouted Taylor through the door.
“I'm not oppressing you, you wretched child!” her aunt's voice roared back. There was a muffled banging. “Open this door! How on earth- if you've broken my door I'm extending your stay by a Prangian year!”
Taylor didn't reply. She'd reprogrammed the computer to accept her commands after her first day on board, in case of emergencies. In her opinion, what her aunt thought of as clothing was an emergency, and she should have a harder password. It was almost an insult to a budding young engineer like Taylor.
She turned her eye on the poufy, lace-ridden dress sulking in wait on her bed. It was yellow. It was scratchy and stiff enough to keep standing up even if Taylor herself keeled over dead.
It was not going to happen. “What planet is Prang?” Taylor shouted, as she began to sort through her own clothing.
“Aristasians feel very strongly about clothing, Taylor!” came the muffled reply, and assorted other madly boring things about social strata and reflections of inner beauty and what the locked door meant about her, Taylor's, future of pain and suffering.
“I feel very strongly about that dress,” she murmured, and to be extra careful, she stuffed it down the disposal tube.
Eventually her aunt stumped off to supervise the docking of the main ship on the space station. Taylor dressed in no great hurry. She gave a brief uninterested scan of the documents her aunt had been waving at her over the last few weeks, and sauntered out at a time perfectly chosen to ensure she made the trip to the surface but had no extra minutes to change clothes.
Taylor was good at math.
Her aunt squeezed her eyes shut at first sight of her climbing into the small ground shuttle. She was forced to reopen them rather quickly to start launching protocols, so the effect was rather lost. “I brought a coat,” she said in her most dire of dire voices, the one Taylor had lost her fear of at the age of four. “You'll wear it if I have to staple it to you.”
“That's not- where are your thugs?” The only people in the tiny craft were Taylor and her aunt, the omnipresent guards that attended the life of a diplomat's family nowhere in sight. She gripped her armrests as the shuttle started to move. “Auntie Saxon!”
“Masc- ah, gentlemen are not allowed on planet,” Helen Saxon said. “Don't worry, you'll be quite safe. Herthe is the least violent occupied world the Federation has ever encountered.”
“Oh, Space Lords,” Taylor said, and covered her eyes. “No guards? No bodyguards at all? You've sent me here to die.”
“Stop that,” Helen said. “No one knows anything about your family on this planet, and your foster-guardian is a highly ranked military officer. Put on your coat.”
Taylor glanced at the thing draped over an empty seat and made no other move.
Her aunt sighed. “And please don't say 'Space Lords'. They don't worship them here. They-”
“Blah blah all women blah. I got it.”
They rode in grim silence to the dock. Taylor looked up, startled, as the landing gear grasped their ship and pulled it into a bay. A smooth, pretty, and wholly unintelligible woman's voice had come over their speakers. “They welcome us to Herthe and bid us a serene stay,” Helen translated.
“They don't even speak Standard?” Taylor squeaked. “How am I supposed to get along?”
“You'll manage,” Helen said ruthlessly. She finished shutting down the craft while Taylor sat paralyzed in her chair. Her aunt stood and took the coat in both hands. “Listen to me. Aristasians do not wear trousers outside of certain sports and occupations. The way you look now-”
Taylor slapped the button that loosed her seatbelt and the one that opened the door in one smooth movement. She stood and stomped towards the door before it had even finished telescoping open. Her aunt made a lunge for her arm.
* * *
Louise staggered out of Olivia into the spaceport. She stood shaking and blinking like a fawn and then, quite unashamed, stumbled over to a pillar and threw her arms around it like it was the prettiest blonde in Novaria. Her hair was no longer tamed.
Lady Pratchett descended after her, holding the jewelry box. She smiled at the blonde waiting for them. The blonde blushed.
“Rayati,” Lady Pratchett said, and made reverence. “Pray ignore my Lieutenant, she has a love for amateur theatrics.”
“The engine failed,” Louise said accusingly into the pillar. “I could have died.”
