WIP excerpt: A Queen in Hiding

The arrival of the starfarer caused stirred a great deal of excitement at Little Gaia. Eve couldn’t remember the last time a man from the stars had visited their humble space station. As one of the few unmarried and eligible girls, she took extra notice of the rumors.

Old bald Thomas, the station’s geneticist, said that the starfarer’s arrival was a miracle. His wife Ethel was the matchmaker, and together they did more to determine the fate of the colonists’ lives than even the station master himself. They were the ones behind every betrothal and wedding. They were the ones with veto power over any proposed marriage. Before she could even walk, the course of Eva’s life had already been set, with her choice of suitable husband reduced to only three. Two of them were already married men more than twelve years her senior, and the last was a childhood friend that she would almost certainly have to share.

So when the mysterious starfarer declared his intention to settle down permanently, it provoked no small stir of commotion.

Almost at once, Eve’s life began to turn upside down. Ethel and old bald Tom immediately selected three young women for the starfarer, but the first of them refused. Predictably, this outraged old bald Tom, causing a small scandal.

“I hope you won’t be so obstinate,” he told Eve privately. “It’s been almost a generation since we had an opportunity like this. Without new blood, our colony is doomed to perish.”

“Don’t worry,” she reassured him. “I’m happy to wed the starfarer.”

“Good. And I hope your union will be blessed with many children. Stars know that’s what we need.”

The second woman was Astrid. She was only two years older than Eve, though growing up, they had never been more than friendly acquaintances. Eve had never expected to share a husband with Astrid, so she had never made a special effort to be close to her. Now, all that had suddenly changed.

Astrid reached out to her first, shortly after the engagements had been arranged. They met privately in Eve’s family apartments, the stars spinning silently through the windows underfoot.

“I sincerely hope you harbor no hard feelings for me,” said Astrid. “Please know that I have none against you.”

Eve smiled and gave her future sister wife a reassuring hug. “Of course I don’t, Astrid. I always expected to share a husband.”

“I wish I could say the same.”

Astrid’s grandfather had been a star wanderer from beyond the Good Hope Nebula, giving her some of the best genetics in the colony. From the way she had kept herself aloof in her earlier years, Eve had always assumed that she held this above everyone else. The desperation in Astrid’s voice surprised her.

“Can I ask you a question?” she asked.

“Certainly, Eve.”

“Why choose to marry the star wanderer? With your gentics, you could have your pick of almost any boy on the station. Why him?”

Astrid swallowed. “If you’re asking why you have to share him with me, I—”

“No, no, not at all,” said Eve, putting her hand on Astrid’s arm. “Please don’t take it that way.”

The moment passed awkwardly. Astrid smiled, but the tension still hung in the air.

“There’s more to matchmaking than genetics,” Astrid said at length. She didn’t offer any more of an explanation, and Eve didn’t push her for one. They spent the next two hours talking to each other, and by the end, they were much closer than before. But still, the unspoken questions hung over them like something rotting in the bulkheads.

Before the marriages could be solemnized, the laws of Little Gaia stated that the betrothed must be given an hour alone together, in total privacy without any outside interference. Afterwards, if either of them desired to cancel their vows for any reason or none at all, it was their legal and moral right to do so. Of course, Astrid and Eve weren’t to go in to the star wanderer together. Each would have their hour alone with him.

Astrid went first. The station master’s office was the designated room, since it was one of the few living areas on the station with soundproof bulkheads. She wore her finest red silk dress, handed down as an heirloom from her grandmother, with a silver girdle inlaid with opals. Eve didn’t have anything nearly so fine.

The hour passed like a neverending eternity. Eve sat outside the office, her emotions vacillating from fear to impatience and back again. She’d heard stories about what couples did in their alloted time alone together, up to and including sex. Things that wouldn’t otherwise be permitted were fair game, since no one would ever have to know.

The hour finally passed. Eve stood breathlessly at the door, waiting for Astrid to emerge. When another full minute passed without any indication from inside, Eve wondered if perhaps she should knock. But before she could, the door slid open and Astrid stepped out.

“Well?” said Eve, her heart pounding nervously.

Astrid stared off as if distracted by something down the hall. Her hair was a little messier than it had been before she’d entered, and her dress was wrinkled ever so slightly. Eve’s gut began to clench.

“Astrid?”

“Oh,” said Astrid, suddenly noticing her. She gave her a smile, which Eve weakly returned.

“Well?”

“Eve, your face is pale. Are you all right?”

I could ask the same of you, Eve thought silently. She shook her head and looked away.

“I’m fine.”

“That’s good.”

An awkward moment of silence passed. There were a thousand questions Eve wanted to ask, but none of them seemed appropriate, and Astrid wasn’t volunteering any answers. In fact, she went right back to staring off at the distance, as if Eve weren’t even there.

