Pandora Ch. 01byCarizabeth©
A few words of explanation to start off with. This story was originally written as a serial on my blog, and I've compressed about a quarter of it into this first installment. The nice part of that? No hideously long waits for the next part! It's the least I can do.
The story itself is a spinoff of a previous story of mine posted on Literotica, entitled Bonded. The landscape is m/m science fiction. You'll get more out of some of the interactions if you've read the other story, but it isn't necessary to enjoy this one. Please rate and comment at the end, I love getting your impressions of my work.
Part One: Trouble In Paradise
It was a special evening. An important evening. The inauguration of the first governor of the newly-inducted, ironically-named Federation planet Paradise was the sort of event that attention-starved socialites and wealthy provincials longed for. Any distraction from day to day life on a rock that consisted mostly of empty desert, especially from those aspects concerning the slow reconstruction after the civil war there, was pathetically welcome. Every dignitary, notable and local politician who could wrangle an invitation did, and the brand-new Governor's Mansion was packed with people wanting to see, be seen and to work out their place in the new social pecking order.
Naturally most of this sucking up was directed at the new governor, but there was plenty to go around for his family members. Governor Miles Caractacus didn't have much family, just a new young wife and a son from his first marriage. Claudia, the wife, was attached to her husband's side, a vision in a shining pearl-white dress, sleek, beautiful and attentive. Garrett, the son, was just as beautiful as his new stepmother, but unlike her he was nowhere to be seen at the moment. He had slipped outside to the mansion's veranda, and was staring out across the capitol city of Rapture at bunker-like government buildings glowing under two orange moons. He was alone, and he was currently wondering why.
Garrett could only assume that it was because he wanted it that way, and that was what was fucking with him. He never wanted to be alone. He was the quintessential social butterfly, an intrinsically gregarious creature who had to be the center of attention. He gloried in it; he craved it. Tonight was an evening he was made for. But for some reason he wasn't comfortable working the crowd right now. It didn't thrill him like it should. People flocked to him at any time: he was gorgeous, successful and known for being generous with his company (others might call him a man-whore, but they were usually the bitter ones he didn't want to sleep with). This sort of event should have been his playground.
Mood swings weren't unusual for Garrett. He was as attuned to his blood chemistry as any doctor could be, but this time around was different. This felt like it had been building for a while. Weeks, maybe months. He was getting tired of playing. It was...bizarre. Probably the result of all the unwholesomely vanilla influences in his life lately. His father getting married to a pretty, adoring woman that Garrett actually liked. His ex and his ex's lover turning into his closest friends, which was more than a little screwy considering they never let him play with them. Not even when he asked nicely. Garrett sighed.
Think of the devil...Garrett glanced over his shoulder. "Wyl. Don't you have a big, strong marine you should be dancing with?"
"Please," Wyl scoffed, moving up to stand beside Garrett at the railing. "Robbie hates displaying himself for the public He doesn't dance if it's not barefoot in the kitchen."
"He'd do anything for you."
"I don't really dance either." Wyl passed him a glass filled with a white, milky liquid. "Drink up, it's on your dad."
Garrett stared into the glass. "What is this?"
"Not what you'd like best," Wyl replied with a crooked smile. He was an inch or so shorter than Garrett, with jet black hair tied into a short ponytail and a sharp, attractive face. He was a ship mechanic from a working-class background, and the only thing he and Garrett had in common on the surface was their interest in Robbie. "But it's still creamy and delicious." Inside they had a similar filthy sense of humor, though.
"So thoughtful." Garrett took one sip, then another more appreciatively. "Nice. He imported all sorts of good stuff for this."
"Your dad wants to get off on the right foot."
"The politically correct and very pricey foot," Garrett corrected. "No state funds used, this party's all being paid for from his personal accounts. He might as well get us all drunk and happy tonight, because tomorrow the work really gets going. Governing a recently divided, even more recently united planet with no profitable infrastructure in place apart from smuggling with a thousand different political parasites waiting to descend and sink their claws into the planning is no one's idea of a good time."