Lady Pratchett waved a hand. “Nonsense, we had parachutes. I took a shortcut,” she explained to the blonde. “Apparently we passed over one of those more traditional villages where the technics don't work quite so well.” The blonde looked alarmed. “Our momentum carried us over into safe airspace again. Have someone check Olivia's logs and note that bit of airspace in the public maps, if you could?”
“Rayati, Lady Pratchett.” The blonde, still looking alarmed, touched her communicator bracelet and murmured into it. “Someone will be along to look at it shortly.”
“Thank you. Lieutenant, any time it's convenient for you.”
Louise detached herself with visible reluctance and wobbled over to the pair. The now wide-eyed blonde introduced herself as one Miss Chandra Damini, their translator.
“Delighted to make your acquaintance,” Lady Pratchett said. “And how did you become interested in alien linguistics, Miss Damini?” She handed off the jewelry box to Louise and made a discreet gesture at her hair.
The blonde began a rambling story about her cousin's best friend's fiance who'd been in foreign service to Amazonia, with Lady Pratchett interjecting a “hmm” or “oh, really,” every few seconds. Louise stood to the side, one handedly stick-pinning her thick hair back into a sedate bun and trying to calm her breathing.
The dock they had arrived in was discreet: ships could land in it and the passengers be escorted outside without having to pass through the bustling main area of the shuttleport. Only two ships would be docking in it today.
They were nearing the apex of Miss Damini's story- something involving a coat stand- when a whine split the air, announcing an incoming craft. The blonde cut off, and their heads rose like sunflowers to watch the descent.
“Goodness, what an ugly little thing,” Louise said, speaking for all of them.
“Manners, Lieutenant,” snapped Lady Pratchett.
In truth, the craft seemed oddly utilitarian, devoid of any ornament or graces; only a squat metal oblong with no hint of decoration. Louise didn't think well of this first glimpse of alien culture, but she still caught her breath as the door began to open.
This was it! The alien, finally here!
The door opened fully. There was a blur of motion.
Something tumbled down the ramp.
Louise stared in horror. Lady Pratchett's hand went to her dress saber. A young blonde maid, with black paint all around her eyes, was lying in a heap at their feet. Her shoulders and legs were bare, bits of stomach showing between what had to be the pieces of alien unmentionables. A tiny adult brunette stood in the door, holding her overdress in both hands.
Louise clamped her hand over her eyes, utterly scandalized.
“Dea!” gasped Miss Damini.
“Tell her to put some clothes on before my Lieutenant has a heart attack, Miss Damini,” came Lady Pratchett's cool voice.
The alien moaned.
* * *
“Yes, your Majesty,” Horatia told the Queen, weeks before. “Surely you have no other reason to keep the alien out of public eye?”
The Queen looked at her with a flinty eye. “Did you know, I have a dungeon?” she said. “Jocelyn the Second built it.”
“More of a wine cellar,” Horatia said. “Your Majesty.”
“Yes, well,” the Queen said. “It's a dark wine cellar.”
Joined: 23 Jun 2009
Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 11:41 am
Rayati Miss Leland, and thank you for such a treat upon my arrival home from work! You have such a flair for comedy and your characters are beautifully defined. I look forward to more.
Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Location: In a strange and scary place on a long journey homeward.
Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 5:17 pm
Oh thank you so much for this! It is so funny and quite delightful - I really can't wait to hear more!
So many lovely touches (I adored the passionfruit!)
Hiring a mechanic means five wardrobe changes - heehee. There are parts of Novaria where that is almost true!
I love it!
Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Posted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 5:26 pm
Miss Leland, you are terribly literate and terribly funny. I went to all the trouble of remembering my password for the fora just so I could log in and tell you that. Do please go on.
Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Location: Santa Francisca, Culveria
Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:36 am
Miss Leland, this is simply wonderful. Please don't keep us in suspense darling!
You write beautifully. I am dying to read more of this story.
Joined: 10 Feb 2008
Location: PurpleCastle, Arcadia
Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 9:19 pm
Dear Miss Leland, I love love love this story! I can't wait to read new chapters!