“Well,” Eve said at length, “I guess I’d better go.”

“Wait.”

Astrid lay her hands on Eve’s shoulders and looked her in the eye. Her expression was suddenly serious. A chill ran down Eve’s back.

“What is it?”

“Tomas, our future husband, he’s—how do you say?—a telepath.”

She frowned. “A telepath?”

“Yes. Not just him, either. He’s one of many, and now I—I don’t know how to put it. But if you don’t want to go in to him, that’s okay.”

She gently took Astrid’s hands and eased them off of her shoulders.

“Please don’t scare me like this, Astrid.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to—honest.”

“Is he… dangerous?”

“What?” Astrid laughed. “No, of course not. Well, he did used to be a pirate, but those days are behind him now. He just wants to settle down.”

How do you know so much about him?

“Eve,” said Astrid, putting a hand on her arm. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Then why did you say it was okay if I didn’t want to go in?”

“Forgive me. What I meant is that you don’t have to let him read your mind. If you do, you won’t ever be the same.”

Her words were not reassuring in the least. By now, Eve’s heart was pounding something awful. But she swallowed and nodded, steeling her nerves.

“Thank you, Astrid. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Spontaneously, Astrid gave her a hug. It was one of the most open and honest hugs that Eve had ever received. They held each other for several moments, Eve’s nervous heart still fluttering.

The station master’s office was one of the most richly furnished rooms on the station. An ornate blue and gold rug graced the floor, the geometric design breathtaking in its detail. The table that sat in the center was made from authentic wood, its legs gilded with gold. Hand-woven and highly stylized tapestries depicted the history of the small colony from its founding nearly ten generations ago. Plush, oversized divans ringed the walls, with dozens of tasseled pillows strewn about for additional comfort.

The star wanderer sat on the far side of the room, his arms resting comfortably along the back of the divan. He was healthy and young, with a head of thick brown hair and a trim, attractive figure. The moment his eyes laid hold of her, they never left. Eve stared at the floor demurely, unsure whether to sit across from him or on the same divan.

He gestured for her to join him, which shattered her indecision. Still, her heart pounded as she sat with her knees close together, only an arm’s breadth away. She looked up at him expectantly, but he did nothing to break the silence.

His gaze, for all its intensity, was surprisingly gentle. As she looked into his eyes, she realized there was no need to feel threatened by him at all. His clothes were foreign but simple, a gray uniform shirt that bore no isnignia with a synthleather jacket that had seen considerable wear. They gave him a roguish appearance that only increased his allure.

Should I say something? Eve wondered as the silence rapidly became unbearable. She remembered what Astrid had said about him being a telepath. Was he reading her thoughts even now? If so, what did he think of her.

He leaned forward and put a hand on her knee. A thrill of excitement shot through her body at his touch.

“Hello, Eve,” he said, his eyes never leaving her. “My name is Tomas. Astrid told you about me, didn’t she?”

Eve’s eyes widened. “You—how can you—I thought you couldn’t speak our language.”

“I can, with Astrid’s help. She’s shown me much about your people. I hope that in time, you can show me much about yourself as well.”

He spoke slowly and carefully formed his words, but there was no doubt that he understood them. Eve cleared her throat and sat up straight, her hands in her lap.

“What would you like to know?”

He withdrew his hand from her. “Do you fear me, Eve?”

“No. I’m… just a little nervous, is all.”

“That’s understandable. Things always move quickly when a star wanderer settles down. I take it you didn’t expect to be marrying one?”

“No,” she admitted. “But I’m looking forward to it.”

“As am I.”

He leaned back and crossed his legs. “Astrid told you that I’m a telepath?”

“She mentioned it, yes.”

“Would you like to be one, too?”

Eve paused. “What do you mean?”

He held out his hand toward her. As she watched, a faint blue light traveled up his arm, growing brighter until it reached his palm. She realized that he was offering it to her.

“There is much that I can show you, Eve. But if we are to join minds, it must be your choice, not mine.”

She swallowed, unsure what to do. Astrid’s words came back to her, about how she would never be the same once she let him into her mind. But if they were to be married, wasn’t she supposed to give herself to him anyway? She’d never heard of anything like this, but it didn’t seem too much to ask.

Tentatively, she reached out her hand. As their fingertips touched, the pulse of light ran across her skin, sending chills in its wake. She withdrew and shut her eyes as it passed all the way to her heart.

A sudden wave of dizziness made her head spin. Though her eyes were closed, she could clearly see the station master’s office with all of its furnishings. Except it wasn’t the starfarer she saw seated on the divan. It was her.

She opened her eyes with a start. Now she was looking at Tomas again, but she could still see herself through his eyes. She could also see the hallway outside, where Astrid was waiting for her. That wasn’t all. Other images swam before her, of places she didn’t recognize—places she had never been. There was a dark, bare room with bars around the door like a prison, and a spaceous mausoleum with large, windowed coffins lining all the walls. She saw them as clearly as if with her own eyes.