"Your dad isn't the type to let himself get pushed into anything. He'll do fine."
"I know. He's got a good staff, he's got Claudia. You and Robbie, and Jane. He can handle anything that comes up."
"He's got you, too." Wyl grinned at him. "You might be mostly eye candy but you've got some skills, plus you're his only son."
Garrett shrugged. "There isn't much call for terraforming here; the big companies have given Paradise up as a lost cause. Apart from the greenhouses needed for food security there won't be much to design."
"Well, there must be something else for a biochemical climawhatthefuckever to do here. People, if nothing else."
Garrett had to force a smile, which was another weird thing. He usually reveled in his sexual freedoms, but he hadn't slept with anyone for nearly two weeks now, and he wasn't really interested in starting something up with anyone. "Yes, I suppose I can always fall back on personal gratification to fill the hours."
Wyl frowned. "When's the last time you went on a date, anyway? A real date, not a booty call."
"Oh, sometime around that semi-suicidal mission of Robbie's. He really has healed up fine, hasn't he? I never know if he's telling the truth or not about personal injury."
"He's fine now, the new leg works great, but Gare—that was six months ago." Wyl clearly was not willing to be distracted. "You went out almost every night the first year I was here. You had boyfriends, boytoys, innumerable random hookups...what's up?"
"Nothing." Which was technically true: his social calendar was dead except for big, unavoidable group events like this.
"Your heart rate says you're lying."
"Oh, fuck you and your super senses," Garrett groused.
"Wyl, if I knew what to tell you, I would," he said. That was true enough too. Garrett believed in being honest, especially with the people he cared about. The problem was that he didn't know what was going on with him.
"Will you tell me once you do know? Or Robbie, or your dad, or someone?"
Garrett smiled, more naturally now. It was nice to have someone worry about him. "Of course."
"Good." Wyl pointed at the drink. "Finish it before it gets warm, they're gross that way."
"Thanks, that's incentive." Garrett spun the glass in his fingertips, then put it down on the railing. "I'll get a fresh one inside. I need to go back in anyway."
"Nah, stay. The music sucks."
Garrett rolled his eyes. "It's a waltz. What's not to like about a waltz?"
"Apart from the fact that listening to it makes me want to fall asleep?"
"Sounds like a fascinating conversation," a new voice commented from the door. They both turned to look at Robbie, who came over and slipped an arm around Wyl's waist. Garrett barely even felt a pang any more when that happened, for which he was pretty proud of himself. Robbie Sinclair was a modern day white knight, tall, good looking, the kind of guy that made going gray at the temples look sexy instead of distinguished. Garrett had long ago resigned himself to the fact that Robbie was a thing of his past, at least carnally-speaking, but that didn't mean he had to keep his hands completely to himself.
"It was," he said breezily, twining one of his arms with Robbie's free one. "We were discussing who was going to get to dance with you next, and since Wyl is fighting off a bout of narcolepsy, it looks like I win."
"I don't dance," Robbie said instantly, his blue eyes going a little desperate at the idea of it.
"Perfect time to learn," Garrett coaxed, putting his cute face on. "Waltzes are easy."
"You think global climate modeling is easy too."
"You have the hand-eye coordination to be a sharpshooter in the Marines and yet you don't have the foot-eye coordination to learn to waltz?" Garrett was tempted to keep up the banter, it was kind of standard operating procedure for the three of them, but he just didn't have the energy. "Whatever. Stay out, enjoy the night air. It's the coolest it gets on this damn planet anyway." He turned and walked back inside, leaving his warm drink behind. He thought he heard Wyl mutter something to Robbie, but it was lost in the sudden flood of sound as the door slid open for him. Garrett squared his shoulders, dredged another smile up from somewhere and proceeded to work his way around the room.