Roses are red,
violets are blue....
Miss Aster Leland
Joined: 22 May 2009
Posted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 4:35 am
Thank you all for your lovely comments! You can't know how cheering they were to read.
Helen Saxon hurried down the ramp and hauled Taylor to her feet.
“Now look what you've done!” her Aunt hissed. “Space Lords, Taylor, they think you're wearing underwear! Put this on before they start thinking I'm abusing you.”
“Don't say 'Space Lords', Auntie Saxon,” said Taylor. “They don't worship them here.”
She surveyed the trio of aliens. The little pink dressed one, wearing an expression of horror that appeared to be universal. The two bigger ones, both dark haired and wearing some kind of uniform. Entertainingly, one was covering her eyes. The tallest one was drumming her fingers on the hilt of- Space Lords, was that a sword? She gawked while the aliens conferred.
Finally, the little pink one bowed and spoke. “Rayati, Miss Saxon, Miss Sapar. The Lady Pratchett has asked me to request you clothe yourself as better befits such a lovely maid of your station.” Her grasp of Standard was facile, though her accent was the strangest Taylor had ever heard. Taylor scowled at this repeated harping on her clothes. She might speak Standard Galactic, but her grasp of outworld fashions was obviously abysmal.
Taylor said, “The Lady Pratchett can-”
* * *
The blonde translator gasped and pressed her hand to her chest, which made Louise drop her hand to look about for the cause of her distress. The tableau had not changed. Louise fixed her eyes on the floor, abruptly conscious that covering her eyes when presented with blonde unmentionables was not exactly suave.
“Miss Damini?” Lady Pratchett said.
The translator turned to her. “Whatever she looks like, that creature is not a blonde,” she said hotly. “I refuse to translate what that little monster has said to you. If I were at liberty I would give her a slap!”
Lady Pratchett quirked an eyebrow at that. “Such ferocity.” She surveyed the alien child and its guardian, who were now squabbling, with Helen Saxon shaking the garment in a mulish face. She looked utterly mortified. “I think I understand the gist. Pray restrain your violent impulses long enough to ask her guardian exactly how willing this fostering really was.”
The question was relayed. The answer involved Miss Saxon throwing both arms in the air, pointing aggressively, and Taylor stomping a foot and waving her hands, while both chattered in their language at the same time.
“Not very,” Miss Damini said. “Miss Sapar insists that she is a prisoner, Miss Saxon insists that she in an unmanageable monster and it was this or exile to an asteroid mining station. I am not clear whether she is serious.” She listened for a moment more. “And Miss Sapar uses language that is-” she shuddered. “Ick.”
“Miss Damini, “ murmured Lady Pratchett. “While your sentiments are commendable, I remind you a translator may be seen as the face of the Motherland. I do not think the Motherland says 'ick'.”
The young blonde flushed. “Yes, Raya.”
“'Unmanageable monster',” Lady Pratchett echoed. She pursed her lips and stared at the two aliens, who had reached a hostile détente and were glaring at one another. “That is a problem. I do not think it is wise to bring an unmanageable monster into the Queen's presence, do you, Lieutenant?”
“Probably not, Commodore.” Louise was suspiciously pink cheeked.
“Well!” Lady Pratchett clapped her hands together. “I'm afraid the tea will have to be cancelled.”
“What?” squawked Louise, and Miss Damini gasped; but Lady Pratchett was already making an elegant bow to the aliens. They transferred their wary gazes to her.
“Miss Damini, tell Miss Sapar to come with me. Thank Miss Saxon for her cooperation, and assure her we will do our utmost.”
Miss Damini cleared her throat and spoke, eyes flicking nervously back and forth. Miss Saxon seemed to crumple, slightly, in relief. Miss Sapar-
“She says she won't go willingly to prison and, and- I am not translating that.”
“I assure you there is no need,” Lady Pratchett said. “I see she does not wish to comply. I could not in good faith allow the Queen to be exposed to this.”