“Take a deep breath,” Tomas advised her. “Put everything to the back of your mind except what you can see with your own eyes.”

She did as he told her, and the dizziness soon passed. At the same time, she felt a whole host of thoughts and emotions, none of which were hers. The cacophony in her mind was deafening, and she soon felt overwhelmed.

That was when the voice of the mother-queen spoke.

Be at peace, Eve. You are among friends.

The voice instantly brought calm to the chaos. It was quiet and still, yet it had a commanding presence that dispelled her confusion and fear. She saw, as if in a dream, a young woman whose body was covered in tattoos. The woman looked straight at her, and she realized it was no dream.

I am Reva, the mother-queen. I am in you, and you are in me. My voice brings peace to the chaos, and light to the children of the stars.

What is this?

You are one of us now, Eve. Your mind is melded to ours.

She instinctively reached out to Tomas, who put a hand on her shoulder. His touch was another point of familiarity that provided an anchor to her. She looked at him, and realized that he could read all her thoughts.

“What is this?”

“It’s a long story,” he began.

In the blink of an eye, his life’s history flashed before her mind. A modest childhood, on a colony much like her own. His departure on his father’s starship, full of excitement for the future. His first year as a starfarer, struggling to make it on his own. But then things began to change. A war had broken out in the frontier stars, spreading like fire from world to world. His starship lost, he had fallen in with a band of fearsome pirates, who had taken him beyond the most distant colonies to a hidden world where no soul had ever been. And there, something wonderful and terrifying had happened.

Reva closed her eyes and guided Eve through all of their collective memories since Star’s End. She seamlessly wove the disparate pieces into a narrative that encompassed the full breadth of their experience, from the awakening of the collective to Tomas’s departure and arrival at Little Gaia.

Eve gasped for breath. She felt as if she’d lived a dozen lifetimes in the space of a few minutes.

“Less, actually,” said Tomas.

“Beg pardon?”

He gently caressed her shoulders, bringing her back to herself. “It’s been less than a few minutes.” We can read each others’ mind, you know.

Is this what Astrid meant that my life would never be the same?

Yes.

Eve paused, unsure what to think about that. Until just a few moments ago, it would have terrified her. But now that her mind had been expanded, she felt as if a concourse of bright and fantastic worlds had suddenly opened up to her. All her life, she had only known the hundred and twenty two people on board her little station. But now, she saw worlds full of faces, friends, and family she’d never known. She felt the pain of loss and the joy of reunion, the thrill of victory and the despair of defeat. It was as if her whole life up to this moment had been cast in black and white, and only now had begun to take color.

It’s incredible, isn’t it?

The last thought came from Astrid. Eve reached out to her and saw, in an instant, all of her apprehensions about sharing a husband with a sister wife. Most of it was simply due to the uncertainty, and as Eve opened up in kind, her anxieties rapidly dissipated.

You really don’t hold it against me.

No, of course not. Why should I?

My mother was in a polygamous marriage, and it made her miserable.

Immediately, Eve saw everything: the years of toxic jealousy and rivalry, all kept scrupulously hidden from the public eye. Years of speaking as little to each other as possible, with passive-aggressive turf wars over every inconsequential thing. It was enough to drive anyone crazy.

Then why did you choose Tomas, when you could have had your pick of anyone?

Because all my life, the other girls have seen me as a threat. That’s the dark side of having good genetics. I would love to have a husband all to myself, but things can change quickly, and I’d rather marry an unknown than be trapped with a sister wife who hates me.

It all suddenly made sense to her. As she looked into Astrid’s mind, she couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of compassion and empathy. She wasn’t the stuck-up girl everyone thought her to be. In fact, she was more like Eve than either of them had realized.

There’s no need to worry about sharing a husband, Astrid. I’ll be happy to be your sister wife.

Out in the hallway, Astrid quietly wept. Her relief was so strong that Eve herself was nearly brought to tears. If they had been in the same room, she had no doubt but that they’d embrace each other.

Thank you, Eve. That means a lot to me.

It’s the least I can do. We sister wives have to stick together.

We certainly will.

Tomas smiled. “I think this is the start of something wonderful.”

“Yes,” Eve agreed, cuddling up to him. He put his arm around her and kissed her long and slow. No longer were they strangers. As one kiss gave way to another, Eve’s fears and apprehensions melted away, and she felt as if she’d known her husband-to-be for a lifetime.

Author: Joe Vasicek

Joe Vasicek is the author of more than twenty science fiction books, including the Star Wanderers and Sons of the Starfarers series. As a young man, he studied Arabic and traveled across the Middle East and the Caucasus. He claims Utah as his home.

Leave a Reply