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 there who did know how to waltz, and no shortage of dance partners among them. Garrett had his pick out of 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 central system, "it's lovely to see you. You've come a long way." He took the short, curvy 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 gripa 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 very edge of the inhabited planets. Most of those planets were "inhabited" only because the colonies of the central system had vastly overrated the speed at which they would need more space, and so had staked their claims in the fringe 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 more 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 disadvantages, 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 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 yet.
"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 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.
Garrett led the senator over to his father and promptly abandoned both of them, stealing away his new stepmother with a breezy "You two enjoy yourselves." His father frowned at him but turned his attention to Jezria, which suited Garrett perfectly. Two birds distracted with one stone. Claudia would be easy company for him, and he needed to be ensconced with someone in order to be left alone by everyone else.
Claudia cast an uneasy glance over her shoulder at her husband as they walked away. "Shouldn't I stay with him?"
"Miles is a big boy, he can handle himself with Senator Dowd for a few minutes. He's used to her."
"It sounds so strange to hear you call your father 'Miles.'"
"I'd call him Dad, but then the temptation to call you Mommy out of sheer proximity might be overwhelming."
Claudia smacked him lightly on the arm with the back of her hand. "You've got a decade on me, Garrett."
"I know, the potential for kink here is profound, isn't it?"
Claudia laughed like he'd intended, some of her tension seeping away. "Don't you dare start calling him 'Daddy,' I don't think I could take it."
"Not tonight," Garrett promised her. "I'd have to be drunk to do that and unfortunately, we're on duty." They stopped in an alcove next to a sweet-smelling potted lemon tree, took two glasses of that dark champagne from the ubiquitous wait staff, and looked out at the crowd. Garrett sipped, then nodded approvingly. "This is lovely. Did you choose this?"
"Yes. I had it brought in with the last shipment of medical supplies from Clix, they have the most wonderful environment for grapes there. It's a newer variety of champagne, a noir de noirs. It's called Elysium."
There was no escaping ancient mythologies tonight, it seemed.
"Do you miss the restaurant?" Claudia had been a master sommelier before marrying his father.
"Not really, no. There's so much to do right now. Miles is working nonstop, and I've got my hands full sorting out things with the estate."
"It's a lot," Garrett agreed. He was tempted, very badly tempted, to offer up advice. Garrett had played host for the more social aspects of his father's career many times before, and having that mantle taken away was still something he was getting used to. Claudia probably wouldn't have been offended if he'd offered to help, but it wasn't a habit he wanted to let himself develop. "How does it feel to live in full view of the public?"
"It's taking some getting used to," Claudia acknowledged, inhaling the scent of her champagne before sipping. "I thought the wedding was bad enough...I had no idea Miles was so popular with the newsfeeds."
"Yeah, that's Mom's fault," Garrett said.
"Oh, no." Claudia looked at him apologetically, her large dark eyes going wide with apprehension. "I don't mean to imply that I blame your mother for anything, Gare. Honestly—"
"It was a joke, Claudia," Garrett said gently. He knew his mother was a sore spot with Claudia. Hell, she was a sore spot with everyone, a figure of extremes: passion and elegance, vanity and need. Her movies were still some of the most popular holofilms ever made, and the woman had been dead since he was three. His mother had been the archetype of celebrity, and part of her legacy was an eternal spotlight on the family she left behind.
"No one ever expected Dad to marry again," Garrett went on. "That he found you too charming to resist isn't your fault, but it is enough to make asshole reporters pry into your private life and crash your wedding. Dad did fire that security firm, right?"
"Yes," she said. "We've got a new one working for us now, based here on Paradise. In addition to Miles' personal security staff with the marines, of course."
Garrett frowned. "Based here? Out of where, Rapture? How long have they been established? Were they on the losing side?"
"Gare." Claudia looked a little exasperated now. "They aren't assassins. Everyone was fully screened before being allowed access to our compound. Miles took care of it personally."
Miles isn't infallible, Garrett wanted to say, but there was no sense in getting into an argument with Claudia about his father. As far as Miles' new bride was concerned, the suns rose and set at her husband's command. It was, Garrett reflected, sweet. Cloyingly so. He drank some more champagne.