“Well...” Miss Damini said, very uneasily. She bit her lip. “I don't think- I don't think the Queen likes having her plans changed.”
“No brunette does,” Lady Pratchett said. “We hate uncertainty. As a blonde, you have a duty to introduce it whenever possible; it's good for our spiritual development.”
“Dea,” Miss Damini moaned, and covered her eyes.
“You may tell her I said so, if you like,” Lady Pratchett offered. “Now send Miss Saxon away.” She began to unbuckle the belt that held her dress saber.
“I-” Miss Damini gasped. “You mean, you want me-”
The aliens started talking again, and she was forced to cut off and rattle off what sounded like an unbroken string of consonants.
Miss Saxon plainly made some objection. Miss Damini spoke again, more insistently. Lady Pratchett passed her belt to Louise, who was biting back an odd grin. A quiet instruction while Miss Damini talked the alien around, and Louise dashed up the ramp to the Olivia. She descended empty handed.
Lady Pratchett bowed again as Miss Saxon, with a wavering expression, finally dipped a bow to the Aristasians and walked up the ramp to her own ship. She still held the overdress.
In silence they watched the door slide shut. Lady Pratchett made no move as the engines rumbled to life.
“Raya...” said Miss Damini.
There was a clank, and the ship began to separate from dock; and Lady Pratchett moved. She took three strides, and another as the alien maid backed away. Miss Damini watched in utter shock as her hands encircled the alien's waist, and with a jerk and a shriek, Miss Sapar's feet left the floor. The shriek cut off with a wheeze as she landed, winded, on the Lady Pratchett's shoulder.
Louise just grinned.
“I bid you good day,” Lady Pratchett said. “Lieutenant, accompany Miss Damini to the palace. Charge your return passage to me.”
“Chalwe, Commodore,” Louise said, eyeing the Olivia with relief.
She turned and began to walk towards her ship with her burden. The alien howled and beat her back with her fists.
“I can't talk to the Queen!” Miss Damini wailed. “I can't tell her that- I'm just a translator, Raya! I can't! Oh, this is awful, my first assignment is going to cause a galactic incident-”
Lady Pratchett stopped, back straight in her pressed uniform. She turned back to Miss Damini. With an easy shrug, she shifted grip on the alien so that one hand was free and gripped the young blonde's shoulder.
Her hand was warm and strong. “I have every faith in you, Miss Damini,” Lady Pratchett said softly. “I am certain you will not fail me.”
And then she was gone up the plank, and Miss Damini was left to lean against a pillar, staring after her.
* * *
Some hours later, the ceiling door swung open.
Madam Larkin heard it from the alien's bedroom, where she'd been giving everything a last inspection. With a huff of rage, she snatched up her broomstick. Those wretched squirrels! And that brunette who never remembered to lock the door- but brunettes could be so thoughtless about these things. It would hardly do to have Missy bring her charge home to find all the servants chasing wildlife through the dining room. She shuddered. No, that wouldn't do at all.
She seized the broom handle and flung the door open.
“You horrible little beast, you'd better not HORATIA CORNFLOWER PRATCHETT!”
Said maid was standing in the hallway, and gave her one of those mild looks that meant anything from “yes, I love harp music” to “my leg has just fallen off, please fetch a doctor”.
“Really, Madam,” she said. “How are my soldiers supposed to be afraid of me if they learn my middle name is 'Cornflower'?”
“What have you done?” Madam Larkin demanded, staring in awestruck horror at the blonde she gripped by the collar. “Where is her clothing? Oh my God, Missy!”
Horatia looked at the young blonde, then back at Madam Larkin. “Awful, isn't it? This is my alien. Her name is Tayor Sapar.”
Madam Larkin pressed her hand to her forehead, feeling one of those terrible headaches coming on. The alien- the half naked alien- glared at her without speaking. “I don't understand. You weren't supposed to be back until dinner. Where is Louise? Why isn't she dressed?”
“Tea is cancelled,” she said. “Prisoners do not get tea.”
“Prisoners?” Madam Larkin noticed that at some point, Horatia had lost her gloves and several hairpins. The heavy near-black coils threatened to burst the levies at any moment.
“Mmm,” Horatia said. “Miss Sapar is convinced she is a prisoner. She insisted several times.”
Madam Larkin discarded her broomstick against a wall and clutched her head. “This is insane, Missy. I'm going to fetch a- a robe and some tea and we can discuss this like ladies.” She turned away to do so when Horatia spoke.
“No, Madam Larkin, you will not,” she said. “This is not a blonde, and I am not going to treat her like one.” The alien was watching them both with a sullen lack of curiosity. She crossed her arms and spat out something. Lady Pratchett visibly tightened her grip on her collar and began walking, forcing the alien to walk too.
“Missy-” Madam Larkin said in dismay. “You can't take her down there like that!”
She made no reply, and Madam Larkin reached out to grab her sleeve as she passed. Something her Lady's flat hazel eyes made her stop, arm extended.
Horatia was halfway down the stairs when Madam Larkin plucked up nerve again and chased after.
“Wait! Wait! What are you going to do?”
Horatia did not wait. “Our prisoner is going in our finest dungeon,” she said. Her hair fell into her eyes, and she batted it away. “-The wine cellar is still empty, isn't it?”
“Yes, you've never stocked it,” Madam Larkin said automatically. “I just keep some mops and things down there.”
They rounded the first landing.
“Anything flammable?” Horatia inquired, and the alien tried to hit her. She evaded the fist without much effort. “Abysmal. We're going to have to get you a Vikhelic tutor, too.”
“No, nothing, but-”
The reached the end of the staircase, and Horatia forceably marched her charge down another hall.
“Anything a bright young maid might use to build- say- a deathtrap over the door? Don't put your thumb inside your fist, for goodness's sake.”
“It's unlikely,” Madam Larkin said faintly. “Can she even understand you?”
“No,” Horatia said, and came to an abrupt stop in front of a door. “Refused the translator. Refused to dress. Refused reasonable behavior entirely, and now we must resort to unreasonable.” She opened the door into blackness.
* * *
The alien was ungodly strong. It had been a brutal shock, being propelled through the corridors of the house with nothing but that implacable grip on her collar. She wished, miserable and angry, that she'd accepted the translator.
It was cold down here. And dark. She'd known she wasn't going to summer camp, but an actual cell had never occurred to her. There were things in here. Felt like mops, but you never knew with aliens.
There was no light switch, or dangling pull cord. She was hungry. The door was locked.
Taylor began to be afraid.
* * *
Madam Larkin followed Horatia to her study, scolding and entreating. When even sitting down and pointedly opening a newspaper failed to close the subject, Horatia slammed her hand down on desktop.
“Will you stop?” Horatia demanded, finally exasperated. “For the love of Dea, it's a wine cellar! She'll spend the night chilly and uncomfortable, that's all.”
“It's cruel, Horatia Pratchett,” Madam Larkin said tautly. “Locking a young blonde in the dark, all alone.”
“She's not a blonde,” Horatia said. “I had no idea her hair would be so distracting. I'll purchase a hat.”
“Oh?” Her tone was acid. “Take your prisoner to meet your hatshop girl?”
The temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees before Horatia's low voice broke the silence, and made it even colder. “Miss Wen is the owner,” Horatia said. “Do not refer to her that way again.”
“My Lady,” Madam Larkin said.
“'My Lady' is not an answer,” Horatia said. “No matter your opinion of me, Madam Larkin, I am the mistress here. Speak disrespectfully of Miss Wen again and you will be dismissed from service. Anyone who opens that door before I do will also be dismissed from service. You may go.”
“You never used to be so cruel, Missy,” Madam Larkin. “What happened to you?”
“You may go, Madam Larkin.”
Madam Larkin stormed out in full sail. Horatia put her face in her hands and sighed, wondering how much burnt meat and stewed tea she'd have to consume before the end of this fostering.